Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Dimensions: where and when we are

May 10, 2021

“In physics and mathematics, the dimension of a mathematical space (or object) is informally defined as the minimum number of coordinates needed to specify any point within it”. – Wikipedia

In the concept of spacetime one might think that (x,y,z,t) are the four dimensional coordinates which are necessary and sufficient to specify the location of any object at any time within our universe. But that would be an oversimplification. It is true only for a relative location and not for any absolute location. In reality we have no idea – in absolute terms – of where we are or when we are.

The place where I was born on the surface of the Earth has – during my lifetime – drifted some 2.3 m North East across the earth’s surface. The Sun (along with the Earth) has moved 6.9 billion km around the centre of the Milky Way Galaxy. Using referents outside the Milky Way Galaxy, it has, during the same time, moved some 55 billion km in space. So, I was born some 60 billion km away from wherever in space we actually are now. In the context of the Universe this is still local space, and I do not need to account for the very expansion of space. The looming collision of the Andromeda Galaxy speeding towards us is still 4.5 billion years away and irrelevant in the scale of my lifetime. Taking my present location as (0,0,0,0) and the X-axis as the straight line from where we were then to now, the coordinates of my birth location become (-60, 0, 0, -73 years) where x, y and z are measured in billions of km.

Everything is relative to here and now.

Considering time to be a dimension is no more than a convention or, at best, an analogy. It does not help that either

  • we have no clear definition of what a dimension is, or
  • a dimension is anything that can be counted.

We can measure the oscillation of apparent motions and assume that such motion is regular and then infer the passage of time. But what time is other than a magical, necessary backdrop for everything is beyond our comprehension. We cannot be certain that a second now is the same, or longer, or shorter, than a second at some other time. (A second now must be longer than a second was then).

The world is what our perception tells us it is. But our perception is limited, and it limits the boundaries of our reality. We perceive space and everything around us as having 3 dimensions, yet we cannot truly conceive of any real thing having other than three spatial dimensions. In our 3-dimensional world we can define one- and two-dimensional things only as concepts (lines and surfaces) but we cannot identify any real-world objects which have only one or two dimensions. Moreover, real things having more than 3 dimensions are beyond our comprehension. How a fourth spatial dimension could be manifested lies outside of human reason. We have the language to describe – but only conceptually – any number of dimensions. Scientists and mathematicians speculate about 3 or 7 or 9 or infinite dimensions and claim either that 3 is the most probable or theorise that the others are hidden in the strings that make up the world, but the human brain can only perceive 3. (I note in passing that invoking the infinite is itself an admission of incomprehensibility). It is a fruitless and inevitably circular discussion to question whether it is our perception which is limited to 3 dimensions or whether the universe has only three to be perceived. Our universe is enabled, and strictly constrained, by what our cognition allows us to perceive. Every real thing in our universe has three spatial dimensions; no less, no more. Our universe has 3 spatial dimensions because that is all, and only what, we can perceive.

I probably read “Flatland” as a teenager where a sphere in Flatland can only be perceived as a circle.

Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions is a satirical novella by the English schoolmaster Edwin Abbott Abbott, first published in 1884 by Seeley & Co. of London. Written pseudonymously by “A Square”, the book used the fictional two-dimensional world of Flatland to comment on the hierarchy of Victorian culture, but the novella’s more enduring contribution is its examination of dimensions. – Wikipedia

No matter how many dimensions the universe may have, three dimensions is all human cognition can ever perceive. It is that reality which constrains all our thought. It becomes a fundamental assumption for science which the scientific method cannot penetrate. If other dimensions exist, then what we perceive in three are projections. As a shadow is perceived to be two-dimensional. But to have a projection or a shadow in our 3-dimensional world we would need some kind of cognitive light from the other, higher dimensions to create what we perceive.

But human cognition is limited. We cannot perceive what we cannot perceive. And we have no clue as to where and when we are.


