March 9, 2009

Biology Is Destiny

Palm up.  Measure your index finger (2D) and ring finger (4D) from bottom crease to tip of finger (not nail).

Question: does life begin at conception?
  Why, or why not?

I. Nature:

The study looked at 49 male futures traders (high velocity, high leverage).  The mean age was 27, the mean annual income about $500k (range -$4000 to $8M.)

The study found that low 2D/4D ratios (long ring fingers) were highly correlated to higher profits; the ratio also predicted the ranking of the traders based on of profits.

2. Nurture:


Chronological age was not a factor in profits, though years of experience was.



So "nurture"-- years of experience-- and "nature"-- the prenatal testosterone exposure, which causes long ring fingers-- both affect performance.

The study found that experience boosts profits by 9 times over inexperience;  low 2D/4D (long ring fingers) ratios boost it 11 times over high 2D/4D ratios.

finger trader.JPG

Having lots of experience only barely made up for having a higher finger ratio (short ring finger).

The same authors had done a prior study with traders, and found that levels of morning testosterone (which fluctuates both intraday and interday) predicted that day's profits; the higher the am testosterone, the higher the profits for that day.

Taken together, some people may have a biologic advantage to making money in futures trading; this biologic advantage may be greater than having experience.

II.

Other studies have found relationships of 2D/4D ratios to everything from homosexuality to osteoarthritis.

I don't know why the 2D/4D ratio (intrauterine testosterone exposure) have an effect on such things.  What interested me about the paper was this:

The financial markets are made up of many sectors and types of trading, and each of these may select for different biological traits. But if markets select traders on the basis of their profitability and their occupational preferences (36), then low-2D:4D traders will continue to influence asset prices and equilibria in some of these sectors. Contrary to the assumptions of the rational expectations hypothesis, financial market equilibria may be influenced as much by traders' biological traits as by the truth of their beliefs. (emphasis mine)
What the authors suspect-- and what seems obvious once you say it out loud-- is that not only are certain people better suited for certain work or environments, but that they then change the environment itself so that they are the ones best suited for it.

A ha! the system is stacked for a certain group, against another group!

But it's no more stacked against us than our technological world is better suited to electrical engineers.  This is why we have an economy that uses money; we can hire someone who is suited for that work, to act as our agent.

But what about things that can't be bought?


III.

If philosophy and ethics attract certain types of people, then those people go on to further alter the answers to ethical questions.  It occurs to them to ask certain questions and not others; and those with a differing perspective or mindset do not naturally possess the equipment that allows them to join in the discussion. What do you think happens to ethics?

Diversity of opinion is an illusion.  The choices "it is ethical" and "no, it's not ethical" are actually of the same form, they come from the same kind of brain.  For example, they both presuppose that the question is an ethical one, and not a logical one, or a practical one, or even a religious one, or a mechanical one, or a mathematical one, or a...

But once a field is dominated by a group, that group reinforces its groupthink.  It decides the form of the discussion.  For example: the question for everyone is about ethics.  Those who think it is, say, a logic problem are forced to remold their logical argument into a quasi-ethical one, just to be able to participate in the discussion.  And their intellectual compromise is thus both less ethical and less logical.  This reinforces for the ethicists that their perspective is the rigorous one.  When you hear someone speaking broken English, you assume you're smarter than him; it sounds like he's dumber than you.

These compromisers die and are never heard from again.  It is a bat talking to a bumblebee about what color a flower is.

A student of history knows that history repeats; what is different is the people living it, and how they frame their present.

Since this dialogue is absolutely impossible, then the only kind of change that is possible is a paradigm shift.

Paradigm shifts cannot occur without a change in biology: it requires a completely new generation of human beings.







Comments

This reminds me of MaRS (se... (Below threshold)

March 9, 2009 11:09 PM | Posted by information addict: | Reply

This reminds me of MaRS (see marsdd.com) in which experts in varied fields work in close proximity in order to cross-pollinate ideas for innovation, instead of continually working in silos.

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I can't be the only person ... (Below threshold)

March 10, 2009 5:18 AM | Posted by Common Reader: | Reply

I can't be the only person noticing that the entire production is taken part in only by people who are willing to raise their children in daycare.

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This post rocked!... (Below threshold)

March 10, 2009 6:28 AM | Posted by varangianguard: | Reply

This post rocked!

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This, and similar studies, ... (Below threshold)

March 10, 2009 10:44 AM | Posted by MedsVsTherapy: | Reply

This, and similar studies, suffer from a limit that is a challenge to detect: when you limit variability on one side of your equation, you set up the calculation to appear dramatic for any detected differences on the other side of the equation. This study was limited to the variability within a set of futures traders. Well, they are already futures traders. Amongst their cohort of similar men (same ages, same cultural and genetic background, etc.) who are not futures traders, we have no idea what the 2d/4d ratio is.

