Wednesday, October 29, 2014


As you go throughout your day, how do you think of your personal life? Are you a spontaneous person, a worrier, an introvert, an extrovert, selfish, selfless? I've found that most people tend to naturally fall into one of three different narratives, and typically stick with that narrative for most of their daily actions. These are either first, second, or third person perspectives, and I'll describe each one below.

I'll be using the analogy of driving a car that is your life, with you as the driver.

First Person

Description: The first person perspective is from the eyes of the driver. You look to see what is directly in front of you. You live your life in the moment, and avoid the negative obstacles in your way. You fully immerse yourself in the emotions of the moment. You look at what's in directly front of you and make the best short term decision for yourself.

Pros: With this perspective, you do not shirk from any painful or joyful emotions. You can appreciate the subtle beauty of your every day interactions. You spend very little time worrying about the future. You experience a deeper sense of the everyday experience. You are, for lack of a better word, "present".

Cons: There are a few cons with living perpetually in this perspective. You may end up simply following what seems best in the moment, not considering future consequences or long term goals. In addition, if you look behind you through the rear view mirror, you may experience past pain with the same intensity as if you were still in that previous painful moment. You see the good and bad right in front of you but don't take into account the bigger picture. Furthermore, while your joyful feelings are exaggerated, so are the painful feelings such as anger or sadness, with which some may be ill-equipped to deal. Finally, you are spending your time focused on the outside world, and become externally, rather than internally, validated. You may become outcome dependent and too much of an extrovert in this perspective.

Second Person

Description: The second perspective perspective is from the eyes of the passenger. You are focused 100% on the driver, and the world flows behind the driver seen in the driver's side window. In this perspective, you are constantly focused on self-improvement at the expense of everything else. Think of a gym rat, focusing completely on physical improvement, damned be the external world. An introvert.

Pros: There are actually a lot of pros to this perspective, and it's one that many people don't spend enough time considering. No matter what the world throws at you, you are focused on what's best for you. You are focused on making sure that the driver is in the best physical and mental shape at all times. That he is spending every free minute learning about the world around him, reading, thinking, and improving his skills. That she is carefully considering whether that slice of pizza she puts into her body is hurting or helping her self improvement.

Cons: This perspective can be seen as selfish and may shirk selfless acts. When you constantly focus just on your own self-interest, others may be unintentionally hurt by your actions. It may also be ill equipped to deal with every day emotions. It can be seen as "hiding" from emotions, which means that the range of emotional responses may be limited (both positive and negative). If some emotion crashes into the car, a lack of experience dealing with the present emotions means this person may either snap (having a disproportionate emotional response), or completely hide from the world, regressing back into oneself. In addition, the person who spends all his time in the second person perspective may be considered by others to be more selfish, and not hold relationships as long as others since he will be less compromising. Finally, staying in this perspective perpetually may result in giving up current pleasurable experiences under the guise of self-improvement.

Third Person

Description: The third person perspective is an aerial view of the car. It is always considering the long timeline of life. Looking for patterns in the past, and planning goals in the future. Looking for all the future obstacles which may come up in the road and directing the car away from them, towards long term goals. Think of someone constantly anxious about the future. Think of someone constantly ambitious and dreaming about the future. Think of someone constantly stuck in their high school mentality long after their peers have moved on.

Pros: This perspective lends itself nicely to long term thinking and sacrificing. This perspective will motivate you to contribute more to your retirement. To give up a little now for a lot later. To dream and be ambitious. This person will likely have a better future than her peers, but at the expense of cumulative happiness.

Cons: Being too much in the third person perspective leads to constant worrying. Constantly trying to avoid future obstacles in the road which may not be there by the time the car gets there. Putting all his efforts into the future at the expense of the present. Or spending all day in a depression looking at the past and upset the car is not on the path you had previously laid out. Not appreciating the current moment, and focusing too much on external goals rather than self-improvement.


Most people switch between perspectives subconsciously, depending on their current situation or even time of day. But without being aware of these different perspectives, such a person may tend to live in one perspective more than others at the expense of personal happiness.

The goal should be able to consciously switch between these perspectives. To enter a first person perspective and not hide from the present, the emotions or thoughts or sensory pleasures of the moment. But to take some time throughout the day to switch to the third person perspective and think about long term goals and consequences, and try to find patterns in one's past. To enter a second person perspective and let the world wash over us and focus on making sure you are improving yourself at every moment in an antifragile sense.

