Thursday, January 20, 2011

How to improve the world? Quick! In 140 characters or less.

... or so one could paraphrase the Edge Question 2011: "What scientific concept would improve everybody's cognitive toolkit?" Here, a "concept" is meant to be "a single cognitive chunk which can be used as an element in thinking and debate." I'm surprised none of the replies was about the limited use of single cognitive chunks. Going through the list, I was imagining how this debate would go:

Alter: "Humans are blind to many of the processes that shape their mental lives."
Wolpoff: "Garbage in, garbage out."
Hillis: "Think beyond cause and effect!"
Rucker: "The world is unpredictable."
Oxman: "It ain't necessarily so."
Harris: "We are lost in thought."

That is to say, I didn't find the 2011 question too inspiring. Predictably, a lot of the replies target science education. If only people would understand better probabilities (Paulos), possibilities (Hillis), uncertainty (Krauss), rspt the uselessness of certainty (Rovelli) and, gosh, if just everybody could learn to deal better with the unknown (Llyod), realized that a claim is scientific only to the extent that it can be disproved (Gardner), understood the virtue of negative results (Kelly), and knew the scientific concept (Tegmark), science (Randall), risk (Lisi), the use of controlled experiments (Hannay) and replicability (Knutson).

My answer to the question would have been along the same lines: "Finishing the Scientific Revolution." In a nutshell, as I've argued before, we're close to reaching a point where progress of our societies will stall unless the scientific method is used for applications of the social sciences (sociology, politics, economics). The previous mode of operation, trial and error, only gets you so far. When questions become increasingly complex, and there's not enough time to learn from mistakes, and errors are too devastating, more caution than trying and erring is necessary. When it comes to the systems that govern our lives this means we carefully need to disentangle questions of value that are a matter of opinion, and scientific questions about the working of the system. (This also applies to the academic system as we've discussed many times on this blog.)

Among the more amusing replies to the Edge 2011 question, there's psychologist Nicholas Humphrey who makes a case for the multiverse because it implies immortality, architect Stefano Boeri who reminds us that it's all about sex ("In every room, in every house, in every street, in every city, movements, relations and spaces are also defined with regards to logics of attraction-repulsion between the sexuality of individuals."), and Richard Thaler who suggests to use the term "Aether" for "convenient fictions able to "explain" some otherwise ornery facts" and name people who do so "Aetherists."

Scanning through the list, I see that German expressions are still en vogue among the intellectuals. Some suggestions for your cognitive toolkit are Umwelt (lit: "the world around," aka environment or sourrounding), Gedankenexperiment, and the Einstellung Effekt ("Einstellung" translates into "attitude," "hiring," or "adjustment.")

My prize for the most creative reply goes to Eric Weinstein. He suggests the concept of "Kayfabe," describing "an altered reality of layered falsehoods in which absolutely nothing can be assumed to be as it appears" and "a world in which fakery may reliably crowd out the genuine." This concept, so Weinstein argues, would allow us to understand much better what's happening on this planet, including what's going on in quantum gravity research:
"The decades old battle in theoretical physics over bragging rights between the "string" and "loop" camps would seem to be an even more significant example within the hard sciences of a collaborative intra-promotion rivalry given the apparent failure of both groups to produce a quantum theory of gravity."
Ouch.

My favorite replies are Rushkoff's who reminds us that technologies have biases, and that we shouldn't accept them as given but shape them to suit our needs rather than shape us to suit their needs, and Anthony Aguirre's who suggests the concept of a paradox as a starting point for insight.

80 comments:

Christine said...

we're close to reaching a point where progress of our societies will stall unless the scientific method is used for applications of the social sciences (sociology, politics, economics).

I do not believe that the scientific method can be used for that. And even if it could, which I doubt, no one would carry that program, because the world is "run" under internal, individual interests, and not towards any kind of "logical optimization of the masses", as you expect idealistically.

Leave the scientific method to the hard sciences; social sciences are a very different kind of beast, which in fact has a very little -- if at all -- influence on how the world really runs, except perhaps for injecting suspicious opinions on current and past events.

And it is not exactly about "trial and error". Politics does not run under that. It is simply about *power* and nothing less. It has always been like that, everywhere in the world, under whatever regimes. Only if you don't believe it, it may "look" like trial and error, because it's the way the consequences reaches you.

IMO.

Best,
Christine

Christine said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Christine said...

nothing less -> nothing more...

reaches -> reach...

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

”How to improve the world? Quick! In 140 characters or less.

Okay I’ll give it a try.

Improving the world requires care of action, found in considerations dependant on using only reasonable methodologies to assure quality.

From my count I had four characters to spare:-)

Best,

Phil

Christine said...

Here is my attempt:

"To improve the world, improve the human being."

Best,
Christine

Bee said...

Hi Christine,

As I explained at the end of that paragraph (and in the post I linked to), this isn't about competition between different interests, it's about a common interest, which is that the system is stable and fulfills its purpose. Nobody is helped with economic crisis or systemically caused inefficient use of money in academia. And people do already run that program, just look around. Before a tax or regulation is employed, there's studies about the possible impact. The Nobel prize in economics does have real world impact, and if you're planning on a mass event you ask somebody who knows about dynamics of crowds which security measures to take. Of course these studies are not done as rigorously and frequently as one wishes, so there's way to go. But in fact what I've been preaching is meanwhile so well on the way (see for example), I'm about to retire from my efforts. Best,

B.

Bee said...

I should have added the programs of science funding foundations supporting studies to figure out how they can improve on their review and funding process.

Steven Colyer said...

"What scientific concept would improve everybody's cognitive toolkit?"

I can think of several answers:

1) Increase funding for neural networking with the goal of increasing human intelligence via nanobots and chemical means and funding chaosticians and computer scientists to design said procedures. Actually, they're already doing this.

2) Make all schooling private. Government schooling tends toward communism and tenure, which then produces undereducated students best fit for collecting government funding. (99% of PhD's in Education agree: Education is a science.)

3) Increase the use of Microsoft products in the school system (Bill Gates asked me to say that.. software and Marketing are both sciences).

