Friday, June 24, 2011

Québec Libre, Oui ou Non? Sport au Secour!

TRANSLATE INTO ENGLISH

Bien sûr, des mouvements d'indépendance sont jamais simple. Il y a toujours ceux qui veuillent l'indépendance à tout pris et ceux qui seraient satisfait avec un compromis. Mais, comme l'ex-joueur d'hokey Jonathan Graves m'as indiqué en envoyant quelque liens vidéographique, il n'y a aucun conflit qui ne puisse ce résoudre avec un petit peu de sport collégial.



D'accord, peut-être pas tout de suite. Mais dans la troisième periode peut-être?



L'infameuse Bataille du Vendredi Saint en 1984 entre les Canadiens et les Nordique.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Le Québec, Je me Souviens

TRANSLATE TO ENGLISH

Aujourd'hui, j'écris en français. Il me semble que c'est propre puisque le sujet, c'est quand même le Québec. Avant d'y aller il y a 3 ans, je ne savait pas quelle ferme emprise la culture francophone avait sur le Québec. Et voilà le problème. Culturellement, c'est définitivement dans la zone française, surtout à l'environ de la Ville de Québec. Mais même quand on passe la frontière de la coté de New York, tous de suite, il y a un différence qui n'est pas seulement linguistique. C'est pas comme si on eût fait un voyage à Maryland ou Toronto. Mais en même temps, c'est pas comme si nous nous trouvions soudainement à Texas. C'est compliqué, quoi. Et c'est ça qui est en cause. C'est proche d'ici, et quand même trés loin d'ici.

Les New Yorkais ne semble pas être conscient du fait qu'il y a encore une fraction importante des Québéquois, nos trés proches voicins, qui veuillent l'independence de leur pays actuel. On entend quelque fois en parler. Mais c'est un peut comme ci c'était encore seulement les fous qui en étaient engagé. Et moi, pourquoi je m'en intéresse? Je n'habite pas en Canada, quoi! Ça ce peut parce que le Québec c'est un peu comme si on prendrait la culture française et la mettrait au plein milieu de la Scandinavie. C'est simplement l'envers de mon enfance. Et puis mes deux fils sont un quart sale Québécois avec des moches beaux prénoms comme Julien et Pascal! Et, si je n'ai pas tord, ils sont en éffet des déscendants de Louis Hébert ainsi que Louis Jolliet. Non mais, serieusement. C'est parceque je suis féderaliste mondiale et que je supporte l'intégration des pays en conféderations économique et politique régionaux.

Alors la question c'est celle-ci: en cas de différence culturelle comme au Québec, serait il mieux de maintenir le statu quo, c'est à dire appartenance à la fédération Canadienne (et la Richesse Commune des Nations) avec plus d'autonomie? Ou plutôt indépendance et intégration avec une entité plus grande de l'Amérique du Nord, l'Atlantique ou possiblement mondiale? Cette question peut aussie être possé en contexte de, par example, l'Écosse vis à vis le Royaume-Uni et l'Union Européenne.


P.S. Sur le sujet de Je me Souviens, il faut se demander si quelque fois, peut-être, l'amnésie c'est bien. 252 années? Ben, dis donc, la mémoire ça march alors!

P.S.S. Pardon my french.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Dord, a New Word?



OK, so dord was a ghost word accidentally inserted in 1934 and then removed from Merriam-Webster in 1947. But language is truly and weirdly self-reflexive. You can't say something without influencing the meaning of the words you use to say it. My very simple question is: when will dord, now that the respectable institution itself has again brought attention to the word, be placed back into Merriam-Webster meaning, of course...a ghost word?!?

P.S. No, monoxus is not a dord. It has a clear definition, a highly interconnected singularity. And an etymology. Mono + nexus. First known use: 2007 (Andreas B. Olsson)

Melancholy, a Slow New Dawn

Melancholy literally mean "black bile" and once it was considered a malady. But then, seeking recourse from the tumultuous world left behind by Henry VIII and his peers, a young Elizabethan man, John Dowland, picked up the lute and forever transformed its meaning. Out of all that religious discord and sadness in the 16'th and 17'th century grew beauty. Not a beauty that denied sadness, but that was mindful of its presence without succumbing to complete despair.



