The Fundamental Philosophical Failure

May 11, 2012 Posted Under: philosophy

Our sense of group identity is the fundamental failure of our species, perhaps of all intelligent life.

The problem arises when a group starts believing the importance of its agenda supersedes that of its originating group.

This happens first in governments, a proxy for the group itself when we were hunter-gatherers.  The necessary belief underpinning the capability to make group war is that, because my group contains me, it is more worthy of surviving than your group.  But then that sense of group superiority also occurs in religions, and in government bureaucracies, where it becomes dangerous to the group as a whole.

The most heinous example is secret police units or spy agencies.  Because of the perceived need for secrecy to protect the state, the “coin of the realm” becomes the secrets themselves, never to be revealed lest that sharing dilute the power of the secret police.  A current example is the Attorney General of the United States prosecuting witnesses for testifying in secret congressional hearings about the failures of our intelligence agencies, despite whistle blower laws specifically protecting such disclosure.

Why does it not happen so much in governmental sub-units, like states and cities, and mostly not in corporations, at least until they get “too big to fail”?  Or is it just less visible in these?

I often try to think of problems like this in analogies with other aspects of evolution.  If we behaved this way, your hand, having a sense of itself and its own importance in the role of providing food for the rest of the body, might decide it was the most important and cut off the leg for food in an emergency.  Clearly such a choice should not be made by the sub-unit, the hand, but only by the actual self, the brain.

How can we organize our political structures to properly obey the lines of authority, and not separately establish themselves as more critical to the survival of the entire group?

One possible solution suggests itself –> like the felony murder rule whereby a death occurring during the commission of a crime becomes a murder attributable to all the criminal participants, a blackmailer becomes a co-conspirator in the crime he is offering to not make public.  This could be extended to any form of duress and, including the corresponding civil reparations, would provide the legal leverage to put the spy gamers out of business.

The more I think about all this the more evident no simple solution has not already been thought about.  A great deal of our literature is about the conflict between authorized actions and independently perceived “greater good”.

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Living a Long Life

May 01, 2012 Posted Under: philosophy

A friend mentioned having heard an estimate that anyone living past 65 these days has a pretty good chance of seeing 80.  I’m not sure what the national and worldwide statistics show about this belief, but in my own case, I think there might be something to it.  My mother is approaching 90 and many on both my parents’ sides have lived past 100 in the past century.

So my estimate is that I also will easily see 90.  Which puts me definitely in range to become one of the LongLived, i.e., people who will benefit from the rapidly increasing pace of medical discoveries designed to extend our lifetimes.  The LongLived are variously estimated to live to at least 150, and perhaps to 1000.

Having this prospect from my youthful reading of Heinlein’s Lazarus Long brought to mind again, I am suddenly amazed at how much it lifts my spirits and changes my morality subtly back from total interest in advantaging my children and grandchildren to assuring the planet will be further enhanced to sustain us all, me included.  In other words, I am no longer retired, but again among the living and contributing!

But having lived 2/3 of a century so far, and been lulled into semi-comatosity, I am happy to have as much time as needed to accomplish my dreams while also now being much more aware that some sense of urgency, and daily persistent effort, helps get things done.

Back to even more enthusiastic work, investigation, learning, and engineering!

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Entanglement and Agreement and What’s Underneath?

Apr 09, 2012 Posted Under: physics

While reading the Quantum Reality article in last week’s ScienceNews, I was inspired to dig a little deeper and found this review of work by G. Chiribella, G. D’Ariano, and P. Perinotti last year. It points up a fundamental flaw in my previous attempts to understand quantum mechanics — that there are “events” and “observers”.

It now becomes obvious that a more consistent framing would be that of an “experience” in which both observed and observer participate.  Similarly, two “observers” could only have the closest possible agreement about what happened if they both particpate in the experience of an observation simultaneously, as part of a system of 3.

Thus agreement about an experience of events below some certain macro collection of quantum probabilities is practically infeasible.  This is a different framing of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, that you can’t increase to arbitrary precision the measurements of certain pairs of properties.

This supports the previous estimate that usable agreements require the organizational complexity we usually call life.

I am still perplexed at how information maps onto anything we call space or matter.

But at least now the next framework for posing these questions looms into clearer view …

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Re-engineering the Military-Industrial Complex

Mar 27, 2012 Posted Under: economics

David Letterman plaintively asked Rachel Maddow last night “Why, in 2012, are we still so focused on killing other humans?” during the interview about her book Drift which discusses our increasing disconnect from the process of declaring and making war.  She dodged his question with “That’s above my pay grade” and “Whoever figures that out can write the next Bible.”

