Thursday, May 25, 2006

Good News... Bad News...

==An Aversion to Complexity==

One thing you’ll find in common among romantics, nostalgics, ideologues and all foes of modernism is an aversion to complexity. An abiding distaste for the never-ending flood of intricate detail, adding up to both good and bad news -- along with an even bigger wave of perplexing it’s-too-soon-to tells.” A steady stream of successes and failures, sparked by endeavors of all kinds, both market and state.

Take some recent examples:

The ozone hole over the Antarctic is likely to begin contracting in the future and may disappear by 2050 because of a reduction in the release of chlorofluorocarbons and other ozone-depleting gases, according to a team of Japanese scientists.

Could you ever hope to find a better example of modernist error-discovery and problem-solving, than this one?

 When scientists first discovered this threat to Earth’s health, the reflex of the right was to suppress the news... and then any thought of action... while the reflex of the right was to screech that (literally) the sky was falling. Fortunately, ideologues weren’t involved in the solution process. What happened was that society exercised its right to conceive general and systemic corrections, but wisely included the market in the details of implementation. A phase-out of chlorofluorocarbons and other gases blamed for the ozone hole seemed too slow for the activists, but it allowed the markets to adjust, delivering new products at a greatly accelerated pace, without provoking a panic-drive ruction and forcing a recall of every air conditioner on the planet. The state did its job, fine tuning market rules so that they included the hidden costs to our descendants... without giving in to the temptation of overly-meddlesome bureaucracy.

Yes, this perfect example is almost too perfect. It will be far harder to solve global warming, or teach the benefit of new, revisionist compromises on, say, DDT and Nuclear Power. The right may be more insane, right now and vastly more dangerous. But the left remains far too intransigent and unwilling to re-evaluate. Unwilling to see complexity.

Having earlier spoken up for optimism, that the world is getting better as a result of deliberate human effort... and therefore such effort should be increased... let me now turn around and avow that there is so, so much farther that we have to go.

World poverty may be going down, but not at a sufficient pace to save us all. A couple of brief articles lay this out cogently. See: Poverty Traps and Global Development.

also: How to Help the Poor Out of Poverty.

-----
And under the category of “Will anybody EVER listen to me?”: Personal information on 26.5 million U.S. veterans was stolen from an employee of the who took the data home without authorization, exposing them to possible identity theft, the department said on Monday.

A snippet someone sent me, with interesting implications. All about “the web's evolution from simple initial conditions of URL, HTTP, and HTML (which I generalize to Identity, connectivity, and relationship)... and a certain common reoccurrence of triplets in initial conditions... The constraint that web founder Berners-Lee put on the web (that it use the Interrnet protocol (IP), instead of proprietary protocols (AOL or Compuserve) ) is what made it open - good fences make good neighbors kind of stuff...”

==Science Updates==

Thanks in part to molecular manufacturing, accelerated developments in AI and brain reverse-engineering could lead to the emergence of superintelligence in just 18 years. Are we ready for the implications -- like possible annihilation of Homo sapiens? And will we seem to super-intelligence what our ape-like ancestors seem to us: primitive?

The deadly human form of mad cow disease, vCJD, may have infected far
more people than previously thought...

The way the body's immune system responds when its cells are under attack has inspired a new way of protecting computer networks from viruses and hackers. Software has been developed that behaves like
dendritic cells, scouring the network looking for danger signals such as sudden increases in network traffic or unusually high numbers of error...

The Anthropic Principle -- which argues that our universe is finely tuned to support life and there is no point in asking why it is so -- has been criticized as lazy, untestable science. Now there may be a way to test the theory for one of the most problematic instances of fine-tuning. Cosmologists have observed that the expansion of the...

== Finally, I gave you earlier a flawed URL for the Wiki that was set up by the New England Complex Systems Institute NESCI, relating the abstract of the talk I plan to give at their conference in Boston, late June... and further laying out a “best” version (so far) of the list of predictive hits from EARTH.

Here is the correct URL:
http://www.necsi.org/community/wiki/index.php/ICCS06/David_Brin

80 comments:

mindmaker said...

On the idea that "accelerated developments in AI and brain reverse-engineering could lead to the emergence of superintelligence in just 18 years" -- how about just six years, a third of that time? Just today I have updated Mind.Forth Robot AI with the enhancement of a Transcript mode for human interviews with the AI Mind. It is now possible for "mind-tenders" or "AI therapists" to examine a session transcript and evaluate the internal thought processes of the AI. Mind.Forth is still buggy and still makes spurious associations from concept to concept, but it is the leading candidate to trigger superintelligence and a Technological Singularity by 2012 (six years from now).

reason said...

David,
the vCJD hangs there out of context and with no supporting reference. What is it about? I find vCJD by the way a puzzle, I find the scientific concensus unbelievable (there are too many protection systems acting against transmission from food) and are rather suspicious there is a component of promoting research funds in the publicity it has been given. The only hint I saw there was that you included the word "injected" - i.e. a specific subset of people are at risk.

Kevin said...

Letting people know about our success solving the ozone hole would encourage them to support measures to deal with global warming. I think most people accept that (human-induced) global warming is happening, but have no confidence that we can do anything about it without sacrificing most of the global economy.

Kevin said...

The reflex of the right was to suppress the news... and then any thought of action... while the reflex of the RIGHT was to screech that (literally) the sky was falling.
--->
The reflex of the right was to suppress the news... and then any thought of action... while the reflex of the LEFT was to screech that (literally) the sky was falling.

I assume

reason said...

... yet instead it seems to be just right for the formation of giant galaxies such as our Milky Way, and hence for life. (From the last link.)

WWHHHAAATTT! That leap of logic is a bit too crass for me. Why on earth do you need to have galaxies such as the milky way in order to have life? Are there not an infinite number of possible universes to support an infinite number of possible life systems? And if the universe didn't support our form of life then our form of life wouldn't exist so we wouldn't be here to worry about how the universe can support us.

And how do we know our universe is the only one?

This seems pretty shallow thinking to me. And we don't live in the whole universe just a very narrowly specialised niche.

monkyboy said...

...one thing you’ll find in common among romantics, nostalgics, ideologues and all foes of modernism is an aversion to complexity

Hmmm...I see the exact opposite.

On the macro scale, science hasn't really come up with anything that interesting in the last 50 years or so.

Computers, cars, telephones, powered flight, etc. are all at least 50 years old.

"Modernists" have to look at the "intricate detail" level to find any support for their cause...

island said...

Hi, I'd like to say that I agree with David's assessment of the right and left.

Also, it should be noted that virtually every conclusion that "reason" made about the anthropic principle including conditions for life are wrong, and the fact that this person doesn't know why these statements get made by scientists only proves that they need to study all of the many facets of the anthropic principle for several years before voicing and *educated* opinion about any of it.

The AP actually predicts the most likely location for life elsewhere in the universe, and it also predicts when we should find them.

Do you know how or why that is so?

For the same reasons, the AP also predicts that we won't find life on mars of venus, for example, so if you think that life is so readily plausible in just any old "nitch"... ... ... you're just wrong, and "contact" will prove this testable prediction.

reason said...

island,
interesting view you have - maybe you misunderstood what I was saying. I looked up AP in wikipedia and find that I cannot follow your conclusions.

I wasn't actually talking about AP by the way just the extreme jump of logic involved in that sentence. And I stand by my statement that there are an infinite number of possible universes (with an infinite number of possible sets of physical laws) and an infinite number of possible lifeforms. AP as I understand only refers to OUR universe and OUR lifeform, and says nothing about all possible universes and all possible lifeforms.

Which version of AP do you happen to believe by the way?-) You seem pretty touchy about it.

reason said...

island,
just so that you don't take me too seriously in future - I happen to think of cosmology as a fun but rather pointless intellectual game. Sort of chess with measurements. Everything is so much out of the scale of our normal perceptions (in time and space and mass) that we have no way to really know what we are talking about. Maybe there are distortions in our observations occuring that we cannot possibly be aware of. I take everything in cosmology with a grain of salt. After all the end result of cosmology is - ... there will be a time after us.-)

Francis said...

Hmmm...I see the exact opposite.

On the macro scale, science hasn't really come up with anything that interesting in the last 50 years or so.

Computers, cars, telephones, powered flight, etc. are all at least 50 years old.

And 50 years ago, few people would ever dream of being able to touch, let alone own a computer. And nevermind that 50 year old computers compare to modern calculators...

What is being worked on now that we consider incredibly niche and speculative and that will be ubiquitous in 50-100 years? Results following from the sequencing of the human genome?

(There have been huge advances in mathematics following the mass production of the computer - largely relating to iteration (and science hasn't done badly)).

Lenny Zimmermann said...

