Kuro5hin.org: technology and culture, from the trenches
create account | help/FAQ | contact | links | search | IRC | site news
[ Everything | Diaries | Technology | Science | Culture | Politics | Media | News | Internet | Op-Ed | Fiction | Meta | MLP ]
We need your support: buy an ad | premium membership

[P]
Is the Universe Really Consistent?

By localroger in Op-Ed
Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 08:28:24 AM EST
Tags: Science (all tags)
Science

The Scientific Method has allowed us to do awesome things, but this has come at a price we seldom notice. We rarely remember the hidden assumption at the root of all science -- an assumption which was considered radical and improbable as recently as 300 years ago.

Science works on the assumption that the Universe is consistent. And while the mighty works of Science remind us that this is not a bad assumption, Science cannot prove the Universe is consistent because it cannot really address the matter of inconsistent things at all.


The Universe, scientists assume, may be obscure; but it does not lie. An experiment which works in San Diego will, if it reveals Truth, also work in Oslo. An electron in the vicinity of Alpha Centauri will have the same properties as one in your little finger. The Universe does not evaluate the merits of your experimental apparattus and decide upon the outcome, factoring in your charitable donations and hair color; it works on simple, repeatable principles which can be revealed and exploited with perfect trust once they are adequately documented.

On the whole this assumption has worked well. Careful measurement and correlation reveal that the rules by which the world works were much the same millions of years in the past and half-way to the Hubble Limit as they are here and now on Earth. And those rules have suggested to us powerful modalities by which we can express our collective will upon the environment in which we live.

But there are problems. The simple rules which describe the motion of astronomical bodies are not consistent with the simple rules that describe the behavior of subatomic particles, and attempts to merge the two simple systems are not so simple.

Most scientists quietly (or not so quietly) believe the Universe is infinite and self-sufficient, because the idea of Gods and such ruin the perfect consistency upon which their trade depends. However, it is a simple matter to divide the Hubble limit by the Planck constant and show that the Universe is finite -- it contains a finite number of particles, whose positions and velocities and states represent a finite amount of information -- About 10^84 bits, give or take a couple of orders of magnitude, if the Universe really exists as scientists tend to describe it. Science offers no credible idea what, if anything, exists other than that finite set of theoretically observable particles.

And humans, despite living in a sea of technological wonder, persist in believing in very unscientific things like ghosts, luck, gods, and ESP. This includes a lot of very credible humans who have risked reputations and careers to report on experiences they themselves have found incredible.

The Human Experience

It is in physics that one finds the purest expression of the Scientific Method, but physics is not the only line of thought that styles itself a science. Geologists do not have the physicists' luxury in staging experiments and testing for repeatability; they must wait for the Earth to Do Something and then see if the Something they observe is consistent with their theories. Medical researchers are in an even worse fix, since nothing quite ever happens the same way twice in complicated biological systems; they work around this by designing double-blind protocols with statistical tests, to eliminate as much of this inconsistency as possible.

Then there are fields like sociology and psychology, which physicists tend to sneeringly deride. Sometimes these "soft" scientists sneer back that physicists don't have to deal with phenomena that lie to them. It's a real problem, with which people like James Randi have shown scientists do not deal well.

My question is, suppose the Universe is lying to physicists? Would we be able to tell?

A Thought Experiment

Let's consider for a moment that we are residents not of this Universe, however it works, but of the universe of the computer game DOOM. By this I don't mean that we are players, or plugged into it like the residents of the Matrix, but that we are very advanced AI characters in the game.

The DOOMiverse bears a lot of similarities to our own, enough that humans feel comfortable moving in for occasional visits. As permanent residents we might make up theories about where our world came from, and about the periodic visitors who are noticeably smarter and faster than us. We probably wouldn't notice the absence of electrons and galaxies, since those don't figure much in the daily life of flesh-eating zombies.

The main difference between the DOOMiverse and the Universe is that we all know the DOOMiverse is simpler than it appears. Things which are important -- things which are likely to be noticed -- are implemented with all the versimilitude the hardware platform can muster. Things which don't matter at the moment are forgotten or frozen. It's only sensible, since computers are limited and human players want the richest possible experience from the resources at their disposal.

Objects in the DOOMiverse are represented at a high level of abstraction, rather than as the sum of a huge number of component parts. This is more efficient. When something is needed which is not part of the basic world, like an electronic device (no electrons!) or a glimpse of exterior sky, it is coded as an exception, with emulated functionality. On the other hand, anyone attempting to practice the Scientific Method in the DOOMiverse would be, well, doomed. If you push too hard on the model it breaks; it's only meant to be observed at a particular scale.

In the real Universe, we assume that the stipples on a stippled wall do not move around when our back is turned; but few of us ever bother to test this proposition. We don't really notice when the computer fakes it for us by generating random textures on the fly. By definition the DOOM game engine is not consistent; it is putting on an elaborate sham to make itself look richer and more detailed than it really is. If a DOOMizen were to come up with the DOOM equivalent of an electron microscope, the game authors at Id would probably write in an exception to show them something appropriate to the fake physics of the DOOMiverse.

The Quantum Observer

Scientists simply assume our own Universe is not pulling any tricks like this on us. At least, most of them do. The problem is that in some very repeatable experiments testing the properties of small particles, it appears very much that the Universe is looking over our shoulder and arranging the results to suit. Explaining how it does this without invoking faeries is one of the holy grails of quantum physics.

I have this persistent nagging doubt, though, especially on Tuesdays and Thursdays. What if the Universe is really supposed to be simple, as described by General Relativity, with analog curved spacetime and electromagnetic radiation made up of infinitely divisible waves? What if the Universe, like the DOOMiverse, is trying to make the best out of a more limited information budget, and as a shortcut represents wave energy as a sea of particles and particles themselves with finite precision? What if the Universe only bothers with quantum effects when we set up some bizarre situation that makes them noticeable?

Most quantum physicists don't really believe that "observer" means a human being; they assume that some simpler arrangement of circumstances, presumably not even living, can serve a similar function. But what if they're wrong?

The Question of God

If the Universe is not consistent and is pulling DOOM-like tricks to dress itself up for our benefit, does this imply that there is a cosmic equivalent to Id Software which designed it? The simple answer is "yes," but like the Universe itself the situation isn't that simple.

There is a poetic simplicity to the idea that the Universe is simple enough to have organized itself, and many scientists are allergic to anything that contradicts that idea. You can hardly blame them, since it wasn't that long ago that people were burnt at the stake for believing things that aren't even considered controversial today, and a persistent minority seems to want desperately to turn back the clock.

The idea of a vast pool table loaded with little balls was attractive to 19th-century scientists, because it fit the model of the world they lived in. The universe was big and complicated simply because it was made up of a lot of balls. But growing up with computers as I did, I find another concern paramount; physicists seem oblivious to the information costs of the schemes they propose. Given the contract to implement the Matrix, would you really start with 10-dimensional strings, or just fake them in the rare situations where their behavior becomes noticeable?

Even Stephen Wolfram, who has made a huge break from the dead-particle school of physics, envisions only the simplest possible computing elements populating his universe in vast numbers. Wolfram's "Four lines of code in Mathematica" are really what all physicists are trying to find -- the simple, indivisible, and consistent elements of reality.

Suppose, however, that the Universe started out with a very simple pattern recognition system, aimed at extending itself by simulating complex situations. It takes about 330 bits to locate a resting proton to Planck precision within a hypersphere whose circumference is the Hubble limit, and about 220 bits to locate an electron. But a hydrogen atom, containing both, can be represented with just a few more bits than the proton -- it's about the same as a proton, but with an internal state representing its electron's energy. Much greater gains can be had by representing the rest of the periodic table as individual entities rather than collections of subatomic particles; the internal states get complicated, but the reduced particle load vastly more than makes up for the extra work.

(Naturally, a similar loss in capacity would be felt breaking things down to quarks. How often does that happen outside of particle accelerators? Cosmic phenomena like supernovae can be handled in bulk, much the way we treat problems in hydrodynamics.)

One can readily imagine the algorithm that recognized this situation extending itself into chemistry and higher levels of abstraction; it's had several billion years to perfect its methods. Remember, this is a much bigger system than the one that does the texture mapping for DOOM. Our own minds would all be a relatively small part of it.

The result might be a Universe that sometimes, subtly, displays elements of consciousness but at an aloof distance, pretending with great versimilitude that it is just a much larger bunch of dumb particles banging around than it could ever hope to actually represent as individual particles.

The Other End of the Telescope

Lest it seem that I am doing gross violence to Occam's Razor, let me point out that a lot of people have problems with the consistency of the Universe which go far beyond single photons and double slits.

Fourteen years or so ago I dabbled a bit in New Age practices. One of the things I tried was Tarot reading, which I always drew and interpreted for myself. Being skeptical (I got into it on something of a dare) I was a fanatic for shuffling, always salting old cards throughout the deck and both cutting and shuffling ten or twenty times before doing a reading. As with my later gambling adventures I kept notes. The results were of course purely subjective, but nothing short of startling. Never did I get a single reading which appeared "random," unless I deliberately attempted to apply a layout drawn for one question to a totally unrelated one.

On one occasion I did four readings in a row on closely related aspects of the same question. From a deck of 78 cards, in a 10 card pattern, I got eight cards in the same position all four times. If I had been doing Tarot readings at the rate of one per second since the Big Bang, my chances of seeing that happen would be vanishingly small. The fact that the cards addressed the question I asked eloquently is almost trivial by comparison.

Of course there were no witnesses, and you have only my own word about my efforts to prevent a slug of cards from re-emerging after a shuffle, or even that it happened at all. I have no doubt that if I tried to do a similar experiment on TV the cards would emerge in blissfully random and meaningless patterns. Yet this is a thing that, from my perspective, really happened and I must incorporate it into my world-view somehow. Even after all these years I get goosebumps thinking about it.

At the time the only theory that made sense to me -- and the only one that still does -- is that at some level, when a deck of cards is sufficiently shuffled, the Universe is willing to forget the order they are in. Then it is possible for an entity -- a hacker, if you will -- to influence the order in which they are reassembled when the deck is dealt, in order to communicate with you. But there are checks on the system, just as human-built computers try to be safe from hacking; and however much the world may be influenced in this way, the results must be plausible according to some standard which isn't quite perfect.

The idea is, of course, totally insane, except for the fact that the vast majority of humans believe something similar is going on all the time.

It's tempting to draw parallels with the collapse of the state vector in quantum mechanics, and many magic-practicing people do exactly that; but whatever is going on has nothing directly to do with the repeatable and verifiable weirdnesses that occur at Planck scale. It may be a similar kind of hack, but the Planck-scale hacks have been incorporated into the story the Universe consistently wants to tell us.

As for where these hacker-entities (generally called spirits) come from, one is led to speculate that one of the things represented at a high level of abstraction might be consciousness itself; and as with any object represented as a single data structure within a computer, it might be possible to induce extra unofficial instances of entire minds. Some of these might be people who no longer exist corporeally (e.g. are dead); some might be made up from scratch as an assemblage of generic elements; and some might be copies at varying degrees of perfection of people who are actually walking around.

The Observer Redux

Another possibility, which is very plausible to me after my later gambling adventures, is that there is a universal human inability to perceive randomness for what it is. Such a fatal flaw would certainly explain why the casino industry exists, if nothing else. My own experiences were startling enough to shake me out of the militant atheism into which I'd settled after rejecting my parents' religious beliefs at the age of 15.

Frogs, we have been taught for decades, cannot see anything that isn't about the size and shape of and moving like a mosquito. If humans have a similar blind spot, it would be for randomness. We persist in finding patterns where elaborate mathematical analysis can prove there are none, and we fail to notice others which are right in our faces. Yet unlike the frogs, which sensibly hang out where there are bugs it can see, humans can't get enough of this blind spot. We go to casinos by the million, deliberately engage in all kinds of rituals, and seek out random things to interpret as if they are somehow meaningful. These experiences are so fulfilling that people regularly destroy themselves in various ways seeking them out.

Scientists decry this kind of activity and their arguments make a lot of sense; but to someone who has had an extraordinary experience, someone else who has sensibly avoided the extraordinary situation has no credibility. And scientists who enter these situations with open minds tend to come out saying things that ruin their reputations with other scientists. Think of Wilhelm Reich, or Timothy Leary.


In the end, whatever extraordinary things are accomplished by the Scientific Method, and whatever extraordinary things are experienced by people who are willing to experiment with other techniques, the question of whether the Universe is consistent may not be answerable. We may be able to say reliably that either we are all crazy or the Universe is crazy, but not, with any certainty, which of those two statements is the one on which to depend.

Sponsors

Voxel dot net
o Managed Hosting
o VoxCAST Content Delivery
o Raw Infrastructure

Login

Poll
The Universe is made of...
o Particles 2%
o Waves 4%
o Equations 13%
o Bits 14%
o 10-dimensional Strings 13%
o Stephen Wolfram's ego 19%
o localroger's ego 10%
o K5 is the Universe 20%

Votes: 122
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Also by localroger


Display: Sort:
Is the Universe Really Consistent? | 396 comments (371 topical, 25 editorial, 0 hidden)
Why An Inconsistant Universe Cannot Be Tolerated (3.25 / 8) (#3)
by thelizman on Sat Jun 08, 2002 at 08:58:40 PM EST

This may mindfuck some people, but one of the reasons an inconsistant universe cannot be tolerated by science is because it then alludes to the possibility of things in the universe behaving with a degree of will and intelligence. If science kills God, then it cannot allow God to rise up against it.
--

"Our language is sufficiently clumsy enough to allow us to believe foolish things." - George Orwell
In an inconsistent universe (4.40 / 5) (#36)
by arjan de lumens on Sat Jun 08, 2002 at 11:12:49 PM EST

you cannot trust God. He may pop in and out of existence at any time, he may love, hate or be indifferent towards you for no apparent reason, he may reward or punish (!) you randomly for believing in him, that sort of thing.

[ Parent ]
Trust God? (4.60 / 5) (#41)
by thelizman on Sat Jun 08, 2002 at 11:37:46 PM EST

you cannot trust God. He may pop in and out of existence at any time, he may love, hate or be indifferent towards you for no apparent reason, he may reward or punish (!) you randomly for believing in him, that sort of thing.
You think Job would have anything to say about this?
--

"Our language is sufficiently clumsy enough to allow us to believe foolish things." - George Orwell
[ Parent ]
Okay. (4.00 / 1) (#209)
by DavidTC on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 11:25:21 PM EST

Well, that seems consistent with the popular charactarization of God so far, keep going....

-David T. C.
Yes, my email address is real.
[ Parent ]
Especially since... (none / 0) (#369)
by MrMikey on Fri Jun 14, 2002 at 04:29:26 PM EST

"God" could mean Zeus, Odin, Quetzlcoatl,...

There is no reason to conclude that there is only one "God", save in the minds of individual worshippers who believe that their particular "God" is real, and all the rest are not.

[ Parent ]

Ruminations (3.70 / 20) (#4)
by medham on Sat Jun 08, 2002 at 09:03:03 PM EST

First of all, it's quite clear to me that Dr. Lloyd at the MIT Divinity School has proven that the universe is a computer. The 10^120 coinicidences between information theory and physics is just too much to ignore.

Therefore, I think, it's quite clear that the universe is a simulation. The singularity occurred at sone point in the past, and we now live in simulation devised by hyperintelligent machines. This is on a far greater scale than The Matrix, realize; this is the whole damn universe we're talking about here.

Now some of us are what we call "avatars," or "turkeygoads." These turkeygoads are in essence the manifestations of the designing machines' consciousness here on Earth (and elsewhere). Castaneda was clearly one, as is Ruth Westenheimer.

The real Big Bang was the generative seed moment of the multivariate cellular automata simulation that determines this turkeygoadheim, or "universe." One of these days, however, due to entropic principles, some born human is going to become a turkeygoad, and "jump the shark," as they say. A battle will then be fought, high-and-mighty, between the turkeygoadist aspirants and the Rimmers of the Rule. Many Shuvs and Zuuls will know what it is to be roasted in the depths of the Slor that day, I can tell you!

The real 'medham' has userid 6831.

LOL (4.00 / 3) (#7)
by localroger on Sat Jun 08, 2002 at 09:10:12 PM EST

Medham, have you ever actually tried anything "metaphysical," like Tarot cards? Just curious.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

What do you mean (3.40 / 5) (#9)
by medham on Sat Jun 08, 2002 at 09:12:38 PM EST

"Metaphysical?" Tarot cards have some sociopolitical cultural signficance (locus classicus here is The Wasteland, surely); but I generally don't waste my time on that pseudoscientific trash.

The real 'medham' has userid 6831.
[ Parent ]

I mean have you ever dealt a reading (4.25 / 4) (#10)
by localroger on Sat Jun 08, 2002 at 09:16:34 PM EST

With your hands. With real cards. With, not to insist on an open mind but at least with the attitude that the negative result you get will prove you're right and those other idiots are wrong.

I did that once, and this article is the result.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

troll (1.50 / 2) (#30)
by ucblockhead on Sat Jun 08, 2002 at 10:31:44 PM EST

He'd need real hands to do that...
-----------------------
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]
I know you were asking medham, but... (4.00 / 1) (#172)
by caca phony on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 05:46:21 PM EST

I have used Tarot cards, extensively. And practiced majick, and used the I-ching. These are all well designed for what they do, and what they do has nothing to do with truth. This is the intellectual equivilent of drug usage. Believe me, I know this from experience. If the *sensation* is important, dabbling may be ok, but you cannot learn truth from it, and it is addictive. Oh, and this applies to conventional religion too. I cannot dismiss these things completely, but they are emotional tools, not intellectual tools. Be careful with that stuff, please, and I say that cause I wish someone had told me to be careful.

[ Parent ]
Adamsian... (none / 0) (#101)
by axxeman on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 11:10:50 AM EST

Or would that be Moorcockian?

Feminism is an overcompensatory drama-queen club, with extra dykes. ---- Farq
[ Parent ]

medham (none / 0) (#200)
by CodeWright on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 10:26:00 PM EST

Why is it that you modulate between genius and banality with such abandon? (this post, by the way, was one of the genius ones)

--
"Humanity's combination of reckless stupidity and disrespect for the mistakes of others is, I think, what makes us great." --Parent ]
Why Codewright (none / 0) (#208)
by medham on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 11:22:41 PM EST

By way of answering this question, I'd have to say that while you may find the search for an algorithm that determines whether a totalistic one-dimensional CA falls into class 4, "banal," many of your more intelligent colleagues do not.

The real 'medham' has userid 6831.
[ Parent ]

Please clarify (3.91 / 12) (#11)
by izogi on Sat Jun 08, 2002 at 09:38:36 PM EST

Science works on the assumption that the Universe is consistent.

Where did you hear this? I'd appreciate a reference.

Last time I checked, science was interested in the observation, identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanation of phenomena. How does this imply that consistency is required, or that science should seek to prove that anything is consistent?

Arguably most astronomy and cosmology isn't even a science, because there's almost no experimentation involved. (I'm saying this as an astronomer myself.) It depends how you look at it, of course.


- izogi


Science generally implies consistency (4.66 / 6) (#15)
by keenan on Sat Jun 08, 2002 at 09:46:24 PM EST

Throughout the history of science, there have been mysteries -- things that cannot be explained and as science has developed, more and more of these mysteries have been explained.  If you don't make the inference that science is consistent, then you can always purport that any particular case is an exception and that there's no need to explain it as it's simply inconsistent.  If you can't consistently tie observations together and generalize your findings, what's the point of science?  In general, science seeks out to find the patterns in the universe -- the consistencies.  

Keenan

[ Parent ]

I still don't think it's required (3.50 / 2) (#76)
by izogi on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 06:45:06 AM EST

If you can't consistently tie observations together and generalize your findings, what's the point of science?

I generally agree, but I still don't see what would be wrong with science discovering and explaining where things can be expected to be inconsistent. It doesn't seem like a requirement to me that the Universe is consistent for science to work. If the Universe were inconsistent, science should and would, in time, point that out and attempt to explain it.


- izogi


[ Parent ]
Explaining inconsistency.. (4.25 / 4) (#127)
by Kwil on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 12:46:50 PM EST

..is a search for consistency.

Hence, science, in attempting to explain the inconsistent, is relying on the assumption that somewhere there's a consistent explanation.

If there isn't, if we were to roll a normal six sided die and every once in a while get, say, a purple carnation, then science wouldn't be much good, would it?

I tend to agree with the assumption that the universe is consistent, however I also have no problems with believing that the consistency may be made up of several systems that are all inconsistent with respect to each other.

That Jesus Christ guy is getting some terrible lag... it took him 3 days to respawn! -NJ CoolBreeze


[ Parent ]
Consistency is an axiom (4.50 / 6) (#19)
by Pac on Sat Jun 08, 2002 at 10:00:00 PM EST

Without consistency, one can not have repeatable experiments. If the Universe is not consistent, nothing can hold me from proposing that faster than light velocities, for instance, are possible in the vicinity of Sirius, because there the laws of Nature are different from here.

So, the present scientific method does indeed requires consistency. And Occam's razor requires us to accept consistency until something happens that shows some fundamental unconsistency (such as acchieving faster than light velocities near Sirius).

Evolution doesn't take prisoners


[ Parent ]
Other ideas about information (4.16 / 6) (#13)
by _Quinn on Sat Jun 08, 2002 at 09:44:51 PM EST

[As an aside, past a certain number of times (about a dozen, IIRC), continuing to shuffle a deck reduces its randomness/dissimilarity to its original state.]

In "The Beginning There Was The Bit" ( http://www.quantum.univie.ac.at/links/newscientist/bit.html )  Hans Christian van Baeyer proposes an "underlying idea" for quantum mechanics, one which like the laws of thermodynamics, and other scientific systems without philosophical questions about interpretation, has a colloquial form: "An elementary systems carries one (and only one) bit of information."  From this, quantization of physcical systems follows naturally: if there is not a infinite amount of information available to describe a system, of necessity, it must be discrete.  Randomness also follows: if I observe a bit's worth information (say, which direction is the electron's spin along the x axis?), it follows that, lacking any further information to give you, that the next bit you extract will be random (the direction of the electron's spin along the y axis).  Read the article for more information, but progress has been made in generalizing the theory, rederiving Schrodinger's equations, and making a prediction (a Shannon theorem for entangled quantum information).

Regarding the human penchant for pattern matching and wishful thinking: it's not just that we have a hard time identifying randomness; it's that we confuse the measured randomness (e.g., a string of ten zeroes compresses well == is less random) with  the randomness of its generator(s).  (That is, while a sequence of ten zeroes will happen one in 1024 times (for a fair coin), the probability that  after nine zero flips the tenth is also zero is still 1/2; in fact, it's exactly this that makes the sequence of zeroes so rare.)  Wolfram's pet CA (forgot the number already, sorry) is exactly the opposite way: the generator has no randomness, but the sequence it generates is totally random.

So you could be right -- we may be seeing randomness/complexity from a very simple generator, like a simple geometry, with the complication of a "limited information budget" -- one bit per elementary (quantum) system.  For classical systems -- with large numbers of elementary quantum systems -- there's enough information so that MAX_INT approximates INFINITY well.  For quantum systems, there isn't.  It's an insight into the wave-particle duality as well: simple model, "not enough" bits.

-_Quinn
Reality Maintenance Group, Silver City Construction Co., Ltd.

interesting, but needs caution (5.00 / 1) (#68)
by martingale on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 03:42:33 AM EST

It's an interesting axiomatization, although the linked article doesn't convey a lot of details. Upon reading it and your summary, I had to think about a long running feud in mathematical statistics, ie between the frequentists (classical statisticians) and the bayesians. The root of the feud is the distinction between assigning probabilities as a physical property of the system (frequentists) or as a degree of belief (bayesians) about the system. This introduces to tricky philosophical and consistency problems.

Now it seems to me that Baeyer's point of view mixes the two statistical points of view quite freely, which, if not done with a *lot* of care, can lead to some bad philosophical and practical problems. I don't know how much, as a physicist, he knows about the foundations of probability theory, but my experience with others suggests he won't have but a rudimentary training. So I'd be cautious about his theories, insofar as their philosophical implications. Straight calculations and derivations may be less worrying. Physicists have a history of being cavalier with mathematical rigor, and everyone already knows their results must be taken with a grain of salt.

[ Parent ]

That doesn't make sense (none / 0) (#207)
by DavidTC on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 11:22:10 PM EST

[As an aside, past a certain number of times (about a dozen, IIRC), continuing to shuffle a deck reduces its randomness/dissimilarity to its original state.]

That makes no sense at all. If you can increase the odds of knowing where a card is by shuffling the deck, you can just mentally shuffle the deck and get with the same outcome, with less randomness, because people usually don't shuffle exactly correctly.

In other words, a shuffle always increases the randomness of a deck.

Now, it may make more cards be in the same position, but whether or not it does that is completely up to chance. Actually, simply moving any card may increase the number of cards in the same position.

-David T. C.
Yes, my email address is real.
[ Parent ]

people can become very adept at shuffling (4.33 / 3) (#233)
by eLuddite on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 03:40:06 AM EST

If you labelled a deck 1 through 52 and performed perfect shuffles (ABABAB...), card x would emerge in position (2x-1) mod 51 after the first shuffle, [2(2x-1)-1] mod 51 after the second, and [(2^n)x - (2^n - 1)] mod 51 after the n-th. After 8 perfect shuffles, (256x-255) mod 51 = x, the original deck.

---
God hates human rights.
[ Parent ]

Okay (4.00 / 1) (#255)
by DavidTC on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 11:49:24 AM EST

But that makes shuffles unrandom completely, and completely predictable, no matter how many times you've done them. Ten times, fifty times, eight thousand times, all you have to do is mod 8 the number of shuffles, and use basic math. The only thing that's special about eight is that you've shuffled them back to where they were before, but that's not less 'randomized', it's just more obvious.

It's something like shift cipher encrptyion, with the added advantage you know what the shift is. Sure, 'Jfmmp' looks more secret thatn 'Hello', but it's certainly not if you know that it's +1, and it's probably not if you just know it's a shift cipher.

Doing 'perfect' shuffles only can result in eight different positions of the deck, that's not a random at all. The one that happens to look like the orignal deck is just more obvious about it.

That's why you're supposed to cut the cards between shuffles.

-David T. C.
Yes, my email address is real.
[ Parent ]

Where can I find this algorithm? (none / 0) (#370)
by MrMikey on Fri Jun 14, 2002 at 04:44:50 PM EST

Wolfram's pet CA (forgot the number already, sorry) is exactly the opposite way: the generator has no randomness, but the sequence it generates is totally random.
I'd really like to see the details of this. Cite?

[ Parent ]
Take a look at Rule 30 (none / 0) (#373)
by Kalani on Fri Jun 14, 2002 at 07:59:46 PM EST

http://www.stephenwolfram.com/publications/articles/physics/86-minimal/3/text.ht ml

(see Figure 1 here for information on converting the rule number into an implementation)

Anyway, localroger is thinking of Rule 110 I think. However, I get the impression that he has only skimmed Wolfram's new popular book and hasn't really followed the core of Wolfram's work. Rule 110 is of a different class than the "totally random" ones (that is, it's a "Class 4" system -- exhibiting features of nesting [Class 2] and randomness [Class 3] -- but there are many more details if you look at Wolfram's actual articles).

-----
"Nothing says 'final boss' like a giant brain in a tube."
-- Udderdude on flipcode.com
[ Parent ]
a few words on ESP.. (1.70 / 10) (#14)
by krkrbt on Sat Jun 08, 2002 at 09:45:28 PM EST

I suspect that ESP is practical - Ingo Swann remote-viewed several things about Jupiter before the space-probes visited. This included seeing a ring around the planet - people laughed at him, and rejected all his findings. And we all know how that turned out... :) I'm going to be learning ESP, just as soon as I get this visualization thing down... I've found the instructor that I want to study under, if he'll have me. The guy only does a class a year or so, in the memory of Jose Silva (ESP system developer), iirc. Check out Swann's site at http://www.biomindsuperpowers.com/, specifically this page for his take on the Jupiter mind-probe.

To The Layman (2.50 / 8) (#16)
by JChen on Sat Jun 08, 2002 at 09:46:34 PM EST

I've read this three times. I still don't get it. What are you trying to argue? The universe is infinite? Or finite? All these examples have utterly failed to show me anything, other than imaginations running rampant. Please. For the love of God. Shorten it or make it so that people other than astrophysicists, mad scientists, cult leaders and philosophers can understand what your point is.

Let us do as we say.
You are blocking (3.33 / 3) (#21)
by localroger on Sat Jun 08, 2002 at 10:05:16 PM EST

I can't really imagine any other reason you'd have a problem with it. I can imagine a lot of problems people might have with the story, a good fraction of which are already expressed in the comments, but not understanding the point is not among them.

It is not an explanation, it is a question. There are two very opposite possible explanations for how the Universe works, and I can't find a plausible reason to pick one over the other.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

Explaining how the universe works? (none / 0) (#179)
by JChen on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 06:46:06 PM EST

Isn't that quite a broad question? And I'm certainly sorry that not everybody is as proficient in quantum mechanics and astrophysics as your highness is.

Let us do as we say.
[ Parent ]
Just plain wrong (3.46 / 13) (#17)
by danny on Sat Jun 08, 2002 at 09:53:19 PM EST

Science works on the assumption that the Universe is consistent.

Ummm, no. That might have been one of the axioms of some logical positivists, but it's neither necessary for science nor assumed by most science. And there is no one "Scientific Method".

Pretty much all human activities assume the world has some kind of consistency - local consistency as it were. And science certainly focuses on this more than (say) synchronized swimming does. But some "unified consistency" of the entire universe is no more necessary to most science than it is to the latter. (Concerns about universal consistency really only feature in some cosmology, afaik.)

The appeal to Quantum Mechanics is just hand-waving - frankly, arguments along the lines of "QM is mysterious therefore maybe X" are not just feeble but so common as to be extremely boring.

And yes, we are biased towards detecting certain kinds of patterns above others. But that's a result of our evolutionary and cultural history and is something studied by scientists, not "decried" by them. A good argument can be made that perceptual and cognitive biases actually explain human religious belief...

Danny.
[900 book reviews and other stuff]

Huh? (4.33 / 3) (#26)
by localroger on Sat Jun 08, 2002 at 10:23:07 PM EST

Ummm, no. That might have been one of the axioms of some logical positivists, but it's neither necessary for science nor assumed by most science.

The Scientific Method cannot accomplish anything if the phenomena you are exploring with it are not consistent. That is the whole thing behind "repeatibility" and "verification."

And there is no one "Scientific Method".

You really must enlighten me, since this contradicts what I have been taught all my life. How many kinds of scientific method are there, and what are their properties? How many of them are regularly capitalized?

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

good grief (4.75 / 4) (#63)
by danny on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 02:28:42 AM EST

Can you point me at any contemporary philosophers of science who capitalise "Scientific Method" and use it to refer to some kind of non-controversial single entity? Half of your antipathy to "science" comes from the fact that you have truly antiquated ideas about what it is - a bit of old-fashioned logical positivism, some naive scientism, so forth.

If you've really read nothing at all on philosophy of science, Alan Chalmer's What is This Thing Called Science? isn't a bad introduction. Or just go to your university bookshop and grab the set-texts for Theory of Knowledge 101...

Danny.
[900 book reviews and other stuff]
[ Parent ]

The Scientific Method... (none / 0) (#303)
by spiv on Tue Jun 11, 2002 at 06:40:43 AM EST

...is not as well-defined as you appear to think.

Please give a precise description of what the "Scientific Method" is.  There's no general consensus as to what it is amongst the scientific community (and what makes someone a member of the scientific community anyway?  Is it even a community?  And so on...).  I personally lean towards Feyerabend's views, but I'm hardly an expert.

It would be interesting to hear your thoughts on this.

And finally, I must echo another poster's recommendation that you read Alan Chalmer's What is this Thing Called Science?.

[ Parent ]

Yes. (3.33 / 6) (#20)
by Apuleius on Sat Jun 08, 2002 at 10:04:02 PM EST

That's my default answer until one finds evidence showing otherwise. Until then, I am a mortal man, whose time on earth is finite, and who must therefore have default answers on hand for questions such as this.


There is a time and a place for everything, and it's called college. (The South Park chef)
Randomness (4.55 / 18) (#23)
by ucblockhead on Sat Jun 08, 2002 at 10:11:53 PM EST

The deal with the Tarot cards is not that the Universe is somehow not doing randomness. The trouble is that your brain, as a biological system built to detect patterns, is not built to detect randomness. If the brain can't detect a pattern that exists, it will often create a false pattern that doesn't exist.

Experiments have been done in which people have been asked to generate random patterns. People invariably fail and produce partially predictable patterns, and one of the prime ways that they fail is that they avoid patterns that "look" nonrandom but, of course, could easily appear in a true random sequence.

Try the Tarot card experiment again. If you don't get similar results, then it really was just random chance the first time.

I'd also suggest that the occurrance was not as remarkable as you think. For one, you'd have reported any pattern that seemed "remarkable" to you. Seven cards in the same position. Six cards in the same position. Five cards in the same position. What are the odds that a give set of four Tarot readings seem "remarkable" in any way?

Not as high as you'd think, I think. It's like asking a thousand people to give you a "random" pattern of five coin flips. Not one of them will ever say "heads heads heads heads tails" because that's not random. But it is, of course.

Finally, it seems to me that your "experiment" proves the exact opposite of what you say. If the Universe really is "faking it" behind the scenes, and generating reality on the fly when we are not looking, then you would expect to see more randomness, not less. The universe would, for example, not bother to track all the positions of Tarot cards while your shuffling, instead, it would just produce a random pattern when you look. That is, after all, your "DOOMiverse" analogy...textures are generated on the fly to save time.
-----------------------
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup

I don't really get... (4.00 / 2) (#25)
by localroger on Sat Jun 08, 2002 at 10:19:43 PM EST

...how your point is different from mine. About my experiments I of course left out the other two notebooks and the other raft of statistical analyses I did, and just highlighted the really weirdest one. There were many others, none quite as dramatic. And did you get to the end of the article, where I explored the same explanation you propose myself?

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

It's pretty well studied (4.50 / 4) (#29)
by ucblockhead on Sat Jun 08, 2002 at 10:30:44 PM EST

And has been shown pretty clearly that people can't do randomness. Shannon showed it fifty years ago with his coin flip "prediction" machine. It was a simple electronic device that could "predict" what people would respond when asked for the next random coin flip in a series.
-----------------------
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]
Yes, of course (4.33 / 3) (#32)
by localroger on Sat Jun 08, 2002 at 10:43:24 PM EST

And has been shown pretty clearly that people can't do randomness.

That's one of the things that became obvious after a decade hanging out at casinos. People will destroy themselves over an inability to do randomness. Been there, done that, got about 40 T-shirts.

Meanwhile, I have three thick notebooks filled with Tarot readings. Just the one I mentioned in the story is enough to give pause, but I had many others, a lot of which were similarly statistically unlikely.

Have you bothered to run the math? The odds of getting what happened to me on that one run were very unlikely. I can't convince you that I'm not lying, but I will assert that I did a very thorough shuffle and recorded my results very carefully, for that and hundreds of other readings. I'll take "perception" as an explanation for a lot of what happened to me in those days, but there were several things, including that one particular set of Tarot readings, which simply don't belong in the Universe. How they got there is as interesting a question to me as it is to anyone who believes I'm not blowing smoke out of my ass.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

What happened to you... (4.66 / 6) (#38)
by ucblockhead on Sat Jun 08, 2002 at 11:23:17 PM EST

The unlikelihood of what happened to you is not important. What is important is the likelihood that something you'd find remarkably unlikely would happen. Think about all the many different things that could have happened that would have seemed wildly unlikely would be and then add up all the chances of all of those different things and then see if that is a really small number.

You can't just look back and say "what was the chance of this particular set of four hands happening this way" because you will get the exact same number for every possible set of four hands. In order to be objective, to really "run the math", you would have to sit down and list all of the different sets of four Tarot hands that you'd find "remarkably unlikely" and divide that into the set of all sets of four Tarot hands possible, and then divide that into the number of sets of four Tarot hands that you run during your experiments. That is the true chance you need to look at, not the chance of the particular thing that happened to you happening on one particular run.

You are up against one of the many ways that humans can't deal with randomness. That is, we remember the remarkable and forget the unremarkable. It's like when two people run into each other unexpectadly five thousand miles from home. They say "what are the odds" forgetting all of the thousands of times they did not run into someone they knew unexpectedly.
-----------------------
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]

You really don't get it (4.33 / 3) (#43)
by localroger on Sat Jun 08, 2002 at 11:41:17 PM EST

Forget the Tarot. Think about it as a pure math problem.

You will pick 10 of 78 cards and place them in order (i.e. a permutation, rather than combination, problem.)

The first one is of course free; it can be anything.

You repeat the experiment and of the 10 target positions you get 8 cards in the same place, with two new ones.

You repeat again and get the same 8 cards in the same place, with two different new ones where the two new ones were before.

You repeat again and get the same 8 cards in the same place, with two different new ones where the two different new ones were before.

This isn't even to address the fact that the cards actually told a "story" or any subjective thing like that. At the time this happened I was every bit as much as skeptic as Randi. I salted the cards back into the deck in random places before doing multiple multiple-place cuts and shuffles; I wanted to be sure no patterns came back from the original card order. You can call me a liar -- I wouldn't blame you -- but I know what happened. It was only the most dramatic of many weird things. And I don't expect to convince you, if you insist it wasn't possible. I can only report what I experienced, just as an alarmingly high number of others have done over the years.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

When not to discard a theory (5.00 / 1) (#55)
by The Solitaire on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 12:36:15 AM EST

I will belive you that what happened to you is true. And I will concede that such an occurance is exceedinly low (assuming that there is not some confounding factor you were no aware of). Here is my question, though - what do you attribute this very unlikely event to? Spirits? A space-time anomaly? A benevolent god? A deceitful universe?

My point is simple - we have a very good working model of how things work, especially when we deal with macroscopic things like cards. To use a single event, even a very unlikely one, to overturn everything you know about the world is a mistake. Confounds occur in the most well designed experiments, and what you are describing wasn't even controlled! There are almost certainly factors that you are not considering - factors that fit very well into our current model of the world.

I need a new sig.
[ Parent ]

When to start from scratch (4.00 / 4) (#57)
by localroger on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 12:51:46 AM EST

I will belive you that what happened to you is true. And I will concede that such an occurance is exceedinly low (assuming that there is not some confounding factor you were no aware of).

Thanks, that is more consideration than I frankly expected.

Here is my question, though - what do you attribute this very unlikely event to? Spirits? A space-time anomaly? A benevolent god? A deceitful universe?

Well, if it was a Tuesday or Thursday I'd readily attribute it to spirits conjured by rituals involving altered states of consciousness. Being that it's Saturday, I should be agnostic about it, but it's hard to ignore my many subjective experiences which have happened over the years. On a Monday, Wednesday, or Friday, I'd call the whole idea insane.

As for what I'll believe on Tuesday, that will be pretty paranoid. The Universe itself is lying to us. "Spirits" are running around the system, hacking it and falsifying important data. Cards and minds and buildings and the world itself are not represented the way we think they are.

But I don't believe in things like that for long, just 2 of the 7 days of the week. Life is easier that way.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

is the hacker's universe consistent? (none / 0) (#234)
by trane on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 03:41:18 AM EST

...the universe in which the hacks to make our universe look consistent originate, is that universe consistent?

[ Parent ]
Not quite ... (none / 0) (#138)
by pyramid termite on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 02:23:00 PM EST

My point is simple - we have a very good working model of how things work, especially when we deal with macroscopic things like cards.

We have a very good working model of how the things we percieve would work as far as we know how to figure out how anything works.

To use a single event, even a very unlikely one, to overturn everything you know about the world is a mistake.

It would be, if everything we knew about the world was a great majority of the things that could be known about the world, assuming we didn't have the perceptual handicaps we do have. As things stand, we're so limited in our perception and our ability to figure out the reasons for what we percieve that I doubt we can form an objective view of the universe - we can form an objective view of what we see, but that's not the same.

The real problem comes when one of us sees something like localroger has or like I have - I once won some beer glasses by predicting an electronic roulette wheel's numbers 6 or 7 times in a row. Somehow, I tuned into the machine and "knew" the numbers in advance. The only replies here were that I was lying, drunk or just plain lucky. Which doesn't really solve the problem of what I experienced, does it?

The truth that knee-jerk sceptics can't accept is that people see things at times that are not consistent with the worldview we can prove. And the truth the hard-core rationalists can't accept is that their world view rests on assumptions they have to have faith in; as much as a holy roller's faith that the Bible is the word of God. Needless to say, pointing this out to them always pisses them off ...
On the Internet, anyone can accuse you of being a dog.
[ Parent ]
Statistics and assumptions (none / 0) (#160)
by The Solitaire on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 04:07:35 PM EST

As things stand, we're so limited in our perception and our ability to figure out the reasons for what we percieve that I doubt we can form an objective view of the universe - we can form an objective view of what we see, but that's not the same.

There is no doubt in my mind that at some level, we have to make some assumptions. I would likely count as a "hard-core rationalist", though I prefer the term "skeptic", since I am actually amore of an empiricist. I've had this pointed out to me countless times in arguments, and every single time, whoever points it out seems to feel that they have scored some kind of a "point" against me or something. There's nothing particularly problematic with admitting there are certain things that we need to assume to get on with science. One such assumption (I've discussed it in another post) is that induction works as a method of reasoning. We can't prove it... but we have to live with it anyways. one thing that is important to realize, though, is that though we have to make some assumptions, we try to keep them to a bare minimum.

As things stand, we're so limited in our perception and our ability to figure out the reasons for what we percieve that I doubt we can form an objective view of the universe - we can form an objective view of what we see, but that's not the same.

First, limited in our perception compared to what? That seems to be a massive assumption, with no backup whatsoever. Second, I'm not so sure that they really are so different - or, if they are, I don't think that what we are really interested in is an objective view of what is, essentially, unknowable. Certainly, our senses may lie in some way. I could be a brain in a vat. I could be an invisible pink unicorn having a hallucination. This kind of talk gets us nowhere. We have some very good ideas about the world around us. They allow us to function better in our surroundings (more or less). Really, who cares whether they are the TRUTH in some fundamental sense - that is assuming, of course that there is such a thing as TRUTH.

With regards to your roulette story, I will assume that you are not lying to me. Stating that you are lying gets us absolutely nowhere. What happened here is very improbable, I grant. But again, the conclusion that you "tuned into" the machine is totally unwarranted. I don't have an explanation, as I wasn't there to observe. But as I have stated before, there are many tightly controlled studies done every day that later turn out to have fatal confounds. Just because you didn't notice one, doesn't mean there wasn't one.

With regards to othere peoples' experiences of unlikely phenomina, you must remember that people are really awful at mental statistics - there are many cases where we seriously underestimate the probability of an event, when we see it happen. An example of this is the birthday paradox. Moreover, there are 6 billion (give or take) people in the world. That means, on average, a 1 in a billion probability event will occur to someone every single day.

Anecdotal evidence is a poor replacement for a properly considered study. Remember, an anecdotal story has a sample size of one - hence it is phenominally succeptible to an anomolous reading. Certainly you can be amazed by the improbable, but don't just toss of theories that explain many phenomina consistently. Remember, physical theories are subjected to statistical testing as well. You may have predicted 7 numbers in a row, but many physical theories have predicted numbers hundreds or thousands of times in a row. That has to count for something.

I need a new sig.
[ Parent ]

Some answers and some rambling ... (4.50 / 2) (#169)
by pyramid termite on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 05:35:28 PM EST

There is no doubt in my mind that at some level, we have to make some assumptions.

I agree, as long as we're careful to remember what we've assumed.

First, limited in our perception compared to what? That seems to be a massive assumption, with no backup whatsoever.

