Thursday, February 25, 2021

Philosopher compares humans to squirrels

Philosophy professor Crispin Sartwell writes in the NY Times:
Humans Are Animals. Let’s Get Over It.
It’s astonishing how relentlessly Western philosophy has strained to prove we are not squirrels.

Rationality and self-control, as philosophers underline again and again, give humans a value that squirrels lack (let’s just stick with this species for the time being), a moral status unique to us. We are conscious, and squirrels, allegedly, are not; we are rational, and squirrels are not; we are free, and squirrels are not.

So he is puzzled that philosophers have struggled to show that we have a moral status superior to squirrels.
Our resemblance to squirrels doesn’t have to be interpreted as a threat to our self-image. Instead, it could be seen as a hopeful sign that we will someday be better at tree leaping.
I guess he thinks that philosophers have failed, and we are no better than squirrels.

I have heard many evolutionary biologists make similar arguments. That squirrels have evolved to fit their ecological niche just as well as anything else, and that it is wrong to say that humans are at all morally superior to cockroaches.

I just post this to show the sorry state of philosophy. Aristotle and other ancient thinkers clearly understood that humans were superior to other animals.

Apparently because they also thought that they were superior to slaves, and we now reject slavery, we are supposed to reject all of their analysis. To reject it, one has to claim that it is bigoted to human consciousness, rationality, and free thinking over whatever squirrels do.

If Aristotle were alive today, he would be very impressed with our science and technology, but likely to think that much of what else goes on in universities is garbage.

Monday, February 22, 2021

The main weaknesses of Many-Worlds theory

A new short video, Tim Maudlin - Many Worlds of Quantum Theory, was posted. A philosopher of science comments, and was surprisingly sensible.

He refuses to dismiss Many-Worlds theory because it seems like nonsense. Okay, fair enough.

He does point out that probabilities make no sense in the theory. You might think that a probable event is one that occurs in most of the worlds, but the proponents of Many-Worlds adamantly deny that.

I don't think most people appreciate what a devastating critique this is. A lot of smart people take Many-Worlds seriously, so you would think that they have some explanation for probabilities, but they really don't. They have no way to make sense out of the idea that some events are more probable than others. They just give up on the concept.

Giving up on probability means giving up on the whole scientific enterprise. What is science, if not to predict some events as being more probable than others?

Just to repeat, Many-Worlds theory is worthless because it is unable to ever say that one event is any more probable than any other.

Maudlin also explains that decoherence does not solve the measurement problem that bugged Schroedinger and others. Wasn't that the main point of Many-Worlds theory? If the theory does not do that, then what is the point?

Supposedly the Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics is deficient because it does not explain how the wave function collapses when a measurement is made. The Many-Worlds theory says that the wave function never really collapses, but appears to collapse because of interaction with the observer's wave function and decoherence. The other possible outcomes show up as parallel universes. The Many-Worlds advocates say we need to accept the parallel universes in order to correct this Copenhagen deficiency. But they don't solve the measurement problem anyway.

So Maudlin destroys Many-Worlds in about 5 minutes. But being a good philosopher, he does not reject it. Believe it if you want. Philosophers say it is just fine to believe in theories that have no theoretical advantages or practical utility.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Sapolsky denies free will

Here is the latest Sean M. Carroll podcast: Mindscape 134 | Robert Sapolsky on Why We Behave the Way We Do.

Sapolsky is a hard determinist who likes to list all the biological causes for our actions, such as genes, germs, and culture. He is firmly convinced that we are robots with no ability to choose anything.

I believe he has a depressing view of life.

SciAm columnist John Horgan disagrees:

To be honest, I have a problem with all these treatments of free will, pro and con. They examine free will within the narrow, reductionistic framework of physics and mathematics, and they equate free will with randomness and unpredictability. My choices, at least important ones, are not random, and they are all too predictable, at least for those who know me.

For example, here I am arguing for free will once again. I do so not because physical processes in my brain compel me to do so. I defend free will because the idea of free will matters to me, and I want it to matter to others. I am committed to free will for philosophical, ethical and even political reasons. I believe, for example, that deterministic views of human nature make us more likely to accept sexism, racism and militarism. No physics model — not even the most complex, nonlocal cellular automaton -- can capture my rational and, yes, emotional motives for believing in free will, but that doesn’t mean these motives lack causal power.

