(2/3) The eugenics of a Mars Colony.

(1/3) “Man fears time…”

(2/3) The eugenics of a Mars Colony.

It hurt me to write this. And I promise it will hurt to read this. I’ve been putting this off for several months, and I’m not sure I should have written it. Please consider this carefully before you continue.


The plan, the engineering and the form of the problem.

Elon Musk is planning on establishing a colony on the planet Mars (announcement video). He will attempt to send 1 million people.

There are many problems that have to be solved to make this possible. Many of them are technical: Access to clean water, power generation, and growing food. As difficult as they are, these problems are well-defined and well scoped.

In effect, he seems to be claiming that he and SpaceX will be able to construct an entirely new civilization from nothing but fine red dust. Even this, as absurd as it sounds, I would be willing to grant. Not just because of his track record, but because if the laws of physics don’t forbid it, we should assume that it can be engineered. Musk himself has talked about how some limits result from a lack of imagination about what’s possible. The trouble is knowing what limits are actually implied by physical principles.

There are other problems though, that aren’t as well defined. Who’s labor will make all of this possible? Elon hasn’t been able to shield the workers in his own factories from the weight of his ambitions. The value and the labor must come from somewhere, and the problems of power and exploitation have never been solved by anyone, anywhere, at any time in human history since agriculture.

So who will go to do the work of building this civilization out of the dust? It will fail without the presence of an underclass, like many of the first colonies in America before they began importing slaves like Baldwin’s nigger[1].

You don’t have to watch the entire video if you’re already familiar with Baldwin. It will help to understand my perspective here.

The socioeconomic pyramid, and its thermodynamic mode.

I need an aside here to clarify something. In the writing that follows I will treat phenomena at the city, country, and international scale interchangeably. This is deliberate, and I think order for this to make sense I have to assume the global economic system has a special property. Notice if we think of it as a kind of ecological energy pyramid, we can zoom in on parts of it and still have a pyramid – essential properties hold at any scale. For me to freely swap observations about behavior at different scales, though, I don’t think it’s strictly required to be a pyramid. It may only be required that the global economic system have scale invariance. This is part of why I think some methods from statistical physics that rely on that symmetry may be useful in understanding it, but that’s another subject. And there’s another thing which is very important: collective behaviors are not necessarily the linear sum, or average of individual behaviors. Normal human intuition totally fails at this. A community may have some kind emergent ‘intent’ all its own that grows out of individual behaviors in subtle and unpredictable ways.

I don’t think Musk being entirely open about his motivations for going to Mars. He says he worries about asteroids, and other “eventual” extinction events, but his main concern is clearly human originated scenarios. Those other more astronomical events belong to some longer timescale that wouldn’t put his attempt to leave on such a short timetable.

Make careful note of the omissions:

Musk 1/21/2014: I think demographics is a real issue where people are not having kids in a lot of countries. Very often they say well we’ll solve it with immigration. Well immigration from where? If many parts of Europe have an average of 50 or 60% of what’s needed for replacement – or China for that matter – they’re at half replacement rate. Where exactly are we going to find 6 million people to replace the ones that were never born? I think people are gong to have to regard, to some degree, the notion of having kids as almost a social duty – within reason. If you can, if you’re so inclined, you should. Otherwise civilization will just die, literally.

The birthrate is inversely correlated to wealth, inversely correlated to education, and correlated to religion. So the more religious you are, the less educated, and the poorer you are the more kids you will have. And this is true between countries and within countries. In the U.S. the highest birthrate is in Utah, with the Mormons.

I think if you say what are the threats to civilization, the lack of people is obviously a threat to civilization. We are going to face in the mid part of this century – and particularly the latter part of the century – a demographic implosion the likes of which we haven’t seen including the Black plague. The math is obvious. When did China ever experience a 50% reduction in its population? Never. Basically pre-writing, because no one’s ever written of such a thing. Even the Black Plague – I think they might have [lost?] like a quarter, but never a half, yet Spain – birthrate of 50%. It’s as if someone went through and killed half of the population – or at least of the future population. There’s something better happen to turn this around. Otherwise, you have an inverted demographic pyramid and it’s going to – [gestures falling over] at this rate the only thing that will be left will be robots.

For a while I thought Musk intended to run away from the planet, like he ran away from South Africa. That he planned on leaving all of the human dross behind and remaking a world with what he believes are more worthy people. But his actual sentiments must be more complicated than that, and I can’t pretend to be able to read his mind.

When white Americans and Europeans make prognostications about the future, it is their habit not to take into account the agency of Africans, and other people of the global south. Their predictions usually reveal an implicit assumption that non-whites are some kind of mud people with no capacity for conscious thought or planning of their own [2]. Often these countries are forgotten completely. But Elon Musk was born and raised under apartheid South Africa, a rapacious reader and fully aware of the world around him. He shouldn’t have this problem. This is why I think the omission was deliberate.

From the U.N. a few years ago (link):

The current world population of 7.2 billion is projected to increase by 1 billion over the next 12 years and reach 9.6 billion by 2050, according to a United Nations report launched today, which points out that growth will be mainly in developing countries, with more than half in Africa.

Musk omitted mention of Africa, and the years between now and this projected peak near 2050 because these years are the most dangerous. Before we have to deal with underpopulation, we will have to ask if the planet can support 10 billion people. I do not believe overpopulation itself is a problem – the problem has always been over-consumption. Birthrates are greater, as he says, for countries low in social development. But no country has ever advanced itself without a growth in externalities. For example in Brazil, the first among the emerging economies, deforestation of the Amazon burdens indigenous people with the costs of development, and overuse of water resources by industry and agriculture have created a dangerous situation for city-dwellers. Brazil’s birthrate has plummeted as it developed, and the education of women improved. But this was attended by a increase in externalities, which may actually be a form of dissipation, required by the second law of thermodynamics, that richer communities and countries are privileged to be able to shove off onto poorer ones [3].

Eventually this process must end or transition to another regime – and not because the planet has an absolute carrying capacity. That is, not due to the population alone, but the product of population and per capita energy and resource consumption. The latter grows at a rate larger than the decay of the former as a country develops, so that what is gained by a drop in fertility is more than lost through modernization. The most developed countries are therefore the greatest burden, and their externalities eventually consume the whole globe. The people at the lowest tiers of the pyramid, assuming this notion of dissipation is correct, do not have a “heat sink.” At the bottom there isn’t anything unload costs on except the planet itself. Ruin, mainly through climate change follows.

