BLOG 2024 Q1

⊚ Paramount Pictures
Annihilation (2018)
James Lanternman: "The Shimmer refracts everything inside it, including DNA, merging all living things into new forms ..
This process of universal genetic mutation gives form to the concept that nature exists in a fundamentally
larger and more powerful realm than any living thing."

⊚ Paramount Pictures
Natalie Portman in


2024 Easter Sunday

The Genesis Device

A Star Trek Wiki

In Star Trek, the Genesis Device was an experimental piece of technology developed by the United Federation of Planets.
The device was incorporated into a torpedo launched from a shuttle. When detonated, it radiated its impact region with a Genesis Wave that altered the surrounding matter. Its "matrix" then reassembled the matter into organic molecules and primitive lifeforms and prepared the target location to support humanoid life.
When activated among existing life forms, the wave destroyed them and restructured them to match the new life matrix. Once activated, this Genesis Effect was unstoppable.

Rotten Tomatoes

Kambole Campbell: "Annihilation is the best kind of sci‑fi film − the kind that challenges and subverts the genre, all the while introducing new ideas that you'll see in films to come."
Wenlei Ma: "But the dialogue is clunky and the plot disjointed."
Lucy Hunter Johnston: "The more familiar aspects of Annihilation are enlivened by the entirely female dynamic."
Simran Hans: "Even with some high-concept brilliance, the confusing story and narration fail to hold the film together."
Justin Micallef: "Alex Garland's trippy little cosmic horror film manages to awe, horrify and perplex all at the same time. A modern classic."
Trace Thurman: "A cerebral mix of philosophy and science fiction .. Sublime and surreal."

AR Annihilation begins with the impact of a Genesis bomb onto Earth in contemporary America. The story relates the attempts of hapless humans to understand and mitigate its effects. The focus of the action is so close as to induce claustrophobic horror at best, derision as worst.
As a sci‑fi trigger for speculative and creative thoughts, the movie is a success. As a technically or militarily plausible reconstruction of a planetary drama, it fails to enable suspension of disbelief. As a human drama, it fails as badly as all too many sci‑fi stories.
Like so much futurology in Star Trek, the concept of a Genesis bomb is brilliant. The idea that nature operates at the level of fundamental physics to support the evolution of life in ways vastly beyond the factual history of life on Earth is inspiring.



2024 March 30


Max Kozlov, Nature Magazine

When a long-term memory forms, some neurons experience a rush of electrical activity so strong that it snaps their DNA. An inflammatory response then repairs the damage, helping to fix the memory.
Researchers trained mice to associate a small electrical shock with a new environment, so that when the mice were once again put into that environment, they would remember and show signs of fear. The researchers examined gene activity in neurons in the hippocampus and found that some genes responsible for inflammation were active in a set of neurons for a few days after training.
Protein TLR9 causes the inflammation by triggering an immune response to DNA fragments floating around in cells. TLR9 is most active in a subset of hippocampal neurons in which DNA breaks resist repair. In these cells, DNA repair machinery accumulates in the centrosome. Deleting the gene encoding TLR9 in the mice gave them trouble recalling long-term memories about training.
A subset of hippocampal neurons forms a trace of a memory, an engram. The neurons express certain genes after a learning event, but mostly other neurons show memory-related inflammation.

AR I see all this as work in progress. Memory is still mysterious in neural terms, and work like this exploring what happens in the hippocampus helps advance our understanding.


Wareham Forest, Good Friday



2024 March 29


John Gray

A single version of Christianity became the Roman state religion in 380 CE. It crushed its rivals out of existence, but it was not destiny. The established view of Jesus is a historical accident.
Christians wilfully demolished Roman civilization. A pluralistic regime admitting many gods became a repressive monolith that persecuted dissenters. Yet there was a fundamental change in values.
The historical Jesus arose in a tradition of charismatic Judaism. Paul made him the author of a global religion. Recognition of the equal dignity of every human being became part of Western civilization.
Modern liberalism arose from Christianity. Classical civilization required a caste of slaves, but slavery was problematic in Christian ethics. Modern liberals spurn a society founded on slavery.
The rationalist faith that a better world will come from banishing theism seems incredible. As Christianity retreats, people turn to secular superstitions or an extreme ideal of equality.

AR People have a strong natural urge to follow a faith of some kind. Christianity seems to have sated that urge for many people for a long time. This is an intriguing data point.
On the principle that one should go study the ants and learn, I guess we should try to craft a belief system for future civilization based on a faith resembling Christianity in some of its key functional parameters. Study the faith as a system for entraining personal feelings and seek to reconstruct the mechanism in a system allowing upgraded doctrines to be plugged in.
Naturally, crafting such a system is so far from done, even in the broadest outline, that I can only hint darkly that it will somehow be a theme in my next book.

EHT Collaboration
Milky Way's central black hole
Sagittarius A* imaged in
polarized light


2024 March 28

AI Climate Forecasts


Conventional climate models are built from equations to describe how physical processes affect the climate. These models make climate projections that guide global policy. But they run on super­computers, take weeks to run, and waste energy.
AI and machine learning (ML) are used for weather forecasting and climate modeling in several ways:
1  ML emulators produce the same results as conventional models without the long calculations.
 — QuickClim predicted how global surface temperatures change under many carbon emission scenarios about a million times faster than a conventional model.
 — ACE used estimates from 6 hours earlier to make good forecasts 6 hours ahead, over a time span of up to a decade.
2  AI foundation models power better climate models by finding predictive patterns in the data.
 — ClimaX predicts the average surface temperature, daily temperature range, and rainfall worldwide from input levels of various gases.
3  ML components inside physics-based models produce hybrid models. The ML models replace only parts that work less well, such as on cloud formation, snow cover, and river flows.
 Destination Earth will use ML for a digital twin of Earth to simulate weather and climate down to km scales with speed and accuracy.

AR All this is very encouraging, but its relevance depends on the political will to implement the policies that reasonably stem from the climate forecasts thus obtained. Denialists need to recognise that the new climate models are brilliantly good.

2024 March 27

3 Body Problem

Rotten Tomatoes

Marianna Neal: "Is it terrible? No, absolutely not. It's enjoyable, it's high production value sci‑fi, it's going places, it's high stakes, it's large scope and scale, it asks interesting questions. But is it great? Sadly, no."
Adam Sweeting: "A mind-bending sci‑fi epic spanning multiple decades, while also reaching centuries into the past and future, it can scarcely be faulted for lack of ambition, but sometimes there's just too much going on to digest properly."
Lili Loofbourow: "The series juggles the perspectives and quandaries of its flawed and confused scientists with sympathy and nuance. The dialogue is intelligent, witty and believable."
Jean Henegan: "Taking the Chinese-centric story, moving it to England, and creating a tapestry of characters based on several of the novel's key characters, 3 Body Problem is a valiant attempt at translating a novel that has been called unadaptable to the small screen."
Phillip Maciak: "The show should be a celebration, a statement, a home run swing. Instead its style is anonymous, the work of a corporate author rather than an artistic intelligence."
Joy Press: "3 Body Problem weaves philosophical quandaries into a propulsive science fiction tale with such audacity that I don't mind that it doesn't always pull it off. At least it shoots for the stars."

