19 June 2008

The Flight of the BumbleBees … Are we too far behind them?

Decision-Making, Risk-Taking Similar in Bees and Humans

Most people think before making decisions. As it turns out, so do bees.

In this week's issue of Nature, Israeli researchers show that when making decisions, people and bees alike are more likely to gamble on risky courses of action - rather than taking a safer option - when the differences between the various possible outcomes are easily distinguishable. When the outcomes are difficult to discern, however, both groups are far more likely to select the safer option - even if the actual probabilities of success have not changed.

The findings by researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Tel Aviv University and the Hebrew University help shed light on why people are inclined to choose certainty when differences between potential outcomes - such as paybacks when gambling or returns on financial investments - are difficult to discern.

In tests with 50 college students, subjects chose between two unmarked computer buttons. Pushing one of the buttons resulted in a payoff of 3 credits with 100% certainty, while pushing the other led to a payoff of 4 credits with an 80% certainty - though participants only learned these payoffs through trial and error as they flashed on screen. Test subjects were required to make 400 such decisions each, and tended to choose the risky strategy when payoffs were represented as simple numbers (i.e. "3 credits" and "4 credits"). The results were similar when the numerals 3 and 4 were replaced with easily distinguishable clouds of 30 and 60 dots. But when the numerals were replaced with clouds of 30 or 40 dots - making it much more difficult to distinguish between the two - subjects veered towards the more certain outcome.

The researchers subjected honeybees to similar trials, using the bees' sense of smell and 2 µl drops of sugar solution payoffs of varying concentrations. The researchers first tested the bees with payoffs for risky and safe alternatives at 10% and 5% sugar concentrations, respectively. In a second experiment, the payoffs were a less-easy-to-discriminate-between 6.7% and 5%, and in a third experiment, the payoff in both alternatives was 6.7%. Bees were required to make 32 such decisions, and were given a choice between two smells, each presented twice for one-second each, in an alternating sequence. The bees tended towards the risky strategy only when their choice was easily discernable, paralleling their human counterparts.

According to Professor Ido Erev of the Technion Faculty of Industrial Engineering and Management, some practical implications of this research can be seen in an analysis of the values placed on rule enforcement in the workplace. The results, he said, suggest that: (1) consistent and constant rule enforcement is necessary, since workers are more likely to ignore risks - if they have done so before without punishment; (2) workers are likely to be supportive of enforcement, since they initially plan to obey many of the rules (wearing safety goggles, for instance) they end up violating; and (3) severe penalties that are not always enforced are not likely to be effective, but gentle, consistently enforced rewards and punishments can be.

"The similar responses by humans and bees demonstrates that this decision-making process happens very early in evolution," said Erev. "The results suggest that this is a very basic phenomenon shared by many different animals."

The Technion-Israel Institute of Technology is Israel's leading science and technology university. Home to the country's winners of the Nobel Prize in science, it commands a worldwide reputation for its pioneering work in nanotechnology, computer science, biotechnology, water-resource management, materials engineering, aerospace and medicine. The majority of the founders and managers of Israel's high-tech companies are alumni. Based in New York City, the American Technion Society (ATS) is the leading American organization supporting higher education in Israel, with 22 offices around the country.
Contact: Kevin Hattori (212) 407-6319

02 June 2008

"I have a feeling that just like before World War II ..."

Hisorerus from Rav Chaim Stein Shlita

Based on remarks of the Rosh Yeshiva in Yeshivas Telshe-Cleveland
(as appeared in Yated 25 Iyar 5768, p42):

I have a strong feeling to give us inspiration for strengthening ourselves. There are things that we all know, but for those of us who went through World War II, we have a different feeling to the current situation.

The year 5693 was when Hitler yimach shemo came to power, beginning the destruction of Europe. Prior to those years the Jews in Germany lived a great life in every way possible, and no one could imagine that such destruction could ever happen.

Rav Meir Simcha of Dvinsk, the author of the Sefer Meshech Chochma (5623), was nifter in 5686 at a point when golus was very good. He writes (Behukosai) that the situation of Klal Yisroel, for whatever reason, can go for many years in peace and tranquility and then, suddenly, Hashem destroys it all. Rav Meir Simcha warns that we have to constantly think about it. During the good times, people think that Berlin, Germany, is just as great as Yerushalayim, but then Hashem brings a wind that destroys everything. Rav Meir Simcha wrote this at a time when everything was going well for the Yidden in Germany.

What was the point of writing this?

The posuk says, “al tivtichu binedivim.” Don’t put your trust in any one government. Instead, one must trust Hashem, for He can change everything.

