Who do we remember?

The comment section of MR can go to hell, it just erased what I wrote there because I hit the wrong keyboard button when I was about to post it. So I decided to post some of my thoughts here instead.

Tyler asked, or rather a reader of his asked him: “Who will still be famous in 10,000 years?

Tyler mentions “major religious leaders (Jesus, Buddha, etc.), Einstein, Turing, Watson and Crick, Hitler, the major classical music composers, Adam Smith, and Neil Armstrong.”

Only one of those I can agree a little with – the religious leaders. The question is of course badly posed because it doesn’t clarify what is meant by famous. I think basically nobody alive/known today has much of a chance of being famous in 10.000 years. Fame implies more than name-recognition in my mind, and I’m pretty sure that’s the most you can hope for. To take an example, Aristotle isn’t famous today; some people think they know who he was (a philosopher), a few people know a little more and that’s it. Most people have no clue who he was. How many of the 1 billion people living in Africa know more than the name, if they know that much? The Chinese? People from Brazil? And a) that’s a vastly shorter timeframe, b) when he was alive, there were only maybe 170 million people who could potentially become famous, now there are 7 billion (40 times as many) and the number keeps growing.

Let’s say 10.000 years is 300 generations. Of course it could be more, it could be less, depending on how things develop, but let’s just try out with that. Let’s say that you know all there is to know about famous guy X today and you tell your child. Your child tells everything he knows to his child, ect. for 300 generations. Now assume there’s an information loss of 1 percent per generation, i.e. that your child only gets 99 % of what you had told him about the famous guy, his/her child only gets 99% of that right and so on. After 300 generations, a little less than 5 percent of the information about the famous guy will be left even though there was very little information loss at each information exchange point. If it’s 2 percent of the information that survived that gets lost instead each generation, it’s 0,2 percent of the information that survives to the end. If it’s 5 percent, it’s 2*10^(-7) of the information that’s left [that’s about equal to 2 divided by ten million] at the end.

This assumes no Great Disasters, no increasing costs of information storage over time (something I think people tend to forget when looking at very long time frames; this is basically the same as saying that individuals don’t learn new things in the year 8000 that might be more useful to know at that point in time than what color tie Einstein wore in 1934, so there’s no new information crowding out old information. Now ask yourself i) how much you know about the dietary habits of Cleopatra, ii) why you’d want to know something like that and iii) what the growth rate of historical knowledge available generally looks like? Yes, you got it right, barring Great Disasters it is increasing over time at a very fast rate.), no overcut links at any point. This is with a society basically in stasis for 10.000 years with almost perfect information sharing over time.

To be remembered in 10.000 years, you need to be a God. But even they will have a very hard time over that kind of time frame; most humans have already forgotten all about more than 99,99 percent of all the gods we ever made up. Who remembers Dis Pater anyway? Right now I’m thinking about an SMBC-comic I’d like to have linked to illustrating this ‘religions are mortal too’-concept. It does it by showing a dad tell his son some very garbled version of a mix of current religions and the Egyptian sun gods or some such in order ‘to give the child a head start, because that’s what things will be like in the future anyway, all mixed up’ or along those lines, but I can’t remember the number, the comic has over 2000 strips and I can’t find the specific strip via google (please leave a link in the comments if you think you know which one I’m thinking about).

The time frame is the killer. Maybe Muhammed or Jesus will manage, but I severely doubt it. 10.000 years is a very long time. Maybe some combination of Superman, Muhammed and Sauron will still be around at that point. Memetic mutations happen all the time and religions will not be immune to such changes in the long run. Another thing is that to think that a religion has been around for 2000 years is a sign that that religion will keep being around for ever is probably not a good idea. Religions stay around as long as the religious people keep having babies and indoctrinating them. If they do that and don’t get killed or forced to drop their Gods by people who have other Gods, they can manage in the medium to long run. The Gods of christianity and islam have done that so far, but they killed a lot of gods in the process. Who’s to say they won’t share the fate of the gods they replaced in the very long run? Would not that be the most likely outcome? Why not?

Incidentally, when you have a child, the child shares half of your DNA, half of the other parent’s DNA. Over 300 generations, what’s left of your unique original ‘DNA-package’ is equal to 4,90909…*10^(-91). The divisor in that expression is (significantly) larger than the number of atoms in the universe. Getting children is a very bad way to try to live forever, to leave a ‘permanent imprint on the world’ or some such. You might just (think that you’ll) live on a little while longer, but that’s basically it.