4) Remove everyone from the cities to the country, and institute a global suburbia. Cities tend to have high pollution and thus LOWER IQ's among the populace. For example: Los Angeles.

5) Electromagnetic pulse the city of Pilzn, The Czech Republic.

6) Kill the White people. (99% of non-Whites agree: Science is the problem, not the solution, and most Science came from White people). Wa-a-ait a minute, I'm a white people! Nevermind.

6b)Make alcohol possession and illegal drug possession punishable by death, except in Amsterdam. Burn all the marijuana fields in Mexico and poppy fields in Afghanistan.

7) Make me the King of the World, and I will institute meritocracy. Then I will employ everyone on the planet toward building cities on the moon. Then I'll kill the White people. (kidding!)

8) Institute Birthright Lotteries ala Larry Niven's Known Space-verse. Less people, less pollution. Less pollution, higher IQ's. See: 4), above

I even have some serious ideas, but for those you'll have to pay me. This bird chirps for seed. :-)

Christine said...

Hi Bee,

The problem that I see is that the "common interest" that you refer to is not as independent as one would desire, deep down it is still constrained by self-interest, because power is in the hands of few. If you bring the idea of democracy to the equation, it is senseless in a nation where the majority has no access to a good educational system and mostly made of ignorant people. The world as a whole have a lot to work in order to reach such an ideal, and I doubt it can be done under the scientific method.

We are not talking about mob dynamics here...

Concerning the link you mention, just by reading the first lines,

"provide powerful new ways to manage challenges that make the modern world"

makes me even more skeptical, because again, I question: what are we talking about? The world as a whole? Or the small group of developed countries? Sorry, but the way I see it, no one really cares about, e.g. Africa. Like, it's their problem! Sure, but there are historical issues that the developed countries want to forget.

"Financial crisis"? Only because now the rich countries tasted their own poison, they got so scared.

Thanks, Brazil went into crisis after crisis, but the latter "financial crisis" had little impact on us. Sorry, but it's kind of funny to see when whealthy people get scared when their own business get wrong. Specially when most of their wealth came at the expence of exploration of other societies.



Best,
Christine

Bee said...

Hi Christine,

I think we've had this discussion before. First, I've been saying this long before the financial crisis. Second, democracy is not a solution to everything, I never said that. Third: Self-interest *is* a common interest. We're all interested in getting what we want.

And sure, those who hold the power now aren't tremendously interested in changing the status quo. But it's happening, whether they want that or not. Best,

B.

Steven Colyer said...

Per:
"The decades old battle in theoretical physics over bragging rights between the "string" and "loop" camps would seem to be an even more significant example within the hard sciences of a collaborative intra-promotion rivalry given the apparent failure of both groups to produce a quantum theory of gravity."

Bee, you wrote:
Ouch.

That surprised you? The blowback from TTwP and NEW were such that, yes, Strings got less funding, at least here in the States. But there was collateral damage, meaning theoretical research in QED, QCD, QFT and QM were cut back as well. If Lee and Peter didn't know that was a risk when they wrote their books, they know now. Peter has admitted it, if I recall correctly from a post of his approx. 1 year or so ago.

But not to worry. Here comes the Institutes for Advanced Study to the rescue. You'll be fine.

Bee said...

It doesn't surprise me since I've met that sentiment before, but I don't think it's a very accurate picture of reality. The 'strings' and 'loops' folks I know get for the biggest part along pretty well. After all, they have a common interest, though they might differ in the chosen path to pursue it. Yeah, yeah, strings get less funding, but everyone does, no? Also, that wasn't the point Eric was making. He was saying, the bickering is vacuous since neither has produced results.

Uncle Al said...

End all mandated charity. [25 characters]

Beware of people grown comfortable within their ancestors' nightmares. Personal responsibility! March or die. Mediocrity is a vice of the doomed. Subsidized mediocrity is the death of the future.

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother Elitism insists the better is preferable to the worse. Diversity is mandated admission based upon disqualification. Lubricate progress with oil not sand.

Christine said...

Hi Bee,

I think we've had this discussion before.

Yes... We seem to saturate ourselves with the same questions from time to time, but in fact we have similar aims and concerns, just different histories. Very different... :) Hopefully, next time I will avoid repetitiveness, I promise! :)

Now, tell us your secret. With newborn twins, it is amazing that you are still able to read all that, write posts, link to the articles, etc. I suppose the babies are sleeping well and you have adequate help. I wonder how would be to have twins without many extra helping hands; I suppose that is not your case. Otherwise... tell us your secret!! :)

As I mentioned, I was able to work a bit after 2 or 3 months, before that I was in pain breastfeeding (it was very bad for me in the beginning; almost gave up breastfeeding! But then everything went out fine after the 1st month...). I was also quickly back to my previous fitness, like you (as it seems from your E8 t-shirt pictures), although with twins one would expect more time to recover. (Sorry for being off-topic, should have posted this in the other post thread)...

Best,

Christine

Eric said...

In the argument between Bee and Christine I would have to come down on Christine's side. I think it actually is not in the least bit revolutionary to say " bring science to the social aspects of our lives". It has been what scientists and objectivists have been arguing for since the Greeks. It plainly would bring about more equality for all and would not squander resources on wars etc.

But to me it is like saying everybody likes chocolate so all people should have access to chocolate at all times. This is actually something I'm a believer in. But what what does it really say? It is pretty empty of content. You can take this analogy more literally than it would seem on the surface. Because actually some people don't particularly like chocolate. I analogize these strange individuals to people with little empathy. They are the ones that Christine described that want power above all else. Just as there is a severe deficit in anyone who does not like chocolate there is also a severe deficit in these individuals; they don't have empathy for other people. They are bullies. As long as you have a significant portion of society that acts in this way all the reasonable people arguing for a more scientific approach will just be shunted aside.

After all, can you teach some bozo who doesn't like chocolate to somehow like it?

Steven Colyer said...

Hi Bee,

You wrote:
that wasn't the point Eric was making. He was saying, the bickering is vacuous since neither has produced results.

I understand, but what do people expect? At this point it has to be speculation. QG is called "the cutting edge" for a reason. It's still fascinating. I must be a masochist, torturing myself with unsolvable puzzles, given current engineering (which lags science by 30 years or so, generally speaking).

