A Nation of Death.

This world doesn’t really belong to people like me. It belongs to beautiful people who want to share their voices, share their art, and share themselves. Life is for people who love it.

Life is for people like this:

 

It is not for those endlessly ruminating, and who think rather than act. It is for humans such as these who live with themselves and love without shame.

dudes

Apparently the bullet-riddled bodies of twenty first-graders wasn’t enough for the people of this country. Maybe enough blood has been spilled, at last? I’d offer some facts about the steady increase in mass shootings after the lift of the assault weapons ban in 2004 but that would hardly deal with the issue. What is needed is a massive alteration of the American conscience, enough to counter the moral insanity that twists the religious freedom of one into the subjugation of another and pretends fearful, craven men to be of great valor.

Any nation could be expected, with some rare probability, to produce individuals who are capable of things like this, but recognize there is something specific about the mass hysteria and culture-bound psychoses of the United States that turn the deeply disturbed into the profoundly dangerous. This is something I’ve written about here before.

Maybe some people don’t like how the world is changing. Maybe for some people this is all going to fast, and they don’t know how to keep up and get comfortable with all of these people being themselves.

Well too fucking bad. We’re not going back. Nobody’s going back. We’re not going to have transwomen stabbed up on the goddamn metro. We’re not going to have people pay the price of their lives for the radical act of going out to dance. Orlando shooting survivor Angel Santiago:

Let these sentiments join with those offered elsewhere in these days and contribute to the sea change which is so needed:

Let something be done to bring an end to this. Silence is complicity, and prayers and condolences do not suffice. To offer these when a clear course of moral action is available is an act of cowardice. Let this blood be enough.

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.

 

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.

The math is real.

All details of the analysis have a physical meaning and should be interpretable for the physicist.

If there was some detail in a mathematical expression – any factor, any exponentiation, addition or whatever, that detail has a specific physical meaning. If it didn’t matter, there wouldn’t be any reason for it to be there, and you are using an analysis with superfluous detail. If it has to be there to get the answer that matches experiment, then it has meaning…

Sometimes I will hear that one thing or another is “just a mathematical thing”, but that is clearly not so. I think sometimes we give up on doing physics and just start doing math, but if we really are physicists we can’t give up on understanding our equations. Shankar has already said very similar things.

The multiplicity of agency.

The multiplicity, Ω, is the number of ways a system might be configured given some observable macroscopic state (macrostate). If I flip a coin and catch it in my hand, and I do not look at it, its multiplicity is two(1). A body with no extension (a particle with no length, width, or depth can’t twist, bend, rotate, etc.), contained in some box can occupy some position in that box and have some velocity, and only these two variables contribute to its multiplicity.

If I take a large handful of coins, and toss them up in the air, there is an expectation that “about” half of them will come up heads, correct? What may be less apparent, but can still be intuited, is this: As the number of coins being tossed increases, the percent by which they deviate from a 50/50 split will decrease. This is sometimes called the Weak Law of large numbers, and it is the simplest kind of emergence I can think of; it is a macroscopic, qualitative property that arises from increasing a quantity in the system. It is a statistical impossibility that a large number of fair coin tosses will not reveal the underlying probability of a single toss.

Viewed another way: there exists a set of all possible outcomes for every coin flip. Because they are all equally probable, and there are so many more outcomes with the coins split about 50/50, those outcomes are much more likely. The states that split the coins evenly have a much greater multiplicity.

There are many different kinds of statistical convergence, and I suspect they can all be associated with a type of emergent observable property. If the multiplicity as it appears in formal statistical mechanics, is sufficiently explained, I may give the multiplicity of agency. 

 

Let there exist some macroscopic behavior of a community. This behavior is associated with an effective, or apparent agency which emerges from aggregation of individuals, or the local behavior of components. The multiplicity of this agency is the number of local behaviors which all contribute to reproducing the same macroscopic behavior.

 

  •  People shopping for clothes will operate under a number of motivations, and may weigh a number of different things when making purchasing decisions. Different people also go with very different fashion choices, or will prefer certain stores, etc. To the extent that all of these variations in local behavior typically contain a common thread of preferring lower priced goods, the market will generate a downward pressure on costs of production which is robust to all of this variation. This pressure has contributed to the creation of sweatshops. Because people make decisions at a local level and act at that scale, the apparent macroscopic agency, or systemic behavior is indifferent to this.

What I am trying to get at is a way of understanding systemic societal problems in rigorous terms that show the qualitative differences between global scale and local scale behavior.

