Wednesday, October 19, 2011

intrinsic value

Ask an economist what the value of something is, and you'll probably get a response along the lines of "That depends on supply and demand."

This boggled me, I always thought that there was some intrinsic value to physical things, but all of it is simply an evaluation of the different factors that go into making it.

At this point my repressed inner autist started screaming and hitting himself. The nice and neat science of economics went the same relativistic way moral systems went: "Yes, but that's YOUR opinion."

And at that point we just stopped thinking. Or did we? Because Sam Harris made a very convincing point in this video. Just because something is complex doesn't mean we can't make statements about it, just that it is hard.

Maybe that will push us out of cultural and moral relativism someday, but I digress. This post is about the intrinsic value of things, both services and goods.

Goods are those things you can hold, eat, use. Things that remain in this world after the transaction is done. They're there and for that, they have value. What value this is, I can't say, but it is intrinsic because the object is physical. It exists.

Services on the other hand, are less real. Sure, an IOU for a massage is nice. But you can't hold it, eat it or split it between 4 friends. It only exists in the minds of those who offered and accepted the service. You can put it down on paper to make it seem more trustworthy, but it's still just an idea in the head of two people.

Only when you make the idea bigger and put it in more heads (Most, actually) you get things like money, which only works because people believe that the value keeps on existing.

The point that I'm trying to make is that any economy consists of simply passing value around to move resources, products and services from person to person. And the movement of that money indicates the size and strength of an economy. Usually this would be a healthy mix of resources, products and services, but you can only grow so much corn and make so many cars.
Services, however, you can easily expand. You make services upon services, services for resources and products, services for the services for services.

And all of a sudden, more and more money is pushed around. Congratulations, your economy just grew!
But wait. The amount of food and products remained the same. So what happens if those services keep on growing?

It depends, it turns out. Some services actually add efficiency to the whole chain of gathering resources, making products and selling them to consumers. Investment loans, transportation And abstracts such as scientific advance, societal stability and culture all add to the intrinsic value of a society, but can only exist as long as there is enough intrinsic value to sustain it (Basically, food)

But some services don't better the system but actually leech value from it. Resource speculation, where one speculates upon the price of grain is a practice which yields money to those whom take part in it. But there is no extra grain because of it. The net result is that those on the end of the chain pay money to someone who did not actually add to the process.

Extending that metaphor, there are derivates, toxic loans and many more services which simply leech value from the bottom of the chain, the resources and products.

And at some point, when the size of that economy grows too far beyond that which can be sustained by the value of the resources and products, it all falls apart.Pop goes the bubble

And that leaves me with my final question: If we can calculate the real value (or cost) of a service, will we finally be able to create a society where only the services that we actually want (And that are in the value budget for our resources and products) remain? I wonder how libraries, culture and education measure up against quick loans, some insurances and overpriced designs.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Being a man

Someone once said that the hallmark of being a man is that once you decide you want something, you get it. No excuses, just action to get to the point where you want to be.

That's why you need goals. It's easy to meander through life without any goals and wishes, leaving you unchallenged and soft. Your life should be more like the heroes journey, continually finding new challenges to overcome. If not, how do you want to grow?

On a smaller level, this is the same reason why you want clear goals when starting anything you want to succeed at. I can't stress the use of SMART enough. Any goal you specify should conform to the SMART-principle (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound).

But just remember that once you have the goal, there is no turning back from the first step. Make it an active ritual. Put on your running shoes, go to your office or make a list of groceries. Clearly demarcate the boundary between going for a goal and not going for it. Ritualize it so you can form a new habit and 'step' into that new goal.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Monkeys & language

After watching the first episode of "Frys planet word" where results of experiments on monkeys and primates (our closest relatives) showed that though they are able to communicate (Almost every creature communicates) they are unable to grasp speech.

Monkeys can learn sign language and are able to communicate needs and emotional states (In fact, they're pretty much hardwired to only communicate emotional states) but cannot seem to grasp the concept of grammar.

This got me thinking. A lot of philosophy is centered on the point of language. How language moulds our thoughts (As the cookie experiment by Alfred Korzybski shows with humor)
and how it influences how we perceive the world around us.
“Language shapes the way we think, and determines what we can think about.” (- Benjamin Lee Whorf)

When looking at monkeys however, it becomes clear that they lack specific brain hardware to properly develop and learn language. The hardware of your mind would merit an entire new post, but briefly said: Humans have better hardware for handling language than monkeys do, just as dolphins have better hardware for 3d-navigation than humans do.

Considering this, isn't mr Whorf mistaking cause and effect? Could it be that it isn't language that shapes thought, but that thought is a result of language? Being able to learn a language and being intelligent* are two of the things that set humans apart from animals. It would make sense that both are connected.

*Well, some of us at any rate.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Where did that time go

A long time ago, when I was just a starry-eyed nerd starting on my computer science studies, I found a new hobby, where I met some interesting people, went camping and in general passed around bottles of varying quality and taste of alcohol around a campfire.

One day, for some reason, a canadian had joined us. When I told him about my studies and plans he told me that he didn't use computers.

I was completely surprised. They're useful! You can send e-mail, read information and do all kinds of nifty stuff!

What he told me always stuck around, in the back of my head;

"I don't use computers. A man could get old behind one of those."

And now, looking back, I have to admit it: I spent too much time behind the damn machine and lost whole years that could have been spent studying faster, finding a nicer job and generally living life more.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Weight loss

Well, it's been more than a month since I tried low-carbing / going ketogenic. And you know what? I've stopped doing it, but the weight loss seems to persist. Currently I'm still reaching my goal of 0.5 Kg / weekly, but the whole low-carbing was getting to me.

In essence, you have to starve your body of carbohydrates before you enter a ketogenic state and remain in there for a while to really start burning fat. "Needlessly complicated and hard", as a friend of mine told me.

A few things I do notice however: My protein intake has risen, partially due to the advice said friend gave me and partially due to me just eating more as a result of the ketogenic diet try-out.

The verdict on the ketogenic diet: it works pretty well, but really disrupts your eating patterns and dietary choices (Though that's the whole point). For now I'm sticking with moderate exercise and attempts to eat 'clean'.

And of course, not eating more than I need. The tip I got was trying to go for a 40-40-20 spread* (Carbohydrates, protein, fat). Let's see how that works out.