Friday, January 31, 2014

Neutrinos! (Linus Pauling Memorial Lecture)

Dr. Ray Jayawardhana was good-natured about taking some cliche questions, like had he met Arthur C. Clarke, the famous expat and Sri Lankan science fiction writer.  Yes he had.

A native of Sri Lanka (aka Ceylon going back), Ray turned himself into a kind of astrophysicist.  He's from the University of Toronto these days and has just had a book published:  The Neutrino Hunters.

As a planetologist more than a quantum mechanics specialist, he was not equipped to get really detailed about why tau neutrinos seem harder to trap or only were recently or whatever it was.  The neutrino appears to undergo phases in travel so your cross section is only 1/3rd of the expected -- a way of spending more energy in travel I suppose, accounting for apparent energy loss.

Conservation of Energy was a core theme of his talk.  Quantum mechanics was facing some serious problems with beta decay, as the resulting energy particles did not seem to add up -- reversibility was violated.  Wolfgang Pauli couldn't make the conference but wanted his idea on the table:  another particle.

At that point, for the longest time it seemed they would be impossible to detect, another kind of theoretical dead end, a disconnect from the empirical warp and woof and the substance of science's narrative.  However this barrier to empiricism was overcome in the form of giant tanks in deep mines, all other cosmic rays filtered.  Any weak force interactions (the only kind involved) would have to be owing to neutrinos.  At last they'd been found.

Jayawardhana started his talk with some mock poking of fun at all the Higgs Boson hype, the recently detected empirical blip needed to sustain QM's standard model, an important puzzle piece.

Neutrinos are as mysterious and spooky as ever, lets not become too taken with Higgs.  Neutrino hunters get to go on adventures deep underground, or to Antarctica.  Lets keep their profession alive.

Astrophysics sure could use a nice supernova around now.  All the neutrino detectors are poised to receive data.  A new generation of instruments is in place.

They just don't happen all that often.  Maybe one a century of the kind he meant.

The neutrinos from such an event get here first, not because "faster than light" but because the photons get slowed down by electromagnetic phenomena, have to put on a fireworks show.  Neutrinos are largely indifferent to matter and are just "outta there" so get here sooner, as news of a cosmic broadcast.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Rufus Jones: A Luminious Life (movie review)

Lets get some keywords out of the way up front:  Haverford, AFSC, Transcendentalist, William James, Friend.

He taught philosophy at Haverford College his whole life (after going there).  He helped found the AFSC in 1917, the Nobel Peace Prize winning Quaker service agency (committee).

He was really taken with William James and thought academia should embrace the study of what makes us better, be that Chardin's Omega Point or whatever, the word "God" not out of bounds.

I learned a lot from this short video, which Robert Cooper had brought forward through the program committee.  I sat next to Nancy Irving, former General Secretary of FWCC.  We agreed some of the pictures had him looking like an oriental sage, which made the name of his origin, South China, Maine, all the more fitting.

He was a lot like Bucky in having a home base, rustic and natural, to retreat to in New England.  Bucky Fuller had Bear Island.  Rufus Jones had South China, with a cabin.  Good for writing.  Both were in the Transcendentalist tradition, Fuller inheriting some of his cred from his great aunt Margaret Fuller.

Before I forget, Glenn is all on his own reading up on post WW2 Japanese and American management innovations, which took it to the next level.  The company he'd joined in that ghost town in the southwest (a five year gig) had adopted a lot of those management methods, and was turning out world class mercury-sensing devices, important in mining.

Today we talked about one Sidney Harman, who expressed a lot of the new management thinking plus served as president of Friends World College for three years (a Quaker connection).

Quakers really made a name for themselves in business at one point, no reason they couldn't do that again. The world needs more compassionate business execs.

Rufus lost his first wife to tuberculosis and an adored son at age 10 to diphtheria.  He remained cheerful in his life yet suffered much sorrow.  His memory is treasured in Quaker circles.  He is seen as a healer of rifts among Friends.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Some Comparitive Religion

So yeah, on Facebook I was making a link from Subgenius to Gnosticism.  In that environment, I've been using a Dobbs head as a personal icon, which sounds blasphemous but then Subgenius is deliberately built on blasphemies.  Some call it a "spoof religion" but I'd prefer to say it's more a philosophy dressed up as a religion, and parody is part of its anti-fragile design.  No, that's too much of a mouth full.  I'd say something pithier.  I'd hope to anyway.

To document my assertion, of such a link, I would point to Subgenius texts suggesting we're in some egomaniac's prison.  The deity is but a local deity yet has self aggrandizement issues.  That's an old doctrine of Gnostics, to envision us as The Borg, imprisoned in a Machine World.

I would not limit the Venn Diagram to these two.  Pragmatism is a third sphere to consider, in overlap.  The Bob Dobbsian looks to introduce "slack" as a kind of US American "liberty", a moment or more for oneself, for freedom.  What reminds us that we work together by choice, is that we get to choose, to go away, to come back.  The human imagination asserts its freedom early, in school especially, in the form of daydreaming and doodling, the perennial enemies of the "undivided attention".

Friends have relatively little interest in empire building and so do not tend to gobble up "smaller" religions.  On the contrary, they're more likely to have been "gobbled up by" being Ben Franklin's turkeys in some way.  Idealistic, utopian, out of power before the Constitution was signed, already against slavery.  So out of step.  But not uncoordinated.  Still alive and kicking even, so that's a sign of resiliency if nothing else, meaning a not-too-brittle theology.  We're not huge nor must we be more gigantic.  I say "we" for a host of reasons, lets not waste time in Apologetics.

