Although I was born in England, I grew up in Trieste (Italy) in an Italian family. I come from a scientific and atheistic background, and it shows: I’ve got a degree in Molecular Biology and followed it up with a short career as a young molecular-neurobiologist. I found it fantastically boring: I was expecting it to be difficult and intellectually challenging, and discovered that it mainly involved carefully moving tiny amounts of water (OK, water with invisible but significant other things in it, like enzymes, DNA and the usual stuff) from one test tube to the other, for weeks, and weeks, and months, hoping that at the end of the process I would be able to confirm that all went well and that I could proceed to move different things into new test tubes. In short: it was a pain (at least, for me, in that particular working situation). Luckily I got a chance to make a side step into IT, and eventually ended up working for the Social Science Research Unit and the EPPI-Centre (Institute of Education, University of London).
As a software developer, I’m proud to contribute to the development of EPPI-Reviewer, a software for all types of literature review, including systematic reviews, meta-analyses, narrative reviews and meta-ethnographies.
What makes me tick
I get excited by many different things, but the highlights include:
- Music is an essential part of my life, couldn’t get on without it. I also play electric guitar, strictly for fun. I have a tiny soundcloud page, and used to play with the Broca Ensemble: if you have any interest in experimental music, this is my favourite recording, I still can’t believe that I was lucky enough to be part of it.
- My formation years did leave some trace, after all. I still avidly read about Neurobiology, Cognitive Neuroscience, Evolutionary Psychology and science in general: the more it has to do with human nature, the more I’d be interested.
- I am also violently atheist. Or at least, I tend to be, but since I do believe in non-violence, I actively try to mitigate this attitude. I suppose you could classify me as a Humanist that reluctantly tries to show tolerance for other (theistic) points of view (you can expect to find plenty of posts on this).
- I usually get pretty excited about politics: I lean toward the left, on a liberal side. I will probably cover this in detail, but in a nutshell: I do see why private property and the free market are useful, but this doesn’t mean that I see little or no role for the state. I’m Italian, and did study and love the Italian Constitution: that’s where I get most of my political inspiration. It doesn’t mean that I’m looking behind: the Italian Constitution is a great document, but largely unfulfilled, so I guess that I’m interested in finding new ways to allow its basic principles to be applied in the real world.
- Human Stupidity: despite all the rhetoric, I don’t think that humans are essentially rational beings, in fact, they are occasionally rational, at best. I’ve spent my teenage years firmly believing that “you can never overestimate human stupidity”… In my University years I discovered the marvellous work of Carlo Cipolla, and had to admit that he reached the same conclusion well before me. He also offers a useful perspective: a stupid action is one that produces harm to both the actor and society as a whole, this allows to focus on stupid actions instead of abusing stupid individuals. Of course, all humans are occasionally stupid (enact stupid actions) and studying what causes such mistakes should be of paramount importance. He argues that “bandits”, the people prone to act in ways that produce advantages for themselves but harm society, are not as harmful as those that are prone to damage themselves as well as society. I agree, and expect to blog profusely on the subject.
- Finding common grounds: what never fails to warm me up is when I find a thought that can be used to effectively build bridges between apparently irreconcilable positions. You may call me naïve, but since we are all human, I simply can’t accept that we are condemned to perpetual disagreement. This probably explains my interest in actively engaging with philosophy.
The dynamic TOC:
[Updated 10/11/2013] [Jump to the 30/08/2015 update]
In this section, I’ll link to the most significant posts I’ve published. This is to create and maintain a sort of Table of Contents that can be used to quickly figure out my trajectory.
I’ve started with two foundation entries, “What this is about, and other premises” and “Life doesn’t come with a user manual (about the title of this blog)“, you may want to start there to get an idea of where I come from and what I’m trying to achieve.
The main thread then moved on Epistemology, derived from a strictly subjective perspective. There are three posts about the limits of knowledge (start here, the posts will provide direct links to the rest of the series).
The natural follow-up of the Epistemology series brought me to explore the Scientific method, in another series of posts that starts with “Normal Science versus Scientific Attitude: the unscientific side of main-stream research” and then develops on my take on Science Epistemology, the Scientific method and the Demarcation Problem. The posts are: “The surprising properties of Hard Science and some thoughts on Liquid and Volatile Sciences“, “Hard, Liquid and Volatile Science: why the distinction isn’t trivial.” and “Science And Pseudoscience according to Popper, Kuhn, Lakatos and me“. This whole discussion is then wrapped up in “A recap of the ground covered so far: am I moving towards “Subjective Science”? Isn’t that a paradox?“.
From here, I’ve moved onto Ethics and have published a series that starts with: Science and ethics (part 1): an odd couple that should generate two siblings. I’ve then asked if there is any space for Philosophy, and discussed some evidence on the biological origin of human morality. This series finishes with a view on some scholarly discussions on this subject, and my own addition on how the idea of two separate sciences of morality could clarify the open issues.
To test the whole approach out I gave a long look at the ethical stance that informs Boris Johnsons’ politics. The result is a long rant against his narrow-minded ethics (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4). The last post in this series however showed how easy it is to fall prey of cognitive attraction, and how frequently one is blind to his/her own mistakes.
This sparked a post with the best title I’ve produced so far: Wrong, stupid and stupidly wrong! Where I start looking for countermeasures: how can one detect and/or avoid mistakes? The same aim is behind Sources of error: we are all biased, but why? But the execution is disappointing. Instead of helping me out, I add more doubts and worries.
There is no denying it: I’m stuck, and to try to find a way out, I’ve summarised all the current difficulties in Recap #2: getting lost in my own muddle.