  • This seems closely associated with problems of nonlinearity, and a violation of the basic assumptions people habitually make(2) when trying to understand these systems. It’s just not enough that ‘most people’ would not want some particular system behavior.
  • How do wars occur, anyway? It would be too simplistic to attribute this completely to leaders. It would be safe to say that most people do not wish for these events, but we seem to habitually behave in ways that contribute to tensions and conflict; that the greater multiplicity belongs to the emergent agency which creates and maintains hostile divisions between people.

Maybe as a species we are just feckless? After all of our advances in technology and science, why do we still not understand ourselves well enough to solve fundamental problems like poverty and violence? I would hope we are not still holding on to the notion that our individual free will has relevance and power to affect our behavior as a society(3), as the recurrence of civil wars, the tendency of markets to produce dangerous bubbles, and many other phenomena demonstrate that the aggregation of behavior can create systems acting in direct opposition to local intentions.

The companion post is here.

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  1. There is some subtle interpretational issues here with what probability means, but I will gloss over these because they are largely philosophical, and to the extent they relate to underlying issues in classical and quantum probability, etc. I think I can get away with ignoring them for the purposes of this post.
  2. The prior post about linearity.
  3. Econophysics, for example, can get pretty far, and reproduce some surprising results assuming individuals’ behavior is entirely random. It hardly seems to matter that people operate under coherent local rules at all, at least for certain properties.

Ta-Nehisi Quotes

And who can be mad in America? Racism is just the wind, here. Racism is but the rain.

Between the World and Me, p.92

“But now I understand the gravity of what I was proposing–that a four-year-old child should be watchful, prudent, and shrewd, that I curtail your happiness, that you submit to a loss of time. And now when I measure this fear against the boldness that the masters of the galaxy imparted to their own children, I am ashamed.”

ibid, p. 97

“And still you are called to struggle, not because it assures you victory, but because it assures you an honorable and sane life.”

p.99

“The mettle that it takes to look away from the horror of our prison system, from police forces transformed into armies, from the long war against the black body, is not forged overnight. This is the practice of jabbing out one’s eyes, and forgetting the work of one’s hands. To acknowledge these horrors means turning away from the brightly rendered version of your country as it has always declared itself and turning toward something murkier and unknown. It is still too difficult for most Americans to do this. But that is your work. It must be, if only to preserve the sanctity of your mind.”

http://www.theatlantic.com/video/index/410815/in-conversation-with-ta-nehisi-coates/

I had a story due for an editor…and I kept asking for extensions. And he said to me the last time I asked him, he said ‘no.’ He said if you don’t turn this in tomorrow, I will go to  [editor in chief] and tell him that I have no confidence in your ability to deliver this piece. And I said ‘Oh my God, that cannot happen. That can never be said about me.’ And I churned it out in a day, and the piece ran in the magazine like four months later. And what I got was that I was afraid. That in fact what I was doing – that I did not need more time, that I did not need to think things over, that I had not figured it out, that I was just afraid. That I was literally afraid that it was going to be terrible, that I couldn’t do it. That actually was a big growth piece for me, because then I could see the whole process. So I do get afraid now, but I recognize it as part of the process, and I just write right through it. It’s actually one of the things I try to impart to students when I’m teaching. That it’s natural to sit there and be afraid but you gotta  do it in spite of it.

Malcolm was basically Jesus in my house.

 

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/01/bill-cosby-and-his-enablers/422448/

“It could be me” is a fine starting place for confronting the evils of the world, but a really poor conclusion. If no broader theory of sympathy and humanism emerges beyond one’s mean particularism, then all we really are left with are tribalism and power.

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/01/bernie-sanders-reparations/424602/

Sometimes the moral course lies within the politically possible, and sometimes the moral course lies outside of the politically possible. One of the great functions of radical candidates is to war against equivocators and opportunists who conflate these two things. Radicals expand the political imagination and, hopefully, prevent incrementalism from becoming a virtue.

 

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/06/the-radical-practicality-of-reparations/372114/

The problem of reparations has never been practicality. It has always been the awesome ghosts of history.

http://www.theatlantic.com/notes/2016/02/against-endorsements/462261/

I don’t so much hope that any reader “agrees” with me, as I hope to haunt them, to trouble their sense of how things actually are.

 

 

The American Violence.

Here is the Wikipedia article on Mass Hysteria.

