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

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Are Leftists in Favor of Open Borders?

Juan Cole isn't:

The first original sin was the contradictory and feckless pledge by the British to sponsor Jewish immigration into their Mandate in Palestine, which they wickedly and fantastically promised would never inconvenience the Palestinians in any way. It was the same kind of original sin as the French policy of sponsoring a million colons in French Algeria, or the French attempt to create a Christian-dominated Lebanon where the Christians would be privileged by French policy.
One of the more plausible reasons to be dubious of Zionism is the fact that open borders are restricted to Jews. If the first complaint about Israel is that it is based on immigration, then the quarrel is no longer open society vs. closed society but tribe vs. tribe and I may as well stick with my own and, for that matter, born-again American Christians may as well stick with Israelites.

I Plan to Attend …

this Tea Party.

How Should I Celebrate?

How should I celebrate the news that I have low cholesterol? (It's rather surprising for somebody as fat as I am.) Maybe a three-egg omelet is called for …

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Trouble with High-Level Understanding

According to SilasBarta22 on LessWrong, at the highest-level of understanding:

At this stage, not only do you have good, well-connected models of reality, but they are so well-grounded, that they "regenerate" when "damaged".  That is, you weren't merely fed these wonderful models outright by some other Really Smart Being (though initially you might have been), but rather, you also consistently use a reliable method for gaining knowledge, and this method would eventually stumble upon the same model you have now, no matter how much knowledge is stripped away from it.
The trouble with this is you might be fooling yourself into thinking you have such a deep understanding and then derive conclusions based on your erroneous model that you don't think you have to check.

For example, I've read that part of the initial reaction to Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein came from people who noticed that the book was very pro-military and then deduced from that that Heinlein must have been pro-conscription. That turned out not to be the case. I suspect that the deductions were done by people who thought they had a well-grounded understanding of “militarists.” As a result, they were confident about regenerating Heinlein's opinion of conscription. (I have earlier mentioned other examples of the same phenomenon.)

Friday, March 26, 2010

Real Estate with a Pre-existing Condition

The following ad appeared at Dr. Boli's Celebrated Magazine a couple of years ago:

WAREHOUSE FOR SALE. 6 floors, 23,000 sq ft. Unheated. Ample parking in separate lot. 6 loading docks. 3 offices and small retail space on 1st floor. Currently on fire. May be said to be heated in that sense. Liberal incentives for early offers. Apply in person, with own hose, at Dr. Boli’s Celebrated Real Estate Agency, Seldom Seen.
There's an analogy here for pre-existing health conditions.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Paranoia in the Wrong Direction

I doubt if leftists are planning to get more votes via immigration amnesty. For one thing, they can get many of same political advantages by the easier tactic of counting aliens in the census. For another thing, the “problem” of illegal immigration is marvelous excuse for a power grab. It's no wonder the Democrats are dragging their feet.

On the other hand, if the Democrats claim to be pro-immigration, they can get the votes of the second generation—especially if Republicans believe it.

Addendum: According to one of the comments on the blog entry linked above, James W. Gerard, former ambassador to Germany, said:

The Foreign Minister of Germany once said to me your country does not dare do anything against Germany, because we have in your country five hundred thousand Germans reservists [emigrants] who will rise in arms against your government if you dare to make a move against Germany. Well, I told him that that might be so, but that we had five hundred thousand and one lamp posts in this country, and that that was where the reservists would be hanging the day after they tried to rise.
The German threat, of course, went nowhere. That just might be an indication that immigrants to the U.S. are less dangerous than feared.

ObSF: “The Other Likeness” by James H. Schmitz. (I've mentioned this before.)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Leftists and Memory

I noticed a common assumption on the left side during the health-insurance debates: that if a behavior is mandated or prohibited nearly everybody will, of course, obey the law. They don't believe people will respond to incentives to have or drop health insurance but will respond to a legal requirement to do so.

I have heard that people who smoked enough dope in college don't recall it (or, apparently, that anybody else their age had done so) but I didn't believe that until now…

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Is There a Great Filter?

