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January links

Robot drummer:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ddQjDei2zbY

Bad physicists, or bad reporters? You decide: "Time Travellers from the future 'could be here in weeks'":
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/main.jhtml?view=DETAILS&grid=&xml=/earth/2008/02/06/scitime106.xml
http://www.newscientist.com/channel/opinion/mg19726425.800-comment-is-big-physics-peddling-science-pornography.html
(wow, when even NewScientist admits this is going on, you know it's really bad! Usually they are the first ones to jump on the train of promoting any physicist who makes some whacky comment that nobody else agrees with.)

"Jawbone Eliminates Noise" ad (can someone explain what the 2 men making out has to do with the rest of the ad? Wow, and I thought only lesbian homoeroticism sells products... we are truly progressing as a society!):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_sPQAgRSydU

Fake site on adopting kids for their organs... quite humorous, yet disturbing:
http://www.medicaladoptions.com/
http://www.medicaladoptions.com/childrens_profiles.html

Charlie Stross "Top 10 Things Environmentalists Need to Learn"... a subject I don't know much about, but everything he says sounds quite reasonable to me:
http://depletedcranium.com/?p=368

A Deep Dive Into the Mandelbrot Set -- A Mandelbrot Set the size of the known universe, zoomed all the way into the size of a single computer screen:
(if there is anyone out there who still thinks that mathematics is invented rather than discovered and explored, please watch this video which is a graph of the equation Zn+1 = Zn^2 + C... guaranteed to change your mind or your money back!)

(thanks to flamingnerd for bringing this video to my attention)
I used to spend hours and hours writing and rewriting the most efficient assembly code arbitrary-precision floating point routines I could come up with on my 486 to zoom into the Mandelbrot set when I was in high school, but I never came anywhere near to being able to zoom in as far as they do here... of course, personal computers now have thousands of times more computational power since then :)

Cute video of a furry dancing to Dr. Who remix of Eurhythmics song with an Ipod:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZrNWp5d0GQo

The Bogdanov Equation, a book that Lubos Motl has announced he's writing that I'll be eager to read when it comes out:
http://motls.blogspot.com/2008/01/lequation-bogdanov.html
http://www.amazon.fr/Bogdanov-Affair-Lubos-Motl/dp/2750903866
(assuming it gets translated into English) For those unfamiliar with the Bogdanov brothers, they are twin brothers from France who published a series of papers which are widely viewed as having only been published by a glitch in the system, similar to the Sokal affair (indeed, it's usually referred to as the Bogdanov Affair). While some refer to it as a hoax, the brothers themselves say that it was an honest attempt at solving problems in physics and Lubos defends their ideas as being valuable, at least more valuable than loop quantum gravity research such as the kind advocated by Lee Smolin. Without taking sides (but leaning towards believing the majority/establishment over Lubos), I find the whole thing fascinating and would like to read the book to hear more about what Lubos has to say regarding their ideas and regarding science in general.

Dean Radin, 4 time former President of the "Parapsychological Association" dupes Google into letting him give a lecture on his crackpot ESP research:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qw_O9Qiwqew
Several of us got into a debate about this video on sifter... with simonfunk and others (who are usually quite sensible/skeptical) supporting Dean Radin's claim that there is a "taboo" in science against "psi" research (where psi is the latest euphemism for paranormal activity/abilities, telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, telekinesis, etc.)... against myself and a few others who firmly reject Radin's claim on the basis that what he's calling a "taboo" is not a taboo at all--it's just a result of scientists having overwhelming evidence that these phenomena are impossible (coupled with the knowledge that the entire history of such "research" has been one long series of fraud, hoaxes, and incompetent researchers). My opinion is that the people who work on Psi are foolish crackpots at best but more likely dishonest deceivers seeking attention. And yet I find it very intriguing that he can manage to disarm skeptics and almost manages to pass himself off as a real scientist, even to educated technologically literate audiences like Google. If nothing else, I find the video very interesting from a sociological standpoint: how do you impersonate a scientist be emulating their methods, mode of speech, and behavior, while continuing to work on bogus stuff that has already been thoroughly discredited by science? I must admit he does a much better job of it than the intelligent design pseudoscientists. Watching it has also made me want to go back and watch Ghostbusters again. If only I'd known when it came out that there are actual people out there who think they are the real Ghostbusters!

XKCD's humorous depiction of the "overwhelming evidence" mentioned above:
http://xkcd.com/373/

Interview with Rodney Brooks and others on the future of AI&robots:
http://www.wfs.org/Dec-janfiles/AIInt.htm
Brooks: "If you went back to 1985 and you told people they would have lots of computers in their houses, they would have thought that was crazy. Where would we put those big boxes with the spinning discs? That was the conception of computers at that time. I think what people are going to see in their houses in fifteen or twenty years are robots, many robots. There's already more than two million people in the U.S. that have cleaning robots...."

