Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sunday evening brain dump
Stream of consciousness

I have a paper to draft and a number of characters to learn before tomorrow, so clearly the best thing to be done is write twaddle for 20 minutes. I've have been unconscionably lazy today:

1. While dallying in a coffee shop after church, I saw 5 loudspeaker-festooned black-gloss vans full of Japanese fascists speeding down by Kamiyacho. They were going so fast I thought that the vast rising sun flags were going to be torn off.
Less than a minute later, a fire engine was speeding in the opposite direction, although I am sure this was just a coincidence.

2. Speaking of the far-Right, I am currently working my way through "国家の品格" ("The dignity of the nation") by Fujiwara Masahiko. It is well mad. A review may be forthcoming, combined with the Yasukuni Jinja post that has been promised.

3. In addition to getting Dignity of the Nation (thanks, James!) for Christmas, I also got Tony Judt's "Reappraisals" and A.N. Wilson's Victorians/After the Victorians/Our Times trilogy (thank you Gareth!). In "After the Victorians" he records this epic wind up:

"My husband" remarked Mrs Sumner, wife of the Warden of All Souls College, Oxford, when introduced to [Frederick, later Lord] Lindemann ('the Prof') "my husband always says that with a First in Greats you can get up science in a fortnight"(After the Victorians, page p.374)

Poor old Prof. Mind you, if you've read Most Secret War by RV Jones, you will recognise the attitude.

4. And on the subject of science, I have had a very pleasant time re-reading Andrew Hickey's series of hyperposts. Some excellent, thought-provoking writing here - I'm not a many-worlder myself (Bohmian mechanics FTW!), but this is just the sort of mind expanding stuff that science fiction can explore. I'm looking forward to AH's forthcoming zine, too.

5. Oh, and speaking of many worlds and it's enthusiasts, does anyone else think that equation 11 of Tegmark (2000) [1] is inconsistent with the claim that the brain is "too warm" for quantum computation to take place, and are in fact evidence that the brain is not warm enough? This isn't something I care about very much, and I certainly not familiar with the literature to offer constructive criticism on this point, but a coherence time proportional to a positive exponent of temperature strikes me as unusual to say the least. [There is a reason why experimentalists get through quite so much liquid helium...]

4. Friends of this blog PJ and LemmusLemmus have been very patiently educating me on statistics - I think I understand now.

5. And finally, my old uni mate MTPT has been interviewed on Charon QC's podcast. Well worth a listen.

[1] Tegmark Phys. Rev. E, 61 4194-4206 (2000). Link here, you can read an arXiv copy here.


Andrew Hickey said...

Glad people are still reading that stuff, and also glad that someone who properly understands the physics doesn't dismiss everything I wrote as utter gibberish. My knowledge of quantum mechanics comes from weird directions - rather than from physics courses, it comes from reading papers on quantum computing by Deutsch and people like that (my main interests right now being theoretical computer science and bioinformatics) and trying to figure the maths out by myself, and then adding in a big dollop of pop-science books.

As far as my limited understanding goes, something like the many-worlds interpretation seems neater to me than anything else - I'd intuitively *like* some sort of hidden variable because it could mean a completely deterministic universe, which would fit my own prejudices, but many worlds seems to require the fewest additional assumptions...

Political Scientist said...

Hello Andrew - thank you for writing it!I always enjoy SF criticism, and this was a particularly fine example. Good luck with the magazine!

Re:many worlds; I must do a post at some point on interpretations of QM (and actually defend Bohmian mechanics and make some cheap cracks at the expense of John Gribben, who has been a really problematic influence of the field IMHO). However, as I am self contracted to produce a number of posts detailed in Irresolution, so I think the odds of it coming out this year are slight.
Worth remembering that a surprising number of physicists get there information about philosophy of QM from pop-sci books (it couldn't be otherwise, really, there's barely enough time to compress the necessary maths to do the QM and the QM itself into a 3/4 year syllabus, without adding a lot of what is, ultimately, philosophy taught by non-philosophers, some of whom will have hobby horses), so I wouldn't worry too much about that. Have you read Speakable and Unspeakable, the collection of Bell's papers? Should I ever write a post, I will be generously quoting from it, so better to hear from the horses mouth. He outlines the differences between Bohmian (we might well say Bell-Bohmian, tho' IIRC he didn't) and many worlds.

The main (I have several) problem I have with MW is that it is very elegant - if you assume there are, in fact, many worlds. (In the same vein, if I assume I have eggs, I could have scrambled eggs). A lot of the trouble is that this is a philosophical matter, that is not ameanable to being resolved by experiment. Perhaps this is why people get so cross about it.

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Political Scientist said...

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