domingo, junho 17, 2018

SFional Lorentz Transformations: "Tau Zero" by Poul Anderson

“Consider: a single light-year is an inconceivable abyss. Denumerable but inconceivable. At an ordinary speed – say, a reasonable pace for a car in megalopolitan traffic, two kilometers per minute – you would consume almost nine million years in crossing it. And in Sol’s neighborhood, the stars averaged some nine light-years part. Beta Virginis was thirty-two distant. Nevertheless, such spaces could be conquered.”

In “Tau Zero” by Poul Anderson.

Yeah I'm aware of the twin paradox and how Special Relativity alone doesn't account for the returning twin being younger; at the time I remember wondering specifically whether one of the main criticism of Tau zero (i.e. that the crew of the ship should observe the universe as being slower relative to them while they're accelerating, not sped up as it is in the book) was on the nose. Not that most people think that special relativity is simple, but in fact it is even trickier than is apparent the first time you meet it. The crucial point to remember is that what you actually see is very different from what is happening "in the observer's frame of reference" as the jargon has it, because you have to allow for the time that light takes to get to you, which adds a whole extra layer of distortions they don't tell you about in your first relativity course. If you take that into account, special relativity has no problem completely accounting for the twin paradox, for instance. In fact in Tau Zero the speed of light is still an uncrossable barrier - as it would be; the point is the effects of time dilation, and as the drive keeps working and the momentum increases, so the dilation effect increases. Since he was trying to discuss the physics, might help to get that bit right. Most "paradoxes" in Special Relativity can be resolved by just doing the Lorentz transformations. The implications of SF time travel are different. Time Travel in a deterministic universe (Terminator 1). People have a lot of problems with this, partly because they assume everything started out in a timeline without time travel. If it is a deterministic universe, the time traveler was always going to travel back in time and his actions were always going to happen. This imposed self-consistency would exclude a large numbers of possible timelines and require very specific actions, but it's not all that strange. Time travel in a not self-consistent universe (Terminator 2 or back to the future). Yep. Quite straightforward. Time travel in a seemingly self-consistent universe that might not really be- See many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. Add time travel. 

Think about it for a while. Fun.

What bothered me at the time was not the twin paradox though; what bugged me was the pushing the spaceship to light speed. Besides the fact that it would take infinite energy to push mass "at" the speed of light, let alone surpass it, which Einstein proved is impossible; if you reached it, for an observer your time would stop and for you, your time, distance to everything would be zero, you would see the whole future life of the universe unfold instantaneously.

But SF does not have eyes to see, eyes lacking elsewhere; the insights come from physics, and the writers can have no more insight than that. In general, they have less. So, despite a final paragraph obviously written more with an eye for an ending than with an eye on content, it is no good looking to SF to tell you what the Universe is up to; much of it is sub-O level, much of it fantasy, not SF and the remainder is both hard to find and usually badly written (very few people who spend years studying math and physics turn out to be good writers - it has been known, but it is rare).

Perhaps the larger point is that looking at others to explain things for you is a weak idea (in fact doomed); better to learn and understand for yourself.

When SF authors develop the courage to stop recycling their Sunday school primers, perhaps the genre will prove the Jesuits wrong: "give me a child until the age of seven, and I will show you the man!"

SF = Speculative Fiction.

sábado, junho 16, 2018

C/Fe: "The Caves of Steel" by Isaac Asimov

"There were infinite lights, the luminous walls and ceilings that seemed to drip cool, even phosphorescence; the flashing advertisements screaming for attention; the harsh, steady gleam of the 'lightworms' that directed:
Most of all, there was the noise that was inseparable from life. The sound of millions talking, laughing, coughing, calling, humming, breathing."

