The now is ever, never

December 18, 2017

The now, of course, can not, has not, does not and will not ever exist.

Then can refer to the past or the future but never to the now – which does not exist.


 

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The genocide paradox: Would you now prevent the dinosaurs from extinction then?

December 15, 2017

The genocide paradox is just another version of all the temporal paradoxes (grandfather paradoxes) about any historical event. Would you, in the now, take any action which will prevent something from having happened in the past, then? Knowing that some change to the past could make the present different? In all of these paradoxes, the inconsistency comes when the causal link with the past is broken.

We can only make judgements about the past. But the judgement itself is rooted in the now and cannot be applied to the past. If we, now, could take some action which will prevent the dinosaurs from having been extinguished 65 million years ago, would we? Of course, if the dinosaurs had not become extinct there would have been no room for many mammals or the great apes or humans to have evolved. If we could take actions in the now which will prevent any of the genocides of the past, we inevitably invalidate all that is in the present which is causally linked to that past. And so we have the Genocide Paradox. If we take actions now which will result in the Holocaust never having occurred, then we destroy our own existence and the entire causal chain which lies in our history.

The paradoxes arise because causality and the arrow of time are two sides of the same coin (and this coin may have more than two sides). You could argue that time is causality. We can make judgements today about how bad Hitler or Pol Pot were but their badness itself is an existential foundation for our own existence. In my own case I can make the causal link with Hitler quite easily.

For want of a nail image: grandmasnurseryrhymes

For want of a Hitler, the war was not,
For want of the war, Changi was not,
For want of Changi, an escape was not,
For want of an escape, a marriage was not,
For want of a marriage, a son was not,
For want of a Hitler, I was not.

So I can no more wish Hitler and the Holocaust away than I can wish away my existence.

Would the world be a better place today if all the great genocides through history had not taken place? That the world would be different is without doubt. There would be different people alive today even if the numbers of people alive would not – perhaps – be so different. The genetic mix of the people alive today would be different. But would the world be a better place?

We may regret the past, we may rewrite the past and we may think we would have behaved differently, but we cannot change it and we cannot wish it away.

It has become fashionable to revile figures from the past and their actions, but those figures and their deplorable actions are causal to the existence of those doing the reviling today. Reviling Hitler or Pol Pot or Genghis Khan or the slave traders or the colonists of the past is all the rage. But precisely those people and their despicable actions are our existential foundations of the present.


 

“For our children’s children” is a nonsense cliche

December 13, 2017

There is nothing in my life or in my genetics or in my behaviour for which I blame my grandparents. Three of the four had passed away before I was born. But I had some interaction with my grandmother and my great-grandmother. I am thankful for a few pleasant memories I have of them. When my great-grandmother passed away, it was just a blip on my consciousness. When my grandmother passed away I remember a feeling of some relief that the suffering of her last few years had ended. But I have never felt any need to attribute any blame or credit to them – or their generation – for the state of the world or for my state in it. Should I blame my father or his generation for World War II? Or his father’s generation for World War I?

So I am mildly irritated when I hear arguments for this political policy or that, “for the sake of our children’s children”. Any generation has only a very vague idea – if any – of the challenges to be faced by the next. My grandfathers had no conception of the world even my father faced let alone the world that I live in. For any of my grandparents to have made decisions about their own lives for the “sake of their children’s children” would have been both arrogant and stupid. To predict the challenges to be faced by the next generation is imperfect enough that, trying to predict the challenges two generations hence, is both futile and arrogant. Every succeeding generation is inevitably better equipped with technology and knowledge (but not necessarily with brain power), to handle its own challenges than the previous one. Solutions available tomorrow, with the knowledge and technology of the day, are not available now.

Would the world be a better place if the dodo was not extinct? Or if World War II had not taken place? Or if aircraft had never been invented? The questions are meaningless. Decisions at the individual or the collective level must be made at the time, for that time, by that time. To anticipate the questions to be faced by future generations and make decisions now – to save future generations from some problem we predict for them – is just as meaningless. The majority of political predictions from just half a generation ago (10 years) were wrong. There is no doubt a causal link between what we do now and the challenges which will be faced by our descendants, but we can neither anticipate those problems nor are we better equipped to solve their problems than they will be. There is also no doubt that decisions taken now choose not only the path for the future but also those who will walk that path. But we cannot – now – walk that path for them. World War II terminated the path for many millions but also enabled the existence of all the survivors and their descendants. But whichever path it is, and whoever the travellers are, they will be better able to define and solve their problems than their grandparents.