February 28, 2011 Posted by | rambling nonsense, Random stuff | 7 Comments

Promoting the unknown, a continuing series







February 25, 2011 Posted by | Music | Leave a comment

Wikipedia articles of interest

1. Ploidy.

2. African slave trade. From the article:

“In Senegambia, between 1300 and 1900, close to one-third of the population was enslaved. In early Islamic states of the western Sudan, including Ghana (750–1076), Mali (1235–1645), Segou (1712–1861), and Songhai (1275–1591), about a third of the population were slaves. In Sierra Leone in the 19th century about half of the population consisted of slaves.”


“Slavery as practised in what is modern Ethiopia and Eritrea was essentially domestic. Slaves thus served in the houses of their masters or mistresses, and were not employed to any significant extent for productive purpose. Slaves were thus regarded as second-class members of their owners’ family,[9] and were fed, clothed and protected. Women were taken as sex slaves. They generally roamed around freely and conducted business as free people. They had complete freedom of religion and culture.” [‘…as long as their culture and religion were compatible with the concepts of (forced) sex on demand, forced labour ect.’, US]


“The very earliest external slave trade was the trans-Saharan slave trade. Although there had long been some trading up the Nile River and very limited trading across the western desert, the transportation of large numbers of slaves did not become viable until camels were introduced from Arabia in the 10th century. By this point, a trans-Saharan trading network came into being to transport slaves north. Zanzibar was once East Africa’s main slave-trading port, and under Omani Arabs in the 19th century as many as 50,000 slaves were passing through the city each year.[33][34] Most historians estimate that between 11 and 18 million African slaves crossed the Red Sea, Indian Ocean, and Sahara Desert from 650 AD to 1900 AD,[35][36] Frequent intermarriages meant that the slaves were assimilated in North Africa. Unlike in the Americas, slaves in North Africa were mainly servants and soldiers rather than labourers, and a greater number of females than males were taken, who were often employed as servants, forced into prostitution or to become the women of harems.[37]”


“Slavery in Mauritania was finally criminalized in August 2007.[81]” […] “In Niger, where the practice of slavery was outlawed in 2003, a study found that almost 8% of the population are still slaves.[84][85]”

In case any of you had doubts about that, both Niger and Mauritania are members of UN and have been since the beginning of the 60’es. Something to keep in mind the next time the UN criticises Israel for human rights violations?

3) Electron microscopy.

4) Herbivore. An interesting bit from the article (I did not want to link to the other article about Kleiber’s law itself as I think it’s poorly written):

“Kleiber’s law explains the relationship between the size of the animal and the feeding strategy it uses. In essence, it says that larger animals need to eat less food, per unit weight, than smaller animals.[13] Kleiber’s law states that the metabolic rate (q0) of an animal is the mass of the animal (M) raise[d] to the 3/4th power […]

Therefore, the mass of the animal increases at a faster rate th[a]n the metabolic rate.”

I knew that last part, I didn’t know the precise relationship nor that this observation/relationship had a name.

5) Lieserl Einstein.

6) Kronecker product. Partly study-related link, I’ve come across this stuff during my studies before.

February 24, 2011 Posted by | Biology, Genetics, History, Mathematics, Wikipedia, Zoology | Leave a comment

An update

Mostly to make clear that even though low posting frequency often means that I feel less well than I sometimes do, this is not the reason for this last week’s lpf. I’m simply too busy to blog much or do stuff that’s blog-worthy. Didn’t really have a weekend this week at all.

Some random stuff/links:

1. How best to learn econometrics.

2. How to mate with King vs King + 2 bishops:

3. Ever wondered what a Vickrey auction is and what the optimal bidding strategy in such an auction is? No? Now you know.