Anyway, maybe both theories are crackers! Maybe Loops are at a larger length scale and are made of string "bits," or vice versa, so they might both be right. Isn't that what Brian Greene suggested in his last book, based on conversation with Lee Smolin? Although I read somewhere that Lee's backed off that since?

Well, whatever, I'm not bloody up on Topos Theory or whatever maths it takes to understand Loops at present. At present I'm tackling the Stringy math which means Kahler-non-Kahler manifolds in Calabi-Yau and such.

How far, in your opinion, has LQG advanced since Lee wrote his last book? Same for causal dynamical triangulations, which George Musser calls Buckyspace.

I could ask about causal sets but those were enough questions for one day for Professor Bee, author of the future world-changing and Nobel prize winning Hossenfelder-Verkehrsreichsten Biene theory. ;-p

Well in any event, you made my day saying the two camps get along more than not. You can see what a different impression people could get if the only blogs they read on the subject were Woit's and Motl's.

Vielen dank, and where the heck is Stefan? You've got that boy hoppin', don't you? :-) That's right Stefan, when it comes to the babies, what Mama Bear says, goes.

Bee said...

Hi Eric,

If you think it's an empty concept, please read my earlier post. There's nothing 'empty' about asking for scientific evidence on eg the question whether a proposed change to the system will improve its stability or not, will improve its efficiency or not, etc. As I said, this isn't about questions of value. You still have to figure out whether you prefer stability or efficiency. That's a question science can't answer for you. What it ideally answers is what decision gets you what outcome. (That doesn't necessarily imply a prediction on the dynamics, but refers to the question what parameter ranges you ought to stay in for some mode of operation.) Yeah, people have talked about this since ancient times. But you need to be able to raise and deal with lots of data to understand social systems, so it's not until recently that these issues really became possible to tackle. Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Steven,

"I understand, but what do people expect? At this point it has to be speculation."

Yes, I think we share this point of view. Okay, there's been a long time little progress, but what do people expect? Well, they base their expectations on the past and expect the present to be the same, despite the fact that you only need to look out of the window (or on your screen for that matter) to see it ain't so. Observations are getting farther and farther away from our every day experience, it takes decades to design and build them. Now compare that to Einstein's times. I know it's frustrating since I too want to know how the story continues, but I think complaints of the sort 'all everybody working on the problem has produced must be bullshit because they still haven't solved the puzzle after all that time' are trivializations that only make matters worse. Best,

B.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

Now that I’ve had time to read many of the essays offered here, I would have to say the two which are most relevant to our current concern is the one by Douglas Rushoff (Technologies Have Biases)and the one of Garret Lisi’s (Uncalculated Risk). In fact if you combined them together it pretty much has our current epoch captured in a nutshell. However what Rushoff and Lisi each describe are merely symptoms rather than cause, with that coming down to the overwhelming majority in world not knowing what constitutes rational thought identifiable as logical reasoning.

This had it come to mind that in my elementary education I don’t recall ever being introduced to the subject of logic formally in respect to general reasoning, with the closest things being mathematics and science. These subjects however are in themselves simply incorporations of logical reasoning as it is applied, rather than the subject itself. So I guess what I’m saying is perhaps the study of logic in schools should be introduced as a subject earlier on and advanced all the way through as being a prerequisite; rather than something offered much later on and then only as a option. That is in this way perhaps Christine’s road block can be removed to then have your program realized.

” Whereas our argument shows that the power and capacity of learning exists in the soul already; and that just as the eye was unable to turn from darkness to light without the whole body, so too the instrument of knowledge can only by the movement of the whole soul be turned from the world of becoming into that of being, and learn by degrees to endure the sight of being and of the brightest and best of being, or in other words, of the good.”

-Plato, Allegory of the Cave from “The Republic” book VII/


Best,

Arun said...

I question: what are we talking about? The world as a whole? Or the small group of developed countries?

Listen to the interview on BBC of Dr Devi Shetty, linked on my website. Here.

It is almost a half-hour, but I think it is well worth the time.

Plato said...

Access to Information, is Knowledge Potential, and Potential is empowerment.

Plato said...

Paradox brings you too, point source?

All constraint's and measure have pointed to it's location? Now what are you going to do with it?

Best,

Don Foster said...

One could improve our cognitive tool-kit by providing the complete taxonomy of the term “information”. (102 characters and spaces)

Unlike the Eskimo and his snow, we are unpracticed at discriminating and communicating clearly about this core notion.

Steven Colyer said...

Good one, Don! Then again, we're unpracticed at discriminating and communicating clearly about anything.

Are there any aliens reading this? If so ...

HELP! Get me off this planet! I'm dying to meet intelligent life forms! There MUST be intelligent life SOMEwhere in this Universe! Because it's getting harder to find any here.

"What scientific concept would improve everybody's cognitive toolkit?"

We can start with improving brain health. That mean proper nutrition. The French seem to think they know best. Well, their women are skinny, are they not? In spite of all that cheese? It must be the wine. They give wine to their children. The children!

Well, alcohol can't be the answer. That causes more problems than it solves. What about complaining? The French complain a lot. Maybe that's the secret: Worry. Fret. Heck yeah. Eureka, I've found it!

In WHAT century has their been the most worry? The 20th, of course, thanks to Nuclear Weapons, thanks to Physics. And the 21st is getting off to a great start.

There may be hope for us yet!

Christine said...

The French seem to think they know best. Well, their women are skinny, are they not? In spite of all that cheese?

Poor American. So you really don't know? Cheese weights little in the equation. It's a question of lifestyle. Do you think that there is nothing wrong with the American lifestyle? All that processed food, in huge amounts, hours driving, hours in front of Tv and absurd working hours/ stress, all that with little or none exercising, no fruits, vegetables, etc (that's real food, surprised?), the result is pretty obvious...

Best
Christine

Don Foster said...

“The trouble with the French is they don’t have a word for entrepreneur.”

Spoken off-the-cuff by my earnest ex-president, dear soul.
Which brings to mind the possible cognitive improvement of an implanted device that beeps for BS.
I guess here the constant beeping might drive one crazy.

