Tag Archives: Uncertainty

Pig and Pepper

I walked into the pizzeria and asked to look at the menu. Quickly scanning the ingredients, I rejected each pizza as soon as I recognised a word that translated to a type of meat. “Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope, nope … maybe?” It was only my second week of living in Italy; I’d studied Italian for seven months and learnt a bunch of words but not all the words and there are just so many words.

Verdure – green – that sounds vego-friendly? Most of the ingredients seemed OK except this one: peperoni. I mean… that’s straight up meat. I glanced up uncertainly at the cameriere.
“Verdure”, I pointed at the menu, “é vegetariano?”
“Sí”, he replied.
“Ma… peperoni? É carne.”
He looked confused and said something to me I didn’t understand.
“Io non mangio carne. Le Verdure é vegetariano ma peperoni é carne. Non mangio carne.”
(Pepperoni is meat. I don’t eat meat.)
He seemed impatient and muttered something else. Never piss off your chef, I thought, or they’ll spit in your food. I reluctantly ordered the Verdure.


When it came out, I stared at the Verdure pizza. It looked fine. Pulling open the menu, I mentally drew lines connecting each word to a topping until there was only one topping left. And then… it clicked: capsicum. Peperoni was capsicum. Like Peppers. Peperoni. Capsicum. I looked up and grinned at the cameriere who had already turned away, glad to be done with this troublesome customer.
“É vegetariano!”




Risk and rationality

I had the privilege of attending the 2016 Australian Academy of Science Theo Murphy High Flyers Think Tank in Canberra just recently. I’d only heard about it via a single tweet the day before applications were due, but with the topic of “An interdisciplinary approach to living in a risky world”, my response was: yes please.

We were also asked to choose our preferred topic for breakout-group discussion, and I got my obvious favourite, the technical theme of “Uncertainty, ignorance and partial knowledge”, which turned out to have some focus on decision theory. The session would chaired by Prof. Mark Colyvan, a professor of Philosophy at my alma mater, The University of Sydney, who had recently responded to Luke Barnes’s recent fine-tuning of the universe talk. Some of the recommended reading got me thinking about matters we didn’t get to cover (like how much I don’t like maximin), but I’ll discuss with Mark, and I’m sure I’ll blog about that later. In the meantime, our breakout group spent a couple of hours throwing around our thoughts and ideas and have begun to craft a report and recommendations for the Academy regarding decision-making and risk communication in the face of uncertainty.


Wrap up from chair Prof Hugh Possingham

My fellow delegates were such interesting people from diverse backgrounds like health, maths, stats, philosophy, history, law, geology, ecology, microbiology etc, and absorbing ideas from these amazing people over the two days provided a complete mental recharge. It was like NYSF for grown-ups. Even the conference dinner speech by emergency doctor David Caldicott was so stimulating, leaving my laughing and crying, I’d dare say it was the “best event speech ever”.


Slide from Prof Terry Speed’s talk at the AAS Think Tank

Actually one of the things I most enjoyed at the Think Tank was finding out people’s thoughts on rationality during tea break, as always. As it turns out, most people I spoke to (about this topic, sample size ~5) were adamant that people are at heart, irrational creatures. Only one person (besides myself) thought otherwise. I’ve been told I have to read Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow to hear more arguments against the assumption of rationality. Apparently there are tests for this sort of thing…