Yet another weird SF fan

I'm a mathematician, a libertarian, and a science-fiction fan. Common sense? What's that?

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Yet another weird SF fan

Monday, March 31, 2008

If It Rains on the Last Day of March …

If March is supposed to “go out like a lamb” and if it rains on the last day of March, would that mean it's going out like a “water sheep,” otherwise known as … a hydraulic ram?

A Speculation on Simulated Beings, Part II

Cectic has a different take on reductionism and simulated beings than I had in Part I. I'm dubious about Cectic's take. If the robots are using executable files, then they would not necessarily have access to the source code unless the Programmer included it in the executable. Instead of speculating about whether the source code was sufficient, they would speculate about whether it exists or, if they did have access to a version, whether it was a reliable guide to the object code.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

In Honor of Earth Hour

In honor of Earth hour, I've given the top right cell a nuclear glow.

Back when we were building nuclear power plants, it made sense to be allied with environmentalists. They hadn't turned against nukes on a large scale yet. Nowadays, on the other hand …

Okay. It's been over an hour and time to restore the original. The white color was glaring too much anyway.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Required Reading

Jake Young explains the apparent anti-science attitude among us wingnuts:

To summarize, I think some Republicans do not reject science per se, rather what they reject is the tendency for scientific facts to be used for planning. By planning, I mean active organization of a system to achieve a desirable (to some) outcome. Planning can be applied to any complex system -- societies, economies, climate, etc., and it is predicated on the assumption the knowledge of how a system works gives one the ability to control the outcome.

But wait, there's more. The very next post on the same blog includes a comment from MarkH explaining why we right-wing crackpots insist on extra evidence:

I think you've gone off the deep end here Jake. The doctors aren't having their rights violated. This is about criminalizing the poacher. And to some degree, doctors are the property of the state. It is impossible to have medical education without significant state subsidization, and although I don't know the specifics of every single country in Africa, that's a safe generalization to make.

For instance, here in the US, your medical education is heavily subsidized by the state. Probably on the order of 100k/student. Resident training programs also receive about 100k/resident from government entitlement programs.

In other words, the existence of a government program is used as a precedent for more government. That means we must take the disadvantage of a state-run fix for a problem and double it. Equivalently, we could insist on twice as much evidence as we would if there weren't a political solution planned. (In the hypothetical case of a government program that produced an attitude of “Not again! We've done that already.” it might make sense to insist on less evidence than usual.)

If You Don't Trust Someone to Have an Abortion Why Would You Trust Her to Have a Child?

I was reminded of the above question by a recent Boing Boing post.

Crazy Talk?

Indexed has a diagram on the compound sins that produce two different simpler sins (seen via Zoe Brain). Most of it seems plausible but the compound sin that produced both Birth Control and Creating Poverty was listed as Crazy Talk, as though Birth Control and Creating Poverty were somehow incompatible. It should be obvious that the compound sin that involves both Birth Control and Creating Poverty is the crash of Social Security.

A Common Cliche among Iraq-War Opponents

One of the commonest cliches among Iraq-war opponents is that “we” must be big enough to admit the error of the invasion. For what it's worth, my introduction to such a cliche was the claim that “we” must be big enough to admit that building nuclear-power plants was a mistake …

A Reason Not to Criminalize Holocaust Denial

It might be used as an excuse to criminalize imitation Holocaust denial.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Is The Man Without a Country Pro-Assimilation?

I'm not sure reading The Man Without a Country in public schools is a path to assimilation. It's possible some children of immigrants might start thinking of their parents as people without a country and then extend that to Americans in general. This might be followed by being especially loyal to an imaginary version of “the old country.”

Monday, March 24, 2008

Redefining Brain Death

During the controversy over the late Terri Schindler Schiavo many people claimed that the definition of “brain death” should be expended to include persistent vegetative states. On the other hand, there is reason to believe the definition of “brain death” should be scaled back (seen via Transterrestrial Musings).

Transterrestrial Musings then applied the reasoning to cryonics. For some reason, I'm reminded of the well-known H. P. Lovecraft quote:

That is not dead which can eternal lie.
And with strange æons even death may die.
On a more serious note, I disagree with the common assumption among transhumanists that religious people (like those defending Terri) are the enemy … unless, of course, they happen to be blithering idiots. (We must recall that secular blithering idiots are also not our allies.)

An Entry I Won't Be Able to Post

I was originally planning an entry complaining that the fundamentalist bioethicists in Vampire Domestication were straw men. After all, nobody could be that mind-bogglingly stupid …

I was wrong.