Just as it cannot prove or disprove God’s existence, science will never decisively confirm or deny free will. In fact, ‘t Hooft might be right. I might be just a mortal, 3-D, analog version of the Speed Demonoid, plodding from square to square, my thoughts and actions dictated by hidden, superdeterministic rules far beyond my ken. But I can’t accept that grim worldview. Without free will, life lacks meaning, and hope. Especially in dark times, my faith in free will consoles me, and makes me feel less bullied by the deadly Game of Life.

I agree with much of that, except where he says that his choices are predictable to those who know him, and not random.

To me, free will means that I can makes choices that surprise those who know me. If my friends can predict everything I do, then I am acting like a robot. Making choices that seem random to others is the essence of free will.

If I toss coins to make my decisions, then my choices are really the coin's choices. Then my free will hinges on the free will of the coin. That is being bullied by a coin, instead of being bullied by an automaton. No, free will is being able to make the choices myself.

Sapolsky may be right that genes and other unseen factors influence us more than we realize. I can accept that. But it is hard to understand how he can think that he never makes a decision.

It has become politically incorrect to be a genetic determinist, so Sapolsky denies being that. But he does say that a millennium of rice farming has turned Chinese people into collectivists. Another popular theory says that centuries of Christian feudalism turned Europeans into individualists. Whether these changes can be attributed to specific genes is unknown, but regardless, this appears to be preprogrammed behavior that could persist for centuries.

Carroll says he is a compatibilist. That is, he is a determinist who believes we have no free will, but we have an illusion of free will so we can act as if we do. He says no one should believe in true free will, which he calls libertarian free will.

It is hard to find any respected academic who believes in free will. It is like finding one who openly professes Christianity, or support for Donald Trump. They probably exist, but they keep a low profile.

Monday, February 15, 2021

History of the 4th dimension

New paper, by some Brazilians:
The Fourth Dimension: From its spatial nature in Euclidean geometry to a time-like component of non-Euclidean manifolds
José Maria Filardo Bassalo, Francisco Caruso, Vitor Oguri

In this article, the evolution of the ideas about the fourth spatial dimension is presented, starting from those which come out within classical Euclidean geometry and going through those arose in the framework of non-Euclidean geometries, like those of Riemann and Minkowski. Particular attention is given to the moment when real time is effectively considered as a fourth dimension, as introduced by Einstein.

This is a nice history of attempts to go beyond three dimensions.

Like other such historical works:

1. There is no mention of Poincare, or the fact that he was the first one to treat time as the fourth dimension, in the context of relativity.

2. The authors go out of their way to attribute credit to Einstein. It is always "Einstein’s Special Relativity".

3. It cites Lorentz, but always to badmouth his conceptual understandings somehow.

I don't want to pick on this paper, as it is just doing what everyone else does. The authors are from Brazil, so there is no good reason for them to be partial to Einstein. But they are.

This is so bizarre. There is no necessity for a historical discussion to get bogged down with issues of credit, but the relativity stories always do, and always give nonsensical reasons for crediting Einstein.

In this case, it says that Lorentz did not understand that the "local time" of an electron he invented in 1895 was really just the time that is local to the electron.

Huh? Isn't that what Lorentz called it?

Lorentz won a Nobel Prize in 1902, in part for his electromagnetic relativity theory, and in part because Poincare recommended that he get it for his ingenious invention of local time. Poincare certainly understood it at the time, even if Lorentz did not fully. Poincare used it as the fourth dimension in 1905.

Einstein adopted the concept of Lorentz's time in 1905, but not as the fourth dimension. He only did that after Minkowski and everyone else used it in 1908. Einstein did not really have any understanding of relativity that was any better than Lorentz's, until he learned Minkowski's in 1908.

I wrote a book about this, but never really found a good explanation for this Einstein worship. Obviously these Brazilians are educated enough that they know the story. They could just read Wikipedia, and see that nearly everything is due to Lorentz, Poincare, and Minkowski. If they were unsure, they could have avoided giving credit to anyone. I don't know why they insist on crediting Einstein for what Lorentz and Poincare published earlier.

