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The Kick-ass Value of Expert Advice

New: Don’t have time to read? Scroll down to watch a 1-minute summarising video instead.

Last Tuesday I was, as regularly, practising acrobatics in Sirkus Huima’s free exercise shift. Osmo Tammisalo who is, among other things, an expert acrobat happened to be there and he came to watch my back flip. He started giving me some advice and in the first ten minutes my back flip improved more than in the previous two months. After these ten minutes he said “perhaps it will help if you learn flic-flac first”. I was horrified. Flic-flac? I always thought it was extremely difficult, and considered it much more difficult and scarier than the back flip. But he insisted that I try to jump backwards… even if landing on my head (don’t worry, into a sea of pillows). And so I did. After 15 minutes of practice under his supervision, this was the result (video):

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Work as if there is no tomorrow

When I remember the projects which I got done relatively quickly and in which I succeeded “no matter what” one thing in common is that I constantly had the feeling that “I am almost there”. For example, it was December 2014 when I came up with the idea for the proof in my knot classification TAMSpaper. It felt as if the proof was complete in my head and the only thing I had to do was just to sit and write it down. So that’s what I did. I sat. And three months later it was done. Three months? Yes, three months. But every single day it felt like I am going to be done this evening. Read more

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Algebra Lectures and Motivation

This semester I am lecturing an introductory course to abstract algebra at the University of Helsinki where I work. For me this is an exercise in mathematics education and public speaking. This is the biggest audience I have ever had in a course: a little short of 200 students. In order to give an exciting first impression of the lectures and maximise future attendance I decided to give a somewhat flashy first lecture. I dressed up in a white suit a hat and a bright red scarf. I dedicated the first lecture to “intuition pumps” which were:

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Why Don’t I Eat For 3 Days?

Empty lunch (CC 3.0)

Empty lunch (CC 3.0)

I am in the middle of a three-day fast now. I haven’t eaten for more than 36 hours and there is a bit less than 36 hours to go. I am doing it together with a person whose identity will remain a mystery throughout this blog-post. The rules are: no calorie intake except for vitamin pills and exogenous ketones. So we can drink water and tea (without sugar). The main reason for me to start fasting is that I want to go on a ketogenic diet. Fasting is the easiest and fastest way to transition into nutritional ketosis.

  • Freedom from sugar addiction and a will power or a discipline challenge. These are what Dom highlights as the main benefits of the ketogenic diet. Same applies to fasting. Fasting requires even more discipline and will power than any diet, at least the first one or two days. To me quitting eating is comparable to quitting smoking which I experienced 16 months ago.

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A Bracelet Challenge

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In this post Tim Ferriss writes about the thought-awareness bracelet. It is a bracelet which you wear on either hand and whenever you complain about something (constructive criticism doesn’t count), you have to switch the hand on which the bracelet is. An exveption is when you complain without swearing and immediately offer a potential solution to the problem. The aim is to go 21 consequetive days without switching. In this way you teach yourself an important habit of finding solutions instead of just cursing how shitty life is amd generally focus on the more positive aspects of life. I believe this raises your base level of happiness. It also makes you aware how much energy and time people waste on plain complaining.

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Finnish Artist Makes Progress in Geometry

When I met Sir Roger Penrose at the centenary conference of Alan Turing in Manchester in 2012 I told him that Penrose tiling is now featuring as a tiling of Keskuskatu, a central street in Helsinki, he was upset. He said “They should always ask me before they use it!” I was a little dumbfounded. “Can you show a picture?” he continued. I googled it with my smart phone and showed him:

He stared at it for 30 seconds and said “It seems alright.” Sir Roger Penrose is a physicist, mathematician and a philosopher of mind. His ideas are often controversial. He believes that Gödel’s incompleteness implies that the human mind cannot be simulated by a Turing machine which in turn would imply that the human mind radically depends on quantum mechanics which in turn… requires revision according to Penrose, who doesn’t believe in the Schrödinger’s cat. Despite being controversial, he has written numerous books which are excellent at popularizing mathematics, physics and philosophy of mind thereby attracting numerous students to these areas whether they agree with him or not.

[EDIT: I have now heard that Penrose was asked for the permission about Keskuskatu and he gave one. Apparently he either didn’t remember that or he didn’t realize it was the same thing.]

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Is protecting your child’s feelings always a good idea?

On Sunday 13. November 2016 the three-year-old Misha Osipov played chess against one of the best chess players in the world, Anatoly Karpov in front of a wide audience. In fact, the game was transmitted on one of the biggest channels on Russian television and is now of course on YouTube and now ends up here too. Before you go on, however, please take 1 second to answer a poll:

Do you think that a chess grandmaster should hold back against a 3-year-old child and pretend to lose in order to protect the child’s feelings in such a situation?