Steven Colyer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steven Colyer said...

Christine, pls don't knock the American diet. We know it's terrible. Too much carbohydrate. Too much bad carbohydrates (sugar and starches in fruits and veggies are best)in the form of processed and artificial sugars especially donuts and soft drinks. We know these things, ditto on the sloth lifestyle. However, pressure keeps one thin, it's like mental weightlifting. Best to manage that too.

I was actually COMPLIMENTING the French on their healthy (if inebriated) lifestyle, not insulting them, but for some reason you took that to launch an attack on America. Read betterer, thanks.

However I'm on board with the too much television thing. I watch very little, and only read/blog online for 2 hours per day, max. Hence ... my girlish figure. :-)

I should have said French bread, not cheese. Both of which I eat quite a bit of, but I'm always moving, so I work that off, and no soda or candy for me.

Don, what a wonderful idea. May it be invented one day. Until the, there's always the Presidential Debates, with the Spin-o-metric metronome beeper set on the fastest setting.

Christine said...

Hi Steven,

Sorry for the "attack", I read you well on the French people. Nor did I mean an "attack" against you particularly, you certainly are not an average American. :) It's my bad side emerging sometimes. Americans are a great people, and are aware of their problems. Sometimes I simply can't resist talking about bad habits. This is a bad habit of mine in itself. I'll control myself next time. :)

Best
Christine

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Christine,

“All that processed food, in huge amounts, hours driving, hours in front of Tv and absurd working hours/ stress, all that with little or none exercising, no fruits, vegetables, etc (that's real food, surprised?), the result is pretty obvious...”

All I can say in reply is to echo Groucho Marx when he was confronted with such embarrassing truths, which was to respond , “I’ll have you to know I resemble that remark!” The again I find it better being you are what you eat, than found to eat what you are; and thus knowing the distinction, since the first offers the ability to change while the latter not:-)

Best,

Phil

Steven Colyer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steven Colyer said...

No problem, Christine, I have the bad habit of having a chip on my shoulder paranoicly perceiving non-Americans attacking America. Maybe it has something to do with a guy from my high school days being a fireman in WTC Tower 2 on 9.11.01 when it collapsed, or Osama bin Douchebag's latest that 2 French journalists in captivity will be killed unless France withdraws its troops in Afghanistan. Oo-o-o, give me a machete and 2 wicker baskets (and a small cadre of US Navy Seals ... to cover my arse), and Barry Obama is getting 2 heads on his desk, Binny's, and the Egyptian doctor pal of his who must have been sleeping when he took the Hippocratic Oath: "Above all else, do nor harm." Jerks.

So are we agreed that proper nutrition is best way to increase EVERYone's mental health via physical health, therefore cognitive ability? That's my ride, anyway.

And Phil has a point. Groucho Marx. Reader's Digest is right: Laughter really IS the best medicine.

"Hey, can I borrow $12 ? I'll give you my 90-day note. If I don't pay you back in 90 days, you can keep the note."
... Groucho Marx, Duck Soup

And Paul Dirac and Wolfgang Pauli quotes

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Steven,

The thing I always admired about Groucho, is although he may at times had things entirely wrong, like Christine he would not only be the first to admit it, yet would happily depart the reason for his folly onto others. What is being attempted here is to find ways to have less folly and yet more wisdom.

However despite never being certain such a thing as entirely possible, yet I do remain convinced we can at least maximize our potential in such regard, that is if we strive to recognize the follies of those past and present as to avoid them being repeated; while being grateful to those having made them as to become evident. This then has reason not to act so much in judgement, yet rather as observation assisted discovery. Now I wonder where we could look to find as what would represent serving as being such a method ;-)

Best,

Phil

Phil Warnell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Phil Warnell said...

Hi Steven,

However the person I’ve always found to have imparted the most wisdom along with providing the greatest humour was yet another American, with that being Samuel Langhorne Clemens (A.K.A Mark Twain). I’ve often thought if all we could manage was to have people consider the world in respect to themselves as he did we would have all that’s required.

“ Humour must not professedly preach and it must not professedly teach, but it must do both if it would live forever”
-Mark Twain

Best,

Phil

Christine said...

So are we agreed that proper nutrition is best way to increase EVERYone's mental health via physical health, therefore cognitive ability? That's my ride, anyway.

Yes, we are agreed!

There is much more than nutrition, of course. Nutrition is only the beginning... of a lifestyle change.

About terrorism... it's overwhelming and so difficult to comment.

Best
Christine

Plato said...

Constraints on Information?

WHAT SCIENTIFIC CONCEPT WOULD IMPROVE EVERYBODY'S COGNITIVE TOOLKIT?

If the concept that technologies have biases were to become common knowledge, we would put ourselves in a position to implement them consciously and purposefully. If we don't bring this concept into general awareness, our technologies and their effects will continue to threaten and confound us.DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF

As most know my efforts have been to create the greater opportunity to advancement of positions people can gain by access too, information. Scientists who blog, scientific journals, science magazines, all in the hopes that such connections can fire the mind of the person "gaining" by accessing it.

Digital libraries and downloads are a point about which we would want to create the "larger impact" by however such knowledge can be vested so that all have the same opportunity whether by wealth or by it's limited valuation according to access by everyone. Access to the larger community of.

Why access and throttling, while creating the companies who piggy back off of infrastructure create a greater expense to what is become vastly differentiable as thirds world to information within our own countries.

The potential about the point at which, the probabilistic outcomes are realized, is that in the context of humanities "bulk consideration" such advancements will reach to all corners of the globe, by reaching that one person.

Best,

Plato said...

Previous comment did not show up.

Here is another one corresponding too, that is in concert too the "Hidden reality" by Frank Wilczek. "Intricacies of perspective" when they go deep enough.

Best,

Eric said...

Steven, I don't think it pays to make a big division between non-Americans and Americans making criticisms against us. To me it seems like that will just get you upset at a "fer'ner" while being ok with a U.S.A. Citizen making the same argument.

