Finding Out You Are Wrong, Should Be the Best Feeling.

The human mind is a complex device, but it is not perfect. Everything we learn, we learn through a combination of comparison to previous experiences and then using learned logic techniques to extrapolate new information, which we then can use to compare to already learned information. This is not a simple process, and much of the information we learn is interpreted by filters before being made available to the comparative engines of the brain.

I’m simplifying everything of course, because this is a short blog and I’m an opinion that is based on my own experiences, comparisons and logic.

But simply this process is fraught with potential errors. It’s very easy to learn things which make no sense outside the framework you have already learned.

When you were a child you were taught many subtle things that were only designed to make your parents lives easier. They may well have not been true. Some of these you will encounter as a child and will cause you to question your earliest beliefs, but some will pass through your experience untested and will become true to you as an adult. If these are then proved to be wrong later in your life, you will have a very hard time deciding what is true.

If you believed Santa Claus was real through to your late teens, it’s very likely you would have a very hard time ever considering that he was not real. Imagine if you had received presents under the tree every year until you were 20, and had absolutely no reason to question where they came from, because no one had ever had that conversation with you. What would it take to then persuade you that it was just a story made up my marketing companies to sell more coke.

We all have our versions of Santa Claus; some believe people of a different skin color are a difference species; some believe that socialism in the form of social security or government run healthcare are inherently evil; some believe that their particular variant of religion is the only one that is “true” and everyone else is going to hell; some believe that their family and friends are superior because they all came from the same country in Europe and all became rich due to their grandparents work. And some beliefs are very subtle, but no less damaging to our ability to learn new ideas.

The basic issue is one of trying to change a “core belief”, something that was learned at a young age and has never been tested by your personal experience.

The way the brain works creates fixed pathways for specific situations that become impossible for you to think outside of.

As a species, we must continuously test core beliefs, and where we see evidence that contradicts what we inherently know to be true, we must be willing to look deeply at the evidence and question our own reticence.  It’s hard, but it’s how we become better people.

Here are some statements that cause this form of cognitive dissonance for some people:

  • The earth is round.
  • The earth revolves around the sun.
  • The moon is not a source of light, and revolves around the earth.
  • Evolution is the name of the process of random mutations providing variety that make some variants more likely to survive changing environmental conditions than others, and over very large timescales explains the variety of all life on earth.
  • Skin color is just a simple environmentally preferential variance in a subcutaneous dye found at a lower level in the skin and is not an indicator or any other attribute.
  • The universe was not created for the pleasure of one single species on one single planet out of billions, but is most probably one universe of billions in a much larger system than we can perceive.
  • Guns are dangerous, and their use should be carefully controlled.
  • Trickle-down economics doesn’t work.

At this point a lot of people’s brains may have exploded (of course since those people are unlikely to read my rant or care about my views, It’s not so much of an issue, but maybe some exploding brains (metaphorically speaking) would do the world some good)

When you challenge a core-belief and break its hold on you, you open a world of personal possibilities.

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Anti-Science Is Incredibly Dangerous

The GOP nominee for president has been talking about the burden of regulations on business, and screamed about the four thousand plus drugs that are currently undergoing the regulatory mandated clinical trial process. He has a simplistic view that if these drugs were sped through a simpler process this would in some way save lives. How does he know?

How does he know that these drugs are going to do what is hoped? How can he know that a new cancer drug won’t actually have some dramatic unexpected effect that could make the situation worse? How does he know that fixing one symptom won’t create other deadly symptoms for the patient, or worse for other people?

Does he understand the historical record of drugs that created unexpected (unintended) consequences, some of which were horrific?

Does he understand the historical record of drugs that had absolutely no effect, but were marketed as cures for everything, causing people to die earlier or less comfortably than they otherwise would have?

The answer (of course) is that he doesn’t know these things, but does know that people desperate for new drugs to help terminal or painful conditions may vote for a candidate who creates fear of regulations.

He also knows that drug companies looking to reduce their costs of development (and their costs of indemnification) would in some cases love to see the time required to meet regulations reduced.

Reducing costs is a good idea, but not by removing scientific rigor.

There are no simple answers to complex questions, history has shown that people who promote simple one dimensional answers are always dangerously wrong.

