Friday, June 24, 2022

One of Mother Nature’s Little Jokes

           One of Mother Nature’s Little Jokes

 

          Amongst humans, ‘race’ is an illusion. Except for obvious genes like skin color and bone structure, the genetic differences between the so-called races is less than the differences within the so-called races. Genetically, skin color is skin deep; it is not a good predictor of pretty much anything else.

          This should not come as much of a surprise, given the evolutionary time-scale of skin color. It takes only a few thousand years for deep tan Asians to become pasty white Inuit; or for palefaced Central Asian horse raiders to become swarthy Indians. Basically what we call race is a genetic tan.

          It’s not even a matter of color but of hue. As I noted in another essay (“Do White People Exist?”) the color of Caucasian skin is not even close to the color of clouds, paper, milk and cloth. A glass of milk the color of Patrick Buchanan would clearly be undrinkable. All humans, except possibly the rare albino, is in fact a shade of brown. To say one sees white people is to literally confess a hallucination.

          So race is an illusion, both genetically, and if you inspect the visual evidence objectively. And yet even infants react differently to people of different skin hue. Babies are born racist!

          Racism is genetic, even though race itself is not! Another one of Mother Nature’s little jokes.

 

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Hominid Thermostat

 Hominid Thermostat

 

The North Pole is melting. The Northwest Passage will soon be open on a regular basis; expect shipping patterns to change accordingly. So long, polar bears. What other little surprises does dear old Mother Nature have in store for us? That’s the trouble with climate change; you can’t predict just what the changes will be; but civilization needs predictability.

 I’m philosophical about it all. I have a theory, which I call the Hominid Thermostat. It goes as follows; Gaia, the planetary biosphere, noticed that that it’s been suffering from periodic ice ages lately. This will not do; so the biosphere evolved a species of semi-intelligent fire users (that’s us) to dig up and burn gigatonnes of coal and oil, and thus warm the planet. In typical Gaian fashion, the process is self-regulating; for as soon as we put enough CO2 into the air, then the seas will rise, drown out most of our cities, and thus end the process. How ecological!

The fish will like Florida; but Al Gore is anthropocentric enough to try to stop the process. He will probably fail because he’s trying to counter human political disunity, plutocratic greed, and ideological stupidity. Contra Naturam!

Oh, by the way; according to New Scientist, part of the long-range  global-warming forecast is that certain areas will each year experience a combination of heat and humidity high enough to kill an unprotected human within hours. (Unprotected as in; naked, sopping wet, in the shade, sitting in front of a fan, drinking water constantly, but you die before the day is done. Only air conditioning or a deep cave would save you.) These heat-stress areas include parts of China, parts of Africa, parts of South America, all of the USA’s South and Eastern Seaboard; and all of the Indian subcontinent. So India had better  plug in the AC (and hope the power stays on) or dome over the cities, or dig in like hobbits. Or leave, or die. And they, and the rest of us, will have at most three centuries to prepare.

 

 

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

On Cousinhood

            On Cousinhood

 

          Assured of your supremacy?

          Oh silly sibling, don’t be smug!

          For great and wide’s our family tree;

          Dear sister seaweed, brother bug!

 

        First cousins are those who share a grandparent; second cousins share a great-grandparent; in general Nth cousins share an great^(N-1)-grandparent; or in other words share a parent N+1 generations back.  Therefore siblings are zeroth cousins, and one is one’s own negative first cousin!

        For what value of N are all human beings Nth cousins? This is a matter of evolutionary history. The present human species is about 200,000 years old, and at about 20 years per generation, that comes to 10,000 generations; so I would guess that we are at most 10,000ths cousins of each other; and probably much less.  There is some genetic evidence of genetic bottlenecks in human prehistory; so I would guess that we are at most 7000th cousins of each other, probably much less.

        And what of other species? I found the following figures at the site   www.evogeneao.com

        chimp      =  240,000th cousin

        gorilla        = 310,000th cousin

        cat            =  27,000,000th cousin

        cow          =  28,000,000th cousin

        robin         = 170,000,000th cousin

        frog          =  175,000,000th cousin

        fish           =  195,000,000th cousin

        snail           = 300,000,000th cousin

        dragonfly  = 300,000,000th cousin

        octopus  =   300,000,000th cousin

        According to that website, one can’t properly define cousinhood for bacteria. If we did, then I suppose that we’d be zillionth cousins to redwood and mildew, for some absurdly high value of zillion.

        In any case, it’s nice to have such a big and talented family.  Blessings, cousins!

 

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Olber, Meet SETI

 Olber, Meet SETI

 

 

Recall Olber’s Paradox: why is the night sky dark? If the universe were infinite and static, then a look in any direction in the sky should eventually intercept a distant star; so the sky should be a solid sheet of sunfire. Why is it not?