AR Cixin Liu's classic sci‑fi trilogy is now an eight‑part Netflix series, with the implied promise of more seasons to come. What could possibly go wrong?
Quite a lot, actually. Mulched down to the generic Netflix series format, with a plot shaped to feature eight cliffhangers, a cast chosen to rank inclusivity over credibility or fidelity, a script with plenty of dumbing down and a generous sprinkling of f‑words, slow-paced meanders into human-interest byways that dilute the story, and a sketchy take on the most interesting questions of physics and philosophy the story raises, the outcome is still very good, but it's not glorious.
For its central purpose, namely to engage contemporary Netflix audiences, the series is about as good as it gets. I give it four stars.



2024 March 26

Atomic Qubits

Philip Ball

Quantum circuits using atomic qubits can perform quantum computations and error correction.
The states of neutral atoms can have coherence times of many seconds. The atoms can be entangled using laser light. We can trap the atoms with optical tweezers and pack them in dense grids.
For qubits to entangle, they must interact. Neutral atoms feel van der Waals forces, which have short range. We can extend the interactions to several μm by pumping the atoms into Rydberg states.
To implement a quantum algorithm, we encode qubits in atomic energy levels and entangle atomic states by switching on Rydberg interactions. A Rydberg blockade makes interactions all or nothing.
We can create a Rydberg blockade between an atom and a trapped molecule. Such hybrid systems are easier to manipulate. Molecular qubits can have very long coherence times.
A few hundred Rb atoms forming 48 logical qubits have implemented a controlled NOT gate.

AR This seems a more promising approach than using SQUIDs or ions for qubits, but let's wait and see. A controlled NOT gate does not yet make a computing revolution. I guess one day a better platform may emerge from work in spintronics or photonics.

ELEM Biotech
Virtual humans are surrogates
in virtual patient trials, in
clinician support, and in
treatment innovation
and development


2024 March 25

Digital Twins

Joe Zadeh

Thanks to advances in AI, the internet of things, machine learning, and sensor technologies, the idea of digital twins has taken off. Tech giants like IBM, Nvidia, Amazon, and Microsoft are providing digital twin capabilities to automotive, energy, and infrastructure firms.
Digital twins allow the inefficiencies of the physical world to be ironed out in a virtual one and then reflected back onto reality. Test risk is removed, and problems can be solved before they happen.
ELEM Biotech co-founder Mariano Vázquez: "We are looking for the mathematical roots of reality. We do it with the weather, we do it with supernovas and galaxy formation, we do it with volcanoes. Why not do it with a human being?"
ELEM created a complex and realistic computer simulation of the average human heart. That involved a lot of physics and collaboration with a local hospital to gather cardiac data. They built an average model they could tweak and adjust based on personal data to create a range of virtual hearts. Their computational tool lets pharmacy companies test the cardiac safety of their products in virtual humans.
The dream of a digital twin is to bypass the averages and biases and develop a personalized and predictive form of healthcare that is built around a person's specific physiology and pathology. Your digital twin would also assist in keeping you healthy.
Digital models have replaced physical models. Digital twins move beyond abstraction to represent all the functionalities of a physical object. They may change our relationship with physical reality.

AR Digital twins are computationally too expensive for more than the most socially, economically, or technically important objects, systems, or processes. The dream of modeling whole universes this way is already impossible for thermodynamic reasons.
In the medical sector, virtual humans are a predictable development for the favored few. They are unthinkable for the masses in a UK where the NHS is chronically and cripplingly underfunded − but they're an ideal we can strive for.


Poole Bay, Palm Sunday



2024 March 24

A Conscious Sun?

Stav Dimitropoulos

Neuroscientist Giulio Tononi's integrated information theory of consciousness (IIT) implies that consciousness is possible outside brains. Neuroscientist Christof Koch says where there are organized lumps of matter, consciousness follows.
Sheffield philosophy professor Keith Frankish: "If consciousness is not essentially connected to brain processes, then there's no reason to think it must be restricted to brains. Maybe everything has a little inner glow to it."
Admitting consciousness then implies panpsychism. Frankish: "Consciousness doesn't exist, and we only think it does because we are under a sort of illusion about our own minds."
Biologist Rupert Sheldrake believes that not only are humans conscious, but the galaxy is too. He says morphic resonance lets self-organizing systems form faster following previous, similar systems, so species share collective memories. He now says the Sun is conscious.
Sheldrake: "Consciousness does not need to be confined to brains. The link between minds and physical systems seems to be through rhythmic electromagnetic fields, which of course are present in our brains. They are also present in and around the Sun, and these could be the interface between the solar mind and the body of the Sun."

AR Wonderful confusion! I maintain that IIT plus mental epiphenomenalism plus Stephen Wolfram's ANKOS understanding of computational universalism together imply panpsychism.
In speculations I first published thirty years ago, humans are conscious by virtue of the organization quintessentially expressed in their DNA, the Sun is "superconscious" because of the organization enabled by quantum electrodynamics (QED), and neutron stars are "hyperconscious" because of the organization enabled by quantum chromodynamics (QCD).
I expanded all this in my 1996 sci-fi novel LIFEBALL.

⊚ Kenn Brown/MondoWorks


2024 March 23

Brains and Intelligent Machines

George Musser

The dream of AI is artificial general intelligence, AGI. Large language models solve only one piece of AGI. AI developers build modularity into their systems, but no one is sure how brain regions work together to create a coherent self, let alone how a machine could mimic that.
According to global workspace theory (GWT), modules share information in consciousness. In GWT, brain modules operate mostly independently, but every 100 ms or so they have a staff meeting, a structured shouting contest. Each module has some information to offer, and the more confident it is, the louder it shouts. The winning module puts its information into the workspace.
Conscious attention is a scarce resource. The winning module must be selective in what it says to other modules. Artificial neural networks have billions or trillions of parameters but tend to get lost in the detail. An attention mechanism must funnel options through a bottleneck to let the global workspace make a hard choice.
Information is translated between the modules. When we train two neural networks on English and French, each develops an internal representation like a word cloud. The two clouds are similar because they both refer to the same world, so we rotate the clouds until they align. This can handle subtle shades of meaning and words with no direct counterpart in the other language.
Generative neural networks generate new text and images based on their training and are fastidious about detail. But intelligence involves the selective neglect of detail. Streamlined representations enable a range of cognitive functions that will be essential to AGI.

AR Musser's report is long and rich in detail, so my text is only an appetizer. The challenge of building an AGI that can enable humanoid robots to function as people is very far from overcome, but we are progressing fast. I think we'll have cracked the worst problems within, say, a decade.