How so? No comparison is necessary to anything to realize there's things we can't percieve. We can't see what color the core of the earth is. We can't see waves and particles at once. We can't see the back of our heads, for that matter. Some of what we can't see is insignificant and some of it isn't. We have no real way of knowing a lot of things. I wasn't even suggesting the possibility that our senses lie, although it's possible - I'm suggesting that our senses and physical limitations filter. Sometimes we can work our way around this and sometimes we can't. Your doubt about if there is such a thing as TRUTH is just one consequence of this.

With regards to othere peoples' experiences of unlikely phenomina, you must remember that people are really awful at mental statistics - there are many cases where we seriously underestimate the probability of an event, when we see it happen.

If you're referring to ESP/psychic things, there's a simple problem here - what is defined as an event? A thought? How big of a thought? A thought in relation to a certain subject or any thought? A thought with emotional impact, such as the death of a loved one, or something trivial, like what shape's on the next card? One of my problems with investigations of these matters is that they assume that trivial matters matter as much to a potentially psychic person as important ones would - some events, and the possible mental precognition of them are not repeatable for obvious moral reasons. You can't go around killing people to see if their friends will have a psychic flash about it. You can shuffle a bunch of silly cards and test their ability with that, but is it really the same test? And no, I don't think some "psychic" predictor like Jeanne Dixon counts, because she doesn't have an emotional tie to what she predicts, and she's lousy at it anyway. There's two dubious schools of thought here - one, the idea that X can do it any time he likes, and, two, the idea that no one can do it ever. Neither has been proved.

Anecdotal evidence is a poor replacement for a properly considered study. Remember, an anecdotal story has a sample size of one - hence it is phenominally succeptible to an anomolous reading.

Is our inability to correlate anecdotal evidence a limitation of the evidence or a limitation in our ability to percieve patterns? And considering that much of the things we experience are anecdotal by nature, and much of our success in life depends on how we use that anecdotal evidence, all you're really saying here is, "I can't think of a way to test this set of facts". Which is perfectly fine, I can't either - but, it's another thing to say, as some will, that "therefore these facts don't exist". Or, "They're random happenings, they can't possibly mean anything". The problem with this is that odd things do happen - there's no way I should dream about someone I've never met and have her say something absurd about "solar pumpkins" and then meet the person a few months later and actually have her say it. That happened to me, too. The roulette thing was odd, but even though I think it was "tuning into the machine" I can't totally disregard the idea that I was just lucky, too. But "solar pumpkins" from a person I hadn't met yet? I can't convince you or anyone else of it, of course, but I can't deny it. It was as real as what I had for breakfast this morning.

Here's some more thoughts on the matter - I've only had a few of these experiences and most of them were when I was young. As I got involved with the practical and complex tasks I needed to do to get along in this civilization, these things stopped happening. Perhaps there's only so much mental energy one can use - and if it's used driving cars, working at jobs, going to school, etc. etc. there's not going to be any left for, well, esoteric perception. Now a person in a simpler society, such as a hunter/gatherer one or even the European Middle Ages, didn't have to spend as much time thinking about what he was going to do and learn. The skill set for the average human being wasn't as large. The mental energies of perception went in other directions. How much of what people thought back then was superstition and how much of it was actual experience? Could it be that our efforts to perceive the world rationally preclude other ways of perceiving it?

I think a very good case can be made for the usefulness of what we have perceived rationally, over that of what people were perceiving then. Clearly, fairies and angels aren't as useful to us as molecules and atoms. But note what many people, with their rational logical computers create for themselves - Everquest, etc!

It all comes down to perception - what we can percieve and what we choose to focus on.
On the Internet, anyone can accuse you of being a dog.
[ Parent ]
You are missing the point. (5.00 / 2) (#58)
by ucblockhead on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 12:59:39 AM EST

You are still fixating on the one particular "remarkable" thing that happened to you and ignorning all the other "remarkable" things that could have happened to you, but didn't.

Suppose it had been seven cards, not eight. Or nine cards. Or six cards. Or even five cards. Or suppose eight cards in slightly different positions. Would you have found any of those events equally remarkable? What's the set of all possible patterns that you would have found equally amazing?

You can't ignore all that and call it a pure objective math problem, because the "result" was not "localroger sees eight cards in the same position four times". The "result" was "localroger sees some pattern of cards that his brain thinks is extraordinarily unlikely". That is the result you should be calculating the probability for, not the particular thing that happened to you.

I'm not calling you a liar and I'm not doubting your skepticism. What I am saying is that the human brain very often falls into the trap you are falling in, fixating on the one particular unlikely event that happened and believing its occurance to be amazing while ignoring the billions of other unlikely events that also could have occurred, but didn't, that would have fired off the exact same "oh my God that was amazing!!!" train of thought.

So before you can even start thinking about the math of the problem, you've first got to list every single pattern of cards that you would have found remarkable. Then mathematically calculate the probability that any of those will occur. Do so, and I bet you find that the probability is actually much, much higher than you'd expect. (And remember, you should also calculate in all the different readings you've done over all of the course of your experimentation, given that you would have been equally amazed had this or something like this had occurred in any of them.)
-----------------------
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]

I agree (3.20 / 5) (#120)
by tlhf on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 12:14:38 PM EST

Right next to me, I (actually) have a 10 sided dice. I just rolled it five times. I got 6, 6, 3, 1, 6. The odds of getting those exact numbers is 100000 to 1. I have surly been blessed.

tlhf
xxx

[ Parent ]
hmm (none / 0) (#291)
by crayz on Tue Jun 11, 2002 at 01:13:01 AM EST

You could make the same argument about the lottery: if I won the lottery jackpot and walked home w/ $100 million, and it had 20 million:1 odds, you could say well I would've still found it incredible if I won only $1 million at 50,000:1 odds.

Thats all well and good, but I don't see how it changes the fact that what actually occured should be interpreted according to the odds of it happening, not of some other thing which also would have been commented on happening.

Well...a caveat: if you can show that there are a bunch of different things with the same or even more unfavorable odds of occuring that he would have commented on, then that is relevant to the question of "how incredible is it that he witnessed this?"

[ Parent ]

Similar experiment (1.50 / 2) (#263)
by Nevermind2 on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 02:17:51 PM EST

Imagine I perform a similar experiment with a deck of standard cards; I deal 5 cards each hand. Here we go:

Hand #1:
4 9 A J 8

Hand #2:
2 3 3 K A

Hand #3:
8 8 2 6 6

Hand #4:
5 4 7 7 Q

etc...
(these are supposed to look random)

Do you have ANY idea what the odds of those numbers coming up were?!!

The are exactly the same as the odds of the same hand being dealt over and over again (assuming a perfect reshuffle each hand).


[ Parent ]

Mass shuffling (4.00 / 1) (#56)
by Xeriar on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 12:43:41 AM EST

Playing Magic: The Gathering and Lord of the Rings TCGs I saw this type of thing quite often with obsessive shufflers, actually. While nothing quite so drastic, I hear them swear a LOT. I'm sure at least one time, in one place, someone drew like that. I would bet that your own obsessive shuffling returned the deck to a state similar to its original (well, it had to have, outside of quantum-grade models :-)

----
When I'm feeling blue, I start breathing again.
[ Parent ]
card shuffling (5.00 / 7) (#65)
by martingale on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 03:06:19 AM EST

While ucblockhead has a valid psychological point (ie people fixate on peculiar - to them - experiences at the expense of more mundane ones), I would like to point out that "card shuffling" is a very complicated subject, mathematically.

One result I can quote off the top of my head is the following: if you riffle shuffle a deck of (don't know if it's 32 or 52) cards you need a minimun of seven (7) consecutive shuffles to achieve a reasonably uniform distribution (ie what's usually called "random"). That's a recent (1980s) result in Probability Theory (due I think to Persi Diaconis).

If you don't riffle shuffle perfectly, you'll introduce perturbations which may well require extra shuffles to remove, on top of the seven mandatory shuffles. If you have more or less cards in your deck (how many does Tarot have again? I forget), the required shuffles varies again. If you use another type of shuffle, the whole theory has to be changed to accomodate you.

I hope I gave you the (right) impression that the mathematical analysis of card shuffling is pretty hard. So I think you should be prepared to question your assumption that the cards were "properly" shuffled by you from run to run, ie independently in random (uniform) order. My guess is that this is most likely the source of some of those coincidences you mentioned.

[ Parent ]

Excellent point (4.75 / 4) (#85)
by TheophileEscargot on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 09:31:04 AM EST

I was about to point that one out myself. There'a a bbc article about the "seven shuffles" thing, though recently some have claimed that six is good enough.

Other points. This depends on using the "riffle shuffle", not the much less effective "overhand shuffle (see the article). Tarot cards are usually much larger, somewhat stiffer and very much harder to shuffle than playing cards... very convenient if you want to get spooky repetitive results. According to this article an average casino dealer only shuffles 2 to 4 times, and ordinary people are even worse.

Of course localroger claims to have shuffled ten or twenty times, without specifying which method. Even so, I suspect that rather than the laws of the universe being wrong, it's more likely that his shuffling technique wasn't quite good enough.
----
Support the nascent Mad Open Science movement... when we talk about "hundreds of eyeballs," we really mean it. Lagged2Death
[ Parent ]

Shuffling technique (4.00 / 2) (#87)
by localroger on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 10:11:18 AM EST

While I wasn't the expert on it I would later become :-) I was pretty sensitive to the possibility of cards not moving around.

I used the Barbara Walker tarot, which has cards the same size as playing cards, though it's obviously quite a bit thicker due to having 78 cards instead of 52.

I cannot do a clean riffle shuffle of an entire 78 card deck. What I'd usually do would be to cut the deck into five or six stacks then mix them up, riffle-shuffling the small stacks together until finally reassembling the full deck with a not very good final riffle shuffle.

After a reading, I made a point of inserting the ten used cards in ten different places in the deck; so if the shuffle was preserving order, it should have been impossible for me to get the same set of cards twice in a row.

Being quite the skeptic, I took pains to eliminate other sources of bias too. Subconscious? Spent several weeks with a friend trading off, doing each others' readings without knowing the questions. Ambiguous symbols? Since I kept a notebook of all my experiments, I made a point of picking old readings at random and attempting to interpret them in light of mismatched questions. I also made a point of comparing interpretations with friends, both with and without sharing the question first.

In every respect the Tarot passed the Turing test, acting as if it were consciously using the cards as a symbolic language to communicate with me. I had the same experience with other divination devices such as the I Ching. This was really much more significant to me than the occasional probability whopper, although I got at least a dozen oddball outcomes which were freaky even disregarding the content of the reading. I just reported the most spectacular in the story

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

Hmmm (5.00 / 1) (#92)
by TheophileEscargot on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 10:36:57 AM EST

OT: I can't help noticing that a large proportion of people who try to convince me about ghosts, UFOs, past lives and suchlike start off by saying "I'm a skeptic..." Finding someone who admits to being non-skeptical is a bit like finding someone who admits to being a bad driver or having no sense of humour...

Incidentally I read one Tarot book that advocated shuffling by just putting all the cards face down on the floor or table; and mixing them around with your hands. Not sure if that's worse or better than the other ways of shuffling.

I agree that using the Tarot does make it seem as exactly as though there are real messages coming through. I'm pretty sure that they're actually just coming through the subconscious if anywhere, though. There's so great a density of imagery, symbolism and numerology in each card, your brain can make up pretty much any message it wants from any combination of cards.

My maths is too rusty for me to really work out whether your shuffling technique was good enough. Also, as I pointed out elsewhere, being random enough for a good game of cards is not necessarily random enough for you never to encounter a recurring pattern that you interpret as impossibly significant in a large number of trials. Bottom line: I don't think you're going to convince me on this one ;-)
----
Support the nascent Mad Open Science movement... when we talk about "hundreds of eyeballs," we really mean it. Lagged2Death
[ Parent ]

those articles (5.00 / 1) (#204)
by martingale on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 10:56:29 PM EST

make the point that the Trefethens use a different measure of randomness from Diaconis et al. (Bayer isn't the only coauthor he's had on this stuff).

Diaconis et al. use total variation distance, which minimizes the average worst case discrepancy from uniformity. So with seven shuffles you guarantee that your pack of cards is close to uniform *every time you play*. The important thing here is repeatability (because you'll be taking Tarot readings repeatedly, right? Today, tomorrow, the day after, etc).

The actual result says that the number is asymptotically (3/2)log_2(n), where n is the number of cards. So for Tarot (72 cards) you need 10 shuffles rather than seven. It's particularly interesting mathematically because if you stop at about 1.4log_2(n) (ie 8 or 9 shuffles for Tarot), the deck is shown to be very far from random. It's called the cutoff phenomenon.

The Trefethens use the entropy measure (Kullback Leibler distance technically) and find they need only log_2(n) asymptotically in that case. Now entropy only measures how surprising compared to uniform the pack is going to be. The difference is subtle, and will only appear over many repeated experiments. If you take a Tarot reading a single time in your lifetime, period, the difference doesn't matter. If you take a reading every day over a period of time, it does matter.

Think of it this way: if you flip a biased coin once or twice only, you won't be surprised, but if you flip it fifty times or more, you'll start to see a pattern. With the Trefethens' result, you'll see a pattern after several Tarot readings. Why? Because Diaconis et al. have shown that the true uniform randomness only kicks in abruptly after 7 (or 10 in Tarot) shuffles. The entropy result tells you you might need only 6 shuffles, but because 6 is less than 7, the pack must be very far from random (uniform distribution) by the Diaconis et al. result.

The trouble with an English language explanation is that English doesn't distinguish between different types of randomness (distributions) like probability theory does. So if this sounds like handwaving, dear reader, I can't help it.

[ Parent ]

Tarot is nonsense! (2.00 / 2) (#229)
by johwsun on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 02:53:45 AM EST

..it contains the same assumption that science has. It claims that it can do predictions. And predictions cannot be done in the spiritual universe we are living .
At least science is somehow  statistically right, Tarot it is not!

[ Parent ]
About the tarot reading... (3.66 / 3) (#27)
by Giant Space Hamster on Sat Jun 08, 2002 at 10:27:31 PM EST

I'm not too sure what that proves. Sure, the probability of such a thing is small, but that doesn't mean it can't happen. People win the lottery every day.

I think it's probable that some sort of pattern would have shown up, and you would have picked it out. I think you're ascribing too much weight to this one incident.

-------------------------------------------
The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.
-- Bertrand Russell

Never mind... (2.50 / 2) (#28)
by Giant Space Hamster on Sat Jun 08, 2002 at 10:30:14 PM EST

I re-read your ending. Now I'm just confused as to what you're arguing about.

-------------------------------------------
The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.
-- Bertrand Russell
[ Parent ]
Universe consistency vs. Theory consistency... (4.22 / 9) (#31)
by aziegler on Sat Jun 08, 2002 at 10:32:46 PM EST

A good read in this vein is Robert Sawyer's Calculating God. The aliens in that book essentially accepted that the universe is, and any theories that we generate are abstractions of what is. We humans spend as much time spinning our wheels defending our theories as we do generating them and demonstrating them experimentally, even when they are shown to be wrong or there are multiple possible answers which disagree on the specifics (cf. many-worlds vs. observer phenomenon).

IMO, the universe is consistent -- but our theories are not necessarily consistent with the universe. Thus, if it does turn out to be possible to have FTL around Sirius, it is perfectly consistent with the reality of the universe -- but our explanations will have to be updated.

-austin

Aliens didn't invent it. (5.00 / 1) (#205)
by DavidTC on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 11:07:46 PM EST

In the real world, that is called the Copenhagen Interpetation.

-David T. C.
Yes, my email address is real.
[ Parent ]
Okay (4.00 / 19) (#34)
by manobes on Sat Jun 08, 2002 at 10:51:41 PM EST

First of all, from an editorial perspective I found this a little hard to read... Probably my zealot like attachment to atheistic scientism :) I have some random comments...

Most scientists quietly (or not so quietly) believe the Universe is infinite and self-sufficient, because the idea of Gods and such ruin the perfect consistency upon which their trade depends.

Umm, no. We believe the Universe is expanding indefinately (and actually speeding up) because that's what the observations suggest. If you can come up with a plausible alternative explanation, that fits all the other data, feel free to step up to the plate.

However, it is a simple matter to divide the Hubble limit by the Planck constant and show that the Universe is finite

What are you trying to show here? Divideing the Hubble constant by the Placnk constant produces a number. It even has units...

Do you understand what you're talking about?

About 10^84 bits, give or take a couple of orders of magnitude, if the Universe really exists as scientists tend to describe it.

That number is not arrived at in the way you suggest.

Science offers no credible idea what, if anything, exists other than that finite set of theoretically observable particles.

Perhaps because there's no credible evidence that anything other than that set of particles does exist.

And humans, despite living in a sea of technological wonder, persist in believing in very unscientific things like ghosts, luck, gods, and ESP. This includes a lot of very credible humans who have risked reputations and careers to report on experiences they themselves have found incredible.

And??? None of those "credible" humans has ever produced a repeatable test. See what James Randi has to say about that, since you cite him below.

I was going to go on. But I haven't got the energy. Your whole point seems to be "science could be wrong". To which a scientist would respond, "well maybe".

but to someone who has had an extraordinary experience, someone else who has sensibly avoided the extraordinary situation has no credibility.

The trouble is these experiance either turn out to be personal, or non-repeatable, or both.

And scientists who enter these situations with open minds tend to come out saying things that ruin their reputations with other scientists. Think of Wilhelm Reich, or Timothy Leary.

I don't know about Leary, but Reich has been thoughrouly debunked. It's not like scietists just go out like attack dogs after those who disagree with them. Typically they produce arguements and evidence. Again, read some more of James Randi, IIRC he even discussed Reich once.


No one can defend creationism against the overwhelming scientific evidence of creationism. -- Big Sexxy Joe


Funny you should weigh in (2.50 / 4) (#35)
by localroger on Sat Jun 08, 2002 at 11:03:25 PM EST

This whole story was inspired by your little tete-a-tete with trhurler. You of course missed the whole point, but one thing bears clarification:

That number is not arrived at in the way you suggest.

My explanation was very simplified. Years ago I did work out the whole thing, starting with the masses of the proton and electron respectively. This article wasn't about how I did that. Anyone familiar with quantum mechanics could do the math readily enough. Remember that the surface volume of a hypersphere is 4/3 pi * r^3.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

Perhaps I missed the point (4.25 / 4) (#37)
by manobes on Sat Jun 08, 2002 at 11:17:55 PM EST

because it was rather obscure. Your central point seems to have been the question; what if science is wrong and the universe contains a piece that it can't explain? I just don't find that an interesting question...

My explanation was very simplified. Years ago I did work out the whole thing, starting with the masses of the proton and electron respectively. This article wasn't about how I did that. Anyone familiar with quantum mechanics could do the math readily enough. Remember that the surface volume of a hypersphere is 4/3 pi * r^3.

Your explanation made no sense. First of all, what's the "Hubble limit"? Do you mean the observed radius of the universe? If so then you can figure out the total number of particles but multiplying the volume, by the average particle density (1 H atom per cc IIRC).

Two things are really confusing though. First of all, Plancks constant (and quantum mechanics) really isn't needed in such a caculation. And second, I've never heard anybody use the expression "Hubble limit". Hubble constant, that's used all the time, and you can use it to work out the observed volume...

But please, what point did I miss? You asked questions, I tried to answer. Is that not the point of asking questions?


No one can defend creationism against the overwhelming scientific evidence of creationism. -- Big Sexxy Joe


[ Parent ]
Hubble Limit (3.50 / 2) (#39)
by localroger on Sat Jun 08, 2002 at 11:30:52 PM EST

Given the Hubble Constant, the distance at which it gives you the speed of light is the Hubble Limit. Realms beyond that barrier are forever barred to us, according to Einstein. Furthermore, (localroger theorizing here), if no two points in space can be receding from one another faster than the speed of light, and if the Universe is finite but unbounded (the usual structure for this being a hypersphere), then the circumference of the Universe cannot be greater than the Hubble limit. There are of course other ways of looking at the situation, but being a simple kind of person I don't see how a Universe with relativistic properties can permit parts of itself to be receding from one another along any possible metric faster than our old friend c.

And once you've convinced yourself, based on this idea, that the Universe has a finite volume, you can then go to work on how much information it takes to store a particle like an electron. Planck's constant tells you exactly how accurately it can be located, and the rest of quantum theory assures you that there really is no finer information being stored anywhere; in fact, quantum mechanics as a whole looks very suspiciously like a clusterfuck engineered to deal with the Universe's lack of resolution. So you divide the volume of the hypersphere by the volume of space in which you can pinpoint a resting electron, and take the log base 2...

Well, you can do the rest, I'm sure.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

Confusing (5.00 / 3) (#46)
by manobes on Sat Jun 08, 2002 at 11:46:09 PM EST

Given the Hubble Constant, the distance at which it gives you the speed of light is the Hubble Limit.

Okay

Realms beyond that barrier are forever barred to us, according to Einstein

Not in an expanding universe. New regions are preseumably always being revealed.

Furthermore, (localroger theorizing here), if no two points in space can be receding from one another faster than the speed of light, and if the Universe is finite but unbounded (the usual structure for this being a hypersphere), then the circumference

Are you sure you don't mean radius?

of the Universe cannot be greater than the Hubble limit. There are of course other ways of looking at the situation, but being a simple kind of person I don't see how a Universe with relativistic properties can permit parts of itself to be receding from one another along any possible metric faster than our old friend c.

Well, you have to be careful. Locally nothing can travel faster than c, since special relativity always holds localy. But freaky stuff can happen when you consider large scale effects.

And once you've convinced yourself, based on this idea, that the Universe has a finite volume, you can then go to work on how much information it takes to store a particle like an electron. Planck's constant tells you exactly how accurately it can be located, and the rest of quantum theory assures you that there really is no finer information being stored anywhere; in fact, quantum mechanics as a whole looks very suspiciously like a clusterfuck engineered to deal with the Universe's lack of resolution. So you divide the volume of the hypersphere by the volume of space in which you can pinpoint a resting electron, and take the log base 2...

Agian this is not how I'd work out the total number of particles in the universe. It's a classical calcluation. You use the Hubble limit to work out the total volume, then multiply by the observed average density. You really don't need quantum mechanics. Particluarly arguements based on the uncertainty principle.

No one can defend creationism against the overwhelming scientific evidence of creationism. -- Big Sexxy Joe


[ Parent ]
Haven't quite got it (2.50 / 2) (#47)
by localroger on Sat Jun 08, 2002 at 11:55:38 PM EST

Are you sure you don't mean radius?

No, I mean circumference. No measurement can be increasing faster than c, and the largest possible measurement on an arbitrary hypersphere is its circumference.

. Locally nothing can travel faster than c, since special relativity always holds localy. But freaky stuff can happen when you consider large scale effects.

Freaky stuff happens when you shoot single photons at a double slit too, and I have trouble with that, too. Our measurements of spectra at high redhsifts seem to indicate that the laws of physics are pretty solid in those places that are screaming away from us at large fractions of c. The fact that we can make observations like this and interpret them sensibly across billions of light-years would tend to indicate to me that there are no surprising large-scale freaky effects that general relativity has failed to anticipate.

Agian this is not how I'd work out the total number of particles in the universe.

Neither would I. That has been worked out by other people, to be around 10^81 give or take. My method is to figure out how big a computer you would need to completely represent them, which would seem to require a fraction of a kilobit apiece.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

Well, you have to be careful... (4.00 / 2) (#51)
by manobes on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 12:18:16 AM EST

No, I mean circumference. No measurement can be increasing faster than c, and the largest possible measurement on an arbitrary hypersphere is its circumference.

But the light travels in a striaght line. So it can't sensibly traverse the circumfrence. Unless its path is bent by a (very) strong gravitational field.

Freaky stuff happens when you shoot single photons at a double slit too

That's largely a matter of perspective :)

ur measurements of spectra at high redhsifts seem to indicate that the laws of physics are pretty solid in those places that are screaming away from us at large fractions of c. The fact that we can make observations like this and interpret them sensibly across billions of light-years would tend to indicate to me that there are no surprising large-scale freaky effects that general relativity has failed to anticipate.

That's my point though. General relativity doesn't say that no signal can travel faster than c. Special relatiivity says that. In GR you can have things that appear to be going faster than c in some coordinate frame. A quick explanation is here. It's actually not really that freaky, now that I read that...

My method is to figure out how big a computer you would need to completely represent them, which would seem to require a fraction of a kilobit apiece.

Well that depends on what you want to represent. If you want to store the value of the wavefunction at every point, then you need infinite storage...


No one can defend creationism against the overwhelming scientific evidence of creationism. -- Big Sexxy Joe


[ Parent ]
Infinite Storage (2.25 / 4) (#54)
by localroger on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 12:28:28 AM EST

But the light travels in a striaght line. So it can't sensibly traverse the circumfrence. Unless its path is bent by a (very) strong gravitational field.

I'd say that by the usual definition, a path along the hypersurface (a volume) of the hypersphere is a straight line, in the same sense that a route from New York to Moscow which passes over the Arctic Ocean is a straight line.

General relativity doesn't say that no signal can travel faster than c. Special relatiivity says that.

You're right, my bad. There was this very smart guy once, see, who figured both things.

If you want to store the value of the wavefunction at every point, then you need infinite storage...

Which suggests to me, with my background and all that, that wavefunctions are bullshit.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

Hmmm... (4.00 / 1) (#66)
by manobes on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 03:08:40 AM EST

in the same sense that a route from New York to Moscow which passes over the Arctic Ocean is a straight line.

Such a route is only locally striaght. I.e. at any point along your trip you'll think you're going in a straight line. But when viewed from further back it's a curve. And something has to curve the path of the light, if you want it to traverse the circumference.

Which suggests to me, with my background and all that, that wavefunctions are bullshit.

Gee, an odd thing to type into a computer...

But I was being pedantic you can usually represent the wavefunction as some continuous function, like exp(-x^2). That ovbviously doesn't require infinite storage. In fact it doesn't even require the kilobits you suggested.

Also I find your statement odd. I'm certainly willing to entertain the notion that quantum mechanics may not be the final description of nature. But to call it bullshit is a bit odd. We certain know that Newton's mechanics is not the final description, but it's hardly "bullshit".


No one can defend creationism against the overwhelming scientific evidence of creationism. -- Big Sexxy Joe


[ Parent ]
Hmmmm ^2 (3.00 / 2) (#82)
by localroger on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 09:00:03 AM EST

Such a route is only locally striaght. I.e. at any point along your trip you'll think you're going in a straight line. But when viewed from further back it's a curve. And something has to curve the path of the light, if you want it to traverse the circumference.

Considered from the perspective of spherical geometry, a Great Circle route is defined as a straight line -- it is the shortest distance between two points. The path is curved because the Earth's surface is curved, and the usual methods of getting around are constrained to a thin shell around the spherical Earth.

Similarly, if the Universe is a four-dimensional sphere with a three-dimensional hypersurface, then paths curving around the hypersurface are straight because they are constrained to remain within the hypersurface regardless of its curvature in the fourth dimension.

Also I find your statement odd. I'm certainly willing to entertain the notion that quantum mechanics may not be the final description of nature. But to call it bullshit is a bit odd. We certain know that Newton's mechanics is not the final description, but it's hardly "bullshit".

I was referring specifically to representations which require infinite storage. Physicists seem quite happy to propose such schemes before breakfast every day, but I find them incredible.

There are suggestions in the math of quantum mechanics that a single electron is more complex than the entire observable Universe, and that these effects could be harnessed to build quantum computers which would magically pop out the answers to incredibly complex problems in zero time. My throat is frankly not big enough for me to swallow these assumptions, even if they do bear out experimentally for the time being.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

If I may be so bold.. (none / 0) (#108)
by mindstrm on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 11:37:03 AM EST

You seem rather big-headed about dismissing the theories of many people with Doctorates in physics, quantium physics, and cosmology.

We do NOT KNOW what lies at the bottom of the well. We do NOT have a unifying set of equations to explain the universe.

Given that, it's abrsurd that you think you have figured out how much data it would take to grab teh state of the universe.


[ Parent ]

You've been reading (5.00 / 2) (#110)
by manobes on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 11:41:33 AM EST

way too much pop science

There are suggestions in the math of quantum mechanics that a single electron is more complex than the entire observable Universe,

Not there are not. The mathmatics describing a single electron's behaviour are essentially trivial. You can write down the whole solution on a sheet of paper.

and that these effects could be harnessed to build quantum computers which would magically pop out the answers to incredibly complex problems in zero time.

Not zero time. Polynomial time versus exponential time. And it's not the "effects" you're thinking of. It's standard quantum mechanics. The factoring algorithm takes a page or two of paper to write out in full.


No one can defend creationism against the overwhelming scientific evidence of creationism. -- Big Sexxy Joe


[ Parent ]
Really, zero time (none / 0) (#201)
by carbon on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 10:29:07 PM EST

Not zero time.

Yes, zero time. What he means (I think) by a quantum computer is one which uses linkages that are instantanous. Two instantanous events occuring sequentally are still instantanous, because there's no time delay; 0 + 0 = 0.


Wasn't Dr. Claus the bad guy on Inspector Gadget? - dirvish
[ Parent ]
But it takes time (4.00 / 1) (#217)
by manobes on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 12:24:25 AM EST

for the first event.

It's unclear to what you're refering exactly, so I'll assume it's some sort of correlated state. Then, fine, when you do something to the first particle, the state of the second changes in zero time (or a very short interval, as far as we can measure). But you still had to preform the operation on the first particle. Run it through some sort of gate, to flip its spin, for example.

That process takes a finite amount of time.


No one can defend creationism against the overwhelming scientific evidence of creationism. -- Big Sexxy Joe


[ Parent ]
In most of the benchmarks I've seen.... (none / 0) (#271)
by carbon on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 05:15:57 PM EST

The first event (which is usally the user performing some action) isn't counted as part of the timing. However, you do have a point about time-consuming logical operations, which would (iirc) indeed make it linear time or thereabouts (though probably very, very fast linear time). Thanks.


Wasn't Dr. Claus the bad guy on Inspector Gadget? - dirvish
[ Parent ]
I don't think so (none / 0) (#286)
by Shimmer on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 11:50:36 PM EST

No measurement can be increasing faster than c

I'm not a physicist, but I don't believe that this is an accurate description of the theory of relativity.  I can think of at least one measurement that exceeds the speed of light:

Stand on the North Pole and observe a distant star on the horizon.  Let's say it's 100 light-years away.  Relative to your frame of reference, it sweeps out a circle of radius 100 light-years every 24 hours.  That's a far greater speed than c.

This doesn't violate the theory, but I'm afraid that I'm not qualified to explain why.  I recall reading about it in an old Martin Garder article.  I can look it up if you'd like.

-- Brian

Wizard needs food badly.
[ Parent ]

Rotating frame of reference (4.00 / 1) (#287)
by localroger on Tue Jun 11, 2002 at 12:16:37 AM EST

A number of effects that depend on rotating frames of reference create this illusion; for example, it is possible to create an electric field which appears to propagate faster than C, by intersecting two fields in a rotating arrangement.

That doesn't count, though, because the thing that is moving faster than light is a chimera, not a particle subject to Lorentz distortions.

No two particles or energy quanta (which are the same thing, e=mc^2 and all that) can have a relative velocity magnitude greater than c, no matter where they are in the Universe, unless there is some large-scale effect we don't know about, which is another thing that has no place in the nice tidy set of rules that's been written so far.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

You answered your own question (none / 0) (#312)
by Shimmer on Tue Jun 11, 2002 at 01:39:18 PM EST

No measurement can be increasing faster than c, and the largest possible measurement on an arbitrary hypersphere is its circumference.

[A rotating frame of reference] doesn't count, though, because the thing that is moving faster than light is a chimera, not a particle subject to Lorentz distortions.

Exactly.  And since a circumference is also a "chimera", not a particle, it too can grow faster than the speed of light.

-- Brian

Wizard needs food badly.
[ Parent ]

A circumference can grow... (none / 0) (#320)
by localroger on Tue Jun 11, 2002 at 07:10:44 PM EST

...faster than c, but not if it is carrying real particles with it at such relative velocities.

If the Universe is in fact bounded at a dimension larger than the hubble limit, or even unbounded, nothing but naked space-time (and even only questionably that) can exist in the parts of it beyond the Hubble Limit.

While there are some abstract mathematical games in which this appears possible, it has never seemed to me either very useful as an assumption or very likely.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

Information (none / 0) (#59)
by ucblockhead on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 01:23:11 AM EST

But I don't think that's really a problem. You don't need to do anything like simulate every particular particle. You've just got to simulate everything an observer might see. How many observers are there in the universe? We've got no idea. For all you know, there might only be one observer in this universe, and the rest of us are bots.

Two things make this really interesting...particles at the quantum level only haved to be simulated when someone actually looks at the quantum level, and there's that bizarre difference in the way things behave at the quantum level.
-----------------------
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]

eh? (none / 0) (#115)
by Ni on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 11:55:30 AM EST

Your central point seems to have been the question; what if science is wrong and the universe contains a piece that it can't explain? I just don't find that an interesting question...

As a scientist, shouldn't you find the issue of whether everything you've studied could be useless to be an interesting question?


<mrgoat> I can't believe I just got a cyber-handjob from ni.
[ Parent ]

Well no (4.50 / 2) (#117)
by manobes on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 12:03:38 PM EST

As a scientist, shouldn't you find the issue of whether everything you've studied could be useless to be an interesting question?

First, it's not useless. Even if it were wrong in some domain of human existence, what it gets right has already been demonstrated (hence computers).

More fundementally I don't consider it an interesting question, becuase I have very little conception of how we'd go about showing it. Say there was some phenomenon that poped up that present science couldn't explain. Does that should science is wrong? Or just the current theory?

Until somebody proves that there's something science cannot explain, I likey won't find the question interesting.

Of course, proving that there's something science definately cannot explain is about as impossible as proving that science can definately explain everything...


No one can defend creationism against the overwhelming scientific evidence of creationism. -- Big Sexxy Joe


[ Parent ]
ah (none / 0) (#159)
by Ni on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 03:56:10 PM EST

_ First, it's not useless. Even if it were wrong in some domain of human existence, what it gets right has already been demonstrated (hence computers)._

OK, I suppose useless was a poor choice of words. Perhaps a better one would be "shouldn't you find the issue of whether everything you've studied could rest on an inaccurate assumption to be...".

More fundementally I don't consider it an interesting question, becuase I have very little conception of how we'd go about showing it. Say there was some phenomenon that poped up that present science couldn't explain. Does that should science is wrong? Or just the current theory?

Well, I'm not localroger, but I'll give a thought experiment that might do it. Suppose that tomorrow  repeatability on experiments stopped occuring. Suppose apples fell from trees up every now and then, and sometimes the earth rotated around the sun and sometimes the sun rotated around the earth. In this world things were rarely the same twice, and nothing was certain. Repeatability of experiments would obviously not occur. In fact, the very process of doing science would be useless. In this case, science done for the purpose of gaining knowledge about the universe and being able to say something about what is likely to happen next would be wrong. (Or to be pedantic, done for the wrong reasons - if you were doing experiments because you liked amusing yourself by playing with particle accelerators I suppose you'd be in the clear)

Obviously, this does not seem to be our universe, and is a very extreme example. However, I believe it shows that the study of science can, in theory if nothing else, become a useless persuit.


<mrgoat> I can't believe I just got a cyber-handjob from ni.
[ Parent ]

Well (none / 0) (#163)
by manobes on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 04:38:07 PM EST

However, I believe it shows that the study of science can, in theory if nothing else, become a useless persuit.

sorry but, duh...

If I postulate that the world could become such that science is not possible, than of course science will no longer be possible.

I'm certainly not going to lose any sleep over this, unless it's found to be the case.


No one can defend creationism against the overwhelming scientific evidence of creationism. -- Big Sexxy Joe


[ Parent ]
OK (none / 0) (#165)
by Ni on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 04:41:27 PM EST

OK, I'd assumed you were implying with this:

Say there was some phenomenon that poped up that present science couldn't explain. Does that should science is wrong? Or just the current theory?

that only individual theories of science could be incorrect. If not, we'd appear to be in agreement.


<mrgoat> I can't believe I just got a cyber-handjob from ni.
[ Parent ]

Irrational universe (1.00 / 1) (#183)
by caca phony on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 07:46:41 PM EST

Given that our universe is irrational, you can hardly expect to use rational argument to convince someone to deal with that fact in a rational manner. Given an inconsistent universe, there is no foundation for knowledge of any sort or the giving of advice.

[ Parent ]
Exactly (none / 0) (#199)
by Ni on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 10:10:05 PM EST

Which indeed, was precisely my point. Circumstances could exist, even if only in theory, which would invalidate the pursuit of science. That's all I was saying.


<mrgoat> I can't believe I just got a cyber-handjob from ni.
[ Parent ]
And my point was (none / 0) (#203)
by caca phony on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 10:50:34 PM EST

simply this: it is pointless to consider in a rational manner anything which completely invalidates rationality. Either there is no circumstance that invalidates science, or I might as well ignore the invalidation of science, because, in that case, what reason do I have to respond to anything rationaly. It is kind of like Pascal's wager (lose little if you bet wrong, gain exerything if you bet right). If something really is unspeakable, your wasting your time trying to talk about it, if you catch my drift.

[ Parent ]
Here's a piece right here (3.50 / 2) (#140)
by pyramid termite on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 02:29:46 PM EST

Your central point seems to have been the question; what if science is wrong and the universe contains a piece that it can't explain?

Consiousness.

I just don't find that an interesting question...

The real interesting question is why we find questions interesting or ask them in the first place.
On the Internet, anyone can accuse you of being a dog.
[ Parent ]
Huh? (none / 0) (#143)
by manobes on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 02:43:01 PM EST

Consiousness.

Do you claim that science can never understand conciousness? Or just that it currently doesn't?

I certainly argree with the latter...


No one can defend creationism against the overwhelming scientific evidence of creationism. -- Big Sexxy Joe


[ Parent ]
The rationalist response is ... (5.00 / 1) (#145)
by pyramid termite on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 02:51:51 PM EST

... when science can explain consciousness then it can claim that it can explain every piece of the universe. Until then, you can't claim that science can explain it all.

After all, if I'm "wrong" for assuming there's a God when I can't prove it, why would you be "right" for assuming there's an all-explaining science when you can't prove it?
On the Internet, anyone can accuse you of being a dog.
[ Parent ]
What claim? (5.00 / 1) (#149)
by pexatus on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 03:15:26 PM EST

I'm looking, and I don't see where manobes ever claimed that an all-explaining science exists.  He just said that the question, "Is there a piece of the universe that science cannot explain?" was not interesting.  I find many questions uninteresting, but it does not imply that my answer to them is no.  Sometimes the answer is "yes" or "42" or "I don't know".

What I take from his response (if this is close to what he was saying) is that science is about finding order and rules in chaos, and if we discover, somehow, that a part of reality truly follows no rules, then it is not worth looking for rules there anyway; it's not up to science to analyze that part of reality.

[ Parent ]

I'm not necessarily debating with manobes ... (5.00 / 1) (#153)
by pyramid termite on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 03:27:37 PM EST

... but with a viewpoint that's commonly held by some, but is relevant to the discussion and worth bring up in the context of what he said.
On the Internet, anyone can accuse you of being a dog.
[ Parent ]
In that case (none / 0) (#156)
by pexatus on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 03:46:29 PM EST

Yes, I agree that the assumption that an all-explanatory science exists doesn't have much more logical basis than the assumption that God exists.  However, the error I think people make in the first place is to assume that it is the job of science to explain anything.  Its job is to predict.  The "explanations" that it provides along the way (the universe is made of matter and spacetime that can warp, forces are transmitted by carrier particles, etc.) are convenient fictions that help us to visualize the mathematics that is doing the predicting.

That said, I do not believe that there is such a thing as either an all-explanatory science (since science isn't supposed to explain) or an all-predictive science.  I'm not exactly sure why I believe the latter; I just do.

[ Parent ]

That pretty much sums it up (n/t) (none / 0) (#157)
by manobes on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 03:47:37 PM EST


No one can defend creationism against the overwhelming scientific evidence of creationism. -- Big Sexxy Joe


[ Parent ]
James Randi, is a lousy example to use. (3.66 / 3) (#225)
by Fantastic Lad on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 02:19:25 AM EST

Randi, to my knowledge, basically proposes to give prize winnings to anyone who can demonstrate to the world on camera the existence of Auras and similar.

The fact that nobody has come forward to claim this prize, as I understand the general argument of the Skeptic, is evidence that such phenomenon probably do not exist.

There are some fairly obvious flaws with this argument, and the fact that they fail to immediately register with the otherwise often intelligent Skeptic, I think demonstrates something significant.

Some of the problems I have with Randi's challenge are as follows. . .

1. Evidence is virtually impossible to legitimize. When people say "Evidence" they mean either, "As seen on TV", or, "As Reported by a respected body of scientists."

The problem is that Television evidence is never credible unless accompanied by the approval of a Respected Body of Scientists. (There is a TON of video tape evidence available for public viewing.) And Respected Bodies of Scientists are NEVER going to place their jobs and reputations in jeopardy by admitting that they were wrong, that Magic exists and the $20 New Orleans psychic had it right the whole time. Just won't happen.

2. People who get too successful in convincing the world of phenomenon outside the accepted realm of science are ridiculed, tormented, punished and murdered. Or nailed to crosses. Take your pick. There is, quite simply, NO way that a person with genuine abilities would be allowed to change the whole Western belief paradigm by way of James Randi's little challenge. --Think about it. Even in the corridors of accepted science, researchers are regularly assassinated for getting too close to truths which would not be in the best interests of the Lords of Today.

3. As chance would have it, I happen to know several people who have 'supernatural' abilities but who, a) Have never heard of James Randi and his little propaganda machine, b) have been so sufficiently tormented and stunted for being different while growing up by the ignorant and cruel people around them, that they instinctively cringe away from such mean-spirited (and most likely fixed) public challenges like Randi's that they would probably shrivel up and die if forced to stand on a stage facing a million eyes determined to see only what they want to see, and to pour out only scorn and disbelief regardless of what is demonstrated. --Or d) (and this is a big one), Those who do manage to arrive to maturity with confidence, health and strength of mind, in order to reach such a state where abilities manifest with great power, also tend to have grown a million miles beyond caring what a bunch of juvenile Skeptics happen to think.

Understand that this whole argument becomes entirely moot and irrelevant when one is no longer in any personal doubt about the existence of magic. Only those trapped in the small cage built from accepted scientific realities have any interest in the outcome of, "Yeah? Prove it!" contests, which are designed primarily to calm inner ruffles within the Skeptic, and have little or nothing to do with determining truth.

--Essentially, believe what you want. No collection plate will be passed, no representative will come to your door, and above all, nobody with any wisdom is going to worry about what you believe. Your faith is your own problem.

The nice thing is, when you are ready, teachers will emerge who will guide you. That's how the universe works.

-Fantastic Lad

[ Parent ]

How the universe actually works (4.66 / 3) (#266)
by slippytoad on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 03:27:19 PM EST

The fact that nobody has come forward to claim this prize, as I understand the general argument of the Skeptic, is evidence that such phenomenon probably do not exist.

Are you referring to the million-dollar challenge? This is personally offered by Randi under terms that anyone can can agree are fair, namely that the applicant agree at the beginning of their test what result we are to see, and that the result be readily apparent any observer. The fact that no one has passed the preliminary tests means only that no such person has come forward who can state what their "powers" are and demonstrate them in front of a skeptical audience. In fact, at least one prominent psychic has verbally accepted this challenge, although it seems she is unable to actually go through with it. All scientific research has to go through this kind of filter for it to be legitimate. I'm curious that you find it "juvenile" for people to be skeptical of these claims and actually require proof. After all from our point of view it merely looks like another con game.

The problem is that Television evidence is never credible unless accompanied by the approval of a Respected Body of Scientists. (There is a TON of video tape evidence available for public viewing.) And Respected Bodies of Scientists are NEVER going to place their jobs and reputations in jeopardy by admitting that they were wrong, that Magic exists and the $20 New Orleans psychic had it right the whole time. Just won't happen.

