All posts for the month October, 2010

The problem of scientific privilege when it comes to knowledge is pretty much the raison-d’etre of the Psybertron blog since 2001. Scientism. Originally, this arose from concerns in business & organizational management …. my manifesto says:

” … management mistook itself for a science.”

Of course the imperative to make a blog of it was the realization that the organization, management, governance, even democratic self-governance of human activities in general, including science and academia themselves, were suffering the same mistake. Western rational arrogance prompting mid-eastern irrational terrorist reaction of 9/11 was simply the final straw that catalysed the action. Those same circumstances have also created the whole god vs science debates of the past decade. (Still current in the church and state separation debates of the US mid-term elections right now.)

This week’s Thinking Allowed was accompanied by Laurie’s comic newsletter “My Life as a Management Consultant” …. the joke, the gibberish, the ring of truth supported by sounding or claiming to be “scientific”, even science itself.

“Science’s First Mistake – Delusions in Pursuit of Theory”
by Ian Angell and Dionysios Demetis.

Ian Angell interviewed by Laurie Taylor in the second item in this week’s program, some snippets that caught my attention.

Gravity, even just causation in general is a myth. Causation is in your head. It is one of the delusions of science. Delusion in pursuit of theory.

The so far so good fallacy of seeing science as simply contingent, where as it is plain wrong. Jumping from the top of a ten story building and shouting “So far so good” to witnesses on each floor. (Steve McQueen in The Magnificent Seven)

The model changes the world, there is no linear model. Game theory behaviour in action. If DNA is valid forensic science, then any rational criminal simply spreads confusing foreign DNA samples over their crime scene.

The nonsense of scientific models of economic processes. The nonsense – thorough absurdity – of scientific denial of religion. The nonsense of CERN and LHC, and unified theories.

Our model has distinct “objects”, for cognitive reasons, but the world itself does not. Objectivity is a myth. Even numbers.

Julian Huxley (?) “Attempts to prove the truth of religion scientifically is like attempting to explain that the world is round musically.”

Every topic the subject of countless posts here on Psybertron. Excellent.

[Post Note .... and in fact Ian Angell has a WordPress blog too .... Reality Revisited .... where the book can also be downloaded. Reading this article from his LSE web page you might not see him as agnostic as he claims to be, but he is clearly riled-up against scientistic smugness.]

When watching last week’s BBC Horizon, I was disappointed to see the singularity and inflation still at the root of big bang theories. That’s despite the fact that two key subjects were brought up very early – causation itself (which is actually not discussed further), and the logical problem with the idea of time itself before the universe existed, if the whole universe (including time) does start with the big bang. So I watched it again.

OK, good to hear that it is mainstream to think that the current “universe” is a region of space-time that arose (through a big-bang event) in a pre-existing super-multi-universe …. hooray, multi-verses are no longer a quantum hack, they are indeed connected by time and n-dimensional space and the laws of physics. (Interesting that people just put aside the “first-cause” problem – in accepting pre-existing / always-existed super-universe and of many possible adjacent and successive universes, no beginning, no end, but hey, ho.) Weak to suggest this is an evolutionary / Darwinian model simply because this (each) universe has an ancestor, chicken and egg, unless there is also some evidence of genetic inheritance, but an attractive analogy. [Post Note : genetic inheritance is one part of Rick's argument - see links below. The new universe does inherit from the state (asymmetries / constants / boundary conditions / etc.) of physical laws from the previous one in which the bang occurs - so no mystery on meaningless coincidences (except first-cause of course).]

But why, oh why, to keep looking for radical speculative solutions to the “cause” of the big bang, without going back to existing known physics explanations, that were only dropped to make way for inflation / size and dark-matter / energy / cosmological-constant discrepancies in deriving the standard model ? (Negative gravity, events inside black-holes, collisions between branes, you name it ?)

Mersini-Houghton’s wave solution sounded the most convincing, but not clear why string-theory was mentioned ? Insufficient material in the programme to know anything about the actual theory she is using other than first-principle-wave-equations with no physical boundary conditions. [* Post Note: Boscovich UFT ?]