When it comes to terrorism I think people tend to make a too arbitrary distinction between individual terrorism and state sponsored terrorism. In both cases innocent people suffer. In both cases people suffer and die in situations they played no part in creating. The only constant in all these things is "something" that one side did precipitated the inappropriate action by the other side.

Moe hits Larry, Larry hits Curly, and Curly is screwed. But even Curly will someday get his, so don't be fooled. It really bothers me to completely agree with Chistine on this, but I agree that to create a better world you have to make better people.

Christine said...

It really bothers me to completely agree with Chistine on this,

Do not get bothered, at least not because of me!

I also asked forgives to Steven on my previous dry criticism. I have nothing against Americans.

Best,
Christine

Christine said...

So how to improve people?

Eric said...

No worries Christine. I was just trying to avoid making it seem like you and me were teaming up against others who might have different opinions. So a little pretense that I hate being on your side (I don't) never hurts.

How to Improve people? I think now we're getting at the fundamental question.

Robert L. Oldershaw said...

Wow, that Kayfabe essay is a gem.

Many people want to be fooled.

Pro wrestlers who wanted to go back to honest sport would shunned and kept out of the game.

Hmmmm. Are humans rational beings?

RLO

Eric said...

Robert, I think you misread what I said. I was pretty sure people might take my agreeing about the U.S with Christine, who is from Brazil, as being disloyal to my country. I tried to soften the blow by acting like i hated agreeing with it.

I don't. I'm pretty sick of my country's covert operations around the world that 99% of the population here doesn't know or even care about. We have screwed all over, or overthrown governments that don't agree with us. When the chickens come home to roost in the form of "individual" terrorism everyone here goes around like chickens with their heads cut off. And of course the individuals who are killed in these terrorist attacks by either nation states or by groups of individuals never deserved any of the violence done to them. So it just seems ridiculous to me when Americans start the clock with 9/11, as if there was no history that precipitates these individual attacks. People are just so completely self centered, stupid, and unable to see things from other than their own cloistered environment. So I think Christine accidentally, and I may be wrong about her, accidentally spoke a little more truth than most Americans can handle.

Above all I'm against violence. None of the victims of state sponsored, or individual terrorist attacks deserved what happened to them. But that does not mean those terrorist attacks weren't completely predictable acts based on previous events. Everybody gets mad about something and they don't chose a target based on who violated them in the past, but instead base it on what target is most convenient for what they want. They just use their anger as an excuse. It happens everywhere and it is thoroughly disgusting.

Steven Colyer said...

Rob Oldershaw writes:
Pro wrestlers who wanted to go back to honest sport would shunned and kept out of the game.

Right on, and when all else fails, there's ... Politics! Jesse "The Body" Ventura, former Governor of Minnesota. Righteous. :-) And then there's the Governator ...

Christine wrote:
Yes, we are agreed!
There is much more than nutrition, of course. Nutrition is only the beginning... of a lifestyle change.


Agreed all around. Cognition means a healthy brain therefore a healthy body. Now look how much of the world doesn't have enough food to eat, many for whom even eating ONCE a day is a cause of celebration. "Self-actualization" isn't an issue with them. The stuff way down the ladder of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs are daily, long-term, even (short)life-long issues with 50% of the World's population, if not more. And we complain about wage slavery and hold conferences on Cognition?! :-)


Eric, I'll be getting to you shortly. You are one angry young man, or an angry young man trapped in an old man's body. Good. Be pissed. Be very pissed, cuz there's much work to be done. In the meantime, watch the film "1776" (a musical about the legal wrangling during the month of June, 1776 in Independence Hall, Philadelphia), read the book "Mayflower", about King Phillips War, the book "1776" about the first year of the US Army, then read Gore Vidal's "Imperial America", and "The People's History of the United States." Then listen to two songs by Billy Joel: "We Didn't Start the Fire" and "Angry Young Man." That should keep you busy. :-p

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Eric, Steven & Robert,

I think if you could gauge the world today for having a sense of humour, it would indicate it registering one of the lowest levels in all of recorded history. This becoming ever the more evident in an age which doesn’t understand satire as something introspective, yet only to find reality shows not acting as mirrors held up in the face of society, yet rather serving as its blueprint.

”I read in the newspapers they are going to have 30 minutes of intellectual stuff on television every Monday from 7:30 – 8:00 to educate America. They couldn’t educate America if they started at 6:30.”

-Groucho Marx

Best,

Phil

Christine said...

Hmm? Some hours away from the internet and after a good sleep, what do I find here? Just because of some previous notes on American lifestyle (average, general) and now look how that has evolved into. Calm down, people. And please do not extrapolate on whatever directions based on my short previous general observations. Thanks,

Christine

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Christine,

That’s exactly what I was trying to say, is we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously. That is I’ve always believed as Groucho did, that being able to laugh at yourself and share that with the rest of the world might not provide an answer and yet certainly at least a good beginning.

Best,

Phil

P.S. For those not familiar the link displays part of the closing ceremony at the 2010 winter Olympics hosted in Vancouver, Canada.

Kay zum Felde said...

Hi Bee,

I think one should endow everyone with the basic principles of science in order to receive understanding for science and for its importance in everyday life.

Best, Kay

Plato said...

Hi Phil,

For those not familiar the link displays part of the closing ceremony at the 2010 winter Olympics hosted in Vancouver, Canada.

Watching the closing ceremonies gave me a good chuckle too, about perspectives people can have, about, the countries one lives in.

While I cannot partake of the Youtube imaging because of constraints applied by my link to the world from my rural locations, what you provide by link, links to vast reserves of information data transfers that link to all part of the country/world, leaves no one short of the privilege to see the world as it can be seen by such videos connections encapsulated in the humour of.

So being involved in such movements help to shape perspective, as well as helps to shape the world. (The Medium is the....):)

How to improve the world?

Best,

Plato said...

Hi Steven,

The stuff way down the ladder of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs are daily, long-term, even (short)life-long issues with 50% of the World's population, if not more. And we complain about wage slavery and hold conferences on Cognition?! :-) (Link added by me within Steven's quote). Thanks Steven

That was hilarious, not to make fun of the situation one can deem themself according too, as in the state of the economy, but of the realization that such a state can afford such humour about one's situation?:)

Indeed, a much more hopeful place to be in which to move forward and hope for the best. Thanks for the action of humour incorporated.