Where's the ton of video tape? I've seen offers to view these tapes before -- every one of them required a $20, $40, $60+ fee which I'm not really interested in paying. If these people are really what they claim, what's the problem with doing it on Larry King Live? Oh yeah, that's right, when they are outside their controlled environment the tests always seem to fail. And for the record, Randi is a highly-respected member of the skeptic's community. Any research supported by him would be definitely worth following up on.

Understand that this whole argument becomes entirely moot and irrelevant when one is no longer in any personal doubt about the existence of magic. Only those trapped in the small cage built from accepted scientific realities have any interest in the outcome of, "Yeah? Prove it!" contests, which are designed primarily to calm inner ruffles within the Skeptic, and have little or nothing to do with determining truth.

An argument is only moot when there are no longer conflicting premises. If you don't feel that the objective reality of magic and supernatural phenomenon are at all subject to the same sort of scrutiny as everything else in the world, why are you so angry about Randi and his challenge? You've poured about a thousand words of inaccurate and highly emotionally charged invective on the entire concept of skepticism, and done little but to demonstrate to me at least that it is you who need to calm your ruffles. My world is complete without magic. It is your point of view that advances the extraordinary claim, and it is you who have the most to lose by having that claim disproven. Humanity as a whole would gain tremendously from knowing that we can, for example, move things with our minds, or read the future, but the nauseatingly ordinary facts are that we don't seem to actually possess those powers. People who claim to do so tend to be interested in something far more earthly -- namely, cash from suckers.

I've always wondered about the state of a world where someone who can predict the future and read their fellow human beings' minds has to go work a phone bank in order to make ends meet. Honestly, if I could do those things I'd spend a surreptitious week or two at the track or in Las Vegas and set myself up for life.
If I were the al Qaeda people right now I would be planning a lot of attacks in the next few days and weeks -- John "Bring 'em On" McCain
[ Parent ]

Hm. Let me explain. . . (3.50 / 2) (#278)
by Fantastic Lad on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 08:28:59 PM EST

I'm curious that you find it "juvenile" for people to be skeptical of these claims and actually require proof. After all from our point of view it merely looks like another con game. [. . .] why are you so angry about Randi and his challenge? You've poured about a thousand words of inaccurate and highly emotionally charged invective on the entire concept of skepticism, and done little but to demonstrate to me at least that it is you who need to calm your ruffles.
Well, it works like this: Awareness is a direct function of energy. The more energy you have, the more aware you are on more levels. (Older souls tend to be aligned so that they have more energy naturally.) The problem is that today's world is designed in such a way that people are encouraged to spend their energy in ways which do not lead to a raising of awareness. They are bled down to the nub by stress, over-attention to sex, powerful negative emotions, toxins in food & air, and belief structures which focus on the material and not the spirit.

Young souls are easily swept up in this scenario. It takes a certain level of maturity to, a) intuit and recognize the true nature of reality, b) decide to re-organize one's life in order to save energy and raise awareness, and c) make it happen. This is tough stuff, and most people, especially today, are far too wrapped up in the shell game sold to them by the media and the establishment to even recognize the challenge, much less rise to meet it. That's what I meant by juvenile.

However, I clearly did put a harsh spin on it. My fault. I'll try to explain. . .

I have been dealing with a friend who has been hurt very badly by skeptical society over the last several years. She was for a long time being tormented by a really nasty spirit which killed her grandfather, father and uncle. We recently learned after investigating that somebody on one side of her extended family with the know-how laid an ancestral curse. When I first met her, I thought it was just a regular haunting, but it turned out that there was significant energy damage/draining taking place. I wrote about her recently and some of the events she was describing; locked doors being pounded on and hurled open by invisible forces, televisions playing the same old movie on every channel even with the set unplugged, family members being possessed for short periods during which their eye-color changed and they said horrible things to her in completely different voices, among many, many other things. She was essentially terrorized for seven years in both her waking and sleeping life. While this was bad enough, there was also the fact that nobody believed her, (except her brother and mother and one friend, who were around for several of the larger events). Most people simply do not have the capacity to relate to her situation. Conventional wisdom from the world of skeptics ridiculed her. Luckily, I found her before it was too late and put her in contact with a Shaman friend of mine. He dealt with the problem, and all the crap has finally stopped, but the psychological damage resulting from being terrorized remains and it runs very deep. It will take a long time to heal. What makes me angry, and what was tinting my last post with negative emotion is that I know that most people would still laugh at her and tell her she's just nuts.

My friend is a wreck. Like a conventional rape victim, she does not care about what the world at large believes. She does not care about the scientific process, or about winning a million dollars by proving herself in a kangaroo court peopled with skeptics who for the most part are far less interested in learning than they are in fortifying their old arguments at her expense. She just wants to live and heal and be happy.

Now, there's nothing wrong with being young. Everybody has to learn their grade 2 class work before graduating to grade 3. It's no fun otherwise, and there is a lot of stuff in the physical which provides exciting lessons.

Indeed, it's actually Karmically bad to force somebody into an area of awareness for which they are not ready. People kill over zealous prophet types for a reason; it's a self-defense / universal balancing mechanism. --A lesson for the powerful to keep a lid on unwanted enthusiasm.

Basically, I suppose I'm not really posting for your benefit, but rather for those who read here and who are exploring these ideas and who might be able to benefit.

-Fantastic Lad

[ Parent ]

It's the <I>approach</I> (3.50 / 2) (#317)
by slippytoad on Tue Jun 11, 2002 at 06:11:38 PM EST

It takes a certain level of maturity to, a) intuit and recognize the true nature of reality, b) decide to re-organize one's life in order to save energy and raise awareness, and c) make it happen.

I'll agree to that. However, your definition of reality and mine do not coincide. I'll skip most of the rest of your essay, which really boils down to an appeal to sympathy for this poor person to any would-be skeptic, and get right to the point: The parent article ruminates all over the map in regards to whether we should choose an empirical view of the world where cause and effect are easily observed and understood vs. a world controlled by spirits and demons. To me there's no debate at all. Whether you like it or not science works, and its results have had a hardcore effect on our lives. Most likely neither you nor I would be alive right now were it not for the advances in medicine and technology gleaned from using the scientific method. It's easy to demonstrate by a reading of history that a civilization based on witchcraft and magic meandered along pointlessly for 1500 years, and that a civilization based on science advanced in leaps and bounds in 500 years. The theoretical frameworks that make the Psychic Friends Hotline and Uri Geller seem absurd or at least highly unlikely are the same theoretical frameworks that run every aspect of our world. You cannot spend a single day in the industrialized nations of the West without encountering some fundamental fact of science that has vastly altered our lives.

I get irritated when people try to appeal to ignorance or ignorant alternatives to explain the world. I have a layman's understanding of science, and a child's fascination with it. I've done enough of my own amateur work (mostly astronomy) that I trust how it works and why. For most phenomenon, there is either a rational explanation, or there is not enough evidence. I don't see anything wrong with not deciding when I don't have enough evidence that I don't know. I don't have any problem telling that answer to my children. I think that is the root of most pseudoscience and witchcraft mythologies: an inability for those in a position of authority to admit ignorance, or error.

I'm basically a logical positivist. If an idea about the world cannot be tested for truth or failure, it isn't important to me. As a computer programmer and systems engineer, my approach has taken me far in my career, and I am well-known for always being able to solve the problem, provided I am given specific information. That I suppose has led to my no-bullshit attitude about the rest of life. When someone complains to me that the system I am in charge of isn't working right, or is causing problems, I go right to them and get specifics, and when armed with the right logs and files I can always prove the cause, and most of the time it isn't my fault. People have an unnerving propensity to assume that what I do is magic and I have to talk them down from that every time. There is always a reason for what the computer does. It does not have a malevolent personality. I extend that view to the rest of the unconscious objects and forces in the universe, and I really don't see anywhere in your posts why I shouldn't. It WORKS FOR ME, every time.

Your friend, on the other hand, looks like her predicament can easily be explained by an abusive family environment, with no need for ancestral curses or evil spirits. She has subscribed to this fantastic version of events at someone's urging (yours, or whoever's) because it makes her predicament seem more special and more important, and someone is clearly misleading someone else here. Whether it's you or your shaman friend doesn't matter. Whether you're the mark or the con man in the menage you've described isn't easily decided by your account above. That your friend now has decided that she is the possessor of some superhuman powers has clearly opened her to some ridicule, and rightly so. Let me explain very clearly that I don't care. If you're going to walk around with a Superman cloak on all the time, people are going to jeer you and make fun of you, and some of them are even going to ask you to fly for them, and laugh when you can't. The simple reason is that most of us like to think we're a little better, a little smarter, a little more talented, than everyone else, but most of us also recognize that it's not true. Those who don't, in my opinion, are the ones who truly lack maturity.

Science is a logical framework for disposing of special conditions and frames of reference, and getting to the repeatable behavior of the universe. If the universe, as the parent article posits, is "lying" to us somehow, and everything turns into pink spotted elephants when we turn around, but never in a way that we can prove, well that information isn't either useful or pertinent, is it? It's a very childish supposition, which strongly reminds me of my boyish impression that all my friends vanished into closets and stood motionless until I came into the room. It's a simple case of solipsism, and belief in a "personal" universe, and a "special" interpretation of the facts is probably a very good dictionary definition of solipsism. The problem with solipsism is that the Universe will kick you in the balls someday and you'll have nothing to defend yourself with, and no way to actually handle it and that, dear sir, is my personal theory for why so many people in the modern world can't handle it. Because they are peripherally aware that the beliefs their grandparents to the nth degree had and based their lives on weren't real, but they have nothing to replace them with. The history of scientific knowledge has been the history of real information rapidly encroaching upon the world of the fantastic and fake. Starting with Copernicus and Galileo and continuing all the way to today we have a group of people holding one set of views that is shrinking to a less and less specific set of statements, and another group that is increasing to a more and more specific, and in the 20th century the pendulum finally swung to where we were in a large part basing our lives on the more specific statements. The 21st is the century where we'll decide for a long time whether science and the scientific approach survives. The last gasp of irrationalism is in full force, and you are there at the vanguard. The pity is you don't seem to grasp, as you key your words into a computer whose microcircuits are governed by quantum mechanics, powered by understanding of Maxwell's electrical equations, and operated on software that relies completely on incontrovertible logical statements, how our lives are tied to it, and what will happen if we as a civilization choose to eject science from our world. The fallout in my opinion from shutting down every device and process in the world that depends on the laws of science and physics and the discoveries of medicine would be just instantaneous chaos. Just live through a few hours' of phone service being down, let alone a blackout, and you'll understand why we have wedded our future to an empirical view of the world and cannot turn back without disastrous consequences.

If you're interested in what some people might think of a world where science and knowledge actually go in reverse, read Issac Asimov's Foundation series. There's a pretty clear description of a "Lord Dorwin" whose idea of performing experiments is to read the authoritative books and "weigh" them in his royal consideration.

The first statement of a truly mature and intellectually capable human being when confronted with the unexplained is I don't know. The next statement, which is what I base my entire life on, is I believe I can find out. I submit to you that those are wholly alien statements to the world view of you and your shaman friend. It is the approach that differentiates science from mysticism, and I will stand my preferred approach up in front of you proudly with no apology and declare it superior to yours any time.
If I were the al Qaeda people right now I would be planning a lot of attacks in the next few days and weeks -- John "Bring 'em On" McCain
[ Parent ]

You're jumping to conclusions. . . (none / 0) (#322)
by Fantastic Lad on Tue Jun 11, 2002 at 11:56:05 PM EST

The first statement of a truly mature and intellectually capable human being when confronted with the unexplained is I don't know. The next statement, which is what I base my entire life on, is I believe I can find out. I submit to you that those are wholly alien statements to the world view of you and your shaman friend. It is the approach that differentiates science from mysticism, and I will stand my preferred approach up in front of you proudly with no apology and declare it superior to yours any time.
Hm. I don't actually disagree with a fair portion of what you write. I am aware of a broader spectrum of reality than most but this by no means should suggest that I think science is bunk. I can understand why you may have that impression, based on the kind of thinking which does tend to proliferate New Age circles. But New Age circles are pretty flakey for the most part. I often surprise people by warning them that 90% of New Age material is misguided, (intentionally or otherwise).

No. Indeed, 'Science' (to use it in a catch-all phrase type of way), certainly works. It is stunted and limited by a variety of societal conventions to degrees which are entirely maddening, but there's nothing wrong with the basic concept of examining and drawing conclusions from the physical universe. Math IS a universal tool which operates on all levels of reality and through which all reality can be described. It could be no other way. But this certainly does not discount the mountain of phenomenon which evade explanation by conventional, public arena science, and which have been understood and solved and worked with by spiritual practitioners for thousands of years before the industrial revolution ever 'graced' itself upon the world. Just because science hasn't solved it yet doesn't mean it isn't there. To insist otherwise is foolishness.

I also tend to surprise people when I tell them that supernatural phenomenon are no less reducable. Chi energy is simply part of the EM spectrum. The only thing is that understanding of the EM spectrum has been severely limited by restrictive science practices, (in the public arena at any rate. --The military is another issue).

Part of the problem with your approach is that after a certain point, awareness begins to play a pivitol role. Pure reductionism based on observable phenomena is limiting in that certain things cannot be observed unless you actively think about them. Unless you have faith.

How's that for horrifying? Or liberating.

In any case, the whole 'Science v.s. Magic' game is a complete waste of energy, and buying into it will only keep you locked in one place. Indeed, the fact of the matter is that people in high places of power provide themselves with full access to knowledge from both camps, and really see no difference between the two, because there isn't one.

Spirits are simply life forms which inhabit higher vibrational planes of reality. --Which is quite the statement. You can either research it, or you can limit yourself to a myopic world view which is no more or less superior to mine, because it IS mine. It is just suffering from self-imposed limitations.

I would also cautiously suggest that you are not quite so 'scientific' as you might like to believe. Without having observed the situation for yourself, you were willing to impose your own explanation upon my friend's experiences, and from the way you wrote, (I could be wrong), actually believe your explantion outright with no further question.

I understand the rationale behind this, but it still begs the question. . . You might want to consider your behavior before denouncing any approach to studying reality which requires a degree of faith.

Take care,

-Fantastic Lad

[ Parent ]

I can make a repeatable test! (1.00 / 1) (#302)
by johwsun on Tue Jun 11, 2002 at 04:01:33 AM EST

And??? None of those "credible" humans has ever produced a repeatable test. See what James Randi has to say about that, since you cite him below.

I was going to go on. But I haven't got the energy. Your whole point seems to be "science could be wrong". To which a scientist would respond, "well maybe". Here you are a repeatable test prooving that science cannot predict.

Try to invent a scientific method to predict what appears in my computer when I press the A key.

You will never manage to find a method. This simple experiment shows that prediction cannot be made, and that science (based on prediction and induction) is wrong. Of course you dont take this experiment into account. My experiment is not valid, your experiments are!!!!

My poor scientist guy look around you! You will find 100 experiments that can be predicted and repeated, and 10000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 000000000000000000000000000000000000 experiments that cannot!

[ Parent ]

Admit it! (1.00 / 1) (#304)
by johwsun on Tue Jun 11, 2002 at 07:27:47 AM EST

Science can handle only repeatable events.

And the repeatable events in our universe are only 0.000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 00000000000000000001%

Thats why science can predict only with the above precision.

And dont tell me that science can predict weather! Weather prediction is not science, weather prediction is based again on statistics and on satellite observation. Weather prediction is again an engineering task. Scientists failed when tried to predict weather, but engineers succeded somehow!

---> Theoritically, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are NOT!

[ Parent ]

David Hume (4.95 / 21) (#49)
by The Solitaire on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 12:02:39 AM EST

David Hume recognized this problem centuries ago... Essentially what you seem to be talking about is called "The problem of induction".

For those that don't know, induction is a reasoning technique that we use on a daily basis in everyday life. Essentially, it allows one to draw a general rule from a set of specific observations. A classic example is: If I see many different ravens over a period of time, and notice that they all are black, I might conclude that all ravens are black. This seems perfectly sensible to most people (including me).

However, the problem comes in when you try to justify your use of induction itself. How do we know that induction is a good form of reasoning (though not perfect)? The obvious answer is "Well, I've used induction lots of times, and it nearly never leads me astray, so it must be good."

But herein lies a problem - this argument is itself a form of induction. Since the question that is at issue is whether or not we can use induction reliably, it is clearly not acceptable to use it in its own justification. Essentially, there is no (satisfactory, IMHO) way out of this dilemma.

Since science makes use of induction, and induction itself is in doubt, then all of science is potentially on shaky ground. What can we do about it? Well, we can try to come up with another way of justifying induction, but that's about it. Science is stuck using methods that may lead us to false conclusions... even though we are doing everything right.

PS - For those that want to tell me that science is abductive, not inductive, I think the same argument applies to abduction.

I need a new sig.

Thanks, and well put (3.00 / 3) (#50)
by localroger on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 12:08:11 AM EST

You know, I actually studied Hume in college, but I didn't remember this until your post. I took the Philosophy course as part of an advance program for high schoolers and it didn't count toward the degree I later tried to earn, and I forgot all about it until just now.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

Hume rules! (3.00 / 4) (#52)
by leviramsey on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 12:19:21 AM EST

Bertrand Russell, wrote, in A History of Western Philosophy (1945):

"To refute [Hume] has been a a favorite pastime among metphysicians. For my part, I find none of their refutations convincing; nevertheless, I hope that something less skeptical than Hume's system may be discoverable.... Hume's skeptical conclusions... are equally difficult to refute and to accept. The result was a challenge to philosophers which, in my opinion, has still not been adequately met."

I myself think that Kant came the closest to rebutting some of Hume, but he was far from complete. I'd personally place Hume and Kant as my favorite philosophers.



[ Parent ]
Induction (5.00 / 2) (#94)
by claudius on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 10:41:43 AM EST

One way to look at the induction problem is to interpret observations of a phenomenon as being elements of a larger conceptual framework than pure formal logic.  One such framework that has been shown to be a consistent superset of formal logic is probability theory.  (See the treatise by the late E. T. Jaynes on the subject--last time I checked it was available online in pdf format).  In essence, the use of probability theory formalizes mathematically the process of inductive reasoning, whereby successive measurements can lead to greater or lesser assurance that a given hypothesis is valid or invalid, and it counters Popper's famous criticism of scientific reasoning.  ("All ravens are black" is logically equivalent to "all non-black are non-raven,"  so one could in principle observe nothing but a bunch of non-black, non-raven items, such as number-2 pencils, and somehow find something useful out about ravens.  This is absurd).  The use of probability theory as outlined by Jaynes, however, avoids this problem by encoding in the induction process the amount of "information" carried by each observation.  In the example above, observations of number 2 pencils have little information content, so in the end they have a only a negligible effect on our assurance of whether ravens are black or not.

While not the last word on the subject and subject to a few difficulties of its own, the use of extended logical systems does succeed in formalizing and rendering transparent the assumptions we make when we use induction.  Alas, it doesn't ultimately avoid the self-referential pitfalls that so intrigued Hume.  (This appears a rather indomitable pitfall of the "meta-question" of applying a theory that purports to explain how we assess the validity of a hypothesis to itself).  

[ Parent ]

Ravens (4.50 / 2) (#113)
by pexatus on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 11:51:44 AM EST

I took a Philosophy of Physics class, and when we talked about Hempel's Paradox (it was Hempel with the ravens, btw; Popper was the one who proposed that we attempt to disprove, rather than prove, hypotheses, and our failure to disprove them would give them weight) I tried to use almost that exact argument about the information content provided by each non-raven, non-black item.  I ended up being refuted, or at least thought I was refuted.

My argument was:

Given the set of Everything (or everything that has a color), E, and subsets of E, R (all ravens), and E-R (all not-ravens), there are two observations that give us confidence in the hypothesis "All ravens are black": observing elements of R that are black, and observing elements of E-R that are not black.  Now, the reasoning behind my arugment was that the set E-R was much larger than the set R.  Observing 80% of the elements of R and finding them all to be black would give us 80% confidence that all ravens are black.  In order to get an 80% confidence that all ravens are black without looking at any members of R, we must look at 80% of the members of E-R, a much more daunting task.  Usually Hempel's Paradox goes like, "Seeing X black ravens and X non-black non-ravens are the same logically", but if you substitute "X percentage of the set of all ravens" in for simply "X ravens", and likewise with the non-ravens, then there is no paradox.

And the counter-argument went something like:

The problem is that according to this argument, observing every member of R and finding it to be black should be equivalent (both logically and informationally) to observing every member of E-R and finding it to be non-black.  Now, if we saw every raven, and knew that we had seen them all, and they were all black, then we could say with 100% certainty that all ravens are black.  If we saw every non-raven, and knew that we had seen all of them, and they were all non-black, but they were also all non-red, then this would give us confidence that all ravens are black.  Nowever, it would also give us equal confidence that all ravens are red.

Maybe my problem came when I tried to say that observing the same percentage of members of the 2 sets gives the same amount of information.  I don't know.

[ Parent ]

More sets required. (4.50 / 2) (#130)
by Kwil on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 01:16:36 PM EST

Given a set of Everything, to determine all Ravens are black, don't we have to divide it into more sets?

E: Everything
R: Set of Ravens
B: Set of Black things

The hypothesis is then that in E, the set R is a subset of B.

To then say that all non black things are not ravens is to say E - B is a subset of E - R, which is incorrect unless R = B.  But R = B would be "All ravens, and ONLY ravens, are black," which is a different hypothesis from what we were  initially proposing.

Given this framework, it becomes easy to see that observation of the members of set E - R tells us nothing about R.

That Jesus Christ guy is getting some terrible lag... it took him 3 days to respawn! -NJ CoolBreeze


[ Parent ]
More Sets Required for the General Problem (3.00 / 2) (#135)
by pexatus on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 01:51:53 PM EST

To then say that all non black things are not ravens is to say E - B is a subset of E - R, which is incorrect unless R = B.
Actually, no. It's been awhile since Discrete Math, so I had to draw the Venn diagrams to confirm this. If you draw the Venn diagrams as concentric circles, the outer circle is E, the next inner circle is B, and the innermost circle is R.  E-B is the area of the "ring" between circles E and B, and E-R is the ring between circles E and R, which entirely contains E-B (and so E-B is a subset of E-R), whether R=B or R is a subset of B.

I guess one thing I implicitly assumed for the sake of the argument was that we live in a universe where R = B.  This just made the argument easier, because then I could say, "Suppose we observe all non-ravens and find them non-black."  So what really happens is:

Observation 1
    raven, black
Increases confidence of
    all ravens are black
    all black things are ravens

Observation 2
  non-raven, black
Increases confidence of
    all non-ravens are black
    all black things are non-ravens

Observation 3
    raven, non-black
Increases confidence of
    all ravens are not black
    all non-black things are ravens

Observation 4
    non-raven, non-black
Increases confidence of
    all non-ravens are not black
    all non-black things are non-ravens

To simplify matters, I was assuming we live in a universe in which only observations 1 and 4 were possible, and within the conclusions induced from those observations, only (raven implies black) and (non-black implies non-raven) affect our confidence in the hypothesis (since they are both equivalent to the hypothesis).  I was trying to show that even in such a restricted universe, in which induction would actually tell us more about ravens than it would in our universe, we still could not rely confidently on induction. The utility of induction in such a universe is sort of an upper bound on the utility of induction in our own universe, in which even more observations might come along and mess with our heads, such as a black non-raven.

[ Parent ]

Hume rules (4.66 / 3) (#167)
by startled on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 05:14:28 PM EST

One of my favorite things about Hume was that even while he made these arguments, he pointed out that he was still going to continue using induction. I don't have any of his stuff on hand, but basically he said that as convinced as he was by his own arguments, he wasn't going to jump out of a high window to see what happened.

I like him, because he'll argue that philosophy is valuable, but that if you live your entire live by its abstract theorizing you'll end up as a splat on the pavement. :) Will you get such honesty out of Kant?

[ Parent ]
Induction (none / 0) (#396)
by cep on Thu Jun 27, 2002 at 07:18:13 PM EST

However, the problem comes in when you try to justify your use of induction itself. How do we know that induction is a good form of reasoning (though not perfect)? The obvious answer is "Well, I've used induction lots of times, and it nearly never leads me astray, so it must be good."

But herein lies a problem - this argument is itself a form of induction. Since the question that is at issue is whether or not we can use induction reliably, it is clearly not acceptable to use it in its own justification. Essentially, there is no (satisfactory, IMHO) way out of this dilemma.

The argument shows at least that induction is consistent, i.e. that it does not lead to contradictions on its own. It is therefore better than some other forms of reasoning.

While this is no justification of induction, it is at least an argument in its favour

[ Parent ]

On Randomness (4.75 / 16) (#53)
by The Solitaire on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 12:22:36 AM EST

As a matter of fact, there does seem to be a human "blind-spot" for randomness. Numerous controlled studies have been performed to ascertain what humans percieve to be random. One especially interesting phenominon is the human tendency to do what is called "repetition avoidance" when generating random numbers. Essentially, people think that they should avoid repeating numbers (especially more than twice in a row) when generating a random number string. For a really easy to understand example of this that most (if not all) of us can understand, try to recall the last time you wrote a multiple choice exam. Remember having a bit of a worried feeling when you cirled "d" four or five times consequtively? I know I felt that way. This is because we tend to think of tests as being random - hard to guess.

What I find even more interesting is that different people show differing degrees of repetition avoidance. As it turns out, people who believe in ESP and other paranormal phenomina tend to exhibit repetition avoidance significantly more than non-believers. Essentially, this means there are people that are predisposed to misinterpreting coincidences as something more. In addition, I think that this goes beyond level of education and so on. You can think of this as a "gut reaction", before all of the skepticism we've been taught as scientists or philosophers kicks in. Such gut reactions can be very powerful... we have to be very careful not to be carried away by such feelings.

I'll post references to all of the above findings as soon as I can get the papers from my girlfriend (she's much more versed on the neurological and psychological correlates of ESP belief than I).

I need a new sig.

Two tangents. (5.00 / 1) (#314)
by Wah on Tue Jun 11, 2002 at 04:16:00 PM EST

The first is a study about participants noticing chaotic behaviour (yes, it's not random, but close in certain contexts). Which could mean that certain people are more sensitive to certain systems and patterns in systems.

The other is the idea that avoiding a gut reaction is always a good idea. We do seem to have some instincts, or at least the ability to deal with new situations based on past experiences. If refined, which is to say tested and analyzed, this skill can be as important as many others in creating a worthwhile life (or worldview).

BTW, the psychological term for giving undue importance to "random" events is synchronicity. And it's also, and was first introduced to me as, an album from the Police.

And we'll top it off with a "random" link in honor of the author of the story.
--
Fail to Obey?
[ Parent ]

I think, therefore I am (the Universe) (4.16 / 6) (#60)
by Skwirl on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 01:26:13 AM EST

Suppose, however, that the Universe started out with a very simple pattern recognition system, aimed at extending itself by simulating complex situations. [...] Our own minds would all be a relatively small part of it. [...] We persist in finding patterns where elaborate mathematical analysis can prove there are none...
Suppose that one's self started out as a very simple pattern recognition system that extends itself by simulating complex situations. I am the walrus/goo goo g'joob.

--
"Nothing in the world is more distasteful to a man than to take the path that leads to himself." -- Herman Hesse
Not neccessarily true (4.63 / 11) (#61)
by carbon on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 01:46:28 AM EST

Although consistency may be assumed by many theories, that does not mean that such a thing is part of the scientific method. For the sake of discussion, here's a simple fictional theory:

Invisible Pink Unicorns can always be detected with a Magical Pink Unicorn Detecting Widget.

There's a somewhat blatant assumption of consistency here, but that's alright, it's just part of the theory, even if it's not explicit. If I go on and conduct a whole bunch of experiments and come under peer review and eventually get this theory accepted into the general scientific community as law, then I've advanced the state of science (yay for me). However, that doesn't mean I'm right, it just means that based on all the data we've got, it's a safe bet that I'm right.

In 200 years, we use starships powered by IPU drives to travel to Alpha Centauri. Unfortunately, all the IPUs of our first wave of colonists escape upon their arrival. Our intrepid voyagers immediatley pull out their MPUDWs, but are startled to discover that they are inoperative. This comes to the attention of the scientific community. After through experimentation, they discover that exactly half way between Sol and Alpha Centauri, it is no longer possible to detect IPUs with MPUDWs.

Thus, in true scientific fashion, my original theory is proved wrong based on new data, and after some more research, the theory is revised and accepted as such:

Invisible Pink Unicorns can always be detected with a Magical Pink Unicorn Detecting Widget as long as the Widget and the Unicorn are within (distance from Sol to Alpha Centauri)/2 of Sol.

This is a problem of exactly the nature you're talking about, in that a theory based on an assumption of something working everywhere turns out to be incorrect. However, this does not indicate a problem with the scientific method itself, since my new theory (complete with modifications to deal with the problem of a non-consistent universe in terms of Invisible Pink Unicorns) can be accepted just as readily as the original was, under the very same scientific method.


Wasn't Dr. Claus the bad guy on Inspector Gadget? - dirvish
seeing order in random events (3.66 / 3) (#89)
by speek on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 10:17:07 AM EST

This type of "ever-revising-the-model" based on new data is also what leads people to see patterns at casinos and other random events. If you are convinced your model just needs a little tweaking, then you'll never really get to the truth, which is that there is no model that will work. We as humans generally assume there is a model, and science also assumes there is a model.

--
al queda is kicking themsleves for not knowing about the levees
[ Parent ]

not really... (none / 0) (#374)
by MrMikey on Fri Jun 14, 2002 at 08:34:18 PM EST

If you go to a casino and make accurate observations, you'll be able to construct accurate models. People model stochastic processes all the time; it isn't magic.

[ Parent ]
Malfunctioning IPUDW (5.00 / 4) (#99)
by localroger on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 10:56:08 AM EST

Invisible Pink Unicorns can always be detected with a Magical Pink Unicorn Detecting Widget as long as the Widget and the Unicorn are within (distance from Sol to Alpha Centauri)/2 of Sol.

No way would scientists leave it at that. The next question would be why the unexpected malfunction occurred. Investigations would be made into the assumptions behind the IPUDW's operating principles. This is exactly the kind of inconsistency which science cannot abide.

Eventually it would be shown that the IPUDW depends on something reproducible, such as radiation at the Invisible Pink Unicorn wavelength which is present in Sol's spectrum but not Alpha Centauri's, or whatever. The next expedition would be outfitted with Invisible Pink searchlights based on this principle.

There is a good example of this from the turn of the 20th century. It was taken as axiomatic that radio waves travelled in straight lines and therefore would be blocked by the horizon. Marconi disproved this by experiment, much to everyone's surprise; it was then up to Heaviside to postulate the existence of the ionosphere. The theory necessary to work out the properties of the ionosphere was there before Marconi, but nobody ran the numbers until an inconsistency between theory and experience popped up and demanded resolution.

Several people have brought up red herrings such as this, although this was the best. There is no "inconsistency" because gravity is stronger on the Earth than the Moon; there is great consistency because both the Earth and Moon and the little steel balls in the "Weighing the Earth" experiment all act the same.

Great energy is expended on things like string theory precisely because scientists cannot stand this kind of arbitrariness. If electrons and planets behave differently, nobody is happy until and underlying reason is found which does not require arbitrarily saying "because planets are bigger than electrons."

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

Responses (5.00 / 2) (#197)
by carbon on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 10:01:05 PM EST

Yes, if this were a real theory, I agree it would certainly need to be far more detailed. However, I intentionally made it simplistic for the sake of discussion.

The main point I was trying to illustrate (and that you seem to agree with) is that an inconsistency in the universe is the result of some factor that we aren't compensating for. If that factor happens to be something funky like true randomness, then compensating for it in your experiments will be impossible without loss of accuracy, but that doesn't mean your experiments aren't valid unless the effect is very pronounced and cannot be dealt with.

In fact, this is an issue with scienctific experiments in general; ideally, you make only one change between the control and experimental groups, but almost all the time, environmental issues make this unworkable. Still, experiments like these can often reveal the general gist of what's going on, as long as you can minimize the external interference as much as possible.


Wasn't Dr. Claus the bad guy on Inspector Gadget? - dirvish
[ Parent ]
The scientific method dose not assume.. (3.50 / 2) (#64)
by Weezul on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 02:30:36 AM EST

..logical consistancy.  I've always considered the scientific metyhod to be more a "value judgement."  Specifically, that reproducible effects are of more value then non-reproducible effects.  Our notions of logic are mearly biological and cultural reflections of millions of years of evolution developing towards this value system.  This means that philosophically or evolutionarily logic is as much or more a corollary of science, then science is of logic.. dispite the fact that logic is one of the central tools to our perticular practice of modern science.

This is comming from a mathematician who studdies mathematical logic, i.e. about the last person you would expect to come up with such an idea.  What can I say, we all push philosophy out of ou little neck of the woods and into the subjects we know very little about.  In my case, the more applied sciences.

"Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power." - Benito Mussolini

Uhh... What? (2.50 / 2) (#97)
by Spork on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 10:47:09 AM EST

I first thought your comment was totally ridiculous, but now I just think you're using the word "logical" in a very strange way. "Logical consistency" is a technical term (and you should know that). It describes a formalized system which is free of contradictions. Surely, there is no adequade description of our universe that would simultaneously entail both P and not-P. If someone proposed such a description, the mere observation that it produces a contradiction would be enough to make that person look stupid and that description to be obviously inadequate. Thus, there is no way that the universe can avoid logical consistency.

I have a feeling you mean by "logical" something like "makes sense to us." In this sense, the universe might indeed not be logical, but that's hardly worth mentioning. But most people who work with this stuff don't anthropomorphize logic in this way. Insofar as most people don't find quantum mechanics intuitive, I suppose we can already say that the universe doesn't really make sense to most people. Well, that has to do with the narrow-mindedness of most people, and is no fault of the universe.

[ Parent ]

Yeah? (5.00 / 1) (#114)
by Estanislao Martínez on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 11:52:20 AM EST

Surely, there is no adequade description of our universe that would simultaneously entail both P and not-P. If someone proposed such a description, the mere observation that it produces a contradiction would be enough to make that person look stupid and that description to be obviously inadequate.

So, what do you think then about Bohr's atomic model?

--em
[ Parent ]

I don't know what you mean (none / 0) (#224)
by Spork on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 02:18:29 AM EST

There are no contradictions in Quantum Mechanics. The theory is mathematically consistent, and can be expressed both in terms of differential equations and matricies. There are some surprising results, but no contradictions.

If you're thinking about the famous "the photon goes through neither slit but makes it through" experiments, they only sound paradoxical when you try to put into easy words what's going on in the system. The mathematical description is actually not terribly complicated and most certainly free of contradictions.

[ Parent ]

Bohr's 1913 model of the hydrogen atom. (5.00 / 1) (#240)
by Estanislao Martínez on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 05:41:21 AM EST

It was inconsistent. The energy levels were assumed to be quantized in an ad hoc way which was inconsistent with the classical physics being applied.

The point is that because somebody proposes a plainly inconsistent model of physical phenomena, you shouldn't think they are crazy.

--em
[ Parent ]

Ahh (5.00 / 1) (#270)
by Nyarlathotep on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 04:29:53 PM EST

<i>If you're thinking about the famous "the photon goes through neither slit but makes it through" experiments, they only sound paradoxical when you try to put into easy words what's going on in the system.</i>

But isn't that exactly what you were doing to the post by Weasel's which started this thread (in addition to give that post a 2, I noticed).  The point is that many many fundamental concepts may need to change to accomodate new data.  With quantum mechanics, P | -P is simply no longer true about many classical statments P.  The idea that consistancy and implication may only have meaning locally seems to jive philosophically with much of modern physics (when they even bother to make things consistant or prove anyhting).

Campus Crusade for Cthulhu -- it found me!
[ Parent ]

Tautologies (like P and -P) are irrelevent (4.00 / 1) (#118)
by Weezul on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 12:09:03 PM EST

Your thinking about logic as a formal system, not as a part of the universe.  (Indeed, you'd have to know pretty much nothing about logic to assume my post was talking about formal system)  Shure, P and -P is always true in the formal systems we build which deal with logic, but our logic may simply be unable to formulate some problems or unable to deal with some reproducible aspects of reality.  The real question is "Is formal logic universal for problem solving (in some turingesque sence) or can survival of the fitests, dumn luck, etc. ever advance your understanding beyond what is possible with logical methods?"

Anyway, I didn't say this, but I'm not really interested in the universality of the basic connectives (and, or, not).  I doubt there is enough structure there to say anything interesting or meaningful.. all your theorems are tautologies.  I guess some people have tried wierd things like linear logic (vaguely like quantum mechanics), but I don't really know anything about those and no one else seems too interested in them.  The part where some progress might be made is in the quantifiers.  Specifically, we might one day have several (physically moptivated) problems which *require* diffrent quantifiers to solve and any system capable of supporting all those quantifiers is too trivial to be true.  As long as all the results are individually true, the fact that their proofs are mutually inconsistant is no big deal, i.e. our universe would appear to be "localy" constistant, but not globally constistant.

"Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power." - Benito Mussolini
[ Parent ]

What? (none / 0) (#185)
by Estanislao Martínez on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 07:58:11 PM EST

  1. (P & -P) is not a tautology. It's a contradiction.
  2. (P & -P) is never true in classical logic.

--em
[ Parent ]

Oops (4.00 / 1) (#216)
by Weezul on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 12:02:15 AM EST

Replace tautologies with contradictions or place negations on the P & -P (or change the and to an or).  It dosn't matter, anything you know about tautologies makes an equivelent statment about contraditions (negation being a cannonical bijection between these sets and all that).  :)

"Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power." - Benito Mussolini
[ Parent ]
(P & -P) can be true (5.00 / 1) (#237)
by trane on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 05:03:08 AM EST

in fuzzy logic...

[ Parent ]
Tarot probabilities (4.00 / 3) (#69)
by Torako on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 04:18:44 AM EST

From a deck of 78 cards, in a 10 card pattern, I got eight cards in the same position all four times. If I had been doing Tarot readings at the rate of one per second since the Big Bang, my chances of seeing that happen would be vanishingly small.

Just because I like statistics so much: X: Number of matching Tarot cards out of 10

P(X=8)=(10 over 8)(68 over 2) / (78 over 10) = 8.15 x 10^-8

The probability of that happening once is about 0,00000008 %. Take that number ^4 and you have your probability for getting the same 8 cards four times in a row.

Congratulations, I guess.

The odds.. (4.00 / 2) (#72)
by StephenThompson on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 04:49:13 AM EST

So these odds seem amazing right? Well, there not for one reason: given the number of events which happen in a persons life every moment of every day, it is very probable that you will in your life see many extremely unprobable events. Multiply that by billions of people, and you get a very large number of unlikely things being documented. Just this should settle the authors mind: if everyone in the world were to do this same card deal, how many would see the same thing as the author? About 7!

[ Parent ]
More numbers (4.00 / 2) (#73)
by Torako on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 05:27:14 AM EST

Yes, even though 7 out of 6 billion is still a pretty small number. Actually, I think many people tend to think of small probabilities as "impossible" or something like that. But in fact, if you happen to experience a very unlikely phenomenon very likely magic is not involved, but just probabilities. After all, the probability is not zero.

A little bit more playing with numbers: The author talks about doing one of those readings every second since the Big Bang. Let's consider that span 10 billion years. That would be 3.1536 x 10^17 seconds.

So, you could expect to have 8 matches about 25,000,000,000 times. But to get the same 8 cards four times in a row is still extremely unlikely (it would only happen about 1.3x10^-11 times, virtually 0), so I would say the author is right about his assumption.

[ Parent ]

Well. (3.00 / 2) (#107)
by mindstrm on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 11:26:17 AM EST

That's providing true randomness.

You want to talk Occam's Razor? The poster didn't shuffle properly or thoroughly before each reading. He did a quick shuffle and ended up with the same group of cards on top each time.

[ Parent ]

A deep subject (3.00 / 2) (#170)
by localroger on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 05:36:12 PM EST

You want to talk Occam's Razor? The poster didn't shuffle properly or thoroughly before each reading. He did a quick shuffle and ended up with the same group of cards on top each time.

You really must tell me where the spy camera was installed. I didn't even know X-10 was selling them 14 years ago.

Really, I can't blame you. We took up the project on a dare and never really expected it to work. When it did appear to work, we carefully checked every possibility we could think of, and to a certain extent I still don't really believe it. Because if it all happened the way it appeared, the implications are staggering. It has never been a pleasant thought for me to contemplate, but it really isn't compatible with a Universe that is made up of subatomic particles, only with one that is pretending to. And if the Universe is pretending about anything then, well, it can be pretending about anything. The whole night sky might no more represent reality than the digital matte backgrounds in SW:AOTC.

Of course the whole New Age thing is also populated by gullible people who will believe anything and shysters willing to ruthlessly exploit their gullibility. But there are some people in the field who are not idiots or con men. Start with Robert Anton Wilson, and if he thoroughly pisses you off consider the late Scott Cunningham.

It may be worth passing mention that Barbara Walker, who drew the Tarot deck I use, does not herself believe in any of this shit and is more interested in myth as a source of feminist empowerment.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

Non sequitur (5.00 / 1) (#192)
by Bnonn on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 09:29:56 PM EST

    We took up the project on a dare and never really expected it to work. When it did appear to work, we carefully checked every possibility we could think of, and to a certain extent I still don't really believe it. Because if it all happened the way it appeared, the implications are staggering. It has never been a pleasant thought for me to contemplate, but it really isn't compatible with a Universe that is made up of subatomic particles, only with one that is pretending to.
This seems like a completely random assumption. Hypothetically, accepting that the Tarot cards really weren't random and there was an order in them that you were intended to see, how does this bring us to the conclusion that the universe is no longer made up of subatomic particles, but is only pretending to be?

What about other explanations, like the idea that humans are capable of manipulating matter and energy in ways that current science can't explain--which would at least support other "paranormal" phenomona that your theory ignores, like the unusual and unexplainable psychic abilities that certain people appear to possess (note that I'm not saying any or all "psychics" or people with telekinetic abilities or whatever are for real).

Rather than making an apparently blind jump from "order in Tarot cards" to "the universe emulates things like strings because it has an inherent intelligence", doesn't it seem eminently more likely that our understanding of physics is simply incomplete, and that in two hundred years' time people will look back with amusement at the outrageous explanations people made up to explain such simple things as ghosts and ESP?

[ Parent ]

So. (none / 0) (#193)
by mindstrm on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 09:30:25 PM EST

You have absolutely still not mentioned whether or not you are positive you thoroughly shuffled each time.


[ Parent ]
I haven't? (none / 0) (#206)
by localroger on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 11:11:47 PM EST

Excuse me for being unclear. I shuffled as thoroughly as I knew how to at that age, which was very well indeed considering I didn't yet know the theories of shuffle tracking. Frankly, the shuffle itself doesn't really matter, because as I have mentioned at least four times, I made a point of inserting the used cards at separate points in the deck before shuffling. Even fourteen years ago I knew about shuffles not being perfectly random; hell, it was the first thing that occurred to me.

I believe the shuffles were very thoroughly randomized. I made a point of making sure cards would be likely to migrate from one end of the deck to the other. I believe the results I got, not just in the one reading I mentioned but in several others, were so unlikely that they really cannot be countenanced by invoking chance.

Unlike Fox Mulder, I did not want to believe, but I had it shoved in my face.

If I've left anything else out, please let me know. I'd like to make sure the guys with the butterfly nets have a full set of information when they show up.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

Randomized cards (5.00 / 1) (#210)
by dipierro on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 11:26:10 PM EST

I believe the shuffles were very thoroughly randomized.

By your own account, they were not randomized. That's why you got the same deal multiple times. Or are you saying that the cards were in a different order, and only the pictures on the cards changed?


In capitalism, man exploits man. In socialism, it's the other way around.
[ Parent ]
No (none / 0) (#357)
by mindstrm on Thu Jun 13, 2002 at 10:53:16 AM EST

He said they were in the same position every time.. same cards, same order.

