... seeking simple answers to complex problems, and in the process, disrupting the status quo in technology, art and behavior.
Tuesday, August 05, 2014
I did my first solo long-distance hike of 13 miles when I was 12 years old. I started distance running in my teens. When drafted into the Army I was informed that my flat feet would eventually cause nerve compression. I got special boots.
I built up to marathons in my 20s and 30s. In the last couple of decades I've returned to mountain hiking, but longer distances and rougher ground. I've hike across the Grand Canyon in nine hours. I've ran and hiked across California from Reno to the ocean at Santa Cruz in multiple sections at different times, the longest of which was 51 miles in 16 hours. I've done parts of it twice. I've hiked the Tahoe Rim Trail. Most of my life I've ran or hiked 40 to 50 miles a week.
But that all changed in January.
Yep. On a hiking vacation to Las Vegas when I logged well over 100 miles in less than a week, that nerve finally compressed. I've had the condition diagnosed and treated, but it's now down to surgery of unpredictable outcome, or I back off on the miles. So we get to the topic at hand - bikes and trikes.
Since February I've been riding my mountain bike but mostly on streets because of time constraints. These rides remind me of why I never liked bikes much. I hate spending all my time looking at the ground. My hands get numb from the vibration, and those seats didn't deserve the title. Bikes are literally a pain in the ass.
My Schwinn Stingray in 5th grade was the exception. Thinking back, it was almost a recumbent. It had a nice wide seat you sat ON, instead of it having it inserted. And high-risers there was not much weight on the handle-bars. Again, that wide seat took all the load. Plus the visibility was excellent. It wasn't very fast, but it was agile and fun.
Over the last few weeks I set out to find an alternative to my mountain bike. It's not that I have a bad bike. It's an aluminum alloy Specialize with full suspension. I think it cost me over $2k new, and has lots of gears and cool features. It's the riding position I don't like.
Last week I rode a tadpole style recumbent tricycle for the first time. I found this guy in Alameda, California who is an expert with recumbents. His name is Zach Kaplan. He is a wealth of information. If you have any interest at all, spend some time with him. He let me try out a couple of his trikes and I fell in love with the experience immediately.
I now own the Catrike pictured above. It's light, fast and agile. I realize I'm too early in this honeymoon to be objective, but three wheels is SO much more fun than two. Yes, I know I'm now harder to see on the road, but we live in the age of LED strobes. I leave mine on. And it's true that trikes don't climb hills as well as bikes, but those are the ONLY two drawbacks I've found so far.
Trikes yield a more intense visceral experience.
Trikes are FAR more comfortable.
Trikes are FAR more stable.
Trikes can stop faster.
Trikes can go faster.
Trikes are more fun.
You can see the world around you.
If you get the chance, give a trike a try.
You'll see what I mean.
Monday, June 30, 2014
Unfortunately, the same thing happened to trailbikes that happened to cars - over the years, they got heavier. Then motors got bigger to carry that extra weight, which made everything heavier still. Unlike cars, this weight had more impact on handling, especially on rough ground. It's not easy getting a 300 lb motorcycle over a log.
I'm still waiting for a modern version of the 1978 VW Rabbit which weighed 1880 pounds dry. With modern technology it should be able to get 100 MPG. In the mean-time, it looks like Yamaha may be thinking the same thing. It's only a concept, but it's headed in the right direction:
Yamaha shows retro lightweight 125cc motorcycle that gets 220 mpg
Bring it on!
Sunday, June 29, 2014
I'm going to start a post here which I will update from time to time to make my economic predictions a matter of public record. Some of these are summarized from the past. The rest are current, predicting the future.
Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds
01-01-12 - The Euro will survive since Germany has already involuntarily funded the weak sisters through the central Buba bank claims of half a trillion Euros. Now they only need formally loan that much so the weak sisters can own up to their claims in their central bank and hand the money back to them. In for a penny, in for a pound.
01-01-12 - China is building 36 million new apartments to distract investors from the 64 million condos already completed, but still standing empty. That's exactly 100 million new units total, which makes our 7 million empty houses look like a minor disturbance.
The real question is, where will these 230 million people work when they come in from the farm? And how much will they be paid? The growth honeymoon is over in China. Now they'll have to do it the hard way. Ironically, organized labor will be their next major political force on the street. Stand by for volatile times in China.
01-31-11 - Collectibles will be the next financial bubble, will have a long expansion and selective contractions over years before final collapse.
06-29-14 RIGHT! And it continues... The pain hasn't started.
THE UNITED STATES
The U.S. will gently return to a slow growth "new normal" as we complete our transformation to the information age, and continue to lead in tech design. 06-22-10
China will become the world's manufacture, but have the greatest volatility as they grow too quickly in political fits and starts. Russia will provide grain and energy, but struggle to achieve true democracy. India will evolve more slowly around customer service. Brazil will be the emerging star of the next decade. Still not much hope for Africa. 06-22-10
Because of last year's $150 per barrel oil, in less than five years we will be awash in energy from multiple sources such that energy will be available at the equivalent of $1.99 a gallon in today's dollars - 01-01-10.
Somewhat right. Though about twice that, energy has remained relatively cheap and will continue that way for another six years at least. 06-29-14
06-29-14 - RIGHT! Four years and going strong, but has bifracated into biflation. Basic goods and energy remain relatively cheap because of continued improvements in agriculture and manufacturing. There is no general spiraling price increases. But "unique" has taken on a whole new value in our culture reflected in the price of collectibles and some real estate - both have seen dramatic inflation using quantitative easing dollars of the one percent. This trend will continue for another six years until at least 2020.
06-29-14 - Deflation and low bond yields will continue to drive equities up for the longest bull market in history.
Wednesday, June 25, 2014
04-23-14 - I've been collecting data for this post since 2010. Considering recent prices for art, it's past time to release it:
1988 Jeff Koons sculpture of Buster Keaton on a horse - sold for $5 million 12-17-12
Economic bubbles are fascinating specifically because they have little to do with economics, and everything to do with human behavior. In other words, little to do with logic, and everything to do with intuition.
