Does Birth Order Change Personality? OR – Your Mom Really DID Love Your Sister More!


Did birth-order affect your personality? No.

“Reluctant to give up their belief in birth order, some theorists have instead given up their faith in standard self-report personality tests (see “Why Did Sulloway’s Results Differ From Those of Ernst and Angst?” forthcoming on this website). They’ve claimed that these tests are invalid — that they are inaccurate or insensitive measures of personality (Kagan, 1998; Sulloway, 1998, 1999). This is like blaming the yardstick when one’s theory of why some kids are taller than others fails to be confirmed. Standard self-report personality tests are the yardstick that produced the results we are trying to account for!”

From a post by psychologist, Judith Rich Harris.

While she was at it, she blasted another taboo: Whether parents love one child MORE than another. Yes.

“As everybody knows, parents don’t treat their kids all alike. And one of the things that makes parents treat their children differently — this is something that Lois Hoffman and Dunn and Plomin agreed on — is birth order. Firstborns and laterborns have different experiences in the home, right from the start. Firstborns are born to inexperienced and anxious parents, laterborns to veterans. Firstborns have their parents all to themselves for a while and then are abruptly dethroned by a rival; laterborns always have to compete for their parents’ attention. Parents give firstborns more responsibility; they give laterborns more affection.

That’s right: it’s the younger child who gets more affection. Two studies (Dunn & Plomin, 1990; McHale et al., 1995) have shown that at least half of parents with two children admit to loving one better than the other, and a large majority of these parents — more than 80 percent — say they love their younger child best. These are big differences in parental affection. If being loved more by their parents made children less aggressive (or more aggressive), then we should see birth order effects on aggressiveness. But the teachers in Deater-Deckard and Plomin’s (1999) study did not judge younger siblings to be any less aggressive (or more aggressive) than older siblings.”

I’m an oldest child of three, so I laughed pretty loud at this one. It also reminded me why I prefer dogs…

Leonard Susskind Lecture – Why is Time a 1-Way Street?

Leonard Susskind

Brilliant lecture by Leonard Susskind. He begins by complaining that Power Point presentations are ruining his culture! I agree.

I got into mathematics, in part, because of an excessive love of chalk and chalkboards. And I had to go into weightlifting because it is one of the only bastions left where being covered in chalk is still considered a good thing.

Oh, and he also discusses the nature of Time and space ;-)

Leave Einstein Alone, He Was Not Religious [Quote of the Day]


“It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.

— Albert Einstein, letter to an atheist (1954), quoted in Albert Einstein: The Human Side, edited by Helen Dukas & Banesh Hoffman”

Then another:

“It seems to me that the idea of a personal God is an anthropological concept which I cannot take seriously. I also cannot imagine some will or goal outside the human sphere…. Science has been charged with undermining morality, but the charge is unjust. A man’s ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death.

— Albert Einstein, “Religion and Science,” New York Times Magazine, November 9, 1930″

It’s ridiculous how often religious people seek to claim Einstein as one of their own, most especially the fundamentalists who are extremely hostile to deistic beliefs like his.

If you’re goal is to bolster the claims of fundamentalist religious belief, Einstein’s Star-Wars-style faith in “the force” is hardly helping your case.

He’s best left out of the whole deal.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson on Atheism, Religion, Einstein, Evolution, etc [Video]


Neil DeGrasse Tyson sent this letter to the Editor of the New York Times in 2006:

“To the Editor:

People cited violation of the First Amendment when a New Jersey schoolteacher asserted that evolution and the Big Bang are not scientific and that Noah’s ark carried dinosaurs.

This case is not about the need to separate church and state; it’s about the need to separate ignorant, scientifically illiterate people from the ranks of teachers.

Neil deGrasse Tyson
New York, Dec. 19, 2006″

Isaac Asimov Interview with Bill Moyers (1988)


A wonderful interview with the great Isaac Asimov by Bill Moyers in 1988.

Like so many others who chose to study math and science, Asimov was a wonderful influence on that side of my personality. But, in addition to that, as a writer, he never ceases of inspire me to put pen to paper and keep going with my own projects.

Here is the interview in 3 parts.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Quantum Decision Making & The Brain


“…our main hypothesis is that the brain makes decisions through a procedure that is similar to quantum measurements. This does not require the brain to be a quantum object, but merely takes into account the dual nature of the decision process, involving both conscious logical evaluations as well as subconscious intuitive feelings”

From the paper “How Brains Make Decisions”, by V.I. Yukalov and D. Sornette.

I’m perpetually surprised at how rare it is to find this kind of sensible approach to the application of the mathematics of quantum theory to non-literal quantum phenomena.

The history of science should have taught us by now that the math that was developed for one application… often will have its greatest applications to subjects far afield from the original one.

In science, literalism is akin to death. The ability to abstract out the principles is key. There is great symmetry between how quantum processes work, and how many processes in biology, ecology, economics, and behaviour work.

They continue (bold text is mine):

“We have presented the Quantum Decision Theory that we have developed in the last four years, which is based on combining utility-like calculations with emotional influences in the representation of the decision making processes. We have emphasized that decision making by humans is principally different from the direct calculations by, even the most powerful, computers. This basic difference is in the duality of the human decision-making procedure. The brain makes decisions by a parallel processing of two different jobs: by consciously estimating the utility of the available prospects and by subconsciously evaluating their attractiveness.