I would also respond to monkeyboy that I think we've made some HUGE advances in the last 50 years, but mostly in areas that aren't always right in front of our eyes. (Come to that, outside of Sc-Fi, computers weren't sitting out in front of anyones eyes until the late '70s, IMHO.) Biotechnological advances in particular have massive in both improving quality of life and prolonging life. It seems to be such an esoteric field on so many levels that in general I think th emedia just doesn't know how to keep up and present these ideas in the same way that the almost rarity of a "breakthrough" like computers presented. Let's not forget nonotechnology and the general miniaturization of so many technologies on so many levels and the constant improvements on those "breakthrough" technologies that happen on such a phenominally fast basis that many new technologies, particularly in the area of computers, are obsoleted in only a few short years.

Breakthroughs seem to be happening at such a phenominal rate in so many fields that it just doesn't seem to register on the public consciousness they way they did when such breakthroughs were fewer and far between. It seem to me these breakthroughs are constantly happening, we've just gotten so desensitized to them we hardly notice them anymore. Indeed, i think we've come to simply expect them.

Francis said...

I'm a muppet.

You want a major conceptual and technological breakthrough which is under 50 years old? The Internet (1962) - arguably the biggest innovation since the printing press.

reason said...

David,
re vCJD I see I need glasses - read too quickly - you did indeed say infected rather than injected. But then the statement is always true but so what? There must be more to it...?

Francis said...

The deadly human form of mad cow disease, vCJD, may have infected far
more people than previously thought...


Given that the FDA doesn't allow farmers to test their own herds, I'd say that that's a near certainty. But, like Reason, I want to know what's new. (And I think you missed off the immune system link as well).

David Ivory said...

David,

The trouble I see with the Kurzweil article is that he assumes that an intelligence higher than human is not already here.

As I see things there is already something bigger than us humans - it's called civilisation. That emergent order that happens when large groups get together and interact. I know you've posted on this before - indeed your cry of IAAMOAC to me is this in a nutshell. We are all part of a bigger entity - one wiser and smarter in its emergent behaviour than individual humans are.

I think this is really the power of the Enlightenment and the essence of your 'there is something better than left or right know-it-all elites' - and that's civilisation itself.

A good direction for AI research to proceed would be to reinforce this civilisation level intelligence. Perhaps it could be called 'Designing the perfect beast' - developing the civilisation level structures and behaviour modes that create the best outcome?

When I read Iain M Banks books and the Culture - I think of this - even the name seems to me that the AI's in that civilisation enhance the positive emergent behaviours and dampen the negative.

Kurzweil's AI's are a return of an Uber-lord... I don't think we're in that mode any more are we?... the meta-organism of civilisation has control...

My personal goal is to contribute my part to that imperfect beast in order to help perfect it.

I'm optimistic that any AI's that emerge will arrive as members of our civilisation and that we'll hardly notice at first. Indeed it is my company's business plan as we develop expert systems.

But I agree that we do need to nurture the Enlightenment's version of civlisation - so more power to you.

See you in Chengdu :)

island said...

Hi Reason,

I'm sorry if I seem overly sensitive but the anthropic principle is probably the least understood and most abused science that there has ever been. As someone that has seriously studied the principle for a number of years now, I can tell you honestly that neither side of the CrEvo debate is too honest about any of it, and I constantly do battle with both *ideologically motived* sides of the issue over their abuse.

I support an "entropic" interpretation of the AP in a finite, closed, and bounded universe, but I also defend Brandon Carter, Tipler and Barrow, as well as applications to others views, like Einstein, who didn't buy into the idea that "god", (meaning nature), throws dice".

An infinite number of possible is fine if you are studying mathematically supported theoretical physics conjecture, but it doesn't superced empirical implications of the AP, unless it can be shown that the idea resolves the same problems in less steps or more accurately... per the scientific method.

Even string theorists who "believe-in" the "multiverse" are forced to use the AP to decide which is the correct vacuum solution for their theory, since we have no other mechanism that explains why the universe is structured the way that it is.

The AP is extremely important to science if there is only one finite universe, because, (a complete statement), tells us *why* the forces cannot be unified, and that defines the ToE.

re: "time after us".

Time after us may be in the next universe if the implication for specialness is true that we *are* the mechanism.

FYI: David. Avi Loeb's idea does not falsify the AP as he failed to consider the consequences that changing the constants would have on the rest of the anthopic coincidences, which would be destroyed.

island said...

David wrote:
I think this is really the power of the Enlightenment and the essence of your 'there is something better than left or right know-it-all elites' - and that's civilisation itself.

Pre-Carl Sagan, The (technological) "ascent of man"

What is it that we do that directly affects the symmetry of the universe?... is the key to resolving the whole issue.

Stefan Jones said...

Reason asks:

"Why on earth do you need to have galaxies such as the milky way in order to have life?"

Metallicization.

If you look at lots of galaxies, and take spectroscope readings of their constituent stars, you notice some interesting patterns:

Sloppy, elliptical or irregular galaxies tend to be composed of older, redder, larger "Population II" stars. These are also very poor in heavier elements.

Large spirals, OTOH, have regions where new stars are born out of the wreckage of older stars; these include the heavier elements spewed out by supernova.

Without those heavy elements -- including carbon and oxygen and nitrogen and calcium -- you can't have get Life As We Know It. Hydrogen and helium don't offer the complex variety of molecular bonds necessary.

Also, you don't get very interesting planets. Iceballs and gas giants, period.

* * *

DB Notes:

"while the reflex of the [left] was to screech that (literally) the sky was falling."

Dave, can you provide a citation for a case in which anyone, anywhere, literally screeched that "the sky is falling?"

I can think of a few cases of "Buy my book!" Cassandras wildly inflating threats (Nature's End and The Day After Tomorrow spring to mind), but has anyone literally screeched "the sky is falling" . . . other than someone on the right mocking a strawman position?

monkyboy said...

I would also respond to monkeyboy that I think we've made some HUGE advances in the last 50 years, but mostly in areas that aren't always right in front of our eyes.

I think you proved my point, lenny.

I think average humans look at the achievments of science over the past 50 years:string theory, quarks, nanotechnology, etc. and...yawn.

I find claims of future scientific breakthroughs like the "Singularity" to be disturbingly similar to the current Administration's claims of a democratic Iraq...at some future date.

Maybe in 50 years all these esoteric fields of study will produce something of value to the human race on the order of, say, the lightbulb, maybe not...

In the meantime, the generations of people raised on the promise of science in the 50s and 60s will have died without seeing any real changes at all.

Stefan Jones said...

Over at WorldChanging, a design contest:

The debate is over, global warming is real . . . now what do we do about it?"

David Brin said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
David Brin said...

monkyboy said: "Modernists" have to look at the "intricate detail" level to find any support for their cause...

yup tiny detail...
...like the transformation first of American then Western and then world civilization from 5,000 years of being shaped like a pyramid to a new, diamond-shaped social structure.

Like people starting the 20th century with an average of 1 book apiece (if that) to half of the population having access to vast libraries at a fingerstroke.

I could go on, but thanks for perfectly illustrating the very point you criticized. About perception. C'mon. TV and A-bombs were easy... parsing the genome was... well... complex!

to reason ---- it is one thing to declare faith in an infinite number of parallel universes (I have written many stories...) It is another to sit down and work our the probabilities.

Say, if the fine structure constant or the electron/proton mass ratio were allowed to vary across all those universes (along with say 100 other “gosh numbers” THEN what fraction would develop long lasting stars, nucleosynthesis, supernovas to distribute higher elements, galaxies packed tightly enough to recycle those atoms (!), organic chemistry and so on....

Please do not dismiss this topic, assuming that those who are steeped in it have not done serious thinking. We have. If you care to join in, please ask questions and enjoy what’s been done so far... then join in!

island, you are apparently steeped in this. It is very heady-atmospheric stuff. I listened to a tape version of THE PHYSICS OF IMMORTALITY and nearly crashed my car a dozen times. What a sci fi author!

David Ivory, you hit it on the head. I now realize that nearly ALL of my passionate interests have related to how we can improve the AGGREGATE INTELLIGENCE of civilization, since it seems utterly hopeless to increase the individual intelligence of my #$%#$*! neighbors.

Right on that Banks is one of the undersung legends of SF. It is HARD to offer both optimism and drama, so most writers simply never try.

Stefan: “Dave, can you provide a citation for a case in which anyone, anywhere, literally screeched that "the sky is falling?"”

Okay, “ALMOST literally”... since we are talking about the sky and numbers are falling... yeesh liiteralist.

#$@*! citokate.....

Stefan Jones said...

