BLOG 2009 Q4


Robot War
P.W. Singer, CNN

The U.S. military today has more than 7,000 unmanned systems in the air and 12,000 on the ground. But the back-end networks don't always match the front-end systems, and many of the systems are built in an ad-hoc manner. Some of their communications feeds are not even encrypted. Insurgents can now use cheap commercial software to tap into U.S. military video feeds and see what the systems are monitoring. Pentagon officials say they are fixing the problem, but thousands of systems will need to be retooled for encryption.

Robots at war


2009 December 31

2020 visions from The Independent
Coolpix of my study

2009 December 26-30

Reading Beyond the Darkness by Shirley du Boulay
(a biography of Bede Griffiths)

My Amazon review of The Marriage of East and West:
This book is an insightful classic by a Christian mystic. Driven by an inner vision of the shared goal of all genuine religions, Dom Bede argues passionately that Western religion, by which he really means Christianity, can be "married" with Eastern religion, and in particular with Hinduism. His own experience as a Catholic monk in India makes this view persuasive and convinces this reader at least that the vision is lucid and veridical. But the book is not perfect. Bede's disdain for science and industry, indeed for the whole "modern" world that has developed since the Renaissance, is unreasonable, in my humble opinion. For me, his understanding of modern science is too superficial and his antipathy toward the popular desire for creature comforts is too procrustean. Also, his views on Semitic versus Asiatic thinking and male versus female psychology are badly dated. Still, the man deserves to be a saint and his book deserves to be read by anyone interested in deep spiritual experience.

2009 December 25

Read The Marriage of East and West by Bede Griffiths
(from beginning to end)

2009 December 24

Avatar: a female Na'vi
Image: 20th Century Fox
Avatar is not only environmentalist and anti-imperialist but also sexist and racist — or is it? Only if your ideas about sexism and racism are so PC that no statements at all are allowed in movies.
I say it's just a celebration of good ole Hollywood clichés.

2009 December 22

The Large Hadron Collider
Kurt Andersen, Vanity Fair

The LHC is the world's largest particle accelerator and the largest machine ever built. The LHC is essentially a super-microscope that will examine sub-nuclear bits of matter and record fleeting blinks of energy that last for only million-billionths of a nanosecond. It's also a kind of time machine that will reproduce the conditions that prevailed 14 billion years ago, giving scientists a look at the universe a trillionth of a second after the big bang. The goal is to achieve a deeper, better, truer understanding of the fundamental structure and nature of existence. It's one of the most awesome scientific enterprises of all time.

>> The LHC

2009 December 21

Avatar in 3D is awesome — a magical realization of an alien ecosystem. JC has beaten all odds and come back a winner.

2009 December 20

Reading books by Haruki Murakami and
Collapse by Jared Diamond

2009 December 19

Day trip to Bad Homburg: temperature —15°C

2009 December 18

Anthony Gottlieb, Intelligent Life

Karen Armstrong says God "is not good, divine, powerful or intelligent in any way that we can understand. We could not even say that God 'exists', because our concept of existence is too limited." For her, the only authentic and defensible God is one who utterly transcends human understanding and therefore cannot be described at all.

Terry Eagleton defines God as "what sustains all things in being by his love, and ... is the reason why there is something instead of nothing, the condition of possibility of any entity whatsoever." A wiser response to the apparent inexpressibility of statements about God may be simply not to express them.

AR  Armstrong's "apophatic" concept of God is a mysticism that collapses modulo the dialectical unity of opposites to atheism. Eagleton's more theological definition seems to describe what in my Godblogs dialogs I assert to be essentially the self-alienated self failing to recognize its own conditioning of all possible experience. This deep self behind all our experience is perhaps the Kantian Transcendental Ego, not to be confused with the phenomenal ego. By contrast, the father god of traditional Christianity is an image reflecting our genocentricity (blog Dec 6).

2009 December 17

Enjoying my new Apple iMac running Snow Leopard and featuring
Magic Mouse and Time Machine

2009 December 15

Heidelberg Forum: Biosciences and Society
Print Media Academy, Heidelberg
The Evolution of Religions
Professor Daniel C. Dennett

Excellent. Dan is unbeatable. His message is loud and clear. We must learn to see religions as social clubs that would be better off shelving their founding myths. Let us treat belief in gods with the same compassion we might have for a drug addict.

2009 December 14

Pankaj Mishra has his say on Islam, AfPak, and novels

2009 December 12

Paranormal Flexibility
Charles M. Blow, The New York Times

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life have released a report pointing out that many Americans are now choosing to "blend Christianity with Eastern or New Age beliefs" and that "sizable minorities of all major U.S. religious groups" said that they have had supernatural experiences. The number of Americans who said that they have had a "moment of sudden religious insight or awakening" is now greater than those who said that they had not. So it seems many Americans cobble together Mr. Potato Head-like spiritual identities from a hodgepodge of beliefs.

AR  Looks like we need a new product to fill those potato heads.

2009 December 11

Airbus A400M
The Airbus Military A400M airlifter completes its maiden flight

Springer Sold
The Times

Candover Investments and Cinven, the private equity groups, have sold Springer, the leading academic business publisher, in a deal worth a total of €2.3 billion. Candover and Cinven will share about €100 million in proceeds from the sale to a Swedish private equity fund and a state-backed Singaporean fund. The deal included about €2.2 billion of debt. In 2003, Candover paid €1.65 billion for the assets used to create Springer.

2009 December 9

Are we better off without religion?
Sue Blackmore, The Guardian

Gregory Paul argues that popular religious belief is caused by dysfunctional social conditions. In his latest research, Paul measures "popular religiosity" for developed nations, and then compares it against the "successful societies scale" (SSS), which includes such things such as homicides, the proportion of people incarcerated, infant mortality, sexually transmitted diseases, teenage births and abortions, corruption, income inequality, and many others.

