Friday 13th November 2009


i beg you to follow me again down the rabbit-hole of my thoughtcrime. in this episode, i argue that at some point far in our future, original creative endeavor will have been exhausted simply because it's all been done.

to illustrate what i mean, take a piano. any piano. then pick a key on that piano and hit it with some amount of force, and hold the note for an arbitrary amount of time. there, you've composed a bit of music. a very simplistic bit of music, but it'll serve.

now repeat the experiment above, but this time adding another tone—either in parallel or in series—again arbitrarily. the complexity of our musical composition has increased by some factor due to the larger number of options (number of piano keys, plus the volume and duration of the incremental tone) we have added with the additional strike.

continue in this manner, evaluating with each additional strike of the keys whether the piece (a) continues to build toward, or (b) has achieved a "sufficiently artistic" (definition t.b.d.) end. if neither, alter something about what you've done or add a new note. if (a), repeat. if (b), halt. see? it's an algorithm.

you must agree with me that there is some theoretical maximum human endurance for absorption—four hours? ish?—of a single musical work, no matter its beauty, and given the limits of the number of keys available on a standard piano (most have just the eighty-eight), of human fingers both in quantity (most have just the ten) and in key-striking speed measured in notes per second (fifty at a sprint? shot in the dark). also, we must assume that to human ears there is neither an uncountably infinite spectrum of volumes (you can't tell the difference between 76.393 dB and 76.394 dB no matter who you are, you pretentious audiophile) nor an uncountably infinite spectrum of tone durations (ibid., 38.08 ms and 38.09 ms).

if you grant me my assumptions, it follows that the theoretical number of works of music that can be composed is countable, which is to say, given a sufficiently long amount of time and a sufficiently large amount of humans willing to slog through them, we'll write them all. sooner or later, any interesting tune you can hum will have already been composed, and you'll be in violation of someone's copyright.

posted by mAtt @ 21.02 (gmt+0000)
to /geek/unhappiness

Friday 4th April 2008

(in which i elaborate)

at some point in our past we had to deal with fundamental threats to survival. i mean it, profoundly fundamental: take away every comfort you know, remove yourself from the surety of your next meal, hide alternately from the snow and the sun, sleep in the midst of animals with sharp teeth, oh and while all this is going on you also have to make little copies of yourself and do your best to keep them alive as well. rinse, repeat.

under this continuous pressure, it was absolutely assured that we were always comprised of the toughest stuff possible. those with a fortunate allocation of genes departed at a lower rate than those without. over time simple probability distilled the genome.

now we're reaping the benefits of our inherited capability: as a species we're doing well. we've pretty much figured out what to do in order to avoid dying. to this end we've perfected space heaters and crop rotation and vaccines and a hundred thousand other things, and have twice that number of things in development. we have learned to modify our surroundings to suppress the bad stuff, and create environments capable of providing all of our needs. again, we truly can't be blamed for doing so—our deepest, most primal genetic mandate is to keep living, so we'll do what it takes.

but in succeeding so astonishingly, we have removed the very thing that got us here in the first place: pressure.

it's inevitable that little genetic ripples appear. in the beginning they were the cause of our success because they are occasionally beneficial—those that were not eventually corrected themselves through attrition. but with all the cushions we've placed beneath ourselves, with every safety net our large brains and modern life can afford, there is no longer any mechanism to keep these flaws out, so they accumulate.

i believe there will come a point where we will ultimately buckle under the weight. for centuries now we've been moving away from an equilibrium. we've become stagnant and inflated, and a correction is inevitable.