Alfred North Whitehead once wrote something along the lines of:

"It is more important to create a great society than great men, because a great society can create great men to meet the occasion."

monkyboy said...

Dr. Brin,

It's not the hard work I question, but the results.

Where are today's Karl Poppers calling for falsifiable theories?

Where are today's Wolfgang Paulis pointing out much of current scientific research isn't even wrong?

"Modernists," religions and neofascist political parties all espouse a vision of a glorious future for mankind.

To "prove" this vision will become reality, they all have to throw out inconvienient data points to get their curves pointing upward towards that future...

I'm a big fan of science, too.

But it sure looks, to me at least, that it has drilled a lot of dry wells over the past half century.

David Brin said...

Monkyboy, you illustrate a lack of understanding of what the New Modernism is supposed to be about. It is reifying the problem solving PROCESSES of the enlightenment with an aim to social and individual improvement.

Yes, it posits an assumption that the future CAN be better. That is a fundamental premise and I admit it has that in common with messianic religion. But the process involved is diametrically opposite. (Indeed, a premise of fundamentalism is to utterly DENY human improvability! Their "better" tomorrow involves anihilation of human will.)

Moreover, responsible modernists do not make any assumptions about INEVITABILITY of progress. (Am I calling extropian mystics irresponsible? Well...)

Hence, your little statement above is very little more than diverting name-calling that has very little meaning. Exactly what are you comparing us to? Are you saying that cynics who deny improvability - cynics - are more sensible & realistic?

You badly need to read:
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000EOU4S0
and report back to the rest of us if you still feel that way.

A prize to anyone who can give the exact Whitehead quote Stefan cited.

Next posting will be about this "realism vs idealism" thing.

Thrive all.

Francis said...

I think you proved my point, lenny.

I think average humans look at the achievments of science over the past 50 years:string theory, quarks, nanotechnology, etc. and...yawn.

That's because science is about as directly relevant to average humans as celebrities they have never met are. What is directly relevant to most people is technology - a very different issue. And I have already given one technology (the internet) that is directly relevant in the lives of the average westerner, is under 50 years old, and has spawned a massive amount of science and mathematics (partly as a consequence and partly to support it). Oh, and a lot of people get excited about it.

In the meantime, the generations of people raised on the promise of science in the 50s and 60s will have died without seeing any real changes at all.

If you think that the computer, the mobile phone, and early steps in genetic engineering are "no real changes at all", I'm not sure what to offer you.

Where are today's Karl Poppers calling for falsifiable theories?

Where are today's Wolfgang Paulis pointing out much of current scientific research isn't even wrong?

In the field of Educational Research, I could practically name names. (And that's ignoring the heckling from the sidelines that comes from the post-modernists). But these criticisms miss one crucial fact. In some ways, the computer has changed the way science is done - with a computer/robot, it is often entirely possible to (instead of making a theory), simply trial every single possibility and measure the results. (A lot of pharmaceutical research is done this way). This would not have been possible without the computer...

But it sure looks, to me at least, that it has drilled a lot of dry wells over the past half century.

It's also produced some massively successful ones (the internet, artificial hearts and organs, masses of pharmaceuticals). The problem is not that there hasn't been a lot of progress, it's that the 1940s and 1950s overpromised.

island said...

David, I'm in the deep end of it and have found it to be the most facinating and frustrating adventure of my life, since I was only meaning to study gravity.

There are many interpretations that don't apply to the observed universe such as the string theory "landscape" application. As applied to our observed universe, the Anthropic Priciple can be very easily understood and applied to make predictions via the ecobalanced nature of all of the anthropic coincidences.

The AP can be generalized to in this manner which points out that life only appears at a time and location that exists "ecobalanced" between diametrically opposing runaway tendencies.

The universe for example is near perfectly balanced between runaway expansion and exponentially rapidly increasing recollapse, and this is one of the vast array of meta-stable coincidences that are necessary to life in our observed, carbon chauvanistic universe.

This extends to its biocentric form, which notes that the physical conditions of the AP apply to the bands of every spiral galaxy that evolved at the same time in the "habitable zone"/layer of galaxies as ours did. If there is some good physical reason why life is necessary to the physics of the universe at this particular time in the history of our universe, then life will be as common to these "sites that are condive to life" as the physical need for it demands, and that is hard science.

Many useful predictions can be made that also apply to evolutionary theory, but there is a wall of pre-existing prejudice in that circle that is a mile thick which comes from creationists abuses of the AP as "evidence for ID" or whatever... it's NOT!

Anyway, my and have a whole library's worth of useful information and physics if you should decide that you'd like to crash your car in the future... ;)

island said...

Rats, website address was distorted, (click-on, "and"):



My weblog address is still intact within the rest of the link.

Steve (not THAT Steve) said...

monkeyboy,

First, Popper's falsificationism is really not a good description of science. See this article for a cogent explanation. Most of the time scientists are generally trying to seek proof of something, not proof of the absence of something. Popper basically made up words to obscure what really is simple - the scientific method.

Pauli's clever quote notwithstanding, there is a whole bunch about what we have learned that is pretty close to right. The specific context of that statement was in regards to quantum theory. That theory results in the most accurate predictions of any theory in human history - down to the limits of measureability. Sure, there is more to learn, but to take a quote like that and extend it is not called for.

You also seem to confuse technology with science. Science is the body of knowledge and the methodology, technology is what use that knowledge is put towards. But by either measure, progress in the last 50 years has been exponential. Consider supersonic flight, the moon landings, genome sequencing, massive leaps forward in understanding biological processes, transistor size, cell phones, weather prediction, satellites, probes to other planets, etc etc etc.

These are HUGE leaps - inconcevable leaps just a few decades ago. They only seem to you to be "ho-hum" bacause you did not live through them, and because as a society we have come to expect revolutions in understanding in ever-decreasing time units - now maybe less than 5 years for a given subject.

"Dry holes" on the other hand are symptom of scientific advancement. Without people willing to take the risk of finding their hypothesis is wrong, nothing advances. It is a sign of progress when we recognize that dry hole as one less mistake we can make. So cold fusion was bogus - well, it would have been awesome had it been true, and it might just spark some other application that does work. Not wasted time at all.

The beauty of the scientific method as opposed to every single other way of generating knowledge is that it is self-correcting. If someone "forgets" a few data points, sooner or later someone will catch it.

Lenny Zimmermann said...

Yeah, I gotta agree that if things like a 10 year increase in average lifespan over those 50 years and the constant wonders of all the technoligical changes that surround us ona daily basis aren't enough for you. Well, you got me there. It seems to me that maybe it's monkeyboy who is generally unimpressed, but I'm sure I can't quite see why.

Personally I get impressed a LOT. The implications of Faster Than Light communication as a possibility? (http://dustbunny.physics.indiana.edu/~dzierba/HonorsF97/Week1/NYTJuly22.html)
Wow! And we though breaking the sound barrier was something! The vast amount of information I can fit on something the size of the nail on my little finger? And the sheer amount of information at my very fingertips? Reading entire movies off of a shiny litte record with a friggin' laser beam! How cool is that?

Pretty much everything David posts here showing some of the incredible things jsut around the corner, and I don't doubt them. Things only sci-fi authors could dream about when I was a kid in the 70s. Some of which they never did dream about and more than a few of these discoveries are things I never thought I would see in my own lifetime, and yet here they are not only a reality but in so many cases already commercially available to the average consumer.

I don't know, dude. I'm downright awestruck by the almost constant breakthroughs happening around me. I just can't keep up with all of them, but it doesn't stop me from lovin' every minute of it.

In some way many of these things may seem small, and I suggest that in many ways they only seem that way because we have become so used to the rapidity of these discoveries. In all, however, these breakthroughs are part an parcel of sustaining and propelling a social construct like none we have ever seen before on this planet. Heck even space travel has actually entered the market of commercial viability (even if it is only for the very wealthy or well connected for now.) Perhaps you need to only change your view just a little and really, really take in all the amazing things constantly going on around you. To me the whole things is downright mind boggling.

Perhaps it is easier to just accept the constant advances and feel they are no real accomplishment at all rather than fall into the well of being overwhelmed by all of them. I think I'll stick to being overwhelmed and loving every minute of it.

monkyboy said...

lenny,

Could you list one of these "constant advances" that impress you so much?

Offhand, I can't think of anything around these days that would "overwhelm" anyone transported from the 1950s to the present...

---

The increase in average lifespan, btw, comes mostly from a reduction in infant mortality...not longer livespans.

America's infant mortality rate is now the worst in the industrialized world...well, second, if you count Latvia...

A data point, along with America's long-declining median family real income, that needs to be chucked if you want to see that bright future...so bright, you'll need shades!

Anonymous said...

