Monday, November 7, 2022

 I was drinking my first coffee of the day and switched my FM radio tuner from public radio (which was already annoying me with some politically correct or multicultural garbage that very few other than the liberal media academia axis wants to hear) to the 70's 80's pop channel. "Burning down the house" was on, which I hadn't thought of in a very long time. I recognized the song from the first few bars of instrumental and turned off the radio before the vocal began again, finding its tone a bit disruptive this early. 

The phrase evoked concern about the outcome of the pending US midterm elections (as I write November 6, 2022). A large percentage of Americans are indeed about ready to burn down the house as it were, i.e., toss the democratic Republic in favor of authoritarian cult-of-personality government where even the lip-service paid to the concept of the fair administration of justice would be dropped. 

Possibly that population segment believes (difficult to say given that they believe Trump is a legitimate businessman, apparently on the basis of his performance on the Apprentice reality [sic] tv show) that whatever the band of usual horror-show-clowns that infested the government under such circumstances, at least the borders would be secured, literally and figuratively. Unfortunately, it would no longer be America. Paraphrasing a line from Madmen, I don't know exactly how it will end, but I can tell you it ends badly.  

Meanwhile (November 6, 2022), Putin continues to evacuate Kherson (Ukraine) in the face of Ukrainian military advances in retaking territory initially seized by Russia. Speaking of ending badly, I see no reason for Putin to evacuate civilians (who he normally slaughters without much concern) unless he is planning to use a particularly nasty weapon there (it might be difficult even for an adept liar like Putin to claim that the defenders did this to their own people; he does have a habit of involuntarily smirking after a particularly satisfying prevarication, e.g., while advising to look for the recent pipeline saboteurs among those that might benefit from that). 

A modest proposal: Ukraine relinquished its nuclear arsenal years ago in return for guarantees of sovereignty. Under the circumstances, we should return equivalent nuclear weapons to Ukraine. Putin can then decide whether he wants mutual annihilation or a chance to continue as asshole-in-chief of Russia (i.e., get out of Ukraine).

At the risk of being labeled a nihilist or warmonger, if that little assbite in N. Korea continues to develop a nuclear arsenal (while also making daily threats to use them), we should arm S. Korea and Japan with nuclear weapons also. Something is going to step off eventually, so it seems reasonable to give our current friends a fighting chance and possibly deter a nuclear war in the long run. Israel is already ready to go as far as the goat-boys running Iran (just waiting for us to get out of the way). Guess as long as I am suggesting precipitous actions I should recommend similarly arming Taiwan, though they are so near their enemy (China) that they would probably have to use nuclear submarine platforms to preserve retaliatory capability.

I often feel like I am in some grotesque cartoon strip in whatever passes for an entertainment medium in an advanced civilization. The strip features a Petri dish (a shallow dish used to culture bacteria in a laboratory) labeled "Earth." Little dialogue balloons emerge from the overflowing dish (bacteria having overgrown the entire dish and now pushing the top off and oozing down the sides) with timely comments, e.g., "we really must recycle," "ban abortion, population control is wrong" etc.

I recently made my first intentional use of the insert/overwrite toggle setting on a computer keyboard. I have used computers (and primarily keyboard as input device) for almost half a century and up to now the overwrite mode only served to disrupt my work when accidentally toggled (I learned touch typing around 1971, on typewriters), as I always intend to insert new characters, not overwrite existing. However, I discovered it was convenient to use a previous data entry as a template within the field of a data structure (i.e., to copy and paste the structure then just type over the previous fields). Despite my seeming chronic irritable pessimism, I am always read to be pleasantly surprised (while I wait for my end or the end of the world, though as Schopenhauer observed, for every man death is the end of the world, the Day of Judgment, in a personal sense).

I was happy to see NASA successfully hit the DART asteroid twin. Perhaps we will be able to nudge an incoming killer asteroid off course enough that it will miss the Earth (and so remove that from the growing list of extinction scenarios applicable to our situation now).  I recall NASA experimenting with the technique a few years back when they crashed a probe into the planet Mars (1999 Mars probe crash). Just joking.

To the extent I am able, I have continued working with randomization of data (from observations) to synthesize a null distribution. As I mentioned previously, the idea, described by Ronald Fisher in 1935, is to use an appropriate scheme to randomize the data observed in order to get an idea of how rare the actually observed combination of experimental unit (say one a similarly placed pair of plants, each from a different genetic origin) and response (say the relative height of the pairs).

