Tuesday, July 06, 2010

U.S. Border: assaulting non-criminals?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s2V-BumPX6g part 1
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nqZaFVfxHrk part 2

The recordings above are of an actual border interview.  Among the most amazing things
1) Saying he didn't know which stores at the outlet mall he was going to and asking "does it matter?" got his keys taken and he and his wife ordered in for 2ndary interviews.  Is this kind of answer really associated with drug dealing or terrorism?  I have to imagine if I were a drug dealer or terrorist I would be meek as a lamb and answer every question.
2) Border patrol orders him to do things, when he asks why just repeats the order.  Is it not obvious that informing the person so ordered that these are orders you must follow immediately or else be arrested such a bad choice?  I would like to see it REQUIRED of all law enforcement that you cannot be charged with obstruction for asking why.
3) The border agent tells him that pulling away from the border agent that was reaching to grab him is "assault on a federal officer."  Are these people TRYING to be insane, or does it just arise naturally whenever you give weapons and uniforms to men?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Blindsight by Peter Watts

Blindsight is a 2006 science fiction book. It was mentioned in an Overcoming Bias blog and so I read it. The book is available in electronic form for free on the web. I read it for free from my local public library.

The quality of the ideas about consciousness and mind are outstanding. 5 stars, 2 thumbs up. You don't really get to the main punch line until page 325. What he has to say about consciousness and awareness and brains before then is merely excellent.

A quote: "... People aren't rational. You aren't rational. We're not thinking machines, we're --- we're feeling machines that happen to think." This is where I have been going in my own thinking about brains and consciousness. My model is Lucy, my Golden Doodle dog. In my opinion, you can't read about brains, biology, evolution, especially evolutional psychology, and not see it all laid out before you when you have your own dog. A highly pleasant way to reach your own conclusions about evolutionary psychology, get a dog. So in particular, and only sorta, you've got a lizard brain wrapped in a mammalian brain wrapped in a neocortex. Of course all mammals have a neocortex, but a dog's is a lot smaller than a human's. Whether I've got the anatomy right or not, most of what I think of as feeling is pretty similar between dogs and people.

And then you wrap it in a neocortex. With a sorta mini-dog neocortex you get a little bit of help figuring out what to be mad at, what to be hungry on, what to be horny on, what to be scared of. But mostly, if you are a dog, you are happy, sad, mad, glad, scared, excited etc., and these things dictate your actions. They also dictate your interactions. You can be a social animal without a lot of rationality. Just be loyal to what you love, angry at what seems to be frightening you and you have a pretty functional system.

Wrap it in a big-old human sized neocortex, and throw in nasty monkey emotions (have you seen chimpanzees interact?) and you get a deep need for psychiatrists, psychologists, and many other paid professionals, not to mention a significant and growing pharmacopia. Take the straight forward emotional reactions to things and graft a GIGANTIC rational model of the world, including all the people around you on to it, courtesy of your friendly local neocortex, and you have the basis of some great tragedies and comedies.

That which does not kill us, makes us stranger. -Trevor Goodchild
This is a quotation leading off a sectino of the book. I googled Trevor Goodchild, he is a character in a science fiction TV show that used to be on MTV. But I like the quote, it reminds me of Nietzsche.

I will talk more about consciousness after the "read more" link. SPOILERS about the book will be here. If you are thinking of reading the book, I recommend reading the book before reading the rest of this post.
WARNING SPOILERS! if you read the rest of this post.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Approximations to an Exponential