New challenges as global population will start declining already in the 2060s

January 24, 2021

The new challenge for the 22nd century, which will override almost all the perceived challenges and existential threats of today, will be population decline. How our intricately connected and interdependent world for food production, manufacturing, financial services, health services, education and leisure will be able to cope with a declining population, a declining work force and an increasing proportion of population (<20, >70) being non-productive, will be the dominating challenge faced by humanity. The pressure on some resources will clearly decrease. The further development and spread of automation will become an absolute must. The increasing use of “smart” contraptions with some embedded AI and the increasing interconnections between smart devices will be the primary means of compensating for the decline in humans available. Paradoxically, increasing automation and the increasing interconnections between our smart devices will probably lead to a decline in the interdependence of humans on each other. Each individual will be more dependent upon interconnected devices but less dependent upon other humans. Human independence – from other humans – could reach levels not seen since before the industrial revolution, but by choice rather than enforced.

The UN medium forecast based on the continuing decline in world fertility has the world reaching peak population at just over 11 billion just before 2100. But fertility rates are declining faster than the medium forecast.

Global fertility is falling faster than any prediction. It has reached critical levels in Japan and parts of Eastern Europe. Iran is providing incentives for increasing birth rates. In most of the EU countries it is only immigration and its consequence on fertility which is delaying the inevitable decline in fertility rates. The increased fertility rates among immigrant communities declines within a generation to match the “indigenous” rates. The Chinese population is already in decline. The Indian population will peak before 2050 rather than around 2070. Even Nigeria where population was expected to peak after 2100 will now reach its maximum probably by 2090, or even earlier.

New studies (The Lancet, July 14, 2020, DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30677-2 ) now put the global population reaching a peak of 9.7 billion by 2064 and declining to 8.8 billion by 2100.

The work force decline has already started in China. In India it will start declining by 2050. It has become blindingly apparent during the corona virus pandemic that it is the work force which is both the “blood” which circulates and keeps our societies alive, and it is the glue which holds our societies together. It is in compensating for these human functions that automation and “smart” devices with some AI will come increasingly into play. A natural consequence is that having smarter devices leads to a fundamental change in the classic centralised- distributed paradigm. More smarts locally leads to more and narrower specialisation centrally.

I see the growing independence of individuals as inevitable with a declining human population together with smarter devices serving us. Smarter diagnostics and basic, automated health care locally is then complemented by fewer, very specialised central hospitals. The catchment area has to increase as the specialisations become narrower. (As is already happening in Scandinavia). Increasing on-line learning (local) is then complemented by specialised learning at the – fewer – centres. (As is already happening in Japan). Manufacturing (including food production and even farming) is increasingly automated.

In the 22nd and 23rd centuries there will not be a shortage of resources (food or water or energy), and there will be no shortage of growth as smart machines take over the boring and the mundane jobs, and there will be no decline in human ingenuity and creativity. But there may be a shortage of human companionship.


Numbers emerge from the concept of identity

December 18, 2020

Numbers are abstract. They do not have any physical existence. That much, at least, is fairly obvious and uncontroversial.

Are numbers even real? The concept of numbers is real but reason flounders when considering the reality of any particular number. All “rational” numbers (positive or negative) are considered “real numbers”. But in this usage, “real” is a label not an adjective. “Rational” and “irrational” are also labels when attached to the word number and are not adjectives describing the abstractions involved. The phrase “imaginary numbers” is not a comment about reality. “Imaginary” is again a label for a particular class of the concept that is numbers. Linguistically we use the words for numbers both as nouns and as adjectives. When used as a noun, meaning is imparted to the word only because of an attached context – implied or explicit. “A ten” has no meaning unless the context tells us it is a “ten of something” or as a “count of some things” or as a “measurement in some units” or a “position on some scale”. As nouns, numbers are not very pliable nouns; they cannot be modified by adjectives. There is a mathematical abstraction for “three” but there is no conceptual, mathematical difference between a “fat three” and a “hungry three”. They are not very good as adjectives either. “Three apples” says nothing about the apple. “60” minutes or “3,600” seconds do not describe the minutes or the seconds.

The number of apples on a tree or the number of atoms in the universe are not dependent upon the observer. But number is dependent upon a brain in which the concept of number has some meaning. All of number theory, and therefore all of mathematics, builds on the concept and the definition of one.  And one depends, existentially, on the concept of identity.