In "The Caves of Steel" by Isaac Asimov

Set 2,000 years in the future, "The Caves of Steel" shows us contrasting pictures of Earth and the Outer Worlds - colonized planets throughout the Galaxy. Although the inhabitants of the Outer Worlds trace their origins to Earth, they are separated from it by much more than mere distance, now calling themselves Spacers and ruling the decaying mother planet as benevolent despots. In his earlier novels, Asimov mastered the translation of speech into its written equivalent; but to recreate the speech of a human being is a problem every novelist faces. Credible robotic speech is a much less common challenge, and in "The Caves of Steel" Asimov developed a form of dialogue for Daneel that is completely believable. Daneel's speech, while possessing the rather formal lilt one might expect from a machine, also possesses a gentle, tempered quality that allows him to pass for human. I was always conscious of a slight mechanical flavour as well.

No zeroth law yet'd have made allowed some interesting variations. In "Robots and Empire", Asimov's robots do indeed find a cunning way around the three laws - they invent a Zeroth Law which states that "no robot can injure humanity or through inaction allow humanity to come to harm" which doesn't directly contradict the First Law, so their brains will accept it, but has the interesting effect in moral philosophical terms of turning them from Kantians to utilitarians. So rather than being guided by an absolute "thou shalt not kill" imperative they become able to kill or harm humans if and only if they have calculated it's for the greater good. Rather than becoming brutal overlords because of this (as the other laws still apply) they end up guiding the development of humanity quietly from the shadows, taking on a role not a billion miles from Banks's AIs. As I say, it was a billion years since I read Asimov but I had hell of a blast re-reading this first volume in the Robot Series.

I always thought Asimov's setup with the Three Laws of Robotics had a bit of a problem when it came to defining 'injure'. Is psychological damage also injury? Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies but don't tell me the truth if my feelings are going to be impacted. The ignorance and avoidance of truth causes a lot of harm in this world. Asimov's laws would clearly not cope with that. You would need to resolve the inherent conflict in the first law and it strikes me that’s when you have to include a decision made regarding relative good (i.e., five lives = better than one life). But then you have to include other factors (e.g., are children 'better' than old people) which becomes subjective. And this is in a simple situation where the "knowns" are all there, not the unknown consequences.

How can we give robots morals? What is our best guide to morality in practical affairs? Cicero's "De Officiis”, surely. Throw in his "Academica", "De Finibus" and "De Natura Deorum", and the robots might have a better sense of what it is to be human, and what it means to be a good person, absent life after death. These are ideas that have stuck fast in the history of European literature and philosophy, and I reckon Cicero's practical style of philosophy is a better guide to acting morally than any work of fiction. But the whole point of AI surely is to create an intelligence which surpasses human capabilities. What could ethics, applied or otherwise, possibly mean at this level of cognition...? AI is meant to make in-roads into the 'paradoxes' of philosophy; paradoxes which we 'resolve' in practical affairs with the virtue of prudence, or practical wisdom. Asimov's robot collapses into a heap of motionless metal when confronted with such paradoxes, but it seems to me that AI might be capable, at one point, of dealing with them. The big question is how...? Would we be willing to cede moral judgments to a non-human intelligence, if it could not adequately convey its 'prudence' to us in our own language?

Obviously, we enter into the realm of speculation here. But I think it behooves us to speculate...

Bottom-line: One of Asimov's best novels. I'd be content with politicians having some morals actually too. It's not the robots we have to worry about...I'd also add that rather than teach robots to read literature so that they can become more human, we should teach literature students to read texts as featuring not 'ethical dilemmas' but concurrency or race hazard problems so that they can become less robotic when they in turn become pedagogues...It's important, however, that those Sex Robots coming off Japanese production lines are also kept well away from feminist stuff, though, I would have thought. I suppose that Fighter Robots might be programmed with only war stories. Obviously stuff about muskets and cannon balls and stuff like that would need to be excluded from the reading lists as well. What would happen if Daneel started reading Enid Blyton? I think it's just encourage Daneel to wander about all day trying to solve mysteries, being beastly to travellers, having high tea and picnics with lashings of strawberry jam (which probably wouldn't be good for him).