Putting the cards randominly into the deck *before* shuffling it actually *increases* the odds that you will end up with those cards back together after a short number of shuffles, not the other way around.

[ Parent ]

top-to-random shuffles and philosophy (none / 0) (#212)
by martingale on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 11:31:23 PM EST

Just a quick note since I've fished out again some theoretical results about card shuffling.

The top-to-random shuffle consists in reinserting the top card at one of d possible positions chosen uniformly at random in the pack. To get close to uniform in that case requires approximately d log(d) shuffles. For a Tarot deck with d=78 cards, that means approximately 340 shuffles.

The riffle shuffle requires approximately (3/2)log(n) shuffles, where n is the number of cards in the pack. So for Tarot, you're looking at about 10 shuffles.

Now you've mixed a few methods, which makes it probably very hard to analyse properly. However, it's not hard to believe from this that your efforts at the time weren't good enough, even if you tried your best (which I don't doubt for a second).

One last point. When you calculate the likelihood of a series of cards appearing, this assumes the cards are well shuffled. If an observation appears very unlikely, then the first thing to question is the calculation, not the working of the universe. In this case, a different set of occurrence probabilities would have to be found which, when used in a calculation, produces a high probability that the observation occurs. That BTW is how modern Bayesian Statistics operates. In summary, from a philosophical perspective, you should fit the probabilities to the observations (to guarantee that the observation is likely), not the observations to the probabilities (which suggests the observations are unlikely).

[ Parent ]

Assumptions behind your numbers ... (none / 0) (#243)
by pyramid termite on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 07:58:27 AM EST

... that aren't quite right - 1) that tarot cards would be possible at all stages of development of the universe, 2) that an intelligent agent would be there to observe the results, 3) that the distrubution of chance events is the same at all times. 1 and 2 strengthen your case, 3 is undeterminable.
On the Internet, anyone can accuse you of being a dog.
[ Parent ]
Assumptions (none / 0) (#254)
by Torako on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 10:23:24 AM EST

Actually, you just assumed that I made those assumptions (sorry, just had to say that ;). In fact, it doesn't matter whether we are talking about Tarot cards, a lottery or anything else. The math I described is the same for any event that works like k taken out of n. It is a mathematical modell and not a physics experiment.

And about your third item: That is not an assumption either. Mathematics will stay the same at all stages of development of this Universe. Of course, I do assume that the Tarot reading (or lottery or whatever) is a *perfectly random* experiment. And that is the major problem: All those numbers only apply if the order of the cards is perfectly random.

But as I just dealt with math, I was allowed to assume that.

[ Parent ]

probabilities.... (5.00 / 3) (#77)
by dagsverre on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 06:48:39 AM EST

Shouldn't it be ^3? I mean, what matters is that some given cards repeated themselves, not what cards. So you just deal them out once, and the probability of getting what you got is 1 (because you'd accept any result). Then you find the chance of getting that same set the other three times, ^3.

I don't know much statistics so I might be wrong here. Doesn't change the point you're making either.

[ Parent ]

The first one is "free" (5.00 / 2) (#81)
by localroger on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 08:34:08 AM EST

...so it's actually about (8 x 10^8) ^3, which is still a very large number.

It's also worth noting that this was not just a random collection of events I happened to string together; they were consecutive readings addressing the same question, so they were linked.

This is very different from, say, the fact that over the years I've seen five different Roulette scoreboards all lit up in one color (indicating 20 consecutive hits on red or black). Given the amount of time I've spent in casinos and the number of Roulette games played therein, it becomes likely that I'd see events that improbable with some regularity.

But the odds on some of my divination experiences -- and there were other examples, I just reported the most objectively spectacular -- are in a whole other realm. They are so incredibly unlikely that they had no business happening at all in a straightforward Universe.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

Au contraire (4.71 / 7) (#90)
by rusty on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 10:21:20 AM EST

They are so incredibly unlikely that they had no business happening at all in a straightforward Universe.

On the contrary. We know that your experience is possible right? However unlikely, there's nothing in statistics or the known laws of the unverse that says it can't happen. Going even further, since it is possible, it is, given sufficient time, mandatory. We know in fact that it will happen, eventually. So it's not at all surprising that it happened. It was bound to someday. It may seem wierd that it happened to you, but again, it had to happen to someone.

I think this is an example of humanity's blind spot toward randomness, myself. The only reason it seems surprising to you is because it happened to you. And, though I like you, and love your stories, to the laws of probability, you are not special. Just one more tarot-shuffling event generator.

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

PS: (5.00 / 1) (#91)
by rusty on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 10:24:19 AM EST

Something I forgot in the above: I would be far more impressed if you could repeat this event. Try it. Do the same thing again, and see how many attempts you make before even a couple cards come out the same. That's the other factor that makes this a non-event in my opinion. It only happened once, which is, probabilistically, exactly what we'd expect.

If you can do this at will, then I'll consider other possibilities. Like cheating. ;-)

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

It did not just happen once (4.00 / 2) (#96)
by localroger on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 10:45:21 AM EST

Eight cards in the same place four times happened once. I have three notebooks full of readings, and there is an overwhelming sense of order to them. You might file it under "S" for Subconscious, but I'd suggest cc'ing a copy to "D" for Denial.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

Order (4.66 / 3) (#103)
by Simon Kinahan on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 11:17:13 AM EST

You got one statistically very improbable series of readings. That is, by definition, surprising, but not impossible.

The "sense of order" in your other readings I would put down to the design of the Tarot deck, unless, of course, you have some other cases you can describe that are similarly mathematically clear. The symbolism of the Tarot cards is very compelling, and I'd be surprised if you could draw a random series of cards, look at them with a question in mind, and not sense order in the result.

Simon

If you disagree, post, don't moderate
[ Parent ]

Seems to me.. (4.66 / 3) (#106)
by mindstrm on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 11:23:21 AM EST

Your posts have a quality to them something like "I know that something else is going on, because I've seen it and I know the order of things in my readings, it's not possible normally, therefore there is something else going on" but you absolutely don't want to listen to or accept that there might be a normal, phsyical explanation.

It's the same kind of vibe I get from brainwashed religious freaks who will not change their mind no matter what, no matter how messed their facts are.

I've seen lots of tarot readings. They *always* have a good sense of order to them. They were DESIGNED That way. They *always* make good sense.

You keep talking about ' Eight cards in the same place '.. this shows you are really thinking of tarot and not looking at it as a number system like you should be.

You selected eight cards in the same order, four times in a row. Probably because you didn't shuffle well.


[ Parent ]

PKB (4.00 / 3) (#109)
by localroger on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 11:38:05 AM EST

you absolutely don't want to listen to or accept that there might be a normal, phsyical explanation.

And you absolutely won't listen to or accept that I was quite aware of those physical explanations, and worked very hard to rule them all out.

I've seen lots of tarot readings. They *always* have a good sense of order to them. They were DESIGNED That way. They *always* make good sense.

This is true to an extent, but I conducted a number of tests to rule this out too, such as deliberately cross-reading results.

You keep talking about ' Eight cards in the same place '.. this shows you are really thinking of tarot and not looking at it as a number system like you should be.

I am using the English language to describe a physical phenomenon. Of course I know how to represent it as a number problem too. I produced the calculations at hand myself shortly after it happened.

I realize nothing I can say is going to convince you or people who think like you; you really have no choice but to believe that I am either lying or didn't shuffle well, because the alternative is unthinkable. I suspect that you'd react the same way even if it happened to you.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

Cross Readings (4.66 / 3) (#119)
by Simon Kinahan on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 12:10:10 PM EST

I'm not at all convinced by the fact that you dealt the cards for one question and then read them for another, and did not get a sense of order. You know you dealt the cards for a different question, and might be preventing yourself from reading them for the second question.

For the experiment to be convincing you need to introduce a double-blind element. Get two people who can do Tarot readings, and a third person to make up the questions. The third party should as reader 1 to deal, and reader 2 to read, and should keep secret from them whether they are being asked different questions or the same question. If the person reading doesn't get a "sense of order" when asked to read cards dealt for a different question, *then* I'll be impressed.

Simon

If you disagree, post, don't moderate
[ Parent ]

We did that (none / 0) (#168)
by localroger on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 05:21:23 PM EST

For the experiment to be convincing you need to introduce a double-blind element. Get two people who can do Tarot readings, and a third person to make up the questions.

Well, I only had one friend interested in this kind of thing, so we couldn't make it completely double-blind. We did several things, though, to scramble the sources of bias. We conducted trials where we shuffled and dealt for each other without knowing the question; we recorded EVERYTHING for later review, and each of us made up tests for the other by combining randomly chosen questions and answers (I used a RNG to pick mine, she used dice) which the other had not seen, to see if the result made sense.

We were not rigorous enough for publication; we weren't trying for that. We were however skeptical enough not to swallow the whole thing without chewing, a standard I wish a lot more people interested in metaphysics would adopt

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

That is very interesting (none / 0) (#174)
by Simon Kinahan on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 06:11:35 PM EST

Even though your results may not be up to the accepted standard for parapsychology research, have you considered writing them up and putting them on the web ? I, for one, would be very interested.

Simon

If you disagree, post, don't moderate
[ Parent ]
Not sure it would be appropriate (none / 0) (#178)
by localroger on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 06:45:08 PM EST

One thing you might have noticed is that, while I have been talking about why my experiences were convincing to me, I have not mentioned any of the actual things the Tarot, I Ching, et al told us during the course of our experiments.

While these devices do not demand faith in order to work, it does seem that they demand a certain amount of respect. I think one reason we got such impressive results is that, despite our great skepticism, we gave them a chance and honestly assessed them. This is a personal thing, and probably wouldn't work the same way for other people. I'm also sure that if I'd had a TV camera rolling instead of a notebook, the Tarot and I Ching would not have risked some of the astronomically unlikely permutations they produced when they wanted to shock me.

It's an interesting question. It might be worth a writeup like I did of our casino experiences, but I'm sure it would be a lot more controversial. I'm also not sure if it would be respectful, and you know I might need their help again someday :-)

Of course, there's one way to find out. I'm pretty sure I remember where the Tarot deck is stored. Lemme think on it.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

OT: Ever read Michael Crichton's "Travels&quo (none / 0) (#280)
by John Miles on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 08:50:43 PM EST

Would be curious what you think of Crichton's approach to metaphysical research (apart from the fact that a large portion of the book is just the usual Hollywood self-stroking action).  

In a nutshell, it seems that Crichton will believe anything unless you give him a good reason not to.  That obviously runs counter to conventional modern scientific thinking, but it's interesting to contemplate the implications of his "antiskepticism."  I'd recommend the book if you haven't already read it.

For so long as men do as they are told, there will be war.
[ Parent ]

Heh (3.00 / 1) (#142)
by pyramid termite on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 02:41:23 PM EST

I've seen lots of tarot readings. They *always* have a good sense of order to them. They were DESIGNED That way. They *always* make good sense.

I've seen lots of things in the universe. They *always* have a good sense of order to them. They were DESIGNED that way. They *always* make good sense.

Why is it a skeptic will agree 100% with the first statement and not with the 2nd?
On the Internet, anyone can accuse you of being a dog.
[ Parent ]
Who cares? (none / 0) (#152)
by i on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 03:27:27 PM EST

The Universe might have been designed by a bunch of drunken green dwarf elefants. Or maybe by a bunch of drunken purple giant squids. Since I can never know one way or the other, it doesn't matter.

Oh, and things I've seen in the Universe make no sense. At all.

Much like Tarot readings.

and we have a contradicton according to our assumptions and the factor theorem

[ Parent ]

The Difference (none / 0) (#252)
by tedrlord on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 10:08:46 AM EST

The obvious difference between the two is that Tarot cards were designed by people for the purpose of being interpreted to have patterns. The universe, on the other hand, can't be shown to be consciously designed with any plan in mind. There's also the fact that the universe generally doesn't make sense. That's why we work so hard on science.

[ Parent ]
No, it's not (4.00 / 4) (#104)
by mindstrm on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 11:18:14 AM EST

The question was irrelevant.

You are implying that the fact that you were thinking about the same question is somehow related to the cards. It's not.
The only 'link' is that YOU shuffled them in between each drawing. That, in effect, makes it far MORE likely that this could happen, not less, as humans tend to NOT shuffle with good randomness. Especially with tarot cards.
But hey. Whatever weird faith works for you man.

In fact, if I had to bet, I'd bet you didn't shuffle well, and those cards really didn't get shuffled at all.

And you are mixing your own personal feeling as to whether some events in your life are likely with saying the univerese is not straightforward.

Are those events possible? Yes. Do they obey the laws of physics? Yes. Is something weird going on? I doubt it.

[ Parent ]

Come now. (4.00 / 3) (#123)
by pwhysall on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 12:19:03 PM EST

They are so incredibly unlikely that they had no business happening at all in a straightforward Universe.
So, "unlikely" events have no business occurring in a straightforward universe?

What about winning the UK National Lottery? Odds: 14 million to one. Pretty unlikely, I'd say. Happens every week.

What about the Powerball lottery? Odds of 80 million to one? Pretty damn unlikely. People win it.

What about me going to the wedding of a work colleague and seeing there a bloke I haven't spoken to for ten years? Happened the other week.

Point is, "unlikely" doesn't mean diddly squat. So you dealt 4 spooky Tarot hands in a row. Big deal. So you could spend the rest of your life trying to repeat it, and failing. Big deal, too. The nature of randomness is such that invariably during the course of a random sequence of data there will be chunks of it that look decidedly non-random. But they are.

Long Odds
--
Peter
K5 Editors
I'm going to wager that the story keeps getting dumped because it is a steaming pile of badly formatted fool-meme.
CheeseBurgerBrown
[ Parent ]

Comments (4.33 / 6) (#70)
by qpt on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 04:24:44 AM EST

An assumption which was considered radical and improbable as recently as 300 years ago ... that the Universe is consistent.
I would be interested to hear more about this. Off the top of my head, I cannot think of a school of thought that held that the universe was inconsistent.
The Universe, scientists assume, may be obscure; but it does not lie.

...

Suppose the Universe is lying to physicists? Would we be able to tell?

What does behaving inconsistently have to do with lying? If I understand one of your points, you claim that inference cannot inferentially justified, but no other possible way of justification is apparent. Since we do not have any reason to suppose that the universe is consistent, then we can hardly fault it if it is not. Perhaps you were merely making a rhetorical flourish, but I think it detracts from the piece.

Domine Deus, creator coeli et terrae respice humilitatem nostram.

Well... (5.00 / 2) (#80)
by localroger on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 08:03:21 AM EST

Off the top of my head, I cannot think of a school of thought that held that the universe was inconsistent.

Well, see, there are a lot of them that postulate this conscious entity called "God" or some variant, who is assumed to be able to violate the laws of physics arbitrarily and at will. If such an entity actually exists and actually does exercise this power (usually in the form of "miracles") then the Scientific Method is powerless to investigate.

And until a few hundred years ago, just about everybody believed in one or more entities of this type. So I'd say the overall consensus down through the ages has been that the Universe is not consistent.

What does behaving inconsistently have to do with lying?

Lying is a manifestation of inconsistency in human beings. To apply the word to a Universe which is actively making itself appear as something other than what it is is not that great a stretch IMO.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

The God issue (3.33 / 3) (#111)
by axxeman on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 11:45:07 AM EST

It actually depends on whether God is considered part of the universe or outside the universe...

Feminism is an overcompensatory drama-queen club, with extra dykes. ---- Farq
[ Parent ]

No solution (3.50 / 2) (#146)
by Scrymarch on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 02:59:34 PM EST

Yeah, but it's no solution.  If your model needs an interventionist God to explain things then sooner or you'll have to extend it to explain God.  May as well consider Him part of the Universe to start with and introduce a dualism as required.

[ Parent ]
Science works. Hokum doesn't. (3.50 / 2) (#166)
by mech9t8 on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 04:49:30 PM EST

So I'd say the overall consensus down through the ages has been that the Universe is not consistent.

And as people became more and more used to dealing with the world as a consistent entity - beginning with, say, agriculture, and then working up to the rennaissance, where things really began to take off - our standard of living has shot through the roof.

Science is a way of looking at the world; it's the best model we can come up with to predict how the universe works.  It's a tool.  And, judging by our perceptions, a pretty useful one.  Certainly more useful than all the religions and New Age-isms and whatnot that people have been fucking around with for millenia.

If quantum theory is a sign that the universe simulation that we're unknowingly running in is breaking down, the thing to do would be to keep digging until the inconsistencies emerge and we can break down the system.  That's the only way we'll uncover the truth.

Whereas, 99.9% of attempts to get people to follow "supernatural" explanations are easily explained by simple physics and psychology, and have resulted in no good for anyone (except maybe those that prey on the followers).  Perhaps your strange Tarot reading just felt supernatural, or someone's lucky streak at a casino table "just felt right" -  just remember that Scientology victims or Heaven's Gate cultists "felt" the same way.

No one can say for certain that what we percieve is, in fact, reality; nothing in science is 100% certain.  (That's why everything is the "Theory of" something.)  Any scientist who is religious (such as, say, Einstein) would probably have to acknowledge that God can change the rules, and thus the universe can be inconsistent.  But that doesn't make trying to figure it out any less useful.

Maybe Tarot readings defy all laws of probability and physics; maybe the secrets to understanding the true nature of the universe are hidden in their messages.  But unless you're willing to approach the scientifically - to look for consistencies and try to figure out a model to explain them - history has shown you'll be wasting your time.

--
IMHO
[ Parent ]

Which ideas? (5.00 / 1) (#173)
by pyramid termite on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 05:54:51 PM EST

Science is a way of looking at the world; it's the best model we can come up with to predict how the universe works. It's a tool. And, judging by our perceptions, a pretty useful one. Certainly more useful than all the religions and New Age-isms and whatnot that people have been fucking around with for millenia.

Well, if you're talking about ideas such as "The Delphic Oracle has the scoop" or "the world was created in 6 days", yes, those weren't very useful at all. But if you're talking about "Love your neighbor as yourself" or "There is neither slave or free in Christ" or "Right livelyhood", clearly they have made a great deal of difference to humanity and continue to do so.
On the Internet, anyone can accuse you of being a dog.
[ Parent ]
Clearly? (3.00 / 1) (#190)
by mech9t8 on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 08:58:37 PM EST

Of course, that's not really what I was talking about in my original post, since morality is something that science isn't really ready to take on... (I suspect one day, when human psychology and social dynamics are far better understood, it will be.)  But it is similar to the original article, in that as the original article questioned whether supernatural sources are needed to explain the Tarot, it is worth questioning whether supernatural sources are needed to explain the ideas and popularity of religions.

I think that evidence that religion has made any large-scale improvement in human morality is pretty hard to find, whereas the numerous horrors committed in the name of religion are easily catalogued.  Whereas religion can certainly make improvements in individual lives (such as, presumeably, your own), I see little evidence that ideas such as "Love your neightbour" have significantly impacted human behaviour, or that the religious lead better lives than the non-religious.  The inhumanity commited in the last 2000 years easily eclipses that which took place before.

Certainly, ideas from numerous elements - including the classical civilisations, religious elements, ideas brought over by the visigoths and whatnot, and ideas from every society on the planet have combined to form modern Western civilisation.  The ideas proposed by religions don't seem particularly brilliant in that context - in fact, secular concepts like individual rights and freedoms, which only emerged in the last couple of hundred years (after first being explored by the ancient greeks) have had a far greater, and more beneficial, effect on society, than the ideas of the bible.

IMHO, of course. ;)

--
IMHO
[ Parent ]

A deeper look (5.00 / 1) (#246)
by pyramid termite on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 08:47:32 AM EST

I think that evidence that religion has made any large-scale improvement in human morality is pretty hard to find, whereas the numerous horrors committed in the name of religion are easily catalogued.

That's part of the problem right there - it IS easy to catalog the notorious abuses of religion through history; it's much less easy to catalog the millions of cases where ordinary people became more loving because of their religion.

I see little evidence that ideas such as "Love your neightbour" have significantly impacted human behaviour, or that the religious lead better lives than the non-religious.

The real radical ideas of the New Testament I'm referring to was that a Samiritan, who by the way were despised by Jews of that time, was more of a neighbor to a man in trouble than an important member of the Jewish community was, and that a slave and a free man were equal in the sight of God and should be equal in the eyes of his followers. This last was a truly radical idea for those times, as was the idea that a man of God would spend his time with the dregs of the earth instead of the "good people". "Right livelihood" is a Buddhist idea that seems to be be gaining influence in our times.

As far as not seeing any difference between the religious and not religious goes, as C.S. Lewis pointed out, the real question is - are the religious better people than they would be if they didn't believe?

The inhumanity commited in the last 2000 years easily eclipses that which took place before.

If you're referring to Christian influence on the last 2000 years, I simply must point out that most of the world still isn't Christian and therefore any difference between BC and AD would be Western-centric anyway. I also have to point out that although it's certainly true that many horrible things have been done in Jesus' name by followers, the worst offenders in history would seem to be Genghis Khan, (Mongolian shamanism), Adolf Hitler, (Christian turned pagan mystic), Josef Stalin, (Christian turned atheist Communist), Mao Tse Tung (atheist Communist), and recently, Pol Pot, (another atheist Communist). Other contenders would include various Romans and Greeks (pagan rationalists), Aztecs, (pagans who really liked sacrifices a LOT), Muslims, Hindus and of course that whole Cro-Magnon posse of 100,000 BC whose plea of "um, those Neandrathals just died out or something" doesn't convince me. Oddly enough, I don't know of too many Buddhists who did this kind of thing, but you do have at least the occaisional teacher threatening to cut their pupils heads off if they can't speak a word of Zen RIGHT NOW! The point is you can't blame religion for the bad behavior of human beings - as I've demonstrated, a couple of the worst offenders didn't even have a religion.

The ideas proposed by religions don't seem particularly brilliant in that context - in fact, secular concepts like individual rights and freedoms, which only emerged in the last couple of hundred years (after first being explored by the ancient greeks) have had a far greater, and more beneficial, effect on society, than the ideas of the bible.

But part of the problem here is that they aren't secular concepts. The idea of individual rights and freedoms that we have originated with the Greeks, and the context they had to develop them in was not a secular one, but a pagan one. Even Plato, who was as dubious as he dared to be of the gods and goddesses still believed in a supernatural God of some sort. And the founding fathers of America seemed to be mostly Deists or Christians. The amount of atheists in the world is still rather small - to argue that their ideas, as worthy as they may be, have had a greater effect on the world than those of the majority of believers is stretching it.
On the Internet, anyone can accuse you of being a dog.
[ Parent ]
Late reply (none / 0) (#393)
by mech9t8 on Wed Jun 19, 2002 at 05:59:34 PM EST

[Hey, this "Replies Hotlist" membership feature is pretty useful... although I guess it would've been more useful a week ago... <g>]

The amount of atheists in the world is still rather small - to argue that their ideas, as worthy as they may be, have had a greater effect on the world than those of the majority of believers is stretching it.

Well, I think attributing everything thought up by someone who has a religious background as being due to that religious background is a bit disingenuous.  They may have been developed in a religious context, but they may have been developed despite the religious context - or by taking the good, "real" ideas out of the religion while leaving the supernatural stuff behind.

I guess where I would draw the distinction is whether an idea is due to contemplation and observation of the real, or whether they were based on previous "supernatural" dictates.  Plato's ideas really had little to do with the mythology of his culture; the ideas of the founding fathers were based far more on observation of the inequities in Europe than on their religious beliefs.

Even some of the basics of Christianity could be said to be built on such premises: perhaps a man named Jesus looked upon the world and realized that people would get along a lot better if they loved each other instead of enforcing artificial barriers.

But the important point would be that these are derived from the real: observations and ideas about the real world and human society, not about the supernatural.

Of course, given human nature, it's often easier to force people to do things by wrapping in a supernatural cloak - especially given the seeming inexplainable and arbitrary nature of the world.  If no one understood how weather worked, or why cleanliness prevented illness, or whatever, they might as well have accepted the religious explanation.

I just think that now that we understand quite well how the universe works, and have come across a proven method that expands how the universe works, that we really don't have to wrap things in supernatural protection anymore.  The philosophies and whatnot of religions can still be explored, but instead of saying "Love one another because it's Jesus' commandment", we can say "Love one another because it'll result in a happier society."  The same way that we can say "Clean your hands because it prevents infection" instead of "Clean your hands because God commands it".

And that protects us from things like "Don't clean your hands because in Luke 7:15 Jesus said that nothing outside a man can make him unclean by going into him."  Or arbitrary rules like "Thou shalt not kill" without moral guidelines to go with them - if God said "Thou Shalt Not Kill", can we kill in self-defense?  Can we kill criminals?  Can we kill fetuses?  And instead of debating the moral and cultural consequences of the various actions, the debate becomes about how to interpret the "supernatural" text.  Do we try to determine if homosexuality has negative consequences for society, or do we just try to interpret what a 4000-year-old book says?

As far as not seeing any difference between the religious and not religious goes, as C.S. Lewis pointed out, the real question is - are the religious better people than they would be if they didn't believe?

I guess there's also the idea that religion is good because there are still a lot of people that aren't reasonable, that won't naturally do what's best for society, but will behave well if they have the "fear of god".  Do the benefits of having the good influences of religion on people's behaviour outweight the consequences of having a society where the supernatural is accepted?  

A cynic (which I guess would be me<g>) would ask... for the good of society, should we encourage religions, even though we think the whole "god" thing is complete made up and they work because they tell the human mind things it wants to hear?  Can we design a religion that does a better job than existing religions at encouraging good behaviour?  [There already are religions designed for other purposes - Scientology comes to mind as a religion designed to make money...]  And, after we design that religion, is it OK to lie to people by pretending we believe the whole "god" aspect of it?

--
IMHO
[ Parent ]

I had a dream where I was doing science (3.00 / 4) (#71)
by StephenThompson on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 04:43:22 AM EST

I had an amazing dream once. First, I dreamt that I wasn't dreaming. This is important, because I normally can 'tell' when I'm dreaming, but in this particular dream, I dreamt that I asked myself if I was dreaming, and I dreamt that I decided that I wasn't. Next, I dreamt that I was an incredibly rational scientist who wanted to find out the truth from first principles. I became a famous scientist and discovered all sorts of great things. I was very confident in my scientific approach, because it was objective and based in experimental fact. Then I awoke. Perhaps you had to have the dream to get the profundity of it all, but boy it has shaken my world view since!

There are others out there like us... (none / 0) (#102)
by UptownGuy on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 11:15:00 AM EST

Whether you get it in a dream, a flash of insight (otherwise known as an "epiphany") or just come to it slowly when reading kuro5hin.org one day... there seem to be a growing number of people who recognize this all important search for "first principles." Physics, economics, philosophy... all appear to have some essentials -- now wouldn't it be great to find a way to truly IDENTIFY and UNIFY these things? Certainly if something is True in physics, then it is True in economics as well. If there is a philosophical Truth that can be found -- we are not talking about psychics bending spoons or discussions of after lives on astral planes. No this is more along the lines of, "Free Will EXISTS" -- then that Truth will have something important to say about economics or chemistry.

There are far too many intellectually dishonest people bandying around the word "truth" even as they attempt to fudge their results to push their own agendas.

Stay awake, Stephen Thompson, and remember that dream! To intellectual integrity and the search for first principles!

[ Parent ]
Dreaming Science (none / 0) (#251)
by tedrlord on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 09:56:44 AM EST

Did you actually dream up some sort of defined and internally consistent scientific theories that fit within a framework of existing physical laws? If so, that would definitely be grounds to shake one's view of science as a means of looking at reality, not to mention reality itself. The idea that scientific universe could be dreamed up and observed in a rational manner while still being completely false is a sobering thought.

If the dream dealt more with your feelings and reactions to this situation in which you were a scientist, then you needn't be so disturbed. In that case, no science is involved, just your view of what participating in the advancement of science would be like. There were no actual views in which your dreamt counterpart actually placed his confidence, no actual logical conclusions were made, so there is no statement to be made of the folly of having confidence in such conclusions.

I find dreams to be interesting reflections of my inner character, particularly dealing with beliefs and issues which I may not face directly in daily life. Because they are based completely on existing ideas directed by my psyche, though, they are ineffective at depicting the outside world and its fundamental concepts. While I feel my thoughts and actions are rational while I am dreaming, and the setting and events I experience seem plausible, upon lucid reflection they turn out to make no actual sense, and served no purpose other than to display a part of myself that the dream seems to be exemplifying.

[ Parent ]

Lies et al (4.33 / 3) (#74)
by jurgisb on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 05:51:42 AM EST

Suppose that universe is, for the sake of this argument, simple and self-sufficient.

Also suppose that it is so simple and sufficient, that it is able to adapt itself to any observations.

Also, you may agree that any observation, no matter how simple, bears with itself vast context of subjectivity. That is, any information that is derived by one method or another, is "authentic" only in the context of other information, which is derived by exactly same means, ad infinitum.

Thus, we come to the starting point, for all evaluations of the box from inside the box are bound to be subjective.

By the way, I really recommend everyone to read "The Pod And The Barrier" by Theodore Sturgeon, for some very interesting observations on this very matter.



out of chaos, order (3.33 / 3) (#75)
by chale on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 05:53:06 AM EST

we understand so little of the universe that the portion that we can observe does show enough consistency for us to be able to perform repeatable experiments. however, the part we can not observe could be generating the order we see while concealing the chaos we can not.

the little quirks that give scientists fits may be the chaotic elements that we can't quite see, yet. at some point in the future, we may be able to observe effects that will cause significant revision of our theories.

clarence


Last week, I began a sentence by saying, "If Bush had any imagination..." and then I hit myself. Silly me. "Molly Ivins"

I gave you a +1 ESP :-) (4.50 / 8) (#83)
by doru on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 09:04:55 AM EST

However, I'm not very sure I get your point.

1. Repeatability Accepting your definition of consistency, let me point out that, for someone who's not familiar with Newton's theory of gravity, a free fall experiment performed on Earth and on the Moon shows that the Universe is inconsistent, because the same body does not fall the same distance in the same amount a time. The same experiment will also give different results in San Diego and Oslo, unless you allow for latitude corrections.

"An electron in the vicinity of Alpha Centauri will have the same properties as one in your little finger" almost by definition, otherwise we wouldn't call it an electron...

Let me just point out that this assumption seems to work pretty fine, i. e. the refining of physical theories is accompanied by more and more repeatable and very accurate experiments.

2. Occam's razor As you point out yourself, your position grossly violates this principle. If I understood it correctly, it is just a conspiracy theory, where the Universe pulls nasty quantum tricks on us when we observe it, but otherwise it is very simple and classical. So you take the entire modern physics, and add to it another layer, vaguely defined by a computer analogy. All this because you are not comfortable with quantum theory and because once you had an epiphany while reading Tarot cards (by the way, did you repeat the experiment ?).

Frankly, I don't see any interest to this point of view, unless either :

a) You can perform an experiment to substantiate your claims. If using a "sufficiently shuffled deck of cards" is enough, that should be fairly easy... Once doesn't count.

b) You explain how a classical system can produce (fake) quantum effects. If you do that, you'll probably earn a trip to Stockholm for you and your tuxedo...

Best of luck.
I see Rusty's creation of Scoop as being as world changing an event as the fall of the Berlin wall. - Alan Crowe

My gosh what a can of worms . . . (4.42 / 7) (#84)
by bukvich on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 09:29:45 AM EST

First of all your consistency example is refuted by Feynman in chapter 1 of his lectures on Physics. If your experiment in Oslo doesn't match your experiment in Rio there is no scientific quandry. The experiment just doesn't match (perhaps there is a subtle earth latitude dependency.) Scientific truth == experimental result, period, consistent or no.

Consistency is a human neurological prejudice engrained over millions of years of evolution. The prejudice works much more often than not, reproducing the prejudice. We are not evolved to do hard science, really. For example take the simplest logical statement: P implies Q. These immediately follow: Not Q implies Not P. Q does not necessarily imply anything. Humans behave as if Q sort of implies P, or as if Q makes P more likely, which isn't logical but somehow it seems to intuitively feel right. Doing hard science is hard. D'oh.

As for your tarot experiment. Very interesting. You might consider the possibility that your subconscious mind just did that without the assistance of any outside agency. The power of the subconscious is awesome.

Think placebo effect.

It is bad luck to mix science and spirituality, in my experience.

Thank you for writing this.

B.

Multiple models needed (2.50 / 2) (#86)
by quixotic on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 09:43:15 AM EST

Interpreting the universe requires different models for different circumstances, but that doesn't mean that the univers is inconsistent. You can do quite well producing functional but limited models.No surprise there. In fact logical systems are either incomplete or inconsistent, and no perfect map is possible, so we will always have to resort to multiple models. To claim that the universe is inconsistent is sort of uninteresting though. One judges philosophical ideas largely on their consequences, and this doesn't really have any. "It cheats, but not in a way we can prove" doesn't lead anywhere any more interesting than "Maybe I'm imagining all this." "It's incomprehensible so we'd better give up trying" leads to the dark ages. If you propose a particular limited model, I'll be interested in looking at it. If you think somebody else should propose such a model, don't blame them if you can't be bothered to do your own supporting work. If you're suggesting we reexamine models like magic, well we have, and guess what: Science works. Magic doesn't, except on the human mind.

Wrong (3.00 / 2) (#112)
by Estanislao Martínez on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 11:49:10 AM EST

In fact logical systems are either incomplete or inconsistent

First order logic is neither.

--em
[ Parent ]

All I want is open season (1.00 / 1) (#128)
by i on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 12:56:07 PM EST

on people who think they know what Gödel has proved. Where can I get my licence?

and we have a contradicton according to our assumptions and the factor theorem

[ Parent ]
Thoughts (4.76 / 13) (#88)
by TheophileEscargot on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 10:16:13 AM EST

I voted this up because I thought there were some good comments. I think there are two issues here.

First, the Tarot card observations. I think this is adequately explained by combinining ucblockhead's and martingale's observations in this thread. It's very difficult and time-consuming to shuffle even ordinary cards in a truly random manner. Furthermore, what's random enough for a decent poker game is still not sufficiently random for you never to get a weird result in years of Tarot-reading. Add that to the fact that there are loads of pattern that will look spooky, and I really don't think localroger's observations are worth discarding the laws of Physics for.

Secondly, the rest of the article seems to be pretty standard epistemology: interesting but not original. Science only deals with stuff that we observe: any amount of weird shit could happen when we're not looking. But since we don't see it, I don't really care ;-)

I was surprised to see no reference to Godel's Incompleteness Theorem. As I understand it, no formal system of logic can ever be proved to be consistent. This is rather irritating to logicians. But, massively oversimplifying the rather complex argument in Russell's Human Knowledge, that's not the end of the world: we just have to add an extra postulate that things are consistent. It's annoying, but not worth throwing science out of the window for... at least while science and technology keep on working for us...
----
Support the nascent Mad Open Science movement... when we talk about "hundreds of eyeballs," we really mean it. Lagged2Death

Godel (4.16 / 6) (#175)
by The Solitaire on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 06:15:11 PM EST

Just to be nitpicky, Godel's theorem states that any formal system powerful enough to represent the natural number system is either incomplete or unsound. Not any system whatsoever.

I need a new sig.
[ Parent ]

Trivial systems (5.00 / 1) (#258)
by The Writer on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 12:13:09 PM EST

For our intents and purposes, though, we might just as well say that every system is either incomplete or unsound; those systems which are both complete and sound are so simplistic and trivial that they aren't of very much use except as academic curiosities.

[ Parent ]

No no no... (3.80 / 5) (#194)
by dipierro on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 09:36:51 PM EST

As I understand it, no formal system of logic can ever be proved to be consistent.

No... The theorem says that no formal system of locan can ever be proven to be complete and consistent. Even physics does not pretend to be complete, it relies quite often on randomness and chance.


In capitalism, man exploits man. In socialism, it's the other way around.
[ Parent ]
What??? This is totally stupid! (3.38 / 13) (#93)
by Spork on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 10:37:15 AM EST

I really don't think the author understands the words that he's using. Anything that exists is "consistent" for free. Whether the laws which govern the behavior of that thing are simple, constant, deterministic or graspable by humans has nothing to do with whether or not they are consistent. And please, don't pull that stupid "what if there are no laws that govern the universe" line. I've taken intro to Philosophy of Science and I know that's complete crap.

Consider the universe as a whole (including its past, present and future). Now make a catalogue of all the events in that universe--call that the world-book. The laws of the universe are (more or less) just whatever regularities flow out of the events in the universe. Hypothetical universes might not have any regularities at all. Still, there is nothing "inconsistent" about them. We know enough about our own universe to know that there are many regularities, at least local ones. If there weren't we wouldn't be able to predict anything. The way my CPU works would change with every cycle. Whether there are any universal regularities, or laws which apply for all time everywhere in space, is necessarily up in the air and in principle untestable. So whatever. By most lights, that means it can't even rise to the level of a scientific conjecture. But again, the issue of regularity has nothing at all to do with the issue of consistency.

"Consistency" in science is a mathematical concept that basically applies to systems free of contradictions. There is a colloquial sense, I suppose, where "consistent" means something like "smooth," as in "My peanut butter is consistent while yours has chunks"--though even that sounds awful.

It seems we have again modded up an article that is nothing more than K5 wanna-be-deep science babble. This one gives us an excellent example of how to mix together separate issues, misuse terms, drop names and embarass yourself while trying to sound educated. I suppose it makes a good cautionary tale, so beware: don't turn in anything like this when you get to college!

Not so deep (none / 0) (#133)
by awgsilyari on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 01:32:01 PM EST

You've entirely missed the author's point. You say you define "consistent" as "anything that exists." The point is, scientists don't define consistent that way. Consistency has mathematical underpinnings as well as some intuitive meaning. We expect things to behave in certain ways, and what we actually observe is different from that. This is INCONSISTENT, and you can't make this fact go away by trying to redefine what "consistent" means.

Explain how he's mixed separate issues, misused terms, etc. As a physics buff (and someone who HAS graduated college) I found this article fascinating and well-written. He's brought up a lot of issues that are usually only discussed in classes like the one you claim to have taken. If you had actually paid attention, I think you would have heard that the very issue he's addressing here is the FUNDAMENTAL problem in the philosophy of science. I.e., how can we believe that the universe adheres to laws of behavior, and witness these laws in action, but at the same time see phenomena that cannot be classified or explained in any consistent way?



--------
Please direct SPAM to john@neuralnw.com
[ Parent ]

reality vs theory (3.00 / 1) (#161)
by khallow on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 04:14:10 PM EST

You've entirely missed the author's point. You say you define "consistent" as "anything that exists." The point is, scientists don't define consistent that way. Consistency has mathematical underpinnings as well as some intuitive meaning. We expect things to behave in certain ways, and what we actually observe is different from that. This is INCONSISTENT, and you can't make this fact go away by trying to redefine what "consistent" means.

You are wrong. Yes, if we build a model of the universe or some aspect of it, then any deviation between our model and what is observed, is an inconsistency. However, it is an inconsistency in our model not in the universe. The author is discuss actual inconsistencies in the universe particularly that one region of the universe may behave vastly differently than another given otherwise identical features (mass/charge distribution etc). Ie, whatever rules (inherent and most certainly not our models) govern one part of the universe are inconsistent in another part of the universe.

Stating the obvious since 1969.
[ Parent ]

Give me a test (none / 0) (#290)
by majubma on Tue Jun 11, 2002 at 12:45:02 AM EST

that would show the universe to be inconsistent.


--Thaddeus Q. Thaddelonium, the most crookedest octopus lawyer in the West.
[ Parent ]
There is no test (none / 0) (#292)
by dipierro on Tue Jun 11, 2002 at 01:14:28 AM EST

which can say definitively whether the universe is consistent or inconsistent.  However, there are certain laws which appear to have never been violated throughout the entire history of our universe.  This suggests, if we are to allow inductive reasoning, that the universe is consistent.  If there were no laws which can be devised which have not been violated throughout the entire history of our universe, then the universe is inconsistent.  You are free to believe either, but if you're going to believe that the universe is inconsistent, it's kind of silly to tell anyone about it, because there's no reason to believe that anyone is going to hear you.

Of course, perhaps there's a third possibilty, such as that the universe is consistent, except for certain cases <b>which cannot be predicted</b>.  Tunnel diodes don't count, because we have a bound on their uncertainty.
In capitalism, man exploits man. In socialism, it's the other way around.
[ Parent ]

Ok (none / 0) (#308)
by khallow on Tue Jun 11, 2002 at 09:05:55 AM EST

A model that describes the behavior of the universe in a particular region of space-time, but fails elsewhere under otherwise identical conditions (as good as the experimenter can make them). Refinements of the model fail as well (ie, there's a new patch of space-time that breaks the old discredited models and the new improved). In other words, for every sufficiently detailed model you've cooked up, you have found a place that breaks it.

Stating the obvious since 1969.
[ Parent ]

Just bad models (none / 0) (#379)
by majubma on Sat Jun 15, 2002 at 06:13:36 PM EST

In other words, for every sufficiently detailed model you've cooked up, you have found a place that breaks it.

Sounds like magic to me.

Anyway, the condition you've described merely indicates that your models or measuring equipment are inadequate. How does that translate into the universe being inconsistent?


--Thaddeus Q. Thaddelonium, the most crookedest octopus lawyer in the West.
[ Parent ]

Oh, come on! (5.00 / 1) (#238)
by Spork on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 05:09:31 AM EST

We expect things to behave in certain ways, and what we actually observe is different from that. This is INCONSISTENT.

I hope you're not proposing this seriously--that whether or not the universe is consistent depends on our expectations. For one thing, that would mean that whether or not the universe is consistent depends on which scientific theory happens to shape our expectations. I see you haven't done any work at all in physics or mathematics, which is fine, but please, you look ridiculous acting like you have. So don't. The word "consistent" does indeed have a technical meaning as I said, and this meaning has nothing to do with our expectations.

Of course, there is another expression: "Consistent with our expectations" -- and the meaning of this is as follows: if our expectation is P and we observe not-P, then our observation is not consistent with our observations. Otherwise it is. However, the article was not about consistency with our expectations, it was about the consistency of the universe simpliciter. Or put it this way: if the article were just saying that the universe is not consistent with our expectations, then the article is basically saying that some scientific findings surprise us. Oooh, that is an estute observation indeed! Front page K5 news: K5 reader discovers science sometimes gives surprising results! More below!

No, I thought the article was confused, but it was not as dumb as you thought it was.

About whether "universe adheres to laws of behavior" -- of course it does. Even a perfectly random system adheres to laws of behavior... they are simply 100% indeterministic laws. Problem solved. It seems pretty likely that our universe has some indeterminacy in its fundamental laws too.

I think they problem you and the article are trying to discuss is the problem of whether there are regularities in the universe that hold in all of time and space. The answer to that is easy: It's "maybe" and we can in principle never know one way or the other, because we cannot measure everywhere at all times. Of course, once you hear the official solution to this problem, it might not seem to you to be so terribly deep after all. It really isn't and that's why I thought the article was barking up the wrong tree and using inappropriate terminology in the process.

[ Parent ]

agreed 100% (none / 0) (#259)
by kubalaa on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 01:01:08 PM EST

I wish there was some way to put "controversial posts" at the top of the page instead of just high-rated ones. Admittedly this point could be made better, but it's correct -- the universe is consistent by definition.

[ Parent ]
Science does not require the universe.. (4.00 / 5) (#95)
by mindstrm on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 10:42:29 AM EST

to be consistant. It only requires that we have a model that explains the inconsistencies.

I have to bring up a point about casinos though.
People know the odds. They know the odds are in favor of the house. They know and *believe* that.

Gambling addicts do not gamble because they want to win. They gamble because each roll of the dice, spin of the wheel, or flop of the cards gives them a moment of control, of decision, a moment of fate. They get a rush. Psychological studies show it to be very, very similar, if not identical, to the psychological effects of cocaine addiction.

