Wednesday, April 27, 2011

H Bar Over Two

Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle
The IMF announced that China will have the world's largest economy by the year 2016. The American economic hegemony will have lasted a mere (counting from Brenton Woods) 72 years. Whether the prediction holds true or not really doesn't matter. Nothing lasts.

Some would say this should really put things in perspective for American politicians. While Congress engages in short-sighted squabbling over which shall party shall be in power, the rest of the world has decided that the answer is inevitably "Neither. You both suck."

And just as well, as it puts statements by such reptilian creatures as Mitch McConnell, who's one stated and dearest wish is to see Barack Obama "to be a one-term president" in the proper light. Such a lofty, far-sighted, world-shaking vision! The old fuck really knows how to shake the pillars of Heaven. No wonder so many people have prophesied the decline of the American empire, given the fact that it's only apparent goal is the same as that of the lowly bacterium - a narcissistic and self-absorbed desire for things to continue just as they are. Given a possible cultural trend in America towards narcissism, is it any wonder that libertarians are ascendant? And that, quite possibly, the American behemoth is already in decease, and libertarians merely the inevitable outbreak of anaerobic microbes - happily ready to feast on its soon-to-be bloated corpse?

Ah, but that's actually not my worry at the moment. Times like these do make me look at things witha long term perspective, and my current worry is... are we just a simulation?

No really, are we all just a computer program running on some vast supercomputer at the end of time? How could we tell?

I may have an answer to this.

Computer programs that model things will typically try and save on processor space and time. Cutting corners usually involves not quite simulating everything so exactly. Better to be digital than analog. Better to pixelate than process a continuity/ And funnily enough, according to quantum mechanics, the universe is digital. Everything is broken up into discrete little bits: space, time, energy, you name it.

That's what Plank's constant is all about. It's the number of the bottom. You can look at things down to a level of smallness, and then you hit a wall. That's it. No smaller. Little pieces of time, or space, or area,  distance, or volume smaller than the metric  multiplied by Plank's constant simply do not exist. That is the smallest level of pixelation.

And Plank's constant is designated as h. Little h. And little h is a really tiny number, specifically 6.6262 x 10-27 erg seconds. That's the decimal number .00000000000000000000000000066262.

And hbar over 2, like show in the figure above, is just h divided by 2 time pi, and is usually treated as a standard deviation.

So, if it turns out that equations such as the uncertainty principle listed above behave themselves, and a universe in turn behaves similarly with a value for h much, much larger than a value of 6.6262 x 10-27 erg seconds, then we can all breathe a little easier about not living in a simulation. Quite simply because your average dumbass programmer (and your average programmer is, sorry to say, a dumbass) running a standard Monte Carlo simulation will use the largest smallest number he can to run the simulation.

...unless the Great Designer accounts for this, and programs the simulation for larger values of h accordingly...

Monday, April 25, 2011

Unicorns Shitting Donuts

That's why they have the horn! Someplace to hold the donuts. So you can pet the unicorn and eat a donut. It all makes so much sense!

And so it is with so many systems of knowledge. Presented much as lawyers present their case. Seems all logical, just so long as you don't examine the assumptions too carefully. Ah, but once you do, it just all falls apart and is revealed for what it is. Superstition. Magical thinking. Voodoo.

Poor old James Gleick. I've read and enjoyed a lot of his books. Chaos: Making A New Science. Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman. And now he has a new book out. Information: A History, A theory, A Flood.

I'm sure it is an interesting book, covering the works of such notables as Charles Babbage, Ada Byron, Claude Shannon, Norbert Weiner. Unfortunately, at least from this excerpt, it appears that Gleick has also been suckered into the cult of memetics.

How sad. To buy into the Just-So Stories for Little Children of Richard Dawkins. Dawkins makes a glib and vague comparison between stories, tunes, poems, images, tools, and inventions and his fundamentalist conception of genes. All of a sudden everyone is a robot ape, their empty little animal brains filled with a fiction called memes.

I really am amazed at how many otherwise perceptive and intelligent people have bought into this bullshit. But then, the same can be said for social darwinism, libertarianism, objectivism, marxism, all the other isms that sound good on paper, but never, ever work out in the real world - when confronted with real data.

And perhaps that is the only valid field of study for memes: lies, fictions, falsehoods, fraud, false attributions, misapprehensions about the world. Internet memes, requiring only the empty task of a brainless, mindless, stupidly repetition, seems the only true version of meme. These seem to be the only concept in which it applies. Primarily because, flying against all available contradictory data and god taste, these things manage to continue.