As is unfortunately common today, much of the original creativity in the subject has been obscured by verbal ornamentation (perhaps crudely analogous to John von Neumann warning of too much abstract inbreeding leading to mere baroque aesthetics in areas of mathematics that have traveled too great a distance from the original empirical origins; see his 1947 article, The Mathematician). In the early twentieth century Fisher (and Pitman shortly afterwards) never described the concept as a "permutation test," that being a time when educated people still attempted to use precise language, particularly with regards to mathematics. Nowadays, even an English grammar textbook author has to be apologetic in attempting to teach the student, asserting that "language runs its own course and previously discouraged usage can become normal," (from the 2011 Oxford Modern English Grammar by Bas Aarts) before suggesting delicately that "this does not mean that everything uttered by a speaker of English will be regarded as acceptable" (I note, dryly, that there would not be much point in offering a grammar textbook were it otherwise).

I don't know, perhaps human relations have always been more primate interaction than the work of the noble, rational, spiritual beings I see in the best of us (and certainly see as the appropriate model to the extent anyone feels the compulsion to better himself rather than to self-contentedly merely advocate his banality and mediocrity from whatever forum is available). Television dramas now advertise biographies for the characters portrayed by the actors. The one remaining television game show featuring real challenge to understanding and recall (Jeopardy, and no, an IBM glorified search engine could not have competed in a real game in my opinion)  now finds it necessary to offer another version of the show featuring celebrities and dumbed-down questions (I assume, since I am unable to stomach a look at the show). I realize this is partly a sign of the decreasing intelligence of the human populations (knives now often have product warnings that they are sharp, a local radio report of a helicopter crash notes that analysis of data indicated the chopper descended rapidly, etc.). If I understand the politically correct multicultural agenda, they want to stop all discrimination (negative or positive) by race, ethnicity or gender/sexual inclination among people and instead use the normal preferences of women, homosexuals or men who possess those preferences (most men probably), i.e., stock Jeopardy or any desirable employment generally with individuals judged attractive by that criteria primarily, hiring some competent people farther down the line to actually do the work (I'm not sure if they realize that becomes necessary, since most of the active proponents of this agenda work in fields where achievement is judged only by the opinions of the group rather than by scientific advance, engineering advance, true musical creativity, etc.).

Perhaps the ability to distinguish ability, integrity, and courage from innate primate physical attraction has always been more difficult to identify as one descends the ladder of intelligence and character among the variability found in the population. There was a close relationship between physical structure and capability and ability to survive in a world without advanced technology during our long evolutionary history, but the remnants of that past are a serious liability now when the crises facing humanity (mostly of our own making, e.g., overpopulation, global warming and the natural disease and wars that are developing) require decision-making by the best of us, not the most popular to the interconnected troop. As I have said previously, the ubiquity of social media like Facebook and Twitter have been a major factor in the etiology of the current plague of demagogues, instantaneous intercommunication (to the extent that images and dog whistles can be called "communication") having more or less the same effect on humans as would placing large mirrors around a baboon cage have on the occupants. I was kind of hoping Elon Musk would quietly get some smart people off planet some place where the race could just start over, knowing what went wrong previously (and watching remotely as Earth sterilized itself), but his preoccupation with Twitter makes him appear to be some kind of fool (so I am back to praying the Other Ones will take some interest in cultivating a small experimental colony somewhere; the experiment would be to determine if humans could evolve with some help).

Returning to my recent work with randomization and permutation, I was reminded that Wolfgang Pauli had in 1925 proposed that four quantum numbers were needed to characterize each atomic electron and that no two electrons in an atom have the same set of quantum numbers (from Concepts of Modern Physics, 6th Edition, Arthur Beiser ).  In autumn 1924 Pauli had proposed the new (fourth) quantum number as a "two-valuedness not described classically" (quoting from Paul's December 13, 1946 Nobel Prize Lecture). The 1925 proposal that no two electrons could share the same set of quantum numbers came to be known as the exclusion principle (a convenient property, since it keeps the atoms of our bodies from collapsing, along with planets and stars, though the latter may collapse when their hydrogen and secondary fusion fuels are exhausted, with a spectacular explosion observed as a supernova). The fourth quantum number came to be thought of as electron spin, though it is essentially a quantum-mechanical property of the electron (and other particles) and does not really correspond to spin of a particle (the electron, like other matter particles, is fundamentally an energy packet, or a field). If you have two electrons, you can describe their configuration space, i.e., their three coordinates in space and one coordinate in "two-valuedness" (electron spin if you prefer, though it is more a group theoretical property, e.g., you would have to walk twice around an electron or other spin 1/2 particles, which comprise matter, to return to the original starting point as it were). All particles of the same kind, e.g., electrons, are otherwise identical, so they can exchange configuration coordinates with one another arbitrarily, however, for fermions (the electron is a fermion, with spin 1/2) the wave function of the system changes sign by such an exchange (antisymmetric). Exchanging coordinates is a permutation of the space and spin coordinates (yes, I took a while to get to the connection to permutation).

