Thursday, February 22, 2018

Science Fiction metaphor for Trump versus FBI

Let's face it, Trump versus the FBI (and now school shooting) seems to be taking up more and more of the diminishing oxygen in that part of the national mind which is devoted to politics.

A week or two ago, I told myself: "There is a time for rest and recovery, to take a break from what we see on CNN, and also from very complicated ever more problematic issues out there in reality."
(When they took down my web page, that also suggested a time to be quiet.)

So to relax -- I read a nice science fiction novel, something I have actually not done for many months lately... first Madness in Solidar (by Modesitt). (I am now mostly done the sequel.) Modesitt is a very clear writer and thinker, but it seemed irrelevant to those scary things happening on CNN...

Until I realized this morning that there is a powerful (though imperfect) analogy between Rex Dafou and Collegium, of the Madness novel, and Trump and FBI. Since the Collegium is presented in a very positive way (despite one bad guy they need to track down), I can imagine that guys in the FBI might like this metaphor a lot, even if it is too flattering in a way. (I have often wished for something MORE like the Collegium of the story, or like Asimov's foundations, but that's another story.)

In the story, the Collegium works very, very hard to preserve the historic constitution or codex of the country, which includes supporting the proper role of the Rex. But Dafou is utterly unwilling to compromise, and in the end they simply remove him, in favor of the better of his two obvious heirs (sons). (The one married to a woman who in retrospect reminds me of Ivanka!)

But in the sequel... the removal of Dafou is followed by problems which grow to be far worse, which the Collegium had not prepared for as well as it might. There is a problem with old style oligarchs... and that too, sadly, does fit the realities of modern America, where it is not just the army which has dangerous traitors to any viable social contract.


In truth, Trump is certainly not as shallow or as totally opposed to compromise as the character in this novel... in my view.. though Schumer might well have a different view. Trump himself may have been longing for some kind of break these past two weeks...

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

critical review of a prominent theory of quantum mechanics and cosmic consciousness

I have run across lots of people excited by mainstream quantum philosophy. Here is my evaluatoio of part of that discussion:
In essence, these views of quantum theory and cosmic consciousness attributed to Stapp do constitute a religion. (Though I view quantum theory and cosmic consciousness as both real, I define "cosmic consciousness" in a very different way from the formal assumption being made here.) Humans in general have a strange tendency not to question the details of their particular religion, and to strive to be orthodox, even as they are surrounded by billions of people who adhere to very different religions contradicting their own. Sanity DEMANDS that we actually pay attention to the obvious uncertainties,
such as the concrete realities of what quantum theory actually IS.

For some people quantum theory has somehow morphed in their minds to being a holy relic, like a golden cow or a green jade goat. The faithful would consider it blasphemy to ask what connection that golden cow or green goat would have to those awful mundane cows and goats they actually see on the streets... or perhaps they make sure never to visit such profane streets. Why bother to learn anything real about real cows when you have a purified golden one to worship and not question, and you have a whole nation or tribe of orthodox believers  proud to wall themselves off from the profane masses beyond the walls? There are ever so many instances of such thinking on this planet.

For quantum theory in particular... the validity of something called "quantum mechanics" (a term used in a very loose way by many people) was fully established in physics because of a SPECIFIC EXPERIMENT, the "Bell's Theorem" experiment, performed and based on an experiment by Clauser, Holt, Shimony and Horn (CHSH), popularized (with a bit of spin) by the classic book The Speakable and Unspeakable in Quantum Mechanics, by J.S. Bell.
What we really know about the philosophical implications of QM in general... is really just what we know from that experiment.  (OK, some of us do know a bit more which is also fundamental based on more technical experiments, none of which I see reflected in any of the discussions here.) 

We don't know ANYTHING from that experiment which says ANYTHING about ghosts or even consciousness, any more than classical experiments already did. Sure, humans (other than the experimenter) don't know about the results until humans write and read papers -- but that was already true in classical physics. There is nothing quantum about that. The ACTUAL predictions are based on a straightforward mathematical calculation, given in detail in Horn's thesis, described in the review by Clauser and Shimony themselves, and re-presented equivalently and more elegantly both in the standard text by Scully and Zubairy and in Given a model of what polarizers do to density matrices, and how density matrices interact with polarizers, that is enough to predict the double counting rates ACTUALLY OBSERVED in that experiment. There are no ghosts or conscious observers 
used or assumed in that calculation, and the success of that calculation is all we actually KNOW. Adding an "interpretation" beyond that is what people once did with classical mechanics as well, as in "if a bird sings in the forest and no human hears it, is the bird really there?" THERE IS NO EVIDENCE for anything beyond the actual inhuman, unconscious models actually used to predict the experiment. If you decide you want to INTERPRET 
the success of your coffee maker as the ultimate consequence of the will of a purple hippopotamus in your basement, and you religiously keep people out of your sacred basement, then we can't prove that the hippopotamus is not there, but if the coffee maker works perfectly well AS IT IS without intervention...