They don't gamble to win.  Or to put it differently... a gambling addict... someone who has a real problem with gambling... if they suddenly won every single hand, day after day.. it wouldn't do the trick for them anymore. (Note I don't say they wouold stop, none of us would turn down free money.... but the kick they need would NOT be there, because it's no longer gambling.)

Humans look for patterns, yes. That is how we learn and understand the world around us.
Some humans are stupider than others about it.
Some will believe statistics blindly, with no understanding of what they mean. But then again, it's not first hand information either.

The funny thing about basically all the 'extraordinary'  things that happen, that you say can't be coincidence, or indicate some higher power, is that they don't.

If people are often discovering things that don't fit our picture of the universe... nobody is hearing about it. And nobody is really observing it.

People know the odds..NOT! (2.25 / 4) (#230)
by johwsun on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 03:07:09 AM EST

Thats the problem with science. Science thinks that it knows the odds or at least it thinks that the odds sum is 100%, but somehow the odds sum turn to be 101%!
To give you a simple example, suppose that you role the dice, and the dice disapears, or appears twice, or a million dices appear in fornt of your table!
Does anyone from the casino players took this odd into account? No one! And not only this. If this happens, they will claim that this is out of the game, and they will not give their money to the winner.

[ Parent ]
The real question is ... (4.50 / 8) (#98)
by semantix on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 10:48:17 AM EST

The real question is how often is the Universe consistent? This whole debate reminds me of a simple philisophical question which asks the following question, "Can our senses be relied upon some of the time."

Now we all know that sometimes our senses cannot be relied upon.  An example of a situation where this might occur is when we are so tired we have begun to hallucinate.  Or perhaps we just looked at a bright light and we can't see for a little while.

This question also extends to questions of whether we can ever trust our memory.  

Basically the conclusion of this philisophical debate has always been, "Darn, you can't prove that your senses are ever accurate." That is, it is impossible to say whether they have been lying to you your entire life, and never once told you the truth (partial or complete) of what is going on around you.

We reach a similar conundrum with questions of whether the Universe is consistent.  This question simply cannot be answered from within the system.  So why do science at all? Now, that's a really tough question.  

The closest I can come to answering this question is that science has served us well so far, giving us much more control over our environment than we otherwise would have had.  It seems that our faith in science rests upon its laurels.  There is no reason to suspect that science will work tomorrow.  Although I'd like to place my faith in the fact that it will.

There is one more train of though I've had on this topic.  If the Universe is indeed inconsistent from time to time due to the intervention of an omnipotent being, then who or what is it that created that being? What laws does it follow? Is its mode of behaviour unpredictable? Can anything be truly unpredictable?  Is there an infinte cascade of such beings simulating each other.  Or is it simply a finite circular cascade of simulations?
Does it make sense for me to ask such questions?

Many of these questions that I am asking I am willing to bet can be proven to be fundamentally unknowable, in much the same way that the truth of certain statements in mathematics is fundamentally unknowable (see  Godel's Incompleteness theorem).

Perhaps one day we will have a clear idea of what is fundamentally knowable and what isn't.  But this begs the question, "Is this very fact unknowable?"

I making myself dizzy. I think I'll go to bed now.

Semantix

Science does not serve. Enginnearing does! (1.66 / 3) (#231)
by johwsun on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 03:13:09 AM EST

The closest I can come to answering this question is that science has served us well so far

I dont think so. Science does not serve, engineearing does. Theoritically, theory and practice are the same. In practice they are NOT!

[ Parent ]

Consistent = Known (3.00 / 2) (#100)
by SPasmofiT on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 11:03:50 AM EST

Inconsistency is the lack of consistency, in the sense that we lack a good enought aproximation for creating an ideal model.
All things were once inconsistente, but after some exploring, they feel logical... it's a matter of knowledge.

We have to reason to doubt that EVERYTHING is logical and consistent... all we need to do is explore and analyse it.

Various related tidbits (4.33 / 6) (#105)
by dennis on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 11:22:39 AM EST

1) I read an article a while back about a mathematician (I'll try to dig up the reference) who recently, after about 20 years of work, figured out some nasty implications of Godel's Theorem. Basically, he proved that Godel's incompleteness is pervasive - the "universe" of math is broken into lots of disconnected regions, without any logical connection between them. True but unprovable theorems abound.

Since physics is so closely related to math, maybe the universe isn't as tidy as we think. Maybe there are phenomena that are real, but governed by an unrelated region of mathematics, and hence outside the physics we know. Maybe, by the nature of mathematics, this will always be the case, there will never be a theory of everything, and the best we can do is keep learning more.

2) 4/27/02 New Scientist said some physicists are working on treating the three dimensions of space as a projection from a two-dimensional hologram, vastly reducing the amount of information in the universe. It makes the math work out nicely, somehow.

3) Here's a freaky article from Wired...a guy named Dick Bierman is claiming that when you show someone who's hooked up to an MRI a series of images, with some disturbing images randomly mixed in, you can detect an unconscious emotional response a couple seconds before each disturbing image.

The Omega Man (5.00 / 4) (#125)
by eLuddite on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 12:31:23 PM EST

Gregory Chaitin
Chaitin has shown that there are an infinite number of mathematical facts but, for the most part, they are unrelated to each other and impossible to tie together with unifying theorems. If mathematicians find any connections between these facts, they do so by luck. "Most of mathematics is true for no particular reason," Chaitin says. "Maths is true by accident."

This is particularly bad news for physicists on a quest for a complete and concise description of the Universe. Maths is the language of physics, so Chaitin's discovery implies there can never be a reliable "theory of everything", neatly summarising all the basic features of reality in one set of equations.

Re: science wanking on kuro5hin. Years ago, after majoring in poker and fine arts students, I was surprised to earn a BSc in physics. I'm just lucky the boredom didnt kill me, frankly, but that's not the point. The point is, I almost never have any idea what you guys are talking about when you guys are talking physics. Hint, hint.

---
God hates human rights.
[ Parent ]

Re: science wanking (5.00 / 1) (#126)
by dennis on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 12:42:34 PM EST

Well, there's physics, and there's amateur philosophy about the nature of reality, which is not only fun, but your only option if you've forgotten your diffeqs after changing your major to anthropology. It keeps the boredom at bay while you're putting off doing anything productive.

[ Parent ]
Amateur philosophy about reality? (none / 0) (#148)
by pyramid termite on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 03:07:31 PM EST

Do you mean to say that we're not professionally involved with reality?
On the Internet, anyone can accuse you of being a dog.
[ Parent ]
Science, Consistency and Lies (3.33 / 3) (#116)
by Simon Kinahan on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 12:02:24 PM EST

It is not really clear to me what you mean by "consistency". Scientific method does not particularly depend on the universe being consistent: we've yet to resolve the consistency of out two major physical theories, let alone made them completely consistent with what we understand of botany, or psychology. The scientific enterprise continues in spite of these problems. It may well be impossible to develop a single perfectly consistent theory to describe every aspect of the universe: it may just be beyond our intellectual powers, the universe may not contain enough bits to express such a theory, there might be effects that make it impossible to make the necessary measurements, and so on. Science can continue regardless. It will just need to continue in several different compartments. This is pretty much what happens anyway.

What science does depend on, and what I think you probably meant, is predictability. For empirical investigation to work, we need to know that if we precisely replicate the relevant circumstances, then we'll get the same results. We have pretty good evidence, I think, that the universe is at least mostly predictable between microscopic and human scales, because if it were not, the biochemistry on which are bodies are based would not work reliably. Additionally, our minds are pretty clearly set up to look for patterns and rules. Since we are part of the universe, why would we be built to live that way if it didn't work ?

I do not think it makes much sense to talk about the universe lieing. Science does not make any claims to know how the universe "really" works. Some scientists might believe it describes the real functioning of the world, but you don't have to believe that to do, or understand, science. We set up experiments, collect results, and try to come up with descriptions that will correctly predict future results. Those descriptions are just descriptions, and what matters is whether they work, not how the universe "really" works. If the universe cheats and doesn't compute the state of bits of the world we can't observe, how would we even know ?

Your example about Tarot suggests you think the mind has some intimate connection with reality. It is quite possible, I think, that conscious minds have some role in the universe we don't yet understand. Scientists tend to resist the idea, because the scientific method is all about trying to rule phenomena that are only available to one mind out of consideration, but there's no particular reason why the universe should have been constructed for the convenience of scientists. Just what consciousness is, is pretty much the only really interesting question that is not yet in the domain of science, and it may be that we need some different methodology, before we can figure it out.

However, you seem to suggest that we can't ever integrate the relationship between consciousness and the universe into our predictive models. I don't see any reason to suppose that should be the case.

Simon

If you disagree, post, don't moderate

Randomness == Noise (3.25 / 4) (#121)
by mathematician on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 12:17:07 PM EST

Another possibility, which is very plausible to me after my later gambling adventures, is that there is a universal human inability to perceive randomness for what it is.
Humans do detect randomness. The lack of a pattern is a pattern in itself. An easier explanation is that humans are illogical creatures that are influenced by logic and they'll believe whatever suits their particular situation at any one time (like the belief they can beat the house in a casino).

Consistency and explanatory power (3.00 / 3) (#122)
by Scrymarch on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 12:17:48 PM EST

Consistency could mean any number of things, and this essay exploits its definitional vagueness while attempting to describe a better term.

Going to that lowest common denominator of modern English, dictionary.com:

con·sis·ten·cy   Pronunciation Key  (kn-sstn-s)
n. pl. con·sis·ten·cies

I think it's fair to claim all definitions point to the same base concept.  I've rearranged them for convenience.

Degree of density, firmness, or viscosity: beat the mixture to the consistency of soft butter.

In this sense, the Universe is not consistent, as it is not homogenous.  Taking temperatures in Berlin does not yield the same result as taking them in Sao Paulo.  For that matter, temperature changes during a day, or on moving from the garden to the lounge room.  That's ok, and not a result of our thermometers lying to us.

Agreement or logical coherence among things or parts: a rambling argument that lacked any consistency.

Let's extend this version further to posit that the universe is inherently inexplicable; ie, there is no Theory Of Everything.  Certain patterns are present, but beyond a certain point of explanation all is bedlam, and not quantifiable except by a description in 1:1 scale.

I thought this was where you were going at one point, and it might be a corollary of your suggestions.  Your tarot card example points a different way though, towards a structured intervention by things acting like intelligent agents.

Reliability or uniformity of successive results or events: pitched with remarkable consistency throughout the season.

So you suggest that repeatable experiments become much harder to setup in a universe with intelligent agents.  This could be because of interventions or because the theory needs the explanatory power to describe these agents.  But any Theory of Everything has already set itself that problem - explaining human beings.

Correspondence among related aspects; compatibility: questioned the consistency of the administration's actions with its stated policy.

There is a philosophical pamphlet I haven't read that I believe is called On The Consequences Of An Omnipotent God, which defends the literal truth of scripture, even where it's inconsistent, roughly on the grounds that "duh, he's, like, God, he can do anything."

It's very easy to use this explanation once you have it; it dispels the slightest inconsistency in a world view.  "I'm sure I remembered to hang the washing out. God must have replaced it wet in the machine."  If this is the way Our Lord and Father interacts with the world so be it, but He has a tendency to leave our minds consistent with events after doing so, so there's little point worrying about it; it's a solipsism variant.

So we're left with structured interventions by intelligent agents, that can alter the rules of the universe itself.  I don't see this as a problem, or rather I see it as an excrutiatingly difficult but soluble problem.  

In the DOOM scenario, surely the improvements made to the DOOMiverse are backward compatible.  If they are then the version change needs to be incorporated into our theory, much the way physicists speculate about changes in the values of fundamental constants over time.  If they aren't then we, the flesh-eating zombies, have been upgraded to the latest version, and there isn't an issue.  The programmer analogy is a little weak anyway, because their interventions in the DOOMiverse imply the existence of a larger world outside shotguns and "raeearrgh" noises.  Your description, as I understand it, has an ethereal group of hacker-zombies living in the DOOMiverse and occassionally adding extra items and moving walls.

Personally I think it unlikely we are living in a computer simulation; the Universe crashes too infrequently.

I wildly speculate that the interactions between us, the Universe and any other ghosts in the machine form a language-game, the meaning of which arises from playing and is not necessarily useful outside the game.  Unifying that with Physics would make the wrinkles in superstring theory look like 2nd grade arithmetic.

(Everything I Know About Subjective Cosmology I Learnt From Greg Egan Stories.)

To conclude with a wonderful sentence,

The idea is, of course, totally insane, except for the fact that the vast majority of humans believe something similar is going on all the time.


crashes (3.50 / 2) (#139)
by twi on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 02:29:21 PM EST

> Personally I think it unlikely we are living in a computer simulation; the Universe crashes too infrequently.

If all interrupted transaktions are properly rolled back and your logfiles cleaned up you might just not notice or remember the many crashes :)

[ Parent ]

[Smite key] (none / 0) (#141)
by Scrymarch on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 02:40:41 PM EST

If all interrupted transaktions are properly rolled back and your logfiles cleaned up you might just not notice or remember the many crashes :)

So God is a decent programmer but a brilliant sysadmin?  I suppose that would explain a lot of Genesis.

And God said to Noah, "I have determined to make an end of all flesh; for the earth is filled with violence through them; behold, I will reinstall them with the earth."  

[ Parent ]

Consistentcy isn't a function of the universe... (4.50 / 4) (#129)
by SIGFPE on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 01:07:32 PM EST

...but a function of our descriptions of it. As things currently stand our different descriptions are not consistent with each other. We can ask "will we one day have a future consistent description that is also consistent with what we observe?". But that's speculation about future human behaviour among other things.
SIGFPE
Structure conflict (4.72 / 11) (#131)
by awgsilyari on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 01:21:44 PM EST

I think you're definitely on the right track with this. I'd just like to add my thoughts.

All scientific experiments are designed by humans, conducted by humans with human-designed equipment, and interpreted by humans. Our understanding of the results of experiments is a mental phenomenon. The "truth" of an experiment does not exist out there, in some physical, touchable form. Truth is really something within the human mind.

Humans can agree on what an experiment means because we all share the same kind of mind. To a limit, our brains are all identical in how they process information and make inferences.

The brain is a classification device. Everything we do with our minds ultimately boils down to classifying events and objects into different groups. I believe that ALL thought and perception is simply the act of classification. What many people forget is that this classification is something that WE do, and does not necessarily represent anything "true" about the universe. In this light, the fact that observers have deep effects on what they observe is not completely strange.

We observe consistency in the universe, I believe, because our mental classifiers are designed to do so. We easily see patterns and consistencies, but it isn't so easy to understand (or even PERCEIVE) the things that cannot be classified. Our perception of the universe is skewed toward the things that "mesh" with our mentality. When we observe inconsistencies, we fight against them and try to find a way to make things consistent. But there is no real reason why the universe SHOULD be consistent -- we just WISH it were.

The strangeness in science (particularly in physics) of the last 100-150 years is due, I think, to a clash between the actual "nature" of the world (if such a thing exists) and the nature of our minds. The current situation is insoluble. We are trying to understand things that the very STRUCTURE of our brains is fighting against. In order to really understand what's ACTUALLY going on (is there anything ACTUALLY going on?) we're going to have to change the way we think. And that might not be possible with our current brains.

Have we hit a limit of understanding? I don't think so -- there will always be more that can be understood and explained. But I believe there are an infinite number of things that we will never understand, or even notice, about the world. And this is due to the structure of our minds.

--------
Please direct SPAM to john@neuralnw.com

ingrained or learned? (none / 0) (#260)
by crayz on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 01:13:41 PM EST

I do think some of our understanding of physics is ingrained, but I think a lot of the problem is simply that as you go through normal everyday life you have no need for relativity or quantum mechanics, so the model your head builds of what the universe is like is much more Newtonian.

Maybe you could lessen the effect of this by teaching the basics of SR/GR/QM at a very early age, but I don't think there's much that you can do about the fact that people interact with the slow, macroscopic world and don't really have much of a use for theories dealing with objects traveling near the speed of light or objects far smaller than anything visible to the human eye.

[ Parent ]

What are you trying to establish? (none / 0) (#261)
by zirtix on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 01:37:04 PM EST

You said:
"Truth is really something within the human mind."
This can't be consistent with the claim that:
"there are an infinite number of things that we will never understand, or even notice, about the world."

I agree with the second statement.  It seems equivalent to saying that there is a mind-independent reality: what's capable of being true is a bigger class of things than the class of what's conceivable.  That doesn't quite seem to fit with the idea that "true is in the mind" (or minds).  Something isn't true just because we think it is, or would think it was if someone asked us, or if it is something which admits of an interpretation making it true (etcetera).

The original article might be arguing that because there is always some inconceivable (for us) truth out there (e.g. "the universe is not consistent"), there must be some overarching god/computer/mind seeing to it that these truths  are given sense.  But perhaps that's just to assume that if something's true, there is a mind capable of conceiving of that truth - which is what is fundamentally at issue here.

Putting this kind of argument as digital metaphor does not add anything really new.

[ Parent ]

wow the odds' of that on the cards is small! (2.85 / 7) (#132)
by nodsmasher on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 01:24:49 PM EST

somthing similer hapended to me, i picked a card out of a deck 10 times, i got
the 2 of clubs
the 4 of hearts
the king of dimonds
the ace of spades
the 7 of spades
the 9 of clubs
the jack of clubs
the ace of dimonds
the 7 of clubs
and teh 8 of spades
i mean omg the chanes of that hapening are 52^10, there must be somthing fishy in the universe
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Most people don't realise just how funny cannibalism can actually be.
-Tatarigami
I know what's fishy about it, too (4.50 / 2) (#150)
by pyramid termite on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 03:15:54 PM EST

There's this weird thing called life and these weird things called humans who make odd and interesting things like playing cards. Most of the time, the universe just moves atoms around without anything real interesting happening at all. But these humans and their playing cards ... there's something real fishy about that - I mean what are the odds that so many random atoms could bounce around together randomly to produce humans and playing cards?
On the Internet, anyone can accuse you of being a dog.
[ Parent ]
? </nt> (5.00 / 1) (#154)
by nodsmasher on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 03:31:01 PM EST


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Most people don't realise just how funny cannibalism can actually be.
-Tatarigami
[ Parent ]
Repeatability? (4.00 / 1) (#162)
by pla on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 04:17:01 PM EST

I think you may have missed his point. It doesn't much matter *which* draw you select, as you pointed out *any* ten card spread has an amazingly low probability of occuring.

However, *repeating* the same draw makes that first very low chance seem like a near certainty by comparison. Repeating it four time?

Or, to use a less controversial example (since some people will automatically stop listening when they hear something "flaky" like tarot cards), consider the chance of a "perfect" deal in Bridge. If every human ever existing had done nothing but play one hand of bridge every second of their lives, statistically we should still not have seen a perfect deal. Yet, if I recall correctly, 8 officially verified and 23 claimed perfect deals have occurred this century alone.

You need not explain to me what "random" and "probibility" mean, I understand the idea that, given an infinite number of fair coin tosses, eventually a string of n consecutive heads will occur. We do not live in the world of the infinite, however, and real events have real probabilities.

When events occur that appear to contradict (or at least push to their logical limits) certain "known" principles, in this case the algebra of independent selection as applied to a well-shuffled deck of cards, *not* questioning whether or not something we do not yet understand has occured seems a worse violation of scientific principles than blind acceptance that a physically possible event has happened and leave it at that.

The original poster in this topic did go a bit further than the above assertion, though. Personally, I consider questioning the idea of universal consistency not unreasonable, given that humans only have direct experiential data about an infinitesimally small portion of our universe. Even our inferred data (such as observation of distant galaxies) still fails to consider a statistically significant sample of the estimated size of the universe. For that reason alone, dismissing his main point seems the height of arrogance. Adding in certain points he makes, such as the occurence of extremely improbably events, the lack of symmetry between the physics of the really large and the really small, or any number of the sort of anomalous events folks such as Charles Fort documented, certainly does seem to cast modern science as fatuous at best. Or, at worst, no better than a religion with fairly good predictive power in our local portion of the universe.


[ Parent ]
You don't seem to understand (3.50 / 2) (#279)
by John Miles on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 08:32:20 PM EST

In thermodynamic terms, what happened to Roger was an unexplained reversal of entropy.  His input at each draw was a randomly-shuffled (uncorrelated) deck, and his output at each draw after the first was 100% correlated with previous draws.  That's a decrease in disorder, which isn't supposed to happen in a system that isn't exposed to organizing influences.  

A single draw would suggest nothing unusual.  Get back to us when you can draw the same ten cards in the same order four times in a row.

For so long as men do as they are told, there will be war.
[ Parent ]

(Or not... my mistake) (none / 0) (#283)
by John Miles on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 09:35:06 PM EST

first was 100% correlated with previous draws.

8 out of 10, now that I've gone back and read the account again.

For so long as men do as they are told, there will be war.
[ Parent ]

Why the "impossibly" unlikely is bound t (4.60 / 10) (#134)
by tmoertel on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 01:41:32 PM EST

In the story the author shares a hair-raising experience in which an extremely unlikely Tarot-reading event occurs. The probability of the event, by the author's calculations, is vanishingly small, and the underlying conclusion is that the event should not have occurred. That the event did occur suggests to the author that perhaps the reading wasn't random but rather arranged by a behind-the-scenes entity for the benefit of the author's observation.

We need not look so far for an explanation. Even if I assume that the probability of the Tarot event was vanishingly small, I am not surprised that it happened. Why? Because at any point in time we are each participating in a vast number of simultaneous experiments, any one of which may have any number of highly improbable (yet still possible) outcomes that we are apt to consider freakishly unlikely. And while it may indeed be freakishly unlikely that any one in particular of these outcomes will occur, it is not unlikely that we will experience several such outcomes over the course of our lives.

Over the course of a single day, how many thousands, millions, or even more of these commonplace experiments to we participate in? We drop change from our pockets, receive letters in the mail, bump into friends at the mall. When none of the coins stand on edge, or when we don't receive letters from five of our old college mates at the same time, or when we're at the mall and don't run into the long lost friend who moved away nine years ago and we were just now talking about but haven't thought of since, we don't recognize that we have just participated in experiments that could each have had freakishly unlikely outcomes.

But we have. And over time, as the everyday experiments accumulate into vast seas of billions, odds are that we will experience something that is so seemingly unlikely that it will blow our minds and bring goosebumps to our arms. But if we step back and consider more than the immediate here and now, we will see that such an event was bound to happen.

It was only a matter of time.

--
My blog | LectroTest

[ Disagree? Reply. ]


There's a little problem with that ... (3.00 / 2) (#151)
by pyramid termite on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 03:20:06 PM EST

... at the risk of repeating myself, may I point out that our existence and the existence of a universe we can live in is rather unlikely in itself? Why shouldn't a universe that is unlikely and patterned to begin with show a high degree of local unlikelyness in patterns?
On the Internet, anyone can accuse you of being a dog.
[ Parent ]
Or alternatively... (4.33 / 3) (#177)
by Cuthalion on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 06:36:37 PM EST

If you shuffle the deck well and deal out 10 tarot cards, four times in a row, whatever you get will be extremely unlikely. ( 1 / (4x1074))

[ Parent ]
But not as unlikely as ... (4.00 / 2) (#247)
by pyramid termite on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 08:54:28 AM EST

... there being an intelligent agent to see a pattern in it. And that's the question localroger is really asking - does our ability to see artificial patterns that are unlikely influence these patterns? Is intelligent perception merely observational or does it have an effect on what is observed?
On the Internet, anyone can accuse you of being a dog.
[ Parent ]
A couple of posters have made the same point... (none / 0) (#277)
by John Miles on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 08:23:53 PM EST

Over the course of a single day, how many thousands, millions, or even more of these commonplace experiments to we participate in?

... and here's the problem with it.  Each of those "commonplace experiments" has its own set of possible outcomes.  The improbability of 100 successive coin tosses coming up heads exists independently of the improbability of four identical Tarot draws.  

In other words, the probability that any one human observer will see something "wonky" over the course of a given day is only linearly dependent on the number of different trials the observer is exposed to.  If you're exposed to 10,000 events per day, each of which has one-in-a-million odds against a strikingly-noticeable outcome, it's true that your odds of a wonky event have shrunk to one in 100 per day.  But your odds of noticing such an event are still constrained by the number of trials you're consciously observing.  And you certainly can't leverage a lack of observed weirdness in the first 23 hours of a given day to improve your odds of seeing something strange between eleven o'clock and midnight.

In this case, we're talking about localroger's Tarot experience, where a deliberate attempt at observing wonkiness revealed an extremely correlated outcome that was many orders of magnitude less likely than winning even the most elaborate lottery.  If we're to take Roger at his word, his deliberate observation -- one of a relative few he made that day -- produced a highly-correlated outcome which was independent of any nearby sources of order or disorder.  

I don't think that it's reasonable to let everyday sources of half-observed randomness dilute the impact of that outcome.  If it happened the way he says it did, it's weird as hell, no matter how you look at it.

For so long as men do as they are told, there will be war.
[ Parent ]

Missing the point (none / 0) (#284)
by tmoertel on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 10:32:57 PM EST

Each of those "commonplace experiments" has its own set of possible outcomes. The improbability of 100 successive coin tosses coming up heads exists independently of the improbability of four identical Tarot draws.
Where did I suggest otherwise? My argument makes no reliance upon correlation among outcomes.
I don't think that it's reasonable to let everyday sources of half-observed randomness dilute the impact of that outcome. If it happened the way he says it did, it's weird as hell, no matter how you look at it.
No, it's not "weird as hell." That the experimenter gets to pick what is "weird as hell" after the fact and then frame the experiment around the observation is precisely why it's not. This freedom allows all conceivable experiments that are capable of producing a hellishly weird result to enter consideration. Any one of those results could have occurred instead of the Tarot incident, and that's what what we would have been reading about on K5. The field of consideration is so wide that the experiments accumulate into astronomical numbers in short spans of time. That's why events like the Tarot incident, improbable as they may seem when considered alone, are not "weird as hell" but practically guaranteed to happen when considered across the vast seas of experiments that accumulate over a lifetime.

On a smaller scale, consider a classroom of students. The instructor asks the students to share their birthdays. When one student says, "April 3rd," another student shouts out, "Hey! That's my birthday! Wow, what are the chances that two of us would have the same birthday? That's freaky." The only reason the outcome seems freaky to the student is because he worked backward from the event (two people sharing a birthday) to frame the experiment as, What are the odds that two people will share a birthday? whose 1-in-365 odds seems freaky to the young boy. He failed to account for all of the other simultaneous experiments that could have led to the same observation. Any student sharing a birthday with any other student would have been similarly "freaky." Seen in this light, the odds are considerably less unusual. (In classroom of 40 students, for example, the probability of a shared birthday is about 90%. Hardly freaky.)

This is the danger when the experimenter is permitted to frame the experiment after the fact. It's human nature to tighten the frame until it barely fits the observed outcome, making the probability of the outcome seem vanishingly small. However, when you tighten the frame, it's your obligation to consider the other experiments that you excluded when you carved a very specific outcome out of a vast probability space. You are effecitively looking at the world through pinpoint field of vision. Don't make the mistake of assuming that what you can't see doesn't exist.

--
My blog | LectroTest

[ Disagree? Reply. ]


[ Parent ]
No. (none / 0) (#285)
by John Miles on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 10:52:57 PM EST

That the experimenter gets to pick what is "weird as hell" after the fact and then frame the experiment around the observation is precisely why it's not.

That's precisely what you're missing.  When a random process (shuffling cards and dealing them) results in a repeatable decrease in entropy (getting the same cards in the same order each time), that's pretty much the official scientific definition of "weird as hell."

It's as if he'd cracked an egg, dropped the two halves, and watched them reassemble themselves into an unbroken egg when they hit the floor.  In this case, the second law of thermodynamics, and not the observer's arbitrary notion of "weirdness," says that this is an unusual occurrence.  

Now, in reality, I tend to agree with the people who blame Roger's shuffling technique -- whether biased by his subconscious mind or not -- for providing insufficient disorder.  I've spent enough time fooling with pseudorandom-number generator algorithms to realize how easy it is to fool yourself into thinking you're doing "random"-seeming things when you're really not.  But the observer-bias argument you and others are making is just plain bogus.  There's nothing subjective about the observation in this case.... only the manner in which it was made.

For so long as men do as they are told, there will be war.
[ Parent ]

Allow me to try again (none / 0) (#293)
by tmoertel on Tue Jun 11, 2002 at 01:49:54 AM EST

When a random process (shuffling cards and dealing them) results in a repeatable decrease in entropy (getting the same cards in the same order each time), that's pretty much the official scientific definition of "weird as hell."
Let me try again: The only reason that the outcome seems weird as hell is because the experiment was defined after the fact to be the narrowest experiment that admitted the outcome. In the same way that the boy in the classroom defined the birthday experiment to be the narrowest that admitted a shared birthday, the author of the story defined the experiment around the hair-raising Tarot outcome to be the narrowest that could possibly have admitted it. In specific, he considered the question, What are the odds of dealing a Tarot deck four times and having eight cards appear in the same positions on each of the deals? when the real question was, What are the odds of experiencing an event that appears to be mind-blowingly unlikely?

It is not only weird-as-hell Tarot events that cause us to question the relationship between the Universe and our ability to perceive it. The author didn't need to experience that particular event to raise his goosebumps and to initiate his quest for deeper understanding. Any weird-as-hell event would have been sufficient. And -- here's the point -- there are so many potential weird-as-hell events that the odds of one of them "hitting" are pretty good, even if the probability of each is vanishingly small.

Do you see what I'm saying? I'm not saying that the Tarot event is somehow more likely that the author's calculations lead him to believe. What I'm saying is that there is such a mind-bogglingly large number of substitute weird-as-hell events, any one of which could have stood in the Tarot event's place, that I'm not surprised the author experienced one of them. The error in the author's reasoning was considering the likelihood of a particular weird-as-hell event rather than the likelihood of experiencing any such event.

--
My blog | LectroTest

[ Disagree? Reply. ]


[ Parent ]
Yes, I see, but I don't agree... (none / 0) (#294)
by John Miles on Tue Jun 11, 2002 at 01:57:38 AM EST

Do you see what I'm saying?

Sure, there are a large number of weird events that could have been observed by Roger playing with his more-than-full deck.  But I don't believe that number is very large compared to the odds of the particular event he observed.

Even if there are a billion combinations of cards in four straight deals that would have been remarked upon as "weird," that's still not a large number compared to the odds of the one that he did observe.  

Someone worked out the probability in an earlier post -- take that number, divide it by 10^9 "interesting" events, and it's still pretty darned interesting IMHO.

For so long as men do as they are told, there will be war.
[ Parent ]

Not Tarot events, *any* freaky event (none / 0) (#296)
by tmoertel on Tue Jun 11, 2002 at 02:51:22 AM EST

Sure, there are a large number of weird events that could have been observed by Roger playing with his more-than-full deck.
Again, you're defining the experiment too narrowly by confining it to the Tarot readings performed in that particular session. If at some time in the last few years he had rolled five Yathzees in a row, or if he had been dealt four straight flushes in a single game of poker, or if two of his friends had been in independent car accidents within five minutes of each other, or if he had purchased a used book at a local book store and discovered that it had once belonged to his grandmother, or if any one of an innumerable vastness of weird-as-hell events had occurred instead of the Tarot event, it is likely that he would have had the same reaction, calculated the "impossible" odds, and wrote the K5 piece using that new event in place of the Tarot event.

Do you see it now? The mistake is reasoning that after such an event occurs the probability of that one particular event having occurred is significant. It is not. What is significant is the probability of an event of similar freakishness have occurred -- any such event -- because any such event will suffice to cause a similar effect on the experimenter.

To be more specific, the author's reasoning goes like this: "Something `impossible' happened. Since there is no rational explanation for the event, perhaps it is reasonable to question our belief in a consistent Universe, and to ask whether the `impossible' event was arranged by some mechanism of the Universe for the sake of its observation."

The flaw in the argument is the assumption that there is no rational explanation for the occurrence of an "impossible" event. What I have been trying to show is that it is possible, indeed likely, to experience "impossible" events. Yes, each event, itself, has an impossibly small probability of occurrence, but in opposition there are an impossibly large number of such events in play. Since any one of them "hitting" will cause the experimenter to think, That was weird as hell!, any one will do. Thus, when calculating the probability of experiencing a weird-as-hell event, you must consider any such event, not merely one such event in particular.

Now do you agree?

--
My blog | LectroTest

[ Disagree? Reply. ]


[ Parent ]
This can still be addressed (none / 0) (#335)
by localroger on Wed Jun 12, 2002 at 06:50:10 PM EST

Let us consider the human population of the Earth. 6 billion strong today, history going back 100,000 years (though obviously not with that population). How many things of any sort are you capable of noticing? Let's say you are attentive enough to 10 things every second to notice whether they are really flaky or not.

The back of my notepad gives (generously) about 10^23 possibilities for humans to experience something wonky in all of human history.

Meanwhile, the chances of what I observed are in the range of 1 in 10^25 (8x10^8 cubed, not ^4, since the first one is free). Anywhere from still very unlikely to even money, depending on how you fudge the assumptions, for anyone in all of human experience to have even once had any experience so statistically unlikely.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

Let me try a different tack (none / 0) (#341)
by tmoertel on Thu Jun 13, 2002 at 01:53:56 AM EST

Meanwhile, the chances of what I observed are in the range of 1 in 10^25 (8x10^8 cubed, not ^4, since the first one is free). Anywhere from still very unlikely to even money, depending on how you fudge the assumptions, for anyone in all of human experience to have even once had any experience so statistically unlikely.
Let's perform an experiment. Take out a deck of Tarot cards, shuffle them, and deal out ten cards. Record the cards in the 8 magic positions that held the coincidental cards from your experience years ago. Repeat the experiment two more times. Now, consider the cards you recorded during your three deals. What is the probability of these exact cards having showed up? The answer, of course, is very same probability that you calculated above. Further, any statement you can make about the likelihood of the deals from years ago applies just as strongly to the deals from the experiment you performed only seconds ago.

So, I must ask you, what's so special about the cards from years ago? Why are those cards goosebump-raisingly freaky if the cards we dealt in our experiment just now are not? Since the odds are the same, something else must account for the difference. The answer, we must conclude, is because you reacted to the cards from years ago but not to those in our experiment just now. That is, you account for the difference, not the probabilities of the respective deals.

Thus the heart of the issue is not the likelihood of dealing a particular sequence of cards but rather the likelihood of dealing any sequence of cards that would have caused you to react as you did years ago. How many such reaction-causing sequences exist? Enough to knock a lot of digits off of your original 10^25 figure. Do you still think the odds are practically impossible?

Going further, let me ask another question: Do you think that any other events, besides unusual sequences of Tarot cards, could have caused you to react similarly? For example, if you hadn't dealt that Tarot sequence but at some other time had rolled five or six Yahtzees in a row, do you think that you might have reacted as you did to the Tarot sequences? Could we say the same about a freaky string of poker hands? How about lottery numbers? Certainly, we must temper the combinations of such events by noting that you can't play Yahtzee, poker, and the lottery at the same time -- human perception and exposure to space-time both being finite -- but still, if you're keeping track of the original odds, we have just removed another few digits. (What are we down to now, 10^18 perhaps?) And we have only considered a few gaming-related events. The world has so much more to offer!

What if three of your friends, each in different parts of the world, had been struck by lightning on the same day? After computing the odds of this event, might you have had the Tarot reaction? Going still further, how many other "real-world" events would have caused the reaction? Surely, even with diminishing returns, enough to remove yet a few more digits from our already-reduced original figure.

Now do you see the truth of it? If you experience an event that seems so unlikely that it causes you to question the consistency of the universe, you cannot use the odds of that one particular event as justification for your reaction. You must consider all of the events that could have led to a similar reaction. And if you do so, I hope you will agree that the odds of experiencing one of these "impossibly" improbable events are actually pretty good.

That's why I wasn't surprised by your hair-raising Tarot-card sequence. While its probability is vanishingly small, so is every other three-deal Tarot sequence. What made your sequence special is that you reacted to it. Nothing more. When I considered all of the other events to which you could have reacted in the same fashion, I realized that the odds of such an event weren't so remote after all.

Wouldn't you agree?

--
My blog | LectroTest

[ Disagree? Reply. ]


[ Parent ]
You do not understand (none / 0) (#358)
by localroger on Thu Jun 13, 2002 at 01:17:35 PM EST

Let's perform an experiment. Take out a deck of Tarot cards, shuffle them, and deal out ten cards. Record the cards in the 8 magic positions that held the coincidental cards from your experience years ago.

This is totally irrelevant. A sequence was observed which was related because it was sequential. It was not "Four Tarot hands were dealt at some point in human history with eight cards in the same place." It was "In four consecutive readings, addressing the same question, I got eight cards in the same place."

This has nothing to do with anything else that did or did not happen on that day or at any other time.

Given that life is a series of events which happen in a particular order, it is quite relevant to group them according to the order in which they occur. If I started doing Tarot readings today, that would have nothing to do with a sequence I observed in 1988. It would be a new series of trials. Each reading individually is by definition not surprising, unless you figure in interpretation; but if the readings immediately before or after share an unlikely number of cards (particularly if they are thematically linked by the question being asked) then that is significant.

For example, if you hadn't dealt that Tarot sequence but at some other time had rolled five or six Yahtzees in a row, do you think that you might have reacted as you did to the Tarot sequences?

Of course, but I wasn't rolling Yahtzee; I was drawing Tarot. I based my calculation on the number -- a very generously large number -- of possible opportunities for humans to notice anything similar. Similarly, if the phone had rung to inform me of all my friends being hit by lightning, I would not have been drawing Tarot. You can only notice a certain number of things, and if you add up all the things anybody has ever noticed it still makes my experience seem pretty damn unlikely to have ever happened.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

Oh, but I do. (none / 0) (#359)
by tmoertel on Thu Jun 13, 2002 at 02:28:02 PM EST

Please, let me try again. This time I will focus on the heart of the matter.

Please answer the following questions:

  • What is the probability of occurrence of any particular sequence of cards derived through three consecutive, shuffled, 8-card deals of Tarot cards?
  • Given that this probability is identical to the probability of occurrence of your goosebump-raising sequence of years ago, what makes the goosebump sequence worthy of special consideration?
Now do you see the flaw in your reasoning?

--
My blog | LectroTest

[ Disagree? Reply. ]


[ Parent ]
No, you still don't (none / 0) (#365)
by localroger on Fri Jun 14, 2002 at 08:22:29 AM EST

What is the probability of occurrence of any particular sequence of cards derived through three consecutive, shuffled, 8-card deals of Tarot cards?

Easily worked out via permutation, on the order of 1 in 10^25.

Given that this probability is identical to the probability of occurrence of your goosebump-raising sequence of years ago, what makes the goosebump sequence worthy of special consideration?

The fact that, in all of human history, somewhat less than 10^25 events of any probability whatsoever have ever been observed by human beings. The fact that any event ever observed and noticed by anybody is individually that unlikely is a remarkable thing.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

Let me show you the problem. (none / 0) (#366)
by tmoertel on Fri Jun 14, 2002 at 11:13:39 AM EST

Lets' review. I asked the following question:
Given that this probability [1 in 10^25] is identical to the probability of occurrence of your goosebump-raising sequence of years ago, what makes the goosebump sequence worthy of special consideration?
to which you responded with the following answer:
The fact that, in all of human history, somewhat less than 10^25 events of any probability whatsoever have ever been observed by human beings. The fact that any event ever observed and noticed by anybody is individually that unlikely is a remarkable thing.
Close, but not quite correct. Let's consider your argument:
  1. The probability of the Tarot event is 1/10^25.
  2. The number of opportunities for somebody to "notice" such an event, for all time, is somewhat less than 10^25.
  3. Therefore, the expected number of noticed 1-in-10^25 events, for all time, is somewhat less than 1, and the fact that it happened to you is remarkable.
The problem is that the logic in step 3 is faulty. The probability of noticing a 1-in-10^25 event is not the same as the probability of noticing one particular 1-in-10^25 event. If you want to calculate the former, you must take into account the number of such events that you could notice. None of your calculations do so.

Now do you see the problem?

--
My blog | LectroTest

[ Disagree? Reply. ]


[ Parent ]
Clarification. (none / 0) (#367)
by tmoertel on Fri Jun 14, 2002 at 11:16:31 AM EST

To be clear, I meant the following, If you want to calculate the former, you must take into account the number of such events that you would "notice" if you witnessed them.

--
My blog | LectroTest

[ Disagree? Reply. ]


[ Parent ]
Talking in circles (none / 0) (#371)
by localroger on Fri Jun 14, 2002 at 07:52:01 PM EST

Therefore, the expected number of noticed 1-in-10^25 events, for all time, is somewhat less than 1, and the fact that it happened to you is remarkable.

No, the number of events ever noticed by human beings is somewhat less than 10^25, regardless of their probability. That is based on approximately how much we can perceive and how many man-seconds of time have been available for us to perceive it.

You have understood it backward. The second calculation is not the number of events which have occurred; it is the number of events which have been noticed.

. If you want to calculate the former, you must take into account the number of such events that you could notice. None of your calculations do so.

That is *exactly* what my second calculation was about, both for myself and everyone else who has ever lived.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

Please read my clarification; then re-respond (none / 0) (#375)
by tmoertel on Fri Jun 14, 2002 at 08:48:58 PM EST

Shortly after I posted the comment to which you responded, I clarified my use of the phrase "number of such events that you could notice." My usage did not refer to the number of opportunities to notice events, as you have interpreted it, but rather the number of events that you would notice (i.e., react to with goosebumps) were you to observe each. I had hoped you would have read the clarification before responding, but the nature of Scoop's threading being what it is, I can see why you missed it.

Just to be certain that you know what I'm really talking about, if there are 10^9 Tarot-card sequences that are "impossible" and would raise goosebumps on your arms (the other sequences being un-noteworthy), I would expect you to divide your original 10^25 figure by 10^9 and then divide by the 10^25 opportunities to notice goosebump-raising events. This yields the correct probability of experiencing a goosebump-raising, "impossible" event.

Now do you understand what I'm saying?

--
My blog | LectroTest

[ Disagree? Reply. ]


[ Parent ]
You keep not getting it (none / 0) (#377)
by localroger on Sat Jun 15, 2002 at 09:38:45 AM EST

There are two calculations involved:

1. Likelihood that any particular Tarot card reading will be the first in a sequence with eight cards repeated in the same positions

2. Number of events ever observed, of any individual likelihood, by all the human beings who have ever lived

Neither of these calculations has a thing to do with "me." The second has nothing to do with whether an observation is "goosebump-raising." I raise my eyes at the moment and glance at the map of the Moon mounted on the wall behind my computer; that's an observation. In a consistent Universe the likelihood of it happening is very nearly exactly 1, but it represents a unique moment in all of human history. Similarly, I just hit "U" instead of "Y" when typing "history," and had to backspace; that's another moment, one a bit less likely since I'm a fairly accurate typist. And so it goes.

The number of moments like that, when some human being has noticed something in his environment, is considerably less than 10^25 by any reasonable calculation.

Every one of those observations has a probability of occurring; some are nearly certain to happen and others are fantastically improbable. Some of those probabilities are beyond calculation due to chaos and uncertain precepts, and others, like card games and roulette spins and coin flips, can be estimated to a fair degree of accuracy.

In all those moments of human perception, the odds of any human who ever lived perceiving any event, whether calculable or not, with a probability of 1 in 10^25 are considerably less than even.

