Archive for October, 2006

061028 – Saturday – snippet

Saturday, October 28th, 2006

I’ve been reading and thinking about Complexity since 1999 when I read Complexity by Waldrop. It was a revelation and I understood that these ideas were the necessary inverse of deconstructionism. Where one tears things down to understand them, the other examines what happens when they come together.

In reading tonight, I had an insight. The author was discussing the impossibility of deconstructing or isolating the constituent pieces that together form the basis of an emergence. And I flashed on Information Theory and Claude Shannon’s work.

Perhaps, just as you cannot express, for example, 16 different states in less than 4 bits, an emergent property cannot manifest with less than a absolute minimum set of required components. Now that I’ve written that, I see that it is trivial and obvious but I hadn’t made the possible connection before between minimal information content and minimal requirements for an emergence.

Following on in this vein, emergent properties may not typically be derived from absolute minimal sets because nature is noisy and we see, empirically, that emergent properties are generally conserved.

So might there be an analogy between the extra error correcting codes we send to make data transmissions robust in noisy environments and how a set of minimal components may be augmented to yield a more robust emergent property rather than a fragile one? You could, perhaps, stretch this analogy and suggest that the minimal components are like a (genetic?) code that corresponds to the emergence and that redundancy in this code is what improves its conservation and gives it robustness.

But this musing brings me to the central question which has always puzzled me about ‘why’ emergence happens at all. Pardon me for how lame the following will sound but I am really overextending here.

I don’t believe in mystical explanations as to why matter self organizes. So, I find myself thinking about chemical reactions and why they happen – because the products are at a lower energy level after the reaction than before, typically.

Using this analogy with respect to emergence, so far the best I can manage is to visualize matter as storing energy in the form of organization.  And that when a sufficient collection of essential components have gathered in effective proximity, they will yeild an emergent property and that property will tend to be conserved because, somehow, nature is happier (i.e. at a lower energy state) when the matter is so configured than when it is not.

Comments and thoughts are encouraged….

A parable by Emo Phillips

Saturday, October 28th, 2006

I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump off. So I ran over and said “Stop! don’t do it!”

“Why shouldn’t I?” he said. I said, “Well, there’s so much to live for!”

He said, “Like what?” I said, “Well…are you religious or atheist?”

He said, “Religious.” I said, “Me too!

Are you christian or buddhist?” He said, “Christian.”

I said, “Me too! Are you catholic or protestant?”

He said, “Protestant.” I said, “Me too!

Are you episcopalian or baptist?” He said, “Baptist!” I said,”Wow! Me too!

Are you baptist church of god or baptist church of the lord?”

He said, “Baptist church of god!” I said, “Me too!

Are you original baptist church of god, or are you reformed baptist church of god?”

He said,”Reformed Baptist church of god!” I said, “Me too!

Are you reformed baptist church of god, reformation of 1879, or reformed baptist church of god, reformation of 1915?”

He said, “Reformed baptist church of god, reformation of 1915!”

I said, “Die, heretic scum”, and pushed him off.


research thx to PHK

061027 – Friday – a snippet

Friday, October 27th, 2006

…when you described the incremental way in which we embrace deep changes, I kept remembering the function daily meditation plays in my life. I often tell people that while meditation can be about spirituality, it also stands alone quite well as a purely secular tool. In this manner, it helps one develop the ability to maintain focus and the ability and opportunity to ‘remember’ daily what it is you want yourself to become. So that rather than deriving your motivations to change from an occasional epiphany of insight or a spasm of disgust, you sit consciously each day and ask ‘who am I and who do I want to be and why do I want to be that.‘ And by revisiting these thoughts daily, you quicken your own transitions.

You also talked about bouncing between doing the ‘right thing’ and just giving into what’s easy. It made me remember a line from the recent movie, “Way of the Peaceful Warrior“, where Socrates tells Dan, his student – as he, Socrates, lights up a cigar and downs a shot of whisky and invites Dan to join him – that you actually can do anything you want – you just have to consciously choose to be responsible for it.

