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Showing posts from May, 2019

Geeks and Freaks

I have frequently mentioned that modern genomics strongly supports the idea that race is fundamentally a social construct.  What that means is is that most human genetic diversity is not linked to conventional ideas of race.  It doesn't mean that conventional ideas of race are unimportant or imaginary.  Social constructs have great power - another couple of social constructs one might mention are money and nations.  Your inferred race has great power to affect your life and life prospects.

Probably the most usual way race is identified is by skin color.  Of course there are a number of dark skinned peoples in the world who aren't especially related: Africans, Australian natives, Melanesians, and some South Asians.  It's also true that Africans as a group have more genetic diversity than the rest of the world combined.

However, ancestry related differences are not imaginary.  About one third of the humans, mainly from Europe, the Middle East and parts of Africa, have adult …

Congress is Pissed

... and can you blame them?  All they wanted was for Robert Mueller to do their job for them, and he didn't.

Tough luck Nancy. 

Just impeach the bastard.

Book Review: The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli

Time and space are central not only to our common sense, but also to physics and philosophy.  The title phrase is excerpted from the very short surviving fragment that is our oldest writing of Greek philosophy, by Anaximander of Miletus.  Rovelli's examination of time is based on modern physics, but it leans heavily on ancient philosophy as well, with Aristotle, Augustine, Husserl, Kant, Hegel, Reichenbach, and many others making appearances.  Paul McCartney, the Grateful Dead, and the Mahabharata also get quoted.  Most chapters start with a quote from one of Horace's Odes.

So what is the nature of time?  Rovelli's first exhibit is due to Aristotle, who saw time as the ordering of events.
Aristotle is the first we are aware of to have asked himself the question “What is time?,” and he came to the following conclusion: time is the measurement of change. Things change continually. We call “time” the measurement, the counting of this change.  Rovelli, Carlo. The Order of Time…

Murray Gell-Mann 1929-2019

George Johnson has a nice obituary for Murray Gell-Mann, who until his death yesterday at age 89 was probably the greatest living physicist.  He was a giant of the golden age of particle physics.

A la recherche du temps perdu

Not Proust, but cosmology.

We seem to have lost about a billion years of our history.  Recent careful measurements of the age of the universe have produced a puzzle.  We were pretty sure that the Universe was 13.8 billion years old, and we had two kinds of evidence for that, both stemming from measurement of the expansion of the Universe.  The Planck space telescope's measurements of certain standard rulers, the so-called baryon acoustic oscillations, provided standard rulers and measurements of distant supernovae and galaxies provided so-called standard candles.

Now, however, a very careful new analysis combined with new data seems to show a Universe about a billion years younger than previously thought, or, rather, two conflicting estimates of that age.  Unless there's some major error, and the measurements were very carefully done, we have a problem with our basic model, the Lambda CDM model, which combines dark energy and cold dark matter.

Some details in this news story: 

I. The Persecution and Destruction of the Humanities...

at the hands of the sciences, engineering, and capitalism triumphant.

Myth or reality?

According to the National Endowment for the Humanities, the field of humanities includes, but is not limited to, the following subjects:Modern languagesClassical languagesLinguisticsLiteratureHistoryJurisprudencePhilosophyArchaeologyComparative religionEthicsHistory, criticism and theory of the arts Art and music left tangible evidence in the prehistoric record tens of thousands of years before we had writing and concrete evidence of history and philosophy, but the surely the impulses behind them are ancient as well.  The Western tradition in philosophy, science and history all have their origin in ancient Greek civilization.  Philosophy and science show their first traces in works of the Milesians: Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes, who seem to have sought for naturalistic explanations for the phenomena of the world.

Philosophy's greatest contribution seems to have been critical thinking, and …

Desperately Seeking The Next...

Game of Thrones.  Not me, but every major supplier of streaming media.  How can they make the magic money machine crank out viewers again?

It's a bit presumptuous of me to have a strong opinion, since I only watched a couple of episodes, but hey, presumptuous ought to be my middle name.  In my defense, I did read four of the books before I gave up after concluding that (a)the series wasn't getting anywhere, or at least not fast enough to hold my interest, and (b)George R R Martin was a sadistic sicko.

