Ever been played a game and then just screamed in indignation? “How on Earth could this have happened to ME?!” I was playing a well-known real-time strategy game last night and the battle was progressing well… until a disastrous charge, suffice to say my army routed and I lost the battle. I was enraged, the battle was mine, I should have won, why didn’t the enemy just die?
This morning, I realised it was time to begin the Stoic Week. An experiment run by members of Exeter University looking into how stoicism can be used or beneficial in the modern world. So off I went to the website and downloaded the handbook which was named after Epictetus’ Enchiridion…
Well, in a nutshell, one of the main things the handbook talks about is the importance of understanding what is in your control and what is not. The theme for today’s lunchtime activity is “What is in our Power?” and asks us to evaluate a situation in our lives using Stoic Mindfulness. If I’m a little fuzzy on the details here, it’s best if you go read the Handbook which you can download from the Stoic Week website.
Now the situation that I am going to use for this exercise is one that occurred before Stoic Week, however I think it’s more important to simply be able to practice this exercise than when the actual situation occurred and this example allows me to say what I want to on this blog.
So, back to the point, I got extremely frustrated by the battle not going my way and thus complained about the game mechanics “Why did those guys just break and run?” rather than assess the situation properly. What was actually in my control here? Well I decided what forces to take into the battle; how to direct them during the battle; and the decision to play this particular scenario in the first place.
What wasn’t in my control? The abilities and capabilities of the units (both friendly and enemy) in the battle and the terrain on the battlefield. I chose to take a force almost equal when I could have taken a larger force to be more sure of victory, I chose how to direct my forces and my plan failed. I could have chosen to learn about the capabilities of all the forces on the battle before engaging but I didn’t. These were ways in which I could have effected (sorry everyone who dislikes the use of effect as a verb) a different outcome.
But once the results were in, the only things in my control was my response to it. I chose to whinge and moan and to send a second force to finish off the enemy but the frustration stayed with me. The point I am making here is that a stoic attitude may be more conducive to a healthier gaming environment, especially in multiplayer games. Instead of hurling abuse at other players, or criticising the game mechanics, stoic players would instead be able to assess the results of games and their reactions to them and determine whether they are acting virtuously or are instead becoming angered at things outside of their control, or even blaming things outside of their control for things that are entirely up to them.
Stoic Week has also affected me in other ways, when this is published, it will be linked to on my Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Something I had avoided in the past for fear of criticism or friends being able to spot flaws in my reasoning. Stoicism says that people’s reactions to my blog are entirely out of my control. All that is in my control is what I choose to publish and how I react to people’s responses and if someone has something constructive to say, it will improve my blog and I should embrace that, not hide from it.
So I’ve been skiving off this blog for over a year now, my excuse would be that I’ve been busy sorting out applications trying to secure my first position, but that would be a Lie. I’ve been skiving off out of fear and dullness, fear of doing badly and dullness that is such a part of me that anything I do or make will be incredibly dull and anyone reading it will die in such a dull way that it will cause the lights to dim and the colour to be drained out of the world. Keep reading, I get less depressing after the second paragraph.
Dramatic hyperbole aside, my life after university is exactly what it was before only now with even less purpose. I have no goal, life drifts by occasionally nodding significantly at those around me and how much they’ve achieved and how much I have failed to achieve. Such is my comfortable little niche. I am back at my parents house, unemployed and comfortably playing video games and watching television letting the days slip by with nothing more than a futile hand wave.
This post is going to be my rebirth. I will begin posting again. However, instead of my previously stated goal of putting lots of work out, I am instead going to concentrate on the amount of work I put in. This, and my previous plan, is because I am a firm believer in the notion that ‘you get out what you put in’ and to get a good blog you need to do a lot of work on it. Previously, the way that I tried to ensure I put work in was to set a target of amount of work put out. This is not the same though. I could write a blog a day but if each post is basically a tweet and with the same amount of thought that goes into the average tweet, I am unlikely to improve my blogging skills.