Why would anyone ever speculate about ghosts in the experiment? Well, to begin with, lots of people love ghosts. It is just like the right wingers on reddit, who strive hard for... confirmation bias. If a modern group of quantum philosophers maintain turf walled off from folks who do hard experiments in photonics and electronics, each can be happy just staying away from the other; no contamination of the golden cow from real ones, and real farmers quite happy to stay away from the golden ones in our society. 

But there is another aspect. The simple crude summary of Von Neumann's "process 1 and process 2" did reflect the reality of serious experiment-oriented understanding at that time, and now (with minor caveats). Process 1, the measurement process, has in fact been modeled by quick and dirty models of polarizers and detectors. One may ask: "WHY do we see a projection of density matrices to a mixture of eigenvectors when light hits a polarizer or a detector?" It was convenient to use a separate model for such macroscopic objects in quantum experiments, and treat those models as sancrosanct, because it simplified the calculations. Talk about ghosts was basically just an excuse for using one type of mathematical model for one stage of the process, and a different set at another. But serious physicists have long asked: WHY the dichotomy? WHY can't we just model the polarizers and detectors by the same kind of (time-symmetric) model we use in "process 2," the Schrodinger equation itself? WHY can't we follow Occam's Razor by using "Process 2" ONLY to predict experiments like CHSH?"

In fact, WE NOW CAN. We don't need a separate process 1 as an axiom. That's the real importance of and the followons.

Back in Von Neumann's day, we simply did not have solid models of solid state physics good enough to bridge the gap from the Schrodinger equation (and even classical solid state physics, as in photonics) to the operation of polarizers (and detectors, not a problem) in CHSH. Now we do. New models of the polarizer which maintain the time-symmetry of the Schrodinger equation fit the CHSH experiment just as well as the old simpler ad hoc models did. We don't need process 1. To test whether process 1 exists at all, we need to do the crucial experiments capable of saying which models of the polarizers and of thermal light sources) are actually correct. If we do those experiments, and they support the old ad hoc models, the followers of the purple hippopotamus 
would feel vindicated. If they truly believe din their theory, and in the scientific method, they would push hard for the experiments which they think would verify the existence of their purple hippopotamus. 

This situation reminds me of an NSF review panel which I OBSERVED (not managed). It reminds me of the guy who said "We should not fund this proposal, because it is too high-risk." When another guy asked: "What is the risk?", he replied "The risk is that it could disprove my theory." That is a personally rational answer, if he did not really believe his theory was true, and if his value system placed great weight on his personal standing and none on the truth. 
What a combination!!! But it seems he was not alone. His behavior raised questions not just about funding the specific proposal, but about funding that entire community.


Later reflections:

I can't help wondering.. The reality of quantum measurement and such is all essentially on based on something you can see on a billiards table... something which I HAVE seen with mundane eyes looking at a billiard table. 
The most definitive "Bell" experiment was on a table in Maryland, with a laser on it, and little "game pieces" and a detector connected to a PC. 

How can people stare at such a straightforward physical thing and imagine so many ghosts and spirits and higher order psychological complexities?

Is this the modern equivalent of the old meditation experiment of staring into a fire and letting thoughts (some veridical, some fantasy) pour into the mind? 

Of course, fires were once a mystery to science. Or the science of prescience? Whatever. And even now, one can actually try to play with an actual candle flame, much as George plays with things that can rotate. But... Dean Radin is the only one I know of who has asked people to play with a "Bell" experiment, as an actual PK toy; it has the advantage of being well instrumented, but is it really easier for humans to engage with it than to engage with a fire or a mobile? Or is that question itself too fuzzy to really answer?

Stan talks about the standard X number of philosophical interpretations of QM, which belong to a particular subset of philosophers. While I don't like the overstress on Standard Allowed Ideas, I have to admit that in the world of real empirical science, int he ultraempirical and practical world of photonics, there really is just one standard way to predict (and thus understand) the statistics we observe in the modern, precise "Bell" experiment, the experiment which is the very paradigm of entanglement. There is a Bell state pure wave function coming out of the  nonlinear crystal -- a rank one density matrix. Each time the light hits a polarizer (first on the left, then on the right, or vice-versa), the polarizer converts that pure state to a mixed state. Then when it hits a detector, it does the same thing again. The computer which records the event is observed to have a certain probability of recording a detection on the left at the same time as detection on the right, to within a few nanoseconds. (Or picoseconds? I forget, but they always say in the papers.) The correct quantum prediction is simply based on assuming that the probability of detection equals the square norm of the density matrix at the location of the detector. That's it. That works. Just math, no ghosts. No humans necessary, except to notice what the computer prints out the next day -- and that much was already needed for humans in experiments before quantum mechanics appeared. (OK, PCs are newer than quantum mechanics, but no one here is worshipping THEM at least!) 

I am not alleging that ghosts do not exist. But if they do exist, chasing after imaginary ones would actually prevent you from locating real ones or learning anything about them.

Mystical meditations on a billiards table....
and the distinction between real mysticism and willful mystification. 

Best of luck,



P.S. Actually, since I am into first person direct observation, I am grateful to have had a chance to see more than one quantum optics lab.

I never actually saw the very first CHSH laboratory, the workplace of my classmate Richard Holt, but he certainly showed me papers and talked about it a lot over tea at Harkness Commons at Harvard.

