Saturday, March 10, 2007

I'm reaching for your light
my hand is an eclipse

Friday, March 02, 2007

Yesterday's Enterprise

Jean-Luc Picard: How can I ask them to sacrifice themselves based solely on your intuition?
Guinan: I don't know. But I do know that this is a mistake. Every fiber in my being says this is a mistake. I can't explain it to myself, so I can't explain it to you. I only know that I'm right.
Jean-Luc Picard: Who is to say that this history is any less proper than the other?
Guinan: I suppose I am.
Jean-Luc Picard: Not good enough, damn it, not good enough! I will not ask them to die!
Guinan: 40 billion people have already died. This war is not supposed to be happening. You've got to send those people back to correct this.
Jean-Luc Picard: And what is to guarantee that if they go back, they will succeed? Every instinct is telling me this is wrong, it is dangerous, it is futile!
Guinan: We've known each other a long time. You have never known me to impose myself on anyone, or take a stance based on trivial or whimsical perceptions. This timeline must not be allowed to continue. Now, I've told you what you must do. You have only your trust in me to help you decide to do it.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

"Orienters" as part of the green-to-yellow meme transition

Green meme (postmodernism, relativisim) has a hard time figuring anything out, because everything is equal. Any perspective is just a perspective and can be stepped away from symmetrically. This is one of the key issues that Ken Wilber writes about. He calls it "flatland" or "Boomeritis". How can you make justified moral judgments if moral relativism is absolute? In fact, how can you do anything?

Yellow meme starts to answer this. It's true that there is no absolute, but that doesn't mean everything is symmetric. You can't prove anything, but that doesn't mean you can't think.

One thing that breaks the symmetry (from a subjective, epistomological point of view) is what I would call "orienters". For example, it's generally wrong to kill someone. The view that it's wrong to kill someone is "more correct" than the view that it's generally good to kill someone. It's not an absolute, because in some circumstances, killing someone could be the right thing to do. But it is a strong orienter.

Even stronger orienters are in the sensory realm. We can't be absolutely sure we're not hallucinating, but overall, "seeing the table" is a very good factor to use in decision making.


How can we rigorously justify any predictions that we make about the world? There are at least four big problems: 1) the world is non-stationary (i.e. any patterns, even dynamical patterns, are constantly evolving in time), 2) we are always only sampling the world (never getting a complete distribution), 3) processes that seem to be random are usually just encoding information that we don't have, and 4) we never know the structure of the system.

For example, if you know that you have 100 people, and 20 of them are smokers, then it makes sense to say "if you choose one person at random, the probability of him being a smoker is 20%". But what if you are given a die, and you ask the probability that it will land on "6" on the next roll. Now the "universe" of possibilities is all the rolls that you could ever make with that die (an infinite set), and the probability is the fraction of those rolls that land on "6".

If you start with the assumption that it's a fair die (and this is what people usually do, not just with dice but also in science), then you can easily answer "the probability is 1/6th", because you are assuming (not measuring) the whole distribution.

If you don't make that assumption, then the best you can do is roll the die many times and count how many times it lands on "6". But while you're doing this, the die is changing. Molecules are rubbing off the surfaces, the molecular lattice of the material is changing, etc. Also, to really answer "what is the probability?", you have to specify which information you're allowed to use. The way the die is thrown has a huge impact on its final position. If you know the way the die is thrown, then the probability is probably close to either 0 or 1.

The final problem, "we never know the structure of the system", is the worst problem. What if the die lands on an edge rather than a side (maybe it's being rolled on carpet)? This does more than adjust the probability distribution over the known possibilities: it pulls us out of the entire space we thought we were in. Regardless of what system you define, there are always other factors unraveling the edges. Probabilities are only meaningful within a fictional formal system.