Monday, December 25, 2006

Proverbial question: How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

The proverbial question of "how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?" is mainly associated with medieval theology of the Scholastic school, the best-known representative of which being Saint Thomas Aquinas, the 13th-century Christian philosopher (and a Dominican monk).

In those times, the Symbol of the Church was considered to be more important than that for which it stood for. This is because at that time, the commonners were not considered to be capable of understanding the underlying truth and therefore the commoners should accept the Symbol of the Church as the truth. This was however exactly the opposite of Aristotle's philosophies.

The Pope, on observing that Aristotle's philosophies governed in concepts of science and logic becoming stronger competition to the power of the Church, unofficially appointed St. Thomas to be the first official psychologist, a person who supposedly studied the nature of the soul of man. St. Thomas was charged with the responsibility of coming up with logic and reason, the same tools used by Aristotle, to keep the Church in its position of power.

The answer to the proverbial question of "how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?" essentially hinges on one's understanding of the nature of spirit. Angels, as it was believed, were pure intelligences and as such not material, but limited. Therefore, they could have location in space but not extension; rather like a point which in theory has position but no magnitude. Thus an angel could not occupy space, like a needle point but could be located on a needle point.

As such, if an infinite number of angels could fit on the head of a pin, then an angel would have no material substance and would therefore definitely be a purely spiritual, non-spatial and non-material entity. If, instead, only a finite number of angels could fit on the head of a pin, then the spiritual universe would not be much different from the physical universe.

Nowadays, this proverbial question often appears when ridiculing theologians.

Saturday, November 18, 2006


百年修得同船渡 ,
千年修得共枕眠 .

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Practice Briefing Notes – Comings and Goings

(Excerpts of dialogues with Alan Shore (casted by James Spader) taken from the television series “The Practice - Comings and Goings (Season 8, Episode 20))

(Conference Room at Crane Poole & Schmidt)

District Attorney: It was an assault. The fact that it took place during a professional hockey game doesn’t meanthis guy . . .
Hannah Rose: Oh, come on, Jeffrey. You have 4,000 reported assaults every year—less than half lead to charges.
District Attorney: Hannah, if you were still here, you’d prosecute.
Hannah Rose: I certainly would not.
District Attorney: He repeatedly punched a defenseless man. He doesn’t get some special exemption because he did it during a sporting event.
Alan Shore: That’s just simply not true. We grant such exemptions all the time.
Hannah Rose: Excuse me a minute.
(Soto voce to Alan Shore) New guy?
Alan Shore: It would be illegal to run somebody down and flatten ‘em, yet in football? Boxers try to knock each other unconscious—the actual intent of the sport is assault. Imagine throwing a hard object a hundred miles per hour at somebody’s head. That’s grounds for attempted murder. But if the victim crowds the plate? Fighting is part of hockey.
(to Hannah Rose) May I speak for a second?
District Attorney: You are speaking.
Alan Shore: Oh. Sometimes I become so rapt with my own words, it feels more like a listening experience. Look, we’re gathered here today because of the media. I suspect if the firestorm died down, so would your urge to be Javert. Suppose this man were severely punished by the League? How ‘bout we get our justice that way?
District Attorney: First of all, I’m not the commissioner of the league.
Alan Shore: I’m offering you the chance to be. Name your punishment. Name it.
District Attorney: Out of the play-offs. And the next two years.
Alan Shore: Done.
District Attorney: Done? How are you . . .
Alan Shore: I’ll meet with the commissioner. My client will be suspended for two full seasons, plus play-offs.
District Attorney: (Chuckles) I hate to break your momentum, but the player’s union will never let . . .
Alan Shore: Yes, they will.
District Attorney: Because you say so?
Alan Shore: Because I say so. Congratulations, Mr. District Attorney. You’ve just helped to change hockey for the better. By the way, I may need to invoke the power of your office a little. Not to worry.