But back to the topic: what were the secrets of the success of GOT?  My guess: sex, violence, nudity, sadism, and a multithreaded plot of enormous scope.  And dragons.  And other monsters.

Of course nobody should be confident that that's what the viewing beast will want next time, but those are timeless themes.  My favorite set of books in the SVNSP department is the John Carter of Mars series, though unfortunately it has already been made into a fairly unsuccessful movie.  M…

Book Review: Genesis, the deep origins of society

(by Edward O. Wilson)

Wilson has written thirty some books, several of them path breaking, and many of them thick tomes, and this is his latest.  The subject is one of my favorites, and he brings his vast erudition and insight to the task.  This is a very short book, only 153 pages total and less than 120 uncrowded pages if you subtract the front and back matter.  At 89, I guess Wilson has slowed more than a bit.  He remains a graceful writer.

This is probably a good book if you want a very short introduction to the fundamental ideas of sociobiology, but I was disappointed, partly because I was pretty familiar with the contents and especially because I have read his earlier and far more comprehensive book The Social Conquest of  Earth, which covers much the same ground in more detail.  Also disappointing was the very short section on the origins of human society, largely based on plausible speculations with very little supporting detail.  He can still come up with some gems, though:

T…

Altruistic Molecules

The word combination is a bit bizarre.  Altruism, putting others before oneself, does not seem like something that could be attributed to a molecule.  I think there is a way of seeing how it makes sense, however. 

There is a hierarchy of complexity in evolution, with molecules cooperating to form cells, bacterial cells cooperating to form eukaryotes, cells cooperating to form animals and organs, and animals cooperating to form societies.

Altruism seems contrary to the principles of evolution since survival of self and progeny trumps everything else.  Why would those first primitive molecules that could self-reproduce, however imperfectly, sometimes sacrifice themselves to help produce others molecules?  Nonetheless, that's exactly what happens in every living cell.  Of course we know why this works - because this sacrifice ends up producing more molecules like themselves, virtual if not precisely actual copies.  What is hard, though, is seeing how the cooperation could develop in …

Marx Was Right...

...said Edward O Wilson.  He added that except he had the wrong species - Marx was right about ants and wrong about people.  This is a sharper critique than might be obvious, since we, or maybe I should say Wilson, knows a lot about the details of their biology that make ants good communists, and the vast differences that make humans unsuited.

This kind of critique, and the fact that he regarded Marxism as a religion rather than a serious scientific or philosophical idea, helped make him unpopular with his Harvard Marxist colleagues like Lewontin and Marx sympathizers like Gould. 

What really outraged them, though, was Sociobiology, the idea of scientifically studying the genetic and evolutionary basis of societies, human and animal.  This notion managed to be anathema both to the left and the right.  To the left, because it undermined the theoretical rationale of Marxism, and to the right because it struck an equally deadly blow to more conventional religions.  If society is neither …

Heart of a Dragon

For me, the Warriors vs. Rockets series this year was one of the most incredibly dramatic ever.  Every game was ferociously contested, and dramatic elements were abundant.  Steph Curry goes down with a dislocated finger.  James Harden has both eyes injured and bloody.  Both come back, and Harden continues to play brilliantly.  Curry, with injured finger and ankle, has several weak games.

For the first five games, each team holds its own court, with Warriors barely winning game five after their best player, maybe the best player in basketball, Kevin Durant, goes out for the series with a leg injury.

Back to Houston, with its Hall of Fame backcourt of Harden and Chris Paul, ferocious power forward P J Tucker, and deadeye shooter Eric Gordon.  Warrior's Klay Thompson is deadly for the first half.  Rocket James Harden, maybe the most unstoppable offensive player in basketball, matches him.  Curry has his first scoreless playoff half in history.

The final half was an epic see-saw battl…

Confederacy of Dunces: Boeing Department

Boeing Board of Directors is heavily populated with financial engineers and celebrity idiots.  No wonder the damn planes crashed.

Revolution in Venezuela

Trump and pals have been trying to engineer a revolution against Maduro.  Putin is trying to keep him in.  So far, the revolt is not going so well.  This fits with a lot of other experience we've had lately.  Angry people are not enough to overthrow a dictator with loyal generals and a few armored vehicles.  That goes double when a lot of the impetus is coming from an outside power - namely us.