Wednesday 26th March 2008

assets = liabilities. that which has brought us this far now works against us; the weight of these accumulated flaws (for each of which we have a workaround) will crush us in the end. we were early bloomers and it went to our collective genetic head.

posted by mAtt @ 1.07 (gmt+0000)
to /1137/soapbox/unhappiness

Thursday 13th October 2005

pompous pseudointellectual mindwanking (for my wife's benefit)

i perceive that a certain wife of mine has trouble understanding a certain dichotomy in my life.

today on the way to work i was plugging a podcast i subscribe to. here's the skinny. it's called skepticality. it reports under-reported news, debunks myths/mysticism/pseudoscience, disseminates critical thought, and (in my opinion) generally promotes quality and discourages crap. it fits me because i try to maintain a skeptical worldview.

i mentioned to her one early episode in which they had discussed the religious philosophies of the framers of the united states government. the thrust of that episode was: most of them were deists, and contrary to popular opinion, did not espouse or endorse any sort of religion or theology. they certainly didn't form religion, much less one specific religion, as the foundation of the state.

there was a certain amount of excitement in my voice i'm sure, because the above is a common misconception (if not blatant untruth) and it was being clarified via a pretty popular channel. though i didn't go into so much depth with her, i gave her the overview. her response, and the last thing she said to me before getting out of the car, was 'sometimes i swear you're an atheist,' not spoken in a flattering tone. [aside]

i'd like to try to set the record straight here, partially for mrs matt, partially for personal clarification of thought, and partially so you can figure out who i am (because i honestly have no idea). so at the risk of losing friends but with the hope of enlightening them, here's what i believe. now with extra candor.

i am a scientist—not only by education but also by philosophy: i try very hard to form conclusions from evidence; it's very hard for me to give credence to claims or arguments for which i can't see any support. i'm certainly not perfect in this respect, as i'm sure you have seen in the past, but i do the best i can.

because the universe appears in so many ways to be 15 billion years old, i believe the universe to be 15 billion years old. because of the cosmic background radiation and because the universe appears to be expanding, i believe the big bang theory is accurate.

because individuals (not just human individuals; i'm talking about everything living) who are poorly adapted to their environs are less likely to survive and subsequently less likely to pass their genes along, the good genes of a species get distilled into individuals of successive generations. since mutations from various sources are occurring continuously, existing genes are not static. the process is recursive with continuously new genetic material. i believe the theory of evolution is accurate, though i believe it fails to explain the absolute origins of Life As We Know It™.

because i believe in cause and effect, and because the universe is a very large effect that demands a very large cause (ex nihilo, nihilo fit), i believe in big-g God, who created the universe.

yes, that's right. i believe in God, and i believe that God created the universe, but i do not think the theory of intelligent design (id) should be taught as a scientific cosmology, alternative or not:

firstly: i.d. by its construction is not scientific, in that it defines itself to be irrefutable and claims everything as supporting evidence. the body of science is based on the idea of falsifiability.

secondly: science curriculum is not equipped to deal with God, just as religion is not equipped to deal with meson interactions or the properties of neurotransmitters.

thirdly: the discussion of religiously charged topics is well within the jurisdiction of concerned parents. proponents of id hold that alternative theories of origins be given equal time in science classes; if every alternative theory of origins were to be explained in school, students wouldn't have time to learn anything else. i wholeheartedly believe that varying viewpoints should be offered in every field of knowledge, and kids should make up their own minds, but not everything is solely the job of teachers.

furthermore, choosing which religions' cosmologies are taught in governmentally funded schools is precisely equal to respecting a religion. [aside]

i'm a fan of the split-brain theory. the left hemisphere is pointy: it is good at solving linear problems, for understanding details and deducing. it balances your checkbook. it's algorithmic. the right hemisphere is round: it sees wholes, it intuits, abstracts, inducts. it hopes. it is heuristic. and connecting the two is the corpus callosum, the largest nerve in the human body. it's about as wide as three or four fingers lined up, though it's usually thicker in women than in men.

the point is this: the only way i can make some sense of the universe is by thinking of it with both hemispheres. i parse science with the left side and religion with the right side. between the two is a tenuous connection too thin to allow much cross-communication (in small amounts and only when needed). it's kept me alive and sane so far.

so. what does this make me? rhetorically speaking, of course.

posted by mAtt @ 21.26 (gmt+0000)
to /entertainment/insoluble/soapbox

Sunday 10th April 2005

ruminations on radiometric dating

today I will question authority.

