Saturday, July 27, 2013

"shadows" and how I came to learn about them

At times, I have mentioned that I met two (or even more?) women before I met my wife
Luda who were somehow echoes of her before I met her -- "your shadows," I called them.

What do I mean by "shadows"?

Other people use the word "shadow" for other things, other things worth talking about.
It's like the word "consciousness," used to cover some very different things, not at all the same.
For me -- I often think about the kinds of shadows which exist... as a kind of reflection of something else.

"Shadows" have a lot to do with visualization. "Visualization" is a much more popular word,
in esoteric circles and beyond. There is a famous book "Seeing with the Mind's I"
(or was it eye?) by Samuels...

In one account, you just need to visualize very clearly what you really want, put the right kind
of energy into it, and let it go... don't bother with details of how to make it happen or its feasibility..
just let it go, and if it is a worthy sort of thing it will happen... That popular idea has some truth in it,
enough to be worth trying (with great caution), but is oversimplified in some very serious ways.
One key simplification: what happens if the goal image is otherwise worthy, but simply is not
available with the materials at hand? Common outcome: "shadows," things very much LIKE what you were looking for at some level, but really not the same thing. Things which may even seem
close to "miraculous," but which should not be taken too seriously.

"Shadows" are not something I talk about much, or read about.  It is amusing how the concept
came to my mind, in 1971.......

Yes, it's one of those paranormal kinds of things...

Back then, a kind of intersection of psychic stuff and hormones.

Prior to March 1967, I had a very clear framework for understanding life and the universe, which had no room in it for any kind of psychic phenomena, let alone the kind of stuff people talk
about in religions.  I have often written about what happened then, when I quoted a newspaper article about Mao the day before it was printed, when I made up my mind as good Bayesian to attribute 50%
probability to the reality of psychic phenomena -- i.e. to be open-minded and keep my eyes open for more evidence one way or another. Since I was already deeply interested in trying to understand the
mathematics of the human mind, I recognized just how hugely important (and tricky) this issue
is.  But... with just one incident... not much basis for deciding what it is, or for believing it
would be important to my own life. Certainly no basis for becoming one of the various types of mindless lunatic we often see in organized religions.

As I look back... it is amusing, in a way, just how much extreme evidence it took to shake up
my very well-developed intellectual framework.  I had lots of experience before that which
would have been enough to convince most people, and maybe even send them over the deep end.
(I think I did post the "Aunt Mary' story for example, from December 1963.)

I did try to think about several competing theories or hypotheses to explain what might be going on.
For many years, I have pretty much accepted the "greater life" theory, that we humans are a kind of symbiotic life form. But back then, I was attracted to a simpler theory which seemed tenable back then. The idea: other forces, beyond the usual electromagnetic field, may be the main driver here.
Some folks believed that telepathy is caused by a kind of "mental radio," electromagnetic
wave communication between people; I knew that electromagnetic waves didn't seem to fit, but that other fields may be out there.

I thought about evolution -- about how incredibly hard and long it was for evolution to discover
the modern primate eye. Since light is easier at hand than other types of force, it seemed plausible that evolution took so long to develop a way to use the other types, that it is still in a rudimentary form. The other types of force seem a bit remote to us -- but if we didn't have eyes, light itself
might seem like a minor attribute in our lives. (HG Well's story "The One-Eyed Man" gives a great picture of how it would be.) Could we actually have a kind of "third eye" which mediates this kind of stuff? In 1971, I took that quite seriously.

In my last posting here, on weirdness in my life this past month, I mentioned how I
went in 1968 to a summer job in a beautiful job in California, near the beach, which
became a lot more like a James Bond movie than I really wanted.  In those days,
I was also a "testosterone free radical" -- like the kind of ion which has tremendous
free energy, drawn to the opposite charge... not in a wild irrational way, but with really great intensity.

