Thursday, September 29, 2016

deep esoterica and Donald Trump

This will not be hard science, at least not third party science.

At (a paper published in Russia), I explain why sanity entails a kind of fusion of what we learn from objective sources and what we learn from first person sources.
In the 2016 Presidential elections, fusion of objective reality and policy with the first person psychological realities is harder than usual. This post will all be on the first person side.

If you search on "assumption dream" on this blog, you will see lots of basics and theory.

This morning I was amazed to wake up from an assumption dream, in which I experienced life from the viewpoint of Donald Trump.  That was enough of a zinger... but I also realized that the context was very familiar, and more or less unique, and that I had had other dreams from that same source, which puzzled me at the time. This one was unmistakable.

How was it unmistakable? At a key point towards the end, "I" somehow ran into an old friend, who just happened to look like "Miss Piggy, the Latina." Actually, my brain did the usual fill ins, and
connected her image with a unique old friend of mine, whom I will not name in this context.
(She is not running for President, and deserves privacy rights. But I can say she is the one who complained about my funding a guy like Trump, mentioned in a previous blog post.) In the dream, "I" was actually happy to see her; I remember that there had been some stickiness before, but I actually welcomed being back in touch, and wanted to somehow build on the new contact. But then, Peggy Conway (a very clear image to me as to him) smiled and gently locked into my/his arm and gently steered him/me away, very emphatically down a very sharp hard path out of sight of those other folks,
as far away from their eyes as possible and as quickly as possible. "I" felt a bit bewildered by how
emphatic that was, and by how serious her concerns were, but OK, this was a tricky building complex we were in, and I would defer to her.

The building complex... well, I guess it should not surprise me that complex first-class hotel kinds of building mazes were a major part of the backdrop, not only here but in the earlier ones in the same series. I was especially puzzled earlier about another trip through that complex, where there was a kind of inner hotel specially occupied by rich Middle Easterners ... I now wish I had taken notes on what transpired there.

And before the meeting with "Miss Piggy" (who sure doesn't look like Miss Piggy on a google image search!)  .. there was an encounter with the military establishment, which he saw in much the same was as I see the Spanish military center at its peak or Trajan (Andalusia in either case), both fearful of their precise high technology capabilities and contemptuous of how much they overestimate themselves.


What of Howard Dean's "cocaine" comment. I didn't see any hint of anything like that, but I sure can model what he would have done in Hillary's shoes after that. "Well, I really don't have any right to say he is cocaine user or not, because I am not a doctor. But Howard Dean is, so I can't just
laugh away his professional opinions. To avoid all confusion, and save Mr. Trump form unfair speculation, I would give him friendly advice -- that he should take a drug test from a reliable third party, to put these concerns to rest, just as he advised Obama to make public his birth certificate and Cruz to test his eligibility in the courts."

And perhaps even: "As the Senator from New York, I learned  a lot about the financial community. I learned that there are good people, great people, and terrible people in Wall Street, just as there are in all other parts of human life, from Islam to Congress to science. Some people in the financial world work very hard to uncover the truth, like Warren Buffet or like the hero of the Netflix video "the Big Short." But others belong to the take-the-money-and-run school of fast talkers, like the guy in (ask staffers the name of THAT video?)... and that kind of group actually does often use cocaine as part of their fast talking high rolling quick-response life style. Could it be that Donald Trump is more like the second group? Really, a drug test would help put some of our worries to rest -- but not all of them, not after all those bankruptcies, after looking for tax loopholes so questionable that he is always audited, and trying to create more loopholes of the same kind."

An, but Hillary is not Trump, so she probably wouldn't do any of that. Or at least not all of it.


I never set out to create this particular resonance. But the last time I actually set out deliberately to see what life looks like from the viewpoint of another person was 'way back in the 1970's, when a very special combination of circumstances made it an ethical thing to do. Generally, this kind of connection results from a combination of factors "rolling the dice" in a particular way... It suggests a higher probability of his being elected than I would have estimated without this input, but nothing is certain or cast in bronze... not that he will be elected, or that he will instantly lead us into a global Great Depression if he is elected... but raw tea leaves do seem to point towards that combination right now.

I do remember in late 2008, visiting Rhodos, where many friends of Russia were overjoyed by
early signs of a financial collapse. "Finally, the predicted great collapse of capitalism due to monopoly power is coming, and we can dance in the streets...!" They weren't dancing in the streets in Greece, or even Russia, a few months later. No one would benefit from recapturing the new Great Depression which Kondratieff predicted, which was attenuated by Herculean efforts.

Best of luck...

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

a climate action which should be reconsidered

Just a few years ago, a fierce debate broke out on the subject of geoengineering.
Before that, Ed Teller, Lowell Wood and Ken Caldeira had urged us to develop a new "sulfate particle" geoengineering technology, which would cost maybe on the order of a billion dollars per year for airplanes to disperse reflective particles to reduce global warming. Many conservatives supported this idea, in part because it would be a lot less expensive than climate bills, but they did not support it all that hard, and the politically correct segment on the left basically vetoed it based on the following arguments:

(1) Since it would not reduce CO2, it would not stop the absorption of CO2 into the ocean, raising the acidity of the ocean. When I was in Specter's office, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) did an excellent report on ocean acidity, saying that under business as usual there was a threat that in the next century
the pH of the ocean might fall not just from 8.0 to 7.9 (as predicted) but possibly as far as 7.7 or 7.8. For comparison, fresh water is 7.0, and pH as low as 5 or less was a key symptom of past eras in the ocean.

(2) It would be premature to start this now, when there is still hope of doing things the right way, reducing CO2 in the atmosphere and making changes we want for other reasons. (Certainly reduced dependence on oil imports is one of those important other changes, but the big climate bills were not really relevant to that,
though they sometimes pretended to be.)

(3) Extending (2) -- it might reduce the pressure for parallel activities to reduce CO2.

(4) We don't yet know what the most cost-effective form of geoengineering would be, or the unintended consequences. For example, what happens when the sulfates get into the oceans?

Based on new information, I really hope someone serious in the political sphere
(US or overseas) would be willing to reconsider. Above all, I hope someone would be willing to consider some kind of international crash program to 
try to deploy the Teller/Wood/Caldeira technology over and around the Antarctic
so as to reverse the loss we have already experienced of the primary ocean current which previously brought oxygen to the deep oceans.

Even the hardest core climate skeptics know by now that there is a big thick ring of fresh water and fresh water ice which has grown around the Antarctic continent.
We certainly could use more and better focused research to assess why.
For example, how much is runoff from the surface of the Antarctic, and how much is a release of water much deeper in the continent? But regardless of those details, there may at least be some hope that cooling of the Antarctic might measurably reduce the flow of fresh water, enough to solve the problem or at least justify a larger effort capable of doing so. 

The point is: argument (2) against geoengineering is now out of date, because changes have ALREADY occurred. Regardless of who should be blamed for 
these changes (humans, nature, a mix...), the loss of this oxygen-bearing current is life-threatening. It seems very unlikely that we can reduce CO2 emissions fast enough, on a large enough scale, to reverse what has happened. 

Re argument (4): I became aware of this, ironically, because of active discussions of space technology, where I have pushed for OTHER approaches to geoengineering which might be better in the long-term. (For example, there are ways to reduce the cost of getting to orbit by orders of magnitude, and lots of recent progress in thin light materials for solar sails or mirrors or lenses.) But it is too late, too risky, to wait, and the Teller/Wood/Caldeira approach is well enough worked out and affordable enough that there is no rational excuse for delay.
I DO strongly hope that we can work on those alternative types of geoengineering as well, but they are not available today.

