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Last Night Debate

Commented here:

http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/jki/open_thread_january_25_february_1/afzp

 

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Alice And Bob

Are the two characters who play major roles in some theoretical considerations. I guess you’ve met them before. Above all, they communicate a lot, so let them do so once again!

Alice is sending a Sudoku puzzle to Bob. He solves it, and finds where in the table of all Sudoku solutions the one Alice sent him, is. Then Bob converts this number into about 8 characters which make Alice’s message.

In fact, Alice sent him a whole book of Sudoku puzzles, and Bob, after solving them all, has quite a long message from Alice. He gives Alice his response in the form of chess problems. After solving one, the final positions of kings are a letter or two of Bob’s answer to Alice’s question. So Bob might send a whole book of chess problems to Alice, depending on how much he has to say to her.

Of course, they are sending those books as files and they both have an automated way for solving the puzzles. TBA have no clue what’s going on. Or do they? They could have.

Alice and Bob take part in this arms race of coding. Alice just stops signaling to Bob. Instead, she sends some angry comments to various bloggers  worldwide. Now, if a blogger is irritated by her in the response, Bob knows that Alice meant 1. If a particular blogger is happy, Alice wanted to say 0 to Bob.  But since this folk is highly unpredictable, Alice uses a lot of parity code to surely convey her message to Bob, this way.

Still, clever spooks can hear it as well.

It just so happens, that Alice lives near a famous writer. She has ways to influence his mood. Bob has to buy his book when it’s out, and decode the hidden message from Alice within. Somebody might still be listening in, though.

This was in fact John Nash’ premise in the movie Beautiful Mind. He wanted to intercept such hidden Soviet messages from newspapers. For the most part, he wasn’t able to. But his premise was correct, messages were there. And still are.

There was a secret, for all of us to see and get rich knowing it. But we mostly failed to spot it. It was encoded into the buying/selling habits of some large Wall Street players. The secret were some fixed dates when to buy and when to sell. A simple recipe. Forbes has a story on it.

There is a much bigger concern, however, than some minor human’s secrets, which can always be told over a beer. Has the intergalactic great war already begun? Or are we still in the preparation phase?

Only if we are alone can there be peace in the Universe. If we are not, some alien Alice and Bob are negotiating our fate right now. We should listen and decode everything that might be hidden in the incoming noise. This is much more urgent even than an asteroid defense system, because the damage caused by aliens could be much greater. I wish that there is nothing SETI could possibly intercept. But if there is, I hope SETI catches and decodes it as soon as possible.

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Edge Has Spoken

In the last post I wrote something about what I think is to be tossed out of science.

Now, we have opinions on http://www.edge.org/responses/what-scientific-idea-is-ready-for-retirement

With my number 1, that the infinity is a bad idea, one, Max Tegmark agrees.

Our challenge as physicists is to discover this elegant way and the infinity-free equations describing it—the true laws of physics. To start this search in earnest, we need to question infinity. I’m betting that we also need to let go of it.

With my number 2, that Popperism is to be retired, I have two who mostly agree. Sean Carroll and Rebecca Newberger Goldstein. Each from a slightly different viewpoint.

It’s a well-meaning idea, but far from the complete story.

But in the real world, the interplay between theory and experiment isn’t so cut and dried.

My number 3, that the “life concept” isn’t scientific enough to be useful, Julia Clarke, with Urvogel comes close, but she is not as radical as me.

All too quickly, we can fall into a rabbit hole of defining (and defending) terms, when we’d do better to seek a more precise understanding …

For the number 4, the appeal for sobriety in Quantum Mechanics, there are few voices. But David Deutsch and Seth Lloyd  don’t agree with me at all. As far as I know, not even May Tegmark, who is clearly with me on number 1.

the laws of quantum mechanics indicate that the universe is continually splitting into multiple histories or ‘worlds,’ out of which the world that we experience is only one. The other worlds contain the events that didn’t happen in our world.

When all the heavyweights, like Oxford and MIT professors of Quantum Physics strongly oppose me, Daniel Hillis agrees a bit:

Of course there is no real paradox here, there is just a problem with trying to apply our storytelling framework to a situation where it does not match.

Just a nicer way to say – Shut up and calculate! Also Freeman Dyson, pledges to keep our heads cool when talking about QM:

Unfortunately, people writing about quantum mechanics often use the phrase “collapse of the wave-function” to describe what happens when an object is observed. This phrase gives a misleading idea that the wave-function itself is a physical object.

For my number 5 – forget Global Warming and other scary stories – there are some careful, rather indirect voices. Ian Bogost dislike the “Science” as is.