Suppose that some decision made today leads to some catastrophic decline in human population. As happened before WW II. Suppose further that the survivors eventually thrive again. As the population is thriving today. Many possible children’s children will not – and did not – even see the light of day. But some thousands of years hence, the population of the day would have no blame to attach to the generation of today. It would have been the catastrophe which enabled their very existence. Just as the occurrence of WW II enabled the population and the world of today. And there is no blame to be attached to those who took the fateful decisions which led to WW II.

So when somebody tells me that he is doing something “for the sake of his children’s children”,

  1. I don’t believe him, and
  2. I think he’s finding a spurious argument for a position he cannot otherwise justify.

A politician who is stupid enough to propose some action for the sake “of our children’s children” should be ignored.


 

A second now must be longer than a second was then

December 12, 2017

We cannot measure time. We have no idea why time is unidirectional.

We claim to measure time periods and the passage of time, though we have no idea what it is that is passing.

We impute time periods to the observation of changes. We assume that the changes being observed are stable and regular. We used to assume that the earth orbited the sun in a stable and regular manner with every completed orbit taking what we called a year. We now know that the orbit is neither stable nor regular and is no longer accurate enough for use as the standard measure of a time period. We used to assume that the earth’s rotation around its own axis was stable and regular but now know that this rotation is slowing and days are getting longer by about 2.3 milliseconds per century. Of course, to be able to say that, we need a “second” defined independently of a “day” defined by the rotation of the earth. The modern definition of a “second” is now based on the vibration of a caesium atom.

The second is the duration of 9 192 631 770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the cesium 133 atom in its ground state at a temperature of 0 K.

This assumes that this radiation is stable and regular. We assume that the 9,192,631,770 periods taken to constitute a second are each identical to the other. (Why it should be so is of course magic). For all practical purposes and relative to the duration of the lifespan of the human species it may well be so. But over the long, long term it cannot be so.

The earth-moon-sun system, the solar system and even our galaxy are all losing energy. Even all vibrating atoms must be losing energy for any radiation to occur or for any vibration to take place. For the “radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the cesium 133 atom in its ground state at a temperature of 0 K” to remain stable for ever requires an energy input which does not exist. Why any radiation should be regular is still a matter of magic.

What a “second” was at the Big Bang and before is unknown. But since then, it follows that “seconds” then were shorter than “seconds” are now. Every “second” now must be shorter than every “second” to come.

Of course what is even more magical is our fundamental assumption that the passage of time itself is stable and regular. We have no clue as to what laws of the universe require such stability or regularity and the why of any such laws is still in the realm of magic.


The magical speed of an inconstant time


 

Decadent or depraved

December 11, 2017

So are we decadent or are we depraved?

Decadence

dissipation, dissoluteness, degeneracy, debauchery, corruption, depravity, vice, sinfulness, perversion, moral decay, immorality, lack of morals, lack of principles, lack of restraint, lack of control, lack of self-control, immoderateness, intemperance, licentiousness, wantonness, self-indulgence, hedonism, epicureanism, voluptuousness

Depravity

corruption, corruptness, vice, perversion, pervertedness, deviance, degeneracy, degradation, immorality, shamelessness, debauchery, dissipation, dissoluteness, turpitude, loucheness, profligacy, licentiousness, lewdness, lasciviousness, salaciousness, lechery, lecherousness, prurience, obscenity, indecency, libertinism, sordidness; wickedness, sinfulness, vileness, baseness, iniquity, nefariousness, criminality, viciousness, brutality, brutishness

I suspect it is decadence.

Bit it is surely one or the other.