And now in a bid to reach a higher position, people in many developing countries are immigrating to the wealthier countries that exploit their home lands. This effect, combined with the radical shift in the world population due to the wild incongruence in birthrates result in the present global racial tension, as racism is at the center of the process people use to create a moral pretense for systems of plunder. It is how privileged classes can maintain the absurd ideology that the poor owe the rich and not the other way around.

It is my view that the racism and nationalism of human beings virtually guarantees that they cannot withstand a such a rapid shift in the racial make-up of their countries without violence on a large scale. When you ask an American about over population, they are prone to say something that implies they think there are too many Chinese people alive, or that Hispanics have too many kids (offering no such concerns about Mormons). If I were to ask an Indian, I assume they’re liable to make some reference to people of lower caste, or Muslims. People who believe all human lives are of equal worth should recognize they are in the minority, or more likely be honest with themselves about what they are.

The people who voted for Brexit, Trump, and Le Pen know what they are, and they know what they don’t like. What they don’t like is this feeling that their countries are being taken over by people with colored skin. The basic process that is occurring now I have been anticipating for the last fifteen years, though my reasoning back then drew on personal biases from my own experience with people. I can’t express how heartbreaking it has been to realize the person I was ten years ago would have better anticipated the choice whites made in electing Trump, and I have felt myself a fool for having grown out of the slightest amount of cynicism. I used to joke about how easy it would be to Nazify the United States, and that when World War 3 began the U.S. would be the aggressor and its motivations would make the conflict indistinguishable from a race war [4]. Americans have no armor against this, and repeating “this is not normal” won’t help: before the election Americans lived in a country with 20% of the world’s prison population, disproportionately black and brown (The New Jim Crow, Last Days of Solitary) and they were living with that like it was normal. It is a part of human adaptability to become accustomed (or willfully blind) to things that are horrifying.

Hans Rosling [5] suggested nothing short of a nuclear war would stop this population growth among the poorest billion, and we may yet have that. Even if apocalyptic maniacs like Steven Bannon and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi are removed from power, the forces that put them in place are so much greater. But I am still a fool, and it makes me happy to be wrong about these things.

The eugenics of a Mars Colony.

Now, what does Musk really believe about the future, given that he’s not saying everything? He isn’t hiding any white supremacist style racism. Musk is either

unaware of how profound a problem racism and nationalism are in the futures he’s talking about,

trying very hard to ignore and feign ignorance of them. Or

believes these problems are more easily solved than those he is working on.

He seems to be like a Trekkie in that he believes the magic of science fiction should be able to solve this problem, without the intervention of any actual science. I find it hard to believe that he could be as daft as the rest of his class; all of the evidence he’s left indicate he’s accepted the privilege of not having to deal with the issue. I believe most whites genuinely don’t understand it, but I believe he does understand it and has chosen silence.

Now it is a feature of systemic racism and class structure, being dependent global properties, that their effects are robust to many kinds of individual behavior. By that I mean the system’s organization alone reproduces a proximate cause, and that there’s some large class of individual motivations that all correspond to the same macroscopic behavior. It may be our curse to participate in systems whose emergent malice lies beyond the reach of our intentions. Though this is not to excuse the feedback loops that appear between leaders and constituents (The Color of Law, still need to read this one).

And this is how the escape to Mars will reproduce a kind of eugenics, which selects on the correlates of socioeconomic status. And I dare to say Musk has already made this observation. He knows that like Tesla’s cars, access to Mars will have to be rich people first. His claim of making it so everybody can go means everybody in the developed world who is not poor, especially white Americans (who have on average 16 times the wealth of black Americans). He may believe it is unavoidable that if we want to go to Mars at all, it will have to be done like this.

There is a dread implication here I hope you’ll be spared noticing. It may be the worst thought that has ever stained my mind. It is nearly unspeakable. I will not reference this implication further.

If he believes the wealthiest people can just leave Earth behind he is wrong. His actions seem to indicate that he does believe that. This is why it was necessary to write the pyramid post first. Because it directly attacks the core vanity that causes Americans to misapprehend their relationship to the rest of the world, and wealthy people of all countries to the working class(Coates). Their success is not independent of class stratification, it requires it. No society has yet been able to function in any other way, and without an alternative the colony will fail like our civilization here is failing.

Again, the Mars colony has as much chance of success as American colonies did before they started importing slaves. For the Mars colony to function, they would have to bring not just people who can afford to go, but also enough labor as is made necessary by the exploitative thermodynamic mode of our societies.

We don’t get to run away from our problems. We face them and fix them, or else carry them with us wherever we go. Something fundamental about how humans live and relate to each other, our relationships as defined by flows of energy and resources have to be altered. And no one will escape without finally answering James Baldwin’s question, “Why was it necessary to have a nigger in the first place?” That the ruling class is terrified of this question and evaded it is the reason we are in this situation.

Most of us will remain on Earth, to deal with these problems and evolve as a species, if the laws of physics even allow it. To transcend the conditions of our lives or die. We are hurtling toward a singularity and flailing desperately for some guarantee of survival. This is humanity, in extremis.

(3/3) In Extremis. (soon)


  1. I was considering posting a review of I Am Not Your Negro, but it seems unnecessary (Dagmawi Woubshet, Cassie da CostaHolly Genovese). I notice the movie has been called prescient and even ‘prophetic’, but those folks misunderstand. Baldwin was talking about his world and his time. It only sounds like prophesy because so little has changed. And really black folks have very little to learn from it, as beautifully as it elucidates and corroborates their testimony. White folks are having their worldview shaken (A.O. Scott) only because they’re so profoundly ignorant.(return)

  2. Or to take Steven Bannon and his favorite book as an example, these assumptions are just as often explicit and openly racist.(return)

  3. This may be easier to understand with an example at the city scale. It is necessary (to externalize costs) to have power plants and factories spew pollution into the air. Will the rich neighborhood tolerate this? Of course not – put the black folks downwind and let their children pay the price. This sort of thing happens in nearly every city in America. In this case, because some chemical process is occurring that brings matter from an organized state to a more disorganized one, namely that pollutants diffuse, it is clear that the avoided cost is a kind of dissipation. It is a separate claim, and harder to justify, that many of the social problems in poor communities(The Poisoned Generation) are also a kind of system state that takes in entropy produced by wealthier communities. I cannot justify the claim that this “dissipation” may be required by thermodynamics, and I don’t know how to predict a theoretical limit on it if it is required.(return)