Barack Obama's speech/interview at Google (yes, I voted for him on Tuesday... after changing my party from Libertarian to Decline to State on the last possible day):
http://youtube.com/watch?v=m4yVlPqeZwo

Recently on the SL4 mailing list, Eliezer made the following pessimistic but humorous comment:
"I keep wondering if I should buy Hillary for the Democratic
nomination, or sell Obama as president, on the theory that no one who
knows what a bubble sort is will ever be allowed to occupy the Oval
Office." - Eliezer Yudkowsky
(watch Google video above to see Obama's spontaneous reference to Bubble sort)


Papers on psi and the 1995 US government's review of the CIA's Stargate program:
http://anson.ucdavis.edu/~utts/psipapers.html
(I read some of these after watching the Dean Radin video, out of curiosity. I had heard that the Soviet Union had employed self-proclaimed "psychics" at some point, but I had no idea that the CIA had a program called Stargate that was very similar! And as recently as 1995... very interesting.)

Comments

( 40 comments — Leave a comment )
fallen_x_ashes
Feb. 10th, 2008 09:05 am (UTC)
if there is anyone out there who still thinks that mathematics is invented rather than discovered and explored, please watch this video which is a graph of the equation Z = Z^2 + C... guaranteed to change your mind or your money back!

Err, why? How does a bunch of pictures created using an arbitrary coloring schemes and an arbitrary coordinate plane somehow state that math as we know it isn't an invention of the human mind? If anything it supports that thesis, because those images are only aesthetically pleasing in the way that they are to the human mind.

Seriously, to claim that math isn't invented is on par with believing in creationism. You are simply ignoring all the most recent developments in math that show, without a doubt, that no axiomatic system inside math (of which there are MANY, and CONFLICTING systems) holds a monopoly on some king of universal "truth." Math looks the way it does simply because of the design of our brains and how our brains interact with the observable world. It does not eminate as some kind of facet of the observable world itself.
spoonless
Feb. 10th, 2008 09:38 am (UTC)
What does the color scheme have to do with the mathematics?

Are you honestly telling me you watched it and think that the entire thing was intelligently designed by someone? How many hours do you think it took to come up with the whole thing? That's almost as bad as intelligent design (but not quite, since in this case the designers you're proposing actually exist).

Seriously, to claim that math isn't invented is on par with believing in creationism.

So you're calling the vast majority of mathematicians "creationists"? I think they would take offense to that. (Or do you think that the majority of mathematicians would agree with you rather than me? Although I haven't taken a poll, I would be very surprised if that were the case... as they would have little reason to perform their jobs if math was just a social construct rather than something that can be explored and investigated... something that we can learn new things about and be surprised by.)


Seriously, to claim that math isn't invented is on par with believing in creationism. You are simply ignoring all the most recent developments in math that show, without a doubt, that no axiomatic system inside math (of which there are MANY, and CONFLICTING systems) holds a monopoly on some king of universal "truth." Math looks the way it does simply because of the design of our brains and how our brains interact with the observable world. It does not eminate as some kind of facet of the observable world itself.

I would agree with all of this, but I don't see how it has any bearing on this issue. I suspect we're just talking about two different things, as I really can't imagine you actually watched the video and could still be saying this.
fallen_x_ashes
Feb. 10th, 2008 12:54 pm (UTC)
Or do you think that the majority of mathematicians would agree with you rather than me? Although I haven't taken a poll, I would be very surprised if that were the case... as they would have little reason to perform their jobs if math was just a social construct rather than something that can be explored and investigated... something that we can learn new things about and be surprised by.

While I'm not sure if it's strictly a majority, as it's somewhat of a dirty secret and in some cases normally smart people continue to disbelieve that math is nothing but an invention of our own mind, I would wager that half of all mathematicians with doctoral degrees and have been working for over four years will agree with me. More then likely the majority of all tenured mathematicians will agree with me.

Incidentally, you should know that lots and lots of mathematicians, my own Cal II professor included in this statement, are appalled at the way physicists do math. The common complaint is that yawl are not rigorous enough. I think there is a disconnect between the fields of theoretical physics and theoretical math that you have yet to encounter.
spoonless
Feb. 10th, 2008 09:03 pm (UTC)

I would wager that half of all mathematicians with doctoral degrees and have been working for over four years will agree with me.

I think it would all depend on how you worded the question. I think nearly all mathematicians would agree that there are some aspects of mathematics which are discovered and some aspects which are constructed. The real question is how much of each happens and whether the constructed part should really be called "mathematics" or if it is just our way of representing or describing mathematics.
easwaran
Feb. 11th, 2008 08:15 pm (UTC)
I think you could get a strong majority to go in either direction, depending on how you phrased the question and how you primed them. However, they're not really considering the actual issues here, and I don't think their opinion would be that much more relevantly informed than most people's - it's just not their job to think about this sort of thing.

