Archive for October, 2009

Time Travelling God Particles

I’m no theoretical physicist, but I was a member of the institutional science community.  My particular bullshit field was “artificial intelligence,” but in the modern university, bullshit fields abound–sometimes with legitimate scientific endeavors buried within, or as an umbrella above, the bullshit.


I predict that large tracts of present-day physics research will be revealed as an exercise in mathematical masturbation–a sort of ueber-complex sudoku puzzle that only .001% of humanity has the intellect and training to attempt solving.  The sudoku metaphor can be extended to include the relevance of the solution to our questions about the nature of reality.


I’ll admit, I don’t have the mathematical chops to follow, replicate, or disprove the work of theoretical physicists.  My skepticism of their work stems from more primary methodological concerns.  Of primary concern is the lack of testable hypotheses–a feature found also in rank mysticism.

and then there’s this:

A pair of otherwise distinguished physicists have suggested that the hypothesized Higgs boson, which physicists hope to produce with the collider, might be so abhorrent to nature that its creation would ripple backward through time and stop the collider before it could make one, like a time traveler who goes back in time to kill his grandfather. (NY Times 10/12/09)

One of the two pysicists is Bech Nielsen of the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen. You probably recognize from his famous proposal that the Veneziano model was actually a theory of strings*.  A distinguished physicist indeed.

Nielson along with Masao Ninomiya of the Yukawa Institute for Theoretical Physics in Kyoto (less famous–doesn’t have a Wikipedia entry) propose that Higgs boson particles created by scientists in the future, travel backwards through time to prevent scientists in the present from discovering them.

Seriously.

Now I’m the first to sympathize with scientists forced to use metaphor.  Communicating an absurdly complicated topic to an untrained public is challenging.  I’m also sympathetic to the problem of the media in relating these metaphors to the public: how literal are they meant to be taken? Is the cat *really* alive and dead at the same time? Is space *actually* a rubber matt displaced by bowling balls? And so forth.

But, as far as I can tell, the Terminator metaphor above is meant to be taken literally.  Just substitute Higgs boson for Arnold, and anything-to-do-with-discovering-Higgs-boson for Sarah Connor.

The list of things sabotage possibly engineered by Higgs: the cancellation of the planned Superconducting Supercollider in the US in 1993, the various mechanical problems of the Large Hadron Collider, and the arrest of a resident physicist on suspcion of Al-Qaeda affiliation.

Seriously.

Of course, thinking like scientists, they’ve come up with a plan–a peer reviewed, up-for-publication-in-a-real-journal plan.  It goes a little something like this:

  1. Create a deck of 1 million cards.
  2. Write “Procede” on 999,999 of the cards.
  3. Write “STOP” on 1 card.
  4. Shuffle.
  5. Draw a card.

If the card says “STOP,” then it supports the claim that Higgs boson(s) are emanating from the future to stop scientists from creating them, and we should design more experiments so that Higgs, from the future, can tell scientists how they should proceed with their experiments.

I think it’s a great experiment, but I would go the additional step of not including the “STOP” card.  That would really cinch it.  As a “real time” way you provide Higgs input on HLC activity, you could have a grad students continuously flipping coins.  If one of them comes up heads one million times in a row then we know Higgs thinks we’re going too far.  Or, with nearly the same degree of scientific rigor, we could have a seance.  I’m willing to be the conduit through which the Higgs boson can make its will known to our world.


Seriously.



*I had no idea who he was either.

**Since it would cost, like, a billionth as much as their other bullshit experiments, why haven’t they done it?

Going on Record

I’m not an original thinker–at least not often. I do have, I believe, a better than average ability to sort claims into categories along the true-false spectrum. Of course, I have several biases in my data collection methodology–1. I am me and am partial to data that supports the hypothesis that I am awesome. 2) I have a terrible memory and am prone to construct narratives of my past beliefs from whole cloth supporting the hypothesis that I am awesome.

And so, the only solution is to go on record with my support of other’s predictions and see, over the course of time, how able I am to detect accurate forecasters from inaccurate.

I won’t take credit for the easy ones: Bill Kristol, George Will, Paul Krugman, anyone else in policy positions or in the MSM. These guys are never right*–it’s sort of their job never to be right.

No, I’ll try to stick to the alternative and academic media as much as possible. At least in those circles, there’s *some* consideration given to the track record of the person making a claim or prediction. Picking out the wheat from the chaff in this field will be a worthy test of my claim of super-average bullshit detection.

*Unless they’re contradicting a position they previously held–predicting two opposing outcomes does not equal accurate forecasting.

Political Power, the Barrel of the Gun and all That

I believe that the only human future, that is, a future with humans in it, is one in which violence as an acceptable mode of human interaction is renounced. This renunciation will make the state, as we know it, impossible. Every power of the state rests, ultimately, on its power to “legitimately” kill its citizens. I realize that I’m repeating myself, but there seemed to be some disagreement over my claim and I thought it worth while to clarify my position and attempt to come to some understanding before I go on and make yet more outrageous claims.