Quantum tornado
Gateway to understanding
black holes


2024 March 22

Mathematics of Randomness

Davide Castelvecchi

Michel Talagrand developed formulas to make random processes more predictable. The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters has awarded him the 2024 Abel Prize for his contributions to probability theory and functional analysis.
Talagrand specializes in the theory of probability and stochastic processes. His inequalities are formulas that set limits to the swings in stochastic processes. They express how the contributions of many factors often cancel each other out, making the overall result less variable.
Talagrand's estimates are useful for studying problems such as optimizing the route of a delivery truck. Finding a perfect solution would require too much computation, so we instead calculate the lengths of a limited number of random candidate routes and then take the average. Talagrand's inequalities ensure that the result is close to optimal.
Abel committee chair Helge Holden: "The magic here is to find a good estimate, not just a rough estimate."

AR This is good and useful work. Well done, that man!


⊚ Soazig de la Moissonnière / Présidence de la République
French president Emmanuel Macron



2024 March 21

EU Plans War Footing

Lisa O'Carroll

EU leaders are meeting to discuss ways to increase military and financial support for Ukraine.
European council president Charles Michel: "Now that we are facing the biggest security threat since the second world war, it is high time we take radical and concrete steps to be defence-ready and put the EU's economy on a war footing."
French president Emmanuel Macron proposes defence bonds to fund increased defence investment. Frugal EU states are opposed to raising common EU debt that would burden taxpayers for decades.
Mandating each EU member state to contribute 2% of GDP to EU defence can raise up to €80 billion. Confiscating interest on Russian assets could raise a further €27 billion.

AR This is a reasonable response to Russian belligerence.


Morden Bog, Vernal Equinox (VE) day



2024 Vernal Equinox

The Weimar Triangle

Paul Taylor

The Weimar Triangle brings Poland together with Germany and France in a regular diplomatic dialog. Polish prime minister Donald Tusk joined German chancellor Olaf Scholz and French president Emmanuel Macron in Berlin last Friday.
Poland is rearming and pouring aid into Ukraine. With a dynamic economy and a population of nearly 40 million, Poland can become a regional military power and a fortress against Russian aggression.
The previous Polish government feuded with the EU. New PM Tusk can play a role in EU leadership. He is mending relations with Brussels and may join Berlin and Paris to reform the EU.
The Weimar Triangle was the brainchild of former German foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher. He aimed to reconcile reunited Germany and democratic Poland within the EU.
Poland has long warned of the looming threat from Russia. With US military aid to Ukraine blocked in Congress, Europe needs to send more arms to Ukraine.
Tusk: "Ukraine needs less talk and more ammo."

AR Despite what the Pope said, Europe has no reasonable choice but to support Ukraine in its armed resistance against Putin's Russia. Given the risk of losing US military aid, European powers have a clear duty to organize their defenses against Russian aggression.
NATO, the natural bulwark against aggression, is weakened by US political division. The EU can play a key role in bolstering the European contribution to NATO sufficiently to prevail against Putin's Russia even without US support. But it's a big ask.

Dune 2
⊚ Warner Media
Timothée Chalamet
Dune: Part Two


2024 March 19

Dune: Part 2

Rotten Tomatoes

Sarah Knight Adamson: "With an engaging story, a cast at their very best, along with stunning visuals, this is a masterpiece."
William Evans: "Dune: Part Two is a movie that feels like the culmination of everything that can make a big epic story like this great on the big screen."
Filipe Freitas: "Directed with ferocity by Denis Villeneuve, the film pushes the envelope with its gripping dark atmosphere, suspenseful hunts and ambushes, intricate rituals and prophecies, psyche­delic imagery, and exhilarating fights set against magnificent backdrops."
Jim Ross: "Dune: Part Two improves on its predecessor in some crucial ways, but the reliance on spectacle leaves gaps in the storytelling and a frustratingly ephemeral interest in the most interesting ideas."
Paul Salfen: "An incredible sci‑fi epic that well surpasses the first part and achieves on every level. This might be the best sci‑fi film we've had in many years."

AR I saw Dune: Part Two in an iSense cinema. It was a truly epic experience, a masterful movie, an emotionally powerful contribution to the ethnographic depiction of messianism. In a post‑9/11 world, such an impactful and persuasive take on old‑time religion is invaluable.
Ideally, watching a movie trilogy (assuming Dune: Part 3) like this could convert religious Islamists to rational opponents of big business. As such, they would be dragged into the modern world and forced to confront their ignorance of the power of New Atheism. That's progress.

⊚ Nvidia
Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang:
"Building foundation models
for general humanoid robots
is one of the most exciting
problems to solve in
AI today."


Nvidia News

Financial Times

Nvidia chief executive Jensen Huang says Nvidia's Blackwell graphics processing units will massively increase the computing power driving large language models. The Blackwell GPU has 208 billion transistors. Nvidia's GB200 superchip will combine two Blackwell GPUs with a Grace CPU.
Huang spoke at the SAP Center in San Jose, California. Nvidia's market cap is now $2.2 trillion, over­taking Google and Amazon to become #3 after Microsoft and Apple. Google, Amazon, and Microsoft are Nvidia customers. Huang says AI will transform the global economy.

Exaflops computing for trillion-parameter AI models

Nvidia's Blackwell series of AI chips will power frontier AI models. The Grace Blackwell GB200 puts 2 Blackwell B200 chips on a board with a Grace CPU. The GB200 compute tray combines 2 Grace CPUs with 4 Blackwell GPUs and 1.7 TB of fast memory to deliver 80 petaflops of AI performance.
The GB200 NVL72 supercomputer has 30 TB of unified memory and a 130 TB/s compute fabric for exaflops AI on a server rack. The DGX SuperPOD packs eight racks into a datacenter for 11.5 exaflops at FP4 precision and 240 TB of fast memory to process trillion-parameter AI models.

Foundation model for humanoid robots

Project GR00T is a foundation model for humanoid robots. GR00T enables humanoid embodiments to learn from a handful of human demonstrations with imitation learning and reinforcement learning. The GR00T model takes multimodal instructions and past interactions as input and produces executable actions for the robot.

Jetson Thor

Nvidia is building an AI platform for humanoid robot makers. It will build Jetson Thor, a computer for running simulation workflows, generative AI models, and more for the humanoid form factor.

AR Huang spoke at the SAP Center: Good boost for SAP. Back in the day, my team at SAP built our fast analytics engine to run on Nvidia GPUs.



2024 March 18

Putin's Russia

Financial Times

This weekend's electoral procession to anoint Vladimir Putin to a fifth term is emblematic of how much damage he has already done. He has squashed political competition at home and brought war back to the European continent. His fifth term is a threat to Europe and the world.
Putin's Kremlin long ago squandered its chance to funnel gushing natural resource revenues into diversification and modernisation. Russian resilience largely reflects success in shifting the economy to a war footing. The conflict has left Moscow reliant on an unequal alliance with China.
The Putinist system may be more brittle than it appears. The West needs to rebuild its defences as a deterrent and to give Ukraine all the support it needs. Ensuring Putin does not prevail there is the best way to prevent his fifth term from extending into a sixth.

AR This is about my take on the 21st-century Russian tragedy. Putin started well and had his chance to align Russia with Europe − even to join NATO and give a new face to the alliance. Instead, he has revived an old despotic tradition in Russian history that can only end badly.



