Saturday, October 29, 2005


Tom Harrison has some interesting remarks about evolution. This sentence deserves to be quoted:
It’s significant that other scientific theories don’t require that kind of protection from the marketplace of ideas.
The economics analogy strikes me as very pointed. The evolutionists have not been able to convince people that they are right so they want the government to force their viewpoint on everyone. It's intellectual protectionism; special pleading for the followers of Darwin.

If they have so much evidence behind their theory, why can't they convince everyone? Don't tell me that it's just stupid or uneducated people that they haven't convinced because that is not true. And don't tell me that it's because religion blinds people to the truth; that begs the question. If the religion is more persuasive than the theory of evolution, then what is the government doing taking sides?

And it isn't true that everyone who doubts evolution does so because it contradicts the Bible. There are plenty of people who would be willing to accept a reading of Genesis that is consistent with evolution but who think that the evidence for evolution is just not persuasive. I'm one of them. In fact, if you take out all of the people who believe in evolution just because it's what they were taught all their lives, and people who believe in evolution just because, for reasons that are essentially religious, they can't accept any alternative, then I'm not sure that evolution has convinced even a majority.

mind and matter

The mind is our thoughts and intentions and beliefs and such. The brain is that lump of gray tissue behind the eye sockets. Some people believe that the mind is nothing but brain activity. In other words, they believe that mental experiences arise from the action of the brain analogously to the way a magnetic field arises from a moving current. People who believe this are called physicalists.

Others, called dualists, believe that minds are inherently different from anything physical and cannot possibly arise from physical processes. I won't go into the arguments for dualism right now, but I want to address an argument against dualism that that they are discussing over at the Maverick Philosopher.

In that discussion, Malcolm Pollack asks
2. How is the mind connected to the brain? How is the causal linkage of a non-material entity to the macroscopic physical world achieved, without violating all sorts of conservation principles?
Bill Vallicella answers that this argument begs the question. Apparently he believes that there is no problem with a world in which the mind regularly violates conservation principles.

I on the other hand do have a bit of a problem with this. I'm not going to say that it is impossible that the laws of physics could be violated. Quite the contrary, I have no problem, for example, believing in the miracles of the Bible. The laws of physics are, as physicists finally realized in the 20th century, only relevant under the conditions in which they have been measured. Newtonian mechanics works fine under certain conditions, but when scales are large enough or small enough, then the rules need to be modified.

We have not measured physical properties at the point of interaction between the mind and the matter, so we don't really know what those laws are, but there are certain laws that are more universal than others. In particular, the laws of conservation of momentum and energy seem to be relatively sacrosanct. A universe in which these laws did not hold would be very strange. Still, there are several ways that the mind could interact with matter without violating either law.

1. classical physics
The first way is that all interactions can simply be constructed to preserve energy and momentum. The mind doesn't just send an electron off to spark a nerve impulse; it creates a repelling force between the electron and its nucleus so that the electron flies off yet the conservation of momentum is preserved by an equal and opposite reaction on the nucleus.

Of course this puts the atom in a higher energy state which would create energy if not balanced out. So the next atom over is altered to make it grab an electron. This sends that atom to a lower energy state to exactly balance the higher energy state of the first atom.

2.quantum randomness
Physicists tell us that certain physical events are truly random –not just that we can't predict them, but that the causes genuinely do not completely determine the effects. The normal example of this physical randomness is nuclear decay, but the process whereby an atom falls to a lower energy state and emits electromagnetic energy is also random in this way. The mind could control nerve impulses by effecting this random behavior. Since the physical causes do not fully determine what happens, there would be no (non-statistical) violations of physics if some non-physical cause were to determine what happens.

3.quantum superposition
Maybe the universe really does exist in a constant state of quantum superpositions and is only resolved to specific results by the observation of a mind. In this case, the mind could have a very limited power of controlling the collapse of the wave function, just within the scope of the brain. Or perhaps only at a few locations inside the brain.

So there are ways that the brain and the mind could interact without violating the fundamental conservation laws. They still must violate some physical laws. Even with the quantum mechanisms, the operation of the mind would cause result in statistical results that would be not as predicted by a pure physics. Still physics is only reliable within the parameters of which we have experience.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Bush and Miers manage to compound the damage

OK, just a quick note this morning before I get to work:

From Digger's Realm, Harriet Miers has withdrawn her name as a nominee to the Supreme Court. On the one hand, I was glad to see this because although I never took a firm position against her, I was extremely worried about what she would do on the Supreme Court. On the other hand, the way they did it will come back to haunt Republicans.

Both Miers and Bush blamed the withdrawal on the fact that Senators had asked for privileged Whitehouse documents. This gives the Democrats an ace for any nominee who has ever worked in the Whitehouse. All they have to do is demand privileged documents. When Bush refuses to provide the documents, the Democrats can say, "Well you either have to provide them or withdraw the nomination. That's what you said when Miers was nominated." How is Bush going to answer that?

Even worse, the Sentate Republicans who asked for these documents have given Democrats cover for when they do that. Up until last week, the Democrat habit of demanding privileged documents and then getting all huffy when they weren't provided was a weak strategy because it was so obviously out of line. Republican could always explain why the request was out of line. Now that Republicans have done the same thing, what defense do they have left?