  4. It doesn’t seem to be required that most Americans become racist for this to happen. There is a violent ethnonationalist core in the Republican party, and it is only required that they be allowed to act freely. These people are prepared to use violence to get what they want, but white moderates are not prepared to withstand violence on their own bodies to stop them. The lives of people of color just don’t matter enough. So white nationalists may escalate without response. The reaction to Black Lives Matter made it clear from whom most Americans will tolerate violence.(return)

  5. Has Rosling gave an incredibly simple breakdown of things seven years ago, if you need that. It is critical to remember the caveats he had to offer in that talk, which many cornucopians prefer to ignore. He said population might hold at 9 billion; the most recent projections are closer to 10 billion. We will never reach this number. Because consumption (in this ‘mode’) grows exponentially, and I find it hard to imagine an energy source that can grow at that rate.(return)

  6. I’m not going to entertain the suggestion that the plan may be to use AI and construct robots for labor and resource extraction. Although I consider it plausible Musk intends this, it’s better saved for a later post.
  7. There is going to be a major sex ratio problem that Musk doesn’t seem to have anticipated at all. And it seems his companies may have a sexism problem that the American media is trying to keep quiet about (the Gaurdian isn’t). Sometime soon one of the geniuses at SpaceX is likely to have an “Astonishingly good idea.”

(1/3) “Man fears time…”

 

I have wondered if Imhotep had some hidden meaning in the pyramid. Little is recorded about him, but he lived during the Old Kingdom of Egypt under Djoser. He seems to have been born a commoner, and become renown as a great architect, sage, and perhaps the first physician in the world. His monument to King Djoser, the Step Pyramid, is the archetype for all pyramids that followed and the oldest stone structure in the world.

Pyramids are uniquely stable structures. They have survived many thousands of years and all the storms and earthquakes that time could bring. The mass at the peak of the pyramid we may say is in a high energy state. It is supported by progressively larger masses that reside at lower points of the gravitational potential. This is the thermodynamic analogy I mean to draw, and I speculate:

That Imhotep, born a commoner and working at a time when there may have still been living memory of an Egypt much less advanced, and therefore much less hierarchical. He may have understood on some deep level the changes in social structure that were necessary to make the pyramid possible. Because pyramids are built by slaves, and laborers, and craftsmen of many kinds. Hunters and gatherers cannot build them, and pastoral nomads can’t either. Only a culture with advanced agriculture and the division of labor agriculture makes possible can build structures like this.

The great works of the ancient world were not possible without slavery, and systems of exploitation and power rise to reflect the skyward structures themselves. Then, at the earliest years of that civilization, Imhotep may have understood in some way that Egypt had passed into a new thermodynamic mode of existence. A mode in which energy is drawn up through the roots of plants, and into the people who plant and harvest them and other resources, to flow up and be concentrated into progressively more privileged classes, to terminate finally in the vested power, privilege, and abundance of the King.


There is a clear connection here to the flows of energy in ecosystems. Apex predators eat and scavenge whatever they can. A lion will steal a kill from a hyena. The grazing animals are fed ultimately by the sun. People deny this similarity because they don’t want to know they are eating each other.

In a way, modern civilization seems to be an extension of an ecological structure that humans used to be embedded in, or maybe civilization has superseded that ecology completely. We were prey once. Then we became apex predators. We have advanced our civilization by replacing most of the world’s fauna with our own biomass in both livestock and human chattel. And the more developed a society tries to become, the more material must be put underneath in the base. Egypt and other ancient civilizations could only advance so far, but the modern western imperium extends across the entire globe, purchasing its privileges with sweatshops and child miners.

There are observations to make and questions to ask. I won’t have  a proper response to all of these. Among the most important:

  • The poor don’t need the wealthy, but the wealthy do need the poor. The world is right-side up, not upside down as Ayn Rand would have it.
  • Scientific discoveries are typically made by the upper classes.  They benefit everyone, but not uniformly. Most of the benefit reaches the upper classes first, or exclusively.
  • People are interdependent, and though it’s not clear that the quality of life in post-agricultural civilization is better in absolute terms, most people today would not be alive without modern technology. Is it forbidden by the laws of physics to have this modernity without its gross inequality?
  • Are there scaling principles at work such that the thermodynamics of current societies could be used to predict an upper limit to any society’s development, assuming the total flux of energy on the surface of the Earth bounds its base?
  • There are limits on an empire’s geographic span which seem to determine how wide the base can become, and these limits are primarily technological, viz. communications technology may have played a dominant role in determining the size of social structures in each era of history. What effects are due to new technologies, not just in the size, but in the topology of society?
  • If preagricultural societies exist in a “first” thermodynamic mode, and post-agricultural societies are in a second mode, does a third mode exist?  If I have anything worthwhile on this question it will wait until part 3 of these posts.

It has always bothered me that Americans never seem to understand their relationship to the rest of the world. It is the nature of privilege never to recognize itself, but it is absurd to see them so oblivious to how they in fact depend on the poverty in the greater part of the developing world and the working class in their own country.

I can’t go to the grocery store without being reminded of this. My hands aren’t the first to touch the onion and the tomatoes in the produce section. You see, it is apparently very hard to build a machine that can cut the stem of an onion and leave the bulb intact. It’s necessary to have people, sometimes children, do this by hand. They crawl through the field on their hands and knees under the summer sun and cut the stems with a knife. In the western United States of course, these people are mostly immigrants from Central and South America and their children.

The pyramid of Djoser is a reification of the Egyptian social structure in power and exploitation that was necessary to construct it. And like the pyramid, it may be that social structure is just as long lived, and reflects some underlying thermodynamic stability. There is an irony then in the old Arab Proverb,

Man fears time, but time fears the pyramids.

Do we really know how to build pyramids, or was that knowledge buried with Imhotep and hidden with his tomb? Have we learned the secrets hidden in our own societies? Do we know what is necessary for a long-lived, sustainable, self-sufficient society?

Does it bear repeating that the Step Pyramid is a tomb? And how long will it last, compared to the sand dunes that flow across the eons of the desert?

Some of these things I have understood, if dimly, since I was a 12 year old crawling through an onion field with a rusty knife in my hand. I don’t know if I’ve made much progress in my understanding. I was actually working on a post about Elon Musk’s Mars Colony, when I realized I hadn’t written this yet.

Living in Avalon

…If you assume any rate of improvement at all, then the games will become indistinguishable from reality….given that we’re on a trajectory to have games that are indistinguishable from reality and those games could be played on a set up box or a pc or whatever, and there would probably billions of such computers or set top boxes…it would seem to follow that the odds that we’re in base reality is one in billions…tell me what’s wrong with that argument.

