Dear Santa, thank you for the dolls and pencils and the fish. It's Easter now, so I hope I didn't wake you but... honest, it is an emergency. There's a crack in my wall. Aunt Sharon says it's just an ordinary crack, but I know its not cause at night there's voices so... please please can you send someone to fix it? Or a policeman, or...
Back in a moment.
Thank you Santa.

Thursday, May 31

Rant

Neurophysics For People Who Don't Like Neurology... Or Physics

Or objective evidence.  Or so-called "logic":
Stuart Hameroff, an anesthesiologist who has spent many years studying brain functions, has collaborated with renowned Oxford University polymath Roger Penrose on a model that explains consciousness as the result of quantum processes occurring in tiny structures called microtubules in brain cells. “I think consciousness under normal circumstances occurs at the level of space-time geometry in the brain, in the microtubules,” Hameroff says. “But the fluctuations extend down to the Planck scale [far smaller than an atom] because the microtubules are driven bioenergetically to be in a coherent state. When the blood supply and the oxygen stops, things go bad and the coherence stops, but quantum information at the Plank scale isn’t lost. It may dissipate into the universe but remain somehow entangled in some kind of functional unit, maybe indefinitely. If the patient is revived, the information gets picked back up again.”
To be kind, it is not immediately obvious to the average layman that this is a complete load of bullpucky.

Penrose's (and by extension, Hameroff's) hypothesis fails on three fronts: First, it does not accurately describe what we know the brain does; Second, it does not accurately describe what we know consciousness does; Third, it is physically impossible.*

It is important to note that when Hameroff says "microtubules are driven bioenergetically to be in a coherent state", that this is a hypothesis, and there is no evidence that any such thing occurs, and considerable evidence that it cannot occur.
Where did the Planck-scale processes that cause it come from? Penrose’s answer: They came from the Big Bang. In this view, consciousness - all consciousness - was created at the same moment when the universe was created. If the soul exists, it, too, might be anchored to our moment of cosmic origin. This is what Italian astrophysicist Paola Zizzi terms the “Big Wow,” shorthand for her description of the connection between “the very early quantum computing universe and our mind.”
Again, this is the most astounding nonsense.  We know how quantum processes behave: Quantum mechanics is perhaps the most successful theory of physics, ever.  Even if Penrose's ideas were correct, there would be no informational connection between a human mind today and the formation of the universe.  Complex quantum states simply don't hang around that way; it is, again, physically impossible.  And simple quantum states don't possess any attributes that can carry information like that.  Like black holes, subatomic particles have no hair. When Hameroff says:
When the blood supply and the oxygen stops, things go bad and the coherence stops, but quantum information at the Plank scale isn’t lost. It may dissipate into the universe but remain somehow entangled in some kind of functional unit, maybe indefinitely.
He is flying in the face of all of quantum mechanics and modern neuroscience.  Complex entangled states do not survive like that; do not carry information of the sort he is implying; are not in evidence anywhere in the physical brain or in its function; and do not share any significant characteristics with the way the human mind actually behaves.  Quantum information at the Planck scale is not lost, that is true, but what that information tells us is that this particle is an electron; this particle is a neutron. 

And that's all. 

Persistent quantum information of that sort is very specific and very limited.  It is impossible to tell, from observing an electron, anything of its past.  All electrons are identical except for position and momentum.  This one may have been part of an atom of lead a second ago; this one in an atom of gold.  There is no way, not even theoretically - indeed, particularly not theoretically - to tell, unless you have continuously observed the two electrons over that period (a process that has its own quantum mechanical difficulties).

Penrose surely knows better, at least on the physics side, so I assume that something he has said has been misunderstood.  On the other hand, I have seen nothing to suggest that he knows anything of modern neuroscience.

Because modern neuroscience shows quite clearly that consciousness is brain function, that aspects of consciousness can be tied to very specific brain functions, and that neither the mind nor the brain exhibit any quantum properties except in the bulk, statistical sense that they share with prosaic objects such as frozen fish and pocket calculators.

The best layman's introduction to modern neuroscience I know of is MIT's 9.00 Introduction to Psychology as taught by Jeremy Wolfe.  You can download the lectures, and I can't recommend them highly enough to anyone interested in the subject (and it is a subject I think everyone should be interested in).

(Wishful thinking by Brendan Loy found via Insty.)

* Why is it that some of the smartest people have some of the ugliest websites?  Okay, the answer is that they have better things to do, I know that.  But still...

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 04:34 AM | Comments (5) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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Tuesday, May 08

Rant

Soylent Green Is People!!!

I was at TownHall.com just now following a link from Instapundit about the Lileks debacle (the Minneapolis Star-Tribune newspaper has reassigned its best writer as a local-stories reporter) when I ran across this link: Why ATHEISTS are 1000% percent out to lunch...

And yes, it's the usual drivel.  Kevin McCullough criticizes Christopher Hitchens for making "consistent strawman arguments" against religion, then comes up with this:
In Hitchens' own life, he wants it both ways.  He wants to acknowledge the evil of Islamic radicalism; he wants to fight a war against Jihad; but he's not willing to say that evil has a source.  He wants to say that we should be outraged and fight for the protection of our future, but if there is no good and there is no evil - and if there is no God there is neither of those - then there can't be any rationale for saying that their way of believing is any different than ours, therefore if they want to murder us, they should be allowed to.
(My transcription.)

How about a rational rationale?  How about the concept that we'd rather not be murdered?  Does that make no headway with you, Mr McCullough?  Are you really unable to distinguish between the ethical and moral values of Islamic extremism and Western civilization without reference to your personal religious beliefs?

Sheesh. more...

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 12:51 PM | Comments (1) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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Wednesday, May 02

Rant

HP, You Assholes!

I have a new Compaq notebook, the hardware of which is quite good except for the battery life (which sucks) and the trackpad's habit of jumping every so often.  And it was cheap, so I can live with those minor points.

The software is mostly Microsoft, and is as you'd expect.  The delivery of that software, though, is all HP.  New HP, not Old HP. In other words, total crap.

HP is too cheap to provide install CDs with new computers, so they take up 8GB of my 80GB hard disk with a "recovery" partition... something that is really useful if what you are recovering from is a disk failure.*  Because it's a separate partition, you can't recover the space even after you've taken the two hours or so to burn the recovery DVDs (plural).

And because it's so important (because you don't have install disks), it's protected from normal access, so you can't install software from it.  So HP put another 4.5GB of files on your C drive for actually installing from.

Even if you burn the recovery DVDs, you have no options whatsoever on reinstallation; you get the recovery partition back whether you like it or not.  I'd just blow the whole mess away and install standard Windows XP, except that I just replaced the drive with a 160GB model, and the XP install CDs I have are all pre-SP1 and won't recognise it.  I have three valid, unused activation keys, but they're useless.

Now, the one saving grace, I thought, was that HP had generously bundled 30 little games with the system, things like Bejeweled and Insaniquarium.  Nice touch, I thought, even though they're probably paying 20 cents for the lot (if that).

Turns out they are timed demos.  You get 60 minutes of play, then they die.  Yeah, way to go HP.  1.2GB of frigging ads.

Update: It would appear that at some point I had the presence of mind to make an... archival backup... of a certain piece of software to which I already hold multiple licenses.  Yay me.

* This is just an example; the disk didn't actually fail.  It was just full.  Not least because the 80GB disk comes with about 50GB of available space.  So I bought myself a 160GB replacement and a neat little 2.5" USB/eSATA drive case.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 05:38 AM | Comments (17) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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