So in the summer of 1969,  I went to another summer job, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which was
in many ways a continuation of the 1968 job.  The first week of that job was pretty weird in itself.
For example, as I walked into the apartment I had arranged to rent, on my first night in Ann Arbor,
I had a really intense feeling that something was wrong. I tried to dismiss that feeling,
which logically seemed like a disruptive feeling with no basis to it. Yet, perhaps because of my
official declared "open mindedness," I decided not to just ignore it altogether. I walked in the dark to the nearest pay phone outside, and called my mother. Perhaps I was wondering -- is this just an "undigested bit of beef" or would the old Irish Druid world say it might possibly be real? I had no other place to stay, I was new to the place, and I was a poor student; what else could I do BUT swallow my feelings? My mother said: "If your feelings are that strong, Paul, you should listen to them. You can find another place to sleep..." So I wandered in the dark, heading towards the main quadrangle of the university, and found that there were indeed openings even at that hour in the high rise student building at the corner of the quadrangle. The next morning there was a headline about
a murder in the place where I was supposed to be; there were only two apartments on that floor,
and the murderer first broke into the one where I was supposed to be, found it empty, then broke into
the other one and knifed the person in bed next door.

I could give many more details... it did shake me up... but I guess you could say that psychic kinds
of stuff were not entirely remote from my life at that time... and I did start to read bits of science fiction that might give me ideas...

Also, it occurred to me: if development of these psychic  powers is the next great step in human evolution, shouldn't I support it somehow, even if I myself am only a very weak bit player in that arena? But it all still seemed very remote from my own life, not a primary focus.

But in the summer of 1971, it became more personal to me.  In a variety of ways.

But -- that testosterone free radical aspect was never a remote part of my life or being back in those days (before I was married, much later).  The testosterone story would be even longer and more boring than the psychic part, because there was so much more of it.  It was a whole-person kind of thing; I was never the kind of shark who runs around trying "to score."

In fact... for more than a year... in 1970-1971... I was in a very deep total relationship,
the first of my life, with a woman in graduate school who had been born in Beijing, and lived in Hong Kong and Taiwan before becoming a Pittsburger. When that ended, early in 1971, it was certainly
the most painful event in my entire life, before and since.  In the summer of 1971,
I was a bit like a burn victim who would wince at warmth... but with a very strong driving force inside, buttressed by logic , logic, a driver even stronger than the hormonal aspect, but the combination of the two... might have  been enough to melt steel.  And in that summer,
I sometimes thought about a woman I had met very briefly in upstate New York in a quarry which had become a kind of swimming hole. One night, I tried to do some experiments aimed at "telepathy"one night, inspired a bit by a little science fiction novel and also by what I knew about heterodynes and frequencies and such (following the "third eye" theory). It seemed to get somewhere.
(In fact, I wonder whether I have lost something a bit when I shifted to a different theory.)
And at some point... well ... my emotions did also channel into how much I wished she could be there
in Ann Arbor. I did not even know what the word "visualization" means to esoteric folks, but
life can exist even without a word...

And then I remember ... walking to the Student Union, overwhelmed when I was brought close to
a woman who looked ever so much like that woman I met in New York... a very unique person...
but... she shared many unique features, way beyond what I would expect from random chance..
but the original was thousands of miles away... yet such a convincing facsimile... quite a bit
of hormonal turmoil that that led to.

That was certainly not the last "shadow" I encountered in my life. As I think about this more analytically, I am reminded how much of what happens in Congress is also a lot like that kind
of shadow... "bait and switch"... The shadows of Luda are a bit trickier, since they
were better, and they both preceded the time when I first met Luda in Gaithersburg
at a NIST conference...

Whatever. Just a morning amusement. Next I go do some math...

Best of luck,


Thursday, July 25, 2013

Utter weirdness in everyday life

A couple of years ago, I read a short science fiction by Dan Simmons entitled "Muse of Fire."
Like many other folks, he talks about how much and how often our life seems to unfold like some kind of projection of some kind of movie we got into. For example, in the 2008 Presidential primaries, we seemed to be rleiving Wizrad of Oz... as I posted here before...