The answer now given is that the universe is expanding; so it is finite in age, so only a finite amount of light has reached us; and also that distant light sources are receding, and so their light is doppler-shifted to the red. So, for instance, the 3 degree background radiation is the redshifted light of the Big Bang fireball. So in a sense the night sky is a solid sheet of sunfire!

Now recall Fermi’s Paradox: where are they? Meaning, if there are extraterrestrial civilizations, why do we not see them? A special case of Fermi’s Paradox is the Silent Universe. Try as the SETI people might, they have yet to detect radio transmissions from alien civilizations. Why not? After all, in an infinite static universe, no matter which way we point our radio telescopes, we should find in its field of view a radio-transmitting civilization. Therefore the night sky should be a solid sheet of intelligent radio sources. But it isn’t. Why not?

No doubt you see the similarity of the Silent Universe Paradox with Olber’s Paradox. The latter wonders why the sky doesn’t glow in light; the former wonders why the sky doesn’t babble in radio. Therefore they have the same resolution; the expansion of the universe, which gives the universe a finite age and hence only finite time to beam light or radio; and which also redshifts distant light or radio sources down to invisibility.

 

So riddle me this: why is night dark and quiet?

Answer: because the universe is expanding.

 

Monday, June 20, 2022

On the Land of Alternative Facts

           On the Land of Alternative Facts

 

 

          Kellyanne Conway stood up for “alternative facts”, and her boss, Donald Trump, stood with her and doubled down. So what do I make of alternative facts? Well...

 

As an amateur fantasy writer, I like to imagine perfect places for things. Now let’s imagine the perfect place for alternative facts, and their tellers. The place is perfect for alternative facts because it too is an alternative fact. It’s a myth, a fable, an imaginary realm honored in story and song. Legend calls it the home of many remarkable individuals. Conway and Trump would fit right in. It’s a fiction, it’s metaphor, it’s a lie, but sincere. I don’t take it literally, but I do take it seriously. It’s impolite to utter the place’s name, so for now let’s call it the Land of Alternative Facts.

 

In the Land of Alternative Facts, alternative facts rule because facts are stupid things. Gaslighting makes sense there because the whole place is gas-lit. It’s a fantasy world where exaggeration is accurate, hyperbole is truthful, inconvenient truths are inoperative, the ruling class creates reality, and up is down upon command. In that legendary realm, everything is negotiable. Folly is wisdom, war is peace, poverty is wealth, slavery is freedom, and above all, lies are truth.

 

By now you’ve probably figured out some other names for the Land of Alternative Facts. Kellyanne Conway and Donald Trump belong there; they deserve it; for although it doesn’t really exist, still if it did exist then they’d happier there than they are here. It’s their kind of place. And many would be happy if they went there.

 

So they should go there. They should go straight there. And they should take their alternative facts with them.

 

 

Postscript: On Alt

 

“Alternative facts” shortens to “alt-facts”; this, with alt-right, suggests “alt” as a new prefix.

 

I propose that it means ‘fraudulent’ or ‘bogus’. Thus the alt-right tells alt-facts about Trump’s alt-majority, and cites alt-statistics for his alt-promises and alt-policies.

 

 

Friday, June 17, 2022

Computer Laws

           Computer Laws

 

          Moore’s Law: Computer hardware doubles in speed and capacity every 18 months.

 

Gates’s Law: Computer software doubles in languor and bloat every 18 months.

 

The Cyber-Siesta: Computer boot-up time remains a constant 60 seconds over many computer generations. Show me a petaflop machine, and I will show you a machine that must do 60 quadrillion floating-point operations to turn on.

 

          Hellerstein’s Limit:  If you keep your computer loaded with the very latest software, then over its lifetime it will do at most twice as much work as it did in the first 18 months.

          Proof: 1 + ½ + ¼ + 1/8 + 1/16 + …  =  2

 

          The Digital 90-10: Analog systems are 90% useful 100% of the time; but digital systems are 100% useful 90% of the time, and 100% useless 10% of the time.

 

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Against Panic Policy

      Against Panic Policy

 

 

          Part of the perverse power of terrorism is that it induces panic-mode decision making. Its target tends to follow this logic:

 

                   Something must be done.

                   This is something.

                   Therefore this must be done.

-         for any value of “this”!

          But I warn against making any significant policy changes directly in response to dramatic events. That is because such changes are usually either honest-but-stupid or smart-but-crooked.

In the first case it’s because the response is passionate and sincere but unconsidered and therefore counter-productive; in the second case it’s because the response was carefully crafted prior to the dramatic event, and therefore not really in response to it, but instead serves other interests that do not bear well under public scrutiny.

Or, to put it in a nutshell:

Panic Policy is either foolish or crooked.

 

Therefore one should try to ignore dramatic events. I say ‘try’ because of course some events are too dramatic to ignore. But I think one should in general make the effort.

 

I realize that my plea for coolness under stress is a ‘conservative’ one, if you use the non-Orwellian definition of the word ‘conservative’.