Best,

Bee said...

Hi Kay,

What are "the basic principles of science?" Best,

B.

Steven Colyer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steven Colyer said...

Bee, regarding the 2 essays you liked:

Rushkoff:
Our widespread inability to recognize or even acknowledge the biases of the technologies we use renders us incapable of gaining any real agency through them. We accept our iPads, Facebook accounts and automobiles at face value — as pre-existing conditions — rather than tools with embedded biases.

-Automobiles - I use them to get from point a to point b, so I already use them as a tool
- iPad, iPhone - Don't own them, Apps are for the terminally bored. Cellphones I use as a tool, to communicate, nothing more.
- Facebook - Will never use it. I have the 5 friends any one person can have without being overwhelmed timewise: My wife and kids. Any extra friends are gravy. Appreciated, but "loneliness" is not my problem. Facebook is an unnecessary timesuck. Network with real people. Immediacy is intimacy.

In short, I can't relate. Media is no longer the message, it is the manipulation. Be critical.

Aguirre's essay I liked very much. Paradox, heh. Well, that's WHY we wish to increase cognition; the most cognitive are already thinking in terms of paradox anyway. What are the problems? How do we explain them, then, how do we solve them?

Feed the world by giving them jobs. Give them jobs that work toward a goal, permanent jobs with clearly defined outcomes, not "busy work."

Build cities on the moon. That should keep everyone busy, off the streets and out of trouble, with full bellies.

Bee said...

Hi Steven,

Rushkoff's sentence you're quoting is a similar argument to the one Lanier is making in his recent book which we discussed here. As I wrote there, I'm not too convinced of this argument either. But the point in case is that we make technologies for us and we don't have to accept them as given if we don't like them.

I'll give you an example of what I mean. I recall some time back (might be some years) there was a discussion on CV on the impoliteness and general lack of respect, down to outright disgusting behavior you find pretty much anywhere people can comment anonymously. Somebody who complained about this behavior was told "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." This would mean pretty much that all people who value politeness and like to be respected better not use the internet. Of course this is nonsense. We don't have to accept these things if we don't like them, we can change them. But this comment nicely sums up the attitude Rushkoff is arguing against.

The reason I think it's good Rushkoff makes this point is that this passive acceptance is a general disease of our times. I suspect it's some believe in self-organization automatically being to our best (the invisible hand!) that leads people to think if they don't feel comfortable in the modern times it's their fault for not fitting in rather than their fault for not changing the world. Best,

B.

Steven Colyer said...

So in essence: develop a tough skin? That's my ride, but I wasn't always that way. Experience really is the best teacher. I do feel bad for the youth today. To "fit in" (and they all want to - we wanted to) they have to develop a certain sarcastic (rude) attitude and keep up with the modern technology.

Back to Aguirre (and read Sam Harris' bit above his - Sam also speaks of Paradox):

How can thermodynamics' second law arise unless cosmological initial conditions are fine-tuned in a way we would never accept in any other theory or explanation of anything?

How can it? I don't know, which is sometimes the only Honest answer, as "Because that's the way it is" sounds horribly anthropic. :-)

Um, sorry to bring "Physics" into the discussion. But like you said, the initial Edge question itself is horribly obtuse, hence the wide range of answers. It was posed by a Psychologist, in whose field "Cognition" is a specialty.

Psychology is so very young, and the stark truth is we may simply not have enough data to answer the question. Medicine, brain research, computer science, and mathematics in the form of Chaos theory will have to be far more developed than they currently are in order to answer the question.

We're getting there. Someday.

Kay zum Felde said...

Hi Bee,

the "basic principles of sciences" are the basic laws of science, especially physics.

Not many people know them and thus make errors in everyday life. For example, they don't know deterministic chaos theory principles and thus have no idea what could happen at the stock exchange markets. But they should know if they want to put their money into it.

Best, Kay

Don Foster said...

"How can thermodynamics' second law arise unless cosmological initial conditions are fine-tuned in a way we would never accept in any other theory or explanation of anything?"

Golly, this doesn't make any sense to me, another major gap in my understanding. Is the 2nd law somehow emergent, arising from and dependent upon some more fundamental substrate?
What a notion.

Bee said...

Hi Don,

Sean Carroll wrote a whole book about this issue. Best,

B.

Steven Colyer said...

I hear you Bee, but I'm not sure you understand Don's comment, that is to say WHY he asked the question. I'm not sure why Don asked it either, so I ask Don to explain in more detail, so:

Don, by saying "it doesn't make any sense" to you, did you mean:

1) Entropy doesn't make any sense to me,

or

2) I understand Entropy, I just don't understand Aguirre's question re same.

I'm thinking it was 2), but I'm also thinking you think Don meant 1).

I accept Entropy; we Mechanical Engineers get a strong dose of it in our Junior undergraduate years when we take Thermodynamics II, and I would like to respond to Don's comment, but I'm not sure which he meant so I won't respond until Don responds.

Regardless, I wish Aguirre would have worded that better. I don't expect Physicists to write well. For example, even though I think Seth Lloyd is brilliant, he is also every Editor's worst nightmare when he submits prose for publication. :-)

Zephir said...

IMO the basic principle of science is the geometry of nested fluctuations insided of dense particle gas, i.e. the aether. Even the most recent concepts, like the E8 theory, entropic and/or emergent gravity appear derived from it.

Don Foster said...

Thanks Bee, I will look into that.

Steven, thanks. Hard to say exactly how much I understand entropy. Certainly I lack the detail offered by mathematics, though think I understand Shannon’s H theorem. I guess my understanding is more of an assemblage of exemplars.
In any case, I took the 2nd law to be somehow part of the fundamental fabric and am perplexed that perhaps it is not.
Or perhaps I did not understand the import of the quotation.
Regards.

Eric said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steven Colyer said...

Hi Don,

It is an assumption that the H-theorem's coarse-graining is not getting rid of any 'interesting' information. With such an assumption, one moves firmly into the domain of predictive physics: if the assumption goes wrong, it may produce predictions which are systematically and reproducibly wrong.

