Tuesday, August 28, 2012

There is an underlying digital structure to our analog world: A refutation of reductionism and determinism


The Matrix movies present an interesting metaphor for reality. In the Matrix, there is an artificial world of illusionary mental states. If you seek out and are saved by Morpheus, then you go back to the “real” world, which unfortunately is a world at war. Metaphorically speaking, the world of humans and machines is at war because determinism has taken over society and spirit has died. Human had treated machines as soul-less robots, and now the machines use humans as batteries and live in the dark confines of meaningless world. The Matrix is required to keep most humans from realizing that they are just batteries. The machines don’t think that the humans have souls or individual rights, they just find that they get more productive batteries if the humans think that they are living in world pre-collapse.
Is this theory of the world inconsistent with the facts of this world? Not really, but I think that the Matrix movies are a great starting point for understanding Plato’s parable of the cave or Aristotle’s concept of eudaimonia (sometimes translated as happiness and sometimes as flourishing.) As Aristotle put it, you don’t even know what you really want. You think you want a new car, a powerful job, or lots of sex. But according to him, what you really want is eudaimonia. The problem is that most of us don’t know what eudaimonia really is. In the movie, Morpheus and Neo realize that there is a Matrix and have figured out how to escape from it. To me, the Matrix we live in today is the philosophy of consumerism, utilitarianism, pluralism, and determinism. It is the “air we breathe” in the U.S. and in Europe. We are constantly bombarded with ads for products telling us that the goal of life is to be happy and that we should satisfy our desires/wants/cravings because satisfying those desires/wants/cravings is what’s actually good for us.
One of the problems we face today is that there’s a disconnect between those things that brings us pleasure and those things that brings us growth. Pleasure and growth are not the same, and the amount of overlap between the two is quickly shrinking. Tens of thousands of years ago, what brought us pleasure was the nearly the same as what brought us growth, and it is growth that we should be ultimately are aiming for. Thousands of years ago, eating and having reproductive sex actually helped grow societies. Now we can can’t say the same. So for Aristotle, the problem is first how to recognize good pleasures from bad pleasures, and then ultimately figure out how to make bad pleasures undesirable. Aristotle thought that this could be done through the use of reason and through the help of a mentor/coach who had already learned or had already been taught how to make the bad (i.e. what does not lead to growth) unpleasant. The other problem of our age (also discussed throughout the Matrix) is the lack of spirit in a world of empiricism, determinism and cultural relativism. In the first movie, Neo had to overcome the problem of pleasure vs. eudaimonia (i.e. escape the Matrix in order to help the rebel society flourish), but then he had to go beyond that. In the later movies, he had to bring spirit to a world of machines and determinism.
The goal of this blog has been to supply rational answers to the following questions: (1) why does pleasure not always equate with growth? (2) why is the world not deterministic? (3) what is the purpose of life? The goal of this post is to try to put the nail in the coffin in the theory of determinism and reductionism.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Myth of Dark Energy: The Acceleration of the Universe is due to Increasing Entropy

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In order to explain the evidence of an expanding universe, many physicists have resorted to the idea that there is such a thing as dark energy. This line of reasoning is typical of most of the physicists I know and have worked with over the years. When data doesn’t fit with existing theory, add in a new term to help the data and the theory fit together. Even Einstein tried to add a “cosmological constant” to his theory of general relativity in order to create a stationary universe, so it’s understandable that today’s physicists might want to follow in Einstein’s steps and chose a difference value for the “cosmological constant” in order to explain the expansion of the universe. But just because Einstein made up a term in his equation doesn’t mean that this is correct. What’s interesting is that most physicists would rather add a term to an existing equation (and keep the underlying reductionism and determinism of their equations), then to resort to incorporating a non-reductionist concept like entropy. Note that entropy is a non-reductionist concept because it’s not a property of a particle or a property of space itself, it’s about the relationship between particles. And “increasing entropy” is also a non-deterministic concept if we lived in a deterministic universe, the entropy would be constant.
Until recently, most physicists were not willing to use the existing concept entropy to explain the expansion of the universe. To many physicists, entropy is a ‘non-entity’ and not really a fundamental concept (in the same way that determinists believe that ethics or free will is a non-entity.) These physicists believe in a reductionist and deterministic world-view in which there is no difference between forward and backwards time. For them, entropy is just due to ‘course graining’ and is not really fundamental. It’s just something we’ve made up because we don’t know the position and velocity of all particles in the universe. Deep down, they believe that if we knew the position and velocity of all of the fundamental particles and if we knew the forces of nature, then we could calculate the forward and backwards trajectory of those particles. As you are probably aware by now, I am not a determinist and I am not a reductionist, even though I am absolutely fascinated by the fundamental particles and forces of nature.
So, I was pleasantly surprised to find a paper written in the last few years, in which physicists prove that the acceleration of the universe can be solely explained by the increase in entropy inside of the universe. The goal of this post will be to describe the problems with the concept of dark energy, and to explain how an increase in entropy is the valid way of explaining the expansion of the universe. The goal of this post is to refute the claims of determinism (as I’ve done in prior posts but pointing out that the weak nuclear force is time asymmetric.) The goal of the next post will be to refute reductionism (using a difference line of argument than Plato did two thousand years ago.)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Required Reading for an Optimist

Here's some reading for the end of summer for an optimist.