Likewise, for (2) -- energy security remains an issue on the table, even if we do 
solve the most serious climate threat facing us.

By the way, news of a big crack on the surface of the Antarctic also raises my sense of urgency here. And other news, beyond the scope of this post.

As for (1) ... acid ocean is a bad thing, but the Teller/Wood/Caldeira scheme would not make it worse, for God's sake! And a ph of 7.7 would simply be far less of a threat to life on earth to what happens when we create conditions for a vast growth of H2S-producing archaea. (It is unfortunate that Peter Ward, a great historian of life on earth, did not think harder about the paper by Kump which he cited. Acid ocean is not a key condition for the proliferation of archaea; one need only consider the Black Sea to see that!)

COULD we push the Antarctic back over the safe side of the narrow line, using the Teller/Wood/Caldeira technology? GIven how much is at risk, it seems absurd to me that we do not yet try. 

Best of luck,


P.S. As for the sulfate particles... I suspect they already have some first-order calculations, and that any risks are trivial compared to what is at risk if we do not act.


This comes to mind... as a way of balancing my actions on the OTHER approaches. I would feel dishonest to push various types of solar energy, and new geoengineering, without also doing justice to this one.
I will still do my best on the other good things... but let us not forget survival and what it requires in the big picture.


Some further discussion:

Futurist commentator:
To be fair, there is another argument against geoengineering: that geoengineering + carbon emissions maintains global temperatures on average, but not in specific regions. Therefore going down this route will involve making decisions as to whether, for example, certain parts of the world will get rainfall or not, determining new patterns of drought, and so on.
Thus geoengineering requires international agreement as well, with countries jockeying over the correct "global thermostat" (or, in the worst case, different countries starting their geoengineering projects independently).

Certainly the Antarctic has been under international agreements for some time, and
doing anything would require international agreement. But must it be unanimous?
One might even hope for the UN security council to weigh in, since it really is a matter of life or death.

Certainly there are nations ruled by "tough deal makers"who would be willing to play chicken with the world, and insist on unfair side payments right until the last moment, when human survival is...
50-50? (Actually, it may be worse than that already, but a certain kind of narcissistic deal making
dictator would also deny reality right to the end.) I do hope the security council could come to agreement, but that is certainly part of the challenge.

The regional aspect of the proposal is pretty simple: try to cool the Antarctic itself as such,
leaving any additional such actions to future discussion. If we can't just move forward to do what we must to survive... if we are that insane... well, yes, we may be that insane, and we may be doomed in the end as a result of the prevalence of insanity. That is a realistic possibility,

but I hope that some of us who are not insane, and who do care about survival, can at least give a good try...

Saturday, September 24, 2016

why interest rates are crucial to survival, Christian ethics and sanity rev2

In my last post, I noted that I shifted from trying to be neutral in this election to
supporting Clinton over Trump (degree TBD), because of Trump's position on interest rates.

Are interest rates really so important? Given all the other many issues here?
Yes they are, and it is essential that more people start to understand why and how this is true.

Many folks who owe their position to fundamentalist credentials believe that abortion and birth control should be a primary litmus test of Christian values ... but if you go back about 500 years,
even the bureaucratic inheritors of Christian power would find it very peculiar to ignore usury and
to stone or picket women, and call that Christian. For Moslems, the transition has been more recent; it is strange to see how a culture which rated interest rates larger than zero as a major sin has changed so much, simply because of the financial self-interest of the folks who fund a lots of madressas
(both liberal and conservative, enlightened and jihadi) encourages them to just ignore a really fundamental issue in ethics.

So now are our souls more in the hands of economists? Perhaps so.

In a seminal report on energy policy issues circa 1970, the Ford Foundation posed a question:
"What would happen if someone (the devil??) offered you a business opportunity which would double every one's income and revenue for ten years, with the side effect that they would go to zero and all humans would then die at the end of the ten years? At 15% interest rates, would it be rational to accept the deal?" This is serious folks, stuff, and decisions based on interest rates really will be crucial in deciding whether we in fact all die.

Some people say: "Oh, interest rates reflect the values of the people, which are sancrosanct, so we should just leave them alone." Not really. That's not how interest rates are determined. And in any case, if some people had 15% discount rates, and started to implement that proposal, I would argue that any sane human being would resist as best he and she could, whether by deals or by changing the system, whatever it takes for us to survive long-term.

In fact, I wrote in detail about the justification for that in economic theory
(a paper on rational policy objectives, published in Energy, in 1990), and about what sanity tells us as a guide to all kinds of actions and policies (www.Mind_in_Time.pdf, published in Russia but also
posted on my web site).

The key point is this: whenever real interest rates are greater than the rate of growth of productivity, policies and investments are encouraged which assume that future generations do not matter so much as living high on the hog today. That is a very basic expression of real values affecting all of life,
and it violates very basic principles not only of real Islam and Christianity, but of sanity and science as well.

And so, when Donald Trump declares he will get his revenge on Hillary Clinton and make his payback to certain new supporters by clobbering the Federal Reserve, letting interest rates rise 'way high, and curtail the world's money supply, this is no laughing matter. If he is elected he will have the means to do this, and he does not sound like the kind of person who would back off from
these kinds of personality paybacks... even if the consequence is immediate disaster for
all aspects of the real estate industry itself, among others.

In truth, there have been bubbles in real estate, and negative results form money channeled into nonproductive schemes like mortgage securities. In order to understand the reality of modern economies better, above and beyond what any well-trained economist already knows,
I strongly advise reading Paulson's book on Dealing with China. (You can see my review of the book at Amazon simply by searching reviews for pwerbos or paul.werbos; Amazon lets you see all reviews from any reviewers.) It is crucial right now for China that they maintain their own credit expansion, BUT ALSO put in place strong specific controls about what types of real estate investment are admissible. The US, the EU and Latin America all have major unmet opportunities to expand the supply of profit-making private sector investments to better soak up the large money supply now out there.. but choking it back and enforcing myopia would, along with restrictive trade, really repeat the recipe which gave us the Great Depression. We don't need that. I discussed more about why.

The longer-term noncyclic job and inequality problems we face today are due more to the way automation has been phased in that to trade imbalance as such... but Kaine's analysis of TPP was a very exciting unusual display of much-needed technical competence. If we tried to fix TPP as Kaine wants to, would China allow it? Or China committed to creating a world where there is more inequality and more oppression of workers? Well, it's sometimes hard to tell who is really in charge of China. We will see.


One could really write a book about the many reasons why interest rates are important. I won't do that here. But I can give one example, important to policy, politics and investment here and now.
The example is called "Hotelling rent" in serious economics. Whether you know what Hotelling rent is is an important litmus test -- one which I hope everyone will be able to pass someday (certainly anyone who wants to manage the economy of any major nation!).

"Hotelling rent" is the extra premium which oil or any other commodity ought to have in its price, to respect the value it gets because you can hold it for a better time when it may get you a better price.

About ten years ago, there was a fierce debate started by people who wanted government action to force down the price of world oil (much higher then than now, well over $100/barrel). They argued that the actual cost of producing that oil -- even by the highest cost market producer -- was only half or less of the world oil price back then. When the cost of producing it is half the current market price, doesn't that prove monopoly distortion or worse?

