03 March 2015

Dogs Don't Remember

Dogs Don't Remember | Psychology Today:

Dogs are wonderful creatures. Our dogs recognize me and are always happy to see me. Dogs are also smart and successful creatures. Our dogs have learned several cute tricks. But dogs (and other non-human animals) are missing something we take for granted: episodic memory. Dogs don't remember what happened yesterday and don't plan for tomorrow.
In defining episodic memory, Endel Tulving argued that it is unique to humans. Experience influences all animals. Most mammals and birds can build complex sets of knowledge or semantic memory. You and I also remember the experience of learning these complex sets of information. Dogs don't.
Episodic remembering is mental time travel and depends on a few crucial cognitive capabilities. First, in order to experience episodic remembering, an individual must have a sense of self. Most non-human animals have a dramatically different experience of self than we do. For example, most animals (and young humans) fail to identify themselves in mirrors. If I look in a mirror and see that I have something stuck between my teeth, I try to correct the problem. (I also wonder why my friends didn't tell me I had something stuck between my teeth.) In contrast, put a red dot on a child's forehead, put the child in front of a mirror, and watch what happens. Young children are more likely to reach for the baby in the mirror than for their own foreheads. Dogs treat the dog in the mirror as another dog; not as themselves. Most animals fail at the red dot mirror task.
A self concept is not, however, enough to ensure episodic remembering. Mental time travel is the other critical cognitive capability. I understand that yesterday is different from today and that tomorrow will be different as well. We realize that when we remember, the mental experience is a disjointed slice of time. Thus episodic remembering is the combination of a self concept and mental time travel: recollecting the self in that other time period. Mental time travel also enables planning for the future. Dogs don't plan forparticular future events although they have a general expectation of when dinner will appear.
Tulving also argued that since episodic memory in a recent evolutionary development, it is particularly likely to suffer damage and loss. Anterograde amnesia is the failure to encode and remember new episodic memories. Anterograde amnesiacs can learn from single experiences without recollecting the experience. They retain a clear sense of self, but they have difficulty with time as personally experienced. Because they lack episodic memory, they can't recall what occurred just before the present moment and constantly feel like they just woke up. If you meet an anterograde amnesiac, leave the room, and return after 10 minutes, you'll remember having met the individual, but the amnesiac won't remember having met you.
My dogs display this particular failure of episodic remembering. If I walk into the backyard, the dogs are overjoyed to see me and act like they haven't seen me for days. If I stay in the backyard, they quickly become bored with me. If I go inside and return after 10-15 minutes, my dogs are overjoyed to see me and act like they haven't seen me in days. They don't remember that I was in the backyard just a few minutes ago.
Arguing against Tulving's notion that episodic remembering is unique to humans is hard. Showing the impact of a single experience is not enough. Even without episodic memory, humans can show the impact of single events. Anterograde amnesiacs can learn fear, learn new skills, and gain new conceptual knowledge. Normal humans also gain knowledge without remembering when and where they learned the information (see my earlier post on Haven't I Seen You Somewhere Before).
Although I appreciate Tulving's conception of episodic memory, I've always been troubled by the difficulty of documenting that other animals have episodic memory. Episodic remembering hinges on the conscious experience of the self in some other time and place. Episodic memory is thus hard to demonstrate without the verbal ability to describe conscious experience.
Nonetheless, in a recent edited volume (The Missing Link in Cognition: Origins of Self Reflective Consciousness, edited by Terrance and Metcalf), several individuals have taken up the challenge. In my next post, I'll present the counter-argument: Dogs don't remember, but maybe chimps do. Since some non-human primates can perform self recognition with mirrors, they may perform episodic remembering. Even if they can't describe their memories, chimps may engage in mental time travel. My dogs, however, are stuck in an eternal present.

04 February 2015

Debt mountains spark fears of another crisis

Debt mountains spark fears of another crisis


The world is awash with more debt than before the global financial crisis erupted in 2007, with China’s debt relative to its economic size now exceeding US levels, according to a report.