Most of us who have suffered death, loss and adversity, which eventually and inevitably is everyone, know how suffocating sorrow can be. Trying to ignore it is useless. It can worsen the condition until there seems to be no way to escape. By instead being mindful and pensive of the hurt, we can gradually build something useful and inspiring in all that darkness. We mourn, slowly summoning a new dawn. This is melancholy in its positive expression.

As Mark Oliver Everett experienced it many centuries later....

Incoherent Decoherence

A few nights ago, I was watching for the second time the documentary Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives. It's a film about Hugh Everette III, who happens to be the father of Mark Oliver Everett, the man behind one of my long time favorite bands, Eels. Not surprisingly, it brought me to thinking about interpretations of the so called collapse of the state vector in quantum mechanics.



The many-worlds interpretation is cool and jazzy and all. But as an explanation for why we observe what we do, and why we are what we are, it's just a whacky idea rooted in the hallucinatory world of a Beatnik generation. It's like the kid on acid who says, "Wow, now I get it". Get what? "It's connected". What's connected? "Everything". It purports to explain what it doesn't explain. It's hardly different from the following explanation of why my cat is black:

My black cat is black because blackness is what we see when we look at my black cat.

Or phrased in more a Schröringeresque context, with a 1950's avantgarde flavor:

The cat is dead because the dead cat is what you see when you open the black box. Oh, and by the way there is a guy who saw a live cat because a live cat was what he saw when he opened the white box. And did you know that that other guy is really you? Well, not really you but sort of you because you did have the same mother after all. Or did you? Weird, eh. Mind-boggling awesomeness. Do you have Buddha-nature? Don't bogart that joint my friend!

I'm not saying that it is not in some ways a useful mental construct. In some sense, I relied on the same idea for Anything Goes. My point is along the lines of my previous critique directed at Max Tegmark's Scientific American article. Even if there is a reality to the idea of quantum doppelgängers, it does nothing to explain the very reality that we experience what we experience and not what our supposed doppelgängers experience.

Supposedly, decoherence explains everything. Editors at Wikipedia have written.

Before an understanding of decoherence was developed the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics treated wavefunction collapse as a fundamental, a priori process. Decoherence provides an explanatory mechanism for the appearance of wavefunction collapse and was first developed by David Bohm in 1952 who applied it to Louis DeBroglie's pilot wave theory, producing Bohmian mechanics, the first successful hidden variables interpretation of quantum mechanics. Decoherence was then used by Hugh Everett in 1957 to form the core of his many-worlds interpretation.

And then after a few sentences, presumably after the various editors all had a few too many bowls of hashish or got a little too caught up in the Rigveda, add:

Decoherence does not provide a mechanism for the actual wave function collapse; rather it provides a mechanism for the appearance of wavefunction collapse. The quantum nature of the system is simply "leaked" into the environment so that a total superposition of the wavefunction still exists, but exists — at least for all practical purposes — beyond the realm of measurement.

So what is it? Does it explain it or does it not explain it? Is this just an indication that the wiki process is incapable of resolving differences of opinion rationally? Or is it an indication that no one knows what the heck they are talking about? I don't doubt that Mr. Everett provided us with a potentially deep insight as Max Tegmark wants us to note.

Perhaps we will one day be able to superimpose ourselves with our doppelgängers over a cup of tea. And what might we talk about? Well, as our tea party keeps being inundated by newly calculated superpositions, I suppose we will talk about why I happen to be me and my doppelgängers happen to be my doppelgängers. I mean why they happen to be themselves and I happen to be their doppelgänger. Scoot over my friend, make space for the new guy who just arrived. No, no, I'm not the new arrival, you are!