Of course, the world of ideas, both abstract concepts and concrete technology, is much more complicated than Dawkin's simplistic notions. I'm sure his stodgy old mind would love that all that messy data which is human culture could be jammed into the much more managable subset of biology. But then, one should be able to continue the process, and stuff biology into chemsistry, and thence into phsyics, and thus, ultimately, all of the silly little complications of being human can be traced back to the 2nd law of thermodynamics, and we are done.

Of course, we must ignore that the typical human behavior is not mimicry, but recreation. We must ignore the fact that the human brain - unlike a computer which is very, very good at copying - really pretty much sucks at reproducing things with any kind of fidelity. Human memory, animal memory just doesn't work that way. Which makes the idea of process of replication with modification as how brains work, wrong. Worse than wrong. Not even wrong.

And not because we have a hard time learning things (we do), but that we just can't stop messing with a good thing. You hear a joke, you make it your own. You see a design, you look for ways to improve it. There is a teleological aspect, a Lamarckian aspect, to human culture that a Darwinian fundamentalist like Dawkins would like very, very much to go away. But it won't. Quite simply, the concept of memes is completely stupid. 

Think about this for a second. How many memes does it take to complete the category for chair. Or for the act of sitting down. Way too many memes. And which meme in yoyur empty little animal brain is it that selects the fitness of all the other memes? And do ants have memes. Because they sure do seem to use them when engaging in categorical behaviors such as making war, making slaves, tending crops, and domesticating aphids. So memes predate human brains? Were memes floating about in the red hot Hadean atmosphere of Earth, just waiting for Life to get started?

It's all just bullshit. It's magical thinking. It's unicorns... shitting... donuts.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

When Mediocre Science Fiction Authors Go Bad

Or just plain confuse their constructed realities with real reality.

And mediocre is being kind. "Bad" is a better descriptor, in that the generated prose is fucking awful, the characters two dimensional and wooden, the dialogue stilted and stiff, the plots melodramatic and infantile, the entire work generally boring, thus resulting in an extremely clumsy and painfully embarrassing to watch episode of public masturbation. Some culprits:

L Ron Hubbard
Jane Roberts
Ayn Rand
Richard Dawkins

The first name is fairly obvious. L Ron Hubbard, creator of Scientology, made a drunken bet that he could turn his fictional works into a cult. I'd say he won it. Nothing more need be said of this piece of shit.

Jane Roberts, probably one of the better examples of the TV Trope known as "Mary Sue". Her Seth character, supposedly a highly evolved fifth dimensional being, is quite possibly one of the most patronizing creations in literature. Jane never attained much of a cult status, certainly not any Jim Jones stature, but she did do a fair amount of harm by trivializing suffering by blaming the victim. The idea that "souls" consented to their life experiences is about as horrible an idea as justifying the mistreatment of the congenitally deformed because they are atoning for the sins of a past life.

I include Ayn Rand as an author of science fiction only because many of her dystopian works were set in the future, although she could just as easily be filed under fantasy. Her foolish bombastic pronouncements certainly managed to ignore the entirety of empirical evidence regarding the human condition. Anarchists and libertarians, working from similar faith-based and completely fucked-in-the-head premises, are continually able to, for lack of a better example,  imagine that their pet unicorns shit donuts (which explains the horns, you see, for collecting donuts when you have a unicorn train in single file parading in your fornt yard just for you!).  The less said about this awful old bitch, the better, save that she had no fucking clue whatsoever about altruism. Which leads me to the last name on  the list.

Richard Dawkins. Strange to call him a science fiction author, but I'll explain in a minute. Most people are not aware of him, but if they are, it is usually for his role as abrasive activist for atheism. I personally consider him an asshole, and think that, with his hectoring prose style and my-way-or-the-highway interpretation of genetics and natural selection, has probably done more harm than good in promoting evolution and atheism. With his imperious pronouncements about right and wrong thinking, he comes across more as a priest or a lawyer than a scientist. But that's not the worst he has done. Starting with The Selfish Gene (now woefully out-of-date), he has created the cult of memetics. Memetics is a (charitably) pseudoscientific discipline devoted the the study of memes.

And memes? Memes are a Dawkins Delusion.

They are pet unicorns that shit donuts. They are untestable hogwash. And have been for some thirty odd years.