According to Katja Grace (seen via Overcoming Bias):

The great filter, as described by Robin Hanson:

Humanity seems to have a bright future, i.e., a non-trivial chance of expanding to fill the universe with lasting life. But the fact that space near us seems dead now tells us that any given piece of dead matter faces an astronomically low chance of begating such a future. There thus exists a great filter between death and expanding lasting life, and humanity faces the ominous question: how far along this filter are we?

I will argue that we are not far along at all. Even if the steps of the filter we have already passed look about as hard as those ahead of us, most of the filter is probably ahead. Our bright future is an illusion; we await filtering. This is the implication of applying the self indication assumption (SIA) to the great filter scenario, so before I explain the argument, let me briefly explain SIA.

SIA says that if you are wondering which world you are in, rather than just wondering which world exists, you should update on your own existence by weighting possible worlds as more likely the more observers they contain. For instance if you were born of an experiment where the flip of a fair coin determined whether one (tails) or two (heads) people were created, and all you know is that and that you exist, SIA says heads was twice as likely as tails. This is contentious; many people think in such a situation you should think heads and tails equally likely. A popular result of SIA is that it perfectly protects us from the doomsday argument. So now I’ll show you we are doomed anyway with SIA.

She then points out that the SIA indicates we are almost certainly not in a universe in which there was much of a filter in the past. If there is a great filter that means it is in the future.

On the other hand, the theory that there is a great filter rests on the apparent absence of extraterrestrial civilizations. A theory that I saw on Usenet (yes, there are or were occasional glimpses of rationality there) some years ago from Kaehler, Oh, and Krummenacker gives us good reason to think there are extraterrestrial civilizations in the observable universe:

From: (Markus XXX Krummenacker)
Newsgroups: alt.alien.visitors,sci.astro
Subject: Re: Drake Equation & Fermi Paradox / KOK hypothesis
Date: 10 Jul 1995 03:40:15 -0700
Organization: The Portal System (TM)
Lines: 97
Distribution: world
Message-ID: <>


First I need to admit that I am probably going out on a limb with what follows, and that I do not really know much about cosmology and astrophysics.

However, I would like to ask: How can we know that the universe is indeed not yet infested with Dyson spheres ? Maybe the universe is already 90% full, instead of still empty.

In a very crowded universe, there is a desire to squeeze out as much utility and energy efficiency from scarce starlight as possible, so one would expect Dyson spheres to be constructed which emit "waste radiation" at the lowest photon-energy that is physically possible, "milking" the higher-quality photons for useful work to the fullest extent. Such Dyson spheres would be designed to emit "waste-photons" at a temperature which is just above the thermal background radiation of the universe, i.e. essentially in the region of 3K. It would likely be extremely difficult to detect them, because they will be black objects before a black background.

In general, one can probably assume that even if the universe is populated by many advanced civilizations, we would not be able to recognize and/or comprehend them at all anyway. The current SETI efforts look more like a joke, because I tend to think that such civilizations would not have much interest in sending beacons, which are designed to be easily understood, to us little human critters (much as we do not care to send signals to ant-colonies, to make them recognize that we exist). However, if we live in a densely populated universe, we probably are staring at their artifacts and/or signals already, and are just too stupid to recognize them as such. Advanced civilizations will leave a strong mark on the universe, which can not possibly be overlooked. Presumably, if such evidence can be found in the sky, humans have photographed and recorded it already many times. In some sense, money for SETI projects is not really needed, just quite a bit more imagination for how to re-interpret what we already have in our archives. How about a thorough data-mining session ? :-)

In the above picture of an already densely populated universe, the question would not be whether we can find other civilizations in our galaxy. Very likely, entire galaxies will be taken over completely by civilizations on a short time scale, so finding "partially consumed" galaxies in the sky will be extremely rare. Either entire galaxies are completely black, or still totally pristine. Maybe 90% of all galaxies in the universe are already fully populated, which would be an interesting explanation for the "missing mass" phenomenon. This mass is black, which is why we do not see it. If the universe is so crowded by advanced civilizations, it also becomes plausible why maybe about 10% of the universe was left untouched: they agreed to leave a "natural reservation". In this view, we happen to live in this reservation. Once we will start to expand outwards, we will at some point be made aware of the rules that the other civilizations around us have established regarding resource consumption. Isn't the large scale structure of the visible universe reminiscent of multiple intersecting bubbles ? Would it not make sense for advanced civilizations to establish these reservations at the interface boundaries between large empires, as a buffer zone, so to speak ? (It would be clear to them that expanding further and consuming the tiny buffer zone would not do them much good, because they would not gain all that much more real estate, and they might also risk an intergalactic war by intruding on their neighbor's territory.)