(Roll-call : Kaku, Linde, Singh,  Smolin, Turok, Penrose, Nichol, Giaimi, Mersini-Houghton)

Actually I only went back to this previous edition of Horizon on-line because of a random Facebook contact with Rick Ryals today, that led me to look back at his three key knols and the various arxiv references from there (below). Having got rid of the “preposterous” conjectures, the cosmologists need to wind back to fundamental physics in the one consistent super-multi-universe again. We’ve got so focussed on the “creation” god vs science debate in the current climate, that we have failed to notice that the workings of the current super / multi-universe are no longer dependent on any attempt to explain something from nothing. Cosmologists have forgotten that they’re not really physicists. Something rather than nothing is still a massively interesting question, but not a scientific one thank god.

Physics is science, and cosmogeny is metaphysics or theology again. Phew!

Rick’s links …. the order of reading is important …
Or if you can read only one, read How Politics Kills Science

Rick Ryals’ – Einstein’s Universe, No “Biggest Blunder”
Rick Ryals’ – Goldilocks Enigma, Cosmological Constant from First Principles 
**>> Rick Ryals’ – Anthropic Principle, How Politics Kills Science
Brandon Carter’s - seminal work on Anthropic Principles
Richard Lieu - cosmology is groping in the dark unscientifically
Larry Kraus - the energy of empty space that isn’t zero
P Z Myers, Jerry Coyne & Sam Harris – Religion Pollutes Science
Peter Rowlands’ Dirac ReWrite – From Zero to Infinity

And that Larry Kraus quote, quoted by Rick from the above,

“… there appears to be energy of empty space that isn’t zero! This flies in the face of all conventional wisdom in theoretical particle physics. It is the most profound shift in thinking, perhaps the most profound puzzle … … when we look out at the universe, there doesn’t seem to be enough structure — not as much as inflation would predict … … when you look at CMB (Cosmic Microwave Background) map, you also see that the structure that is observed, is in fact, in a weird way, correlated with the plane of the earth around the sun. Is this Copernicus coming back to haunt us? That’s crazy. We’re looking out at the whole universe. There’s no way there should be a correlation of structure with our motion of the earth around the sun — the plane of the earth around the sun — the ecliptic … … telling us that all of science is wrong and we’re the center of the universe, or maybe the data is simply incorrect, or … maybe there’s something wrong with our theories on the larger scales.”

“Our” theories notice. Our position as observers on earth IS privileged (as observers that is, observers that had to be here because of the laws of physics, but not because of us as creators, except insofar as we “construct” our world-view, yes, even you physicists and theologians; philosophers already knew it).

[Post Note : updated Rick's links since Google Knol went down, and highlighted the key link.]

Of no great significance … but last weekend we had a Class of 72 reunion of Guisborough Grammar School, and next weekend “we are flying down to Rio” for a conference and a few days R&R. Yesterday that “Rio” meme led me to dig out and play Roxy Music’s Virginia Plain. Today I see Bryan Ferry interviewed about his latest album Olympia, which of course mentions that original hit and ends with a photo of Ferry performing Virginia Plain, in the summer of ’72.

[Post Note: piling on the coincidences ... Steve Brooks someone I've not seen in almost 40 years until the reunion two weeks ago, mentioned above, turns up at a Hamsters gig in Normanby last night. Turns out he's not only a long term Hamsterhead, he's also the owner of a left-hand drive US sports car; an AC Cobra in his case. Great performance by  Sza Sza's 17 year-old nephew Matt Billups on drums standing in for Rev Otis, whose heart-op looks like it was successful yesterday. Only caught half the set, due to flying in from my Oslo trip, but they were on form. Last time I saw them - other than the Mad, Bad & Dangerous gigs with Wilko - was at The Brook in Southampton, and they seemed stale and tired, so it was great to hear Slim on form.]

A couple of years old, this New Scientist article on how brain activity is on “the edge of chaos”, in a state of “self-organized-criticality”. Neatly joins up two adages, of life being just complicated enough and the sweet spot being at the edge of chaos.