And you mentioned that a good antidote to feelings of stress about the coming problems is developing an ever deeper awareness about the actual situation. Hindu scriptures and Buddhist as well, tell us that we cannot hope to see anything clearly, and thus deal with it with maximal effectiveness, until we can see into it deeply and remain emotionally unaffected by what we are seeing. Indeed, they urge us to do the very best we can at every moment – just because – and to also be utterly indifferent to the fruits of our labor. Excellence and freedom all in one.

And finally, I’d like to offer a thought of my own. I believe that the causal roots of why civilization and the planet are in the mess they are now can be traced back to our biological imperatives. I.e., to our inborn drives to survive, to propagate our genes forward in time and to create a space of safety within which our progeny can also have their chance to propagate themselves as well.

All biological forms have had this inborn motivation since early evolutionary time. And until recently, these drives have not been life threatening to ourselves and the other biological entities we share the planet with because we’ve had sufficient room to expand. But, now that we’ve essentially come up against the walls of this finite Eden, it has become critical that we consciously understand our biological imperatives and work to transcend them for more rational motivations. And, given that these imperatives are woven into the very grain of what we are, that will not be easy.

And all of this leads us back to meditation and other forms of consciousness raising and expansion.

061026 – Thursday – Informational content of Natural Languages

Thursday, October 26th, 2006

Have any of you ever heard of any studies comparing the informational content of western monotonal languages vs. eastern multitonal languages?

I’m thinking here of information theory as Claude Shannon first defined it in 1948.  If we think of natural language as a ‘pipe’ through which information is being passed, then the characteristics of the pipe certainly will influence the amount of information which may be passed per unit time.   Shannon would have told us that the efficiency of natural languages could be improved by doing a number of things like speaking faster and faster until the receiver could no longer understand, by dropping redundant and/or unnecessary words and by choosing the shorter words among synonyms.

The fact that eastern languages encode alternate word meanings in terms of tones and western languages do not (though western languages do encode emotional information as tonal variations), may give it a higher efficiency in terms of information transmitted per unit time.

Certainly, one could reason so about Kanji and other such symbolic systems wherein the symbols represent concepts rather than phonemes and thus convey more information per symbol in general.

Of course, thinking about natural language in terms of information theory is a reach at best since natural language is so very sloppy and inefficient but these ideas seemed interesting to me and I was wondering if anyone has read anything along these lines.

Australia plans major solar plant

Wednesday, October 25th, 2006

Australia is to build one of the world’s biggest solar power plants as part of a major new strategy by the government to combat climate change. Canberra said it would be contributing A$75m (US$57m) to the A$420m plant due to be built in the state of Victoria.

The government also announced A$50m in funding towards a major project to reduce carbon emissions from coal.

Australia, a leading exporter in coal – has been criticised for failing to sign the Kyoto Protocol.

The government had argued that the 1997 agreement on greenhouse gas emissions would damage the domestic economy.But the country has been forced to confront the issue of climate change with a prolonged drought – the worst in a century – that is destroying the livelihoods of thousands of farmers.

National grid

On Monday, Prime Minister John Howard announced that the government would be investing A$500m (US$379m) in clean technology.

One of the first projects to get funding is what Finance Minister Peter Costello said aimed to be the “biggest photovoltaic project in the world”.

The plant at Victoria will use mirrored panels to concentrate the sun’s rays and produce power that can go into the national grid, he told Australian radio.

Work is due to get under way in 2008 and reach full capacity by 2013.

The government is also investing in a A$360m pilot project, based at an existing coal-fired power station also in Victoria, which is aimed at capturing and storing carbon emissions.

“This will make a major contribution to emission reduction in Australia and it just shows practical, considered, financially viable, workable technologies which can improve the emissions problem that will help us on our way to reduce global warming,” Mr Costello said.

Original story here…

061024 – Tuesday – would you like God with that life – or no?

