Thursday, March 31, 2022

Quantum Computing is a Paper Tiger

From a new MIT Technology Review paper:
Established applications for quantum computers do exist. The best known is Peter Shor's 1994 theoretical demonstration that a quantum computer can solve the hard problem of finding the prime factors of large numbers exponentially faster than all classical schemes. Prime factorization is at the heart of breaking the universally used RSA-based cryptography, so Shor's factorization scheme immediately attracted the attention of national governments everywhere, leading to considerable quantum-computing research funding. The only problem? Actually making a quantum computer that could do it. That depends on implementing an idea pioneered by Shor and others called quantum-error correction, a process to compensate for the fact that quantum states disappear quickly because of environmental noise (a phenomenon called "decoherence"). In 1994, scientists thought that such error correction would be easy because physics allows it. But in practice, it is extremely difficult.

The most advanced quantum computers today have dozens of decohering (or "noisy") physical qubits. Building a quantum computer that could crack RSA codes out of such components would require many millions if not billions of qubits. Only tens of thousands of these would be used for computation -- so-called logical qubits; the rest would be needed for error correction, compensating for decoherence. The qubit systems we have today are a tremendous scientific achievement, but they take us no closer to having a quantum computer that can solve a problem that anybody cares about. It is akin to trying to make today's best smartphones using vacuum tubes from the early 1900s. You can put 100 tubes together and establish the principle that if you could somehow get 10 billion of them to work together in a coherent, seamless manner, you could achieve all kinds of miracles. What, however, is missing is the breakthrough of integrated circuits and CPUs leading to smartphones -- it took 60 years of very difficult engineering to go from the invention of transistors to the smartphone with no new physics involved in the process.

With computers, it was always obvious that bigger and better ones would be possible. Intermediate results could be stored in memory. With quantum computers, it is not clear that scaling up will be possible.

Monday, March 28, 2022

How Science Journalism got Politiciized

SciAm reports:
How the Pandemic Remade Science Journalism

It’s no longer possible to separate science and politics ...

It didn’t take long for bad actors to weaponize the confusion to spread misinformation. Patient zero in this “infodemic” was Donald Trump. The former president routinely downplayed the virus’s severity, calling it “no worse than the flu.” He blamed China, stoking xenophobia rather than urging people to protect themselves and others. He mocked people who wore masks, politicizing a basic public health measure, while promoting baseless COVID treatments. ...

There has perhaps been no more consequential or bitter battleground in the U.S. epidemic than vaccines. The anti-vax movement — a small faction but already a potent force before COVID — took advantage of people’s hesitancy about the speed with which the new vaccines were developed to spread lies and misinformation about their effects. ...

All of this has played out against the backdrop of vast inequities in access to vaccines and health care, both nationwide and globally. One of the biggest lessons of the pandemic for many of us has been that racism, not race, explains why COVID has been even more devastating for people of color.

The arrival of new viral variants further complicated messaging. The mRNA vaccines achieved an effectiveness beyond any expert’s wildest dreams.

Yes, science journalism has been hopelessly politicized, and it is evident from this article.

It eagerly blames Trump for saying "Wuhan virus", but fails to mention that Trump was the biggest promoter of the vaccines. The science journalists conspired to suppress vaccine info until after the Nov. 2020 election, so that Trump would not benefit.

Covid has been more deadly for colored people, but there is no evidence that racism had anything to do with it.

Tony Fauci and many others said things that turned out to be wrong, but Trump is singled out as the "bad actor".

For the vast majority of people, covid is no worse than the flu.

Scientific American had been going downhill for years, and the decline has accelerated in the last couple of years. Now it is all woke, all the time.

Another silly SciAm article:

What Quantum Mechanics Can Teach Us about Abortion

As light can exist as both a particle and a wave, an abortion provider can honor birth and fight for a person’s right to give birth when it’s right for them

It is just as stupid as it sounds.

To be woke, it has to be pro-abortion, pro-women, and recognizing that trans men can give birth. So it would not say "a woman to give birth against her will".

Attending thousands of births has been a great joy in my career and has cemented my belief that forcing a person to give birth against their will is a fundamental violation of their human rights.

Given that one quarter of women in the U.S. have an abortion, many Americans have benefitted directly or indirectly from abortion care.

This garbage is unfit for any scientific publication.

