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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The Former Four Horsemen of the Ablogalypse:
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Someone who used to be serious (formerly Plague)
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Other interesting web sites:
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Jewish Pro-Life Foundation
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The Mad Revisionist
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Science, Pseudoscience, and Irrationalism
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Yet another weird SF fan

Monday, August 30, 2010

First Mash Then Cook?

According to recent research (seen via FuturePundit):

"We knew from research done in the past that drought, bruising, and other stresses could stimulate the accumulation of beneficial phenolic compounds in fresh produce," Hironaka explained. "We found that there hasn't been any research on the healthful effects of using mechanical processes to stress vegetables. So we decided in this study to evaluate effect of ultrasound and electric treatments on polyphenols and other antioxidants in potatoes."

The ultrasound treatment consisted of immersing whole potatoes in water and subjecting them to ultrasound for 5 or 10 minutes. For the electrical treatment, the scientists immersed potatoes in a salt solution for 10 seconds and subsequently treated the spuds with a small electrical charge for 10, 20, and 30 minutes. The study team then measured antioxidant activity and the phenolic content and concluded that the stresses increased the amount of these compounds. The 5 minutes of ultrasound, for instance, increased polyphenol levels by 1.2 times and other antioxidants by about 1.6 times.

The traditional way of stressing potatoes is with a masher.

By the way, does this mean the complaints of vegetables are actually good for us? If they're rewarding us, maybe they aren't complaining then …

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Two Dubious Tastes That Taste Absolutely Horrible Together

I am referring to gay marriage and polygamy. When combined it would mean that one person could marry a collective or that two collectives could marry. In other words, corporate marriage might be just around the corner.

This gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “corporate merger.”

Saturday, August 28, 2010

A Program for the MIU Puzzle

I have recently uploaded a Perl program for the MIU puzzle (from Gödel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter) to my Earthlink/Netcom site. It will take a string to be derived on the command line and either produce a derivation or an explanation why there is no derivation.

For example, the command line:

perl MUIIU
will produce the derivation:
0:      Axiom: MI
1:      Rule 2: MII
2:      Rule 2: MIIII
3:      Rule 2: MIIIIIIII
4:      Rule 3: MIIIIIU
5:      Rule 3: MUIIU
and the command line:
perl MU
will produce the explanation:
The total number of Is in an entry must not be divisible by 3.

Listen to the Plants

There's evidence our fellow plants are complaining about being mowed. If they don't want to be mowed, maybe we shouldn't mow them.

Now I'm starting to feel guilty about cutting up a beet for supper …

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Helium Bubble?

Commenters at BoingBoing are considering the current low prices of helium (which might cause a helium shortage in the near future) as a strike against capitalism. On the other hand, if the predicted shortage and price rise follow the usual trajectory of predicted commodity shortages and end up in a crashed helium bubble, I somehow suspect they will hold that against capitalism as well.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Remember Sanctions?

Remember all those weepy stories a decade ago on how terrible conditions in Iraq were then? (It was, of course, all our fault.) According to Alternet, things were fine and dandy then but now they're terrible. (It is, of course, all our fault.)

Isn't it wonderful to have a memory?

Addendum: Iraqis apparently love slums. Maybe they oppose “urban renewal.”

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Why the Planned “Ground-Zero” Mosque Must Be Allowed

It's so we can quote this cartoon, of course.

I'm firmly in favor of allowing people to build, whether in Lower Manhattan or in a settlement on the West Bank.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Newcomb's Paradox and the Supposed Refutations of Free Will

Paul Almond has a comment at Less Wrong on using the supposed refutations of free will (earlier mentioned here) in an experimental test of Newcomb's Paradox:

A test subject sits at a desk. On the desk are two buttons. On button "O" corresponds to opening one box. The other button "B" corresponds to opening both boxes. There is a computer, with a display screen. The boxes are going to be computer simulated: A program in the computer has a variable for the amount of money in the each box.

This is how an experimental run proceeds.

The subject sits at the desk for some random amount of time, during which nothing happens.

A "Decision Imminent" message appears on the computer screen. This is to warn the subject that his/her decision is about to be demanded imminently.

A short time after (maybe a second or two, or a few seconds), the computer program decides how much money will go in each box, and it sets the variables accordingly, without showing the user. As soon as that is done, a "Select a box NOW" message appears on the computer screen. The subject now has a (very) limited amount of time to press either button "O" or "B" to select one or both boxes. The subject will have to press one of the buttons almost immediately before the offer is withdrawn.

The subject is then shown the amount of money that was in each box.

Now, here is the catch (and everyone here will have guessed it).

