Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

Did Neanderthals Bury Their Dead?

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The conventional answer is yes, yes they did. In fact a quick web search will reveal any number of web sites touting this or that Neanderthal burial. They were almost human, they had stone tools and other implements of human culture, they were clearly human enough to mourn their dead. Apes, dolphins, and elephants mourn their dead. Neanderthal skeletons have been found in what appear to be graves, what’s the problem? The problem is that some academics with excellent credentials challenge the view that Neanderthals deliberately buried their dead in the manner of humans. The claim is that because we bury our dead in a  ritualistic fashion, we have projected that behavior onto the scant evidence that exists for Neanderthal burials.

So, what is the evidence? Well, here is where the crux of the debate is. There are a few dozen cases where deceased Neanderthals appear to have been wholly or partially buried. The problem is that none of these cases is a “smoking gun” case. There is no such thing as a Neanderthal grave that was indisputably a grave. IE, body carefully laid out surrounded by tools, adornments, food, and other obvious items placed with the the dead in their grave:

burial_interp_large

The is the Amesbury Archer. Pretty hard to call that anything but a grave. There is no comparable Neanderthal site. Some of their graves might have had flowers and such buried with the body, but even that is debatable. A few did have a few grave goods, but again, it’s debatable. Worse, much worse in my opinion, there isn’t even a  Neanderthal grave where it is clear a hole was dug, the body placed inside, and the hole refilled with the dirt from the hole. In what cases were properly investigated (archeology has made a lot of progress since the 19th century,) the bodies appear to have been placed in natural depressions, and the dead weren’t always completely buried. Well, what does it matter? It matters because scientists are trying to answer the age old question, were Neanderthals human? IE could a typical Neanderthal have learned English and conversed with us? I’ve blogged about the Neanderthal speech debate here. If Neanderthals buried their dead as humans do, wouldn’t this mean they also believed in an afterlife of some sort? At the very least it would seem to indicate an understanding of individuality and life and death in a way that humans do. That’s the argument as I understand it, and the majority of Neanderthal researchers find it reasonably compelling.

The counter argument? The Neanderthals may have been simply disposing of the bodies. Aside from the smell, they would attract carnivores and scavengers. The picture is also muddied by the fact that Neanderthal skeletons have been found with marks where meat was carved from the bone. Cannibalism or ritual defleshing? No one knows. It’s also possible that the burial-like Neanderthal “graves” that have been discovered might simply have been Neanderthals mimicking their far more successful cousins, Homo sapiens, with no clear intent other than a vague idea that copying what they do might lead to more success for their hunts. Of course this gets into another muddy area, why did the Neanderthals eventually get wiped out when they came into contact with Homo sapiens? Current thinking, which is by no means definitive, is that they simply couldn’t compete with Homo sapiens much more sophisticated hunting and food gathering abilities.

In any event there’s no overarching point to this post, other than to point out that what we know about our closest known cousins in the human lineage is still subject to debate. And while the current consensus is that Neanderthals were humans (speaking figuratively,) it’s by no means cut and dry. Complicating the debate about Neanderthal cognizance even further, they had bigger brains than humans. Yet somehow their tool use remained rather simple and primitive right up to the very end. And then of course there is the messy business of humans and Neanderthals breeding with each other. Most people alive today have some Neanderthal genes, and we didn’t get them through cannibalizing Neanderthals. What was up with that?

Maybe someday, a post on recently discovered Neanderthal art as a follow up to this post about a Neanderthal “sculpture.” More posts on weird weapons of war are definitely coming up. And no, not a single person caught the smurf reference joke. I will not be posting about smurfs.

(The above images are claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. They aren’t being used for profit and are central to illustrating the post. For the top image, credit and copyright: Shanidar Burial. Image: JohnConnell, Flickr. The second image, I don’t know who holds the copyright, it’s posted all over the web. I’m guessing credit and copyright: Wessex Archeology. For more thinking on Neanderthal cognizance, this is interesting.)

Written by unitedcats

January 14, 2013 at 9:16 am

The Universe is so Ginormous, There Must be Other Life Out There!

