(For those not entirely familiar with it, the "Many-worlds interpretation" is a view where every random event causes a new universe to split off — see the "parallel universes" so beloved by cheesy sci-fi.)

"One good example of this is the Quantum Suicide "experiment" that some proponents of the Many-Worlds Interpretation claim (I think jokingly) could actually be used to test the MWI. The way it works is, you basically run the Schrödinger's Cat thought experiment on yourself– you set up an apparatus whereby an atom has a 50% chance of decaying each second, and there's a detector which waits for the atom to decay. When the detector goes off, it triggers a gun, which shoots you in the head and kills you. So all you have to do is set up this experiment, and sit in front of it for awhile. If after sixty seconds you find you are still alive, then the many-worlds interpretation is true, because there is only about a one in 1018 chance of surviving in front of the Quantum Suicide machine for a full minute, so the only plausible explanation for your survival is that the MWI is true and you just happen to be the one universe where the atom's 50% chance of decay turned up "no" sixty times in a row."

Super Mario World vs. the Many-Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Physics, Mechanically Separated Meat, 3 Feb 2008

(The Super Mario World video is quite good, as well.)

One of the most interesting things I learnt in the first few years of my artificial intelligence degree was that intelligence can be present in a design in many different ways.

The example given by the lecturer ran as such: imagine you were trying to build a robot horse. The ground it has to deal with is pitted with burrow holes — how do you stop the robot tripping? One way would be to develop a sophisticated vision system which can recognise holes from solid ground, and a complex movement system to dodge them. Or you could just give the robot bigger feet! A small amount of intelligence from the designer can save a huge amount of processing power that would otherwise be required by the entity itself.

Read more... )
spudtater: (Default)
( Mar. 8th, 2008 08:13 am)
The following thought experiment followed a conversation I had with a co-worker, who was expressing doubt that a mexican wave could keep up with an F1 car as it went round the track. In a way, of course, she is correct, since it would not be a "true" mexican wave, as it is prompted by an external source (the F1 car) rather than being self-propagating. This caveat aside, in trying to explore how fast I could get a mexican wave to move, I reasoned as follows:

Stand in the middle of a large arena — packed with a cooperative crowd — wielding a spotlight. The spotlight is the signal for the crowd to stand up and wave. Swing the spotlight around, and watch the mexican wave that results.

Now scale the whole thing up. Say it takes five seconds to swing the spotlight around. Scale up the arena so that it is five light seconds in diameter. (Approximately 1.5 million km — thanks, Google.) You might need to up the wattage of the spotlight as well. Now swing it around. The spot made by the spotlight will move at    ( 5 × c × π ) / 5 = π × c,    or ~3.14 times the speed of light.

Congratulations, you've created a mexican wave moving at faster than the speed of light.   8^)
spudtater: (Default)
( Apr. 7th, 2007 12:06 am)
Just saw Crucify Me on't telly. Interesting. I was half expecting it to be a bit of a publicity-seeking stunt, but something about the guy's demeanor convinced me that he was intensely serious about the whole thing. I cannot for the life of me ever imagine wanting to nail myself to a cross, but I do totally understand the idea that sometimes, there are things that you have to undertake as part of your own personal spiritual journey.

As far as him finding his faith again, I can say in all honesty that I'm happy for him. He initially lost his faith in a negative way, and though he said that it was losing his faith that brought about his depression, I have to say that from what I saw I would think it was the other way about.

Because, no, I don't want people to be unhappy. This is one of the big negative stereotypes about atheists; that they're unhappy people who want other people to share in their misery too. And it's one of the biggest challenges for any individual atheist to turn an initially very negative set of concepts (there is no God to love and comfort you, death is permanent, life is unfair) into a healthy and positive attitude to life (including concepts of freedom, dignity, and potential).

How should I bring this ramble to a conclusion? On a personal level, a person's faith or lack of it is really not that important. It's more important that they have hope, and mental health, and face the future with a positive attitude. Everybody's got their own spiritual journey to make, and I can appreciate Dominik's... even if I have my suspicions that he may be madder than a sack of ferrets.
spudtater: (Default)
( Oct. 22nd, 2006 10:55 pm)
Is it against the spirit of vegetarianism to breed cats?
spudtater: (Default)
( May. 12th, 2006 12:02 am)

There's a fantastic discussion with Stephen Fry and Christopher Hitchens (recording, mp3 format) on the Guardian blog. It's supposed to be about the proposed Incitement to Religious Hatred Bill, but as Stephen is stauntly atheist and Christopher describes himself as anti-theist, it descends at several points into a general bitchfest about religion. The religious among you may wish to give it a miss. (Though it's not nearly as vitriolic as the Dawkins stuff I linked to a while back).