This has not stopped people from theorizing about them, like poor old Susan Blackmore. In fact, Blackmore has created variants, such as temes, that, like different colored kinds of Kryptonite don't so much explain human culture very well as rationalize away any and all obvious contradictory complications.

Human history is littered with convenient fictions. The vital principle, the luminiferous aether, the phlogiston, epicycles and the Ptolemaic or geocentric model of the solar system, animal magnetism, memes.

The luminiferous aether was posited to explain how light waves could travel through space. They were disproven by Michaelson and Morley in an experiment measuring the speed of light.

Phlogiston, the element of fire, was proposed by Johann Becker, championed and then rejected by Joseph Priestley, and probably first disproven by Robert Hooke.

Epicycles, the idea that the planets circle around points of empty space along their orbits, were necessary to account for the deficiencies of the geocentric model of the solar system. Once Copernicus put the sun at the center, they were no longer needed. Space travel, to this day, disproves them constantly.

The vital principle, animal magnetism, memes? Unscientific. Hard to disprove the existence of something that does not exist, because, quite simply, an experiment will provide no empirical evidence pro or con. As such, for me, they occupy the realm of philosophy and metaphysics. Waste of time.

Just another cult. We've enough of them already.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The All Too Brief Stellar Age

Perhaps seven years ago or so, I attended Art Chicago, which had just moved to the Merchandise Mart after the previous promoter had gone bankrupt. Most of the works there were paintings, and I remember one particular work quite vividly to this day.

It was a dark, sparse landscape, not quite melodramatic, but tending towards. The time was twilight, and so the horizon was a splash of gold and red. In the foreground, seated in a fairly ornate chair was a very large and rotund man in formal dress eating a cake. He rather looks like Sydney Greenstreet. He holds the cake on a plate with one hand, and a fork in the other.

He's very busy at the cake. His attention unwavering and fully focused upon the act of consumption, and it appears from the look of concentration upon his face, that he is not necessarily enjoying the cake, so much as intent upon devouring it.

Standing beside him is a waiter holding another cake. The waiter is also dressed foramlly, and in fact the garb of everyone in the painting suggests the style of, say, the 1920s or 1930s. Beside the waiter holding the cake is still another waiter, also with a cake. And actually there is a whole sinuous snake dance of waiters with cakes walking zigzaggedly back and forth backwards into the horizon. A possibly infinite number of waiters with cakes are suggested from this, although, thankfully, not done as a vanishing line of waiters.

In the foreground, next to the cake-devouring large and in charge character is another waiter, although by his posture he suggests he is possibly a maitre d or butler. He leans forward with concern as another waiter cups his hand and whispers in his ear. The whispering waiter has a disconcerted look upon his face.

The whole scene done in the kind of improbable lighting that Rembrandt enjoyed using, as though the electric arc lamp had been invented some two hundred years earlier than expected.

I really enjoyed that painting, and, had I happened to have five grand of walking around monies, would have have purchased it. That's how much I liked it.

I happened to be at Art Chicago chaperoning the scuplture class from Harper College. I was, for some reason, temporarily paired with a student who's name now escapes, but who I do remember as being about 80% studied affectations, 15% random mimicry, and the remainder some rudimentary personality. Fidgeting about, he asked me what I thought of the painting. Rather than tell him what I thought, I told him what it suggested to me.

"The big guy eating the cake is God. God is devouring cake because it takes a lot of energy to keep the universe going, to keep existence propped up. As you can see, there are an infinite number of waiters ready to present Him with cakes. If you wish, the waiters are angels. They don't have to be, but it fits with my narrative. The worried waiter/angel with hand cupped to the maitre d/archangel ear is whispering:

'We are out of cake!'"

An elderly, well-dressed, and obviously well-to-do woman standing next to me with her husband beamed at me.

"Oh, I like this painting now!" she said.

I don't know if the couple bought the painting. And I'm not particularly sure what the point of this particular screed was. It just popped into my head just now. Funny how that goes, huh?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Rand Paul: Horse's Ass

Admittedly my Buffoon Watch has been sporadic lately, otherwise I would have caught Rand Paul's Toilet Rant which occurred a month ago. But Rand Paul has been busy since then, so his buffoonery finally caught my attention.

Whether it is starring on John Stossel's show advocating the flat tax (hint which could apply to Paul Ryan as well:  buffing up Steve Forbes' smelly old turd will not put a shine on it), to threatening to filibuster the budget compromise, then deciding against that behavior as it might make him seem to be a petulant dipshit, to quoting from the Holy Book of Rand (Ayn Rand) during Senate hearings, (and yes, Randian Libertarianism and Objectivism are cults), to planning on attending a Tea Party rally against taxes in Bowling Green, Rand Paul never fails to put his foot in his mouth - after stepping into a big steaming pile of ideology. I know it is too easy to make fun of him but, I just can't resist.