With this in mind, my new plan is that I am going to write often and a lot. To ensure that I actually post what I write, I will allow only 3 revisions of posts not including making a draft post containing the seed of an idea for a post. This is to prevent me from eternally editing and giving it ‘one more edit’. So that’s my new plan. I’ll not have an exact schedule I’m just going to work on posts and publish them as I finish them. One new thing I may do however is writing posts about things I come across, for example SciShow did an episode a while back about Resurrection Biology, so called de-extinction, which to my mind, left out some pretty significant topics of discussion.
So that’s what I’ll be working on in future. Hopefully I’ll be able to keep this thing going and actually do something of significance with it. Honestly I’ll be happy if I make a few more posts that get people commenting about how wonderful it is that I could explain something that they were struggling with. I’d like to say that’s because I’m such a nice person and I want to help people but I think I know it’s more that I like stroking my ego. So, eight revisions in, I think this post is ready. I’ll set it to publish next Sunday, giving me a week to work on the post after it. That way it’s a more delayed process but will allow me to potentially get in front of the schedule and have multiple posts ready to publish one after another. Ha, yeah that’s a pleasant fiction.
So this week I thought I’d take the time to go into a bit of depth about what I was looking at for the dissertation I completed for my degree. If you’re not interested, I’m sorry to hear that, go be boring somewhere else. It’s all about moving, particularly, moving in ways listed in the title, spirals, stripes and zigzags. In order to understand this however, you need to understand the details of my dissertation.
Nah, just kidding, but it would be good for you to understand the background of my project because my work is based on the hypotheses of a few good men. It is based on the fact that in the fossil record there are remains of what was originally thought to be seaweed but which were later reinterpreted as the tracks, trails and burrows of ancient sea creatures. Think about the last time you were on a beach, you know that worm cast? Well that’s because of a ‘U’ shaped burrow of a worm which it uses to collect nutrients by passing water over it’s gills through the burrow.
Worm Cast: This stuff is the sand pushed out of the back (On the right) of the burrow (The front is the hole on the left) to make room for the worm. Source.
Okay, now imagine that worm lived millions of years ago and the sand it burrowed through was turned to rock and the burrow remains as an imprint in the rock. This is one type of fossil which has been studied, the types that I studied where probably made by a species which crawled across the ocean floor, grazing. These patterns changed of the course of history, the first recorded paths are quite ancient, I believe the earliest ones I found in the literature were from the Silurian period (in the region of 450mya, for contrast, humans diverged from chimps around 4mya).
The Silurian Period: This is the geologic time scale, Earth was fully formed by At the very bottom on the left. Animals evolved around the start of the Paleozoic (In blue) and all the time since then has been expanded on the right. The Silurian is the 3rd period from the bottom on the left, the dinosaurs fit into the pink section on the right; all of human existence fits into the Quaternary at the very top of the right. Source.
So these things have been around a while, but they’ve not been idle, oh no, there are several different groups of fossils, some with spirals, some with zigzags, but they didn’t start out that way: The first records are simple stripes which overlapped a lot. Then millions of years later, we find record of some with loose zigzags and some with loose spirals. Millions of years after that there is record of tighter zigzags and very tight, double spirals. Millions of years after that and we’re around the time when mammals are about to take centre stage as the largest animals on the planet, and we find tight corkscrews drilling into the ocean floor.
Trace Fossils: So called because they are the traces and tracks of animals rather than their bodies. This is from Raup and Seilacher’s original paper, the left side shows the fossils they based their model on and the right shows what the computer model did. Source.
My work was based off of this and the Prescott and Ibbottson paper I got the picture above from. Along with a paper with the wonderful title ‘In Search of the Optimum Scumsucking Bottomfeeder’. The question is: Why bother to make yourself able to develop such complex patterns as that double spiral? What is pressuring these creatures to develop the complex neural pathways required to make such patterns? Well Hayes in the paper named above suggested that the ocean floor is a uniform resource and the best tactic is to just munch on the resources as you move along it and the more efficiently you use up the space, the better off you’ll be.