The rich nations with the highest levels of belief in God and the greatest religious observance are also the ones with all the signs of societal dysfunction. These correlations are truly stunning. Many, such as those between popular religiosity and teenage abortions and STDs, have correlation coefficients over 0.9, and the overall correlation with the SSS is 0.7 with the United States included and 0.5 without.

Paul concludes that "religious prosociality and charity are less effective at improving societal conditions than are secular government programs." He argues that religion is a crutch for people under extreme stress: Americans suffer a lack of universal health care, a competitive economic environment, and huge income inequalities, so religious belief and observance provide relief. The majorities in other rich countries are secure enough not to seek help from a supernatural creator.

The Chronic Dependence of Popular Religiosity upon Dysfunctional Psychosociological Conditions
Gregory Paul, Evolutionary Psychology

Better understanding the nature, origin and popularity of varying levels of popular religion versus secularism, and their impact upon socioeconomic conditions and vice versa, requires a cross national comparison of the competing factors in populations where opinions are freely chosen. ... High levels of income disparity, popular religiosity as measured by differing levels of belief and activity, and rejection of evolutionary science correlate strongly negatively with improving conditions. ... Religious prosociality and charity are less effective at improving societal conditions than are secular government programs. ... The nonuniversality of strong religious devotion, and the ease with large populations abandon serious theism when conditions are sufficiently benign, refute hypotheses that religious belief and practice are the norm ... Instead popular religion is usually a superficial and flexible psychological mechanism for coping with the high levels of stress and anxiety produced by sufficiently dysfunctional social and economic environments.

Time and Spacetime: The Crystallizing Block Universe

George F. R. Ellis, Tony Rothman

The nature of the future is completely different from the nature of the past. When quantum effects are significant, the future shows all the signs of quantum weirdness, including duality, uncertainty, and entanglement. With the passage of time, after the time- irreversible process of state-vector reduction has taken place, the past emerges, with the previous quantum uncertainty replaced by the classical certainty of definite particle identities and states. The present time is where this transition largely takes place, but the process does not take place uniformly: Evidence from delayed choice and related experiments shows that isolated patches of quantum indeterminacy remain, and that their transition from probability to certainty only takes place later. Thus, when quantum effects are significant, the picture of a classical Evolving Block Universe (EBU) cedes place to one of a Crystallizing Block Universe (CBU), which reflects this quantum transition from indeterminacy to certainty, while nevertheless resembling the EBU on large enough scales.

AR  This is exactly the conception of quantum spacetime I propose in my book Mindworlds

2009 December 6

Tiger Woods
Desmond Morris, The Telegraph

To understand what has happened to Tiger Woods, we have to turn the clock back hundreds of millennia. The extension of sexual activity in our ancient ancestors went hand in hand with the development of a pair bond. Our species acquired the best brain in the animal world and this amazing organ needed a great deal of programming. We added a whole decade to the process of growing up and this created a heavy maternal burden. The emotional attachment of a loving father eased this burden considerably.

Evolution didn't perfect the basic human family unit because some flexibility was necessary. So now each human adult has two reproductive strategies, different for male and female. The adult male is driven, first, to devote a huge amount of time and energy into rearing the offspring produced within his pair bond, and second, given a casual opportunity to father extra children, to do so providing it does not disrupt his first drive. The reproductive strategies of the human female are, first, to find a mate who will offer her the security she needs to rear her children, and second, to mate with a male who will provide good genes for her offspring. Even in a happy marriage, both partners may stray under the influence of primeval reproductive urges.

AR  The loving father ideal is symbolized by the Abrahamic god.
As a species, we are still adapting to monogamy. Some humans experience the cognitive dissonance as compulsive A-god imagery. In this way, our genes push us to overcome our self-constructed personalities in obedience to our selfish genes. Darwin-Dawkins biology predicts that a species like ours will evolve A-god auto- phenomenology to reflect our genocentricity.

2009 December 5

The Local:
The German Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe has issued a ruling in favor of the Christian church and against the heathen city of Berlin: Advent Sundays in the run-up to Christmas are holy and shops must remain closed.

AR  Is there no end to such religious nonsense? I protest!

2009 December 2

Martin Heidegger was a Nazi, but his Nazism is the least troubling part of his legacy.

2009 December 1

America Versus The Narrative
Thomas L. Friedman, The New York Times

The Narrative is the cocktail of half-truths, propaganda and out- right lies about America that have taken hold in the Arab-Muslim world since 9/11. Propagated by jihadist Web sites, mosque preachers, Arab intellectuals, satellite news stations and books — and tacitly endorsed by some Arab regimes — this narrative posits that America has declared war on Islam, as part of a grand "American-Crusader-Zionist conspiracy" to keep Muslims down.

We punched a fist into the Arab/Muslim world after 9/11, partly to send a message of deterrence, but primarily to destroy two tyrannical regimes — the Taliban and the Baathists — and to work with Afghans and Iraqis to build a different kind of politics. [We] aimed at giving Arabs and Muslims a better chance to succeed with modernity and to elect their own leaders. The Narrative was concocted by jihadists to obscure that.

Bryan Appleyard
Literary Review

Whole Earth Discipline:
An Ecopragmatist Manifesto
By Stewart Brand
Atlantic Books, 316 pages

Brand says we need to deploy science to clean up the mess made by science. Climate change really means Mother Nature is preparing to rid herself of humans. If we are to survive, we have to embrace nuclear power and foodstuffs synthesized in laboratories. Farming is a planetary catastrophe, stripping out biodiversity and filling the atmosphere with the methane from cow farts. Greens resist nuclear power and persist in deluding people into thinking all we have to do is build wind farms and cycle to work. They also go on about the loss of the rainforest. They insist that any new technology has to be shown to do no harm, which is impossible. The Greens are going to have to grow up.