Possibly the first one I saw was at UMBC, just outside Baltimore Beltway, in a visit to Yanhua Shih, whose group did the first high precision Down Conversion (SPDC TYpe II) "Bell" experiment. I used to say "it all fit on a ping pong table," but my wife says "Billiard" is more accurate; it was a simple but solid and stable apparatus. 
A huge amount of art and thought went into keeping it relatively simple and clear. In great part the secret of their unique initial success was making use of the work of a guy named Klyshko, who was very serious but even less standardized in his thinking than I am; he had a rough and ready quantitative model which was easier to use than the standard calculations, and actually more consistent with MQED than the standard ones are. 

By contrast, Preskill's Lab at CalTech looked more like an archeological dig, generations of students resulting in sprawl and complexity with more layers and mysteries than the excavation of Troy. 

At Tsingua (already three months ago) I think it actually WAS a
ping pong table, in a room somewhat protected from stray disturbances - smaller than than Shih's table, and much more cluttered, albeit not quite archeological. I posted a photo of it on Facebook when I came back. When I saw it, it had be be a bit complicated, because they were in the process of converting from a kind of third generation Bell-type experiment to a new experiment requested by authorities wanting something more practical.  

Third generation? The classic experiment used "Bell states," states of two photons entangled. Second generation, called GHz, entangles three photons together. Bell's book shows that you can't send information faster than light with a Bell state, but I claim that you CAN with proper use of a GHz state. On this pingpong table, they did the work for a paper by Wilczek, Hou and others easy to find in arxiv, where they bounced a single photon through time in a way which entailed triple entanglement (GHz) with instances of itself, used to probe the idea that there really are parallel "histories" out there. Basically, parallel "histories" is another way to talk about the parallel "universes" of the multiverse theory of Everett, Wheeler and Deutsch. Yes, they verified that theory (or at least the "crazy" part of it), but most serious quantum optickers just yawned, since we already knew it. 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

why do I believe in objective reality -- in philosophy and in physics

An actuve member of the Vedanta Society asked me today: 

Dear Dr. Paul,

What is the evidence that physical world we live in is real?

Well, there certainly is evidence that the astral body is NOT real. 

But you are quite right that sanity does call on me to question my beliefs in objective reality in a truly serious way, just as much as it calls on you to be truly serious about questioning your belief in a real astral body. I think it was Popper who reminded us: "If you do a thousand tough experiments to test a theory, addressing all the potential controversial questions about it, and it still holds up, you have not proven even then that the theory is true. Experiments can only FALSIFY a theory." A true scientist, or a truly sane and curious person, always considers clear alternatives, looking for the possibilities for falsifying his/her important assumptions.

This gets back to the question:"What is fundamental?" The honest answer is subtle. For me personally (leaving open the question of which one is "me"), I accept that what I learn from experience is fundamental for me; that it is my real starting point, exactly as in the high point of German existentialism. But what if WHAT I LEARN strongly supports the theory that we live in an objective physical reality? What if I have no real basis for questioning that (ONCE I include dark matter and dark energy as part of that objective reality)? What if this understanding has at times been operational enough for me that I would be dead before my time (like some of my past friends) if I did not have it?

But you are right, that even so, I should question it.

One very powerful mystic and former friend (a leader of a major school of Sufis, now dead) once asked: "Why do you assume that the greater cosmos is governed by mathematical laws OF SOME KIND?" My reply: it is not exactly an ASSUMPTION. It is more like a working hypothesis. It is natural that we try to understand better and better, ever more precisely, where our experience comes from. Since the experience so far is fully consistent with the idea of a precise mathematical understanding being there, ultimately available, and we seem to be making continued progress in that direction, why stop?

There are times when folks on the list seem to say "knowing math and science contaminates the mind and spirit." I have laughed to myself: "If so, God must be the most contaminated among us." But of course, believing it without understanding it CAN be dangerous. When I hear the song "Superstition ain't he way... when you believe in things you don't understand, you suffer." (That song always reminded me of quantum physics. Or of those people who would submit proposals to NSF containing 100 equations none of which the author really understood.)

BUT: What do I REALLY believe about the nature of those unknown mathematical laws?

[1] A year or two ago, on this list, I stated that I feel a subjective level of confidence of only 30%, in the end, that the ultimate laws of physics actually fit "Einsteinian realism," which I define as follows. Einsteinian realism is the proposition that our entire cosmos is a curved Minkowski space governed by general relativity (or something very similar), and by some Lagrangian or Hamiltonian function of the list of fields (functions of space-time) which define the state of the cosmos over space-time. So if that's only 30%, what are the alternatives?

[2] The most obvious alternative is that the cosmos really is something LIKE the Fock space assumed in all serious forms of quantum electrodynamics (QED). A true multiverse. Lately, as I think more about macroscopic Schrodinger cats, I find myself considering this more likely. It is actually possible that fully developed theories will ACTUALLY fit the false dream Stan has for older philosophical treatises on quantum mechanics: namely, a mathematical equivalence such that both can be precisely true (one in the Einstein realism bucket, and one in the Fock space bucket), such that the best understanding comes from understanding both and understanding and using the equivalence. 