One thing I learned from the above paper is that the Italian artist Giotto discovered that the sky was blue about 700 years ago. Byzantine art portrayed a golden sky. Apparently gold symbolized heaven, and the symbolism was more important than the chromatic accuracy. Many older books tell about the sky, but never mention that it is blue.

I don't know what to make of this. Did the sky change color 700 years ago? Did ancient men never bother to look up and notice the sky? Did they not have any blue pigments for making paint? Was it cloudy all the time? I have heard also that ancient men did not notice that the ocean is blue, and described it as other colors. Did they have some mental refusal to accept the color blue? I have no idea.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Mathematician Isadore Singer dies

Erik Verlinde tweets:
I am very sad to learn about the passing of Isadore Singer. He was not only one of the greatest mathematician of the last half century, but also one of the friendliest people I have met. In my view, he was the only mathematician with a deep understanding of theoretical physics.
NY Times obituary.

Math genealogy, where you can trace him back to Gauss, Leibniz, and others.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Microsoft quantum research retracted

Microsoft is spending the big bucks in research chasing quantum computers, but a key paper just collapsed.

Wired magazine reports:

Microsoft’s Big Win in Quantum Computing Was an ‘Error’ After All
In a 2018 paper, researchers said they found evidence of an elusive theorized particle. A closer look now suggests otherwise.

In March 2018, Dutch physicist and Microsoft employee Leo Kouwenhoven published headline-grabbing new evidence that he had observed an elusive particle called a Majorana fermion.

Microsoft hoped to harness Majorana particles to build a quantum computer, which promises unprecedented power by tapping quirky physics. Rivals IBM and Google had already built impressive prototypes using more established technology. Kouwenhoven’s discovery buoyed Microsoft’s chance to catch up. The company’s director of quantum computing business development, Julie Love, told the BBC that Microsoft would have a commercial quantum computer “within five years.”

Three years later, Microsoft’s 2018 physics fillip has fizzled. Late last month, Kouwenhoven and his 21 coauthors released a new paper including more data from their experiments. It concludes that they did not find the prized particle after all. An attached note from the authors said the original paper, in the prestigious journal Nature, would be retracted, citing “technical errors.”

I guess it is going to take more than 5 years. Are they giving up? Of course not.
Microsoft provided a statement attributed to Kouwenhoven saying he could not comment, because the new paper that reinterprets his group’s results is undergoing peer review. “We are confident that scaled quantum computing will help solve some of humanity’s greatest challenges, and we remain committed to our investments in quantum computing,” he said. Nature added an “editorial expression of concern” to the 2018 paper in April last year, and a spokesperson said this week that the journal is “working with the authors to resolve the matter.” A spokesperson for Delft Technical University said an investigation by its research integrity committee, started in May 2020, is not complete. A person familiar with the process says the final report will likely find that researchers at Delft made mistakes but did not intend to mislead.

Whatever happened, the Majorana drama is a setback for Microsoft’s ambitions to compete in quantum computing. Leading computing companies say the technology will define the future by enabling new breakthroughs in science and engineering.

This seems like a big scam to me. I am supposed to believe that they are building a quantum computer out of Majorana fermions, when their paper showing the existence of Majorana fermions was erroneous and had to be retracted?

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Science denial that races exist

AAAS Science is our leading science organization, and here is its weekly news podcast, on genomics this week:
0:21:16.1 SC: I'm good. How come we're not celebrating 20 years of no longer looking for race in genomes? Are people still trying to find genes for race in this day and age?

0:21:26.0 DR: Yes. There are a lot of genomic scientists who are still trying to figure out the best way to identify races genetically and there are also a lot who are looking for race-based genetic difference to explain inequities of health and some even other kinds of inequities, like in education and in violence, even.

0:21:52.2 SC: There isn't really any evidence for this happening. Why do you think people are still looking for this?

0:21:56.7 DR: Well, first of all, even though human beings are very, very similar genetically, there's only a tiny percentage of difference between human beings, there still is a lot of genetic variation in the human species. But what some scientists then do is say, "Well, we're going to look for the racial differences in that amount of variation." The problem is that all of that genetic diversity isn't grouped by race, because race isn't a biological category. Now, why do we continue to do that? I think race is just such an embedded idea in Western science, in our culture, in our society. It's useful. It was invented because it was useful for political reasons and it continues to be useful politically to explain why we have so much inequality in our society. ...

