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Happy New “Creative Leap” Year

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — wondering whether a von Kármán vortex street might be a good place to take a Paul Lévy walk one of these days — when I’m out and about, foraging for new ideas ]
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"Named after French mathematician Paul Lévy, a Lévy walk is characterized by many small moves combined with a few longer trajectories."

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M’friend Bill Benzon of the New Savanna blog posted two paras out of an NYT blog piece, Navigating Our World Like Birds and Bees, today:

What they have found is that when moving with a purpose such as foraging for food, many creatures follow a particular and shared pattern. They walk (or wing or lope) for a short time in one direction, scouring the ground for edibles, then turn and start moving in another direction for a short while, before turning and strolling or flying in another direction yet again. This is a useful strategy for finding tubers and such, but if maintained indefinitely brings creatures back to the same starting point over and over; they essentially move in circles.

So most foragers and predators occasionally throw in a longer-distance walk (or flight), which researchers refer to as a “long step,” bringing them into new territory, where they then return to short walks and frequent turns as they explore the new place.

I can’t help but think that this may give us a closer approximation to the way minds can think than our usual terms, linear and lateral, or on a wider scale, disciplinary and interdisciplinary thinking, with the short walks involving thoughts that require investigation but not analogy, and the long steps being leaps by analogy into new territory — the familiar hop, skip and jumps we also call creative leaps.

From my POV, seeing both linear and leaping thoughts this way allows for the fact that what we’ve been calling linear thoughts aren’t so much linear as local, while analogical thoughts by their very nature take us from one thought domain to another — via parallelism or opposition — leaping conceptual distances.

Which is why I can wish you a Happy New “Creative Leap” Year! — even though 2014 isn’t divisible by 4 and there will still only be 28 days this February.

Spirals: plus ça change

Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — a striking image from the Cassini probe, a “spiral” staircase ]
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Spirals, which are close to concentric circles and close to ellipses, can also be “squared” or “oblonged” — pattern recognition is not always neat in its observation of definitions, and this can as easily be a cognitive feature as a bug:

Besides, Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose could almost be the motto for pattern recognition, emphasizing the naturally cross-disciplinary, cross-silo nature of analogical cognitive strategies.

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The top panel image is of the North Pole of Saturn, as recently captured by NASA’s Cassini mission. As blog-friend Bryan Alexander notes at Infocult, NASA says of this image, which it calls The Maelstrom:

The vortex at Saturn’s north pole — seen here in the infrared — takes on the menacing look of something from the imagination of Edgar Allan Poe.

Sunday surprise 5: once in a blues moon

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — time for some more surprises, this time in stone and jazz — plus an afterimage of WWI ]
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First, a master-class in the craft of the blues:

Second, the moon:

And third, because of the violence in Kenya, Pakistan, Syria … get me a globe and I’ll spin it… and because I’ve talked with you before of my friend Heathcote Williams and he mentioned this to his followers today, here are his meditations on World War I, prepared for its centenary next bloody year:

Neither he nor my father ever explained the war to me. It was just something that had happened to them. Something irrational that hung over them. A grisly cloud of spectral blood. A tumor that fogged the psyche. Something in their history that had spoiled both their lives.

And them’s the blues for this week: go well, stay well.

Unrenormalizable

Thursday, September 19th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — a quick quantum DoubleQuote in music and jewel — humor, edutainment ]
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Nibbling at the tasseled fringes of science is as close as I get, but these two otherwise unrelated pieces caught my eye…

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My first entry:
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Pretty cool, pretty popular — and my second?
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Read all about it: A Jewel at the Heart of Quantum Physics

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A little video music, a little digital art, a little physics — what’s not to like?

And my title, Unrenormalizable? In physics, so I’m told, “Unrenormalizable theories contain infinitely many free parameters”. I’m no theory, but I suspect I’m unrenormalizable too.

Single Quote: Robert B. Laughlin

Monday, August 26th, 2013

[Extracted by Lynn C. Rees]

From A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down (2006) by Robert B. Laughlin:

The transition to the Age of Emergence brings to an end the myth of the absolute power of mathematics. This myth is still entrenched in our culture, unfortunately, a fact revealed routinely in the press and popular publications promoting the search for ultimate laws as the only scientific activity worth pursuing, notwithstanding massive and overwhelming experimental evidence that exactly the opposite is the case. We can refute the reductionist myth by demonstrating that rules are correct and then challenging very smart people to predict things with them. Their inability to do so is similar to the difficulty the Wizard of Oz has in returning Dorothy to Kansas. He can do it in principle, but there are a few pesky technical details to be worked out. One must be satisfied in the interim with empty testimonials and exhortations to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. The real problem is that Oz is a different universe from Kansas and that getting from one to the other makes no sense. The myth of collective behavior following from the law is, as a practical matter, exactly backward. Law instead follows from collective behavior, as do things that flow from it. such as logic and mathematics. The reason our minds can anticipate and master what the physical world does is not because we are geniuses but because nature facilitates understanding by organizing itself and generating law.

