Shut it!

Wednesday, April 30


Headline News

I love this headline from Slashdot:

Kraken Infiltration Revives "Friendly Worm" Debate

It's like a newspaper headline taken from a 70's science fiction novel to show that we really are in the 21st century.  You get a few items that you understand, like:

California Expands DNA Identification Policies
India Launches 10 Satellites At Once
First Superheavy Element Found In Nature

And then they drive the point home, with one that doesn't even give you a frame of reference.

Mind you, Usability Testing Hardy Heron With a Girlfriend is pretty obscure as well.

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The Derb Delivers

In this case, he delivers a righteous serving to Ben Stein and the Intelligent Design movment as a whole.

And quotes yours truly in the process.  (And pops the bubble on the worst-kept secret in the blogosphere, but hey...)

I may disagree with him on quantum consciousness, but he's right on the money on this one.

Oh, and NRO have truly hideous URLs.  Worse even than Youtube.

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Tuesday, April 29


Global Warming, Come Home

Overnight lows of 3 degrees?  In  Sydney, in April?  July, okay, but April?

We had about two weeks of lovely Autumn weather this year.  Six months of Summer, two weeks of Autumn, then foom, it's Winter.

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Sunday, April 27


To Sleep, A Chance To Successively Approximate

I'm sure that many of my readers are quite capable of figuratively extracting square- and cube-roots in their sleep, but does anyone else literally do this?

Just woke up from a nap with an accurate but unhelpful answer to a problem in my head...

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Saturday, April 26


The Triumph Of Technology Over Talent, Part XVIII

I was pretty impressed by this.  I showed it to my cousin - a SMPTE Fellow - and he was impressed.  That probably means it's impressive.

(I mistakenly filed this under Books, and got Ermintrude the cow as an icon.  Which was cool-looking, but not quite what I'd intended.)

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Fuzzy Kittayns

Kittens at this stage of development are known as "meepers", for reasons that shall shortly become evident.

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The Historical Stupid Files

Much nonsense has been written on the subject of human consciousness, from both those whom we would expect to know better, such as Roger Penrose in The Emperor's New Mind* and those whom we wouldn't, such as John Searle in his Chinese Room piffle.**

But one of the stars in this particular field of nonscience has to be Julian Jaynes, author of The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.

Jaynes claims that until very recently - as late as the 10th century BC - the human mind was not unified as we find it today, but bicameral, the left hemisphere disconnected from the right.  Humans of the day were effectively schizophrenic, not in the soap-opera sense of having multiple personalities, but in the genuine clinical sense of paranoia and hearing voices.

Jaynes' evidence for this is literary.  He argues that older works such as the Iliad display no sign of such modern mental faculties as introspection, where more recent works, such as the Odyssey, do show this.

Now, perhaps it happened that in both translations of the Iliad that I have to hand*** the obvious implications of introspection were the result of careless editing.  Jaynes is a psychologist, not a historian or linguist, but perhaps he reads fluent Ionic Greek.  Never mind that.

Never mind that even if these two poems were not the work of the same man (which is historically uncertain), they were likely created only about a century apart, not a very long time for such a significant evolution of human mentality.  Never mind that people not only write poems and stories like this today, but act like this today, and yet are often not diagnosably schizophrenic.  Never mind either that this is not at all the behaviour we see in unfortunate individuals who do suffer from a bicameral mind or split brain.

Never mind that.

Instead, let's go to the oldest one in the book, the Epic of Gilgamesh.

In the story, Gilgamesh rejects the advances of the goddess Ishtar because he has read the myths and knows that this never ends well for the hero.

Yes folks, it's a trope subversion, and one that predates the Iliad by hundreds of years, if not a thousand and more.  This particular passage is only found in the Akkadian version of the Epic; the much older Babylonian version is incomplete and doesn't appear to refer to this part of the tale.  Nevertheless, the entire tale of Gilgamesh is deeply and incontrovertibly introspective, rendering Jaynes' thesis incoherent on a literary basis as well.

And the whole topic arose only because I was browsing the TV Tropes wiki for a subject that I have now entirely forgotten.