The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley
A great book on how things do get better with time (even though there are hiccups along the way.) My favorite line, and now a quote on my blog, is the last line of his book: "Dare to be an optimist."

The Ascent of Money and Civilization: The West and the Rest by Niall Ferguson
Once again, great books on how things do get better with time (in most places.)

In all three of these books, the authors are interested in the question why did the economy start growing exponentially after around 1400 AD in the West, but stagnate or decline in the rest of the world (China, India, Africa, Middle East.) Ridley's answer seems to be that we allowed the exchange of ideas (or as he puts it...we allowed "ideas to have sex.")

Friday, August 17, 2012

The self-replicating wind turbine or oil/gas well that requires no subsidies

natuisola"I challenge the wind industry to build a self-sufficient, self-replicating wind turbine/factory that obtains a growth rate of >5%/yr." Quote from this post

In a previous post, I discussed how we need to populate Mars with self-replicating solar robots before we spend the money to send humans to Mars. The reason is that you can start with a small number of solar collectors (as well as the factory to produce more solar collectors), and then over time the number of collectors and factories will grow. These robots would provide the electricity required to terraform Mars so that humans can eventually live there.

But solar robots aren't the only self-replicating energy systems that one could imagine. There could be self-replicating wind-turbine-factories in which the electricity generated by the wind turbines is used by the local factory that produces the wind turbines. One could start in the Midwest (where wind and land are plentiful) with a few number of wind turbines and factories which produce wind turbine, and if wind-turbine-factories actually generate positive rates of return on work invested, then you could grow your wind turbine community with only a small investment. The question is: are wind-turbine-factories self-replicating? Could you build a wind turbine in the middle of nowhere and use only the materials in the region to build the turbines and the factory.  (I've asked the same question about building self-replicating solar collectors in the Sahara Desert. Can you build solar collectors in factories in the Sahara using only electricity collected from the solar cells, and then use some of the electricity to make new factories.) Until one can prove that wind turbines and wind turbine factories are self-replicating, it's hard to tell whether they are 'the next economic miracle' or 'crony capitalism.' I challenge the wind industry to build a self-sufficient, self-replicating wind turbine/factory that obtains a growth rate of >5%/yr. This means that you start with an initial capital investment into a few wind turbines and wind factories. You build these turbines/factories in an isolated location. You then have to operate the factory, and turbine maintenance equipment using only electricity derived from the wind turbines. (You can't get electricity from the grid!) And to build the new wind turbines, you have to use materials that were collected/mine using equipment running off of the electricity from the wind turbines. (You can use batteries or other storage devices...but remember that your factory now has to make batteries as well as wind turbines.) All the while, you have to grow the number of wind turbines by at least 5%/yr...which means growing your factory size as well. At 5%/yr growth, it would take roughly 14 yrs to double in size. At 10%/yr growth, it would take roughly 7 yrs to double in size. Once the industry proves that it can grow at least 5%/yr while doubling the number of wind turbines without input from our existing fossil fuel economy, only then can the wind turbine industry demonstrate that it has the capability of surviving without being parasitic on the rest of the economy.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Discussion of "Accounting for Growth: The Role of Physical Work" by Robert Ayres




In a previous post, I discussed the anti-growth philosophy of engineer/economist Robert Ayres.  Like me, Robert Ayres is fascinated by the relationship between exergy, the generation of work, and the economy. However, what I find so fascinating is that Robert Ayres conducts such similar research as myself, but yet comes to such diametrically opposite views on the purpose of life. In his book,  Turning Point: The End of the Growth Paradigm (London: Earthscan, 1998), Ayres writes the following:

“It is possible to have economic growth - in the sense of providing better and more valuable services to ultimate consumers - without necessarily conuming more physical resources. This follows from the fact that consumers are ultimately not interested in goods per se but in the services those goods can provide. The possibility of de-linking economic activity from energy and materials (“dematerialization”) has been one of the major themes of my professional career.