To think that science has a special relationship to observations about the material world isn’t just wrong, it’s insulting.

Brian Christian thinks that

An academic publisher worth their salt would also accommodate another pillar of modern software development: revision control. Code repositories, like wikis, are living documents, open not only for scrutiny, censure and approbation, but for modification.

Please Science, modernize your standards to at least the corporate ones widely used now! I very much like Rebecca Newberger Goldstein’s thought:

What idea should science retire? The idea of “science” itself. Let’s retire it in favor of the more inclusive “knowledge.”

My number 6 is a bit radical and quite “crackpotish”. Still, Smolin has no mercy toward Relativity either.

general relativity is incomplete as a description of nature because it leaves out quantum phenomena

Eric R. Weinstein, who does not need to care for an academic position even dares to say:

My reason for believing that there is a better route to the truth is that we have, out of what seems to be misplaced love for our beloved Einstein, been too reverential to the exact form of general relativity.

Number 7, to forget the PC codex in science is mostly opposed. Somebody even wants to abandon the term ‘race’ in humans. I must say, that the majority of top scientists are quite PC.

I forgot to mention String Theory last time, but I’m glad that Frank Tippler did not. It’s dead.

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What Scientific Idea Is Ready For Retirement?

There is a very interesting question on http://www.edge.org, this year. What scientific idea deserves to be abandoned?

At the time I am writing this, the hundred or so answers are not yet publicly known, they will be in a few days.

I have to declare that I have no relation to edge.org whatsoever, except that it’s, in my opinion, one of the best sites on the Internet.

Now, wait to see what those people will say.

I however independently think that at least 10 scientific concepts are outdated or obsolete or plain wrong from the start.

  1. Infinity in mathematics and everywhere else. I am sorry, but you can’t always add one to a number and get a bigger one. It is easy to add one to ten, but then it gradually becomes more and more difficult, until it’s eventually impossible. Infinity is just an illusion, related to that of a god. Something so big and powerful that it’s bigger than anything from the real world. My point exactly – it’s not a real world member.
  2. Popper-ism. That we can only negate a theory and can never confirm it with experiments. That no matter how many experiments support a theory, it’s not enough since a single experiment can destroy it. The truth is weirder. We can’t be entirely sure that the theory has indeed been smashed. We might have interpreted the results wrongly. That said,  Popper-ism is really quite useless, if not even harmful because of its seductions to the irrelevant.
  3. Defining life. Despite the fact that many have argued convincingly that no definition of “life” can be given, biologists mostly still hold on to a bunch of half-baked definitions that they are so fond of. In reality, there is no need to differentiate between fruits and vegetables. In the same way there is no need to include or exclude viruses from the category of ‘alive’. Complexity in the Kolmogorov’s sense is a much better approach. Define complex entity, if you must! Don’t mind then when computers fall under this new definition along with “life”, and don’t mind when the mighty stars are excluded.
  4. Get rid of all interpretations of Quantum Mechanics. Just shut up and calculate! The idea that a million of your twins have been born during the last second, along with a whole Universe each, would perhaps have a place in the religion department if one existed, which it does not. So, for science’s sake, just shut up and calculate in Quantum Physics.
  5. All kinds of whining like Global Warming alarmism or the fight for biodiversity or anything like that – is not a science. It’s a politics for murky or not so murky causes.
  6. Abandon the relativistic length contraction! At least until you observe how the packets of protons in LHC have been shrunken when they reach near light speed. And not only the packets but the distances between them too. If consequentially Relativity fails, it matters not, back to the drawing board! Isn’t science all about the truth and not about famous scientists and institutions?
  7. Retire political correctness across science! As someone pointed out, for all the human qualities like intelligence, skin coloration and so on, only homosexuality is genetically determined from the politically correct point of view. All else is somehow influenced by the environment. Homosexuality has nothing to do with say being in a homosexual family in your childhood. Yet, if you are a Nobel prize winner for physics, as your father was, it’s his influence by helping you with homework.  Not genetics, God forbid! So, get rid of PC in science!

These seven points addressed above should be administered an left behind as soon as possible. But why care, all the science will be automated one day. Seven billion “scientists” working for you inside your computer – that’s the real goal. Not only scientists, but “technologists” and “innovators” as well. We will abandon the whole of science except for the true statements it contains already. This before science as an institution will reform according to a single point listed above.

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Antarctica Again

– especially its wast snow deposits, which are just lying there, mostly unused. All the rivers in the world would need a few thousand years to bring all this water back to the sea.