No, not really. In an EFFICIENT market, it is well known that Hotelling rent will also be added,
even by rational competitive producers, who rightly account for the future in their calculations.
For example, if they have a choice between selling a barrel today, versus selling it 5 years from now,
economics says they should simply compare the price they would get today, versus the price they expect 5 years from now minus the cost of storage (if it applies) minus interest charges. For oil production, one can usually just keep it in the ground, so it comes down to interest charges.

Bottom line: when the real interest rate is zero, you simply compare the value of the oil for people today, versus how much more or less future people will want or need the oil. When it is much higher, the financial world gives orders to people to make all decisions based on "to hell with future generations, we don't care about them."

(This is not a small violation of the most fundamental principles of Christianity. Before writing this, I even downloaded a copy of Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics... but I didn't immediately see passage there which made an impression on me when I was young. Ironically, I saw more than I expected of the kind of thing Von Neumann talks about... When I searched the web, it seemed to suggest that the passage which impressed me was in a different book by Aristotle which I never read... a minor curiosity I may or may not bother to track down.)

In the analysis of Al Qaida by Scheuer (CIS's former lead analyst on that subject, who wrote before under the name "anonymous"), he asserted that Al Qaida was not dedicated to destroying the West, but only to securing the alleviation of three great wrong -- one of them being the way in which Western oil companies, backed up by their governments, use force to force Islamic countries to pump their oil as fast as they can, as if there were no tomorrow, not saving it as the precious resource it is for future generations. And also not getting as much value for it as it is truly worth.
This is not at all a small issue in terms of Islamic principles. If radical Islam were only as extreme
as Scheuer's picture, there would be hope of calming things down a bit... but of course ISIS
and the Moslem Brotherhood have taken different positions, with different goals requiring more fundamental adjustments.

In many ways, economics supports this particular grievance of Al Qaida.   Without political biases, caused in part by greedy people wanting to raise interest rates ("and to hell with the future") to get more short-term return from particular types of assets and to squeeze out anyone else they can squeeze, and in part by various types of ignorance... the world oil price should never have dropped in 2008 as it did, due to the economic collapse which was itself another form of stupid market failure.

If I have time this week, I may go to and post the slides I gave to a world futures conference in Azerbaijan a few years ago, held under the auspices both of the Azerbaijan government and of the Mllennium Project (themp, get it?). The key question I addressed was: "what is the real Pareto optimum, the win-win solution, for the game between oil producers and oil consumers which
is quietly eating us alive and threatening the very existence of the human species?"
From the viewpoint of economics, it was clear: we should allow a great rise in the price of world oil and gas (respecting its true Hotelling rent value, under ethical interest rates) COMBINED WITH joint actions to make sure that the world economy doesn't go into recession or depression as a result,
actions like improving transportation technology and electricity generation such that a smaller quantity of oil production at higher price is sustainable.

(After all, today's low oil price is in great part a simple decision by Saudis who saw what the high oil price of 2008 did to the world economy, and to the value of their overall portfolio, and realized that that was  not working out so well. They knew enough economics to see the connection between oil prices, gasoline prices, mortgage default rates and the rest. It is curious that one year in Harvard graduate school, I inherited the room of a former friend of mine named Yamani who had moved on -- Yamani, son of the Saudi oil minister. Yes, they knew some economics.)

Unfortunately, high oil prices also resulted in lots of money going to folks like the bin Ladn family and many others, not just in Saudi Arabia but in Qatar and even Turkey, which was the rerouted to other things. A true Pareto optimum would have to consider that dimension as well, and try to make sure that a higher price of oil and gas does not translate into money spend to degrade the future of the human species (and degrade the spiritual level both of Islam and Christianity, for example through madressas which act as a kind of serf factory).

If any of these players really understood what is happening with H2S (as often posted on this blog),
they would realize we all have a common interest in overcoming these problems, in agreeing to some way to phase in much higher prices for oil and gas, and in holding down interest rates. Don't sane people care about survival? Well, at least we try to muddle through, through the complex swamp we are really in, and not in the fantasyland castles of the florid minds we see so often on TV...

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Bigger problems emerging with Trump

The gap between barroom and high school debates about Trump, and the actual implications for the
future of our lives, has become greater and greater, making it more difficult to write about such a sensitive issue calling for treatment at multiple levels. But this week, the energy has started to switch again notably away from Trump, and there are important considerations in play which demand to be voiced.

But first should I mention the naive levels?

Many people have said: "We are in such a hole going nowhere that I would sooner vote for a dog than for Clinton. A lot of the Clinton family new age reforms have turned out to be such a Trojan horse for people screwing the average man, and we really need to break the system of corruption which has gone too far in both parties in Washington. Sooner vote for a dog... but what about rabid hyena? What if the rabid hyena is looking at you with hungry eyes and is ready to bite you?"

Trump has made (or echoed) some very important points which need to be taken very seriously.

Hillary Clinton's speech about "bucket of deplorables" has gotten lots of barroom type coverage, but in fact, however fuzzy and politically incorrect her wording, she was trying to make some important points in that speech, and it reflects well on her. Leaving aside the word "half" (which she rightly regrets, and did not intend to mean "50%"), she was emphasizing that there are two sides to Trump's support -- a side based on a dangerous kind of primal scream and destructive anger, and a side based on important legitimate concerns which a new President and a new Congress need to think really hard about. It's a plus for her that she was trying to get others, like big donors, to also pay real attention to those legitimate concerns, as part of re-optimizing the course.

When these games occur... I always remember a special day when I worked in the office of Senator Specter, one of the most honest, capable and balanced people who has ever served in Congress. (Even if he also rated high in the "worst boss" polls, a subject for another time.) Word came from unions in Pennsylvania that unemployment -- jobs -- trumped everything else, and they wanted more (max) to support jobs in Pennsylvania. So two groups emerged in the staff -- one aiming at putting out the most convincing possible propaganda to say that the Senator was already doing the very most that could be done to fight for more jobs in Pennsylvania, with lots of success, and another trying to come up with new creative ideas for how to do better (not forgetting the larger tradeoffs in play).
The need for the first group is obvious, when a Senator may be facing re-election, but I wish we (and others) had been more effective in also empowering the second kind of group in parallel, and making it possible to reduce conflicts. Trump, and the REpublican Party in general, and Bernie Sanders, all did a magnificent job of  making people aware of the huge importance of the long-term trend towards LESS SATISFYING jobs, less security and greater inequality over the past few decades in the US,
a DIFFERENT ISSUE from the overall issues of unemployment rate and productivity growth which people like me (with degrees in mainstream economics) have been putting more attention to.

OOps: I guess I have to justify what I just said about my right to talk about economics. My B.A. in economics from Harvard was only magna, not summa, because I tried to address too ambitious an issue in my undergraduate thesis (an issue which did cry out for SOMEONE to address), but hell,
on the economics GRE's it looks as if I may have gotten the highest score in the whole US.
(I did not even apply to Yale for PhD, but since GRE offered three schools for free I sent to them --
and received an acceptance without having applied.) My M.Sc. from London School of Economics
was emphasizing European institutions -- not exactly a small aspect of rounding out the understanding. While my PhD was in applied math, it included world's first development of an affordable econometric analysis package for "ARMA" style econometric modeling (in TSP);
use of that command later won several people Nobel Prizes in economics. In my nine years at DOE, I developed three of the large official econometric models used to produce the Annual Energy Outlook, including  a model of industrial energy demand which outperformed all others developed for that purpose, featured in the evaluation studies of the Stanford Energy Modeling Forum. In studying industrial energy demand, I learned how crucial the differences are across different sectors of industry, and how unrealistic the models and policies are which do not really account for sectoral shift. To this day, I see economic policy being made all over the world (except Japan!) which are so blind to these effects... that they cause endless pain here and now, even above and beyond the long-term issues Trump is rightly trying to draw attention to.