0:24:57.6 SC: What are the recommendations now? What should a scientist be doing instead if theyare collecting demographic data on a person and they care about ancestry?

0:25:08.2 DR: I think the most important first step is for scientists to be clear that race is not a biological category. It is purely an invented social or political category. It's not a natural division of human beings that some aspect of nature created, whether we say God created it or nature created it or evolution created it. That's all false. So if scientists could understand that it is a way of managing racialized populations for political reasons, then they can use it in the right way. ...

0:26:31.3 DR: There are a whole host of studies that have been conducted since the time of slavery that assume that black people, for example, are a biologically distinct group and categorically different from other human beings. I can give you the example of the estimated glomerular filtration rate, which is a very important indicator of kidney function, ...

So when Blacks get their kidneys tested, the results are compared against what is normal for Blacks, instead of Whites. Sounds reasonable to me.

She says this is racist, and should not be done.

It is a fact that there are race-based genetic differences, and it is entirely appropriate for geneticists to look for them.

I post this to show how politicized the scientific establishment has become. George Floyd dies of a fentanyl overdose, Donald Trump gets removed from the White House, and now race is not a biological category.

Of course there are genes for race. You can sign up to or, and it will identify your race from the DNA in the spit that you send in.

People sometimes say that right-wingers are anti-science. But the Left denies much of genetics.

Monday, February 8, 2021

IBM shutters female blockchain team

I posted in April 2018
I have criticized IBM for over-hyping the potential for quantum computing and related technologies, but what it is doing with the Bitcoin blockchain is even worse. reports:

In the male-dominated world of cryptocurrency, IBM is going against the grain. The company's 1,500 member blockchain team is led by Bridget van Kralingen, senior vice president of global industries, platforms and blockchain.

The IBM CEO was a women, and so was most of the blockchain management.

It was all a scam. Coindesk reports:

IBM has cut its blockchain team down to almost nothing, according to four people familiar with the situation.

Job losses at IBM (NYSE: IBM) escalated as the company failed to meet its revenue targets for the once-fêted technology by 90% this year, according to one of the sources.

“IBM is doing a major reorganization,” said a source at a startup that has been interviewing former IBM blockchain staffers. “There is not really going to be a blockchain team any longer. Most of the blockchain people at IBM have left.”

How long before another reorganization shuts down the quantum computing research?

Maybe not for a couple of more years. It is hyping its latest advance:

As much as quantum computers have improved, they’re far from taking the reins from conventional computers in some situations. IBM might have made them more practical, however. The tech pioneer has found a way to combine a new program execution environment, Qiskit, with a balance of “classical” and quantum computing to deliver a 100 times speedup for tasks that depend on iterative circuit execution. Computations that take months now will take mere hours, IBM said. ...

IBM expects to release Qiskit sometime in 2021. Its roadmap also has quantum systems handling a wider range of circuits, and thus a wider range of computing challenges, by 2022. New control systems and libraries in 2023 will help IBM reach its goal of running systems with 1,000 or more qubits, taking the company closer to a “quantum advantage” where the technology can handle at least some tasks more efficiently or cost-effectively than traditional hardware.

I don't understand this, but it appears that there is still no quantum advantage on any real problem, so what is the point?

The decline of IBM is sad. Amazon just reported $100B in sales for the quarter, with the computer server services boss being promoted to CEO. IBM once owned the market for computer server services, and now it is declining while the other players are growing rapidly.

Friday, February 5, 2021

Qubit is one and zero at the same time

quotes about quantum computing made in Finnish TV news watched by ~1.5 million people:

“Qubits are the quantum computing equivalent of normal computers bits, which are ones and zeros. Unlike a bit, qubit is not just one or zero, instead it can be both one and zero at the same time.”

“-This is a device that makes the impossible possible. Even if all supercomputers of the world would do something together for years, they could not solve things that quantum computer will at some point solve in a snap of fingers.”