Goods and services have a fundamental value reflected in how the thing contributes to our calories or shelter. Yes, there's more to life than than being fed and dry, but values become more abstract and subjective once security, health and aesthetics become factors. And things get REALLY crazy when human vanity, greed and speculation are brought to bear. These last factors are the source of economic bubbles.
Bubbles are driven by the "Greater Fool Theory" in which the value of something will increase with each transfer as long as there is another a greater fool. Well, until there isn't. The guy holding title when the music stops is the loser. That's when everyone realizes the last transaction price was absurd. After that, the object in question's value will drop dramatically and its market go quiet for decades. Whom ever is left holding the bag will have to wait until "the thing" comes back in fashion. If ever.
Even though the lesson of economic bubbles has been presented many times and in vivid detail, the lesson never seems to take. Or maybe I should say, there always seems to be a greater fool. In the interest of those thinking about becoming a fool and chasing the next bubble, I'll present some historical examples of the phenomenon, their characteristics, and why it's ill-advised to get involved. Finally, for those still interested, I'll present my candidate for the next bubble, and why. Maybe you can get in (and out) early. Let's review some of the more famous bubbles to understand how they expanded, collapsed, and their ultimate impact upon our economy.
The genesis of bubble behavior almost certainly goes back to ownership of property itself. There are likely examples lost to history, but one of the earliest and most vivid major economic bubbles was Tulip Mania.
Strange as it may seem, it was literally the selling of future contracts for, of all things, tulip bulbs. Don't let this humble flower fail to impress you. The demand was amazing, and provides an example of human behavior run a muck with a thing called fashion. For a flower.
In February of 1637 there were examples of single tulip bulbs selling for the current equivalent of ten years salary for a craftsman - for EACH bulb! This was certainly in the hundreds of thousands of today's dollars. Yep. One flower bulb, a decoration for the table. The key was that each bulb was unique in color and pattern and could be farmed, and their contracts traded. Even though many similar families were bred, uniqueness is well, unique. And unique allows for amazing rationalization, or shall we say irrationalization?
Some of the stories are amazing. In one case, a workman mistakenly assumed a valuable tulip bulb on the kitchen table of his employer was a common onion. He sliced it up for his sandwich, (appreciating it for its aesthetic flavor, and fundamental value in calories). When discovered, he was sent to debtor's prison for his error. There are many other examples of how these crazy tulip prices destroyed people's lives. Mania is a good description for the love of these flowers and the strange market it created.
Though this bubble was narrow (a small part of national wealth), it was extremely deep (10,000 multiple). That multiple significantly increased the asset value of the Bank of Amsterdam for a time. After the bubble popped, negative effects were felt for years. In less than 90 days from the peak price, a tulip bulb was only worth, well, a tulip bulb, which was only it's aesthetic value as a flower, (or calories). It could be argued that the workman was the most rational person in that economy. A couple of smaller tulip bubbles in other areas happened later, but the value of tulips has never again approached that peak anywhere in the world.
South Seas Bubble
You'd think Tulip Mania would be chapter one in every business book for centuries, but less than 80 years later everyone seems to have forgotten the lesson. The South Seas Bubble had almost nothing to do with the South Seas. Instead its major asset was literally HALF of England's debt. The hopeful trade with South America allowed for the instruments of speculation (shares), and much of the government was complicit in promoting the investment, which increased borrowing for speculation ten-fold before it popped. This bubble was both wide (half the national debt) and fairly deep (ten times any possible fundamental value). When it popped, it too depressed the economy of England for years.
The First Tech Bubble
Let's move to modern times. The first tech bubble has many good examples, but one I know well as they were a competitor. In 1982 Fortune Systems was building a 68000-based micro-computer system. They floated the 7th largest IPO in U.S. history at the time, raising $110 million at a half a billion dollar evaluation. This was for a new company with no profits that had shipped fewer than 200 units, most of which were having problems. Of course all was lost when the product didn't pan out. There were other early public tech offerings but except for a few like Apple Computer, most shared the same fate. This shows bubbles don't have to be big to be crazy. This was a modest bubble at the time, but it provided a taste of what was soon to come.
Tokyo Real Estate Bubble
Japanese real estate prices started rising dramatically in 1986 and were highest in Tokyo's Ginza district in 1989. Choice properties were fetching over 30 million yen per square meter ($20,000 per square foot!) at one point. Prices were only marginally less in other large business districts of Tokyo. HALF of the WORLD's real estate value was in one relatively small island called Japan.
By 1990 the party was over. In 2004, prime "A" property in Tokyo's financial districts had slumped to less than 1 percent of its peak, and Tokyo's residential homes were less than a tenth of their peak, but still managed to be listed as the most expensive in the world, only being surpassed in the late 2000s by Moscow and other cities creating their own bubbles. The Tokyo bubble was both wide and deep. Tens of TRILLIONS of dollars worth of "asset value" were wiped out with the combined collapse of the Tokyo real estate and dependent stock markets. Only 18 years later in 2007 had property prices begun to rise, before falling again in late 2008 due to the global downturn. Japan has not yet recovered. It's now been decades.
The Internet Leads the Second Tech Bubble
On the day Netscape went public I gave a talk explaining how there was NO reason to value a company with NO revenue and NO profits at almost 4 BILLION dollars. As it turns out, this too was just a taste of what is common today. By the time the internet bubble crashed in the spring of 2000 it had created an estimated 6.2 TRILLION dollars in value, 90% of which disappeared within weeks. Even though mostly limited to only a segment of technology, this bubble was widely subscribed. It's impact was felt world-wide for years.