Virgin Galactic SpaceShip 2

Virgin Galactic unveils SpaceShipTwo (SS2) at
Spaceport America, NM. Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger christened SS2 the "Virgin Space Ship (VSS) Enterprise".

Virgin hopes SS2 will rocket tourists into zero gravity beginning in two or three years. The carrier aircraft Eve will release SS2 at an altitude of 18 km and SS2 will then rocket up to about 100 km above Earth. In a trip of about 150 minutes, passengers will experience about 5 minutes of weightlessness. Some 300 punters have put down deposits for the $200,000 ride.

Oxford's "Home of Egalitarian,
Enlightened and Erudite Islam"

Impact of gasoline inhalation
on some neurobehavioural characteristics of male rat

Amal A Kinawy
BMC Physiology 2009, 9:21

From the conclusion:
Chronic exposure to gasoline vapours impaired the levels of monoamine neurotransmitters and other biochemical parameters in different brain areas and modulated several behavioural aspects related to aggression in rats.

AR  Petrol heads beware!


Mandelbulb: An artfully
rendered image of a version
of a 3D analog of the
Mandelbrot set

Batteries: MAIL Beats Lithium
MIT Tech Review

Fluidic Energy, a spinoff from Arizona State University, says it can develop a metal-air battery that dramatically outperforms lithium-ion cells. The Metal-Air Ionic Liquid (MAIL) battery uses an ionic liquid as its electrolyte. Cody Friesen, a professor at Arizona State University and founder of Fluidic Energy, aims to build a battery with up to 11 times the energy density of lithium-ion cells for less than
one-third the cost.

Noddy is 60
Happy anniversary!

2009 November 29

Deutsch-Amerikanisches Institut:
Das individuelle Gedächtnis
Hannah Monyer im Gespräch mit Manfred Osten

Das individuelle Gedächtnis und die damit verbundenen neuro- logischen Herausforderungen, mit denen der moderne Mensch konfrontiert ist, wird das Thema. Neurobiologin Hannah Monyer  beschäftigt sichmit der Frage, aus welchen Bestandteilen sich das individuelle Gedächtnis zusammensetzt und inwiefern es sich unter Einflüssen ändert.

Professorin Hannah Monyer studierte Medizin an der Universität Heidelberg. Nach der Habilitation in Biochemie ist sie seit 1999 Ärztliche Direktorin der Abteilung für Klinische Neurobiologie am Universitätsklinikum Heidelberg. Im gleichen Jahr wurde ihr das Bundesverdienstkreuz verliehen. 2004 erhielt sie den Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz-Preis der DFG.

Dr. Manfred Osten war nach über 30 Jahren im diplomatischen Dienst von 1995 bis 2003 Generalsekretär der Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung. Zudem ist er als Autor und Journalist tätig.

AR  Nichts neues aber trotzdem sehr gut.

2009 November 28

New developments in Google versus book authors worldwide

2009 November 24

DARPA Cat Brain "Scam"
Noah Shachtman, Wired

Last year, DARPA gave IBM nearly $5 million to make electronics that mimic the "function, size, and power consumption" of a cat brain. Last week, IBM lead researcher Dharmendra Modha told a supercomputing conference that his cortical simulator had simulated a cat brain with a billion neurons and 10 trillion synapses. IBM Blue Brain lead scientist Henry Markram responded with an angry open letter to IBM CTO Bernard Myerson:

"What IBM reported is a scam — no where near a cat-scale brain simulation. ... I am absolutely shocked at this announcement. Not because it is any kind of technical feat, but because of the mass deception of the public. ... All these kinds of simulations are trivial and have been around for decades — simply called artificial neural network (ANN) simulations. ... For a grown-up "researcher" to get excited because one can simulate billions of points interacting is ludicrous. ... This is light years away from a cat brain, not even close to an ant's brain in complexity. It is highly unethical of Mohda to mislead the public ... That IBM and DARPA would support such deceptive announcements is even more shocking."

AR  My November 19 response was premature. Of course Mohda's
      "simulation" is just an ANN, which proves nothing about cats.
      I defer to Markram's condemnation of the announcement.

2009 November 23

Learning To Read
Owen Flanagan, New Scientist

   Reading in the Brain
   By Stanislas Dehaene
   Viking, 400 pages

Reading is only about 5000 years old but the modern brain is about 200,000 years old. Brain imaging shows reading takes place in all brains in what Stanislas Dehaene calls a "letterbox" on the bottom of the left hemisphere.

Cognitive neuroscientists assume that a brain area dedicated to a particular function is an adaptation that evolved to serve a function related to reproductive success. But the letterbox cannot be an adaptation because reading is so recent. It must be an exaptation that evolved to do one thing but has been co-opted to do another.

The area that reading co-opted originally evolved for the visual acuity needed to track animals. Evidence for this comes from studying line, edge, and curve detection in the letterbox area, which also explains universal visual features of all alphabets.

AR  Perhaps we can augment the letterbox with a neurochip to
      enable us to speed-read with robotic efficiency.

2009 November 21

A Strategy For Cost Efficient Distributed Data Storage For
In-Memory OLAP

Olga Mordvinova, Oleksandr Shepil, Thomas Ludwig,
and Andrew Ross
Proceedings IADIS International Conference
Applied Computing 2009, Rome, Italy, November 19-21, 2009
PDF: 9 pages, 290 KB

Abstract. With the availability of inexpensive blade servers featuring 32 GB or more of main memory, memory-based engines such as the SAP NetWeaver Business Warehouse Accelerator are coming into widespread use for online analytic processing (OLAP) of terabyte data volumes. Data storage for such engines is often implemented in standard storage technologies like storage area network (SAN) or network attached storage (NAS) with high hardware costs. Given the access pattern, storage costs can be reduced by using a distributed persistence layer based on commodity architecture. We discuss an example of an in-memory OLAP engine with a focus on storage architecture. We then present an implementation of a distributed persistence layer that is optimized for the access pattern of such engines. Finally, we show the cost-saving potential and discuss the performance impact compared to SAN systems.