Global debt has increased by $57tn since 2007 to almost $200tn — far outpacing economic growth, calculates McKinsey & Co, the consultancy. As a share of gross domestic product, debt has risen from 270 per cent to 286 per cent.

McKinsey’s survey of debt across 47 countries — illustrated in an FT interactive graphic — highlights how hopes that the turmoil of the past eight years would spur widespread “deleveraging” to safer levels of indebtedness were misplaced. The report calls for “fresh approaches” to preventing future debt crises.

“Overall debt relative to gross domestic product is now higher in most nations than it was before the crisis,” McKinsey reports. “Higher levels of debt pose questions about financial stability.”

Overall, almost half of the increase in global debt since 2007 was in developing economies, but a third was the result of higher government debt levels in advanced economies. Households have also increased debt levels across economies — the most notable exceptions being crisis-hit countries such as Ireland and the US.

“There are few indications that the current trajectory of rising leverage will change,” the report says. “This calls into question basic assumptions about debt and deleveraging and the adequacy of tools available to manage debt and avoid future crises.”

Countries that McKinsey warns face “potential vulnerabilities” because of high household debt include the Netherlands, South Korea, Canada, Sweden, Australia, Malalysia and Thailand. “It is like a balloon. If you squeeze debt in one place, it pops up somewhere else in the system,” says Richard Dobbs, one of the report’s authors.

One “bright spot,” McKinsey says, is evidence of deleveraging by banks. Financial sector debt relative to GDP has declined in the US and a few other crisis-hit countries, and stabilised in other advanced economies.


Compared Chart
The world is awash with even more debt than before the financial crisis. This interactive tool compares countries’ debt levels
China’s total debt, including the financial sector, has nearly quadrupled since 2007 to the equivalent of 282 per cent of GDP. That was higher than in the US — although China is lower if financial sector debt is excluded to avoid double counting. McKinsey warns of risks in China’s property sector, local government financing and a rapidly expanding “shadow” banking system.

The country’s overall debt “appears manageable”, McKinsey says, but its indebtedness would restrict its ability to compensate for slower long-term growth in advanced economies.
“Before the [post-2007] crisis there was one area where debt was very low and stable, and that was China,” says Luigi Buttiglione, head of global strategy at hedge fund Brevan Howard and co-author of a report in September on global indebtedness. “When there was a crisis in the west, China could lever up. Now that is not the case.”

The report is likely to fuel debates among economists about what is an appropriate level of debt in an economy. McKinsey argues much of the expansion in developing countries has reflected the healthy development of financial markets, but in advanced economies high debt could constrain growth and create fresh financial vulnerabilities.

High debt levels could make it harder for central banks to “normalise” monetary policy without disrupting the real economy — the US Federal Reserve plans to raise interest rates this year for the first time since 2006. “High debt levels are an outward sign of structural problems,” says Charles Dumas, chairman of Lombard Street Research.

The report comes as Greece this week has pushed for a radical rethink by its creditors of ways of tackling its debt and economic problems. Among the “fresh approaches” McKinsey suggests are innovations in mortgages and other debt contracts to better share risks between borrowers and creditors. Other steps it discusses to prevent future crises include debt reschedulings and even writing off debt bought by central banks under “quantitative easing” programmes.

If debt held by government agencies and the central bank were excluded, Japan’s government debt to GDP ratio would fall from 234 per cent to 94 per cent. But such quick-fix “deleveraging” could itself cause financial turmoil, McKinsey acknowledges.

McKinsey’s conclusions echo warnings by the Bank for International Settlements in Basel, which acts as a think-tank for central bankers. BIS research had found that “when private sector credit-to-GDP ratios are significantly above their long-term trend, banking strains are likely to follow within three years”, Jaime Caruana, BIS general manager, said in a speech late last year.

03 February 2015

Iceland to build first temple to Norse gods since Viking age | World news | The Guardian

Iceland to build first temple to Norse gods since Viking age

Icelanders will soon be able to publicly worship at a shrine to Thor, Odin and Frigg with construction starting this month on the island’s first major temple to the Norse gods since the Viking age.