You are simply ignoring all the most recent developments in math that show, without a doubt, that no axiomatic system inside math (of which there are MANY, and CONFLICTING systems) holds a monopoly on some king of universal "truth."

What developments are these? No result that I have ever heard of has demonstrated anything like this. Gödel's theorems just show that no (recursive) axiom system can capture all of mathematical truth. But this doesn't show that none of them is itself either true or false. The only relevant recent results I know of are some work by Woodin and Steel and others showing that certain facts about set theory constrain the possibilities for resolutions of the continuum hypothesis, if it must be invariant under forcing extensions. If there's other recent work you're talking about, I'd be interested to know more about it. (And Chaitin's work certainly does not count - I can point you to some papers rebutting some of his claims if you want. He's got very interesting results, but they're basically just extensions of Gödel and don't have the consequences he sometimes claims.)

Math looks the way it does simply because of the design of our brains and how our brains interact with the observable world.

Now it's clear that if our brains had been designed differently in certain relevant ways, math would have looked very different. But this is far from saying that math is dependent on our brains and their interactions with the world. It's also true that visible light only looks the way it does to us because of the way our brains work, but several types of independently evolved cognition systems (octopodes, insects, and vertebrates) have all stumbled upon it - thus, there's something very natural about it. In fact, it seems that any sufficiently advanced cognition system ought to recognize the sensory modalities of all others - at least, we seem to recognize the sensory modalities of all known living organisms. Similarly, many different ways of characterizing complex systems (first-order logic, Turing machines, lambda calculus, etc.) all end up defining the same set of computable functions. These are just two examples of ways in which the particular class of things of which one is aware, or the particular class of functions included, depends on the particular system being studied, but only in a weak way, since many other systems (and in fact all beyond a certain complexity) define the same class. There's really no obvious reason to think that mathematical reasoning is any different - once you've got a notion of objects at all, the notion of natural number immediately comes out as an invariant, and this naturally gives rise to integers, rationals, reals, complexes, and so many more things. Our specific natures as physical objects might make us more focused on some things than others, but many of the central ideas seem like they would be naturally discovered by any intelligences, even if the universe had been drastically different from how it actually is.
(no subject) - spoonless - Feb. 12th, 2008 12:15 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - easwaran - Feb. 12th, 2008 12:27 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - spoonless - Feb. 12th, 2008 04:12 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - easwaran - Feb. 12th, 2008 05:30 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - fallen_x_ashes - Feb. 12th, 2008 10:16 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - spoonless - Feb. 12th, 2008 05:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - easwaran - Feb. 12th, 2008 05:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
fallen_x_ashes
Feb. 10th, 2008 01:00 pm (UTC)
I would also like to point out is that my position is not that math is socially constructed. Things like race are socially constructed, and gender, and sexuality. Math is the inevitable result of the physical structure and limitations of our own brain. You cannot reasonably expect, for instance, (although many mathematicians would like to believe) that math can be used as a universal language between all species of the universe or something like that, because other species may have a completely different sensation of experiencing number.

Truth is what the light is shining on. We are only capable of seeing the shadow. Never confuse the two.


Or perhaps as a wise child once put it: "There is no spoon."

Edited at 2008-02-10 01:03 pm (UTC)
ikioi
Feb. 10th, 2008 02:29 pm (UTC)
You cannot reasonably expect, for instance, (although many mathematicians would like to believe) that math can be used as a universal language between all species of the universe or something like that, because other species may have a completely different sensation of experiencing number.

I believe that math is partially discovered and partially invented (to the degree that I believe in discovery of any kind). See my argument on this topic in a couple of comments below. I (reasonably, I think) expect that that other species would experience many or most of the more basic aspects of math in a manner sufficiently similar to humans that we could have a strong conceptual bridge between alien math and human math. Representations are not literal truth, but if they stray too far from the salient aspects of truth, then they stop being useful and we start dying a lot in collapsed bridges and buildings. Creatures with less useful representations of broad aspects of the world die out. In this way, evolution converges our conceptual structures and specifically our maths. It doesn't converge them to equality, but it does converge them to similarity.
(Anonymous)
Feb. 10th, 2008 02:14 pm (UTC)
Feel free not to reply to this if you would like...

What does the color scheme have to do with the mathematics?

Are you honestly telling me you watched it and think that the entire thing was intelligently designed by someone? How many hours do you think it took to come up with the whole thing? That's almost as bad as intelligent design (but not quite, since in this case the designers you're proposing actually exist).

