Cowlix Wearing my mind on my sleeve

Saturday, March 09, 2002 Permanent link to this day

The Revised Book of Genesis

1. In the beginning, there was a bang! And it was a big bang. The big bang was filled with implications for all that would follow. The first consequence was time; the second was space.

2. Time began ticking forward at time "zero" from this initial moment (in constant intervals). The arrow of time is unidirectional (always forward, never backward, despite any scripts of science fiction writers to the contrary).

Defining memes

What's in a Meme? John Wilkins on what meme really means.

Certain terms and notions in both the sciences and humanities are fated to be misunderstood, either because they are first vaguely formulated, or because they are so evocative they generate such immense enthusiasm and are applied to almost everything, coming to mean almost nothing. A classic example is the term of Thomas Kuhn's (1962): paradigm. Originally intended by Kuhn to apply to what changed radically in a scientific revolution, it came to be applied to perceptual and conceptual changes in cases of individual, social, literary, political, economic and even consumer choice. When a term of philosophy of science is used to advertise a new car design, you know it has lost any definite meaning. Eventually its author abandoned it under criticism in favour of notions and terms that were more specific, but "paradigm" is now ensconced in popular parlance, surviving both author and intended theoretical usage. The difficulty now with the term for a specialist in the philosophy and history of science is that calling a theoretical change a "paradigm shift" has become little more than a metaphor. It describes only an impression and implies only a subjective assessment.

The basic and central notion of memetics is, of course, denoted by the term meme, Richard Dawkins' (1977) term for what is transmitted in culture that is analogous to the biological gene. "Meme" is in danger of suffering the same fate as "paradigm". It is used to denote, variously, neural structures, cultural artefacts, practices, economic systems, religions, concepts, phenotypic traits, self-awareness, and epigenetic predispositions. Memes are thought by some to control behaviour, by others to be acquired through a choice or act of will. The term gets applied to all levels of social and cultural structure, from minimal semantic entities like phonemes, through more molecular entities like phrases and snatches of music, to entire traditions and world views. In this blooming buzzing confusion, the usefulness of memes as a category is being lost or degraded.

[via abuddhas memes]

Hubble released

Work on the Hubble has been completed and it's been released by Columbia.

Nuclear Posture Review

Secret Plan Outlines the Unthinkable: William Arkin on the still classified portion of this year's Nuclear Posture Review, part of which was released publicly in January.

The Bush administration, in a secret policy review completed early this year, has ordered the Pentagon to draft contingency plans for the use of nuclear weapons against at least seven countries, naming not only Russia and the "axis of evil"--Iraq, Iran, and North Korea--but also China, Libya and Syria.

In addition, the U.S. Defense Department has been told to prepare for the possibility that nuclear weapons may be required in some future Arab-Israeli crisis. And, it is to develop plans for using nuclear weapons to retaliate against chemical or biological attacks, as well as "surprising military developments" of an unspecified nature.

The Union of Concerned Scientists has an alternate view of what the Nuclear Posture Review should encompass.

See also:

Quantum computability

Computing the Noncomputable: Tien Kieu looks at the implications of quantum computation with regards to computability theory, in particular the halting problem. Are problems which are non-computable under traditional models solvable with quantum algorithms?

We explore in the framework of Quantum Computation the notion of computability, which holds a central position in Mathematics and Theoretical Computer Science. A quantum algorithm that exploits the quantum adiabatic processes is considered for the Hilbert's tenth problem, which is equivalent to the Turing halting problem and known to be mathematically noncomputable. Generalised quantum algorithms are also considered for some other mathematical noncomputables in the same and of different noncomputability classes. The key element of all these algorithms is the measurability of both the values of physical observables and of the quantum-mechanical probability distribution for these values. It is argued that computability, and thus the limits of Mathematics, ought to be determined not solely by Mathematics itself but also by physical principles.