When I saw him answer the simulation question, I was immediately reminded of  the 2001 film, Avalon.

The simulation question has been talked about extensively in the last month or so, but I still haven’t seen any physicists chime in and it seems an argument from this perspective would be most appropriate for Musk (1). There was a response from a cognitive scientist and a philosopher here, but they seem to have missed the mark a bit, and they don’t seem to have understood what Musk may have meant by indistinguishable. I’m going to focus on this word, because it makes specific demands on the physics of the possible technologies involved.

Questions:

  1. Is it possible to build a simulation “indistinguishable from reality?” Indistinguishable is critical here.
  2. I expect the trajectory Musk describes will change. Where is the asymptote? I will have no chance of answering this one.
  3. If it is possible to build such a simulation, does it matter?

Re: Question 1: Is it possible to build a simulation “indistinguishable from reality?”

[All Equivalent] I am going to assume, as Musk seems to, that by “reality” he means a world that operates with the same rules as ours appears to; that it has the same laws of physics. The distinction he is making is between “base” reality and simulated reality. They both behave exactly the same but one is an original. His argument seems to require all of the simulated realities operate under the same rules, so that our experiences here can carry implications about what’s possible in realities that simulate other realities.

[Computable] I think I have to assume further, also like Musk, that “reality” is computable. That all of the rules can be reduced to logically rigorous statements, also that there is nothing that doesn’t follow the rules, and therefore classical or quantum computations are sufficient to simulate reality (2).

It happens that our experiences here operate under quantum mechanical principles at the most fundamental level. We live in a universe that obeys Heisenberg Uncertainty, and there is a fundamental scale set by a constant of nature:

\Delta x \Delta p\ge \dfrac{\hbar} {2}

Any object we observe has a momentum ‘p‘ we associate with what Newton called a “quantity of motion”, and a position ‘x‘. This inequality is an assertion about the distributions of position and momentum. Roughly speaking, the uncertainty principle sets an absolute, fundamental limit on how well it is possible to know x and p. This limit comes from the quantity h – it is Planck’s constant. It is an incredibly small number measured in units of space and time we’re familiar with, but it is not zero, meaning it is impossible to know both the position and momentum of an object perfectly.

The less obvious consequence for our purpose: the uncertainty principle represents the limits in nature’s own detail. Once you know as much as uncertainty principle permits, there really is nothing else to know: nature itself carries no more information (3).

It shouldn’t seem plausible that a full fidelity (“indistinguishable”) simulation of a physical space could be housed in any volume less than or equal to that space, but I don’t know how to prove this. My intuition says the most parsimonious way to simulate a  physical space is to have that volume time evolve on its own. As Einstein put it, “God does not care about our mathematical difficulties. He integrates empirically.” There shouldn’t be any shortcuts, I think.

Some work on the limits of computation using uncertainty principle, general relativity  (GR) (and/or?)  the second law of thermodynamics has been done, producing theoretical limits regarding computation. This work is bit out of my depth but it seems GR is required for its limits on energy density (4). Anyway, these details should not interfere with reaching this implication: Because there are fundamental limits on computational power, and by [All Equivalent] these limits apply to a simulating reality, it is not possible to embed, as a subsystem, an indistinguishable simulation of a region within that region. There can’t physically be any substitute for proper reality.

Now, what about the plug-in Matrix kind, aka the dream or the video game? Maybe it is only necessary to fully simulate observed, or observable regions of space and time? And even then only to the limits of observational powers of the individual. I have been assuming that our “reality” fully obeys all the known laws of physics, even when we don’t directly test or observe them. I should just be able to say this kind can be rejected because it is solipsism – we are trying to use physics here and this would take all the bets off. But I think I can do better, especially since it was this kind Musk directly proposed, though I will have to offer inductive arguments.

  1. This world is too shitty for too many people. Unless Musk somehow thinks this reality is his very own oyster and none of the rest of us are real, what reason would we have to simulate a reality like this with so much suffering?
  2. All software has bugs. “Indistinguishable” is too strong a demand for any software to meet with, no matter how advanced its developer. Honestly I think bug-free software cannot exist. There would be dejavu’s and glitches.
  3. This reality is definitely not a video game in its lack of lucidity. Why don’t we know it’s a simulation?
  4. If we had this kind of computational power, we could do a lot better for a video game than this. It would literally make gods out of everyone. Just ask: are you living in the world you wish existed?

If an indistinguishable reality were possible, it would not be desirable. The truth is too hard. If people had unlimited power to create their own realities they would hide from base “reality” in ways that are more robust and complete than religion and technology  allow them currently.

I have one remaining physical argument. We know that some physical systems are described by models whose equations lead to algorithms that are “hard” in this sense: That the computation time needed to predict observables scales so greatly that the computer would effectively require the lifetime of a universe in base reality to integrate, violating our [computable] assumption (5). This argument is not without a certain subtle problem.

Re: Question 2: I expect the trajectory Musk describes will change. Where is the asymptote?

I should just give up on this one for now…I suspect the bound found by Seth Lloyd is too generous but I don’t know how to improve it:

\text{Max Operations Per Second} \sim  \dfrac{mc^2}{h}

The numerator is the most recognized formula in physics: the rest energy of Lloyd’s “ultimate laptop” from relativity. Planck’s constant has appeared again because this is a quantum computer, and the computation speed is limited by how quickly one state can “rotate” into another state that is sufficiently …distinguishable, again determined by Heisenberg uncertainty(6).

Re: Question 3: If it is possible to build such a simulation, does it matter?

When we ask for indistinguishability we are asking, by definition, for a reality that will never fail to satisfy any demand we might make of it. It is impossible to devise an experiment that would reveal that it is a simulation. I don’t know why Musk is unsatisfied with this (7). Again by definition, these doubts would persist for anyone living in base “reality.”

I think a minimal plea for sanity requires us to take our reality as it presents itself. Further, that we take it as simply as it presents itself, and imagine no hidden variables, mechanisms, Wizards of Oz, Dungeon Masters, Cartesian Demons, or code beyond nature’s capacity for information, i.e. its ability to distinguish.

It is a hardcore, base reality that what can’t be observed really isn’t there. A simulated reality and a base reality if indistinguishable must be one and the same. Nature itself can brook no hypotheses about the unobservable. We cannot allow ourselves superstition, or even agnosticism if we are going to move past barriers of imagination. We’ll have to be atheist. Nature is just too creative and extends too far beyond our ken to allow us any less.