I am not claiming that the only action that state agents can take against a citizen is to kill him or her. I have been fined and put in jail. I hear they have over two million people in prison, so yes, I understand that alternatives to execution exist for the government. However, I can’t imagine very many of those 2 million would have gone willingly to prison or would be easy to keep there if the death of an inmate at the hands of a policemen or guard were considered murder (which, by any objective standard, it is).

People submit to state agents specifically because those agents are authorized to kill people who resist. Nobody surrenders to mall security*.

Without the ability to drag people to jail, authorized to kill resisters and escapees, how does the state level fines? Unless they can take houses, killing those who defend themselves as they would against any other home invader, how can they levy property taxes? Without threatening employers, how do they collect income taxes?

This stands separately from the claim that they shouldn’t do these things. It’s not a novel position that they should, but it cannot be claimed that these powers ultimately rest on anything other than the power to kill people.

Everyone likes to call out state violence–well almost everyone–that they don’t agree with while justifying or redefining the state violence that they support. This argument is as old as time and has gotten humanity nowhere**.

While we may disagree about the necessity for violence to maintain social order, provide for the sick and the old, or educate the young–it is disingenuous to deny that, ultimately, agents of the state require the monopoly on violence and the “authority” to kill citizens to enforce the preferences of the ruling class.

*Actually, I take that back: there are people, broken people, who will submit to any authority figure. I submit, without evidence, that those people were likely broken by violence at some point in the past. Broken by aggressors who, explicitly or implicitly, threatened death for continued resistance. That’s a topic for the future.

**In reference to the undeniable increase in the standard of living and the no-longer-being-as-frequently-killed-to-death of huge swaths of humanity under state control: These victories resulted from a multitude of individuals sacrificing their lives and wealth to drag the state kicking and screaming out of some aspect of barbarity. In reference to the idea that, for example, not arresting homosexuals who marry (or those that marry them) is a good use of state violence: it is a good renunciation of state violence–yet another subject to revisit.

Non-violence and Political Solutions

A position of non-violence is incompatible with the idea of political solutions to social problems. The state, as we know it, ultimately has only one tool for controlling behavior, it can legitimately kill individual people. All other punishments are premised on this power. Until this is understood, the mass of humanity will remain the the impoverished slaves and servants of a tiny parasitic ruling class and will, perversely, thank them for the “safety” they provide.

If you oppose the non-violent position, then you will only ever contribute to problems stemming from violence. While you may point to a temporary victory–a political solution that “solved” a social problem–growing from the “solution” like bamboo shoots will be dozens, hundreds, thousands of resulting problems, each begging for a new political solution.

I’ve encountered alot of anger around this argument. Almost nobody, especially on the left, wants to be in a position of preferring violent solutions to non-violent. Yet how can one logically argue that support of state solutions is anything but the preference for violent solutions (answer: you can’t).

This puts the angry person in the position of having to create an imaginary world in which violence and only violence can stave off apocalyptic disaster. In this fiction, attempting, or even beginning to attempt to organize voluntarily to address social problems leads immediately to a fate worse than death–a world of chaos and violence in which everyone good dies at the hands of the evil, mad and powerful. These arguments, lunatic as they are, can be persuasive because a) no matter how horrifying real-life state atrocities are, the apocalypse is worse and b) they rely on fear, a historically reliable way of overriding rational thought and bringing debate to an end.

A novel position came up in a conversation recently that simultaneously surprised and delighted me. It is worth addressing because it is the only alternative to the fear based response. The position is that the state doesn’t need to use violence but could be reconstituted in such a way that it is a voluntary organization. In principle, how can I have any problem with that? If the state renounces violence in favor of voluntary cooperation, it will cease to be a remnant of stone-age barbarism and become a part of the future of humanity. By my definition, it would no longer be a state at that point, but I would be happy concede to calling it a state if it is ever brought into being.

Arbitrary Moral Codes

In a conversation I had recently with a friend who is a Christian, he shared with me that he’s raising his children to respect their parents because that is the commandment of their God.

“What if they grow up and stop believing in that God?”  I asked.

This demonstrates a terrible flaw in externalizing morality.  If the fictional nature of the entity enforcing a moral code is understood, the former believer is left in a moral vacuum–some form of nihilism typically follows.

A personal morality, generated by reason from first principles, doesn’t share this flaw.  Why is it, then, that parents don’t teach children to use reason and evidence to build their own moral code?  Part of the reason is that “respect your parents” isn’t included in such a code.

If you want to guarantee a lifetime of respect from your children, you need to act in such a way that their natural, inborn tendency will be to respect you.  A good way to risk that respect is by making it a part of an arbitrary moral code.  A great way to lose that respect is to verbally or physically punish a child in the name of said arbitrary moral code.