Emotions of Small-World Networks

Neil Gaiman:

I’m in the UK right now, and it’s a long way away, and I’m reading about what happened in newspapers (because I don’t turn on TVs in hotel rooms. I don’t know why this is, but I don’t), still managing to think of this as something that happened, tragically, to Other People. And then I see this, and my heart sinks, because this is the Michael Bishop who I met in 1999 when we were Guests of Honour at World Horror, whose son was a Sandman fan and oh god, and then I click on this, and I get my nose rubbed hard and painfully in the fact that there are no Other People. It’s just us.

Mentally Ill People on TV

A funny thing happened to me this morning in connection with mass murder and the tragic extinction of human life.

I was walking to the office for another day of PHP-coding, and on Kirkland Street, I was stopped by a suit-wearing man whose close-cropped gray hair reminded me distantly of an evil landlord I once knew. He carried a microphone with, I believe, the CBS logo (I’m nearsighted and unobservant), and he was accompanied by another man carrying a TV camera. The microphone man asked, “Could we talk to you for a minute?”

“Sure,” I said. “What about?”

The shootings at Virginia Tech,” he replied, although he didn’t use hyperlinks (most people don’t, in ordinary speech). “And the footage that NBC put out about the killer.”

“Oh, I hadn’t seen it,” I said, which was true. A bit of web-crawling leads me to suspect that this “video manifesto” is what they were talking about, or part of it. See also Google Video. I’m not sure if there was any reason they picked me as opposed to any other pedestrian, and I don’t know how many other people they filmed. Perhaps a guy in a black trenchcoat, black fedora and Sinfest T-shirt is automatically the best guy to interview about a school shooting; I dunno.

They said that NBC had put video online from the killer (Cho Seung-Hui), and they asked me what I thought about that. What were my very first words?

“Well, I’m a firm believer in a transparent society.”

Yessir, meeting David Brin at ICCS 2006 sure ruined my ability to talk like a normal human being. Oh, wait, I lost that a long time ago — never mind.

I said that the whole thing was a tragedy, but the best thing we can do is prevent future tragedies and in order to do that we have to understand what happened this time. If there’s something that dark in human nature, we have to know about it, I told them. They thanked me and we started walking our separate ways. As I strode off, I heard one say to the other, “Okay, we got it.” Maybe I’ll be on the local CBS affiliate talking about preventing disaster through understanding, but I sort of doubt it.

They should have asked me for my Bill Hicks impression. Now that would be worth putting on TV.

UPDATE: See what Joel Achenbach has to say about this. His thinking seems to match up with mine.


“Well I’m a firm believer in a transparent society and if there is something that disgusting in human nature we mind [sic] as well be aware of it,” said one person WBZ’s Joe Shortsleeve spoke to.

Interestingly, when I saw myself appear on the screen, I called out, “I’m on TV!” just as anybody would in that circumstance. A friend of mine then walked past the computer just as the female news anchor asked, “How does the public benefit from seeing someone on TV who is clearly mentally ill?” He burst out gut-laughing. I’m not sure what that means, but probably nothing good. So it goes.

UPDATE THE THIRD: WBZ-TV makes it slightly tricky to link directly to the video you want, but try this.

I Guess It’s a Deuteron

Seed has just offered the world a “Cribsheet” on string theory. It looks pretty slick, although their portrayal of a “hydrogen atom” seems to have an extra nucleon (as Wolfgang notes in the Cosmic Variance thread). I’m inclined to forgive the multiple electron orbits, since they only show one actual electron — and besides, ellipses aren’t that great a way of drawing orbitals anyway.

(Incidentally, if you want to see orbitals in video, check out episode 51 of The Mechanical Universe, available for free online via Annenberg Media.)

They do cite Barton Zwiebach’s First Course in String Theory (2004), which gives me a slight tinge of pride. I mean, somebody had to work the problems in the last five chapters to see if they were solvable by students and not just professors.

The portion of this post below the fold is a rough draft of several different rants, developed in embryonic form and smushed together. Read only if you’re exceptionally curious.
Continue reading I Guess It’s a Deuteron

National What Month?

The world would be a safer place if Sean Carroll didn’t go around telling people it was National Poetry Month. For you see, I took two semesters of Poetry Workshop (easiest course credit I ever got). I also took a couple archy and mehitabel books with me to Amsterdam one lovely spring, which I read in between researching my supersymmetric quantum mechanics paper, visiting the Van Gogh Museum and generally enjoying the sights. All of that probably sloshed together and fed into the following, which is entitled “workshop”.
Continue reading National What Month?

