Oct 23, 2011

My guinea pig wants beer!

Rather involuntary train rides (especially long ones, going to boring places for a boring event) are good for updates on some thoughts lingering in the lower levels of the brain-at-ease.
My latest trip (from Berlin to Bonn) unearthed the never-ending squabble about the elusive 'free will'. Neuroscientists make headlines proving with alacrity the absence of free will by experimenting with brain-signals that precede the apparent willful act - by as much as seven seconds! Measuring brain-activity way before the human guinea pig actually presses a button with whatever hand or finger he desires, they predict with breathtaking reproducibility the choice to be made.
So what? Is that the end of free will?
I am afraid that those neuroscientists would accept only non-predictability as a definite sign of free will. But non-predictability results from two possible scenarios: a) a random event (without a cause) b) an event triggered by something outside of the system (but caused).
Free will arguably is never compatible with randomness but should be reconciled with cause. Why should a random event (like white noise, the result of a lottery, the number of bubbles on my beer…) be a sign of free will? This line of thought (along with David Hume) is called compatibilism - and I haven't heard a convincing argument against it - yet (the comment-function is *on* :) ).
But if a free decision has a cause - how could we distinguish it from an inevitable, compelled decision? (see http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/10/19/what-makes-free-will-free/)
It seems inevitable to pull consciousness into the game - as both appear to be intertwined. Accepting an event triggered by something outside of the system does not mean accepting a force outside the material world. An event triggered unconsciously would suffice.
It feels right to claim that a free choice is a choice that happened consciously.
A free decision must have an origin, a cause, that is consciously set (a trigger inside the system). Everything after this initial trigger must be non-random and predictable - as we ruled out noise. So, the interpretation of the experiments hinges very much on the *report of the individual* about when she became consciously aware of the trigger.
As long as the time when the trigger was conscious depends on 'reports' of the guinea pigs, the experiments don't help much.
The conscious act will have to be defined by some measurable quantities (which would allow to actually *prove* if a real guinea pig has a conscious self, experimentally!). Only after that, experiments on free will can be devised in a meaningful manner.
And as long as free will is not defined, the experiments proving or disproving its existence are meaningless in any case.

Oct 9, 2011

Being good - talking at bankers

Recently I enjoyed following a presentation at Platoon/Berlin on Alternative Currencies. It was a great pleasure to hear that very smart guy Gabriel Shalom introducing his video "The future of money" - and the video itself was a nice treat.
But I felt increasingly at unease listening to the narrative about the presentation of the video at SIBOS, 'the worlds biggest banking conference'. There was some sound of pride in the voice of Gabriel and giggling in the audience when he reported that after the 7.5 minute short video there was absolute silence, no questions, no comments, nothing… "we dropped the evil-bomb", he said to the amusement of us folks. My problem was that common-sense in the room (well, it was a tent at Platoon): *they* are the bad guys *we* are the good guys.
To phrase it drastically - even though I never dug too deep into the history and concept of money myself there was really nothing unexpected, scary, chilling, thrilling or excitingly new in that video. It was nice, well-done, well thought through. But I believe any open mind would put together those thoughts on a good evening communicating with equally alert friends - even if these friends are bankers. But at the same time there was this notion of moral superiority and the clear cementation of a separating wall between 'us' and 'them'. Gabriel often repeated that he had the feeling the message of the video was too revolutionary, too unconventional for the banking-guys - and that's where the silence supposedly came from. I haven't been at the conference but I have the feeling the silence resulted from the talking AT bankers, not talking TO them.
I am afraid that the pleasure of being minority, the desire to be revolutionary actually slams some doors shut which are standing wide open. And the slamming noise is seen as proof of concept for some.
It is wrong.
A good moderator after the video, an open mind also on the side of the 'revolutionaries' would certainly kickstart a great discussion even with bankers - to the gain of both sides.
But the urge to define oneself as underdog, not mainstream, etc. that drives so many in the community, appears to be one of the big stumbling stones on the way to really new thoughts, concepts and, ultimately, principles.
(See Platoons report on the event here)

Oct 3, 2011

Scientoid Babble

that guy is simply -
a clown at a site of charlatans:
If taken serious Michio Kaku is threatening the reputation of science.
I know, such scientoid babble defends itself as being visionary.
It is not.

Oct 2, 2011

Relativity remains relatively unchallenged

Have I mentioned my personal 'affinity' to those bubble-brains at bigthink.com? I guess I have - their poster boy physicist Dr. Michio Kaku regularly d-explains the world by oversimplifying some piece of natural sciences. Some might smile about it, others yawn - I think it is actually dangerous.
Well, here it is.
The recent piece is tied to a freshly published paper about some accelerator-experiment in which some particles seem not to obey the speed-limit.
In his article "Breaking the speed of light and contemplating the demise of relativity" Dr. Kaku states that the scientists reported that they have recorded particles appearing to travel faster than the speed of light. Um, maybe. Maybe not. The scientists explicitly stated that they publish their data to stimulate a wider discussion as they wish to figure out what makes those particles to *appear* to be faster than light.
All is based on the measurement of time - done by a synchronization via GPS signals. Some speculate about possible errors there. It is a very solid and open way to do science: discuss possible sources of error.
Dr. Kaku is not interested in that.
He is interested in the smoke, the bang, the glitter, the gut-feeling of science.
So he reminds us of special relativity - and does it wrong. No, GPS-Satellites don't get the position wrong because of their speed. The dominating effect is the low gravitation - and so *general relativity*. Funny, that GPS with all its relativity-corrections to the clocks is used for time-synchronization of this experiment? Dr. Kaku turns Einsteins concept upside down. He asks "So why is light speed the maximum speed in the universe?" and answers "as you approach the speed of light… time stops…"etc.
It is the other way around: Einstein *assumed* that the speed of light is maximum - and looked for the consequences.
What about his 'contemplating the demise of relativity'? Nothing exciting there, just "all textbooks have to be rewritten", etc., and "what a headache!". Sure. How boring can science be?
I believe the original presse-release is so much more exciting and elucidating than that science-babble. It shows how real science works.