Archive for December, 2011


Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

galaxyIn Macbeth, Shakespeare’s protagonist offers a bleak appraisal of the human condition:

“Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

There are those who say, like Macbeth, that life is meaningless.

They will tell you that this struggle we all are embedded in is a tragic-comedy of Chance, a random drunkard’s walk of dancing atoms that form temporary patterns. They will tell you that even protons decay, that even the Universe was we know it will end in thinner and thinner emptiness as the ongoing expansion of Space dilutes it out to vast nothing.

At such scales human existence does seem insignificant. But is it meaningless? Victor Frankel concluded from his experiences in a concentration camp that our most basic need as humans is the need for life to have meaning. We can sacrifice anything, even our lives, if the act of sacrifice has some meaning, or serves some higher purpose. Conversely, the worst tragedy we can imagine is to bear needless, meaningless suffering. It is thus that Shakespeare’s lines for Macbeth strike a nerve; they articulate the fear we all have sometimes that all may indeed be meaningless.

But if I may be allowed a Clintonian digression, we might inquire as to the meaning of meaning. Is the “meaning of Life” something to be captured in words, and entombed in a book? What do we intend to convey when we assert that Life has some meaning?

An easy answer might be to re-frame the question in a religious context: what is the meaning of Life to God? To which we can only reply that if an omnipotent Being orders the universe, then it means whatever He has decided that it means.

But this easy answer is unsatisfying to those who question what they are told by religious leaders. Science has taught us that questioning assumptions can expand understanding, and thus we turn this questioning mind to the ultimate question of what Life means to us.

Some say that there is a God who supplies all meaning, that it is not a question we need to ponder. Others retort that there is no God to give meaning, that all is random chaos and there is no meaning in chaos.

But both of these answers attempt to evade our unavoidable responsibility to find our meaning for ourselves. We are not able to perceive the entire Universe in all its intricate beauty; but since we cannot see the large or small-scale structures of the cosmos perhaps we should take the hint that we should concentrate on the things we can see.

For meaning must have context. An angry voice with a raised fist in some situations might be seen as a bad thing, a disruptive and unwanted event. But joined by thousands of others in a political protest against tyranny, such an event becomes not only wanted, but hoped for.

Often we feel we can impose our meaning upon others and correct their understanding, their behavior. But ultimately, we cannot decide the meaning of life for them. The best we can do is communicate our understandings to them and allow them the same freedom. If we are part of their data input and vice versa, we will achieve a better concord than if we ignore their input and arrogantly decide that we know everything and that everyone should think the same way we do.

I cannot tell you the meaning of life for You. I can only decide what it means to Me. Meaning requires context, and every person’s context is unique….or we would all be the same person. Whether we are all one Mind, are all creations of some Being, or all merely accidental protein robots that have flowered into sentience, we all have (at least for now) separate lives and different contexts. We may never agree on the total meaning of Life.

But there are things we can agree on. When a starving human holds out a hand begging for food, we do not need to understand their language to know they need help. When a family stands in the wreckage of their home, no convoluted philosophy is required to determine how we should act. When a government ignores the needs of their citizens and favors the wealthy and fosters continual wars to keep arms factories humming and profits up, we do not need elegant theories of finance and economics to see that money is being used to hurt, not to heal.

Okay, maybe Tomorrow will creep on “…til the last syllable of recorded Time”. Maybe no Manual will arrive to explain what it all meant. And maybe I wouldn’t read it even if it did. Because our lives mean what we make them mean. Your life’s meaning will be determined by You, by how you live it. The meaning of my life will be the result of my decisions; it will be determined by how I live it.

Don’t let anyone else tell you what your life means.  Find and create your own meaning.


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This We Give The World

Saturday, December 24th, 2011



This we give the World. We give for free.
Mankind will not be free til it can give.
To Give. That All may Live. you see? To GIVE!
Therefore we give. We give to You. For free.

This we give the world: our lives, our thoughts,
We give our dreams, our hopes, and what we learned
Our triumphs and mistakes, our joy and pain
Were not in vain; we lived it all for You.

This we give the World: our open eyes
That see beyond the now with no surprise
We give our hands, our years of willing work,
Our journals and deductions, all for you.

This we give the World that All may live.
Our lives bequeathed, and all that we can give
We give to You, to keep and know and share.
This we give the world. We give for Free.

–MRK 12/17/2011

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We Are The Data

Friday, December 23rd, 2011

TheGuyWe are the data.

We are not the atoms of physical matter which make up our bones, our blood, our muscles, our brains. The atoms in our bodies are temporary residents; they come in and stay for a while. They leave, but we remain.

Move up a level. We are not the individual cells which make up our bodies. Skin cells die and slough off; stomach lining cells dissolve and are replaced. And our nerve cells, our brain cells? If some of them die, we are still the same entity.

What, then , are we? We are not simply matter, not simply energy. Some would say we are our memories. And of course it is true that our experiences, our memories, define us and give us our individuality. But what are memories? They are records, stored experiences. They are data, and they are us. We are the data.