The science being done today in the fields of medicine and food creation are incredible. The knowledge that scientists have curated on how the mechanisms of life work has opened up entirely new avenues of research that is leading to incredibly complex solutions to previously untreatable conditions. But there is always a “but”. How do we know for sure that one change, or a series of changes that a treatment makes won’t create a situation that will be dangerous in other ways. The answer is we need to be very careful. Being careful means agreeing on a rigorous scientific process to confirm the validity of an idea through careful peer reviewable testing that always errs on the side of doubt. That is exactly what todays regulations aim to do.

The regulatory bodies in existence are always looking to improve their processes, but improving the rigor, efficiency or effectiveness of a scientific process, does not mean reducing regulations.

The scientific process may seem frustrating, but a non-scientific process is not just dangerous it’s would also be vastly less effective.

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Ignorance Is No Substitute For Knowledge

I don’t see religion as the opposite of science, but as a mechanism for very complex ideas to be considered. Over the millennia religion has helped countless people deal with the pain of loss and created comradery to help people who need assistance.

Obviously I can also think of many terrible things that have been delivered under the guise of religion. We can see today how angry, disenfranchised or ignorant people can be deformed by hate, xenophobia or fear supported by the words and deeds from some who chose to use religion to further their own personal power desires.

I am always shocked when groups who consider themselves “religious”, actively deny knowledge because it contradicts what their religion states. Given that there are many thousands of versions of religion in play today, and probably many millions that have been in play throughout human history, it strikes me as ridiculous to believe that any one version is perfect. This does not mean that I wish to ridicule the idea of religion, I do not. I see theology as an extension of philosophy, and where it is applied with care it clearly can really offer comfort and meaning to many groups. But that does not give religion a special pass, like everyone else, religious followers must work to improve humanity and the universe, and not detract from happiness and health in any way.

From a purely observational point of view, I see the idea of evolution to be entirely consistent with what we observe every day. While the time it takes for random mutations to impact a species in material ways is far too long to observe easily, it is though clear that any number of mutations that take place within each organism are clearly observable. One of the basic skills in understanding disease is to understand mutations. Viruses mutate constantly, making treatment a continual fight to deal with resilience. Cancer is now known to be (generally) a kind of cellular mutation where the bodies own defenses don’t see the mutated cells as an invader. Nearly every mutated cell in the body is of course quickly dealt with by the immune system, and it’s only the ones that by chance continue to look enough like the body’s own healthy cells that are not attacked and hence cause issues.

Birth defects caused by environmental changes (drugs, chemicals, radiation etc.) are common enough that we can see them.

Today the human race is diverse to the point that a change in the environment or the emergence of a deadly pathogen is unlikely to eradicate all humanity. It could of course, but the more diverse we are the less likely this is.

Science though has the potential to standardize the human race, in effect removing the very deep level of diversity that actually may protect us from extinction.

We are today standardizing our food, with everyone eating similar plants and animals. Since we all use the same drugs, we are eradicating specific diseases and potentially the bacteria and viruses that could impact future diseases.

Science is not perfect, and the things we change at the macro level may come back and hurt us in generations to come. Or science may actually be the only way that the human race can survive. No one knows. Today’s quality and length of human life have never been better. There are more people alive today than ever before and they are living longer, putting a new level of strain on available resources, requiring new levels of food production, causing new levels of environmental change, requiring more food to be produced in a smaller area, in a cycle that shows no end.

It’s a deeply philosophical conundrum, and maybe using the concept of an outside influence to help understand the universe we find ourselves a part of is a good thought exercise to help frame the issue.

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The Internet Of Objects – Ideal Or A Path To The End Of Everything

In the 1980’s and into the 1990’s there was a movement in technology towards objects. The idea was than any and all data, applications, devices etc. could be broken down into a series of discrete pieces of information, and the use of this information could be described in a consistent way. This would allow everything to work together harmoniously without complex pre-work to describe what everything was.

The issue (at that time) was that for most types of data the meta-data to describe it was actually much larger than the data itself, and this was a huge problem when networks were slower than the spoken word and data storage was more expensive than postage. So the idea slowly died and morphed, and we have been left with a really messy series of standards which make sharing data and devices complex and expensive.