 Read more to find out what Misha’s mother thinks about it (which is the same as what I think about it).
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Representation and Enactivism

Think of a place that you visit often but where you are not located right now. Maybe it’s your kitchen or your bedroom.  Imagine that you are walking around that place. For simplicity I  will assume that it is your kitchen. You can ‘see’ where the stove and the fridge are, where the window is and so on, can’t you? Maybe you can even navigate in your imaginary kitchen and you can add things to your imaginary experience that are not normally there: A lion in your kitchen? A monster under the table? A gazelle in your fridge? Or who knows, maybe you have one.  Does this ability of yours mean that you have a representation of your kitchen in your brain?

In this blog post I will explore a philosophical debate between philosophers of mind who claim you have and those who say that no, you haven’t. There are two partial solutions that I will present. One is based on resolving some apparent contradictions showing that many things are actually either compatible with both views or just results of misconceptions. The other is based on the distinction between the two notions of information: semantic and non-semantic.

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Bees vs Penguins

Look at these photos:

Left: By Waugsberg from https://www.phactual.com/springtime-is-here-and-so-are-the-bees/ Right: Original: Stan Shebs, Both licensed by Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License

The size of the wing of a bee in proportion to her body size seems to be virtually identical to that of a penguin. The length of the wing in both animals is around half their height. Why does the bee fly effortlessly while the penguin has absolutely no chance of even slowing down his free fall to save his life? If you read my earlier post about giant grasshoppers, you probably guess the answer…

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Working in solitude, guiding students to find themselves, and thoughts on the modern academic world

Wolf Singer and I

Wolf Singer (right) and I

 

In Vienna I had the opportunity to quickly interview Professor Wolf Singer. He is a Senior Fellow at the Ernst Strüngmann Institute for Neuroscience in Frankfurt, Germany, that he has founded in cooperation with the Max Planck Society a couple of years ago. One of the most fascinating ideas around which the modern work of Wolf Singer and his colleagues focuses is that brain performs a form of liquid computing. Imagine a pool of water. If you drop a small stone in it, waves will propagate in every direction. All the particles of the water body start moving – but in a predictable way. Suppose you drop two stones at different points simultaneously. The wave pattern will become more complicated. Some waves will cancel each other out, some will amplify each other. These waves can be thought of performing some sort of coding of the “inputs” (the stones) that the system has received. We know from EEG data that the brain is constantly performing rapid wave-like fluctuations. The idea behind liquid computing in the brain is that these waves measured in EEG are akin to waves in a liquid container. The brain’s activity is fluctuating and the complex fluctuations are thought to represent the superposition of the priors, i.e. the a priory knowledge, needed for the interpretation of sensory signals. Once sensory data are received, some waves get amplified, others diminished and this corresponds to a kind of a collapse of the matching priors to the actual perception. Wolf Singer acknowledged that there is a certain similarity to quantum mechanics. He even said that nature, by evolving the cerebral cortex, perhaps figured out the closest possible way of imitating principles of quantum computing within a classical system.

Between his lectures in Vienna I had a quick opportunity to interview Wolf Singer about his working patterns and habits.

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London-Vienna-Seville-Barcelona-Pucon

I had an exceptional amount of travel in the last couple of months. My first destination was London and I want to mention the exhibition “Colour and Vision” they have at the Natural History Museum in South Kensington – it is still open for several weeks, until November 6th. I went there with my friend’s four year old son while my friend was at work. Read more

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How to Quit Being a Smoker

In this post I tell my story of how I quit smoking and give a 10-step instruction on how to do the same, and a 3-step instruction in the very end which summarises the important points.

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On Lord’s and Other Prayers

My friend Sam recently asked me what do I think of Lord’s Prayer and I decided to publish my response here. Since I didn’t grow up religious and was never particularly keen on praying, this was the first time I was actually exposed to the content of this prayer. This makes me somewhat unbiased compared to someone who had to repeat it multiple times in childhood.

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What if Understanding Consciousness is Impossible?

Sam Harris and David Chalmers discuss the ideas of the nature of consciousness here. You can also see Chalmers expressing some of those ideas in his TED talk. One can see from the podcast and the talk in just how bizarre state our understanding of consciousness is. In my view it is directly comparable with the understanding of how to cure common flue in the 16th century: people had absolutely no clue, but they still tried everything from bloodletting to eating bonemarrow.

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Big Friendly Giant and Square to Cube Ratio

Before you continue reading, I would like you to participate in a small poll. Ready? Imagine a giant grasshopper which is otherwise identical to a normal insect grasshopper, but is 50 cm (20 inches) of height. It is like a 20-fold zoomed-in version of the grasshopper, all body parts increased proportionally. Regular tiny grasshoppers can jump up to twenty times times their own body height. The question is:

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Big Friendly Giant (2016)

In this post I will explain which is the right answer to the poll and why the giants in the giant country in the movie Big Friendly Giant violate the laws of physics. My aim is not to critisise the movie, but to point out that physics in it is flawed (which is not necessarily a downside artistically speaking). I will also try to give an impression of what the physics of the giant folks should look like which would give the reader an intuition why Read more