Collecting books

The Buying of Books: Carl Patton, in a 1922 essay, tells why he buys books and how he gets them in the house when he's bought too many.

have always felt that it was commendable to buy books. I grew up with a liking for reading my own books, instead of someone else's. This preference I still have. I have my books strictly for use. I turn down the pages. I even tear out a few, if I need them. Books that I really use are much the worse for wear when I get through with them. I always mark them. When I read one of them a second time, which I seldom do, I generally can't remember what I meant by the marks I put in it the first time. But it gives you a feeling of having dug deep into the book, and it intensifies your sense of the ownership of it, to make big black marks down the side of it as you read. So I have always felt that one should buy as many books as possible. They are not like food, of which one should buy only as much as one can consume at the moment. Nor like clothes, of which a wise man will buy as few and as cheap as he can get by with. But of books he should buy all he can.

I am not defending this attitude toward the buying of books. I am merely saying that I have it. This attitude has met at home a larger indulgence than it has been entitled to. But I have grown a little ashamed of it myself, now and then. And in this mood, hesitating to bring home some literary purchase, I have hit upon several devices which I do not mind sharing with any of my readers who may profit thereby.

Decentralization is good

How Osama won Europe the space race: Will Hutton on the importance of having access to space in general and satellite navigation specifically outside the control of a single country.

Six months ago, such a rash of unanimity of effort over space would have seemed impossible. The Ministry of Defence and the Treasury had firmly overruled the Department of Trade and Industry and the Foreign Office over the Skynet contract which was set to go to the US-led consortium, and the Europeans were wrangling interminably over the $2.2bn cost of the Galileo project. Then came the Afghan War and the show of US unilateralism - and the stunning demonstration via the interrelated network of predator planes, smart missiles and ground-based special forces, all using satellite technology, that space had come of age.

The Europeans have learned a salutary lesson; this technology is so important that they must have their own access and control of it - and the only way forward is to act together because no single European state can fund space technology itself. The Galileo programme is not yet certain - the key meeting of EU Transport Ministers is at the end of March and Britain is dragging its feet - but its prospects look immeasurably better. The law of unintended consequences has operated with devastating consequences. Osama bin Laden has revived Europe's interest in space.

Galileo funded

Funding is continuing for Galileo, the GPS competitor being considered by the E.U., despite U.S. pressure to cancel the project.

Fusion update

The press release from Science has more details on the reports of cold fusion being achieved by the team led by Rusi Taleyarkhan:

The experiments performed by the Science researchers suggest that nuclear fusion might occur in bubbles created by "acoustic cavitation," a phenomenon studied for nearly a century. In acoustic cavitation, the pressure of a sound wave creates and collapses bubbles in a liquid. The first part of the wave is a tension wave, which stretches the liquid and pulls apart a space for bubbles to form when the liquid is bombarded by energetic particles like neutrons. A second compression wave follows close behind, squeezing and bursting the bubbles, which then emit a brilliant but extremely brief flash of light called sonoluminescence.

Sonoluminescence's exact cause is still somewhat mysterious, but many researchers believe that the shock waves of the collapse generate high temperatures and pressures in the bubble's gas, which releases a burst of energy. Scientists have learned to trap single bubbles within a sound wave, causing them to swell and shrink and emit light in a regular fashion.

Temperatures inside these bubbles can be as high as 5000-7000 degrees Kelvin, about as hot as the sun's surface. But, recent experiments by a number of researchers suggest that bubble temperatures can reach even higher temperatures--closer to the heat needed for nuclear fusion--if the original bubbles are very small and allowed to grow rapidly before collapse.

Note the temperature in the above - this is not cold fusion, as the original news reports were saying.

Subsequent to publication, another team from Oak Ridge National Laboratory attempted to reproduce the results and reported that they have not yet seen signs the neutron emission that would be produced from fusion, but the original team looking at the ORNL data disagrees and says there was in fact fusion detected by the ORNL team. Both agree there is more work to do.

Zimbabwe elections start

Shock Mugabe

Martin Luther King Junior, the slain American civil rights icon, had this to say in 1963, the height of the struggle for freedom by United States civil rights groups:

"We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed."

Zimbabwe's long-promised moment of reckoning has finally come.

It beckons all patriotic and valiant citizens to stand up with one voice to tell one Robert Mugabe: Mr President, please go and go now.

The presidential vote on Saturday and Sunday gives all of you, victims of tyranny and madness of two decades, an historic and very last chance to free yourselves from modern history's worst dictatorship and to reclaim your lost sovereignty.

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Copyright © 2001-2002 by Wes Cowley