Now I know that I am paraphrasing the whole issue here, but there is no doubt that where we are, is not where we want to be in terms of integrated systems.

Imagine if every piece of data was wrapped in a consistent set of metadata (data about the data).

Imagine if you were sent an email with a specific type of data attached to it, that the data would self-describe its value, keep a record of who created it, what application was needed to use it, and even where the code to use it resided.

Imagine if every internet connected device could provide details on its use, location and current state when asked. So when you enter a house and you could automatically be part of that houses network. Your environmental preferences would automatically be shared with the house, and your entertainment preferences would be available on each device in the house. Obviously assuming that you had the approval of the houses prioritized users.

Imagine that when you program your phones map app to take you to a specific place, your diary and the diaries of everyone you are meeting that day are automatically updated with travel times and arrival times. And the systems in the place you are going to are updated with your drink and food preferences and a desk is reserved for you automatically for when you arrive or the meeting room you are planning to use is automatically chosen based on the number of people who are meeting.

Imagine if in an emergency all the connected devices in a building on fire could be viewed by those trying to help. Every temperature sensor and video feed was automatically available to them, and any phone picked up would automatically connect to the on-site emergency teams without any buttons needing to be pressed. All water, gas and power would be selectively turned off or on by the emergency teams as needed.

Imagine if the sensors in every car, street light and road sign were shared amongst themselves, providing a mesh of knowledge available to every road user, and that journeys were planned with the knowledge about the current conditions, dynamically updated with the planned journeys of every other road user.

Imagine if a doctor was able to review the health data of a patient collected by the patients watch, phone, home and pharmacist building a profile of the patient’s history to help diagnose from subtle changes in their physical condition important early diagnosis of problems allowing for much better treatments.

If every piece of data and every internet connected device could describe itself in a consistent and meaningful way, the possibilities are endless.

There are of course risks associated with easier communication, risks that actually may be greater than the benefits.

It’s almost an evolutionary level risk.

Within a species a continual flow of random mutations creates the likelihood that some variants will survive in any type of changing environment or to put it another way diversity is good.

If all information systems were to follow a single standard, then the possibility would exist of total destruction of the entire system. We have already seen that computer viruses designed to attack windows systems can impact millions of systems at the same time. Smug mac users have always felt safer, but that safety only comes from the simple fact that they are a separate sub-species. It is very hard for an infection to spread across species (biological or technical), but in a world where all data and devices were unified behind one standard, that standard itself could become a risk.

The value of total interconnectivity is immense, but the implications of everything being compromised would be too terrible to consider.

Is it possible to create an interconnected would that is secure enough to be viable?

That is the cold war not just of this century but probably for the whole future of humanity.

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Thought for the day

Each cell in the human body contains a strand of DNA that contains about three billion pairs of molecules organized into forty six chromosomes. Each molecule is around 0.000000002 meters in length. All this is bundled up in a twisted corkscrew of two strands entwining each other. If you could stretch out those two strands they would reach about two meters in length.

When you consider that there are about 10000000000000 cells in the human body, the length of these end to end would be about the same as the distance between the Earth and the sun, SEVENTY TIMES.

That’s a lot of information, and frankly an unimaginable distance.

There are some people who I could imagine testing this theory on experimentally…..

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Who Writes the Epitaph?

Consider Gore, Al.  For a guy who was never president, he’s incredibly well known for a great many things.  Which one will rise to the top and be his final 1-line epitaph?  Some possibilities include:

– 1/2 of the fiery young Clinton-Gore presidential team for 8 years who drove the “Reinventing Government” initiative to cut waste and red tape in Washington, DC

– Inventing the Internet (and making us capitalize “Internet”)

– “Inventing” the Global Warming issue (or the GW myth if you’re skeptical), and winning the Nobel Prize for it

– Losing his home state of Tenessee (with 11 Electoral votes) in a presidential election he lost by 5 Electoral votes

Candidate Gore’s famous on-stage kiss

– The icky, creepy on-stage, on-air erotic kisser of Tipper “Parental Advisory record labels” Gore

– Hanging chads and the most controversial election result in generations

– Co-founder of “Current TV” network (with Joel Hyatt)

…Or will Mr. Gore just be best remembered for being a hilarious “head-in-a-jar” (a preachy, boring one at that) on the animated TV show Futurama?

