Robert Agrees

From the entry on John Forbes Nash, Jr. in the Library of Economics and Liberty Encyclopedia.

Aside from being the first explanation of Nash Equilibrium that Robert can claim to understand, it also includes Nash’s feelings about politics.  Nice!

“Nash’s major contribution is the concept of equilibrium for noncooperative games, which later came to be called a Nash equilibrium. A Nash equilibrium is a situation in which no player, taking the other players’ strategies as given, can improve his position by choosing an alternative strategy. Nash proved that, for a very broad class of games of any number of players, at least one equilibrium exists as long as mixed strategies are allowed. A mixed strategy is one in which the player does not take one action with certainty but, instead, has a range of actions he might take, each with a positive probability.

A simple example of a Nash equilibrium is the prisoners’ dilemma. Another example is the location problem. Imagine that Budweiser and Miller are trying to decide where to place their beer stands on a beach that is perfectly straight. Assume also that sunbathers are located an equal distance from each other and that they want to minimize the distance they walk to get a beer. Where, then, should Bud locate if Miller has not yet chosen its location? If Bud locates one-quarter of the way along the beach, then Miller can locate next to Bud and have three-quarters of the market. Bud knows this and thus concludes that the best location is right in the middle of the beach. Miller locates just slightly to one side or the other. Neither Bud nor Miller can improve its position by choosing an alternate location. This is a Nash equilibrium.

. . .

As readers of Sylvia Nasar’s biography of Nash, A Beautiful Mind, know, Nash contended with schizophrenia from the late 1950s to the mid-1980s. As Nash put it in his Nobel autobiography, “I later spent time of the order of five to eight months in hospitals in New Jersey, always on an involuntary basis and always attempting a legal argument for release.” His productivity suffered accordingly. But he emerged from his mental illness in the late 1980s. In his Nobel lecture, Nash noted his own progress out of mental illness:

Then gradually I began to intellectually reject some of the delusionally influenced lines of thinking which had been characteristic of my orientation. This began, most recognizably, with the rejection of politically-oriented thinking as essentially a hopeless waste of intellectual effort.”

First (informal) Tournament

Third place!

d’Artagnan strikes . . . .


Dixie Name Change

A few people have asked Robert how he feels about whether the Dixie School District Board should change the district name.  Here’s his best shot at an answer.

* * *

I do not find the name “Dixie” objectionable in any way. Indeed, the word means very little to me. That said, if evidence were presented that the name was given to the district for offensive reasons, or the word Dixie was offensive at the time of naming or has an offensive meaning at this time, then, of course I would be in favor of changing the name.

If the school board drops the name Dixie, it should do so based on evidence presented by those who desire change. This might include evidence of historical events, literature or news reviews, linguistic review, or simply a poll as to the meaning of the word “Dixie” as given by speakers of the English language.

Changing the name of a long-time public institution is dangerous business. It should not be done without good reason. Certainly, the decision must not be made out of a desire to gain political notoriety or advantage, or in order to ameliorate a sense of powerlessness. Nor should the decision be made out of notions of social tribe or out of friendship. The decision should not be born out of fuzzy historical beliefs, disinformation, hysteria, or Internet chatter. The decision should not be made out of fatigue or for no other reason than “why not?”

Community discussion does not replace the need for evidence.  Developing and presenting the evidence needed to justify change requires work. I could be missing something, but I am not seeing anyone doing that work. Alas, it is much easier to talk than to work.

Rather than requiring evidence to decide the matter, the school board may make its decision by attempting to mirror the overall public opinion of residents in the district. But it does so at its peril.

The better course is to make a decision based on evidence and logic. Any decision by the board ought to be guided by these two principles, and any decision should be accompanied by written reasoning. The reputation of the board will not survive a decision made in any other way.

Robert Pierce

Tests and Dads

Good stuff at Aeon.

1. Aptitude Tests and Measure of Human Potential.

“Whatever their stated purpose, what these tests attempt to do is create a working index of who is worthy: for academic advancement, for career success, for opportunities of every kind. They are all about making the broad, ragged cut, bestowing opportunity on some while filtering out others – an enterprise that has historically teemed with racial and social discrimination. Those of us who grew up immersed in the aptitude-testing hierarchy can testify not just to the lopsided rewards that accrue to those who test well, but to the way that our test-centric culture shapes, and often constricts, our sense of what defines human value.”

. . .

“Aptitude testing’s eugenic roots aside, Wai points out that there are progressive arguments in its favour – chief among them that the tests identify talented people who might not be recognised any other way. In a recent policy paper, he advocated for the use of spatial-abilities testing in school admissions, since the results are relatively untethered to socioeconomic status. ‘If we were able to do that,’ he says, ‘we’d pick up a lot of students from disadvantaged and poor backgrounds.’

The argument that aptitude tests transcend human bias has also lent moral weight to those who use them to screen job candidates. The big kahuna is the Wonderlic test, a 50-question gauge of cognitive skill developed in the 1930s. Most famous as the test administered to all National Football League draftees (the quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick aced it; Terry Bradshaw tanked), the Wonderlic is now a required part of the interview process at dozens of companies. While reports vary as to how much test results affect hiring decisions, it’s clear that many employers depend on the test to quickly sort the intellectual wheat from the chaff. ‘Almost immediately after we started using Wonderlic,’ reports Cindi Gilmore, a company president in Dallas, in her online testimonial, ‘we noticed the calibre of people increased.’”


2.  The Marvel of the Human Dad

Fathers are so critical to the survival of our children and our species that evolution has not left their suitability for the role to chance. Like mothers, fathers have been shaped by evolution to be biologically, psychologically and behaviourally primed to parent. We can no longer say that mothering is instinctive yet fathering is learned.

The hormonal and brain changes seen in new mothers are mirrored in fathers. Irreversible reductions in testosterone and changes in oxytocin levels prepare a man to be a sensitive and responsive father, attuned to his child’s needs and primed to bond – and critically, less motivated by the search for a new mate. As a man’s testosterone drops, the reward of chemical dopamine increases; this means that he receives the most wonderful neurochemical reward of all whenever he interacts with his child. His brain structure alters in those regions critical to parenting. Within the ancient, limbic core of the brain, regions linked to affection, nurturing and threat-detection see increases in grey and white matter. Likewise enhanced by connectivity and the sheer number of neurons are the higher cognitive zones of the neocortex that promote empathy, problem solving and planning.


Rainy Day

It’s the final day of the Winter break and tensions are getting high at 15 Surrey.

Today Rory proposed that he make a rubber band gun with daddy.  “Woo Hoo,” thought Robert. Eureka!  father son project!  Some scrap wood, white glue and a clothes-pin!  He can do that!  Awesome.

Then Rory showed daddy what he wants . . .

Let’s just say that ours is looking a little different.  But, Rory is outside!  Working! Alone!