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life

This argument that has been repeated endlessly since at least 1961. Anyone who has any interest in space exploration and science generally is so familiar with it that for all practical purposes it is a matter of faith. Even such luminaries as Neil Degrasse Tyson, famous astrophysicist and science communicator, has uttered a version of it, helpfully illustrated above. Myself, I get tired of hearing it repeated uncritically. And there’s no question, it is repeated uncritically by many people, most of whom have no idea where the argument originated, and are often vague as to what the idea really means. The original Drake Equation was about intelligent tool-using life such as humans, ET as it were. The above is about life in general. Let me restate the argument in a way that is easier to parse:

“Considering the vast size of the Universe, with at least 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars, statistically speaking, Earth cannot be the only planet where life evolved.”

That, in a nutshell, is the oft repeated sentiment that aliens must be out there somewhere. The problem I have with this argument is that it is neither scientific nor logical. There are other other problems with how Mr Tyson chose to word his argument above, but I degrasse. (You were warned about my sense of humor.)

The big flaw, in fact fatal flaw, in the argument is this. We don’t know how likely the formation of life is from natural ambient chemistry. We’ve never seen Abiogenesis in the wild, we’ve never achieved it in the lab. We have a lot of theories, and we know about the creation of self-replicating molecules, and we certainly haven’t come up with any good reason why DNA life couldn’t have evolved in some primordial soup. We know it happened once, because here we are. However, in any scientific, statistical, or logical sense, one data point is the equivalent of zero data points. If the creation of DNA life is unlikely enough, it may have only happened once. No matter how big the Universe is, there is also no end to how low the odds on an event occurring are.

The typing monkeys demonstrate this. How likely is it that a monkey sitting at a keyboard randomly hitting the keys will type Hamlet by chance? Essentially zero of course. However, if we convert all mass in the Universe into typing monkeys, typing for the lifetime of the Universe, how likely is it that one of them will type Hamlet by chance? Still, for all practical purposes, zero. Is the creation of life as likely as a monkey typing Hamlet by chance? No one knows. And until we have a definitive answer to this question, speculating about life elsewhere is just that, speculation. Note I’m not saying there isn’t other life out there, I’m just saying that the affirmation that there must be other life out there is wrong.

And when it comes to intelligent language using life such as ourselves, the situation gets worse. First, the odds clearly have dropped. Of the as many as 40 billion species that have evolved on Earth, only one has evolved tool-using, language, and intelligence. So humans may have been an unlikely fluke. Secondly, we don’t even know if our kind of intelligence is a good idea or not. Humans do seem to have some very self-destructive tendencies, and our species has only been around an eye-blink of time, maybe species such as ours quickly destroy themselves? Human intelligence may be an evolutionary dead end, until we find others like us that have been around awhile, or we last a  few million years, we simply can’t say.

Lastly there’s the science of it all. Again, bad news, SETI has come up with nothing so far. And despite Mr Tyson’s pronouncement above, SETI has covered a lot of territory at this point. If there are beings like us out there, no evidence of their existence has been found. Granted SETI has a lot of ground to cover still, and some excellent new ideas have been proposed recently, but at the very least the 1950s idea that the galaxy was teeming with intelligent aliens is now wishful thinking at best. Worse, we are starting to get a good picture of solar systems around other planets, and it turns out our solar system and Earth itself seem to be unusual. Again, a blow to the 1950s, Star Trek, and all that follows:

Picard: “We’ve entered the system Data, what do you see?”
Data: “Two hot Jupiters, and two giant super hot Earths.”
Picard: “Any sign of life?”
Data: “No Captain, another sterile system, like the previous 8,792.”
Picard: “If we don’t find life soon, even a slime mold, I’m going to snap.”
Data: “Sixteen other Star Fleet captains have been relieved of duty this year because they suffered psychological breakdowns due to boredom.”
Picard: “Worf, toss Data out the airlock.”

It kinda gets even worse if one steps back a bit further. What if DNA life isn’t really life? What if DNA was invented by real life for information storage, real life which we haven’t ever encountered? We’re just a  lab spill that didn’t get cleaned up? Or in the analogy above, we examine a cup of water from the ocean that a scuba diver dropped his watch into, will that watch teach us anything about the ecology and biology of life in the sea? Mr Tyson, and people who make this argument, are in essence saying they can use the cup of water to prove their theory about what is or isn’t in the rest of the ocean, but other people’s theories make no sense. Excuse me? The bottom line is we don’t know how life appeared on Earth, so speculation about what is out there is just that, speculation. Speculation is never certainty.

I rest my case.

