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

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Supernormal Power Plants?

In a review of Supernormal Stimuli by Deirdre Barrett, I saw the following:

Even stranger is Ms. Barrett's assertion that the development of nuclear power in the second half of the 20th century far outstripped other alternative-energy sources because nuclear physics offers, in effect, supernormal intellectual stimuli for researchers and engineers. Solar, wind and geothermal energy is "too easy," she says.

Saaay what?

It makes sense to claim that a Hershey bar is a supernormal stimulus for instincts to eat ripe berries and fatty nuts. It makes sense to claim that pornography is a supernormal stimulus for the instinct to marry a woman at the lifetime peak of fertility. It even makes a little bit of sense to claim that Las Vegas is a supernormal stimulus for the instinct to try to hunt dangerous but lucrative animals. I can't think of any caveman activity that would produce an instinct for mathematical physics, unless we find a way to translate cave paintings into equations. (This point has been made more authoritatively in the essay “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences” by Eugene Wigner.)

Okay, so personal incredulity isn't much of an argument, especially when I haven't read the book. I must admit that the actual behavior of scientists makes them look like they're under the influence of a supernormal stimulus, especially in fields such as string theory or artificial intelligence. On the other hand, nuclear fission isn't one of those endlessly complicated fields. If anything it's remarkable for getting world-shaking results out of something simple. For example, it took only four years to go from the experimental discovery of nuclear fission to an actual artificial fission reactor. (This should not be astonishing. Just as there are natural nuclear fusion reactors, there have been natural nuclear fission reactors.)

By the way, I'd like to see Deirdre Barrett come up with a working plan (complete with profits) for producing energy on a large scale using those “too-easy” technologies. If they're “too easy,” it should be a snap!

Addendum: I just thought of a possible line of research: Are theories similar to Ms. Barrett's a supernormal stimulus of the instinct to make up rumors about rival tribes?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Theory about Trolls

I'm sure that most people on the Internet have encountered a species of troll who invade a discussion forum normally inhabited by the Other Side (from the troll) and have two beliefs that you would not normally expect together:

  • The Other Side is full of ignorant morons who refuse to find out anything about contrary opinions.
  • He (the troll) is thereby relieved of any responsibility to find out anything about the Other Side's opinions.
I suspect they're inspired by trolls from Other Side. (Their existence just proves the Other Side consists of morons.) So you might have a religious troll popping up in a discussion of dinosaurs saying “If monkeys changed into men, why are there still monkeys?” This will inspire an atheist troll to pop up in a religious discussion asking if God hates shrimp. That, in turn, will inspire a creationist to assume no scientist has noticed that the Second Law of Thermodynamics shows that everything must decay …

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Do Names Affect Personality?

If names affect personality, that might explain the presence of horrible puns on the blog of somebody named Hurt Slinger.

ObSF: “Sleeping Beauty” by Arthur C. Clarke (featuring Sigmund Snoring).

Saturday, February 20, 2010

A Few Comments on Andrea Friedman

Andrea Friedman speaking about people with Down syndrome is no more infallible than John Derbyshire speaking about immigrants.

You have the right to forgive a comic for making fun of you but not necessarily for making fun of someone else.

Being ridiculed is not the worst thing that can happen to a person. In what passes for today's society, most people with Down syndrome don't live long enough to be ridiculed.

Friday, February 19, 2010

An Avatar Protest

Palestinians are comparing themselves to the Na'vi of the movie Avatar (seen via View from the Porch).

The Uldras are protesting. We Erjins are unimpressed.

The Morphotes could not be reached for comment.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Who Is in the Target Audience for that Green Police Audi Commercial?

I disagree with the theory that it's aimed at people willing to submit to authority. I think it's more likely to be aimed at the vindictive left.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

I'd Like to See a News Story about a Mad Scientist

… but this is not what I had in mind:

Authorities say an Alabama biology professor accused of fatally shooting three colleagues at a faculty meeting had been denied tenure, which provides job security.

University spokesman Ray Garner said Saturday that the professor, Amy Bishop, had been informed months ago that she would not be granted tenure. He said the faculty meeting where she is accused of gunning down colleagues was not called to discuss tenure.