I'm not doing all the homework for you here.  My work is done if you even half believe there's this literature I'm talking about.  The Gnostic stuff only came to light relatively recently and the translations are pretty fresh.  They're Coptic, a lot of them, from a special part of Egypt.  C.G. Jung got involved with one of them.  If you're interested in stories about old documents, you've come to the right place.  The Subgenius stuff is brand new, relatively, a product of this day and age, the time of Mad Magazine, Mad Men, and Madison Avenue, an age of advertising, of spin, or getting the message out there using new kinds of "mass media".  Marshall McLuhan was one of its prophets.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Bellman Equation (movie review)

I had a credit at Movie Madness, which I almost used on Breaking Bad Season V, but that's less than the usual number of episodes and was $2.50 instead of $5.  So I saved my credit for whatever documentary next grabbed my attention, just based on reading the DVD case.

In this instance, I had no prior knowledge of what I was getting into, except that it was semi-contemporary.

In retrospect, I thank the Library Angel or whatever synchronistic principle, having just seen Daniel Ellsberg:  The Most Dangerous Man in America.  This could have been the other feature of a double feature as both center on the RAND Corporation and its role in war-making and/or peace-making per the game theory du jour.  I've never been a RAND fan, and I've done more than an average amont of homework, with lots of access to declassified stuff in Firestone Library (Princeton).

Some displaced sense of scientism, laced with logical positivism, begets a steroidal hubris, a steaming soup of memes, which gets generals feeling their oats and wanting to bomb something, anything.  Call it the Dr. Strangelove Effect.  There's a deliberate aversion to "sentiment" meaning a despising of EQ ("emotional IQ"), something less wise than "crazy" (the translation of "beneficial chaos" in dynamical systems theory today).  RAND never got that far and it took Ellsberg, another RAND insider, to finally pull the other way.

I thought the film dodged a deeper dialog by focusing on the hapless Rosenbergs, the easy targets, "green vomits", and not mentioning Ellsberg at all.  Bellman's subsequent reaming by HUAC was undoubtedly traumatic and took years off his life but he wasn't fighting the system, he was fighting for his reputation within that system, the one Ellsberg eventually fought and which we currently see as worth bringing down, with Richard Nixon an obvious bad guy, as hapless as they come.

You get three generations of Bellman here:  the grandson, making the movie, the dad who disagreed with how things were managed in his lifetime (with good reason), and the grand dad, some genius at RAND who more typified the establishment in its worship of new hybrids such as operations research, game theory, GST, dynamical systems (chaos math) and, back then, general semantics (popular in San Quentin at least [ the Youtube is gone -- the warden is introducing Bucky to the prisoners, mentioning they've been studying Korzybski most lately]).  Not forgetting AI.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Spiralling Onward

We're significantly into 2014 already.  I have a prospective Princeton student to interview, in my capacity as alum.  However I'm waiting for this cough to subside i.e. for the antibiotics to finish their work.  I'm day three into a course of five.

I was ambulatory enough to join Friends in a corner of the social hall for a 9:30 AM - 2:45 PM annual joint meeting of the Worship & Ministry and Oversight Committees.  This is all part of a standard calendar we follow.  Our State of the Meeting report to the Quarterly Meeting starts getting sketched in at this meeting.

David is sharing more "brain surgery", a nickname for the kind of geometry he does, dissecting a somewhat head-shaped (actually more spherical) hierarchy of concentric polyhedrons.  He's been inspired by this hierarchy for decades, including the embedded Jitterbug Transformation, a motion that adds dynamism to this standard arrangement of shapes.  As I was reiterating this morning, an attractive feature is the arithmetic isn't that hard.  It's not brain surgery, this "brain surgery", just reasonably engaging play.

Speaking of head shapes, I ran into Paul Kaufman, or he me, at the pharmacy.  I was fresh from the doctor's office.  He was all in green, including the hat.  Paul, for those who don't know, is one of the premier haberdashers in our region.  Those who know hats know about Paul.  I've been a proud owner of one of his black hats, custom made, but now it's gone missing, probably valuable given it has my name in it ("he said, egotistically").  You'll see it in pictures, where I sometimes used it to add to my Quaker aura.  It looks like something a Quaker would wear.

Lindsey, house guest, and I barreled through Breaking Bad Season 5 in one evening.  Earlier we saw the new documentary about Chogyum Trungpa Rinpoche, Crazy Wisdom.

I also watched The Autism Enigma, somewhat ironically given I'm in the process of gut bombing my gut bugs, messing with their RNA.  The focus is my lungs of course, where the unwelcome bugs deserve to be bombed.

Speaking of bombing, we also watched Daniel Ellsberg:  The Most Dangerous Man in America.  This was essentially a double feature with the Wikileaks documentary, a latter day declasssification project of a somewhat similar nature.  Tara chuckled at Nixon's funny potty mouth.  What he was saying wasn't very funny though.  Compared to fictive Walter Wright of Breaking Bad, Richard M. Nixon was far deeper into the criminal underworld of nation-state machinations, plotting the deaths of literally millions.

The Autism Enigma suggests brain function is impaired by things going on with bacteria in the gut.  It also implicates propanoic acid.

Micheal Sunanda, 70, came by on his bicycle.  Some moron in Eugene kicked him unconscious in his sleeping bag recently (he's pretty sure who the perp was).  He's now in Portland looking for legal advice regarding settling his affairs and having a plan for the ritual dispatch of his body when the time comes.  I helped him download an advance directive form to his thumb drive.