The Whitehead quote is from Science and the Modern World, but even if my copy wasn't at work I wouldn't have time to hunt it up since I'm out the door on a trip in a couple minutes.

Stefan

Doug S. said...

Overwhelm? Just have them walk into any movie theater and see the latest special-effects bonanza. Or show them my laptop, that can pirate just about any song ever published, and can play some really cool video games that are nothing like anything anyone ever dreamed of in the 1950s. There the ever-present mobile phone. Let's not forget the many medical advances - we have antiviral drugs that actually work! We know what causes cancer, and can do a pretty good job of treating it. We can do ORGAN TRANSPLANTS! Finally, on a social level, Soviet Communism and Jim Crow laws are relics of the past, and women have access to just about any occupation previously done exclusively by men - they can even join the Army!

Here's an interesting story. My father, when he learned about the invention of CD-ROM digital storage, declared, "Gutenberg made every man a reader, Xerox made every man a publisher, and Phillips will make every man a librarian." He told me that his declaration was wrong, because he failed to take into account how copyright law would make it impossible to put an entire library on a disc and give it to everyone. However, I pointed out to him that he was actually half right. Every man had, in fact, become a librarian, but it was actually Shawn Fanning that made it possible.

Mark said...

I feel the need to heap more disagreement on Monkeyboy. But first, let me pretend to agree.

The food we eat basically hasn't changed since the dawn of agriculture. We still eat meat, bread, fruit and vegetables just like we did 5,000 years ago. Sure, it is more abundant, last longer, comes in colorful packages with tastier sauces, but that isn't a marco change. And really, the microwave is just an over-glorified camp fire.

But you know what, looking at stuff that already existed isn't really the most useful way to see change. Look at the new stuff.

And the new stuff isn't the product of the industrial revolution, now we are in the information age.

As I often tell my ten year old daughter, once upon a time if you didn't know something you pretty much kept on not knowing. Oh, sure, you could head over to the library to look it up, or if you were really lucky you might own an encyclopedia that might have the information as long as the information needed was fairly old. But that was rare. Mostly you just stayed ignorant.

She thinks that's funny. In her world, the only world she has known, if you are even vaguely curious about something you google up the answer in a few seconds. Today I routinely look up something don't know while on conference calls and in real time I am able to figure out enough to continue with an intelligent conversation. That's freakin' amazing if you think about it.

This isn't some minor point, this is a fundamental change as important as the printing press or the internal combustion engine. As one who telecommutes from home every day with team members in Georgia, Colorado, California and China, I just don't see how one can think the world hasn't fundamentally changed in the past few years.

Oh, and for recent, "interesting" science look at chaos theory, dark matter/energy, genetics and cognitive science (that category didn't even exist 15 years ago); that should get you started.

Francis said...

monkyboy said...

lenny,

Could you list one of these "constant advances" that impress you so much?

Offhand, I can't think of anything around these days that would "overwhelm" anyone transported from the 1950s to the present...

Given that I've given one example of such an advance twice (the internet), the burden of proof is currently on you to prove that the average westener having millions of books and thousands of songs at their fingertips is NOT an overwhelming change. Stop sounding like a stuck record and try to rebut please rather than simply repeating the same unsupported claim ad nausiam.

Oh, and in science, Chaos Theory as a study (Poincare noticed that it might be there but couldn't do anything with it) is under 50 years old (it relies on computers and is largely based on an observation from 1961).

Doris said...

Eyewitness testimony was once considered the highest form of evidence -- after all, someone actually saw it with his own eyes! Then eyewitness testimony was studied scientifically and discovered to be unreliable. Surprise, distress, confusion, and personal prejudices all colored what the eyewitness saw or remembered. Nowadays, however, an eyewitness can whip out his cell phone and take a picture of the crime scene. When he calls 911, he can refer to the picture for details -- color of the car, face of the attacker, etc. Maybe even a license plate number, courtesy of twenty-first century pixels. With appropriate technology, the picture can be transmitted to police computers and television stations for broadcast, a far cry from the hand-drawn suspect sketch or verbal description in an all-points bulletin.

Cell phones, electronic pictures, interconnections -- police work has changed in the last 50 years!

Doris said...

A couple other candidates for recent technological advances that have changed the way we do things:

Blind or useless cutting and digging can be avoided through the use of CAT scans and ground-penetrating radar.

monkyboy said...

lenny,

How many books can a person read in their lifetime?

Our theoretical 1950s person surely would have access to a library that contained more than a lifetimes' worth of reading material.

I don't think the internet would overwhelm them.

Doug S. said...

Some bad news:
More secrecy coming from the Bush administration.

David Brin said...

Didn't I have a big posting a while back about this whole issue of rates of advances, citing some Huebner guy and disputes over numbers of breakthroughs? Somebody find it and cit the URL?

Telecommuters, stay tuned for my holocene breakthru. Will announce soon.

Lenny Zimmermann said...

Monkeyboy,

THat wasn't me posting about the internet, although I would agree with Francis that it's definitely high on the list. And if the you think the 'net is only about what books are available to read...

At any rate I've did nothing but list things that have impressed me, yet you ask me to name one? Huh? I guess I wrote too much for you to bother reading my full comments?

At any rate I'll stick by the final conculsion, modern advances underwhelm YOU. I find them phenominally fascinating. I think we've all got the idea by now. And I think it pretty apparent that no matter how many of us find the advancement of the last 50 years to be impressive, that you don't find them so. So I can't really see the point of trying to persuade you otherwise as your mind seems pretty set to me.

reason said...

David,
I don't believe in anything in particularly (not even infinite universes) just in possibilities. I just objected to the sloppy way journalists write. Not having large milky way type galaxies does not per se exclude the possibility of life (as we know it was missing) - some common feature that makes both possible may well - in our present universe. I actually don't think particular conclusions are that important - it is just that I like the process to be done in a way that encourages clear thinking. I actually think that is what science is all about.

island said...

Reason didn't:
Not having large milky way type galaxies does not per se exclude the possibility of life...

Extremely unlikely possibilites aren't clear thinking for the reasons that I've already given here, as well as the physicist moderated physics research group linked here.

You might as well say god might live there because anything is possible given just the right conditions... and call that "thinking clearly".

The "goldilocks" criterion for "life as expected from the known and established science" applies to galaxies and everything else.

Here's a little fact that illustrates why you need more than
'what-if maybe it might be possible that leprachans exist on the moons of yuranus.'

Silicon based life is the next most plausible life form that we have been able to ascertain. Earth is silicon rich, and carbon is outmatched by a ratio 10:1 in our environment, and yet, carbon molecules, chains and... "life as we know it", (carbon based life), occurs more readily than silicon structures in its own environment.

You're not thinking clearly, because you don't have enough facts... like I said.

Blake Stacey said...

I have often wondered how the Anthropic Principalists explain why there exist three "generations" of subatomic particles. We've got the electron and the electron neutrino (lightweight particles called "leptons"), and we've got the up and down quarks. Combining u and d quarks makes protons and neutrons; add some electrons to that and you've got an atom.

On top of this, we have the muon, which is just like the electron but 207 times heavier --- and then we have the tau, which is just like the muon but heavier still. The muon and the tau both have their own associated neutrinos, too. The up and down quarks are also repeated at higher mass, giving the charm and strange quarks and then the bottom and top quarks (which were once called "beauty" and "truth" but not so much these days).

Why in blazes should any of this be so? Everything immediately relevant to our oh-so-precious existence is made out of the first generation --- electrons, us and ds. Couldn't the Great Watchmaker have gotten by with fewer particles? (When the muon first showed up, I. I. Rabi famously exclaimed, "Who ordered that?" That's how they said "WTF!?" before AOL got invented.)

All right, if there were fewer generations, the decay rate of the Z boson would be slower, since it would have fewer particles to decay into (and likewise, if the model extended unto the fourth generation, the Z would decay faster). I'm not expert enough in this branch of physics to tell how important that would be or if the Z decay rate could be "gimmicked" to keep it the way it is, say by tweaking the particle's mass. I do know enough high-energy particle physics to wave my hands vigorously and blame it all upon the Higgs boson.

Arguing that the laws of Nature "must be the way they are" when we do not even know the fundamental laws looks to me like a sublime mixture of arrogance and folly. What about the dark matter and the dark energy which comprise most of the contents of the Universe? They're "dark". They don't affect our daily lives; they just played a role we don't yet fully understand in how the current arrangement of galaxies came to be. Suppose you follow the theory that dark energy is what's driving the cosmic expansion faster and faster. If you fiddled the divine knobs and changed the dark energy content, it might (for all we know, since we know so little) only affect what happens to the Cosmos when it is billions of years old. This would be irrelevant for the formation of galaxies, stars, planets and life.