sexta-feira, junho 15, 2018

GOATnaldo - It was men against God: "Portugal vs. Spain in Russian World Cup"

(@ Record Newspaper)

I know what I wrote before on this same blog, but now I'm going to have to debate the diagnostic labeling of Ronaldo as narcissist. Nothing of the kind I’m Afraid - yes, impossibly good looking, yes there is the Ronaldo shrine in Madeira, indeed there are the pirouettes and the swashbuckling, muscle rippling equivalent of Colin Firth as Me Darcy, shirtless, sweaty and gleaming in the sun...but: to be a narcissist you have to have an emptiness inside where the soul sits - you got to have a lack of empathy for your comrades, family, lovers, children, nation- you have to have grandiose expectations of yourself that are at odds with reality...that is not the man we speak of. If you doubt it replay the final vs France in Euro ‘16. A truly spiritual moment in football if not recent cultural history. 20 mins in and injured, in agony, in tears for letting the team and himself down as he is stretchered off the pitch. One man down - and it’s Ronaldo FFS - and Portugal never gives up...then...then: in the last 5 mins, the oldest player in the Portuguese squad is encouraged onto the pitch by the team captain...all full of nerves and pride...and Ronaldo whispers into his ear: ‘I believe in you’...and the nameless hero goes on to score the winning goal in the last 3 mins of the match...when I saw that, whatever cynical doubts I may have entertained about the genius of Madeira evaporated into thin air...I really cannot believe what a machine Ronaldo is. The guy is tenacious on the pitch. He's not perfect by any means but he had a near perfect outing against Spain tonight. I really didn't want that match to end but that exactly what keeps us coming back for more matches like that one. If the rest of the World Cup matches are half as good as that then I think we're in for a ball this year. Kudos and more of the same please.

(@ A Bola Newspaper)

What we saw today, and have seen multiple times before, was a player who is determined, hard working, ruthless and has an incredible mental strength. How does one get that out-of-world focus and calm in the 88th minute of a World Cup match in which your team needs a goal? How? Ronaldo shows us time and again how it's done. Relish this while it lasts, though by all evidence he has no plans of slowing down. And for this year may be in the top 10 games of the tourney. This is football of the 70s and 80s. Ronaldo and Costa delivered the stuff of legends. Hats off to the Referee for keeping the players in check. A breathtaking finish. It was a universal "We want more!" chant at the end. An all-time classic. I wish those who are allergic to football and the World Cup could have seen this: it was the beautiful game in one of its best guises. The only problem is that it is hard to imagine it getting better.

(@ A Bola Newspaper)

Bottom-line: Outstanding. Plots, sub-plots, drama, skill, goals, pressure, conflicting styles, egos, errors, bonkers venue. Enough talking points to fill a 10 hour phone-in. 99 times out of 100 that Ronaldo free kick never goes in. That look Ronaldo gave after scoring the penalty. Bloody football eh? Ronaldo is outer-worldly; he's just what we need to have a credible claim to this World Cup. This match was football at its best; I doubt we'll watch a better, more intense, more skillful match in this tournament. Whom the gods love, the gods love. Piety knows nothing from logic. I see too many are still mixing the footballer with the man/personality. It's like, when talking of Van Gogh, fixating on the madman. The guy is 33, enjoy his game while it lasts, it will be a huge void after he and Messi retire. It's as a footballer that we should celebrate him, marvel at his skill and desire. It's sad because the hatred jaundices appreciation and inevitably mirrors; hatred never projects, it eats those who hate from the inside, until they're hollow and without credibility.

NB: Yep, Costa certainly gave Pep a forearm smash but the Portuguese defender should be ashamed at the way he reacted like a big jessie and allowed Costa to go and score rather than manning up and doing his job. Claret gushing out of your forehead and into your eyes? Get out a sewing needle and a length of crepe bandage and let's get on with it! Dislocated shoulder? Push the bugger back in and let's get going, we've a game to win! That's the attitude! Pepe got what his craven conduct merited, I just felt sorry for his teammates.