Finally in Musk’s discussion there was this…

Maybe we should be hopeful that we are living in a simulation…either we develop simulations that are indistinguishable from reality or civilization ceases to exist.

Avalon, the legendary land
The isle of apple-trees and mist
Avalon is the land of elves
Where the hero comes today

Avalon, the legendary land
The hero set out there

Avalon is the land of elves
Avalon is the heavenly isle of shadows
Enchanted isle
The ship set out to an unknown voyage
Avalon…


  1. There are reasons for a good physicist (not me) to stay out of this discussion. The primary one I’m thinking of being that this notion is, at least at face, untestable. Please take all of the physics presented here with a grain of salt.
  2. One thing I’m definitely not sure of: would this reality simulation require a theory of everything, so that all of the physical laws would have to be known?
  3. It might be argued that nature does know more, but simply behaves in a way that prevents us from knowing or observing any more. I think all hypotheses of this kind can be equated to a “hidden variables” description of quantum mechanics, and I believe all such theories have been excluded by Bell’s Theorem and its experimental verification(here, and here).
  4. There’s a whole literature on this that I won’t be able to go into. I neglect distinctions  made between limits on memory capacity, the longevity of a record, and what research in this area may imply about time itself, and any relationships between gravity and thermodynamics. In due time, I think the research on quantum computing will reveal much more about these questions.
  5. Most of the research in this area is for Classical computation – where the states of computer are strictly binary, 1 or 0. The situation for quantum complexity is less clear, as this field is still fairly new and many quantum algorithms are still being developed.
  6. There is an energy and time relation analogous to the one for momentum and position, though its interpretation is a bit more subtle.
  7. Really I think he didn’t mean the full quantum mechanical notion of indistinguishable, but I needed an excuse to write this post.

You are a sociopath.

Why is war the kind of event that can put two brothers on opposite sides of a conflict?

 

 

It did seem ironic to me that President Obama would decry the attitude that Americans have adopted toward events like this. Just two days after the Umpqua Community College shooting, a US Airforce C-130 gunship attacked a Hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan run by Doctors without Borders, killing 22 (1). Obama in this case had little to offer but a weak apology and no public comment. It seems the killing of foreigners is routine, and Americans’ response to the killing of foreigners is routine.

Why do foreign lives matter so little to Americans? Americans are not special of course, people of every country value the lives of their own over others. Why do black lives matter so little to most whites in the United States, and violence on the part of the police against black youth so readily justified or excused in the minds of the majority?

We like to flatter ourselves with the notion that we are very social and empathetic creatures, but there are important caveats(2). Quite simply, empathizing with others requires us to know them. We know our family members best, our friends and coworkers second.

Imagine that everyone resides in a social network, with ties that extend like concentric circles out to neighbors or friends, then out to friends of friends, etc. until the world population is reached (3). People close-in are typically in the “in-group,” and benefit the most from our prosocial tendencies.

What is the problem with this? It is very subtle and I’m not sure there is a solution. The increasing globalization of the world seems to have made this effect worse:

The consequences of your actions can reach many more people than your empathy can. For the vast majority of the people in the world in whose lives you have some influence, you are a sociopath.

We work in concert to create the systems that individuals live in. Our actions are individual, but the system is collective. Above I think I have only put into personal terms what people usually call institutional or systemic effects. What most of you don’t seem to understand is that you are a part of a system. It is not something you can externalize; it’s easy to say something is the fault of governments, leaders, or corporations, but that lets us cop out of our personal integration with these constructions and our role in legitimating the actions of leaders.

But how much responsibility can we each hold for this? I’ve written here before about the subtle ways individual behavior is integrated, and emerges into macroscopic behavior that is not predictable from, and is even sometimes directly opposed to individual intention (4). There is something incredibly important in what we don’t understand about how a corporation is capable of mass depraved indifference murder(5), and how citizens’ taxes can pay for drone strikes. And there is something we are not understanding about how wars occur.

Most people are not murderers. Most people don’t want to start wars, but often believe when the fighting starts that it must occur. Even most soldiers do not want to kill anyone. But the social system’s behavior feeds back down to the personal scale, putting human beings onto battlefields, and into conflicts they have no inherent desire for. At least, not until they form a connection to their fellow soldiers.

Yet the world has entered new regime of interconnection. The capacity of people to move about the globe, and to interact across arbitrary distances has implications for the consequences of an individual’s actions (6). There is a kind of “nonlocality” in our actions that was not possible before. It allows us to have a more direct impact on the lives of people far away geographically, but also perhaps to empathize where we could not previously. I’m not sure we can know where this will lead.

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    1. Kunduz articles at the Guardian , New York Times.
    2. A prior post on Race and Human Groups.
    3. Social networks have a well documented small-world property. It’s never more than 6 degrees to Kevin Bacon. For a”social distance” metric defined in this way it seems the capacity for empathy drops as quickly as the number of people reached expands.
    4. Prior posts: The moral implications of nonlinearity and emergence., The multiplicity of agency.
    5. The 2013 collapse of a garment factory in Dhaka is just the one example that came immediately to mind: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-22476774. You may be reminded of the 2003 doc The Corporation.

There is an aspect of this I will try to post about later: there are segments of the population that are not well integrated in this globalized social network. They are disproportionately older and are being left behind in a way.

Jimmy Carter and the American Imperium.

 

a nation that is at peace tonight everywhere in the world

 

I do not promise you that this struggle for freedom will be easy. I do not promise a quick way out of our nation’s problems, when the truth is that the only way out is an all-out effort. … there are no short-term solutions to our long-range problems. There is simply no way to avoid sacrifice.

 

This intolerable dependence on foreign oil threatens our economic independence and the very security of our nation. The energy crisis is real. It is worldwide. It is a clear and present danger to our nation. These are facts and we simply must face them.

Americans have always, since the country’s first imperialist era, depended on the dirty deeds done by their leaders. To advance the agendas of economic and political subjugation of foreign nations, and never allow any nation that would democratically elect a leader insubordinate to the empire to democratically elect any leader. And most importantly, to keep Americans in a state of vain ignorance about how their nation was able to enjoy such advancement, even while “developing” and “third world” nations languished.

Once, they made the mistake of electing a man who would not do these deeds, and would not allow them their naiveté (1). A man who apparently believed the nation to be capable of standing on its own feet, and by its own labors and resources enjoy a decent standard of living.