How about this beauty from Wikipedia:

One thing to realize is that the environment contains a huge number of degrees of freedom, a good number of them interacting with each other all the time.

Okidoki. I know what I get when I put a lot of little black arrows on multidimensional piece of paper: a very dark mess.

Ah,yes. It's that bottom of the barrel epistemic truth: my black cat is black because blackness is what we see when we look at my black cat. I think I'll stick with the Copenhagen interpretation for now. But I look forward to maybe meeting all my doppelgängers some day. Bring out the hookah-pipe Mr. Caterpillar!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Striagonal

noun

1: A new definition for words so that the classical definition does not contradict one's own world view and can still be used in its context. <defining free will merely as not being coerced or restrained to act is a striagonal>

2: an argument that uses a term that is a striagonal. <he solved the non-sequitur by turning it into a striagional>


adjective

1: having the characteristic of a striagonal

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Distant Descendants, Dystopia or Utopia?

In the context of the Basic Imperative, I've been speaking of our descendants. The term needs clarification and further exploration. Often we think of descendants purely in terms of biological lineage. But as indicated by the social practice of adoption and the usage of the term in ontological taxonomy, it's biological usage is just a special case of a much more general concept. Descendancy does indeed have to do with inheritance, yet another term often associated with biology. But again, it is the abstract meaning of inheritance that counts and not the genetic mechanism with which we came to associate it during the last half of the 20'th century. When entity B is structurally based on entity A, we say that B is a descendant of A. B inherits structural characteristics of A. It's in this abstract sense of "lineage" that descendant must be interpreted in the context of the Basic Imperative. Broadly speaking, we can talk of biological versus social descent, and social descendancy is far more important in the context of the Basic Imperative albeit not in complete exclusion of the former. Why? Because what most distinctly defines us as a species is our social nature and our capacity for agency. We have reached a stage of evolution where our consciousness allows us to adopt behavioral characteristics by conviction and experimentation. And yet being conscious as such still depends on our basic biology.

I don't doubt that people like Steven Pinker are right in that our biology plays an important role in shaping everything from our capacity for language to our moral attitudes. But I'm also quite certain that our capacity to share ideas, merge and alter them plays an immensely important role in how we act. People are not born Christians, Buddhists, marxists or objectivists. They are converted to these specific belief systems. They become their agents by choice and not by pure nature. Even if they are born into a Catholic family, it's by a degree of choice that they remain Catholics throughout their lives. Sometimes the structures imposed by their biological nature and wider environment seem to vastly reduce their choices. But it's my conviction that, to a greater or lesser degree, there is the capacity for idealistic self-sacrifice along the lines of Perpetua in most humans. And I would assume in most social beings with a similar capacity to learn and transfer complex knowledge. At the very least, it seem extremely difficult if not impossible to predict who will commit themselves to a new idea with as much exuberance and finality as Perpetua and Felicity.

If we could not change our minds, then how could we learn to use even the simplest tools? I think it's important to note that this ability to change our minds is what decouples us to a large extent from our pure biology. We don't use wheels because of some inborn "wheel-wheeling" characteristic. We use wheels because our ancestors, those who came before us, taught us how to make and use wheels. We talk about bodhisattvas because our ancestors told us about bodhisattvas. We are inspired by the Epic of Gilgamesh because someone cared to inscribe the tale on cuneiform tablets. The archetype of its storyline may be inspired by our biological dispositions but it is not as such stored deep in our DNA. Gilgamesh and Enkidu and their adventures had to first be invented by conscious beings reflecting on their human condition. We are beings that can receive, process, transform and send extremely complex information and thereby deeply influence each others way of being. It is in this transformative social context that our most important lineages our found and not in our specific genetic structures. The Abrahamic faiths were not spread by semen but by word of mouth and through the written scriptures.

