On Community, Part I

I would like to propose that the primary reason school shootings happen so frequently in America is not because of guns or mental health, but because the US, by and large, lacks a cohesive social fabric and a sense of community. That’s not to say that guns and mental health don’t play a role, only that they are secondary to the issue of social cohesion. My claims will be largely based on anecdotal evidence, but one piece of systemic evidence is that the US’ situation with guns and mental health is similar to many other countries’, particularly countries in the Middle East where guns (and heavier grade weaponry) are abundant and access to mental health is even more restricted than it is in the US. Yet, crimes of the sort perpetrated by Adam Lanza are almost entirely unheard of in the Middle East. Violence in schools and against children does occur, as evidenced by the frequent brutality of the Taliban against girls for example, but such crimes represent a distinct phenomenon from that of the lone gunman with little ideological or political motivation. But I am getting ahead of myself. I would first like to begin with issues regarding community in the United States.

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Some Thoughts on Consciousness

Two weeks ago I attended NIPS, one of the leading conferences on machine learning and AI. This was my first time at NIPS, but I got the impression that they always like to have a sprinkling of neuroscience talks swimming in the sea of machine learning presentations. This year, they had no less than four talks with some variation of “consciousness” or “brain” in the title. They were given by Giulio Tononi, Scott Aaronson, Stanislas Dehaene, and Terrence Sejnowski. Despite the ambitious-sounding titles, unfortunately most of these talks did not really tackle the fundamental basis of consciousness, except for Giulio Tononi’s. On the other hand, while all the other talks were reasonably accessible, I found Giulio’s talk to be largely impenetrable. It was intriguing enough however that I will try to summarize my understanding of his theory, and offer some thoughts of my own on the subject. I should warn that I am not going to say anything particularly coherent, and I may in fact be grossly misrepresenting what Giulio intended to say because of my limited understanding of his talk.
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Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell

Just finished reading (actually listening) to Outliers. While I enjoyed the book and found the stories throughout to be engaging, I am left with the same feeling I almost always have after reading a popular book trying to explain some complicated historical or sociological phenomenon (e.g. Guns, Germs, and Steel). This feeling is somewhere along the lines of “yeah, maybe, but…”

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