My favourite part. Cut for length, not bitchiness. )

But I take issue with one statement made in this conversation, and that is that all religious are inherently creationist; that they imply an argument from design. Even ignoring religions such as Buddhism, where the creation of the world is not discussed, and Taoism, which describes the how but not the why of creation, I think there is a large and oft-overlooked thread of spiritualism throughout most religions that considers irrelevent, silly or even insulting the idea that God has anything at all to do with the physical world.

In particular my thoughts turned to this article in the Scotsman a while ago: Creationism dismissed as 'a kind of paganism' by Vatican's astronomer. The theologist and astronomer of the title basically shuns the entire idea of a God that meddles in the physical plane, either now or at the beginning of the universe.

I guess what I'm saying is that outspoken atheists, and especially the more famous of them, tend to be exposed only to the evangelising and fundamental of theists. It's easy to forget that this vocal minority is outnumbered by their more reasonable and less literal-minded fellow worshippers. And it's easy to pigeonhole religious people as rabid and irrational, a stereotype that alienates more people than it helps.

There may be more on this tomorrow. For now, goodnight.

spudtater: (Default)
( Dec. 5th, 2005 11:34 am)
Five questions from digitalraven )

Right. Anybody who wants questions in return, comment. I will (eventually) get round to asking them. (I'm still thinking of questions for [livejournal.com profile] gominokouhai for the last one.)

spudtater: (Default)
( Nov. 18th, 2005 01:13 am)

As some of you may have guessed, I'm very much a "free speech" sort of guy — in the vein of Voltaire's "I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" stance. Now, the "historian" and general neo-nazi f*ckwit David Irving has just been arrested in Austria, where Holocaust denial is a crime.
Now, the question is:

[Poll #615049]


spudtater: (Default)
( Aug. 30th, 2005 03:32 am)
Do nudists get dreams where they suddenly realise, to their horror, that they're fully clothed?
Because [livejournal.com profile] batswing requested it, and because I don't write this sort of stuff down enough recently. This is more a sort of meandering train-of-thought than an essay, but those are more fun, aren't they?

I yam what I yam )

Hmmm... it seems I'm a lot more wordy nowadays!

One of the things I do sporadically is compile and annotate my writings from earlier years. I never kept a diary per se, just a 'book of thoughts' that I scribbled into every time I thought of something I wanted to remember. So I've got a book full of the philosophisings of a precocious teenager. Woo yay!

And now I subject you to an entry.   8^)

On the division of self from universe. )

Hee. Not bad ideas; just infuriatingly vague and hand-wavy. (And in annoyingly over-decorated language.) If anyone shows interest, I might post some current thoughts on the same subject, for contrast. Not that I'm promising anything too wise and/or mind-altering, mind you. In any case, not today, 'cause I'm tired.   8^P

P.S. Back in E'nbruh.

Humour me... 8^) )
spudtater: (Default)
( Dec. 1st, 2004 06:37 am)
A few nights ago, while I was walking across the meadows, I noticed the sky was clear enough to see the stars. I can't remember the last time I'd seen them. Only a few stripes of wispy ice cloud hung in the sky. Staring up at it, I felt like gravity had lessened, and that if I focused my mind enough I could fly up and into that sky. I love it when you look up and you realise that a full half of the outside world is above the horizon; it's like suddenly noticing an old friend.

Every time I see the stars I think of the incomprehensible vastness of the universe. Cubic lightyears of it, and most of it is empty. Still, could there be other intelligences out there? It would be conceited to imagine ourselves to be the only ones, I think.

