I failed to post a blog entry last week, and in order to make up for it, I should post two this week. Here’s the second one.

Lesswrong is a blogging group that is “dedicated to the art of refining human rationality”. There are a lot of posts about Bayesian probability, Cognitive biases, Artificial intelligence etc, and if you’re new to it, I’d recommend starting at one of the sequences. Apart from online discussions, lesswrong community has come to realize the importance of meeting up in person. This is particularly important considering the kind of audience and participants the blog attracts – slightly geeky individuals possessing high IQ who are presumably not the most social people. I can relate.

The Ottawa meetup group started sometime in the summer with an average 6 people attending every week. For various reasons, people have stopped coming. It seems, those who were aware of it when it started were the only ones to join the group – around 10 people. We did not make any efforts to spread the word around. In any case, the average group size is 3 ( Alex, Andrew and me), and occasionally a couple of other people show up. So, here’s a summary of what goes in a typical meetup. This one was a couple of weeks ago.

Summary of Monday’s meeting –
We were supposed to meet at Andrew’s at 7.30, but it got postponed to 8. Alex was 15 minutes late, and when he arrived at 8.30 he brought a pack of “Set” cards. The three of us played one round while doing some bistro combinatorics on the game. As usual, for every game there’s a mathematician who’s studied it. http://www.math.rutgers.edu/~maclagan/papers/set.pdf

We then moved over to the couch. I had printed 3 copies of chapters 2 and 3, and surprise surprise!! only 3 people showed up. Talking about making decisions under uncertainty, I asked Alex to ask me about any outward-looking issue lesswrong deals with ( not the self-help ones ), and I said I’d reduce it to an issue in complexity. He asked something along the lines of “making decisions under uncertainty”, and I quickly interpreted it as “optimal decisions” and hand-wavingly introduced bounded rationality – the process of optimization of ones perceived “decision function” is critically ,possibly non-linearly, affected by ones intelligence. Alex then asked for some examples of problems in P and some in NP. After an embarrassing amount of thought to come up with a simple example, i gave a couple of terrible examples. But since I’m writing stuff down, here are some better ones –

NP Complete – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_NP-complete_problems#Games_and_puzzles
P – I mentioned matrix multiplication.

TODO for next monday – Clarify the meaning of decision problems and then the classes P, and NP. And basically why P=NP is the most important problem in math.

Other usual favourite topics that surfaced included the genetic influence of homosexuality, cryogenics etc. Andrew asked the following question : What if there was a machine into which you stepped, and out came an exact copy of you but your original was destroyed. I obviously pointed out the no-cloning theorem while Alex remarked that perhaps no significant things that make us us have Quantum origins. Then we proceeded into debating about how we  compute “I” – this was a long conversation. I pointed out that until very recently in human evolution any definition of “I” had a significant genetic/family/culture factor, where as now. in the context of “uploading our brains”, we’re defining “I” in a purely intellectual manner. Basically arguing about whether it’s ok for genes to ‘go jump in the lake”. This went on for a while, and Alex remarked that my thoughts race ahead of my words to the extent that the conversation seemed like a random walk. On homosexuality, I quickly mentioned that it wasn’t an ESS – homosexuals will not procreate and will die out. Alex mentioned that a recessive gay gene could exist in a person, while his homosexual brother who has two recessive gay genes can help him survive and procreate by providing resources. Andrew pointed that incidence of homosexuality is observed to be higher in the younger siblings. I wasn’t totally convinced that Andrew’s gay-producing theory and Alex’s gay-maintaining theory added up to their prevalence. We also wondered about homosexuality proportions in animals.

That’s about as much as my aching head could remember. We did not cover much of the paper, but we will continue doing it. Next week, I propose we play some card game ( Sets was fun ), sit down and go through some concepts and try to cover chapters 2 and hopefully some part of 3 in reasonable detail. “Fart sessions” as we used to, in undergrad,  refer to any undirected, dissipative discussion sessions ( http://archiv.tu-chemnitz.de/pub/2006/0020/data/MAthesis_EvelynRichter.pdf ) will inextricably follow.