Physicist Lawrence Krauss is one the few willing to denounce the trends:

Earlier this month Science magazine, whose editor since 2019 has promoted the notion that science is systemically racist and sexist, ran four hit pieces on physics in a single issue. It was claimed that physics is racist and exclusionary, run by a “white priesthood,” and based on “white privilege.” ...

So, it is important every now and then, to step back and question the assumptions on which they are based.

(a) If the representation of various groups in scientific disciplines does not match the demographics of the society at large, the cause must be racism, sexism, or other forms of discrimination.

(b) When interviewed, white male scientists cannot provide examples of racism or sexism in their disciplines

(c) Anecdotal claims of slights based on ability, or of working in an atmosphere that seemed neither friendly nor inclusive are not in themselves evidence of anything except an atmosphere that seems neither friendly nor inclusive.

(d) It is claimed that too few programs exist to recruit and retain women and minorities.

(e) It is claimed that standard merit-based evaluations must be relaxed to increase diversity in science, and that this will strengthen the field.

A woke mob is destroying science, and hardly anyone says anything.

Another SciAm article:

In 2020, as the bodies piled up, it became clear that people of color were dying at far higher rates than white people. They had the jobs that exposed them to infections, the comorbidities that made them more likely to get very sick, and less ability to access quality health care than white Americans. The toll revealed in very stark ways that racial disparities and racism were alive and well in the U.S. At the same time, police were attacking Black people, and those attacks were being disseminated far and wide via new visual technologies. Just as COVID laid bare the racial disparities, the murder of George Floyd unfolded in front of millions of eyes in a way that made racial oppression undeniable. Not only was the structural racism in American society displayed in all its hideousness, but people were dissecting and debating it across social media in a way that had never been possible before.
Most of this is false. Access to high quality health care was killing people, as nursing homes had high infection rates, and intensive-care ventilators were deadly. The biggest comorbidity was obesity, and no one was making colored people get fat.

The George Floyd trial showed that he died of a fentanyl overdose, and no accusations of racial oppression were even presented. There was not really much debate about structural racism. SciAm published article saying it exists, but nothing debating it.

The recent Kyle Rittenhouse case, in which a vigilante who shot white people participating in largely Black protests was completely exonerated, is also alarming. ... Going forward, will they be willing to risk their lives for a cause that is not directly theirs?
Let's hope that they do not risk their lives by trying to kill and innocent boy who are only there to help. This is just an article by a Black man trying to fuel a race war. Note that is capitalizes Black but not white.

Another SciAm article:

The onus of reducing discrimination should not be on women and people of color. But in a world where inequity and bias are commonplace, having a tool to blunt these barriers may come in handy.
The tool is for women and coloreds to identify their sex and race, because the discrimination is their favor!

Here is another crazy political SciAm article:

Laws Vilifying Transgender Children and Their Families Are Abusive

Recent measures in Florida, Texas and elsewhere serve to traumatize trans children and their families, uphold ideas that trans children are inherently troubled, and go against medical advice

The new Florida law does not do any of those things, and merely bans public schools from teaching perverted sexual theories to K-3 (age 5-8) children.

Update: Another SciAm article:

Anti-trans Laws Will Have A Chilling Effect on Medicine

I am a future psychiatrist hoping to care for transgender people. But I fear these laws will make it difficult to do so

On this year’s Transgender Day of Visibility, we should be celebrating the accomplishments, honoring the resilience and advocating loudly for the rights of people who are trans. Yet the growing onslaught of anti-trans legislation targeting the health care decisions that families make with their doctors threatens to cast a shadow over this day.

About a year ago I lost a family member to the mental trauma of transgender discrimination, so I speak from a place of watching someone I love suffer from lack of support. ...

The day when police came to my house to tell my family that my uncle was found dead from an overdose after years of struggling with her identity, I felt like I was living through a nightmare.

So his uncle liked to dress as a woman, died of a drug overdose, and now he wants to give puberty-suppressing drugs to children. The article has no scientific or medical evidence of any benefit to his proposals. At best he cites surveys saying children like it better when others affirm what they are doing.

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

When were Negative Numbers Invented?

I thought that negative numbers were ancient, but have recently learned that mathematicians of a few centuries ago distrusted them.

Wikipedia says they go back to China and India a couple of millennia ago. I doubt it.

I am looking for an example of an algorithm:

1. Compute a number X that can be positive or negative.

2. Use X to compute something else, without dividing into two cases.

In doing my income taxes, I cannot find any example of IRS using such an algorithm.