(Nods, and then gathers up his papers)


(Conference Room at Crane Poole & Schmidt)

Hockey League Commissioner Burke: There is no precedent for a two-year suspension. And even if I were to sanction that, I can assure you, the player’s union wouldn’t. If you only knew . .
Alan Shore: What would they do? Pull your jersey over your head and pummel you?
Burke: Mr. Shore, the idea of . . .
Alan Shore: Mr. Burke. You will suspend Mr. Sears for two years. In consideration for that . . . Forgive me, I’m parched.
(Takes a sip of water from his glass)
In consideration for that, I’ve worked it out with the D.A. for the League not to be criminally prosecuted.
Burke: The League? How are we liable for that . . .
Alan Shore: Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 274, Section 2, Aiding and Abetting. “Anyone who assists, encourages or promotes an assault can be charged as a principal.”
Burke: We don’t do that.
Alan Shore: You don’t do that? (Smiles knowingly)
Burke: No, we don’t.
Alan Shore: In your highlight videos, you show the brawls. You also show them on the big jumbo Trons between periods. A Gordie Howe hat trick is considered to be a goal, an assist and a fight.
Burke: We penalize fighting.
Alan Shore: But you don’t ban it. Every other professional sport does. If a player fights in football or baseball, he’s gone. In your sport, he gets a standing ovation.
Burke: Mr. Shore, I’m sure you’re a fine attorney, but you have no appreciation for what hockey is, its history, its tradition . . .
Alan Shore: I have enormous appreciation for your sport, Mr. Burke. In fact, I have season tickets. Hockey is Bobby Orr. Hockey is Bobby Hull; Stan Mikita; Wayne Gretzky. Hockey is speed, finesse, skill and power. None of which has anything to do with mayhem. Hockey is being debased with thuggery, that your league not only condones, but encourages.
Burke: And you think if we just change the rule, it will stop?
Alan Shore: Yes. In college hockey, it’s banned. The players don’t fight. In the Olympics, it’s banned. They don’t fight. It can absolutely be legislated out. You choose not to do so. And with all the vicious muggings happening on the ice today, you are daring a district attorney to prosecute the League. I have that district attorney, Mr. Burke. Mr. Sears will be suspended for two years. You need to have appreciation for your sport, Mr. Burke. We need your league to rise up and mirror the dignity of the game itself. Tell your players, “No more fighting.” And if they still insist on violence, lt them beat up their coaches, like the basketball players.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

世界上最遥远的距离 (Reprise)

世界上最遥远的距离, 不在地球的两极;
而是我在你面前, 你却说你不再爱我.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Boston Legal Briefing Notes – Death Penalty

(Excerpts of dialogues with Alan Shore (casted by James Spader) taken from the television series “Boston Legal - Death Be Not Proud (Season 1, Episode 17))

N.B. Chelina Hall asks Alan Shore to assist her in Texas because her former client, Ezekial Borns, is getting executed but may be innocent of the crime.

(In a courtroom.)

A.D.A. Glenn Jackson: Ezekial Borns murdered a man in cold blood for a few dollars. He confessed to it. The Petitioner has gone up and down State and Federal courts, exhausting his appeals, losing his habeas arguments, and failing on claims of constitutional violations. Four different courts of appeal have reviewed and rejected each and every one of his arguments. Now is the time for this man to pay the penalty imposed on him fairly and legally. A Texas jury had decided that Ezekial Borns is a dangerous killer. He has forfeited his right to live. Thank you.

(Alan moves to get up. Chelina stops him to softly remind him.)

Chelina Hall: With all due respect, may it please the court.

(Alan nods.)

