Two heads are better than one. How about more?

I like hiking a lot, especially with a few good friends of mine. But when the scenery is wild, or when the weather conditions are harsh, it is not uncommon to lose trail, or  at least – be in doubt whether we are going the right way. In these situations we discuss with each other, consulting as well a map and compass. And even if none of us is certain about the right path we need to take on an overgrown crossroad, we usually manage to reach the mountain hut as we planned.

A common wisdom says that two heads are better than one. In this article we will investigate empirical basis for this claim. Additionally, we will look at frameworks quantifying performance in simple tasks, trying to answer how does ‘doing better’ scale with the number of participants, and their skills.
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Interface theory of perception can overcome the rationality fetish

I might be preaching to the choir, but I think the web is transformative for science. In particular, I think blogging is a great form or pre-pre-publication (and what I use this blog for), and Q&A sites like MathOverflow and the cstheory StackExchange are an awesome alternative architecture for scientific dialogue and knowledge sharing. This is why I am heavily involved with these media, and why a couple of weeks ago, I nominated myself to be a cstheory moderator. Earlier today, the election ended and Lev Reyzin and I were announced as the two new moderators alongside Suresh Venkatasubramanian, who is staying on to for continuity and to teach us the ropes. I am extremely excited to work alongside Suresh and Lev, and to do my part to continue devoloping the great community that we nurtured over the last three and a half years.

cubeHowever, I do expect to face some challenges. The only critique raised against our outgoing moderators, was that an argumentative attitude that is acceptable for a normal user can be unfitting for a mod. I definitely have an argumentative attitude, and so I will have to be extra careful to be on my best behavior.

Thankfully, being a moderator on cstheory does not change my status elsewhere on the website, so I can continue to be a normal argumentative member of the Cognitive Sciences StackExchange. That site is already home to one of my most heated debates against the rationality fetish. In particular, I was arguing against the statement that “a perfect Bayesian reasoner [is] a fixed point of Darwinian evolution”. This statement can be decomposed into two key assumptions: a (1) perfect Bayesian reasoner makes the most veridical decisions given its knowledge, and (2) veridicity has greater utility for an agent and will be selected for by natural selection. If we accept both premises then a perfect Bayesian reasoner is a fitness-peak. Of course, as we learned before: even if something is a fitness-peak doesn’t mean we can ever find it.

We can also challenge both of the assumptions (Feldman, 2013); the first on philosophical grounds, and the second on scientific. I want to concentrate on debunking the second assumption because it relates closely to our exploration of objective versus subjective rationality. To make the discussion more precise, I’ll approach the question from the point of view of perception — a perspective I discovered thanks to TheEGG blog; in particular, the comments of recent reader Zach M.
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Dogs are hosts to the oldest and most widely disseminated cancer

SugarA little while ago, I got a new friend and roommate: Sugar. She is very docile, loves walks and belly-rubs, but isn’t a huge fan of other dogs. Her previous owner was an elderly woman that couldn’t take Sugar outside during most of the year — if you haven’t heard, Montreal is pretty difficult to walk around during winter. This resulted in less exposure to other dogs leading to an anti-social attitude, and less exercise which (combined with Sugar’s adorable demands for food) made Sugar overweight. She now gets plenty of exercise and is slowly returning to a healthy weight and attitude.

But, you can never be too careful, so Sugar will go in for a check-up on Monday. Just like humans, dogs have many treatable conditions, and for some — like cancer — it is better to catch them early. But when it comes to cancer, there is one things that sets dogs apart from nearly all other species: they are susceptible to one of only two known naturally occurring clonally transmissible cancers — canine transmissible venereal tumor (CTVT).