Don't ask me to explain what that means, I ripped that straight from the the Wikipedia entry on the subject, however the wording reminds me that to end the controversy, and because the word "assumption" is in there, it's time to call the Professional Philosophers in, see? Because that's their job, to question assumptions logically, but MORE importantly, they themselves have to be taught the Science of Thermodynamics to be of any use. George Musser via Lee Smolin I believe taught me that.

Back to Aguirre. He is a cosmologist so of course he's going to relate back to the big bang and seek the answer there. It's a million dollar question, and very, very theoretical. We cannot prove what the heck happened in the first bazillionth second due to Uncertainty, so the whole foundational question is and probably will be always highly speculative.

What does "fine tuning" mean? Who tuned it? Forget "Why?" that's too advanced, but of course that doesn't stop people from asking it.

Big Bang or Big Crunch? Penrose sees bubbles where others see unicorns and rainbows and others still chaotic noise. Shrug, who knows? We need better data and the Pros from Astronomical Dover are working on it now, and will report back in a couple or few years. So I'm not worried.

Don Foster said...

Steven, thanks, to recap:

“How can thermodynamics' second law arise unless cosmological initial conditions are fine-tuned in a way we would never accept in any other theory or explanation of anything?

Here’s how I translate that: The second law of thermodynamics would not exist as we know it without certain prior conditions being set to particular values in an unacceptably improbable fashion.

My surprise is to find the 2nd law in such tenuous circumstance.

For what it’s worth, here is more on my apprehension of the concept of entropy.

1) Discussions of entropy in terms of order have logical pitfalls and are best avoided.
2) Entropy is best characterized in terms of the degree of dispersion/disassociation of energy between states.
3) Shannon entropy is a measure of the degree of disassociation between one portion of a signal and another. It is a particular index that is useful to communication engineers, but not a comprehensive measure of information.

Ah, now I see implicit the concept of “state” something that had not occurred to me (and that I may not properly convey). Nature must provide the slate upon which states can be written. That is, nature must have sufficient degrees of dimensional freedom to effectively discriminate between states, hence some prior symmetry breaks.
Hope this at least makes some sense.
Regards.

Don Foster said...

Well, yes.
It also occurs to me that the second law of thermodynamics can be roughly encapsulated in the notion that whenever energy is asked to “turn” not all if it makes the corner. Much of what you hear in the world around you is a case in point. The rustle of leaves, the sound of engines or squeal of brakes, the list would be lengthy. These are all little bits of energy that have jumped track at some point of turning and are leaking away as sound.
A rigorous definition of “turning” would likely make this true enough for all practical purposes.

Steven Colyer said...

Don, I believe the word you are looking for is "equilibrium", the ability of nature to achieve something without conscious thought.

We can't all be photons. :-)

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Steven,

As far as I’ve been able to gather equilibrium is a distribution that matter and energy seeks to attain, which nature serves to deny, beginning with what is called the big bang and perpetuated through exponential expansion that’s referred to as a consequence of the presence of dark energy. The thing about entropy is it has been duly quantified and yet still eludes to be aptly qualified.

Best,

Phil

Steven Colyer said...

Hi Phil,

you wrote:
equilibrium is a distribution that matter and energy seeks to attain, which nature serves to deny,

Huh, what? Nature ain't denying nothing. Equilibrium (via entropy maximization given local constraints) is nature. To deny one's self ... that takes Humanity! :-)

"For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled." ... Richard Feynman, Member, The Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident

Don Foster said...

“I believe the word you are looking for is "equilibrium", the ability of nature to achieve something without conscious thought.”

Steven, do you mean “equilibrium” as opposed to my term “turnings”?
I don’t think so. Thermodynamic equilibrium is a hothouse plant, a conceptual artifact of thermodynamics; it blooms only with exacting care and is actually anomalous in nature. Well, I guess it is as real as the horizon line, but who’s been there?
And attributing “conscious thought” to nature is figurative, right?
But no, what appeals to me about the notion of “turnings” is that it is something out of ordinary experience that may have very deep analogs in physics. For example, a symmetry break might be seen as a turning.

“As far as I’ve been able to gather equilibrium is a distribution that matter and energy seeks to attain, which nature serves to deny, …”

Phil, for what it is worth, as a broad organizing principle, I think there is working utility in the notion that energy has a direct counterpoise in nature (bless its warm and fuzzy little head).
Regards.

Phil Warnell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Phil Warnell said...

Hi Steven,

You said: ”Nature ain't denying nothing. Equilibrium (via entropy maximization given local constraints) is nature.”

The thing is it appears entropy may itself prevent equilibrium from being achieved as to continuously expand the global restraints.

”Following the above arguments to their logical conclusion, the accelerated expansion rate is the inevitable consequence of the entropy associated with the holographic information storage on a surface screen placed at the horizon of the universe.”.

-Damien A. Easson, Paul H. Frampton, George F. Smoot “Entropic Accelerating Universe”, arXiv:1002.4278

Best,

Phil

Steven Colyer said...

Hi Phil,

OK, OK, I guess some "definition of terms" are in order. There's only about 9-10 different definitions of "phenomenology" for example, depending on which field you're in, and don't get me started on the many different definitions of the word "metric" there are, cuz I can't count that high.

Equilibrium. I'm not talking about the Chemistry definition, but even there if you look close enough the particles are moving. Fast. Eventually, everything dissipates. "Decoherence" is the technical term. Another multiple-definition word that should be context dependent.

On the blackboard though, equilibrium is forever. Cows are interesting, but a perfectly spherical one in a vacuum behaves in predictable ways, yes? :-)

A blackboard can make time stop, that's a cool thing about it. But entropy is totally time-dependent. Without conscious thought, anything IN a state of equilibrium bides its time to break out. Remove the sides of the container for example, remove the constraints and the gas expands. Why? Because. Physics! Because that's the way it is. Sorry if that answer fails to suffice, it doesn't make me happy either, but that's our Universe for ya!

