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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Dimensions, angles and mass …

Aug 27, 2011 Posted Under: The Universe Game

As Hurricane Irene settles in on us, I recollect rehearing last week the Dimensions edition of “Through the Wormhole” and subsequently dreaming of a multidimensional tesseract-looking unfolding of spacetime.

Since then the imaginings have wandered back to one dimensionality, but with line segments of length 1 and no time dimension, just the continuous operation of the quantum “probability wave function”. The advantage of no time dimension is it avoids the inevitable question “why can’t we access previous time, like we can all directions of space?”

These line segments have a relation to the point of origin (distance, or address) and a polarity (the end closest to origin and the end farther from origin). Can it have a spin? I suppose if we say it can. Does the spin require another dimension? Put that question on hold.

While wondering how index of refraction works, it occurred to me that a non-right angle of the extra space dimensions could coincidentally describe the mass involved. So empty space has right angles and mass has angles, which also of course describes gravity.

This setup is almost worthy of a Game of Life style emulator 🙂

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Mass as the Curvature of Space-Time

Jul 25, 2011 Posted Under: physics

After noticing in my previous post that the highest energy photon would be the smallest black hole, I continued wondering about the smallest possible mass.

And after dancing around the obvious non-starter of a no energy photon, because zero energy would be equivalent to infinite wavelength, it occurred that it could be descriptive of the boundary of the universe, presuming the universe looks like a big balloon.

That is, like a latitude going infinitely around the earth but still being finite, a zero mass photon could describe a universal latitude (or longitude) around the still finite universe.

But, could a zero mass photon have a direction? Or be polarized? I’d guess not, so it probably can’t be a real thing.

It does suggest limits though, for the universe, and for the least possible mass.

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In Search of the Least Mass …

May 11, 2011 Posted Under: physics

I got to wondering a couple of weeks ago, what is mass? What is the smallest possible amount of mass that theoretically could exist?

It is thought the least massive particles we are aware of are the lightest of the 3 “flavors” of neutrino, in the range of 1/2 to 1 electron-volt.

Then in the pool tonight I got to wondering about E=mc^2. If a photon’s rest mass is 0 (since its frame of reference is the speed of light, its mass must be 0), what is the energy of a photon that would collapse its time-space neighborhood to a black hole?

That turns out to be satisfyingly straightforward — the least possible wavelength  is a planck length, whose energy corresponds to a planck mass.  This energy bundle would be the smallest possible black hole, having a Schwarzschild radius of 1 planck length.  (I say would be, because it’s not clear how such a photon could be created.)

This doesn’t bring any light to the question about the least mass. But at least it’s worth pursuing, as there is a Clay Institute million dollar Millenium Prize attached to a mathematical description of the solution.

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Whence the redshift?

Apr 06, 2011 Posted Under: physics

A few weeks back my son asked me to explain the redshift, and I discovered I could not!

Having started with the usual comparison to the Doppler effect in the sound waves of a train or siren, it suddenly occurred to me there was no correspondent to the collection of air molecules the sound wave compresses. Raw space doesn’t correspond, having no mass.

So if there is nothing for light to “wave”, what does its frequency represent? Is the photon a whirling energy dervish, its energy measured by how fast it spins? I struggle with images like these on the advice of Einstein, who said you need a good image to get to a reasonable understanding of things. And while the quantum wave mathematics is useful for computing many things, it doesn’t yet help me with an image.

After a couple of weeks thinking about it, I got sort of ok with the notion of gravitational redshift, the photon losing energy climbing out of a gravitational “well”.

But I’m still not getting the redshift arising from the relative speed of the photon originator separating from tts detector. It seems to me there was only needed one acceleration of the transmitter (and receiver — equal and opposite impulses) to achieve the speed, which would then last a very long time in deep space, there being very little to friction against. Is the redshift only related to the acceleration needed to achieve that speed of separation?

Other questions arise:

  • Is the photon’s frequency changed by its traversal of the various dark matter gravitational structures encountered in its maeanderings of the space between us and it?
  • How exactly does the speed-of-light relationship between space and time constrain the “travel” of the photon? Does it have to touch down on each planck length on its journey?
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12th Annual AT&T Cyber Security Conference

Oct 13, 2010 Posted Under: internet

Among several scary and alarming assessments of our, and the world’s, (lack of) security capabilities at today’s conference, I found Dr. Edward Amoroso’s retrospective from the year 2035 the most imaginative and interesting of the presentations.

He used the scenario to review his entire 50 year tenure at AT&T and the curious developments of security situations and responses over that time. Starting with the emphasis on a Trusted Computing Base in the Orange Book, he reminded us of the evolution of worms, viruses and social engineering attacks over the years, from the original 1988 Internet Worm to the Stuxnet Worm of 2010 and the Virtual Wars of the 2030s.

I suspect some of his timeline to be mis-remembered however, as it seems to me the Stuxnet Worm first loosed in Iran’s nuclear facilities had the capability to bring down essential technologically controlled infrastructures around the world, including power and sewer systems.

He proposes a shift of software engineering to the training status of civil engineering will solve most of the problems with software, culminating with the 2035 establishment of the AT&T Reliable Software Center. But this view is at odds with the fundamental limits of logical proofs pointed out in Godel’s 1931 Incompleteness Theorems. And even though Amoroso cautions that there will still always be software bugs, I get the sense he is referring to the occasional mistake and not the fundamental impossibility of proving software correct. Bill Clinton pointed to another core part of the problem, that of appropriately specifying the intent of software, in his famous “Well, it depends on what you mean by the word ‘is’.”