[3] But there are other serious alternatives which would involve something like 5 to 20 dimensions of cosmos -- NOT the random arbitrary and questionable theories being developed in the superstring world, but something else. Who knows?

[4] I suppose I should list a fourth set of possibilities -- more digital models, like the "digital universe" (as in Greg Bear's novel Moving Mars), the random graph (as in Wolfram's New Kind of Science, the NKS movement) or the lattice.

[5] BUT -- HOW I "HEAR" what you are saying, ..., the possibility that the whole cosmos might be a great mind, governed by the mathematical laws of mind (which I claim to know more than others on this tiny planet do), and that the 3+1-D universe we think we see is in some sense just a creation of the mind.


And so, if I only allocate 30% probability to option (1), why do I mainly ACT on it???

The main reason is that it is hard to act on possibilities which are diffuse, nonpredictive, ambiguous and nonoperational. This is similar to the old issue of "looking where the light is." Some people say it is a horror to look where the light is; others say it is a horror not to; rational decision analysis says clearly that it depends on circumstances. 

More concretely, I see the hope of progressing from KQED quantum mechanics to MQED quantum mechanics (by experiment) as the best way to find what hope exists for possibility [1]. But it is ALSO the best way to find truth in sector [2]! It is an example of how a step-by-step concrete approach would maximize our chances of getting to the ultimate truth. For MYSELF, I mainly put efforts into possibilities [1] and [2], because I personally have a comparative advantage in that part of humanity's portfolio of possibilities. But I have had friends more into [3], [4] and [5]; it is proper that I should respect and try to help them, especially back when I worked for the Old NSF which was committed to leading the bigger picture.

When discussing things with people interested in [3], [4] and [5], I would constantly urge them to try to "become real" by addressing two key challenges:
(1) How to develop theories well-formulated enough to prove they could at least replicate basic predictions like what we already know from QED and GR experiments; (2) How to find AN EMPIRICAL HOOK, an area where an alternative theory MIGHT tell us something that the old theories do not.
In the absence of [1] and [2], one cannot really ACT on an alternative possibility, even if one pays sincere lip service to the possibility that it MIGHT be true.

For option [5] -- I remember many years ago when I was impressed by Matheson's book, What Dreams May Come, linked to a very serious school of thought from Scandanavia. The book seems more useful than formal verbal drivel, because it portrays a kind of PICTURE coherent enough one cannot help but feel it MIGHT be true. (The movie was not as good as the book, because of how it panders to local cultures, but for some of you an hour or two on netflix might be justified.) But when I tried to translate it into mathematics (as I successfully translated Freud years before that), it simply wasn't very convincing. Above all, the question of PURPOSE ... is murky at best. And it lacked a really convincing portrayal of qi, which is much clearer in [1]. 

But night before last, I revisited the question. (I do try to revisit such things regularly, as circumstances permit.) Maybe I CAN now do a bit more justice to possibility [5], and the full implications of macroscopic Schrodinger cats do call for more thinking. 

To try to do justice... I certainly think of the great movie Inception, which I highly recommend to anyone on this list who has not seen it. 
Part of the argument (which I hear ... echoing) is this: if astral travel CAN seem so real, even if it is actually a kind of dream, HOW DO WE HERE AND NOW KNOW THAT WE ARE AWAKE YET? HOW DO WE KNOW FOR SURE? Or will there always be some doubt? 

Is that a totally nonoperational possibility in practice? Well, what if we now have mathematics which WORKS on astral experience? 

One reason I like the movie is that it also gives important WARNINGS about the horrible things which can happen if people try to act on that kind of belief, without being sophisticated enough in how to react to it. 

Common sense would immediately ask: HOW could things seem so cast in bronze in our sector of astral space than in others we see?
Well, what we see are VARYING levels of malleability in different sectors. (I remember how Brad Steiger, in "In My Soul I am Free" quoted Jesus re "My father's house has many mansions." Maybe he meant his mother that time, but whatever.) 

WITHIN a brain... a well-designed brain exploits ADAPTIVE LEARNING RATES. Some sectors of neocortex, like visual cortex, learn very little starting from an early age, while others learn more, because of two alternative possibilities: (1) they are already performing their low-level functions about as well as can be, and are encouraged in effect by higher sectors to just be stable; (2) they are receiving very powerful mixed signals, positive and negative feedback (qi) pointing in different directions, such that an effective adaptive learning rate system encourages them to slow down and not overreact until things become clearer. (But positive thought and exploration are important to ALLOWING things to become clearer.) If we think of (1) and (2) as REASONS for depressing rigidities in our world... that might be an empirical hook of sorts for us personally. 

Of course, proper response to feedback is essential for us -- in psi more than mundane life -- under all five possibilities. 
The rigid inherit the grave. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

will our world be locked in the box?

People who believe that innovation is the real key to economic growth often talk about the need for some folks to "think out of the box."  I still remember the moment when Joe Bordogna, then Director of NSF, was talking to a reporter, saying "It is so hard, like pulling teeth, to get those folks to think out of the box," and then he pointed at me, saying "except that guy. He doesn't seem to know the box is even there." 

