💬 the fallacy of gray

The Sophisticate: “The world isn’t black and white. No one does pure good or pure bad. It’s all gray. Therefore, no one is better than anyone else.”

The Zetet: “Knowing only gray, you conclude that all grays are the same shade. You mock the simplicity of the two-color view, yet you replace it with a one-color view . . .”

—Marc Stiegler, David’s Sling (1988)

via https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/dLJv2CoRCgeC2mPgj/the-fallacy-of-gray

also:

A guilty system recognizes no innocents. As with any power apparatus which thinks everybody’s either for it or against it, we’re against it. You would be too, if you thought about it. The very way you think places you amongst its enemies. This might not be your fault, because every society imposes some of its values on those raised within it, but the point is that some societies try to maximize that effect, and some try to minimize it. You come from one of the latter and you’re being asked to explain yourself to one of the former. Prevarication will be more difficult than you might imagine; neutrality is probably impossible.

Iain M. Banks, Player of Games (1988)

citing out of context here, but still worth it

25 September 2019

📎 quantum supremacy FAQ

You’ve seen the stories—in the Financial Times, Technology Review, CNET, Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, or elsewhere—saying that a group at Google has now achieved quantum computational supremacy with a 53-qubit superconducting device. While these stories are easy to find, I’m not going to link to them here, for the simple reason that none of them were supposed to exist yet.

https://www.scottaaronson.com/blog/?p=4317

24 September 2019

✒ words are all I have

“There are those who loathe puns, anagrams and wordplay of any description. They regard practitioners as trivial, posey, feeble, nerdy and facetious. As one such practitioner, I do understand the objections. Archness, cuteness, pedantry and showoffiness do constitute dangers. However, as a non-singing, non- games-playing, -dancing, -painting, -diving, -running, -catching, -kicking, - riding, -skating, -skiing, -sailing, -climbing, -caving, -swimming, -free- falling, -cycling, -canoeing, -jumping, -bouncing, -boxing sort of person, words are all I have. As the old cliché has it, they are my friends. I like to say them, weigh them, poke them, tease them, chant their sound, gaze at their shape and savour their juiciness, and, yes, play with them. Some words are made up of the same letters as others, some can fit inside others, some can be said the same backwards as frontwards, some rhyme outrageously, some seem unique and peculiar like yacht and quirk and frump and canoodle. I take pleasure in their oddities and pleasures and contradictions. It amuses me that a cowboy is a boy who rounds up cows, but a carboy is a flagon of acid, that conifer is an anagram of fir cone and esoteric of coteries, that gold has a hundred rhymes but silver has none. 20 It saddens me that the French talk of the jouissance of language, its joyousness, juiciness, ecstasy and bliss, but that we of all peoples, with English as our mother tongue, do not. Such frolicsome larkiness may put you off, but if you wish to make poems it seems to me necessary that some part of your verse, however small, will register the sensuousness, oddity and pleasure of words themselves, as words, regardless of their semantic and communicatory duties. Not all paintings draw attention to their brushwork – art can, of course, as validly make transparent its process as exhibit its presence – but each tradition has value and none represents the only true aesthetic.”

― Stephen Fry, “The Ode Less Travelled” (2005)

14 September 2019

💬 the web is non-disruptive for once

As Michael Clarke memorably put it nearly a decade ago: when Tim Berners-Lee created the Web in 1991, it was with the aim of facilitating scientific communication and the dissemination of scientific research. The extent to which the Web hasn’t disrupted the scientific publishing industry (while, at the same time, dramatically reshaping nearly all other retail services) is therefore surprising.

“Rise of the platforms”, Nature Physics 15, 871 (2019)

11 September 2019

💡 the enlightenment of age

This year, people over 65 began to outnumber those under 5 for the first time in history.

What are we to conclude? Is ageing a disease that can be eradicated by science, or the natural third act of life, threatened by over-medicalization? Viewpoints will undoubtedly be as variable as experience and temperament. There might be some wisdom in simply following an adage attributed to seventeeth-century philosopher Francis Bacon: “old age is always 15 years older than I am”.

Nature 573, 193-194 (2019)

11 September 2019

✒ things fall because of gravity

Unfortunately, once something is found that is true or useful, it tends to be presented in books as though it were obvious or very straightforward, when in fact it may be neither, and may have taken years, and chance, to discover.

From “Entropy, Scientific Explanations, Pseudo-Scientific Explanations, and Teaching Science” by Rick Garlikov. It goes on with a good example:

“The most common, I think, form of pseudo-explanation is to give a name to a phenomena, consider that name to name some sort of trait,  and then explain the occurrence of the phenomena in terms of the “existence” of the trait.

For example, imagine that a student gets mostly B’s in school.  Parents and teachers, and even the student himself, may come to think of him as a “B student”.  Notice that at this point, that just means that the student gets B’s generally.  It is synonymous with saying that he gets mostly B’s.  If someone asks you how you kid does in school, you can answer either “He gets mostly B’s” or you can answer “He’s pretty much a B student.” Both of these statements in this context mean the same exact thing.  Now there is no problem with this terminology unless people, including the student, begin to think that he gets B’s because he is a B student.  “Why didn’t you get an A on this exam, son?” “Dad, I couldn’t; I am just a B student.”  The reason this is not an explanation is because it just says essentially that the student gets B’s because he gets B’s.  For “being a B student just meant that one received B’s for the most part.”  It is not that getting B’s necessarily means a child has some sort of trait that causes him to get B’s.”

And further down:

“So although there may be some precise definition or notion of “entropy” that is useful, it cannot be just “measure of disorder” with the claim that disorder is always increasing only because you already know which “direction” phenomena occur and then call that direction the direction of increased entropy.  That is like saying objects fall because they are heavier than air, and rise because they are lighter, where what tells you which objects are which is that you know they rise or fall when released under normal conditions. Yet, that is what some physics texts seem to do.”

10 September 2019