An important difference between the present age [i.e. the Age of Emergence] and the age just past [i.e the Age of Reductionism] is the awareness that there are evil laws as well as good ones. Good laws, such as rigidity or quantum hydrodynamics, create mathematical predictive power through protection, the insensitivity of certain measured quantities to sample imperfections or computational errors. Were the world a happy place containing only good laws, it would indeed be true that mathematics was always predictive, and that mastering nature would always boil down to acquiring sufficiently large and powerful computers. Protection would heal all errors. But in the world we actually inhabit, dark laws abound, and they destroy predictive power by exacerbating errors and making measured quantities wildly sensitive to uncontrollable external factors. In the Age of Emergence it is essential to be on the lookout for dark laws and artfully steer clear of them, since failure to do so leads one into delusional traps. One such trap is inadvertently crossing a Barrier of Relevance, thereby generating multiple ostensibly logical paths that begin with nearly identical premises and reach wildly different conclusions. When this effect occurs it politicizes the discussion by generating alternative “explanations” for things that cannot be distinguished by experiment. Another trap is the hunt for the Deceitful Turkey, the mirage law that always manages to be just out of focus and just beyond reach, no matter how much the measurement technology is improved. Ambiguities generated by dark law also facilitate fraud, in that they allow a thing to be labeled quantitative and scientific when it is, in fact, so sensitive to the whim of the measurer that it is effectively an opinion.

The Greek pantheon came into being through a series of political compromises in which one tribe or group, prevailing over another in warfare, would exercise its authority not by wiping out the gods of the losers, which was too difficult, but by making those gods subordinate to their own. The ancient Greek myths are thus allegories of actual historical events that took place in the early days of consolidation of Greek civilization. While the “experiment” in that case was war, and the “truth” it revealed was some political reality, the psychological elements for inventing mythological laws were the same as those we use today to identify physical ones. You may feel that both are pathological human behaviors, but I prefer the more physical view that politics, and human society generally, grow out of nature and are really sophisticated high-level versions of primitive physical phenomena. In other words, politics is an allegory of physics, not the reverse. Either way, however, the similarity reminds us that once science becomes political it is indistinguishable from state religion. Under a system of truth by consensus one expects false gods to be systematically enshrined in the pantheon as a matter of expedience, and the cosmogony on occasion to become Fictional, just as occurred in ancient Greece, and for the same reasons.

Greek creation myths satirize many things in modern life, particularly cosmological theories. Exploding things, such as dynamite or the big bang, are unstable. Theories of explosions, including the first picoseconds of the big bang, thus cross Barriers of Relevance and are inherently unfalsiable, notwithstanding widely cited supporting “evidence” such as isotopic abundances at the surfaces of stars and the cosmic microwave background anisotropy. One might as well claim to infer the properties of atoms from the storm damage of a hurricane. Beyond the big bang we have really unfalsifable concepts of budding little baby universes with different properties that must have been created before the infationary epoch, but which are now fundamentally undetectable due to being beyond the light horizon. Beyond even that we have the anthropic principle—the “explanation” that the universe we can see has the properties it does by virtue of our being in it. It is fun to imagine what Voltaire might have done with this material. In the movie Contact the Jodie Foster heroine suggests to her boyfriend that God might have been created by humans to compensate for their feelings of isolation and vulnerability in the vastness of the universe. She would have been more on target had she talked about unfalsifiable theories of the origin of the universe. The political dynamic of such theories and those of the ancient Greeks is one and the same.

The political nature of cosmological theories explains how they could so easily amalgamate with string theory, a body of mathematics with which they actually have very little in common. String theory is the study of an imaginary kind of matter built out of extended objects, strings, rather than point particles, as all known kinds of matter—including hot nuclear matter—have been shown experimentally to be. String theory is immensely fun to think about because so many of its internal relationships are unexpectedly simple and beautiful. It has no practical utility, however, other than to sustain the myth of the ultimate theory. There is no experimental evidence for the existence of strings in nature, nor does the special mathematics of string theory enable known experimental behavior to be calculated or predicted more easily. Moreover, the complex spectroscopic properties of space accessible with today’s mighty accelerators are accountable in string theory only as “low-energy phenomenology”- a pejorative term for transcendent emergent properties of matter impossible to calculate from first principles. String theory is, in fact, a textbook case of a Deceitful Turkey, a beautiful set of ideas that will always remain just barely out of reach. Far from a wonderful technological hope for a greater tomorrow. it is instead the tragic consequence of an obsolete belief system—in which emergence plays no role and dark law does not exist.

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The painful echoes of ancient Greece in modern science illustrate why we cannot live with uncertainty in the Age of Emergence. at least for very long. One often hears that we must do so, since the master laws do not matter and the little subsidiary ones are too expensive to ferret out, but this argument is exactly backward. In times of increased subtlety one needs more highly quantitative measurements, not fewer. A measurement that cannot be done accurately, or that cannot be reproduced even if it is accurate, can never be divorced from politics and must therefore generate mythologies. The more such shades of meaning there are, the less scientific the discussion becomes. Accurate measurement in this sense is scientific law and a milieu in which accurate measurement is impossible is lawless.


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