As someone who REALLY knows about thinking out of the box, at a world class level (acknowledged by the head of NSF)... I am very worried about trends in our world which have already begun to stifle creative thinking. My last blog post on science fiction WAS very far out of the box, and it aroused really extreme reactions from "the swamp".

Here is the analysis I sent this morning on a list including many folks, a few of whom went into high orbit emotionally (who get lots of money for doing so literally, which they have no idea how to do): 


I am very sorry for whatever level of pain I unintentionally subjected people to on this list, by reference to a light, short, heavily caveated science fiction story, and my response to their attacks. But perhaps it could be useful as a learning experience, as it connects to issues which David Brin spoke about with great intensity on this list. Issues like the importance of privacy and transparency in the development of new IT systems for the world.

Unless we start building killer AIs, terminators (or are we already doing it), you might argue that this is not a direct extinction issue, or a lifeboat to keep life going after a direct episode like massive nuclear war or H2S breakout in the process of climate change. But in fact, the practical issues in all those sectors depend critically on what kind of new platform is being deployed around the world for the Internet of Things (IOT). In my view, the design issues for IOT (see 6 slides attached) will have a direct bearing on what actually happens with the extinction issues. It is ironic that cybersecurity is a major, most urgent part of that, and that I have to send you the slides themselves instead of a URL because I got hit myself by something yesterday. (I apologize... but I did at least save as minimum size pdf. That also affected my mood yesterday.) 

The privacy and transparency issues Brin was debating here relate directly to cybersecurity, for which I am supposed to leading a position paper "as soon as possible." (Fortunately not my usual three-day deadline). Brin argued that we must face up to the fact we live in a world where the State (ALL states) WILL have full access to everyone's email
and telephone calls, and more. Brin suggested that we simply face up to the new reality... and cope with it by giving EVERYONE access to everything, a "world of glass houses", and learning how to live with it.


But is that realistic? COULD we learn to live with it, and what would the price be?


We often ask "How intelligent will this IT system be?" Give a system of drones TOO much intelligence and autonomy, you risk real Terminators. Give it too little... there are risks of Artificial Stupidity (AS), like drones deciding whom to kill based on fuzzy inexact profiling algorithms. (These are not science fiction, but better  not to discuss in detail here.) A key design issue for the coming Internet of Things (IOT), which will control every vehicle, factory, financial network and medical device in the world in an ever more integrated manner relatively soon, is WHAT LEVEL of intelligence will be inserted where and how.

But equally important is the question: "How much intelligence will our human organizations have" (not only for big decisions but for everyday life) under different scenarios, under different new business process reengineering (BPR) scenarios?" (BPR is also inescapable, with potential for good and ill. Please forgive -- but just as Trump has called himself the "King of Debt", Elizabeth Warren might be called the :"Queen of Bankruptcy" and Romney the "King of BPR." They are all relevant to a realistic appraisal of our future.) BUT PLEASE focus on the question, not the side notes. The question is extremely important. 

So how much intelligence would our human organizations have under the David Brin world? Or under top-down world, like new organizations in China and elsewhere, taking a more direct centralized role in IT systems?

In both cases... I really wish the designers of those kinds of IT system actually knew more about real intelligence.  

One key property of a high level of intelligence (like a mammal brain, versus reptilian) is a more powerful EXPLORATION (and cognitive mapping) system. In nature, even after many millions of years of very tough tooth-and-claw natural selection, we see the survival of something called "play". In modern RLADP design, the issue of exploration and effective stochastic search is one of the core areas for the most powerful designs. In neuroscience... there is a nice recent popular book by Levitin, The Organized Mind, reviewing lots of research showing the importance of MULTIPLE tracks, from high stress focused thinking to more relaxed. (Though focused exploration should also have a place.) 

This is a big and important topic, so maybe I should just pull out a few key points. as I think about how this works in human societies and in my own life, I think of useful metaphors like the gear of a bicycle, or improving music in public or in private. Brin's world of glass houses is like a world where every note you play is played in public before billions of people. It is a world of high stress.. and LOW exploration. Could it be that a major reason for gross dysfunction in the world of DC lobbyists (or Chinese cyber practitioners?) is exactly the kind of high stress which tends to ossify and reduce intelligence? 

To "learn to live with" a glass house world, we would have to be more conscious of the distinction between standards we need to follow when in a high stress instant decision situation, and an exploration situation. For high collective intelligence it is essential that we have both. We need to be able to flag operational versus exploratory messages... and not act like a gaggle of crazy peck chickens whenever folks actually relax and explore and think outside the box of ultra political or conservative correctness.
We need to learn BOTH how to "be here now" and how to "be there then" and, above all, how to shift between them, even as we can shift between gears of bicycle.

Can we humans actually learn that? Starting here and now?


Are efforts to bury our heads in the sand or shoot the messenger just input data arguing for "pulling the plug"?
Maybe. But for now, for me, just shifting the bicycle to lower gear... But I am not the most important player.


