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
Robots at war
2009 December 31
2020 visions from The Independent
Coolpix of my study
2009 December 26-30
Beyond the Darkness by Shirley du Boulay
(a biography of Bede
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
The Marriage of East and West by Bede Griffiths
(from beginning to
2009 December 24
Image: 20th Century Fox
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
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
It's one of the most awesome scientific enterprises of all
>> 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
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
"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
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
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
The Airbus Military A400M airlifter completes its maiden flight
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
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,
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
2009 December 6
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 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.
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 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
Oxford's "Home of Egalitarian,
Enlightened and Erudite Islam"
Impact of gasoline inhalation
on some neurobehavioural characteristics of male rats
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
Batteries: MAIL Beats Lithium
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
2009 November 29
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
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
I defer to Markram's condemnation of the
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
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
AR Olga presents the
paper today in Rome.
2009 November 19
IBM Simulates Cat Brain
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
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
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.
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 am Bethaniendamm, Berlin-Kreuzberg, 1986. Thierry Noir,
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
"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
Galen Strawson on selves and how my
mindworlds create them
2009 November 8
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
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
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
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."
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.
Photo: Rolf Kickuth
Me, caught off-guard in a paparazzi shot, at age 60
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
I want one!
How Many Universes Are There?
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.
Bostrom wins the
Inaugural Gannon Award
The Gannon Group presents
The Eugene R. Gannon Jr. Award for the Continued Pursuit of Human
The 2009 Gannon Award winner is Nick Bostrom, professor of philosophy at
The Promise and Challenge
of Humanity's Future
"I guess that in the far future the human condition will have changed
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,
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
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
Credit: L.A. Mirny, M. Imakaev
The Human Genome in 3D
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
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
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!"
Also sprach Zarathustra
The People's Republic
of China celebrates
its 60th anniversary
2009 October 30
Brain Scans Read Thoughts
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.
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
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
Quantum to Cosmos
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
AR This picture confirms
the ideas I present in Mindworlds.
2009 October 20
Are We Descended From Hot Rocks?
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
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
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
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
His thoughts impressed me
teenager. To think the unthinkable! Perhaps it was good
training for my
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
New York Times
THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH
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?
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
AR All Obama has done to deserve this
so far is to mouth all the
platitudes one expects from a presidential
excessive showering of honors on the top banana
of the personality cult that Ceausescu
2009 October 8
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
Singularity Summit 2009 — my cheat
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
2009 October 4
Report: Iran Can Make Nuclear
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
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
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
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?
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
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.
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
Nobel Prize for Literature
Die Berlinerin Herta Müller bekommt den Literaturnobelpreis 2009. Kaum einer in
der Szene hatte die Ehrung für sie erwartet.
Graphic: Ad Astra Rocket Company
Big Ion Engine
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."