AR  Olga presents the paper today in Rome.

2009 November 19

IBM Simulates Cat Brain
Mercury News

Researchers from IBM and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory say they have created a computer simulation that matches the scale and complexity of a cat's brain, and project members from IBM and Stanford have developed an algorithm for mapping the human brain at new levels of detail. Researchers used an IBM supercomputer to model the movement of data through a structure with 1 billion neurons and 10 trillion synapses to see how information flows in a system comparable to a feline neocortex.

The work is part of a federally funded effort to study what's known as cognitive computing, starting with reverse-engineering the human brain. Current computers are designed on a model that differentiates between processing and storing data, which can lead to a lag in updating information. Our brain software runs on a more complex physical infrastructure that can integrate and react to a constant stream of sights, sounds, and other sensory information. The research is funded by DARPA.

AR  This is a big step forward. An exaflops supercomputer with a
      few petabytes of memory could simulate a human brain.

2009 November 18

Supersymmetry is a great idea looking for evidence
Was Nietzsche pious? Is atheism a kind of religion?

2009 November 16

God, genes, and money: new work suggests a link

2009 November 15

Enjoyed an evening at the Mannheim Palazzo thanks to SAP

2009 November 11

Going Muslim
Tunku Varadarajan, Forbes

The phrase "Going Muslim" would describe the turn of events where a seemingly integrated Muslim-American discards his apparent integration in society and elects to vindicate his religion in an act of messianic violence against his fellow citizens. This would appear to be what happened in the case of Major Nidal Malik Hasan. There would not necessarily be a psychological "snap" in the case of the imminently violent Muslim. Instead, there could be a calculated discarding of camouflage in an act of revelatory catharsis.

A short time after the shootings at Fort Hood, President Obama asked us not to jump to conclusions. This is part of a larger problem, the privileging of religion, and its frequent exemption from rules of normal discourse. Muslims may be more extreme because their religion is founded on bellicose conquest, a contempt for infidels, and an obligation for piety that is more extensive than in other schemes. The Army had an Islamic fundamentalist in its midst, blogging about suicide bombings and telling everyone he hated the Army's mission. Yet they did nothing about it.

Erdogan's Blind Faith
Seth Freedman, The Guardian

Despite glaring evidence to the contrary, the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, believes "it is not possible for those who belong to the Muslim faith to carry out genocide". Accordingly, he refuses to accept that Sudanese paramilitaries committed genocidal acts against the population of Darfur, or that Sudan's president, Omar al-Bashir, is guilty of any crime.

Furthermore, says Erdogan, Israeli "war crimes" in Gaza are worse than anything that has taken place in Sudan. Whatever one's take on Israel's actions during Operation Cast Lead and the general siege on the Gaza Strip, to make such absurd comparisons is both futile and false. His collective exculpation of every last Muslim from the charge of genocide flies in the face of bloody wars the world over.

Corrective Studies
Nic Robertson and Paul Cruickshank, CNN

Leaders of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) have written a new "code" for jihad. The LIFG now views the armed struggle it waged against Colonel Gadhafi's regime as illegal under Islamic law. Entitled Corrective Studies, the 417-page code is the result of more than two years of work.

From the code: "Jihad has ethics and morals because it is for God. That means it is forbidden to kill women, children, elderly people, priests, messengers, traders and the like. Betrayal is prohibited and it is vital to keep promises and treat prisoners of war in a good way. Standing by those ethics is what distinguishes Muslims' jihad from the wars of other nations."

AR  Muslim philosophers still have a dauntingly big moral problem.

2009 November 9

20 Jahre Mauerfall
Berlinermauer, 1986
Berlinermauer am Bethaniendamm, Berlin-Kreuzberg, 1986. Thierry Noir, GFDL

1989 Was A Very Good Year
Timothy Garton Ash, Los Angeles Times

1989 was the biggest year in world history since 1945. It led to the end of communism in Europe, of the Soviet Union, the Cold War, and the short twentieth century. It opened the door to German reunification, a European Union stretching from Lisbon to Tallinn, the enlargement of NATO, two decades of American supremacy, and globalization. It also brought us Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwa on Salman Rushdie.

"Berlin was always the centerpiece of the Cold War and ... very nearly the front line of real combat."
Fred Kaplan, Slate

AR  I spent the summer of 1974 in Berlin-Kreuzberg, overlooking the wall from the rooftop of a radical student commune. I learned to imagine Berlin as the pin in the world grenade. Now I guess we are 20 years into a global war against Islamic militants.

Galen Strawson on selves and how my mindworlds create them

2009 November 8

Goldman Sachs
John Arlidge, The Sunday Times

Number 85 Broad Street, New York, NY 10004, is where the money is. It's the site of the best cash machine that global capitalism has ever produced. The people who work here make more money than some countries do. Their assets total $1 trillion, their annual revenues run into the tens of billions, and their profits are in the billions. Average pay this year for the 30,000 staff is expected to be a record $700,000. Top earners will get tens of millions. When they have finished getting "filthy rich by 40", these alpha dogs parachute into some of the most senior political posts in the U.S. and beyond, prompting accusations that they "rule the world". Number 85 Broad Street is the home of Goldman Sachs.

2009 November 5

France: Autistic Tories Castrated UK
The Guardian

Venting European Union frustration, France's Europe minister, Pierre Lellouche, accused William Hague, the UK's shadow foreign secretary, of a "bizarre autism" in their talks. Lellouche is one of the most Anglophile members of Sarkozy's government.

David Cameron outlined a fresh Tory approach to the EU in the wake of the full ratification of the Lisbon treaty. He would seek to strengthen British sovereignty and repatriate a series of powers over social and employment legislation.

