Wednesday, December 21, 2011

sex, violence, Newt Gingrich and STDP

Sex, violence, Newt Gongrich and spike-timing-dependent plasticity (STDP).

For those who don’t know – STDP is one of the current core doctrines of brain modeling. And even though I live life like any other human (in most ways),
I always interpret things based on some very heavy mathematics.

So you may wonder:

Am I about to give you a kind of neurological interpretation of what New Gingrich is doing, using STDP to explain his connections to sex and violence?

No, that’s not it. That would be ‘way too cheap to do justice to the complicated world we really live in. In a way, that’s my real point here. But first, let me get back to Newt Gingrich, who may be more interesting to most people than STDP anyway.

A few months back, the Obama campaign broadcast a curious message, which I remember as follows: “PLEASE watch all the Republican debates and urge your friends to do likewise. Once they see how totally crazy and dangerous these people are, they will understand how important it is to re-elect Obama, to reduce the risk of a real disaster.”

I actually saw one of the early debates, but it wasn’t so interesting, and the others were not so easy for me to see.

But a week or two, I was determined to see the latest debate for myself, in its entirely directly. This was when the polls gave 40% to Gingrich and 20% to Romney,
when Gingrich upset Palestinians and Romney upset people who believe that there might be some hope for humans beyond the planet earth.

To be honest, the debate was quite depressing for me, as per my last blog post.
It was “such a small esoteric issue” – liquidating the system of checks and balances and the spirit of the US constitution, “getting rid of all those judges.” And Ron Paul was the only one who seemed to remember about that spirit at all.

In Iowa and elsewhere, Gingrich is now ‘way down from where he was, and Ron Paul is ‘way up… but the Gingrich and Romney are on top at 20% each, for now.

But – just as the media exploded the Palestinian issue and ignored the space issue,
the media have been quietly assuming a “single cause” model of what happened to Gingrich:

“Of course Gingrich was killed by negative ads. Those same judges Gingrich railed against ruled that third parties can spend as much money as they like on focused attack ads designed to kill any candidate, and so they did. Money buys votes, pure and simple.”

Where to begin with such a hairy thought?

First – I really don’t believe it’s the whole truth. But the fact that Romney’s people now believe this so ferociously is itself a fact on the ground, and a very dangerous one. The belief that voters are absolutely 100% oblivious to their own interests,
and that elected officials are 100% employees of whoever has the biggest bank account, has huge impacts all by itself. Those who believe that most ferociously
are a serious danger to our future.

Second, there is some delicious irony here, to the extent that there is truth in this story. Gingrich attacks those liberal judges, and vows to pack the bench… and he gets zapped precisely because of rulings by judges who were already packed to defend oligarchy and erode the real spirit of honest, democratic dialogue.

Third… this one cause model is very similar to other one-cause models we have seen lately –

1. The theory by some movie makers and even book publishers that sales are a simple function of how much sex and violence one packs into an hour on the screen. No need for hairy frills or hard work – just maximize that variable. And, when choosing between projects, use the simple algorithm – maximize those numbers.
2. The STDP model, which certainly has some real data behind it (as do sex and violence), but doesn’t quite capture the whole thing.

I certainly don’t think that all life is sex and violence… but in a way, that may be closer to the truth than those other two local models. What we are seeing here is the great challenge to the human brain in seeing larger patterns, like old saw about missing the forest for the trees.

Trying to understand global patterns through local models is not inherently bad either.. a lot of my new mathematics does exactly that… but the problem is that we do not always SEE all the relevant local variables, which drive global patterns. And global patterns are sometimes nonrandom, when there is intelligence involved. I hope there is still some intelligence out there in processes like elections… and in fact, when I see the evident cynicism of a lot of voters about what’s been offered to them so far, that does seem consistent with the idea that they are more in touch with reality than a lot of the folks gaming this system.

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