Monday, May 31, 2021

The Dungeons and Dragons Paradox

 The Dungeons and Dragons Paradox


My daughter Hannah taught me a delicious paradox from the role-playing game "Dungeons and Dragons". In D&D there is such a thing as a Truth Zone; when your character is in a Truth Zone, then by the rules your character must tell the truth. But in D&D there is also such a thing as a Compulsive Liar Spell; when your character is hit with a Compulsive Liar Spell, then by the rules your character must tell lies. Normally such contradictory magic cancels out in D&D; but in this case they stack up. Therefore if your character is in a Truth Zone and is hit by a Compulsive Liar Spell, then by the rules your character must speak in paradoxes!

Hannah says that one way in D&D to get around the compulsive-liar-in-a-truth-zone paradox is for your character to speak in metaphor and fiction. Lies to tell the truth. Of course this can be tricky - as authors well know.

It occurs to me that a compulsive liar in a truth zone is a metaphor for the human condition. We live in the Universe, which is a truth zone; tell the truth or be expelled from the Universe. But we also live in human society; therefore we are hit with a compulsive liar spell; tell lies or be expelled from human society. Therefore fiction; telling lies to tell the truth.


Friday, May 28, 2021

Quantum Gravity Backfire

 Quantum Gravity Backfire


This essay extends my theory of the Backfire Effect to the quantum gravity regime. Since both are speculative, this is speculation squared. Take this with a 1-mm-sized cube of sodium chloride.

First the Backfire Effect. It is my explanation for the nonobservation of nuclear warfare. Usually this is credited to elite benevolence, or the wisdom of deterrence, or the power of the brotherhood of mankind; but we all know how absurd those theories are in other contexts. My theory is that we have never observed nuclear warfare because it is unobservable; for nuclear war would destroy all observers before they could observe the war.

Nuclear weapons are based upon quantum mechanics, which is observer-based, inherently unpredictable, and nonlocal. Since nuclear warfare is unobservable, it follows that in quantum terms it is nonexistent; and what's more, so would be any phenomena that would cause nuclear war. Such phenomena are pre-emptively disrupted by unpredictable events. I call that the Backfire Effect.

In quantum terms, nuclear warfare is a virtual phenomenon. It is never directly observed, but its indirect effects are. Because of nonlocality, the Backfire Effect reaches into the past and beyond the light cone; because of unpredictability, it manifests as disruptive chaos; an intensification of Murphy’s Law. Nuclear weapons aren't just radioactive; they're retroactive. They destroy before they detonate, to prevent the detonation. This war is false!

I think that the 2016 election absolutely stank of Backfire. The Kennedy assassination also seems Backfired.  I think that we lost worldlines there. That’s the trouble with nukes; they keep the elites on apparently polite terms with each other, but they thin out the world tree.

I also optimistically theorize a Breakthrough Effect, in which improbable events combine to create and nurture war-preventing phenomena.

That’s my crackpot quantum woo-woo theory. I presented it to John Michael Greer, an online Druid, who said that he appreciated it as "a fine example of quantum handwavionics, and this one’s more quantum than most.
😉" I recall that Rudy Rucker said that my theory is correct.

I admit that my theory is hard to confirm or refute. I also admit that similar predictions are made by the theory that humans possess foresight, the instinct for self-preservation, unpredictability when provoked, and the capacity for sloth, sabotage, insubordination, and larceny. But I see that as a complementary interpretation. Either by quantum weirdness or by human deviousness, there will be a Backfire Effect. Merely owning nuclear bombs courts trouble for their owners.

Now on to quantum gravity. I wrote to the Druid in response to an article of his, that mentioned the lack of fundamentally new physics since the mid-1900s. Where's antigravity? Where's the unified field? Or in present-day terms; where is quantum gravity? 

Quantum gravity implies control of all four forces; hence, I suspect, antigravity; and therefore hoverboards, jetpacks, flying cars, quick cheap spaceflight, tractor beams, pressor beams, force fields, warp drives, limitless energy... all your favorite skiffy marvels. But quantum gravity, as a quantum theory, would also have a Backfire Effect, if it is abused; and who doubts that the elites we have would abuse it?

For instance, how about a black hole bomb? That too would destroy retroactively. Consider the effects of an intensified Murphy's Law upon a skiffy technomarvel utopia.

I predict that a working theory of quantum gravity will continue to elude the imaginations of even the brightest scientists until the human race installs a political elite who refuses to use it for warfare. Such a political change will seem daunting, but it will be supported and hastened by the Breakthrough Effect.

I also predict that if AI requires quantum computation, then it too has a Backfire Effect, and weaponizing AI is counterproductive for national security.