The subject is also wired up to brain monitoring equipment, which is connected to the computer. When the "Decision imminent" message appeared, the computer started to examine the subject's brainwaves, to try to see the decision to press being formed. Just before the "Select a box NOW" message appeared, it used this information to load the simulated boxes according to the rules of the Newcomb's paradox game being discussed here.

What if the decision made is to look at a randomizing device that takes less than seven seconds to work?

In that case, it may be that the machine will wait for a definite decision. What if there's a slight variation in which either the subject or the machine can demand a decision?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Let Them Build It near Ground Zero

I am, of course, referring to a church.

By the way, when will the opponents of this church be investigated?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Let's Do Both!

On another occasion, I mentioned that it's possible to both legalize and criticize mind-contracting chemicals. The same principle applies to the “Ground-Zero” mosque.

Don't let this crisis go to waste

As long as we now have large parts of the Left defending property rights, can we try to get them to extend that recognition to other controversies?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Lots of Old Ideas in Science

The article 20 new ideas in science gave me a feeling of deja vu as I considered how old some of the allegedly-new ideas were. For example:

Humans are still evolving

This has been around at least since Nietzsche. It became unpopular (at least outside comic books) owing to its use by the Ideology That Must Not Be Named … especially since the supposed “supermen” got their butts kicked by us mongrels.

There's no such thing as time

This has been around since H. G. Wells and has had scientific backing starting with Einstein.

Enhanced humans are coming

This will only cost 6 million dollars. On a more serious note, we've had physical enhancements ever since the invention of peg legs and eyeglasses. We've had mental enhancements ever since the invention of writing.

Everything is information

In the beginning was the Word … (I am dubious on the grounds that I think hardware had to come first.)

Understanding consciousness is no longer an impossible dream

This is a repeat from the psychoanalytic era if not the phrenology era. Maybe we understand our minds (and maybe we can jump over our shadows) this time but I'm not betting on it.

Prepare for aliens

We've been preparing for centuries. We're still waiting.

Humans are not special

This dates backs at least to Charles Darwin (on a scientific level) and Jeremy Bentham (on a philosophical level).

We can do big physics in small labs

This is the old idea. Traditionally, With love and string and sealing wax was physics kept alive. The big labs were a formerly-new idea that's ebbing.

Language is the key to thought

Isn't this the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Blind to Counterexamples, Part II

I must be slow. It took me several days to realize that Sharon Begley (discussed here) sounds like someone who has just lost an argument.

Pendulum Psychology

The Interdisciplinary xkcd cartoon (about an interdisciplinary program in which physics students try to hit psychology students with pendulums) seemed familiar. Thanks to a recent post by Scott Aaronson, I remembered Richard Dawkins's experiment with pendulum psychology.

At least this time, I heard of the original before I saw the parody. That doesn't always happen.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Freedom Is Indivisible

Since freedom is indivisible, I hold that people have the right to do what they want with their property and thus that Muslims have the right to build a mosque within a few blocks of the once and future World Trade Center.

Since freedom is indivisible, I hold that people have the right to do what they want with their property and thus that Greg Gutfeld has the right to open a gay bar nearby.

After all, if the nontraditional lifestyles associated with gay bars are dubious, what better place than near an organization that might persuade people otherwise?

And futhermore…

This is as good a place as any to mention that one of the supposed absurdities of intolerant Muslims isn't completely absurd. According to Mark Steyn, one of the complaints of Sayyid Qutb (a founder of school of thought that held Islam should overthrow Western civilization as soon as possible) was against the song “Baby, It's Cold Outside.” For some reason, Mark Steyn thought that absurd.

I disagree. Have you seen some of the lyrics? It's The Christmas Date Rape Song. I can't understand why it's considered innocuous.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Blind to Counterexamples?

The following from Newsweek is unlikely to be the whole story of alleged failures of reasoning:

The fact that humans are subject to all these failures of rational thought seems to make no sense. Reason is supposed to be the highest achievement of the human mind, and the route to knowledge and wise decisions. But as psychologists have been documenting since the 1960s, humans are really, really bad at reasoning. It’s not just that we follow our emotions so often, in contexts from voting to ethics. No, even when we intend to deploy the full force of our rational faculties, we are often as ineffectual as eunuchs at an orgy.

An idea sweeping through the ranks of philosophers and cognitive scientists suggests why this is so. The reason we succumb to confirmation bias, why we are blind to counterexamples, and why we fall short of Cartesian logic in so many other ways is that these lapses have a purpose: they help us “devise and evaluate arguments that are intended to persuade other people,” says psychologist Hugo Mercier of the University of Pennsylvania. Failures of logic, he and cognitive scientist Dan Sperber of the Institut Jean Nicod in Paris propose, are in fact effective ploys to win arguments.