* Penrose argues three points: First, that human consciousness is non-algorithmic, which is very likely true; that human-like consciousness could not arise from a Universal Turing Machine, which is unsupported by logic or evidence; and that human consciousness is directly dependent on quantum events, which is impossible.

** Searle's argument goes like this: Suppose we have a man locked in a room with a library full of books.  He receives via a slot in the wall, pieces of paper covered with illegible symbols.  Following instructions in the books, he writes a new set of symbols on another piece of paper and feeds that back out through the slot.

Unbeknownst to the man in the box, the symbols are Chinese; the pieces of paper he receives are questions, and the pieces of paper he returns are answers.  He neither speaks nor reads a word of Chinese, and yet via the Room he is conducting fluent conversations.

Searle argues that since the man does not understand Chinese, artificial intelligence is impossible.

If you experienced a Huh? moment there, you are not alone.  The argument rests on a multitude of fallacies, including  - depending on where how you slice it - self-contradiction, circularity, assuming the consequent, the fallacy of composition, and a good old-fashioned helping of non-sequitur.

To put it most simply, though the man doesn't understand Chinese - because Searle stipulated that - the room does - because Searle stipulated that.  There are more subtle arguments to Searle's incorrectness, but it's not necessary to go into those here, because Searle's response is always the same, to wit, "Artificial intelligence is impossible because I said so."

*** E. V. Rieu's prose version and Richmond Lattimore's verse translation.

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No Habla PHP

Just got a spate of error reports from Minx...

Because someone's trying to run a phpBB attack against my blog.  The gobbledegook that's supposed to decode into a code injection decodes instead into a request for a null page, which raises an exception.

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The Stupid Files

Today's dose of burning stupid comes to us courtesy of Lynne McTaggart of The Intention Experiment

What is The Intention Experiment?  Well, about 13 hours from now, McTaggart plans to change the spectroscopic fingerprint of a sample of water by thinking at it.

Yes, you read that correctly.

She's planning to point a Raman spectrometer at a beaker of water, and think good (or perhaps bad) thoughts at it for a few hours, in hopes that it will change.  Change what?  Well, she doesn't exactly say.  There are three things that can change a spectroscopic fingerprint: A change in the actual chemical structure of the compound you're studying; uneven mixtures of impurities; and random variation because you're running an experiment with no controls and no clearly stated goals.

It's a bit like modern "ghost hunters": Get hold of an extremely sensitive scientific instrument that you don't understand, and wave it about until it registers a reading that it wasn't showing before.  It doesn't matter what the reading is, because you haven't bothered to make any predictions or set up any controls.  Any reading at all will do.

More generally, this is termed a unicorn hunt: Go out, find something, and call it a unicorn.

McTaggart brings real scientific expertise to the table, in the form of, well, I'll let her tell it:
Scientists like Dr. Rustum Roy, who is an expert on water, at the University of Pennsylvania, have recorded the structuring of water with electromagnetic radiation.
Professor Roy is an elderly but respected materials scientist specialising in ceramics, which is not notably a category featuring water among its members.  He famously lent his name to a paper proposing structures in water as a potential mechanism for homeopathy based entirely on Raman spectroscopic analysis of alcohol.  Which is not only not a ceramic, but also not water.  Said paper also lacked any proper controls, or any relevant discussion of what was being measured and how.  Again, all they were looking for was anomalies, with no prior definition of what would be considered anomalous.

In short, it's unicorns all the way down.

McTaggart is no fool: She's using the notoriety of this ludicrous bit of pseudo-science to flog her books and DVDs, which I can recommend highly to no-one at all.

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Friday, April 25


Joy In The Mid-Afternoon

CPanel does its daily update thing, and promptly commits suicide by segfault.  I've managed to get CPanel going again, but WHM is still down.  Bleh and double bleh.

Update: Nothing I tried seem to fix it, so I waited a day and did a forced update of the entire mess.  And now it works.

Automatic updates: They're good for you.  Yep.

Well, to be fair, that's the first time in four years of running CPanel that it's spontaneously combusted in that fashion.  Which is rather better luck than I've had with Windows.

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