Trump is also right that excessive political correctness has really gotten in the way of US foreign policy. But that has been a bipartisan problem, and the folks who taught international politics at LSE have long been aware of the Reality TV biases and unrealities of US foreign policy. Morgenthau was required reading even in freshman year when I was at Harvard; whatever the failing of Morgenthau (who talked a lot like Trump), it makes me sad that so many powerful people in the US seem surprised by the truth of a lot of what he said. Or by the huge literature on how difficult it is to create democracy, and on what is required to do so. Again, this is a bipartisan problem; foreign policy under Bush junior and Cheney was perhaps the biggest failure of White Houses in past 40 years, and Trump's call to get out of that hole is a big plus.

As I think back on these problems... and on the need to firmnly clean up the REpubican party...
I worry that I may have made a huge mistake to support Obama over McCain back at the time of that election. If we had had McCain. we might have passed a bipartisan climate bill by now, and forced out the cottage industry of liars and brain-destroyers built on  that issue. Even more important, we might have had a low-cost reusable launch vehicle, giving us more than time times as much presence in space (for all purposes, from missile defense to energy to basic science) per dollar as we can afford now, when corruption in Washington has virtually disarmed us. And yes, we would have had the kind of real competition and pressure for real performance which Trump talked about very briefly in the Republican debates on social security, but no more.  And above all, limits on corruption (legalized or other) in  Washington would have been much more forceful. As a CEO kind of personality, McCain might even have reversed the very dangerous rot within government agencies seeded by Cheney but still growing (and ironically responsible for a lot of Hillary Clinton's personal tribulations!). I voted for Obama in great part because of economics (because of things I read in the Financial Times!), but maybe a bigger recession followed by a new Democratic administration would not have been the worst outcome.

So now... why not bite the bullet, accept the need for balance, and go for the kind of hope and change which really got Trump started... hope to break the cycle of corruption in Washington, and to do what McCain would have done?

Well, hope is one thing... and we need to try to be open-minded... but recent data is overwhelming.

And no, I do not mean Trump's penchant for insulting anyone and everything. To be honest, Specter was not such a gentle soul either; he was actually less gentle than Trump. (I thought had before accepting the job with him for 2009, when much friendlier options, Sanders and Rohrabacher were available, people I felt I really could talk to much more easily. But Luda said: "Don't worry. I have trained you.  You are not like those people in the "worst boss" surveys; you are used to that kind of tough stuff.") No, I mean the now definitive evidence that his personality problems and cognitive gaps really are likely to spell economics disaster (and a few other disasters) too great for a timely recovery four years later, as was possible in 1932.

Above all -- this week, he really laid into the Federal Reserve, fulfilling a pet peeve of the Koch empire whose folks he has come to rely on more and more in recent weeks. I fully support core values of the Koch family in giving FREEDOM a very top priority, and in never forgetting it in any policy decisions -- just as I also never forget basic Quaker principles -- but managing a global economy is even trickier than rocket science or brain development.

When I think about the state of the world economy, a cartoon comes to mind. There is an old car,
sputtering and leaking oil. A group of preschoolers (one with the face of Hillary Clinton) is staring at the car, baffled about what to do with it, full of bright but naive ideas, and folks who want to drive looking on nearly desperate. And running into it from he corner is Trump with a great big sledge hammer saying "Don't worry folks, I have a great sledge hammer and I will make that car into something really great." And yes, the resulting debris would be really Yuge.

More precisely, this week Trump has said, roughly: "That dirty rotten Fed is personally insulting me. By prevent a world depression, they are increasing the chances that Hillary will be elected. If I am elected, I will get my revenge. Interest rates will go 'way up, worldwide, and money supply will go down. And I will restructure that Fed.... (maybe abolish it, as my new friends and advisors urge)."

Reduced money supply, worldwide, plus substantial rise in interest rates worldwide, plus
disassembly of financial structures, all timed to coincide with a reinvention of Smoot-Hawley..
a more perfect recipe for a world depression greater than the 1930's would be hard to imagine. Combine that with his promise to vastly expand defense spending, without serious attention to the needs associated with sequestration... well, it sounds as if he would do for the US economy what he did for his casino in Atlantic City.

It reminds me of a recent commercial, which begins: "The National Debt could crowd out our schools..."   which my mind fills in as "So therefore to cut that debt, we propose a vast preemptive cut in schools NOW." That is already happening, even under Obama -- but really, under Kasich's sequestration bill, which is already a deep crisis both urgent and long-term, which could only be salvaged by intelligent new understanding of how to address the sequestration issue. During the Republican debates, when social security "reform" came up, Trump briefly showed signs of ideas (truthfully, short-lived spiritual inspiration, long since washed away in his brain by other things)
for addressing these problems... but now... well, he seems like those folks who achieve one level of consciousness for about five minutes in church, who then go home and become re-enveloped in their day job with the mafia.

In Trump's case, however, it is truly weird that he is now committed to an economics policy which would substantially cut back BOTH on more justifiable real estate investment and on critical private sector investments. Right this moment, I am trying to explain a really exciting billion dollar private profitable investment opportunity (with exploratory funds already available but not US government)
which would also create lots of serious green jobs... and wish a guy like Trump could exploit serious ways of making private sector money that way... but if he pulls the plug on world availability of private sector capital, that could kill that. I regret that I have to include Trump as a crucial risk factor in that kind of investment, but he is. Being hard to guess is part of his strategy for making deals... but for investments, banks do not like to have to guess. To put it mildly.

When Trump talked about waterboarding, Hayden went on TV to say: "Hey, world, be ready for us not to obey your orders. We won't be pushed around." (And it seems Rogers would support Hayden, and have Congressional backing enough to control the tanks and the commissars.) Could it be that Hayden would actually WANT Trump to be elected that way, to open the door to the more complete scenario depicted in Orson Scott Card's series"Empire"? Do not underestimate the spiritual inspiration of Orson Scott Card (even though bias has led him to shockingly misconstrue Obama!).

Some folks imagine that they know a little history, and that the next great wave forward in American civilization is to get past that unworkable, corrupt old Republic period and create a great empire along the lines of Trajan.

That delusion makes me so sad, on so many levels, and I really hope North America does not fall into the huge, long-lasting pain which that delusion could lead to.