Michael Egnor: Manipulative Liar

Michael Egnor is back, with yet more drivel about reverse engineering. This time, he’s upset about a new blog post by Michael Lemonick (the one whose blog started Michael Egnor‘s career as a DI shill in the first place, although Egnor had a history of kookiness). Lemonick speaks some plain and simple truth:

If the DI had been around when people thought lightning was stuff the gods threw when angry, we might still not have electricity.

That didn’t make Egnor very happy:

It’s ironic that Mr. Lemonick would choose electromagnetism as a vignette for the design inference in science. The two scientific pioneers of classical electromagnetism, Faraday and Maxwell, were particularly devout Christians who inferred design everywhere in nature. They believed that God designed everything—including electricity. Their approach to science was pure design inference, undiluted by atheism or materialism. Contra Mr. Lemonick, we have electricity because of men who believed in God and in the evident design in nature.

Mr. Lemonick misunderstands the philosophical origins of modern science. The Scientific Revolution emerged within, and only within, Judeo-Christian civilization, and nearly all of the scientists who gave us modern science—Copernicus, Pascal, Galileo, Newton, Kepler, Leibniz, Harvey, Vesalius, Linnaeus, Lavoisier, Mendel, Pasteur, as well as Faraday and Maxwell, were devout Christians who inferred design in all of nature. They worked entirely from the design inference.

In a word, NO. They worked from the idea that Nature exhibits predictable regularities, which is an entirely different animal. They also worked from the evidence, which is a concept the creationists of all stripes, ID included, have had a hard time understanding. Most important of all, they accepted the facts which their observations revealed to them. Scientists of religious persuasions take our discoveries about Nature as indications of the divine imagination, but they do not refuse to acknowledge discoveries because they conflict with prior dogma — and, my friends, that’s all the Discovery Institute has ever done. There’s a big gap — no, a gaping chasm — between thinking that God set the world up with some intelligible order which people can understand and refusing to acknowledge that order because it clashes with your personal notions of the divine blueprint.

Taking an honest search for Nature’s patterns expressed in the mindset of earlier times and conflating that with the Discovery Institute’s manipulative propaganda tactics is despicable behavior.
Continue reading Michael Egnor: Manipulative Liar

In Soviet Russia, Evidence Frames You!

Heh heh heh. Mark Liberman, my conduit to a respectable Erdős number, had this to say today:

Most of us are pretty good at “audience design“: fitting how we express ourselves to what others are ready to hear. We notice when someone else is especially bad at this; but everyone’s image of other people’s minds has some blind spots. Cross-cultural communication often runs aground on such misperceptions, or at least so we’re told those who aim to teach us how to interpret the table manners and negotiating ploys of other cultures. And one of the deeper cultural divisions within our own society appears to be the one that separates lawyers from everybody else.

As the rest of the post suggests, if scientists have problems with the word theory, lawyers have trouble with the word fact.

It’s interesting that from the linguists’ perspective, “most of us are pretty good” at this audience design trickery. Rather than a technique which we must master at our peril, they take it as a basic assumption that “speakers adjust their speech primarily towards that of their audience in order to express solidarity or intimacy with them, or conversely away from their audience’s speech in order to express distance.”

Interlude: Framing

The “framingkerfluffle continues apace at ScienceBlogs.com and elsewhere (also here). For a primer on this subject, see my earlier remarks here. I like Joshua’s most recent take, which can be summarized in the phrase, “Let’s look at the data.” I also like what “Revere” has to say at Effect Measure:

Nisbet and Mooney argue that just presenting the facts in favor of evolution or climate change isn’t sufficient. As a university teacher for 40 years I couldn’t agree more. It’s a matter of good pedagogy, which isn’t just displaying facts. If it were, we wouldn’t need teachers. But the implication that good teaching is “packaging” — aka, “spinning,” although they prefer to think of it as “framing” — doesn’t follow, unless all good teaching is called “framing,” in which case all we have done is substitute one word for another.

“All good teaching is framing” has no more content than “All is God”, “All thoughts are memes” or “Everything is love.” You don’t get to say “All is full of love” unless you’re a Björk-22 model gynoid from the Yamtaijika Corporation. I’d add that if you really want to use a jargon word, you should pick one which doesn’t have an everyday meaning: picking a word which everybody thinks they understand even though they actually need a background in the subject is setting yourself up for confusion. Call it “Lakoff framing” or “Goffman framing” or something of the sort.

You know what this whole thing reminds me of?

Continue reading Interlude: Framing

A Lower Bound

This is how Carl Sagan begins the introduction to The Varieties of Scientific Experience.

