Scientific Sense Podcast

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Quantum games

Research from LMU in Munich attempts to test if quantum particles, such as bosons, follow prescriptions of game theory, a well established concept in economics. This is in a favorable direction as it may simplify quantum behavior by using constructs from macro systems. The incentives for bosons to be on the same wavelength as their neighbors is akin to incentives present in human interactions. And, if a simple objective function, such as profits or wealth maximization can be found for quantum particles, then, their behavior could well be predicted by economic theory. It has been noted that, at the extreme, the Bose-Einstein condensate behaves like a single super particle. It is conceivable that if such behavior is universal, it has implications for design for truly advanced societies.

The divergence of the behavior of quantum systems from human scale systems has been problematic not only for physicists but also for amateurs who seek simplification. Intuition seems to point to missing attributes or perhaps a completely wrong theory. If quantum behavior could be explained by those seen in bigger systems, then the chance of survival increases for the theory itself. However, this implicitly assumes that bigger systems are a natural progression of quantum ones and most available information seems to refute such a notion. Engineering bias force scientists and technologists to a unified theory – from parts to the whole - and it is quite possible that multiple universes with differing laws exist within the observable one in human scale.

Whatever the reality, the notion of explaining quantum behavior using larger systems is intriguing. If this is possible, such behavior could provide direction for better designs of human systems as well.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Publication pollution

A recent commentary in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, highlights most academics and those less academic, already knew – the need and desire to publish is a disease, aided by “plagiarism, fraud and predatory publishing.” Academics – held sacred by a vanishing few – now means brutal business and what comes out is mostly noise, stolen materials and joint incompetence. The acceleration seen in “academic publishing,” is a clear indication that the quality has declined and more importantly the authors mostly rely on a patchwork of stolen materials and ideas.

This is unfortunate. Knowledge creation, still the only attribute that marginally differentiates humans and animals, has been on the decline for decades. Information and noise, mistakenly attributed to knowledge by technologists, have been creating havoc. The “data explosion,” and the ever eluding “singularity,” have kept the precious little brain cells away from advancing knowledge. To top it all off, the ambassadors of knowledge creation have been busy plagiarizing and creating irrelevant publications.

Misaligned incentives, aided by limited time horizons of knowledge seekers, are likely to assure that humans will continue the rat race in a maze with no exits.

Monday, April 20, 2015

WISE, Not!

Recent news that NASA’s WISE orbiting observatory found no tell-tale signs of advanced societies in 100,000 galaxies studied, is a constant reminder that ET is likely more advanced than the big brains at the space agency. Blindly following the speculation made more than 50 years ago, that mid-infrared emissions in a Galaxy could be indicative of a dominant civilization of galactic scope, the engineers seem to have gotten it wrong, yet again.

And they will get it wrong many times in this century. An advanced society is one that does not emit radiation, something that does not show up in the archaic instruments created by the least interesting species in the universe. An advanced society is one that will have no intention to dominate, let alone “conquer” the resources offered by a galaxy. Stupid humans, driven by ego and materialism, seem to be assuming that “domination,” is hard-wired into intelligent life. Intelligence is least likely to be about “cornering resources,” and an advanced society is one that will leave no tell-tale signs or bread crumbs for the stupid to detect them.

Radiation seeking humans, constantly looking for TV programs to tune into from other galaxies, will be left sorely disappointed. If ET exists, it will absolutely assure that there will be no “contact.” After all, who would like to contact a species, that burns fossil fuels in a limited green house they are afforded, constantly fighting and killing each other for irrational belief systems and fleeting wealth, segment themselves into color, geography, language and physical proportions, cast a blind eye to those with poor initial conditions and completely incompetent in advancing knowledge.

ET has fascinated many – but it will likely remain a fascination.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Stuck in the weeds

Yet another policy choice and the reaction of our fearless leaders to it, show the level of ignorance and incompetence the country has to get over before it can advance further. The magic leaf has been with humans for thousands of years and it shows significant medical advantages already. Because of its status, research has been dampened and we have a large number of people sitting in jail for a crime because of legalese. Those who wear the badge of “free markets,” elsewhere should engage in introspection and remove the inconsistencies in their policy choices.