Well I think that’s a good idea except I was convinced of the patchiness of the resources, the ocean floor isn’t uniform, far from it. In the end, I decided that a strong contender as one of the reasons for the behaviours would be competition from others. In other words, the population density within an area would mean that the organisms would be all crowded together to a certain extent. This crowding would mean they should watch out for where they move because if they move over an already grazed patch, that’s a waste of the energy used to move over that patch.
I tested the idea by looking at the various behaviours and how Raup and Seilacher suggested the decision tree would work. I built a whole bunch of different behaviour sets based on how they would move in a free environment without depleted areas getting in the way; I also behaviour sets based on how they would react to the path they were moving along being obstructed by depleted patch. The pictures below should illustrate what I mean:
Movement behaviours: The three different ways that the organisms would move, there was (a) the straight path (with a little wobbling because nothing in nature is perfect); (b) the curve, the organism would gently turn as it walked; (c) the zigzag, similar to the straight path but after a set number of steps, the creature would reverse it’s path. Source: Self.
Reaction behaviours: These three are how the organisms would react when they came across a depleted patch (Which if all the world is filled with food, would only occur if another organism has already grazed the area and represented by the horizontal arrow. (a) the simplest option is to do nothing about it and keep going with your movement behaviour; (b) a more complex choice is to look out for it and when you see a patch ahead, turn a fixed amount and then carry on with your movement behaviour; (c) this is the most complex choice, in it, the organism attempts to follow along the edge of the already depleted patch and graze alongside it. Source: Self.
The next step for me was to simulate what different populations would do given these behaviours, so if there where 10 in an area, how much food could each gather under each behaviour set (Each model organism is given one movement behaviour and one reaction behaviour to use and I chose to make each population run just one of each of the nine combinations) then compare that with 20 in the same size area, and 30, and 40 all the way up to 900 (Just looked that up in the file I used to record all of this and it turns out that the file was created 29/10/2011 what a coincidence). So because the size of the area was the same for each one, I was looking at population density and what happened to the benefits of each behavioural set.
The short story is that after I collected something in the region of 3.5 million data points, I used some basic statistics and discovered that the reaction behaviours that tried to avoid the paths did VASTLY better than the one which didn’t avoid the paths at all at high population density. So if there’s lots of competition about, it pays to be smart about where you’re going. But at low population density, the reaction behaviour of ‘keep doing your movement behaviour’ did at least as well and often better (Depending on the movement behaviour) than the more complex reaction behaviours.
The reason for this, I think is that when there’s not many organisms around, it doesn’t matter if you go over a track every now and then, if you try to ‘take evasive maneuvers’ you’ll end up staying nearby to an area which has already been grazed on whereas not reacting to the grazed areas, you end up heading out to ‘greener pastures’ and not running into the paths again. It also seems that population density did have a significant effect on these ancient animals’ behavioural effectiveness. As for why all this matters, well, that I think I’ll save to waste your time with on another post.
There was a time when I believed in absolutes, the world was black and white, it was good vs evil, order vs chaos, school started here and ended there. Well, things have changed. The world is not so sharply defined today. This is not because the world has changed, but rather I have. I have learnt more about the world and I have explored more of it (admittedly still only a tiny portion of the whole, but come on, it’s early days yet).
The trouble with this is the difficulty it throws in making decisions. It’s easy to make a choice between one thing and another when it’s good against bad, but what about when the options are a mix? I’ve always had trouble making choices. I remember being paralysed by indecision when my parents gave me a 50p piece and I was allowed to buy a chocolate bar (Remember the days when 50p would but more than one chocolate bar?). Later I worked out the best method, Freddos, and lots of them (At least until they become 15p each, god dammed inflation). Anyway, decisions that were completely arbitrary such as choosing a chocolate to eat (I would be happy with just about any chocolate I was given, I was a child) but I couldn’t just pick one, it had to be the BEST ONE.