Coda: I confess that some posts in the Portuguese press depress me. They just provide an example of something resembling "sebastianismo", one of the most damaging facets of the "old school" Portuguese ethos. I want a brand new model of Portuguese. One that stops longing for the magnificence of Portugal 500 years ago and stops being depressed by the situation 50 years ago. I am an old model of Portuguese that is trying is best to transform in to a new model: one that believes in work ethic and innovation, one that does not have an inferiority complex. As someone has rightly said, Portugal is not just Lisbon and Porto. There are plenty of good, skillful, intelligent and talented Portuguese scattered around the World. For me that is the real Portugal. And the average is certainly not "little" or "intellectually poor".

Um abraço lusitano

quinta-feira, junho 14, 2018

The Stars Look Different Today: “The Somnambulist's Dreams” by Lars Jerlach

“’So what is it Enoch Soule? Why are you here? What are you here to tell me?’
‘I know why you’re here,’ he [the chess player] said.”

In “The Somnambulist's Dreams” by Lars Jerlach

2018’s been my year of reading some fundamental books on Physics. At least they are what some of my friends call Fundamental Books on Physics. After having read a bunch of them, some are not so fundamental: “Reality Is Not What It Seems” by Carlo Rovelli, “The Many Worlds of Hugh Everett III -Multiple Universes, Mutual Assured Destruction, and the Meltdown of a Nuclear Family” by Peter Byrne, “What is Real - The Unfinished Quest for the Meaning of Quantum Physics” by Adam Becker, “The Emergent Universe" by Wallace, Our Mathematical Universe: My Quest for the Ultimate Nature of Reality” by Max Tegmark. My tiny brain is a hive of activity…Most of them were on the so-called Measurement Problem in Quantum Mechanics. The Everett Multiverse is one of the most interesting theories I’ve ever read in Physics, and it changed the way I read Jerlach’s novel. Quantum Mechanics as a generalization of probability theory just seems to me to throw into the rubbish bin the measurement problem rather than either solve or replace it with something better. Why doesn't the dynamics (e.g. Schrödinger's equation) describe the distribution turning into a delta function when it happens? The fact that different dynamical descriptions are required for evolution and measurement always seemed like the problem to me; multiverse doesn't exactly solve that problem but it at least kind of suggests a program for trying to deal with it. Do I believe in it? That’s not the point. All these time I thought were just a mad ranting nutters when they tried to emulate Quantum Physics in novelistic terms, but I realise now, in a sudden flash of insight, how wrong I was, how wrong we've all been, how crappy my work is on Computer Science (and such) and, in short, I was blind.


It’s all about the dialectic. Floating in front of me. It does that, right? It floats by your nose? Is the ghost of Hegel hanging there in front of Enoch Soule’s face, wherever he goes just all over us like a bad rash? His cold dead beady eyes following us around...... by the way. Sorry Jerlach. I'm a chronic acute insomniac with a workload, and this made me read your novel in a different way. That's my excuse for this behaviour and I'm sticking to it. I always do.

Bottom-line: Futurehuman 4 eva!!!!

terça-feira, junho 12, 2018

I Have Been Nominated for the Liebster Award!

The Award
The Liebster is an award that is given to bloggers by other bloggers. Liebster in German means “sweetest, kindest, nicest, dearest, beloved, lovely, kind, pleasant, valued, cute, endearing, and welcome.”
The Rules
Entries start 1st Jan 2018 and ends on 25th Dec 2018. The winner will be picked on the 31st of December.
And as posted from he who nominated me:
1) Thank the person who nominated you — humble thank you to Knight of Angels
2) Answer the questions provided by the nominator
3) Nominate 5-11 bloggers with fewer than 1000 followers who you think deserve the award
4) Create a new list of questions for your nominees
5) List the rules in your post
6) Let your nominees know of their nominations personally
I post both versions because clearly there’s been some drift as this travels.  It’s kind of cool to see how it’s evolved.  I’ll do my best to honor both sets of terms.