What is perception? It is the receiving of data. Whether we are perceiving an external event or perceiving our own reaction to something, it contributes to the incoming stream of data. Why do we place such a value upon the truth? Because true data is usually more useful than false data. All data is data, but some data are more useful than others.

We become aware of data (experience it) when it merges with our data: when it becomes part of us. There are many who say we also receive data we are not consciously aware of.  This would be hard to trace, so I will stick to the perceivable. If a photon triggers a retina cell to fire an impulse, that impulse is how the datum of that photon’s detection is conveyed into our sensorium. The impulse is collected and processed in our visual brain centers and joins our awareness as part of an image we experience and can remember.

After this the data passes into the realm of mystery. How do I remember that episode of Star Trek years later? Do I send a retrieval request to the retina from which it came into my data? No. How do I recognize the scent of a rose? Do I send a search request to the olfactory receptors in my nose? No. The data is somewhere else. It is not in the eyes or in the nose or the ears or the tongue.

The search for this stored data has been going on for a long time. Our earliest theory was that memories were “written” into our brains . The search for visual proof of these “engrams”, however, has not been successful. The search , moreover, has disclosed strange aspects of memories: they appear to be distributed throughout the brain, seemingly holographic in the way they survive destruction of brain tissue, as a hologram can still be viewed when part of the film is missing.  Probing of human brains with electrodes has disclosed no rhyme or reason, no ordering of experiences in the spatial extent of the brain; a random probe is just as likely to elicit a memory of an image as it is the memory of a odor, or a sound.

All the probing has really established is that if you stick an electrode into a brain cell and stimulate it, often memories will be experienced. Clearly there is a relationship between the brain and memory, but we appear to be no closer than before to seeing how the memory is stored and accessed.

We also have no general grasp of the brain’s data encoding system, if it has one. This means we are unable to download memories. We have been able to produce low-rez sight for the blind by stimulating the optic nerve: we replace the missing anatomy with technology as the source of incoming data. We can thus with video camera and electrical stimulation get visual data into the brain and into awareness in terms of ongoing incoming data. But we cannot read or absorb memories; so far, they are still formed only by experience, in the old-fashioned way.

We are the data. Incoming data is called perception and experience; stored data is called memories. Memories of experience: the after-echoes of input.

Next: The Download Problem

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The Collapse of the State Vector

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

The most interesting argument about Quantum Mechanics is not whether it works, but what it means.

Specifically, what it means when the State vector (a collection of probabilities of the system being in various states) collapses upon being interacted with into a 1 in some position and zeroes everywhere else. This is called a collapse because it appears that all other possibilities have vanished and all the eggs are in one basket.

Einstein did not like this aspect of Quantum Mechanics. He likened the seemingly-randomly collapsing wavefunction to God throwing dice to decide where to put a particle.

Everett and Wheeler solved this problem with the Many Worlds interpretation of Quantum Mechanics. Boldly, they proposed that the State vector does not collapse. They asserted that, instead, measurement (interaction) cleaves the State vector of many potential results/futures into several real parallel futures (universes), each of which has its version of the result — its own version of history. The ever-branching History has a branch for every possible outcome of every interaction or measurement.

In other words, if you flip a coin, it comes up both heads and tails. Your timeline splits; one of you sees heads and the other one of you sees it come up tails. There is no paradox, because it only has one real value in either universe.

If you roll one die, the state vector (1,2,3,4,5,6)  is cleaved into six universes, each of which sees a different number come up on the die:

(1,2,3,4,5,6) ==>  (1)   (2)   (3)   (4)   (5)   (6)

Often this process is described as the original universe “branching” into multiple separate universes.

When people understand the implications of the Many Worlds theory, they tend to react in one of three ways:

(1) Some are repelled by the extravagance of all these seemingly “extra” universes. It appears to be the very opposite of Occam’s Razor: assuming the existence of countless world we will never experience. These individuals reluctantly accept that the math works but deny the reality of the implications.

(2) Some embrace the theory, accepting the extravagance in return for the comfort of a multiverse in which All Things Happen. For them it is the fully-articulated flowering of the world-tree.

(3) Some find the concept indigestible, nebulous at best, and get on with their lives without it.

For those of a philosophical bent, however, the matter is hardly trivial. For if the universe branches, there must be room for it to branch into.  This implies an additional dimension. Having, for example, a four-dimensional space-time is not enough; the “me” looking at the flipped coin and seeing “heads” cannot travel to the “me” that is seeing the coin come up “tails” by moving in any of the 4 dimensions of space-time.

Trying to find this fifth dimension is like looking for the back of your head without mirrors. There are a seemingly infinite number of “roads less travelled”. For every coin toss there are two outcomes, and each sees the other as a path not taken. When you roll a die all six of your outcomes see the other five possibilities as paths not taken. Real-world decisions are more complex and multivariate and generate uncountable numbers of potential outcomes: each of our branching selves sees only one outcome, and the other myriad possibilities as paths not taken.

