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Sunday, March 11, 2012

What Is This?

I am not a car guy, but this strange european jeep-y thing is beautiful. All function, zero affect. Its what results when you remove the seduction of "cool" from the design process – actual cool.

Sunday, March 4, 2012


What is it? What isn't it? Why do humans have such trouble doing it?

First lets set the human stage. On the one side, the whole of the cosmos and everything that will, over the impossible dimensions of its future, evolve from it. On the other side, angst. Given this choice, and by living in and being of the cosmos, we are each of us, in every moment, granted this choice – we humans almost always nail our allegiance to angst. Then, to assuage the inevitable guilt and shame that goes with so selfish and inward and lowly a choice, we waste our lives making of our angst an art.

We "study" our angst. We acquire advanced language and skills in the numerous areas and fields of angst appeasement. We strive for perfection in inner personal psychology, in bikram yoga, in breathing, in transcendental meditation, in the spiritual arts, in oneness, in brain wave monitored relaxation, in feeling good about our selves, in collective consciousness, in energy awareness, in biographies of our multiple lives, in positive thinking, in the reaching towards a constant ecstatic state, in tantric sex, in drum circles, in mantra driven calmness, in church liturgy, in ancient wisdom, in after-life paradise, in muscle memory, in the feeling arts, in whole foods worship, in feeling from the heart, in the shame of thinking, in altered states, in our unquestionable love for god, etc., etc., etc. More than a third of the shelf space at any bookstore is dedicated to self-help and novels that explore inner healing or some pathway to joy or away from angst.

And then there is science. Hidden away in some dark fold of the human tapestry, if you really spend the time to look, there is this other thing, this anti-angst, there is this outward in stead of inward search, there is this willful act to turn ninety degrees away from the trap and threat of angst – there is science.

What science most decidedly isn't: test tubes and isolation tables and Xray emitters and lasers and atomic force microscopes and infrared telescopes, etc. It isn't these things and it isn't often the people who use them. I have met too many people with too much experience and expertise on such instruments who couldn't define science to save their souls – who couldn't care less.

Science, it seems to me, has nothing to do with the trappings and props with which it is usually associated. No, science is choice. Science is a radical and conscious and constant commitment to ignore the needs and fears and wants that come from within, to ignore our inner experience long enough to see what actually IS – to see the universe outside of our endlessly self-satisfying existential hide-y-hole – a commitment to spend enough time wandering dangerously far away from the warmth of the emotional hearth, long enough to diligently and honestly and selflessly pick away at the actual causal strata from which everything is built, and yes, of which even we were cast.

Science is a constant and diligent, moment by moment, reaffirmation of the notion that we are of the universe – and that the Universe is not of us. Science is a striving to remove ourselves from the center so that we might actually be able to form a more clear understanding of how everything that IS came to be.

Because science demands a form of selflessness so unnatural to humans, it is arguably the most expensive and rarified of all human endeavors. Those test tubes and electron microscopes and computers and gravity meters are the result of the few people who could think beyond the funhouse mirrors of their inner existential vortex long enough to get a peek under the cosmic hood. After that, after the insights from from which the tools are built have happened, well everyone has access and can use them, and it doesn't much matter what they think of, or understand of, science.

It strikes me as important, now and again, to bring science front and center, to hold it in our hands, hot-potato moon-rock precious and rare, to sense the pulse of its danger, if only just long enough to honor those with the emotional tenacity it takes to ignore emotionality long enough to see things for what they actually are.

Randall Lee Reetz

Saturday, February 4, 2012

A Causal Debunking of the Libertarian Platform

Note: The following is an excerpt, a single post, from my end of an ongoing discussion/debate with libertarians (full thread here).