Every now and then I also tackle other disconnected subjects.
- A response to Marwa, on Dawkins tweets: about New Atheism and its relation with Islam.
- A series on dreams and sleep: “Dreaming and Sleeping, getting closer to an explanation“, “Dreaming and Sleeping: a follow up on Threat Simulation Theory” and “More on sleep: what we know and what we don’t. Plus a hint on the big mysteries of human nature.“
- The slides of my seminar on Nassim N. Taleb’s Antifragility applied to Social Science and Policy Making also received some significant attention, mostly due to Taleb’s kind re-tweet.
- I’ve had a good discussion with Micah Allen on Self Publishing and Open Science, the main discussion is here, and my longest contribution is also reproduced as a blog post.
- Two posts on the Selfish Gene concept received plenty of attention. This started up as an impulsive reaction to a widely inaccurate account of the Selfish Gene idea published on Aeon, the full story can be found here: In defense of the Selfish Gene and More on the selfish gene.
- I’ve reviewed and commented David Chalmers‘ excellent Annual Lecture at the Royal Institute of Philosophy. My own take is: David Chalmers on Why Isn’t There More Progress in Philosophy? A summary and comment.
From early 2014, my output started to slow down while spreading across a wider range of subjects. There is still some epistemology going on, while my plan of exploring what makes us commit so many mistakes produced the “Sources of Error” series. At the same time I’ve finally found my way into the theoretical side of neuroscience, which was the plan from the very beginning. This gives me a chance to add an odd remark: I don’t think you can do theoretical neuroscience without first establishing a well developed epistemological stance. Things are far too complicated, and since the matter inevitably ends up touching the nature of knowledge itself, clarifying your epistemological position becomes a necessity: you need to at least have an intelligible idea of what knowledge is likely to be, otherwise you’ll find yourself lost in a swamp.
Epistemology and Sources of Error: after getting lost, I still had to finish punishing myself, and produced “Looking into my blind spot” which concludes an important phase by noting that the simple fact that you made an error usually means that you don’t recognise it as such. Thus, we are all blind to most of our errors. This in turn gave me a way to move on, cataloguing the causes of error which I find interesting: “Sources of error: Essentialism Fallacy” is truly foundational, a good proportion of my world-view is based on what I write there. “Sources of error: the twisted rationality of double standards” is an odd post on a phenomenon that is mostly relevant in the political domain, but I remain intrigued by the idea. “Sources of error: the illusory illusions of reductionism” is also very important to me: applies to science epistemology, with relevant implications for the study of mind and brains. More or less on similar subjects is “Complexity is in the eye of the beholder: that’s why it matters“, while “What the hell is ‘Information’ anyway?” is almost tentative, but still quite important to justify what follows it.
Science and Neuroscience: while my epistemological foundations got more delineated, I found myself (finally) willing to talk about more concrete stuff. That’s still pretty hairy, as it starts from Evolutionary Psychology: “Bloom’s ‘Just Babies’ and our obsession with moralising sex” is almost a review but mostly way to dip into the subject. “Biological sources of morality: hierarchy and fairness” abandons all restraints and just tells it how I see it, followed by “Hierarchy and fairness in primates: the source of indignation and the elusive Baldwin effect” in case someone didn’t get the message. I was then fortunate enough to be featured on TheEGG with “Misbeliefs, evolution and games: a positive case“. “The predictive brain (part one): what is this about?” and “The predictive brain (part two): is the idea too generic?” are two introductory posts about what I see as the most promising theory in current Neuroscience. “Partisan review: the Shadow of Consciousness” is a review of Peter Hankins’ book, used as an excuse to vent some frustration. I followed up with two (guest) posts published on Hankins’ blog: Conscious Entities: “Sergio’s Computational Functionalism” and “Sergio Resurgent“. They both function as a sort of prelude to my brainchild, the Evolutionary Theory of Consciousness (ETC). ETC is announced with “Consciousness at last” and briefly described in “Evolutionary Theory of Consciousness: why, how and what“.
A more general view of the world is starting to emerge, it’s an attempt to look at everything from a Darwinian angle, something which emerges quite clearly from two additional posts on Antifragility: “Random thoughts on Antifragility (Part 1)” and “Random thoughts on Antifragility (Part 2): the role of heuristics“.
Ethics, Religion and Politics: as started getting cockier, I ventured on dangerous grounds more often. On religion, I wrote “The unsolvable tension: faith, science, or faith in evidence?” and “R. Read and N.N. Taleb advocate religion as a risk-management system: I am not convinced“. Ethics and politics get suitably mixed in “More Rigorous Ethics: a look at normative societies“, “Democracy, predictability and the worrying state of international affairs“, “It’s politics, stupid!” and “Offence!” (my favourite). They are all knee-jerk posts, but still heavily connected to all my theorisations. A special mention goes to the geekiest post of mine: “Strong AI, utilitarianism and our limited minds” which to date has been “viewed” (not “read”!) almost 10,000 times, eclipsing all of my other efforts with ease.
[End of Update]
A technical note: whenever I link from one article to another, WordPress dutifully inserts a “pingback” notification in the comments area. These insertions look a bit redundant, but I’ve decided to leave them be: they provide a useful way yo navigate back and forth, hopefully allowing newcomers to quickly discover the main threads that I’m trying to develop.
Finally, I’d like to encourage your feedback. Especially if you think I’m not making sense, I’d really like to hear your criticism, provided that it’s polite, and directed to my arguments and not against any person, including myself.