U.S. Housing Bubble
As money shuffle out of the internet, I began wondering where it would go next. I watched in disbelief as house prices doubled (or in some cases tripled) in California, Nevada, Arizona and Florida. At the peak, lotteries were held for the RIGHT to buy new residential construction. Some high-end properties were being sold for up to $700 a square foot at nearby Lake Tahoe, which was far beyond its value in materials. The difference was (ir)rationalized by location. I don't need to go on about the housing bubble. Everyone else already has. I'll just note that it represented "assets" of around 10 TRILLION dollars and seems to have triggered a collapse of a credit and asset bubble on Wall Street of even greater magnitude. This bubble was also devastating to main street, which continues to be affected.
Chinese Real Estate and Debt Bubble
What may come to be known as the Chinese bubble is similar to what happened in the west but may be far larger when evaluated in retrospect, once good data is available. In the United States, approximately five million "extra" housing units were constructed in the early part of this century. China has built between 70 and HUNDRED million housing units in a similar time-frame. Now, China has a lot more people and many of them need houses, but there was a disconnect in market forces for of this construction. Most of these units are executive homes and do not match the need nor demand from the market. Mitigating these glorious ghost cities will be far more difficult than foreclosing and reselling the American homes. If you own anything in China, sell. Which brings us to the point of this post. Where will all the fools go next?
05-05-14 - "Forget it, Jake; it's Chinatown" - more signs of cracks in China:
Zombies once destroyed Japan’s economy—now they’re infecting China’s
The Next Bubble
Now that bubbles are understood, we'll never again get caught. Right? Not necessarily. In Wikipedia on Bubbles it's noted that bubbles are generally identified in retrospect, much like bull and bear markets. Bubbles sneak up on people. As a matter of fact, people (and their human behavior) seem to be their secret sauce.
Is a fool someone who pays more for a thing than its fundamental value? Or is a fool someone who doesn't manage to sell the thing to a greater fool before the music stops? And what about the guy who doesn't immediately sell once the "price" exceeds this fundamental value? Doesn't he also become a fool at that instant? Where do the lines get drawn? In retrospect it's easy. Seeing these lines while they are happening is more of a challenge.
The truth is, ALL investors are fools to one degree or another. It's just a matter of how long we feed the bubble and how it eventually deflates. It's all depends on where you get in, and where you get out. That's where the human behaviors of greed, denial and fear comes in.
So what will be the next bubble?
Real estate? Not in our life-time. China will be the final nail in that coffin. The upturn in the U.S. last year was just a dead cat bounce. It will abate soon, and mark the beginning of a long flat market for residential real estate in America, and around the world.
Stocks? Nope. Like real estate, the current bull market is just a return to normal after the crash. There's already stock bubble talk, which will likely dampen the drive upward shortly.
Gold Bubble? Nope. It's too obvious to do more than double unless we have major civil disruption. Also, since it has virtually no fundamental value, it could be argued that gold is always in a bubble, by degrees.
The next significant bubble will be none of the above. The next bubble will be in collectibles, and it's already well underway.
A Zen Bubble
According to Businessweek, "There has been a 434% increase in value of the top 50 contemporary and postware artists since 2003". And a record high of $142 million has been set for "Three Studies of Lucian Freud" who only died in 2002. Usually artists have to be dead for MUCH longer to fetch such absurd prices. And that's just one example.
Almost $66 BILLION of fine art was sold in 2013. That's only ONE year of ONE segment of collectibles. There's also fine wine, cars, books, stamps, money and too many other obscure segments to be named, which is the real point. With tulips, it was only tulips. With web start-ups, it was only web start-ups. In collectibles, there are at least a million places for fake value to hide, many of them unique. This bubble has truffles at $100K per pound, a figurine for $5 million and a puppy (!) for $1.5 million. Did you even realize people collected truffles? I didn't.
The point is, the prices for art (and cars, and wine, and etc.) reflect far more than typical aesthetic value. These prices are dominated by speculation. This is clearly a bubble, no matter how you wish to rationalize it. Or more precisely, these are bubblets as each of these segments lives in its own world of "investors" who generally ignore the others. There is no limit to their rationalized value. This segmentation is what will make this bubble so different from the ones that have come before. This bubble is not a bubble at all. It's more like foam rising off the euphoria of too much champagne. And as foam, it will play out in a far different way than the typical bubble.
This collectibles bubble is both wide, deep and insidious. Worse than its absurd dollar value is its stealth. The types of collectibles are almost infinite, since virtually anything ever created by man or nature can be collected.. Many unique items are in a class of one. If it has value to anyone, it has value to a speculator. And if it has value to a speculator, its price will ultimately be driven far beyond it's fundamental or aesthetic value.
Like other bubbles, the price of any unique item or the whole segment will increase right up until it doesn't. If you dig deep, you'll find many examples of bubblets collapsing, but most investors don't take notice unless they own the item. These collectors lick their wounds in silence. Who wants to brag about a loss?
Its stealth nature will be the hallmark of this bubble. This collapsing foam of bubblets will not make any major news, well unless a big segment such as fine art collapses in general. But that's less likely because each piece can be effectively rationalized then hidden away, which will be another aspect of this bubble -the absence of liquidity. Pieces will ultimately be hard to sell, and will therefore go back in the closet. We may even see a time when collectible sales drop off, and the items simply used as collateral for loans, which may drive yet another credit bubble. In any case, this Zen bubble may go on for decades, or longer.
Since a unique item can have a theoretically infinite value, expect some wild examples. Here are a few I've "collected" over the last several years. Most are just headlines or links. You'll have to Google for details.
When will we see the first BILLION dollar collectible transaction?
"$160,000 for a $666.66 Computer! An Apple computer purchased more than 30 years ago has sold for 425 times its original selling price. From the article: 'An Apple-1, one of only about 200 such machines built in Apple co-founder Steve Jobs' parents' garage, sold at Christie's auction house in London today for 133,250 pounds (about $210,700). The Apple-1, which didn't include a casing, power supply, keyboard, or monitor, originally retailed for $666.66 in 1976. Apple discontinued the model in 1977.'"