Luda has actually brought me to places like Trajan's old secret society clubhouse in Cordoba,
and to first-hand historical accounts for what happened under Trajan. Modern efficient reformers in those days (very similar in spirit to a certain type of well-heeled narcissistic reformers today) could easily calculate the superior economic efficiency of the slave-based latifundia over the old  Roman free-men system, and moved to spread it, especially effectively in southern Spain, Trajan's home base, with a political action network very similar to some of those now growing in power in the US today. And yes, they expanded the boundaries on the map of the Roman Empire. But -- they just about bankrupted the place in the process, and were simply not able to hold what they had nominally gained. (Memories of Iraq anyone? Actually, Iraq and Syria were part of that story too, and the Syrians and Iraqis remember. We are such idiots to discount what THEY learned!) Rome was saved when desperate people (from plebs to bankers) started to understand how bad their situation was,
and so... they were saved by the Gay Emperor Hadrian (as if Hayden were replaced by Sanders),
whose famous wall was part of a policy shifting from offense to defense, returning to market-based policies which had made Rome strong in the first place. (Is there hope that Koch brothers will support work aimed at MORE market-based competition and freedom, for actual humans, as they see how
the lackeys they have funded are working out even worse than the turncoat lackeys Ayn Rand depicted in Atlas Shrugged? Hey guys, how about you and I both quit politics and move to Michigan and build a new engine, both a near-term one and a way out one, just like in the book? It is quite serious.) But: Hardian saved the empire, but the latifundia system was too strong to save southern Spain; only Greece, which had preserved its old systems (like Germany today?) really was able to recover, and even money from American Gold mainly just flowed into Andalusia and out again elsewhere without bringing much progress to the people in that still-suffering area. I do hope that folks like Hayden do not allow pride to lead us to our own more than thousand year nothingness.
Gross inequality would be even more damaging economically now than it was then, because of the need for complex network-style distributed intelligence to cope with the more complex physical economic realities of the modern world.

So yes, a Trump election might not be followed by an election four years later to reverse the losses..
 and even if it were... well, the 1930's led to other problems which, in a nuclear world, might spell human extinction.

We have now seen what Trump comes up with when he "consults with the best people" on economics.  It leaves little room for hope. Present trends are certainly scary enough, but
a badly aimed sledge hammer suggests less and less possibility for anything worse. Trump has asked: "What have you got to lose?" Well, our lives, for one thing. And whatever is left of hope.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Creativity and Inborn Personality Factors

Creativity and Inborn Personality Factors

 This post will be pretty casual in the way I will talk... but the subjects of creativity and of inborn personality factors are both quite serious, both for society and for basic science.

Let me start with some important basics, things which should be well-known but somehow get lost in powerful policy discussions.

Background 1... creativity

There are lots of high-level efforts in US, China and elsewhere on how to accelerate innovation, or take the lead in innovation. For decades and decades, serious economists have known that improvements in productivity have been the main source of long-term growth, and that improvements in productivity are tied to productivity. In my recent post on NSF, I emphasized the need for greater effectiveness in “both main areas”: (1)  new fundamental breakthrough discoveries and inventions; and (2) “translational” work, addressing the “Valley of Death” between invention and deployments which actually create value added or improvements in human life. (Really serious economists want us to measure value added in ways which capture more of the possible improvements in quality of life, but that’s too big of a subject for me to review again this morning.) We need diversity of thoughts and approaches in both areas, but right now (1) is the area most in danger around the world. I have spent a lot of effort in (2) as well, but it is beyond the scope of this particular post.

Even in an ideal system (like the old NSF, exactly as it was or with more rational improvements/supplements?)... new discovery and invention (1) is not easy. I spent almost 30 years at NSF seeing real results, good and bad and halfway, from proposals and projects across a very wide variety of S&T areas.  I have read state-of-the-art papers on creativity; this post will not be one of those, but it is informed by some of those, and it will have two unique advantages:
    (1) What I saw in direct observation of hundreds of the very most effective people in (1) from many fields; and
   (2) A more mathematical functional understanding of the underlying brain mechanisms, reviewed in my chapter for the 2016 book edited by Freeman and Kozma and also in our new paper submitted by invitation in a neuroscience journal..(hopefully citeable soon)...

Background 2... inborn personality factors

Inborn personality factors?

I have spent most of my life developing models and designs for intelligent systems as open-minded as possible, relying as little as possible on hard-wired behavior and assumptions and prior knowledge.  Yet even the most universal learning systems, at the highest levels of intelligence, remain influenced for their whole life by three kinds of constraints: (1) the concrete sensors and actuators, like senses and muscles (or “squeezing and squirting”) they are hooked up to; (2) the complex system of primary utility or reinforcement they partner with, the system I was prepared to study instead of intelligent back when I defended two topics for my Harvard PhD thesis; and (3) “arbitrary cognitive style parameters.”

To me, the “inborn personality factors” which some psychologists look for are a mixture of factors in the primary utility system, and of cognitive style parameters. The cognitive style parameters are factors where the mathematics says you can pick anything, and the system will still learn the right thing in time... but it will simply lose a finite amount of time if it starts with the wrong things. The values of these parameters are arbitrary in a way, because the system is equally intelligent and powerful whatever you choose within a broad range, but in some environment some values get you off to a better start. In biology, one would predict that nature would create a diversity of gene values, to make sure that the population has a diversity of possible values of these parameters, so that some organisms will be able to adapt to a variety of possible environmental conditions.  To a first approximation, if we see a diversity of cognitive style parameters in the population, it tells us that there is no “best value” but rather a need for  a diversity of values in the population. This is especially important to creativity! But at the same time, populations in flux, like the human population, may have a mix of traits, some which really need variation, and some which are more like the appendix, evolutionary relics. If nation-states try to micromanage DNA, or, worse, look for “the best DNA,” we are in very deep trouble, worse than governments trying to pick the one right source of energy. But we do need realistic humane systems of competition which do justice both to the need for diversity and for the need for progress. The DNA of creativity is important both to technological creativity and to spiritual progress as well, and that is part of why all top-down systems of political control right or left are a great threat to humanity here and now. (At this moment, assorted threats from the right seem more serious, and threats from the left seem more of a joke, but such things wax and wane.)

By the way, some neural network people would immediately guess that “the learning rate” might be one of those parameters. But even in my older work (as in the Handbook of Intelligent Control, and my 1988 paper on the model of natural gas markets I developed for EIA), I used an Adaptive Learning Rate Algorithm, in which cognitive style parameters were at a higher level, allowing adaptation of the learning rates used in different parts of life.


And now, some rambling realities.

I remember a nice tutorial from an old entrymate from Harvard, Prof. Dan Levine, discussing the theory of Cloninger, who has become something of an orthodoxy or starting point for today’s research in human personality theory. (Please forgive that I giggled when I first heard that name, long ago, as it sounded like “cloning her.” Actually, many people end up working in areas which resonate with their names, like the once famous Dr. Brain. I was so sad when Dr. Merklein took over the the Energy Information Administration (EIA), and one reviewer said “Given who is behind the Annual Energy Outlook, we are not surprised that it is Murky and Verbose this year.”)

In Cloninger’s view, some of the 11 or so basic traits of human personalities are highly inheritable, others not at all so, and some (like IQ?) a kind of 50-50 mix. One of the 11 was
a kind of mix of two highly inheritable traits, which I had discussed before with Bernie Baars, Dan Levine and Dan’s former student Sam Leven: (1) “tolerance of cognitive dissonance” and (2) “novelty seeking.”

In the course of evaluating literally thousands of proposals at NSF (with heavy input from peer review of course), funding hundreds... I noticed some patterns.

