Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Earth and all

The on going discussion around here forces me to (modify and ) publish this again from my blog, sorry dhara, i'll post something exclusive sometime when I can think clearly enough for the level of expertise in this forum.

The Earth and all

... giving an extra shuffle to an already well-shuffled pack of cards. You know it will change your luck, but you don't whether for better or worse. - James Glieck in CHAOS: Making a New Science

Long long time before this time, there was an earth, a moon, a sun. And there were others who we don't bother about much. The earth used to be hot, very hot. Then it had something to do with the little molecule and all. But we will not bother about those either. The lead role of this story is being played by Earth. Sun is suspected to be the father of earth, I mean that's what we think happened, that Sun wanted to have 9 kids or something, and so it dropped 9 small pieces and they became his kids, who kept bothering him for a long time, going round and round him asking for money and all. Its a little strange, I mean, who wants kids like those, and who gets kids like this, by dropping parts of himself. But that is what we believe happened. (The exact number of kids are still not known, there are rumours sometimes that sun has other kids, which nobody is sure of as of now, but well, let's leave him alone, sun would be the last thing I would want to gossip about)

So the Earth, like i said before, was very hot. And sun, did not want his kids to be as hot-tempered as he was. (Its common with almost all parents that they don't want their kids to do things that they think they did wrong, but they all know nothing about James Glieck and Chaos and shuffled pack of cards and all). So basically sun wanted Earth to be a good boy, he took help of certain little molecules to do that. Those molecules didn't know what they were doing though but they did cool earth down by using some other molecules. Anyway, what happened, in all of this was that, Earth became all blue. all blue. And then suddenly strange things started happening. Earth started getting certain kind of fungal infections. It was a green colour kind of thing. Very strange. When these strange things started happening, Earth asked Sun for help. Sun was confused, he had sent the little molecules to cool earth down, but well, he didnt ever expect it turn out this way (I told you, shuffling a shuffled pack of cards...). In the meantime, the green thing was spreading over earth's body which was not covered by water (How water came, is another story).

Sun thought, probably, if he heated earth up, these fungii will go off. So he did, when he did, he ended up drying up more water, and all the fungii got even more place to spread. (Remember, shuffled pack of cards). So, what could he do. Sun was help-less. Infact, it was later learnt that these fungii used sun's light to cook food for themselves. Earth asked help from her brothers and sisters, they had no clue either.To Sun's rescue came the STAR broadcaster (Ok, this is not the TV that you see, they have copied the name though, the purpose was similar, it was the source of entertainment(!) and mis-information for the stars), which said that there was one way. It showed the progress of technology in the galaxy. And it was great. Sun didn't like the broadcasts earlier but a close friend (read one of the Centauri brothers) told him about it and only then did he discover that Earth's was a known problem. There were shampoos available which released agents all over the body. The agents then took care of themselves and slowly got rid of the fungii. Sun suggested Earth to use these.

There were many brands available. All of them worked on a similar concept. The shampoo was applied, and it released very tiny agents on the body which grew and slowly took care of the fungal infection. The agents grew in different shapes and sizes. The shampoos looked like the shampoos, you'd bath your dog with, if you had a dog and did not have somebody else who'd give him a bath. The shampoos when rinsed, produced a great foam.Earth used it many times, we have been able to figure out about two or three times. We have also, discovered the kind of agents produced. The initial few times, the agents did not work very good, the fungii had even started growing on and underwater. The shampoo companies released newer version of shampoo which possesed ability to develop agents who'd think they are very intelligent. They would not only get earth rid of the fungus, but also will kill other agents, thereby to an extent solving the problem of cleaning the agents after the fungus was taken care of.

The shampoo company was making real big buck with this new technology. Even though nobody knew how well its going to work. So Earth shifted to the new product. Rinsed the previous shampoo. The great foam was raised all over the earth, and then later, the new shampoo came. It took few minutes for the intended agents to 'evolve'. The agents which came before the next breed of agents, thought believed that they were THE agents. They liked to believe so. The shampoo company had claimed that they were going to be 'intelligent agents'. Earth had no way to know, how 'intelligent' the agents were. The evolving agents proved James Glieck's theory about shuffled cards. They did there job allright, for sometime. Earth was happy a lot of fungi was gone. She bought another bottle of the shampoo.But the agents outdid themselves each time. They proved to be too intelligent and too diversely intelligent. They got rid of a lot of fungii, but then some of them started growing more fungii. Some of them started protecting fungii. But they were all ok, the agents that followed, started growing some other stuff. Initially, Earth ignored it. But it was too much to be ignored. The new agents started making holes on Earth's head and growing some new brown and grey colourfungii kind of stuff and this new stuff was spreading faster than the original fungii did. The salesstar who sold the shampoo said that the real agents haven't come yet, and Earth did not need to worry and MUST not rinse it, because the intended agents had not yet been developed.It was very itchy all that stuff, they were growing. Earth shook hard sometimes, sometimes it shook even harder. But it did not seem to solve a lot of problems.