Lellouche responded: "It's pathetic. It's just very sad to see Britain, so important in Europe, just cutting itself out from the rest." He recalled the Tories' decision to abandon the main centre-right EPP grouping in the European parliament: "They have essentially castrated your UK influence in the European parliament."

2009 November 4


Lisbon Treaty Signed: New Dawn In Europe
David Charter and Philip Webster, The Times

Europe's elite celebrated the imminent arrival of its first president last night. Prime Minister Gordon Brown and other leaders hailed a new era of expanded powers for the European Union to act on the world stage. There was relief across European capitals as the long journey toward an accord that gives Europe a president and a new chief of foreign affairs came to an end.

Islamist Says Merkel Is Great
Foreign Policy

Mohammed al-Fizazi is sitting in a Moroccan jail for his role in a 2003 Casablanca terrorist attack. In a letter in Der Spiegel, he praises the religious freedom and employment opportunities available to Muslims in Germany. "The German chancellor is great," he writes. He argues that Muslims are forbidden from jihad in Germany because they have signed visa application forms, which amount to a contract between them and the German state to abide by Germany's laws. "Germany is not a battle zone," he states, and engaging in terrorism "will only reinforce the backwardness of Muslims and their image as a group of backward-looking idiots whose place is in the caves and not in the streets of Hamburg."

2009 November 3

Merkel On Globorg

German Chancellor Angela Merkel addressed a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress: "We need an agreement on one objective: Global warming must not exceed 2 degrees Celsius ... A globalized economy needs a global order ... Without global rules and transparency and supervision, we will not gain more freedom, but rather risk the abuse of freedom and thus risk instability."

Unprecedented Concessions
Stephen M. Walt, Foreign Policy

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is completing the Obama administration's humiliating retreat from the principles set forth in the president's Cairo speech of less than five months ago. In a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Clinton praised Netanyahu for making "unprecedented concessions" on settlement expansion. What will the United States do when "two states for two peoples" isn't an option and everybody finally admits it, and the Palestinians begin to demand equal rights in "greater Israel?"

2009 November 1, All Saints Day

This month I turn 60 and retire from SAP.
Working title for my next book: GLOBORG

Note to Iran: The Bahai faith is better.

Andy Ross, 60
Photo: Rolf Kickuth
Me, caught off-guard in a  paparazzi shot, at age 60

NASA / JPL / University of Arizona / Barcroft Media

NASA / JPL / University of Arizona / Barcroft Media
NASA/JPL/U. Arizona/Barcroft Media

Surface of the Red Planet:
Images from the NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

Russian Nukes In Space

The Russian space agency may build a nuclear-powered spacecraft. It would cost $600 million and Russian scientists claim it could be ready as early as 2012. If they actually build a spaceship, it would complete a half-century quest to bring nuclear power to space propulsion, beginning with a 1947 report by North American Aviation to the Air Force. Nuclear rockets can be twice as efficient as chemical rockets.

Apple's new 27" iMac
I want one!

How Many Universes Are There?
New Scientist

Cosmologists Andrei Linde and Vitaly Vanchurin at Stanford University calculate that there are more universes than the 10e500 postulated in string theory. They say the total number of universes is about 10e10e7.

But it may not matter how many universes exist, just how many we can distinguish. Quantum theory splits the world into a system under study and the rest of the world, including the observer. The system hovers in superposition until the observer measures a single reality. In quantum cosmology, we can only talk about the states an observer inside it can measure. This vastly cuts down the number of universes worth mentioning.

 Nick Bostrom wins the
Inaugural Gannon Award

The Gannon Group presents
The Eugene R. Gannon Jr. Award for the Continued Pursuit of Human Advancement.

The 2009 Gannon Award winner is Nick Bostrom, professor of philosophy at Oxford.

The Promise and Challenge
of Humanity's Future

"I guess that in the far future the human condition will have changed profoundly"

Nick Bostromm
Future of Humanity Institute

MIT Technology Review

Scientists are in search of the source of intelligence. By volume, gray matter makes up roughly half the human brain. The other half is white matter, consisting
of thin neural projections wrapped in myelin. Myelinated nerve fibers can send more signals faster than unmyelinated ones, allowing neurons to process thousands of times more data.
In diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), a scanner magnet tracks the movement of water molecules in the brain. Water moves randomly within most brain tissue but flows along the insulated neural fibers like current through a wire. With DTI, scientists can map neural wiring in detail.

Melding Man and Machine
Emily Singer
MIT Tech Review

 An implant seeded with muscle cells can integrate prosthetic limbs with the body, allowing amputees greater control over robotic parts. The implant, developed at the University of Michigan, consists of tiny cups about 100 µm in diameter that are positioned over cut nerve endings. The cups are made
from an electrically conductive polymer that can relay both
motor and sensory signals between the nerves and a prosthesis. Each cups contain a scaffold of tissue seeded with muscle cells. The nerve grows into the cup and connects to the cells. The connection then transmits signals.
AR  This is a useful enabling
technology for some of the developments featured in
my next book.

Shame on the Conservatives
David Miliband, The Guardian

Europe is a vital test of credibility for the Conservative party. In the European parliament, David Cameron's Conservatives have rejected the conservatism of Angela Merkel for that of people who commemorate the Latvian Unit of the Waffen SS. Rejected Nicolas Sarkozy's Conservatives for a party of climate change deniers from the Czech Republic. Rejected Fredrik Reinfeldt's Swedish Moderate Party for the Polish far-right party of Michal Kaminski. Shamefully, the Conservatives have refused to disown people they would not be seen dead with in Britain.

Cameron should have confronted his party last week with a simple truth: the modern world is defined by international challenges that require European cooperation. Cameron completely ignored the challenges and complexities of a modern globalized world.

AR  Well said. The Conservatives are  not taking the European parliament seriously at all. Perhaps this is because it's a bunch of overpaid time-servers who don't have a clue.