Legislation alone to fix the problem of gun violence in the United States will not suffice. We really have entered into a cultural regime in which these events are normalized. Going on a mass killing spree with an assault rifle is just one of those things you do, as an American. In most countries the act could scarcely enter into a person’s imagination, but Americans have an obsession bordering on lust for guns. An obsession which is by turns fearful and infatuated.

It seems somehow the culture a person has developed in puts a loose set of bounds on the types of pathologies they are capable of, as well the range of identities they are capable of assuming for themselves. The imagination can only stretch so far.

There are some older trans-people who have reported that they did not know they were trans until they heard it described and given a name. In the 1800’s, a time in American history when homosexual acts were near unutterable, would it have been possible for someone to identify themselves as ‘gay’? Certainly the identity would not have meant then what it does now. I mean not just that gays lived in a society that pathologized and demonized them, but also that a consequence of that oppression was a complete lack of cultural development in which an identity could be formed. The cultural context of our lives sets the scope for our possible selves…

Our ability to understand ourselves and create identities depends in some way on the molds we have available. People modify and combine archetypes to suit themselves in a sort of adaptive process. They don’t start from scratch and the possibilities, at least starting from within one’s own context and using one’s own life are not limitless. This brings me back to gun violence.

There is an identity of “lone gunman”, or “crazy active shooter” that exists now, like a meme that has bred into the American conciousness, and that gun control laws alone will not deal with. This is the particular American pathology, the American mass hysteria. There are loner kids, in high schools and middle schools in this country now who, absent this societal disease, would never have imagined for themselves such an act and would not have had the identity available. But now it is within the realm of possibility, because it is well within the realm of their imagination, as it pervades American fears.

We can hope that the NRA’s influence is undercut, and some legislation is passed. And maybe some of prayers people have been offering up will get Wayne LaPierre struck down by lightning. But even after this, it may take a generation for the country to recover from its diseased thinking (2).

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  1. A Frontline episode about the NRA well worth watching.
  2. This occurred to me only after I finished this post: There are more severe pathologies taking hold of many middle eastern countries. There is an entire generation growing up in warzones, some in which children have only soldiers and terrorists in sight for rolemodels. Children who cannot imagine peace because they have never seen it. The world will pay a price for this.

Everyone is living a stolen life.

The history of the human species is defined by millennia after millennia of genocides, and displacements of people.

This country, that Americans are so thankful for, is a stolen one. It was stolen for them by their great-grandparents. The labor that built it was also stolen. Somehow this doesn’t really dull the taste, though. People are perfectly happy to inherit stolen goods, a stolen country, and a stolen life. And I’m not sure it’s reasonable to demand anything else.

I think it is too much to ask, really. Can you expect an entire people to honestly grapple with any suggestion they they should not exist? That’s an absurd thing to expect. You should not expect a child born of rape to be sorry for being alive – it would be cruel to expect this, yet everyone living today, not just in the United States but in the whole world, is the inheritor of the legacy of human history itself. It is largely a legacy of murder, and rape, thievery, and genocide.

Neanderthals were murdered, or otherwise driven away so that Europe could be settled. Other waves of migration and displacement followed. The people who painted the caves of Lascaux are not the same as the present day French, but were some ancients extirpated long before written history. I can’t recall ever hearing of a people whose origin story begins with a genocide of other people, but this must have been a common origin for cultures that appeared after the first waves out of Africa.

The pilgrims, too, of course, preferred to delude themselves with the idea that god had made a “new world” for them. And of course the people who were there already were a non-entity. God had seen to it that diseases would destroy them and make way for their Manifest Destiny. The history was written by the people left alive, and the crimes were made righteous.

It leaves us here, living naively on the graves of dead cultures and people. To give thanks and be grateful for the lives that were stolen for us, because some truths about our condition are just too terrible.

Natural Selection at all scales?

Do ant colonies form a kind of “super-organism”? Is that how we should think about what they are doing? If we were all bacterium, or were the size of bacterium, and looked at a human being, wouldn’t we conclude that a human was itself a “super-organism”?

The discrete species that we identify are particular to the scales in space and time that we are accustomed to. Nature itself does not recognize, and behaves without regard to individual species. Natural selection may occur at all scales.

Observe:

  • Across deep time, the boundary between one kind of organism and another washes away in the history of continuous change.

When in the fossil record does Homo Sapiens begin and its progenitors end? Anthropologists acknowledge that the distinctions we make between Homo Erectus, Neanderthalensis, Habilis, etc. are made largely for convenience. It helps organize the record and discretize the concepts involved. This allows us to create narratives of evolutionary arcs when we think may have understood enough to create a new “chapter” in the story. There are always arguments going around about how to draw the divisions; whether to use the population’s behavior or some element of morphology. That the community can form a consensus about how organize the fossil record does not imply that the record contains any of that organization innately (1).