(The above image was lifted from Facebook and falls into a category that’s probably years or decades behind the law. I’m claiming it as Fair Use, and am in no way making commercial use of the image, and will remove it instantly if the original copyright holder asks. Many of the other things Mr Tyson says are right on, so no one should take this as an attack on him. In fact the guy is pretty smart, and his statement above is a beautifully crafted edifice of false arguments, so I wonder if he did it deliberately wondering if someone would call him on it?)

Written by unitedcats

January 9, 2013 at 5:52 am

The McMinnville UFO photographs

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Trents

May 11th, 1950. on a farm about nine miles from McMinnville, Oregon. Evelyn and Paul Trent saw a strange object flying in the sky. Mr Trent retrieved his camera and took the two photographs above. Click on them for the full size version, and I do mean full size version. The pictures eventually went public and became well known, being published in LIFE magazine. The Trents grew old and died, but the case lives on. It’s one of the most well known UFO cases of the 1950s, just behind Roswell. It even has its own annual gathering of UFO buffs, again, just like Roswell. So what did the Trents see and photograph that morning? No one knows. See, quick post, Merry Christmas everyone!

OK, the photographs have been analyzed seven ways from Sunday. The negatives have been analyzed. They all concluded the same thing. They are real pictures of real objects in the sky. Alien spacecraft, a top secret military prototype, or a truck rear view mirror. Basically so little is known about the shooting conditions, camera settings, and weather that people can come to any conclusion they want. It’s safe to say that no one has discovered anything definitive in the pictures that proves or disproves them. The Trents have also been extensively analyzed. There’s nothing that screams hoax, but there’s nothing that rules it out either.

Basically, people who believe in UFOs find the Trent case to be one of the best UFO cases. People who don’t believe in UFOs think it’s a hoax. It’s not so much of a debate, as it is people searching for evidence that supports their assumption. IE the UFO believers interpret it all as support for their belief, the skeptics find aspects of it to be skeptical about. If the gentle reader wants to get into the nuts and bolts of it, a good place to start is the Wikipedia article. Personally I think the pictures are the best bet to go on. They are certainly the only solid evidence. That’s why I uploaded the huge versions above, so people can see for themselves. I couldn’t see anything, but granted I only spent a few minutes peering at them and comparing them.

OK, my analysis, intellectually dishonest as it is apparently: My first question, could they be faked? Hmm, toss a disk shaped object into the air, photograph it. Take two pictures for verisimilitude. Piece of cake. I don’t see how this is debatable. However, I don’t see how the idea that the Twin Towers collapsed as a result of aircraft impact and fires is a possibility is debatable, but some vociferously disagree with me. Could the photographs be real? Absolutely. No one has come up with a definitive argument proving its a hoax. “UFOs aren’t real, therefore it’s a hoax” is not an argument, it’s just circular reasoning. Maybe it was another hoaxer flying  a UFO shaped balloon. Maybe it was a military experimental aircraft. Maybe it was an extra-terrestrial probe. In other words, examining the possibilities has gotten us nowhere.

In other words, examining the nuts and bolts of this case is fruitless. Let’s step back and look at it as part of a bigger picture. In context as it were. And this is where I’m troubled. This isn’t just “another” UFO sighting. This was a golden age for UFO sightings. The Kenneth Arnold sighting in 1947, the sighting that propelled the idea of flying saucers into the national consciousness, was just three years before the Trent sighting. UFOs were big news, the still famous Mariana UFO incident was in August of 1950, just a few months earlier. Lots of flying saucers were seen in those years. Many were photographed, some were hoaxes. Were there any flying saucer sightings and photos before the Arnold flap in 1947? No. How long did people see them afterwards? About  a decade. Do people still see and photograph them today? No.

This leaves two possibilities. There were flying saucer type objects of unknown genesis flying around the earth in the 1950s (the UFO flap spread world wide,) or this was all a mass social and cultural phenomena. People saw what they were primed to see, and plenty of people were happy to provide “proof.” Since no further evidence has surfaced that would support the flying saucer idea, I think the second possibility is by far the stronger explanation. It’s by no means definitive, but I think a strong argument can me made from the historical context, that of course the Trent photos were a hoax. It’s the simplest explanation that explains the evidence.

I’d be happy to be proved wrong. I think the future of SETI lies in analyzing the surface of the Moon and Mars, not old photos from the 1950s. Merry Christmas everyone!