BTW, the hypothesis above was cooked up sometime in fall '93 after a nanotechnology discussion meeting called "The Assembler Multitude", in Palo Alto, CA, and has been tentatively labelled "KOK Hypothesis". KOK stands for Kaehler-Oh-Krummenacker, the names of the three hackers who have conceived this theory, which will force all cosmology text books to be rewritten. :-) :-) (To be taken with a grain of salt, at least until the aliens have been contacted for confirmation of the hypothesis.)

Now I would like to have all the real physicists and cosmologists out there jump on it, and tear apart this hypothesis by pointing out all the fatal flaws. :-)

Have fun...

Many Greetings
Markus Krummenacker

(I was originally planning to give a link to Google groups, but the above message doesn't seem to be there.)

Come to think of it, the SIA indicates we are more likely to be in a universe with lots of extraterrestrials.

Addendum: On the other hand

Monday, March 22, 2010

How Long before Repeal?

Just asking.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Alms for the Poor?

The proposed health-insurance regulation bill has something for everyone:

Much of the money in the bill would be devoted to subsidies to help families at incomes of up to $88,000 a year pay their premiums.
I finally know how much New York Times reporters make.

Addendum: I just recalled the following essential quote:

Blimey, this redistribution of wealth is trickier than I thought.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Puberty vs. Learning

There's evidence that puberty can interfere with learning. I suppose that means, in addition to “up-tight” parents who don't want their kids fooling around, yuppie parents who want their kids in Ivy-League schools will also try to raise the age of puberty (once this becomes possible).

After a generation of that, behavior that's commoner among people with earlier puberty may seem low class. We can expect “liberated” behavior to be as disreputable as smoking is today.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

What We're Complaining About

Jorge Chaim (of PhD Comics) finds out what us anti-elitist wingnuts are complaining about.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Do Increasing Subsidies Lower Costs?

Evidence they don't.

Are Politicians Bonkers?

Non-fiction answer: Yes.

Science-fiction answer: Yes.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

It's 3.14

Do you want your π apple, cherry, or pumpkin?

Scenery for a Science-Fiction Movie

When they film a movie based on A Gift from Earth by Larry Niven, it will be filmed at Mt. Roraima, the real-life Mt. Lookitthat.

Addendum: I'm not the first to notice the resemblance.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Attention: Charles Johnson

It's harder to criticize the anti-Darwin right when you're allied with that part of the left able to win Darwin Awards.

Darwin Awards are explained here and why part of the left might win them explained in the tag line here. (Please note that this attitude is not limited to Catholics.)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Two Quotes on Testing

From Hard Facts (quoted at Overcoming Bias):

The evidence strongly suggests that students learn better when they are not graded and certainly not when they are graded on a curve.
From Homeopathy vs Science - a Metaphor:
When it's not being tested, it works, fact.
I was reminded somehow.

Monday, March 08, 2010

What Lenin Should Have Said

I'm sure you've heard of the Leninist slogan “You can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.” Following a recent mishap in my kitchen, I thought of a variant “You can't make an utterly disgusting mess on the floor without breaking a few eggs.”

Sunday, March 07, 2010

If Free Will Is an Illusion

If free will is an illusion, according to Anthony Cashmore:

Perhaps the most obvious impact of this paradigm shift will be on our judicial system, in which the notions of free will and responsibility form an integral component. Currently, in order to be found guilty, a criminal must be considered responsible for his actions; otherwise, he can be found not guilty by reason of insanity. Cashmore disagrees with these rules, noting that psychiatric research is finding its way more and more into the courts and causing time-wasting debates. (For example, is alcoholism a disease? Are sex crimes an addiction?)
Okay. That means we can't hold judges responsible for ignoring psychiatrists.