There was more to this stupidity than not recognizing Richard Freakin' Dawkins. As Orac (one of the few people to emphasize this point) pointed out:

Consider: The entire theme or "frame" of the movie is the suppression of alternate viewpoints by a "Darwinian orthodoxy" to the point where evolutionists are equated to Nazis (over and over and over again) or Stalin. The movie is nothing more than a long catalog of alleged incidents where ID "scholars" have been "repressed" (help, help, I'm being repressed!) by those evil "Darwinists." To those unfamiliar with the longstanding religious campaign to sneak the teaching of creationism (ID or otherwise) into science classes in public schools or, failing that, at least to deemphasize or eliminate the teaching of evolution in public schools, it's a "frame" (albeit a dishonest and deceptive one) that has the potential to be compelling to Americans, particularly the religious, even if the movie is an inept piece of crap, as Richard Dawkins states. It plays to the natural American love of the underdog and desire to see "all sides" represented, at least when it is not clear to them that one side is pseudoscientific nonsense. It's a winning "frame."

In one fell swoop, the producers handed on a silver platter the perfect weapon to combat that frame by "expelling" Myers. In a single, misguidedly stupid act of fearful vindictiveness, they handed the "frame" of defending intellectual freedom back to the pro-evolution side. By "expelling" Myers and then dissembling and lying about it, the producers demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are nothing more than hypocrites, pure and simple, looking for an angle to push creationism. This becomes glaringly obvious particularly when one couples this "expulsion" of Myers with the producers' prior actions of trying to hold screenings for audiences made up of only the religious who do not believe in evolution and are sympathetic to ID creationism and the deceptive and disingenuous way that the producers obtained interviews with Dawkins and Myers. And don't even get me started on how Mathis has apparently used plants in audiences of these screenings to lob softball questions at him.

I suspect this point has been underemphasized because stereotypical antifundamentalists think such repression is just what religious people do. To us theistic evolutionists, this nonsense is peculiar and needs examining.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Purim and Blindsight

While reading Blindsight by Peter Watts during Purim, I realized that in the Blindsight universe Haman was almost certainly a vampire. (There's a brief summary of vampire biology here.)

Come to think of it, the background of Blindsight explains some facets of human psychology. For example, it explains why human beings are hardwired to hate and fear strangers. It even explains part of the anti-capitalist mentality. If somebody was unexpectedly well off in prehistoric conditions, in the Blindsight universe he/she was more likely to be a vampire.

Similar speculations might apply in the real world. There have been times in the past when more than one hominid species was around. Xenophobic instincts might date from then. If the brightest species was not the victor, hardwired envy might also date from then. (The attempted pogrom discussed in the Book of Esther was probably due to xenophobia.)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A Speculation on Simulated Beings

If intelligent creatures in a simulated universe tried creating their version of physics, they might be able to get as far as identifying the characteristics of the machine language used. On the other hand, the source code is clearly more fundamental (from the point of view of the programmer) but they could find out that only by looking at large-scale patterns.

We can imagine philosophical debates between the reductionists and believers in the Source Code in which the reductionists correctly point out that nothing that violated the rules of the machine language had ever happened and think that meant they won the debate.

I was inspired by this post at Overcoming Bias.

On the Other Hand…

Maybe market bubbles aren't an example of agreeing with the majority. Agreeing with the majority might explain high asset prices but they can't explain increasing asset prices. Maybe market bubbles are what happens when people move their opinions in the direction of the majority but overshoot it.

If people have a tendency to overshoot the opinions of others, the best way to agree with the majority is to lean a little against what appears to be the majority opinion.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Groupthink, Market Bubbles, and Exponential Modes

Robin Hanson recently demonstrated how much a contrarian he can be. In a society devoted to individualism, he came out in favor of conformity:

This is a concrete occasion to revisit a general issue.  In general, if you want to believe the truth, then you should just accept the average belief on any topic unless you have a good (and better than average) reason to think the causes of your belief difference would be substantially more informed than average.

My first reaction was that if he takes that theory seriously, he should reject it.

On the other hand, although people in our society claim to be individualists, investor behavior during market bubbles show how easily the same people can move their opinions towards the average. Speculative bubbles are a classic counterexample to “the majority is reliable.” It can be financially dangerous to move your opinion on the price of an investment towards majority opinion during a bubble.

On the gripping hand, if you reject anything that looks like a speculative bubble out of hand, you might miss the next exponential mode (another Robin Hanson theory).

These apparently “odd” opinions fit together…

I Will Not Call Eliot Spitzer a Hypocrite

That would be extremely insulting to hypocrites (ObSF: The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson).

Instead I will observe that judging by the picture here, his wife apparently knocked out all of his front teeth … and that the current price of gold may make replacements expensive.