I am guessing such algorithms started to appear around 1800 or so.

Wikipedia explains:

For a long time, understanding of negative numbers was delayed by the impossibility of having a negative-number amount of a physical object, for example "minus-three apples", and negative solutions to problems were considered "false".
But that is not impossible at all, as having "minus-three apples" means owing 3 apples.

Furthermore, lots of other natural measurements can be negative. I could ask "how far are you east of the landmark?" and get a negative answer. Likewise, feet below sea leval, freezing temperature, or a countdown to an anticipated event. If I ask the cost of something, and it turns out to be a benefit, then it has negative cost.

Newtonian Physics was invented around 1680. Today, textbooks explain it with force diagrams, where force vectors are added. These seems to require negative numbers, as forces can cancel out. It also seems to require vectors, but vectors were not invented until about 200 years later. It is hard to imagine that Newton did not understand negative numbers, but maybe not, if he did not understand vectors either.

Monday, March 21, 2022

The Witten Family Eugenics Project

Ed Witten is supposed to be the world's smartest theoretical physicist, if not the world's smartest human. To have kids, he married an Italian string theorist, and had three daughters, at least two of which are also geniuses. Curiously, they are both in brain science specialties that might help explain why their family is smarter than everyone else.

Politically, they all seem to be typical academic leftists. Ed recently tweeted in favor of Australia ban tennis star Novak Djokovic for not taking the covid vaccine. An appellate court has since ruled that he has complied with all requirements, but he was deported anyway out of fear that he might influence public opinion.

This is just typical academic foolish leftism to side with experts outside his field in order to give an opinion on who should play tennis on the other side of the world.

One of his daughters has been active in canceling statistician and geneticist Ronald Fisher, based on some politically out-of-favor opinions associated to him on his Wikipedia page. In particular he wanted to use genetics research to improve the human condition. Plus, she wanted to join all the academics making a statement about the death of George Floyd.

It is not clear what Fisher said that was so offensive, but I don't see why it should matter. If he were wrong, then demonstrate his error. His critics are not doing that. He smoked cigarettes and denied that they cause cancer. Okay, he was wrong about that. But he still made a great many other positive contributions, and I do not agree with applying an ideological litmus test on scientists.

There is a great reckoning going on where famous men of the past, like Charles Darwin, are being scrutinized for their opinions on slavery. Why would anyone care? I don't. Whether Darwin had political opinions for or against slavery, or on various other political issues, is of no relevance today. He is not judged for his politics.

If we are really going to apply weird George Floyd racial theories to scientists of the past, what will future academics make of Ed Witten's refusal to breed with a low-IQ woman?

There is something creepy about our elites being so leftist. It is just their way of saying that they are better than the rest of us.

Eugenics has a strange history. Here is a review of a new book on the subject.

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Strong Determinism

New paper on Strong Determinism, a concept different from superdeterminism:
In this paper, I focus on strong determinism. According to Penrose (1989), it is “not just a matter of the future being determined by the past; the entire history of the universe is fixed, according to some precise mathematical scheme, for all time” ...

On an intuitive level, we can say that the multiverse of the Everettian Wentaculus has “more branches” than that of the Everettian Mentaculus. The Everettian Wentaculus multiverse has all the branches that the Everettian Mentaculus one has and more. Speaking loosely, all the nomological possibilities of the Everettian Mentaculus multiverse will be embedded somewhere in the actual Everettian Wentaculus multiverse. However, on the Everettian Wentaculus, there is no fundamental nomic contingency or possibility beyond the actual fundamental world. If notions of contingency, chance, probability, and counterfactual make sense in this world, they have to be emergent at the level of branches and subsystems in the multiverse. It is important to appreciate that the theory does not contain any notions of probability or typicality at the fundamental level of physics. Hence, this is a proposal that completely eliminates the Statistical Postulate in fundamental physics.39

I could not make any sense out of this.

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Horgan Prefers Free Will over Superdeterminism

SciAm columnist John Horgan has a column on superdeterminism and free will:
Physics, which tracks changes in matter and energy, has nothing to say about love, desire, fear, hatred, justice, beauty, morality, meaning. All these things, viewed in the light of physics, could be described as “logically incoherent nonsense,” as Hossenfelder puts it. But they have consequences; they alter the world.