Despite these fundamental problems, I think Amoroso alluded briefly to what may well be the best possible resolutions by mentioning natural systems like forests. Looking at civilization’s evolution of resilient software from the perspective of how a forest’s ecology arises with various plants, insects and animals performing needed, mutually trusted, functions even in the face of meltdown disasters like forest fires can guide us to workable security solutions.

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In the beginning …

Sep 07, 2010 Posted Under: cosmology

Since my last post there has been much investigation of other people’s thinking along these lines, including even some math background. I realized that my attempt to start with zero dimensional points was leading to the anathema of infinities that have plagued quantum mechanics for a long time. The universe is apparently 13.7 billion years old, which denies the possibility of infinities.

My efforts were moving directly toward string theories. Maybe they still are, but I want to start even before things as large as strings.

Part of my recent research has led me to notice the “essentials” of physics. So far I am even questioning the basic concepts of Gauss and Planck: that length, time and angular momentum are the essentials.

There is perhaps another, even more fundamental, way of looking at these notions. What if a (finite) number of distinguishable points are governed by game-of-life style rules specifying how closely packed they may be among the “holes” separating them in their topological space? These rules could look exactly like probabilities at the 100,000 foot view, as we see their collections (which we think of as particles).

Then the only essential is that things not remain the same (time).

With different rulesets we might have multiple universes, as some string theorists have proposed lately. This could even let the rulesets evolve the most interesting universes.

This line of thinking suggests to me the possibility of a computer program to discover a ruleset matching our own physics to some arbitrary closeness.

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Another Crack at Cosmology

Aug 04, 2010 Posted Under: cosmology

The last attempt at this discussion started with the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle already in play. But that presupposes too much.

Instead, I’d like to take a common saying of my teenage son as a starting point: “Dad, I’m bored.” Now I think he is asking for coaching about how to discover more interesting things, which of course I could learn more about (the coaching — I’m already interested in many, many things).

But if one imagines, as many people do, that there must have been a “prime mover” who created this universe, It might have also said “I’m bored.” This might have lead to some imaginings.

Let us imagine a zero dimensional universe. But there would only be one point. Not very interesting. So, let us imagine a rule: it must change. If it changes, it might eventually become interesting, especially if the changes permit complexity to arise. So, we must imagine some changing rule or rules. I think this notion, of change, creates TIME.

One change might be: the number of dimensions of our universe. So, let us imagine a one dimensional universe. Now here we have some leeway. An infinity of points, infinitely close together, or infinitely far apart, however you like to say it. But all the points are zero dimensional — again boring. So what if we invent some ways of assigning attributes to subsets of the line universe. How about two points together can have a polarity, a north and south pole. Or each point has an address, a distance from an arbitrary middle point of the line. Or each point is only probably there.

Actually, the probability notion has some merit, in that quantum mechanics is immersed in it. What if the probability of a point’s existence is spread out over, say, 11 dimensions (adjacent points) like some string theories?

But there still is a big puzzle about how zero dimensional points can be mapped to a physical thing with actual size, like a Planck size. How can a point have an attribute? If it exists on a line segment, it could have a distance from each end of the line segment (except for the infinite number of points insertable between each pair of points). Or, if we imagine a line constructed from a rule like “each point makes a new neighbor point on its right or left, whichever has no neighbor”, there could be a number of points from the starting, middle point, an address so to speak.

I don’t yet have any clear idea where this is going, but I wanted to start as near the beginning as could be …

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Wealth — What Is It?

Jun 19, 2010 Posted Under: economics

I recently tweeted:

Even the richest person envies someone. The true measure of wealth is gratefulness.

That definition works for me, but the economics lecture I attended today explored more traditional notions: value of use, value of exchange, value from production and value from obligation from the Henry George school of thinking about economics.

I don’t subscribe to basing economics on land use as in the Georgian view, but instead notice that our excess wealth seems to have begun just after we learned to farm, about 15,000 years ago.

That shift from hunter-gathering to farming allowed us to generate more food than needed and thus freed up people to engage in other activities like some of my favorites, mathematics and cosmology.  Ours is the first species to make that transition and as such, the first species to move beyond the normal zero-sum games of survival of the fittest.

As we move towards expected population stabilization at 9 or 10 billion of us, we are in a unique position to continue improving our quality of life by making maximum use of the very adequate energy budget streaming from the sun.

But our DNA lags behind this huge advance into technology and our trading is still driven by considerations of fear and greed.  It is this greed/fear base which we have not learned to overcome that periodically drives liquidity out of our markets by the boom-bust cycle of something-for-nothing investment hysteria bubbles, followed by fear-driven crashes.

The worst part of this cycle is the slow return to economic health caused by the subsequent extreme caution before people again start trusting the idea of investing.

I wonder if we will learn to detune these ill effects from our investment markets before we invent our replacement species, the computer/communications system of the world?

That detuning will require us to mature a little, to give up the irrational something-for-nothing wishful thinking that currently elects politicians who can not ever deliver on the promise.  Their inability to deliver is what causes our governments to operate in a more or less continuous state of bankruptcy, spending more than they have and devaluing our money by inflation and sometimes outright abrogation of debts.

How can we persuade our neighbors to vote to balance the budget?  And ourselves?

After all, this belief in magic was ingrained in us during our earliest, most intense, discoveries of the world — when we were babies. Then, all we had to do to summon the gods to take care of us, was cry out.

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