Dirac, Pauli and You

Here is Paul Dirac in October 1927:

If we are honest — and scientists have to be — we must admit that religion is a jumble of false assertions, with no basis in reality. The very idea of God is a product of the human imagination. It is quite understandable why primitive people, who were so much more exposed to the overpowering forces of nature than we are today, should have personified these forces in fear and trembling. But nowadays, when we understand so many natural processes, we have no need for such solutions. I can’t for the life of me see how the postulate of an Almighty God helps us in any way. What I do see is that this assumption leads to such unproductive questions as why God allows so much misery and injustice, the exploitation of the poor by the rich and all the other horrors He might have prevented. If religion is still being taught, it is by no means because its ideas still convince us, but simply because some of us want to keep the lower classes quiet. Quiet people are much easier to govern than clamorous and dissatisfied ones. They are also much easier to exploit. Religion is a kind of opium that allows a nation to lull itself into wishful dreams and so forget the injustices that are being perpetrated against the people. Hence the close alliance between those two great political forces, the State and the Church. Both need the illusion that a kindly God rewards — in heaven if not on earth — all those who have not risen up against injustice, who have done their duty quietly and uncomplainingly. That is precisely why the honest assertion that God is a mere product of the human imagination is branded as the worst of all mortal sins.

To which Wolfgang Pauli is said to have replied,
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2:00 AM Vocabulary Thought

I find it interesting that Inception! has come to mean “nesting” or “recursion.” First, as was just demonstrated, we already had fine words for the concept. An attendee of SciFoo using the Googleplex wifi to locate themselves on Google Maps, after, say, Googling for the URL, is performing Googleception!, though it could just as well be Googlecursion. Second, more intriguingly, in the film, “inception” is the planting of an idea through manipulated dreaming, not the nesting of dreams within dreams. The film begins with nested dreams being used for extraction, and almost all the characters believe inception to be impossible. The nesting procedure is, in the fictional world, a means to either end. In one of the lovely puzzles of life, the movie established a use of a term at variance with itself.

It also established our low societal standards for “complex” cinema. A heist movie? About Assembling a New Team for the One Last Job Before Retirement? Really?

Let’s Make This Clear

The acronym TERF—Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist—is not a slur, any more than “fascist” or “convicted pedophile” is. They are all plain, declarative descriptors for deplorable people.

You’re free to pretend that TERF is a slur, if it feeds your inner need to feel persecuted without actually being disadvantaged. However, the rest of us do not need to respect your martyrbation fantasy.


Contraception? Evil. Kids getting their hands on Daddy’s guns and blowing holes in each other? The price of Freedom. U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

“the proudest products of our little world”

Ah, the “who speaks for Earth?” parlour game. It’s up there with “which historical figure would you like to have for dinner” and “if you could be a fictional character for a day” for entertaining displays of merrily frivolous erudition. Who—drawing, if we like, from all human history—should be our representatives to an alien civilization? What, in our fantasy, would the aliens appreciate, and who embodies those qualities? Danny Inouye? Lyudmila Pavlichenko? Honinbo Sansa? Sappho? Eratosthenes? Josephine Baker? Emmy Noether? Malcolm X? Alan Turing? Ahmes? Yoko Kanno? Srinivasa Ramanujan?

And what do our choices say about ourselves, about the way we codify canons and build cultural capital?

Per this entertaining development, I’m reminded of something the science writer Timothy Ferris once wrote:

Imagine that we here on Earth have made contact with an interstellar network and have downloaded thousands of simulations from its memory banks. All over the planet people are putting on VR helmets and immersing themselves in the art, culture, and science of alien worlds. We in turn have uplinked whole libraries’ worth of Bach, Beethoven, Shakespeare, Lao Tzu, Homer, Van Gogh and Rembrandt, Newton and Einstein, Darwin and Watson and Crick, the proudest products of our little world. Yet we appreciate that our wisdom and science are limited, our art to some degree provincial. There may be an audience somewhere among the stars for Virgil and Dante and Kubrick and Kurosawa, just as there may be some humans who genuinely enjoy the poetry of the crystalline inhabitants of Ursa Major AC+ 79 3888, but it is apt to be a limited audience. Our movies and plays are not likely to find a wide popular following in the Milky Way galaxy—any more than many humans settling down on the sofa after dinner are likely to watch an infrasonic opera that lasts ten years, the cast of which are alien invertebrates who dine on live spiders.

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Can Stephen Wolfram Catch Carmen Sandiego?