2024 March 17

Climate Change: 5 Ideas

New Scientist

  Build a solar power station in space. A 10 km solar panel in geostationary orbit could produce 200 TW. It would beam microwaves to a ground-based rectenna with an area of some 2 ha per MW. The carbon cost of making the solar panels and getting them into space is high.
  Build energy islands. Wind power is intermittent and must be sent back to land. Energy islands could form hubs in a European supergrid. The sand and concrete islands would support nearby wind farms and together produce 56 GW, maybe for electrolytic hydrogen.
  Stabilise the ice sheet covering West Antarctica. Its failure could end up raising global sea levels by up to 5 m. Warm seawater flowing under the ice shelf melts it from beneath. A floating 80 km curtain tethered to the seabed could reduce the flow but could cost up to $100 billion.
  Regreen the Sinai peninsula. This could restore local water cycles. Deepening Lake Bardawil on the coast would improve its water quality, restore fish stocks, and enlarge surrounding wetlands. Fog collectors could condense water vapour from excavated wet sediment.
  Suck 80 megatons of CO2 from the air each year. We would need to build about 10 big direct air capture plants a year, starting now. Building and operating enough plants to hit the 2050 target could use 50 Pg of water per year and 6 EJ of energy per year.

AR Solar power from orbit is a good idea if it pays off before we get practical fusion power. Energy islands around European coasts seem little better than wind farms without islands. Stabilising the Antarctic ice sheet may need more than a big sea curtain. Regreening the Sinai is good if Gulf oil revenues pay for it. DCC from the atmosphere is a desperate way to bury tons of money.

1 fm = 10 −15 m = 1 fermi


2024 March 16

Inside the Proton

Charlie Wood

The proton is a tiny world with extremely high core pressures. Halfway to the surface, force vortices clash against each other and bend spacetime in and around the particle. The region of curved space­time may extend over 0.6 fm from its center. The electric charge extends over 0.8 fm.
The energy-momentum tensor tells spacetime how to bend. If we could learn the shape of spacetime surrounding a proton, we could infer all the properties indexed in its energy-momentum tensor, including the proton's mass and spin, along with the arrangement of its pressures and forces.
In the heart of the proton, the strong force generates pressures about 10 times the pressure at the heart of a neutron star. A twisting force close to the core is balanced by an opposite twist nearer the surface. Farther out, the pressure falls, then turns inward to hold the proton together.
Protons are made from u and d quarks that act like waves extending beyond the surface. The binding of the proton may arise from an interaction between these extended quarks. The attraction of the strong force extends to 1.4 fm and beyond.

AR The is new knowledge. A century ago, the proton was barely more than a hypothetical ball of positive charge that somehow sat together with neutrons in the atomic nucleus. Science has brought us a long way.

Claire Voisin
Claire Voisin


2024 March 15

Mathematical Creativity

Claire Voisin

I am a professional mathematician. I sit at a desk and work on a computer, but I need to follow my mind, to keep myself thinking. At some moments, my brain starts working by itself, and I am thinking about mathematics without having intended to.
An abstract definition, once you are familiar with it, is not abstract anymore. The mathematical objects we study look concrete, because we know them much better than anything else. By learning about them, by manipulating them and using them, we ultimately befriend them.
I worked in complex analytic and differential geometry. But the more I work in algebraic geometry, the more I see the need for these two different languages. The theorem called GAGA (géométrie algébrique et géométrie analytique) says you can pass from one language to the other.
Before mathematics, there is language. A lot of logic is already inside language. You can compare poetry and mathematics, in that they both completely rely on the language but still create something new. We constantly rewrite and simplify.

AR I can relate to this. My own mathematical work as a graduate student was tangled and untidy, and ultimately not mathematics but actually philosophy, which took me time to appreciate. Still, with a few more years of focus, it could have tidied up quite well.
Rewriting and simplifying my work over the decades has led me into deep philosophy, bordering on mysticism, with applications in psychology and epistemology. It is no longer mathematics. I see math as having provided the formal backbone for my work.



2024 March 14

America and Israel

Ro Khanna

I've been a longtime supporter of the US−Israel relationship. But the bear-hugging of Benjamin Netanyahu has been a strategic mistake. Netanyahu has conducted a callous war in defiance of the United States.
Biden needs to say he's for Israel but not for this extreme rightwing government. If Netanyahu defies the United States, then no more weapons transfers and no protecting Netanyahu from the entire international community at the United Nations.
We shouldn't be giving Netanyahu the offensive weapons to go kill more people in Gaza. If this war continues, it creates a problem for us. Large parts of our base are unhappy.

Factually incorrect and morally indefensible
Andrew Pulver

Holocaust Survivors Foundation USA chairman David Schaecter wrote to The Zone of Interest director Jonathan Glazer: "You made a Holocaust movie and won an Oscar. And you are Jewish. Good for you. But it is disgraceful for you to presume to speak for the six million Jews .. You should be ashamed of yourself for using Auschwitz to criticize Israel."
Anti-Defamation League: "Israel is not hijacking Judaism or the Holocaust by defending itself against genocidal terrorists. Glazer's comments at the #Oscars are both factually incorrect & morally reprehensible."

AR Criticism of Israel has for too long been deflected with cries of antisemitism or dark references to the Holocaust. That said, Israeli actions in Gaza bear no comparison with the Auschwitz experience. Apart from the smaller scale of the operation, the dimension of shamelessly unmistakable purpose is lacking. Israeli actions more closely resemble Allied carpet-bombing in WW2.
By the way, I saw The Zone of Interest last week and found it less disturbing than critics lead one to expect. It was an apparently bland tale of bürgerliches family life next door to a slaughterhouse, with the deeper horror that the family breadwinner was the boss of the slaughterhouse, which processed humans. As a philosopher, I'm unfazed by such juxtapositions.

How the World Made the
West: A 4,000-Year History

by Josephine Quinn


2024 March 13

The West

Lucy Hughes-Hallett

Josephine Quinn says civilisation is a conglomeration of thousands of cultures, and bundling those entities according to geographical principles is misleading. She opposes the idea that there is such a thing as Western civilisation, independent of others.
Europeans cooked up the Western world using the wheel from the Central-Asian steppe, poetry from Persia, legal codes from Mesopotamia, mathematics from Babylon and India, Mongolian stirrups, gold from sub-Saharan Africa, maritime skills from the people of the Levant and the far north, and an Asian religion.
Quinn mocks the prejudices of philhellene Victorians. She recalls that in the 12th century CE, Christian scholars looked east for Arabic texts to translate into Latin. Quinn: "No one had yet invented classical roots for a European civilisation."

AR The drift of Quinn's argument is surely right, but we've already been set up for this approach by Yuval Noah Harari. The challenge is to shape up the approach sufficiently to make predictions − or rather retrodictions to fill in the gaps. Think of how Darwin's approach made deep sense of biological history.



