Monday, June 29, 2015

The World Created in Six Days--But they were very long days, with many small steps.,

First, the notion of the “big bang” reflects the premise that the universe began when, all of a sudden, everything came into existence out of nothing, with no explanation of how this happened or where it all came from.  Second, the story of the evolution of life on this planet reflects the initial premise that inorganic material – the primordial soup – spontaneously gave rise to organic entities, with no explanation of how non-living matter can, all on its own, suddenly become alive.  Third, this perspective assumes that consciousness emerged along with increasingly sophisticated nervous systems and brains, with no explanation of how organic matter develops a capacity for cognition and information processing.  These three claims – that the whole universe magically emerged out of nothing, that organic life magically emerged out of inorganic chemicals, and that mind magically emerged out of matter – require no less faith, and are no less fantastical, than the belief that God created the world in six days.
One of my colleagues wrote the above as part of a larger argument. It may be useful to keep in mind:
1. All the big bang cosmology, and the inflationary scenario, depends on how we might model,  in a physical sense, the emergence of something from nothing. The idea is that as the world cooled down from the big bang, there emerged orderliness, much as cooled water becomes crystalline ice. That orderliness is the something that arises
2. There may be speculation about before the big bang, but in general physicists see time as something denominated by events (not by an external clock), and before the big bang there was no time.
3. As for living matter, it is likely that we will find matter that exhibits various levels of what we would call living. In other words, the living-ness was not a single step, but more likely was a series of incremental steps. Non-living matter surely on its own develops in this way, but it is unlikely that there was a single step that divided time into before living and after living.
4. As for organic matter developing cognition and information processing capacity, we find that there are many steps along the way, and different living matter displays various degrees of consciousness etc. Much like #3.
5. Being living matter that is conscious, cognitive, and information processing, is an ongoing process. It has not stopped with current mankind. It's not that we will come to see the current era as being only half living and half-dumb. Rather in millennia new steps will be developed.

Uncertainty, Nuclear Deterrence, and Pirates (T. Delpech)

I have been reading on nuclear deterrence, a RAND report by T. Delpech. I am no expert, at all, in this literature, but I think Delpech is quite good in bringing out all the issues. I will have to get some expert judgments.

In any case, she reminded me that the literature on nuclear deterrence has always paid a good deal of attention to uncertainty, about what your opponent might do. Namely,

...uncertainty may contribute to a deterrent effect (T. Schelling), your not knowing what they will do making you more prudential. Or, in contrast, your knowing just what your opponent will do (H. Kahn), will contribute to deterrence by, again, making you more prudent. If we are in a piracy regime (as described by T. Delpech), our opponents may well gamble more, be less willing to follow conventional norms, and so not only increase uncertainty, but make it much harder to figure out what they might do.   (my paraphrase) 

In the warrior caseon the ground (vs. the suits and the uniforms, usually the subject of deterrence discussion), the idea that one's opponent might be a "pirate" (one who violates all the norms, tends to take changes that are quite speculative or ideologically driven), I wonder how to think about this

Delpech portrays China or North Korea as being piratical, the Chinese especially having a recent tradition from the effort to establish PRC. In effect, they are the wildest least predictable on the block. How do warriors on the ground handle this possibility? 

I have been reading more about the conflict of the Japanese Navy and Army between the two world wars, and how that led to remarkable chancy behavior, with little checks on wildness--a bureaucratic battle with enormous consequences. Also, about Hitler's ambitions being much above his capabilities, the argument being that appeasement in 1938 was the wrong move--rather resisting him then might have had the effect of slowing him down, perhaps permanently. In each case, Japan and Nazi Germany, they were punching above their line, so to speak--yet they could not stop themselves, leading to enormous damage to themselves (and the world, too).