Freddo: The best damn solid chocolate bar in existence. Don’t know if America has these so thought it’d be a good excue to take some useful advice. Source
This determination to not make a decision unless it was the best one often left me with little or no time to make decisions. The trouble with life is there are a hell of a lot of paths to walk and a hell of a lot of decisions to make so if you worry about every little choice and which one is the best to make then you’ll go nowhere fast. Of course it’s all very well and good to state my philosophy, it’s quite another to put it into practice.
The trouble I found is that when it is black and white, the option is obvious, if you like black, pick black, if you like white, pick white and if you like arguments, troll away on the benefits of white over black, even without any evidence for such contentions. When it’s a grey-scale it’s a big mess and it isn’t clear which side to pick. It’s even less clear if there are sides. Having a grey-scale multiplies the choices to make but the grey-scale also makes it possible to pick more than one option there’s no us and them, so it’s not damming to pick both. No this little paragraph is not me subtly having a go at the pricks who think one race is superior to others, not at all. Excuse my preachiness, the rest of the post is 50% less preachy, I can’t remove more preachiness, otherwise you might not know it was me writing.
I’m not sure but it seems there’s a lot of resistance to the idea that the world isn’t black and white. Law for instance you’re either guilty or you’re not, there’s little gradation (Any experts feel free to explain to the ignorant exactly why I’m wrong, I’d genuinely be interested in examples of where this does not apply). I think this ideology fits nicely into the simplification of the world that comes with humans trying to understand it, as a computer modeller of biological systems, I can sympathise but we mustn’t then try to peddle our wares as if they are the real world, they are only reflections of it and ones in a rippled and dirty pond at that.
We draw arbitrary lines across the grey-scale and this makes the distinction between one and another. You are a child until you are eighteen, then you are an adult, despite being moral or ‘adult’ about things not being connected at any point (You know, besides brain growth during childhood) but even the point at which we become fully grown is not on the morning of our eighteenth birthday, but well before that we stop being a child. Mental growth however is even more arbitrary, I plan on continuing to learn for the rest of my life; I don’t want to stop learning, even if I went on to teach.
Mortarboard: Three Guesses what I’m going to talk about next. Source
These temporal gradations (GREY-dations, geddit? I’m all about the grey today) are the reason I’ve decided to write on this today. My graduation is this week, late for a graduation in my mind, I finished my course back in June. It seems I’m sort of in limbo at the moment, not fully graduated, nor a student. This originally disturbed me, it bothered me that there wasn’t a clear demarcation for when I was one and then the other. What I have to remember though, is that I’m never fully one thing, I’m reminded of Stephen Fry speaking in a debate on whether the Catholic church is a force for good:
Although they like to accuse people like me, who believe in Empiricism, and the Enlightenment of somehow, what they call ‘moral relativism’ as if it’s some appalling sin when what it actually means is Thought. They, for example, thought that slavery was perfectly fine […] and then with a wave of a hand and a stamp of a seal, it was no longer true, something which had been eternally, or at least true for 2000 years, suddenly wasn’t, because the truth is complicated, it’s hard.
We don’t have absolutes in our world of ethics, choices and societies. We define the limits of our own worlds but this does not mean we have to squash all human experience into a narrow spectrum. We are not photons, experience doesn’t vary like light on the spectrum. We are in a landscape of choice and making the decisions we do day in day out changes that landscape. It’s important, in my mind at least, to understand that; if we imagined the world as our simple version then we may make bad decisions for the future.
I have decided, in Slartibartfast’s word’s to “Hang the sense of it and keep myself busy.” I’ve decided this fuzziness is okay, how boring would the world be if we had just two options to choose from? It’s clear as black and white.
This rambling and preachy post brought to you (NOW WITH PICTURES) by UrsusCetacea, who knows all the answers, except to his own questions.