$330K for 2.87 lbs of rare white truffle!
05-23-11 A Rolex wristwatch made in 1942 sold for a record $1.16 million at Christie's!
$194K for a 38 inch toy boat once owned by Malcolm Forbes!
$302,500 for Andy Warhol print of Mao Zedong - TEN TIMES the estimate!
1923 Leica 0-series becomes world's most expensive camera, fetches $1.89 million at auction!
Marilyn Monroe's Seven Year Itch dress, which went under the hammer at auction on Saturday, is a record breaker. The iconic white dress fetched $5.5 million!
A Stradivarius built in 1721, which once belonged to Lord Byron's granddaughter, sold online for $15.9 million!
A Jean-Michel Basquiat self-portrait sold for $3.3 million on 06-27-2011, five times more than in 2003!
World's oldest running car fetches $4.6 million at auction
Gerhard Richter's 1982 painting Kerze (Candle) fetched $16.6 million at a Christie's sale, an auction record for the artist, who says the price is "as absurd as the banking crisis".10-24-11
Why IS Art So Damned Expensive? 12-03-11
Queen Victoria's bloomers sold for $15K, three times estimate. Skid marks free. 11-07-11
Rare 1787 Gold Coin Sells for $7.4 Million
Roy Lichtenstein's 1961 painting, I Ca See the Whole Room!... and There's Nobody in It! sold for $43 million 11-14-11
A set of eight scrolls of lotus flowers PAINTED THIS YEAR by Chinese artist Cui Ruzhuo sold for $15 million!
The ultimate inflation: A 1793 copper one-cent coin sold for $1.38 million at Heritage Auctions - 01-16-12
The 1889 van Gogh Vue de l'asile et de la Chapelle de Saint-Remy formerly owned by Elizabeth Taylor sold for $16 million. 2-19-12
The 1963 Francis Bacon "Portrait of Henrietta Moraes" sold for $33 million. 02-20-12
A Ruyao bowl that dates from 1086 to 1106 sold for 26.7 million dollars at Sotheby's, a record 04-09-12
This year (2012), paintings by Warhol and Munch are expected to sell for more than $50 million each. 05-01-12
Munch's "The Scream" went for $119.9 million dollars, more than twice estimates. 05-04-12
Why did this Mini sell for over $65,000?
05-08-12 - A teacup Lady Gaga used last year in Japan sold for $75,000. What's next, used toilet tissue?
05-09-12 The $412 check that DC Comics gve artist Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in 1938 to buy the right to the Superman character, and for other work, fetched $160,000 at an online auction.
05-11-12 A blue flannel New York Yankees baseball cap worn by Babe Ruth in the 1930 is on the block, estimated to be worth $400,000.
05-15-12 Mark Rothko's fiery 1961 canvas, Orange, Red, Yellow fetched a record $86.9 million after a $45 million estimate.
07-07-12 Joan Miro's 1927 Peinture fetched $37 million at Southeby's
08-20-12 Cover art for issue 328 of The Amazing Spider-Man sold for $657,250, a record for comic book art.
09-01-12 and setting new records in each category:
Cezanne's painting "The Card Players" for $250 million
Superman's first edition went for $2.16 million.
The first map of the United States for $1.5 million
A live Red Tibetan Mastiff puppy for $1.5 million
Audubon 1st edition bird book $11.5 million
The two guns taken off Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow sold for a total of $504,000. I wonder if they could have appreciated the irony. 10-18-12
Two 1941 Sun Yat-sen stamps sold for $709,000 10-22-12
The 1951 drip painting Number 4 by Jackson Pollock sold for $40,400,000 at Sotheby's. 11-19-12
Indian weddings have become a bubble and are an excellent example of bizarre human fashion. The wedding industry in India is now growing at 25% per year. India is now consuming 30% of the world's gold production, and half of it goes for Indian weddings. The estimates for 2012 wedding costs in India are about $40 billion, and this is in a country with a per capita GDP of only $4000. Could this gold be considered a collectible?
A blood-stained sock worn by Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling in the 2004 World Series fetched $92, 613 at auction. 03-20-13
07-01-13 An untitled 1982 painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat sold for $29 million at Christie's
09-04-13 A vintage Ferrari Spyder convertible sold for 28 million in the same week that a diamond and a yacht went for about same amount. Is $30 million a special price point?
10-14-13 Sotheby's sets new record prices in China with $30,800,000 for a diamond, $30,500,000 million for a bronze Buddha and $23,300,000 for Zeng Fanzhi's, "The Last Supper", the highest price ever for a contemporary Asian artist.
11-18-13 The car that won the 1954 Formula 1 world championship, a Mercedes-Benz W196R coupe became the most expensive car ever sold at $30 million.
04-30-2014 "In 2013, one blue fin tuna was auctioned off for $1.7 million..."
05-01-14 Even sales of early scraps of an artist's work have exceeded a million dollars:
DYLAN'S 'LIKE A ROLLING STONE' HEADS TO AUCTION
The Most Expensive Homes in the World
And one more from the age of opulence:
This Absurd Mansion Features Star Trek-Themed Rooms And Could Be Yours For $35 Million
So what's up with Popeye?
Steve Wynn paid $28 million for Jeff Koons sculpture of Popeye.
Andy Warhol's Popeye is appraised at $50 million.
Roy Lichtenstein's Popeye is appraised at $47 million.
It makes one want to start drawing cartoons.
Why are so many people paying so much money for art?
"Owning collectibles offers one major advantage – one that I think drives 90% of the demand for collectibles: It's a great way to protect your wealth from the IRS. People know that when they die, the IRS won't have any idea what is hanging up on their walls or hiding in their vaults. So they hide money in these trophies to give to their children to avoid estate taxes. Mind you, I'm not passing judgment on these actions, nor am I recommending them… I just believe that's why a lot of demand for collectibles exists.