Like I said, it's a frothy mix of arrogance and folly. I have the same attitude to Kurzweil's prestidigitatory predictions about the Technological Singularity (even though he and I are alums of the same fraternity at MIT!). To my eye, graphing Moore's Law upward and upward and drawing a bold line marked "There be Turing-complete AI here" is the futurologist's version of adding up the "begats" in the Old Testament to date the moment of Creation. (PZ Myers has some good words on the deep-time part of the argument. I played with the numbers myself and found that you can get an exponentially increasing "wait time" between "significant events" if you just let fossils decay over time as a Poisson process. In plainer language, if nothing special is happening.)

Every day, I am fantastically impressed with what modern gizmonics can do, but every time I think about it, I have been underwhelmed by our ability to predict. (Except for James Burke and that chap who wrote, what was it, Earth.) When I read the stuff from the people who enthused over hypertext back in the 1980s, it strikes me that nobody saw search engines coming. Just look at the powerhouse companies and social phenomena of the Internet today: how many of the companies which survived the dot-com fall-down-and-go-boom operate on the idea, "type in a word and we'll bring what you want back for you?" Fifteen years ago, that would have been artificial intelligence. Today, it's quotidian. And it's definitely not what Vannevar Bush said the "memex" would be doing. . . .

Lots of other junk I could be tap-tap-tapping about. . . I'll close with the notice that I'll be at the NECSI talk next month too, presenting a paper called "On Motif Statistics in Spatial Networks", and I'll be schlepping my copies of Earth and Foundation's Triumph along with me. Be forewarned!

Nate said...

All this discussion about the AP was interesting, because I haven't studied it at all and figured it was basically just "We're here, so obviously the universe must support our kind of life," which seems straightforward and non-controversial to me. I hadn't really considered all the predictions you could make from that, including the likelyhood of other intelligent life out there.

On the other hand, it also always seemed to me to have an element of a puddle going "Wow! This hole is shaped exactly right for me to fit in it!" Obviously any life that develops in a universe is going to be suited for the physical laws of that universe.

The only other thing I feel like I know enough to comment on is the identity theft bit. The biggest problem isn't the loss of the personal information, the problem is that it's so easy for someone to go and take that and get credit and/or loans and other things. Which then becomes the responsibility of the person whose information was stolen, instead of the responsibility of the companies that failed to check the information over properly. But I don't expect the law to punish them any time soon, the credit industry has plenty of congresscritters of both parties in their pockets.

island said...

What is arrogant is the presumtion that humans can possibly set themselves outside or above nature to violate the ecobalance that we are contributing members of.

PZ Meyer is a highly ideologically motivated antifanatic, so his ability to honestly interpret evidence is extremely warped and out of whack with reality.

Arguing that the laws of Nature "must be the way they are" when we do not even know the fundamental laws looks to me like a sublime mixture of arrogance and folly. What about the dark matter and the dark energy which comprise most of the contents of the Universe? They're "dark". They don't affect our daily lives; they just played a role we don't yet fully understand in how the current arrangement of galaxies came to be. Suppose you follow the theory that dark energy is what's driving the cosmic expansion faster and faster. If you fiddled the divine knobs and changed the dark energy content, it might (for all we know, since we know so little) only affect what happens to the Cosmos when it is billions of years old. This would be irrelevant for the formation of galaxies, stars, planets and life.

I don't know where you get your informatin from, but a decrease in the amount of dark energy expansion of even "one part in a hundred thousand million million", (one second after the BB), would have recollasped the universe before it reached its present size, and an increase of this size would have caused it to expand so fast that no structuring of any kind could possibly occur.

What happens to the symmetry of the near-perfectly flat universe when matter/antimatter generation causes the accelerating expansion?

Not a damned thing... when this results in an offset increase in positive gravitational curvature and negative pressure. Although, tension between the vacuum and ordinary matter does increase in this case, and guess what happens when increasing tension inevitably compromises the integrity of the forces that bind the universe?

BOOM!!!... we ARE the mechanism.

island said...

I hadn't really considered all the predictions you could make from that, including the likelyhood of other intelligent life out there.

On the other hand, it also always seemed to me to have an element of a puddle going "Wow! This hole is shaped exactly right for me to fit in it!"


Nate... puddles and holes don't fit the requirement for a balance between a vast array of diametrically opposing runaway tendencies. This isn't simply a matter of... "We're here, so obviously the universe must support our kind of life"... although counter-ideologically motivated evobiologists PRETEND that this is the case.

The Douglas Adams analogy is only given by ideolgically motivated individuals to groups of like-minded individuals as an argument against creationists abuse of the AP... for that reason. It has little if anything to do with the physics for anthropic principle.

Brandon Carter would scoff in Dick Dawsons face for such a statement... but what's more relevant is this one:

The only watchmaker in nature is the blind forces of physics, albeit deployed in a very special way...
-Richard Dawkins

island said...

oops...

Dick Dawson = Richard Dawkins in some world of the multverse, I'm sure... ;)

island said...

Here's some background:

The anthropic principle came about from an honest effort by physicists, like Herman Bondi, Fred Hoyle, Robert Dicke, and Paul Dirac, who kept running up against the same problems that we have today when trying to give a "causallity responsible" explanation for the physical structuring of the universe. Brandon Carter proposed the AP as an alternative cosmological principle to the type of Copernican extremism that led to the "Perfect Cosmological Principle", noting that it was equally arrogant to presume that we have the right to ignore the physics and large-scale observational evidence, as it is to presume that we are at the center of the universe.

Carter pointed out that "our situation is not necessarily central, it is inevitably privileged to some extent".

This point is critically important to this, because the anthropic principle readily extends to, and cannot be restricted from incuding the bands of every spiral galaxy that evolved within the same "layer/habitable-zone" of conditions, (time and location-wise), as our own galaxy, (in terms of the commonality and continuity in the evolution of the same basic raw materials that were produced by our observed Carbon Chauvinistic Universe). In this case, the principle is "biocentric", meaning that life is *more-generally* important to the physics of the universe at this particular time in its history, and so it will *necessarily* be every bit as common to the universe as the physical need for it demands.

In this same scientific context, real HONEST scientists will ask questions like, "I wonder if intelligent life does something that *cumulatively* affects the physics of the universe that makes it necessary to the process?"

There is a valid physics question about the apparent and evidenced intrinsic finality of goal-oriented thermodynamic structuring in nature that has nothing to do with god, nor any form of intelligent "designer", but this is rarely, (if ever) recognized by either side of the "debate". There is an openly hostile and ideologically motivated effort to downplay scientific interpretations that include the appearance of "anthropic specialness" which occurs as a result of the debate, and the effect is to blind science to the potential that the anthropic principles has for making predictions about life elsewhere in the cosmos, as well as more locally.

If the most accurate cosmological principle is biocentric in nature, then the principle is telling us the good physical reason why the forces are constrained in the manner that they are. This science should not be ignored because politics and misplaced perceptions about geocentric arrogance get in the way.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Anthropic_principle

Here's the problem:

The problem with neo-Darwinism is that random changes in DNA alone do not lead to speciation. It was like confessing a murder when I discovered I was not a neo-Darwinist. I am definitely a Darwinist though. I think we are missing important information about the origins of variation. I differ from the neo-Darwinian bullies on this point.
-Lynn Margulis

Lynn Margulis is one of the most respected scientists in the field of evolutionary biology and she expressed her sentiments in front of all of her peers, (as honored guest speaker at the last evolution conference). Her beef is not directly related to the AP, but she is expressing something that results from her experience with the kind of willful ignorance that immediately rears it's ugly head as soon as randon chance is removed from the 'evoquation'. You don't make a statement like that when you're having an ordinary disagreement with your peers. She is taking a direct shot at the fanatical neodarwinian mentality that I know all too well from first-hand experience, and I'm an atheist too.

Not just any universe would be one in which Darwinian evolution would work. For example, if a tiny reduction in the early cosmic expansion speed would have made everything recollapse within a fraction of a second while a tiny increase would quickly have yielded a universe far too dilute for stars to form, then such changes would have been disastrous to Evolution's prospects.
-John Leslie

Blake Stacey said...

If the current rate of cosmic acceleration were one part in 10^22 faster or slower, would that make a difference to any living thing, anywhere? And do we have any physical theory which connects the current (perhaps dark-energy-driven) accelerating expansion definitively and quantitatively to the epoch of inflation which transpired right after the Horrendous Space Kablooie?

(I did forget one effect that a different number of particle generations would have: neutrinos would oscillate in a different fashion from flavor to flavor. But neutrinos are so bloody hard to detect anyway. . . .)