Physics as a whole, not just quantum mechanics, is obviously incomplete. As philosopher Christian List told me recently, humans are “not just heaps of interacting particles.” We are “intentional agents, with psychological features and mental states” and the capacity to make choices. Physicists have acknowledged the limits of their discipline. Philip Anderson, a Nobel laureate, contends in his 1972 essay “More Is Different” that as phenomena become more complicated, they require new modes of explanation; not even chemistry is reducible to physics, let alone psychology.

Bell, the inventor of superdeterminism, apparently didn’t like it. He seems to have viewed superdeterminism as a reductio ad absurdum proposition, which highlights the strangeness of quantum mechanics. He wasn’t crazy about any interpretations of quantum mechanics, once describing them as “like literary fiction.”

Why does the debate over free will and superdeterminism matter? Because ideas matter. At this time in human history, many of us already feel helpless, at the mercy of forces beyond our control. The last thing we need is a theory that reinforces our fatalism.

He gets some pushback on his Facebook page. In particular, Scott Aaronson says that he understates how bad superdeterminism is, and Sabine, Hossenfelder claims that her superdeterminism views have been distorted.

To me, free will is real simple. If you are a normal conscious human being, then you directly experience free will. You make free choices. It should take a pretty strong argument to convince you that your personal experience is false.

Science could prove our intuitions wrong, but the arguments against free will are not scientific at all. They are based on a belief that the past determines the future, or a belief that science would never explain consciousness so we must be unconscious automatons.

Superdeterminism goes further, and says that not only are we pregrammed robots, but even when we do controlled experiments, the setup parameters are forced on us in a way to make the results fool us.

There is no proposed superdeterminism theory that makes any sense, and it has few backers. Dr. Bee pushes it as the logical consequence of rejecting quantum mechanics, nonlocality, and free will.

While Aaronson rightly rejects superdeterminism as madness, he accepts many-worlds theory that has most of the same problems. It does not let us do any controlled experiments either. It also cannot say that setup X predicts outcome Y with probability P. It says that everything happens, and what you see is just a reflection of what world you ended up in.

Horgan is the journalist who says the emperor has no clothes. He is saying the obvious, while prominent scientist profess crazy ideas.

Saturday, March 5, 2022

Science Backs Transgender Voodoo

The Science Friday podcast is mostly straight science, but often ventures into leftist politics.

Yesterday, it claimed science supports gender-affirming care for kids:

Attorney General Ken Paxton issued an opinion that defined providing access to certain gender-affirming treatment as child abuse, leaving some parents worried about the safety of their families and some advocates concerned about the well-being of trans kids in Texas. ...

Student Hayden Cohen is a non-binary 17-year-old and co-president of their schools’ Gay Straight Alliance at Houston ISD. Last Wednesday, they received a rush of panicked messages from members of the club.

These treatments are very controversial, at best. I would not mind if the show gave scientific arguments and data for and against them. But of course it did not do that.

This was about like a program in the 1950s praising lobotomies as a miracle of modern science, without ever mentioning how they can be bad.

Thursday, March 3, 2022

Free Will is Called a Dice Throw

I have posted on free will many times. Here are some hard-core empiricists who deny free will.

From Coel's blog:

I get the compatibilist argument. You are essentially saying that if a cause is unknown, then it cannot be free will. In particular, if quantum mechanics is unable to determine something, then there is no free will involved. I am just noting that this opinion is not found in any quantum mechanics textbook or scientific paper. It is not based on any empirical data.
So your suggestion is that a “will” is responsible for the outcome of a “quantum indeterminacy” event and hence a brain’s decision? In that case we have one of:

1) The “will” is non-material, non-physical. This is dualism, a “soul” that is telling matter what to do and producing the brain’s decisions.

2) The “will” is physical, and is a manifestation of the state of the physical stuff. If so, this is straight back to determinism, such that the brain’s decisions are a product of the “will” and thus of the prior physical state. Essentially, this is just a “hidden variables” version of QM, where the indeterminacy is replaced by deterministic causation by the (physical) “will”. This then gives a compatibilist account of “will”.

3) The outcome is still indeterministic, that is, it is still a chance, dice-throwing process. Thus, the outcome is not caused by the “will” (regardless of whether that will is material or non-material), it is still a dice throw. But if so, I really don’t see how the brain’s decisions can be regarded as “willed”.