Collectibles are also easily transferable across borders. You can take a Picasso on a private jet and move $100 million offshore. And no one even knows you have it.
When you buy collectibles, you're betting on the irresponsibility of the government and the wickedness of the tax system… If the government gets more irresponsible and the tax system gets more heinous, you'll probably do well. And I think that's a good bet. But you should understand that's what you're betting on."
04-29-14 - The above observation is an excellent example of how tax policy can distort markets. It's also an excellent reason to collect, an reasonable rationalization.
04-25-14 A collector paid $2 million for Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone", a record for lyrics.
07-09-14 Claude Monet's "Water Lilies" sold for $54 million.
Friday, May 30, 2014
The season's started! Here's a major new project being developed in Reno at the Generator:
"I am. We are. It is" - a great summary from Larry Harvey, and a great start to the year:
Burning Man Festival: Charlie Rose - 03-21-14
DREAM - Art & Culture of Burning Man - 05-05-14
And while we're busy getting ready, here's AMAZING set of photos of an amazing event. Afrika knows How to Burn:
AfrikaBurn - Trickster - 2014
AfikaBurn - The Movie
Thursday, May 15, 2014
Wednesday, May 14, 2014
Like many, I've been skeptical of left / right brain theory for decades. The data seemed fluffy, with too many exceptions. Then I encountered this TED video:
Finished? If you're like me, it's a bit overwhelming. But watch it again. This time keep your hand on the pause button. Pause if his words gets ahead of the pictures. Pause again if the pictures get ahead of the words.
Yes, there's a lot of detail here, both in hard data and concept, but that's not the main reason for this second viewing. This video nicely demonstrates the theme of it's own content. It's been biologically established that as you watch, the presentation is going into BOTH sides of your skull at the same time. Your eyes and ears are collecting two similar copies, but your divided brain is creating two DIFFERENT experiences, one dominated by image and animation, the other by text and verbal logic. Your brain is running in parallel, and the only time you notice is when one half's recognition gets ahead of the other. Your control of the pause button shifts smoothly from side to side. Your left or right brain inhibits the other when needed. This shifting control allows both experiences to be captured.
The moving images provide right-brain meaning through visual metaphor. Dr. McGilchrist's precise left-brain verbalization and text nail down and allow you to "grasp" these ideas. Though I'm over-simplifying, this is an example of the very thing being presented - that it takes BOTH sides of the brain working as asymmetrical and largely unequal specialists in delivering the result that is ultimately the human mind.
The other reason this video is important is that the book is extremely detailed and thoughtful. "The Divided Brain" takes some digesting. But it's worth it. And it's good to have a "both-brain" outline to fill in his very deliberate, precise and comprehensive written presentation. This video covers literally 500+ pages which are well summarized in only a few minutes, much of it profound. I watched it at least a dozen times. Then I read the pages:
The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, by Dr. Iain McGilchrist
The Divided Book
This work is both brilliant and maddening. What it presents is a major advancement in our ability to understand the human behavior, and it's contradictions. It contains both hard data and insightful observations, but also wild conjecture. From a wealth of brain studies over the last few decades, the author has crystallized a new model of left and right brain functionality, which is by far the book's greatest contribution to the topic. Then he describes the left-brain's evolving impact on western culture.
The result is both logically and intuitively convincing. Each of us is literally of two minds, creating a single subjective experience. We are driven by two largely complimentary engines of evaluation, each seamlessly yielding control of the mind and body from moment to moment depending on which side is most likely to be effective in dealing with the current challenge. Asymmetry of functional realms is the key to minimizing obvious dynamic conflict. The realization of this fact has wide ranging implications for all of human behavior, but especially personal relationships, politics, religion and economics. I shall address these consequences in separate blog posts. But let's get back to the book.
The delivery of these ideas is fascinating in spite of his formal style, which is necessary for such a demanding topic. Dr. McGilchrist does an amazing job of precisely navigating very deep waters, but like any project this ambitious, he reaches a bit too far now and then, which is perhaps his most important lesson. This work spans credibility from solid conclusion to relative speculation. But even in speculation there is very little that is patently wrong. These ideas are not some new-age theory, though this book may literally become the bible for left / right brain enthusiasts. No, I haven't lost my bias for the rational, but I have gained a new appreciation for the intuitive, and it's genesis.
Like the brain, the book is presented in two parts. The first part is well-founded scientific documentation of the physical and behavioral differences between the left and right brain. Taken alone, it's of tremendous value in understanding the brain's obvious bicameral nature. The second part is dominated by selective ascription of art and history to one side of the brain or the other, and its impact on our modern culture.
Though dense with useful data, each chapter raises important issues, which are then addressed by the next. Step by careful step, he builds a coherent model of the mind base on cross-supported observations of the brain physiology and actual human behavior. For the most part, it rings true.
The later section on paradox is brilliant, and sets the stage for what he presents in the second part: the "Achille's heel" of the rational mind, which is that our more logical left brain denies anything not within its framework of simulation. This means that the left misses a lot, virtually anything that can't be "proven". He describes this shortcoming as a hall of mirrors. A sharp focus and "single-minded" objective is the left's strength, but also its weakness. It's blind to, or otherwise demotes obvious leaps of intuition, such as casually stepping over a paradox. He uses Zeno to nicely make this point.
The second part of the book is all about the impact the left-brain has had on the realm of the right, using examples of music, art and philosophy from the last few thousand years. Much of this is based on McGilchrist's impressive knowledge of our culture, and some intuition. The first half is objective, the second half, of course subjective.
The first half of the book is a pleasant intellectual challenge. It's also a ride in the park compared to the second half, which is like hitting a bog on a dirt bike, well at least for this rational mind. I had to gear-down even to drag my way through, probing for the hard ground of logic, and finding little. He seems to ascribe behaviors to one side of the brain or the other almost willy-nilly. And he freely admits, "These thoughts are inevitably contingent, to some extent fragmentary and rudimental." Though I tried to understand his literary leaps, my mind kept reverting to the rational. This probably says more about me than the writing, but I wonder how many other readers gave up at this point and never finished the book.