One term I do not hear in discussions of the AP is "local maximum". I mean, twiddle the magnitude of cosmic inflation by one zillionth and neither we nor anybody else could exist, but who knows what's going on over in Cellular Automata World, where self-replicating patterns propagate in 2D and metabolize pixels, and where Lorentz invariance is unknown.

island said...

If the current rate of cosmic acceleration were one part in 10^22 faster or slower, would that make a difference to any living thing, anywhere?

Blake, if you're talking to me, which I assume that you are, then the answer is, yes, assuming that the "current" rate of acceleration didn't increase to this point overnight and for no good reason whatsoever.

The reason for this is that there is a cumulative runaway effect that compounds the imbalance exponentially over time. It's the same as a runaway greenhouse effect, that's counterbalanced by the tendency toward runaway glaciation, all of the ecobalanced cosmic coincidences suffer from the same runaway tendency if they could be nudged off of their meta-balance.

David Brin said...

Blake, terrifically cogent remarks. I, too, agonize over predictability. It is hampered in hundreds of ways. Partly by things beyond our control (e.g. Heisenberg and complexity) and partly by human nature (e.g. our incredible talent for indignantly insisting upon our right to steer, when unsupported subjective fantasies make us think there is a road right through that patch of trees). I will have more to say on this. I look fwd to meeting you at nesci.

Nate, you are right that the great horror of information leaks and loss of privacy info is not THAT it has leaked, but the harm that others can do with it. I have been yammering for a decade that less attention on preventing leaks (which will - and ALWAYS - happen nonetheless) might turn useful attention to reducing their capacity to harm us. e.g. it would be easy to set up a worldwide “Transaction Avowal Bulletin Board” in which we openly avow our purchases and declare that no unavowed purchase could possibly be ours. You would get an instant chance to say yea or nay about any purchase made in your name. And yes, it could be quasi-secret as in the porn sites you visit. A stolen credit card would be almost useless.

Island, great summary of the Anthropic Principle AP. Believe it or not, I was right in there at the time. See my 1983 SETI paper which is TO THIS DAY the only pan-topic neutral review of the field, covering the (almost) full range of explanations for the Fermi Paradox and the only place where you’ll see clearly how the Drake-Sagan Cult diverges thematically from the Uniqueness Cult.

The unspoken and interesting implication of AP is that successively finer results of the narrowly-selected range of our universe’s DNA (its “gosh numbers like the fine structure constant) participate in some kind of feedback causality WITH those genetic codings. Lee Smolin both offered a hypothesis and upped the ante with his notion of “evolution of evolvable universes” under which these DNA physical laws and numbers and relations are fitness parameters because they help universes reproduce (via new black holes.) It is sciencefictionally easy to posit a finer structure to this loop... including life in the fine detail as a super-adaptation. It has even (lately) been suggested that this fine-tuning causes intelligence to emerge SUDDENLY all at once, in order to maximize diversity and allow Star Trek levels of adventure-interchange among races who are of coincidence-beggaring similarity in their levels of achievement when they make contact in a relative eyeblink (that may be about to commence.) Wow.

What a paragraph. If only I still wrote like that.

Tony Fisk said...

...Been reading Stapledon's 'Starmaker' recently? Given the *ahem!* central and ambivalent role that Beta plays in Earth, one has to wonder just how universes reproduce!??

BTW I've just found that Cato reference: it comes from a potted history of the Helvetian War, where, on demanding that all the books be opened, the alliance find they have bitten off more than they bargained for:
In any event, by the second year of fighting, mercy was hardly on anyone's agenda any more. Only vengeful modern Catos could be heard, crying from the rooftops of the world - Helvetia delenda est*
By then it was to the death

*(Helvetia must be destroyed)**


I'm not that familiar with the Cato Institute. This passage, coupled with your last post, make them sound like extremist bet hedgers. Or has your opinion of them changed in the last decade?

Back to the trainspotting...

PS: Glad to hear your work on HC may begin to pay off!

**(nothing good has ever come from cuckoo clocks!!)

island said...

David, you were so close and you still write very well, so maybe you need to find your passion again?

Please read this with care. I promise you that I can back up every word that follows.

There is valid physics that says that Einstein was never wrong about the cosmological constant and the finite nature of the universe.

This physics notes that the reason that he wasn't wrong is because you leave *real* holes in the vacuum when you make real massive particles from the negative pressure "dark" vaccum energy in this model. So matter generation increase negative pressure and that *causes* the vacuum to expand.

This "antigravity effect" gets offset by the local increases in positive gravitational curvature that the newly created matter elicites, so tension between the vacuum and ordinary matter increases instead.

Our instantaneous appearance and "star-trek" techological capabilities may be as simple as our insatiable inherent lust to satisfy the second law of thermodynamics via high-energy collisions between Large Hadrons at high relatisic speeds in order to the conditions of the big bang...

Given the needle balloon effect that you get with increasing tension between matter and the vacuum....

Meet your purpose.

This physics completes the anthropic principle and the mechanism for it is clarified when you include this physics into Dirac's Large Numbers Hypothesis where Robert Dicke got his anthropic coincidence from. This means that Dirac was right about a lot of other stuff and I have never had this physics disproven by many theorists that I've put it before...

The bottom line is that Einstein was not wrong until somebody proves that I am... "God", meaning nature, does not trow dice'... due to perpetually inherent thermodynamic structuring which enables the universe to leap/bang to higher orders of entropic efficiency, just like we humans did when we lept from apes to harness fire... and beyond......

... and for the exact same reason and by the exact same thermodynamic evolutionary mechanism, (asymmetric transitions).

The anthropic clarification means that the Theory Of Evolution, defines the Theory of Everything... because it explains why inherent asymmmetry prevents the forces from ever being absolutely unified.

...how apprapote?

It's a number provided by nature and we should expect that a theory will someday provide a **reason** for it.
~ Paul Adrian Maurice Dirac ~

www.lns.cornell.edu/spr/2005-06/msg0069755.html

reason said...

To quote island...

PZ Meyer is a highly ideologically motivated antifanatic, so his ability to honestly interpret evidence is extremely warped and out of whack with reality.

Sounds like a human being to me - anybody got a mirror?

reason said...

island...
you obviously know your stuff and are highly motivated about it. However, you haven't directly answered the problems other people have, just (figuratively speaking) thrown mud in their eyes. All our knowledge about the remote universe is based on heroic assumptions (extrapolating from we see around us) and we really do not KNOW very much about it at all. You are building a massive and impressive superstructure on possibly flimsy foundations. Please at least have the decency to admit that that is a possibility. I find it a very interesting piece of linguistics to call someone an "highly ideologically motivated ANTIfanatic" (obviously except when it comes to squid), suggesting that maybe you see yourself as a fanatic. After all, does it really MATTER? If you are wrong (and I don't personally care if you are or not) would it be the end of (your) world?

It matters to me that my descendents have a decent chance in life and science may play a big part in that, but I think politics will play an even bigger part. It matters to me that humankind continues to make progress by allowing for the possibility of error. By checking and re-evaluating every assumption on the basis of evidence. Speculation about the remote universe may help that process to the extent that it extends our ability to gather evidence.

But everything we know says that the systems that support our life here are a freakishly small niche in both time and space and will at some point disappear and so we may have to accept that like our personal selves our species will eventually disappear. Those remote speculative parts of the universe will almost certainly never be reached by our descendents and so in a very real sense are irrelevant. It is nice to be passionate about things - but perhaps you could redirect your passion to more pressing problems.

Sorry for the rant everybody.-)

Michael "Sotek" Ralston said...

Hmm. I don't see any context for that quote of Margulis, and as pretty much all google results seem to be references to Island himself using it, I grow suspicious.

(Especially since his primary use is to criticize a criticism of the creationist claim that AP means God must be the case - which simply isn't true. Even if AP has validity outside the evocreo shouting matches, it has no validity whatsoever within them. And for the sake of disclosure on the topic, I'm pretty firmly convinced that the evo side is right on the primary topic.)


Also, yes, yes, "edge of chaos" and all that. But hell, there are a lot of systems that support that kind of balanced complexity.

Someone else already mentioned cellular automata - and that's a very important point.

There are really quite a lot of CA that permit complexity... there's quite a few systems that are close to a value of .5 for Langton's lambda parameter, to pick just one type.

If you're just saying that the AP means that life requires a critical point between randomness and staticity (is that a word?), well ... yes, okay, I'll agree with that.

If you're saying it means something more ... I'm not entirely sure I'd agree, and I'd really like to see your definition.



on other topics:

Tony: The Cato referred to in the passage you quote was almost certainly the historical Cato, who said "Carto delenda est", back when Rome and Carthage were at war.
The modern-day Cato Institute is named in reference to the orator, as are most references.