The really manly men may be out playing rugby instead of voluntarily submitting themselves to a live of such rigid, narrow behavioral range, where the greater your ability to conform (hence, advantage to experience), the greater your financial feedback.

We don't know because the range of variability in masculinity personality expression is truncated, from fair trader to great trader.

That, itself, is a matter of framing the question.

It is very beneficial to keep asking yourself how each bit of evidence getting cast about has been framed.

Does life begin at conception? Some political forces can tell that this frame-up will not favor their preferred political position, so they ignore that question, and work to find/develop/identify a different question - hopefully, a question so compelling that you will not notice that they just diverted you from a decent question. A different, compelling question is: Is it OK for "The Church" to dictate what I do with my body, or not?

That question always has a simple answer: "no." That is why that question is substituted, and so an issue is re-framed.

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"Paradigm shifts cannot occ... (Below threshold)

March 11, 2009 1:22 AM | Posted by V: | Reply

"Paradigm shifts cannot occur without a change in biology: it requires a completely new generation of human beings."

The history of Quantum Mechanics is interesting in this regard, and serves as a good example. There were several of very bright people, trained in the classical approach to physics. Einstein figured out that, in order for Maxwell's Equations to be right, time had to behave in a rather weird way- there is no universal time, and thus nothing is really simultaneous.

This weirded out a lot of people, and (among other things) cemented Einstein's place as a genius in the public's view- this guy is clever enough to understand things that warp most people's brains.

This is the creepy part- within a few years, Einstein wasn't adding anything to physics, because he wasn't able to follow it. It wasn't because he wasn't smart enough- it was because quantum mechanics didn't conform to his worldview. He famously said "God does not play dice"- he refused to believe that we could only calculate probabilities, that there weren't some hidden variables or something else. When QM insisted that God does play dice, he spent the rest of his life looking for a unified theory which, as far as we know now, doesn't exist.

The following I couldn't verify online, and got from a physics professor- Schrodinger, the poser of the famous thought experiment, decided that he would quit physics and do biology instead if the experiment wasn't resolved to his satisfaction. It wasn't, and so he did- his book that mentioned that genetic information could be stored in molecule form inspired Watson and Crick to look for DNA.

Essentially, you had the old guard that figured out the basics of the atomic theory, but then bogged themselves down in grappling with the 'why?' of QM. They were followed by the new generation that didn't care about the why- they just cared about things that worked, and advanced the field significantly while the older generation withered away.

That's pretty much the only thing that scares me about the Singularity- if we achieve immortality, and are limited to finite space, what will prevent science from becoming stagnant? Ten scientists working for thirty years one after the other will do more than one scientist working for three hundred years, it seems (even though you only have to educate the one scientist once).

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@V:You know, those... (Below threshold)

March 11, 2009 7:05 AM | Posted by Aurini: | Reply

@V:

You know, those exact same thoughts, regarding the Singularity, were running through my head. I have two hopeful counterarguments, however.

First, to achieve the Singularity we'll need a quantifiable understanding of how the mind works. Understanding issues such as the one our good writer friend just described will no longer be insightful - they'll be as self evident as the genetic factor in physical illness.

Secondly, in a post-Singularity society, I expect that it will be possible to alter one's neurochemistry at will. We already do this with caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol (amongst others) on a regular basis - post-Singularity we ought to be able to do this in more subtle, effective ways.

But if all we do is manage to extend our lifespans in the next two-hundred years, well... I wouldn't expect to be picking up a pack of marijuana cigarettes at the corner store any time soon.

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I understand exactly what y... (Below threshold)

March 11, 2009 2:54 PM | Posted by Audi Byrne: | Reply

I understand exactly what you're saying. With your beginning question "does life begin at conception?", I was immediately irritated that my answer to this question might presuppose an ethical position on the issue. I see now that that was precisely your point!

With my logical approach, I think the clear answer to this question is that life begins at conception, as that is exactly when the life first exists as a well-defined, single entity. I'm a mathematician, so I think of things in terms of definitions. "When is a 'living thing' x first 'alive'?"

From my point of view, there were no ethical issues attached to answering the question. Cows and green beans are alive from the moment of conception, and I have little objection to eating them at any stage. (No a priori moral objection ... I happen to not like veal and think eating veal or eating anything could be morally objectionable in some instances.) Of course human babies are different from cows and beans, but you didn't mention human babies in your question. But yet, to finally respond to the implied ethical question -- in case you're interested in avariety of responses to your rhetorical question -- I do think it is wrong to eat human babies at any stage before or after conception.

Well, I thought about it a little more and I'm not sure... I can think of reasonable exceptions. Which is why I like to stick to math.

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Firstly, KUDOS to your site... (Below threshold)

March 11, 2009 3:33 PM | Posted by JL: | Reply

Firstly, KUDOS to your site. Secondly, does your profession conflict with the following belief/statement? "Paradigm shifts cannot occur without a change in biology: it requires a completely new generation of human beings." Isn't change the only constant.