2024 March 12

AI and the Patriarchy

Katrine Kielos-Marçal

Male billionaires assume superintelligent machines would set out to conquer and dominate.
The patriarchal imagination views AI through its own drive to domination. It imagines an AI monster guided by a single abstract principle, rational but insane, and fears technology as something violent. Its dominant image of human development is of an ape who rose to become a man with a spear.
AI is not inherently violent. It could let us change the way we see intelligent life on Earth.

AR There may be something in this, but it's hard to see what. Women in tech tend to seek power as much as men do. This is inherent to social life as we know it.



⦿ Jake Beech
What's your personality type?


2024 March 11

Sorting the Self

Christopher Yates

Psychology Today: "The psychology of personality promises to help people better understand them­selves and those they know in relation to others."
As of 2021, some 400 of Fortune 500 companies were using psychometric instruments to assess employees. The personality testing sector is expected to be a $6.5 billion industry by 2027. Assess­ments help calibrate matters of culture fit, efficiency, talent development, and team synergies.
Personhood is now arbitrated on the basis of tendencies and traits. Multivariate analysis defines traits as interrelated aspects of individuals that determine observable behaviors and predict future behaviors. Seen from the lab or the personnel department, the meaning of personhood is subject to precise psychometric calculation.
When we define ourselves through instrumented operations, we also skip what should be a difficult engagement with being a self. We realize our inner lives in sacrifice to schematics. We reduce mindfulness and meditation practices to wellbeing exercises.
Hans-Georg Gadamer: "The task of bringing people to a self-understanding of themselves takes on an intense urgency."

AR The personality-scoring industry is scientism in action. It would be laughable, like astrology, if it weren't taken so seriously. People believe these scores.
Being a self is a fascinating ontological adventure, or at least it should be. None of us can know ourselves perfectly, for logical reasons, but we can try.



2024 March 10

The White Flag

The Observer

In a recent interview, Pope Francis said Ukraine should have the courage of the "white flag" and negotiate an end to the war with Russia.
Francis: "Don't be ashamed to negotiate before things get worse."
Following meetings in Washington, Türkiye's foreign minister Hakan Fidan said he discussed ways to end Russia's invasion of Ukraine with US secretary of state Anthony Blinken.
Fidan: "We need a basis for talking, for this war to stop, and a dialogue to prevent worse crises, and we call for this."
Türkiye's president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan offers to host a summit between Ukraine and Russia to end the war.

AR This begins to seem fair to me. Ukrainians have proved their courage and inflicted a high price on the Putin regime for its aggression. We can negotiate a partition of Ukraine as we did in Germany.
A partition will reduce suffering all round and allow West Ukraine in time to join the EU and NATO. Once Putin the Poisoner is gone, the West can reopen the question of Russian crimes in earnest.
Getting rid of Putin and his regime looks impossible by force of arms in Ukraine. Fighting there can at best deliver a lesser solution. The strategic objective is not Crimea but the Kremlin.



2024 March 9

A Healthy Mind in a Healthy Body

Colm O'Shea

In 1819, Friedrich Ludwig Jahn was jailed in Prussia for teaching gymnastics and calisthenics.
Jahn saw gymnastics as a way to forge a sense of solidarity and civic duty in the general population. He created a series of Turnverein for practicing gymnastics and became known as the Turnvater. The Turnverein were guided by the four Fs: frisch, fromm, froh und frei.
German gymnasts eventually included both men and women. Jahn framed their physical training as preparation to fight foreign or domestic foes. The Prussian regime saw his gymnasts as a threat.
Gymnastics is characterized by its attention to precision, clean form, and military decorum. The ancient Greeks had practiced gymnastics as a discipline and understood it not only as a physical system of conditioning but one of moral education and ethical dedication to the state.
Jahn's ethnonationalism found echoes in Hitler's Aryan athletic ideal. The danger of this dynamic arising in martial arts and strength training is real. There is danger too in sedentary living.
Most people are not cut out for physically heroic action. But our culture presumes that everyone is cut out for basic literacy. Even sedentary citizens need to learn how to use their bodies well.
Americans can restore their physical soundness only if they are willing to assume responsibility for their own fitness and the fitness of their family. To retain their freedom, they must be willing to work for the physical toughness on which courage and intelligence largely depend.
NATO countries such as Finland, Denmark, Estonia, Greece, and Austria have templates for weaving physical fitness into the civic body along the lines of mandatory national service. Some form of national service can give direction to young men who otherwise drop out.
All this dovetails with the idealism of Turnvater Jahn.

AR Read this as a reminder that prevailing in hostilities against Putin's Russia, with its heroization of physical toughness and brutality, will not be easy.


Deterring Armageddon: A Biography of NATO by Peter Apps

Joe Biden, SOTU 2024


2024 March 8

State of the Union

Joe Biden

Freedom and democracy are under attack. Putin of Russia is on the march, invading Ukraine and sowing chaos throughout Europe and beyond. Ukraine can stop Putin if we stand with Ukraine and provide the weapons it needs to defend itself.
But now assistance for Ukraine is being blocked by those who want us to walk away from our leader­ship in the world. A former Republican president tells Putin: "Do whatever the hell you want."
America is a founding member of NATO. Today, we've made NATO stronger than ever. We welcomed Finland to the alliance last year, and just this morning, Sweden officially joined NATO.
We must stand up to Putin. If the United States walks away now, it will put Ukraine at risk, Europe at risk, the free world at risk. We will not walk away. We will not bow down.
The State of our Union is strong and getting stronger. A fair tax code is how we invest in health care, education, defense, and more. The way to make the tax code fair is to make big corporations and the very wealthy finally pay their share.
There are a thousand billionaires in America. Their average federal tax rate is 8.2%. No billionaire should pay a lower tax rate than a teacher, a sanitation worker, a nurse. I've proposed a minimum tax of 25% for billionaires. Imagine what that could do for America.
We are confronting the climate crisis. I'm taking the most significant action on climate ever in the history of the world. I am cutting our carbon emissions in half by 2030, creating tens of thousands of clean-energy jobs, conserving 30% of America's lands and waters by 2030.
The United States has been leading international efforts to get more humanitarian assistance into Gaza. I'm directing the US military to lead an emergency mission to establish a temporary pier in the Mediterranean on the Gaza coast that can receive large ships carrying food, water, medicine, and temporary shelters.
America is rising. We have the best economy in the world. To lead America, you need a vision for the future of what America can and should be. I see a future for all Americans.

Biden came out swinging
David Smith

Within the first few minutes of Thursday's State of the Union address in Washington, millions of Americans knew that Joe Biden, 81, had brought the fight.
The US president was feisty and fired up. For over 68 minutes, he shouted for America, let rip at Donald Trump, and found artful ways to address concerns over his age. The more that Republicans heckled him, the more he fed off their energy and turned it against them.
When the speech was over, glum Republicans bolted for the door while Democrats mobbed Biden as if he had just won the Super Bowl.

AR All this sounds encouraging. We can hope to head off the Trumpocalypse at the ballot box, if not before. Perhaps America can make it to the sunlit uplands for its 250th birthday.