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Orthodox Religions and Natural Science in the Modern Age

I am trained as a physicist. Over the years I have kept up with the scholarly literature in theology and 

in natural science about the relationship of religion and natural science. Natural science provides an 

an account of mechanism, while theology provides an account of purpose and meaning. That Genesis

provides an account of the creation of the world in six days, say, can be shown to be a remarkable 

account of social structure (Edmund Leach). That astroparticle physics can provide an account of the

origin of our universe initiated by the Big Bang, shows a parallel among the elementary particles and

the stages in the Big Bang's cooling down in the first three minutes.  There is a substantial 

theological and philosophical and poetic literature that suggests that God stands outside of time. 

The best modern accounts of biological evolution incorporate how organisms form ecological

niches, and so evolution is surely influenced by those organisms' capacity to self-organize (whether

or not consciously, for pattern formation does not need an organizer). 


The blog passage below compares the faith of literal believers in the Hebrew Bible with the beliefs of

natural scientists. It should be noted that theologians have long argued about how to read the Hebrew

Bible, and a literal reading has never been ascendent--for it is the meaning of the Bible's text proves

crucial, not its proposed mechanisms. And in fact, natural scientists have thought long and hard 

about how something can come out of nothing, how what we call consciousness might arise from 

matter we take as not conscious, and  how nonliving matter might be a source for living matter. For 

example, you have to think hard about what you mean by nothing, and what you mean by something

if you want to make sense of the problem. You need to understand that what we call time

is not a tick-tock clock but the path of physical processes. To ask about what was there before time,

makes little sense until you have a notion of what was there that could mark time before.


If one believes that the Hebrew Bible's account of Genesis is true, surely that is a matter of faith, a

wonderful human capacity. If one believes that the astroparticle physicist's account of the origin of

 the universe is correct, that is a matter that might well be corrected by future discoveries 

in astronomy and particle physics--but for the moment it does account for many of the deepest

questions that have concerned us for millennia. Genesis is true because it gives an account of society, 

the Big Bang would seem to be true since it gives an account of our universe and what we see and 

detect. [By the way, there is lots of argument about the mechanism of that Big Bang, what is called

inflation, but most of us will have to let the physicists & astronomers do their work and find out if it 

holds up (my impression is that it holds up reasonably well, but interesting experimental results

are likely to be found in the next five years). I like to keep faith for religious commitments, while

natural scientific commitments are best described as variously well attested to. To have faith in 

natural science or in the Los Angeles Lakers strikes me as misplaced. 

By the way, the use of magic in the next paragraph is very interesting. Magic is the fact that words we say make the world happen. As far as I can tell, neither the religious realm nor the natural scientific realms are readily subject to magic, unless that magic is canonical.

First, the notion of the “big bang” reflects the premise that the universe began when, all of a sudden, everything came into existence out of nothing, with no explanation of how this happened or where it all came from.  Second, the story of the evolution of life on this planet reflects the initial premise that inorganic material – the primordial soup – spontaneously gave rise to organic entities, with no explanation of how non-living matter can, all on its own, suddenly become alive.  Third, this perspective assumes that consciousness emerged along with increasingly sophisticated nervous systems and brains, with no explanation of how organic matter develops a capacity for cognition and information processing.  These three claims – that the whole universe magically emerged out of nothing, that organic life magically emerged out of inorganic chemicals, and that mind magically emerged out of matter – require no less faith, and are no less fantastical, than the belief that God created the world in six days.  from A Blog by a USC colleague

Saturday, June 6, 2015

An Elevator Speech About Your Work--an Academic Minute. Or, a Haiku About Your Work.

1. Recently, I have been doing some podcasts for Academic Minute, a site where professors talk about their work in 1'40". It forces me to say it all in about 250 words.  Below are three links, one to my work on mathematics in modeling, one on my urban photographic work, and one on my recent work on uncertainty. 

You want to be able to give such a brief account of your research project, and I would encourage you to write it out, limit to about 250-275 words understandable to an academic lay audience, and perhaps even record it to see how it sounds.