Sometimes, Earth wondered about the purpose of its life, it wondered for how long will she keep going around the sun asking for stuff, and it wondered if that was the real purpose of its life. Or was it something else, was it some greater deed that was in store for here.Some other times, she just itched herself. Sometimes, she got some small kids floating around to itch here or there. All they could really do was hit as hard as they could.And the stuff continued to grow. The agents were underestimated, they became communicable and started troubling Earth's adopted son (read moon) and Marsi, Earth's favourite sibling. It led to differences between Earth and Marsi, Marsi complained to Sun. Sun was watching all this, and was helpless. The shampoo company said, don't rinse, wait, Marsi said, get rid of the thing, u've begun to look ugly, Moon said nothing. Earth itched.

To be continued...Probably, Probably not.
(This time, the author claims lack of imagination is the reason for having no knowledge of the story beyond this point. Imagination claims, it has nothing to do with this disaster.)
(James Glieck has nothing to do with all of this, niether do his cards)

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Determinism versus Choice

This post was originally published on http://www.silentyak.com in response to the previous post on this blog.


Talk to someone about quantum mechanics for a while, and sooner or later, the question of deterministic behavior versus free will pops up. It is like one of those arguments between religion and science; it cannot be resolved because, for one thing, no one knows the answer. Oh sure, you may say you know the answer, because it is so obvious, but you should realize the other side is just as convinced that they have seen the light.

This may seem paradoxical, but there is a good reason for it. Imagine that you are talking to someone who strongly believes in free will. If you ask him to explain exactly why he thinks this is so, he may say, "Look, when I feel thirsty, I might actually get up and drink some water - or I may not. No one could possibly claim to predict what I will do the next time I feel thirsty. Therefore, I have free will." The non-believer would say that his action was the result of a complex set of interactions between molecules that ultimately resulted in his decision. To this, our subject would respond that it was he, in fact, who brought about the interaction between molecules that resulted in his decision. Quantum mechanics ensures that this claim cannot be lightly brushed aside. No matter how closely we look into this situation, we will never be able to eliminate the existence of his choice as long as he exists. Without the doer of action possessing free will, all of this would be reduced to the interplay between molecules in a very large box called the Universe. It still may not be deterministic if the Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle is to be believed, but in this probabilistic universe, there would be no one throwing the dice.

So in essence we are trying to decide whether true intelligent agents exist or not. We could invoke God, and claim that God controls all individuals and therefore, God is the only intelligent agent. This doesn't really affect our argument, because if we decided that a single God did not exist, we could delegate that job to individuals themselves. We would then be trying to decide whether billions of Gods exist. Instead we will assume that if one human being exhibits free will, then so does everyone else. We will be content with arguing about the existence of at least one intelligent agent rather than worrying about the details.

Having said all that, I hope you see that this is not a solvable problem. It is impossible to prove the existence of an intelligent agent because there could always be hidden deterministic variables that guide the 'free will' of the agent. You would have to be God (with absolute knowledge) to conclusively state that there are no deterministic causes for your actions.

At the same time, it is impossible to disprove the existence of an intelligent agent, simply because one can always present an intelligent agent as the seen or unseen cause of any event. As before, you would need to be God (with absolute knowledge) before you could claim that there is no intelligent agent.

I submit that there cannot be a God with absolute knowledge simply because there is no way of knowing that one's knowledge is absolute. As God, how can you be sure that there is no God above you?

Now, why did we translate a nicely stated problem of free will into another that cannot even be solved? Primarily because if you cannot solve this problem, it follows that you cannot solve the original one. The conclusion is that people who tend to disagree on the subject of freedom of choice, will, unfortunately, continue to disagree.

At this juncture, there will be some who will claim that this could be a problem that has a solution, even though we are not in a position to find it. This statement looks suspiciously like the one made by new-comers to quantum theory when they are told that Schröndinger's cat is neither alive nor dead until the box is opened. Maybe a quantum theory of God will emerge that could give us the probability of the existence of God at any point of time. Stay tuned until then.

On Free Will

Something to ponder on, taken from 'Waking Life'. I know its a bit long, but tis totally worth the time. From mister dodo, i would expect a discussion on this...


In a way, in our contemporary world view, it's easy to think that science has come to take the place of god. But some philosophical problems remain as troubling as ever. Take the problem of free will. This problem has been around for a long time, since before Aristotle in 350 B.C. St. Augustin, St. Thomas Aquinas, these guys all worried about how we can be free if god already knows in advance everything we're going to do. Nowadays, we know that the world operates according to some fundamental physical laws, and these laws govern the behavior of every object in the world. These laws, because they are so trustworthy, they enable incredible technological achievements. But look at yourself. We're just physical systems too, right? We're just complex arrangements of carbon molecules. We're mostly water. And our behavior isn't going to be an exception to these basic physical laws. So it starts to look like whether it's god setting things up in advance, and knowing everything you're going to do, or whether it's these basic physical laws governing everything, there's not a lot of room left for freedom.