I used to say: “Everyone I fund has at least SOME trait which most people would regard as an extreme anomaly or even fault. It seems that unique high productivity or new value added (without which we would not want to spend NSF money) demands some special irritant, like the old story of he oyster and the pearl.” I told this to many people, including one woman I funded. “Hey, what about me? I am absolutely normal.” She was, at a very important level, but she also taught belly dancing and practiced wicca in her spare time. But don’t worry, I also founded a guy who talked EXACTLY like Donald Trump, so much so that I found it weird when I first heard his (familiar!) voice on TV this year. I suppose that the guy like Romney was more average, sort of, or the guy who had danced in the bolshoi... but... some unique creative tension does seem called for.

I have done some creative things myself, and “it takes one to know one.” For me... I have a high inborn “intolerance of cognitive dissonance,” like a lot of “yang” Germans and Russians. As with all cognitive style parameters, it provides a mix of strengths and weaknesses, and we need to be mindful both of the strengths and the weaknesses, and the risks and opportunities they provide. People with this trait tend to go for order, and tend to insist that things make sense in terms of a coherent worked out understanding. But they can risk becoming a bull in the China shop, ignoring data which does not fit their theory, and being insensitive.

But at the same time, I also have a very high level of “novelty seeking.” I sometimes associate this one with the Irish half of my ancestry, though people like my mother and the great physicist Robert O”Connell remind me that that ancestry can also come with a kind of almost clairovoyant clarity which also favors mathematics. My mother is a very serious“yin” person, but perhaps OConnell goes for order as much as I do. (I remember Irish priests who also went for order, though I doubt Bob would follow them any more than I would.)

When I discussed this with Bernie Baars in a sushi bar next to UNU in Tokyo in 1999, where we both had plenary talks in the first big international conference on consciousness, he said something like: “My God! Those two traits do not go together very often or very well. Their negative correlation is so great that it’s no wonder Cloninger just limped them together as one thing. Your novelty seeking would always drive you to disconfirm whatever theory you are trying hard to hold onto... It would cause endless inner conflict and discontent.” Yes, it is so, exactly so, but for that niche of folks asked to come up with new theories or frameworks, it is a powerful engine, like the powerful free energy you can get from access both to high heat and cold at the same place. It also drives some psychological adjustments. In light (Irish?) type moments, I have said... “I ended up with a German brain and an Irish heart”.. and I even noticed the different unique capabilities of other folks with Irish brain and German heart... we all learn in time.  Both engines can also drive a person to serious, analytic mysticism, as I described in a prior blog post.

In discussions of spirit and consciousness and mysticism, frivolous superficial people have said: “Oh, you just believe that paranormal kind of stuff because of what your parents taught you about your family religion. That’s the only reason any intelligent people believe anything but what the amazing Randi teaches us about how the cosmos works.” Well, I sometimes cite the deep study by Greeley and Macready going past that kind of speculative ideological stuff. But I sometimes say: “What of the four great founders of the hard core of quantum mechanics, Heisenberg, De Broglie, Schrodinger and Einstein? Except for Einstein, all four were hard core mystics as serious as I am. Were these the kind of people who just beleived what their parents taught them, with no ability to think for themselves? Can the Amazing Randi think for himself better than these folks could?” No, the Amazing Randi would fit in well with the utterly conformist non-innovative cheering squads we now see, chanting Bo Xilai hymns to innovation (paid for by the taxpayer)... but it’s just another species.. a species which has its place but not in charge.

So what WERE the engines of creativity for those four great people?

I like to believe that De Broglie and Schrodinger were driven by engines very similar to my own, to a type of mysticism very similar to my own. I actually have letters from De Broglie in my files (also scanned into google drive!), and once had a few links to his old colleagues in France. His Bergson said a few things too mystical for me, a tad less yang, but he pushed hard for clear orderly understanding to his dying day, more than most mainstream physicists. I like to believe that our 2016 paper in Quantum Information Processing will be a step to help the world understand the validity of his vision.. Schrodinger was even more yang, like me, and the record of his conversations with Einstein is ever so gemutlich...and clear about his interest in very hard core yang-style mysticism.

But what of Heisenberg? I think of Heisenberg as an utterly yin person born into an utterly yang culture and family. That was the engine for him. How else could a person invite Gopal Krishna to given lectures on the vedas and on the unreality of everything to Germany, even as fitting in just fine in Nazi Germany and keeping people happy in Max Planck institutes?   

And Einstein, the mirror image, a more purely yang person brought up in an incredibly cosmopolitan and even yin culture, furiously womanizing but also treating women a bit like a bull in the China shop even in later life.

I once compared Steve Grossberg’s engine of creativity to Einstein’s, and was amused when I saw the reaction of some of his followers. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, and I am glad that Gail Carpenter has taught Steve things which Einstein never quite learned in his lifetime.


Just this morning, as I talked to Luda in the kitchen, she mentioned how she really hates it when things become routines, like how I keep offering to make coffee or tea (her choice) almost every morning. “Even this recent cognac thing in the evening, for the stomach..
it was great at first, but not after three times.  We need new adventures. Like this new one..”

I then said: “You know, Luda, now that I think of it, we really do have something very deep in common here.  We both have a very strong drive for order, combined with very strong novelty seeking.” She looked a bit conflicted, however (not a state she likes), and I said: “OK, I can see you might deny that about ordnung... except that in the kitchen especially you don’t want me to develop delusions about you putting up with disorder.” (Just as I type this, a scary thought arises: does Putin also strive for a combination or order and novelty in some ways? Ouch!)

After some thought she said: “Order in space, but novelty in time. I want you always to put things back in the same place in the refrigerator, but in the coming weeks...”

And then I thought: “Is this like spatial intelligence before the development of temporal intelligence, order and structure in space but not time?” I even said that, and noted.. the dinosaurs were a great step forward in evolution (though I have to admit I forget the details of Bitterman’s experiments comparing them with amphibians)... lots of structure and order in time... but not so creative. (I once compared them to Cheney’s foreign policy, but Cheney actually was quite creative in support of different goals, like Sith Lords, still very active today.) And then I realized... of course, the key difference between the mouse and the reptile is the new creativity mechanism, which RETAINS the temporal structure of the reptile brain but subordinates it in a way which allows for much more novelty and creativity. “Creativity” as we know it,” like “love” or “consciousness”, is actually a word or phenomenon representing the emergent outcome of many things, but certain these special new connections in mouse brain beyond reptile brain ARE a very specific mechanism specifically aimed at creativity, at escaping a type of local minimum in the higher order patterns, routines and decisions of our life. So are we just motivated to better express the inner mouse? (As Perlovsky has noted, the cognitive style and motivation parameters may actually overlap at some level. The mouse builds up a cognitive map of the space of possibilities; some mice may be more driven to fill in the unknown parts of the map than others. Work by Powell on exploration gradients is also relevant to the underlying cognitive style parameters in play here.)

By the way... something recently reminded me how important it ALSO is to consider Cloninger-like parameters on respect for authority and such, to map out some human behaviors... but I forget what it was. This is enough for one day.


As Putin hears Trump and Trump’s people selling out to folks who want a war with Iran.. I do hope his sense of order will kick in, more than it did when he made a deal with Erdogan like what CIA once did with Osama bin Laden. Or will he repress the unwanted data? I agree that the data is unwanted, but we do need to face up to reality here... scary as it is.