Alan Shore: Good afternoon. My name is Alan Shore.
Judge Christopher Serra: Mr Shore. What are new issues being raised here?
Alan Shore: The first issue before the court concerns the absence of any African-American jurors.
Judge Lance Abrams: That was previously argued and ruled on council.
Alan Shore: Yes. Before the lower courts. This bench has never considered…
Judge Christopher Serra: We’re not persuaded that the absence of a black juror is in violation of due process. What’s your next issue?
Alan Shore: I would turn the courts attention to the fact that the Grand Jury which indicted Mr Borns, similarly, was all white. This raises equal protection laws that…
Judge Christopher Serra: That issue was never raised and is therefore waived.
Alan Shore: Your Honor, Texas Law requires that the jury recommend death only in cases where they find that the defendant poses a threat, a future dangerousness to society. We maintain this is unconstitutional. Juries are supposed to find on elements of guilt and innocence based on facts beyond a reasonable doubt. Not on the basis of perceived probabilities. Moreover as a practical matter, since Ezekial Borns will remain in prison for life, he couldn’t possibly constitute a future threat to society, unless the law assumes prison breaks.
Judge Christopher Serra: That’s an interesting issue council, but uh, that also was never raised and therefore it is deemed waived. Next?
Alan Shore: May it please the court. Mr Born’s trial lawyer has recently admitted he was ineffective council. He was abusing cocaine and alcohol during the trial, and...
Judge Martha Brenford: Not legally inadequate.
Alan Shore: I believe if you examine the transcripts…
Judge Lance Abrams: Mr Shore. Representation can always be better. Especially when we play Monday morning quarterback.
Alan Shore: With all due respect, this lawyer never gave an opening statement, he never questioned several of the prosecutions witnesses, he failed to pursue a number of leads and important sentencing issues. This court right here today has recognized that many valid grounds for appeal were never raised.
Judge Christopher Serra: This court is satisfied that representation was adequate. Is there anything else?
Alan Shore: Yes. Mr Borns may be innocent. The jury disagreed. And legally that issue has been settled.
Alan Shore: The DNA evidence shows somebody else was there.
Judge Christopher Serra: But it does not disprove that your client was also there. And, your guy confessed by the way.
Alan Shore: My client has an IQ of 80; he was interrogated for 16 hours.
Judge Lance Abrams: Coercion was never raised.
Alan Shore: It was never raised because he lawyer was an inadequate hack! Though the 9 of you seem quite satisfied with his performance. With all due respect.
Judge Christopher Serra: Mr Shore? You came down here from Massachusetts?
Alan Shore: Yes. Sir.
Judge Christopher Serra: We in Texas have been living with this case for 8 years.
Alan Shore: You’ve been living with it personally? May it please the court.
Judge Christopher Serra: You first met Mr Borns, when?
Alan Shore: Yesterday.
Judge Christopher Serra: And you are proposing to us, that you know him. You know what I’d like to propose? I’d like to propose that you got a problem with the death penalty in general. Now, is that why you came here sir?
Alan Shore: I am here. With all due respect, may it please the court, because I have a problem with the State executing a man with diminished capacity. Who may very well be innocent. I’m particularly troubled, may it please the court, with all due respect, that you don’t have a problem with it. You may not want to regard my client’s innocence, but you cannot possibly disregard the fact that 117 wrongfully convicted people have been saved from execution in this country. 117! The system is hardly foolproof. And Texas! This state is responsible for a full third of all executions in America. How can that be? The criminals are just somehow worse here? Last year you accounted for fully half of the nation’s executions. 50% from 1 State! You cannot disregard the possibility, the possibility that something’s up in Texas.
Judge Lance Abrams: I would urge you to confine your remarks to your client, and not the good state of Texas.
Alan Shore: Zeke Borns never had a chance. He was rounded up as a teenager, thrown in a cell while he was still doped up on drugs, brow-beaten and interrogated, until his IQ of 80 was overcome, he confessed to a crime he had no memory of, still has no memory of, for which there is no evidence, other than two witnesses who saw him pumping gas around the time of the murder. He was given a coked-up lawyer, who admittedly did nothing. I’m now before 9 presumably intelligent people in the justice business, who have the benefit of knowing all of this. Add to that, you know DNA places somebody else at the scene, and you’re indifferent! You don’t care! Whether you believe in my client’s innocence, and I’ll assume, with all due respect, may it please the court that you don’t! You cannot be sure of his guilt! You simply cannot! And failing that. How can you kill him? How can you kill him?

(Walks away from the podium.)

Alan Shore: And I would sincerely, sincerely, sincerely, hope that you don’t penalize my client, simply because his lawyers happen to be from Massachusetts.

(He moves to sit down, then rises.)

Alan Shore: The home of the New England Patriots, who could kick ass with any football team you’ve got in the good state of Texas. May it please the court.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Boston Legal Briefing Notes - Preservation of Life

(Excerpts of dialogues by Denny Crane (casted by William Shatner) and Alan Shore (casted by James Spader) taken from the television series “Boston Legal - Finding Nimmo” (Season 2, Episode 3))

N.B. Reeling over his break-up with Tara Wilson, Alan Shore heads to Nimmo Bay in British Columbia with Denny Crane for some fly fishing and male bonding in an effort to cure his pain. When they learn that the salmon population is being threatened by sea lice produced by fish farms, Shore and Crane feel compelled to act.

(Alan comes out from the cabin with a drink in his hand and joins Denny and a fellow-guest sitting out on the deck.)