I understand that Bush had to find a face-saving way to drop Miers, but couldn't he have found something less devastating to future Supreme Court nominations? Don't those people in the Whitehouse ever think?

UPDATE: Pessimistic Patterico announced the Miers withdrawal without mentioning that he was wrong, wrong, wrong when he thought this couldn't happen.

More seriously, Patterico has done a terrific job of covering this controversy and opposing the nomination.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005


As usual I forgot to mention that the Storyblogging Carnival is up.

It's up.

That's why the term "Storyblogging Carnival" is underlined in the first sentence. That means it's a link and you can click on it to go to the Storyblogging Carnival.

To read stories.

On blogs.

problems of the heart

I had to go to the hospital Saturday night. There were several people in the waiting room and I was thinking I should have brought a paper back, but I didn't have to wait. I guess when you are overweight and fortyish and you tell them that your heart isn't working right, they take it pretty seriously.

I've never had any hint of heart trouble before. Not even high blood pressure. But for the previous two or three weeks I've been having problems with my heart. Whenever I lay down, my heart would race and I would feel short of breath. Then Friday night on my way home from work, I started to feel that way in the car. My pulse felt really fast, I estimated it a over 100 bpm. So, genius that I am, I decided that I just needed some exercise. I stopped in at the gym (which I hadn't visited for nearly a month) and did a bit of bicycling.

I was using one of those exercise bikes that measures your heart rate and adjusts the tension to keep your heart rate at a target number. My target number was 114 bpm and I was there in seconds. I felt really bad at first. My chest felt constricted, I felt light-headed, and I even worried about passing out once or twice. Things got a little better as I continued, and I kept going for 24 minutes (my usual time).

The next day I woke up feeling light-headed. My heart was still racing. Since I don't learn from my mistakes, I went for a walk down to the beach. This means a climb back up some stairs --probably equivalent to six or seven floors. Again, I was afraid that I was going to pass out on the way up.

Hours later, my heart was still racing and I still felt light headed. And that was sitting down. When I got up, I felt again like I might pass out. So, about 7pm I decided I'd better go to the hospital.

They did a bunch of tests and took a chest X-ray and the doctor said there was nothing wrong with me. He said he thought it wasn't a heart problem --it was a breathing problem. I was under a lot of stress; I was all tensed up with my shoulders hunched forward and I wasn't breathing deeply enough. When my body got alarmed by the lack of oxygen, it would shoot me some adrenalin to get my heart rate and breathing up.

Since then, I've been trying to be conscious of my breathing and my posture. It seems to help.

I suspect that the problem is not only the stress, but the fact that my pants are too tight, so I'm finally doing something about the weight I've gained since I moved to an apartment right down the street from a McDonald's. No more Big Macs. No more strawberry shakes (sigh). But I'm not buying new pants, dammit. In a week or so, my pants should be comfortable again.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

hail Rampage

I found this quiz at Mostly Cajun. The test seems to be oranized so that you can't get high scores in all categories. For example it gives you situations where you have to chose between the gutsy move or the smart move. Try it out, it's cool.

Julius Caesar
You scored 59 Wisdom, 77 Tactics, 50 Guts, and 47 Ruthlessness!

Roman military and political leader. He was instrumental in the
transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire. His
conquest of Gallia Comata extended the Roman world all the way to the
Atlantic Ocean, introducing Roman influence into what has become modern
France, an accomplishment of which direct consequences are visible to
this day. In 55 BC Caesar launched the first Roman invasion of Britain.
Caesar fought and won a civil war which left him undisputed master of
the Roman world, and began extensive reforms of Roman society and
government. He was proclaimed dictator for life, and heavily
centralized the already faltering government of the weak Republic.
Caesar's friend Marcus Brutus conspired with others to assassinate
Caesar in hopes of saving the Republic. The dramatic assassination on
the Ides of March was the catalyst for a second set of civil wars,
which marked the end of the Roman Republic and the beginning of the
Roman Empire under Caesar's grand-nephew and adopted son Octavian,
later known as Caesar Augustus.
Caesar's military campaigns are known in detail from his own written
Commentaries (Commentarii), and many details of his life are recorded
by later historians such as Suetonius, Plutarch, and Cassius Dio.

My test tracked 4 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 23% on Unorthodox
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You scored higher than 75% on Tactics
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You scored higher than 32% on Guts
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You scored higher than 48% on Ruthlessness
Link: The Which Historic General Are You Test written by dasnyds on OkCupid Free Online Dating, home of the 32-Type Dating Test

subtle criticism

Some people in my office like to send their emails to the entire engineering team just so they don't miss anyone who might possibly care about it. Of course that means almost everyone who gets the email doesn't care about it. This is the intra-office version of spam. It's smaller and not as salty, so I call it tuna.

Here is an email I sent to the entire engineering team in my efforts to make some of these people aware of how others view their emails:
I'm thinking about clipping my toenails tomorrow morning. I like to do it right after a shower so they are soft and cut easily.

I'll keep you all posted.
What do you think? Too subtle?

UPDATE: I received three requests from my office mates that I keep them updated on my toenail progress.