Hat tip to Johnnie Moore for his link via this Transversalinflections blog, which picks up on the analogue (in the original article) to the firing of neurones being akin to the periodic avalanches on a progressively growing sand-pile. Designing to meta-stability being an art. A question of scalable efficiency in massively granular & connected systems …. maximum effect for the smallest input …. a whole world in a grain of sand. (The tennis player returning the unreturnably fast service, the mis-timed leg-breaker in football, the control systems of unstable aircraft, etc …)

Research on psychedelics as part of the neuroscience of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy is not new, but activity seems to be growing in this space again. Four blog links here from a couple of months ago, that bring a number of threads into one place.

and a potted summary from Neurophilosophy.
Plus the Shulgin (Erowid) PiKHaL and TiKHaL references.

Interesting reading whatever your perspective.

Excellent edition of Start The Week this morning guided by Andrew Marr, in stark contrast to John Humphrys’ incompetence interviewing his victims on the Today programme immediately before. Let’s hope we can forget Humphrys and talk about the balanced Religion vs Politics discussion between Stanley Hauerwas, Mary Warnock, Ray Tallis and John Gummer.

Note Start The Week is not podcast, so you’ll need to catch the repeat this evening.

Too much to summarize effectively beyond The Golden Rule / Stewardship / Human Nature being the fundamentals, but given the dangers of “dichotomising a continuum” and the apparent breadth of positions across these four, a very successful debate with much balance and agreement (and jokes from Hauerwas). Despite focussing initially on life and death (assisted termination – both start and end of life cases) it managed to get itself onto transcendent moral principles. Even Gummer, one in a long and intriguing line of Catholic converts, had the main point that the real problem was any one of them believing they had a monopoly on sense when it comes to the fundamentals. In fact the real debate is how to fit agreement on fundamentals into world governance without the slippery slope away from “the sanctity of life” and “the way of truth” being a part of it – checks and balances. (Theocracy clearly isn’t it, thank god. religion has no place in politics.)

“When Bush came to power I concluded he was sincere about his Christian faith. I also concluded it showed how little sincerity had to do with Christianity.” Hauerwas.

The only view missing from the debate was a PoPoMo like Zizek or Eagleton maybe. Agreement is quite straighforward when people stop demanding straighforward answers to simplistic questions – you listening Humphrys – in all these debates on fairness and priorities ? (Example – why is cybercrime significant ? System complexity that’s why. Ranking four political priorities in a list – Terorrism, Cybercrime, Natural Disaster and Foreign War – is a childish exercise if the list doesn’t recognize the holistic moral system they are all a part of.)

The dangers of web access being too personalized. Hat tip to Johnnie Moore.

Like most things we need both in balance – totally open linking and personally (contextually) filtered channels. Clearly our personal filters need to be known to us personally …. or they are impersonal filters. So now you know, if you didn’t already.

The idea that it inhibits active dissent seems entirely spurious. Criticism is all too easy. Anyone wanting to dissent actively needs active intent to get off their ass, not find dissent opportunities on a plate. That’s a good reason for filtering.

Everyone takes pictures with phones these days, but these are pictures of people with phones. Particularly love the adjacent images 13 (Beatles) & 14 (Katharine Hepburn).

Hard Day’s Night meets The Long Day’s Journey Into Night.

Hat tip to The Slate. Talking of which, I love the “scientific” treatment of this taboo subject, and this “commercial” treatment of used books.

Discovery News article on the complexity of computer systems in domestic cars, prompted by the recent Toyota recall. Hat tip to Donald Firesmith for the link on LinkedIn.

More lines of code than F22 / F35 / B787 / A380 avionics systems.

I have experienced that complexity myself recently. Last year I bought a new car and was staggered to discover a 500-page manual explaining its operations, along with a 200-page companion manual for the GPS and radio systems. One of the new features touted was the much larger glove compartment, a size probably dictated by that of the required manuals.

And nobody reads the manual any more, anyway. Interesting to compare the modular replace vs repair consequences as “the system” gets this complex, with say Crawford’s messages in “The Case for Working with your Hands“. Will humans ever really “buy” the loss of control, the detachment from the real.