To be fair I chased down a few of these wild ascriptions using his comprehensive bibliography. Each provided a reason to believe, if not actual proof. You'll have to decide for yourself. Though useful data are more rare in the second half, if you grind through, the pearls are there, and worth the effort. Plus there's something more useful than merely data. If you tend to the rational, the first half will be the most meaningful. If you're more intuitive, I suspect the second half will be the most insightful. This intuitive approach in the second half also creates doubt in the rational mind. For me, conjecture about so much subjective art, and evidence such as which way a subject of a painting was facing, left my mind reeling and yearning for the science of the first part.
Another way of saying this is that the first part contains lots of observations, science and hard data. It makes sense. It makes you THINK. The second part makes you wonder about the validity of the author's many right-brain speculations. And it gives you the FEELING he just MIGHT be right - but he can't prove it.
Dr. McGilchrist presents a rational left-brained model for what our right-brain has secretly known all along, but could not say. Our right side feels the truth of the presentation, but doesn't have a voice. Our left side can put it into words, but won't accept a new model of the mind without reasonable proof. This book provides both proof AND conviction. It makes you think. And it makes you feel.
This is where the parallel with the video comes in. The book is also a Rorschach's test of left and right brain conclusions. The medium IS the irony. Though the book is mostly words meant for the left brain, these words are inspired by right-brain imagination. Though tedious at times, even the more wild ideas are hard to indict.
I've probably re-read fewer than ten books in my entire life. I'm a slow reader, but once I read a book, I know it. This book is an exceptions. The moment I finished (and it took months), I flipped to the front and immediately started reading again. Like the video, reading the book whet my appetite for more. Perhaps it'll do the same for you. If you have ANY interest in the brain or human behavior, "The Master and His Emissary" is a must read.
Thursday, May 01, 2014
First posted 08-03-12
Not much later I read "The Naked Ape", by Desmond Morris. He defined a few differences, but far more similarities.
Let's start at the first primate and work our way forward:
Tiny Chinese Archicebus fossil is oldest primate yet found
When I was a child, walking erect was the gold standard of humanity. And it's true, we're better on two feet chasing down game than the others, but only by degree. Bonobos showed that walking erect is no big deal:
Food has also been an area of study to define differentiation, but which species jumped what line, and when?
Human ancestors changed diet 3.5 million years ago
Another thing that set us apart was tool use, but this test also fell as chimps and other species have now demonstrated.
Tool-making and Meat-eating Began 3.5 Million Years Ago
Tool-making 1.4 Million Years Ago?
The spear which was developed about 500,000 years ago is also a clear example of tool use. So far we've seen no other species accomplish this trick, though a weapon may become a possible learned behavior for some other primates as other tools have been. Is it just a matter of time?
When Did Humans Begin Hurling Spears? - 90,000 Years Ago?
In response, the transfer of culture became the new human benchmark, but the ability to transfer new knowledge from one generation to another has also been demonstrated by chimps...
Then there was self-awareness, which was disproved in spite of Darwin's original mirror observations:
And a nice test of abstract thinking is meta-cognition:
Chimps: Ability to 'Think About Thinking' Not Limited to Humans
And have episodic memory:
Chimpanzees and orangutans remember distant past events
Next to fall was language. The chimp Washoe laid that one to rest in the 1960s. And then there's Koko the gorilla who recognizes 1000 signs vocabulary and 2000 spoken words. She has an IQ of about 80. Also bonobos have gesture language plus now respond to spoken language with keyboard feedback. It may be simple, but it's language. And even more languages are being discovered:
Prairie dogs' language decoded by scientists
The most literally obvious and vivid tool of man has been fire. The control of fire allowed our gut to decrease in length by about a yard as we began to cook our food and digestion improved. Human resistance to air pollution also emerged over the last million years, an indication that we lived with fire.
Control of fire wasn't just tool use, it was the most exquisite form of tool use. The trick was getting close enough to use the flame but not get burned, and then of course, not letting the fire go out. How many thousands of our ancestors played with fire before we learn to pass on these two tricks? And was this the brain and thumbs at work? Fire was the turning point.
We know of no other primate who developed independent use of fire, (thought some Bonobos have now been trained to do so with a lighter, and even use water to put it out). Man's sustained use of fire is estimated to have begun sometime between a million and 400,000 years ago:
Who Mastered Fire?
Were Early Humans Cooking Their Food a Million Years Ago?
Still, isn't the difference between us and other primates simply a matter of DEGREE in thinking and manipulating our environment? Scripts and tools are certainly learned and used effectively by other species. But our fore-brains allowed for abstraction, delayed gratification and far more complex simulations as demonstrated by the wide range of different human behaviors. So is our main difference from other primates the complexity of behaviors created by individualism and hyper-specialization?
Out of Africa
Or 100,000 Years Ago?
Music and Art?
Archaeologists Unearth 35,000 Year Old Musical Instrument
World's Oldest Portrait - Symbolic Abstraction 26,000 Years Ago
Not all hunter-gatherers moved around. How could they have carried all these pots?
What 15,000 Years Of Cooking Fish Tells Us About Humanity
The key to real civilization seems to be the domestication of plants and animals - agriculture. It's often described in terms of specialization and our ability to withhold gratification until the resource matures (wheat, cows or eggs into chickens).
This may be the key to domestication 14,000 years ago:
We Didn't Domesticate Dogs. They Domesticated Us.
Another line blurred:
Baboons Kidnap and Raise Feral Dogs as Pets
Even the line of first settlements are moving backward and becoming blurred. In school I was taught civilization started about 5,000 years ago. Then it was 7,000 years. Then 10,000. And now:
12,000 Year-Old Gobekli Tepe
(Wiki says Gobekli Tepe is only dated to 9559 projecting to 11,000 years old) That's still some impressive stone work which must have taken a few thousand years to develop. 20,000 years seems like a more safe number for now. We just need to find more sites and map progress, but we're definitely blurring back into our ancestors. When exactly did we become "human"?