I believe I am myself a case in point. I was born in Stockholm and both my parents were born in a small Swedish town by the name of Motala. I am of Scandinavian ancestry dating back to at least the late Middle Ages and probably much further. Does that make me a Geat? Hardly. Growing up I was never told the story of Ottar Jarl or encouraged to go viking because of some ancient tradition. Nor was I told that, if I were brave, I might one day find myself in Fólkvangr. What remains of ancient Scandinavian traditions are some superficial holiday celebrations that bare almost no resemblance to what they once were or represented. Unless the Norse jumped around the maypole singing "little frogs are funny to see, they have no ears, no ears and no tails" as they drained the blood of a goat hanging from a tree. Yes, there is to a very limited extent neopaganism in Scandinavia. But it has more to do with recent romantic nationalism. It's not something that was inherited and preserved from generation to generation through some genetic process.

My lineage could be described very roughly as a Scandinavian variant of the Abrahamic faith's Hellenistic branch deeply transformed by the Enlightenment. There seem to be some Norse elements in my heritage, most notably a certain commitment to governance by assembly. I conjecture that the ancient Scandinavian idea of the ting is of some importance to the modern form of assembly that I believe is an efficient means of stabilizing our evolution. But what I have inherited from the Norse seems negligible compared to my Hellenistic roots.

A repeated concern is that the Basic Imperative will not necessarily produce a society we would be willing to support. It might even produce a society so antithetical to our sentiments of what is good that we would rather see it annihilated. Essentially, our descendants might because of their capacity for agency betray our ideals. This especially becomes a concern if we consider descendancy as a term for our future biological lineage. If we instead consider descendancy in terms of a social lineage, that is as an evolving system for regulating conscious beings devoted to a shared existence, the problem is somewhat minimized. But it is by no means eliminated. Since each agent in the system has the capacity to change their minds, the system as a whole may by aggregate conversion evolve into something very foreign to us, something that again does not espouse our values. We can explore this very simply by considering a hypothetical trip to Athens around the time of Plato, or of bringing Plato to the Western world in the early 21'st century. What would we think of each others worlds? Would Plato recognize anything of ancient Athens in, say, New York City? Would he marvel at what we have become? Or would he find it a frightening dystopia? And what would we think of the life lived and opinions held by a contemporary of Plato? Would we describe some of their forms of justice as pure cruelty?

Are the city-states of Hellas as distant from our Western nations as the megazostrodon, a creature that would probably be terrified by our predatory ways? Or is it just a small leap back to the Cro-Magnon, people we could probably form functioning alliances with and go hunting? My guess is that we would have an easier time convincing the ancient Hellenes in assimilating than we would have tolerating the existence of their forms of governance. Of, course I can't be certain of this. I speak with a lot of bias, to say the least! Nonetheless, I see NATO intervention somewhere in this thought experiment. But more importantly, the question is if the Athenians, assuming they had the power to, would see a reason to politically and militarily intervene in our state of affairs for moral reasons?

Although decoupling the Basic Imperative from pure biological lineage makes it easier to envision (from our perspective) a just and good future, it clearly does not resolve it. But I think there is a possible resolution if we to some extent subdue our pure intuitions. Not eliminate them but put them under the scrutiny of science. The core problem I still see is that if we judge social organizations from some ideal concept of justice and morality, justice and morality is no longer rooted in nature, that which is. It is again relegated to the nebulous realm of groundless oughts. Somehow it's not about my or your sense of what should be. It's about what should be in order for organizations of conscious beings capable of agency to continue persisting. It seems that rational considerations married to empiricism should be able to lay out a framework that would work with gradual modifications across the aeons. Not necessarily, but work with high likelihood and produce something not so entirely alien. I conjecture that the our willingness to assimilate with the society of our distant descendants would probably be greater than their willingness to accept our current and primitive means of organizing our world.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Distant Doomsday Test

Benjamin S. Nelson, a graduate philosophy student at the University of Waterloo and a blogger for Talking Philosophy, has claimed that its nonsensical that we should have obligations to our distant descendants. It would be, according to him, as if we felt obligations towards the Moon. Assuming I have understood him correctly, Benjamin believes that our obligations only extend to those living during our lifetime. He proposes a formula for limiting the hypothetical congregation to which we have any duties. I have taken the liberties to refine his formula a bit further, but my improvements are merely minor and crude adjustments for statistical purposes.