The point is that all the peole who wave their hands and say "unlikely things will happen to somebody are wrong. Some things are so unlikely that they are unlikely to have ever happened to anybody. And this event was in that class.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

Again, you have made a counting error (none / 0) (#378)
by tmoertel on Sat Jun 15, 2002 at 03:03:02 PM EST

Regarding the following:
There are two calculations involved:
  1. Likelihood that any particular Tarot card reading will be the first in a sequence with eight cards repeated in the same positions
  2. Number of events ever observed, of any individual likelihood, by all the human beings who have ever lived
Please answer the following questions:
  1. Are there any other sequences, besides the "eight-cards-repeated" sequence, that upon observation you would also consider to be "impossible" occurrences?
  2. How do these other sequences influence your likelihood of experiencing an "impossible" Tarot card event in an experiment in which you observe a single series of Tarot-card deals?
  3. Are there other events, outside of Tarot cards, that upon observation you would consider to be "impossible" occurrences?
  4. How do these other events influence your likelihood of experiencing an "impossible" event in an experiment in which you observe a single real-world event?
  5. How, then, would you go about calculating the expected number of "impossible" events that have been observed throughout human history?
Now, do you see why I claim that it's not at all impossible to witness an "impossible" event?

--
My blog | LectroTest

[ Disagree? Reply. ]


[ Parent ]
I'm getting dizzy now (none / 0) (#380)
by localroger on Sat Jun 15, 2002 at 07:31:45 PM EST

Are there any other sequences, besides the "eight-cards-repeated" sequence, that upon observation you would also consider to be "impossible" occurrences?

It's not "impossible." It has a likelihood of about 1 part in 10^25 starting with any particular Tarot hand. It is just as likely as any other event which happens once in 10^25 trials.

How do these other sequences influence your likelihood of experiencing an "impossible" Tarot card event in an experiment in which you observe a single series of Tarot-card deals?

There are not a lot of such sequential repeats which occur over a small enough run of cards to be noticeable. I might have noticed a smaller number of cards over 5 or 6 hands, but the number of possible events which would be noticed by a person in a reasonably small number of trials isn't more than a few dozen.

By saying I might have taken *any* such event, you make a very small dent in this very large number. Dividing 10^25 by the number of similarly unlikely things that could happen in, say, a day is not going to reduce the exponent by much.

Are there other events, outside of Tarot cards, that upon observation you would consider to be "impossible" occurrences?

You need to get over this word "impossible." The event had a probability, and that is independent of the existence of other things that might have happened, like all of my friends getting hit by lightning at once. A Tarot reading is a trial and when one conducts a trial of an operation like Tarot reading or a Roulette spin, for probability purposes it exists in a vacuum independent of the rest of the Universe.

My second calculation, incidentally, can be interpreted as an estimate of the number of such trials humans will ever perform for events of any type.

How do these other events influence your likelihood of experiencing an "impossible" event in an experiment in which you observe a single real-world event?

No, because when I am conducting a trial of Tarot reading I am not doing something else. This is the point of the second calculation -- humans do not have an infinite capacity to notice things. If the phone rang to inform me that all my friends had been hit by lightning, it would have interrupted the Tarot trial. All the humans who have ever lived will not have the chance to conduct 10^25 trials of any type, so the chances of any trial resulting in a 1/20^25 likely result are unlikely in an overall sense.

How, then, would you go about calculating the expected number of "impossible" events that have been observed throughout human history?

It was not "impossible," it had a likelihood of about 1/10^25. If humans had conducted 10^25 trials of various sorts I'd say the likelihood of one person in all of human history having such an experience would be about even money. In practice humans have experienced considerably less than 10^25 trials, so the odds of anybody ever having such an experience are remote.

Now, do you see why I claim that it's not at all impossible to witness an "impossible" event?

I see why you believe it, but you're wrong. You need to lose the word "impossible." There are very unlikely events which are not as unlikely; for example, a single repeat of 8 cards with a probability of 1 in 8*10^8. Not too likely at any given moment, but with 6*10^9 people in the world and tens of thousands of "trials" a day in the life of a typical human, events like that will happen to someone, somewhere, many times per day. The people who have such experiences will be shocked by the unlikelihood of their experience. But it is even likely that any given individual person will have a few experiences on that order of improbability in the course of a typical life.

Take two repeats of those 8 cards, an event seen in 1 in 10^17 trials, and the math is very different. Once every millennium or so something that unlikely might happen to a living, breathing person. For it to happen while you are alive to hear about it would not be very likely. Yet, during all of human history, one would expect a few events like that to be observed.

What happened to me is yet another eight orders of magnitude out of the ballpark.

All three types of event -- 1 in 10^8, 10^17, 10^25 -- would be described as "impossible" in day to day life by most people. Yet when you divide those big exponents by the big number of opportunities humans have to perceive something, you get very different results.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

Bingo! (none / 0) (#381)
by tmoertel on Sun Jun 16, 2002 at 02:32:21 AM EST

First, I would like to thank you for taking the time to continue the conversation. Online posts are often full of language ambiguities, and the S/N ratio isn't what one would like, but sometimes it is worth the extra effort to carry on. I think that this may be one of those times.

Second, please understand that I use the term "`impossible' event" as a shorthand to describe an event that satisfies two conditions. First, it has a very low probability. Second, it is likely to be interpreted by a human observer as so unlikely that there can be no apparent rational explanation for its occurrence: "That's impossible!" might be a common reaction. When I use the term "impossible," in quotation marks, I mean this and nothing more. Thus your Tarot experience from years ago was an "impossible" event, yet it was not impossible. (As we can agree, yes?)

Since you don't like the term, please allow me to replace it with recognizable low-probability event, "RLP event" for short. And by low-probability, I mean less likely than, say, 1/10^20.

Now, let's continue our conversation.

How do these other sequences influence your likelihood of experiencing an "impossible" Tarot card event in an experiment in which you observe a single series of Tarot-card deals?

There are not a lot of such sequential repeats which occur over a small enough run of cards to be noticeable. I might have noticed a smaller number of cards over 5 or 6 hands, but the number of possible events which would be noticed by a person in a reasonably small number of trials isn't more than a few dozen.

I know nothing about Tarot cards, so I'll take your word that there are fewer than 10^2 kinds of additional RLP Tarot events.
By saying I might have taken *any* such event, you make a very small dent in this very large number. Dividing 10^25 by the number of similarly unlikely things that could happen in, say, a day is not going to reduce the exponent by much.
Nevertheless, you do agree that if you would have reacted to other Tarot events as RLP events, your claims about the improbability of such events must factor in the count all such RLP Tarot events, and not just the one particular type of RLP Tarot event that you happened to witness? In other words, do you agree that to support your overall claim you must make the division adjustment?

Now, with that in mind, let's move on to the following:

Are there other events, outside of Tarot cards, that upon observation you would consider to be "impossible" occurrences?

You need to get over this word "impossible." The event had a probability, and that is independent of the existence of other things that might have happened, like all of my friends getting hit by lightning at once. A Tarot reading is a trial and when one conducts a trial of an operation like Tarot reading or a Roulette spin, for probability purposes it exists in a vacuum independent of the rest of the Universe.

This is the crux of our issue. The question at the heart of your claims is, What are the odds of observing an RLP event? However, your calculations have answered a much more restricted question, What are the odds of observing an RLP Tarot event? The problem is that you believe that the answer to the latter question is the answer to the former. For example:
Meanwhile, the chances of what I observed are in the range of 1 in 10^25... Anywhere from still very unlikely to even money, depending on how you fudge the assumptions, for anyone in all of human experience to have even once had any experience so statistically unlikely. [Emphasis mine.]

(Source: Your comment, "This can still be addressed": )

You have never determined how many elements exist in the set of experiences that are "so statistically unlikely"; therefore, despite making claims about "any experience so statistically unlikely," your math really only supports claims about one particular experience so statistically unlikely, namely your Tarot experience. You continue this error in your most-recent response:
It was not "impossible," it had a likelihood of about 1/10^25. If humans had conducted 10^25 trials of various sorts I'd say the likelihood of one person in all of human history having such an experience would be about even money. [Emphasis mine.]
See? In your first sentence you state that the likelihood of your Tarot event ("it") was 1/10^25. In your second sentence, however, you make a claim about the entire set of such events (i.e., the set of RLP events that each are as unlikely as 1/10^25). Oops. How many elements are in that set? You didn't factor that count into the computations that support your claims, and that's your mistake.

The 10^25-trials adjustment does not correct this mistake. Regardless of the number of trials, you must still account for all of the elements within the set. The more elements in the set, the more likely you are to witness one of them on each trial.

Does this make sense now?

--
My blog | LectroTest

[ Disagree? Reply. ]


[ Parent ]
Trials and events (none / 0) (#382)
by localroger on Sun Jun 16, 2002 at 08:09:40 AM EST

See? In your first sentence you state that the likelihood of your Tarot event ("it") was 1/10^25. In your second sentence, however, you make a claim about the entire set of such events (i.e., the set of RLP events that each are as unlikely as 1/10^25). Oops. How many elements are in that set? You didn't factor that count into the computations that support your claims, and that's your mistake.

No, it's an obscure point about how probability calculations are done. During your life you will experience a finite number of opportunities to notice what you call an RLP event. In some cases, mostly artificially constructed by humans, the odds can be calculated from first principles. In other cases, they are unknowable; but we can assume that the structure of the Universe implies a probability for every event that happens within it, if the Universe is consistent -- which, you will recall, is the original question.

It is not necessary to know the probabilities -- to calculate them up front -- to determine how often a thing will happen; one can back into it. For example, it sometimes occurs that a Roulette wheel is biased; a loose fret may absorb energy, so that a bouncing ball is more likely to stay when it bounces into a particular number. Over the course of many, many trials, it is possible to identify this sort of defect without actually examining the wheel; this practice is called "clocking" and there are a couple of people who have made a lot of money doing it.

Now, it just so happens that the odds of my Tarot experience can be calculated up-front, and they turn out to be astronomical. But the odds of other experiences, which are not so straightforward, can nevertheless be "clocked." By estimating the number of trials of any type which have ever been performed, we can estimate the number of events of a certain probability which should have been witnessed over the course of that many trials. It isn't necessary to have any direct information about the other possible events; all we have to know is, metaphorically, that the wheel has 38 pockets. It also isn't necessary if you suspect a bias on the 4 to determine the bias on 28; each number has an individual probability of occurring, and it can be determined even if all the other numbers are lumped together as "other stuff" in your data.

So a great many of the things that happen to us have unknowable probabilities, but we can make an estimate of the probability distribution over human history by estimating the number of trials. It is possible to get estimates spanning a few orders of magnitude depending one one's assumptions but even generously large assumptions make the occurrence of a single 1/10^25 event seem remarkable. And that is true of any 1/10^25 event, whether its probability is knowable or not, regardless of anything else that happens in human history.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

We're almost there (none / 0) (#384)
by tmoertel on Sun Jun 16, 2002 at 04:23:10 PM EST

We are mostly in agreement, but you are still making the same counting error. I will indicate my agreement or disagreement with your claims so that we may more readily focus on the root of our disagreement.
During your life you will experience a finite number of opportunities to notice what you call an RLP event.
Agreed.
In some cases, mostly artificially constructed by humans, the odds can be calculated from first principles.
Agreed.
In other cases, they are unknowable; but we can assume that the structure of the Universe implies a probability for every event that happens within it, if the Universe is consistent -- which, you will recall, is the original question.
Agreed.
It is not necessary to know the probabilities -- to calculate them up front -- to determine how often a thing will happen; one can back into it.
Agreed. Rather than calculating a probability, one can attempt to measure it by taking samples and then making statistical inferences. Correct?
For example, it sometimes occurs that a Roulette wheel is biased; a loose fret may absorb energy, so that a bouncing ball is more likely to stay when it bounces into a particular number. Over the course of many, many trials, it is possible to identify this sort of defect without actually examining the wheel; this practice is called "clocking" and there are a couple of people who have made a lot of money doing it.
Please note, however, that clocking inferences rely upon knowledge of the size of the sample space (which is sufficient if you also know that the underlying distribution is uniform, which is the case with a Roulette wheel). If the wheel had an unknown number of pockets, for example, you couldn't determine that a particular pocket was biased without first estimating the total number of pockets (or obtaining equivalent knowledge) via prior inference.
Now, it just so happens that the odds of my Tarot experience can be calculated up-front, and they turn out to be astronomical.
To clarify, by "odds of my Tarot experience" I must assume that you are not referring to the likelihood of a particular sequence of cards (which is irrelevant because every other sequence generated by the same process has the same astronomical odds) but rather the likelihood of an RLP Tarot-card sequence. That is, the odds we are really interested in are the odds of dealing a sequence and then recognizing it as an RLP event, correct?

Now, let me skip the next paragraph, which I will address after laying the groundwork by examining these claims:

It isn't necessary to have any direct information about the other possible events; all we have to know is, metaphorically, that the wheel has 38 pockets. It also isn't necessary if you suspect a bias on the 4 to determine the bias on 28; each number has an individual probability of occurring, and it can be determined even if all the other numbers are lumped together as "other stuff" in your data.
Agreed. If we know the size of the sample space (38), we can make inferences about any subset of it. More formally, in a trial where an element s is selected randomly from a (uniformly distributed) sample space S, the probability that s will be an element of T (which is a subset of S) is given by
Pr(s `elem` T) = |T|/|S|
where |X| denotes the count of elements within set X. Thus if we want to know the likelihood that the ball will come to rest in one of the first 12 pockets, we must define our sets like so:
S = set of all 38 pockets
T = set of first 12 elements of S
and compute the probability as 12/38. Assuming a uniform distribution, then, the likelihood of this event is about 0.316. Agreed?

Let's say that we hypothesize that a particular table is biased such that the first 12 pockets are preferred. In a series of 1,000 samples, we have observed that the ball comes to rest in one of the first 12 pockets 328 times -- 12 more than expected -- which seems to support our hypothesis. But is this deviation really significant?

To test our hypothesis, we could ask, What is the likelihood that the ball would come to rest in one of the first 12 pockets of an unbiased table no fewer than 328 times out of 1,000 samples? We could then perform a test to determine whether our observation was statistically significant. In this case we could consider each spin of the wheel to be a Bernoulli trial and compute the likelihood of the 1,000-sample observation using a sum of probabilities drawn from the binomial distribution as follows:

Pr(328 in first 12 pockets out of 1,000)
= sum [(1000 `choose` n) * 0.316^n * (1 - 0.316)^(1000 - n)
| n <- [328, 329, .. 1000]]
= 0.217
So in this case, there is a 21.7% chance that you would observe this series of Roulette events even if the table were perfectly unbiased. Thus I would consider our observation not to be statistically significant and reject our hypothesis.

In summary, to determine whether an observation is significant it is not enough to know that the observed event, itself, is unlikely. We must determine whether the likelihood of observing the event under normal circumstances is unlikely.

The problem with your computations is that when computing whether your observation is unlikely, you make a counting error in the "normal circumstances" part. This I will demonstrate below:

But the odds of other experiences, which are not so straightforward, can nevertheless be "clocked." By estimating the number of trials of any type which have ever been performed, we can estimate the number of events of a certain probability which should have been witnessed over the course of that many trials.
Agreed, but we must be very careful with our definitions to make sure that we are computing the probability of what we think we are. To be certain, let's review the item of interest: the number of events of a certain probability which should have been witnessed over the course of that many trials. Let's let R stand for this "certain probability" and PR be the probability of occurrence of any one event of probability no greater than R during a single trial. Thus given N trials, we are looking for the quantity
N PR
Correct?

Let us stipulate that N = 10^25 so that we may focus on the PR term. How would we arrive at that number? Well, let's define our sets (even though we might not be able to count them):

SR = events of likelihood no greater than probability R
T = RLP events in SR
Thus were are interested in the probability Pr(s `elem` T) = |T|/|SR|. Correct?

Now, you claim that PR is 1/10^25. But I claim that your claim is faulty because you have determined neither |T| nor |SR| nor their ratio, nor have you attempted to infer their ratio from samples drawn from SR. Rather 1/10^25 is the resultant probability when the sets are defined like this:

S4-8-T = all shuffled, 4-deal, 8-Tarot card sequences
T = RLP events in S4-8-T
That is, P4-8-T may be 1/10^25, but PR for R = 1/10^25 is an altogether different matter. Further, while S4-8-T is a subset of SR, it is not a useful sample for drawing inferences about SR since we know nothing about SR's distribution. (Regardless, you have attempted no such inferences.)

Thus what you have offered to justify your claims is merely N P4-8-T, whereas your claims as stated regard the (presently unknown) quantity N PR for R = 1/10^25. This is an error.

So a great many of the things that happen to us have unknowable probabilities, but we can make an estimate of the probability distribution over human history by estimating the number of trials.
Only if you have drawn a large number of (preferably random) samples from the set of all trials so that you can make informed inferences and test their statistical significance. You have done no such thing. You have arrived at an estimate of N but have not sampled events from SR, nor have you classified them as part of the RLP subset or not, nor have you derived an estimate of PR from the previous two exercises.

All you have done is offered an estimate of P4-8-T in place of PR and overlooked the mistake.

It is possible to get estimates spanning a few orders of magnitude depending one one's assumptions but even generously large assumptions make the occurrence of a single 1/10^25 event seem remarkable.
No, such events are (as I hope we had agreed above) utterly unremarkable. Every single four-8-card-deal sequence is a 1/10^25 event. Every single one, regardless of whether it contains an interesting pattern. Such a deal is remarkable only when a human observer considers the sequence to be an RLP event.
And that is true of any 1/10^25 event, whether its probability is knowable or not, regardless of anything else that happens in human history.
Whether it is true for any 1/10^25 event in the sample space of all 1/10^25 events, you have not shown. (And again, I'll assume you mean for any RLP event in the set of all 1/10^25 events, because without the RLP qualification such a statement is meaningless for the reasons I stated in my previous paragraph.) Your conclusion that this observation is remarkable relies upon knowledge about the ratio of the count of elements in the sample space of all 1/10^25 events to the count of elements in the subset of such events that are RLP. Since you have neither calculated nor inferred that knowledge, there is no basis for you conclusion.

Agreed?

(If you disagree, please use formal notation in your response and indicate which portions of my argument you agree or disagree with. Otherwise, we may fall into language traps.)

--
My blog | LectroTest

[ Disagree? Reply. ]


[ Parent ]
Ah, the flaw (none / 0) (#385)
by localroger on Sun Jun 16, 2002 at 06:12:30 PM EST

SR = events of likelihood no greater than probability R
T = RLP events in SR

[snip]

Further, while S4-8-T is a subset of SR, it is not a useful sample for drawing inferences about SR since we know nothing about SR's distribution. (Regardless, you have attempted no such inferences.)

Given that the Universe is (according to science) supposed to be a simple game played by simple rules, like the Tarot with a hell of a lot more cards, it's a reasonable assumption that the distribution of highly noticeable events in "all possible experiences" is similar to that in a focused subset like "Tarot experiences."

If you're going to declare yourself the winner of the argument because of my lack of god-like knowledge, though, I suppose I will concede

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

Might still be possible (5.00 / 1) (#388)
by tmoertel on Mon Jun 17, 2002 at 12:32:47 AM EST

Given that the Universe is (according to science) supposed to be a simple game played by simple rules, ...
I don't believe that science makes this claim. While some scientists have hypothesized that the Universe is fundamentally based on a small set of simple rules or processes (most notably of late Stephen Wolfram), at present the rules for this "game" are a mess and up for debate.
like the Tarot with a hell of a lot more cards,
Interesting hypothesis, but likely to be met with scepticism. Nevertheless, I grant that conceptually one could model the set of possible events throughout the history of the Universe as an amazingly large deck of cards. (Note that some of these cards would be more likely to "dealt" by God, and we might need to account for this.)
it's a reasonable assumption that the distribution of highly noticeable events in "all possible experiences" is similar to that in a focused subset like "Tarot experiences."
It's an interesting hypothesis, but I don't think that it rises to the level of a reasonable assumption. What you are suggesting is that a Tarot deck makes a good proxy for the Universe when it comes to observing RLP events, which is at face value dubious. Since your thesis is that the Universe may bend itself around observations, if you use Tarot-deck observations as primary evidence, you have a high burden of proof for showing that a Tarot deck is indeed a good model of the Universe. So far, you haven't carried this burden. (But I would be interested in seeing you try.)
If you're going to declare yourself the winner of the argument because of my lack of god-like knowledge, though, I suppose I will concede.
Please don't get the wrong idea. I'm not in this to "win." I have invested over eight hours in our conversation, burned about 20 minutes of compute-time performing probability calculations, and cracked open dusty textbooks. No, I'm conversing with you because I might learn something. I was impressed by your Casino Odyssey series and figured that you might have special insight into this particular topic. Since my calculations didn't match yours, I had incentive to reconcile them against your viewpoints -- all the way to the end -- even if doing so via K5's threading was a painful way to do it.

I don't think that you need god-like knowledge to estimate PR. You just need to sample the population of SR directly (I provided a crude method for this earlier) or infer enough about the relationship between PR and P4-8-T to make the latter a good estimator of the former.

If you ever do estimate the value of PR, you may find it surprisingly large.

--
My blog | LectroTest

[ Disagree? Reply. ]


[ Parent ]
After thinking on it... (none / 0) (#391)
by localroger on Mon Jun 17, 2002 at 08:13:11 PM EST

I don't think that you need god-like knowledge to estimate PR.

Actually I think I have figured a way to roughly quantify the effects of perception. In order to be noticed, the RLP event must be a continuous series of closely related unlikely but individually non-RLP events. This provides a handle on which to back into it.

For example, the Tarot event was a concantenation of three 1/8*10^8 events. While it might be just as likely, two such readings followed by the news that a friend had been hit by lightning would not have been the same. I think we can at least say that all RLP events will consist of multiple events in a Tarot-like space of similar events, not scattered individually unlikely events that aren't self-similar -- just as the individual "unlikely" events will tend to consist of unexpected repetitions, the thing we're best wired to notice in noise.

Given this, we can also say that the RLP event must be made up of individually unlikely events. (I'm not sure how the math works out right now, but a vast number of identical coin tosses would probably be classified as a smaller number of identical series.) Anyway, in a space of 10^25 outcomes, the ones of interest will all be runs of less likely outcomes totalling 1/10^25 probability. It should be possible to add up all the possible runs of, say, series with less than 1/100 probability that total 1/10^25 if they occur, and take the fraction of the 1/10^25 space that they represent.

I will keep this on the back burner for further thought. I seriously doubt it will reduce the overall odds of an RLP much below 1/10^20, but it is the sort of problem best approached by doing the math rather than making WAG's.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

You're redefining the terms (none / 0) (#305)
by pyramid termite on Tue Jun 11, 2002 at 07:56:50 AM EST

What are the odds of dealing a Tarot deck four times and having eight cards appear in the same positions on each of the deals? when the real question was, What are the odds of experiencing an event that appears to be mind-blowingly unlikely?

Except the odds of dealing a Tarot hand are quantifyable and your rephrasing of the question is not only vague and impossible to calculate but it's subjective - what qualifies as mind blowingly unlikely?

And -- here's the point -- there are so many potential weird-as-hell events that the odds of one of them "hitting" are pretty good, even if the probability of each is vanishingly small.

And what if looking for such events creates a field effect that makes such events more likely, while denying their possibility makes them less likely?

The error in the author's reasoning was considering the likelihood of a particular weird-as-hell event rather than the likelihood of experiencing any such event.

And the error is your reasoning is that you've rephrased the question in a way that's unanswerable - what is the odds of a "weird event"? What is a weird event? And how do we know the odds are consistent for everyone in all situations?
On the Internet, anyone can accuse you of being a dog.
[ Parent ]
Jumped the tracks (none / 0) (#311)
by tmoertel on Tue Jun 11, 2002 at 01:03:52 PM EST

Except the odds of dealing a Tarot hand are quantifyable and your rephrasing of the question is not only vague and impossible to calculate but it's subjective - what qualifies as mind blowingly unlikely?
Are you really arguing that it is better to ask the wrong question because it can be readily answered than to ask the right question? To be clear, the right question is, and shall remain, What are the odds of experiencing a weird-as-hell event? (More precisely, "weird as hell" means "provoking a similar effect on localroger.") If you don't see this, please read my comment on the matter, which explains further.
And what if looking for such events creates a field effect that makes such events more likely, while denying their possibility makes them less likely?
In that case, there should be statistically significant differences in the number of weird events observed between "lookers" and "deniers," and both should deviate from what chance alone would predict. The author tried to show such a deviation by arguing that he observed one particular "impossible" event, but he failed to consider the probability of observing any of the other events that would have had a similar effect on him.
[T]he error is your reasoning is that you've rephrased the question in a way that's unanswerable ...
This is flawed logic. Whether a question is readily answerable (or answerable at all) has no bearing on whether the question is the right question to ask. By your logic, it would have been an "error in reasoning" for many of history's all-time-greatest questions -- most of which were unaswerable at the time -- to have been asked.

--
My blog | LectroTest

[ Disagree? Reply. ]


[ Parent ]
What tracks? (none / 0) (#315)
by pyramid termite on Tue Jun 11, 2002 at 05:40:22 PM EST

Are you really arguing that it is better to ask the wrong question because it can be readily answered than to ask the right question? To be clear, the right question is, and shall remain, What are the odds of experiencing a weird-as-hell event?

It's not a matter of wrong or right - it's a matter of whether the question can be answered or not and whether it can even be defined. What is a weird as hell event - according to whom?


This is flawed logic. Whether a question is readily answerable (or answerable at all) has no bearing on whether the question is the right question to ask.

I'll agree that whether it's readily answerable shouldn't be considered - after all, knowledge can change so that the question can be answered. But asking a question that never can be answered isn't useful.

By your logic, it would have been an "error in reasoning" for many of history's all-time-greatest questions -- most of which were unaswerable at the time -- to have been asked.

But the question you've asked is unanswerable at any time - not just because of our lack of knowledge, but because you've failed to define your term "weird as hell" and the set of events "weird as hell" would be compared against. It's not any possible answer to your question that contains insufficient data to work with - it's the question itself. If you could rework the question so your terms would be defined and the set of events would be defined, it could be a better question than localroger's. But right now, it's too vague to work with.
On the Internet, anyone can accuse you of being a dog.
[ Parent ]
The tracks of reason (none / 0) (#321)
by tmoertel on Tue Jun 11, 2002 at 09:06:15 PM EST

It's not a matter of wrong or right - it's a matter of whether the question can be answered or not and whether it can even be defined. What is a weird as hell event - according to whom?
First, it is a matter of right or wrong. Second, if it's the right question, it's the right question, regardless of whether it can be answered. Third, the question we're discussing can be answered, so debates about the preceding are moot.
But the question you've asked is unanswerable at any time - not just because of our lack of knowledge, but because you've failed to define your term "weird as hell" and the set of events "weird as hell" would be compared against.
What makes you think the question is unanswerable? What makes you think there must be a concrete definition of what constitutes a "weird-as-hell" event?

Consider this. Let's say that you and I are standing on a beach, looking out at the vast sea. All of a sudden, I pull a loaded monkey from my pocket, take off the safety, and hold it to your head. Then I demand that you answer the following question -- or else: How many grains of sand are there in the seas? Would you protest that the question is unanswerable? Would you object that I have failed to define what constitutes a "grain" of sand? I don't think so. I think that under the threat of the loaded monkey, you would use your brain -- you know, be creative -- and perform a back-of-the-envelope calculation to arrive at some kind of reasonable answer.

The same goes for the question about the probability of experiencing a weird-as-hell event. If you think about it earnestly, you'll probably figure out a way to arrive at an applicable estimate. For example, here's one method I came up with: Fill an auditorium with an audience of randomly selected people. Read them localroger's story about the Tarot readings. Then ask, "Have you ever experienced something like that, something so freakishly unlikely that it seemed weird as hell? If you have, hold up your hand." Count hands. Divide by the count of people in the audience. The result: An estimate of the probability of experiencing a "weird-as-hell" event in your lifetime. If you think about it, you can probably come up with a number of other methods to arrive at similar answers.

Wasn't so hard, was it?

So we know what the right question is, and we know that it can be answered. Thus we also know why the author's original question was far too narrowly framed.

Now do you see what I'm saying?

--
My blog | LectroTest

[ Disagree? Reply. ]


[ Parent ]
So, what's your experiment? (none / 0) (#326)
by pyramid termite on Wed Jun 12, 2002 at 07:52:00 AM EST

Now do you see what I'm saying?

Yeah - you're saying that you won't state your question in quantifiable terms that other people can base repeatable experiments upon. Your auditorium full of people isn't an expiriment; it 's an opinion poll. By similar means, I could establish that man lived in the age of the dinosaurs, God created the world in six days, and ping pong balls don't fall as fast as baseballs because they're lighter - and don't think I couldn't find a place with a majority who would believe such things.

There's several concrete ways one could design a real experiment with Tarot cards. What experiment are you proposing?

Oh yeah - why are you allowing monkeys to get drunk and live in your pocket?
On the Internet, anyone can accuse you of being a dog.
[ Parent ]
It's called a "measurement" (none / 0) (#331)
by tmoertel on Wed Jun 12, 2002 at 10:37:01 AM EST

Yeah - you're saying that you won't state your question in quantifiable terms that other people can base repeatable experiments upon.
Again, you are clinging to the already-dismantled notion that unless a question can be stated in a form for which a crisp, clean, easily-quantifiable answer can be obtained, the question must somehow be invalid. This logic is faulty. You agreed that it was faulty in your earlier comment. Why do you persist in clinging to it?

Further, contrary to your claims otherwise, I did provide a repeatable method ("experiment") by which one can obtain a quantifiable answer to the question, What is the probability of experiencing a weird-as-hell event? It's a method of measuring the quantity via random statistical sampling of the population of humans. (Do you now wish to claim that in addition to "unanswerable questions," scientists and other experimenters should remove measurements from their tool boxes?) So, even your moot objection of, "You must provide a repeatable experiment!" is without merit.

To summarize, I have shown:

  • what the correct question is,
  • that the author's original question was too narrowly framed, and
  • that (although irrelevant to the matter at hand) the correct question can be answered.
Do you still disagree?

--
My blog | LectroTest

[ Disagree? Reply. ]


[ Parent ]
Perhaps it's already been done (none / 0) (#336)
by pyramid termite on Wed Jun 12, 2002 at 08:04:00 PM EST

Again, you are clinging to the already-dismantled notion that unless a question can be stated in a form for which a crisp, clean, easily-quantifiable answer can be obtained, the question must somehow be invalid.

I said you couldn't design an experiment around it. I also said that it isn't whether it can be eventually answered at some point in time; it's whether it EVER can be answered. You haven't even defined "weird-as-hell" - do you really think that all the people you ask are going to have the same interpretation of it? Furthermore, it's not just a matter of defining what weird as hell is - it's a matter of defining what the set of all possible events is. That could be a bigger set than the total number of atoms in the universe. It boggles my mind.

It would be better if the people were actually asked to describe these weird as hell events and then odds calculated as to their actual liklihood. Knowing human nature, I'd be willing to bet a couple of those people would say - "why, I was at this party and there was someone who had the same birthday as me". Or, "I won a TV set at a church raffle". Or, "I saw a UFO". The odds for the first two instances aren't startling at all; they're nowhere in the same league as what localroger experienced. I don't even know how you'd quantify the odds of the last statement. First you'd have to determine whether the person actually saw one or not. A lot of the occurances people are going to report as weird as hell are going to be "I saw a ghost" "Jesus spoke to me" etc etc. Do you really think that data's going to be useful?

It's a method of measuring the quantity via random statistical sampling of the population of humans.

I did some web searching and discovered that 12% percent of people reported seeing a UFO, according to a 1996 Gallup Poll. 48% think they are real. 71% believe the government knows more than they're telling about them. 12% believe in channeling, 25% believe in astrology, 30% believe in ghosts, 56% believe in the devil, and 72% believe in angels. (http://www.parascope.com/articles/0597/gallup.htm)

All weird as hell events or concepts measured by random statistical sampling. But what's really been proved here? Is this evidence of what localroger is saying, or is it irrelevant?

I just don't think you realize what a can of worms you're opening when you insist on phrasing the question in the way you've framed it - one interpretation of the data I've given you is that logalroger's view that unlikely things happen in the universe much more than they should according to chance has been proven. Another interpretation would be that it's irrelevant because people don't always understand what they've seen or heard of, (or make a distinction between the two), and believe things have happened that are questionable - and if people's reports in these polls shouldn't be trusted, why should the data in your proposed poll be trusted?

That's why I don't think your question or your method of answering it is useful. An experiment with Tarot cards may be limited and not answer everything that pertains to this issue, but at least the results would be understandable and definable.
On the Internet, anyone can accuse you of being a dog.
[ Parent ]
Back to the point (none / 0) (#340)
by tmoertel on Wed Jun 12, 2002 at 10:56:46 PM EST

All [of these UFO sightings are] weird as hell events or concepts measured by random statistical sampling. But what's really been proved here? Is this evidence of what localroger is saying, or is it irrelevant?
It is irrelevant because your are equivocating. My use of "weird as hell" was defined (by John Miles in his earlier comment) to refer to a coincidence so improbable as to seem impossible. My use of the term throughout the conversation has been consistent with this definition. That's why in my sampling experiment I required the reading of localroger's Tarot story, which would make clear the we were interested in seemingly impossible coincidences rather than anything merely unusual. Your UFO-related research, on the other hand, relates to the common understanding of "weird as hell," in which anything out of the ordinary may qualify. Pretending that the two definitions are the same is flawed reasoning.
That's why I don't think your question or your method of answering it is useful. An experiment with Tarot cards may be limited and not answer everything that pertains to this issue, but at least the results would be understandable and definable.
Ah, but my question is useful for its intended purpose: To demonstrate that it is the correct question and thus that the question underlying the author's thesis is not. (Do you not agree that the correct question regards the likelihood of localroger's having experienced any event so seemingly unlikely that he would have questioned the consistency of the universe -- not just one such event in particular?) After all, the point of contention is whether the author's Tarot experience provides sufficient grounds to question the consistency of the universe.

Whether my question is answerable is irrelevant to the point of contention, so I hope you will agree that we need not argue that matter further.

--
My blog | LectroTest

[ Disagree? Reply. ]


[ Parent ]
Three points (none / 0) (#347)
by pyramid termite on Thu Jun 13, 2002 at 07:51:16 AM EST

1. I was not equivocating - you were failing to define your terms. You still haven't defined them that well but at least this time you've tried.

2. Even with defined terms, to get a reasonably accurate statistical sample of the world's people would mean interviewing hundreds of thousands of people. Considering that the phenomenon we're looking for should be reported by a percentage of people that would be greater than our sampling error, perhaps millions would be preferable. I would agree that such a survey, which would require that the odds be calculated by the people conducting the survey, and should also require that the report events be confirmed could be quite interesting. It would also be the sociological equivalent of the Apollo Program - simply huge.

3. If your question isn't answerable, it's not going to make a good experiment.

Bye.
On the Internet, anyone can accuse you of being a dog.
[ Parent ]
Good article (4.00 / 5) (#137)
by Anonymous 242 on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 02:17:01 PM EST

I wish you would have brought up Hume's posing of why we presume the principle of universal conformity. Certainly the universe seems consistant a good deal of the time. But how can we rationally justify the principle of universal conformity?

Second, it seems to me that your essay is really more about perceiving consistency than whether or not the universe is consistent. Take your DOOMiverse thought experiment. For the purpose of the experiment it doesn't matter whether or not the universe is consistent. The only thing that matters is whether the perceptable universe (the DOOMiverse) is consistent. Hence we can draw the rather unenlightening conclusion that those who perceive consistency in the universe hold the universe to be consistent.

Another way of rephrasing the same question above is how does one know that the Tarot cards do not follow a consistent set of imperceptable rules? We don't. We can't. Hence, we cannot reasonably conclude whether or not your highly improbably series of dealt hands are consistent with the universe or not. All we can judge is that such a series is highly improbable (and some would also point out that there are quite a few perceptable reasons as to why such a series of hands might be dealt that are entirely perceptable in a properly controlled setting.)

Again, I greatly enjoyed your article. I encourage you write a follow up in a few weeks or months that expand your ideas. I find them fascinating.

-l

Neo said it better... (3.60 / 5) (#144)
by Skywise on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 02:46:54 PM EST

"There is no spoon..."

You've got a great post, but the Tarot argument is flawed.  For instance, take a typical deck of cards and arrange the deck in alternating color order (red, black, red, black).  Shuffle the deck once.  Now pick off pairs.  Each pair you pick off will be of the same color, all through the deck.

But that's a trick!  Well yeah, but that's your point.  You're observing a "hack" in the universe which also demonstrates the flaws in your argument.  Science requries a consistent universe to verify its experimental results.  But the laws we write from these results are approximations of the observations.  What you're seeing is a conflict in the laws of randomness and the laws of  mathematics.  But it's not because you've bent the cards to your will. (Or maybe you have in a sense, but that's another argument...)  But because in this case one law takes precedence over another.

However, nothing you can do (so far as we know) will change the deck of cards into a bunny rabbit.  And here's where the question shifts from science to the philosophical.  What if we discover one day that if we say a particular word, the deck of cards turns into a bunny rabbit.  Does that make the universe inconsistent?  No.  So long as you can do it repeatedly, that means we've got a bad observation somewhere and man will have to rewrite his laws.  That holds true so long as there's one consistent part of that action (the word, you, the bunny rabbit, the cards).  Even if you randomly change out 3 of the four, you'll still have a consistency to base the universe on.

The logic of your article occurs at the two extremes of that problem.  If the action is not repeatable (a miracle) the universe is not consistent.  But that has such a limited impact on man's life, it will be easily waived away. (The universe is still mostly consistent).  The other extreme is when the universe begins behaving irrationally.  Man cannot survive in this universe (most actions have random outcomes) and so it's delegated a non-issue.

But here's the kicker... We can and do bend the universe to our will.  Maybe not so much in the metaphysical context.  But we can fly, we can go to the moon, we can cheat death... and on a social level, we have complete and total control over our daily lives... peace, war, money, love and relationships... Which is far more important to most men anyway than the number of angels on a pinhead...

Not necessarily (none / 0) (#147)
by wurp on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 03:02:27 PM EST

It is easily possible for the universe to be consistently unpredictable yet still support life. A simple example is to propose that some all-knowing and all-powerful god controls the universe. He could easily make the results of every action be unknowable (except to something outside the system like himself) yet the skein of actions could still produce a world in which we could live.
---
Buy my stuff
[ Parent ]
An excellent point (5.00 / 1) (#176)
by localroger on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 06:20:29 PM EST

However, nothing you can do (so far as we know) will change the deck of cards into a bunny rabbit.

This is something I wish more New Age type people would understand. While I've seen a large number of astonishing things in my experiments, all of them have had "plausible" explanations (even if "plausibility" has been stretched thinner than a Pentium circuit trace in some cases). There is clearly some kind of limit at work, even though the basic principle seems to bypass everything we assume to be true about the Universe.

G. Harry Stine once wrote a neat little book called On the Frontiers of Science. In it he chronicled a story similar to my own, describing projects which seemed to function despite being pinned on ridiculous principles. (Stine, incidentally, is one of those people who had no reason to risk a solid career and reputation by coming out with this stuff.) A lot of Stine's projects involve "radionics," which Stine doesn't realize is a branch of magic which gets its symbolic system from science and technology.

At one point Stine was so astonished by the results of an experiment that he put the device (a "wishing amplifier") away, thinking it too dangerous to loose upon the world. Later he recanted, and included it in his book; he explained that there seems to be a kind of "brake" on these phenomena, and while they can perform literal miracles they can only do so within certain limits.

Whatever magic can do, one thing it definitely can't do is allow you to stand on a mountain and hurl lightning bolts at your enemies a la Dungeons and Dragons.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

Reality hacks (5.00 / 1) (#195)
by libertine on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 09:51:29 PM EST

I think what many people have difficulties with is the idea that the physical universe may only be a subset.

The problem, that comes from the idea of living within a subset, is that you can know you can never measure what occurs from outside of your reach of perception, and now there exists an unmeasurable universe that doesn't play by the rules you accept or have defined- or, more accurately, there is a fear of the idea that a subset would mean such a thing.

So, rather than accept a universe that is unpredictable, over which man has no control (and think about this one, kids- magic, religion, and science all have one purpose), people misquote Occam in order to prove their points about some Tarot readings- which is supposed to somehow invalidate the whole subject of the article, and allow them some comfort in a Universe that can be explained to some small extent...

"Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily." -Occam, from the Latin.

This is the one I think people are leaning on:
"We are to admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances."  -Leibniz

This is the one that a lot of people think about when someone says "Occam":
"when you have two competing theories which make exactly the same predictions, the one that is simpler is the better."

When you get down to the card trick, the first thing people say is that the shuffle must have been botched, and therefore the Tarot readings are botched.  Simplest explanation- IF the shuffler did not take this into account.  The simplest explanation if the shuffler DID shuffle correctly (and took notes on how this was done EVERY time, which this shuffler did), is that something wonky is happening.  Instead, people jump anywhere but to that conclusion.  Most people cannot abide by explanations outside of their control of the world and their view of it.

If you do, somehow, come to the conclusion that the physical universe is a subset, and you really don't know the rules, if any, that apply outside of the subset, then how do you deal with that?

That last question was rhetorical for myself.  I am comfortable with the idea that there are things which cannot be explained nor defined from my perspective.  Then again, the only way you can know if you are part of a "physical" subset is to die (lose your physical place in the subset) and find out.


"Live for lust. Lust for life."
[ Parent ]

Three possibilities (none / 0) (#198)
by dipierro on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 10:08:13 PM EST

The simplest explanation if the shuffler DID shuffle correctly (and took notes on how this was done EVERY time, which this shuffler did), is that something wonky is happening.

"Something wonky is happening" does not imply that the laws of physics are violated. That something wonky could be a manifestation of already known physical laws (the shuffle was not ordered due to random chance or subconscious act). That something could be a manifestation of not yet known physical laws (mental thought has the ability to change the pictures on the cards). Or that something could be a manifestation of non-physical laws (essentially, laws which cannot ever be known during this physical existence; God came down and stopped the bullets).


In capitalism, man exploits man. In socialism, it's the other way around.
[ Parent ]
Plato (5.00 / 3) (#202)
by DavidTC on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 10:45:36 PM EST

I have to point out taht this is what Plato was thinking with his 'shadows on a cave wall' analogy. Basically, if we were stuck in a cave, and all we could see were the shadows of people walking in front of a fire, we'd come up with all sorts of rules about the universe based on these rules.

It's pretty neat, but I'm not doing it justice. Google for it.

-David T. C.
Yes, my email address is real.
[ Parent ]

Hacking Reality... (3.00 / 1) (#226)
by Skywise on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 02:21:55 AM EST

I'm not saying there *isn't* another set of rules that we can act upon in our reality.  (For instance, Psychic abilities...)  But there's a simpler logic in play here.
Events outside the norm are unrecognized by man, and hence, not controllable by man.  Let's use the Tarot  here for the example.  So we've got a situation here which, on the face of it, appears to demonstrate that the cards can foretell the future.  Man's science says this is BS and that what we're really seeing here is statistics in action with a little human imagination.  But what if it *is* true and the cards can foretell the future..  Then man will harness it into his science without the drama, and it will become "fact" and man will control it.  Just like man can  now fly and cure disease, man will discover that Midichlorians act as vibrational relationships to a persons future...
But what if it's not something that can be regulated into science, or exhibits a pattern..  Well, man's already handling this scenario in situations like quantum physics and chaos theory...Man "controls" it at the system level, which *is* patternable, or at whatever level it takes to get a pattern.  All you have to fulfill are 3 steps... observe it, pattern it, and then you can manipulate it.

Now the ultimate question is whether or not there are things that outside of man's observational capability and that there's more to life than the observable world.  The answer is yes.  (Micro-science was forbidden to man until very recently)  But you can't even begin to think about that thing until you have an internal language to represent that thing in your head.  You have to have the idea of the thing in your head first (foretelling the future with Tarot cards) before you can actually DO IT.

We're all talking about the same thing.  But you guys aren't going far enough and don't realize that the logical tools we've established, can extend us beyond this realm...

[ Parent ]

Ask a stupid qustion.... (2.00 / 2) (#155)
by bjlhct on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 03:35:38 PM EST

Of course the universe is consistent. For a certain value of consistent.