Addendum: I am not the first to notice the dental oddity.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Scabs Wanted

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) has threatened to shut down the West Coast:

In a major step for the U.S. labor movement, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) has announced that it will shut down West Coast ports on May 1, to demand an immediate end to the war and occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan and the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the Middle East. In a February 22 letter to AFL-CIO president John Sweeney, ILWU International president Robert McEllrath reported that at a recent coast-wide union meeting, "One of the resolutions adopted by caucus delegates called on longshore workers to stop work during the day shift on May 1, 2008 to express their opposition to the war in Iraq."
We have lots of illegal aliens available. It will be really cute watching leftists oppose brown people.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Arithmetic, Overpopulation, and J. G. Ballard's “Billennium”

Let's see … In the overpopulation tale “Billennium” by J. G. Ballard, the world population is a mere twenty billion. In order to be sure, I checked the J. G. Ballard Short Fiction Concordance and found the following quote from “Billennium” (under “four”):

Rossiter paused, lowering his voice. ‘Four per cent. Eight hundred million extra …
If four per cent of x is eight hundred million, x must be twenty billion. I also noticed the following, also from “Billennium”:
It couldn’t be done they all said, no one could stand living in only four square metres, it was enough doors would open outwards. Four square metres was here to stay.
At four square metres per person, twenty billion persons could be put into an area of eighty thousand square kilometers — about the size of Maine.

I'd like to know who (or what) has taken over the rest of Earth.

That's an idea for a story. At first it looks like a standard overpopulated dystopia and then the protagonist realizes that the numbers don't add up …

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Fifty Billion

That's my answer to this question:

During the 2000 primary season, I made it a point to ask each presidential candidate in person the following question at least once:

Current immigration policy is doubling US population within the lifetimes of today’s children. Since you support this policy, will you at least say when we should stop?

One billion people? Two billion? Three?

ObSF: “Guesting Time” by R. A. Lafferty.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Case Study of a Liberal Fascist

From TruEngineHearing , a commenter at The Huffington Post (seen via the Liberal Fascism blog):

I love revisionists, like divorce lawyers and butter-ball rodents like Jonah. They are so unexplainably confident that they can convince you that you need another asshole.

Always remember, Jonah is a bathroom rat. When you see it, just stomp on its face until it stops wiggling. It's a public service and you will be rewarded.

Elsewhere at The Huffington Post:
Ron Paul is a fascist - and a published one at that. He should be chased through the streets like the rodent he is.
And from TruEngineHearing at Lincoln vs. Cadillac:
Never have so many butts needed so much kicking.

Explaining McCain's Campaign

It should be obvious by now that McCain's campaign is aimed at first getting good press coverage and then avoiding the current Republican stereotypes. He's avoided the most damaging stereotype (that Republicans are tolerant of racism) by being loudly in favor of open borders. He also has to avoid the back-up stereotype (that Republicans are servants of the upper class). Since McCain–Fengold didn't quite work, he's now bashing selected big businesses. This explain his otherwise-bizarre endorsement of a crackpot medical theory (seen via Respectful Insolence and Asymmetrical Information). He has to criticize at least one business and it can't be part of the media. He selected pharmaceuticals (which lost Orac's vote).

I personally think he should have selected hedge-fund managers. A strong endorsement of the Efficient-Market Hypothesis would have agreed with free-market economics while violating the standard conservative stereotype.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Brace Yourself

If stagflation is back, we can expect to see crackpot economics to go with it:

  • Price increases will be attributed to greed. (I didn't know businessmen were so generous in the 1980s and 1990s.)

  • Price increases in exported goods will be blamed on perfidious foreigners buying them up.

  • Price increases in goods in the domestic economy will be blamed on immigrants.

  • Price increases in imported goods will be attributed to either evil foreigners we must declare war on or oppressed peoples we must be especially nice to so they will give us discounts. (Both sides in this controversy will claim anybody who disagrees with them is in cahoots with the other bunch of crackpots.)

  • The Malthusians will claim high commodities prices prove they were right after all. They will also claim unemployment is due to population growth outrunning job growth. (Isn't it amazing how they only seem to be right immediately after lots of funny money has been printed?)

There will also be couple of explanations I might be tempted to agree with:
  • Some conservatives will blame unemployment on people not wanting to work.

  • Space advocates will claim space materials will relieve commodity shortages and thus stagflation in general.

Note to self: Don't give in to the temptation.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

This Gives “Eye for Eye and Tooth for Tooth” a Whole New Meaning

An artificial eye was created from a tooth.

Addendum: I just remembered I blogged about this before.

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