4. How long can people hold their breath under water? (and many other things. The answer of course is: ‘It depends…’)

February 21, 2011 Posted by | Biology, Chess, Econometrics, Economics, Game theory, Random stuff | 2 Comments


1. “The fault I find with our journalism is that it forces us to take an interest in some fresh triviality or other every day, whereas only three or four books in a lifetime give us anything that is of real importance. Suppose that, every morning, when we tore the wrapper off our paper with fevered hands, a transmulation were to take place, and we were to find inside it – oh! I don’t know; shall we say Pascal’s Pensées?” […] “And then, in the gilt and tooled volumes which we open once in ten years,” he went on, […] “we should read that the Queen of the Hellenes had arrived at Cannes, or that the Princesse de Léon had given a fancy dress ball. In that way we should arrive at a happy medium.” (Swann’s Way, pp.28-29)

2. “I feel that there is much to be said for the Celtic belief that the souls of those whom we have lost are held captive in some inferior being, in an animal, in a plant, in some inanimate object, and thus effectively lost to us until the day (which to many never comes) when we happen to pass by the tree or to obtain possession of the object which forms their prison. Then they start and tremble, they call us by our name, and as soon as we have recognized them the spell is broken. Delivered by us, they have overcome death and return to share our life.
And so it is with our own past. It is a labour in vain to attempt to recapture it: all the efforts of our intellect must prove futile. The past is hidden somewhere outside the realm, beyond the reach of intellect, in some material object (in the sensation which that material object will give us) of which we have no inkling. And it depends on chance whether or not we come upon this object before we ourselves must die.’ (ibid, pp.50-51)

3. “‘Mrs Cake?’ said Windle, fascinated.
‘Oim down ‘ere,’ said a reproachful voice.
Windle lowered his gaze.
‘That’s ‘oo I am,’ said Mrs Cake.
‘Am I addressing Mrs Cake?’ said Windle.
‘Yes, oi, know,’ said Mrs Cake.
‘My name’s Windle Poons.’
‘Oi knew that, too.’
‘I’m a wizard, you see—‘
‘All right, but see you wipes your feet.’
‘May I come in?’
Windle Poons paused. He replayed the last few lines of conversation in the clicking control room of his brain. And then he smiled.
‘That’s right,’ said Mrs Cake.
‘Are you by chance a natural clairvoyant?’
‘About ten seconds usually, Mr Poons.’
Windle hesitated.
‘You gotta ask the question,’ said Mrs Cake quickly. ‘I gets a migraine if people goes and viciously not asks questions after I’ve already foreseen ’em and answered ’em.’
‘How far into the future can you see, Mrs Cake?’
She nodded.
(Reaper Man, pp.188-89)

4. “there is no such thing as ‘free’ service – or ‘free’ anything, for that matter. All human interactions are transactions of some kind, whether the official/customary medium of exchange is involved or not. It is all about give-and-take. Sometimes the exchange is overt and apparent, sometimes it isn’t, not even to the parties involved.” (found here)

5. “Everything MUST have a cause. Except God.” (from this article on ‘The Fine Art of Baloney Detection’)

6. “All idealization makes life poorer. To beautify it is to take away its character of complexity — it is to destroy it.” (Joseph Conrad)

7. “To different minds, the same world is a hell, and a heaven.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

8. “The only way to have a friend is to be one.” (-ll-)

February 13, 2011 Posted by | Quotes/aphorisms | Leave a comment

Menses, anemia and gastrointestinal disease

Here’s a blog post (via Ed Yong) on the subject. A quote from one of the studies mentioned:

“RESULTS: Seven of 19 (37%) premenopausal women with IDA were diagnosed to have a gynecological cause of anemia by a specialist in that field. Although only four of these seven patients had digestive complaints, all but one (86%) were discovered to have gastrointestinal disease by upper endoscopy.”

[IDA= Iron Deficiency Anemia] Yes, it’s a small-n-study, maybe it’s just a coincidence. However she makes a good case in the blog post and it’s not the only study she relies on. This subject probably needs more looking into.

February 11, 2011 Posted by | Medicine, Studies | Leave a comment

Wikipedia articles of interest

1. Avian IQ. Don’t know how good the sources are, but some of this stuff I found quite interesting. A few sentences from the article:

“Parrots have been shown to count up to 6.”

“New Caledonian Crows have been observed in the wild to use stick tools with their beaks to extract insects from logs. While young birds in the wild normally learn this technique from elders, a laboratory crow named “Betty” improvised a hooked tool from a wire with no prior experience.” [Apparently crows are very intelligent animals.]

“the brain-to-body size ratio of psittacines and corvines is actually comparable to that of higher primates.”

2. Land mine. From the article:

“Explosive land mines were being used in 1277 AD by the Song Dynasty Chinese against an assault of the Mongols, who were besieging a city in southern China.”