Once you are aware of these different ways to view your life, and how you spend most of your mental energy, that awareness will naturally lead you to start making more conscious choices regarding which perspective you live your life at every moment.

Sunday, October 19, 2014



Greed has become a dirty pejorative word in our modern culture. In this post I will not argue for or against the morality of greed, but rather present a way in which the natural tendency to be greedy can be beneficial in the long term.

With regards to morality, I will only say this: The natural inclination towards greed is amoral. Choosing to acting on it or not is where one distinguishes between moral and immoral actions.

Human greed manifests in many ways. Several of these include:
  • Food: Overeating given sufficiently available food. This results in the obesity epidemic in most developed countries.
  • Money: Greed can manifest as extreme ambition in some individuals, willing to step over others to climb the corporate ladder and acquire more monetary assets than are necessary to survive.
  • Land: The early colonizers of America were greedy, desiring to grab land for their home country (and manifesting as gaining personal glory) at the expense of indigenous populations. In addition, we developed our legal system to in part protect individual property rights, to ensure that those who greedily grabbed resources such as land were sufficiently protected by the law.
  • Natural Resources: An example of this is the consumption of oil, and the unwillingness for our society to veer very much towards "green" resources unless they are considered profitable (tying into the "Money" manifestation of greed).
  • Sex: Many people tend to have more sex and therefore children than they can actually support. Their greediness was manifested in an extremely powerful desire for reproduction, and hence sex evolved to physically release pleasurable chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin. This leads to overpopulation.
Now we arrive at the crux of the result of greed. Overpopulation. In which our natural environment on earth can't sustain our greediness.


The biological definition of life is "the capacity for growth, reproduction, functional activity, and continual change preceding death."

By that definition, we can characterize life as a self-expanding, self-perpetuating process. In essence, I would distill it down even further and state that life aims to convert non-organic matter and energy  (Einstein demonstrated these are actually mathematically roughly equivalent) into more life.

Aside: I am using the terms non-organic and organic although I recognize that it is possible that life can manifest as non-carbon-based biological entities.

Every time we burn oil so that we can harvest more corn, the raw physical non-organic matter (crude oil) is, through a long process, turned into organic life (corn).

Every time a plant absorbs sunlight to grow, it is taking the raw energy from photons and turning it into organic life (leaves) rather than allow that energy to simply be absorbed as heat by the earth.

But since matter/energy is neither created nor destroyed, it will likely eventually be converted into life by some process in the distant future.

I propose that more greedy species evolved via naturally selection, resulting in human overpopulation.

But is that such a bad thing? If our current environment can't sustain our greediness, then life will be forced to expand beyond our world into the surrounding environment (solar system). According to the Kardashev scale, this will result in a jump from a Type 1 civilization into a Type 2 civilization. 

In fact, the process of life breaking free of our current atmosphere has already begun.

So life has begun to break free of earth's comforting atmosphere by either by carrying the atmosphere with it (space suits) or by being able to survive harsh conditions (tardigrades or sea plankton).

As a species, we will be forced to redirect more of our mental capacities into figuring out how to convert the cruder materials (rocks on Mars) into organic life. Which brings us to the future.


If life expands exponentially faster than the universe is expanding, (or at least before heat death) and as long as we leave earth by the time our sun expands too large, life will reach a point where it has taken over the universe, simply converting the natural matter into supporting material (spaceships like earth).

When new life is created, right now it becomes consumed by other life as organic resources ("food").

If the universe is infinite, then there is an infinite amount of resources available to life, as it consumes and expands all. Life will find an equilibrium as the harshness of the universe pushes back against the natural desire to expand.


Greed is naturally inside us as a species. Whether you individually feel the pull of greed or act on it is of no significance. In addition, the morality of acting on greedy impulses doesn't refute the amoral fact that greed is forcing humans to expand faster than the earth can support.

Right now, there may be "more than enough" to go around as detractors commonly exclaim. But that's shortsighted.

Perhaps greed doesn't have to be such a dirty word. If we are aware of it, and can channel our greed into "moral" endeavors such as expanding beyond our earth, then we can use our natural greed for the benefit of all, and continue the conversion of raw matter and energy into life.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Psychopath Fitness Test

A friend lent me the book "The Psychopath Test" by Jon Ronson and it's been a fascinating read thus far. It delves into the shadowy world of those living among us who are biologically incapable of feeling certain things, reacting certain ways, etc. It is one third of the Dark Triad traits, which when combined with Machiavellianism (aside: The Prince is next up on my ready list) and narcissism, form a very intriguing combination of personality traits forming what can only be described as a formidable personality in some.