Via Chris Granade, I learned we now have an actual implementation of Wolfram Language to play around with. Wolfram lauds the Wolfram Programming Cloud, the first product based on the Wolfram Language:

My goal with the Wolfram Language in general—and Wolfram Programming Cloud in particular—is to redefine the process of programming, and to automate as much as possible, so that once a human can express what they want to do with sufficient clarity, all the details of how it is done should be handled automatically. [my emphasis]

Ah. You mean, like programming?

Wolfram’s example of the Wolfram Programming Cloud is “a piece of code that takes text, figures out what language it’s in, then shows an image based on the flag of the largest country where it’s spoken.” The demo shows how the WPC maps the string good afternoon to the English language, the United States and thence to the modern US flag.

English is an official language of India, which exceeds the US in population size, and of Canada, which exceeds the US in total enclosed area.

The Wolfram Language documentation indicates that “LargestCountry” means “place with most speakers”; by this standard, the US comes out on top (roughly 300 million speakers, versus 125 million for India and 28 million for Canada). But that’s not the problem we were supposed to solve: “place with most speakers” is not the same as “largest country where the language is spoken.”

Even the programming languages which are sold as doing what you mean still just do what you say.


One day, I’ll be able to explain the story behind how I got into this, but looking back on all the oddities of it, I’m not sure that a medium other than manga could do it justice.

My Struggles with the Block Universe [arXiv:1405.2390]

Christopher A. Fuchs, Maximilian Schlosshauer (foreword), Blake C. Stacey (editor)

This document is the second installment of three in the Cerro Grande Fire Series. Like its predecessor arXiv:quant-ph/0105039, “Notes on a Paulian Idea,” it is a collection of letters written to various friends and colleagues, most of whom regularly circuit this archive. The unifying theme of all the letters is that each has something to do with the quantum. Particularly, the collection chronicles the emergence of Quantum Bayesianism as a robust view of quantum theory, eventually evolving into the still-more-radical “QBism” (with the B standing for no particular designation anymore), as it took its most distinctive turn away from various Copenhagen Interpretations. Included are many anecdotes from the history of quantum information theory: for instance, the story of the origin of the terms “qubit” and “quantum information” from their originator’s own mouth, a copy of a rejection letter written by E. T. Jaynes for one of Rolf Landauer’s original erasure-cost principle papers, and much more. Specialized indices are devoted to historical, technical, and philosophical matters. More roundly, the document is an attempt to provide an essential ingredient, unavailable anywhere else, for turning QBism into a live option within the vast spectrum of quantum foundational thought.

As the comment field says, “CAUTION, do not unthinkingly print from a printer: 2,348 pages, 4 indices, 6 figures, with extensive hyperlinking.”

MSwtBU was originally submitted to the arXiv on 10 May 2014, the anniversary of the predecessor volume and before that of the Cerro Grande Fire, which started the whole business. To my knowledge, it is the longest item currently on the arXiv.

omg 2000+ pages. There goes my free time.
— Dave Bacon, via Twitter

New Paper Dance

B. C. Stacey, “SIC-POVMs and Compatibility among Quantum States” [arXiv:1404.3774]:

An unexpected connection exists between compatibility criteria for quantum states and symmetric informationally complete POVMs. Beginning with Caves, Fuchs and Schack’s “Conditions for compatibility of quantum state assignments” [Phys. Rev. A 66 (2002), 062111], I show that a qutrit SIC-POVM studied in other contexts enjoys additional interesting properties. Compatibility criteria provide a new way to understand the relationship between SIC-POVMs and mutually unbiased bases, as calculations in the SIC representation of quantum states make clear. Along the way, I correct two mathematical errors in Caves, Fuchs and Schack’s paper. One error is a minor nit to pick, while the other is a missed opportunity.

Today in Incoherent Numerology

Or, “Oh, Wikipedia, How I Love Thee. Let me count the ways: one, two, phi…”

From Wikipedia’s page on Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 (today’s version):

It has been noted disquisitively [link] that the number 1001 of Duchamp’s entry at the 1912 Ind├ępendants catalogue also happens to represent an integer based number of the Golden ratio base, related to the golden section, something of much interest to the Duchamps and others of the Puteaux Group. Representing integers as golden ratio base numbers, one obtains the final result 1000.1001φ. This, of course, was by chance—and it is not known whether Duchamp was familiar enough with the mathematics of the golden ratio to have made such a connection—as it was by chance too the relation to Arabic Manuscript of The Thousand and One Nights dating back to the 1300s.

Euhhhhh, non.

As best I can tell, all this is saying is that the catalogue number of Duchamp’s painting contains only 0s and 1s.
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"no matter how gifted, you alone cannot change the world"