But then Border Cave takes some level of symbolic culture and the ownership of property back to 44,000 years:
Could "owning things" be that line between us and chimps? This is one of the ideas put forth in Sex at Dawn. Maybe Christopher Ryan is on to something. Will this mystery lead us back to ourselves? In any case, twelve to twenty thousand years ago was an exciting time for man.
How Culture Drove Human Evolution - Joseph Henrich
State of the Species - Charles C. Mann
Maybe the missing mechanism is EPIgenitics working with genetics. It's an example of how evolution can go well beyond sexual preference:
Scientists claim that homosexuality is not genetic — but it arises in the womb
Here is a fun idea about how the n-grams of our cultural evolution is reflected in our language:
Evolution of the most common English words and phrases over the centuries 12-12-12
World's Oldest Wooden Water Wells Discovered From About 5000 Years Ago 12-24-12
Is a long childhood the key difference? Maybe:
Why Are We the Last Apes Standing?
Believe it or not, this was published long after I published this post (which like primates is still evolving). Mark Changizi seems to agree that we differ only by degree ("quantitatively so, not qualitatively"). Interesting post. I need to get his books on my list:
Bursting the Bubble of Human Intelligence 04-09-13
It seems this puzzle is filling in literally day by day. Stay tuned for more updates.
It appears we must guard against cultural imperialism in our Inquisition of knowledge. And does human behavior vary to try all possible combinations in the same way a species replicates to fill the physical range of it's environment?
Monday, April 21, 2014
Mass extinction is a great reason to hibernate:
04-17-12 Key ingredient in mass extinctions could boost food, biofuel production
02-20-12 - Peter Skyllberg Snowed in for Two Months - Related?
Was Mitsutaka Uchikoshi another example?
09-30-10 Considering the theme of my original post, here is yet another example of the media missing the story and working the "politically incorrect" angle.
In this case, documents were revealed from a Naval Surgeon in 1805. The headline is about "Bizarre naval experiments" and the focus is tobacco smoke and deliberate transmission of venereal disease, when the real story is quite probably the first documented case of suspended animation.
When will they ever "get it"?
04-21-10 Significant advancement and recognition for the concept of induced hibernation!
I revisit this topic each year. It appears there's been significant progress. Look through my list of uses below to understand why, and how important this discovery is. Or start with Mark Roth's latest TED video at the end of the post.
CNN Update - 10-15-09...
Another major update 02-18-10 - Wired Interview
What Ever Happened with H2S Induced Hibernation?
I originally wrote this post on April 22, 2006
One year ago today [April 22, 2005]...
Mark Roth at Fred Hutchison Cancer Research Center in Seattle announced the astounding ability to induced hibernation in mice by having them breathe 80 parts per million (ppm) hydrogen sulfide gas (H2S). Yes, that's the gas that smells like rotten eggs.
Not only did these critters fall asleep for six hours, their heart rate and respiration dropped by 92% - apparently replicating the effects of true hibernation. And their temperature dropped to 2 degrees C above ambient temperature. They in effect became cold-blooded.
It should also be noted, when the gas was removed, the mice awoke with no apparent ill effects. The critters could still run their maze in a normal fashion.
There are hints that H2S Induced Hibernation might be a natural defense mechanism or at least a normal biological process. It appears this H2S gas is produced by the body under certain conditions and may be the key to normal hibernation. This may also be the cause of "Cold Water Shock Reflex" in which those who have "drowned" in cold water come back to life.
At 80 ppm, H2S can not simply be replacing O2 in the blood which exist at 210,000 PPM in typical air. It seems that H2S acts more like a hormone causing ALL cells in the body to slow down at the same time. Is H2S the body's way of adjusting the thermostat?
Hold on! I'm way out of my element here. I'm not qualified to do biology. I'm not even qualified to write about it.
But I DO considered this ASTOUNDING news! And indeed the world reported it. Well at least in a tepid way (sorry about the pun). From the BBC to the Washington Post they did at least rehash Mark's original work. Even Wikipedia added three paragraphs to the Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S) page. I was impressed with that.
But THAT was it...
No follow-up questions.
No follow-up answers.
No in-depth reporting.
No detailed analysis.
No flying out to Seattle.
No camping on the lawn.
No helicopter shots.
No checking tax returns.
Hell, Tom Cruise jumps up and down on a couch and the media follows him around for weeks! Where is the coverage for the stuff that REALLY counts? Oh well. I would wait. There was sure to be more news on the topic in a short time. So I set my Google news reader and waited...
And I'm still waiting.
It's been one year. Other than some comments from an aging blog and one think tank, there has been nothing at all. Nothing! Am I way off base or is this NOT a Nobel class discovery?
Where's the follow-up from Mark Roth?
Where's the H2S Induced Hibernation blog?
Where are the frat boy posts about their flatulent experiments?
Where's the Flatliner crew?
Where's Kiefer Sutherland when we need him?
Where are all the science fiction plots?
When I read the news release last year, I thought follow-up would be like the coverage for Cold Fusion a few years ago - lots of people trying to reproduce the results. Maybe we would even get some quick test with humans.
What's a geek to do? There's only one thing. Ask the questions that SHOULD have been asked a year ago. So here goes.
Does this Roth effect work longer than six hours?
Does it work for days?
Does it work for weeks?
Does it work for months?
Does it work on other larger mammals?
Does it work on humans?
Any obvious side effects?
Any long term side effects?
How long can someone stay under without ill effects?
Does this low-level metabolism consume fat like it does in bears?
Does muscle tone also atrophy?
Does this low-level metabolism extend life?
Is 80 PPM a threshold or is there a proportional effect at 40 PPM? 20 PPM?
