Monday, October 23, 2006

Why I Gamble

Friend: On an unrelated note: do you gamble (besides poker)? Just wondering what a smart man like you still enjoys negative expectation games. (I've been itching to play blackjack and try some craps.)

so yeah, i gamble. not a whole lot, but for a while I was on a $1500 winning streak starting on my third or fourth time. started maybe winning about $100 at a time, every time, playing craps and blackjack. i don't play as much ever since the streak ended a year or so ago, but sure while playing you have plenty of time to sit and contemplate the meta- behind why a rational person would play.

the easy answer is pure entertainment. almost all forms of entertainment (movies, opera, skiing, etc.) are negative expected value games. (sometimes very negative). we still play them.

part of it is just the nice environment (vegas casinos are nice, usually not worth it for me elsewhere), free drinks, you get treated well by the staff, with deference and respect. sure its artificial, but feels nice.

but sure, the sheer thrill of it is fun. part of it is the camaraderie. craps is great for that. the table tends to win and lose together, and humans are evolved to enjoy teamwork (altruism genes). at least I do. blackjack too actually because as the card counters know, you mostly win or lose as a table based on the composition of the deck.

Also, happiness is not simply about how much money you have. (again, skiing is a negative $70/day game that I happily play). but even more purely, evolutionarily there is a nice economic basis for happiness that shows that optimal happiness isn't a direct function of how much money you have but instead is based on relative gains and losses. Thus the thrills of the occasional gains could easily outweigh the losses even though monetarily it doesn't. (see my chronicle column on this)

so actually, thinking about it more, it really is a nonsensical question to ask why one plays a negative expected value game. when really, the only positive expected value game we normally play is called a "job" and is not normally expected to be fun. (of course there are exceptions to that)

I also spent a lot of time, trying to rationalize the 15 game ($1500) winning streak. (So the rough algorithm I used was play until I either was up $100; and then stop; or down $200 and then stop) Somehow I won 1500 that way, the probability of which (from my stochastic processes class) is roughly 1-2/3^15 ~= 0. So of course, if you add in psychology, you can say that I cheated my accounting, and threw out from my sample a couple times when I lost money (excused as didn't have enough time to fully execute my strategy, or simply cause I was playing on a boat).

Saturday, October 21, 2006

French-ness: Everyday Philosophers

There was always something amusingly intellectual about talking to some french people (at least the ones I was likely to bump into), that I never put my finger on until hearing an npr story recently about a French pianist who has a new book about classical piano and wolves. And the tight connection between the two.

And it just really hit me, this "frenchiness." She has moved to the US and really loves it here, but she talked about it in such a way that reminded me of the random french guy I met on a train once, who after college went to build roads in Africa, and then to some job in rural china, where he met his American wife, a perfume maker, and then they moved to Mexico where he became a plastic salesman, and now they're in New Jersey, and he's looking for a job.

It was mostly in the metaphors he used maybe, or his way of expressing himself. It was so unique to French. I think its an everyday use of philosophy. He was talking about the friends around the world he has, and how great Skype is for keeping in touch, but then not stopping there, he talked about how he dreamed that Skype may one day lead the the world to transcend the pettiness, and will help us enter a utopian golden age of eternal peace and mutual understanding.

It is an everyday dreamy philosophy, evident in their movies. Dreamers. L'auberge espagnol. The two most recent ones. Where people just sit around and philosphize. Before Sunrise and Before Sunset too.

And it's not a Rational philosophy. That would be too German (Kant, Hegel Marx, etc), though the French started that rational philosophy (Descartes, etc.). But a more everyday philosophy like Foucault. Big grand thoughts applied to everyday life, that life has a bigger meaning, and it should be applied to everything we do. (Bourdieu and Derrida too maybe if I knew their work better). Like the nihilism of the french philosopher in I Heart Huckabees.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Have you all noticed somone oddly using pronouns. They represent the future.

I got into a big tiffle with my feminist economics professor my first year of graduate school. Following standard grammar, after much agonizing, I used he as the third person singluar genderless pronoun. I considered he-or-she, s/he, it but found them all awkward.

I have since capitualted and follow the convention accepted in academic economics, alternate between he or she, but if there is a stereotype, use the gender that defies the stereotype.

I stubbornly refuse to adopt what is becoming increasingly common, using "They" for the singular genderless. I heard it on NPR this morning and see it quite regularly in magazines.

English has always had an awkward shortage of pronouns.

More glaringly, is the missing 2nd person plural. Historically 2nd person singular was thou and thee, and 2nd person plural was you and you.

Thou and thee have long degenerated and we were left with confusion. However, I wouldn't be surprised if before long, we get you and you for 2nd person singular, and 'you all' and 'you all' for 2nd person plural.

Having lived in Washington for only a few months, I catch myself using "you all." It certainly fills a much needed gap, and more acceptable (to me anyway) than "yous" and "y'all." It surprised me how ubiquitous it is here, not just by southerners.

On the whole, I am fine with these developments, though I may resist them myself. English language like english law (by contrast to french language and french law) is not codified, but organic.

For my many friends who get offended when nuclear is pronounced "nucular," I refer them to Monty Python's Holy Grail where they prounounce knight, well like "k-n-i-g-h-t," when for the past few hundred years, we have taken to pronouncing it "nite."

Language is fluid and adaptive. And that's cool.

Monday, October 16, 2006

A bs social theory of religion: Religion is...

(extracted from bs from a conversation with my cousin a-)

In the end, in my view, religion is primarily a set of formal rules we follow to avoid the hobbseian state of nature. Neal Stepheson's novel Snowcrash sees humans as computers, blindly following rules (without being conscious of it), and things like culture/religion as computer programs (which are in essence just rules), that evolve to solve the nasty, short and brutish prisoner's dilemma/tragedy of commons we call the game of life. dawkins called them memes, a concept as fundamental nowadays to cultural anthropologists it seems as genes are to biologists.

But christianity (or more specifically post-enlightenment protestantism) is a step beyond, because instead of mere rules, it advocates meta-rules. don't blindly follow rules like don't work on the sabbath, or don't eat pork, or don't eat cows, or eye for an eye, but instead try to understand what god wants, (meta-rules). This is the faculty of reason that descartes and kant were so infatuated with. Reason with a capital R.

sorry, that was a random dump, but nice sometimes to synthesize all the various bits of philosophy I read in grad school (even sci-fi Stephenson was read and assigned for multiple classes).