2. I've even tried to summarize my recent work on uncertainty as a sort of haiku, albeit with too many of words. Note that such a long-hiaku is not meant to be self-explanatory, but it gives you a good place to start.

Probe, Explode Boundaries, Save, Stay Liquid, Have Uncommitted Resources, so that you have

Downside Resilience and Limited Market-Vulnerability, so that

Uninsurable Hazard and Animal Spirits are affordable for you.

[Probe and Explode Boundaries come from my analogy to particle physics, Liquidity Preference and Animal Spirits are from J. M. Keynes, and P. Davidson in J of Post-Keynesian Eco

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

When you expect 1, 1/3 the time you'll get 0...Poisson statistics

If you have a probability p of something happening, and you try 1/p times, then you have an expectation of 1 something to happen. But Poisson statistics tells you that about 1/3 the time you'll get nothing, and about 1/3 the time you'll get that 1, and about 1/3 the time you'll get more than one.

Hence if the lowest expected pregnancy rate in using a male condom is 2% in one year, and people average sexual relations 50 times in that year, 2/3 of the time the couple will find themselves pregnant, but 1/3 the time there won't be a pregnancy.  [NOTE!: The probability of 2% is given for a year, with no information on the number of sexual relations, so my assumption of an average of 50 is notional. I am quite sure that if they have no sexual relations, the likelihood of the couple finding themselves pregnant is 0%, assuming they do not have partners on the side.] The typical use pregnancy rate is 15%, which could mean that if people have sexual relations 7 times in that year, again it will be 2/3 vs. 1/3.

Put differently, you are trying to meet someone on match.com.  Say the success rate is about 1%, in that you meet someone you might consider marrying. If you meet 100 matches, again 2/3 vs. 1/3. That is, about 1/3 the time, no one will be a good match. So when people tell you that you have to keep trying and up your N, keep the failure rate in mind. If you meet 200 matches, then after those 200 meetings 13% of the time you will fail to meet a good match, and 27% you'll meet just one, and 27% you'll meet two...

Friday, May 29, 2015

Coaching That Matters: A Fearsome Fairy Godmother and Her Warbling Broadway Brood

NY Times, 26May2015, p. C5

A teacher at Oklahoma City College trained a large number of Broadway musical performers. She was quite direct, as might a coach, showing each person how to do better by various particular moves and changes. She said, "If they can't take the criticism they came for--then don't come."

We all need encouragement, but even more we need coaching that points to how to become better. Such tough teachers are your blessing.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Laptops, Email, ... : Be Here Now. Don't lose your credibility by being elsewhere than with the people you are working with

From a friend, quite senior at his company, who works for one of the big computer and media related companies:

Most everyone has their laptop open in most meetings, and yes, I do emails during meetings. Don’t know what goes on in meetings at the very top of the executive hierarchy. 

My intern is of a new generation: he never concentrates on me. I am about to convert him to full time and my message for him is the hippy one: “Be Here Now."

If you are supposed to be attending to someone, they better feel that you are attending to them rather than to your computer, phone, etc. They actually notice, and may not be willing to play second fiddle to your email and text messages.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Being An Analyst in Intelligence

"Elizabeth had learned years ago that analysis had to do with taking the flow of information that moved through the bureaucracy and preventing it from moving in its normal way through the old channels. Sometimes she collected tidbits and left them lying around for weeks until they made sense, and sometimes she merely scanned the printouts and knew that there was nothing in them but distractions. If you had an "In" box and an "Out" box, you were treating information the way it was meant to be treated, which was the wrong way. The system put you here to process paper, but you had to resist the system in order to make it work.

"She put her purse in the "In" box so that nobody would deliver anything there."


p. 247-8, Thomas Perry, Sleeping Dogs

Also, p. 299: "...it was sort of an FBI agent's sense of humor. ...they're in a mostly male sort of world, so most of the jokes are inside jokes, and the ones that aren't are kind of simple."

