Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Would You Be the First Person to Use a Star Trek Transporter? (Consciousness Studies)

Everyone is familiar with the Transporter from whichever version of Star Trek.  Captain Kirk is down on a planet open up his communicator and says "beam me up Scotty".  There is that familiar sound and glimmering of lights, Kirk disappears and then you see him reappear in the Transporter Room on the Starship Enterprise.  Would you be the first person to ever use such a device?  I talked about this in an earlier post.   Lets say the physics and engineering of a transporter type device is known. (The physics part would be amazing considering the quantum mechanical questions.)  Earlier devices were thoroughly tested.  Simple life forms were later tried, no problems.  Then various complex forms of life were tested, dogs and cats when transported knew their names and owners.  Chimpanzees were transported and they could perform the same on all intelligence tests.  They seemed like the same chimps.   Everything appears normal and ready to go.  Would you be the first human to use this machine?  The question I'm getting at is when you are transported does your consciousness also get transported?  Is it the same you that get transported?  Would you even be able to tell?
   Consciousness is an interesting topic for physicists to talk about.  I discussed it as part of an earlier post. It pops up in various areas like in discussing the concept of what is now?  The March 2014 Physics Today  has David Mermin commentary entitled "What I Think About Now".  One of my favorite physics bloggers Sabine Hossenfelder has The Problem of Now discussed in her blog Backreaction.   I made a comment in the Backreaction Now post where I asked basically "do we have to bring consciousness into physics?".  I didn't get any replies.
     Sometimes I wonder if Consciousness is a "bad" topic to discuss since it seems to be in the area of New Age Philosophy.  I think lots of Physicists got pissed that New Agers tried to use quantum mechanics to help bolster their philosophy. Lee Smolin in his new book "Time Reborn" talks about the "really hard problem of consciousness" in the epilogue. He has a comment of  he mentions that there is only one person he allows to talk to him on this subject.  Smolin thinks that consciousness is beyond science at this present time. Which makes me wonder is that statement true?
   The December 2013 Physics Today has a short piece entitled "The Brain is Big Science".  The piece describes the new Obama BRAIN initiative which has $110 million for 2014.  You know when the government has a new initiative in research that this is an established field that shows great promise, its just that this known promise started years ago..  It seems that brain research is at a point similar to physics research.  As said by a Kavli Foundation vice-president "We know the microscale of single neurons, and we know how large patches--the macroscale of brain light up in fMRI......but we are lacking [knowledge about] how the brain works on the mesoscale level.".  The human brain has around 100 billion neurons, each with many connections.  The article has a cool image that shows an image from data of pathways of neural wiring in a living human brain.  It shows that "the fibers of the brain to a surprising extent form a [regular] three-dimensional grid."  This is from data.  The article then switches to discussing European initiatives on computer simulations. They have a goal of simulating the human brain.  One group uses "microelectronics to build physical copies of brains cells, connections and synapses."  Brain research as in particle physics is generating huge data streams to be analyzed so again big data rears its head.

Will brain simulations either in a computer or in analog circuits ever reach consciousness?  How would researchers know? How would a computer simulations consciousness be known?  This gets back to the old Turing test.  Could a machine think?  Again more questions, and of course wikipedia Philosophy of Artificial Intellligence.

Many questions.  So I Googled "Physics Research and Consciousness".  Lots of hits, there is a Center for Consciousness Studies at the University of Arizona.  They are having a conference this week, April 21-26 on "Toward a Science of Consciousness-20th Anniversity the Tucson Conference".  Lots of talks, there's a preconference workshop with Roger Penrose and others discussing

Microtubules and Quantum Biology                  MADERA         
.quantum vibrations in microtubules support the controversial Orch OR theory, and provide a basis for EEG
as ‘beat frequencies’ of intra-neuronal dynamics

I'd heard of the Orch OR theory from some surfing a few months ago, but don't know much about it.  This is an example of a well known living physicist involved in consciousness studies.  There is also the von Neumann-Wigner interpretation of the collapse of the wave function in quantum mechanics.

But would you be the first person to use a Star Trek Transporter?  This is clearly another path down the rabbit hole.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Climate Change and the Nonexistence of Aliens

I was thinking about the stupidity of climate change deniers and was wondering about the book "The Limits to Growth" by the Club Rome put out in 1972.  This is a book describing where they studied computer models of our resource use, pollution and population growth and projections of where this could led humans.  I can't remember all the details but if I remember correctly it painted a pretty bleak future for humanity.  Sometimes thinking about climate change deniers depresses me, since if we follow what they believe, humans are doomed.  You would think that folks would not seriously believe the  climate deniers.   But then again I don't understand how the poor and middle class can support Republicans.