Alan Shore: Excuse me. Is it unusual to catch five cohos in one day? I mean…
Guest: I’d say you had a bit of luck
Denny Crane: Beginners luck.
Alan Shore: You’re not competitive over this sort of thing, are you Denny? Could you pass me the ashtray please? Denny passes the ashtray. Ahh. Thank you. I’d have reached for it myself but my shoulders are a bit sore from all that reeling. He looks to the guest. How many did you catch?
Guest: I didn’t fish.
Alan Shore: Ah! That would put you about even with Denny.
Guest: I’m sorry. Are you Denny Crane?
Denny Crane: Yes I am. And I’m not your father.
Guest: I’m Peter Barrett. I’m an attorney actually and I’m a big admirer.
Denny Crane: Fine. I’m still not your father.
Peter Barrett: You’re a salmon catcher, Mr Crane?
Denny Crane: Catch em in my sleep.
Alan Shore: That must be the only place he catches them.
Denny Crane: I see why Tara dumped you. I’m about to.
Alan Shore: There’s no Tara. Don’t be deceived. Denny and I are lovers.
Denny Crane: I’m a heterosexual. And I catch salmon like one.
Peter Barrett: Well, you won’t be catching them for long I’m afraid. Wild Pacific salmon are being wiped out.
Denny Crane: What are you talking about?
Peter Barrett: Sea lice are killing them. The weight of evidence points toward the fish farms.
Denny Crane: Fish farms?
Peter Barrett: The penned fish in the fish farms host the lice, which attach themselves to the baby wild salmon migrating past the pens and it’s destroying them. I’m actually here because I’m going into court in Port McNeal tomorrow to try to enjoin another fish farm from going in. Boy! Would I love to go in with the Denny Crane by my side?
Denny Crane: You one of these environmental lawyers?
Peter Barrett: Is there something wrong with that?
Denny Crane: They’re evildoers. Yesterday it’s a tree, today’s is a salmon, tomorrow it’s ‘Let’s not dig Alaska for oil cause it’s too pretty?” Let me tell you something. I came out here to enjoy nature. Don’t talk to me about the environment.
Alan Shore: All reality. None of it scripted.

(Alan and the guide are coming out of the water. Denny is sitting on chair out of the water.)

Denny Crane: Can I fish yet?
Guide: You still have a timeout. You just sit there.
Alan Shore: Alan sit down next to Denny. As you said yourself, these fish are positively majestic. Sacred even. And you shot one.
Denny Crane: Sometimes I get incompatible.
Alan Shore: Really? You’ve upset the guide. I’ll tell you this Denny. I see it now how this kind of nature can renew you spiritually. I really see it. I’ll tell you something else. In our day jobs we’re lawyers and we’re good ones.
Denny Crane: What’s your point?
Alan Shore: My point is. Given this. Given those salmon. There’s a hearing going on in Port McNeal. We need to go be lawyers now.

(Tara is sitting at a desk talking on the phone.)

Tara Wilson: Your first logistical obstacle is the robes. Canadian lawyers appear in black robes.
Alan Shore: We should be able to borrow them.
(Alan is talking on a cell phone as he and Denny walk up to a helicopter.)
If all else fails we could stop at a costume shop. What else?
Tara Wilson: The judges are called, “My Lord.” It’s not, “Your honor” but, “My Lord”. It’s a lot like in England.
Alan Shore: What time is the motion?
Tara Wilson: According to the docket. Eleven AM. How far away are you?
Alan Shore: Twenty minutes!
Tara Wilson: Well you probably join in progress then. Good luck.
(Alan shuts his phone.)
And Alan? I miss you.

(In Judge Sean O’Bryne’s courtroom.)

George Knott: There’s just no scientific evidence that the sea lice are causing the death of wild salmon.
Peter Barrett: That is ridiculous! Sea lice wiped out the stock in Norway, they wiped out the stock in Scotland.
D.A Valarie Murrow: All we’re saying is let’s wait and do the research. This is a vendetta against the farmed fish.
Peter Barrett: This is no such thing. We have no issue with farm fish all long as they can raise their stock in an environmentally sustainable manor and not host millions of sea lice. Closed containment systems have been shown to work.
Judge Sean O’Byrne: Okay gentlemen. I’ve heard your arguments. I have your briefs. I’ll review the matter as well as the science.

(Alan and Denny march in.)