DNA coiled in a nucleus
Credit: L.A. Mirny, M. Imakaev

The Human Genome in 3D
MIT Technology Review

Unfurled, the human genome contains about 2 m of DNA. Packed, it fills a cell nucleus about 3 µm in diameter. New technology has revealed how these molecules are packed into such a tiny space, apparently in a fractal globule: adjacent regions in the linear chain of DNA are shown in one color above.

"Our technology is kind of like MRI for genomes," says Erez Lieberman-Aiden, a researcher in the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology and one of the authors of a new paper detailing the work.

The Death of Socrates
The Death of Socrates

Jacques-Louis David (1787)

Und Zarathustra sprach also zum Volke: "Seht, ich lehre euch den Übermenschen! Der Übermensch ist der Sinn der Erde. Euer Wille sage: der Übermensch sei der Sinn der Erde!"
Friedrich Nietzsche
Also sprach Zarathustra

The People's Republic
of China celebrates
its 60th anniversary

2009 October 30

Brain Scans Read Thoughts
New Scientist

Neuroscience 2009, Chicago, October 17-21:
Jack Gallant and Shinji Nishimoto created a crude reproduction of a movie clip that someone was watching just by viewing their brain activity. Such neural decoding could be used to read thoughts.

Presidential Lecture
Neuroscience 2009

Studies show that human infants and nonhuman animals can discriminate the cardinality of small sets of objects. If we can locate where this nonsymbolic numerical evaluation resides in the brain, we have a start for studying our more abstract abilities.

Genes and Autism
Simons Foundation

A pathway involved in language development may be important in autism. The gene FOXP2 codes for a protein that regulates the expression of other genes. Variants of one of its targets, CNTNAP2, occur in people with specific language impairment and raise the risk of developing autism.

2009 October 28

Quantum to Cosmos
New Scientist

Quantum to Cosmos Festival
Perimeter Institute, Waterloo, Canada, October 15-25, 2009

Why this universe?
Physicists have been trying to show why the universe must be as we see it. But perhaps other laws hold in universes that exist elsewhere. Sean Carroll of Caltech finds it easy to imagine that nature allows for different kinds of universes with different laws.

What is everything made of?
Katherine Freese at the University of Michigan is excited that the problem of dark matter may be nearing resolution. But the discovery of dark energy, which seems to be speeding up the expansion of the universe, has created new puzzles for which there are no answers in sight.

How does complexity happen?
Leo Kadananoff at the University of Chicago is most engaged by questions about complex systems. He says we shall only understand life when we know how simple constituents with simple interactions can lead to complex phenomena.

Will string theory ever be proved correct?
Cambridge physicist David Tong admires the mathematical beauty of string theory. He fears he might never know whether it describes reality, but he can apply its methods to problems such as the behavior of quarks and exotic metals.

What is the singularity?
For Perimeter Institute director Neil Turok, the biggest mystery is the big bang. Conventional theory points back to a singularity where the known laws of physics break down. Turok has high hopes for string theory and the holographic principle.

What is reality really?
Anton Zeilinger at the University of Vienna specializes in quantum experiments that seem to show the influence of observers in shaping reality and wonders how the universe can know when it is being watched.

How far can physics take us?
Lawrence Krauss of Arizona State University wonders if we would require knowledge of other universes to understand why our universe is the way it is.

2009 October 26

Blair For EU President!
Philip Webster and David Charter, The Times

Tony Blair should become President of the European Union, says Foreign Secretary David Miliband. He said the new role needed someone who "stopped the traffic" in Washington and Beijing.

Europe Needs Us
David Miliband, The Times

When I took China's State Councillor Dai Bingguo to the Cabinet War Rooms and Churchill Museum last weekend, I told him this:

1 We embrace the internationalism of the modern world, with its
   new powers and new threats. Britain is a leading contributor of
   people and money in tackling the great challenges of the world.
2 British ideas give us influence. During the economic crisis,
   Britain has been at the forefront of new thinking. On climate
   change and in the Middle East, our ideas make us activists.
3 Our values set a high standard. Transparency as well as ambition
   are important factors in how others see us. The universal values
   of equal worth, social justice and mutual responsibility need us
   to stand up for them.
4 Britain is at the heart of a unique web of international networks.
   We are leaders in the Commonwealth, home to 53 states and a
   quarter of the world's population. Our relationship with the
   United States is special.

British commitment to and strength in Europe is good for Britain and good for Europe. Europe needs Britain.

Karen Armstrong maintains that God is back

2009 October 22

Consciousness: The Movie
Douglas Fox, New Scientist

If a movie camera films a wagon wheel rotating at a certain speed, the spokes can appear to move slowly backward instead of forward. We can experience the effect without a camera, suggesting that the brain naturally chops what we see into frames.

Rufin VanRullen, at the University of Toulouse, recreated the effect in his lab. Using EEG to measure his subjects' brainwaves, he found a rhythm in the right inferior parietal lobe (RPL) that rose and fell at about 13 Hz. Perhaps this wave reflects the RPL's changing receptivity to new information, leading to discrete visual frames. To test this idea, VanRullen used transcranial magnetic stimulation to disrupt the RPL brainwave. This also disrupted the illusion.

But subjects shown a pair of overlapping patterns moving at the same rate may see one pattern reverse independently of the other. So perhaps the brain processes different objects within the visual field independently of one another. It seems there are several film reels, each recording a different object.

To investigate, VanRullen exposed his subjects to flashes of light barely bright enough to see, and found that the probability of them noticing the light depended on the phase of another brainwave with a frequency of about 7 Hz. The subjects were more likely to detect the flash when the wave was near its trough, and miss it when the wave was near its peak.

Ernst Pöppel, at the Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich, suggests that the snapshots from the senses may feed into blocks of information in a higher processing stream. He calls these the building blocks of consciousness and reckons they underlie our perception of time. He thinks the neural system needs 30 to 50 ms to bring together the distributed activity into one building block.