Having established the context (or driven the reader elsewhere), I now mention the interesting paper I ran across, Pauli’s ideas on mind and matter in the context of contemporary science by Atmanspacher and Primas. Pauli apparently related to Laotse's (Lao-tzu, the legendary Chinese sage who wrote or propagated the Tao Te Ching several millennia ago) concept of having an indirect influence on others, the good ruler being one that is not consciously noticed (clearly I am more heavy-handed in my writing up here, but I do use the other approach in many other venues and have throughout my life). Privately Pauli expressed some interesting ideas about human existence and physics:

“It is true that [in a quantized field theory] future is not yet distinguished from past. From my point of view such a distinction should, however, not be introduced into quantum theory by an additional principle, but derives from the physical situation insofar as the result of a previous observation is usually assumed as known, and then one asks for the statistical distribution of results of later observations.” (1948 Letter from Pauli to Rivier).

Or, concerning symbols:

When the layman says ‘reality’, he usually thinks that he is talking about something evident and well-known; by contrast it seems to me that it is the most important and exceedingly difficult task of our time to work out a new idea of reality. . . . What I have in mind concerning such a new idea of reality, is – in provisional terms – the idea of the reality of the symbol. On the one hand, a symbol is a product of human effort, on the other hand it indicates an objective order in the cosmos of which humans areonly a part.” (Letter by Pauli to Fierz of August 12, 1948)

I myself wrote some thirty years ago that "we inhabit a world of our own making in many ways, man alone on Earth breathing life into the images of his mental world." I was surprised to find (in the Atmanspacher and Primas paper) that Cassirer had written in 1944 “No longer in a merely physical universe, man lives in a symbolic universe.” We are not talking about the signals used by animals for example. Those designate expected reactions in an animal (it concerns me that human discourse is becoming more merely this kind of animal signal in recent years). Animals which speak do not use words to express general ideas, as Leibniz wrote.

Human symbolic life, on the other hand might result in the construction of vehicles that leave the Earth, the transmission of information over radio waves, etc. This is a creative role of a qualitatively different sort compared to the constructions of animals, e.g., a twig broken by a chimpanzee to a convenient length by which to poke out a termite to eat; the chimp might have some image in mind beforehand after once seeing it done, or fumbling out the procedure the first time, but it is quite a leap to the manipulation of abstractions (with very little if any initial connection to entities already existing) and eventual realization of complex scientific and technological devices.

I don't mean to say that the path to the "joy of understanding" (reputedly Da Vinci called this the noblest pleasure and I am inclined to agree at this late date in my life, perhaps having forgotten most of the other pleasures as dimming visions of youth) does not require some meandering and effort, much less tidy than the published formal papers would imply. Pauli wrote in 1957 (see Atmanspacher and Primas paper):

“I hope that no one still maintains that theories are deduced by strict logical conclusions from laboratory-books, a view which was still quite fashionable in my student days. Theories are established through an understanding inspired by empirical material, an understanding which is best construed, following Plato, as an emerging correspondence of internal images and external objects and their behavior. The possibility of understanding demonstrates again the presence of typical dispositions regulating both inner and outer conditions of human beings.”

Jan P Vandenbroucke writes in Observational research, randomised trials and two views of medical science that

"... discovery and explanation cannot be defined equally directly. Aetiologic researchers have a duty to play around with low-probability hypotheses, because these may lead to new insights. Much good can come from going down the wrong alley and detecting why it is wrong, or from playing around with a seemingly useless hypothesis: the real breakthrough might come from that experience. What is lost if we go too far in the wrong direction is time and money for science. That is again inevitable: science makes progress “in a fitful and meandering way” as described by Stephen Jay Gould...all data analyses are interpretations in the light of particular hypotheses and a particular state of knowledge. All communication about data, like all data collection, is selective and interpretative. This inherent selection and interpretation may lead scientists to stray collectively too far in a wrong alley. Again this is inevitable, as data cannot be collected, nor analysed or communicated, without interpretation...

Well, I will stop this meandering for now and wish you and anyone else of good heart good fortune somehow.

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