Wouldn't you expect defenses against invalid arguments? The need for an ability to see through other people's propaganda is a clear counterexample to this argument.

Besides, according to other research (seen via Rust Belt Philosophy), slime molds have similar “failures of logic,” but—as far as I know—have no need to win arguments. (If I lose an argument with a slime mold over the next few days, I'll let you know.)

One possible reason for the human tendency to look for examples instead of counterexamples is that counterexamples are mostly useful for judging universal statements of the form “for every …” and I suspect such statements were less useful during most of human prehistory than existential statements of the form “there exists ….” (On the other hand, the preceding sentence was a universal statement and therefore must be tested with counterexamples.)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Battle of the Schlaflys

On the one hand, Andrew Schlafly's Conservapedia has this to say (seen via the gloating TPM) about Relativity Theory:

The lack of a single useful device developed based on any insights provided by the theory; no lives have been saved or helped, and the theory has not led to other useful theories and may have interfered with scientific progress.[11] This stands in stark contrast with every verified theory of science. The only device based on relativity is the atom bomb, but that has destroyed far more lives than it's saved so it can hardly be considered useful.
In contrast to this, Phyllis Schlafly is well known for saying:
The atomic bomb is a marvelous gift that was given to our country by a wise God.
Also see my earlier speculations on the relevance of nuclear weapons to the God vs. Satan contest. (I won't more than mention nuclear power plants.)

On the one hand, this is an apparent embarrassment for conservatives. It's especially an embarrassment since the most important reason–that liberals used to cite Einstein's theory while defending moral relativism–is out of date. (I haven't seen that nonsense in years from the left.)

On the other hand, it helps counteract an embarrassment to Jews. I found it embarrassing that, of the three founders of much of what passes for modern thought (Darwin, Marx, and Freud), it's the gentile who still makes sense and the Jews who have been discredited. Now I can add a Jew who made sense (at least about physics) to these discussions.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Another Way to Produce a Double Take

The title text of the xkcd: Collecting Double-Takes starts:

Fun game: find a combination of two items that most freaks out the cashier.
I recommend: chlorine bleach as the first item and Lysol Power Toilet Bowl Cleaner with Rust & Lime Remover as the second item.

ObSF: Lucifer's Hammer by Niven and Pournelle, in which poison gas could be created from household chemicals.

Victor Davis Hanson Almost Turned Me into a Leftist!

Victor Davis Hanson wrote:

On the Internet recently appeared the pictures of the JournoList bunch, who at least between themselves gave up their usual pretense that the media was unbiased. With all due respect (confession: I was briefly mentioned by the list as someone that the racist card might work on in connection with the illegal immigration debate), they appear to the eye as a sort of nerdish group.

They remind me of what we used to call the “wimp table” at a pretty tough Selma High around 1970. It was there that the high school’s handful of geeks, toadies, and picked-upon used to eat, under the protective eye of yard-duty teachers. The assumption was that with a few steps further onto the grounds, the entire sorry bunch was fair game for every bully on campus. And that sad outfit filters, disseminates, and arbitrates our news? Most from their writing and appearance seemed either neurotic overachievers or twenty-something bloggers who confuse calling someone something with erudition.


The problem with leftists is not that they're nerds; it's that they've gone over to the side of the bullies. (Mark Ames and Digby are two of the best examples.)

Meanwhile, I intend to stick up for others at the “wimp table,” the three oppressed minorities of today's society: big business, fetuses, and illegal (malum prohibitum) aliens.

Friday, August 06, 2010

A Preposterous Atheist Cliche

Michael Shermer recently used a preposterous atheist cliche (seen via William Briggs):

In most surveys, nine out of ten Americans respond in the affirmative to the question “Do you believe in God?” The other 10 percent provide a variety of answers, including a favorite among skeptics and atheists: “Which god do you mean?” And then they offer a litany of classical and non-Western deities: Aphrodite, Amon Ra, Apollo, Baal, Brahma, Ganesha, Isis, Mithras, Osiris, Shiva, Thor, Vishnu, Wotan, and Zeus. “We’re all atheists of these gods,” the stock reply concludes, “but some of us go one god further.”

For the record, I believe in God and Allah and Brahman and the First Cause and that Existence exists … and I also believe they are the same entity.

The atheist cliche is a classic example of circular reasoning. First, atheists assume that theists are narrow-minded fools and then point out how ridiculous the beliefs of their straw men are. These are all reasons to believe … only if you already believe.