So I don’t see how this helps at all. Either the brain’s choices are determined by the prior state (call that a “will” if you wish), or they are chance dice throws. The latter doesn’t give a free “will”. The former gives compatibilism.

Here is a similar view:
“But plain old determinism is bad enough because it says that we human beings are all a pack of fools who think WE are doing things, like trying to defend a country from Putin’s aggression, when actually everything, including our own selves and what we do, is nothing but the outcome of deterministic laws of nature.”
As opposed to what? Like, what could your “thoughts”, “decisions” and “actions” be based on besides prior state of the world? Which is the definition of determinism… there’s only either causality or randomness, there’s nothing else out there to make you feel better about your own decisions/actions. One could maybe imagine a world where future outcomes influence retro-actively past decisions, with closed timelike loops (basically counterfactuals become a possibility), but even in that model a state is determined from a prior state (just that time is not strictly linear, and things evolve until some equilibrium is reached).

And if you posit you have a magical soul that’s somehow living outside a reality that’s covered by the law of physics, or your decisions are maybe influenced by an omnipotent god or some universal sense of good and evil, there’s still only two ways for dynamical systems to evolve: direct causality or randomness.

I don't know whether free will is material or physical. I do not know how to answer that question for an election, a wave function, or a Higgs field.

It is bizarre to me that he can imagine a world with closed timelike curves, but not one with free will.  

I do know that I experience free will. It is probably the one thing that conscious beings are most sure about. The compatibilists and other determinists say that I am being fooled. Okay, maybe, but I would like to see some explanation as to how I could be fooled so badly.

The above explanations are commonly given. I would rephrase them as:

Events are either predictable or not. Free will is very strange in that a human making a choice might be able to predict his own choice, while others cannot.
My reaction is: Okay, you think it is strange. But if you are taking a scientific stance, then you should either accept it as possible, or show me some empirical evidence against it.

There is no empirical evidence against it. Some claim that the Libet experiments disprove free will, but that has been debunked.

The above argument is that free will can be disproved by pure philosophizing about causality and randomness. The whole approach is foolish. People claim to be empiricists, but refuse to look at any empirical evidence.

Update: The March 7 NY Times Mini Crossword puzzle has this clue:

1. With 5-Across, philosophical concept opposed by determinism
The answer, of course, is Free will.

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Russian Science is Boycotted

You know it is bad when the West politicizes science more than the Communists did. That is where we are today.

Jerry Coyne reports:

Anna told me she got an email from one of her collaborators, who was reviewing for a journal a paper written by Russian scientists. (“Reviewing,” as you probably know, is when anonymous scientists determines whether a submitted manuscript in their field merits publication in the journal. Here’s the email that Anna’s collaborator got from the journal named below.
Thank you for reviewing this manuscript. I have to inform you that the editors of the Journal of Molecular Structure made a decision to ban the manuscripts submitted from Russian institutions. You must know that it is a ban on Russian institutions and not a judgment on scientists. Therefore I cannot accept the manuscript.
Therefore, the reviewer had to send the Russian authors this rejection letter:
I regret to inform you that your manuscript cannot be considered for publication in the Journal of Molecular Structure. The editors of this journal, in the full assumption of their responsibilities as scientists and academics, decided not to consider any manuscript authored by scientists working at Russian Federation institutions as a result of the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation. Such invasion violates international law, jeopardizes world peace as well as the human rights of innocent citizens, and does not conform to the civilizational ideals of the 21st century. This decision will be in force until international legality is restored, and is extended to the institutions of the Ukrainian territories occupied by Russia.
The Russia chemist has nothing to do with the Ukraine war. Banning a chemistry paper will not help the Ukrainians.

The International Congress of Mathematicians meets every four years, and was going to meet in St. Petersburg this summer, with the generous sponsorship of Russia. Now the meeting has been boycotted and canceled, leaving the local sponsors in debt for years to come.

A more sensible journal announced:

As of the time of writing, no government sanctions are in place which impact the handling of papers that include Russian authors, and we ask editors to follow usual practice on “Fair Play”: “The editor should evaluate manuscripts for their intellectual content without regard to race, gender, sexual orientation, religious belief, ethnic origin, citizenship, or political philosophy of the authors.”

This is an evolving crisis and we will keep you updated on any developments that may impact your work. We stand by our belief that restrictions on publishing are inappropriate, and any exceptions should be narrowly crafted.