Friday, December 12, 2008

UFO and Asperger

It is now known that the US Air Force was a principal source of UFO
stories,in order to divert attention from real spy planes.
Public perception of Autism is another US Gov generated UFO
story, again for reasons of national security.

A German scientist, Hans Asperger, predicted as far back as 1940 that
most scientists would have Autism-spectrum personalities. Far from a
disability, Asperger predicted that it would be difficult to become a
leader in science or math without the Asperger personality.

During WWII, the US military became the principal source of US
scientific research and classified anything that could give them an
advantage. By 1943 they had confirmed ASpergers theories, which became
the basis for early identification of budding Einsteins, as well as
how to manage large groups of scientists with difficult personalities.

Stand-up comedians making jokes about the explosion in autism
diagnosis as related to parent's greed is another UFO story.

The real number of Aspergers is actually grossly understated, we are only learning now about ASpegers because the public got Feudian UFO stories from the likes of Bruno Bettelheim.


The following is an excerpt from "Kluge" by Gary Marcus

Remnants of History

"It has been said that man is a rational animal. All my life I have been searching for evidence which could support this."

-- Bertrand Russell

Are human beings "noble in reason" and "infinite in faculty" as William Shakespeare famously wrote? Perfect, "in God's image," as some biblical scholars have asserted? Hardly.

If mankind were the product of some intelligent, compassionate designer, our thoughts would be rational, our logic impeccable. Our memory would be robust, our recollections reliable. Our sentences would be crisp, our words precise, our languages systematic and

regular, not besodden with irregular verbs (sing-sang, ring-rang, yet bring-brought) and other peculiar inconsistencies. As the language maven Richard Lederer has noted, there would be ham in hamburger, egg in eggplant. English speakers would park in parkways and drive on driveways, and not the other way around.

At the same time, we humans are the only species smart enough to systematically plan for the future -- yet dumb enough to ditch our most carefully made plans in favor of short-term gratification. ("Did I say I was on a diet? Mmm, but three-layer chocolate mousse is my favorite... MaybeI'll start my diet tomorrow.") We happily drive across town to save $25 on a $100 microwave but refuse to drive the same distance to save exactly the same $25 on a $1,000 flat-screen TV.

We can barely tell the difference between a valid syllogism, such as All men are mortal, Socrates is a man, therefore Socrates is mortal, and a fallacious counterpart, such as All living things need water, roses need water, therefore roses are living things (which seems fine until you substitute car batteries for roses). If I tell you that "Every sailor loves a

girl," you have no idea whether I mean one girl in particular (say, Betty Sue) or whether I'm really saying "to each his own." And don't even get me started on eyewitness testimony, which is based on the absurd premise that we humans can accurately remember the details of a briefly witnessed accident or crime, years after the fact, when the average person is hard pressed to keep a list of a dozen words straight for half an hour.

I don't mean to suggest that the "design" of the human mind is a total train wreck, but if I were a politician, I'm pretty sure the way I'd put it is "mistakes were made." The goal of this book is to explain what mistakes were made -- and why.

Where Shakespeare imagined infinite reason, I see something else, what engineers call a "kluge." A kluge is a clumsy or inelegant -- yet surprisingly effective -- solution to a problem. Consider, for example, what happened in April 1970 when the CO2 filters on the already endangered lunar module of Apollo 13 began to fail. There was no way to send a replacement filter up to the crew -- the space shuttle hadn't been invented yet -- and no way to bring the capsule home for several more days. Without a filter, the crew would be doomed.

The mission control engineer, Ed Smylie, advised his team of the situation, and said, in effect, "Here's what's available on the space capsule; figure something out." Fortunately, the ground crew was able to meet the challenge, quickly cobbling together a crude filter substitute out of a plastic bag, a cardboard box, some duct tape, and a sock.

The lives of the three astronauts were saved. As one of them, Jim Lovell, later recalled, "The contraption wasn't very handsome, but it worked."

Not every kluge saves lives. Engineers sometimes devise them for sport, just to show that something -- say, building a computer out of Tinkertoys -- can be done, or simply because they're too lazy to do something the right way. Others cobble together kluges out of a mixture of desperation and resourcefulness, like the TV character MacGyver, who, needing to make a quick getaway, jerry-built a pair of shoes from duct tape and rubber mats. Other kluges are created just for laughs, like Wallace and Gromit's "launch and activate" alarm clock/coffeemaker/Murphy bed and Rube Goldberg's "simplified

pencil sharpener" (a kite attached to a string lifts a door, which allows moths to escape, culminating in the lifting of a cage, which frees a woodpecker to gnaw the wood that surrounds a pencil's graphite core). MacGyver's shoes and Rube Goldberg's pencil sharpeners are nothing, though, compared to perhaps the most fantastic kluge of

them all -- the human mind, a quirky yet magnificent product of the entirely blind process of evolution.

The origin, and even the spelling, of the word kluge is up for grabs. Some spell it with a d (kludge), which has the virtue of looking as clumsy as the solutions it denotes, but the disadvantage of suggesting the wrong pronunciation. (Properly pronounced, kluge rhymes with huge, not sludge.)* Some trace the word to the old Scottish word

cludgie, which means "an outside toilet." Most believe the origins lie in the German word Kluge, which means "clever." The Hacker's Dictionary of Computer Jargon traces the term back at least to 1935, to a "Kluge [brand] paper feeder," described as "an adjunct to mechanical printing presses."