(The above images are claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. They are not being used for profit, are central to illustrating the post, and are arguably historically important images. Credit and copyright: Paul Trent. By fair means or foul, I don’t know, the Trents are historical figures, a thousand years from now images of them and their story may still be around. Who would have thunk it?)

Written by unitedcats

December 25, 2012 at 7:23 am

Ancient Aliens Debunked

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puma-punku

I saw a fascinating show the other day. Well, part of a show. Ancient Aliens Debunked. It was a far more interesting show than I had imagined. I not only recommend it for people who have seen Ancient Aliens, but also for people who haven’t. Ancient Aliens Debunked can be watched at the link I provided. Well, at least for people who have some interest in the ancient aliens theory or just an interest in the ancients. I found the show fascinating for a number of reasons. (Quelle surprise.)

OK, background and refresher for noobs to the topic. The ancient aliens theory is a theory that in the past humans had contact with aliens. Erich von Däniken would be the most well known proponent of this theory, from his 1968 book “Chariots of the Gods.” The History Channel came out with a series about the theory called … Ancient Aliens. It’s inspired at least two blog posts on my part, here and here. Basically the series was very disappointing to me. It played fast and loose with the facts, and was clearly meant to give credence to the ancient aliens theory without actually examining it critically.  In other words, anyone who was seriously interested in the ancient aliens theory is going to be disappointed by the show. However, the same people should like the Ancient Aliens Debunked show, since at the very least it separates the wheat from the chaff. If you’re gonna promote a theory widely regarded as a crank theory, wouldn’t one want to examine the actual facts in evidence?

And that’s what Ancient Aliens Debunked does. I leaned a number of things I didn’t know. Always good. The one segment I watched was on  Pumapunku. Or Puma Punku. This is a large pre-Incan temple complex or monument group in Bolivia. It was built by the Tiwanaku civilization, and surrounded by city and farmland where as many as 400,000 people lived. Around the year 1,000 the civilization abruptly collapsed, possibly due to environmental change. The Incans believed Pumapunku was built by the Gods and was where the world began. Ancient aliens theorists believe Pumapunku was built thousands of years before the conventional dating, and required the use of advanced technology. Evidence for this is that the stones used to build the complex weigh as much as 800 tons, they were made of granite and granodiorite, and carved with incredible precision. The Tiwanaku civilization simply could not have moved such stones, nor carved these stones with the copper tools they had. Not to mention they didn’t even have a written language, how does one coordinate and plan such a massive construction without writing?

All sounds pretty convincing, or at least difficult to explain, right? Not really. It’s easy to make things sound mysterious if one picks and chooses one’s facts, and makes up facts if the real facts don’t fit. Let’s start with the purported age of Pumapunku. The conventional age dates the Tiwanaku civilization the the few centuries prior to 1,000 ad or so. How did ancient alien theorists come up with an age of over ten thousand years? Simple, one “researcher” decades ago calculated the age of Pumapunku by looking at celestial alignments, and concluded that it was built more than ten thousand years ago so that the stars would match the alignments. The problem of course is that any “alignments” in the ruins are purely subjective, and using this method one could “prove” Pumapunku is any age one wants.

OK, the Tiwanakuans didn’t have a written language. Um, so what? They did have language, and they most certainly can draw pictures. It’s not like they had to come up with modern blueprints, we are talking stacked rocks here. But wait, how about the amazing precision of the cut blocks and how they were put together? Again, easy. The idea that these blocks were cut and fitted with fabulous precision is simply … a lie. The blocks exhibit  great variety, no two are alike, and their rather crude precision is exactly what one would expect for blocks carved with stone tools.

Wait, how could granite and granodiorite have been carved with stone or soft copper tools? Well, for one thing, the blocks at Pumapunku are not made of granite and granodiorite, they are made of sandstone and andesite. And both of these are relatively soft and easy to work stones. Not to mention that the quarries where these blocks were made have been found, with partially made blocks. And while copper is very soft, Tiwankua was a Bronze Age culture, IE they had discovered how to make much stronger copper alloys by adding other metals to the mix. This isn’t just speculation, archeologists have found many examples of the stone working tools the Tiwankuans made.

Lastly we come to moving these giant 800 ton blocks. Oops, another lie. While some early estimates of the blocks had numbers as high as 800 tons, modern more accurate measurements place the largest block at 113 tons, and the vast majority of blocks are much smaller. And on many of the blocks grooves and other structures have been carved that are clearly meant to attach ropes to the blocks. The illustration at the top of the page shows one such carving. Obviously if one had some sort of alien levitation device, one wouldn’t need to go to the trouble of carving slots and holes for ropes. As a final blow to the levitation idea, all of the blocks clearly have drag marks on one face.