I thought then of aliens on other planets looking up at their skies, and wondering about us. Different skies, different minds, but the same question. What would their worlds be like? I want to write about them or draw them. If only I had some real ideas... or time... or talent.   8^)

And now to return you to my regular LJ fare: http://wigu.com/overcompensating/pictures/odb.png
spudtater: (Default)
( Oct. 28th, 2004 02:01 am)
This just in, and it definitely boggled my mind:
Skeletons of meter-high humans discovered in Indonesia (BBC). The discovery of this species of now extinct meter-high humans complicates the human evolutionary tree still further. Also intruiging is the fact that the current islanders have detailed legends describing a group of small humans living in the area, similar to the leprechaun or fairy myths of other cultures. Just how long ago did these humans die out, and how long does an oral record survive?

The story reminded me of a conversation I had in the pub about Four-winged birds (BBC). Actually, it's less exciting than it sounds; it merely notes that early birds had feathered hind limbs as well as fore limbs, and probably didn't fly so much as glide -- much like the modern flying squirrel.

Quite tempted to quote the obvious Hamlet line, but instead I shall leave you with a rather whimsical sentence I came up with this evening:

"I was recently quite perplexed", said one galaxy-beast to another, "to discover that the star is not in fact the smallest unit of matter in the universe."
spudtater: (Default)
( Oct. 12th, 2004 01:27 pm)
Today's deep and meaningless thought is on interconnectedness. Every particle in the universe is linked to every other particle, through gravity, electromagnetism and nuclear forces. Disturb any one 0, and you change the universe in its entirety. This is not a new idea. The Hindu concept of Indra's net illustrates the idea well; an endless net of threads with a crystal (or pearl) at each intersection. Looking at any one crystal, you see the whole net reflected within it.

This is a lovely page: go read it.

0 By observing it, for example.
spudtater: (Default)
( Sep. 13th, 2004 03:34 pm)

Vaguely remembered from a documentary I saw ages ago. A professional magician was being interviewed, and it came up in the conversation that the last performance he'd done had been to some party of scientists. The interview proceeded something like this:

INTERVIEWER: That must have been difficult, with all those skeptical minds trying to discover the tricks in your acts!
MAGICIAN: Actually, I've found that scientists are some of the most gullible people I've ever performed to. You see, the average person is happy to live with a lot of mysteries in their life. But a scientist is so used to having an explanation for the world around them, that as soon as they come across something that they can't explain, they'll grasp at any explanation you give them. I've had scientists come up to me after a show and ask if there really is a trick, or if I'm doing real magic!

I found myself recalling this when thinking about my own gullibility. I often find myself, when confronted with a mysterious event, wanting to believe all manner of kooky explanations, from aliens to psychic powers to secret conspiricies. I have to make a conscious effort to remind myself that though there may not be any other straightforward explanation, that the world is complex and largely unknown; the best position to hold is that we simply do not have enough information about many events to make any sort of final decision about their cause. It's tempting to want to have a theory for everything, but some things, sadly, must remain mysteries.

Anyone else want to admit/deny being gullible?   8^)
Anything else to add?

spudtater: (Default)
( Sep. 5th, 2004 04:04 pm)
I was having dinner in a hotel restaurant, with my family (and of course with plenty of other people there as well). As it was a nice warm day, the doors were open leading through a rather fancy-looking lobby -- with golden patterned curtains and pans of burning oil -- and onto the garden.

The sun had been going in and out of clouds all day (with scattered showers), but suddenly the sky filled with black thunderclouds. As the sun went behind them, it darkened to night-time. This of course caught everybody's attention, and drew their eyes to the lobby doorway.

Then, framed in the doorway, a small gap opened up in the clouds, lit up silver by the sun, with an indigo sky behind it. This was spectacular enough in appearance that everyone rose from their tables to watch it. The gap slowly closed, and as it did so, there was a huge flash of lightning and a peal of thunder. A wind picked up from nowhere, and rose to a huge, continuous gust. It swept straight through the doors and through the lobby, sending curtains and flames into disarray, and rushed through the restaurant with a fair amount of force.

It felt as though nature had decided to impose itself suddenly and with great conviction upon the petty everyday world of man. It was saying to us that we are only a small part of the universe, and that which we do not comprehend easily dwarfs that which we do. Or at least that's my best interpretation. What it was actually saying could not be properly translated into words, at least not by me.

Then wind then died down as suddenly as it had arisen, leaving the sky darkened and the hotel silent. All the guests could only look at each other, aware that they had shared a moment of something truly significant; a moment of religious significance. All talk was pointless, and so everybody wandered off, dazed.


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