1. I've thought about it long enough and I can't arrive at an answer with logic alone.

say the world is six billion years old. a big number with a large error value to be sure, but it's a starting point for sake of argument.

a vast, vast majority of all the carbon-14 (the isotope used in radiometric dating) now on the planet has been here since near the beginning. no current natural processes produce it in any substantial quantities. given that its half-life is 5730 years, there have been over a million of them since creation; therefore, of the original amount (call it A) of carbon-14 on the planet there now remains A*(2^-1000000), which is by any account as close to zero as makes no difference.

my first question is: since there is certainly more than zero carbon-14 lying around, where did it come from? solar wind? asteroids? (furthermore, did we get a lump-sum at one point, or like the intelligent lottery winner, did we spread our winnings out? how does this variable accumulation affect dating methods?)

2. a few years ago an object was found touted to be 'the oldest known piece of Earth.' fine, that's no problem.

here's a problem. imagine a roman blacksmith, 5 a.d., making a sword out of iron. the sword will be new at the time of forging, but the iron (specifically the carbon-14 in the iron) is as old as the earth. does that mean when we date the sword in the present day we will find it is 2000 years old, or like the crystal above, many billions of years old?

my second question: things are new, ingredients are not. since radiometric dating looks only at ingredients, how can it tell how old the thing itself is?

on an unrelated note, it occurs to me that we have not completed our tax return. my attention span has a half-life of OOOH we should go on a bike ride!

posted by antimAtt @ 13.10 (gmt+0000)
to /geek/visibleman

Sunday 7th March 2004

this will win me the pulitzer prize. I'm a shoe-in


Recently, there has been a certain religious infestation here at hatelife.

It started out harmlessly enough, a long long time ago, with the journal owned by "god" (not capitalized). "god" had a sense of humor evident in the user's journal, outlining the creation story and including interaction with Jesus, and even capitalizing self-referencing pronouns. However, "god" did not turn on replies (likely because this user abandoned hatelife before the advent of replies) and did not allow messages, thus limiting the possible amount of interaction between "god" and other hatelifers. The journal of "god" was updated a total of six times, and was all but abandoned in early May, 2000. (There has been a single five-word update since that time.)

More recently, a new deity burst onto the scene. Going by the journal name "+God," where the "+" represents a single space, "+God" began to haunt (and continues haunting) the forums of hatelife: 'What is your favorite journal to read,' 'COMPLETE THE SENTENCE,' 'Dear Dan,' 'Who's Manipulating Hatelife's Journal Stats,' and 'best hatelife quotes,' among others. As of press time of this post, "+God" has not posted to his/her/its journal, though "+God" remains active in the forums and journals of other users, and has enabled replies and personal messages. This writer has carried on many conversations with "+God" and finds this user to be eloquent in speech and well-informed in mind. As another anonymous hatelife user has put it, "+God" is "incisive, witty, and "in the know" as far as dear ole HL concerned. God has _style_ …"

More recently, it has been brought to the attention of this writer that a new user, "++God," has perpetuated the trend of heavenly names. As far as this writer can tell, "++God" has been active in neither forums nor journals and has not enabled replies or personal messages.

"+++God" is a more recent (and mostly inactive) hatelife user, though the identity of this user has been made known to a select few—including this writer.

And as recently as this morning (Pacific Standard Time), "++++God" first manifested him/herself to the realm of hatelife. This writer has made direct contact with "++++God," in which the user made known his/her/its identity, though he/she/it has not enabled responses to personal messages so any attempts at two-way communication are to be considered futile.

Conclusion: there is no god but "god," "+God," "++God," "+++God," and "++++God," and I am the prophet of at least two of them and possibly of the other three as well. Only time and msg's will tell.

posted by antimAtt @ 15.25 (gmt+0000)
to /hatelife/meta/silliness

Thursday 4th December 2003

Take a philosophy of religion class even if you're not a "religious" person. It's fascinating to see how two antithetical arguments can come from one set of premises or observations. It's even more fascinating to read some of those arguments.

I took philosophy of religion and it really no fooling changed the way I think. And the way I argue with my religious friends.

posted by antimAtt @ 4.08 (gmt+0000)
to /happiness/hatelife/soapbox