What happens at 160 ppm? Is the sleep deeper? (yes, I know H2S is deadly at higher concentration, but so is table salt).
Is this truly a natural feature of mammals? If H2S is produced internally, can the effect be induced by meditation? If so, how does one exit the state?
I could go on and on but you get the idea. To get the answers to these and other questions, first they have to be asked. And then asked by the right people. That's what this blog post is all about. We need the right people asking these questions - not me.
There's a saying in the world of finance, "Capital finds it's highest and best use". This seems to take a little longer with science. It also takes imagination, speculation and a whole lot of promoting.
Promotion is important. America was not named for Columbus. America was named for a navigator and blogger of the fifteenth century - Amerigo Vespucci. His letters were published widely on his return from the new world. He didn't discover anything, but promoted what he found. The name stuck.
That's why H2S Induced Hibernation now needs to be all about blogs, Digg and Wikipedia. It's up to us. It's time for some speculation. Maybe even some speculative fiction. We need serious talent applied to finding the answers to the above and other questions. More discussion may help.
Here are some ideas as to how H2S could be used. Maybe this will help move things along.
Time in trauma care - This one is obvious. With such low concentrations of H2S needed, a simple regulator mask in first aid kits might extend that "Critical Hour" to a "Critical Day" giving time to do a better job with transport, evaluation, and treatment. It's easier to stop bleeding when the heart is only pumping eight times per minute. It's easier to keep cells alive when their demand for resources has dropped by 92%.
Mine Disasters - During the recent mine disaster in West Virginia, the miners only had air for one hour. Could this have been extended to 12 hours by adding a little H2S to those respirators? Coal mine accidents are an even bigger problem in China with over 6,000 dead per year. Think of the lives that could be saved even if a small percentage had this advantage.
Fire Escape - Since most fire deaths are caused by smoke inhalation, many extra minutes could be gained with one of those new and improved masks from the coal mine? Check the first-aid kit. Is it there yet? Again, the lives saved would be in the thousands world-wide.
Underwater Rescue - Another good application for limited oxygen? And maybe a re-make of the movie Abyss? Lots of possibilities here.
ALL incurable disease - This is a no brainer. Got a problem? Take a break for a while. Wake up to review the literature. Take another break. Repeat until cured.
Medical scheduling - Waiting for an organ? Make sure you have enough time. It's better than death.
Military Use - Lot's of possibilities here, from trauma to transport. Here's where Kiefer Suterland comes in with a new release of 24 Hours lived in 24 years. How's THAT for a challenge to his premise?
Sleep Efficiency - How about all that time we waste sleeping? Might we extend our life by taking it deeper? Or maybe the opposite, and find out how to shorten sleep? Keep an open mind.
Weight Loss - this could be a biggie, both in terms of dollars and quality of life. Let's say you're not a fan of winter anyway. Why not do like the bears do? You could wake up ready for your new spring swim suit.
Capital Punishment - This is a bit radical, but at least it's not a death sentence. And they aren't causing any problems in the mean time. In time we might even find a "cure" for murder.
Pregnant Mothers - This might at first seem radical too, but Mark Roth's page refers to "embryonic diapause, a pause in embryonic development found in about 70 species of mammals". It might be useful one way or the other. Don't count it out.
Punishment - What the hell. Let's put them ALL on ice as a cost reduction measure! We could count it as good time. Would it still be punishment? Fun to think about. (note - after I wrote this I found one blog post at World Think Tank that talked about using H2S for prison riot control. Could we extent this to riot control in general?)
Athletes - Since I'm getting radical, how about extending the performance window of our very best athletes? We could give them the option of waking up every four years in time to train for the Olympics. The other option would simply be to let them "rest" off season.
Space Travel - Yep. Classic application. Maybe we could finally do some. There are at the very least, some fresh movie plots here, or the chance to make them more realistic.
Time Travel - This is of course relative and one direction. But how about sleeping a few weeks at a time and find yourself subjectively rushing forward into the future? It might be fun.
Tivo for life - This is an extension of the time travel idea - sort of fast forward when you want, live life when YOU want. Let's say you're a basketball fan but hate the rest of the year - beep, beep, beep. Treat the boring parts of life like one big commercial. Live life on YOUR terms!
Tivo for the heart - Will H2S sleep dampen a heartache? I think Heinlein used this in "Door Into Summer". Would it help? Who knows. If you've ever been there, anything's worth a try.
Tivo for the soul - Could this be the ultimate form of meditation? Stay awake for only short slices of life and jump WAY into the future. Would it give you a different perspective? Would you dream? Would it matter?
Anyway, you get the idea. The point is, there are LOTS of possibilities not being effectively promoted. Feel free to ad yours below. These examples are why it's so important to know...
H2S Induced Hibernation useful?
It's been a YEAR!
Clue us in.
Or is everyone, "No Longer Sleepless in Seattle" ?
BTW, amazing work Mark. Congratulations.
Sunday, April 13, 2014
"Freedom, to me, is the ultimate value. There is nothing higher than freedom." OSHO
Humor is intuition landing in our logic, like a fly in our metaphor. 04-02-14
"The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." - Paraphrased from Albert Einstein by Bob Samples 1976
“Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.” - Marthe Troly-Curtin July 1911
“I know one thing, that I know nothing.” - Socrates 500 BC
"I would rather have a mind opened by wonder than one closed by belief" - Gerry Spence.
"Expectations are premeditated resentments. Let the future find it's form."
"In the absence of clearly-defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily trivia until ultimately we become enslaved by it." - Robert Heinlein
"Art is that which everything else isn't" - Theodore Roethke
"Moderation in all things, including moderation." - Oscar Wilde?
"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler." - Albert Einstein
"Revenge is for children and the emotionally retarded" - Frank Herbert
"Stay hungry, stay foolish." Stewart Brand
"Choice is just another word for discrimination, so when does my choice become your discrimination?" Rod Coleman 02-12-14