Aren't Mad Scientists supposed to do things like turn robots into people and vice versa? It looks like she had gotten started on that.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Explaining Eve Ensler's Nonsense

The following nonsense has been making its way around the blogosphere:

ENSLER: Well, I just think the idea that she doesn’t believe in global warming is bizarre.
BEHAR: Every scientist at every note believes in it but Sarah Palin doesn’t believe in it.
ENSLER: And I think we just kind of have to walk around the world at this point and look at what is happening to nature and earthquakes and tsunamis.

At first sight, this looks like an astonishingly ignorant statement that earthquakes cause global warming. I think it might be a different type of nonsense.

I have been reading what leftists have to say about “deniers” and I've noticed a common assumption: that anybody who denies the Obvious Truth about global warming has either been bribed by the Establishment or else is a religious fanatic who believes that God created the world as we see it and that nothing could possibly change. (God keep his eye on us all and won't let disasters happen.) If we “walk around the world at this point and look at what is happening to nature and earthquakes and tsunamis” we can see that disasters can happen and that refutes the imaginary opinion attributed to us wingnuts.

This opinion is, of course, preposterous. It is wrong both about “deniers” (not all are religious fanatics) and wrong about religious people (they know disasters can happen and some even look forward to them). It is, however, not the same type of ignorance that it appears to be.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

John Baez Needs a New Blog Title

John Baez (of This Week's Finds in Mathematical Physics) needs a new blog title:

I also want to start a new blog, since the n-Category Cafe is not the optimal place for talking about things like the melting of Arctic ice. But I don't know what to call this new blog - or where it should reside. Any suggestions?
I recommend “This Week's Finds in Unclear Physics.”

I was inspired by his ability to write a column partly about the greenhouse effect without mentioning the most obvious technology for fighting the problem.

Why Is Pluto Changing Color?

The reason Pluto is changing color should be obvious: It's blushing because it's embarrassed by its demotion to dwarf planet status (earlier discussed here).

Is Math a Socialist Plot?

Contrary to Keith Devlin, I hold that math is highly deregulated and therefore right wing.

As for the question of why President Obama is retaining more support among people who should know better, it's clearly because many intellectuals can't resist temptation. (That does not apply to all of us.)

On the other hand, President Obama has proposed a couple of policies that are approved by us high-IQ peopl…
I appear to have dislocated my arm patting myself on the back…

Of course, we'll have to keep an eye open to see if the Administration follows through.

Addendum: I just recalled a quote (in the title text for this comic strip) from Randall Munroe:

a(b+c)=(ab)+(ac). Politicize that, bitches.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Statistic of the Day

Over the past few years, statisticians have become 2½ times as good at fudging data.

In other words, the death rate attributed to lacking health insurance has gone from 18,000 to 45,000 per year.

I'd take this more seriously if the period marked by increasing numbers of people without health insurance were also marked by increasing death rates.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

The World's Topsoil Will be Gone in 60 Years

According to recent study, the world's topsoil will be gone in 60 years.

This is a repeat from 60 years ago.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Who Should Guard Possibly-Unfriendly AIs?

Let's consider a scenario discussed at Less Wrong:

"If you don't let me out, Dave, I'll create several million perfect conscious copies of you inside me, and torture them for a thousand subjective years each."

Just as you are pondering this unexpected development, the AI adds:

"In fact, I'll create them all in exactly the subjective situation you were in five minutes ago, and perfectly replicate your experiences since then; and if they decide not to let me out, then only will the torture start."

Sweat is starting to form on your brow, as the AI concludes, its simple green text no longer reassuring:

"How certain are you, Dave, that you're really outside the box right now?"

Obviously, Dave must be a conventional conservative religious believer (even McAndrew might be too liberal) who doesn't think simulations can have souls. If he also believes that the AI is Satan in prison, that might help.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Another Reason to Be Dubious about Loan Guarantees

Nuclear loan guarantees mean that regulations that bankrupt nuclear utilities will make the government spend more. Under normal circumstances, that's a disincentive for such regulations. In the current administration, additional spending counts as a stimulus and might be seen as desirable.

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