In addition to the limits, there has to be education and competence requirements for people who want to legislate. I do not mean “self certification,” but hard constraints including exams that politicians have to pass before they can run for important policy positions. The gap between the current generation and the ones in Washington is big and it is getting bigger every passing day. If doctors, engineers and scientists have to demonstrate competence through structured tests, it is unclear why this is not the case for those who could have profound impact on a large number of people. Educational Testing Services – please take note and design a PAT – Politics Admission Test – that could have weeded out the crop that is currently legislating.

Stuck in the weeds and frozen in time, our leaders are unlikely to move society to a better state.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Engineers discover probabilities

Recent news that MIT engineers have finally discovered probabilities is heartening news. A “probabilistic programming language,” they “invented” appears to be quite competitive to conventional systems for vision and cognition. It is always better to arrive late rather than not at all. Determinism, the bane of engineering, has kept many bright minds back for long.

There have been weak attempts at the same many decades before. After the hype of Artificial Intelligence waned in the towering institutions of the East and the West in the 80s, some feeble attempts at programming in logic surfaced in unknown quarters. Such programming was all about probabilities – and it had no prescriptive GoTo statements. The originators underestimated the wrath of engineers – who generally knew everything there is to know. Prolog was shown the grave before it arrived.

Machine learning, the latest hype, has some potential – but not in the hands of engineers with deterministic education. Perhaps, the next generation can leave the legacy of ego and ignorance behind and really make something happen.

Friday, April 10, 2015


Recent research from Princeton that attempts to spin yet another particle – spinon – to “explain” frustrated magnets, is symptomatic of trying to fit existing (old) theories into observations. Contemporary education and learning institutions are so inflexible that they are simply unable to break away from tradition. If observations do not fit a theory, it is better to ask if the theory is right rather than incrementally attaching an error that is yet to be proven. Sure, writing papers are easier this way but it is unlikely to advance knowledge.

If magnets are not behaving as expected, it is ok to call them “frustrated.” But to hypothesize a particle that may explain such frustration is fiction. This is dangerous research  - as experience tells us that, once “speculated,” it shall be “proven” in Physics – either by unachievable mathematics or by generating mind numbing noise from experiments. It is ironic that there has been only a single individual for over hundred years who could create a framework to think in Physics.

Educational institutions, world over, adept at producing “bricks in the wall,” graduates – engineers, scientists and doctors – prisoners of the status-quo, have to rethink – and quick.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Stop time

Stopping time appears to have several advantages. The trick is the modality of stoppage. If time is stopped with an incremental move, say a day, and then repeated in an infinite loop and if information transfer is allowed at the boundaries, then knowledge can increase infinitely. Biological systems, with a hard expiry date, have been inefficient in the transfer of information across space-time. The Fermi paradox is an important notion in this context. Biology, appears to be highly inferior to systems that perpetuate – either through time or space.

Search for extra-terrestrial life does not make any sense in this vein. An advanced society is most likely to harness gravity and stop time rather than travel across space or even show themselves on Radar. The epitome of modern transportation – humans packed like sardines in an aluminum can with wings – should provide a hint that travel is the least of things an advanced society would do. The idiots with the telescope and antennas in the heart of Silicon Valley never asked why an advanced society will show themselves to their inferior finding techniques. My tax dollars are better spent elsewhere.

Humans, the least likely species to search the heavens for their next of kin, may be getting ahead of themselves. The fact that they found a toy to scan the skies, does not mean that it is the best use of their time.

Friday, March 20, 2015

The “habitable zone”

A recent publication in the “Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society,” uses “heavy Mathematics,” to show that there could be billions of stars in the milky way alone with multiple planets in the “habitable zone,” defined as the existence of “acceptable” temperatures with the possibility of water. Humans, are funny animals – with all their brain power and scientific knowledge, they are perfectly happy extrapolating from a single observation. The embarrassing use of Mathematics in the calculation of the probability of life in the Milky Way itself, that appears to be indistinguishable from 1.0, may surface many questions.

High energy Physics, not significantly different from fiction, is clinging to century old theories, that explain less than 4% of the observations. Meanwhile, ego driven space administrations, are on the edge, not being able to prove extra-terrestrial life, something they strongly feel should have been done by now. The tiny slice of space-tine, handed to humans, apparently is not a constraint for the big brains, who have adroitly forecasted the arrival of green women in less than twenty years, albeit, the proof could be less compelling than the “encounters of the fourth kind.” Meanwhile, the famous one in England, worried about the green variety life not being friendly, strongly admonishes against the search for the same. Clearly, there is content here befitting day time soap.

The only known habitable zone, a quirk in space time, could be easily destroyed before its occupants find another.