To test this idea, Pöppel measured volunteers' reaction times following a dot jumping across a computer screen. He found their reactions followed a 30 ms cycle. Whenever the dot moved, the volunteers reacted only at the end of a cycle. A similar cycle has been observed when volunteers are asked to discern whether an auditory and a visual stimulus are simultaneous or consecutive.

Edward Large, at Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, has found that rhythmic sounds can entrain gamma brainwaves, causing the beginning of each sound to be accompanied by a burst of strong wave peaks. A rhythmic beat may entrain other brainwaves too, including those behind the movie of consciousness.

AR  This picture confirms the ideas I present in Mindworlds.

2009 October 20

Are We Descended From Hot Rocks?
Nick Lane, New Scientist

Peter Mitchell, who won a Nobel prize in 1978, argued that life is powered by a kind of electricity. Energy from food is used to pump protons through a membrane and build up an electrochemical gradient across it. As the protons flow back across the membrane, they release energy that can be used to make ATP molecules.

Mitchell dubbed his theory chemiosmosis. Proton power drives not only cell respiration, but photosynthesis too. Proton gradients are often harnessed directly, rather than being used to make ATP. The root organism in the tree of life first branched into bacteria and archaea. Both of these groups have proton pumps and generate ATP from proton currents.

If Bill Martin of the University of Düsseldorf is right, the last common ancestor of life on Earth was powered by proton currents, yet its bounding membranes were unlike anything found today. Around 2002, Martin came across the work of Mike Russell of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Russell had been exploring hydrothermal vents ...

Video: Life's origins

2009 October 18

Jerry Fodor has good things to say on Michael Tye on externalism

2009 October 17

Swift image of Andromed galaxy

Andromeda Galaxy

This mosaic of M31, the Andromeda Galaxy, merges images taken by the Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope on NASA's Swift spacecraft. It is the highest-resolution image of the galaxy ever recorded in the ultraviolet. The image shows a region 200,000 light-years wide and 100,000 light-years high. M31 is more than 220,000 light-years across and lies 2.5 million light-years away. Between May and July 2008, Swift's Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope acquired 330 images of M31 at wavelengths of 192.8, 224.6, and 260 nm in a total exposure time of 24 hours to generate 85 GB of image data.

2009 October 15

Can shale gas sate America's hunger for energy?
Are there more billionaires in China than in the United States?
Is the U.S. National Security Agency a national disaster?

2009 October 13

The Lost Prestige of Nuclear Physics
N. J. Slabbert, The New Atlantis

Albert Einstein became the iconic face of the early atomic age. Later in the twentieth century, the public perception of the atom's promise to serve humanity collapsed. Nuclear science's loss of prestige is connected to a broader wave of skepticism about science and technology.

Herman Kahn thought about military strategy and nuclear weapons policy at the RAND Corporation. His book On Thermonuclear War (1960) discussed the prospect of a nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union. He described such a war as survivable and systematically projected various steps for survival.

Kahn's willingness to discuss the most unsettling aspects of nuclear power was sensational. But Kahn held that the nation's advanced technologies, industrial capabilities, and social and economic traditions and institutions were forces for good.

For the United States, the second half of the twentieth century has seen a loss of prestige of nuclear physics. This has its roots in a failure to develop a philosophy of science and technology that can interpret innovation as a moral enterprise.

Nuclear physics is so central to science that a failure to restore its stature must bode ill for the future. America must choose between a morally sustainable mission in pursuit of an achievable dream of a better world or a tragic association of science and technology with fear and nightmare.

AR  Kahn coined the term megadeath. His thoughts impressed me
      as a teenager. To think the unthinkable! Perhaps it was good
      training for my philosophy.

Robert Wright on the evolution of the Abrahamic God versus
Karen Armstrong on the apophatic tradition

China and its technocrats — 60 years of The People's Republic

2009 October 11

The New York Times

   The Evidence for Evolution
   By Richard Dawkins
   Free Press, 480 pages

The theory of evolution really does explain everything in biology. The phenomena that Darwin understood in broad brush strokes can now be accounted for in the precise language of DNA. No serious biologist doubts that evolutionary explanations exist or will be found for every jot and tittle in the grand script. To biologists and others, it is a source of amazement and embarrassment that many Americans repudiate Darwin's theory.

"A magnificent book of wonderstanding" — Matt Ridley
"This may be his best book yet" — V. S. Ramachandran
"A must-read for Darwin Year" — Jerry Coyne
"Clear, absorbing, and vivid" — Lord Harries of Pentregarth
"A stunning exhibition of the evidence" — Dr. Alice Roberts

2009 October 9

Obama Wins Nobel Peace Prize?
John Dickerson, Slate

Last Friday, the International Olympic Committee stiffed him. Today, Obama wins gold. The committee credited Obama not for concrete accomplishments but for atmospheric ones: "Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future. His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world's population."

The committee can pick whomever it wants. But in his 1895 will, Alfred Nobel stipulated that the peace prize should go "to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations and the abolition or reduction of standing armies and the formation and spreading of peace congresses."

AR  All Obama has done to deserve this so far is to mouth all the
      platitudes one expects from a presidential innocent. This
      excessive showering of honors on the top banana reminds me
      of the personality cult that Ceausescu cultivated.

2009 October 8

University College London
University College London
Oxford University Slips
Polly Curtis, The Guardian

Oxford University has slipped down an international league table of the world's top universities. Oxford fell one place to joint #5 with Imperial College London in the rankings. University College London (UCL) came #4, after Yale at #3, Cambridge at #2, and Harvard at #1. The UK has 4 of the top 10 slots and 18 in the top 100. The United States had 42 universities in the top 100 in 2008 but has only 36 in 2009. The number of Asian universities in the top 100 has increased from 14 to 16. The University of Tokyo, at #22, is the highest ranked Asian university.

AR  Looks like I was lucky with the timing: two UCL professors
      wrote back cover puffs for my new book Mindworlds.