Worship of the gods in Scandinavia gave way to Christianity around 1,000 years ago but a modern version of Norse paganism has been gaining popularity in Iceland.

“I don’t believe anyone believes in a one-eyed man who is riding about on a horse with eight feet,” said Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, high priest of Ásatrúarfélagið, an association that promotes faith in the Norse gods.

“We see the stories as poetic metaphors and a manifestation of the forces of nature and human psychology.”

Membership in Ásatrúarfélagið has tripled in Iceland in the last decade to 2,400 members last year, out of a total population of 330,000, data from Statistics Iceland showed.

The temple will be circular and will be dug 4 metres (13ft) down into a hill overlooking the Icelandic capital Reykjavik, with a dome on top to let in the sunlight.

“The sun changes with the seasons so we are in a way having the sun paint the space for us,” Hilmarsson said.

The temple will host ceremonies such as weddings and funerals. The group will also confer names to children and initiate teenagers, similar to other religious communities.

Iceland’s neo-pagans still celebrate the ancient sacrificial ritual of Blot with music, reading, eating and drinking, but nowadays leave out the slaughter of animals.

30 December 2014

The Timefreezers

What do you do with 140 DSLRs you happen to have sitting around?


17 December 2014

Former Grateful Dead Manager Rock Scully Has Died

Former Grateful Dead Manager Rock Scully Has Died

Scully managed the seminal psychedelic rock band for 20 years and wrote a tell-all biography


11 November 2014

IBM Won’t Give Exact EPS Goal After Ditching Forecast - Bloomberg

IBM Won’t Give Exact EPS Goal After Ditching Forecast - Bloomberg: "Financial"

After killing the careers of thousands, they abandoned the plan.

International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) doesn’t plan to lock itself into another precise earnings forecast after ditching its long-held goal for 2015 profit.
Chief Financial Officer Martin Schroeter said IBM is unlikely to put in place another “absolute” earnings-per-share roadmap. He said there’s still value in laying out the complex company’s strategy for investors.
“We are going to have to be as transparent as we have been about the business and what it can earn over time,” Schroeter said today at an RBC Capital Markets investor conference.
Last month, IBM Chief Executive Officer Ginni Rometty tossed out the company’s goal to reach $20 a share in adjusted earnings by 2015 after sales dropped for a 10th straight quarter and demand for servers and other hardware dwindled. Rometty, who took over in 2012, had been trying to transform IBM while adhering to the five-year profit forecast laid out by her predecessor, Sam Palmisano.
The company has said it will provide an update on its financial projections in January.
IBM is under pressure to manage through a shift in corporate spending that has been a drag on revenue. Technology customers are increasingly moving data and software to the cloud, instead of on-site servers, lessening the demand for IBM hardware and the sales and maintenance staff who support it. The company has said it expects adjusted profit to fall this year for the first time since 2002.

Cloud Growth

To help accelerate that move, IBM is creating a separate business unit for its cloud-computing operations. Last month, IBM said that cloud offerings delivered as a service are at an annual run rate of $3.1 billion, compared with $2.8 billion as of the second quarter. That’s still a fraction of IBM’s $100 billion in revenue last year.
Schroeter today said the company still expects about $7 billion in cloud-related sales next year, with $3 billion of that coming from new offerings and the rest from old products shifted to be delivered via the cloud.
While IBM has used deals to bolster its cloud portfolio, Schroeter said he expects to fall short of the projection for $20 billion in acquisitions laid out in 2010. The technology giant isn’t looking to do a large, transformative takeover, Schroeter said today.

Acquisition Strategy

“We buy things to enhance what IBM can become,” he said. “So we’re not looking to be something else through an acquisition.”
IBM is trying to streamline itself to improve speed and agility, Rometty said in a memo to workers last month. The company has fired and furloughed employees, taking more than $1 billion in workforce restructuring charges this year. IBM has said it plans to cut more jobs, resulting in a fourth-quarter charge of as much as $600 million.
IBM shares fell 0.2 percent to $163.22 at 1:40 p.m. New York time. The stock was down 13 percent this year through yesterday.