But I don’t think it is above her pay grade, and she could well be among those to help us think about it — her book suggests considerable knowledge and thought about the processes of warring.

This led me to dreaming last night, during which today’s tweet was composed:

Resentment leads to revenge, which returns. Forgiving lets resentment become “lesson learned”, and can become respect, even friendship.

That suggests a negotiating stance to accomplish more peace, but of course we will need to persuade the weapons manufacturers it will be more profitable to provide research and solutions to energy, water, food and space exploration endeavors to have a chance to succeed.  That will be a challenge, but certainly one we need to take on: the Re-engineering of the Military-Industrial Complex.

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Why We Do Things

Feb 14, 2012 Posted Under: creating

This is a bit of a ramble, a collection of thoughts, perhaps not in the usual order …

Security and Fairness

We like to know we’re going to eat and have a place to sleep and have those pretty much in equality with our neighbors.

Being Right, Competition, Greed and Secrets

But we also need to know we’re in the best group, in case there’s to be any unfairness.

Sex, Drugs and Rock’n’roll

And then, let’s have some FUN, with altered states of consciousness.

Let Go and Let God, and Getting In the Zone

Having noticed we don’t always get exactly what we intended, allowing the subconscious to suggest alternatives got confused with suspending judgment (having faith) and religion.

Becoming expert enough at any endeavor to permit the subconscious actual control can be a religiously ecstatic experience.

Love and Be Loved

We’re social animals and need to feel connected.

Art and Literature

Refinements of altering states of awareness and points of view.

Science and Mathematics

Getting more understanding and control of the environment.

The Effects of Aging

Of course most folk are aware of the complaints of aging — aches and pains and less physical ability.   So much so that you don’t often hear of the benefits — slower can be better in that it allows more time to savor, enjoy and reflect on (oddly enough, especially sex).

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Does God Still Exist?

Feb 09, 2012 Posted Under: creating

It never ceases to amaze me that people continue to insist their own notion of God is the only valid one, despite the absolute abundance over the millenia of claims of different people having received direct, personal, but very different, dispensations from God.  It would seem that God, at the very least, thinks no one person can give an accurate reporting of such an encounter.  What would motivate Him to be so frustratingly mis-informative, even to the point of instructing some listeners to kill all the other people He has spoken to?

Many people say God is required to have created the universe.  But then, who created God?

I am reminded of the “turtles all the way down” story, most famously retold by Stephen Hawking in A Brief History of Time:

A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: “What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise.” The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, “What is the tortoise standing on?” “You’re very clever, young man, very clever,” said the old lady. “But it’s turtles all the way down!”

Occam’s Razor, the scientific principle of not introducing more theoretical structures than necessary to explain any set of observations, would suggest that not even one turtle added any extra explanatory value.  Likewise with the notion that God is required to create the universe.

The quantum mechanical view of the universe is that one of its possible states was, at its beginning, that it was very small, impossibly small, such that its only natural way of continuing was to become the universe we now experience.

However, if God is Omnipotent, as many people believe, He would be able to prove that He doesn’t exist.  In which case, someone could claim to have received such a proof in the same way previous people have claimed to have received hallowed communications.

Such a proof could be like this:

God can prove this sentence is false.


Can you think of another such proof, or a disproof of this notion?

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Feb 07, 2012 Posted Under: cosmology, economics

Before the Beginning was the Void.  Then was the Law: something must change.  And the Law was called entropy, aka time.  So, the Void changed into Something.  And at the next execution of the Law (planck time tick), the Something also changed.  And on, and on, ’til nowabouts …

Stars following the first generation formed with planets having many elements, and so Life happened. And then, Sex happened, and more varieties of Life evolved quicker and with more resilience to catastrophic changes of environment.  And somewhere between Life and Sex, agreements started to form, first to identify non-self and food, and then to select a mate.  These agreements required the beginnings of Language, including protocol, syntax and meanings assigned to symbols, which then required memory.


And thus was born the source of all Wealth: Knowledge — the accumulation of useful agreements.


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Photon, Simplified

Feb 05, 2012 Posted Under: The Universe Game

The photon is said to be the massless carrier of the electromagnetic force, having only energy, polarity, and direction.

In information terms, it might be described by 1 bit for spin and a direction vector representing the counts of right and left turns at the vertices of equilateral triangles on the surface of the sphere of the universe. The sum of these planck lengths is the wavelength (energy) of the photon. Two counters are needed to track the progress of the photon through a wave, one for planck times and one for present right vs left turns.