So, will Albert Arnold Gore, Jr. best be remembered for something “positive” or something “negative?”

There’s a saying from an Australian philanthropist, lifesaver and pubbuilder known as Sheepshagger John which may help you predict the answer, “You know, a man can do a thousand great things, but if you “shag” one lousy sheep…”– (5) (7)

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Why 3D just isn’t good enough

Eyes are amazing devices. When you look around your eyes focus on what you are staring at directly, and everything else you see becomes softer in focus. But as soon as you move your focus the new thing you are looking directly at comes into focus.

Continually your eyes are moving changing the place you are focusing on. Everything in your field of vision is available to focus on.

But when you go to see a 3D movie. The director (through the lens of cameras) has chosen what you should focus on, keeping everything else in soft focus. This is okay for a flat image, because it shows you where to look on the screen. We have become used to it (to some extent) and see it as artful direction.

But when we go to see a huge screen (such as an IMAX movie) in three dimensions, this just does not work.

When you are looking at a massive screen in 3D and only a small proportion of it is in focus, it is just annoying. The issue is that for a 3D movie to be totally immersive, you need to be able to see everything in sharp focus, not just the center of the director’s intent.

When you are watching a forest in a movie (such as Avatar) you want to see all the vines in sharp focus. This gives you the impression of being totally immersed in the movie. But the director chooses to keep just the section when the camera is focused in sharp focus and the rest in soft focus. This just ruins 3D.

Now when a scene is computer generated (CGI) there is no reason to create a depth of field. And when they choose to keep everything in focus, it works so much better. All of a sudden you are totally immersed in a 3D world. That’s how 3D should be!

The only 3D movies worth seeing on a big screen are computer generated. Cameras with lenses need to be focused on a specific spot. That technology just doesn’t do it for 3D.

As filmmakers learn to shake of the shackles of 20th century movie making and adopt a pure system for 3D making, the genre will have a future. If they continue to hold onto depth of field photography along with low frame rates to add creative blur to movies then the life of the cinema may be coming to an end.

If when you go to the movies to watch a 3D movie, and you find the effect makes you a little queasy then that is because of the low frame rate, and forced soft focus. If the whole image is created using CGI and is at a faster frame rate, you would feel you were part of a 3D world on screen, and not on a rollercoaster of blur and enforced head shaking movement.

I suspect the move to create move immersive 3D movies has a couple of groups fighting against it.

Firstly there will be those who are firmly convinced that “traditional” rules are film making must be enforced, in the same way that those who though movies were better without sound fought for their art (and the jury is still out on that one of course).

And secondly if a movie is made to be an immersive 3D experience (as I’ve described) the costs of production would be much higher and the resulting film wouldn’t look as good without a massive 3D screen, reducing the revenue possibilities from smaller theaters and home viewing.

So the chance of seeing really great 3D is limited my tradition and greed.

Two huge factors which are (if history is any guide) likely to win.

Here’s hoping for fully immersive 3D
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How everything works

The universe is amazing, in terms of just how big it is, and also how small it is.

Scale stuns.

When we look at the amazing large scale of everything we can see, think just how big it is. When you consider the size of the universe, the speed of light becomes so small.

It takes many lifetimes for light from other galaxies we see in space to reach us. This means we have no practical way of knowing what the universe really looks like at the moment we look at it. What we see happened a long time ago, in fact many long times ago. We see light arriving from many different places, all from different times.
What we see is therefore an illusionary moment in time. And that makes our view of the universe… illusionary. We can only assume what the universe looks like at any moment. Time really isn’t the constant we think it is.

So lets look at the other end of scale. When we look at molecules we see they are made of atoms. And when we look at atoms we see they are made of electrons, protons and neutrons with a lot of nothing in between. And when we look at electrons, neutrons and protons we find they are in themselves made of other things, which we have given even more amusing names. And it turns out even these “things” are made of other things. How deep the rabbit hole goes is anyone’s guess. But the more we find out about the way matter is, the more we see the edges of other ideas of other dimensions and other ways of perceiving.

The space in-between the massive and micro scales where we perceive and spend our thinking lives is still an incredible space, and the more we learn and push the boundaries the more meaning our existence has.

Amazing view of the bonds inside a molecule

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