Hi Don,

If you insist on following through with information entropy, may I suggest reading John Baez' work on Algorithmic Entropy at Azimuth and This Week's Finds? It's not an area of expertise I have at the moment, though it's a medium-term goal. Also, have you read Seth Lloyd's "Programming the Universe", and what did you think of it if so?

If you wish to talk shop, what I believe you're looming for is
a statistical mechanical derivation of Kahler-Einstein metrics, i.e. solutions to Einstein's vacuum field equations in Euclidean signature (with a cosmological constant) on a compact Kahler manifold X. The microscopic theory is given by a canonical free fermion gas on X whose one-particle states are pluricanonical holomorphic sections on X (coinciding with higher spin states in the case of a Riemann surface). A heuristic, but hopefully physically illuminating, argument for the convergence in the thermodynamical (large N) limit can be given, based on a recent mathematically rigorous result about exponentially small fluctuations of Slater determinants. Relations to effective bosonization and the Yau-Tian-Donaldson program in Kahler geometry are pointed out. The precise mathematical details will be investigated elsewhere.

OK, Don, I'm just kidding you. I don't what that all means.* What scares me is I understand 80% of it, the scary part being the 20% I don't know. Scarier still is that a year ago I wouldn't have understood 70% of it, but self-studying, while slower than learning at a qualified teaching institution, helps MUCH. Keep plugging away and maybe we'll make a contribution someday, but until then there's a whole lot of studying to do; to learn that which is already known, to prevent us from wasting our time investigating that which has already been investigated, etc.

* - The Kahler-Einstein metrics stuff above is basically the abstract from a paper by Robert J. Berman, here. Being Joe WebSurfHead, I somehow found that by exploring Causal Dynamical Triangulations at Spires, in particular this paper by Ambjorn, Gorlich, Jurkiewicz, and Loll.

Don Foster said...

Cows? Funny you should bring that up!

First Steven, great, thanks for good reading. Will follow up as you suggest. Seth Lloyd's "Programming the Universe" sounds interesting.

So you mentioned cows and in that regard would appreciate you thoughts on the following.

Walking in West Texas, I have noticed that the range cattle here appear to know some physics. Their trails across uneven terrain seem to follow the path of least energy expenditure.

Now the steps making up these paths are not taken randomly, each subtle turning relates to those that have proceeded, those that follow and ultimately to a goal on given terrain.

Entropy as a metric is “path independent” and equivalently, Shannon’s index of information is meaning independent. The basic H theorem extracts and discards as redundancy any relationship of one step to another, yet it is this “redundancy” that conveys relational information that ties traveler to terrain.

Information entropy is a measure of disjunction, of one thing as separate from another, yet surely there is another dimension to information that is about connection and relationship because it is here that the path emerges and path is the lively thing.

I don’t believe this notion is captured in Shannon’s mutual information. There are many more exotic measures of both information and entropy, perhaps you have all ready pointed in that direction.

In any case, as you may have noticed, I myself am more comfortable on a terrain of metaphor than mathematics. That's not an apology, just a constraint with which I am comfortable.

Steven Colyer said...

Then you should like this Physics joke, from Wiki:

Spherical cow is a metaphor for highly simplified scientific models of reality. The phrase comes from a joke about theoretical physicists:

Milk production at a dairy farm was low so the farmer wrote to the local university, asking help from academia. A multidisciplinary team of professors was assembled, headed by a theoretical physicist, and two weeks of intensive on-site investigation took place. The scholars then returned to the university, notebooks crammed with data, where the task of writing the report was left to the team leader. Shortly thereafter the farmer received the write-up, and opened it to read on the first line: "Consider a spherical cow in vacuum. . . ."

Like any mathematical joke, it is told in many variants.

In Russian, a spherical horse in vacuum from a joke about predicting race results is well known and is widely used common parlance.

The point of the joke is that physicists will often reduce a problem to its simplest form in order to make calculations more feasible, even though such simplification may hinder the model's application to reality.

Plato said...

The Navier-Stokes equations are also of great interest in a purely mathematical sense. Somewhat surprisingly, given their wide range of practical uses, mathematicians have yet to prove that in three dimensions solutions always exist (existence), or that if they do exist they do not contain any infinities, singularities or discontinuities (smoothness). These are called the Navier-Stokes existence and smoothness problems. The Clay Mathematics Institute has called this one of the seven most important open problems in mathematics, and offered a $1,000,000 prize for a solution or a counter-example.


In time.....such Equilibrium could have found it's counter part pointing toward the beginnings of the early universe as a "vicissitude of the process toward singularity and previous info universe transfer?"

That would not be "outside of time" as it relates to a "point source?"

Best,:)

Plato said...

At the recent seminar, the LHC’s dedicated heavy-ion experiment, ALICE, confirmed that QGP behaves like an ideal liquid, a phenomenon earlier observed at the US Brookhaven Laboratory’s RHIC facility. This question was indeed one of the main points of this first phase of data analysis, which also included the analysis of secondary particles produced in the lead-lead collisions. ALICE's results already rule out many of the existing theoretical models describing the physics of heavy-ions.

See: 2010 ion run: completed!

Steven Colyer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steven Colyer said...

Navier-Stokes, indeed. NO discontinuities?! Keep dreaming. The "last unsolved problem in Classical Newtonian Physics" will never be solved, more than likely. IF however there is a chance to solve it, albeit a small one, then study String Theory Mathematics.

"Huh, what!?" Now clean up that coffee you just spilled, Peter Woit, and allow me to explain.

Even if it turns out that String Theory fails with a capital F to the A to the I to the L as a TRUE description of Physical Reality (redundant), it NEVERTHELESS has added greatly to the field of Mathematics.

So it's in the History books, Strings are. In particular, look at Kahler Manifolds. No I won't link to it, a little self-study never hurt anyone. Figure it out for yourself. A good overview of Kahler and non-Kahler manifoldi can be found in the bookstores or at Amazon in the book The Shape of Things by Yau and Nadis.

Don Foster said...

Steven, thanks, "CDT—an Entropic Theory of Quantum Gravity", in so far as I can read it with my finger tips,seems pretty exciting. Mathematics is pretty amazing, but for me, as they say, "a man's gotta know his limitations".