I don’t know if that was ever possible, but we are going to find out. American Imperialism was never going to do anything more than delay the eventual crisis point – the dilemma being faced now is very same as in 1979, though it has the whole species captured now, and the fuse has been considerably shortened.

 


  1. They seem to have avoided making this mistake again, with Bernie Sanders having all but lost his primary bid.

 

On Growth and Knowledge

Everybody has their favorite model of knowledge.This is mine:

The things we understand about the world are like the leaves on a tree. Every time we learn something, we have an opportunity to ask a question that goes deeper and further, bifurcating and allowing for new leaves.

Our knowledge expands like a fractal. There’s no limit to what can be learned because there is no limit to what can be asked. The direction that our curiosity tends to lead us creates our expertise, and where there is no curiosity there can be no growth.

I spent a long time wondering what it is that enables religiosity to persist, even among very well educated people. It is facile to suggest that religious people are simply stupid. It seems to me that it is better explained by the way people respond, not to what they know, but to the boundary between what they know and what they don’t: the outer edges of this tree, and the space of their ignorance beyond it.

How comfortable do we feel with what we don’t know? There’s no bound on the scope of possible knowledge – the more you know the more aware of your ignorance you become, because there should always be an exponentially increasing number of questions, assuming one has enough curiosity.

There is some basic, emotional response to this boundless expansion. Some people just need to feel like there is something or someone in control of that space, and that somehow they have access to that control through religious practices. There is a discomfort in that great, outer fog that apparently most of us would prefer to retreat from.

Notice another implication as well for the progress of science. The method of science can always get us the right answers, but we are the ones determining its direction. By their assumptions and their questions, scientists themselves can limit its range. There is no expectation that science can progress without a bias in its direction. This bias is best counteracted by diversity.

It is said that to be truly wise is to know that you know nothing. Hitchens once put it like this:

…the discussion about what is good, what is beautiful, what is noble, what is pure, what is true, could always go on.

Why is that important? Why would I like to do that? Because that’s the only conversation worth having. And whether it goes on or not after I die I don’t know but I do know it’s the conversation I want to have while I’m still alive.

Which means that to me the offer of certainty, the offer of complete security, the offer of an impermeable faith that can’t give way, is an offer of something not worth having.

I want to live my life taking the risk all the time that I don’t know anything like enough yet, that I haven’t understood enough, that I can’t know enough, that I’m always hungrily operating on the margins of a potentially great harvest of future knowledge and wisdom. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

And I’d urge you to look at those who tell you at your age that you’re dead till you believe as they do. What a terrible thing to be telling to children. And that you can only live by accepting an absolute authority. Don’t think of that as a gift, think  of it as a poisoned chalice. Push it aside however tempting it is, take the risk of thinking for yourself. Much more happiness, truth, beauty and wisdom will come to you that way.

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The span of life.

A few years ago, I wrote here about the second law of thermodynamics and the lifespan of things. I still can’t muster a rigorous argument for what I’ve said below. I’m not sure I want to.

Everything that lives must eventually die. Entropy must increase. Equivalently, energy must flow from points of higher temperature to points of lower temperature. In the course of these flows of energy, dissipative structures may appear, drawing off these flows as an engine does the explosion of gasoline.

The Sun is dying for us: for the sake of the second law, it surrenders its radiation to the cold of the cosmos. It is this energy we draw upon to sustain ourselves. How long might we live?

A sand castle is easily destroyed by the motion of one hand. The resulting pile is more robust. There are so many more ways for the sand to just be a pile; that state is more permanent.

A fly lives for only a few weeks. One of our species might live for a hundred years.Living things, drawing on the flows of energy, are driven far from the state of the equilibrium of their parts.

So it is that the growth of entropy creates both order and disorder, it giveth and it taketh, each to a proper time and space, and according to a probability. The states far flung in the distribution, the rare and the low in entropy, are ever so briefly lived. They return to the dust and the ash of stars.

Some tribes in the Amazon rain forest have lived sustainably for thousands of years, while the cities of Mesopotamia rose and fell, and while the empires of Medieval Europe crumbled and were replaced. How long might we live?

Sometimes I think we ought not take our problems into the solar system. The problems of poverty and war, the problems that have followed our civilizations since the beginning, are they really an inescapable consequence of these same non-equilibrium thermodynamics? Yet they cannot remain with us if we want to survive and we’re left to hope they are not inevitable.

The signs from changing climate and the exhaustion of the planet suggest we are approaching a terminus. What will come after I don’t know, but the challenges that are coming will be the most difficult any human generation has ever faced. If we want to see what lies on the other side, we must try to find a way to live.

This is a terrible burden to be placed on the young. They are to suffer the cost of every shortsighted decision made by generations previous, and to somehow find a better way.

If these children can survive what’s coming, they will be marked forever as the greatest of all generations. We have little hope other than they might be more clever, more wise, more kind and generous than any that came before and muster the strength to live through.

Cogito, Ergo…

From Part IV of Descartes’ Meditations(1):

…as I then desired to give my attention solely to the search after truth, I thought that a procedure exactly the opposite was called for, and that I ought to reject as absolutely false all opinions in regard to which I could suppose the least ground for doubt, in order to ascertain whether after that there remained aught in my belief that was wholly indubitable. Accordingly, seeing that our senses sometimes deceive us, I was willing to suppose that there existed nothing really such as they presented to us; and because some men err in reasoning, and fall into paralogisms, even on the simplest matters of geometry, I, convinced that I was as open to error as any other, rejected as false all the reasonings I had hitherto taken for demonstrations; and finally, when I considered that the very same thoughts (presentations) which we experience when awake may also be experienced when we are asleep, while there is at that time not one of them true, I supposed that all the objects (presentations) that had ever entered into my mind when awake, had in them no more truth than the illusions of my dreams. But immediately upon this I observed that, whilst I thus wished to think that all was false, it was absolutely necessary that I, who thus thought, should be somewhat; and as I observed that this truth, I think, therefore I am (COGITO ERGO SUM), was so certain and of such evidence that no ground of doubt, however extravagant, could be alleged by the sceptics capable of shaking it, I concluded that I might, without scruple, accept it as the first principle of the philosophy of which I was in search.

