Denis OSullivan

Brussels, Belgium

About Denis

I'm passionate about

Music, Sports, Human Rights, Ideas, Writing, Physics, Psychology, Mathematics, Monty Python, Minimalism, Happiness, Swimming, My niece and nephew.

Favorite talks

Comments & conversations

178422
Denis OSullivan
Posted 5 months ago
Hannah Fry: The mathematics of love
I loved this talk and this topic. Thank you for the talk! A colleague and I, both PhD chemical engineers (i.e. "nerds" :( ), wrote a full book, humourous but mathematically rigorous, on the topic of the mathematics of dating, called "Dating for Engineers" (it's on amazon in the unlikely event you want to read it!). Part of the objective was similar to this talk, another part was to look at how someone who is more mathematically adept than socially adept might use their mathematical ability to succeed in a dating world where typically social and aesthetic skills trump the ability to solve differential equations. It is a fascinating topic. One of the chapters includes a derivation of a decision formula to decide whether you should stay with a given partner or not - it turns out to be an integral equation with a lot of details that you need to fill in, but in principle it can help you work out in a much more meaningful way whether you should stay with your current partner or not. What's cool is that, even if you cannot actually calculate the exact numbers, just looking at the different terms helps you consider the different factors (what if I die young? what if tomorrow I meet the partner of my dreams? etc.). We have no desire to get rich by selling millions of copies of the book, but would be very interested to hear people's thoughts on the ideas ... you can look at some of the contents for free on google books at: https://books.google.be/books?id=W6dJUzi2iUgC&printsec=frontcover&dq=dating+for+engineers&hl=nl&sa=X&ei=mP_gVIDwOsupgwTojYLAAg&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=dating%20for%20engineers&f=false Maybe one day I'll give a TED talk about this ...
178422
Denis OSullivan
Posted about 1 year ago
Will Potter: The shocking move to criminalize nonviolent protest
Great talk! Of course the world, and our political systems are terribly flawed. And activism is, unfortunately, necessary to effect change. And the first activists are often portrayed as criminals - we just have to hope that where their cause is just, sooner or later society will come around to their point of view and the laws will change. It's a frustratingly slow process. And we need to be careful, because just as many of the activists we see today are promoting changes that are genuinely good, others (think the anti-GMO activists, the anti-vaccine activists and other such idiots) are just peddling non-scientific fears and so preventing progress that will help many people. Probably the single biggest opportunity to improve the world lies in finding a way to effect changes that are almost uniformly agreed to be good in much faster manner. Whether this be to enact and enforce laws against dictators, to prevent genocides, to reduce special-interests' buying "democratic" elections, to enact meaningful legislation to fight climate change or to provide better protection for animals, there are so many cases where the vast majority of the global population, including the relevant experts, agrees on the right course of action, but somehow we just cannot make it happen except at glacial speeds.
178422
Denis OSullivan
Posted over 1 year ago
Daniel Kahneman: The riddle of experience vs. memory
This is a very interesting theory, no doubt there is a lot of truth in it. But I believe the findings are exaggerated by our inability to measure "experiencing happiness" accurately. I suspect that they use something like a 0 to 10 scale, or maybe -10 to 10, and this works for most of the time. But the moments that we remember are often the ones which are off the scale - the colonoscopy has moments of -500, the elation at reaching the top of a mountain might have a value of +5000, even if only for a few minutes. To see this better, think about sex! We (men at least) are typically willing to go to great lengths for an orgasm that lasts less than a minute. Why is that? Obviously, if you put feelings on a scale of 0 to 10 and count an orgasm as a 10, when you average over time, it has a very small impact. But it's not a 10, it's a 5000 ... and until we find a way to quantify these extreme pleasures and sufferings, we can't really say we've accurately evaluated the experiencing self's pleasure. (It is an amazing insight though, I have read Prof. Kahneman's book, and it is truly enlightening.)
178422
Denis OSullivan
Posted over 2 years ago
How can overly empathetic/sympathetic people compete in this world? Do they eventually end up jaded and bitter?
Hi Genevieve, I suppose it's a strange case of empathy. I fully agree with everything you wrote, yet I still empathise with Lance a bit, because I have seen over the past 10 years how the net has been slowly closing in on him but never leaving him an easy way out. There was never a moment when he had the option to say "OK, I admit, I took drugs like everyone else" and get away with a 2-year suspension - they were determined to hang him as an example to all. So he's been kind of forced into this position of holier-than-thou denial which I'm sure he never wanted - and then when his fall comes, it is all the more dramatic. My analogy is with Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. Bill did something wrong, but he was not the first to do so - however instead of it being a minor misdemeanour, the Republicans and Kenneth Starr managed to turn it into a much bigger issue without giving him the chance to get out of it. Again, no question that Clinton was morally wrong (just like Lance), but I look at that situation and I empathise with him. What it says about me that I empathise with people like that is probably something I should worry about :)
178422
Denis OSullivan
Posted over 2 years ago
How can overly empathetic/sympathetic people compete in this world? Do they eventually end up jaded and bitter?
My question whenever I hear this comment is: are these truly nice guys, or are they just afraid. To my mind, a truly nice, sympathetic, empathetic guy needs a lot of courage, because just as he will help an old-lady across the road, he will confront a bully or challenge a racist comment. I have never seen a case where women find that kind of courageous, assertive niceness to be boring. True, there is a certain charm to someone whose behaviour is on the edge - they are fun to be around, life is a bit more unpredictable - but people like that are often the ones who are most dependable when you really need them. As for Lance, he's getting a very bad rap right now, but it's a lot more complex than people realise. It was a sport where everyone was cheating, and he just happened to be better at it (whether at cheating or at cycling) than the other cheats, and so made a lot of enemies. I'm not saying he's a saint, but to listen to the media you'd think he was like Barry Bonds, cheating outrageously in a sport that was otherwise mostly drug-free, and it's not like that. And he did raise hundreds of millions to fight cancer. Even recently, he's handled a totally impossible situation as well as could be expected. I'm not sure he'd be the first person I'd pick as lacking in social intelligence ... not that he'd be my favourite dinner guest either ...
178422
Denis OSullivan
Posted over 2 years ago
How can overly empathetic/sympathetic people compete in this world? Do they eventually end up jaded and bitter?
It is absolutely NOT true that overly empathetic / sympathetic people finish last. They typically have more friends, better support systems and many more meaningful relationships. There are very few downsides to being nice - for the most part being nice is reciprocated, so your sacrifice, on average is more than repaid - and this in addition to the satisfaction that you get from helping others. Nice men are very popular with women, and those exceptions are not appreciated because they are not nice, but rather despite the fact that they are not nice - often because their particular style of not being nice demonstrates remarkable courage, independence, originality or whatever. (I'm not referring to mistreatment of women and dependence in relationships, which is a more complex phenomenon). The confusion arises because many people who class themselves as "nice" are not so much nice as weak - they behave in a certain way not because of a strong inner desire to help, but because it is the route of least resistance. And people can see this. The difference is like night and day. A truly nice person will not just offer to share his chocolate or let you into the lane when you are entering from a small side-street. He will also aggressively confront a bully, he will NOT let you into the lane in front of him if you're blatantly just trying to skip past the other cars. A nice person will confront you if you make a racist remark. Because he is driven to help and to do what is right, rather than by the desire to please at all costs. Being a truly nice person takes a LOT of courage - but those who achieve this are greatly admired in our society. Women do not find "nice guys" like this to be boring at all. They do find the weak stereotypical "nice guy" boring, because he's not so much nice as "pathetic" ...