However, since it is reality, it has to define reality, so it ISD what's consistent. We can't say that the Universe has a problem when it doesn't conform to the models we built off it.

*
[kur0(or)5hin http://www.kuro5hin.org/intelligence] - drowning your sorrows in intellectualism

consistency is observable (4.50 / 2) (#158)
by khallow on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 03:48:49 PM EST

The ultimate question to be answered is whether the universe appears to be consistent or not. And the answer is that up to current observations, the universe is astoundingly consistent. We can observe it in a vast number of ways and none have revealed any real consistency issues. When something inconsistent with theory turns up, it's because our understanding of the universe turns out to be incorrect, not because the universe changed its rules on us.

Even your tarot card reading indicates no consistency problems - it might just mean that your mind has evolved (in a manner consistent with the universe as we know it) over billions of years so that now it would only exist in states where those tarot cards addressed your problem.

My point is that consistency is something we can observe. The universe is observed to be consistent both near and far. Hence, the dogma of unversal consistency has become part of science. One can question whether the scientific "method", etc are really valid. However, whatever science is doing, it does generate statements about the universe (and us) that are extremely hard to refute by observation. Ultimately, that is the issue. If something is never observed (and can never be observed) does that thing exist? The dogmatic answer ultimately is "no." No other answer is consistent.

Stating the obvious since 1969.

Poincare (5.00 / 1) (#184)
by salsaman on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 07:53:43 PM EST

Your post reminded me of some of the points Henri Poincare makes in his book "Science and Hypothesis" (1952).

To summarise the book (in case you haven't read it), he talks about and explains the scientific method. He states that for any given set of observations, there is an infinite number of hypotheses to explain them.

[However as human beings we can only discover a finite sub set of them of course]. How then do we handle this number of hypotheses ? In order to test these hypotheses, he writes, we must use each of them to predict the outcomes of experiments whose conditions *vary as widely as possible* from the conditions wherein the observations were taken. If a particular hypothesis can predict all observations correctly, then we label it 'true', otherwise we label it 'false' and discard it.

Of course a 'true' hypothesis can later become 'false' if we conduct further experiments whose outcomes differ from prediction.

He goes on to say that since we can only ever test a finite number of hypotheses, it is possible (even probable) that we will never discover a 'true' hypothesis for some sets of observations. However this doesn't make our true hypotheses useless, rather we should not worry about it until we make a prediction which proves not to be right; but we should not be surprised if and when this happens. This is why he makes his recommendations about testing extreme conditions because he believes this will minimise the chances of it happening.

He also mentions the fact that even our 'true' hypotheses (theorems) do not tell us anything about the underlying reality of the observations they predict. Hypotheses are mathematical constucts, and the world is a physical process. Hypotheses are simply a tool we use to make predictions.

[Disclaimer - I read the book a few years ago, memory like a seive, etc, etc]

[ Parent ]

poincare (5.00 / 1) (#196)
by martingale on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 09:51:45 PM EST

I just want to point out that Poincare actually died in 1912. So the 1952 publishing date you give is somewhat misleading, for it gives his ideas a more modern appearance. That's not to say his writings aren't worth reading, just that they are a bit dated. Another mathematician worth reading is George Polya (I think the book is called "how to solve it" or something).

[ Parent ]
You are right ! (5.00 / 1) (#239)
by salsaman on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 05:30:15 AM EST

I checked the date on the web, and I was surprised about it too.

Now that you mention it, I think it was when the first English translation was published.

[ Parent ]

Dated or not (none / 0) (#310)
by khallow on Tue Jun 11, 2002 at 09:10:52 AM EST

As the best mathematician of the 20th century, he probably should be given some consideration.

Stating the obvious since 1969.
[ Parent ]

that's debatable (none / 0) (#316)
by martingale on Tue Jun 11, 2002 at 06:07:03 PM EST

He certainly was one of the best 19th century mathematicians. What happened in the 20th century was that the subject became so big that meaningful contributions required specialization. Poincare is sometimes known as the last great generalist.

[ Parent ]
scrappy comeback (5.00 / 1) (#332)
by khallow on Wed Jun 12, 2002 at 02:27:21 PM EST

He certainly was one of the best 19th century mathematicians. What happened in the 20th century was that the subject became so big that meaningful contributions required specialization. Poincare is sometimes known as the last great generalist.

Ok, I won't debate the point. FWIW, I think there will be more generalists, they just won't be human as we know it.

Stating the obvious since 1969.
[ Parent ]

Universe is consistent, by definition (4.00 / 2) (#191)
by swr on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 09:19:06 PM EST

The ultimate question to be answered is whether the universe appears to be consistent or not. And the answer is that up to current observations, the universe is astoundingly consistent.

Where does the concept of "consistency" come from? It comes from observing the universe. The universe is consistent, by definition. The definition of consistency is derived from the behavior universe.

Saying that the universe is consistent is like saying that the universe behaves in a way that is remarkably similar to the way that the universe behaves. It is circular logic. It doesn't really mean anything.



[ Parent ]
No (none / 0) (#309)
by khallow on Tue Jun 11, 2002 at 09:07:53 AM EST

Consistency comes from being able to make repeated observations of similar systems and getting results that fit some model.

Stating the obvious since 1969.
[ Parent ]

Suggested Reading... (4.50 / 4) (#164)
by joeyo on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 04:39:28 PM EST

But there are problems. The simple rules which describe the motion of astronomical bodies are not consistent with the simple rules that describe the behavior of subatomic particles, and attempts to merge the two simple systems are not so simple.

This is indeed an interesting phenomenon, and one which seems to repeat itself throughout both physics and mathematics.  For a good general introduction, I'd suggest Michael Berry's recent article in Physics Today, Singular Limits (PDF File.)

-- I'm down with the sodomites. They have all the fun. --Rusty

Does it matter ? (3.66 / 3) (#171)
by bugmaster on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 05:38:47 PM EST

Does it matter if the Universe is "consistent" all the time, or only when we're looking ? For example, let's pretend that if a tree falls in the forest, and there's no one there to hear it, then it makes no sound. Or maybe, sometimes it plays an N'Sync song, insetad of that "crash" sound. Or maybe it says "auch". Or all of the above. However, when there is someone in the forest to hear the tree, it makes that "crash" sound each time.

Well, by definition, we will never be able to test this claim. We will never be to test what happens to the tree when when we are not there to hear it fall, since we'd have to be there to begin with. In this case, why should we care ? For all intents and purposes, the tree might as well always make that "crash" sound, since no one will ever be able to experience anything to the contrary.
>|<*:=

Indeed, (none / 0) (#180)
by JChen on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 06:50:21 PM EST

Does it really matter that much? This is like trying to measure the volume of the oceans with a beaker, as it sounds more philosophical and theoretical than scientific, a subject to be debated in a salon rather than implored in a laboratory.

Let us do as we say.
[ Parent ]
Lotsa stuff matters (4.00 / 1) (#228)
by joecool12321 on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 02:27:33 AM EST

I think what concerns me the most about scientism is the attitude, "If it isn't science, it doesn't matter."
  1.  Lots of science (especially the cutting edge) "doesn't matter".  Now, what's cool is that information gleaned from the cutting edge is usually tremendously useful.  However, at the time there's usually no immediate application.  This is creating a big problem, as anyone in the science community knows.  It's harder and harder to get money for really theoretical work.  "What's the utility?"  Sometimes, we don't even know what the knowledge will be good for!
  2.  Lots of 'stuff' matters.  I can't scientifically prove to you that it's wrong to murder people because they are Jewish.  Yet your answer to this question turns out to be (or did at one point) tremendously important!
In conclusion, don't worship science and forget philosophy.  

--Joey

[ Parent ]

Difference (5.00 / 1) (#244)
by bugmaster on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 08:27:51 AM EST

First of all, what's "scientism" ? Is that just some word you made up ? Anyway, moving right along:
Lots of science (especially the cutting edge) "doesn't matter". Now, what's cool is that information gleaned from the cutting edge is usually tremendously useful. However, at the time there's usually no immediate application.
This is exactly what I was not claiming. In the case of "edge science", we can perform experiments to collect data and verify our hypotheses. We even built cool gigantic supercolliders to do that. This is radically different from the case of the soundless tree, where an experiment cannot be devised to verify the claim, by definition. When I say "the tree does not matter", what I mean is, "by definition, it's impossible to find out, so what's the point worrying about it ?". I don't care about practical applications, one way or another.

Same thing goes for not killing people, of course, though I bet I can scientficially prove to you that societies that did not have the "don't kill people" clause in their moral code, did not do so well over the course of history.
>|<*:=
[ Parent ]

Care to deliver? (none / 0) (#275)
by cr8dle2grave on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 07:20:52 PM EST

Same thing goes for not killing people, of course, though I bet I can scientficially prove to you that societies that did not have the "don't kill people" clause in their moral code, did not do so well over the course of history.

I, for one, would love to hear such a scientific proof.

---
Unity of mankind means: No escape for anyone anywhere. - Milan Kundera


[ Parent ]
Re: Care to deliver ? (none / 0) (#387)
by bugmaster on Sun Jun 16, 2002 at 08:53:12 PM EST

You got me there - I am not a sociologist or a historian, and I cannot readily cite studies off the top of my head. However, a quick search on google has yielded some random results. I am sure I would be much more prepared to "deliver" if I was a history or sociology major in college. Also, see my reply to the other thread above.
>|<*:=
[ Parent ]
Reply (2.00 / 1) (#299)
by joecool12321 on Tue Jun 11, 2002 at 03:12:47 AM EST

"First of all, what's 'scientism' ? Is that just some word you made up ?"

I have to thank you for that; I haven't had soda come through my nose in quite some time.  No the word is not made up.  It means "The belief that the investigative methods of the physical sciences are applicable or justifiable in all fields of inquiry."

A semantic clarification:  It seems by your definition something "matters" if and only if it is possible to find out according to scientific methodologies.

Well, that worries me a little bit.  Is it wrong to kill Blacks simply because they are black?  Apparently, that question doesn't matter.  Is the MPAA wrong, the DMCA unjust?  It doesn't matter, there's no scientific proof for a claimant on either side.

What does matter is the mean distance from the earth to the sun.

"I bet I can scientifically prove to you that societies that did not have the "don't kill people" clause in their moral code, did not do so well over the course of history."

What does it mean to "do so well"?  That's irrelevant, you can't prove what it is to do well.

Ultimately, I think your definition of what "matters" is very shaky, and should be rejected.

--Joey

P.S. Does it matter that other people exist?


[ Parent ]

Re: Reply (5.00 / 1) (#386)
by bugmaster on Sun Jun 16, 2002 at 08:46:37 PM EST

Well, if your definition of "scientism" is as narrow as you described above:
The belief that the investigative methods of the physical sciences are applicable or justifiable in all fields of inquiry
then I must reject "scientism", as well. Not everything can be measured with a vernier caliper. However, I believe that, in the broader sense, the only things worth worrying about are the things that we humans might eventually observe (directly or indirectly). I can observe the DMCA first-hand (heck, I can read the text of it online), and it does have an immediate impact on me. Furthermore, I can offer evidence of multiple cases (such as the Sklyarov travesty) where the DMCA was clearly used to screw people over. If I had the time, I could count up the number of cases where the DMCA was used to stop piracy, vs the number of cases where the DMCA was used to suppress speech or competition, and show that, statistically speaking, DMCA is mostly used for ill, not for good.

Of course, this study would not be as rigorous as Newton's laws of physics; however, you might agree that it is still more rigorous than, say, sitting at home thinking about stuff.

Same thing goes for societies that do "well". We can calculate the weigthed average of the quality of life of any individual in a society (the sum total of the goods he owns, the free time he has, etc.). I think most people would agree that this value would be larger for a USian than, say, for a member of the feudal England. Such studies have been done many times by historians and sociologists.

Note that, in all the examples above, I keep using the results of actual observations (direct or pre-recorded) to arrive at some conclusion. Contrast this with the case of the soundlessly falling tree, where observations are impossible by definition. If we define the problem in such a way that no one, ever, will have a chance to observe the results, directly or indirectly... Then what does it matter ? It will never affect anyone.
>|<*:=
[ Parent ]

madness, pure madness. (4.33 / 9) (#181)
by parasite on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 06:53:55 PM EST

You lost your militant atheism over a deck of cards ? DUDE!! Argh!!! That is madness, pure madness.

I won't mention the odds, because there are two more important points people often over look:

1. If seemingly peculiar things DIDN'T happen AT ALL, then THEN you would have reason to question what is going on here. So many times people forget that 99% of their lives there is nothing happening -- right in front of their face -- that has very low odds of happening. Think of all the other possibilities that DIDN'T HAPPEN -- there are BILLIONS of possibilities that never came true. For example: did 8 consecutive cars pass you -- and all had the same first 3 digits ANZ on their license plate ?? Nope. If you'll just day dream for a minute, I'm sure you can come up with 1000's of similar possibilties that would have drawn your attention HAD they come true, but drew no attention because they did not.

Now when you take into consideration the billions of other things that COULD have happened and didn't, it would only be strange if one of them DIDN'T happen.

2. In that deck of cards alone -- think of all the OTHER possible "patterns" that would have been of low odds to occur, but yet would have set off your "this is WEIRD" detector. There are so many combinations that seem WEIRD, it would almost guarantee one of those possibilities eventually happen to you.

The weirdest game of poker last night (4.00 / 4) (#227)
by joecool12321 on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 02:22:02 AM EST

I was playing poker last night with three other friends.  We ended up playing through 34 hands.  On the 34th hand, I was dealt a 4c 4h 8d As 10d.  My other friends were dealt (from my left, clockwise):

Js 8s 3h 7s Jd

  1. c 2s 3s 9s Qc
  2. s 9d Kd Kh Jc
Now, it's been a while since I've taken my probability classes, but I think that was a most unlikely hand to have dealt.  Because there was no replacement, the probability is (52-20)!/52!.  I had a 1 out of 3e32 chance to play that game, and that doesn't even count the cards we drew!  

Let me head off one quick objection. While it is true that the order of the cards dealt in the hand don't matter to the game, it matters to me!  How much more improbable was it that I was dealt a 4c first, and not second!

--Joey

P.S. I called my mom to tell her about the amazing card game, and all she had to say was, "Did you win?  Because that doesn't seem like an exceptional hand."  Bah!  Not exceptional to whom?

[ Parent ]

The Big IF (3.33 / 3) (#257)
by mmcc on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 12:08:12 PM EST

If you'd predicted it before you'd played your game, then I'd call it wierd.

How many people say "I'm going to win Lotto this week" and win? How many Lotto winners say "Isn't it amazing I won! Wow, consider the odds!".



[ Parent ]

consider your k5 life... (1.00 / 1) (#232)
by johwsun on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 03:23:19 AM EST

..what is the possibility, while you are writing an article on k5, to find yourself playing Doom?

You may said no possibility, but this depends on rusty god.

The reason you dont find yourself playing Doom while trying to write an article on k5 is the same reason why nothing else except the expectable happens in 99.99999% of the cases.

[ Parent ]

Math proves this (2.66 / 6) (#186)
by freddie on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 08:11:02 PM EST

Goedel's imcompleteness theorem, which states that no logical system with a finite set of axioms can:
  1. be proven to be consistent
  2. be complete
among other things.

This crushed the hopes of mathematicians of ever finding a complete of set of axioms from which all theorems could be calculated.

Goedel's incompleteness theory applies to everything from science to law, and anywhere else were logic is applied.

Science cannot, and will not ever be able to serve as an explantion for all phenomena. Geeks ought to know this!


Imagination is more important than knowledge. -- Albert Einstein
No it doesn't (4.00 / 1) (#235)
by Obvious Pseudonym on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 04:16:58 AM EST

Goedel's imcompleteness theorem, which states that no logical system with a finite set of axioms can:

1. be proven to be consistent

2. be complete

This is a common fallacy about Goedel's theorem. What it actually states is that no logical system that attempts to fully describe number theory can ever be complete. This is because it is always theoretically possible to produce a valid self-referential theorem that states 'This theroem is not valid'. Other (non-self-referential) logical systems can be complete and consistent.

Goedel's incompleteness theory applies to everything from science to law, and anywhere else were logic is applied.

No it doesn't. It only applies in certain theoretical cases - not everything. In Law, for example, the equivalent would be a law stating 'Obeying this law is illegal'. While this is certainly a possible law, it would never be passed by any sane lawmaker. Law does not attempt to cover every theoretically possible situation, only those that people care enough about to enforce.

Obvious Pseudonym

I am obviously right, and as you disagree with me, then logically you must be wrong.
[ Parent ]

Question (none / 0) (#248)
by pyramid termite on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 09:01:47 AM EST

Other (non-self-referential) logical systems can be complete and consistent.

How do you think about the universe without the system being self-referential?

I am obviously right, and as you disagree with me, then logically you must be wrong.

Oh. Well, then you're right, aren't you? ;-)
On the Internet, anyone can accuse you of being a dog.
[ Parent ]
This subject is not self-referential... (5.00 / 1) (#250)
by Obvious Pseudonym on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 09:22:06 AM EST

How do you think about the universe without the system being self-referential?

You can't - however, If I understand the theorem properly, it would seem to indicate that we cannot ever formulate a description (using axiomatic logic) of the way the universe works that both completely describes the universe and is also totally internally consistent.

However, as far as I know, no-one is trying to do this. What people are trying to do is hypothesise about the structure of the universe based on observational data. These sorts of theory are very different from the abstract nature of axiomatic logic (which is only really used in the virtual realms of mathematics and computer programming - not to describe the real world).

Obvious Pseudonym

I am obviously right, and as you disagree with me, then logically you must be wrong.
[ Parent ]

You are confused (1.00 / 1) (#265)
by freddie on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 03:17:44 PM EST

You are confusing Goedel's incompleteness theorem with Church's thesis.


Imagination is more important than knowledge. -- Albert Einstein
[ Parent ]
Mathematical proof vs Scientific proof (4.00 / 1) (#236)
by zakalwe on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 04:24:32 AM EST


Science cannot, and will not ever be able to serve as an explantion for all phenomena.

This is not necessarily true.  Science has much lower requirements for explaining something than mathematice, in that it requires only evidence rather than absolute proof.  

Certainly it is possible to imagine universe where science could explain all possible phenomena (eg a completely empty universe, or one in which the only interaction could be completely explained by newtonian physics.  Our universe is a lot more complicated than this, but there is no theoretical reason science can't give a perfectly accurate explanation, providing there is a strictly finite number of phenomena to explain.  It can't prove it, because science can't prove anything, contingent as it is on the assumption that things remain consistant, and are repeatable.

[ Parent ]

I challenge you! (1.00 / 1) (#325)
by johwsun on Wed Jun 12, 2002 at 07:36:28 AM EST

..to point me to just ONE accurate explanation science managed to give. There is no one!

Science is a pile of shits, all together mixed with the Lie that the True explanation has been discovered for our universe.

No truth can be discovered by science and science is a lie, because induction is a lie. Everything is just statistics, and statistics is the only truth. And statistics just said to us that everything and anything can happen, which is equivalent to the truth that any observable "law" is just position dependant. You can find reverse or different laws in another spot of our universe, and start get used with that idea!
 

[ Parent ]

Induction is the only way we have (5.00 / 1) (#327)
by zakalwe on Wed Jun 12, 2002 at 09:01:50 AM EST


..to point me to just ONE accurate explanation science managed to give. There is no one!

OK. science can explain why the sun rises in the east each morning, why we have seasons, and why they are different at different points on the earth.  These can all be explained by the scientific theorys "The earth revolves around the sun", "The earth rotates each day" and "The earths axis is tilted compared to the orbit." Observations explained.  None of these theorys require that we give perfect description of how the earth moves, or why, though those are also interesting questions - however those are not required to explain the phenomena the original question asked.

There are countless theories like this, and many, (such as that one) are practically certain, thanks to further observations from space etc.

And statistics just said to us that everything and anything can happen, which is equivalent to the truth that any observable "law" is just position dependant.

It may indeed be the case that laws are position dependant.  I'm not sure what this has to do with statistics.  If we find that the gravitational constant is different at certain places, it just means our theorys are inaccurate.  We still have a decent theory for "How objects attract each other in the vicinity of earth" - we just need to extend our theorys to make it more universal.

It is true that Science is based on induction (at least for the observations of our assumptions and axioms), and it is true that it cannot prove something in the mathematical sense of the word.  However, induction is not a "lie." - science does not claim to absolutely prove something - it only seeks to give strong evidence.  In fact, the assumption that induction is a valid means of predicting the future is an assumption you can't avoid making.  Without it, everything you observe is meaningless.  Rejecting the principle that what you observe now will be similar to what you will observe in one seconds time means that the only conclusion you can reach is that the Universe (and yourself) is perfectly meaningless.  Basicly a stronger form of solipsism, since you can't even make the claim that your conciousness will exist beyond the current instant either.

So science just relys on an assumption that must be made anyway, to have any way of explaining anything.  It uses it consistantly, and recognises the flaws in the assumption by acknowledging that new evidence could show the current theorys to be wrong, or inexact.

[ Parent ]

the laws of physics are position dependant. (1.00 / 1) (#342)
by johwsun on Thu Jun 13, 2002 at 02:39:36 AM EST

..thats why, induction (if you coinsider it as a law) it is position dependant too.. You can tell that the wall behind your back cannot move, but dont induct this to MY wall.

Induction is not the only method we have. Actually we dont need it. The only thing that we really need is observation, statistical measurments and mathematics in order to construct a possible model that addapts to our observation and experiments.

You dont need to induct. If you want to be accurate and true you have to admit that: I have made 100 experiments and observations. The possible experiments and observations are 100000. So I can tell with a probability of 0,001% that the model I propose in order to explain the phenomenon is correct. If you want to increase your probability for your model to be correct, increase your observations and experiments.

This is the exact thing weather engeneerings do , and thats why they can somehow predict weather. This is the exact thing people have been doing with the gravity law , thats why gravity law is somehow correct.

I would like to hear scientists talking like that, because many of them say to you that their laws are 100% or 99% correct which is a lie of course. They have sometimes such an arrogance that they are naming their laws, God laws!

[ Parent ]

Still rely on Induction. (none / 0) (#343)
by zakalwe on Thu Jun 13, 2002 at 04:34:45 AM EST

Thats why, induction (if you coinsider it as a law) it is position dependant too.
No. Induction is the method by which we say "Because the wall was 3 meters high every time I measured it, it will be 3 meters next time I measure it." It is just as applicable to distance as to time. ie. since the coefficient of gravity on earth is ~9.8, and the measurements of the solar system indicate it is ~9.8 throughout, and our observations of distant stars in the galaxy indicate it is 9.8 there, we conclude that it is 9.8 throughout the universe. Induction is the assumption that things will behave similarly to the similar things we have already observed. We even apply it to other differences than space and time - if I see a new species of bird, I assume it will act similarly to other birds.
The possible experiments and observations are 100000. So I can tell with a probability of 0,001% that the model I propose in order to explain the phenomenon is correct.
You are still relying on induction. You are basing your prediction on how the world has acted under the previous experiments. Extending this to how it will act under future actions is relying on induction - you think it will act similarly to how it has before. Note that your measure of probability is wrong though. In reality there are always a near-infinite number of possible experiments. To be absolutely certain, you would have to observe every particle at every point in time that it exists. In practice, we acquire confidence with just a tiny subset of all the available evidence, even when our sample is quite balanced (eg. all done on Earth, around the 20th Century.)
I would like to hear scientists talking like that, because many of them say to you that their laws are 100% or 99% correct which is a lie of course.
I don't think many do. I've certainly never heard a modern scientist state that they are 100% certain their theory will never be supplanted. I've heard Newton's laws referred to as "God's Laws" but I don't think I would consider this arrogant. Its just a statement that the laws were in fact the way the universe really worked. We /now/ know this to be inaccurate, but it would have seemed a reasonable assumption in Newton's time.

[ Parent ]
..when I said position dependant laws .... (none / 0) (#344)
by johwsun on Thu Jun 13, 2002 at 06:10:23 AM EST

..I include both space and time.

Imagine weather: You cannot predict weather for ever! You can take your statistic measurements, then make an aproximation of weather nearby your measurements. Nearby means: near in space and near in time.

The same should happen with the laws-models you are proposing in order to explain your local universe. (and not the whole universe of course!)

You should not be based on induction, for a long space and time, but for a short one.
Induction may work near you, but not far away from you. Induction (whatever you consider it, a law or a method) is position dependant and cannot be extended for ever.

You may find positions where induction is not valid at all.


[ Parent ]

positions where induction is not valid. (none / 0) (#345)
by johwsun on Thu Jun 13, 2002 at 06:37:26 AM EST

For example, inside heat:
you can not induct (and predict) the motion of the heated molecules.
The more information a system contains, the more it can be inducted.

I define information as defined by Boltzman (a measurement of taxis).
Because if you consider information as defined by Shannon, a heated system contains more information than a non heated one,  on what it concerns the motion of the molecules.

[ Parent ]

A matter of degree. (none / 0) (#346)
by zakalwe on Thu Jun 13, 2002 at 07:39:43 AM EST

Weather is a very complex phenomena, and one that we can't really model perfectly thanks to the huge data manipulation required, and the chaotic nature of the system.  Our limits in predicting it stem more from the lack of the needed data and processing requirements than a flaw in our assumptions of how weather 'works'.  If you take something simpler, like gravity, then most scientists will be reasonably confident of predicting the force exerted by the earth over the course of thousands of years.  Its not that unreasonable to even extrapolate this to state that G is constant.

It is true we should be less confident with our predictions the less similar the conditions are.  This includes distance and time, as well as other differences (For example, If I see a species of bird that is very large, I may find it does not act as bird-like as other species, eg. it may not fly)

However, there is no arbitrary limit for nearness. Even for very 'distant' things, the best guesses we have are those we base on similar things we know.   We can devise experiments that measure something like gravity within our own solar system.  To a lesser degree we can perform observations confirming this is the same in other suns, or even galaxys.  This is in general a sufficient body of evidence to make the assumption that it will hold for larger distances too.  Perhaps we will find we are incorrect - such assumptions may break down on very large, or very small scales - but all this means is that the theory must be refined.  The original theory is still the best starting place to do this.

Of course induction isn't perfect.  It can in fact be very poor at predicting genuinely strange environments, where we haven't observed a large enough sample.  Distance is actually something we have a reasonable sample size of, since we can make some observations of activity throughout the galaxy.  

There are areas where we do not have such a large range of measurement - and you'll find that these are the areas where scientists will admit the least confidence about predictions.  For example, what is life like on other planets:  We only have 1 sample (earth) so our predictions will be poor.

[ Parent ]

Is G constant? (none / 0) (#348)
by johwsun on Thu Jun 13, 2002 at 08:07:46 AM EST

I think G is constant on earth only. G is again position dependant, as constant.

Am I wrong?

[ Parent ]

..oops..I am wrong! (none / 0) (#351)
by johwsun on Thu Jun 13, 2002 at 09:16:48 AM EST

You were talking about G , and I was talking about g.

Anyway, g is position dependant. G is not of course! But actually G does not apply anywhere, only g does, if you want to make calculations.

G is theory that does not fit correctly enywhere, thats why g has been intoduced to fix theory's errors.

I also dont know how G has been caclulated in order to become a Universe constant. Do you know?
If you do know, please tell me.

[ Parent ]

measuring G. (5.00 / 1) (#353)
by zakalwe on Thu Jun 13, 2002 at 09:46:08 AM EST

G is the constant in Newtons theory of gravitation:

F = G *M * m / r2

for the force of attraction (in Newtons) between 2 bodies of mass M and m (kg), at a distance of r meters.  We can measure this pretty easily from observations of the movement of bodies in the solar system (if we know the mass of the bodies involved etc.)

Currently we assume that G is the same everywhere.  It could be possible that it isn't constant, or that there are other factors in the avove equation.  Maybe the force of gravitation is larger in a different galaxy.  Maybe it it fluctuates over large amounts of time.  However, we assume it is constant, because up to now, everywhere we have measured gravity, it fits the above[1].  We extrapolate from our observations, and the best assumption is that this will remain consistant for future observations of gravity, at least until we find evidence that we're wrong.

[1] Well OK this isn't quite true - our theorys don't really explain things on very small scales, at the quantum level, so certainly Newton's law isn't enough to explain everything.  But for macro- scales its pretty good, and its a nice simple law, so I'm ignoring this for the purpose of the example.

[ Parent ]

why refine your original theory? (none / 0) (#350)
by johwsun on Thu Jun 13, 2002 at 08:33:54 AM EST

Perhaps we will find we are incorrect - such assumptions may break down on very large, or very small scales - but all this means is that the theory must be refined. The original theory is still the best starting place to do this.

I think this is again another error you are doing, thats why you are doomed. Insteed of having an original theory as starting point, better for you to have many theories-models (lend from mathematics) that can fit and apply as better as possible to specific positions.

There is not original theory. The only original theory is that no original theories exist, and that theories are position dependant. Anything can happen, and this is a proof that universe has spiritual nature.

[ Parent ]

Fair enough (none / 0) (#354)
by zakalwe on Thu Jun 13, 2002 at 09:58:09 AM EST

Insteed of having an original theory as starting point, better for you to have many theories-models (lend from mathematics) that can fit and apply as better as possible to specific positions.

Well it is true that sometimes the theory could be completely wrong - but if it has explained a specific subset of the observations, it is likely that it is just incomplete - there are other factors that we thought were universal, but aren't, and need to be added.

It may be true that the idea of how the world works is completely wrong - but the old theory is still a useful starting point since the new theory must explain all the observations explained by the old - Einstein's theorys still had to explain the observations that prompted Newton's theory, even when showing that those theorys were incorrect.

Anything can happen, and this is a proof that universe has spiritual nature.

Even if anything can happen what has this to do with spirituality?  If I write a universe simulation program, would it be 'spiritual' just because I connect a bit of it to a random number generator?

[ Parent ]

spirits are free. (none / 0) (#355)
by johwsun on Thu Jun 13, 2002 at 10:31:09 AM EST

Even if anything can happen what has this to do with spirituality?

This is the definition I am giving to spirits. Spirits are free to go anywhere. Think about your mind, you can think anything you like. If anything can happen, then spirits are present. If there is just a single thing that cannot happen, then spirits do not exist! Thats the reason why Hell exists too, and Heaven exist too.

You are giving another definition to spirituality, by defining as spirits only the good spirits. This may be a correct definition too, as long as bad spirits are not "spiritual" spirits.

But if you want to be accurate, spirits are not only the good but also the bad ones.

[ Parent ]

Seems an odd definition. (none / 0) (#356)
by zakalwe on Thu Jun 13, 2002 at 10:43:34 AM EST

Take my random number universe model for example.  If Its easy to design it so that there is a chance that anything could happen (once you get past the requirements for simulating a universe).  In fact a universe where a random number of particles are given  random positions and attributes fits the definition of "anything can happen" - but it seems a very odd definition of "spirits"

[ Parent ]
Your mind is like Universe. (3.00 / 1) (#363)
by johwsun on Fri Jun 14, 2002 at 02:20:27 AM EST

You are free to think whatever thought you like, but not all thoughts lead you to your spiritual freedom. Spiritual  freedom is self knowledge, and the ability for you to understand that you are a spirit.

You have to be able to think freely, in order for you to choose the thoughts that can lead you to self knowledge and spiritual freedom, and reject all the others thoughts.

I believe that if we understand our mind, we will understand universe too, because they have the same structure.

--------------------------------------------------
D'oh!
I can't seem to talk to the mod_perl server. This probably means that we've taken it down for a few minutes to update something. Please be patient, I'm sure we'll be back up presently.

[ Parent ]

kalani I am very glad you agree! (none / 0) (#376)
by johwsun on Sat Jun 15, 2002 at 05:42:06 AM EST



[ Parent ]
It's not that I agree as much as I'm apathetic ... (none / 0) (#389)
by Kalani on Mon Jun 17, 2002 at 02:00:15 AM EST

... and I think that your endless philosophizing just wrecks a meaningful discussion. However, I do agree with the idea that understanding the brain will wind up being comparable to understanding the universe (from my understanding of complexity theory).

-----
"Nothing says 'final boss' like a giant brain in a tube."
-- Udderdude on flipcode.com
[ Parent ]
Coincidences happen (4.33 / 6) (#187)
by dipierro on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 08:34:52 PM EST

Last Thursday I went to court to fight a traffic ticket.  The judge informed me that I was facing 10-30 days in jail, even though the ticket I was fighting was a minor traffic offense with no jail time.  To make a long story short, it turns out someone else with the exact same name as me had a court appearance in the same courtroom on the same day at the same time.  Now *that* is a pretty strange coincidence.

Based on the conclusions you made from the Tarot card incident, I thank "God" that you weren't the judge.

In capitalism, man exploits man. In socialism, it's the other way around.

I have limited sympathy (none / 0) (#211)
by localroger on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 11:26:37 PM EST

Being named Roger Williams is not much better than being named John Doe in this respect. I sympathize with your plight, but it's sadly not that uncommon. The RISKS digest (http://catless.ncl.ac.uk/Risks) is full of such horror stories.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

Coincidences happen II (3.50 / 2) (#218)
by booyeah451 on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 12:27:03 AM EST

Last Thursday I also went to court to fight a traffic ticket. I had to drive all the way to San Antonio, (Olmos Park) from Houston to appear in court. When I got to court, there was just a court administrator. From there I plead Not Guilty, and now I have a new court date, which is on July 11th. The incident (speeding ticket which was totaly bogus) happened May 4th.

Now someone find something that coincides with my comment and run with it =)



[ Parent ]
II happen coincidences (5.00 / 1) (#222)
by martingale on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 01:07:16 AM EST

In my case, last thursday, I went to no court at all to fight a traffic ticket. I certainly did not drive all the way to San Antonio, (Olmos Park) from Houston to appear in court, as there was no reason. As I didn't get to court, there might have been just a court administrator, like in your case. From anywhere but there I did not plead Not Guilty (but could have), and now I don't have a new court date either, which might have been on July 11th otherwise. The nonexistent incident (speeding ticket which was totaly bogus) happened (so to speak, or didn't happen, as you prefer) May 4th. Coincidence?

[ Parent ]
What is the philosophic equivelant of pedantic? (2.00 / 2) (#188)
by Sesquipundalian on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 08:50:06 PM EST

You seem to be dancing around something like the following;

1. The information storage/processing requirements needed to account for all the stuff that happens in the universe is way huge.

2. Invoking Occams razor actually gives us a good argument for supposing that less actually happens than is implied by a so called 'straight game' universe where what you see at one point is repeated consistently throught the whole structure. After all, something like an omnipresent consciousness is actually far less of a gratuitous entity (actually by a few dozen orders of magnitude) that all of that dumb information processing that is otherwise implied.

3. Some real experiments that we can actually do seem to point to phenomena that look suspiciously like a lapse of attention on the part of <God?/Omni-whatever?>

So how about it?

Can we constrain the behavior of an omnipresent consciousness based upon what we know? Does it have to be conscious? What attributes could it have? I mean when you think about it, he's right. All of that information processing going on in the background, unobserved, is a HUGE gratuitous entity. It does seem rather unjustified in light of what we know about the universe (things like all of those conservation laws, and the fact that the universe seems to be such an economical place). The processing requirements for a conscious entity that looked after just the emergent sentient entities pale in comparison and are by far the less gratuitous entity.

We might start by itemizing attributes of conscious behavior and then pairing down the list by comparing the resulting predictions with observations that we have actually made. I suspect that a serious effort would arrive at a set of attributes that included only some of the behavior that we normally ascribe to conscious entities (whith the possible addition of some that we don't). It's a bit of a moon shot, but if we could slip a few more wedges into the cracks in our reality (tunnel diodes anyone?), think of the technology we could make,

<troll>Just think of all the cool weapons we could make!</troll>.

I'm almost afraid to hit POST, what if this section of the galaxy BSOD's when I do... Oh well, here goes...
Did you know that gullible is not actually an english word?
Tunnel diodes (2.50 / 2) (#189)
by localroger on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 08:56:59 PM EST

Funny you should bring up tunnel diodes. The little bastards have always bothered me, even before I got whiplashed by the New Age crystal weirdness schtick.

I mean, it's one thing to say as a mathematical hypo that maybe the electron really doesn't quite know where it is, but it's quite another to use the phenomenon for something grand and important like nailing speeders on the roads.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

Maybe I'm missing something... (4.25 / 4) (#214)
by Bnonn on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 11:44:03 PM EST

...but I just don't understand this "subatomic particles that are hardly ever seen would mean too much gratuitous processing power" argument. It seems to imply that the author (and everyone who is validating this argument by discussing it) believes the universe exists inside a computer, or otherwise is a computer. I don't see any other way it can make sense.

I'm possibly just missing something obvious, but why is the universe being related to a computer? It's not digital; it's analogue. Particle interactions don't need to be processed to occur, except in the most rudimentary form of the word where "processed" means "allowed the necessary time, space and energy"--of which there is evidently precisely the right amount.

It's not even an immensely complex system. There are only a few fundamental particles, and the way they relate to each other is quite defined and constrained. Who cares how many bits it would take to fully define an atom? The atom doesn't. It simply exists, and that's all. Each particle, quanta etc is an invididual component of the universe.

To reiterate. I don't get it.

Is the universe digital? (3.50 / 2) (#215)
by dipierro on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 11:54:46 PM EST

<i>why is the universe being related to a computer? It's not digital; it's analogue.</i>

While I agree with most of what you say, I don't think I can agree that there is any evidence whatsoever that the universe is not digital.  Actually if the universe is one big digital computer that would explain the planck's constant phenomena.  Roundoff error.
In capitalism, man exploits man. In socialism, it's the other way around.
[ Parent ]

Roundoff Error (2.00 / 1) (#221)
by joecool12321 on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 01:06:44 AM EST

Ha!  I love it.  I'm stealing it for my skepticism talks :D  Thanks!

--Joey

[ Parent ]

Fair enough... (none / 0) (#223)
by Bnonn on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 01:26:28 AM EST

...I don't think I was thinking small enough &:>

[ Parent ]
Ouija Board Effect (2.50 / 2) (#219)
by maveness on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 12:43:47 AM EST

It seems to me that the simplest possible explanation for the Tarot card phenomenon is that your "randomization" in shuffling was governed by subconscious processes. You dealt yourself the same cards because you were trying to tell yourself something. No need to multiply entities unnecessarily. By the way, I don't think that makes Tarot readings any less potentially interesting or valuable.

*********
Latest fortune cookie: "The current year will bring you much happiness." As if.

Huh? (3.00 / 2) (#220)
by joecool12321 on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 01:04:44 AM EST

An individual, shuffling 78 cards with an average thickness of .25mm at least 10 times, and he somehow controlled where the cards landed?  I find that hypothesis highly unlikely.  Try shuffling a regular deck of cards, and having 8 of the first 10 cards match (match in ordinal position, too!): I doubt you can.

"By the way, I don't think that makes Tarot readings any less potentially interesting or valuable."

Why not?  If it is just my subconscious, I haven't learned anything.  I'm just telling myself what I want to hear.  Definitely not valuable (I give bad advice).

--Joey


[ Parent ]

The other possibilitiy (none / 0) (#242)
by Rhinobird on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 06:45:28 AM EST

He mentioned that Psycologists leer back at physicists saying that they study things that don't lie. My implication being that maybe he's not being entirely truthful about the tarot card thing...for effect. Or he didn't shuffle them as well as he says he did.
"If Mr. Edison had thought more about what he was doing, he wouldn't sweat as much." --Nikola Tesla
[ Parent ]
I find it unlikely too (none / 0) (#273)
by memerot2 on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 05:40:48 PM EST

The shuffling trick requires more computation than I'm willing to credit.  However, the fact that the event seemed SO weird to him is largely due to human perception of randomness.  The first deal has NO effect on the second is the deck is properly shuffled.  Would four heads in a row when flipping a coin be evidence of divine guidance?  

[ Parent ]
What you want to hear (none / 0) (#288)
by maveness on Tue Jun 11, 2002 at 12:32:33 AM EST

One of the fascinating things about subconscious behaviors and influences is that often they tell you things you didn't KNOW you wanted to hear. And that advice might be quite valuable indeed.

Our minds are not unitary. All kinds of processing takes place below our level of conscious awareness.

As for the shuffling: isn't it amazing that you can catch a baseball without calculating the parabolic trajectory?! Or duck to avoid a brunch before you even realize it's there? Or dial your ex-girlfriend's phone number when you meant to call your Mom?

*********
Latest fortune cookie: "The current year will bring you much happiness." As if.
[ Parent ]

Yes, indeed, and that's where it gets interesting (4.00 / 1) (#249)
by pyramid termite on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 09:12:28 AM EST

Consciously, it's very hard to deal oneself certain cards deliberately - ask any poker cheat, it takes a good amount of skill and practice and those who aren't good at it get the crap beat out of them or worse. Yet, unconsciously, your theory is that we can do it - and I agree with that. But that's an astounding amount of unconscious ability - what other things are we able to affect in such a manner and how? Does human intelligence have a field effect around which things that are interesting and thought provoking to that intelligence are more likely to happen? In the case of localroger dealing himself appropriate cards, is it just a case of mere unknowing sleight of hand or is there another means by which he influences the outcome with his mind?
On the Internet, anyone can accuse you of being a dog.
[ Parent ]
Intuition (none / 0) (#289)
by maveness on Tue Jun 11, 2002 at 12:38:31 AM EST

Many people find that they accurately know things without being able to explain HOW they know them.

That doesn't mean that something supernatural is going on, it just means that there are effective mechanisms of cognition to which we don't have good subjective access.

That also doesn't mean that they can't ultimately be susceptible of scientific investigation, but it does make it tricky, since the products of unconscious processes are notoriously hard to coerce into performing on demand.

*********
Latest fortune cookie: "The current year will bring you much happiness." As if.
[ Parent ]

Very good (none / 0) (#307)
by pyramid termite on Tue Jun 11, 2002 at 08:06:50 AM EST

Supernaturalism and the unconscious are both nebulous and undefinable concepts - consider, if you have an explanation for a phenomenon in our world, it can't be supernatural, since something in the natural world has been used to explain it. If you become aware of something, it can't be said to be an unconscious thought, since you are aware of it. I believe in God, I do not think of God as a supernatural thing, but a natural thing. I do not believe in dreams as being my unconscious mind dreaming as clearly my remembering it makes it part of my consciousness.

As someone who's had psychic experiences, I can't consider them to be supernatural either - just not generally proven in a way that all can accept - yet.
On the Internet, anyone can accuse you of being a dog.
[ Parent ]
Don't worry about it, cause... (3.00 / 5) (#241)
by Klondike on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 06:06:01 AM EST

...I don't think you're a kook. I see things jumping from behind the wall of reality at me all the time. Little things that just seem to happen that never happen except when they're needed. A random creaking noise when I *had* to be up for a test or work and I had fallen back asleep, a noise I'll never ever hear again in my life until I fall asleep before another test... Files unrenaming themselves on my computer...I don't think you're a kook at all. I'm not an atheist, and I'm not a theist, but I think there's something, because something's happening. I identify with your article completely, I don't think you're wrong at all. 'Bout time someone backed up my intuition with some actual facts, too. :)

What is the human mind? (4.55 / 9) (#245)
by Alhazred on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 08:43:59 AM EST

Ask yourself this question, think deeply about it.

Consider the environment that the mind and its physical implementation, the brain, exist within. Each and every second Terabytes of data flow in from the body's sensory systems. The brain sorts and codes these incoming signals, applies extremely sophisticated pattern matching and signal processing algorithms to them, compares them to billions, perhaps trillions, of stored examples of sensory impressions, integrates them with higher-order reasoning and planning faculties, creates plans of action based on the results of these processing steps, subjects those plans to prioritization and further sub-planning steps, and then issues commands  to lower level processing subsystems which translate them into motor activity programs etc.

First of all, all sorts of "processing artifacts" can arise in such a complex system. No doubt out brains have evolved to deal with and compensate for the worst of these (for instance our mental processes are subject to constant consistency checks, just imagine your reaction to a pig with wings and you can understand that).