Personally, I have always been bothered by the unknowable what-ifs of paths not taken. I find it very satisfying to be able to envision a multiverse in which all paths are taken, all possible lives experienced. It has a feel of completeness to it.: nothing left undone.


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Fun With Hypercubes

Sunday, December 11th, 2011

hypercubeThe rhombic dodecahedron is the parallel projection of a 4D hypercube onto 3-space. I am not the only one who says this. And that fact has useful consequences.

What if we wanted to make a “real” 4D hypercube?  ”You can’t,” an expert might say, “because you have no 4D construction material.”

Oh really?

As I have written elsewhere, the evolution of a sound wavefront over time is described by the same equation as that for a 4D hypersphere. So let’s use that.

Now let’s put the expanding spherical intersection in 3-space inside a hollow rhombic dodecahedron (hypercube). What happens?

Well, the apparent evolution of the intersection of the hypersphere with 3-space is a sphere expanding as Time moves forward. Eventually it will have expanded enough to reach the internal surfaces of the parallel projection of a hypercube (the rhombic dodecahedron). Reflection will then begin to occur, a bit more complex than it would be from, say, the interior of a sphere. In both cases, the reflected sound implodes, turns inside-out, and re-emerges from the center to repeat the cycle.

tesseractHowever, since the internal surface of the rhombic dodecahedron consists of flat planes, there will be multiple reflection wavefronts which will intersect to cause not a shrinking sphere as the sound collapses inwards, but a more cube-shaped wavefront because it will not be featureless like a sphere but made of pieces from all of the reflection components.


The collision of the wavefronts causes this cubic-symmetry collapse. It is “molded” by its boundary surface. What do you suppose you get when you reflect a wave off part of the parallel projection of a tesseract? Obviously, since the reflection will be perpendicular to the boundary it will be molded into the perpendicular projection of a tesseract. And since this creates a cube-shaped wavefront which is expanding and contracting, it occupies a tesseract-shaped region of 4D space-time.

hypercubeIsn’t this fun? We don’t just blow bubbles. We are making ‘Cubles’ or cube-shaped bubbles. We are molding tesseracts. And all it requires is a reflection boundary with rhombic dodecahedron geometry coupled to a way of making sound waves.

Of course, the patent (4,231,446) was not a mere design patent based on blowing bubbles. It turns out that the Cartesian symmetry of the boundary bestows definite acoustic advantages to this geometry.

But I have written of this elsewhere.

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The Clam before The Storm

Sunday, December 11th, 2011

Anonymous“…I feel it is the Clam before the Storm, and no mistake..”  – Carrot Ironfoundersson, in Jingo by Terry Pratchett

The Occupy movement has called for a shutdown of all West Coast USA ports on 12/12 which is tomorrow.  What do you think will happen? Here are some predictions.

(1) Protesters will show up at more than one port. There may not be a mob of millions, but there will be enough in each geographic area to easily block road access to the ports if they choose to.

(2) Corporations cannot afford to allow a port shutdown. They would lose millions every day from goods unable to be offloaded and trucked out, and they would be unable to load cargo for export or transshipping. They will react as the protesters know they have to.

(3) In some situations protests have been defused by simply waiting them out. That will not be attempted because of the high costs they would incur. Rather than lose a dozen millions a day, they will spend quite a bit less paying to have the cops attack.

(4) Although the protests will be peaceful and non-violent , local and possibly Federal police will claim anarchists are threatening valuable port facilities and will move in with clubs (oops I mean “batons” as the obedient media call them), chemical weapons (weapons-grade mace and pepper spray), rubber bullets, zipties, and LRADs. Heard of the LRAD? The Long-Range Acoustic Device was designed on a grant from the DHS; it has been tested on insurgents in Irag. Although “non-lethal” it can easily cause permanent hearing damage from thirty to fifty meters. The maker tries to claim it is a “communications device”, but its peak operating frequency is around 2500 Hz, too high in the tweeter range to be good for supporting human speech.

(5) There will be infiltrators as usual, cops or military but out of uniform with masks, pretending to be dangerous Anarchists. They will perform fairly harmless disorderly acts such as tipping over dumpsters, and then run off. They will be later used as the justification for the police moving in and reacting with the same lack of restraint they have shown at other such events recently. There will be rubber bullets fired. The LRADs will be deployed.

(6) People are going to get hurt. Whether or not this protest wakes people up and leads to some dialogue or beneficial change, people are going to be hurt physically, chemically, acoustically, and legally. Names will go on lists. A lot of you may not be able to fly for a long time, if the Department of Homeland Security has its way. They appear to be leaning the way the rich want — thinking of protesting US citizens as being like terrorists.

(7) All this was easy to predict, given that it has happened recently and is still happening in several countries now, not just in the US. The key question is what happens next. Specifically, will martial law be declared on the Coast?

(quietly now: And if it is declared, will it ever be terminated? )


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