A few years back, family got me to the Disney kinds' movie, Wall-E.

And a few months ago, I started to have a weird feeling we were starting to live that movie.

First came the new news that sulfurous poison is indeed on track to belching forth from the oceans maybe making earth uninhabitable for humans much sooner than expected...  but OK, that was in the movie AI too.... whatever...

Next, about a month ago, at the International Space Development Conference (ISDC) we had some technical discussions of low-cost launch options.  I was mainly into the Chase version of a regular two-stage-to-orbit rocketplane design...  and the airbreathing kinds of ideas considered under "Avatar" (the vision of Dr. Abdul Kalam, former President of India). But as we had a quiet technical discussion with real technical leaders from AIAA... they mentioned a third design which they said costs out as cheaper than the other two.  A kind of Space Boat (or Ark?) which is like Chase's design, but much bigger. It would use economies of scale to get to lower cost per pound... but would be so heavy it had to land and takeoff from water, like a seaplane or like Howard Hughes' Spruce Goose.
They had answers to the obvious questions, and more...

I am still not convinced, but hopeful...

But my first response in myself was: "Oh, no! Not me Wall-E! The sulfur was bad enough, but the giant flying boat into space... that's really getting to be a bit weird."

But I did not know what weirdness really was 'til I got back to Washington.

Through the chain: "Paul, you absolutely MUST spend an additional 500K on robots. You say you already funded the  work most advanced in your own area, but now you have to add one of the well-reviewed proposals outside your area." The list of really credible options was VERY short,
and I had looked ovef it before.

At the very top, everyone seemed to be saying: "You really have to fund a cute little trash collecting robots, which will scurry about and.." EXACTLY WALL-E!!

I could imagine thousands of kids saying: "Hey, Dr. Werbos, you can't skip WAll-E! He saved the whole of all humans! And he was just SO cute..!" And the upper folks: "And besides, you MUST spend the money anyway, and it must be a robot." Hey, you statisticians, how many times have you experienced THIS degree of anomaly? Has Wall-E come to your door?

Do I really want to live out that movie to the end? After I breathed deep, and got a hold of myself,
and suppressed the feeling of being weirded out.. I said to myself: "If this really were the kind of Wal-E depicted in the movie, I really would fund him. But human projections like this have their limits., When the grounds are not there, you only get shadows, not the real thing.  This is just a shadow of a Wall-E, not thew real thing. For the real thing, there would have to be certain levels of mathematical insight... So it is my job to get real here." And so I looked further...
and.. in the absence of really serious machine intelligence.. to get really useful stuff... I went to teleoperation, which can sgtill work, because by hooking up a human brain to a robot, you can use the natural intelligence,
and still get hard tasks performed in a useful way. So I guess you could say I changed the  channel.

And a week after that, the family said: "OK, we need to go to a new movie." (Everyone was older anyway by now than when we xaw Wall-E.)  So we went to Pacific Rim.. and sure enough, there is the new robot technology, solving humanity from a different threat from out of the deep ocean...
but even so... to cope with teh more realistic threat , it ends up being more like Elysium technology.
Haven't seen that movie yet. Am annoyed at the trailers... from folks who don't seem to understand that all we humans are in this together, and are at risk of ALL dying. But maybe the movie will be better than the trailers... maybe..  or maybe I will skip it.


When I discussed all this with a friend ...

I was reminded how in my teenage years I enjoyed the James Bond movies.
And at age 20, I worked the summer at RAND, in a brightly colored building surrounded by palm trees, two blocks from the ocean where we all went for lunch break.. a couple of beautiful women, one of whom was sort of Russian... but it started to becvome a bit TOO much like a James Bond movie, with knife murders and Molotov cocktails and such in the next episode..

And I recall, walking through the streets of Ann Arbor in chapter 2 or 3, thinking very forcefully:
"I need to be very clear with myself.  I really like beautiful scenery and beautiful dangerous Russian women and high technology, but I really want to be as far away from nastiness and guns as humanly possible."