We begin by taking the year we were born. Then we subtract the oldest human being at that time. This will be the starting date for anyone to whom we might have had obligations. Finally, we calculate the probable maximal age at the time we are most likely to die. We add that to our probable death date and thereby get the last year anyone will be alive to whom we might have obligations. Let's use myself as an example.

I was born 1971. Some quick research tells me that the oldest persons around this time were 110 years old. By 2050, life expectancy is estimated to be in the mid-80's. So lets assume I will die in 2056. By then, we can expect that someone born that year will roughly have a maximal age of 125. Therefore, I personally only have potential obligations for people alive in the years between 1861-2181. Sounds reasonable, since claiming that we have any idea what the world will be like beyond 2181 seems completely unreasonable. I presume Benjamin's argument for his limiting formula is that we still have some responsibility for conditions after our death, but only in so far as they have an effect on those who were born while we were alive. Well, lets put this idea to the test. How about another little thought experiment.

Astronomy is the field where science has perfected its predictive powers beyond anything else. Knowing the full moons for the next centuries is not hocus pocus. It's not like trying to predict on June 1, 2010, what the weather will be like in New York on February 2, 2056. So lets assume that astronomers discover a massive celestial body tumbling towards our solar system. After some fancy Einsteinian calculations they determine that the thing is headed straight for Earth. They predict that there is a 99% likelihood that it will directly impact with our planet on February 2, 2506. They firmly believe that it will be a straight hit. And it's a massive stellar object. If we don't manage to somehow divert it, our species is almost certainly headed for complete extinction. So the question is, do we have any moral obligation to invest efforts in diverting it?



Anyone alive today has only a negligible chance akin to a miracle of being alive by the time of the impact. Anyone living now will with almost similar certainty never even know anyone who will ever meet anyone who will be alive by then. Does that reduce our responsibility to take even the slightest action to zero? Should this piece of writing has survived the test of time and you happen to be reading this after 2506, then you can obviously just move up the date. Anyone reading this can also change the probability of impact in order to experiment with what moral obligations we have to our distant descendants. If you think we have no responsibility, then who born what year would?

Assuming an increase of longevity due to the amazing field of medicine, let's guesstimate a life span of 120 and a maximal age of 150 by the 26'th century. Then, according to Benjamin's formula, the magic start date is roughly 2236. Until then we can kick back and pretend it doesn't matter. Because, really, to us it doesn't. We won't be around. And neither will our kids or our grandkids. And it's even extremely unlikely that anyone born today will have great grand children who will be alive. I can certainly imagine that getting closer to February 2, 2506, there will be a lot of cursing at those damned ancestors who knew it was coming put didn't lift a finger. But, again, who cares right? Because they can curse all they want. Whatever is left of us is quite evenly distributed across Earth and no longer constitutes anything than can remotely be considered a curseable whole. Curse all you want, suckers!

For the specifics of the above thought experiment, I myself would feel an obligation to encourage us to immediately start considering in earnest what can be done to save our distant descendants. But to what extreme can the parameters be driven? It's quite certain that our Sun will go red on us and eventually engulf Earth in a plasmic inferno. Does that mean we have an obligation to seek out new habitable planets for when that day comes, possibly even in other solar systems? I think so. The issue is obviously not as pressing as if we knew our planet was on course for a doomsday rendezvous by February 2, 2506. Still, it would seem that we have obligations beyond merely to those alive during our lifetime. It's very different from the moon, which I couldn't care less about. Except, the tides around Mont Saint-Michel are really, really awesome.

P.S. If you're reading this and Earth is soon to be hit by a massive object, and your ancestors knew but did nothing, I apologize profusely for all of us. Not that it's really of any help to you. But perhaps its at least encouraging for your spirits and efforts to know that there were those of us who cared. Too bad we didn't prevail. Good luck, suckers!