We have shown how the duality of the brain functioning can be adequately represented by the techniques of quantum theory. The process of decision making has been described as mathematically similar to the procedure of quantum measurement. The self-consistent mathematical theory of human decision making that we have been developed contains noparadoxes typical of classical decision making. It is important to stress that this theory is the first theory allowing for it quantitative predictions taking into account behavioral biases.

We stress that the description of the functioning of the human brain by means of quantum techniques does not require that the brain be a quantum object, but this approach serves as an appropriate mathematical tool for characterizing the conscious-subconscious duality of the brain processes. This duality must be taken into account when one attempts to create an artificial intelligence imitating the human brain. Such an artificial intelligence has to be quantum in the sense explained above.”

And that’s the key: a process can be “quantum” in the literal sense of quantum particles, or quantum in the sense of how it acts.

I think that the application of the mathematics of quantum theory will have a profound effect on a great many seemingly intractable problems all over biology and social science research (certainly in economics), in much the same counter-intuitive sense that complexity theory has proven to be unreasonably accurate in its predictions in fields never dreamed of at the beginning.

We don’t need to wait for Quantum Computers to make great strides in applying Quantum Games and Quantum Decision Theory to the descriptive side of science. We can get started now.

Now go lift something heavy,
Nick Horton

“What Mathematicians Can Teach Physicists”, by Peter Woit, AND, Is String Theory Science?


I just finished Peter Woit‘s book Not Even Wrong, about why he’s convinced String Theory is not really science. His book is more than that, it’s a wonderful romp through the history of 20th Century physics and the deep importance of mathematics to the development of quantum mechanics — not to mention his championing of the great mathematician Herman Weyl, the unsung hero of this story — with detailed explanations of the core principles that went into everything from QED to the Standard Model, etc. Very well done.

At the end he rightly critiques String Theory for not producing falsifiable hypotheses — ones that can be tested, and potentially proven wrong. Like Woit, and most hard-scientists, I believe the general principle of Falsifiability of Karl Popper’s is the defining characteristic of a scientific theory vs every other kind of speculation humans can make. While one can quibble about details (rightly) regarding exactly HOW to falsify one theory or another, the essence of being able to draw a hard line in the sand between science and non-science is of fundamental importance. Whether something is good science or not is far less important than if it is simply not science at all.

My own view regarding String theory is that it is properly placed within the realm of mathematical philosophy (note: I did NOT say “philosophy of mathematics”!), that is, it is a philosophical quest aided by mathematical tools.

Who knows, someday it may turn into either true mathematics (positing theories and proving them) or physics (positing theories that are falsifiable).

So far, that hasn’t happened.

If I was in the world of physics, I might be more concerned about this, as theoretical physics has been swamped by string theory, and so many of the brightest minds are being sucked up into it. That isn’t all bad, except that it means by definition that those minds are not being let loose on other problems that are testable in physics, and need work.

Reading between the lines, I take it that Woit is suggesting is that maybe the only sensible thing to do is to move String Theory over into the philosophy departments until it produces some testable theories, and leave open the funding for physics that is… physics.

Here’s a video with Peter Woit at Big Think talking about this topic. It includes a snippet on what mathematicians can teach physicists, among other cool things:

Russian Anti-Democracy Strikes Again: Blogger Law


The Russian government, as it stands today, is becoming worse for its people than it was under Soviet rule.

For all of my pro-democracy, near-libertarian, pro-free-market beliefs, we have to ask honestly — for the sake of the human beings forced to live in that country (and for those who are being oppressed by it) — is this mafia-government better than communism?

There is reason to believe things are worse today.

Sadly, the Russian people will be deprived of democracy for the foreseeable future.

A new law in Russia:

… requires any person whose online presence draws more than 3,000 daily readers to register, disclose personal information and submit to the same regulations as mass media. Critics — including some pro-Kremlin lawmakers — say the rules are confusing, poorly written and hard to enforce consistently. But the end effect is to put large swaths of Russia’s prominent online personalities in theoretical violation of the law at all times, risking fines and other harassment whenever authorities decide to crack down, critics say.

Starting Friday, “every blogger might face a threat of criminal prosecution,” said Oleg Kozyrev, a prominent opposition blogger, who said he does not intend to register his Web site.

Another law:

… gives Russian authorities the power to block Web sites without any official explanation went into effect Feb. 1, and it was put to use a month later, blocking four Russian opposition Web sites, including the blog of anti-corruption politician Alexei Navalny, Russia’s most prominent anti-Kremlin leader. Navalny remains under house arrest on unrelated corruption charges and is barred from communicating with the media.

In the same month, another prominent independent news Web site,, was transformed after the editor was fired and most of her staff left. That site’s coverage is now significantly more pro-Kremlin.

A very close friend of mine works for a (large) company (you’d know it if I named it) here in the U.S. that handles the blogs of many Russian bloggers. They are having to consider what to do in light of the new laws.

Not that my friend has any say in the matter, but, another of our friends suggested that the company should flat-out ignore the law. I agree. It could be considered a form of civil disobedience.

If you’d like to see some of the new research related to the surprising effectiveness of Civil Resistance in cases like this, check out professor Erica Chenoweth’s book, Why Civil Resistance Works.

Now go lift something heavy,
Nick Horton

The Consolation of Cosmology: Lawrence Krauss [Quote of the Day]

Atlas Greek Statue

“The two things modern cosmology have taught us are: one, that we are all more insignificant than we thought we were; and two, that the future is miserable. That should make you feel good!”

Lawrence Krauss

Zen masters throughout history would have to agree with that.

Now go lift something heavy,
Nick Horton