Tuesday, October 24th, 2006

– I’ve been thinking of taking snippets out of various E-mail and posting them. Just bits here and there that have something pithy to say and stand alone fairly well. Sort of like recycling yesterday’s news in a new package? Well, whatever. Here’s one:


The presence or absence of God cannot be proven. That’s a pretty absolute statement but I think it’s valid. Consider, if everything is an omnipotent God’s doing then the situation is indistinguishable from a universe in which there is no God and nothing is God’s doing. It all goes back to the quandary that to tell the difference between two things – you need at least two, eh? A discussion of light is meaningless to a man profoundly blind from birth since he has always and only ever experienced blackness. In fact, he doesn’t even know he’s experiencing blackness because he’s never experienced anything else to differ it against. In one universe, everything is God and so we cannot experience not-God. In the other, nothing is God and therefore, we cannot experience God.

So, for me, it all comes down to making an a-priori choice and admitting full well that I have no basis other than that it is what I want to believe. I choose to live in a world where I think God is everywhere and everything and that this God-force is benevolent. And, for me, since I believe it to be so, it seems to be so. It is all beyond science and I make no quibbles that it is otherwise.

So to me, Dawkins is shrill because he believes there is no God and he can’t seem to recognize that his position is a choice – just an a-priori choice like mine – because he cannot know if there is or there is not a God anymore than I can. He still wants to argue with the same faith-based passion that the religious fanatics enjoy – he’s just on the other side of the argument doing the same thing.

Aussies Do It Right: E-Voting

Monday, October 23rd, 2006

– It isn’t difficult for experts to define what makes a resonably safe electronic voting system. The Australians did it.

– It is just amazing that in this country we’ve accepted unsafe-voting systems which are just invitations for cheating – and there hasn’t even been an outcry. I’ve done multiple posts on this subject. To see them all, use the search box at the upper right and enter ‘voting‘.

– Many people think that the Republican Party here in the US has the inside-track with the majority of the companys (four, I believe) which manufacturer e-Voting machines. I don’t know if that’s true but it was interesting to read in this article that when Representative Rush Holt, a Democrat, introduced a bill requiring that all code in e-Voting machines be made public, the list of his 50 co-sponsors were all democrats.

While critics in the United States grow more concerned each day about the insecurity of electronic voting machines, Australians designed a system two years ago that addressed and eased most of those concerns: They chose to make the software running their system completely open to public scrutiny.

Although a private Australian company designed the system, it was based on specifications set by independent election officials, who posted the code on the Internet for all to see and evaluate. What’s more, it was accomplished from concept to product in six months. It went through a trial run in a state election in 2001.

Critics say the development process is a model for how electronic voting machines should be made in the United States.

Called eVACS, or Electronic Voting and Counting System, the system was created by a company called Software Improvements to run on Linux, an open-source operating system available on the Internet.

Election officials in the Australian Capital Territory, one of eight states and territories in the country, turned to electronic voting for the same reason the United States did — a close election in 1998 exposed errors in the state’s hand-counting system. Two candidates were separated by only three or four votes, said Phillip Green, electoral commissioner for the territory. After recounting, officials discovered that out of 80,000 ballots, they had made about 100 mistakes. They decided to investigate other voting methods.

In 1999, the Australian Capital Territory Electoral Commission put out a public call for e-vote proposals to see if an electronic option was viable. Over 15 proposals came in, but only one offered an open-source solution. Two companies proposed the plan in partnership after extensive consultation with academics at Australian National University. But one of the companies later dropped out of the project, leaving Software Improvements to build the system.

Green said that going the open-source route was an obvious choice.

“We’d been watching what had happened in America (in 2000), and we were wary of using proprietary software that no one was allowed to see,” he said. “We were very keen for the whole process to be transparent so that everyone — particularly the political parties and the candidates, but also the world at large — could be satisfied that the software was actually doing what it was meant to be doing.”


There’s also great general coverage of this important subject at Wired Magazine here:

Another video – definitely watch this one!

Monday, October 23rd, 2006

Unlike the Oil, Smoke and Mirrors video, I have no reservations about this one. Keith Olbermann is to be applauded for saying this stuff straight out on a major media outlet. This is about the Military Commissions Act of 2006 and if you are an American and you don’t know about it – you should.

I’ve included it in the Politics – how not to do it category for obvious reasons.

I’ve also included it in the Perfect Storm category because it is representative of the kind of tension that is going to build as things become more and more unstable.