So check out this amazingly silly toilet tirade of his from a month ago:

At around 48 seconds in where you get the good stuff. Rand's floaters just can't make it down the toilet. They just sit there in the bowl. Frankly, his toilets don't work and he blames the US government for that. Check out the woman behind him trying not to laugh.

I mean, let's just ignore the whole weird fucking interrogation about whether the Assistant Secretary of Energy is pro-choice or not, and whether the killing of fetuses somehow affects his toilet or light bulb performance (and yes, I get where he is trying to go with his fucked up logic), the fact of the matter is, Rand, there's this lever on the tank that you  have to pull. That makes water come out of the tank and flushes that shit right down the sewer.

I realize indoor plumbing is a new-fangled "notion" to you, but progress, Rand, progress. The idea that modern hygiene and sanitary conditions somehow restrict your choices is not necessarily a bad thing. I mean, I'd love to exercise my free choice to take a shit on your porch or in the driver's seat of your car, but see? Restricting unlimited choices is not always a bad thing.

And keep the pots and pans in the in the kitchen where they belong, not under the bed for your "night soil". Fucking hick.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Take The Colon Cleanse Challenge!

I am not ashamed to admit that I love TV. The trashier and stupider the better.

Hey, I'm allowed. I've read a lot of those... classy books you are supposed to read. I've eaten my intellectual veggies. I'm entitled to some empty calories every now and again.

Some of the best trash TV are the commercials. Recently, there is one on for a product called Colon Cleanse. Me, I'd have endeavored to come up with a better name, but I suppose they want the point to be plain and simple. Part of the charm of this commercial is a chart showing how much fecal matter you store depending on how often you have a bowel movement. If you go but once a day (according to the advertisers) you walking around with about 7 and a half pounds of excess fecal matter. BM every other day, 15 pounds, and so on! (Or maybe it was ounces, the point being, who is doing the comparison measurements here? Or wants to? Are there people who get excited over determining if you have excess fecal matter? I think there are! I think the Colon Cleanse people found just the resource they needed for that nifty chart!)

The rest of the commercial? Well, I don't care. As long as you eat fairly well, get in some moderate exercise, drink enough water, leave your colon alone. Believe me, not only does your colon know what it is doing, it knows better than you do how you are doing.

But I would suggest that they amend the commercial to present a colon cleanse challenge, like the laundry and dish detergent commercials used to do.

And actually, given the recent rustlings, hissings, and scratching of claws on glass that is coming from the reptile cage known as the political right, perhaps that is what all the fuss is about.

Paul Ryan recently released his "GOP Path to Prosperity" budget plan. Given the events of the past decade, I'd say there are some among the rigidly autocratic right that have a sense of humor. Oh, wait, he's serious? Never mind.

Aside from the dismantling of Medicaid and Medicare to pay for even more tax cuts for the rich, the plan calls for entry into fantasyland. Somehow, by 2040 or so, there will be a budget surplus, which will make our robot overlords very happy. And everyone will have a job at the Soylent Green plant.

Yeah, OK, there are plenty news articles out there explaining how ludicrous Paul Ryan's budget plan is. It's just completely unrealistic. So why did he do it? Knowing that it was all horseshit, why pull this type of empty political stunt? To get our minds off the looming budget crisis and government shutdown? Truth to tell, no one outside of Washington or the media coverage really gives a shit about that until it happens. Is it, as David Frum suggests, merely the Republican Party talking to itself?

"Note to self. Fuck over the poor and the middle class and give any remaining monies over to the rich. Uh. Oh! Did I say that out loud?"

I don't think so. I don't think they need a memo point to remind America how severe of an incompetently fucked up fuckups they are.

Here's my theory. I think that Paul Ryan, an admitted Ayn Rand worshipper, may just be getting some hints that, as all Ayn Rand worshippers are, he is so seriously full of shit that he may possibly be beyond even surgical intervention. And so Ryan is, very publicly, taking the Colon Cleanse Challenge!

What say folks, is Ryan carrying perhaps a bit too much excess fecal matter around?

Stay tuned. Same Bat Time! Same Bat Channel!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Life On Man

I'm not much of a germophobe. If food falls on the floor - or the ground - I'll brush it off and eat it. No five second rule for me.