Denny Crane: Greetings! Oh Canada. Denny Crane.
Alan Shore: Good morning, my Lord. My name is Alan Shore, and Mr Crane and I are attorneys from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. We seek permission to be heard on this issue as friends of the court.
Judge Sean O’Byrne: Mr Shore. We don’t wear wigs in Canada.
Alan Shore: Oh!
(Alan takes off his wig.)
Judge Sean O’Byrne: Nor do we wear waders.
Alan Shore: My Lord. We’ve just spent the last two days in your rivers. In your countryside. It is the most spectacular nature I have ever seen. And the fish! They’re enough to make one believe in a Higher Power.
Judge Sean O’Byrne: Yes. How many of the Higher Power’s creations did you torture?
Alan Shore: Fifteen. Denny didn’t catch any. I get your implication Judge, and I acknowledge the hypocrisy of a fisherman pleading for the survival of a species only so that he’ll be able to continue dragging them to shore by the lip in perpetuity. But causing a fish discomfiture and cause it to become extinct are two very different things. And when talking about Pacific Salmon! This is a species that goes back to the ice-age. One that is born in a river, migrates up to two thousand miles in the sea, then returns to the very place of birth to spawn. Against enormous miraculous odds, bringing nutrients on it’s journey to sustain the bald eagles, the grizzly bears, the wolves, even the Rain Forest’s themselves. An entire ecosystem depends on them. If Charlotte the spider were still alive today she’d be writing in her web, “Some fish”.
Judge Sean O’Byrne: Yes. Well, forgive me, but I find it insulting to be lectured by an American on the environment.
Denny Crane: Watch it Judge. We’re a super power. Don’t make us add you to the access.
Alan Shore: Being from the United States I have an expertise on the issue.
Judge Sean O’Byrne: Do you?
Alan Shore: Yes! Remember! We’re the country that’s practically wiped the grizzly bear off our maps. We got rid of bull trout. To see a Florida panther? You have to go a hockey game. We seek to count hatchery salmon as wild so the numbers go up and we can take the actual wild salmon off the endangered species list. Almost a hundred different bird and animal species have gone extinct in the last thirty years. While our national policy remains, “It’s not a priority.” I know all about economic interests trumping the environment. And truthfully, if we were talking about the Virgin Island screech owl or the Fresno kangaroo, I might not care, but this is the Pacific Salmon! The sea lice are killing them! Once they’re gone Judge, my God! They’re gone! Oh! Yes. Mindful that abroad people tend expect shock and awe when Yankees arrive on the scene, we shall leave you with two small, but lasting words.
Denny Crane: Denny Crane eh?

(Denny and Alan leave.)

Monday, June 05, 2006

All I Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarden

(By Robert Fulghum)

All I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be, I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sandpile at Sunday School. These are the things that I learned:

Share everything
Play fair
Don't hit people
Put things back where you found them
Clean up your mess
Don't take things that aren't yours
Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody
Wash your hands before you eat
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you
Live a balanced life; learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some
Take a nap every afternoon
When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together
Be aware of wonder
Remember the little seed in the styrofoam cup
The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the styrofoam cup
They all die
So do we
And then remember the Dick and Jane books and the first word you learned the biggest word of all

Everything you need to know is in there somewhere The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation Ecology and politics and equality and sane living. Take any one of those items and extrapolate it into sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your family life or work or your government or your world and it holds true and clear and firm

Think what a better world it would be if we all - the whole world - had cookies and milk about three o'clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap. Or if all the governments had as a basic policy to always put things back where they found them and to clean up their own mess And it is still true, no matter how old you are... when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Random Thoughts – The Aesop Philosophy

(Extracted and reproduced in full from the Aesop Thinking)

As we refrain from further processing, our plant-derived ingredients create products that reflect the current seasons crops and, like the best wines, our results will vary from year to year. We consider this phenomenon an inherent feature of our line, and do not endeavour to synthetically disguise nature’s seasonal variations. From product batch to batch, therefore, you may note subtle shifts in aroma, colour and texture. We consider these seasonal nuances to be one of the pleasures of working with quality botanicals.

N.B. The above paragraph was extracted and reproduced in full from the philosophy essay of Aesop, an alternative beauty system of skin and wellbeing products developed for men and women seeking effective, botanical-based solutions. The entire write-up can be found under the Thinking section of the Aesop website
I have never encountered such prolific literary skills which sells an inherent weakness in a product as its strength so effectively and unabashedly. And I meant this as a compliment of the highest order.

Monday, April 03, 2006


(By Joan of Arc)

"O God that madest this beautiful earth, when will it be ready to receive thy saints? How long, O lord, how long?"