On the other hand, we also can't hold Anthony Cashmore responsible for ignoring Bryan Caplan's defense of free will (which shows that Dr. Cashmore has no empirical proof of his beliefs). We also can't hold him responsible for ignoring the implications of the fact that there are real numbers that are neither recursive nor random (which shows that there is at least one system in which not everything is either definable or random which means Dr. Cashmore has no logical proof of his beliefs).

Another Narnia

While looking at reactions to the essay asking why there is no Jewish Narnia (earlier discussed here, I noticed that may of the commenters seemed to think the question was about the supposed lack of Jewish fantasy writers. If we look at the best-known work by the best-known Jewish sf/fantasy writer (the Foundation series by Isaac Asimov), we see it's about someone who predicts and produces a movement to set up a revived analog of the Roman Empire with some partial success when last heard from. In other words, it's Islam with the serial numbers filed off just as Narnia is Christianity with the serial numbers filed off. (I have not forgotten that Al-Qaeda is Arabic for Foundation.)

Saturday, March 06, 2010

This Was Predictable

According to The New York Times, Creationists are using the growing criticism of the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis to push their theories:

Critics of the teaching of evolution in the nation’s classrooms are gaining ground in some states by linking the issue to global warming, arguing that dissenting views on both scientific subjects should be taught in public schools.


Yet they are also capitalizing on rising public resistance in some quarters to accepting the science of global warming, particularly among political conservatives who oppose efforts to rein in emissions of greenhouse gases.

It looks like they had the same reaction as the people at the next table I blogged about a few years ago:

“I believe science teaches us that human-caused global warming is an urgent crisis.”

“You mean if it's either not a problem or can be fixed easily, it proves science is false?”

When the evidence is inadequate, maybe it makes sense to admit it.

On the other hand …

If anthropogenic global warming does turn out to be important, my fellow wingnuts should be prepared for a reaction in other direction. We should try to not tie ourselves to an uncertain dogma.

Friday, March 05, 2010

The Jewish Narnia?

At The Jewish Review of Books, Michael Weingrad asks why there is no Jewish Narnia. Let's see …

Narnia was basically the story of Jesus Christ with the serial numbers filed off. I suppose the Jewish equivalent would be the story of Moses with the serial numbers filed off. The story is about a great leader who led his people from slavery to freedom but was unable to enter the Promised Land.

The first example that comes to mind is They Shall Have Stars by James Blish (part of the Cities in Flight series). There are two problems: 1) James Blish wasn't Jewish. 2) There were other analogues to Jews (the Hamiltonians) later in the series.

If we don't insist on the “unable to enter the Promised Land” part, there are other examples, such as Watership Down by Richard Adams or Falling Free by Lois McMaster Bujold.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Parody and Reality

This is a parody from Woody Allen (back when he was funny):

Venal & Sons has at last published the long-awaited first volume of Metterling’s laundry lists (The Collected Laundry Lists of Hans Metterling, Vol. I, 437 pp., plus xxxii-page introduction; indexed; $18.75), with an erudite commentary by the noted Metterling scholar Gunther Eisenbud. The decision to publish this work separately, before the completion of the immense four-volume oeuvre, is both welcome and intelligent, for this obdurate and sparkling book will instantly lay to rest the unpleasant rumors that Venal & Sons, having reaped rich rewards from the Metterling novels, play, and notebooks, diaries, and letters, was merely in search of continued profits from the same lode.
On the other hand, this is apparently intended seriously:

In the words of the American abstract artist, Charles Green Shaw: "Real happiness consists in not what we actually accomplish, but what we think we accomplish."

He is one of the artists featured in an exhibition currently running at the Archives of American Art in Washington.

It is a taxonomist's dream: hundreds of lists drawn up by some of the world's greatest modern artists. Some are scribbled on scraps of paper, while others are elaborately illustrated.

There are lists of ideas, lists of instructions, lists of ambitions, of biographical details, of paintings, of things to do, of colours.

A few years ago, I theorized that reality had been replaced by a very extended episode of Monty Python. I'll have to add Woody Allen to the theory.

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