Wikipedia’s List of Lists of Lists (and Aliens!)

2014-09-05 Thurfir

I came across this a few days ago and thought it was worth sharing, Wikipedia has a list composed of lists that are themselves lists. Here it is.

To try and conceptualize this we can start at the lowest level. Here is Wikipedia’s list of accounting journals. That list is itself one item in Wikipedia’s lists of academic journals. So the lists of academic journals is a list of lists, and one of those lists is the list of accounting journals. With me so far? Great. So the list of lists of academic journals is, itself, one of the entries in the list of lists of lists.

Mostly this is amusing, but it’s also seriously interesting to me. I often wonder about meta-ness. As in: how meta can you go? It seems like there isn’t any genuine reason why you’d need to have a list of lists of lists of lists, right? I feel like there’s something about three that makes it complete. Random other example, I’ve done research on learning in the past, and we talked about: learning, learning-to-learn, and learning-to-learn-to-learn. Again: the first two are pretty straightforward. You can learn math. You can also get better at learning math, which is learning-to-learn. And you can sort of think of abstract methods of getting better at refining your study techniques, which is learning-to-learn-to-learn. But surely there isn’t a fourth level, is there?

I can’t tell if three levels is enough in some objective sense, or if humans just give up at three levels ’cause it’s hard to keep track of anything past that in a concrete sense. The way you can instantly recognize the difference between the quantity three and the quantity four just by sight, but bigger numbers like 15 vs. 16 require some abstraction to work with.

Then again: maybe this is just a limitation of human experience. Ever wonder what it would be like for extra-terrestrials to be smarter than humans? It’s a sci-fi concept we talk about a lot, but what would a super-smart alien intelligence really look like? A lot of the time we depict it (in books or movies) as either rapid calculation and logical inference, like a computer (think of the mentats in Dune) and other times it just gets mystic and weird (like the new movie, Lucy). But maybe what it would look like is a group of people who could talk about learning-to-learn-to-learn-to-learn with total ease, as though the concept made perfect intuitive sense. And maybe they would have a list of lists of lists of lists and think it was as ordinary as a grocery list.

I Miss Mitt (America Does, Too)

I’ve been saving this adorable BuzzFeed Politics article since I saw it a couple of weeks ago: Mitt Romney Has The Same Problems We All Have Flying Coach. It made me miss Mitt–by which I mean, miss what might have been–almost as much as the documentary Mitt.

2014-07-30 Mitt's Pink iPad
There are lots of photos of him flying coach, but my favorite is the one with the pink iPad.

Then today I saw this article in The Week: Americans really wish they had elected Mitt Romney instead of Obama.

Americans are so down on President Obama at the moment that, if they could do the 2012 election all over again, they’d overwhelmingly back the former Massachusetts governor’s bid. That’s just one finding in a brutal CNN poll, released Sunday, which shows Romney topping Obama in a re-election rematch by a whopping nine-point margin, 53 percent to 44 percent. That’s an even larger spread than CNN found in November, when a survey had Romney winning a redo 49 percent to 45 percent.

Yes, as the article says, you should take the polls “with a grain of salt,” but at the same time the list of things Romney was right about is both extensive and depressing.

Well, we’ll never know what could have been. But hey, maybe in 2016 we’ll get a chance at the next best thing. It’s not likely–and I’m not sure it’s politically wise–but I’m still hoping.

G. I. Joe: Devil Eyes

My favorite part of the novel Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is when the mage, Mr. Norrell, is recruited as part of the war effort against Napoleon. The plan is to terrify Napoleon by troubling him with nightmares. The plan fails because the bookish old antiquarian is useless at imagining horrors. The worst he can come up with is a captain of dragoons hiding in Napoleon’s wardrobe.

Truth, however, is stranger than fiction.

As part of the effort to rid Bin Laden of a support base, the CIA commissioned a demonic action figure of Bin Laden. Unsuspecting parents in, say, Karachi, would buy their children an innocent looking Bin Laden toy, and after bringing it home the action figure would react to the heat, its original face being replaced by a demonic, red one. To make things even better, this mix between Get Smart and Team America was designed by Donald Levine, one of the creators of G.I. Joe. He designed the toy, and secretly manufactured it in China. Thus Habsboro’s role in the War against Terror. I personally can’t picture anyone being spooked by this toy, not even in regions were belief in devils, demons, and jinns is widespread, and the CIA seems to agree. They shelved the toy, but one source says that hundreds of toys actually made their way to Pakistan.

Who knows, there might be hope for a collector’s item after all.

What Does It Mean That Animals Play?


On one level, this (below) is just a cute video of a baby elk playing in a puddle. But it made me think.

I don’t think I will ever be 100% vegetarian, and I certainly have limited patience for people who seem to be more worried about saving animal lives than saving human lives, but the older I get the more I feel like there is some kind of sacred responsibility we owe to living creatures. Eating meat might not violate that trust, but mistreating animals (which is often a part of how we get more meat cheaper) certainly does.

I guess the only way I can describe it is say that while animals are not people, they are certainly not things either. A little creature that has a sense of enjoyment is a little creature that has a self in a way that, even if not human, is still important. To be honest, playing in a puddle is much more meaningful to me than traditional tests of intelligence. Also, I’m really fascinated by the fact that dolphins really do save people in danger, and sometimes other mammals too.)

My Pops in a Web Comic

Garden of Enid is a fun, Mormon web-comic that I read regularly. (You should too!) So imagine my surprise and delight when it turns out that Friday’s comic was about my very own dad! Yup, pretty much the finest hour for the Givens Clan, I’d say.

In all seriousness, and at the risk of sounding sappy, I am extremely proud of the work that both my mum and dad do. They are the best. (And I generalize from a comic about my dad to both of my parents because I know how much my mum has been there every step of the way, even if she didn’t come out and coauthor a book until quite recently.)

How Women Perceive Men With Beards

In the interests of science, researchers asked this question. Then wrote a paper in the Journal of Evolution and Human Behavior. But you don’t need to read the paper because, thanks to the Visual Communication Guy, the results have been distilled into this handy-dandy infographic.

2014-03-12 Beard Inforgraphic

As a man with heavy stubble (based on these classifications), these results do not look too bad. Still, I wish I could grow mine out just a bit fuller…