Small follow-on thoughts. I remember when I was 14 my father arranged a thorough psychological inventory, to try to help with career planning and such. I still remember that the personality part of test mostly ended up with numbers in the mid-range... except self-reliance, at the utter maximum, and self-confidence, at the utter minimum.  As he looked at that contradiction, the psychologist rubbed his eyes... very hard.. so hard it looked as if he would squish/force them our of the sockets; I could hardly
hold my stomach to look at it! Another engine, needed for science, but problematic in other niches in this society? 

Why so much new enthusiasm for AI but not space?

First, the AI side: 
On Sun, Sep 11, 2016 at 1:47 PM, Lotfi A. Zadeh <>
[the god of fuzzy logic]:

AI is back in popularity after a long winter. What the cause the change?Here is my thought. Please post yours on the bulletin board:

My reply:

The revival of neural networks and of learning in 1987/1988 was large enough to mobilize a small minority, but the technical culture in general was still too conservative to pay real attention. It acted like the "antibody" forces in the movie Inception. At NSF, I got to see first-hand, and play, in a cultural clash which was quite challenging, with important aspects which don't fit the word limits here. 

The recent cultural change was mainly due to the impacts of one of the $2 million grants we funded under a one-year special topic, "COPN", which I fought for and won back in 2008. Search on "COPN" at to find that topic. In the old NSF (which maintained the full spirit of Vannevar Bush and Joe Bordogna), I was allowed to fund a proposal by Ng and LeCun, despite very heavy pressures not to. (At, search on "COPN Ng LeCun" to  see the grant.) 

Crudely speaking, many of the great stalwarts of AI had written books with limited research behind them, describing only kindergarten level neural nets, not acknowledging the more advanced work done before, asserting that learning systems in general could never solve real problems. The Ng/LeCun grant simply empowered them to DO THE EXPERIMENT -- to apply slightly more advanced neural networks and other learning systems to challenge problems which conventional AI people had worked on and competed on for decades. When, in one fell swoop, they broke all records quickly for a series of well-publicized open challenges, in image recognition, speech recognition and natural language processing, DARPA and Google both took notice; lots more funding became available, and more people entered the fray. Through very tactful politics, they succeeded in labelling this as a new advance in AI and machine learning. 

IN DC, I see very directly what kind of new enthusiasm has resulted in the funding world and in the large companies which tend to drive a lot of the other stuff. The terms "deep learning" really lead the pack.

But "the revenge of the empire" is still a threat. The success of an expert system, Watson, in defeating Jeapordy also had a big psychological impact. Under the new more conservative management of science in the US (which has been spread from DOE and NASA to NSF), there are folks working to run the entire world (the INternet of Things being the base) in a top-down political way, bypassing any enthusiasms in the marketplace or in academia as a whole, let alone little things like the Arab Spring. They are much more determined and ruthless and effective than what we overcame in previous years. 

For more details on the recent situation
Video for first 13 slides posted at


Before the Ng/LeCun project, and perhaps before the NSF initiative on Learning and Intelligent Systems, the state of AI was similar in many ways to the state of the space program today. Both remind me of the old Russian saying "we pretend to work and you pretend to pay us."  1960's technology were enshrined in power, supported by a few key people (like Senator Shelby and Congressman Lamar Smith) -- and emphatically narrow enough that greater powers were content to leave them alone, with a predictable but small role.

Ironically, I also had a chance in 2003 to do some breakthrough in the space area too, which a mere $2 million grant might have accomplished (with follow-ons of course, as with Ng and LeCun). I deeply regret that I listened to my partner at NASA on that... but there are a lot of other things I would have done differently with 100% hindsight. I do have some foresight, but there are ever so many layers we need to get right here!

Actually, the space example reminds me of the old Zen story about a buy who breaks his leg, who later finds it was for the best, who still later discovers it was not so good after all, but then later still...
When I later tried to find a new way to support that effort, I learned sad but important realities about what is happening in the US right now. For the best, or not? Will that knowledge offer hope of overcoming key problems, or will it just hit the reset button?


I am sad it was not appropriate this morning to cite two important new papers in process which go further, one
for NATO and one for neuroscience.  I did get an email from Yeshua, who generally agreed with the NATO paper on policy towards terrorism, but would have wanted to go further by adding a paragraph:

On that note, some final reflections are important. We need to make a clear distinction between “short” and “long” term solutions together with fundamental vs. quick fix solutions. When we consider human culture and human potential we must remember that our highest individual’s spiritual potential lies in the areas of self- mastery, self-responsibility and self-governance with foundations in the embodiment of Universal (Spiritual) values [27], towards the application of constructive intelligence and creativity as antidotes to the limiting structures created by the brain and nervous system that impose behavioral values based on reward and fear conditioning, in the form of learning that can lead to destructive behavior (like terrorism) and unhealthy partial loyalties towards any group. This human potential development is without a doubt the long term and fundamental solution for the chaos and destructive forces we actually face. However, it seems, that this long term solution must be achieved in scenarios where the application of quick fixes with detrimental side effects are avoided and instead, we apply some short term solutions that will strengthen the probabilities of success of the fundamental solution. So far, this seems to be a well balanced risk taking endeavor in the area of applied quantum physics and mathematics together with the exploration of Universal Values and human potential, where for example, a truly sane self-aware person would send a warning back in time, so that the core version of him or herself has been changed to a form of avatar or savior who has achieved such a level of altruism with a well informed consciousness, by having a “real” taste of a ghastly future and opting for a self-transformation backwards in time, in order to survive in a scenario of collective freedom and happiness, a better world.


That seemed heavy enough, but a Quaker friend said it was not enough:

Dear Paul et al,
Thank you very much for including me in this fascinating look at cutting-edge science and philosophy.  Of course much of it is beyond me, so I’m a fool to rush in where angels fear to tread.  But rush I will, as a preface of perhaps discussions to come.
We live in a mostly open society.  To the extent that we are open, terrorists always will be able to find vulnerabilities to exploit to their advantage.  Otherwise we become even more a closed society that stagnates and feeds terrorism.
To my mind, the best human culture/human potential method to overcome terrorism is to reduce and try to eliminate the inequalities and injustices that give rise to the frustrations that culminate in terrorist acts.  Fighting terrorism with military weapons only feeds the frustrations that recruit new terrorists, as much of the 21st Century has shown.  As a human race we need to learn from Cain and Abel that we are our brothers’ keepers, and that evil is best overcome by love rather than resisted by force.  That’s a hard lesson to learn, but we can try to learn and apply it, one by one, using brilliant insights to live and spread the message, as Ghandi and King have done in our time.
So to me, the final paragraph is not enough.


Well, there are always important details one must leave out in a brief treatment. 

The guy I mentioned in the previous blog had some very specific ideas in similar directions,
beyond the scope of this blog.

Some of this really reminds me of a couple of the novels of Dan Simmons, but today I plan to change tracks yet again.

As a minor matter... I was amused in a way when the TV reported Hillary Clinton having some small issues with dizziness and vertigo. I had the same, even milder, recently... and found it was a side effect of Zantac, which my doctor advised that I take instead of Prilosec/opremazole. So I am back to opremazole as of yesterday. I also pulled a muscle moving heavy bags of mulch, and Luda explained to me that aspercreme is one good part of treatment -- "no, it's not one of those evil pain-killers, it's just antiinflammatory, aspirin for the muscles."
And with hot water and just the right kind of exercise, I hope I will be ready for the next insane adventure...  