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I'm really kind of sick of ... (Below threshold)

March 11, 2009 9:49 PM | Posted by Y.T.: | Reply

I'm really kind of sick of the "technological singularity" crowd; it's a SF idea given credence because guys like Kurzweil are willing to stand up on the stage with the same formulaic hokum of every other true-believer cum conman and tell people that "YOU can become an omniscient god through the aid of technology"

There is so much wrong with the movement:
a) The sort of breakthroughs that would allow true intelligence amplifying machine interface is just around the corner. A theme of this blog is the our inability to transcend certain scientific blind-spots, which is particularly true in psychiatry, which seems like it would have relevance to the whole "mind-machine fusion" thing
b) That the breakthrough would be necessarily beneficial. Leaving aside the hysterical terminator-esque consequences of sentient technology, who's to say that this would really solve anything? Would we not have the same impetus to go to war, just with infinitely better technology?
c) That YOU would be in on it. You know what's better than selling godhood inducing technology at a price your average blog-trolling troglodyte can afford? Keeping it for yourself.

As to your actual comments-- we cannot even conceive of what a being with a lifespan (at full capacity) many times our own would be like. If practice makes perfect, then a lifetime to devote to a craft would lead to insuperable achievement. Why does every musician seem to gravitate to music that is microtonal, or even atonal? Now imagine the kind of thoughts you would have with three hundred years experience in your field. Idiots.

Oh, and Einstein didn't get set in his ways (do you think a mind that is capable of conceiving, originally, of general relativity, would just calcify overnight?). His impressive career continued into the quantum era, it's just that it makes a better story to talk about Einstein alone at the IAS, instead of the reality.

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"Why does every musician se... (Below threshold)

March 12, 2009 10:15 AM | Posted by MedsVsTherapy: | Reply

"Why does every musician seem to gravitate to music that is microtonal, or even atonal?"

What?? my question is: how can so many musicians have a modest, brief great span, then turn out a bunch of garbage for the rest of their life? If only the supergroup "Asia" had lept from art-rock god status to microtonal music, instead video-based pop, and making that dreaded "Heat of the Moment" song stick in my head all day. ARGGHHHH!!! Help!!!! Wait - I think if I listen to some later Cat Stevens, I can overcome the heat of the moment. Ahhhh....relief.

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@YT"Oh, and Einstein... (Below threshold)

March 12, 2009 9:23 PM | Posted by V: | Reply

@YT
"Oh, and Einstein didn't get set in his ways (do you think a mind that is capable of conceiving, originally, of general relativity, would just calcify overnight?). His impressive career continued into the quantum era, it's just that it makes a better story to talk about Einstein alone at the IAS, instead of the reality."

It is true that he spend a considerable amount of time fighting the philosophical ramifications of QM, rather than working on the science. Keep in mind that the reason he was able to come up with relativity was because he had such astounding physical intuition (when it came to classical physics)- and intuition like that is of questionable use when it comes to QM. It's easy to see how his love for elegance could be affronted by the hodgepodge of early QM.

It is an exaggeration to say that Einstein didn't contribute to QM- the exchanges with Bohr and others did further the field. But his role was as a critic pointing out wrinkles that others would smooth out, rather than generating new insights.

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"A student of history knows... (Below threshold)

March 13, 2009 11:49 AM | Posted by mark p.s.2: | Reply

"A student of history knows that history repeats; what is different is the people living it, and how they frame their present."

Civilizations have come and gone. Sumer Eygpt Aztec Rome. This time the whole world is virtually a single city-civilization.

How will history repeat this time?

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Oh, so scientific paradigms... (Below threshold)

March 17, 2009 1:47 PM | Posted by spriteless: | Reply

Oh, so scientific paradigms aren't the only things that stick around for a generation before dying and being replace, just the only ones where new can be measured against the old.

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Not sure about the singualr... (Below threshold)

December 26, 2009 7:26 PM | Posted, in reply to V's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

Not sure about the singualrity (other than I don't want to be a Borg) -- but I don't think a biological change of much magnitude can occur in a generation or two. In the physics discussion you mention, the biggest factor seems to be MINDSET, not biology. The younger physicists grew up around the idea of QM, and so it seemed to make sense to them.

I don't think the average person today is so much beeter than the person from Rome or Greece or Babylon. The same types of people have always existed -- they just applied their skills to a different job. The nerdy investigators of 100AD were probably using their talents in archetecture, or maybe alchemy or theology. It's not like they didn't exist. The 2D/4D traders of today would have likely been warriors. Man is man.

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hahaha made my morning four... (Below threshold)

June 10, 2013 7:35 AM | Posted, in reply to Y.T.'s comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

hahaha made my morning four years later thanks Y.T. :)

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