Added later in email to more trusted people:

Well, I was planning to relax and read some science fiction today anyway... 

Best regards,


P.S. Please forgive a little reminiscence. I have often cited the experience which shifted me, in March 1967, from almost-Amazing-Randi skepticism about psi to 50-50 open-minded. (When I quoted a speech from Mao in detail the day before he gave it.) On the list, I mentioned my second shift, when two folks in the Vedanta Society at Harvard regularly responded to my thoughts before I thought them, as you mention with maharishi.  
The third was at the start of the summer of 1969, when I had a very weird feeling as I entered a new apartment... called my mother to ask did she think I was going crazy... and walked a mile in the dark searching for a new place to live... only to read the next morning a local headline "murder in Main Street" exactly where I was supposed to be. 

A couple of years later, I tracked down the person who ordered the hit, and asked "WHY???" He said :"Because you knew too much." 

We still do seem to be living in that kind of silly world... 

And I have to gauge what gear to use in my bicycles, not to push too hard but not to spin uselessly (like SOME folks on the Vedanta list).


By the way, since that murder attempt (plus actual murder) involved national security (as well as my own life!), I visited the Boston office of the FBI at one point, and spent over an hour giving very detailed names, places and other references, much more than I could remember today, speaking to an agent and a tape recorder. 

Monday, February 12, 2018

Serious “What if” questions from a science fiction story

Human history is full of true stories in which the people in a small village or a small island suddenly discover that their fate depends on larger struggles which they know nothing about, totally different from the fuzzy myths and dreams of their people, where they don’t even know which side is good for their people and which is bad – or what is important to the struggle.
We today on this tiny planet we call Earth or Terra do not know what we do not know, by definition. But because we are ignorant, it is good that we consider a DIVERSITY of different science fiction stories. Here I will offer you one of those, ONLY ONE of many possible stories, because even though it is not likely to be true, it raises interesting questions. (It is certainly more likely to be true than the Caliphate or Koch or Social Progressive or Old Mao story in which the good guys totally, firmly take over the world, rule it the right way by following old catechisms and we all live happily ever after!!) It is related to a well-written story in the edited book Far Futures
In that other story, the vast computer intelligence assigned to manage this solar system on behalf of the larger galactic system is named “Gaea.” Here I would use the term “Solaris” because it is the whole solar system, and not a story about genders or old Greek myths.
Solaris has the full powers of the highest levels of quantum intelligence. Life on earth as we see it is not just a computer simulation (as in the Far Futures story), but it is just an assemblage of “possible universes” in the larger “multiverse.” Earth as WE experience it is just one big “macroscopic Schrodinger cat.” Our brains cannot directly see the sister universes next to us, because they do not possess quantum intelligence, but Solaris can. Because quantum mechanics is ultimately symmetric with respect to time, Solaris has the power to “change the past” by exchanging information and doing things which end up dissolving whole “universes”, not by filling them with disorder but by lowering their probability strength such that they fade away into nonexistence. It also has limited ability to exchange information in two directions with human brains, in most cases by diffuse actions of low density but large impact because of the huge volume of space they affect.
The story begins near the end of the Hilary Clinton Presidency, when things did not work out. In fact, the “end” is such a disaster that the human species seems likely to self-destruct altogether, and Solaris cannot accept that. But what to do? There were two obvious choices: to undo her election, and create a Trump universe, or go back further, and create a McCain universe. Since the backwards time capability would be there still in a Trump universe, the decision was made to create a Trump universe, allow the Hilary universe to fade away into nonexistence (like a virtual particle far from its source, a kind of time loop), and then let the Trump universe decide whether the trends are still fatal.
Then in 2018 it all hits the fan, here and now. Solaris can hold back the worst fatal climate change (death  by H2S) by suddenly turning down the thermostat of the sun itself for a few decades, but cannot continue it much more than that. The swamp and the Caliphate go nuts, and overwhelm chances of survival. The decision is made by Solaris to go back in time and make McCain President… and to dissolve our entire “universe” into nonexistence.
The main question would then become: what should WE do, we tiny creatures caught in a universe about to dissolve?
Nothing we do to build the economy or build anything tangible and physical matters at all, since they are going to dissolve into nothingness. (Hard to imagine? Well, it really happens to photons in our labs, and studying photons across space-time can help clarify what this means.)
The only really useful thing we can do in that case is to develop and pass on information which, by way of Solaris, might be useful to people in the new McCain universe (including the alternate versions of ourselves). But what could that be? Warn that other McCain about the swamp? New technology or science? How would Solaris’s own knowledge play out?

Just questions, hypothetical questions, not answers. Even this story would be more plausible with more details factored in, but I am no good in writing longer stories people enjoy. 

Sunday, February 11, 2018

McCain and the scams of the week, thoughts on death and taxes

By scams of the week, I don’t mean anything McCain did, but the opposite. The  budget deal and negotiations this past week evolved in such a crazy way, demonstrating decay on such a huge scale, that I wondered: “If I had a time machine, should I go back and support McCain for election when he ran?” That kind of thought becomes more serious as those kinds of possibilities grow a bit less hypothetical, but obviously one would have to be EXTREMELY careful about actually using them. But I will say more about that after the issues of the week are covered – first what I was doing (taxes) and then my understanding of what I saw on CNN and CNN International (and a little of France 24) in the background as I did them.