I have other thoughts on the Dark Triad, but I digress; this post is meant to focus on psychopathy.

The reason I am focusing on that specific trait is that studies on psychopathy seem to link it to natural differences in one's amygdala and neuronal pathways, which would suggest a cause coming more from nature rather than nurture.

This presents us with a unique opportunity to think about psychopathy in terms of Darwinism. If the idea that many prominent members of society such as business or political leaders are psychopathic scares you, you're thinking too short term and too egocentrically. To be clear, my discussions of scientific viewpoints are always devoid of the idea of morality unless specifically stated as such.

In actuality, one may consider many neurological "disorders" as simply mutations in one's DNA. If you expand your mental timeline to consider millions of years, rather than your own meager lifetime, you will come to a different conclusion on psychopathy.

Considering an evolutionary time horizon, nature has decided to change some people's brain structure, and put it out into the world to determine its fitness. If a psychopathic personality allows one to secure more resources, successfully manipulate someone with whom to sire children, then over a very long timeline, these mutations will begin to seep further into the genetic gene pool.

If psychopathy allows one to amass a significantly disproportionate amount of wealth by becoming prominent in society, then that will also secure the genetic lineage over several generations through inheritances, thereby further increasing the probability that one's genes promulgate into the population.

You can consider every natural change in one's brain structure as nature simply "testing out" a specific behavior or personality trait. Essentially nature attempting to determine what set of traits are most fit for the species. I will expand upon this point in another post, because I want to do it justice. But suffice it to say that all of our unique personality traits can be thought of as simply determining which traits are best suited for the current environment, or to state it even more broadly, are able to most adapt to quick changes in the environment.

Again, I am not arguing for or against the morality of psychopathic traits, and what is "best" for society (another annoyingly ambiguous term; "optimal" given a metric would be more appropriate). Rather simply pointing out that most people only think about either the current society or even a few thousand years back to when societies began. To truly put things in perspective, it's important to consider nature's timeline, in which our modern societies are a blip. In that perspective, psychopathy and other neurological "disorders" are interesting to study in terms of evolution due to the fact that they are likely caused by changes in our genetic code.

It's a fitness test in the true Darwinian sense of the word, and society's desire to shame or lock up psychopaths out of fear may be sufficient to drive out that genetic lineage. One paragraph in the book actually considered whether we should lock up people who display these traits before they commit a crime, very much so in a Minority Report or Orwellian sense.

A final point to consider is that the more light we shine on psychopathy and other "shameful" or fearful traits, and the more we try to eradicate such traits, may actually backfire. Rationally it would benefit these people to use their natural ability to manipulate to slink back into the shadows and hide even more. It may actually have a detrimental effect, which we will only know after a long enough period of time.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Image Analysis & "The Illusion of Consciousness"

I just watched an interesting TED talk on "The Illusion of Consciousness". He basically discusses optical illusions, and how our brain fills in detail without us realizing it.

As a commentary on the talk itself, I think that using optical illusions is interesting in order to study consciousness, but the speaker didn't really make any solid argument that consciousness is an illusion; rather, he simply seemed to say that our eyes interpolate detail for interpretation.

But that's not the focus of this post.

As an image analysis engineer, I have a different commentary. What's really important is the challenge that our brains' interpretation of our eyes' data presents for image analysis engineers.

This is a screenshot from the talk:

Our brain somehow knows that these pixels represent a face, and a specific, well known face at that. But try training a computer to recognize that. It only contains maybe a few hundred grey values in a specific order. We organize that information in our brain to interpret it as a face at a given angle, rotate it mentally, and perform a content based image retrieval from a database in our heads of known faces.

Understanding how we interpret our eyes' data will be instrumental in taking image analysis technology to the next level.

This is why image analysis hasn't replaced human observers quite yet. A pathologist looking at a cell slide can immediately interpret that slide as tumor or non-tumor. We are trying to train computers to follow the steps the pathologist mentally performs. But the pathologist doesn't necessarily know how he interprets the image, which frustrates us engineers who need to train a computer to replicate those precise steps.