From Croutons in the soup of existence

The properties of one are prescribed by the assumptions (the “grammar”) of the language. One (1,unity), by this “grammar” of mathematics is the first non-zero natural number. It is the integer which follows zero. It precedes the number two by the same “mathematical distance” by which it follows zero. It is the “purest” number. Any number multiplied by one or divided by one remains that number. It is its own factorial. It is its own square or square root; cube or cube root; ad infinitum. One is enabled by existence and identity but thereafter its properties are defined, not discovered. 

The question of identity is a philosophical and a metaphysical quicksand. Identity is the relation everything has to itself and nothing else. But what does that mean? Identity confers uniqueness. (Identical implies sameness but identity requires uniqueness). The concept of one of anything requires that the concept of identity already be in place and emerges from it. It is the uniqueness of identity which enables the concept of a one.

Things exist. A class of similar things can be called apples. Every apple though is unique and has its own identity within that class of things. Now, and only now, can you count the apples. First comes existence, then comes identity along with uniqueness and from that emerges the concept of one. Only then can the concept of numbers appear; where a two is the distance of one away from one, and a three is a distance of one away from two. It is also only then that a negative can be defined as distance away in the other direction. Zero cannot exist without one being first defined. It only appears as a movement of one away from one in the opposite direction to that needed to reach two. Negative numbers were once thought to be unreal. But the concept of negative numbers is just as real as the concept for numbers themselves. The negative sign is merely a commentary about relative direction. Borrowing (+) and lending (-) are just a commentary about direction. 

But identity comes first and numbers are a concept which emerges from identity.


A licence to kill

November 27, 2020

James Bond is not just fantasy.

The French and the US do it. The Russians and the British do it. Iran and the Chinese and the Saudis do it. Iraq and Syria do it.

All nations give their agents a licence to act, in their own self-interest, even if against their own laws, when they are in foreign parts.

The Indians and the Pakistanis and the Afghans probably do it. So do most EU countries even if they would never acknowledge it. As long as nation states last, there is no nation not prepared to defend its nationhood.

In the latest case it is almost certainly Israeli agents who have eliminated a perceived threat.

Iran’s top nuclear scientist, assassinated near Tehran


Happy Diwali

November 13, 2020

14th November 2020

diwali

Histories are always about justifying something in the present

November 8, 2020

Hardly a day goes by where I do not consider the origin of something. On some days I may ponder the origin of hundreds of things. It could be just curiosity or it could be to justify some current action or to decide upon some future action. Sometimes it is the etymology of a word or it could be the origins of an idea. It could be the story of what happened yesterday or something about my father or a thought about the origins of time. I know that when I seek the history of a place or a thing or a person, that what I get is just a story. In every case the story inevitably carries the biases of the story-teller. However, most stories are constrained by “evidence” though the point of the story may well lie in the narrative (inevitably biased) connecting the points of evidence.

The same evidence can generate as many stories as there are story-tellers. Often the narrative between sparse evidence forms the bulk of the story. When the past is being called upon to justify current or future actions, histories are invented and reinvented by playing with the narrative which lies between the evidence. Of course, the narrative cannot contain what is contradicted by the evidence. Human memory is always perception and perception itself is imperfect and varies. I know that the story I tell of some event in my own history changes with time. Thus the “history” I tell of all that lies between the “recorded facts” of my own existence is a variable and is a function of the “now”. It is experience and knowledge of the world and the people around us which provides the credibility for the stories which lie between the evidence. But bias plays its role here as well. A desired story-line is always more credible than one which is not.

A historian looks for the events which, incontrovertibly, took place. The further back events lie in the past the less evidence survives. But histories are never merely a tabulation of events with evidence (though even what constitutes incontrovertible evidence is not without controversy). The more there is evidence the more constrained is the inter-connecting narrative. But historians make their reputations on the stories they tell. Their histories are always a combination of evidenced events and the narrative connecting them. Historian bias is inevitable.