I've always had only a mild version of aversion to getting dirty. Being raised in the country helped some (with "healthy" dirt). My 9th grade biology teacher gave me a book to read which helped. It was called "Life on Man" by  Theodore Rosebury.

So I realize that we are surrounded and suffused by a halo of poop and poop related germs. Literally. If the aliens come, they will either wrinkle their noses (if they have them) in disgust, or bury them in our crotches and armpits in a complete and orgiastic scent symphony...

"How do you do? Welcome to Earth! We- oh! Oh! Ah-ha-ha! Hello there!"

I suspect the latter. I've a feeling that part of Life making it through the Great Filter to expand and explode out into the greater universe is a very high gross-out factor. It's of good survival value. I also believe that any life we meet out there will have solved the problem of survival the way life did on Earth: through consortia. By cooperating, by living together, by living on, within, among, amidst, entangled, embraced, entwined, enamored, encircled, encysted. Swapping and sharing bodily fluids of every type and description. Eww. Icky. Icky. Eww. Eww-eww-ick.

But Get Fucking Over It. It's almost an inevitable result of the known laws of physics.

Of course, we Americans have this pathological tendency to rid ourselves of our little passengers. Which is why we stink so badly when we do not bathe. We exude natural substances. Not sweat. Not eccrine sweat.  Eccrine sweat is mostly water,  with some edible elements for bacteria, for the mild locker room smell. Skin flakes are good, and grease, and sebum. Apocrine sweat, though, that's the good stuff. The apocrine glands, located in the armpits, crotch, and feet, exude a cloudy protein secretion which is bacterial manna from heaven. The bacterial breakdown products are the thing that provides that powerful Body Order Blast.  (3-methyl-2-hexanoic acid and androstenone being the major players).

Not to mention that stinky cheese smell from the feet. L brevis, a foot bacteria, is also used as an inocculant to make strong cheeses. Parmesan, anyone?

Makes you wonder, doesn't it? Why our bodies would produce substances that basically attract stinky bacteria like flowers do bees? Could it be to set up a relatively benign ecosystem, a robust biome that prevents really nasty bacteria from getting a toehold? Yeah, I thought so too. Cooperation going on there.

But we Americans, programmed to be afraid of offending anyone with a smell, take personal hygiene to insane proportions. Fucking pathological, as in Almost German. As a result, I suspect that we wipe out the relatively benign (smelling) bacteria, and leave lots of room for those really virulently stinky motherfuckers. The ones who can digest the smallest crumb, the tiniest scrap of skin flake or seat protein. And as a result, we Americans, when we don't get an opportunity to bathe, really fucking stink up the place something awful.

My personal anecdotal experience suggests this. When I was in "primitive" conditions among people who had a chance to bathe perhaps once a week, I found that, though they smelled a little, I stunk a lot. But after about a week, I stunk less. A healthy balance seemed to be occurring on my epidermis. It helps to be able to change your clothes. Clothing really sucks up a lot of skin oil, grease, sweat, dander, and filth. This probably explains why people in the Renaissance, who rarely if ever bathed, could stand each other.

Regardless, the reason this came up was one of the little old ladies in the ceramics class here at the college just got back from a Sahara safari tour. Or should that be Sahel? Anyway, she started out from the west coast of Africa on a journey to Timbuktu.

When she mentioned she was going through places like Burkina Faso, Niger, and Mali, my response - before I could catch myself - was "Oh my god those places are all shitholes!"

Fortunately she took along lots of toilet paper and wet wipes. She mentioned that it was pretty rough. But the worst part of the trip was on one segment through the Sahara where no one on the bus could bathe for a few days. The bus started to smell pretty ripe. The natives manning the hotel recoiled at the stench of the tourists, but maintained a stoic courtesy.

The little old lady brought me back a gift. A Dogon bronze. It looks like a guy pulling his pants up. I guess he's dancing. She mentioned that she got to see it cast. "How'd they do it?" I asked.

(The old style method, going back to Ghana, perhaps, oh, before my ancestors learned about shit-free buttholes, was to mix up a slurry of clay and horsedung, cover the wax figure, dry it, and melt the wax out, pour the metal in).

"They used charcoal, clay, and camel dung. And they melted lots of bullet casings".

Ah. Probably for a hundredth the cost of what I do. And the technical virtuosity involved in the little Dogon figure is first rate. No defects.

I got to find me some horse dung.