2024 March 7

Quantum Theory and Gravity

Sabine Hossenfelder

Gravity is described by general relativity, a deterministic theory. But for quantum mechanics, randomness is fundamental. And general relativity cannot describe all we find in nature.
Jonathan Oppenheim says rather than trying to give quantum properties to gravity, we make gravity as random as quantum physics. In his theory, spacetime constantly shifts imperceptibly around us.
Random changes of spacetime affect the motion of quantum particles, and those quantum particles in return affect the changes of spacetime.
Oppenheim has developed a framework that combines quantum physics with classical physics. He now says he can solve the problem of infinities in the Big Bang and black holes.
Standard quantum mechanics brings in randomness during measurement. Prior to measurement, a quantum system can have many possible outcomes, but a measurement collapses them to one.
This collapse is difficult to reconcile with relativity. All we observe is the outcome of the measurement, so we cannot know it is discontinuous.
In objective collapse models, a particle makes many small adjustments that add up to what we call the collapse. Oppenheim links this idea to gravity as the cause of those random jumps.
Deviations from quantum mechanics open a way to test Oppenheim's idea. I think Oppenheim's theory is wrong, but I might be wrong.

AR I've been critical of Oppenheim's theory, so I sympathize with Hossenfelder's critical take on it. This implies that, like her, I might be wrong.
I suspect Oppenheimer's attempt to couple classical and quantum ideas won't work, but he says he's done the math. Case not yet closed.


⦿ Dominik Smolarek
Gerard Richter's Birkenau paintings, on display in Oświęcim, Poland



2024 March 6

Super Tuesday Results

Lauren Gambino

Joe Biden and Donald Trump swept to victory in numerous states on Super Tuesday. But the night exposed weaknesses in both electoral coalitions as polls show voters disapprove of both Biden and Trump. Most Americans believe neither candidate has the mental acuity to serve as president for another four years.

Bleak victory speech
David Smith

Trump gave a victory speech on Super Tuesday: "This is a .. magnificent country, and it's sad to see how far it's come and gone .. When you look at the depths where it's gone, we can't let that happen. We're going to straighten it out. We're going to close our borders. We're going to drill baby drill."
His words were bleak: "Our cities are being overrun with migrant crime, and that's Biden migrant crime. But it's a new category and it's violent .. and if they did that in their countries from where they came, they'd be killed instantly. They wouldn't do that. So the world is laughing at us. The world is taking advantage of us .. We have millions of people invading our country. This is an invasion."

AR We are witnessing a slo-mo tragedy on a continental scale. Barring what analysts call a black swan event, Americans look set to experience unprecedented chaos and horror from 2025 onward, just in time for America's 250th birthday.



2024 March 5


Edwin Frank

The New York Times has stopped doing regular book reviews in the daily paper. A climate where the newspaper of record no longer deems it worthwhile to feature criticism is not good for literature.
Books take a lot of work to write and put together but have next to no exchange value. Any use value they have is in the eye of the beholder. Writers are witnesses to the event of their own gift.
MFA programs and the growth of what is beautifully called Globish focus writers on packaging their work in English. Foreign readers are in a sense as prejudiced in favor of English as we are.
Women have been the chief audience for the novel since the form got off the ground in the 18th century. To that extent, the imaginative horizon of the modern world is female.
This is a time that is rejecting the whole idea of art and replacing it with the concern for audience that is turning museums into shopping malls and theme parks.
How much room there will be in corporate and trade publishing for real literary exploration is an open question. One can always hope that whatever it is that draws readers to books is wayward and intangible enough to frustrate the financiers.
The book we will always have with us. Among Evangelists and Islamists and Talmudists, the book is as powerful as ever.

AR Interesting perspectives here. The takeaway here for me is that a book today must have a further purpose beyond showcasing the loquacity of the author.



2024 March 4

Folklore Is Philosophy

Abigail Tulenkois

Academic philosophy has grown too specialized. A discipline that sought answers to fundamental questions has become a game for insiders.
Folklore is a repository of philosophical thinking from voices outside the traditional canon. It offers approaches that respond to the problems facing academic philosophy today.
Philosophy is a mode of wondrous engagement. This sense of wonder draws us to penetrate beyond appearances and look at reality anew.
Folklore and philosophy meet where wonder and fear converge. They both call forth wondrous fear. Both search for truth by attending to the structures of reality we often take for granted.
Storytelling is germane to the philosophic tradition. Folklore provides a model of enquiry that can transform philosophy. Stories impart ideas with maximal impact.
Folklore transcends class and educational boundaries. Its familiar and entertaining structure makes complex ideas accessible to a range of audiences.
Philosophy celebrates individuals by framing their contributions in a vacuum. But many have learned to see progress as a matter of collaboration rather than individual ownership.
Folktales are communal. Listeners alter the stories, embellish them, and change them with each retelling. Folklore preserves ideas softly.

AR Folklore is certainly related to philosophy and even a kind of philosophy, but the academic philosophers would baulk at merging the two disciplines.
Stories can illuminate a philosophy, but philosophers would dismiss a philosophy pursued entirely through stories as "mere" folklore.

Brit awards 2024:
Raye wins six


2024 March 3

The Future of NATO

Paul Mason

Any US exit from NATO poses an existential security risk to Europe. Should the UK go on supporting Ukraine? Should the UK assume more leadership in NATO? Can the UK afford the spending?
Yes, yes, yes. In the UK in the 1930s, the UK financed rearmament with a National Defence Loan and secured value for money by greater coordination and state direction of the defence industry.
Across Europe, defence industries need to overcome needlessly duplicated national arms makers competing with each other and strategic risk aversion by private equity and venture capital.
The European Commission can set a European defence industrial strategy and guarantee to buy the arms. NATO can publish a detailed roadmap of what it needs. The cost looks horrendous.

AR A US exit is a terrifying scenario. Europe is weakened by nation states that only overcome their nationalist demons when facing mortal peril. Brexit should shame the UK into leading on NATO.

2024 March 2

US Political Decay

Francis Fukuyama

American institutions have been decaying for some time. The crisis is coming later this year. The US system is based on institutions that enable minorities to thwart the will of majorities.
Consider the deadlock over funding for Ukraine. A majority of members of both the House and Senate, as well as a large part of the public, favor such a measure. But they cannot get a bill passed because a diehard Republican faction opposes any deal with Democrats.
MAGA Republicans are inclined to veto simply for the sake of undermining the other side. They have been pushing for stronger security measures on the southern border for months. But Donald Trump intervened to nix the deal to prevent Joe Biden from getting any credit.
MAGA Republicans say America is pervaded by moral corruption. Their belief in democracy has been replaced by admiration for strong men and authoritarian governments. Trump aims to end both US support for Ukraine and the US pledge to protect NATO allies.
It is not too late to reverse the decay. Most Americans regard Trump as a normal politician, but a second Trump term will not be like the first. The Democrats need to win.

AR This is a crisis for the entire democratic West. Liberalism as we know it is a polite and rational political philosophy that is unequal to the task of facing down political and/or religious extremists who embrace irrational and/or violent methods to pursue bad ends.