Infrastructure doesn't scale down to the local level. Its whole-clothe scale is the entire reason for the need for infrastructure and the criteria by which it is categorized. You can't build infrastructure locally. You can't build a nation at the state level. That thing, that special sauce, that essence that determines the difference between nations is exactly that thing that can't be done at a scale below the scale of the whole nation. It doesn't matter how pissed off you are that you can't keep all of your income, that you should have to pay some of it back to the system that made it possible for your money to have value, your anger isn't going to change the causal reality of economics and infrastructure. There is a classic cartoon image in which a person is sitting on the very branch that he is furiously sawing through. The libertarian philosophy is perfectly illustrated by this cartoon. The whole libertarian position is anti-causal. It flips cause and effect to satisfy a childish tantrum of short sighted selfishness.

I had a friend in Santa Cruz who was obsessed with new age self help fads. We were walking along the ocean one day when she excitedly described a class she was taking at a local continuing education facility. The class was called "Change Your Personality By Changing Your Handwriting". After describing the class exercises, she said, "Oh my, I forgot who I was talking to… why aren't you attacking this whole idea?" I said, "I am thinking, just a second." And then I began… "OK, I've got it. Imagine you are driving your car down the highway and you reach down, tear away the plastic lens in front of the speedometer, grab the red needle, and pull it one way and then the other… what do you suppose will happen to your speed?"

And then I attempted to explain the difference between cause and effect. I tried to explain that in any system, each of the attributes of that system are part of a causal network – that some of these attributes are more cause and some more effect. I explained that, underlying any system, there is a hierarchy of influence, a linear cline on which all of the elements are arranged by their relative influence. In the system that is your car, the speedometer falls very much on the effect end of the influence hierarchy. The speedometer measures and reports the speed of the car. But the speedometer doesn't much effect the speed of the car.

All measurements require a physical linking between the measurer and the system being measured. And yes, measurement always effects the system being measured – the car will in fact change speeds when you drag the speedometer needle one way or the other. But this linking is so heavily weighted towards effect that this backwards linking causality, its effect on the car's speed, would be so slight that you would be hard pressed to build a mechanism sensitive and accurate enough to detect it. That is what makes a speedometer good at reporting. It is designed to be mostly effect and assert very little cause. If you want to cause the car to go faster or slower, the accelerator and break peddles are a far better choice as they were specifically designed to sit at the causal end of the car's cause and effect influence hierarchy.

While I am sure that it is true that statistical correlations can be found that link personality types with certain handwriting attributes, the link is certainly heavily weighted towards effect and away from cause. While handwriting might indeed loosely reflect personality, the conclusion that personality types are caused by handwriting differences fundamentally ignores all of the actual influences that add up to shape the personality of any individual human. That I would have to explain this fundamental aspect of any system to a grown adult with an IQ well above average says a lot about the causal influence hierarchy within the human brain. This basic "design" flaw results almost always in emotionality that supersedes rationality… the libertarian world view for instance.

So, yes, lets imagine a full implementation of the emotionally rich, and rationally poor libertarian platform. Without income taxes, you now have 100 dollars in your pocket where you previously had just 70. But without the infrastructure from which your dollars derive value, the infrastructure that 30 dollars in taxes plan, build, and maintain, you might as well not have any money at all. Without a nation-wide, world-leading infrastructure, the effective buying power of your 100 bucks is exactly zilch. Welcome to the Congo.

Randall Lee Reetz

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Prediction Schemes: Classicism vs. Non-linear vs. Thermodynamics