 

The magic which makes the speed of light what it is

December 8, 2017

Through the process of science we have discovered a great many “natural” constants that apply to our reality. These include  the speed of light in vacuum c, the gravitational constant G, Planck’s constant h, the electric constant ε0, and the elementary charge e. But why these constants are what they are – and not greater or smaller – still escapes us.

Physicists do not like to be contaminated by magic, but they do in fact invoke magic every time they use any of these so-called natural constants. That they are constant over time is itself an assumption without rhyme or reason as to why they should be so. That the passage of time is regular is itself a magical assumption. That a second now is of the same duration as a second 9 billion years ago or of the same duration as a second 10 billion years from now or at the other end of our universe are all just magical assumptions.

And so it is with the speed of light.

We have now fixed the speed of light in a vacuum at exactly 299,792.458 kilometres per second. Why this particular speed and not something else? Or, to put it another way, where does the speed of light come from?

……. Whether it was the ‘hand of God’ or some truly fundamental physical process that formed the constants, it is their apparent arbitrariness that drives physicists mad. Why these numbers? Couldn’t they have been different?  ……. leads us to the anthropic principle, the philosophical idea that what we observe in the Universe must be compatible with the fact that we humans are here to observe it. 

…… Why should the multiverse work like this, and not that? Perhaps it isn’t possible for the intellect to overcome a sense of the arbitrariness of things. We are close here to the old philosophical riddle, of why there is something rather than nothing. That’s a mystery into which perhaps no light can penetrate.

We don’t know why the speed of light is what it is. We don’t know what would have to be different in our universe for this speed to be different. We do not know if this value was always what it is now and will always be so. We don’t know if there are regions in our universe where it does not apply. It is what it is by magic.

I take the view that to the finite human mind some things are unknowable.

And as long as the unknowable exists in physics, physics must take recourse to magic. Giving magic a name or a label does not reduce its magicality.


 

Five decades

December 8, 2017

One ages and one gets nostalgic.

The past gets compressed into some kind of a zip-file in my memory and sometimes the file is difficult to open.

But five decades of a working life does not take much space to summarise.


 

Laws are made to be broken

December 7, 2017

This is from a before-dinner talk I gave recently.

image – open parachute

Today I return to a little paradox which leads to quite subversive thoughts. 

A few weeks ago I had a conversation with a lawyer. Have you noticed that even small talk with a lawyer takes on the character of an inquisition? If only laws were simpler we would not need lawyers, I thought. In any event, it made me think of the nature of the quality of laws. How should we define a good law? And what would be a bad law? 

Now, after a long evening you all need to wake up and follow my reasoning. 

There are only two types of laws. We have either the natural laws of the universe or we have the myriad laws invented by humans. Even the so-called laws of the various gods have all been invented by humans. Note that the universe does not bother with proclaiming its laws. They just are. The universe does not even care if humans get the formulation wrong. No threat or punishment is required because it is impossible to violate these laws. Without any compulsion, it is guaranteed that everyone will comply with these perfect laws. 

So we can say that if everybody complies with a law it is an indication of a law of the highest quality. Perfect laws are those which – without any compulsion – are followed by everyone. As are the natural laws. Worthless laws are those not followed by anybody. Like the speed ​​limits on some motorways in Norrland, for example. But, a law that is followed by everybody, without compulsion, is not needed – is unnecessary, is redundant. 

All laws written by humans always fall between these limits of being useless on the one hand or unnecessary on the other. It may seem logical that a society makes a law so that everyone will comply. But that thinking is in error. If everyone does follow the law, it becomes a redundant law. Without laws there are no law breakers. It is not only that law breakers are created by human laws, human laws need law breakers. Laws are established in the first place to prevent some human behaviors which society judges to be undesirable. But if everyone follows a law then that law is unnecessary, and if no one follows that law it is worthless. One could well say that law breakers perform a fundamental and necessary service for society. They keep laws alive. Without law breakers, there would be no need for laws or legislators or lawyers. In a heaven without law breakers, and therefore, without any law makers or lawyers, there is no room for a legal system to exist. Without a system of justice, society collapses. 

The paradox for today is that if everyone followed all laws, the legal justice system would vanish and society would implode.