When we look at an MRI brain scan, we can interpret it as a single object.

We can even know that the edges represent the same concepts at different parts of the image.


However, different spots on those borders have very different shades of grey. Our brains know they represent the same type of object, but computers are not so good at that yet.

That's just one example of how computers are trying to catch up to our brains.

Not to say that there aren't clever methods such as sophisticated edge detection algorithms, intensity normalization, curvature flow algorithms, etc. (both proprietary algorithms in companies' R&D departments as well as in public academic literature). But a lot of image analysis research has to do with teaching computers to do things which our brains already do so naturally, and quickly.

And more importantly, these tools are simply trying to replicate specific steps our brains take, whereas the actual order of which steps to take, and how analyzing an image with those specific steps, will result in a proper interpretation. In that area, very little research even comes close to learning the proper steps. The closest we've come to that is Deep Learning, but interestingly enough, the most creative thing that our most talented engineers at Google could come up with, is to try to replicate our existing biological neurons. At its essence, Deep Learning is still just another way we are trying to copy nature.

Computer vision is an area of active research and will be for many years to come; it's something to which I have dedicated my career. But perhaps if we understood ourselves and how our minds work a bit better, it would pave the way for exciting new tools which could be used to better thwart terrorism or heal the sick (the most typical use of image analysis technology).

Monday, July 28, 2014

Visualizing 5D

How would one go about visualizing the fifth dimension? Or, more specifically, how would our four dimensional universe look, from a higher dimension?

Let's start with a simple timeline.

In this example, the dark blue represents a one dimensional timeline. To the left represents the past, and to the right represents the future.

What if we wanted to include a spatial dimension to this timeline?

As previously, the left represents the past and to the right represents the future. But we can now take into account a single spatial dimension as representing top and bottom. Maybe that dimension is the distance from the earth.

Extending that idea further, let's add another spatial dimension.

For visualization purposes, if we pretend for a second that the universe only has two spatial dimensions, like a movie, then this is the entire history of the universe represented as a solid object. We've basically replaced a spatial third dimension with time.

Your lifetime would be represented as a section of this object.

A moment in time capturing the universe exactly as it stands right now would simply be a slice of this object.

That slice would represent the exact position of the galaxies, the earth, etc., like a photograph.

What if we lived in the fifth dimension and could change the four dimensional universe?

We could push on one side of it.

We could shape it as we saw fit. One change at one section, would change the entire set of past events and future events. The position of the galaxies, the consequences of all of our decisions, could be completely different.

Taking a slice out of the future of this changed universe would be very different from the future of a non-changed universe.

In fact, the universe itself could be sculpted as one saw fit. Each possible sculpture would represent a possible universe, from the big bang to the big crunch, at the will of a fifth dimension.

Final note for fun: an animated sculpture, with the universe morphing, could represent a multiverse.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Proving the Existence of a Soul

I had a thought regarding how physicists or mathematicians could theoretically prove the existence of a soul, or "outside observer" to our life experiences.

Definition: Let “memory” be defined as a unique combination of photons hitting our eyes.

Definition: Let “neuronal configuration” be defined as a unique combination of the neurons. That configuration is defined by the biochemical levels in each neuron, the precise synapses and their associated connections to and from each neuron, hormonal levels in the blood, etc. Essentially a unique combination of atoms in our brain.

Definition: Let “S{neuronal configuration}” be the set of all possible neuronal configurations.

Definition: Let “S{memory}” be the set of all possible memories.

Assumption: Two memories of two different events (defined by photons hitting our eyes) are experienced differently.

Assumption: Light hitting our eyes can change our neurons based on our interpretation.

Null Hypothesis: Our memories are defined solely by a “neuronal configuration”.

If |S{memory}| < |S{neuronal configuration}| then each memory can possibly be defined by a unique neuronal configuration.

If |S{memory}| > |S{neuronal configuration}| then a given neuronal configuration cannot be used to completely define a memory. This is only possible if there is an outside observer and P( Null Hypothesis ) = 0. This would prove the existence of an outside observer.

Back to Blogging

I was thinking of starting up blogging again. I have a lot of thoughts and I think this would be a good medium to parse through them. If anything, for fear of being morbid, at least it will be a record of my experiences and views on the world for after I'm gone.

So since the last entry, I received my Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering (Dr. Rob now!) and started a company Toth Technology LLC. We'll see how things go, but I'm excited about the future.