Keith Olbermann’s commentary on the Military Commissions Act of 2006 is here:

Oil, Smoke and Mirrors – an on-line video

Monday, October 23rd, 2006

This video is interesting and well done but I have reservations about it. You’ll have to watch it to see what I mean. I’d love to know your thoughts on it.

It tries to make a connection between Peak Oil and 911. The basic idea is that 911 was a put up job to give the US the excuse to wage war in Afghanistan and Iraq with the long term and largely hidden agenda of controlling sufficient oil to help the US avoid the coming consequences of Peak Oil.

I have a problem with most ‘conspiracy’ theories because, while they may sound entirely logical and plausible within their presentational context, once you look beyond what’s been said and consider the wider implications, things become a lot less plausible.

I always think of Roswell, New Mexico in this connection. The idea that hundreds of US military personnel have kept the secret since 1947 and never revealed a cover-up at Roswell is impossible to believe. And the idea that an alien spacecraft crashed there and hundreds if not thousands of pieces of debris were picked up and not one person pocketed a memento is also not reasonable.

So, here we have 911 and the idea that the government, because of a long-term goal to corner oil for the US, had to have a plausible reason to attack Afghanistan and Iraq and therefore decided to aid terrorists to strike the twin towers – it is all too fantastic. Think of all of the people who would have had greater or lesser amounts of insider knowledge of what was going on. Are all of them going to go to their graves as tight lipped patriots? I doubt that in any group of 100 people, you could be assured that all of them would make it through the next year on something like this without spilling the beans – much less five years.

Our government is just not that smart and just not that informationally waterproof. Remember bombing Cambodia, remember Watergate and remember Iran-Contra – those were big secrets and the way they came out was a bit like watching the Keystone Cops in action.

There was a section in this film where they said that the current tightening of laws, the ignoring of the Geneva Conventions and the abrogation of our personal rights (by mechanisms like the Military Commissions Act of 2006 – though they did not mention that act by name here), are part of a long term plan to have control mechanisms in place so that when the problems of Peak Oil begin to manifest and the inevitable social unrest ensues, they will already have the necessary structures in place to control an unruly population. Well, that sounds pretty frightening until you think that in a little over two years, the current administration and most of what it wrought (other than the justices it appointed), may well be history and dust. For this idea to hold together, you have to accept a conspiracy so wide that it encompasses the width and breadth of both parties. Nope – I don’t buy it.

I think it is all much more likely that our government *is* trying to gain control of oil for strategic reasons but that they are simply reacting to opportunities, like 911, as they’ve presented themselves. I also think that the Military Commissions Act of 2006 is very dangerous to our personal freedoms but that these things are borne of governmental hysteria and come and go as the pressures and the administrations come and go. That’s poor solace to those who might get imprisoned during such a period of hysteria, though.

If I had to pick out a more insidious danger, I’d say that it is the foisting off on the American public of voting machines full of proprietary software. If the governing party and its proxies gets control of the companies that make these machines, and if they move with sufficient stealth, they may win all the important elections from here on out.

Let me know your thoughts on all of this.

British wildlife head north as planet warms

Saturday, October 21st, 2006

LONDON (AFP) – Biologists in Britain have discerned a mass migration of fauna over the past 25 years as animals try to outrun global warming by heading for cooler climes in the north.

Studies by the University of York have shown that 80 percent of some 300 monitored species are on the move, abandoning areas they have inhabited for millennia and heading 70 to 100 kilometres (40 to 60 miles) north.

“Our sample is large enough to be sure about the pattern of change,” said Chris Thomas, professor of conservation biology at the university.

“Eighty percent is a surprisingly large percentage … It’s amazing how strong and already visible is the signature of climate change.”

Animals studied by the university included insects, mammals, vertebrates and invertebrates. Seventy percent of the species found to be on the move were heading to higher ground, up to 150 metres (495 feet) above their normal habitats.

Some scientists predict that average temperatures in Britain will increase by 3.5 degrees Celsius (38.3 degrees Fahrenheit) between now and 2080. Over the past century they have climbed just 0.6 degrees, but the 1990s was the hottest decade on records going back some 400 years.

“Average global temperatures in 2100 will probably be higher than for at least two, and quite probably 10 million or more years,” Shaw said.


research credit to MD – thx