A society and its legal justice system depend – existentially – upon its law breakers.

I am forced to the inevitable but very subversive conclusion that human laws are all made – not to be followed – but to be broken.

Now it’s time for dinner.


 

Life exists as a succession of identities

November 18, 2017

Life is an abstract concept manifested as living things. The thread of life has no discernible beginning.

Life – to be life – must be manifested in an entity capable of reproduction. The elements displaying life either continue or come to an end. The thread is carried as a possibility by every sperm and every egg but the sperm and egg cannot themselves reproduce. Most of these possibilities come to an end before the two combine. If – and only if – a sperm and egg do combine, then life continues as, and within, a unique identity created by that combination. It is the creation of the identity – at conception – which continues life. About one in 300 billion sperm survives to combine with about one in 200 eggs to create an identity. It is a unique genetic identity. That identity, first as a fetus may end before birth. Or it may continue after birth as a child. It may grow to be an adult human and give rise to further sperm or eggs before itself coming to an end. When that identity qualifies to be considered a human entity and protected by society is a choice for the societies and the individuals concerned. Most societies start assigning the identity some rights and protections before birth but only after about 20 weeks of life as a fetus.

There is little doubt, however, that a unique genetic identity is created at conception, whether in a test tube or in a womb. At what stage of development that identity achieves consciousness and then self-awareness is not certain but almost certainly only after a rudimentary brain has formed. That would be some weeks after conception but probably some little time before birth. At what point that identity is to be afforded legal “rights” is then a matter for the surrounding society to determine.

Until the identity reaches birth – whether by natural or by artificial means – it has no options and no choices to exercise. Whether self-aware or not, its existence is in the gift and the power of others. It starts acquiring choices and freedoms of action only after birth, as allowed or constrained by its own development and the rules of the society it finds itself in.

Life then only exists as a succession of identities.

To trace the beginning of life would require going back from identity to identity to the specific cells some 3.7 billion years ago. A collection of sperm and eggs may contain the elements for life to continue but do not in themselves constitute life. The beginning of an identity is not the beginning of life. But the act of conception brings a unique identity into being and it is surely the beginning of a specific new life.

Life may be continuous as a concept but can only be realised and manifested as a succession of unique, discrete identities.


 

Japan coming out of the doldrums?

November 13, 2017

After 28 years of stagnation, the Japanese economy may be  getting to its feet again.

The Japanese real estate bubble burst at the end of December 1989 and interest rates sank to virtually zero. The Japanese economy struggled against Endaka

Coupled with gigantic savings accumulated over decades from overseas surpluses, and soaring yen, Japan tried a number of measures to weaken its currency. First it began to buy up properties overseas, such as the Rockefeller Center in New York City in 1990, as well as investing in US corporate bonds. After huge property losses, it gave that up. Another was state intervention BOJ in foreign exchange reserves, which it ultimately gave up in 2004 after accumulating nearly a trillion dollars. Japan also invested directly in Fannie Mae and other mortgage bonds, holding close to a trillion dollars in those bonds. Yet another measure was to loan out hoards of money to US and European banks at zero percent rates, which began in earnest in 2004, also known as the massive carry trade (via yen-denominated bank loans to overseas investors). US and European banks then loaned this money out to home owners in America, as well as big property investors in the Middle East. This effectively kept the yen at 120 or weaker levels to the dollar.

Endaka was tipped off again in 2008. The yen moved from the floating near 120 to floating near 90. This is thought to be the first time endaka contributed to a worldwide recession, instead of just a Japanese recession. While the proximate cause of the recession is widely thought to be an increase in credit defaults (largely outside Japan) causing a loss in confidence in the credit markets (a credit crisis), the yen was funding these investments through the carry trade, where loans were made at near zero interest rates in yen to finance the purchase of non-yen debts which had higher interest rates.

From a high of almost 38,000 in December 1989, the Nikkei Index dropped to a low of 9,000 in January 2009. At the end of last week the index had reached over 22,000. Abenomics has not led to any spectacular recoveries, but the mood is lightening.

(I made my first investments in Japanese stocks in 1990 – and Murphy’s Law came roaring into effect!)


 


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