A Not-Schrödinger Joke?

Today’s xkcd puzzles me.

It’s a cat in a box, but it’s not a Schrödinger joke? Dood! UR IN MY HEAD, MESSIN WIT MAH MEEMZ. And, judging by the comments, I’m not the only one to be suffering in perplexity this morning.

Let’s just say that if I were expecting an office chair and opened the box to discover a live Schrödinger bobcat, my hopes would collapse, and my ensuing comments would be rather decoherent.

Philosophia Naturalis #14

While I continue to befuddle myself with my random-spatial-network simulation results, everyone else should go enjoy themselves by reading Philosophia Naturalis #14, the latest edition of the physical-science blogging carnival. It’s got a Sputnik theme!

And, why not, here’s Tom Lehrer singing about “Pollution.”

Back to my perplexing plots I go. . . I need to wrap things up in time to attend the Ig Nobel Prizes tonight.

Scott Aaronson’s Outreach Program

What’s that sound? Could it be the information content of the popular discourse about quantum physics rising by a detectable degree?

Oh, dear. An advertising agency took a passage from Scott Aaronson’s quantum computing lecture notes and used it in a commercial.

Model 1: But if quantum mechanics isn’t physics in the usual sense — if it’s not about matter, or energy, or waves — then what is it about?

Model 2: Well, from my perspective, it’s about information, probabilities, and observables, and how they relate to each other.

Model 1: That’s interesting!

Naturally, the commercial doesn’t mention where they got the text from, but thanks to the quintessential Internet appeal of this story, it looks like Prof. Aaronson is already getting some server-crashing free publicity out of this. Should he be demanding more? Like, say, private tutoring sessions with the fashion models who show such an interest in quantum theory? Each of them have already shown a far greater command of the material than, for example, Deepak Chopra, and it would be a shame to waste such an opportunity.

You can read the ad agency’s craven response in this Sydney Morning Herald article:
Continue reading Scott Aaronson’s Outreach Program

Spectre upon Science

Argh. Somehow I’ve become the rewrite guy for a paper on modeling the United States healthcare system. Big chunks of the material we have so far is a direct transcript from somebody’s talk, so it has to be thoroughly revamped. Also, the people we’re writing it for have apparently forgotten everything junior high school taught them about logarithms, which makes explaining why a power-law distribution looks like a straight line on a log-log plot rather, well, interesting. I’ve been told to exile all actual equations to the sidebar. While I get on with my head-impact-wall moment, here’s something I found on my hard drive. I promise some juicy and weird stuff about statistical physics and neuroscience, once I regain my esteem for humanity.


“These are dark times, my fellow Americans.

“Do you know what is happening across this country? Dawn is sweeping from one coast to the other, mothers are rousing their children from bed, and children are walking and bicycling to school, where they are being taught how to lie with statistics. In math class, little Johnny is learning how the axes of a graph can be distorted, the dangers of selection bias and that correlation is not causation. He and Mary go to English class, where they’re trained in today’s tool from the ‘baloney detection kit‘. They learn that ‘All the aggressor’s attempts to advance beyond Baghdad have failed‘ is a cover for the loss of Baghdad. I’ve just received poll results showing that for the first time, seventy-two percent of Americans know that electrons are smaller than atoms, seventy-eight percent believe that human beings evolved from a common ancestor shared with apes, and ninety-two percent know that the Earth travels around the Sun! These figures shock us all, I know, but they are only the most visible edge of a phenomenon which threatens the continued existence of our organization.
Continue reading Spectre upon Science

Parties of Past and Future

Joel Achenbach speculates about the possibility of having an “18th Century Weekend.” Disavow all knowledge of portable music players, television sets, automobiles (hybrid or otherwise) and the wireless telegraph, and return the neighborhood to the days when Western Civilization first tried out the Enlightenment. Syphilis and smallpox are optional.

But in reality we’re not trying to recreate the past, much of which was, let us state clearly, a grinding horror. This is not a costume party. [Nor are we trying to create our own little Earthaven, though being more energy conscious would be a good outcome.] [Nor would this be like living in the pre-luxury-hotel version of Biosphere 2.] We’re just trying to find ways to connect, be a bit more local, and neighborly, and maybe have more face-to-face conversations, and get a little exercise walking to the coffee shop rather than burning gasoline.

Of course, perhaps the 18th Century is a bit too far away:

Simply turning the clock back to 1990 — and quitting email for a couple of days — would be liberating and revelatory. Maybe it should just be 1980s weekend, performed to the soundtrack of Madonna, Michael Jackson and Duran Duran.

Quitting email?! Say wha?

Actually, I prefer to make every weekend “Not-So-Distant-Future Weekend.” I read the news on my portable Universal Computation Device, and every time I meet a revolving door, I pretend that it’s really an airlock.

Liberman on Uriagereka and FOXP2

Having aired my grievances about New Scientist (here, here and here), about Wired (here and over here) and about Time (yup, here), I was wondering when I’d get a chance to complain about Seed. This morning, Mark Liberman provides the necessary gripe-fodder, poking a big, sharp stick at Juan Uriagereka’s “The Evolution of Language” (25 September 2007).

Unlike much of the science writing that gets a blogospheric assault, today’s target involves a researcher stepping off into sheer speculation, rather than a journalist oversimplifying or seeking a false “balance.”

According to Liberman, Uriagereka “combines some important themes with what seem to me to be some bizarre fantasies.” Specifically, Liberman takes issue with the assertion that finches must have the same neural “parser” as humans do; while transmitting and receiving birdsong may well have general principles in common with transmitting and receiving human language, saying that the two must rely upon the same “parser” is going a measure too far.

Furthermore, Liberman says,
Continue reading Liberman on Uriagereka and FOXP2