Thursday, May 27, 2021

The Why Land Hypothesis

 The Why Land Hypothesis     


I propose another solution to the Fermi Paradox. If technological life can spread from star to star, then why has it not conquered every star system, including our own? Where are they?

          Consider the logistics of interstellar travel. Leaving aside FTL and hybernation, it requires generation ships. These would be a simple evolution from space colonies. Just give a closed-ecology habitat a large store of hydrogen to fuse, a fusion reactor, and some jets. Push it towards the target star and take your time.

          But when the ship arrives, why should the crew make planetfall? By then they will have adapted to their habitat, culturally and genetically.* To them, a star is an unpredictable radioactive menace, a star system is a minefield of dust and rocks, and most planets are uninhabitable. Even the best are good only by their distant ancestor's standards, which will not have been theirs for a long time. Terraforming is hard, unpredictable, and takes time. It's quicker, cheaper, and easier just to build another habitat.

          There's also the danger that those planets are inhabited, by another technological species, or worse, by microbes.**

          The most intelligent thing the generation ship can do upon reaching its destination is to grab some comets and asteroids, from them refuel and restock, maybe rebuild or even duplicate the habitat, then flee back to the peace, quiet, and safety of interstellar space. So they might be all over the galaxy, but they'd only visit star systems, and never stay.

          And if there are enough rogue planets out there, and they can find them, then they needn't ever risk visiting any star systems at all.  So if generation ships are the way, then they're deep in the big dark, and we'll never see them.

          As for hybernation, I'll believe it after they revive a corpsicle or a Pharaoh. Water bears don't count, they don't build rockets.

And as for FTL... the Fermi paradox refutes it. Besides, FTL plus special relativity implies time travel, which is a huge can of worms.



          * Citation: Ballad of Beta-12

** Citations: Aurora, War of the Worlds

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Star Generations

 Star Generations

         a modest proposal      


In Genesis 15:4-5, Abraham asked G-d about how many descendants he will have. The reply: look at the sky, can you count those stars, so shall your seed be.

          But that seems a paltry promise. The number of stars visible to the naked eye is about 6000 for the whole sky, one half to one third of that from any spot on Earth. Let's be generous and say 6000. Well, that's a pretty small tribe of descendants; barely enough to fill a small town. Taken in those terms, it is an embarrassingly petty pledge.

          Allow me to suggest a fix; that 6000 refers to 6000 _generations_. At about 30 years per generation, that comes out to 180,000 years; a fairly respectable length of time, sufficient to last 'til, say, the next hominid speciation. Of course long before then Abraham's line will, by intermarriage and otherwise, suffuse the entire human race. (It's in the same gene-spreading sense that everyone in England is distantly related to the Queen.) So taken this way, Genesis 15:4-5 promises 180,000 more years for the present human race.

          Of course that implies an equal delay for the coming of the Messiah. So what to do until the Messiah evolves? Practice, practice, practice!


Monday, May 24, 2021

Joker Curve Implies Chaos

     Joker Curve Implies Chaos


          The “Joker Curve” is a graphical representation of the Quadratic Theory of Economic Value. The linear theory of value says that more is better; the quadratic Joker curve says that too much is as bad as too little.

          This is the Joker Curve:


Value                         “Sage’s Peak”

Received                  the golden mean

|                ***   

|            *        *

|         *             *

|       *                 *    

|     *                     *

|    *                       *

|   *                         *

|  *                           *

| *                             *  Value spent


 “Miser’s Misery”                                “Fool’s Price”               

There is no free lunch                           Caveat Emptor


          Not the similarity between the Joker curve and the Laffer curve. The difference is that the Laffer curve is a macro-economic theory with micro credibility; but the Joker curve is a micro-economic theory with macro credibility.

          At the Sage’s Peak, the marginal value of value is zero! Each additional dollar spent is entirely wasted. The Sage’s Peak is the “point of vanishing returns”, a.k.a. “marginal folly”.

          At the Fool’s Price, the buyer and his money are soon parted. Excessively conspicuous wealth attracts lean, hungry, and thoughtful predators; eventually these dangerous folk outsmart the rich Fool. This Iron Law of Irony is well known to the common people. Note how, in the folktales, the Devil always demands the highest possible price, and always returns zero value. The Fool’s Price is the “point of no return”.

          Wealth deludes, and infinite wealth deludes infinitely.

          Merely to possess the Fool’s Price is enough to activate this market mechanism. Its owner needn’t try to spend it; others will attend to that chore. Three cases in point:

1)   Pharaoh’s pyramids, now stripped bare by graverobbers and archeologists.

2)   Donald Trump’s real-estate career.

3)   Donald’s Trump’s America.