It was one hell of a week,  with a second government shutdown, but I was almost entirely detached from it, because I spent all my serious energy budget of the week on just one task – taxes. A week already. I found myself laughing as I read the bottom of one form, which said roughly “This should only take half an hour. If you disagree, you can write to IRS…” The small family LLC (mainly for honorarium income lately) mainly required tracking down and tabulating receipts (much harder because of a computer crash last year), about two days worth  -- but the personal taxes were harder. This year, we broke down and bought TurboTax Premier, just for the personal taxes, and I am glad we did, but there are two things I wish I had known in advance: (1) This year we crossed the threshold of NOT filing schedule A, for the first time ever (well, since I bought my first house in 1976 or so), even though lots of the IRS instructions strongly encouraged us to do; and (2) schedule 1116, for an honorarium in Korea which came net of tax withholding. If I knew both of those things, and just used TurboTax, it was good enough to replicate what took me days by hand, and ALSO figure an additional schedule I did not even know about of huge importance to us. We won’t file until we get two extra pieces of paper, but the main pain is done, and we can sit back and let the computer redo all the work when those last pieces arrive (or we give up on them). It only took a few hours – but if I didn’t know how 1116 works, I might have screwed up even with TurboTax.

But as I did these taxes, mainly on the modest table in our traditional-sized kitchen, I was horrified by what I saw on the background on CNN and CNN International, streaming from the television on the wall which Luda reconfigured as a second monitor linked to the laptop I am typing on now. (Much easier to change channels by clicking on a tab in Microsoft Edge, while I use Chrome for my real work on the laptop, than to use the old decaying FioS box which we plan to send back fairly soon.)

To be honest, my first horror was with how badly the Democrats treated the Trump/Kelly immigration proposal at the start of the budget process. Sometimes Trump listens to … evil people who want to bring him down along with maybe the whole country.  But sometimes he really tries to take the moral highground as best he can. This was the second case. If you tried to train a dog the way the US treated Trump, the dog would go nuts, and what is it that causes “civilized” people in the US to treat someone worse than they would treat a dog? He promised a middle of the road compromise position specifically on immigration, to allow us to get back to moderate compromises on budget and avoid shutdowns. Kelly rightly stressed that his bill would help many times more “dreamers” than the earlier DACA proposal; Schumer had previously made a commitment to offer some money for a “wall” as part of a deal; and Trump’s idea of copying merit-based immigration as in the system of many credible liberal nations was not a travesty either. So why not just accept it and move on?

One reason I started streaming instead of FIOS was that my choices of news channels became narrower and narrower, in practice, and CNN US – for all its good points – seemed to become an almost endless study of Trump’s bathroom, punctuated by obnoxious commercials. France24 helped, but its technical problems even on Verizon FIOS required active attention at best. When Bloomberg disappeared, that was the last straw for me. But the failure to compromise was highlighted (and explained?) by what I saw on CNN, where Kelly’s rough way of speaking (actually, just citing different points of view, for God’s sake!) got 100% of the attention and the actual content of the compromise got almost none. (No discussion, only a sentence or two from him.) It conjures up a (WARNING! NOT REAL!) cartoon of Hillary Clinton announcing she will launch a missile attack on Russia because Putin wore an unfashionable tie on the day he visited her… Sadly, these are very real problems.

At that point, I emphasized with Trump, because trying to work out a really honorable compromise, a Pareto optimal resolution of conflicting concerns, is something I have tried to do, which really ought to have a place in our world. I too have gotten into trouble for just delivering solutions on the table, without going through the process of asking questions, developing very broad first drafts, calming those who want to move faster than the system allows, and so on. (Indeed, I have discussed the issue of IT antidotes to fake news this week; one theme is the need not just for a system to provide “answers” but to provide questions in a highly intelligent way.)

And then in the Senate came the real horror: half the essence of the “swamp,” the operation of legalized corruption focused on ways to disassemble what was left of America. “Let’s just spend more money, to hell with tomorrow, to hell with efficiency and effectiveness in how we use the money, let’s divvy up the loot of the day…” I was freaked out by how dishonest Rand Paul’s presentation on NSF was,  but except for that it was perhaps the first deliberate shutdown I actually respected.

I wasn’t able to track down purges at the FBI this week so much as I might in a regular week (maybe, always seem busy lately)… but it was scary not to know whether they were the purges we need badly (folks too compliant with those off-site meetings Trump really ought to have noticed, folks too willing to use deceptive kangaroo court tactics on ALL folks who don’t obey their masters) or the exact opposite, making the problem even worse. Given that Trump often listens to … certain interested parties… and seemed to have no awareness of the hard realities, I fear the latter. Is he becoming like Teddy Roosevelt or like that clown Augustus who stadium in Cartagena I will never forget… less of a disaster only because of Jesus at that time… ?