Singularity Summit 2009 — my cheat sheet

2009 October 5

Religion and the Brain
Brandon Keim, Wired

In a newly published study, Jordan Grafman and his team used an MRI to measure the brains areas in 40 people of varying degrees of religious belief. The results fit with their earlier work on how religious sentiment triggers other neural networks involved in social cognition. Grafman suspects that religious belief originated in mechanisms that helped primates to understand each other.

2009 October 4

Report: Iran Can Make Nuclear Bomb
W.J. Broad and D.E. Sanger, The New York Times

A report by experts in the International Atomic Energy Agency describes a program run by Iran's Ministry of Defense to develop a nuclear payload to be delivered using the Shahab 3 missile system. The Institute for Science and International Security has published excerpts from the report.

2009 October 3-4

Singularity Summit 2009
92 Street Y, New York, New York

AR  Sorry, Ray, I really wanted to be there and say hi, also to meet
      Steve and talk with Dave again. But the €2K tab was too much.

2009 October 3

Completed a pleasant reading of The Consolations of Philosophy by Alain de Botton (published 2000), in which he discusses in a light and charming way the lives and practical philosophies of Socrates, Epicurus, Seneca, Montaigne, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche, each in a chapter. I especially enjoyed the last two chapters.
Britain Must Grow Up
Rafael Behr, The Guardian

The second Irish referendum has approved the Lisbon treaty, removing one of the last obstacles to its taking effect. Sceptics say this document is a European constitution in disguise that will whisk away Albion's ancient powers.

The European Union is an alliance of sovereign nations in which British prime ministers have collaborated because it serves the country's interests. The Lisbon Treaty is just one in a parade of flawed but worthwhile compromises required to make a multinational alliance work.

Scepticism is a healthy position to take towards grand political projects, especially when, like the EU, they are infused with the vanity of statesmen. But the kind of parochial phobia that is normal in Britain's discussion of the EU is paranoid nonsense.

2009 October 1

Nuclear Iran Alarms Arabs
Michael Slackman, The New York Times

Among Iran's Persian Gulf neighbors there is growing resignation that Iran cannot be stopped from developing nuclear arms. Some analysts have predicted that a regional arms race will begin and that vulnerable states, like Bahrain, may be encouraged to invite nuclear powers to place weapons on their territories as a deterrent. The head of a research center in Dubai said that it might even be better to stage a military strike on Iran, rather than letting it emerge as a nuclear power.

His Dark Materials Banned
Ed Pilkington, The Guardian

Novelist and children's writer Philip Pullman has been showered with awards, including a CBE, a Carnegie Medal, and several honorary professorships. This week his fantasy trilogy, His Dark Materials, is ranked second in the top 10 banned books in the new rankings issued this week by the American Library Association.

Pullman quipped he was "very glad to be back in the top 10 banned books" and added: "Of course it's a worry when anybody takes it upon themselves to dictate what people should or should not read. The power of organized religion is very strong in the U.S."

AR  Pullman is an alumnus of Exeter College, Oxford.


No Light Speed Bumps?
New Scientist

A hint that quantum fluctuations in spacetime slow gamma rays is not confirmed by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope. The new results contradict a 2005 result from the MAGIC gamma- ray telescope suggesting that spacetime is not smooth. It seems quantum gravity is not responsible for the time delay observed by MAGIC. The Fermi telescope detected light from a 7- billion year old gamma-ray burst with no evidence of a lag between photons over a range of energies. The result does not refute quantum gravity. Only a subset of models predict the effect.

Rechargeable Zinc-Air Batteries
MIT Technology Review

A Swiss company, ReVolt, says it has developed rechargeable zinc- air batteries that can store three times the energy of lithium ion batteries at half the price. The new design is still years away from production.

Warped Spacetime
Sean Carroll
Cosmic Variance

Rachel Bean of Cornell University used cosmological data to test how well general relativity (GR) describes spacetime on a large scale. To test GR in cosmology, you need to understand what is creating the gravitational field. ... GR predicts that the space curvature and the time curvature will be equal. To test the prediction, you can try to measure both forms of curvature ... The data ... is inconsistent with GR.

God Is Not The Creator
Richard Alleyn, The Telegraph

Professor Ellen van Wolde, a respected Old Testament scholar and author, claims the first sentence of Genesis "in the beginning God created the Heaven and the Earth" is not a true translation of the Hebrew. She said the Hebrew verb "bara" does not mean "to create" but to "spatially separate". The first sentence should now read "in the beginning God separated the Heaven and the Earth."

She said her new analysis showed that the beginning of the Bible was not the beginning of time, but the beginning of a narration: "It meant to say that God did create humans and animals, but not the Earth itself." She concluded that God separated the Earth from the Heaven, the land from the sea, and the sea monsters from the birds. "The traditional view of God the Creator is untenable now."

AR  Well, whaddya know? The biblical assertion now admits reasonable interpretation within the "autophenomenology of genocentricity" (evolutionary) account of the Abrahamic God expounded in my Godblogs.

Nobel Prize for Literature
Der Spiegel

Die Berlinerin Herta Müller bekommt den Literaturnobelpreis 2009. Kaum einer in der Szene hatte die Ehrung für sie erwartet.

Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket
Graphic: Ad Astra Rocket Company

Big Ion Engine
New Scientist

The Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR) may be used to maintain the orbit of the International Space Station (ISS) and could lead to rockets that fly to Mars in about a month. The engine uses radio waves to heat argon gas, turning it into a hot plasma. Magnetic fields then squirt the plasma out the back to produce thrust. A 200 kW engine could boost the ISS orbit.


Zoroastrianism, The Real Story
"In these days of fear and indecision forced upon us by the AIOG (Arabo-Islamic Occupational Government), let us safeguard our great icons such as Zarathustra and our great classical Persian philosophies
such as Zoroastrianism."