Six whole weeks of bliss, a post week, like I promised myself and then… Oh dear, so two weeks ago I had my most successful post yet, most views and even before I’ve posted this one, then I go and miss a week due to being unprepared, and THEN, I go and leave it until now to finish this post from last week. I’m going to try to do a catch-up post before this week is out to make up for the lack of post last week. Any way, I’d been nursing a few thoughts for potential blog posts that I haven’t yet finished so I figured I’d put my thoughts into this one:
I thought I’d begin by prefacing the post with the statement that I was reading the Harry Potter series for the past couple of weeks, something which I started to do back in my early teens/late childhood (Note: I’ve finished them now and enjoyed them all, yes it did take me a couple of weeks, I’m bored okay?). Something I noticed is the amount of time given to the effects of cultural restrictions on breeding and the effects of inbreeding on populations and what happens when it is taken to extremes.
It is interesting to reflect on the wizarding world’s division into “purebloods”, “half-bloods” and “muggle-borns”, labelled “mudbloods” by purebloods who favour inbreeding. It is mentioned that few magical men and women aren’t halfblood or less. Why *must* this be so? Because genetics.
Well let’s begin with the assumption that the wizard population started small (I’ll cover what happens when a wizard population is large later), a reasonable assumption since populations have to begin and they don’t come into being as a fully formed population (Unless you believe certain ideas). In order for the population to be rebuilt with the genes of the surviving members, inbreeding between the wizarding families would have to happen, which inevitably creates the same problems as inbreeding does in other populations.
Small populations create problems such as the random loss of genetic information due to genetic drift. Basically, if a population is small, the chance that any particular gene does not make it through to the next generation is also small and so genetic variation in the population decreases. Think of it like this, you have a bunch of people, some blonde, some brunette and one ginger (I choose ginger because they *are* a rare allele, if you still don’t like it, I’ll change it the day that gingers outnumber any other hair colour).
If the chances of a child having their parents hair colour is 50-50, then to have a good chance of having a person in the next generation with ginger hair, then the ginger person needs to have at least two kids. But for the blondes and brunettes, it’s likely that some will have kids with their hair colour simply because of how many blondes and brunettes are in the population.
So back to the wizarding families, they’ll end up more genetically similar if they only breed within wizarding families resulting in oddities like the Weasleys (A bad example given their “Blood-traitor” status, but all that red hair, most likely they all carry only one copy of the genes which control hair colour) and Malfoys (Lucius and Draco are meant to be almost identical when compared adult with adult). But what happens if this is continued? There are numerous other problems: decreased fertility, increased risk of genetic disorders.
The continued inbreeding of the families creating greater and greater genetic similarity which would inevitably increase the sense of ‘otherness’ no doubt felt by the wizarding families. With the creation of the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy, this isolation would be even more marked. This social and cultural separation would compound the problems caused by the genetics. We can begin to see the full scope of the problem.
But wait, there’s more: Do you think a Malfoy would marry a Weasley? What about a Black marrying a Dumbledore? Families not getting along makes the pool of potential pairings decrease still further, increasing again the problems of the social, cultural and genetic isolation. And when families are openly hostile? If we look at the Black family, it’s clear, the family is all but annihilated, the only survivors do not carry the Black name and they are few in number (Tonks and Malfoy are the only ones mentioned as being related to the Blacks). Obviously, extreme views in the wizarding world such as the “purebloods are best bloods” will generate animosity hence why there aren’t any Slytherins, Blacks or Gaunts left.
What applies to the wizarding families, applies quite well to the royal families of Europe, I am speaking of course about the haemophilia which plagued the descendants of Queen Victoria and also, the house of habsburg which shows how this sort of family ties thing works at the grandest of scales.
For the difficulties of socially imposed rules on marriage and conflict, take a look at the vast and poerful Spartan army which has dominated the world since the ancient greek city-state seized power… oh wait, yes, the Spartans were the elite forces in their day, but clearly they are no longer. The rules in Spartan society made it inflexible and the depletion of the families’ sons meant that the number of Spartan families gradually declined and inbreeding resulted in the extinction of all those family lines.
This is my loose bag of thoughts that I’ve emptied onto the blog. Hopefully something of import can be found in there by those willing to dig around.