This is a very interesting argument. At first I thought I was completely convinced but as I think more, I'm finding some troubles. As I understand your argument, it's something like this: "The Mandlebrot set shown in the video is so complex that no person or group of people could have assembled it or intended for it to come out as it did. If people didn't intentionally create it as it is, then it must be natural and hence must have been discovered." If this is your argument, then one problem with it is that it applies not only to the mathematics generating the complex images in the video but also to the computer and the software generating the complex images in the video. The computer and software have rendered something precisely as complicated as what we saw in the video (because the video was a result of that rendering). If the mathematics that generated these pictures must have been discovered rather than invented, then the computer and software that generated these pictures must also have been discovered rather than invented. (It's funny think of someone traipsing through the woods and stumbling across a naturally formed supercomputer with fractal software on it. :-) )

One possible solution is to say that "invention" is a folk psychological notion, that it only makes sense at the level of abstraction (and imprecision) of Dennet's "intentional stance". The basis of this position is that invention requires a "self" to do inventing. We could not say that a volcano "invents" lava or that interstellar gas clouds invent planets. With no agency, there is no invention. Agency, selfhood is a frequently useful concept (it helps us a lot with predicting what people will do, and with running our legal system), but at certain levels of detail it breaks down by dint of just being a functional approximation of the deeper, more accurate story. Similarly (and for precisely the same reasons), the idea of "invention" is a useful fiction that works very well in many cases, but in some cases (perhaps like the computer and software rendering the mandlebrot set), the idea completely breaks down. We can tell that we're asking too much detail of the concept of "invention" whenever we start getting contradictory results, like the computer and software seeming to be both invented-not-discovered and simultaneously discovered-not-invented.

continued...
(no subject) - ikioi - Feb. 10th, 2008 02:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - spoonless - Feb. 10th, 2008 08:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ikioi - Feb. 10th, 2008 09:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - spoonless - Feb. 10th, 2008 11:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ikioi - Feb. 11th, 2008 03:55 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - spoonless - Feb. 11th, 2008 05:47 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - spoonless - Feb. 11th, 2008 06:00 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ikioi - Feb. 12th, 2008 12:34 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ikioi - Feb. 12th, 2008 12:48 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - spoonless - Feb. 12th, 2008 03:24 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - spoonless - Feb. 10th, 2008 11:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - ikioi - Feb. 10th, 2008 09:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - spoonless - Feb. 10th, 2008 11:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ikioi - Feb. 11th, 2008 03:40 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ikioi - Feb. 12th, 2008 12:50 am (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - spoonless - Feb. 10th, 2008 08:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
zarex
Feb. 10th, 2008 01:25 pm (UTC)
I spent way too many hours playing with FRACTINT in high school. Geek psychadelics. Even made my own zoom/animations, mostly by changing parameters (making them 'evolve') rather than zooming. Much fun, and impressive precision on their number routines.
spoonless
Feb. 10th, 2008 09:00 pm (UTC)
yeah, I remember FRACTINT... didn't find it until after I had been exploring the Mandelbrot Set for a while with my own algorithms. Actually, it kicked my program's ass, especially in terms of userfriendliness.
ankh_f_n_khonsu
Feb. 10th, 2008 04:12 pm (UTC)
Your ignorance of psi research astounds me. Being a science-oriented person, you should understand the implications of accusations of fraud. A reasonable person doesn't make that assumption without strong evidence. You have no evidence. You assume that since you already know psi couldn't be real, the methods must be flawed. I think it says a great deal about your character that even though you're ignorant of the research you still think yourself justified in calling Radin an "attention-seeking" "fraud". I'm guessing you've not read a single paper or book he's published.

When you mention having never heard of Operation Stargate, I laughed out loud. You don't know the history or the research, but feel so smugly confident? Talk about incredulous!

In many ways, we see a similar ignorance from George Bush, and look how much good that has done.
ikioi
Feb. 10th, 2008 08:37 pm (UTC)
On a somewhat related note, they are in the process of dismantling the psi department at the University of Edinburgh. They apparently did have some useful findings while they were around but they were all about how people can be deceived or deceive themselves into believing that kind of mumbo jumbo. :-)
spoonless
Feb. 10th, 2008 08:54 pm (UTC)
I'm sad to see that I'm no longer worthy of a Namaste :(
ankh_f_n_khonsu
Feb. 10th, 2008 11:45 pm (UTC)
Unintentional mistake, not intended slight.

Namaste.
spoonless
Feb. 11th, 2008 02:55 am (UTC)
I took no offense, as I don't expect most people to greet me like that. I only noticed because I've never seen a comment of yours before that didn't include a Namaste at the end.

I really wish I could believe you were right about Radin... there are few discoveries, if any, that I can think of that would be more exciting. At any rate, I do intend to read up on the psi experiments more as I am curious why people like yourself take it seriously.

Namaste
( 40 comments — Leave a comment )

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