1. What was the worst vacation you’ve ever been on?
Going to Algarve and also working on a critical IT Project at the same time...
2. Who was the most memorable person you have ever met?
Several: Lauren Bacall, Mickey Rooney, Wim Wenders, ... at the Portuguese Cinemateca.
3. If you could go back and remake a movie before it’s been made, what movie would that be?
Hackers (1995) by Iain Softley. Made on the brink of universal internet access, in which skateboarding computer nerds still needed to use payphones to get online...
4. What food, in your opinion, should be stricken off of menus nationwide?
MacDonalds. The point is that if you stop gorging and get lots of exercise, it's OK to include junk once in a while. If a kid is addicted to junk food, don't blame it on the ads, blame it on the parents. Nevertheless, I'd get rid of it anyway.
5. What is your least favorite book of all time?
Lifeguard by James Patterson. It's really bad...
Questions for my nominees:
1. Have you got a bad book habit? If yes, which one?
2. How do you feel giving bad ratings and reviews?
3. If you could read in a foreign language which one would you choose and why?
4. Have your reading habits changed after you started blogging? If yes, why?
And my nominees are…

NB: BrokenTune has already been nominated by Troy.

You are under no obligation to accept your nomination and/or participate.  All the same, I’m usually educated and/or entertained by you and your work, so it’s only right that you should be recognized.

domingo, junho 10, 2018

Samsung Steps Challenge: Lavender (Mai)

Participants: 1 380 486 (world-wide)
My place at the end:37 767th (first 5%)
My number of steps: 510 722
Distance = 510 722 / 1320 = 386,9 Km
My Number of steps per day: 510 722/31 = 16 475 (*)

I should also mention the most exhilarating and exciting way to walk is when you go about it stark naked. If you're careful you can find places where almost nobody goes, and then even if you do see somebody you can easily hide in the bushes (you have to watch the nettles though...) and watch them walk past, making it more of an adventure. It is far more interesting than the run-of-the-mill brisk walk. There was one occasion where it got a bit risky, when some bearded fell runners gave chase, and I had to scramble into a land-fill site to escape...

Samsung Steps Challenge: Desert (April)


quinta-feira, junho 07, 2018

The Stages of Truth: "Our Mathematical Universe - My Quest for the Ultimate Nature of Reality" by Max Tegmark

Forget about Tegmark’s 4 levels. The stages of truth I can remember are:

• Old Greeks saying "We only see a faint reflection of reality", i.e. we have observation, and that's flawed.
• Old Chinese saying "All we have is observation. Reality is observation, and observation is a function of the human form" which is a most interesting thing. They state that sense is inherently limited by our being. Excellent.
• Descartes saying "to know stuff, you must have doubt. Knowledge is developed by doubt" which means testing: the scientific method. Which he didn't invent, but put on a logical footing. And also founding it all on "I think, therefore I exist".
• Karl Popper saying that the essential property of what's knowable is what can be tested, questioned. This continues from Descartes and quite a few more in between including Kant obviously who's really cool but illegible.

