Essays

Only Entropy Comes Easy

Approximately five hundred years ago, the North African polymath, Ibn-Khaldun, observed that “the goal of civilization is sedentary culture and luxury. When civilization reaches that goal, it turns towards corruption and starts being senile, as happens in the natural life of living beings.” The analogous natural history of socially constructed civilizations and the biologically constructed… Continue reading Only Entropy Comes Easy

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Nature, red in tooth and claw

In Wealth of Nations first published in 1776, Adam Smith stated that “it is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them… Continue reading Nature, red in tooth and claw

Carrots & Sticks

In my last essay, I not only described the historical underpinnings of the model of homo economicus but also described it as a foundational element of modern economic theory. Homo economicus is the smallest unit of analysis in economic theory and is characterized as a solitary agent, calculating in his utility, solely driven by competition,… Continue reading Carrots & Sticks

Fisheries, forests, & emergency care

In my last essay, I made the case that emergency care in the United States is better classified as a common rather than a public good. Due to the passage of the Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act (EMTALA), emergency care became non-excludable and because it is resource constrained, it is rival. Patients are streaming… Continue reading Fisheries, forests, & emergency care

Tragedy of the ED Commons

In his landmark article, Tragedy of Commons (1968), Garrett Hardin asks, “Is ours a finite world? [If so], a finite world can only support a finite population.” In Hardin’s parable, a single group of herders shares a common pasture. The pasture is large enough to support many animals, but not infinitely many. Rationally, each herdsman… Continue reading Tragedy of the ED Commons

Super Ants

The biologist, Nigel Franks, wrote, “the solitary ant is behaviorally one of the least sophisticated animals imaginable...if 100 army ants are placed on a flat surface, they will walk around in ever decreasing circles until they die of exhaustion...yet put half a million of them together, and the group as a whole becomes what some… Continue reading Super Ants

Imperfectly Precise

In the Fractal Nature of Geometry, Benoit Mandelbrot stated, "clouds are not spheres, mountains are not cones, coastlines are not circles, and bark is not smooth, nor does lightning travel in a straight line.” In other words, nature is not simple and regular but complex and filled with irregularities and roughness. The human brain reductively categorizes this… Continue reading Imperfectly Precise

Quality Detector

“Data is the new gold” is the mantra of our age. The data scientist has been termed the “sexiest job of the 21st century.” Every industry is driven by the impetus to acquire, curate, and analyze all aspects of their business. We measure and quantify everything with the promise of utilizing this data to drive… Continue reading Quality Detector

The Map is not the Territory

It is hard to even fathom let alone comprehend the size, scale, and complexity of the universe. It takes light 91 billion years to traverse the diameter of the observable universe. That is approximately six times longer than the age of the universe itself. Similarly, the amount of information in the world vastly overwhelms the… Continue reading The Map is not the Territory

To explore or exploit?

The exploration-exploitation dilemma is one of the most basic yet frustrating trade-offs in nature. The dilemma consists of a dichotomy that involves “exploiting” existing opportunities to gain short-term known gains versus using that time and  “exploring” new opportunities in the hopes of gaining large long-term payoffs. The dilemma can be succinctly summarized by the age-old… Continue reading To explore or exploit?

The Suitcase of Empathy

Marvin Minsky called words that carry a variety of meanings "suitcase words." Empathy is such a word. Over the last ten years, research into empathy has exploded. The number of research papers in psychological journals, on the topic, has increased dramatically and popular interest in the concept matches what is found in these journals. A… Continue reading The Suitcase of Empathy

Stereotypes

Humans are natural pattern recognition machines. We have an evolved instinct not only to recognize different patterns but also to categorize and store these patterns in order to make future predictions. In fact, this ability to recognize and represent patterns to draw a variety of intuitive inferences could be the defining and most original characteristic… Continue reading Stereotypes

Thrashing in the Emergency Department

The work of an emergency physician is an exercise in multitasking. We see multiple patients in parallel and respond to all the responsibilities that come with this patient care in addition to being aware of new, potentially sick patients. A typical workflow includes signing EKGs of new patients, documenting on a patient encounter, responding to… Continue reading Thrashing in the Emergency Department

Thoughts Think Themselves

The physicist, Neils Bohr, said: “prediction is hard, especially about the future.” The statement was made in jest, but no matter what the fortune tellers, prognosticators, priests, or experts say, humans cannot perceive the future, but can only infer it. These inferences enable us to assess risk and react to opportunities presented by the environment. These inferences range… Continue reading Thoughts Think Themselves

Truth Springs from Arguments

Nature is saturated with feedback mechanisms ranging in scale from the molecular to the macroscopic. Feedback is defined as the process of mutual causal interaction: where A affects B and B affects A. This interaction creates a circuit of effects, so any change in A, causes a change in B, which in turn causes a… Continue reading Truth Springs from Arguments