Whenever I look at this Meshech Chochma, it reminds me that, although it’s not a crime to be in a good golus, one must always remember that this is not what Klal Yisroel is supposed to look like. Chas veshalom, I don’t mean to predict bad things to happen to Klal Yisroel. Still, we should be aware that, even in America, where the golus is a lot better than the other golusim, Hashem can turn things around. Chas veshalom, I don’t mean to be tiftach peh leSoton, but a person cannot even imagine how things can go unpleasant for the Yidden in Today’s day and age.

We have to realize that Hashem can do anything.

From the current events, we can see that Hashem runs everything in the world. Don’t forget the dangers that Klal Yisroel can be going through. We should not put our trust in anyone, not even the government.

Again, I don’t mean to predict anything, but we can see a downfall in America, especially at a time when a person whose name is Hussein and with such a background can be elected as president! Of course, with Hashem’s help, nothing bad will come out of it, but Hashem is showing us that we should realize what could happen. Therefore, we have to wake ourselves up to think differently.

The Medrash Tanchuma (Toldos 5) states that Klal Yisroel said to Hashem, “Look how the nations want to destroy us. The governments of the world do no other work except for sitting and plotting to destroy Klal Yisroel.” Hashem responded, “what do the nations gain? They make plans to destroy Klal Yisroel, but I stamp out those plans.”

The Medrash continues: Adriyanus said to Rabi Yehoshua, “The sheep is so great that it can stand between seventy wolves and they cannot destroy it!” Rabi Yehoshua replied, “The sheep is not what’s great; rather, the shepherd is great for he protects the sheep.”
Adriyanus was saying that the sheep which is Klal Yisroel, is so great, for it stands against seventy nations that want to destroy it. Rabi Yehoshua replied that Hashem is the one Who protects us. This is not an exaggeration. If not for Hashem, the seventy wolves would have destroyed us.

Once more, I’ll repeat that I have a feeling that just like before World War II no one could imagine that there would be such hatred, so too, nowadays, no one can imagine such a thing. However, we have to realize that Hashem is the one Who protects us.

The Gemara (Sanhedrin 98b) relates that the talmidim asked Rabi Eliezer “What should a person do to be saved from the birth pangs of Moshiach?”

He answered, “One should occupy himself with Torah and chesed and that merit will stand for him for many generations to come.”

* * * * *

There is no comment on the above, except that I write this
as I gaze out my window at the sunny stillness that
permeates this Sunday afternoon.

Perhaps our people also saw such a peaceful afternoon one Sunday in 1942?

PS: Please read, Autistic Message: From Slavery to Freedom
from May 29 at
  • Yom Yerushalayim


    Not a day goes by that I do not think about my love, Yerushalayim.
    Thoughts of the stones, the sky, the air, the ancient buildings,
    thoughts of night-times spent gazing at the deep blue above with its white twinkling stars,
    pictures in my mind of the special beauty,
    pictures of the morning dew on struggling blades of green,
    the smell of the first rains after davening for them,
    the hustle bustle of its children on their errands,
    to and from school,
    and the older children of Hashem that also cherish the specialness,
    with a sigh, I sigh, hoping and waiting
    until I am reunited with my love, Yerushalayim.

    01 June 2008

    President Bush's Knesset Speech

    This was Bilaam all over again, Blessing our People's creation and purpose in the world. As a religious man, Pres Bush was speaking from the heart. He knew it was an historic opportunity, and it seems he heeded the Rabbis letter of warning to him. B"H Pres Bush allowed that aspect of him that is genuine and humble to guide him here.

    There were parts of his speech that were undoubtedly prophetic, and portions that were just plain "Bush" (concealing political innuendos).

    It was truly amazing to witness a modern-day king (although some dispute this) open his mouth, Bless our people, our purpose to the world, and what should be important to us. Surely, Hashem put those words out for all of us to hear and to take to heart.

    We have once again been given a directive from Hashem to live up to.
    Bless Hashem for allowing us to see/hear/read this again.

    Footnote: I wrote to some of my friends that I thought he sounded like Bilaam, and Hashem was speaking to us from the mouth of Pres Bush. I did not receive any comments back, in agreement or in disagreement. I wonder if they felt the same, but will never know.

    However just this Shabbos I read a statement made by Jack Engelhard, from Israel National News, that went like this:

    "The Arab leadership dismissed the speech as a betrayal and speaking for them was Yossi Beilin, who cited the speech as a "shame and a scandal." Beilin would havepreferred Bush to curse Israel, like the Balak of Scriptures, but instead


    who could not helphimself but heap praise ...."

    So, I guess there was someone else out there that saw what I saw.

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