The average ice elevation is about 2 kilometers. Imagine then the resulting ice-electric power! Might be a bit awkward, though possible, to mine ice as if it were sand, as I suggested in the previous post. It would be much better if it could be melted before it’s used in turbines. Unfortunately, we would need much more energy for that, than we could get back as generated electricity.

But there’s a catch. This needed power is merely the heat – a low valued form of energy. Where could it come from then?

Maybe it could come from deep down as geothermal energy. But that source is too deep, and too dispersed. A super volcano beneath the ice could provide enough energy for only a fraction of a percent of the thermal energy needed. There are maybe 1000 cubic kilometers of molten lava there, while we would need many millions of cubic kilometers to melt all the snow. Today Antarctica’s ice cap is large enough to cool down the Perm Siberian Surge for quite a while, which was much bigger than any super-volcano from the recorded history.

The next candidate is the Sun. During long polar summer days, under a large glass dome, a meter or so of ice (covered with soot) would melt during each northern winter. Currently we have no technology to build large enough glass-like domes of the required size. Especially not with the structure integrity to cope with the winter weather there.

A mirror in the orbit, could do this job all year around. Imagine a warm lake in the South pole, under intense reflected light, with a long estuarine pipe to the coast, where a giant hydroelectric power plant would operate. The problem is, that a gigantic orbital mirror is certainly not achievable right now.

We could pump the warm oceanic water 90 degrees south, to melt the local ice. Ironically we would not need any energy for this, since it would be a closed pipe system, like the central heating of a house. The warm oceanic water would go up inside the red pipe and then cooled, return back through the blue pipe. The pond on the pole would act as a heat exchanger. The melted fresh water from said pond is then transported to the plant at the coast, by a different long pipe – an inherently much smaller one – which is the problem.

A nuclear reactor, melting ice on the pole, would serve better in generating electricity here. The amount of energy would be about the same, so why bother with Antarctica?

I still think we should excavate the ice as if it were sand, and have the ice power plants on the Southern continent, or the shores of Greenland. Melting is out of the question.

The energy density of the polar ice may be almost a thousand times smaller than the energy density of oil. However, we have almost one million times more ice at our disposal.

Had I really believed in classical futurism, I would seriously advocate ice-mining for energy as a project for the middle or the end of the 21st century. But I do not, and all this was just a modest mental exercise.

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Crossing Antarctica

It was done over a century ago for the first time, and many times since.

Now it’s time to do something more down there. At least catch a hundred or so polar bears in the Arctic, and release them where no bear has gone before, on the shores of the Weddell sea. There they can eat seals and penguins, which is only a slightly different menu to the one they are used to.

It’s entirely possible that some polar bears would freeze in a somewhat colder place, but what can you do?

However this ecological project isn’t really what I have in mind. I just mentioned it as warm up.

There’s another extreme sport which can be played on Antarctica’s high plateau. You can put a working nuclear submarine there. Gradually, it will sink due to its thermal output and make a lake around itself. Now the submarine can cautiously swim around there, a few meters back and forth. The nuclear reactors should melt about a cubic meter of ice per second. Soon the submarine would be deep under the ice surface, surrounded by a water bubble. Swimming slowly it could cross Antarctica this way. Even lake Vostok could be visited with a nuclear submarine on the way to the South sea!

I’m not particularly enthusiastic about this either, but it could be done.

What I am all about, is snow mining. Near and around the South pole that is. You can’t just melt it, because that’s too energy intensive. For digging it up as if it were sand however, you don’t need a lot of energy. A clever way of mining ice makes the energy input almost negligible.

Once dug out, you put the ice on to a kind of a magnetic conveyor belt, which drives the freshly excavated snow to the ocean, several kilometers down and thousands of kilometers away. The conveyor belt is a neodymium magnetic railway. It does not require energy because it produces it in the process of electromagnetically breaking the shuttle’s descent. Eventually the snow is deposited into the ocean. In case of bad weather, we may imagine this transportation route inside a tunnel bellow the surface of the ice.

The energy produced this way is then transported via the HVDC (High Voltage Direct Current) cables to the end users around the world. We are talking about a large linear motor/generator here, powered by the snow and ice flowing down into the ocean.

The energy reserves in Antarctica’s ice are equivalent to at least the amount of oil used worldwide in 300 years at the current consumption rate. For the first 100 years however, Greenland should do just fine – even cables could be much shorter since America and Europe are close by.

The Greens should appreciate it greatly, for at least four reasons:

  1. low carbon emissions
  2. no radioactivity involved
  3. cooling the now overheated polar ocean
  4. I even give up the colonization of Antarctica with polar bears, if the Greens agree to ice mining
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