The Kluge feeder was designed before small, cheap electric motors and control electronics; it relied on a fiendishly complex assortment of cams, belts, and linkages to both power and synchronize all its operations from one motive driveshaft. It was

accordingly temperamental, subject to frequent breakdowns, and devilishly difficult to repair -- but oh, so clever!

*One could argue that the spelling klooge (rhymes with stooge) would even better capture the pronunciation, but I'm not about to foist a third spelling upon the world.

Virtually everybody agrees that the term was first popularized in February 1962, in an article titled "How to Design a Kludge," written, tongue in cheek, by a computer pioneer named Jackson Granholm, who defined a kluge as "an ill-assorted collection of poorly matching parts, forming a distressing whole." He went on to note that "the

building of a Kludge... is not work for amateurs. There is a certain, indefinable, masochistic finesse that must go into true Kludge building. The professional can spot it instantly. The amateur may readily presume that 'that's the way computers are.'"

The engineering world is filled with kluges. Consider, for example, something known as vacuum-powered windshield wipers, common in most cars until the early 1960s. Modern windshield wipers, like most gizmos on cars, are driven by electricity, but back in the

olden days, cars ran on 6 volts rather than 12, barely enough power to keep the spark plugs going and certainly not enough to power luxuries like windshield wipers. So some clever engineer rigged up a kluge that powered windshield-wiper motors with suction, drawn from the engine, rather than electricity. The only problem is that the amount

of suction created by the engine varies, depending on how hard the engine is working. The harder it works, the less vacuum it produces.

Which meant that when you drove your 1958 Buick Riviera up a hill, or accelerated hard, your wipers slowed to a crawl, or even stopped working altogether. On a rainy day in the mountains, Grandpa was out of luck.

What's really amazing -- in hindsight -- is that most people probably didn't even realize it was possible to do better. And this, I think, is a great metaphor for our everyday acceptance of the idiosyncrasies of the human mind. The mind is inarguably impressive, a lot better than any available alternative. But it's still flawed, often in ways we scarcely recognize. For the most part, we simply accept our faults -- such as our emotional outbursts, our mediocre memories, and our vulnerability to prejudice -- as standard equipment. Which is exactly why recognizing a kluge, and how it might be improved upon, sometimes requires thinking outside the box. The best science, like the best engineering, often comes from understanding not just how things are, but how else they could have been.

If engineers build kluges mostly to save money or to save time, why does nature build them? Evolution is neither clever nor penny-pinching. There's no money involved, no foresight, and if it takes a billion years, who's going to complain? Yet a careful look at biology reveals kluge after kluge. The human spine, for example, is a lousy solution

to the problem of supporting the load in an upright, two-legged creature. It would have made a lot more sense to distribute our weight across four equal cross-braced columns. Instead, all our weight is borne by a single column, putting enormous stress on the spine.

We manage to survive upright (freeing our hands), but the cost for many people is agonizing back pain. We are stuck with this barely adequate solution not because it is the best possible way to support the weight of a biped, but because the spine's structure evolved from that of four-legged creatures, and standing up poorly is (for creatures like us, who use tools) better than not standing up at all.

Meanwhile, the light-sensitive part of our eye (the retina) is installed backward, facing the back of the head rather than the front. As a result, all kinds of stuff gets in its way, including a bunch of wiring that passes through the eye and leaves us with a pair of blind spots, one in each eye.

Another well-known example of an evolutionary kluge comes from a rather intimate detail of male anatomy. The tubing that runs from the testis to the urethra (the vas deferens) is much longer than necessary: it runs back to front, loops around, and does a 180-degree turn back to the penis. A parsimonious designer interested in conserving materials (or in efficiency of delivery) would have connected the testis directly to the penis with just a short length of tubing; only because biology builds on what has come before is the system set up so haphazardly. In the words of one scientist, "The [human] body is a bundle of imperfections, with... useless protuberances above the nostrils, rotting teeth with trouble-prone third molars, aching feet..., easily strained backs, and naked tender skin, subject to cuts, bites, and, for many, sunburn. We are poor runners and are only about a third as strong as chimpanzees smaller than ourselves."

To this litany of human-specific imperfections, we might add dozens more that are widely shared across the animal world, such as the byzantine system by which DNA strands are separated prior to DNA replication (a key process in allowing one cell to become two).

One molecule of DNA polymerase does its job in a perfectly straightforward fashion, but the other does so in a back-and-forth, herkyjerky way that would drive any rational engineer insane.

Nature is prone to making kluges because it doesn't "care" whether its products are perfect or elegant. If something works, it spreads. If it doesn't work, it dies out. Genes that lead to successful outcomes tend to propagate; genes that produce creatures that can't

cut it tend to fade away; all else is metaphor. Adequacy, not beauty, is the name of the game.

Nobody would doubt this when it comes to the body, but somehow, when it comes to the mind, many people draw the line. Sure, my spine is a kluge, maybe my retina too, but my mind? It's one thing to accept that our body is flawed, quite another to accept that our mind is too.

Indeed, there is a long tradition in thinking otherwise. Aristotle saw man as "the rational animal," and economists going back to John Stuart Mill and Adam Smith have supposed that people make decisions based on their own self-interest, preferring wherever possible to buy low and sell high, maximizing their "utility" wherever they can.

Gary Marcus is an award-winning Professor of Psychology at New York University, and Director of the NYU Center for Child Language. He is the author of the 2004 book Birth of the Mind, and the new book, Kluge: the Haphazard Construction of the Human Mind (Faber & Faber, ISBN: 978-0-5712-3651-0).

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posted by u2r2h at 5:14 PM


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