N.B. This is Joan of Arc’s last spoken line in the play “St. Joan” which was written by George Bernard Shaw in 1923.

Saturday, March 18, 2006


(By 张晓娴)





Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Game theory: Prisoners’ Dilemma

Game theory is a branch of applied mathematics that deals with the analysis of games (i.e., situations involving parties with conflicting interests). It is a mathematical method of decision-making which involves searching for the best strategy contingent upon what another player will or will not do. Typically, a competitive situation is analyzed to determine the optimal course of action for an interested topic. It is generally taught in mathematics classes such as applied combinatorics, and in economics classes such as industrial organization. In addition to the mathematical elegance and complete "solution" which is possible for simple games, the principles of game theory also find applications to complicated games such as cards, checkers, and chess, as well as real-world problems as diverse as economics, property division, politics, and warfare.

Game theory has two distinct branches: combinatorial game theory and classical game theory.

Combinatorial game theory covers two-player games of perfect knowledge such as go, chess, or checkers. Notably, combinatorial games have no chance element, and players take turns.
In classical game theory, players move, bet, or strategize simultaneously. Both hidden information and chance elements are frequent features in this branch of game theory, which is also a branch of economics.

The Prisoners’ Dilemma is a non-zero sum problem founded in game theory initially discussed by Albert W. Tucker. Tucker's invention of the Prisoners' Dilemma example did not come out via a research paper, but in a classroom. In 1950, while addressing an audience of psychologists at Stanford University in his capacity of visiting professor, Tucker created the Prisoners' Dilemma to illustrate the difficulty of analyzing certain kinds of games.

Tucker’s actual Prisoners' Dilemma example is as follows:

Two burglars, Bob and Al, are captured near the scene of a burglary and are given the "third degree" separately by the police. Each has to choose whether or not to confess and implicate the other. If neither man confesses, then both will serve one year on a charge of carrying a concealed weapon. If each confesses and implicates the other, both will go to prison for 10 years. However, if one burglar confesses and implicates the other, and the other burglar does not confess, the one who has collaborated with the police will go free, while the other burglar will go to prison for 20 years on the maximum charge.

The strategies in this case are those of whether to confess or don't confess. The payoffs or penalties in this case, are the sentences served. We can express all this compactly in a payoff table as follows which has become quite standard in game theory. Here is the payoff table for the Prisoners' Dilemma game:

The above table is interpreted as follows:

Each prisoner chooses one of the two strategies. In effect, Al chooses a column and Bob chooses a row. The two numbers in each cell tell the outcomes for the two prisoners when the corresponding pair of strategies is chosen. The number to the left of the comma tells the payoff to the person who chooses the rows (Bob) while the number to the right of the column tells the payoff to the person who chooses the columns (Al). Thus (reading down the first column) if they both confess, each gets 10 years, but if Al confesses and Bob does not, Bob gets 20 and Al goes free.

A dilemma arises in deciding the best course of action in the absence of knowledge of the other prisoner's decision, as in what strategies are "rational" if both men want to minimize the time they spend in jail. Each prisoner's best strategy would appear to be to turn the other in. Al might reason as follows: "Two things can happen: Bob can confess or Bob can keep quiet. Suppose Bob confesses. Then I get 20 years if I don't confess, 10 years if I do, so in that case it's best to confess. On the other hand, if Bob doesn't confess, and I don't either, I get a year; but in that case, if I confess I can go free. Either way, it's best if I confess. Therefore, I'll confess."

But Bob will presumably reason in the same manner. Therefore, given that both of them confess, both will go to prison for 10 years each. Yet, if they had acted "irrationally" and kept quiet, they each could have gotten off with one year each.

What has happened here is that the two prisoners have fallen into something known as "dominant strategy equilibrium".

A dominant strategy is defined as follows:

If we were to allow an individual player in a game to evaluate separately each of the strategy combinations he may face, and, for each combination, choose from his own strategies the one that gives the best payoff. If the same strategy is chosen for each of the different combinations of strategies the player might face, that strategy is called a "dominant strategy" for that player in that game.

Therefore, dominant strategy equilibrium occurs if, in a game, each player has a dominant strategy, and each player plays the dominant strategy, then that combination of the dominant strategies and the corresponding payoffs are said to constitute the dominant strategy equilibrium for that game.