What I find so fascinating is that Robert Ayres partially understands the nature of growth (i.e. real growth is the growth in the capability to do work), but yet is so far away from really understanding the purpose of life (i.e. to grow...it's not just to be happy.) Robert Ayres is one of a long line of intellectuals who believe that the goal of life is to be happy. The problem is: why should we be so focused on certain chemical reactions in human brains that make us feel happy?

Humans, like many other species, have evolved the capability to feel happiness and joy. It turned out that having the capability to feel pain or joy has helped our species grow. In the past, the chemical reactions and feedback loops that make us feel pain or happiness helped us to avoid danger, to procreate, and to enjoy foods that help us grow. The problem is that we’ve developed technologies  and drugs that trick us into thinking that we are avoiding danger, procreating, and eating essential nutrients. We have to recognize the ease at which we can create feelings of happiness that don’t actually create growth. This includes using drugs and the excessive dependence on thrill-seeking entertainment. Note that this is not a call to ban such activities; in fact, I personally think that more drugs should be legalized. Instead, the goal of my blog is to help change our underlying philosophy of life. Once we understand that the underlying purpose of life is to grow and that growth cannot be “dematerialized”, then we don’t need laws banning the use of drugs in order for us to be smart enough to realize that those people who make/sell drugs, pornography, and thrill-seeking entertainment are nothing more than evolved biological strategies that are parasitic on real biological growth strategies. These people want to thrive off of your hard work, and they do so by trying to convince you that the goal of life is to be happy, and therefore you should buy their drugs, their pornography, their fancy products, or their expensive, but “green” energy. These people have evolved to thrive off of the hard work of people who actually generate work and actually grow the amount of work we can generate.

In this sense, Robert Ayres is like the long line of intellectuals and business people who take advantage of particular weaknesses in human growth strategies: namely, the fact that humans have evolved the ability to feel pain and happiness in order to help us grow, but that the ability to generate the feeling of happiness is no longer linked to real biological growth or to the growth in the capability to do mechanical and electrical work. We’ve tricked ourselves into thinking that we're growing because we've learned to activate all of the chemical receptors that used to be activated only by those activities that help grow life.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

How My Philosophy of Life is Similar to and Differs from Aristotle’s View of Life


“Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.”
- Aristotle

In previous articles, I’ve discussed the problems with the philosophy of life of those people who value happiness and intelligence over the application of that intelligence on growing life. Since the scientific and utilitarian world view of most today's intellectuals can be traced back to Aristotle’s writings in the 300’s B.C, the focus of this post is on pointing out the problems with Aristotle’s philosophy of life.
In large part, we can trace the philosophy of the Scientific Revolution (as put forward by Bacon, Descartes, Newton, and others) to the revival of Aristotle’s philosophy starting after the 12th century. Philosophers like Thomas Aquinas started refocusing intellectual debates onto concerns of this world (as per Aristotle) rather than onto preparing the soul for the next world (as per Plato, Socrates, Jesus, St. Augustine of Hippo, and Mohamed.) For this, we must be thankful both to Aristotle’s original works and Aquinas’ revival of Aristotle’s love of the study of nature.
However, we now live in a world in which a form of Aristotle’s philosophy of life is dominant, especially our misconstruction of his belief that the goal of life is to live a "happy" life. For quite awhile, his view of life (when combined with other philosophies of life…such as Puritanism) yielded technological growth, population growth, intellectual growth, and economic growth. However, recently in the U.S., Canada, Japan, and E.U., economic growth rates have been mild or slumping for quite awhile. And in many countries, population growth is stagnant or declining.
I think that a major reason for the lack of real economic growth is due to the misapplication of Aristotle’s philosophy that the goal of life is to achieve eudaimonia (i.e. human happiness achieved through the use of rationality and virtue.) In today’s Western world, individuality and happiness are the state goals of many countries rather than real growth. In fact, France is currently debating whether to stop measuring economic growth and to instead measure happiness. But before we all jump on the happiness bandwagon, it’s important to highlight some major problems with our current understanding of Aristotle’s ideas.
Problems: (1) Marriage and raising kids is difficult. If you were trying to maximize your personal happiness, you probably wouldn’t get married and have kids. (2) Working for cutting edge companies and conducting cutting edge research is difficult. If you were trying to maximize your personal happiness, you probably wouldn’t compete to become a CEO, a doctor or a tenured professor. (3) Simply put, it is difficult to achieve intellectual, economic, technological and population growth because it takes a lot of work. For example, making nuclear fusion a commercial reality is not easy. One could spend their entire life devoted to this subject and never see the hard work pay off. If you were trying to maximize your personal happiness, you could just become a video game programmer and user, spending all your money on computers and never investing your money into projects that grow life, such as having kids or building power plants.