Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Quantum Consciuosness

     No this isn't a post about new age type stuff.  Its about recent posts and a meeting about the interface of the quantum world and the classical world and scientists talking about consciousness.

     In a previous post I talked about a meeting on the foundations of quantum mechanics and its relationship to the classical world.  One of the people in the discussion was Scott Aaronson a computer science professor at MIT who spoke about quantum computers and consciousness. .   On his blog Shtetl_Optimized he has posted his talk at this meeting.  It is fascinating to read about his thoughts on computers and consciousness.  He gives his definitions of consciousness in regard to the arrow of time.  It is a good read.  Another MIT professor has also been working on consciousness and that is the physics professor Max Tegmark.  He discussed his work on consciousness in his book "Our Mathematical  Universe" which you can learn more about by going to his homepage which I gave a link to. It is a fun and enjoyable book to read.  For a more technical article on Tegmark's work you can go here.  What he proposes is that consciousness is a state of matter 

     What I find refreshing is that these are two younger professors talking about consciousness.  To be sure they are both tenured professors so they are more free to discuss consciousness.  The reason I mention this is that in the past seriously talking about consciousness by a faculty member was sort of off limits due to the problems that such talk was thought to verge on the area of crackpottery.  Consciousness was studied by older retired professors and was not considered a serious subject in a physics department, I'm guessing the same is true for all sciences.  Lee Smolin in one of his books, either "The Trouble with Physics" or "Time Reborn" talks about he will not discuss consciousness except with one elderly gentleman he has respect for.  It was not a subject to openly discuss.  In the past few years it seems like more physicists and some computer scientists are talking about consciousness and in Tegmark's case it appears to be part of his research agenda.

     Consciousness is considered to be one of the hard problems in science.  Its nice to see younger faculty discussing and working on this question. It is an area that more  scientists should seriously study  Its fun to learn about consciousness. Or our conscious likes to study consciousness.

After writing this last night I came across this article on computing and consciousness from a theoretical physics student Shaun Maguire at Caltech in the blog Quantum Frontiers.  Its another interesting article and discusses some of Aaronson work on computers and hard problems along with consciousness.  Quantum Frontier is a blog of Caltech's Institute for Quantum Information and Matter and usually has interesting articles many of which are written by students.

Added 9-2-14  I came across another post by Scott Aaorson en "Quantum Information and the Brain".  It is interesting

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Classical to Quantum Transition/Interface

      Lots of interesting questions pop up when you start to think about what is quantum mechanics telling us about the world,  This has been discussed in many places and is written up and described in many textbooks.  Particularly Modern Physics and Quantum Me chains texts.  One of the first questions that comes to mind is at what scale to you have to make the transition from a classical description to a quantum description of what you are studying?  Where do you switch from Newton's second law to Schrodinger"s equation?  Where does the classical world make the transition  to the quantum world?  The answer given sometime is that when h--> 0, h being Planck's constant.  This doesn't really answer the question since its not an equal sign.  I guess one answer could be when does applying classical equations fail to describe experimental data?  Or also where does looking at the problem classically not work?

       This question and many more are still being asked today with no definitive answers..    What does quantum mechanics really mean?  What is quantum mechanics trying to tell us about how the universe works or is described?  The fact that quantum mechanics has worked in every instance it has been tested and its results are accurate to whichever decimal place it has been measured has led to the philosophy of  "shut up and calculate"..  Basically, don't worry about what it means just use it.  But some physicists and philosophers of physics want to know what it really means.  Peter Woit in his blog Not Even Wrong has as its newest post an inquiry about this topic.   In this post are some links to papers discussing the measurement problem which is related to what happens when the experimental device which is a macroscopic object is used to make a measurement of a system described by quantum mechanics.  It is a fascinating question and has led to a variety of interpretations of quantum mechanics.  The post is interesting to read in itself but as in all good physics blogs the comment section is also wonderful and enlightening.  The post also has a link to a conference going on at the present time at one of the IBM research labs outside New York City on the topic "Quantum Foundations of the Classical Universe".  An interesting and debatable title itself.  Sean Carroll is attending this meeting and blogs about it here.  He is also Tweeting from this meeting and these can also be read on his blog or his Tweet.  One of the Tweets is fascinating in that they can't agree on a universal definition of what is a quantum fluctuation.  I've never understood the details of  a quantum fluctuation or even its definition..  Wiki's definition is lacking in details.  Lots going on in trying to understand what does quantum mechanics really mean and what is it trying to tell us about the Universe we all live in.

Another interesting question along the quantum menu is the following.  If one thinks about quantum mechanics for a living does one develop an intuition for the quantum world?  An interesting interview with a new Caltech faculty member who works on quantum information and condensed matter talks about this question.  Great stuff, or as Confucius said "may you live in interesting times".

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Capitalism, Evolutionary Biology, Rationality and Ignorance, Part II

    This is about companies like the Koch brothers and other fossil fuel related companies pursuing policies that are detrimental to the future of mankind.  We know that the production and burning of fossil fuels emit greenhouse gases (GHG) into the air that are causing our planet's temperature to slowly rise.  When 97% of the scientists working in this area say that this is true I believe them and not companies who are contributing to this grave and present danger.  I understand that the companies want to continue what they do since that is how they make their money.  They are trying to survive in business even though it is hurting people.  They are making money hurting people.  This I don't understand.  The problem is that this hurt is not seen directly.  Its not like shooting people.  It is a long slow torture and maybe not directly affecting these destructive people but it will in their future or to future generations.  Its a long slow generational death of people, except in those instances caused by the increase in the strength of storms.  Then it can affect millions of people very quickly.  Man-made climate change is affecting humans in a negative manner and must be stopped.  It can be stopped by changing how we generate and use energy.