On the singularity: I find the entire concept of a "singularity" nonsense. Why should we assume technological progress won't level off? It seems nearly certain to do so, to me. I suspect the way certain types of people embrace the concept of "singularity" is really one of those semi-religious desires to abdicate responsibility.

island said...

Michael "Sotek" Ralston said
(Especially since his primary use is to criticize a criticism of the creationist claim that AP means God must be the case - which simply isn't true.

This is an unprovable lie. You cannot show at any time or from any conversation that I've had that I have defended creationists claims that the AP proves that god exists.

Had you bothered to reasearch the links that I've been providing, then you would know that I often speak about this stuff before theorists in forums where the don't allow cranks or ID theories.

I gave the context of Margulis comments, idiot... [SNIP]

island said...

Reason wrote:
You are building a massive and impressive superstructure on possibly flimsy foundations. Please at least have the decency to admit that that is a possibility.

Sure, when some PhD theorist can shoot down my phyiscs, then I'll be glad to admit that it's wrong, but until that happens... I'm not.

And, FYI... but it's commonly known that ideological prejudice has absolutely no place nor business in science, and the fact that you don't realize this... speaks volumes....

DemetriosX said...

Actually, the Cato Institute takes its name from The Cato Letters, a series of essays supporting the Lockean view in 18th century Britain. They, in turn, took their name from Cato the Younger (AKA Cato Uticensis), not from his greatgrandfather Cato the Censor of Carthago delenda est fame.

The younger Cato has an undeserved reputation as the last defender of Republican Rome (a title that properly belongs to Cicero, if anyone). In actual fact, he was a smug, pissy little weed who stood for everything that was wrong with the Rome of his day, most notably trying his level best to keep the kleptocrats on top.

Cato the Censor was also a smug and unpleasant bastard, who was fervently anti-modernist. He had no truck with all that fancy-shmancy Greek education and culture and was sure it would destroy Rome.

A pox on both of them.

Rob Perkins said...

On the singularity: I find the entire concept of a "singularity" nonsense.

I agree. While I think the thinking has been stellar as to the ramifications of such a thing, I also think that Kurzweil et. al. have an insufficient basis for concluding that it will happen. I've read some of Kurzweil's stuff, and I don't think plotting an exponential curve is more realistic than plotting a straight line, as our father-optimists did.

Michael "Sotek" Ralston said...

Island: Way to go with civility.

You claim, then, that you don't have anything to do with this site? The same google that allowed me to find that also showed a lot of cases of you linking there.

And you said *where* Margulis made those comments ... but you still left out the context. From the sole instance of the quote appearing on the internet that wasn't you, according to google, her talk finished like so:

The problem with neo-Darwinism, Margulis concluded, is that "Random changes in DNA alone do not lead to speciation. Symbiogenesis--the appearance of new behaviors, tissues, organs, organ systems, physiologies, or species as a result of symbiont interaction--is the major source of evolutionary novelty in eukaryotes--animals, plants, and fungi."

This has nothing to do with the anthropic principle (not that you claimed it did, to be fair), and fundamentally shows that she does not, as it seemed as if you were trying to imply, think there was anything drastically wrong with the state of evolutionary science.


Also, I didn't say you believe in ID, I said you were using that quote, per the site I linked at the start of this post, to defend a grossly deceptive use of the AP to support ID. That doesn't mean you yourself support ID, but it's rather odd.



And yes, people on talk-origins and even in science have taken a "circle the wagons" mentality due to the vicious assaults creationism has been launching on science.

... so? That doesn't disprove what they're saying. Even indignation addicts can be right.




And I will repeat my request: Define the Anthropic Principle as you are using it, please. I don't think your useage is standard - maybe the standard usage is pretty worthless (actually, I'd agree), but you still need to define yours.



And namecalling is hardly conducive to reasonable debate, now is it?

Michael "Sotek" Ralston said...

As a sidenote, I find it interesting that island attacked my sidenote by declaring it an "unprovable lie", instead of simply stating it to be untrue - which is a significantly more normal reaction when accused of something that's true.

When someone attacks the evidence instead of the claim, I find that a pretty good indicator that the claim itself is true, and they're aware of it.

... of course, I'm using similar debate-style tactics now myself. Oh well.

island said...

Island: Way to go with civility.

Your insulting tactics drew first blood there, clown, although I note how well that you play hurt when the tables are turned. I didn't come here to fight with an extremist, but hey... I can have fun with that too... *sweet smile*


You claim, then, that you don't have anything to do with this site?

No, but you apparently don't know the difference between valid science and creationist abuses of it.

Here's my prediction:

You buy straight into the creationist hype, in other words, and rathter than to simply point out that evidence for intrinsic finality is not evidence for god or an intelligent desiger without direct proof, you, (stereotypically and automatically), go into auto-denial mode of the significance of the evidence, instead.


This has nothing to do with the anthropic principle (not that you claimed it did, to be fair), and fundamentally shows that she does not, as it seemed as if you were trying to imply, think there was anything drastically wrong with the state of evolutionary science.

Uh, no, I was very specific about what I meant it to mean, but you forgot that part... how conveniently common. I usually use the word, "loser" right about now, (after a dishonest stunt like that), but I reserve that for now...


That doesn't mean you yourself support ID, but it's rather odd.

You think it's odd because you don't know how it is possible, but rather than to ask questions and learn anything, you assume the false postion of authority anyway.


And yes, people on talk-origins and even in science have taken a "circle the wagons" mentality due to the vicious assaults creationism has been launching on science.

I agree with this, and support them to the point of reactionary denial and willful ignorance, but no further than that. Their tactics are not scientific and are *pre-designed* to downplay significance of evidence rather than to face the possibility that we're not here by accident.

... and you don't know how that can mean anything but god or ID.


... so? That doesn't disprove what they're saying.

No, I did that on the page that you referred.


And I will repeat my request: Define the Anthropic Principle as you are using it, please. I don't think your useage is standard - maybe the standard usage is pretty worthless (actually, I'd agree), but you still need to define yours.

Um... I know "the rest of the story", so to speak, but I'm perfectly capable of using the many facets of the physics that derives the current form to support anything that I say.

Your problem here is that you think that the AP is based on something much more limited than it is because you don't know anything about it other than what you get from ideologically motivated sources.


And namecalling is hardly conducive to reasonable debate, now is it?

Subtle insults to my intelligence hard work are equally conducive, so let's see what else you have to say... rookie.

When someone attacks the evidence instead of the claim... bla.bla.bla....


He claims that I've said something that I know that he can't prove because I know that I would never say such a thing. So I call his lame bluff and he say that means that I'm guilty.

what.a.freaking.loser.moron. am I wrong?

Doug S. said...

What we have here is two people talking at each other and getting nowhere. I think we need to change the subject because no communication is taking place.

How about we talk about awful puns, instead?

monkyboy said...

I don't know, doug. I find it interesting.

I think we're seeing the downside of having most of our scientists grab a couple billion dollars worth of taxpayer money each year, then disappear down the rabbit hole to run their subatomic demolition derbies in Chicago and Switzerland.

The Big Bang theory, missing antimatter, the Higgs boson, etc. could easily have stood another century of low-level observation while we worked on things more engaging to and needed by the general population.

Instead, Paris Hilton is America's most influential person and science has become whatever anyone says it is...

island said...

How about we talk about awful puns, instead?

Wow Doug, this is actually very interesting, and I think it highly relevant that quantum mechanics isn't inherently able to describe dissipative structuring, since it depends very much on Hamiltonian mechanics… except by way of the "Master Equation" in the special, Lindblad form, which derives that dissipative structuring acts as a natural harmonic damper mechanism that keeps the imbalanced universe from evolving inhomogeneously, so this is the most natural configuration… if the universe is finite and closed… given inherent asymmetry in the energy. This will necessarily conserve energy by maximizing the work that the available energy can do, and that’s what a flat universe accomplishes via anthropic structuring.

Other than that, a finite universe with a "zero-point mass" is not unstable, because its affects are near-exactly counter-balanced by gravity.

Every point in space has a non-zero mass equivalence that generates a gravitational field that gets counterbalanced by negative pressure, because the vacuum only has negative density when,

P=-u=-rho*c^2

The graviational acceleraton is zero if the density of the static vacuum is -0.5*rho(matter) because,

rho+3P/c^2=0

In this static state, pressure is proportional to -rho, but pressure is negative in a finite expanding universe, and so energy density is positive.

That is to say that the vacuum energy density is less than the matter energy density, but it is still positive, so you have to compress or condense this energy down over a finite enough area of space to attain the matter density before you can make it into a real matter/antimatter pair.