It's funny how that all turned out, through the years...  as I live next to really beautiful scenery (forest and creek not beach, but that's fine with me), married to a unique and dangerous beautiful Russian woman, surrounded by a huge variety of the most advanced high technologies...
in place with no classified information at all and no guns and probably less trace of guns than any other high tech place in the US government. I didn't think of it as changing the channel back then, but I guess it can be done...  by dint of many kinds of effort over decades..

Best of luck,


future of humans in space and NASA itself at risk -- what can be done

Good afternoon, folks!

A couple of months ago, I was elected to be the new Executive Vice-President of the National Space Society responsible for policy issues.  It has been quite an exhilirating change of pace, a bit like mountain climbing.. with an occasional need for an ice axe.

If you yourself would like to make a difference on the future of humans in space, or of NASA, or of benefits from space, you might want to skip my rambling and jump directly to the official web pages: (a one page position paper)

If these could really get to the right people, and get serious thought, it might be possible to salvage the situation.

The process of getting a group dialogue and consensus on these two things, with VERY extended serious technical input, was... well, again, a bit like mountian climbing. And educational in its own way.

At times I have thought: "The most important people who need to know are Mikulski's staffers. So, since I know a few people (like my daughters) in Maryland, should I  try to go with them to bvisit those folks?"

But there are many other channels. Who knows? My own time is not all that free between 7:30 and 4PM.

At some times in these discussions I have referred to the first of the new Star Trek movies.
I really like the scene which starts with Spock telling Kirk: "Captain, if we follow your plan, the chances of success are only about 5%. Sithout success evefry human on earth will be dead."
Kirk's reply: "Yes, Spock, I agree. If you can think of a plan with a higher probability of success, please tell me right now, before it is too late. But if not, 5% is better than zero, so let's just focus on trying to make this one work."

That's pretty much what logic tells me about the survival of the human species at this point, if all aspects are accounted for.  But beyond that... maybe there could be some kind of collective intelligence effects, such that it's not quite as bad as one would expect form the dice which are now being rolled out in plain view. Maybe, maybe not. It makes sense to try our best in any case.
And always be alert to new opportunities to improve the odds...

Best of luck,


Monday, July 8, 2013

what autism tells us about humans in general

Many years ago, I had the good fortune to be invited to give a big plenary talk at
a conference in New England on deep psychology and psychiatry. I talked about how
the new mathematics we are developing in neural networks fits with, and actually deepens our
understanding of serious human psychology and the subconscious mind.  As an example, I described how I developed the algorithm now called "generalized backpropagation" by translating certain ideas from Sigmund Freud into mathematics.

At that same conference, the keynote dinner talk was delivered by a woman named Temple Granit, who is very famous among people who study autism. She is famous for many reasons - such as how she made a lot of money as a successful entrepreneur even though she is autistic herself. The talk itself was also very powerful. Somewhere near the beginning, she described how she thinks in images instead of words, and discussed what that feels like. Most people at my table thought it sounded very bizarre, but there was one other engineer or mathematician at my table who also said "of course we think that way, in images too.." and I mentioned a classical study of great mathematicians where they did show that all of them think "in images," the same way (except for Von Neumann, who was 50-50 balanced -- strong image thinking but also strong verbal thinking). (Much later, at a conference of mathematicians, I mentioned this to a guy who knew Einstein; he said "No question, Uncle Albert was rather autistic himself, that's no exaggeration, let me elaborate...")

She went on to say: "Autism is basically a well-developed right hemisphere and a weak left hemisphere.  Autism is not the real mental health problem in this country. The real problem is
the mirror image of autism,  Williams' syndrome, where the right hemisphere is underdeveloped and the left hemisphere is overdeveloped. All bullshit and no reality -- and not even the honest real bullshit I made money by shoveling. Why does everyone worry about autism, when the Williams syndrome is a more serious problem? It's because the patients are running the asylum. Who do you think is running the country?" That reminded me of a technical paper I saw, based on psychology tests at different times, which concluded that the heads of US industry used to be balanced 50-50 on the whole between verbal intelligence and spatial intelligence -- but that it changed to be more verbal.