"This is for Gaza"
George Galloway wins
sweeping victory in
Rochdale vote


2024 March 1

Learning and Forgetting

Amos Zeeberg

A nimbler machine learning model periodically forgets what it knows.
AI language engines use ANNs. Each neuron receives signals from other neurons, runs calculations, and sends signals on through multiple layers of neurons. Training improves the information flow as the network adapts. But training takes a lot of computing power and is hard to adapt.
Researchers trained an ANN in one language, then erased what it knew about the tokens that build words. These are stored in the first layer of the ANN, the embedding layer. They left all the other layers of the model alone. Then they retrained the model on another language to fill the embedding layer with new tokens. The model could learn and process the new language.
They tried periodically resetting the embedding layer during the initial round of training. They trained a model using periodic forgetting and compared its performance with standard training. The forgetting model did worse than the standard one. Retraining the models on other languages with smaller data sets reduced the accuracy of both models, but the standard model fell by more.
The approach resembles how human brains work.

How to ensure peak brain performance
Jason Arunn Murugesu

When sleepy people were given a math problem that needed creative insight, those woken just after falling asleep were almost three times as likely to make the creative leap and solve the problem as those who had remained awake. Cognitive performance declines the longer you are awake.
Young adults are best at solving problems. Other mental skills mature later: Comprehension plateaus in late middle age. Flow occurs when you get deeply involved in an activity and is linked with clear goals, fast feedback, and a balance of task and skill. To cultivate it, try mindfulness.

Why thinking hard is tiring
Alison George

The brain makes up around 2% of our body weight but uses some 20% of the energy we burn at rest. Most of this energy is used to maintain different voltage levels across neural membranes. They need to be restored whenever a neuron has fired.
The brain uses similar energy for tasks we regard as hard and for easy ones. It allocates resources to its parts to suit mental load. A challenging task increases metabolism in the neurons doing the task and decreases it elsewhere, draining glucose and causing a tired feeling.
When the brain burns ATP and produces adenosine, it tells itself it's tired. Thinking for several hours leads to a buildup of glutamate in the forebrain that produces a feeling of mental fatigue.

How male and female brains differ
Clare Wilson

Men and women tend to live different lives, due to either innate differences or history and politics. Male brains tend to be bigger and heavier, matching their bigger bodies. Sex differences in the size of some brain structures remain after controlling for total brain size. About a third of regions are larger in men and about a third larger in women, by a few percent, maybe in responses to gender roles.

AR I find it fascinating how AI progress illuminates how the brain works. And I'm pleased by how we're making big advances in understanding the brain in detail. The psychological theories of the twentieth century may soon seem like ancient mythologies.





2024 February 29

Dune: Part Two

Noah Berlatsky

Frank Herbert's Dune novels struggled with a debt to colonial adventure literature. Writing in 1965, Herbert was attuned to critiques of colonialism. His hero Paul Atreides is filled with doubts about his role as a messianic leader and director of colonial conquest.
Denis Villeneuve's Dune: Part Two builds on Herbert's anti-colonial leanings with storytelling tweaks. Villeneuve goes further in questioning the basis of colonial narratives. But it still centers the story on a colonial hero, and Paul is better at being Fremen than the Fremen themselves.
Few blockbuster films give narrative primacy to colonized people. Refusal to see colonized people as central to their own stories is colonialist. Dune: Part Two tells the same old story.

AR I look forward to seeing it. Dune: Part One was glorious in its sweep and scope, with magnificent vistas and overwhelming sound, and I hope for more of the same. If the story is somehow colonialist in inspiration (hard to avoid with a messianic hero) then so be it.

Eastern Europe

Thomas Sliwowski

Eastern Europe has ceased to exist. Hungarians and Poles think of themselves as Central European, while the Baltic states claim membership of the Nordic zone. The region's peoples were bound together by their years of communism and separated by their languages, ethnicities, and faiths.
The region has uniquely rich and heterogenous narrative traditions in its folklore and legends. Its nation states use storytelling to form usable pasts out of their histories. The stock of legends, folk tales, and parables has connections with the ideologies of fascism, communism, and neoliberalism.
Eastern Europe's superstitious and syncretic past helps in understanding communism's industrial miracles, worker heroes, and paranoid surveillance systems. The dogmatic and mystical character of the communist period is rooted in how Marxism was seen as yet another salvation doctrine.

AR This is the rich vein of raw material for ethnographic science that my friend Violetta has mined during the course of her academic career.

⦿ Giulio Tiozzo
The entropy bagel


2024 February 28

Quantum Eternity?

Charlie Wood

Theorists say quantum patterns can last forever. Experiments find they can last for eons. Can an eon stretch to eternity?
A quantum particle can tunnel through barriers. But it tunnels to sites with a similar energy, and in a disordered landscape such sites are scarcer. So more disorder tends to localize a particle.
Thermalization occurs when a system gets disordered. But a disordered landscape may trap particles and stop them thermalizing, preserving quantum patterns by many-body localization (MBL).
With increasing disorder, quantum particles may switch from thermalizing to nearly localized behavior. If localization persists for infinite systems, thermalization and localization look like phases.
A rugged energy landscape may localize particles, preserving quantum structures at any tempera­ture. A landscape of particles with enough disorder might preserve any localized configuration.
Randomly exploring an infinite mountainous landscape will find an extended flat patch. Particles in a flat zone can easily meet and thermalize. Particles in nearby mountains can get thermalized too.
A few thermalized particles can start an avalanche. But as a landscape gets more mountainous, thermalization slows down.
For the MBL transition, a very mountainous landscape is terra incognita.

AR I find all this intriguing but inconclusive. Is the universal heat death delayed to eternity by the persistence of quantum structure? Watch this space.



2024 February 27

Life and Meaning

Galen Strawson

What is the meaning of life?
Many people think meaning has something to do with narrative. They think the notion of narrativity captures something profoundly important about life. Many people think narrativity is psychologically inevitable and a good thing, or even essential to a good life.
Meaning has something to do with being interesting. But there is no necessary relation between narrativity and interest. Narrativity is neither necessary nor sufficient for interest.
The past can be important in the absence of narrativity or of no importance. Profound friendship doesn't require any ability to recall past intense shared experiences, nor any tendency to accord them importance, but is shown in how one is in the present.
Deepening knowledge of a subject may intensify the pleasure it gives without requiring narrativity. A felt connection with a personal past need not be narrative in character. Narrativity can be a rich source of pleasure yet unnecessary to a good life.
The meaning of life is life.

AR These are interesting meditations, for me, but I think they concede too little salience to the role of narrativity in human life. We spin little narratives in just about every autobiographical utterance. This adds up to a lot of our mental and social life.