In other words, almost everything that ancient alien theorists say about Pumapunku is a lie, and their “conclusions” are not only unsupported by the evidence, they are contradicted by the evidence. Does this mean that the ancient aliens theory is balderdash? Pretty much. At least until actual evidence of contact with aliens in the past is discovered. So far, no luck. However, I still recommend the Ancient Aliens Debunked series because I learned a lot about history and how ancient stone structures are made from just this one episode. In fact I saw a picture of Stonehenge the other day and I could clearly see the distinctive ripple pattern made when shaping a stone with stone tools. So I not only learned something about Pumupunku, I learned something applicable to any megalithic structure.

Was there any purpose to the is post besides sharing my enthusiasm about a TV show? Not really. I do find it fascinating that people can cling to and promote beliefs that are, well, silliness. It seems to be the nature of humans. As many have observed, this may be why the aliens haven’t contacted us yet, there’s no intelligent life down here. Next up, ten ways atheism is a religion. Or maybe something else.

(The above image came from Wikipedia: Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled GNU Free Documentation License. For those interested in ancient stone cutting techniques, this seems to be a good link: Ancient Egyptian Stone Technology.)

Written by unitedcats

December 6, 2012 at 11:41 am

The Three Biggest Issues Facing America, What Do They Have in Common?

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In my considered estimation (I have a lot of time to think at work,) the USA has three issues facing it that dwarf other issues of the day. These would be the upwards transfer of wealth, the so called “War on Terror,” and global warming. What do these all have in common, aside from taking place on Earth? Easy, as I’m sure my astute readers recognized, all three were basically completely ignored during the election. Furthermore, they get short shrift in the mainstream media at the best of times. The upwards transfer of wealth is the most ignored, most Americans aren’t even aware that the middle class and poor have stagnated since the late seventies, while the rich got ever richer. Global warming gets some coverage, but it’s lame coverage that claims there is still scientific controversy about the topic. And the War on Terror gets lots of coverage, all of it ranging from sickening adulation to criticism so tepid it’s embarrassing in a  so called free society. This is why we’re doomed, the agents of our destruction are running amok, and our national debates are about abortion, gay marriage, and marijuana.

The first of the big three would be the upwards transfer of wealth. This isn’t debatable, anymore than Evolution or Young Earth Creationism are debatable. Since the 1970s the rich have gotten ever richer, while the poor and middle class have stagnated. A process that continues to this day, over 90% of the gains from the last few years of “economic “recovery” have gone to the 1%. This is both a recipe for disaster, and the complete opposite of what made America great in the first place. Sure the richer the rich get, the more they figure out ways to make even more “wealth,” but none of that money goes anywhere. Having trillions of dollars sitting in financial instruments may make the rich very very rich … but it not only does nothing for the economy, it’s a brake on the real economy. This is why interstate banking shouldn’t be allowed, along with a host of other now-gutted laws and regulations that kept money circulating locally instead of piling up in offshore accounts. The Occupy movement at least succeeded in getting more people aware of this, but unless it is stopped, we will eventually (and maybe sooner than later) be a land of poor serfs with a  few fabulously rich overlords. History teaches us that this isn’t the road to national prosperity, it’s the road to national disaster.

Then there’s the endless “War on Terror.” OBL gave the people who want to maintain western hegemony over the planet, IE the upwards transfer of wealth on a planetary scale, a blank check. And they have spent it on building a vast “security” state and creating an overt world wide empire. This is crazy on several levels, not the least of which it’s the greatest over-reaction to a threat in history even on the face of its putative rationale. It in essence is a staggering waste of resources that would be far better spent on infrastructure, education, and health care. The US is lagging well behind the rest of the developed world in all three, just to maintain a military larger than the rest of the world combined? A military largely designed to fight a war with a country that no longer exists? And yes, building a giant security state is a threat to our liberties; it’s both unnecessary  and will eventually be misused when the wrong person gets in power. Lastly, waging war around the world and the ever increasing use of flying death squads, aka drones, isn’t making us safer, it’s creating new enemies. Look how well that policy has worked for Israel, they live inside of a fucking giant wall in complete isolation from their neighbours, yeah, that’s peaceful co-existence.