The number of bits to count the turns (x and y) might be variable, the same as needed to count the age of the universe in planck times.   This variableness could account for the early sudden expansion of the universe just as photons decoupled from the hot plasma.

This scheme has the advantage of total relativity.

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Subsuming Epistemology: How Do We Know Anything?

Jan 12, 2012 Posted Under: epistemology

Epistemology is the study of knowledge and justified belief.

Stephen M. Barr, in Modern Physics and Ancient Faith, distinguishes between science and religion on the basis that faith in a religious dogma is a justifiable method of acquiring knowledge of the universe, at the same time claiming that science’s corresponding belief is that only knowledge based on observable material aspects of the universe is justifiable. The obvious difficulty with the notion that religious dogma could be valid is that anyone can claim having received a religious dogma directly from its author, and many do, resulting in mutually conflicting and untestable religions.

I contend that these discussions are doomed to frustrate their participants because they’re overlooking an even more basic limit on knowledge — those inherent in the communication protocols of the knowledge seekers.  In order to have any discussion at all, we must have agreed on a discussion protocol, including the meanings of words and their assemblages into statements.

These agreements are the fundamental transactions and basis of all our interactions.  And every interaction is a negotiation, a request for an agreement.

I am reminded of reports of how the Korean War peace talks couldn’t begin until agreements could be reached on the shape of the table and the seating arrangements, since those fundamental bits of protocol had different cultural importance and meaning to the various participants.

Useful Knowledge

I further contend that only what is agreed on the way to a mutually acceptable action is useful “knowledge”.  Similarly, a disagreement on the same proposition, will be un-useful, leading in the worst cases, to war.

The evolutionary impulses behind these conclusions are compelling.  The impulse to communicate is required to generate capability to cooperate in a larger venture, like food or sex.  The impulse to war arises naturally between groups perceiving resources too limited to sustain them both easily.  War is a “larger venture” requiring cooperation and therefore, communication.

So, the negotiation needed to achieve agreement on what gestures and sounds mean is at the heart of all our interactions.

Tracking the accumulation of these agreements as they evolve into larger agreements will be an entirely useful area of research.  Instrumenting these agreement processes with numbers of participants at every level will be most illuminating, also leading to participant trustability estimates.

What should we call this new science of agreements?  The agreements seem like the DNA of human interactions.

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Lucid Dreaming and Embarrassing Questions

Jan 07, 2012 Posted Under: cosmology

At the end of last year my son recommended an approach to Lucid Dreaming which includes setting dream targets and then recording your dreams every day. Amazingly, it seems to work!

Last night’s dreaming encompassed 3 questions:

1) If the Big Bang started from a zero dimensional point, that would look like a black hole encompassing all the matter/energy of our universe. Then time started its ‘every Planck tick must have a change’ and it would behave like a white hole during the rapid expansion. At the end of the ticking towards maximum entropy, what happens? Does a tick after maximum entropy introduce more order back into the universe? Or might the ticking change direction entirely, towards minimum entropy again, in essence recreating the universe backwards?

2) If the universe started from a spinning black hole, wouldn’t it have to have been spinning faster than the speed of light to slow down by now to the current spin rate? Does that refer to the initial rapid expansion? If the spin continues slowing as the universe expands, does it come to a complete stop, like a spinning dancer with arms straight out? Does that complete stop correspond to the end of time?

3) How did the notion of harvesting electromagnetic flux energy get the unfortunate appellation “Free Energy”, seeming to contradict the conservation of energy law? In fact, all the energy we use on the planet in one way or another is “Free Energy”, coming from the sun and radioactive decay in the planet’s core (from previous stars). We burn wood, coal and oil from plants having previously captured sunlight. We now convert solar energy directly to electricity, and use wind, water and nuclear power to run electric generators. Tesla’s attempts to directly harvest static and magnetic flux energy seem to fit well within this pattern. It is slightly comforting that the world’s patenting agencies have begun permitting patents in this area again, instead of denouncing them as “perpetual energy” machines. Soon we will be using “freer energy”, in the sense that it is easier to build direct electricity converters than generators. I hope soon enough to reduce our anomalous carbon emissions and stop melting the ice caps.

And, why hasn’t life evolved more of these direct electricity conversion techniques? I suspect because life is opportunistic and settled on the first workable solution, the visible light capture via chlorophyll.

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