So you might try to just ignore the question, ignore the mystery of free will, and say, oh well, it's just an historical anecdote, it's sophomoric, it's a question with no answer, just forget about it. But the question keeps staring you in the face. Think about individuality for example. Who you are is mostly a matter of the free choices that you make. Or take responsibility. You can only be held responsible, you can only be found guilty, or you can only be admired and respected for things you did of your own free will. So the question keeps coming back. And we don't really have a solution to it. It starts to look like all our decisions are really just a charade.

Think about how it happens. There's some electrical activity in your brain, your neurons fire, they send a signal down into your nervous system, it passes along down into your muscle fibers, they twitch, you might reach out your arm. It looks like it's a free action on your part, but every part of that process is actually governed by physical laws, chemical laws, electrical laws, and so on.

So now it starts to look like the big bang set up the initial conditions, and the whole rest of human history, and even before, is really just the playing out of subatomic particles according to these basic fundamental physical laws. We think we're special. We think we have some kind of special dignity, but that now comes under threat. That's really challenged by this picture.

So you might be saying, well, wait a minute. What about quantum mechanics? I know enough contemporary physical theory to know it's not really like that. It's really a probabilistic theory. There's room. It's loose. It's not deterministic. And that's going to enable us to understand free will. But if you look at the detail, it's not really going to help because what happens is you have some very small quantum particles, and their behavior is apparently a bit random, they sort of swerve, their behavior is absurd in the sense that its unpredictable, and we can't understand it based on anything that came before. It just does something out of the blue according to a probabilistic framework. But is that going to help with freedom? I mean, should our freedom be just a matter of probabilities, just some random swerving in a chaotic system? That starts to seem like it's worse. I'd rather be a gear in a big deterministic physical machine than just some random swerving.

So we can't just ignore the problem. We have to find room in our contemporary world view for persons with all that that entails. Not just bodies, but persons. That means trying to solve the problem of freedom, finding room for choice and responsibility, and trying to understand individuality.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


It has been a very lazy week. I've been spending my time procrastinating very effectively. As you may well know, procrastinating is quite easy, but doing it effectively is something else altogether. Besides, I've managed to keep Dhara waiting for my response, which is a delightful experience in itself.

I wish to talk about two issues. The first of these is something that goes by the term "truth." To tell you the truth, I don't have much of an idea what that means. If I did, there would be no room for discussion, and therefore, no reason to write about it. But there was a time when I did know what it meant. Call it childhood innocence of sorts. Or maybe ignorance. In those times, truth could be equated with fact. Something happened. You say it the way it happened and you were being truthful. Plain and simple, quick and easy, just like that.

Now, I see everyone peering at this amazing creature through huge convex lenses, not the good ones, but the ones with chromatic aberrations and scratches all over. That's the reason why the truth is so colorful.

I think the problem with the human adult is that (s)he has opinions. Most of the time, these are carelessly mixed with facts and figures to produce speculation and wilder stuff. It's almost as if you mixed hydrochloric acid and whatever else to come up with aqua regia. Ooh! I still remember a bit of high-school chemistry.

My personal view of the nature of truth remains almost what it used to be when I was a kid - the truth involves facts. This allows arguments that are based on literal interpretations of the spoken sentence. For me, this is a good thing, because these are the kinds of arguments I win.

Let me come to the point before I ramble on about something else. Why this obsession with "truth?" First, because I want to state that everything I say in this blog is the truth. And second, it is the truth from my point of view. That last part is important.

The second item on my agenda is a discussion of the term "work." Work is what you do when there's nothing else left to be done. Some people get away without doing any of it. Lucky.

I worked hard today. I watched several movies, listened to music, blogged, chatted on the telephone and had several meals. Phew! What a tough day!

I plan to get some more work done now, and besides, I think this post is long enough as it is. Rats! I wanted to respond to Dhara's comments, didn't I? Oh well, maybe next time.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

A Lot of Frumious Noise, Nothing, and a Towel

We started out to do some serious Duerf writing. Unfortunately, the Deurf-ness constricted and refused to manifest itself in a form more causal than pig-headed meta-physical-ness. Since void is all that comes to mind (oxymoron, ahem), void is what shall be described. Or, more properly, an excuse why I must write general nothingness instead of vapid something-ness.

Casual claims his cranium clocks only after his subconscious rooster crows, that is, a point in time occuring not before than his rising from post-nocturnal-slumber. And that he can't resist the said slumber, his addiction to boiled leaves in water not withstanding.

Challenges are set. Something good must evolve. He will discover the subliminal psychoanalyst in himself and return to poke jibes at me. However, until his ego and super-ego come to terms of mutual agreement and decide to settle for the the small space in his upper cranial cavity, he shall stall and drag the interpreter of his neural spaces (yours truly) to that highest place of culinary decadence, where delicacies are prepared with utmost love by brajwashi.

ps: Dreading the next post by Casual. Give me Vogon poetry any day. Shall go find a towel.