And lastly, the elephant in the room so big that it’s started flattening whole states, global warming. The facts behind this are overwhelming, the world is rapidly getting warmer, and human activity is contributing in a major way. Yet the energy industry’s legions of well funded think tanks, not to mention their just plain overt influence on the mainstream media and politics, continue to confuse the issue and create the illusion that there is some sort of scientific debate. And this process is made worse by a religous-political party that is actively denying all sorts of science, not just global warming. And when they aren’t denying it, they are claiming we can adjust. That makes about as much sense as “adjusting” when your house catches on fire. When your house catches on fire, you put out the goddamn fire, you don’t “adjust” to it.

Sadly I don’t see much chance of any of these issues being addressed any time soon. I hope I’m wrong.

(Noah’s Ark, oil on canvas painting by Edward Hicks, 1846 Philadelphia Museum of Art. Since it was painted in 1846, under current US copyright law this image is public domain. It’s a painting of Noah’s Ark, a Bronze Age myth that apparently many adults still literally believe in.  I still find it hard to get my mind around the idea that functioning adults believe in the reality of something in the same category as Santa Claus. Kinda scary really. Maybe I should have listed religious fundamentalism as the fourth crisis facing America, but I dunno, in some ways it over-arches all the others. Hell, in some way all of the crises facing America, and much of the world, have their roots in religious fundamentalism. A topic for another day.)

Hurricane Sandy and Related News

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This close to the election, everything seems to revolve around the election. At least if one is a hard-core Republican. Or more on point, everything seems to revolve around hating Obama. The bodies weren’t even cold in Benghazi and Romney was heaping criticism on Obama, and he never let up. Odd, I don’t recall the GOP ever criticizing Bush for his military fiascoes, but once Obama was in charge, nothing but criticism. Hurricane Sandy appears to be the same. A Republican governor praises Obama for his prompt and effective response to Hurricane Sandy, and right wing pundits are foaming at the mouth. Classy, real classy. I used to be a Republican, but the party I knew at least acknowledged that we were all Americans, and that it was the politician’s job to work together to run the country.  Now Republicans seem to be trying to outdo themselves at reaching ever more ridiculous levels of partisanship. Granted there are voices on the left falling into the same trap, but I’ve yet to hear any liberals criticizing Obama for helping out a Republican governor. Plenty of them have praised Governor Christie though, I was impressed. Yeah, the storm was a break for Obama, but the Republicans could have handled the situation with far more dignity, instead they made it clear no matter how bad things get, no matter how many Americans die; Obama and the people who support him, tens of millions of Americans, can go f**k themselves. I’ll be glad when the election is over and Romney can move on to being a rodeo clown.

Speaking of Hurricane Sandy, or Superstorm Sandy as some are calling it, it was quite the storm. At least 90 dead in the USA, far more in the Caribbean. It wasn’t a super powerful storm, but it was super huge, one of the biggest hurricanes on record, it affected 24 states in the USA and numerous nations in the Carribean. Sandy wasn’t unprecedented, but it was certainly unusual. It’s already on track to be the second most damaging USA East Coast hurricane ever. Still, several times a century a storm like this can be expected to hit New York. And the frequency will be going up as the tropical seas get warmer. The real damage was caused by the storm surge. A storm surge is a pile of water pushed ahead of a storm by winds, surges of over 30 feet have been recorded. Think a tide thirty feet high. Not a pretty sight, storm surges are the big killer in hurricanes and cyclones. On the plus side, they can be prevented. A storm surge killed thousands in Holland in 1953, giant coastal defenses were built to prevent it happening again. Such were suggested for New York long ago, the idea is being revisited in the aftermath of Sandy. We’ll see.

A discussion of Sandy wouldn’t be complete without some mention of global warming. Was Sandy caused by global warming? It’s impossible to say, global warming is about climate, not weather. A fact that global climate change deniers conveniently ignore pretty much every time there is a severe snowstorm somewhere. Granted plenty of global warming activists are claiming that Sandy is clear proof of global warming. I feel their frustration, the globe increasingly is having the kind of extreme weather events that global warming predicts, the fact that it’s not possible to conclusively say that a particular event was caused by global warming is very difficult to explain to people who want to resist science they don’t approve of. However, even if global warming didn’t cause Sandy, it made it worse. That seems to be pretty clear to the climatologists. And at least it got the topic back on the news, that’s a good thing. Good for everyone except the coal and oil industry, sadly they own a lot of think tanks, politicians, and journalists … and they’re not afraid to use them.