  • Understanding of the evolution of cooperation among organisms has been advancing for a number of years, and requires that systems be viewed at multiple scales of organization.

Which is the organism, and which is the super-organism? Not just in the case of ants and other highly organized insects, and not just in the case of human constituted super-organisms like cities and nation states, but I also mean to invoke this description for the evolution of multicellularity and every other conceivable case:

Imagine that there exists a population of single-cell bacterium, each only very slightly varied from the other. Now we have to assume a few things: First, that there is some impetus for resource competition. Second, that there is some mechanism that can break the symmetry across the system, i.e. a mechanism to make the population inhomogeneous and allow the formation of competing groups (2).

  • Multiple substrates for the storing of information, each with its proper temporal or spatial scale can be identified.

If there is no particular scale for selection, it follows that there exists no particular substrate for the information being edited by the process – it cannot just be DNA. Recently epigenetic effects have been described which can alter gene expression across two and three generational spans, or even within the lifespan of a single person. They may occur in a person’s body as a result of, for example, changes in diet.

In another example, take the case of behaviors that are transferred within a community: mimetic changes of the kind described by Dawkins (3). The community as a whole has behaviors and other cultural constructions encoded in the traditions being passed between people. At a particular timescale, as long as there exists a mechanism whereby one community with a set of behaviors reproduces or survives in greater numbers than a community with different behaviors, a preference will inevitably be expressed.

It is said that some Native American cultures planned for the next  seven generations. Typically in teaching evolution, the focus will be on the individual and its own success at survival and reproduction, as expected from our limited personal experiences, but instead imagine that there is a set of behaviors that, instead of producing more offspring in only the subsequent generation, somehow produce more offspring not until the second or third generation (4). At that longer timescale, isn’t it the behavior with the lower single generation success rate preferred? Is there any limit to how far forward this can reach? It has occurred to me that it may be very difficult to find a mechanism for selection at very long timescales, though – it seems that the substrate would have to change.

The ways that organisms, superorgansims, and communities are modifying their “genetic” or genetic-analogous information can become very difficult to describe. I think in more general terms it would require a kind of thermodynamics which I’m not even sure exists yet. A kind of thermodynamics that can describe the changing organization (entropy) of a system along with the appearance of new levels of organization (critical states and phase transitions). I can’t go past this point, so I will just recap and stop:

  • Natural selection as it is recognized today is a special case of more general phenomenon that can be described in physical/thermodynamic or information theoretic terms.
  • There is no proper space or time scale for selective processes.
  • As long as all the necessary ingredients for evolution to occur are present at any described scale, it will occur (5).

  1. I suspect it will be so that some changes occur in evolution very quickly indeed, almost discontinuously when taken in the usual deep time scales that we commonly associate with natural selection. I was taught that it takes millions of years for changes in a species to be marked, but I suspect more recent biological research has complicated this. It may be possible for species to change on scales of thousands or even hundreds of years under certain  circumstances. I am not well educated on the particular instances of this kind of event.
  2. This part I simply don’t understand. In its full generality, a theory describing this would not even be recognizably biological – it would be in the language of thermodynamics and phase transitions, as what I am trying to describe here I think is fundamentally a kind of non-equilibrium phase separation. Non-equilibrium because the population is a living system that takes in energy at some rate, and here by phase separation I mean something like oil and water separating due to the energies of interaction between molecules and the entropies of the separated and mixed states of the system as a whole. The particular mechanisms that might produce the inhomogeneity can be incredibly subtle too – I think of it in terms of selection trying to get ‘traction,’ and depending on how well discretized, and how strongly competitive the groups are at the scale of interest there may be very little selection or very clear, well defined natural selective mechanisms; the selective process itself has to emerge in some subtle way from the system’s changing dynamics as the groups are given more definition.
  3. I haven’t read the Selfish Gene. I can only assume his description of mimetics is very similar to this, though probably without my attempt at full generalization.
  4. I’m not completely familiar with exactly how the Monarch butterflies manage their migration. It is my understanding that the entire round trip takes five or more generations.
  5. Which are really necessary!? I don’t know. If I were to build a computational model, how simple could I make it, and still have a model that reproduces evolutionary processes? Is there a simpler one than Conway’s Life?