In the next place, I attentively examined what I was and as I observed that I could suppose that I had no body, and that there was no world nor any place in which I might be; but that I could not therefore suppose that I was not; and that, on the contrary, from the very circumstance that I thought to doubt of the truth of other things, it most clearly and certainly followed that I was; while, on the other hand, if I had only ceased to think, although all the other objects which I had ever imagined had been in reality existent, I would have had no reason to believe that I existed; I thence concluded that I was a substance whose whole essence or nature consists only in thinking, and which, that it may exist, has need of no place, nor is dependent on any material thing; so that “I,” that is to say, the mind by which I am what I am, is wholly distinct from the body, and is even more easily known than the latter, and is such, that although the latter were not, it would still continue to be all that it is.

 

There is an error here (2). What is the “I”? What restrictions does the existence of thoughts and consciousness alone put on the forms it may take? Could the thinking thing really be independent of “any material thing”?

Let there be thinking thing, then. A mind. It perceives by some instruments, which correlate with the opening and closing of the eyes, the stopping of the ears. It exists with some temporal sense, such that it recollects “past” events, and anticipates “future” events. It sleeps, it dreams at different times, all correlated with changes in experience.

Clearly the mind doesn’t see without eyes. It doesn’t hear without ears. When the brain takes a whack, its function doesn’t continue independently and unaffected. There is clear physicality to experience, and there are a number of reasons to suspect the brain and the body are the substrates of the mind.

Let us assume, as I have done here before (the “Materialistic Principle”) that that which is not observable does not exist. It follows that the mind can only arise from what is physically observable about the brain (3, 4). I take it that the mind is not “hidden” somewhere inside the brain, then it follows that the mind is not an integral whole; it is an emergent property or process of the electrical signals that pass in and among the parts of the brain.

ASIDE:

Creatures are not made by design. They are evolved, but that process gives a striking appearance of design. It obvious that nature is capable of acting as if it was* a creative entity. Maybe not with foresight and planning, yet somehow with an apparent agency.

END ASIDE.

*It seems to me that we don’t grant nature the capacity to “truly” act creatively for this reason: We see too clearly the detailed mechanisms by which it achieves that appearance. There exists no integral whole for the mind as we trivially observed above; the creativity the mind possesses must also arise through a confluence of components, just as in the case of natural selection.

Clearly there is no god (5), and it would appear that nowhere(!) in the world is there a thinking, creating thing that does not arise from a confluence of more basic constituents in a distributed system. This system’s processes may be distributed more widely in time, as in the case of natural selection, or more tightly distributed in time but highly complex in space as in the case of the brain, but this consequence is unavoidable: selection is not “like” a creative entity, it is one in any sense we are willing to impart to ourselves.

You have heard of a “god of the gaps,” but there is a similar kind of error in reasoning when it is assumed – and it is assumed very commonly – that people posses free will. It is a kind of deification of the self; an intercession of a vague divinity, which, while totally normal and probably embedded as part of the adaptive process in humans(6), in this current discussion I posit that all agency is only apparent agency. Or equivalently, that that which is indistinguishable from agency is agency itself (7).

The development process in technology is so organic, especially for things in which researchers are taking advantage of the principles of evolution and adaptation. It seems strange to me that we should be so cavalier about allowing neural networks to train and evolve. These processes are so poorly understood (8), we risk putting ourselves in a situation where we will have created strong AI on accident before doing it on purpose, and not even knowing how we did it. As I have explicitly stated, the evolutionary process “has a mind of its own.” This cavalier attitude seems to stem in part from the basic assumption that we are so special, that we must be the only thinking things in the universe.

We are not so special, except maybe in terms of how rare a thing we might be, and maybe the processes that made us form an NP Hard problem, which therefore can’t be shortcutted, so that this planet really did necessarily invest a lot of time and sacrifice in creating our species.

But even if we are the rarer structure, we exist not so apart and different from the other structures of the universe. The differences of kind are not differences of kind solely, but come from differences of a quantity of pieces and a subtlety of their organization.

I recall the arguments of Lucretius and wonder why it should take so long for us to see that the types of arguments about objects and matter being made of atoms carry similar implications for our minds and the simplicity that underlies apparent complexity of all forms.

 

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  1. From the translation at Gutenberg. https://www.gutenberg.org/files/59/59-h/59-h.htm
  2. And I’m sure, somewhere in the reasoning I put forth to correct it, heheh.
  3. Is the brain even separable from the body? Can I assume its function doesn’t distribute into processes occurring throughout the nervous system? I remember reading research articles about people’s emotional states being altered with the amputation of limbs, or after having artificial hearts implanted. If the brain relies so heavily on cues from the nervous system, it may not actually be able to access some states or engage in some processes without contingent parts. Or put it like this: Can a congenitally blind person imagine the experience of sight? Do you know what its like to be a bat? Can you even know what its like to reside in the body of another person? Even your identical twin?
  4. Is the brain a quantum computer? What are the limits for what is physically measurable? I recall reading an argument in Schlausshauer that suggested it probably was not a quantum computer – or at least from what was known about neuron activity it couldn’t involve quantum mechanics. I’m just assuming that some microscale structure and electrical signals are as deep as you need to get for a brain.
  5. This is a kind of implicit axiom on this blog, as a part of what I’ve been trying to do here is talk about things purely from a post-theistic worldview, i.e., what are the things we would think about if we were not chained to naive assumptions about the answers to basic questions and having to argue constantly with deists? I’ve thought maybe I should post more about the justification for atheism, but there doesn’t seem to be much point – I don’t dwell on it too much anymore, and it’s beat to death in the popular sphere.
  6. Some lies it might be beneficial to believe, as I have mentioned on this blog before. I think this might be one of them. Apparently Isaac Singer said this: “We must believe in free will — we have no choice.
  7. Notice the use of MP. There’s some real irony here. Some of these things I don’t think most people will realize until AFTER strong AI has been brought into the world and made them incredibly clear to everyone. If it satisfies the turing test, you have no choice: It thinks just as much and probably not too different from how you do.
  8. I am suddenly reminded of the beautifully creative play of AlphaGo recently.

The moral implications of nonlinearity and emergence.

There are a few concepts I think it would help to take care of: The first is in the companion post here.

The other is described below; it just happens Dr. Neil Tyson tweeted about this yesterday:

It has often been repeated, and my experience bears this out, that the real trouble doesn’t come from what we know we don’t understand, but from what we think we understand but really don’t(3). If we had the right questions, the answers would soon follow.

There are so many people who study the subjects of human behavior: psychologists, sociologists, political scientists, etc. How many of them would pretend to understand something of quantum mechanics?