HOWEVER, the bottom line is that we are essentially extremely powerful pattern recognition systems! Your brain contains at least 10 billion neurons, and perhaps as many as 10 trillion interconnections. All performing massively parallel processing. You are DESIGNED to find patterns in things. Thus when your mind is confronted with essentially random, uncorrelated inputs, like the relation between the tarot cards and reality, what does it do? Why it extracts a pattern from that!!! No matter that there IS no pattern. You have roughly 1000 trillion basic cognitive operations per second going on in your head dedicated to finding SOMETHING there. You WILL see patterns. Its a testament to the power of natural selection that you see as few false patterns as you do.

In general I think the speculations you're making are fun, but from a logical positivist point of view (which forms the basis of the epistemology of science in general) its MEANINGLESS to ask "what is really there". All we can ask is "how can we model what we see?" In other words electrons, protons, etc embedded in a 4 (or 11 if you will) dimensional planck-scale quantized space-time continuum is a good model for physical reality, thats all. People try to read WAY too much into science.
That is not dead which may eternal lie And with strange aeons death itself may die.

Interesting (3.33 / 3) (#256)
by The Writer on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 12:06:11 PM EST

You raise a very interesting point.

Does this then mean that we cannot scientifically state that something is impossible just because it contradicts the best scientific theory we currently have? Or, to put it differently, given the body of scientific knowledge and theories that we currently have, we can only say that X is likely to be observed by us, because it fits the theories we currently have, and that Y is unlikely to be observed by us, because it doesn't fit the theories that we currently have.

In other words, our body of scientific knowledge only allows us to make conclusions about the likelihood we will observe certain events or things, but it says nothing about the possibility or existence of events/things outside the model. Just because our scientific model does not happen to include event X does not mean that event X is "impossible"; it just means that event X does not fit into the patterns we have derived from past observation, and therefore we do not have any information about event X. Whether it will happen in the future is an open possibility -- we can never really know if something is outright impossible. (Goedel's incompleteness theorem comes to mind -- in particular, the computer science application of it in the Halting Problem.) We can only say, it hasn't been observed so far (although it might have happened already, and it missed our attention), and our current model does not currently predict it.

This has very interesting consequences, I must say. Thanks for the idea, this deserves a lot of consideration.

[ Parent ]

induction (5.00 / 3) (#295)
by tichy on Tue Jun 11, 2002 at 02:39:25 AM EST

That is exactly right and it's called the problem of induction. Its not that the explanations/theories account only for probability; they predict certainties. The problem however is that no scientific theory is ever actualy "true". It is merely an approximation. Only mathematics and logic can be true. A scientific theory can't be proven true because the proof necessarily rests in an inductive form of reasoning. Induction != deduction. Science needs to rely on induction because it wants to deal with concrete reality. My thoughts on the main issue are that science at this point in its history has many parts, not just a few, that are very unsatisfactory. I'm not much of a fan of Kuhn's science paradigms idea but man, I'll take a paradigm shift any day! We are drawing the epicicles of the circular orbits of the sun, which revolves around us, wondering why they need revision so often. And it's not just quantum mechanics that is bothersome; to me the most frustrating is the continued failure of social and mental sciences to produce a successful model of ourselves. Laplace's determinism vs. free will problem hasn't even been solved! Quantum mechanics is nothing compared to that when it comes to the problem of wether the universe is consistent. For science we are a much more serious problem than quanta.

[ Parent ]
*yawn*, been there, figured it out (none / 0) (#324)
by David Milton on Wed Jun 12, 2002 at 05:36:54 AM EST

At some point in evolution, somewhere between paramecium and human, a spark filled an organism with consciousness. This is the spark of consciousness, and every conscious being has an identical spark. This spark of consciousness monitors all our sensory input and has some say on our actions (except things like reflexes or hearbeat). The spark is what makes us unpredictable--any machine or lower form can react, but ones with this spark cannot have their reactions always predicatable, and can act without stimuli. So far, we have evolved mainly to have the spark choose between reactions to external stimuli. But it can act without any stimuli, and this is the more evolved state. Humans are just realizing this potential, but nearly all of us pay much more attention to external stimuli than what our spark can do.

[ Parent ]
This is false (4.25 / 4) (#253)
by epepke on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 10:20:56 AM EST

The Universe, scientists assume, may be obscure; but it does not lie. An experiment which works in San Diego will, if it reveals Truth, also work in Oslo.

As Richard Feynman (often called, with justification, the best mind since Einstein) pointed out nearly four decades ago, this is false (although he used Quito instead of San Diego in his example). If the experiment is, for example, to go outside and look at the northern lights, you will see them in Oslo but not in most places. If the experiment is Foucalt's Pendulum, that's going to give a different result, too.

What people look for in science are patterns. If we find them, great. If we don't, great, too. At least we know something more than we did before we looked.


The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.--Terry Pratchett


I'm amazed this got voted up (4.33 / 3) (#264)
by Ken Arromdee on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 03:00:52 PM EST

By this reasoning, it would be impossible for someone to ever decide that something in science is the result of error. Unless you have a scientist's log book showing where he spilled coffee on a zero and turned it into an eight, you're not going to find any more evidence for human error than you are for universe inconsistency.

Yet scientists decide that things are caused by errors all the time.

Besides, just look at quantum mechanics. That's really a case where the scientists decided that it's a universe inconsistency, they just didn't call it that. Sure, there are quantum mechanics rules, but the rules are only staitstical and don't predict what happens in each individual case. It's no different from the DOOM AI deciding that certain textures are randomly generated.

You say there's no difference (4.00 / 2) (#272)
by memerot2 on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 05:34:27 PM EST

But are you prepared to entertain the possibility that there REALLY is no difference between the DOOM engine painting textures and finding a particle going thru slot x or slot y?  That is, that the weird nature of subatomic scale might be showing us flaws that exist in the universe because the universe is actually computational in nature?  

[ Parent ]
Ugh (4.60 / 5) (#267)
by Fon2d2 on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 03:45:03 PM EST

That's how I feel after reading this... Ugh. I'm not even sure where you're trying to go with this. Are you trying to show the Universe is consistent, is not consistent? Are you just trying to pose the question? Are you trying to argue the existence of God? The paranormal? This thing goes all over the place and keeps pulling unfamiliar references to things that aren't explained:

  • However, it is a simple matter to divide the Hubble limit by the Planck constant and show that the Universe is finite
  • The problem is that in some very repeatable experiments testing the properties of small particles, it appears very much that the Universe is looking over our shoulder and arranging the results to suit.
  • It's tempting to draw parallels with the collapse of the state vector in quantum mechanics, and many magic-practicing people do exactly that;
Hubble Limit? Collapse of the state vector? Universe arranging results? I mean can you elaborate on these things? Or perhaps remove some of them and just get to the point? Here, let me know if this sentence sums it up: Although the theory of a consistent Universe is impossible to prove, all scientific tests and experiments to date verify this theory. Does that do it? Is that the jist of your article? Please tell me there's more.

hgu (3.00 / 1) (#313)
by Wah on Tue Jun 11, 2002 at 03:49:45 PM EST

Although the theory of a consistent Universe is impossible to prove, all scientific tests and experiments to date verify this theory.

But even that isn't enough to prove it. There has to be a jump somewhere to believe that it is proven. The further point is that experiences like the Tarot Cards have to be correlated into a worldview, if you want to base it on empirical evidence.

And what's he's saying (at least how I took it) is that it's very tough to take that leap of what can only be called faith. Either the believe that the whole thing is ordered and meaningful, or it isn't.
--
Fail to Obey?
[ Parent ]

Leap of faith (4.00 / 2) (#334)
by Fon2d2 on Wed Jun 12, 2002 at 04:21:26 PM EST

There has to be a jump somewhere to believe that it is proven.

Exactly. Nothing can be proven absolutely. Therefore there must always be some manner of faith no matter what your beliefs are: religious, scientific, agnostic, etc. In fact it is impossible to form any thoughts that don't eventually fall back on faith or assumptions in some fashion. Faith is a product of the mind and is necessary for the mind to function. People are free to pick a set of beliefs that are healthiest to them. In fact there is no way to infringe that freedom. That is why we have religion.

Oh yes, and if you have the unfortunate set of beliefs that the Universe holds neither order nor meaning. If you believe in the purposelessness of the human experience. If you truly are a nihilist, then I feel sorry for you.

[ Parent ]
There's no need for that... (none / 0) (#360)
by Wah on Thu Jun 13, 2002 at 03:21:16 PM EST

If you truly are a nihilist, then I feel sorry for you.

Yes, but since I don't believe in you, your pity is beyond experience and therefore meaningless. Or at least, that's what I would say if I were a nihilist. If one could say anthing from such a perspective.

Nihilists! Fuck me. I mean, say what you like about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it's an ethos.
--
Fail to Obey?
[ Parent ]

Psychologicaly speaking (4.00 / 1) (#268)
by jnemo131 on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 03:46:46 PM EST

Regarding how humans have a blindspot for randomness, I think this could be tied into the psychological idea that we block out what we don't want to see. Humans want to believe that anything exists for a purpose. Even if we say that there is no God to ourselves, deep down we want to believe that there is some sort of justification of the actions that we witness everyday. So, we tell ourselves that this is a pattern, that its a pattern because it was meant to be a pattern, that its that way for a reason. This ties in with a belief in God (I realize this contradicts the rest of the paper), we manufacture a God because we want to believe that He decided certain outcomes, certain patterns, because it isn't feasible to us that these patterns could just exist. We need to tell ourselves that God exists, just like we need to believe that randomness does not. It makes us feel warm and fuzzy and prevents the mental breakdowns that usually result from a feeling of uselessness in the world's scheme.

"I heard the droning in the shrine of the sea-monkey"
-The Pixies
Impress us (5.00 / 4) (#269)
by Sacrifice on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 03:54:37 PM EST

Clearly, something unlikely has happened to you.  

Of course, you are not lying.  You are merely trying to persuade us that your interpretations of some events that happened to you are valid.

Now, what does it mean to us?  

What would it mean to me, a purportedly intelligent, pragmatic individual, were I in your place?

Others have made some of these (excellent) points:

  1. Any particular sequence of random events is equally unlikely; humans just find patterns in them (perhaps formally, when the minimum description length for a large, compound event is significantly lower than average)
  2. We experience many events, but fixate on those that jump out at us as coincidences.
  3. To impress intelligent people, it is important to specify "amazing-event" in a blind fashion, before any knowledge of its occurrence.  This means collecting data without a predefined experiment (for example, some numbers related to religious texts) and then searching for undefined patterns and proclaiming the unlikeliness of your best find is right out.
  4. for any predefined unlikely-event, expect it to happen to somebody about a billion times more often than it would happen to you.  Expect to hear about the really low-probability events.  Be surprised when one happens to you, but not when one happens to someone else.
  5. to calculate a rational measure of astonishment at coincidences, it is not enough to, after you see a pattern Pat_17834982, to calculate the probability very_small_number that for any trial, Pat_17834982 would occur, then multiply that by the number of such trials you typically encounter per lifetime, and then report that product Wow_factor_17834982 as "what are the odds of something that amazing happening?".  You must be able to properly count all the similarly-"amazing" patterns Pat_n, and report the sum over all Wow_factor_n as the expected number of such similarly amazing events happening to you.  My suspicion is that, for individuals with a strong memory, sharp eye, and a creative mind, Sum(over all n) Wow_factor_n is probably much greater than 1.
  6. If your results aren't repeatable, they are meaningless to us (and from the sound of your comments, you do not dare tempt the Gods by inviting Randi over to observe them).  A similar pattern exists for all sorts of mysticism.  If "Lord, show me a sign" gets you killed, I shudder to think what "make the next 20 rolls of this 20-sided die come up 1,3,4, ..." gets you.  This reminds me of an often amusing joke (although many people have said it and meant it) where the comic publicly addresses God and asks to be struck dead by lightning on the spot if XYZ isn't true (this is most amusing when XYZ is something derogatory about God).
So, I am confident that somewhere above is an explanation that can allow me to believe in the validity of my own (pretty damn useful and satisfying) worldview without having to write you off as a kook or a liar.  I'd say that's worth something!  

My appraisal is that, all things considered, the collection of astonishing events you report is somewhat larger than any given individual with your mental proclivities would expect to find.  However, it is not surprising that out of billions of people, many of them have such an experience and tell us about it.  

However, I'm always open to the possibility that there's something "there" behind one of the many mystical worldviews (certainly, on average, they are complete trash, and I would not expect many of them to have any explanation except the frailty of human intellect).  So, here's what you can do: define a heretofore unseen unlikely event that you can compute the expected occurrence of (please be honest here).  If you get a strong result, repeat the experiment as many times as possible, without fear of disproving your hypothesis.

When you are done, report back to us with your results.

Unfortunately, it sounds like you have a "respect" for these mystical forces and do not want to repeat such an experiment, because you will "piss them off".  It seems to me that you fear that in the long run, you will get chance results, because your mystical worldview, while entertaining, is not correct.  That is always the conclusion I draw when someone explains that only a true believer can see the effects of the mystical forces, or that magic is real, but the presence of skeptics interferes with it.


Respect and Results (4.00 / 5) (#282)
by localroger on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 09:04:20 PM EST

Unfortunately, it sounds like you have a "respect" for these mystical forces and do not want to repeat such an experiment, because you will "piss them off".

Thanks for keeping an open mind. This was not, of course, one experiment. It was a whole series of them, conducted over a course of several years.

It is not really conjecture that the divination devices might get pissed off. They communicated the lengths to which they would humor us. The Tarot would very noticeably "go random" and give us an absolutely meaningless result if we pressed it too far on any one question. (For those who think all readings can be interpreted for all questions, well, that's not true.) This never occurred unless we had received one or more intelligible results, and would persist until we went on to another question or took a break.

The I Ching was more direct; it would give us King Wen hexagram #4, "Youthful folly," which we learned to interpret as "and stop nagging me about silly things like this." The frequency with which Hexagram 4 appears in our notebooks is one of the other probability weird-outs of the whole project. (I suppose I not only can't shuffle cards, I can't flip coins high enough either.)

We also investigated a lot of other phenomena. A lot of them did not produce the sensational claims their purveyors promised, though I suspect some of them did for their purveyors.

It's not surprising, but it is rather insulting, to see how many people are ready to tell me how unskilled I am at shuffling and how ignorant I am about probability. Yes, improbable things happen, but it is not true that any given improbable thing is likely to happen to somebody; some things are so improbable it's unlikely that they will ever happen anywhere in the entire life of the Universe. Some things make winning the lottery or flipping a coin and having it land on edge look like dead certainties by comparison. And some of those things happened to me.

Imagine for a second that I am not making wild claims which invalidate all of physics by implication, but that I am claiming to be an old personal friend of Jim Morrison and I happen to not only know he is not dead, I have his home phone number. But, very reasonably, he is paranoid about having his cover blown. He screens his calls and uses caller ID and will not pick up if someone he doesn't know calls, or if the caller ID is from some place he doesn't recognize. He tolerates my understandable urge to let others know the truth about his fate, he just doesn't want to cooperate with me, for reasons of his own which are not that hard to understand.

James Randi might offer me a million bucks for proof of his survival, but if I try to collect on it I know he'll just skip town and establish a new identity like he does every once in awhile -- and this time I might not get the note with his new phone number. Now is it that unreasonable that I'd ignore the presence of the prize? I wouldn't collect it, and would just (deservedly) lose a friend. My unwillingness to try to collect would not be evidence that I don't really know Jim, but of a perfectly reasonable set of extenuating circumstances.

In Tuesday/Thursday "believer" mode, I think the Universe is supposed to act like a lot of dumb particles (the "high information" model), and it deliberately hides a lot of shortcuts which really take place to maintain this illusion (the "low information" model). Like any complicated system it can be and has been hacked, but there are limits to what can be accomplished before the system self-checking realizes something is wrong and fix the problem.

By personality and habit some people cannot be trusted by the forces behind these phenomena, and they can't do anything too public unless it can be plausibly explained as chance or misperception. They will not provide the kind of documentation trail necessary to prove their existence to the world at large, but to an individual who is suitably circumspect or isolated, they will let their guard down. (In fact, some of them are quite hostile and tricky about this, so that you must ironically maintain some skepticism or risk being manipulated and toyed with. The Ouija oracle is notorious for this.)

Any serious practitioner (as opposed to overly gullible mark or shyster) will advise you that magic is a personal affair; my experiences won't convince you and aren't intended to. They were intended to convince me, and after a suitable number of clue-by-fours landed on my head I realized that I could not maintain my strictly materialist beliefs.

The only way to convince yourself whether these things are real is to try them yourself. Make an investment in a Tarot deck and an interpretation book, or the I Ching, and do as we did, asking legitimate questions and recording the results. You may or may not get the results I did, but most people who try (particularly the Tarot) tend to. And try not to go into it thinking of the million bucks you'll get from Randi if it works. That kind of pisses them off.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

inobjective experiment (none / 0) (#394)
by Phantros on Fri Jun 21, 2002 at 03:59:43 PM EST

"most people who try tend to"

Yes, most people who try to find the existence of mystical forces at work will do so. Does that mean there are mystical forces at work, or that they were hoping/overly-willing to find them?

An example: I decide to test whether there are really picture in a rorschach test. I stare at a few dozen inkblots. Amazing! Every one of them resembled something! Should I now be convinced that some hidden agent is communicating to me through the use of inkblots, or should I recognize that the brain is designed to find patterns to facilitate things like sight and memory?

Another example: I look outside and see that a bunch have crows have landed outside my window and they spell out my name. The probability is incalculably unlikely. Should I decide that the crows are "a sign", or should I realize that everything that occurs can be viewed as being extremely unlikely if you have imperfect knowledge of the location and velocity of all particles in the universe. Also, we forget the countless other times that crows landed and there was absolutely no recognizable pattern.

Everytime someone wins the lottery does that tells us there is a God arranging the balls?

4Literature - 2,000 books online and Scoop to discuss them with
[ Parent ]

Sometimes objectivity is impossible (none / 0) (#395)
by localroger on Wed Jun 26, 2002 at 10:17:42 PM EST

Suppose you are tasked with the question of whether a curmedgeonly old guy is lucid or not. He has already expressed his contempt for therapists and only really lets his guard down around children. He also has a nasty habit, it is suspected, of playing practical jokes on the researchers, but because he's very smart and sly and, unknown to you, was once a CIA operative and can pick all the locks in the building and has already read all the files, including his own.

You can't do a double-blind objective experiment. You must deal with the subject on his own terms. There is just no other way to do the job. Now, suppose the Universe is the same way.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

repeatable results... (1.33 / 3) (#297)
by johwsun on Tue Jun 11, 2002 at 03:11:58 AM EST

<i>If your results aren't repeatable, they are meaningless to us</i>
<p>
How many time do you want the results to be repeated? Repeat, and Repeat and Repeat again. How boring!
<p>
Thats what universe is trying to do, for you! It tries to repeat itself, in order for you to find a meaning!

[ Parent ]
repeatable results... (1.66 / 3) (#298)
by johwsun on Tue Jun 11, 2002 at 03:12:32 AM EST

If your results aren't repeatable, they are meaningless to us

How many time do you want the results to be repeated? Repeat, and Repeat and Repeat again. How boring!

Thats what universe is trying to do, for you! It tries to repeat itself, in order for you to find a meaning!

[ Parent ]

repeatable results... (1.66 / 3) (#300)
by johwsun on Tue Jun 11, 2002 at 03:14:08 AM EST

If your results aren't repeatable, they are meaningless to us

How many time do you want the results to be repeated? Repeat, and Repeat and Repeat again. How boring!

Thats what universe is trying to do, for you! It tries to repeat itself, in order for you to find a meaning!

[ Parent ]

repeatable results.. (2.00 / 3) (#301)
by johwsun on Tue Jun 11, 2002 at 03:16:13 AM EST

If your results aren't repeatable, they are meaningless to us

How many time do you want the results to be repeated? Repeat, and Repeat and Repeat again. How boring!

Thats what universe is trying to do, for you! It tries to repeat itself, in order for you to find a meaning!

Satisfied now?

[ Parent ]

My two cents (2.00 / 1) (#274)
by tranx on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 06:43:32 PM EST

I think this very question was already answered in Jacques Monod's Le hasard et la nécessité : essai sur la philosophie naturelle de la biologie moderne I'm sure you can get an English version, my copy says it was translated in 15 languages. Monod got a Nobel prize in 1965 so I guess he's more authoritative than me at this kind of discussions...

"World War III is a guerrilla information war, with no division between military and civilian participation." -- Marshall McLuhan

Universe as simulation (4.50 / 2) (#276)
by tgibbs on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 07:26:02 PM EST

One of my favorite idle speculations is that our universe is intended as a simulation of a continuous universe. Since the designers didn't have infinite storage available, they made do with a quantal approximation, making the quanta so small that they were sure that it would make no difference.

The unfortunate corrolary of this hypothesis is that  once the designers notice that we are mucking around with quantum this and quantum that, they'll likely shut us all down and start over with a smaller value of Planck's constant!

flaws with this argument (5.00 / 3) (#306)
by kubalaa on Tue Jun 11, 2002 at 07:57:51 AM EST

Localroger, you've been watching The Matrix one too many times.

The thing you neglected to point out is that even the DOOMiverse has rules --
it's described by a computer program, how much more rule-bound can you get? And
enough scientific experiments are bound to reveal these rules.

The second question, "is the universe consistent", is really a non-issue.
Consistency is defined in terms of the universe. Things are only inconsistent
with respect to the universe -- and a universe cannot be inconsistent with
respect to itself. I'll be happy to elaborate for
anyone who doesn't see why this is so.

If you believe that science is wrong, there are two ideas you have to attack:

  1. if something happens which makes no difference, it makes no difference (Occam's Razor)
  2. if something happens which makes a difference, the difference it makes can be described
Countering the first gets nonsense ("If something happens which makes no
difference, it makes a difference"), though it's surprising how many people try
and question Occam's Razor. Countering the second is more believable, though
still silly. If you can't describe the difference, in what meaningful sense
does the difference exist?

The philosophical basis of science:
1. If something exists, it can be described.


Good post, but ... (3.00 / 1) (#318)
by pyramid termite on Tue Jun 11, 2002 at 06:13:18 PM EST

The thing you neglected to point out is that even the DOOMiverse has rules -- it's described by a computer program, how much more rule-bound can you get? And enough scientific experiments are bound to reveal these rules.

If the rules are perceivable from our vantage point - but you have made a very good point here.

Consistency is defined in terms of the universe. Things are only inconsistent with respect to the universe -- and a universe cannot be inconsistent with respect to itself.

That's possible - but it is possible that a subset of things in the universe (what we can observe of the universe) may be apparently inconsistent according to our limited vantage point?

The philosophical basis of science: 1. If something exists, it can be described.

No. If something exists that we can observe and process into information we can understand, it can be described.
On the Internet, anyone can accuse you of being a dog.
[ Parent ]
rules and such (5.00 / 1) (#330)
by kubalaa on Wed Jun 12, 2002 at 10:11:03 AM EST

    If the rules are perceivable from our vantage point.

If the rules are not "perceivable", they are having no effect, which means they
don't exist. If they had an effect, we could perceive them through said effect.

    That's possible - but it is possible that a subset of things in the
    universe (what we can observe of the universe) may be apparently
    inconsistent according to our limited vantage point?

But this is bloody obvious -- "You can't prove anything." Yeah, but no point
worrying about it until we actually discover an inconsistency.

        The philosophical basis of science: 1. If something exists, it
        can be described.

    No. If something exists that we can observe and process into
    information we can understand, it can be described.

Since "describing" is just a shorter way of saying "observe, process into
information we can understand, write down, publish in a journal, etc." I stand
by my original statement. Things which can be described exist, things which
can't, don't. If we can't describe it, it doesn't affect us, it does not exist.


[ Parent ]

A tricky question for you (5.00 / 1) (#337)
by pyramid termite on Wed Jun 12, 2002 at 08:49:34 PM EST

If the rules are not "perceivable", they are having no effect, which means they don't exist. If they had an effect, we could perceive them through said effect.

What are the rules (physical, mental, emotional or spiritual - pick any or all), by which human consciousness is generated? Is our consciousness sophisticated enough that it is capable of parsing itself? And if a person should manage to come up with the rules of how his works can he be sure that other peoples' works the same way? I have no way of being sure what person X thinks about - but what person X thinks can clearly affect me.

But this is bloody obvious -- "You can't prove anything." Yeah, but no point worrying about it until we actually discover an inconsistency.

We will soon be able to have processors with the capacity of the human brain - but will these processors have consciousness? Assuming we can tell, which could be a big assumption (and would be another example of something we can't observe having an effect on us), it could be rather contradictory if we had machines that were computationally equivalent to us but didn't exhibit consciousness. I'm not saying this would invalidate our world view, but it might change our view of ourselves. We'll probably face this in 50 years or so.

Things which can be described exist, things which can't, don't. If we can't describe it, it doesn't affect us, it does not exist.

Then describe consciousness and why you have it.
On the Internet, anyone can accuse you of being a dog.
[ Parent ]
Re: A tricky question for you (4.00 / 1) (#339)
by tauntalum on Wed Jun 12, 2002 at 10:24:29 PM EST

Then describe consciousness and why you have it.

Isn't conciousness an attribute of a "thing"? Your use of "have" is a little misleading. I'm getting a bit confused about the word "exist" now...

Suppose a human being is describable. Wouldn't some portion of such a description detail the part or parts responsible for the common notion of consciousness?

Perhaps one might argue that consciousness does not truly exist; that it is merely an cloud of symtoms of a particular class of mental machinery.

[ Parent ]

Beats the hell out of me ... (none / 0) (#349)
by pyramid termite on Thu Jun 13, 2002 at 08:11:38 AM EST

Isn't conciousness an attribute of a "thing"?

Mmmm ... it's an attribute of something that's conscious. And, yeah, that's a poor answer, isn't it?

Suppose a human being is describable. Wouldn't some portion of such a description detail the part or parts responsible for the common notion of consciousness?

I guess it's in the brain. Somewhere. Anywhere. Hey, I don't know.

Perhaps one might argue that consciousness does not truly exist; that it is merely an cloud of symtoms of a particular class of mental machinery.

People have argued it. I know there's a strain of that in Buddhist thought, and I read a couple of years ago where someone argued that consciousness was an irrational, unprovable concept. (Forgive me for not knowing the details.) Now there's a rationalist or skeptic extreme - can't prove the occult? It doesn't exist! Can't prove God? It doesn't exist! Can't prove "me"? "I" don't exist! (Before anyone flames me, I know that very few rationalists would ever go this far - but why shouldn't they?) "I think, therefore I am" ... but am "I" thinking, or just processes?

Oh, my God. Well, somebody's going to quit typing this and have a smoke - it might even be me, but I'm not sure ...

Has anyone ever submitted a K5 article on this subject? Someone should ...
On the Internet, anyone can accuse you of being a dog.
[ Parent ]
More Thoughts (Is it me thinking?) (none / 0) (#364)
by tauntalum on Fri Jun 14, 2002 at 08:15:55 AM EST

We were discussing the repercussions of "If it can't be described, it doesn't exist." I wonder how much this can actually be usefully applied? After all, just because I don't know or understand the proof or truth about something doesn't mean that it isn't knowable. And then, perhaps what I know diverges from, or is a subset of, what is actually true.

This discribability test seems to fall short when one considers the limitations of a human being's senses. It is even more problematic when you attempt to describe a stateful object from a "black box" viewpoint. (Are there any non-stateful objects?)

My view is that I assume that there are "things" in existance. If I have the description wrong, then I've been believing in a "thing" which did not exist. The "thing" which exists may, however, be quite similar to that imaginary thing I described.

[ Parent ]

metaphysics (none / 0) (#352)
by kubalaa on Thu Jun 13, 2002 at 09:38:34 AM EST

    What are the rules (physical, mental, emotional or spiritual - pick any
    or all), by which human consciousness is generated?

We don't have to understand the rules. If I explain chess to a 2-year-old,
they won't get it... but the rules are still perceivable. Sometimes it's not
even a matter of complexity -- if I read you a list of 2000 numbers, and ask
you to regurgitate them, you won't be able to do it. But that doesn't mean the
2000 numbers are somehow metaphysically beyond description.

    Then describe consciousness and why you have it.

You again confuse understanding with perception. I could easily map out every
point of experience which defines my consciousness -- indeed, consiousness is
the only thing we can directly describe, everything else is described in
terms of conscious experience. But to actually write down this implicit
description would be impractical.

If you want to argue whether humans can understand the rules, that's different;
right now the question is whether there are rules at all, and whether they can
be theoretically mapped out by science.

    Will these processors have consciousness? Assuming we can tell, which
    could be a big assumption (and would be another example of something we
    can't observe having an effect on us)...

I'll save you the trouble -- we can't tell. I can't tell if you're conscious.
And indeed, whether you are conscious or not does not have an effect on me,
provided you act like an intelligent human being, because being conscious is
felt (by definition) only by the entity in question.  If that weren't the case,
we wouldn't have this question of "are computers conscious" at all.


[ Parent ]

Further into the murk ... (none / 0) (#361)
by pyramid termite on Thu Jun 13, 2002 at 06:18:42 PM EST

We don't have to understand the rules. If I explain chess to a 2-year-old, they won't get it... but the rules are still perceivable.

Perceivable to you - but not to the 2 year old. The 2 year old would not be sure there were really rules at all.

I could easily map out every point of experience which defines my consciousness -- indeed, consiousness is the only thing we can directly describe,

But ...

I can't tell if you're conscious.

Even though it's the only thing I can directly describe? There's a serious problem here. Now we're not calling into question just the issue of consciousness, but of description. If I can't describe the only thing I can describe in a way that convinces you that what I'm describing exists, then what can I describe to you?

And indeed, whether you are conscious or not does not have an effect on me, provided you act like an intelligent human being, because being conscious is felt (by definition) only by the entity in question.

If a chicken were conscious, would you still have it for dinner? Or is it a degree of consciousness - a chicken isn't quite conscious enough to be concerned about it? If you can't prove I have consciousness, is there any reason I should have any consideration from you? Why do we consider cannabalism to be wrong?

It DOES have an effect on you.
On the Internet, anyone can accuse you of being a dog.
[ Parent ]
more metaphysics (none / 0) (#368)
by kubalaa on Fri Jun 14, 2002 at 01:00:34 PM EST

    The 2 year old would not be sure there were really rules at all.

When you use the word "rules", you mean "simple rules". The 2-year-old could
simply make note of every move you made while playing the game, and would
thereby have a perfectly accurate set of rules for that game, even without
understanding them. Likewise, the set of all points in space and time making up
the universe is indeed a "rule" for the universe. The question is whether it's
the simplest possible rule, and the answer is, probably not.

    If I can't describe the only thing I can describe in a way that convinces you
    that what I'm describing exists, then what can I describe to you?

Perhaps a better term is in order: how about "define", since that doesn't imply
communication so strongly.  Ultimately, only my ability to define something
determines if it "exists".  For example, I can define your description of
consciousness, and try and come up with a theory that explains why you would
describe it in that way. I'll probably decide that you are indeed conscious.
But this is not an effect of consciousness as experienced by you, but an effect
of your description of consciousness as experienced by me -- so your
consciousness exists only as much as it's necessary to explain why you would
describe it.

To put it another way, if a guy comes up to you on the street and says he's
personally met Jesus, there are (at least) two explanations:

  1. Jesus exists, in the flesh.
  2. The guy is crazy.
    If you can't prove I have consciousness, is there any reason I should
    have any consideration from you?

Look at it this way -- if you drop a rock on your foot, it hurts. No need for
the rock to be conscious. Likewise, if you deal rudely with other humans, you
will get hurt. Whether the other humans are conscious or not is irrelevant.


[ Parent ]

Watched the Matrix? (3.66 / 3) (#319)
by localroger on Tue Jun 11, 2002 at 07:03:36 PM EST

Localroger, you've been watching The Matrix one too many times.

All this happened more than ten years before The Matrix came out.

The thing you neglected to point out is that even the DOOMiverse has rules

Yes, but the point is that they aren't the rules the residents think apply. The DOOM universe isn't really made up of solid walls and so on, and it isn't constrained in the ways it would look to you as a resident. If you and all your ancestor monsters had lived in the DOOMiverse for uncounted nanoseconds and suddenly a wall which had been there since the bootup of time went missing, you'd suffer a major bout of cognitive dissonance. The question isn't whether the Universe has rules; it obviously has very strict rules. The question is whether it allows for exceptions, if so under what circumstances, and why.

Put simply, the models proposed by physicists do not allow for exceptions. At all. Except for some very limited small-range stuff which is strictly bounded by other rules.

Consistency is defined in terms of the universe.

No it isn't. Consistency is defined in terms of your experience. If you lived in a DOOMiverse where the walls moved around all the time (perhaps your User likes to play with the construction kit) then you wouldn't find a missing wall all that surprising. If you came back to the inter-level meeting to report that wall such-and-such had moved, nobody would be much surprised. Their reaction would likely be "great, now we can sneak up on those bastards more easily."

On the other hand, if your User had never altered the layout, you might have a consensus that the layout of walls and artifacts is immutable and perfect, as written in the Ultimate Book of Id. In this case, if you came back and reported a missing wall, you'd probably get a reaction a lot like the one I've gotten here -- some interest, some open-minded skepticism, and some flat out hostility to the very idea.

If you can't describe the difference, in what meaningful sense does the difference exist?

"Sometimes the walls move, but only when you're back is turned." I'd say it makes a very great difference.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

the red king's dream (none / 0) (#329)
by kubalaa on Wed Jun 12, 2002 at 10:04:16 AM EST

I'll answer this backwards because that way I can build up the exposition better.

    "Sometimes the walls move, but only when you're back is turned." I'd say it
    makes a very great difference.

I don't see how. It only makes a difference if, as in the case below, someone
catches it happening. But if it only happened when nobody was looking, then
nobody would catch it. Hence it would make no difference.

    In this case, if you came back and reported a missing wall, you'd
    probably get a reaction a lot like the one I've gotten here -- some
    interest, some open-minded skepticism, and some flat out hostility to
    the very idea.

But that's not an inconsistency -- in your experience, the wall was not there.
No self-contradiction there.

    Consistency is defined in terms of your experience.

Your experience is a linear stream -- since every point of your experience can
be unambiguously defined, then your experience is self-consistent.  Another way
of saying it is, it would be inconsistent if you could experience two different
things at once, but you can't. Maybe your experience is inconsistent with
someone else's, but that's no surprise, and it doesn't imply that the universe
itself is inconsistent (indeed, the consistency of the universe gives you the
framework to compare two experiences in the first place).

    Yes, but the point is that they aren't the rules the residents think
    apply.... The question isn't whether the Universe has rules; it
    obviously has very strict rules. The question is whether it allows for
    exceptions, if so under what circumstances, and why.

First, let's get it clear that there is no such thing as "exceptions" -- every
exception can be subsumed into the rules very easily. So really your question
isn't, "are the rules ever broken", but "are the rules a good deal more
complicated than they appear most of the time, indeed, are they designed
specifically to give this illusion of simplicity."

I.e. I could define a power series which is an approximation to sin(x)...
depending on how good an approximation it is, it will look just like sin(x) for
a long time, and then suddenly, whoop, it'll shoot off to infinity. You think
the universe could be something like this.

Okay, it's possible. But what's the point? The universe could also be the red
king's dream. Since there's no way we'll know until we actually stumble upon a
case where the simple rules don't work, then there's no use worrying about it.

You say, you've stumbled upon such a case. I say, I never have, and when I do
I'll spend my time trying to define it and integrate it into the rules, and not
just say "Whoops, an exception, well, let's throw science out the window!"


[ Parent ]

definition quibble time (none / 0) (#362)
by khallow on Thu Jun 13, 2002 at 11:48:57 PM EST

From the link, you write:

This system is inconsistent relative to itself, right? Not quite. What we're doing is hypothesizing a universe and making statements about it. We say, imagine a universe in which Theory X is true. Now imagine that, in this universe, Theory X is false. One of these statements is inconsistent with the universe -- but the statements are not in themselves inconsistent, nor is the universe they describe.

And why can't we say the universe is inconsistent? IMHO, you are quibbling over sematics rather than saying anything here. I call a universe where a statement and its negation are both true to be an inconsistent universe (what else would you call it? paradoxical maybe?). Now you know! Incidentally, this does have some basis in mathematical systems of logic. Ie, a set of axioms is inconsistent if a paradox results from application of them.

Stating the obvious since 1969.
[ Parent ]

semantics of truth (5.00 / 1) (#383)
by kubalaa on Sun Jun 16, 2002 at 12:31:52 PM EST

The next paragraph directly answers your question. I'll quote it here:

So, what if we say, an inconsistent universe is one which admits two descriptive statements which would be considered contradictory. For example, imagine the universe above was constructed such that Theory X was simultaneously true and false. Here the contradiction is not with the universe, but with our notions of "true" and "false". And clarifying the contradiction merely means clarifying these notions. It would be no different if I said "Theory X is green" and "Theory X is emerald".

The point is that the semantics of True and False are provided by the universe -- they are not inherent in the statement itself. If our interpretation of the statements leads to a contradiction, then it is the interpretation which is at fault.

[ Parent ]

I don't really see this (none / 0) (#390)
by khallow on Mon Jun 17, 2002 at 01:36:14 PM EST

The point is that the semantics of True and False are provided by the universe -- they are not inherent in the statement itself. If our interpretation of the statements leads to a contradiction, then it is the interpretation which is at fault.

What happens if any sufficiently detailed, rational interpretation of the statements (or observations of relevant phenomena) in question always leads to contradiction? That is the point I am making. In other words, the contradiction cannot be eliminated by refining your interpretation. It's not a matter of "emerald" versus "green", but of differences that don't go away.

A remark on "true" versus "false". There is nothing inherently incorrect about sorting a list of statements into two groups (eg, "true" and "false"). More realistically would be that statements could also be either in both groups or in neither group (due to the nature of the interpretation).

In our case, let's say that we've constructed a series of statements that map to observations about the universe and then attempt to divide our statements into two groups (the usual "true" and "false") based on a rational interpretation of the observations. Paradoxical statements would be in both groups. Statements about which we cannot determine their true value would be in neither group. In the case of an "inconsistent" universe, there are observable phenomena that will always lead to a paradox (given our mechanism for creating an interpretation), if our interpretation (and observations) sufficiently encompass the paradoxical phenomena.

Stating the obvious since 1969.
[ Parent ]

how do you define a paradox? (none / 0) (#392)
by kubalaa on Wed Jun 19, 2002 at 09:17:33 AM EST

"Rational interpretation" is born of our universe. What do you imagine a paradoxical statement would be?

I can come up with things like "The cat is dead, and the cat is not dead." This is only a paradox in the context of interpreting these states as mutually exclusive. Clearly in the hypothetical universe where these are both true, the states are not mutually exclusive, and so there is no paradox (merely a misunderstanding on our part of the meanings of "dead" and "not dead"). You see? We can play this game with any "paradox" you invent.  Paradoxicalness is a property of an interpretation, not of the statements (or universe) from which the interpretation is derived.

[ Parent ]

Okaams Razor? (none / 0) (#372)
by eliwap on Fri Jun 14, 2002 at 07:52:38 PM EST

There can be no event without a difference. "Something happening" assumes casuality and therefore a difference. If it exists then it makes a difference. Simplest Explanation.

The difficutly of proving that something does not exist is that you cannot observe something that does not exist. You can only observe that you did not observe it. This is a subjective observation. There are no objective measures that can be used to define a non-observed event.

Problem number 2 with the descriptions of things that do not exist. If they do not exist then they are not part of experience. There is no phenomena to describe or investigate, or for that matter, to identify.

The simplest explanation of non-observed phenomena, is that it is unknown. It does not mean that in fact they do not exist. It just means that there is no knowledge of them.

The philosophical basis for science is classic Aristotilean Causality. One phenomena causes the next one and so on along the chain. The causal chain is deternined, observable and reproduceable. The goal of science is to discover the causal links between phenomena.

The fly in the ointment is that science relies on statistics to measure the causal chains. Any honest scientist will always make the statement that none of his measurements are 100% reliable. The question of perfect reliabilty goes right out the window. And consquently consistency of the universe can not be determined using the standard scientific method. The best that can be achieved is that given similar circumstances an event will occur x% of the time. And this inconsistancy is what makes this universe the extrodinarily interesting place that it is.

"Understanding is the basis of communications. Enlarge your mind to multiple points of view. The world is infinitely larger than your huge ego. -- Hey I said that :)"
[ Parent ]

God is not in our RELIABLE universe (none / 0) (#323)
by xriso on Wed Jun 12, 2002 at 12:09:08 AM EST

Why do these rules of information conservation matter? I mean, he worked with the laws of physics for 14 billion years (our time) to construct a wonderfully fine-tuned place for humanity. I mean, sure he could be deceptive somehow (creating the universe last thursday or somesuch), but it is impractical to consider these untestable things.

I'll throw this to you though: God may be cutting corners when we're not looking, but Science tells us (by experimentation) that we can rely on the Universe to be consistent every time it actually matters. A reliable universe is enough for me.

By the way, would you say that other people only exist when you're communicating with them?
--
*** Quits: xriso:#kuro5hin (Forever)

Actually (1.00 / 1) (#328)
by pexatus on Wed Jun 12, 2002 at 09:35:34 AM EST

By the way, would you say that other people only exist when you're communicating with them?
According to quantum mechanics, other people do not exist when you are not communicating with them. Well, more accurately, they are in an indeterminate state, from your viewpoint, when you are not communicating with them.

One of the quotes attributed to Einstein during his long debate with Bohr over QM goes something like, "Do you really believe the moon does not exist when we aren't looking at it?"

[ Parent ]

What are you talking about? (2.50 / 2) (#338)
by Kalani on Wed Jun 12, 2002 at 09:16:59 PM EST

Quantum Mechanics doesn't say anything about whether or not a person exists when he/she isn't visible.

-----
"Nothing says 'final boss' like a giant brain in a tube."
-- Udderdude on flipcode.com
[ Parent ]
Archive of Scientists' Transcendent Experiences (3.50 / 2) (#333)
by wytcld on Wed Jun 12, 2002 at 03:54:19 PM EST

Great article. Also of interest, Charles Tarts' Archive of Scientists' Transcendent Experiences.

On the less transcendent side, and an example of an experience that doesn't prove anything to anyone else but is hard to integrate into a modern personal worldview, was an event when I was about 13 and turned to what would later be known as the 'dark side of the force.' An adult in authority had betrayed me - not in the Catholic priest way, but still pretty bad. As it happened, I was reading Richard Cavendish's The Black Arts, between which and my young imagination I concocted a ritual in a locked room to gain power over my enemy: At the right time of day and lunar cycle, in the right color room, I drew an outline of a hand, wrote his name on it, tacked it to a dartboard, and threw darts at it while thinking appropriately hateful thoughts. Then I burned the sheet of paper and flushed the ashes down a toilet.

My surprise, at that age when belief still comes easily, wasn't that when I saw him a few days later he had one hand entirely wrapped in bandages, but that I'd really left myself in no position to claim credit for the event, silly me.

Now, if I did deserve credit (which I'd gladly take, it was entirely in justice), that opens so uncomfortable questions, such as: Are villages sometimes right when they take the local witches out and burn or stone them to death, in order to stop a run of callamity?

Is the Universe Really Consistent? | 396 comments (371 topical, 25 editorial, 0 hidden)
Display: Sort:

kuro5hin.org

[XML]
All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective companies. The Rest © 2000 - Present Kuro5hin.org Inc.
See our legalese page for copyright policies. Please also read our Privacy Policy.
Kuro5hin.org is powered by Free Software, including Apache, Perl, and Linux, The Scoop Engine that runs this site is freely available, under the terms of the GPL.
Need some help? Email help@kuro5hin.org.
My heart's the long stairs.

Powered by Scoop create account | help/FAQ | mission | links | search | IRC | YOU choose the stories!