Meme Engine "robert sapolsky"

RSS

What I've been thinking about...

In the Rolodex: Dr Robert Sapolsky

Robert Sapolsky is a biologist, a researcher, an author and a neuroscientist.  And, it just so happens, he is an incredible, engaging lecturer!  His academic talks are amazingly informative and deep, but also surprisingly engaging and entertaining.

I’ve heard lectures (via video) he’s given on topics like Humanity’s Place among the Animals, Poverty, and Emergence.  There’s lots on-line to check out:

Emergence
Emergence is hard to describe.  Perhaps the easiest way is to say that emergence is what causes a whole to really be more than the sum of it’s parts.  In really large, complicated systems of many parts, you sometimes get behaviors/tendencies/trends in the whole system to behave in a certain way, when maybe this is not obvious looking at the parts in isolation.
Social insects, like honey bees, are always a great source of this sort of phenomenon.  I recently heard an especially simple and understandable example of how emergence works to the hive’s favor in the case of honey bees.  This idea is paraphrased (two weeks after hearing it) from Robert Sapolsky's lecture on Emergence.  So, have you ever heard that Honey Bees Dance…?
[[MORE]]
The Honey Bee Dance
There are all sorts of interesting things about a Honey Bee’s Dance.  For those that don’t know, after foraging some food, a returning honey bee will walk and shake in little dancing patterns that convey all sorts of information to the surrounding bees.  Information such as:
What direction was the food in?
How far away was the food?
Which landmarks (and how many) mark the way?
How plentiful is the food source?
For the purposes of this anecdote, only that last item is of importance.  How plentiful was the food source?  The bee communicates this in the dance in a simple way: the more plentiful the source, the longer it performs the dance.
The bees observing don’t use stopwatches, and compare which dancers perform longest.  As I understand it, bees wander somewhat randomly, and accept the foraging suggestions of the first dancing bee they run into.  No stopwatches.  They may, of course, run into a bee who found a pitiful foodsource and just happened to be doing its tiny bit of dancing when they unluckily bumped into it.  They would still take the suggestions.
Still, these simple rules, simply followed have an effect when spread over a large population, and over spans of time.  The majority of bees from a hive will unnerringly find the richest food source.
How?
You can reason out the “how” at this point by yourself.  Go on!  Think…think…think…
Alright, it works because as multiple waves of bees leave the hive, each wave improves upon the chances of the previous wave of copying the instructions from a bee who found a rich source of food.  Think about it.  You have:
Bees finding meager sources of food.  I don’t know the real durations or numbers, but for the purposes of argument, say there are 1000 foragers, and 500 of them find these meager sources, and so only dance for a short time, say 1 minute.  This adds up to 500 minutes of dancing bees which could be copied, causing the next wave to seek out the poorer sources of food.
Bees finding rich sources of food.  Say the other 500 bees find these rich sources, and so each one dances longer… 2 minutes.  This adds up to 1000 minutes of dancing bees which can be copied by the next wave of foragers, to find these richer sources.
500 minutes or 1000.  So if the first wave of foragers is fifty-fifty in their chances for success, the next wave is twice as likely to copy a winner as a loser (making the next wave 67% winners).
This is more complicated of course, with food sources being depleted by successful foraging, some foragers copying nobody, etc.  Still, you can see why this system works!
Once you start looking, you see emergence everywhere.  Social insect, yeah.  City planning.  Lineups.  Liquidity.  Solidity.  The laws of Thermodynamics!  To me, it is so important to all the philosophy I am considering lately that new properties arise in complex systems, that seemed not to exist at the levels below.

Emergence

Emergence is hard to describe.  Perhaps the easiest way is to say that emergence is what causes a whole to really be more than the sum of it’s parts.  In really large, complicated systems of many parts, you sometimes get behaviors/tendencies/trends in the whole system to behave in a certain way, when maybe this is not obvious looking at the parts in isolation.

Social insects, like honey bees, are always a great source of this sort of phenomenon.  I recently heard an especially simple and understandable example of how emergence works to the hive’s favor in the case of honey bees.  This idea is paraphrased (two weeks after hearing it) from Robert Sapolsky's lecture on Emergence.  So, have you ever heard that Honey Bees Dance…?

Read More

Robert Sapolsky
"What's the Intelligence Gene?"
Are Humans Just Another Primate?

"Take a chimp brain foetally, and let it run a two or three more rounds of divisions, and instead you get a human brain, and out come symphonies and ideologies, and hopscotch…"

Robert Sapolsky answers the question “what genes that we know of account for the superior powers of the human brain?”.  His deft, funny, 3 minute answer is an excerpt from his talk entitled “Are humans just another primate?”.  Watch the full lecture on youtube, or check out my other excerpts.

His surprising conclusion:

"…with enough quantity, you invent quality."

Robert Sapolsky
"Emergence and Complexity"
Are Humans Just Another Primate?

"If you want to understand how really complex systems work… systems like a cell.  Or an individual.  Or a society…"

-Robert Sapolsky

A one minute excerpt from Robert Sapolsky’s excellent talk (see the whole thing on youtube, or see my first excerpt) about whether humans are “just another primate”.  During the questions following the talk, he fields a question about the role of group human behaviours, and (to my great delight) responds by talking about complexity and emergence in general.  I’ll give the last word back to Sapolsky:

"…what it should caution against, is this extreme faith in reductionism."

Robert Sapolski
"Ovulation, Chess, Hamsters, Mortgages"
Are Humans Just Another Primate?

Robert Sapolsky, professor of biology, neuroscience, and neurosurgery at Stanford University.  And yes, he really does find common ground for all those topics without deviating from his smooth and humorous speaking style.

Without wanting to give away the connections, I can say that this audio comes from a talk called “Are Humans Just Another Primate?"  I can also tell you that you’ll learn a little about:

  • The ingeniousness of experimental design in psychology.
  • How a mortgage is like a lion on the savanah.
  • What an objective description of chess sounds like.
  • How we are just another primate….
  • …and how we are different.

The full lecture is 70 minutes (this excerpt just 4:00) or so of material that’s just as deep and just as entertaining.  You can see it on youtube.