Know Thyself – Read the Comics
Today, Sunday May 24, 2015, the mariner’s local newspaper defined him, in his entirety, with only two comic strips, one following the other on the same page. The first strip was Peanuts, a rerun from 1968; the second was Dilbert.
The mariner has maintained throughout his life that comic strips and single-pane cartoons are the most important section of the newspaper. The comics have a sly way of slipping through one’s prejudice, ignorance, and lack of emotional maturity to plant the seed of a new insight. Think for a moment how comics reflect basic angst that often affects each of us. Think for a moment how comics can reflect an entire segment of our culture in one cartoon. Think for a moment how narrow minded we would be if we could not laugh at ourselves. Simultaneously, comics are irreverent, biased, simplistic, insightful, hilarious and wise.
Each of us is a complex conglomeration of evolution that began billions of years ago. It is no exaggeration that we entered life as no more than a cluster of chemicals that could replicate and today we are warm blooded, mammalian, intelligent (relative to other creatures although we lack the skills they possess) and now we stand on the edge of a future that will allow us to manage our own evolution. God forbid.
We have brains that use deduction and induction in an unbelievably powerful way, reducing complex knowledge to a few simple terms; who defined motion across the entire universe with the formula E=MC2 ? Each of us can read a thousand words in a momentary facial expression. Each of us – well, most of us – can deduce years of history from a single cartoon. As complex as we are, each of us can be fully defined in one comic strip with faster speed and more acuity than if defined by a psychiatrist.
Tragically, John Nash and his wife Alicia were killed in an automobile accident yesterday. Do you remember the movie A Beautiful Mind starring Russell Crowe as John Nash? The mariner became a big fan of the movie, John Nash, and the subtleties of game theory. Nash won the Nobel Prize for Mathematics in 1994. Game theory studies interactive decision-making, where the outcome for each participant or “player” depends on the actions of all players individually. Consequently, whether an individual, business, government or sewing circle, we play game theory in virtually every activity – even buying groceries, a game between us, the market and the producers. Nash was able to prove mathematically that ‘equilibrium’ is an actual state of being at all times, like a chess board is always present no matter who wins the game or how they play it. However, the chess board limits squares in such a way that a player must consider what the opponent’s strategy is in order to make his or her own best move.
The most familiar demonstration of game theory is applied in virtually every cop show on television. It’s called The Prisoner’s Dilemma:
The police interrogate two suspects separately, and suggest to each that he or she should snitch on the other and turn state’s evidence. If the other does not snitch, then you can cut a good deal for yourself by giving evidence against the other; if the other snitches and you hold out, the court will treat you especially harshly. Thus, no matter what the other does, it is better for you to snitch than not to snitch — snitching is your uniformly best or ‘dominant’ strategy. This is the case whether the two of you are guilty or innocent. Of course, when both snitch, they both fare worse than they would have if both had held out; but that outcome, though jointly desirable for them, collapses in the face of their separate temptations to snitch.
The mariner apologizes for being pedantic; his dominant strategy was to share why John Nash is important to everyone. The mariner snitched.
Oh, Those Promiscuous Neandertals
The following is an excerpt from Scientific American letters to the editors. The mariner sent it to a few family members in an email. They just will have to read it again. He included the writer’s response because it shows how we can be caught up in our own value system without including peripheral knowledge simply because it doesn’t fit easily into our values:
When the mariner was in his thirties, the scientific explanation for red-headed Homo sapiens was due to occasional inter-species sex with neandertals. It has been proven by DNA studies that we do have a small piece of neandertal in us. However, “occasional inter-species sex” has been thrown out. Read the response to a woman who wrote of neandertal ‘dalliances’ in her February article in Scientific American.
“OUR MURDEROUS ANCESTORS
Kate Wong’s suppositions about what brought about neandertals’ extinction in “Neandertal Minds” are contrary to the known history of anatomically modern Homo sapiens (that is, us). Her assertions that neandertals were just out competed and that the 1.5 to 2.1 percent neandertal DNA within people outside of Africa is the result of occasional “dalliances” would be historically unlikely.
The most likely scenario would involve waves of immigrating anatomically modern humans taking over land and causing death by plunder and disease, as Europeans discovering the New World did. And it would be naive to think that our neandertal DNA was the result of consensual dalliances when rape went hand in hand with the pillage of every other civilization.
It would be wise for us to give up the notion that we are, or our ancestors before us were, a benevolent and sharing species.
ROBERT E. MARX
University of Miami Miller School of Medicine”