In these lectures I would like, following the wording of the Gifford Trust, to tell you something of my views on what at least used to be called natural theology, which, as I understand it, is everything about the world not supplied by revelation. This is a very large subject, and I will necessarily have to pick and choose topics. I want to stress that what I will be saying are my own personal views on this boundary area between science and religion. The amount that has been written on the subject is enormous, certainly more than 10 million pages, or roughly 1011 bits of information. That’s a very low lower limit. And nevertheless no one can claim to have read even a tiny fraction of that body of literature or even a representative fraction. So it is only in the hope that much that has been written is unnecessary to be read that one can approach the subject at all.

This arithmetic does, I think, shed an interesting light on the Courtier’s Reply.

It’s rather common practice in some domains of the Blagnet to list one’s current mood or the music to which one is currently listening. I don’t have a handy collection of mood-marking icons (and if I did, I’d break them, because I’m a proud iconoclast), but I should note that my stereo is currently playing Infected Mushroom‘s 2003 album Converting Vegetarians. Stored in MP3 format, the two discs of this album occupy 239,317,690 bytes of hard-drive real estate. That’s roughly 1.9 × 109 bits, about one fiftieth of Sagan’s estimate for all theological writing, for two and a half hours of music. So, one hundred CDs of psy-trance (which could in principle include Goa and Suomisaundi) would take us into the regime of natural theology, content-wise.

The Psychedelic Mind Expander lists 636 different CDs released during 2006 alone, lumping together the Ambient, Breaks, Drum & Bass, Goa, Progressive, Psychedelic, Techno and Trance sub-genres (I get the feeling nobody else knows how to assign these labels, either — has anybody actually conducted a blind discrimination test between Drum & Bass and Neurofunk?).

It’s no wonder I have a hard time keeping up with divinity studies. Good thing we have theologians like Ishkur to organize the information for us.

String Kings: The Director’s Cut

Via Cosmic Variance, this may be the best thing to come out of theoretical physics cinema since String Wars: The Popper Menace. Steven Miller at Science Mobster (with a very familiar-looking theme) gives us String Kings: The Director’s Cut. Longtime aficionados of the genre will recall the theatrical release and DVD version, but like Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, Scorsese’s String Kings grows beyond compare when seen as the director intended.

Meanwhile in New York City, Peter Woit (Turturro) is seen in his apartment practising with a gun in front of a mirror in a scene Scorsese has very obviously recycled from his previous urban alienation classic “Taxi Driver”. Like de Niro before him, Turturro gives a compelling and subtle performance here, depicting a man on the edge and giving us hints at the festering rage bubbling underneath as he toys with the loaded weapon and talks to himself repeatedly: “Listen you stringheads…you anthropicists…this is one man one who isn’t going to take it anymore….One man who stood up against the…the orbifolds, the fluxes…the stabilized moduli, the braneworlds, the landscape, the swampland…Someday new real data is gonna come and rain down…rain down…rain down and wash the Arxiv clean…Now I see it clearly…my whole life is pointed in this one direction…I see that now…there was never any choice for me”.

Look for the sequel in late 2008.

Wobosphere Trick of the Day (plus seminar)

0. Go to Google Maps.

1. Click “get directions”.

2. Get directions from New York, New York to Paris, France.

3. Scroll down to item 23 in the list of directions.

4. Return in time for the seminar tomorrow afternoon at NECSI, where we shall discuss the first two (possibly three) sections in chapter four of Ash.

(Tip o’ the beret to Audentes at the Achenblog. It also works with Boston, Massachusetts.)

Roseanne: Your Guide to the World of Facts

Via a bloke (or blokette?) named Technogeek, I present for your delectation Roseanne Barr on black holes:

Quantumarai Eve is a black hole in time/space… mythologically she is the declawed clone of Lilith. Lilith is the actual hidden female face of the once removed from male Eve. Lilith is like Kali, and other goddesses before her, a powerful destroyer. She has the last word while men sleep. She, like all goddesses was a focal point to keep the women in line, as they feared she would kidnap and kill their newborn male babies. Much of women’s time in matriarchal tribes was spent in pacifying her(fear of the female’s hatred of the children of other women). There was a Priestess to intercede on behalf of women.

All of this female (denser energy) myth even now is a way to explain cosmic black holes. The female end of the gender pole is about receiving and the male end is about transmitting. The black hole cannot transmit, only receive…its explosion creates light and belches matter out…it becomes male upon its “birth”. Everything comes from black holes, not their effect..that is the error in calculation that is being corrected by science right now, and makes all other myths obsolete…thank you for understanding my poetry! The snake is a wormhole!

General relativity never made so much sense!