In the Prisoners' Dilemma game, to confess is a dominant strategy, and when both prisoners confess, dominant strategy equilibrium occurs. In this case, the individually rational action results in both persons being made worse off in terms of their own self-interested purposes. This revelation has wide implications in modern social science. This is because there are many interactions in the modern world that seem very much like this, from arms races through road congestion and pollution to the depletion of fisheries and the overexploitation of some subsurface water resources. These are all quite different interactions in detail, but are interactions in which individually rational action leads to inferior results for each person, and the Prisoners' Dilemma suggests something of what is going on in each of them.

A number of critical issues can be raised with the Prisoners' Dilemma in view of its simplified and abstract conception of many real life interactions, and each of these issues has been the basis of a large scholarly literature:

1. The Prisoners' Dilemma is a two-person game, but many of the applications of the idea are really many-person interactions;

2. We have assumed that there is no communication between the two prisoners. If they could communicate and commit themselves to coordinated strategies, we would expect a quite different outcome;

3. In the Prisoners' Dilemma, the two prisoners interact only once. Repetition of the interactions might lead to quite different results;

4. Compelling as the reasoning that leads to the dominant strategy equilibrium may be, it is not the only way this problem might be reasoned out. Perhaps it is not really the most rational answer after all.

The Prisoners' Dilemma has wide applications to economics and business. Let’s take an example of two firms, say A and B, selling similar products. Each must decide on a pricing strategy. They best exploit their joint market power when both charge a high price; each makes a profit of $10 million per month. If one sets a competitive low price, it wins a lot of customers away from the rival. Suppose its profit rises to $12 million, and that of the rival falls to $7 million. If both set low prices, the profit of each is $9 million. In this case, the low-price strategy is akin to the prisoner's confession, and the high-price akin to keeping silent. Let’s term the former cheating, and the latter cooperation. In this case, cheating is each firm's dominant strategy, but the result when both cheat is worse for each than that of both cooperating.

On a superficial level the Prisoners' Dilemma appears to run counter to Adam Smith's idea of the invisible hand. When each person in the game pursues his private interest, he does not promote the collective interest of the group. But often a group's cooperation is not in the interests of society as a whole. Collusion to keep prices high, for example, is not in society's interest because the cost to consumers from collusion is generally more than the increased profit of the firms. Therefore companies that pursue their own self-interest by cheating on collusive agreements often help the rest of society. Similarly cooperation among prisoners under interrogation makes convictions more difficult for the police to obtain. One must understand the mechanism of cooperation before one can either promote or defeat it in the pursuit of larger policy interests.

Would the Prisoners be able to extricate themselves from the Dilemma and sustain cooperation when each has a powerful incentive to cheat? The most common path to cooperation arises from repetitions of the game. In the above example, one month's cheating gets the cheater an extra $2 million. But a switch from mutual cooperation to mutual cheating loses $1 million. If one month's cheating is followed by two months' retaliation, therefore, the result is a wash for the cheater. Any stronger punishment of a cheater would be a clear deterrent.

This idea needs some comment and elaboration:

1. The cheater's reward comes at once, while the loss from punishment lies in the future. If players heavily discount future payoffs, then the loss may be insufficient to deter cheating. Thus, cooperation is harder to sustain among very impatient players.

2. Punishment won't work unless cheating can be detected and punished. Therefore, companies cooperate more when their actions are more easily detected (setting prices, for example) and less when actions are less easily detected (deciding on non-price attributes of goods, such as repair warranties). Punishment is usually easier to arrange in smaller and closed groups. Thus, industries with few firms and less threat of new entry are more likely to be collusive.

3. Punishment can be made automatic by following strategies like "tit for tat," which was popularized by University of Michigan political scientist Robert Axelrod. In this case, you cheat if and only if your rival cheated in the previous round. But if rivals' innocent actions can be misinterpreted as cheating, then tit for tat runs the risk of setting off successive rounds of unwarranted retaliation.

4. A fixed, finite number of repetitions are logically inadequate to yield cooperation. Both or all players know that cheating is the dominant strategy in the last play. Given this, the same goes for the second-last play, then the third-last, and so on. But in practice we see some cooperation in the early rounds of a fixed set of repetitions. The reason may be either that players don't know the number of rounds for sure, or that they can exploit the possibility of "irrational niceness" to their mutual advantage.

5. Cooperation can also arise if the group has a large leader, who personally stands to lose a lot from outright competition and therefore exercises restraint, even though he knows that other small players will cheat. For example, Saudi Arabia's role of "swing producer" in the OPEC cartel is an instance of this.