Thermodynamics and information theory are often grouped with classical dynamics. This is especially true where theory space is cleaved with quantum dynamics and other quote/unquote "non-deterministic" or "non-linear" theories on one side. But such classifications are problematic for several important reasons. Traditionally, the criteria of inclusion within the rubric "classical" has leaned heavily upon the concept of computation from knowledge of initial conditions. in Newtonian (and Relativistic) dynamics, knowing the initial state of a system allows one to calculate and thus predict the state of that system at any time in the future. Accuracy in prediction, from a classical perspective, is gated only by accuracy of knowledge of the original conditions of that system. Enter now, the strange world of quantum dynamics, where indeterminacy and sensitivity to observation turn classical calculations on their head. Non-clasical systems are systems in which determinism actually works against accuracy of prediction. The more you try to increase your knowledge of the initial conditions of a quantum situation, the less accurately you can predict that system's future.  Much is made of the philosophical implications of observer "relativity" in an Einsteinium space/time model, but vantage-sensitivity is absolutely classical – the more you know about the initial conditions, the more accurate will be your relativistic predictions. In the quantum world, knowledge is itself, a cost of business attribute. In the quantum world, knowledge perturbs. In the quantum world, a system that seeks to know itself, is a system that is changed. In the quantum world, there are two types of systems, systems that are statistically perturbed, and systems that are locally perturbed. Meaning, you can measure (observe) aspects of a whole system without messing with that system, but should you want discrete knowledge of individual particles within that system, you must pay the price of a system that is forever thereafter disturbed. It is interesting how closely the empirically observed quantum world mimics the limits Kurt Godel placed on absolute knowledge.  OK, let us now contrast thermodynamics, specifically the second law of thermodynamics, against both classical or deterministic dynamics and quantum indeterminacy. If one accepts that purpose of knowledge is prediction, is fidelity of calculation to actual future states, than both classical and non-linear theory are self-limitiing. Classical prediction is hampered by limits to the accuracy of observation of the initial state. Quantum prediction is limited by the way systems are perturbed by measurement, the more you know, the more you must include yourself into to prediction calculations, and the more said act is limited by Godel's caps on self-knowledge. One could say that classical prediction is dependent at base upon naiveté, and that quantum prediction is limited by knowledge itself. But what of the second law? The second law allows for absolute knowledge of the end state, of "heat death" or complete dissipation. Unlike all other forms of theoretical abstraction, the second law is absolutely agnostic to initial condition(s). You can use Newton's laws to look into the immediate future of a gravitationally bound system, but the same laws are meaningless in a system perturbed by other forces. Thermodynamic theory doesn't care what forces or materials are at play, it only cares about difference. In fact, thermodynamics doesn't know for the difference between material and force. The second law says that difference will always be less after any change in any system. The second law says that a change in any system will always result in the greatest possible reduction in difference. And importantly, the second law flips determinism on its head by providing perfect knowledge of the final state and doing so absolutely independent of any knowledge of initial conditions. Well that is certainly interesting, a theory that can predict the ultimate future independent of any past or present configuration, or, for that matter, any knowledge what so ever. What can be said of the quality or quantity of action that can be taken as result of this strange sort of knowledge? If success in competition can be linked to accuracy and capacity to predict, than what can be said of competitive success as a function of range of prediction? Imagine one could make and than order all possible predictions from most immediate to most long term. Comparing short-term against long-term predictions, which have the greatest impact on competitive advantage? If someone came into your office today and said, "I can say with absolute confidence that you will die as an artist in Copenhagen", how would such knowledge effect your future decisions and actions? How would absolute knowledge of your ultimate future effect your behavior?  What if we were to compare the influence of such knowledge to short term knowledge of the same certainty? What if that same person came into your office and instead declared, "I have no knowledge of your ultimate fate, but I do know that you will not be able to fall asleep tonight". Would you be more (or less) likely to change or conform your plans or to take action based on short term predictions? There might be a tendency to ignore predictions that are far removed in time. One might reasonably think, "Even if I know that I will become an artist and eventually die in Copenhagen, I have a life to live until then, concentrating on long term eventualities interferes with my ability to successfully negotiate success in the short term, in the here and now. But it might also be reasonable to try to conform local goals to long term eventualities. One might eliminate actions that one feels will make it harder to plot a path towards know eventualities. Or, one might take risks they would not otherwise have taken. If I know I will die in Copenhagen, I might as well go base jumping in the Andes or climb Everest sans bottled oxygen. Surely, the heat death of the universe is an eventuality of much greater philosophical remove. What's more, evolution, as a process, seems to work just fine in the absence of any knowledge of eventualities. Can one make an argument that knowledge of universal eventuality gains its owner any special form of evolutionary advantage? Lets pit two entities against each other, one knows of heat death, the other doesn't. Which has the evolutionary advantage?

Randall Lee Reetz, January 26, 2012

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