I have been writing a story – hardly a history – about my father’s early life and through the Second World War. For a period covering some 20 years I have documented evidence for about 30 separate events – dates when certain events occurred. The date he graduated, the date he joined up, the date he was promoted or the date he arrived somewhere. The documented events are, like all documented events, just events. If not this set of events then it would have been some other similar set of events. If not these particular dates then some other set of dates. The events are always silent about what his mood was or what he had for breakfast on the day of the event. They provide a fixed frame but the overwhelming bulk of my story is speculation about why and how he went from one event to the next. The story fits my understanding of how he was much later in his life. My story about his motivations and his behaviour are entirely speculation but always fit my central story-line. The documented events are just the bones on which to hang the flesh of my story. My story is not determined by the events. It is determined elsewhere but has to conform to the events.

Go back a little under 1,000 years and consider Genghis Khan. We have documentary evidence about the date he died but even his date of birth is speculation. Current histories vary according to whether the historian desires to describe a hero or a villain. Both can be hung upon the framework provided by the few documented events available. Go back another 1,000 years and even with the large (relatively) amount of evidence available about the Roman Empire, the range of speculation possible can justify the politics of any contemporary viewpoint.

And so it is with all histories. We claim that histories help us to understand the past and that this, in turn, helps us to choose our future actions. I am not so sure. The power of a history lies in the credibility of the narrative connecting the certain events. As with the story about my father, a history is not a narrative determined by the events. The narrative is determined by other imperatives but must conform to the events. I begin to think that we write (and rewrite) our histories, always in the present, and with our present understandings, to justify where we are or the choices we want to make. They are always a justification of something in the present.


100 years after the Spanish flu, virology still has far to go

October 4, 2020

Medical science does wonders. From amazing surgical procedures to an incredible variety of drugs and a fantastic array of tools and equipment, medicine, as it is practiced today, is light years ahead of where it was in 1918 at the time of the Spanish flu. Yet, medical science has not been capable of quickly defeating the current Wuhan virus pandemic. Health care has improved beyond recognition. Compared to 100 years ago, health services can deploy a bewildering variety of drugs and equipment and therapies to treat the infected.

The effects of the current pandemic are most often compared with the effects of the Spanish flu in 1918. The flu virus was identified in 1933 and the first flu vaccine came out in 1942. However, even today the flu vaccine is thought to be effective only in a little over 50% of cases. It is estimated that the Spanish flu, over a period of 3 years killed between 25 and 39 million people and that about 500 million were infected when the global population was only about 1,800 million. Today with a global population of 7, 200 million it is estimated that at least 35 million have been infected and, so far, over 1 million are thought to have died. The pandemic has lasted 6 months and is still ongoing. The virus was identified very quickly – perhaps one month – but only after the data repressed by the Chinese government and the WHO – leaked out.

The hunt for a vaccine is only 6 months old. There are at least 300 groups actively searching for one. Around 30 proposed vaccines have entered some kind of clinical trials. Estimates of when a vaccine could be readily available range from 6 months to 2 years to never. Money is being thrown at vaccine development at unprecedented levels. Certainly some of the groups chasing a vaccine have zero chance of success but cannot resist the temptation of huge amounts of easy money.

But virology is far from a settled science. In fact, there is still debate on whether a virus is living or not. That there are 300 different groups seeking a vaccine is, itself, evidence of 300 different opinions. During the past 6 months a bewildering variety of suggestions have been made for prophylactics, remedies and cures. Every single one has come from a “medical specialist”. The best advice is still “avoid infection” (by social distancing and masks which may or may not work), and hope. There are no preventive drugs and there are no cures (beyond treating symptoms). If and when vaccines are found, they will vary in how effective they are. Estimates of how expensive a vaccine may be range from 30$ to 300$ per dose for either a one-dose or a two-dose vaccine, with immunity available for periods ranging from 3 months to 1 year after vaccination.

Everyday new “experts” are trotted out on TV. But the science is not settled and there are no experts. The simple reality is that compared to 100 years ago, this pandemic has medical science just as stymied as the Spanish flu did – but at a very much higher level of knowledge.


Does the WHO chief add any value?

August 7, 2020

Below its political management the WHO does seem to add some value – though not anything much better than could be achieved without the WHO.

But the role of “WHO chief” adds no value that I can perceive (except perhaps to Chinese geopolitical aims). He (or his Press Corps) seem unable to avoid the obvious or the nonsensical.

 


 

Sol Invictus 2019

December 31, 2018

 


 

Diwali break

November 3, 2018

This year Diwali falls on 7th November.

 


 


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