     Not only do people like the Koch brothers pursue the growth of fossil fuel they try to prevent the growth of renewal energy.  Energy sources that had better replace fossil fuel in the future for our generation of electricity.  People are going to continue to use electricity.  It is up to us now to replace the generation of electricity from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy.  Sources such as solar, wind  tides, biomass, all the forms of energy production that do not contribute harmful effects to our one and only environment.  I do not include nuclear fission energy since its waste is another large environmental problem. We must stop the emission of GHG into the environment in order to not  make worst the climate change that is presently happening due to what human have done since the beginning of the industrial age..  To ignore this problem makes no sense.  To deny this problem makes no sense.  Its completely irrational.  As Spock would say its illogical.

     In biology an organism or species goal is to live long enough in order to reproduce so that its species can continue.  It will do whatever it can it order to survive to reproduce.  But what happens when what it does to survive leads to its eventual death?  Does the organism or species change its behavior from a self destructive course in order to survive?  For some no, they will continue their addictive denial, irrational behavior and die.  Others will change in order to adapt and survive in their environment.  An enlightened species will change its behavior in order to adapt and even make its environment safer so that future generations will have an environment it which they can survive and evolve so that it will not get into a self destructive behavior.  Which organism are humans?  Addictive and self destructive or change its behavior in order to grow and flourish in a better environment?  Its up to humans to decide this path.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Methane Leakage Studies Resource Letter: Update 10-11-14

     This is meant to be a library of some papers I've read or scanned through on the subject of methane leakage.  I will add as I read more material. The concern is that switching from coal to natural gas to generate electricity does not help in reducing the emission of green house gases (GHG).    The goal is to reduce and eventually eliminate all sources of green house gases.

Biggest methane leak in the US is in New Mexico

New York Times op-ed on federal regulations on methane emissions

Climate Change article from Cornell Univ. 2011

Nature 493 12 (03-January 2013) Jeff Tollefson

Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) Great resource

Leaks during drilling in Pennsylvania April 15, 2014

Dragon's Breath---methane blow holes in the artic

Methane Seeping from Seafloor off US East Coast

Capiialism, Evolutionary Biology, Rationality and Ignorance

  This is something I've wondered about for a long time, unfortunately since I suck as a writer I probably won't express what I feel but I'll give it a try.

This all has to do with climate change, making money, survival and people's ignorance of what is happening.  Global climate change is happening and man is causing this climate change with the emission of green house gasses into the atmosphere.  This is not an opinion it is the consensus of 97% of the scientists that have been studying this problem for decades.  This problem has been around for years and so has the solution to this problem.  This is the major problem facing humanity today.  Not Ebola in Africa or the crisis in Gaza or in the Ukraine, not women, gay or civil rights , not funding for the military.  Pick your problem, while it is important to you and might directly effect you at this present moment and it maybe your most important issue at this time it is sitting on top of the big problem,.  That is man's negative impact on the climate of this planet.  All solutions to problems should bear this in mind.  Climate change is a problem that needs humanities attention front and center now.  It is not a rich versus poor problem, a black versus white problem a democracy versus a totalitarian problem it is a problem that effects all of humanity.  The question is are we as intelligent beings up to the task of solving this problem?  It is a problem that effects are encroaching everyones life and needs to be addressed in thoughtful ways, not by who is going to make money out of it.

In the US it is nearing 2014 elections and interesting climate change issues are important in at least two Senate seats.  In Kentucky a coal producing state both the democratic and republican candidates say they are pro-coal.  Of course they want to be elected.  In Louisiana we have an incumbent democratic Senator who is is pro Keystone XL pipeline, (I'm guessing her republican opponent is also).  Coal production and the pipeline are both against mankind's interest in stopping climate change yet candidates are for projects that will increase the use of fossil fuels.  They want to get elected since both their states, especially Louisiana's economies are heavily fossil fuel dependent. Real leadership would admit that using fossil fuels are not in humankind's interest and that we as human's should be doing doing everything possible to get away from fossil fuels and move towards renewable fuels.  Unfortunately, that stand would cost either of those two the election in these close races.  As usual it is made to come down to money and jobs.  But the question should be money and jobs for who?

Humans want sources of  reliable energy.  How do we produce this energy and who makes the money?  Capitalism would say who can deliver the energy  the cheapest will win.  Who can sell you that energy for the lowest price?.How do you really set the price?  What is its real price over time, not just its cost today?  What is its price in future health effects?  What is its price in affecting global climate change?  How do you put a price on the morals and ethics of how the energy is produced in all the steps to obtain it?  As I guess business type people say "what is the bottom line?"  What is the real bottom line for all of humanity not just the off shore accounts of wealthy investors?

Something like cap and trade is a start in order to reduce our dependence on the use of fossil fuels.  Those old enough to remember the energy crisis of the early 1970's remember talk  about reducing our dependency on fossil fuels.  It didn't happen   I'm sure journal articles, PhD dissertations and books have been written on why this didn't happen.  Forty years from now do we want the same said about our inaction in the early 21st century to stop the emission of green house gases?  Or do we want the future to say that this was the time when action was taken that reduced and eliminated the human use of fossil fuels and replaced it with environmentally clean sources of energy?.