Summarizing, we have the exponential function taking a complex argument
F = exp(Z)
If we write Z explicitly in terms of its real and imaginary parts,
Z = X + 1j*Y
F = exp(X) * exp(1j*Y)
But each of these pieces is simple:
FX(Z) == exp(X) is the exponential function on a real argument, very small for negative X, very large for positive X, and always positive for any X
FY(Z) == exp(1j*Y) is a rotating phasor. FY always has magnitude 1 and phase Y radians.
Now let us consider approximating exp(Z) with a finite polynomial. The page referred to above describes that a little more in detail, most of you will not need to check that to see what is going on. Let us write the approximation of exp(Z) to an Nth order polynomial as
expN(Z) = FXN(X)*FYN(Y)
Let us look at graphs of some of these functions. First the exponential.
Here we show the argument of the exponential. We see it depends only on the imaginary part of Z, not on the real part of Z at all. And we see it "rolls," as the phasor exp(1j*Y) rolls.
Now lets look at the magnitude of the exponential. The log of the magnitude of the exponential is what we show, we label it Real(log(exp(Z))) because this is equivalent to log(abs(exp(Z)). Now exp(X) gets extremely large (close to infinity) and extremely small (close to zero) so we take the log of exp(Z) to get that magnitude down. When we do that we see the magnitude depends only on Real(Z), as we would expect from the equations above.
Now what might we expect from approximations to the exponential? Lets put up the results for a 51 term polynomial approximation to exp(Z).
Here is the argument, the phase, of the approximation. We see inside a 'C' shape, it is a pretty good match for what we had with the complete exponential. Outside the 'C', it is quite different.
What defines the 'C' shape? The 'x' marks on the plot show the roots of the 51 term polynomial which we are using to approximate the exponential. There are 51 roots. They lie on the 'C' shape. Apparently, the approximation to the exponential is pretty good as long as we are inside the rough shape defined by the roots of the approximating polynomial, and are wildly bad if we are outside that shape.
We notice a similar result for the magnitude of the approximation. We have plotted the magnitude of the approximation using the same scales as we plotted the original exponential. Inside the 'C' shape defined by the roots, you can see rather good agreement: the colors match. Outside the 'C' shape, things are much worse. Indeed, Red corresponds to very large values, outside the 'C' shape the magnitude of the approximation rises to very large values, it only manages to stay very close to zero inside the 'C' shape.
We have shown the result for a 51 term polynomial. How does this result change as the order of the polynomial changes?
The figure shows an estimate of the radius of the 'C' of roots as the order of the polynomial increases from 0 to 99. The 'C' wraps around the point Z=0. The estimate above is made by measuring the distance from Z=0 to the top of the 'C'.
From this one learns that the radius of the 'C' is growing linearly with the order of the polynomia. Indeed, for larger N, the radius is essentially 0.42*N.
What this shows is how the exponential function, with no zeros (no roots), arises from increasingly accurate polynomial approximation. Even though each higher order polynomial has more roots, the roots are moving away from the origin, being pushed out towards the edge of the complex plane.
In some sense, one might say, in the limit the exponential function has an infinite number of roots but that they are all at infinity. Now many real mathematicians might hate that statement. But I suspect the intuitivists might like it. The intuitivists believe it is not the limit at infinity that tells you what is happening, but the journey to get there.

Note added: from comments a great page about this very same problem: http://www.mai.liu.se/~halun/complex/taylor/

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

How many possible worlds exist?

One. I know this is true because I read it in a blog.

But I have an idea why we think there is more than one. Its because we are wrong about what is possible. Its because the model we carry around in our head of the world is quinzillions of times simpler than the actual real world.

So couldn't there possibly be a world where I posted this blog with a spelling error? Well within the super-duper over-simplification of the world we can think about, which has to fit inside a brain which is, again, one-quinzillionth the size of the actual universe, it sure SEEMS like that is possible. But that's just because we are overlooking like a quinzillion (give or take a trillion) facts about the actual universe, and probably a bazillion of those, if we knew them, would completely rule out a different past than the one we see.

Now of course, my mind isn't even beginning to be big enough to know for sure that there can only be one possible universe when all the facts are taken in to account. But following a nice idea from the blog I linked above, the multiple worlds hypotheses, as a class, are not the best explanation of anything. So in my economy of explanation, I'm not ever going to seriously use them. So I don't believe in them, q.e.d.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Poizner vs Whitman, what poseurs!

What if they held a Primary and nobody came?

I don't mean no voters, I mean no candidates.

I listened to the May 3 Poizner vs Whitman debate. This debate precedes the Republican primary for gubernatorial nomination in California 2010.

I find a lot of things remarkable about this debate and this race, and so I will remark upon them.
First of all is the apparent fact that we have two people who were at best moderate Republicans, and possibly even Democrats, now posing as conservative-dinosaur-tea-party Republicans. They spent the entire second debate bashing each other mindlessly to establish which of them is the greater conservative-dinosaur. There MUST be a lot of back-story here, so I shall make some up.

California for years has been doomed by a primary process that seemed to fling gubernatorial candidates to the edges of political respectability, the Republicans flinging their candidate to the right as the Democrats flung their candidate to the left. Presumably the "smart money," or rather the people who take money from these two billionaires through their claims of being smart, have taught these candidates they must run to the right for this nomination.

The remarkable thing is the smart money may be right. To win the primary, you don't need to be electable or rational or smart or honest. You need to get more voters to the polls than the other candidates do. Who votes in Republican primaries? The history seems to be that the conservatives vote, hence the "fling to the right" in recent Gubernatorial candidates. So maybe the smart strategy is "abandon all principles ye who enter here. The right will determine who is on this ballot."

Now of course the traditional media, to the extent they follow this thing at all, which is not much I assure you, will merely report the bashing. Who's the better basher. Who's slanders were more convincing, whos were more injuring. Politics as sports, with no back story.