Saturday, September 10, 2016

reactions to a unified field theory

A few years ago, a friend sent me an email saying: "We think Einstein has been reincarnated. As you might expect, he has been reincarnated as a young Moslem with new lessons to learn... and just look at the equations of his new unified field theory based on an extension of differential geometry...!"

I was delighted to learn this morning that he is still around, and has more details in the theory.

I hope it is OK to post most of my reply to him this morning:


Thank you again!

A few hours later... I have done a first read of your email. This is important and complicated material, and I am truly grateful that you have come back in touch.

Where to begin?

First, in a light-hearted way.

I too often feel a bit like a "stranger in a strange land" on this planet, and often an immune system problem. Only -- instead of me being allergic to earth, I sometimes feel as if earth is allergic to me at times. Have you seen that great movie "Inception"? There really are antibodies of a kind in the noosphere of this little planet, and it is tricky how to handle them. My younger daughter works for google, and she and her boyfriend swear by the "paleo" diet. I just returned from a shopping trip with my wife, where I scanned a book on the paleo diet, and see how well-focused it is on living with immune system problems -- though it is flagrantly ignorant of the differences in needs of different types of people.  In a way, it is like a shotgun, aimed at the worst case of maximum immune system problems. 


I too see how the "spiritual" side of life is a core part of our real existence, and how I do not yet understand it as well as one should, even though most people are far more ignorant. 

I do not know how serious I should be about "reincarnation", for example, but I am totally convinced from experience in the reality of a phenomenon called "channeling" or "assumption." For example, I really enjoyed a simple science fiction trilogy, "Oversoul 7," by Jane Roberts, where she depicts a person in a mental hospital who channels Jesus. She vividly portrays a paradox -- a person in a mental hospital, who really belongs there, but who also really channels Jesus in a way which lets him do great things, and even perform real miracles in that mental hospital. I actually have a friend (and now coauthor) who channels his uncle Jesus, and does not belong in a mental hospital, but is certainly not the one and only
"Son of God" and not the full thing.

In a similar way, I have an image of how you channel Einstein's way of thinking, and I channel his friend John Von Neumann. Last year, I very much enjoyed visiting again their offices in Princeton, and refreshing my memory of the unique feeling of that part of the place. 

Frankly, from a Von Neumann point of view, the logic which led to general relativity would have seemed quite suspicious. But at the end of the day, 
Einstein did succeed along that path, and we should never forget his success.  
There are no guarantees, but from that experience ... we definitely should make room for the possibility that some kind of geometric thinking, exactly in his style of thought, could take us even further. I see immediately that your mathematics is quite serious, even though it challenges me in a way no other mathematics 
has in the past few decades. But I also believe that mutual respect and caution
are important for both of us. 

In recent years, I am grateful that I had fairly close contact with Bernard Widrow (Stanford) and Marlan Scully, two of the very most successful authentic mathematical thinkers in the recent decades. (Of course, both have enormous web presence.) I do not channel either one of them, but I was glad to assimilate their thoughts about what is crucial here to make real progress. Both emphasize the ideas of "one step at a time," and of always being heavily grounded in experiment and experience at every step of the way. For me, that means first learning to see the big picture.. AND THEN deconstruct it, to find "first steps" which open up a path to next steps, and so on, yea unto the whole thing. That is especially important to sheer survival in a planet full of "antibodies."

I have certainly had to accept the existence of many varieties of nasty people and conspiracies on this planet, especially after July 2014 when the empirical demonstrations of that became overwhelming to me personally. I usually use ONLY this gmail now, with double identity verification and the setting "always use https", which is far more secure than all other nonspecialist forms of email. But even so, I expect several databases to carry copies of this email, and I am worried about the ability of nasty third parties to get access to those databases. 


Your comments about monads remind me of the Newton/Liebnitz debate.
I have been biased, because I idealized Newton as a child... though my wife channels Newton much more than I do. (I also know a woman who channels Alan Turing, who recently took a job in the US military complex!) There is a lot of history in that relation. 

A few years ago, I was close to Kunio Yasue who, with Mari JIbu, wrote interesting papers on quantum foundations, and collaborated with Karl Pribram. 
 But he developed a mathematical model of "monadology" which he hoped I would support. I remember very vividly the meeting we had in Tokyo circa 2005,
when he was deeply disappointed that I could not jump on his bandwagon. I wanted to stay friendly and close, but he could not contain his disappointment and his anger. I also tried to convey the importance and value of a more down-to-earth empirical approach in understanding the "spiritual" aspect of life, and the importance of controlling spiritual energies here and now.

On my last day in Tokyo... they had the worst earthquake in at least 10 years.
I remember vividly my feelings in the shower near the top floor of a tall hotel,
as it began to sway. (Should I just run downstairs as I was? Or what?) 
The quake caused some deaths exactly on the rail line I had to take to the airport.
But for me... it was an interesting ride; I sat next to a fairly attractive young woman on her way to Thailand, for some international Buddhist activities.
Later, a friend of his at Toyota told me he gave up physics, and was now studying martial arts. I am so sorry it had to end that way. Still, that is better than a neurosurgeon friend I was once close to, a high teacher of Sufism, who ended up dead when he returned to Pakistan.  

Reality is not such a light or easy matter to cope with. Every one of us is challenged in "drinking from a firehose," to move ahead while staying within our own limited bandwidth.

One step at a time...

My basic views are still as they were at
Always I will admit uncertainty, and consider alternative theories of how the cosmos works. Always I will maintain a special place for "the simplest possible model." And truly, it is a key foundation of the Einstein approach to remember the limits of pure reason (ala Kant), to have respect for the simplest possible model
as one of the possibilities, and to try to find experiments. Certainly it would be a gross violation of the Einstein logic to rule out all models in which time is just another dimension!!

Reviewing the Einstein experience... some worked out very well, but some did not work out as well.   The Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen experiment was a truly great step forward, but Einstein's prediction of it was dead wrong; the step forward was in doing the work, and facing up to the importance of that experiment.
I have been working very hard to try to persuade SOMEONE to perform the next step experiment, which I sometimes call "Einstein's revenge."

The quest for unified field theory in the last years of his life did not seem to work out as well. Only immediately after his release from Princeton did two great breakthroughs occur, both related to that release: (1) Wheeler's "already unified field theory," which, though very simple, provably achieved tasks which none of the later Einstein work did; and (2) Everett's PhD thesis, the first reasonably worked-out theory allowing a return to reality (and opening the door to the great dissemination and extension by David Deutsch). Breakthrough (1) explains why I believe that a simple model analogous to Wheeler's, but with W and B and isotwistor Higgs terms added, really is the simplest model which really might fit empirical reality; meeting empirical reality is the task before us now, and it will actually take many steps, and mathematical competence greater than what I see in universities today. Could a more geometric model do this more elegantly,
and suggest new experiments able to prove that it fits better? That would be great, but it would take a lot of work. I suspect that a lot of new approximation theory is required,
and development of a whole chain of  parametrized families of models 
stretching from phenomenological to ever more elegant.

But who knows? Many believe that the ultimate model might be more like our information technology world than like differential geometry.  
The rational approach is to be open-minded. 

I do hope that progress on those lines will be possible.

Best regards,


P.S. I actually did visit through Tuscany this year, in March or April.
(I have a record. My wife and younger son and I mainly went to Pisa, to Florence and to the western coast. Stopping by a wonderful vineyard on the way. Experiencing great gelato, but never getting hold of the vin santo...).