That causes the vacuum to pull back, which counterbalance the local increase in pressure and positive gravitational curvature so this holds the vaccum flat and stable as it expands.

It can't runaway.

Tony Fisk said...

...in which island heads off into 'deep infinite absolutes', and the Mandelbrot Maze claims another victim!

Thanks for the Cato fill-ins. My grasp of 'da classics' (as Tony Curtis referred to them in 'Spartacus') is pretty minimal.

Off topic (...do we *have* a topic??), but still one I think it will be of interest to the resident modernists is the news that Amnesty International and the Observer have launched a campaign to counter the trend for certain governments to restrict access to the internet.

The website is located at irrepressible.info
(From
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/5020788.stm)

G'wan! Host a subversive!

The only caveat is that the Amnesty website doesn't refer to it as yet!? (seeking confirmation)

Michael "Sotek" Ralston said...

I actively avoided saying that physics disagrees with the way you define the Anthropic Principle, Island, because it is not clear how you define it.

If you define it, I could evaluate your claims vis a vis it. If you continue refusing to do so, I will continue to address the form that is most commonly used, which is the one creationists use, and is emphatically untrue.


My physics knowledge, while not to the level of a physicist, is still significantly above the median, and I'm pretty sure that if you provided a useful definition, I'd be capable of understanding it.


I do still claim that this site can reasonably be read to constitute a defense of creationism, even if it was not intended as such.


Also ... what, precisely, do you mean by "intrinsic finality"? Intrisic makes sense ... but finality makes little sense, at least to me, in this context.



Furthermore, I disagree with your use of the word "accident". If we are here as a necessary result of something, that's certainly not evidence for God. (ID is a false distinction anyway...) If we're here for a purpose, however, that is pretty strong evidence for God, as the word "purpose" implies motivation - which implies a being capable of possessing motivations.

Possibly a flaw in the language, but a real issue nonetheless.


(PS: I really wish I could increase the size of this text entry box so as to read more of my post at once. *sigh*.)

Michael "Sotek" Ralston said...

Island: Also, one thing in addition to my previous post.

While I'm perfectly willing to agree that we need "edge of chaos" conditions for 'life'... what do you have to say about such grossly different "physics" as those of cellular automata, and the possible implication that our universe's complexity is merely one of many local maxima?

reason said...

This is roughly, how I (as an informed amateur) see things:

1. So we peer out from our rather modest corner of the universe into the great emptiness that surrounds. We measure tiny amounts of radiation and particles that travel for enormous times and distances and build complex mathematical theories, extrapolating from what we know from our home planet to explain what we observe. In order to keep the models understandable we choose to treat some things as constant and allow others to vary. From these theories we make predictions that may or may not be confirmed by other observations we make. Our theories are not yet perfect, they rely on fudge factors (e.g. dark matter) to hold together, but they do explain a lot. Our theories seems more complex to us than we would like, so some theorists are working speculative theories that would allow the complexity to be a feature and not a cause (e.g. string theory).

2. My existance is a freakish event. Everyone of a vast number of ancestors had to successfully survive and reproduce in order that I can be here. The likelihood of this is vanishly small (hence I am a miracle - the universe must have been created just for me -). Or is it just that some freakish events happen?

To try and combine these two things seems to be what AP is trying to acchieve (or am I wrong here)? Isn't there a bit of circularity in using a theory developed to fit observations to then make the observations part of the theory?

I like to keep facts, theories, opinions and emotion separate and identified. What part is theory, what part is fact? What part opinion? How solid is the theory? I am very suspicious of credentialism - if intelligent amateurs don't understand a theory then it hasn't been explained well. That is just setting up another priest caste.

Gilmoure said...

For advances in the last 50 years, I just have to look about my house. This is my grandfather's house, built of mud brick, back in the 20's. My mother grew up here and didn't have running water or electricity until the mid '50s. Heat was provided by burning wood in a fireplace.

Today, as one friend noted, there are more computers in here than rooms (pc's, not embedded devices), on a digital wireless setup, all with access to a home server that distributes music, video, data and also runs household controls via X10 commands.

I still have my last slide rule and my first electronic calculator (LED is broken). I guess I show my age by still being amazed by being able to remote into another computer across the internet. Telnet/SSH is so cool. And Google/web searches blow me away. Hell, being able to live out in the country and interact with people around the world, not to mention staying in touch with my sister in Bali, my Mom in China, my father in Florida and all my friends, using iChat video conferencing is totally sweet.

What king or prince lived as well as I do now? I have powers that would dwarf any wizard or mystic, eat fresh food year around (transportation infrastructure is far out as well).

Now, granted, all this is technology and not raw research but we're just at the beginning of eletro-optical revolution. Quatum computing is beginning to look viable, data densities are still increasing (petabyte drives around the corner), and the world's finally getting together to work on fusion.

Rob said...

island said:
"I gave the context of Margulis comments, idiot... [SNIP]"

That was the first shot, aimed squarely at Michael "Sotek" Ralston, who had the temerity to question the provenance of your quote. The thread devolved from there.

"what.a.freaking.loser.moron. am I wrong?"

Yes. You dove into the ad hominem gutter first, then claimed you were pushed. And your response to Doug S. was frivolous and offtopic. Rookie, indeed. That's bush-league stuff. You were doing great and being very informative before that, stick with that.

Rob said...

Gilmoure said:
"What king or prince lived as well as I do now?"

I think Dr. Brin has basically said as much, in describing the progress since the Enlightenment...and I have to agree. I would not want to go back and live in the world as recent as 1956.

The problem we have is that large swathes of the globe still do live in conditions comparable to or even far predating those of even 1956. The benefits of progress have not been evenly distributed.

Rob said...

monkyboy said:
"I think we're seeing the downside of having most of our scientists grab a couple billion dollars worth of taxpayer money each year, then disappear down the rabbit hole to run their subatomic demolition derbies in Chicago and Switzerland."

Personally I would much rather my 2 billion dollars go for that than for 1 week of undirected coercion and bloodshed to no good purpose in Iraq. As long as they didn't accidentally create a micro-black-hole or something.

monkyboy said...

Rob,

Given infinite money, I would agree with you. But as research money is limited, I think spending most of it on a hunch is a bad investment.

Higgs proposed his namesake particle over 40 years ago. The High Energy Physics guys claim that they need just one more multi-billion dollar toy to find it.

Sounds a lot like the Bush administration's claim that peace in Iraq is just around the corner...just one more year!

But my main point is that spending so much of our science budget proving half-baked theories actaully helps the anti-modernist forces.

As proof of this I ask:

If Americans were asked to list living American scientists...could they name even one?

I don't think so...

Nicq MacDonald said...

"If Americans were asked to list living American scientists...could they name even one?"

I'm pretty well informed in these matters... yet... pretty much only inventors, engineers and sci-fi authors (trained scientists who don't do much science, like Dr. Brin) come to mind when I think of high-profile "science" types. I personally know several young researchers working on their PhD's (in bio, chem, and physics), but they aren't exactly "names".

Of course, this is what Michio Kaku predicted in Visions, taking a riff off of Horgan's "End of Science"... even if we've got a pretty good theoretical grasp on the universe, our pursuit of mastery (engineering and technology) is just beginning. Naturally, engineers, inventors and entrepreneurs making money off of engineers and inventors (and usually engineers themselves) are going to become more prominent as pure scientists fade into the background. Thus, I can name a whole bunch of interesting contemporary tech pioneers off the top of my head... but very few pure researchers (even though I have volumes by several of them on my shelves)...

Francis said...

> >If Americans were asked to list
> >living American scientists...could
> > they name even one?"
>
> I'm pretty well informed in these
> matters... yet... pretty much only
> inventors, engineers and sci-fi
> authors (trained scientists who
> don't do much science, like Dr.
> Brin) come to mind when I think of
> high-profile "science" types.

I've been thinking about this one - and what's surprising me is that when it comes to living scientists, I can name far, far more of ours (British) than yours (American). Possibly the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures have something to do with this, possibly that we've got some good self-publicising scientists (like Dawkins, Penrose, and Captain Cyborg), and that Hawking is so distinctive, or possibly I simply move in the right circles. Either way, it surprised me that I struggled so much to name American scientists and most of the ones I can name really don't deserve the name scientist (c.f. Behe).

gmknobl said...

Off-topic: I'm sure you've seen it by now but here is a link to Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s Rolling Stone article on how the Republicans systematically stole the 2004 election by changing the Ohio's voting.

http://www.rollingstone.com/news/story/10432334/was_the_2004_election_stolen

Anonymous said...

AI conundrum: if we succeed in making machines think, how can we stop them to reach Nirvana too fast?

Can you imagine, a machine in Nirvana would be utterly useless.

Adrian