Yeah, Meg Whitman supported Barbara Boxer (D-Cal.) for senator. Steve Poizner supported Al Gore. The theater of the thing is incredible. Here are these Silicon Valley technolgy billionaire ex-CEOs with their moderate political pedigrees standing on the stage and saying such things as (I kid you not) "there is only one moderate Republican on this stage and it isn't me." It doesn't even matter WHICH candidate said this.

So the back story is that the Republican primary for governor in California is such a non-event that it can be run entirely as theater with no real media coverage. My apologies to the press who HAVE written good stories, I'm sure you are out there, and it is far from your fault that your stories haven't risen in the search engines. It is the fault of the fact that the broad consensus is IT JUST DOESN'T MATTER.

Another amazing thing about this primary is that the only two candidates are moderate billionaire ex-CEOs with little (Poizner) or no (Whitman) political credentials. I'd love to think that their real motivation is to think that they can step in from outside and dial back the suicidal course that California State Government is on. And god knows, maybe that is what will happen.

So where ARE the usual collection of ding-dongs that show up for republican primaries? Is the state of the state so dismal that even the hyenas and jackals have left the field?

I have to decide to what extent I am willing to stand back from the ridiculous theater of it in order to decide who to vote for. But how do you pick a candidate when you know everything they say is bullshit? Can I really trust myself to read behind the lines, the lines in their scripts that is?

You might wonder, why not just go for Brown? Well, I might. Whatever else he is, he isn't this particular kind of theatrical clown. But I really do want a revolution for California. I really do want someone to press the "reset" button in California, and knock out the 5,000 pages of education code and stop giving everything away to the public employees unions and blah blah blah. Amazingly, all three candidates will probably run on this platform.

I have peaked in to the sausage factory and I have already tossed my cookies. What do I do next?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Attractive, me?

I just saw "Date Night" with Tina Fey and Steve Carell. WAY better than I thought it would be. Clever dialogue, good concept, blah blah blah. Will NOT change your life, but better than 2/3 of what's out there.

But I found myself personally injured by a concept in there. Steve and Tina are man and wife. They have issues of sexual boredom, taking each other for granted. But the thing that got me was, they knew they were somewhat attractive. Steve talks about needing to work out more. Tina is pleased that Steve finds her sexy in a hooker-y outfit ("I can't stop staring at your boobs"). She can ACCEPT that he finds her sexy.

I simply do not think of myself as physically attractive. Mentally attractive to the right kind of person, I can buy that. That someone would want to suck my face and get their neurons indirectly agitated by me I believe, it is an extension of an exciting conversation. But that someone would look at me and just from looking at me, be excited, or take that first step towards excitement, I simply don't believe it. Not in a rational sense of don't believe it, but in a neurotic sense.

I don't know what to do with this information, but here it is.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Somebody Else's Love Song

Can I write a song called "Somebody Else's Love Song?"

I listen to these love songs that make me cry, Hallelujah, If I Fell, Over The Rainbow/Wonderful World. I think "This is not my life." And yet I resonate with them. Is it just some pure mammalian emotionality? Probably but even so, it is explainable at the cause and effect level.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Moral Truth: simple as 1 2 3?

One of the wildest aspects of philosophy, of mind, is math. We can conceive of 1+1=2 and 1+2=3, but after excluding various word games, we cannot really conceive of 1+1=3. From where does this limitation come?

A first thought is it is hardwired in to the brain. We evolved in this world, and if it just so happens that in this world, 1+1=2 and associated concepts have a great deal more utility than 1+1=3 and so on, then it shouldn't be too surprising that the brain that has evolved, the brain that has survived, was the one wired for this thought, and not one of the alternatives.

For the life of me, I'm missing a lot of the subtlety about this question as I write this post. But a second thought, woefully undermotivated by this post, is: it is wired into the WORLD. 1+1=2 is pretty much the way of the world. Having been wired into the world, and with consciousness being so intimately linked to the world, conscious minds just can't really operate unless they perceive 1+1=2. To the extent they are able to get in the neighborhood of 1+1=3, those minds are on drugs or otherwise having their tight connection to the world attenuated.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Too Many Books!

SO for the last few months I have been "managing" my reading by requesting fairly popular books from the San Diego County library. As they would come in I would go get them and take them out. Some of them I would even read!

But now I'm realizing, there are too many books! I went to start reserving some books and realized I just have too many out I haven't read!

So let me now try keeping track of them in a blog entry!

Glass Books of the Dream Eaters: some odd Victorian Sci Fi, recommended by Neal Stephenson in his talk at Google.

Bad Monkey: Mat Ruff, Neal Stephenson recommends all of Mat Ruff in his Google talk.

Etgar Keret: short story writer recommended by Stephenson because he could do something Stephenson couldn't do: write short stories.

O Jersualem, history of formation of Israel, recommended by Ashutosh.

Freedom at Midnight, history of formation of India, recommended by Ashutosh