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

We fidget to focus

We fidget to focus, to keep us alert and engaged...

Formway Design, a propos of their MultiGeneration chair for Knoll, Inc.

By watching hundreds of hours of video and conducting in-depth interviews with workers of all ages, in all disciplines, Knoll and Formway Design recognized that the basic assumption about office seating — that there are only a few optimal ways to sit while at work — was flawed.
In fact, their investigation showed that sitting upright and facing forward was just one of the ways people use their office chairs. Shifting, stretching, rotating, leaning, and reclining not only relieve boredom but are essential to our ability to stay energized and collaborate with colleagues.
Understanding that no combination of adjustment levers could make a chair equally comfortable in each of those positions, Formway sought to achieve an elastic design—the idea that a product would rearrange itself in response to a user’s movements. After years of design and development, spent considering and reconsidering every component of the chair, Formway arrived at a truly innovative design.
With a revolutionary new material for the chair’s back and a form that anticipates and allows for a multitude of body positions, Generation achieves Knoll and Formway’s mission to help workers sit how they want. It is truly the next generation of seating.

·        
Founded in 1956, New Zealand-based Formway Design has been designing furniture for more than five decades. In 1979 the company redefined itself, developing a new identity and philosophy that focused on team-based design and extensive research.
Formway’s designs are informed by insight gained through observation and consideration of human behavior. Their user-centered approach marries a rigorous design process, aesthetic sensitivity, and a passion for the environment.
Knoll and Formway first collaborated on the highly successful Life® Chair, introduced in 2002, which is celebrated for its sophisticated design, intuitive adjustments, responsive ergonomics and sustainable attributes.
Building on these features, the two companies came together once again to develop the Generation chair, introduced in 2009. The progressive design features new materials and an elastic design that supports the physical and cognitive activities of the modern office worker. Inspired by Generation, MultiGeneration® and ReGeneration® expand the Generation by Knoll® Family.

Extreme Success: Be obsessed, be obsessed, be obsessed.

NY Times 27 Ap, Justine Musk (former wife of Elon Musk of Space X and car fame) on extreme success:

"Extreme people combine brilliance and talent with an "insane" work ethic, so if your work itself doesn't drive you, you will burn out or fall by the wayside or your extreme competitors will crush you and make you cry.

Shift your focus away from what you want (a billion dollars, say) and get deeply, intensely curious about what the world wants and needs. It helps to have an ego, but you must be in the service to something bigger if you are to inspire the people you need to help you.

... Sometimes it's not so much the money that matters, but the win is everything--particularly when you have invested heart and soul in your mission.

Your job is your hobby. The nature of these things is so all-consuming. Unless you see that up-close it is hard to understand.

Obsession has a bad rap."

---------------------
I, MK, have been thinking about this in terms of scholars and scientists. There are Nobel Prize winners who are not so obsessed, just fortunate. But the ones I knew best are so obsessed, although they something took on hobbies such as mountain climbing. Here the win is not so much financial as it is being firstest with the mostest.

In the social sciences and the humanities, it's usually harder to distinguish such extreme success. But you look for productivity in terms of books (and articles), and the intensity of that work and the presumption to theory building or defining. Or, sometimes it is the systematic devotion to a problem, whether it be to understand something, to explain an author or some texts, or a site, or... There are few defining prizes in these fields (except for Economics), such as literature, philosophy, sociology, political science, etc. If you study classic authors, or ancient texts, there is a chance that you become the authority, but likely there are several authorities with different perspectives.

In mathematics (see C. Villani's new book (now in English) or Michael Harris's Mathematics Without Apologies where he speaks of charisma), there are such great prizes, for those under 40 (Fields medal), for those who solve certain problems (Clay Millennial Problems), here think of Wiles and the Fermat Last Theorem or Perelman and the Poincare Conjecture (See Masha Gessen's book on Perelman). But there are achievements that are as significant which are not so prized--limited number of prizes, wrong age,... This is true in general.