That’s right, a contagious cancer. More precisely a single clonal line that has been living as as a parasitic life form for over 11,000 years (Murchison, Wedge et al., 2014)!
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Kooky history of the quantum mind: reviving realism

What do you want me to do? LEAVE? Then they'll keep being wrong!One of my hobbies in undergrad was to spend time reading and editing Wikipedia. Towards the end of my studies, I started to specialize in going through Wikipedia’s fat-tail, removing articles to non-notable individuals, and trying to counter pseudoscientists, kooks, and cranks. Trying to understand why people subscribe to pseudoscience; how to demarcate real and pseudo- science; and confronting, correcting, or trolling hokum masquerading as science has occupied an unhealthly portion of my time on the internet ever since.

I had a particularly difficult struggle with the quantum mystics of Wikipedia. Some of their proponents have long been active on the internet, and combined with the general confusion around both quantum mechanics and consciousness, they were a very difficult community to expose. An exceptionally hostile member was the usenet celebrity Jack Sarfatti, a proponent of quantum mechanics as a unifying force between science and art and explanation of consciousness.
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Cataloging a year of blogging: the algorithmic world

relaxedToday is the last day of the Julian year, and tomorrow is Old New Years, so it is a great time to finish our overview of the three themes of TheEGG articles in 2013. We already looked at established applications of evolutionary game theory, and extending from behavior to society and mind; now, we will be envisioning the algorithmic world. It is fitting that we will end the Orthodox calendar with a discussion of the year’s most unorthodox articles.

Although I spend most of my time relaxing in a comfortable office in the Stewart Biology building, my official position is in the computer science department. Thus, when I can’t just call myself a theorist, but must specify a discipline, I say that I am a theoretical computer scientist. However, I am a cstheorist that dislikes computing machines, engineering, and technology, and have an unreasonable fondness for philosophy and fundamental science. Unfortunately, most of of the theoretical branches of science, if they try to be rigorous and mathematical, tend to borrow their tools form physics not the mathematics underlying theoretical computer science. In undergrad, I received enough exposure to physics to understand the limits of these tools, and in the years since have grown convinced that they are not sufficient for building the theoretical edifice of biology and psychology.
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Cataloging a year of blogging: from behavior to society and mind

homerbrainrecurseFor psychologists, memory and learning are intimately intertwined. In fact, during the years of behaviorism in the early 20th century, the unobservable process of memory was completely replaced in the technical lexicon by learning (Miller, 2003). I want to take this post as an opportunity to remember the year that’s past, and the 83 articles that were published here during it. In the first theme, a few days ago, I discussed traditional applications of evolutionary game theory. However, I can’t confine myself to traditional applications and find it important to push the envelope a little. Today’s theme is concerned with completing the rejection of behaviorism, not only in psychology but also evolutionary biology: expanding from behavior to society and mind. In the process, we can start to understand how internal representations, learning, and culture shape evolution. The articles listed here were primarily concerned with extending existing methods to new problems, and I’ve saved the most radical developments for the next theme of envisioning the algorithmic world.
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Cataloging a year of blogging: applications of evolutionary game theory

ChristmasCatalogThe new year is here, at least according to the calendar most of us use, but if you’re an orthodox Christian you were probably celebrating Christmas today. Although (or, because?) I’m Russian, I don’t celebrate Christmas, so I spent the day editing a paper, reflecting on 2013, and compiling a catalog post to summarize the year that’s past on this blog. The Theory, Evolution, and Games Group Blog saw 83 article this year (87 posts total, but 4 of them were just short announcements), with 15 of them from our distinguished team of guest bloggers (Forrest Barnum, Yunjun Yang, Max Hartshorn, Marcel Montrey, Eric Bolo, Keven Poulin, and Thomas Shultz). The topics ranged widely from standard evolutionary game theory, to the social nature of intelligence, and the computational complexity of science.

It took embarrassingly long to categorize.

Unfortunately, 83 articles is too many to overview in one post, so I have divided them into 9 categories falling within 3 themes: (1) established applications of evolutionary game theory, (2) expanding from behavior to society and mind, and (3) envisioning the algorithmic world. Today we look at applications.

This is fundamentally an egotistical exercise, and intended (like so much of the blog) for personal future reference. However, if you are new to the blog, and like what you’ve read recently, this could serve as a time-machine to the parts of 2013 that you missed.
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