When I think about 'absolute' truth, I am coming from a perspective that our 'reality' is necessarily constructed, broken down/separated into 'things', defined and labelled - in a way that is necessarily at odds with how these 'things' really are in an interdependent 'cosmic' whole. Science, for example, is a conventional prism through which we observe, construct and make sense of our experience or 'reality'. There are things that we agree are true by convention. For example - we might agree that the object on my desk is a "cup". It is labelled "cup". But it has no intrinsic "cupness" in and off itself - from its own side. It is dependently originated upon its materials and production in an infinite regression of causes and conditions. We can't closely examine the object and find an intrinsic quality of cupness apart from the qualities we conventionally ascribe to it. I am coming to this from a Buddhist perspective but I find echoes of it in Bohr's statement “Everything we call real is made of things that cannot be regarded as real.” By "non-dual" I mean that 'reality', ultimately, has no intrinsically existent opposites (which are really only understood by reference to what they are opposed to) like good/evil, light/dark, subject/object, self/other, God/Devil, etc., etc. I suppose you could say that 'reality' is indeterminate in a quantum sense, and not 'classical'. The laws of physics contain within them a few constants (e.g., mass of the electron, magnetic permeability of space, etc.). The values of these constants seems to be arbitrary, and they can only be determined by experiment. This bothers some (not many) physicists, particularly because small changes in the values of any of these constants completely changes the universe (e.g., if Planck's constant determines fusion efficiency in stars; change is little and stars don't form). One solution to this is to speculate that there are infinitely many possible universes, each with its own random set of values for these constants.
In the 1990's I was still in college, and this stuff interested me a lot at the time (still does). When the multiverse theory was applied to help explain the apparent wave-light pattern of photons in the two-slit experiments, evidenced by the interference pattern observed during the two-slit experiment, I wrote a paper to my physics’ Professor, José Maria de Quadros e Costa. In the paper I described the following experiment.

One way to test the existence of other universes is to run a long series of slit experiments. Some will be one-slit experiments; some will be two-slit experiments. Let's say we choose to run 50% one-slit experiments, and 50% two-slit experiments. If the order of the series is determined by change, say, by fair dice:

Roll.... experiment

1 1 slit
2 1 slit
3 1 slit

4 2 slit
5 2 slit
6 2 slit

We can expect that, when we roll a 1, 2, or 3, the pattern will reflect a single slit. If we roll a 4, 5 or 6, we can expect the interference pattern associated with a 2 slit experiment. That's the control experiment. While we expect a random order of the experiments, we also expect nothing strange. We should see the interference patterns during each 2 slit experiment, and none when we perform the 1 slit experiments. Now, if I create a quantum number generator, and the 'lnformation leaking among multiverses' explanation of the interference patterns is correct, then our expectations are different. Let's say you have a box with radiation detection on two sides. Quantum theory expects that in some multiverses, a given radioactive decay event will happen in some universe, but not others. When the detector on the left side of the box goes off, run a 1 slit experiment. When the detector on the right side goes off, run a 2 slit experiment. If multiverses exist, and if the quantum information leaking across multiverses hypothesis is correct, and if we have correctly created a quantum random number generator, we should always see the interference pattern, even when we run a 1 slit experiment. This is because our other selves in 1/2 of the other multiverses will be running a 2-slit experiment while we are running the 1-slit experiment. While this experiment may test the existence, or absence of multiverse, it can only detect multiverses if the leaking information hypothesis is correct. Moreover, this experiment would not inform on the existence or absence of a deity. Especially the all-powerful kind like the flying spaghetti monster, who should, being almighty, be able to change all of the experiments in all multiverses to single slit experiments with his noodly appendages.

I fondly remember many after-class discussions with him regarding physics’ topics such as this. Alas, Quadros e Costa is already in one of the Multiverses.

Bottom-line: I don’t like Tegmark’s approach to the Measurement Problem. If the universe is Mathematical because of the Everettian Theory, it all seems rather stupid to say the least. “The Many Worlds of Hugh Everett III - Multiple Universes, Mutual Assured Destruction, and the Meltdown of a Nuclear Family” by Peter Byrne, “What is Real - The Unfinished Quest for the Meaning of Quantum Physics” by Adam Becker, and “The Emergent Multiverse - Quantum Theory According to the Everett Interpretation” by David Wallace are much better treatments on the nature of reality.

2 stars for Mad Max’s personal histories in Physics.