I was texting a rant to a  friend about environmental issues and here's what we had to say.  I'll fill in between our texts with some comments in parenthesis.  . I was telling her about the limits to growth.  

Her: Sounds interesting.

Me:Yes describes what humans can and can't do on earth since it is one planet with only finite resources.  Contrary to what some businesses propose and some politicians advocate.

Her: Neat

Me:  The earth is a complex feedback system and if we fuck it up too much we can not survive.

Her:  We're halfway there.

Me:  Question is will we fuck it up? Can we even stop ourselves from fucking it up?  Like a crack addict are we as humans caught in a negative feedback loop that leds to our self destruction?  Some people think most intelligent life in the Universe destroys itself, that's why we don't have ET's visiting us.  (An interesting post on the blog Preposterous Universe talks about this question here.  This is also the topic of the post that discusses the Enlightentment/Boredom Hypothesis as to why aliens haven't visited us.  The question of why aliens haven't visited us is called Fermi's paradox)

(Not sure if it should be negative or positive feedback loop, but anyways a loop that keeps reinforcing the behavior instead of inhibiting it.)

Her: There you go  

Me:  We do seems to be hell bent on destroying humans.  There is only one little blue-green planet we are on and we are on a path to fuck it up.

Her:  I believe that.  It's why the environmentalists are upset.

Me:  Many individuals get stuck on self destruction paths is the whole human race stuck on a self destruction path?  Everyone should be upset.  Remember Earth Day back in like 1970?  

Her:  Yes.  I was in high school when it started.  April right?  We just had it.

Me:  Even in ultraconservative Idaho (I lived in northern Idaho from the late 60's to the end of the 70's) people knew you needed to take care of the environment.  But that conflicted with the logging and mining industries that fueled the economy and hence jobs. ( The same is true now where in live in Louisiana,     where the fossil fuel industry is big and helps to drive the state economy.    Louisiana Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu is a big fossil fuel promoter.  Climate denial is strong here partially because of the importance of  fossil fuels in the economy and the fact that this is a very conservative state and is very skeptical of the government and of anything being said by what they view as the liberal media to them.  See this post about being a liberal and living in a red state. )
Yes indeed it was April but it was celebrated nationwide?  If so I didn't hear about it.  Fossil fuel companies want to keep it quiet.  Like minded folks own Fox News and other media outlets.
I didn't see it in the liberal blogs I read.

Her:  You're on an environmental roll today.  I think its every year on April 8.

Me:  People just think its another problem and don't want to deal with it.  We just want to deny it and ignore it and not think its a problem and that it will go away.  (Similar to how people deal with their own damaging personal behavior., like drug addiction, alcoholism or addiction to money.   Here's a really good New York Times Op-Ed about a Wall St. guy's addiction to money).
But the same thing is happening to our society and will we wake up and fix it?  Right now I'm not so optimistic about it.  Fuck people even deny climate change.  When looking for that Malaysian plane what they found where huge collections of plastic garbage in the ocean killing fish and animals.  Are we fixing that?  For the most part people just say fuck it.
They have other things to worry about.

Her:  People are so out of sight out of mind.

Me:  They have short term things to worry about.  Job security, security for themselves and family.  Money for food and housing.
Problem is that's what humans might be doing continuously to our planet.
It sucks sometimes
But humanity is doing to this planet what an addict does to their body.
This is nothing new people have been talking about this for years but get shouted down by money and power addicts.  They are addicted to money and power like a crack addict.
I might type all this up and put in my blog.

Her:  True that.

Me:  Do you think I should put this rambling on my blog?

Her:  Of course.  It's not rambling and you have the science to back it up.

Me:  I don't know enough about the science but I know its out there and that's why large numbers of scientists and scientific organizations say we need to fix the environment but get overshadowed by big energy business.

End of our texting session.

Are humans acting collectively as a crack addict and are so addicted to our self-inflicted damaging ways that we will ignore how our pollution of all kinds is killing our planet?  We only have one little blue planet and there are no mulligans.  No do overs.  We fuck it up its game over, fini, done, no more, no happy ending.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Businesses Don't Create Jobs Customers Do

Businesses don't create jobs customers do.  That is not what you hear from any politician.  Neither Democrats or Republicans say this since they know they rely on business dollars to get elected and reelected.  Instead they say the inverse, businesses create jobs.  Think about it.  What does a business need to survive?  Customers.  No customers no business.  I'll bet if you ask anyone that opens their first business that on the night before they open their doors for the first time all they can think about is will they get customers.  Without customers they would not have any income to stay in business.