I would now like to point you in the direction of “The Universal Prayer” by Alexander Pope. If you insist on something short, you might be interested in Robin Weinbaum's prayer in The Quincunx of Time by James Blish:

To Whom it may concern: Thy Will, not mine.

A Suggestion for a Compromise on the “Ground-Zero” Mosque

  • They can build it.
  • They have to come up with a name other than “Cordoba House.”
  • The ground breaking must be done on a day other than September 11, 2011. (How about July 4?)

On the other hand, maybe they can build Cordoba House in Cordoba instead.

Jeffrey Jena has other suggestions.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Why Is the Ruling Class So Confident?

Lexington Green at ChicagoBoyz asks:

Why does the Ruling Class, using Codevilla’s term, have such strong cultural confidence?

And what can we do to undermine it?

One reason for the confidence of the Ruling Class is that there are a handful of issues where they actually have some evidence (best example: evolution vs. creationism).

Every time a conservative asks “If humans came from apes, why are there still apes?” the Ruling Class gains more confidence.

Every time a conservative claims that top tax rates have increased since the 1950s, the Ruling Class gains more confidence.

Every time a conservative claims that immigration raises crime rates (in terms of malum in se rather than malum prohibitum), the Ruling Class gains more confidence.

Every time a conservative claims that the economies of “blue states” are being kept afloat by federal subsidies (the “blue-state” governments might need the subsidies; their economies are paying for the subsidies), the Ruling Class gains more confidence.

One last point: Everything they're right about enables them to be wrong about a host of other things.

The way to undermine it is to be more careful about what you're saying and look at what might be wrong about the beliefs of your allies.

Can Immortality Be Proved?

According to The Speculist:

By the most literal definition, immortality would be impossible to achieve or prove. Even somebody who lives 25 quintillion years isn't immortal -- they just haven't died yet. The only way to ever establish that anyone is immortal is to go all the way to the end of time and confirm that that individual is still alive.
If you wake up one morning and realize the year is ε0, you're immortal.

Psychic Liberals?

The recent Proposition 8 decision reminded me of one of the most irritating habits of leftists: Their belief that they KNOW what you're thinking. They just KNOW that guns (or oil wells) are a sex substitutes … or that pro-lifers want to enslave women … or that opponents of gay marriage hate gays …

Speaking as a science-fiction fan, I'm fascinated by these assertions of psychic powers and I'd be even more fascinated they came with actual evidence.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Virginia Heffernan vs. Science Bloggers

Who's doing the half-time show?

I'm sure that most of my fellow reactionary nerds have heard of Virginia Heffernan's reaction to ScienceBlogs:

Clearly I’ve been out of some loop for too long, but does everyone take for granted now that science sites are where graduate students, researchers, doctors and the “skeptical community” go not to interpret data or review experiments but to chip off one-liners, promote their books and jeer at smokers, fat people and churchgoers? And can anyone who still enjoys this class-inflected bloodsport tell me why it has to happen under the banner of science?
Well… In my experience, the commenters on ScienceBlogs are much worse offenders than the bloggers. The commenters are much more likely than the bloggers to treat nuclear energy as though it had cooties or assume that organic food must be the key to good health.

In addition, many of the ScienceBloggers aren't active research scientists but rather lowly journalists who don't know anything more than … I do (and not much more than Ms. Heffernan).

There's another phenomenon that might produce the nonsense she's talking about. Many academic scientists are actually aware of the fact that they have a shortage of common sense and look at nearby non-scientists to make up the shortage. Unfortunately, those nearby non-scientists are likely to be “knee-jerk” leftists (for example, ScienceBlogs commenters). I suspect the leftist politics of some of the bloggers were picked up from the commenters.

That reminds me. On another occasion, I speculated:

This applies even despite the apparent fact that professors at “elite” universities are more likely to be atheists. After all, if we take the judgment of the more prestigious universities as authoritative, we must also be convinced of the inferiority of “short people with big ears.” I suspect that professors at prestigious universities are recruited from atheist subpopulations (e.g., students at prestigious universities or ambitious people who focus their ambition towards being part of the Galileo–Darwin–Einstein lineup). We can check the latter quite easily by trying to identify people with similar ambitions but who lack the intellectual firepower popularly associated with the Ivy League. For example, are drop-outs from Harvard, Yale, or Princeton particularly likely to be atheists?

I'm pretty sure they become ScienceBlogs commenters.

Monday, August 02, 2010

I Am Superior to Both

fundamentalists and atheists. You object to that?


I appear to have dislocated my arms while patting myself on the back … I'll have to ask the fundamentalists or atheists what to do in such a situation …

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