I also wondered this week: is FSB any better than FBI lately? Putin’s support for the new would-be great Caliph of Turkey, expanding his territory, was not encouraging. Putin the scourge of Christianity? Is he any more in control of his folks than Putin of his? I am grateful that a State Department guy sent me pointer to their latest analysis of what’s happening in Russia, but it simply assumed that Putin was an all-knowing devil… flattery he might preen to, in a way, but not really so informative about complexities in Russia as serious as those in US and China.

But who knows? Not yet time to pull a few plugs… or even to efile…

Death and taxes. As I struggled to warm up and focus on taxes, one morning I did a post to Vedanta list: “Since death is more pleasant than taxes, let me warm up by discussing death first…”  But actually, this hard week was a learning experience. We are called to pay real attention to anything which gets our emotions going, one way or another, and use it as a learning experience afterwards, in all ways we can.

This morning, I even see an analogy. The first really big challenge in doing taxes is preparation. We really need to get all the information together which exists in places like files cabinets down in the dark basement, to prepare for the time when in the bright kitchen we  bring it together and actually do what is needed. 


It was really good later yesterday to hear on CNN that McCain is doing better for now medically.... 


Added later: having said positive things about Kelly... some would ask "Why the omission of talk about WH staff beating their wives?"

Certainly that subject deserves some attention, but it is no excuse for failure to fix the immigration problems when we could have, before any mass raid on the Treasury!!

But yes, I saw all that too when CNN was playing in the background. My first reaction was:  "This is ONE problem I could not empathize with AT ALL! At least, some of us are not even close to that kind of temptation." But then I remembered that there were some times, when I was growing up, when my father had too much to drink as part of his business, came home testy, and was too nasty to my mother. I don't recall black eyes (repressed memory?), but the feeling was intense enough that I simply swore  to myself I would never let myself come even  close to such behavior. I never did. What's more, I value strength... so that neither Luda nor my ex-wife are the kind of shrinking violet who would somehow encourage that kind of violence.

For a moment I felt smug about how superior I am to those guys... but then a voice said "It's not as if you had any choice here, what with Luda regularly sparing with a red belt international judo master (until he died)." 

It also reminds that these guys need help... but we all knew that long ago. 

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Could solipsism destroy the human species?

Does that sound like a bit of an overstatement, an exercise in alarmism or exaggeration? Be careful what you assume. Since a time five years ago, many things have happened which seemed impossible, to those who assume nothing can change. 

But what can REALLY cause the human species to become extinction? That is an important question, to us, and I am glad that there are groups like the Lifeboat Foundation and assorted futurists who really try to remember that question and address it in a serious way. High on the list of things which really threaten the very survival of the species, in a direct and concrete way are still nuclear war (and its aftermath, and perhaps biological warfare as well), but the possibilities for climate change at the fatal level are far greater than most people know as yet, and the Tderminator AI threat is also real. (See and the loinks at the end to back it up.) 

But at the end of the day, whether these horrid, ever more likely disasters will actually happen depends on how humans respond to the challenges and the threats. That in turn depends on what kinds of assumptions they hard wire both in the symbolic reasoning part of their brains, and in IT systems. We all know already that there are many varieties of solipsism out there -- the belief that there is not objective reality, or that we can safely make it go away by ignoring it. But this morning, a particular form of it comes to mind.

Many people believe that high level decisions all over the world have been made less constructive and intelligent because of a deterioration in the quality of information sources, such as "fake news". The naive, solipsistic approach to that is to build government agencies which stamp out views which are not the truth AS SEEN by political authorities. An objective viewpoint would admit that all of us are fallible, and try to come up with better systems, and make that real. As IT takes over the world .. NOT JUST Terminator robots, but the Internet of Things which has been moving very very quickly... naive solipsistic policies and designs really could kill us, simply because of the lack of real intelligence in the system in the face of complex challenges. 

Easier to say than to fix. Systems design when humans play a central role is not trivial. We now know how to build consciousness, but human survival is a more difficult challenge. 


That is what I posted this morning to the Vedanta list, after a discussion in the morning with IT people. The design issue really is tricky, with risks of unintended consequences. 

So many complicated aspects beyond what I can type in a few seconds.
"Trust but calibrate."
What it takes to look ahead 20 moves in real logic ... partly knowing logic, partly not flinching the way almost everyone else on earth tends to do. 
Disney's great cartoons about the ostrich burying its head in the sand... and Disney himself, more of a spiritual leader and teacher than 99% of the world knows. 


But today... after a week of learning more about taxes (ugh! but actually a good thing in the end, and also an exercise in the positive value of not flinching... and not labelling things as negative which weren't... except in certain administrative details...)... it will be great today to calm down, wander a little with Luda, and review some new physics stuff. 

Luda did suggest I do a simple search on Senagtor JOhnson, when I was upset how little followon I saw to the five minutes he got on CNN a few weeks back. The 25 page paper form Wednesday on his web page was not treally encouraging... yet it is consistent with the hypothesis that his informer gave him excellent raw data, even if he didn't know enough to analyze it properly. It was also shocking to me how much this news search rmeinded me of looking up existentialism in the university library in Leningrad in 1968... tons of commentary and evaluation of X, and almost impossible to find out what X actually WAS...