A nice article related to this is Capitalism Dirty Secret : Corporations Don't Create Jobs, They Destroy Them.
If this title scares you, here is the introduction to the article: Corporations are not working for the 99 percent. But this wasn’t always the case. In a special five-part series, William Lazonick, professor at UMass, president of the Academic-Industry Research Network, and a leading expert on the business corporation, along with journalist Ken Jacobson and AlterNet’s Lynn Parramore, will examine the foundations, history and purpose of the corporation to answer  this vital question: How can the public take control of the business corporation and make it work for the real economy?.

I thought that the article was interesting and has good points.  It talks some about the history of the 1930's and how FDR helped the US recover from the Depression. 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

LBJ and Civil Rights with Bill Moyers

LBJ really screwed up the US involvement in Vietnam, but he seems to have been forgotten for some of his better achievements.

Bill Moyers on LBJ and Civil Rights

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Physics is Easy the Other Stuff is Hard

When people ask me what is physics?  I'll say something like "it is the study of the physical universe." Then maybe point to something nearby, say a light and explain how and why it works.  I'll says physics describes all that you see around you in simple concepts.  Then maybe talk about motion and Galileo and his studies of motion using inclined planes, maybe the Leaning tower of Pisa.  Talk about Kepler and his study of Brahe's astronomical data to describe the motion of the planets.  Then talk about Newton and his law of gravity.  Further this with Newton and his three laws of motion.  Stress how conceptually simple they are yet how powerful they are maybe giving an example of folks going to the moon and back.  Newton second law, F = ma, then one can talk about forces and studies that show there are four forces and then what is mass, and what objects are made of like atoms and their structure.  Always trying to emphasize how simple all of this is and how this was obtained from experiments.  However most of the time it never works out this way since people either get bored or in most cases they start to ask lots of questions and hopefully I can answer them using simple concepts from physics.  People are curious about the world around them.  What I try to remember to say every now and then is that people have figured out and can explain just about  everything they see around themselves and much more and how incredible it is for me to say this, and aren't humans amazing in that we can do such stuff!  If you think about it this is quite an achievement of humans.  If someone says physics is hard and people like Einstein do it, one can talk about these truly insightful  people who figured out these laws and concepts.  What makes people think that physics is hard is the mathematics that physicists use.  But the ideas and concepts can be explained without math. We are very fortunate that we have physicists who can describe physics and its concepts very well to the public in books, television, movies, and the internet.  I've learned a lot physics these days reading blogs from practicing physicists.  I've mentioned some of these blogs in an earlier post.

If they say that the physics and math is hard, I might point to a woman who is outside our listening range and say figuring her out is hard compared to physics.  That might draw a laugh but its very true.  Figuring out a person is much more difficult than figuring out physics.  Answering the question "will she go out with me?" is more harder to figure out than known physics. Understanding a person or a group of people is much more difficult than physics.  Physics can describe the interactions among two particles very well.  Try that with trying to figure out the interaction between two people.  A much more difficult problem.  Physics is easy compared to that.

As mentioned physics can describe the physical world very well.  Applying the tools that physicist use in studying the physical universe to the study of an individual person or to the many body problem of  the group dynamics of people is a worthwhile task.  The two person interaction problem is much more difficult probably than trying to understand what a large group of people do.  Physicists have researched such things as traffic flow and obtained scaling laws of cities are some thing that come to mind.  Physicists starting back in the 50's used game theory to try and understand economics and in  war gaming.  I've read and heard for many years that Wall St. loves physicists.  There was even a story going around about an experimental nuclear physicist who went to work on Wall St during his sabbatical and came back wealthy.  I have no idea if its true but it is certainly plausible.  Physicsist in the social sciences makes all kinds of sense.  A recent post by one of my favorite physics bloggers Sabine Hossenfelder talks about this subject here.  If one looks in jobs sections on various physics web sites there are faculty positions in physics department being offered to study big data.  A cynical part of me says these are government supported positions to get physicists to work on big data projects so that their techniques can then be applied by the NSA in spying on us.  But physicsist using their talents to help understand human behavior makes all the sense in the world.  Such a project is that of  physicists and others that they have set up at New York University to study New York City using all of the data that they can get from a variety of monitors all around the city such as traffic lights, taxi flow patterns, subway schedules, any sort of data they can use to help understand New York City dynamics.  This was mentioned in the Back Page section of the March 2014 issue of APSNEWS.

But physics is easy compared to the human-human interaction.