“-Here we are learning how to build a quantum computer, learn to develop different parts, learn to write software and to apply them for different tasks. The real benefits will certainly come in the next phases at the end of 2020’s.”

The context of this was the announcement of 20 million euro funding to build Finland’s first quantum computer.

The commenter thinks that this is a distortion, but how would any non-physicist think anything else?

Wikipedia explains:

In quantum mechanics, Schrödinger's cat is a thought experiment that illustrates an apparent paradox of quantum superposition. In the thought experiment, a hypothetical cat may be considered simultaneously both alive and dead as a result of being linked to a random subatomic event that may or may not occur.
So a cat can be alive and dead at the same time. If you believe that, then a qubit can be one and zero at the same time.

If you think this is nutty, and I do, then get the Physics popularizers to stop saying that a cat can be simultaneously alive and dead.

The story also over-hypes what quantum computers will do for us, but again, it is just parroting what physicists say. In June 2019 I noted that experts were saying that quantum computing capabilities were growing doubly exponentially. If that were really true, then quantum computers would be doing useful things by now. But that could be decades away, or never happen.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Energy is conserved

Sean M. Carroll claims that energy is not conserved in quantum mechanics, and Lubos Motl explains his errors:
OK, they claim that the only meaningful conservation of energy in quantum mechanics is the conservation of the expectation value of the Hamiltonian; that this is violated; that this violation can be arbitrarily large; that this violation cannot be attributed to the energy of the observer or the apparatus; and that the "many-worlds interpretation" makes all these questions more controllable. Each of the five statements is absolutely and fundamentally wrong.
Okay, I don't need to belabor the point. Obviously Carroll is not going to be making any perpetual motion machines. I just want to comment on how Carroll believes in Many-Worlds, and that everything makes more sense there. He says:
In the Many-Worlds formulation of quantum mechanics, the energy of the wave function of the universe is perfectly conserved. It doesn’t “require energy to make new universes,” so that is not a respectable objection to Many-Worlds. ...

The first point here is well-accepted and completely obvious to anyone who understands Many-Worlds.

The way he sees it, energy might be lost to our universe, and slip into a parallel universe so that the total evergy is conserved. Millions of new parallel universes are created all around you every second, but these do not require any additional energy, so again, energy is conserved.

This stuff doesn't make any sense. Sure, it is obvious that energy is not used to create new universes, because no new universes are created, and it doesn't even make sense to talk about unobservable universes. But now he says that energy is needed in the new universe to make up for energy losses in our universe? I give up. It makes no sense to me.

Monday, February 1, 2021

7 Sister stars reduced to 6

Why do faraway cultures have similar names for constellations in the night sky, and similar myths also?

New research tries to trace one myth:

Many cultures around the world refer to the Pleiades as “seven sisters”, and also tell quite similar stories about them. After studying the motion of the stars very closely, we believe these stories may date back 100,000 years to a time when the constellation looked quite different.

In Greek mythology, the Pleiades were the seven daughters of the Titan Atlas. He was forced to hold up the sky for eternity, and was therefore unable to protect his daughters. To save the sisters from being raped by the hunter Orion, Zeus transformed them into stars. But the story says one sister fell in love with a mortal and went into hiding, which is why we only see six stars.

If so, this would be the oldest story on Earth.

They argue in their paper:

From 50,000 BC onwards the Aboriginal people enjoyeda continuous, unbroken culture, with very little contact without outsiders, other than annual visits from Macassan trepang-collectors to the far north of Australia over the last few hun-dred years. Aboriginal culture evolved continuously, withno discontinuities or significant outside influences, until thearrival of the British in 1788, making Aboriginal Australiansamong the oldest continuous cultures in the world (McNiven& Russell, 2005).

When the Australians and Europeans were last together, in 100,000 BC, the Pleiades would have appeared as seven stars. Given that both cultures refer to them as “Seven Sisters”,and that their stories about them are so similar, the evidenceseems to support the hypothesis that the “Seven Sisters” story predates the departure of the Australians and Europeans from Africa in 100,000 BC.

Maybe Orion just looks like a hunter, and multiple cultures independently came to that conclusion? That is hard to believe, but it is also hard to see how one story could travel the whole Earth and persist for 1000s of years, without anyone ever writing it down.