In other Sandy  news, a Brazilian model, Nana Gouvea, thought it would make a nice backdrop for a photo shoot. One pic helpfully posted above. Her pics went viral. She got heaps of criticism and outrage. Granted it is a tasteless and tacky thing to do. On the other hand, she got tons of publicity. No harm, no foul. It’s not like she’s aspiring for political office, and she didn’t actually hurt anyone. I think it’s a clever idea. Ya, people are outraged. So what? On a scale of one to ten when it comes to outrageous items in the news, this is a zero. There’s tons of sleaze and crime every day far more deserving of outrage than a tasteless photo shoot. Priorities people, priorities. Heck, as my friend Steve Burke said: “Some guys will be seeing the damage for the first time thanks to these photos.”

Have a great weekend everyone!

(The above images are claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law, they aren’t being used for profit and are central to illustrating the post. I don’t know who to credit the top one to, the second I assume is owned by Ms Noumea herself. Since I linked to her site and praised her photo shoot, hopefully that’s attribution enough. It would be nice if someday copyright law could be re-written to reflect reality, alas industry is easily the slowest element in a culture to adapt to changing times, and often uses its influence to impeded progress.  Another blog post for another day.)

The Simulation Argument, are we living in the Matrix?

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The Simulation Argument goes as follows, one of the following three statements has to be true:

1. For whatever reason intelligent species such as ourselves never progress to the point where they could run computer simulations of the human brain.

2. For whatever reason if such species do acquire the ability, they don’t exercise it.

3. We are more than likely living in a computer simulation.

That, in a nutshell, is the simulation argument. Discuss?

There’s a couple of codicils of course. By computer simulation of the human brain or computer simulation I mean having a computer powerful enough to create a simulated brain and its environment so detailed that the brain in question thinks it is a real brain living in the real world. And the scientific consensus at this point that such is possible with a powerful enough computer. Yes, gentle reader, it’s entirely possible that you and everything you know are simply historical simulation software running on a  far-in-the-future’s High School Student’s desktop computer.

Let’s look at the statements in their turn. Can we assume that humans have no technological future and are inevitably going to wipe themselves out or revert back to the Stone Age? No one really knows, and there are statistical arguments saying that the odds aren’t good. Still statistics and reality are two different things. I for one am going to assume humans have a future unless there is proof otherwise. So for the purposes of argument, I am assuming statement one is false.

OK, statement too. Future humans won’t have any desire to run realistic simulations of human beings? That would assume that humans who develop such capable computers lose their scientific curiosity and their desire to play computer games. Neither seem likely. Or for some reason such simulations are insanely dangerous or otherwise unlikely to be widely pursued. Basically for this statement to be true, we have to assume that the nature of the human race will change in the future, or there is some unforeseeable practical objection to such simulations. I think it’s safe to say that logically then this statement is unlikely to be true.

Lastly, if the first two statements are false, why is the third statement likely to be true? Because once humans start making such simulations, more than likely eventually countless simulations would be made. Even just looking at the Civilization game series, the number of “people” simulated on millions of computers has to be billions times millions. And that’s just one game. The odds are simply overwhelming that we are living in such a simulation, like it or not.

Fascinating, but aside from the intellectual heebie-jeebies, this is all moot, there’s no way we could tell whether or not we are living in a  simulation, so there’s no way to actually prove the Simulation Argument true or false right? Well, turns out there is. There are some ways that in theory we could today look at certain Cosmic Ray measurements and see evidence that we are in a  simulated world. I don’t fully understand it, particle physics not being my strong suit, but the gentle reader can read about it here.There are also some other implications of the Simulation Argument that I didn’t cover in the brief analysis, the actual argument in all its glory can be perused here.

I for one hope they make these measurements, science may not be able to prove God doesn’t exist, but let’s at least try to find out if we are living in the Matrix. Have a great simulated weekend everyone!

(The above image is taken from a promotional poster for the movie The Thirteenth Floor. It’s claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s not being used for profit, and its a low resolution partial copy of the original poster. I also highly recommend the movie to my readers. Credit and copyright: Centropolis Entertainment. Vanilla Sky is another movie along those lines, and also recommended.)

Written by unitedcats

October 13, 2012 at 1:22 pm

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