Sunday, February 19, 2006









他每天都要在傍晚 6时去喂他的狗。

静修道长就为 “放下”送饭了,
嘴里还一边呼唤着: “放下!放下!”

为什么您的狗叫 ‘放下’?”



























如果可以 , 我希望我能再吃一次『晚餐』。

我記得去年的時候, 想要待在家裡吃飯。
我走下樓梯, 走進廚房 ,

這麼多年來 ,都是如此 …
我坐在客廳那看著電視 ,
老媽煮好以後, 叫我去吃飯。
老媽說:「你先吃就好 ,我等你爸回來再吃。」
我依舊的回答說 :「喔 ,那我先吃了。」
因為就當我偶而幾次待在家裡吃飯的時候 ?
每當我問老媽, 她都是這樣的回答我。
這麼多年了, 從未變過。

有一次 , 我問老媽: 「為什麼你不先吃呀?」
老媽回答我說 :「你老爸 他每天在外面辛苦工作,
回來又一個人在那吃飯 , 我會不忍心啊。」
我那時候, 好像是默默的把飯吃完吧。

過不久 ,有天晚上, 老媽的舊病又復發了,
在晚上11 點多的時候,送往急診室。
那天, 我總覺得少了什麼。
我那天的晚餐就隨隨便便的吃了 ,
吃完後, 我騎著車到醫院去,
我走進病房內 , 老媽就問我 :「你晚餐吃了沒阿? 」
我回答說 :「我剛剛有吃了。」
說完以後, 老媽似乎才露出安心的表情。

這時候 ,老爸把我叫到病房外,
用著很嚴肅、很悲傷的語氣跟我說 :
「你媽的病 ,大概是不會好了。」
那時候, 是我第一次看到,
回到家裡 ,我發現,

過不久 ,老媽死了 …
最後跟我一句話 :「以後晚餐要記得吃喔 ,
別再隨便在外面吃了, 試試自己煮煮看。」
說完以後,老媽死了 …

眼淚 …沾滿了病床上的床單 ,

如果可以 ….

『晚餐 』是要跟家人一起吃, 才能叫做『晚餐』。
其實食一餐飯又用你幾多時間呢 ?

Monday, January 30, 2006

Pareto's Principle (80/20 Rule)

The Pareto principle, also known as the 80/20 rule, the law of the vital few and the principle of factor sparsity, states that for many phenomena, 80% of the consequences stem from only 20% of the causes.

The principle was suggested by the Quality Management pioneer and thinker, Dr. Joseph M. Juran, in the late 1940s. Juran inaccurately attributed the 80/20 Rule to a phenomenon who was first proposed by the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who in 1906, created a mathematical formula to describe the unequal distribution of wealth in his country. He observed that 80% of all properties in Italy were owned by only 20% of the Italian population. In other words, 20% of the Italians owned 80% of the country’s wealth.

After Pareto made his observation and created his formula, many others, like Juran, observed similar phenomena in their own areas of expertise. Juran, recognized a universal principle which he called the "vital few and trivial many" and reduced it to writing. In an early work, a lack of precision on Juran's part made it appear that he was applying Pareto's observations about economics to a broader body of work. As such, the name Pareto's Principle stuck on.

As a result, Dr. Juran's observation of the "vital few and trivial many", the principle that 20% of something always are responsible for 80% of the results, became known as Pareto's Principle or the 80/20 Rule.

The 80/20 Rule means that in anything a few (20%) are vital and many (80%) are trivial. In Pareto's case it meant 20% of the people owned 80% of the wealth. In Juran's initial work, he identified 20% of the defects causing 80% of the problems. Experienced project managers will know that 20% of the work (the first 10% and the last 10%) consume 80% of the time and resources available. One can apply the 80/20 Rule to almost anything, from the science of management to the physical world.

The value of the Pareto Principle for a manager is that it reminds the manager to focus on the 20% that matters. Of the things the manager do during your day, only 20% really matter. Those 20% produce 80% of the results. It is critical that the manager identifies and focuses on those things. When it comes to the crunch, the manager needs to remind himself of the 20% he needs to focus on. So if something in the schedule has to slip, if something isn't going to get done, the manager must make sure that it's not part of that 20%.

Pareto's Principle, the 80/20 Rule, should serve as a daily reminder to focus 80% of the time and energy on the 20% of the work that is really important. So the wise manager should not just work smart, he should work smart on the right things.