“Many mines combine the main trigger with a touch or tilt trigger to prevent enemy engineers from defusing it. Land mine designs tend to use as little metal as possible to make searching with a metal detector more difficult; land mines made mostly of plastic have the added advantage of being very inexpensive.” […] “Whereas the placing and arming of mines is relatively inexpensive and simple, the process of detecting and removing them is typically expensive, slow, and dangerous.”


“Anti-personnel mines are designed to kill or injure enemy combatants as opposed to destroying vehicles. They are often designed to injure rather than kill in order to increase the logistical support (evacuation, medical) burden on the opposing force.” [another reason why War Is Hell..]


“Placing minefields without marking and recording them for later removal is considered a war crime under Protocol II of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, which is itself an annex to the Geneva Conventions.”

3. Meyer Lansky.

4. Coral Reef.

“Often called “rainforests of the sea”, coral reefs form some of the most diverse ecosystems on Earth. They occupy less than one tenth of one percent of the world ocean surface, about half the area of France, yet they provide a home for twenty-five percent of all marine species”


“Live coral are small animals embedded in calcium carbonate shells. It is a mistake to think of coral as plants or rocks. Coral heads consist of accumulations of individual animals called polyps, arranged in diverse shapes.[25] Polyps are usually tiny, but they can range in size from a pinhead to a foot across. Reef-building or hermatypic corals live only in the photic zone (above 50 m depth), the depth to which sufficient sunlight penetrates the water for photosynthesis to occur. Coral polyps do not themselves photosynthesize, but have a symbiotic relationship with single-celled organisms called zooxanthellae; these organisms live within the tissues of polyps and provide organic nutrients that nourish the polyp. Because of this relationship, coral reefs grow much faster in clear water, which admits more sunlight. Indeed, the relationship is responsible for coral reefs in the sense that without their symbionts, coral growth would be too slow for the corals to form significant reef structures. Corals get up to 90% of their nutrients from their zooxanthellae symbionts.”

5. Map projection.

“A map projection is any method of representing the surface of a sphere or other three-dimensional body on a plane. Map projections are necessary for creating maps. All map projections distort the surface in some fashion. Depending on the purpose of the map, some distortions are acceptable and others are not; therefore different map projections exist in order to preserve some properties of the sphere-like body at the expense of other properties. There is no limit to the number of possible map projections.”

Here’s a two-point equidistant projection of Asia (and Europe, and a big chunk of Oceania, and part of Africa – anyway…):

6. Operation Freakout. The Fair Game article has more. Lawsuits and character assasination attempts, using an elaborate scheme to try to frame the individual for a crime she didn’t commit. Now that’s the a Western way of doing things. Radical muslims just send a guy armed with an ax to your house.

February 9, 2011 Posted by | Biology, Botany, Ecology, Geography, History, IQ, Wikipedia, Zoology | Leave a comment

The Danish ‘justice’ system

(Mostly to the non-Danish readers) So, yeah, if you’re living in Denmark and you’re not a Danish citizen and you somehow one day decide that it would be a good idea to arm yourself with an ax and a knife and break into somebody’s house and try to kill the guy living there, and you’re unsuccessfull but then get the brilliant idea that if you couldn’t kill that guy, you should at least try to kill the policemen who’re trying to arrest you afterwards; well, then you can expect to get 9 years in jail and to get deported afterwards.

February 4, 2011 Posted by | denmark | Leave a comment

Some music

It’s as if the more time I spend looking for/listening to stuff like this, the more puzzled I get and the more I want to ask the question: ‘Why didn’t anybody ever tell me about this guy (/girl)?’ Classical music is so, so, so much more than Beethoven, Chopin and Mozart (three composers I think most people know about).

Leo Ornstein‘s 4th Piano Sonata, 2. movement:

Here’s Emil Gilels playing the first movement of Saint-Saens Piano Concerto No. 2:

Perlemuter playing Fauré’s Op. 33, No.1:

Fauré’s Op. 37:

I have no idea if this one is ‘the real deal’; it might be and if so it’s beyond awesome. She died 115 years ago:

I have a deep admiration for Hamelin, he’s in my opinion one of the best guys out there and he’s not afraid to go outside the mainstream and play composers and pieces few others of his caliber have given the attention they deserve. This is one of those pieces, not ‘traditional classical music’ in any way:

February 1, 2011 Posted by | Music | Leave a comment