Consider what happens when we apply the Joker Curve recursively. Suppose that the value returned after a round with the return curve were re-invested, and so on? If the return curve is linear, then such a recursion causes exponential growth or decay of value. But in a non-linear theory, equilibrium is possible. Note this graph:



Value         |       ***      * 

Next    |    *      X

Cycle   |  *    *     *

             | * *          *


                  Value this cycle  

          X marks the spot where this year’s wealth equals next year’s wealth; an equilibrium. The stability of this equilibrium depends on the steepness of the Joker curve.

          If the Joker curve is shallower than the diagonal line, then the economy stabilizes at zero. A higher equilibrium appears if the Joker pokes above the diagonal. If the marginal value of value at the upper equilibrium is more than negative one dollars per dollar, then it is stable; but if not, then wealth must oscillate; first at period 2, then (for steeper Jokers) period 4, then 8, and so on, culminating in economic chaos.

          In the steepest possible Joker curves, the Sage’s Peak equals the Fool’s Price. Call such an economy a “Sage’s Folly”, for it is an economy in which planning, moderation, and frugality can win you so much money that you must lose it all one year later.

          Such an economy is necessarily chaotic. Its future size is unpredictable in principle due to its sensitive dependence on initial conditions; the “Butterfly Effect”. Within a Sage’s Folly, a single butterfly fluttering past a single stockbroker can start an exponentially increasing economic fluctutation.

          Within a Sage’s Folly, does the sage control the butterfly, or does the butterfly control the sage?                       







Friday, May 21, 2021

Clash of Vocations

 Clash of Vocations


Robert West and I were classmates in college. He mentioned that his debate club team will compete soon. I asked him what his team will debate. He answered that they will argue for a certain proposition, and the next day, for the opposite proposition.

I was baffled. But, but, they can’t both be true! He patiently explained that debate club rules require such reversals. My perplexity turned to alarm. You mean... you’re expected to argue for something that you don’t believe?!

I was shocked. I was scandalized. I felt like I had seen something indecent. Robert West was visibly disgusted by my naiveté. He tried to tell me that the whole point of the debate club is to develop rhetorical skill; but I remained obdurate in my puritanism.

Looking back, I now see that our clash of values was due to different vocations. I was training to become a mathematician. My ideal was to Discover the Truth. He was training to become a lawyer. His objective was to Win the Argument. Ultimately my job was to ensure that the bridges don’t fall down; his job was to ensure that, when the bridges do fall down, his clients don’t go to prison.

In the many decades since then, I have slowly learned the pragmatic necessity for both vocations; but just then I didn’t understand.

We graduated and went our separate ways. Later we re-encountered, online, in a discussion group with a small group of friends. He and I often disagreed; for instance, on the reality of fictitious social constructs. I was moved to write:

‘Nonexistence has consequences.’

He was moved to reply:

‘ “Nonexistence has consequences”. True, but - ’

- and right there I stopped reading! True, but?! Triggered, I stood up. I stormed out of the room. To calm down, I did household chores. After I regained my composure, I returned to the computer. I sat down. I braced myself, and I read on. He said “true, but” even false social constructs have reality due to community pressure. I begged to differ.

In a related development, he and I later differed on the relative merits of motivational self-deception vs therapeutic self-honesty.

But one day we did agree on something; namely, that the correct name for our species is not “Homo Sapiens”, meaning “Man the Wise”; for that name is aspirational, not descriptive. We concurred that a scientifically accurate name for our kind is “Homo Semisapiens”, meaning “Man the Half-Wise”. I was pleased that we agreed.

But then I stopped hearing from him. Soon my other online friends told me that he had died.

I was horrified. Did agreeing with me kill him? Or did the approach of death weaken his rhetorical resolve? Perhaps Robert West could have argued for either of these propositions with equal plausibility. I, myself, will never know for sure.



Recently I’ve learned another name for our species:

          Homo Mendax.

Meaning “Man the Liar”.

          Only Homo Mendax or Homo Semisapiens would look at our history and call us Homo “Sapiens”. So which are we really, liar or halfwit? I call that question the “crook-or-fool dilemma”.

The solution is that everyone lies to a crook, so they become fools; and fools lie to themselves, so they become crooks. Therefore Mendax and Semisapiens meet in the middle.

          “Discover the Truth” is a Semisapiens ideal; “Win the Argument” is a Mendax objective. So I played Semisapiens when I said “nonexistence has consequences”, and West played Mendax when he said “True, but”. Even so, we are one.

          Plato wrote that the wise must become virtuous, to remain wise. I concur:  Mendax becomes Semisapiens. But Semisapiens becomes Mendax: therefore the virtuous must wise up, to remain virtuous.


Thursday, May 20, 2021

Proof Difficulties

           Proof Difficulties


          It is difficult to prove nonexistence, or universality, or uniqueness, or optimality; for tomorrow you may find an example, or a counter-example, or a second example, or a better example.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021