Much much later I googled on "Williams syndrome," and saw a rather different definition.
But that does not invalidate her point. In any case, psychology has a habit of shifting the definitions of words over time, and I didn't want to spend time tracking down the history of that phrase.

Most recently -- Granit has a new book on Autism, which I half read half scanned this week.
Most of it was refreshingly concrete and honest -- but there was one problem which alienated me a lot halfway through the book. She  began asking: "What is the common threasd? What is the true basis
of what autism is in general?" I would ask: "What makes you think that there IS a common thread?
And why do you folks assume there is even a Spectrum here... a one-dimensional continuum
of 'degree of autism'?" Fortunately, as a concrete thinker, she didn't go back
and edit most of her memories and experience to fit  that oversimplified picture of reality. Her book
provided plenty of concrete examples giving us a feeling for the different TYPES or DIMENSIONS of autism.

For example, it was clear from a real brain scan that her left hemisphere was physically smaller
than her right hemisphere, to an extreme degree. But it was also clear that lots of
autistic people (maybe even most) don't have that particular TYPE of autism.

The book says a lot about how autistic people (of various types) learn to cope with reality.
But in fact... a lot of the same issues apply to ALL humans. She talks about the interplay between
"Freudian effects" (which I interpret here as traumatic or euphoric memories, both of which mislead people), biological predispositions, and sheer lack of cognitive development.  In a different context, I sometimes talk about the need to balance between digesting or defusing memories, versus the need to develop new memories to broaden one's understanding of the world. She places great emphasis on the issue of overstimulation versus understimulation. She doesn't mention the tension between intolerance of cognitive dissonance and novelty seeking... but that clearly is in play in the stuff she describes.

But... this blog is probably not the place to elaborate.

Just one last thought.

In my recent papers in Neural Networks (2009 and 2012), I stressed how'
the human species is basically "half man, half ape."  Perhaps the entire human population
is autistic to some degree, relative to what humans imagine they are (which would entail sanity or integrity, the main theme of the 2012 paper).  But since "autism" is not really one variable, that is a simplification...

Friday, July 5, 2013

true jokes about the Russian launch failures

This week was a terrible week for the Russian companies planning to make money by launching satellites and such. Big crash on the launch pad, advertised all over the world.

Luda has told me about a couple of the jokes now being told in Russia about these launch failures.
I forget one of them. Probably there were obscene jokes she did not tell me.  I remember just one joke:
"It's all because of Putin's new law, the law for The Respect for the Feelings of Religious People.
The religious people believe in a flat earth, with nothing in earth orbit, so of course the rockets were made to be sensitive to the feelings of those people.."

But was this just a joke? Could it be more true than we think?

In fact, the US has also experienced a kind of chronic spectacular failure in getting to space.
With some of the most advanced capabilities you could want... and engineers who could
have gotten us down to $200/pound-LEO forty years ago... blocked again and again by
holy rollers of various types,  more interested in piously ripping off the taxpayer than in opening jp a new frontier.

Could it be the same, roughly, in Russia?  Back when I funded a group at Analytical Services and Princeton to understand and replicate the advanced "Ajax" technologies which appeared in Russia,
I certainly encountered a whole lot of sophisticated thinking and capability in the Russian aerospace world.  They have people with some understanding of what kind of reusable technology is needed to get to really low cost and high reliability.  They had people who understood key things which almost none of our people here did (at least at AIAA Hypersonics Conferences).  Yet these recent launch failures are even worse than the fatal cost overruns of the Ares rocket in the US, overruns which the lobbyists seem dead set to repeat (even though it would predictably mean death for all their programs).

So has Putin been fooled by the same kind of pious posturing idiots who screwed things up
in the US, and failed to put Russia's energy into things which could actually work and make a difference? It is interesting to contemplate....


Some might wonder: why did you take the time to write this?

That's a strange story too, but maybe not for now.

Best of luck,