Quantum mechanics is just linear algebra, some complex variables, and the very general physical concepts of uncertainty and wave interference that require those mathematics. But waves interfere linearly: that is, they just stack. And the operators that appear in the equations of (non relativistic) quantum mechanics are just stand-ins for acts of measurement or transformation on the information of the state, and as required by the Schrödinger equation(4) act linearly.

But the behavior of the vast majority of the systems of the world, which do not submit to the simplifications and contrivances of a well designed physics experiment, is not linear. In living systems, the interactions between, and really it seems the integration of components result in a nonlinear relationship between small scale and large scale behavior.

The consequences of that nonlinearity are profound and confounding. Pen and paper analysis becomes useless for many questions, when no equation can be written down. The growth of systems implies its regime – the very rules it obeys – can change radically as its configuration traverses a complex and unknown topology, making computations and simulations necessary, though not sufficient to understand. These systems are very hard, yet the people who study these fields today do pretend to understand!

And now we must be honest: we, as humans, do not understand ourselves. The softer sciences have made progress, but it has been slow and groping, stymied by their being bound to the use of inferior, insufficiently rigorous tools. What knowledge they have gained is washed out by an ocean of biases, assumptions, and plain ignorance in the greater public, as a drive toward self-serving beliefs come into play particularly in human affairs.


 

And now to the proper subject of this post, and the reason I tagged it “Black History Month.” (I’d hoped to make more general comments, but this post is already too long and a specific example serves as well.) A few days ago this article appeared on the Atlantic from Dr. Adia Wingfield(1)(emphasis mine):

Progress has undoubtedly been made since the days of explicit segregation, and most white people no longer openly advocate for segregation in neighborhoods, schools, and offices. When speaking to researchers, many even argue that integration is important and necessary. … Despite laws prohibiting segregation…it persists on several fronts today.

Some of the most striking studies done on present-day segregation have to do with how it’s connected to the ways families share money and other resources among themselves. The sociologist Thomas Shapiro, for instance, argues that the greater wealth that white parents are likely to have allows them to help out their children with down payments, college tuition, and other significant expenses that would otherwise create debt. As a result, white families often use these “transformative assets” to purchase homes in predominantly white neighborhoods, based on the belief that sending their children to mostly white schools in these areas will offer them a competitive advantage. (These schools are usually evaluated in racial and economic terms, not by class size, teacher quality, or other measures shown to have an impact on student success.) Shapiro’s research shows that while whites no longer explicitly say that they will not live around blacks, existing wealth disparities enable them to make well-meaning decisions that, unfortunately, still serve to reproduce racial segregation in residential and educational settings.

Local decisions and actions have global consequences, not always the linear sum of the local, or even foreseeable from the local. This is the deeply nonintuitive part, the part people will fail to understand because it violates some vague assumption I might call ‘linearity of intent’, and because they really can’t anticipate that something bad could come from most people meaning well:

It is not actually necessary for people to be racist to reproduce a systemically racist society. (5)

This carries more general implications about the morality of actions, carried out locally, which have global consequences not directly foreseeable, but I will stick to this example specifically. There is a kind of transmutation that occurs through the nonlinear aggregation of people’s behavior, so that decisions which appear acceptable at the one scale grow to have dire consequences in the larger.

In this case it means that people doing their best by their children, by the fact of acting in a world in which whites enjoy disproportionate privilege, perpetuate segregation and the systemic oppression follows (6, 7). Hiring managers, acting without any racial intent of their own, reinforce the topology of social networks by selecting from a pool of applicants which comes to them with such bias already built-in (8).

It follows that we can’t assume our actions will not remain unaltered by their integration with the actions of others, and that the globally/systemically reproduced intent of the macroscopic system will be the same as the majority’s. Even worse: there are cases where emergence creates a system that behaves in ways that are directly opposed to the intent of individuals.

Without a better understanding of nonlinearity and emergence – and with a rigor that deprives us of safety in our preconceptions – I don’t imagine a solution to these problems can be found.

 

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  1. Two Atlantic articles about segregation and poverty. http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/02/is-ending-segregation-the-key-to-ending-poverty/385002/?utm_source=SFFB, http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/02/segregation-tomorrow/459942/
  2. WaPo article about whether more intelligent people are less racist. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/01/27/are-smarter-people-actually-less-racist/?tid=sm_fb
  3. I can’t find a proper attribution. It wasn’t Twain.
  4. And some basic “common sense” type assumptions…when all possible events are accounted for, their total probability is 1.0. That the position from which distances are measured should imply nothing about the prediction, and such.
  5. In 2014, I realized to my surprise how much sociologists had been able to learn; that this was not a foreign or outlandish concept to them, but some had already made this observation, ex.: Bonilla-Silva.
  6. Another very related example comes immediately to mind: it is not necessary that most police in a black community be malicious to do harm. It is only necessary that they be afraid, indifferent, ignorant, or any mix thereof.
  7. If many of our problems really do take on this form, can they even have a solution? I have heard that busing in an earlier era was actually closing the black/white achievement gap and undoing the evil of segregation before American’s more inveterate nature reasserted itself during the 1980’s. This American Life, 562.
  8. This was also discussed in the Wingfield article.

Entropy, etc.

I don’t have anything useful to post here. I’ve alluded to these issues before but have nothing to add.

I have this strange feeling that the problems of the interpretation of quantum mechanics, dark energy, the big bang, and quantum gravity will all necessarily be solved simultaneously, all involving the same concepts.

What I know about the history of advancements in theoretical physics suggests our problem is very rarely a lack of mathematical tools, or an understanding of the present state of physical concepts. Mathematicians have been out ahead for about 100 years now, developing mathematics that have no apparent use in physics. The tools almost certainly exist already for tomorrow’s theories. The problem has to do with the concepts themselves and our imagination; as Haldane put it, “the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.

It seems we need experimental evidence not just to suggest absurd things, as with Lorentz (4), but unambiguously require them for theory to remain consistent before we can accept them. In this way our “common sense” is very often an obstacle.

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  1. Someone better trained than I am described a problem I actually think has something to do with why “you can’t have nothing isn’t.” http://physics.stackexchange.com/questions/65177/is-the-preferred-basis-problem-solved
  2. Improbability drive. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zjbtZ4NgtdA
  3. Zurek: http://www.nature.com/nphys/journal/v5/n3/full/nphys1202.html, http://journals.aps.org/rmp/abstract/10.1103/RevModPhys.75.715
  4. A Mechanical Universe Episode, includes the history of Special Relativity. http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x2z75hb