I picked up once before on Karen Armstrong as a TED speaker; a breath of fresh air in the God vs Science fundamentalist debates. I bough a copy of her “The Case For God” yesterday and just started reading.

Yep, she’s good. She lumps Ditchkins (Dawkins / Hitchens) and Harris together but Dennett is listed separately. Thank god for people with imagination, says this atheist.

…. that neither CBGB’s nor The Marquee Club currently exist.

(Interesting this scrapbook page from Clemen Pull, has lots of gig adverts that also include Scarecrow, at The Marquee, The Lord Nelson, The Windsor Castle, Upstairs at Ronnies, and more … Pretty sure I saw Scarecrow only once at The Marquee, but I see they were there three times in 1976, according to The Marquee commemorative site.)

My first time in Philadelphia, PA. Arrived Saturday afternoon at a Midtown hotel right in the middle of the Midtown Village Fall Festival. A little of Oktoberfest about it, but mostly just all the bars and restaurants within one block of the hotel doing their thing on the streets. Reminded me again why I’m missing the enormous variety of US beers; several local pale-ales and Dead Guy on draft.

Odd transatlantic flight experience; on the left side didn’t see land until we flew over Martha’s Vinyard with Nantucket Island’s unmistakable outline fully visible (and all the boats whizzing between them). I guess there must have been a great view of Long Island, NYC and the Jersey coast from the other side of the plane, but didn’t see land again on the left side until we banked inland just north of Atlantic City on approach to Philly.

Walked the length of Walnut and Chestnut this morning, through the medical and historical districts and spent some time on Penn’s Landing on the Delaware. Interesting place.

Neuroscientist Sebastian Seung talks about his feelings in the TED Talk “I am my Connectome”. The sum total and pattern of synaptic connections between our neurons (of course this ignores other non-neuronal mental activity) is a huge and complex graph. (Billions of neurons with thousands of connections each … he mentions some stats.)

At the 7:45 mark an excellent illustration of one tiny component of the overall complexity.

And he uses the well used stream (river) metaphor for upward and downward causation. You (your mind / your brain) are your connectome; it both supports mental activity and it is shaped by it. Nothing really new here, but so well delivered. Just the opposite of the reduced science of the post before last.

Talks with feeling, but ends on testable science. Integration is the third-culture.

[PS love the English language feature that "you" is ambiguous singular or plural individual. You "are" whilst your mind or your brain "is". Actually, just racking my brains, that's true in many languages I know.]

Saw a Tesla the other day (in Oslo) and instantly recognized its Lotus / VX heritage in an electric powered sports. I’ve been driving VX/GM sports for the last 8 or 9 years, so my initial reaction was I’d like one of those. But it’s 3 or 4 times the cost of a petrol-powered equivalent – silly money. But that’s not even the main problem.

Surely too, the recharge problem must be solved. The thing about fluid/liquid fuel is its portability at high power density. Surely electric cars need recharge stations where you pit stop, slot in a pre-charged power pack and leave the dead one behind on charge ?

[Post Note : Are Hydrogen Fuel Cell / Electric drives the answer ? Is the hydrogen mass distribution and tankage practical - answers from California please ? If we use methanol, how do the carbon emissions compare ? What is the eco-balance of hydrogen-production / battery-production and electricity generation ?]

Marilynne Robinson on (the same edition of) Thinking Allowed.

The Dawkinsian approach reduces science itself she says. Hooray. (It’s a pity that sound minds like Harris, Dennett and Hitchens got hitched to the nutter Dawkins by the “four horsemen” meme I say, but para-science is an interesting idea).

In a nutshell. Positivism pervades patterns of thought and behaviour in science even though discredited as a metaphysics, and leads to hypocrisies such as even entertaining untestable ideas like multiverses, in a science that dismisses the metaphysical. Maxwell’s scientific neurosis. Wake up, science.

Must add “Absence of Mind: The Dispelling of Inwardness from the Modern Myth of the Self.” to the Christmas list.