Sunday, January 10, 2016

The answer may be luck

Brian Greene explained on RadioLab that there is no time, and we only have free will to choose alternate universes.

The most sensible comment is Lisa Randall saying that this is all speculation. But that suggests that it might be true. No, it is just an untestable fantasy that cannot possibly be true.

The episode appears to be a few years old, but I just heard it on my local NPR radio station.

To Greene, Kaku, and others, randomness means the universe is splitting into parallel universes.

A current ABC News story says time travel may be possible, according to scientists:
But physicists warn just because the feat may seem impossible, doesn't mean it is.

"We have a hard time perceiving how time can bend just like other dimensions, so Einstein's predictions seem strange," said J. Richard Gott, author of the book Time Travel in Einstein's Universe and a professor of astrophysics at Princeton University. "But this appears to be the world we live in." ...

Then again, even if we manage to bolt into the future, there remains the tricky issue of how to return by traveling to the past.

According to Einstein's theory, approaching the speed of light would theoretically slow time, traveling at the speed of light would make it stand still and traveling faster than the speed of light would reverse time.

But Einstein also showed that traveling at or faster than the speed of light is impossible because mass at these speeds becomes infinite. Does that mean traveling back in time is impossible? Some, like British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, have said so. But others think there may be a way to find "shortcuts" to the past.

In the late 1980's Kip Thorne of the University of California at Berkeley suggested that objects known as wormholes exist in space. These objects would essentially be two connecting black holes whose mouths make up a tear in the fabric of space-time.

By finding a wormhole and stretching it so one mouth extends light years away from the other, the wormhole could provide a passageway to a past or future point on the undulating river of time. ...

Hawking has suggested that time protects itself from such scenarios by preventing time travel to the past. Others suggest that the time traveler would simply enter a parallel universe that evolves along its own separate route in space. And others, like Halpern, say that past, present and future, might all exist and influence each other simultaneously in our universe.
Traveling to the future is nothing special, as freezing your body would have the same effect.

Here is another view, from Harvard psychology professor Steve Pinker:
But new studies looking for small effects of thousands of genes in large samples have pinpointed a few genetic loci that each accounts for a fraction of an IQ point. More studies are in the pipeline and will link those genes to brain development, showing that they are not statistical curiosities. The emerging picture is that most behavioral traits are affected by many, many genes, each accounting for a tiny percentage of the variance.

Biologists are solving a related mystery: What is the additional factor shaping us that cannot be identified with our genes or families? The answer may be luck. We’ve long known that the genome can’t wire the brain down to the last synapse, so there is tremendous room for unpredictable zigzags in development.
I quote this because of his attitude that "luck" might be some sort of answer to an unsolved problem.

Behavioral traits are attributable to genes, families, and possible additional factors. You can call those factors "luck" if you want, but that is just another way of saying that the factors are unknown or unpredictable with current knowledge.5

Most people think that the family environment is the most important, but research says that it is the least .

For another view from the other side of the world, see this 2012 article in an Iranian medical journal:
Deterministic thinking is one of the major cognitive distortions. This type of thinking ignores any possibility in making a conclusion about events. Any consequence of an event may be thought as: 2×2= 4. Equality is a dominant factor among all conclusions of this kind of distortion. Distortion emerges in cognitive rigidity in the mind and could be the source of all distortions. Cognitive rigidity is a main reason for depression and other psychosocial maladjustments. ...

for instance, divorce= misery; cancer = death or being informed of having a cancer = misery [20]. ...

Holy Quran: "sometimes an undesirable event may bring you luck and sometimes bad luck" [25] (Quran). Therefore, being too disappointed or too hopeful about events is not accepted in this perspective as prediction of events may not be possible. Even prediction of God's will is not promising in Shiite perspective -Arafeh praying, Imam Hossein [26]. This view is called "bada" in Shiite ideology which means everything can be initiated from the beginning. There is a phrase used most often by Moslems around the world when they are faced with different events and situations:”Insha Allah” which means “If God Wants”. This means that any consequence of events is due to will of God19, [27, 28]. Similarly, in the scientific approach, accepting or rejecting hypothesis by P value of zero is avoided despite possessing firm experimental reasons. The main reason for this approach is that some scientists believe in no absolute reality.
Apparently Moslems get diagnosed with cancer, and then have a hard time understanding that they have a chance of living, and a chance of dying. Islam teaches that all events are determined by the will of God, and deterministic thinking is depressing.

Moslem scientists can only do experiments by blocking out the Islamic teachings, and pretending that there is no absolute reality.

By contrast, Christianity teaches that people have free will.

Columbia statistician Andrew Gelman recently quoted this paper favorably, and says that "deterministic thinking" is "one of our favorite villains". Quantifying luck is the bread and butter of statisticians.

The West also has misunderstandings of luck and probability. One of the most widely praised and cited results in social science was a 1985 paper supposedly showing that basketball players do not have hot hands. It was recently shown to be based on an elementary probability error. But then the NY Times articles on the correction were hopelessly confused, as explained here:
The existence of "Hot Hands" and "Streaks" in sports and gambling is hotly debated, but there is no uncertainty about the recent batting-average of the New York Times: it is now two-for-two in mangling and misunderstanding elementary concepts in probability and statistics; and mixing up the key points in a recent paper that re-examines earlier work on the statistics of streaks. In so doing, it's high-visibility articles have added to the general-public's confusion about probability, making it seem mysterious and paradoxical when it needn't be.
The confusion is in phrases like "purely random situation". The Wall Street Journal made a similar error, but it posted a correction. The NY Times refused to post a correction.

1 comment:

  1. "Fifty-seven percent of Americans disagree with the statement 'Success in life is pretty much determined by forces outside our control,' a considerably higher percentage than the global median of 38%. Similarly, Americans place an especially strong emphasis on the value of hard work – 73% think it is very important to work hard in order to get ahead in life, compared with a global median of 50%."