2024 February 26

Aperiodic Tilings

Ben Brubaker

Two researchers have shown how to transform aperiodic tilings into quantum error-correcting codes.
Classical computers use bits 0 and 1. Qubits can be in superpositions of 0 and 1 states. Measuring a qubit returns either 0 or 1. Interactions between qubits and their environment can lead to errors.
A Shor code tolerates qubit errors and corrects them before they accumulate. It distributes information across entangled qubits and turns a cluster of physical qubits into a single virtual qubit. The error correction is related to local indistinguishability: Any single error is reversible.
For aperiodic tilings, local indistinguishability means the same set of tiles can form infinitely many tilings that look different overall, but whose local areas cannot distinguish them, as every finite patch of any tiling will show up somewhere in every other tiling.
Zhi Li and Latham Boyle built a quantum error-correcting code based on Penrose tilings. An infinite plane covered with Penrose tiles is described like a grid of qubits as a superposition, but with tilings for 0s and 1s. An error deletes a patch of the tiling instead of the qubit states in a cluster.
Tiling configurations unaffected by local errors use superpositions of Penrose tilings. Given any tiling, an infinity of new tilings can be generated by translating it in any direction or rotating it. The set of all such tilings forms an equivalence class.
In the Li−Boyle code, a virtual qubit is encoded in superpositions of all tilings within an equivalence class. A procedure for filling in gaps hides information about the overall quantum state.
Li and Boyle also constructed codes for a finite quantum system and for a discrete one.

AR This sounds like good work. Quantum error correction will be a big thing when we begin to build quantum computers at scale. The code for entangling qubits is fascinating theoretically, too.
In my naivety, I stood on the Penrose tiling outside the Mathematics Institute in Oxford and thought the tiling was amusing but no more. Next time, I'll recall its role in quantum computing.



2024 February 25

UK Tories Sunk

Alastair Campbell

Rishi Sunak and the Tories may be heading back into opposition.
There were two by-elections on 15 February. In Kingswood, Labour secured a big swing, though amid the low turnout their number of votes fell by a third. In Wellingborough, the Tory candidate did far worse, but she didn't have Sunak's backing. These are slim pickings.
Labour didn't even have a good run heading into the votes. We had agonising, not very well managed, on the £28 billion Green Prosperity Plan, plus continued grumblings over Keir Starmer's stance on Gaza. All this will sour the by-election in Rochdale on 29 February.
The electoral force of newspapers is waning fast. The budget is coming, and all the talk is of tax cuts. Tory MPs and right-wing papers are trapped in the politics of their childhoods or their heyday, when Mummy Thatcher told them all what to think and what to like.
Voters can see the dire state of the public realm. They remember the twin disasters of austerity and Brexit, the five prime ministers, among them the two worst in history, and too many lies, too many scandals, too much gaslighting, too much corruption.
No amount of crazed media propaganda can help.

AR UK voters are increasingly desperate for changes that a Tory government seems structurally incapable of delivering. Instead of constructive amelioration of the privations of its citizens, the present government seems intent on pandering to its core voter base and on stoking fear and division on such issues as immigration and woke culture.





2024 February 24


The Guardian

As Ukraine wakes up to the second anniversary of Russia's invasion, exhaustion is setting in. This grinding war is wearing down Ukrainian troops, civilians, and leaders.
At least 10,000 Ukrainian civilians have died since it began. An estimated 3.7 million people are displaced internally, and more than 6.3 million have fled abroad.
Ukrainians still see little choice but to fight on. Putin has no reason to seek an exit when he believes that the West is wearying of the war and Trump may soon return to the White House.
Ukraine is still fighting, despite the immense human cost. Europe and America must make good on their commitments.

Two years into the Russian invasion
Anatol Lieven

The chances of a premeditated Russian invasion of a NATO country are minimal.
Russia is a much weaker military power than was thought. Even without US help, European countries combined heavily outweigh Russia in terms of numbers, weaponry, and military spending.
European rearmament is necessary for peace with Russia. Only a Europe confident of its ability to defend itself can break the fear of losing its US security guarantee.
A stronger Europe could have blocked the US push for NATO expansion and urged caution over Ukraine. It could decouple from the US confrontation with China and US policies in the Mideast.
German security has suffered. The loss of cheap Russian energy and disruption of Chinese markets for German goods are a threat to Germany that outweighs the loss of eastern Ukraine.
Germany should have halted NATO and EU expansion. In 2007, it should have vetoed NATO member­ship for Ukraine. In 2013, it should have sought an economic agreement with Russia.
The world is a dangerous place. But military advocates ignore the need for diplomacy. Europeans should take Putin up on his offer of peace talks.
Increased military spending will advance European strategic autonomy.

AR All this is a tragedy. The US-led push for the eastward expansion of NATO was bound to encounter pushback from Putin's Russia. German voices should have urged caution more boldly.
The Russian invasion two years ago was inevitable by then. The only defensible option now is to support Ukrainian resistance more fully and end the Putin regime, but this will be painful.
Europe must end its slavish hewing to the US line on all matters of geopolitics. This could trigger the demise of NATO during the next US presidential administration. A tragedy.



2024 February 23

Odysseus Touchdown on Moon

CNN, 0018 UTC

The Odysseus lunar lander has made a touchdown on the Moon. Also called Odie or IM‑1, it is the first commercial spacecraft to do so and the first US vehicle to do so since Apollo 17 in 1972.
Houston-based robotic explorer developer Intuitive Machines chief executive Steve Altemus: "I know this was a nail-biter, but we are on the surface, and we are transmitting. Welcome to the Moon."
NASA administrator Bill Nelson: "Today is a day that shows the power and promise of NASA's commer­cial partnerships. Congratulations to everyone involved in this great and daring quest."

AR Good news. About time, after over 50 years.

Keir Starmer
Houses of Parliament
Keir Starmer in 2017


2024 February 22

Keir Starmer

Andrew Marr

Sir Keir Starmer KCB KC MP has a lifelong interest in social justice: "There is no version of my life that does not largely revolve around me being a human rights lawyer."
Starmer: "I'm proud to live in a country where almost everybody accepts principles about people being free from arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, how they should not be tortured, and − above all − that they should get a fair trial."
Starmer is an empathetic, caring, decent man. He makes the hospital visits others would find reasons to dodge, listens attentively to stories of personal misfortune and finds ways to help, sticks by old friends when others might find glamorous new ones.
Starmer: "My political project is to return Labour to the service of working people and working-class communities. There may have been times in the recent past where Labour was afraid to speak the language of class at all − but not my Labour Party."
Starmer went from defence barrister to director of public prosecutions (DPP), where he was closer to the establishment. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) gave him a taste for administration but also involved him in cases that offended the liberal left.
Starmer became an MP in 2015, aided by Ed Miliband, then the leader of the party. He was elected for Holborn and St Pancras in north London at the age of 52: "I thought Ed was going to win. Five years of opposition felt a very long time."
Starmer then faced Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader and the Brexit vote in 2016. Brexit and Corbyn became mingled for him. He did not admire Corbyn personally and stayed only to fight in parliament for a softer Brexit.
Starmer negotiated a fudge in which Labour would come out for a new public vote at conference in 2018: "Nobody is ruling out Remain as an option."

AR He seems like a good candidate to become the next UK prime minister. On current polling, he's almost guaranteed the job.

⦿ Christopher Payne
Robodogs with LLM brains


2024 February 21

Big Brains 4 Robots

David Berreby

Robot makers would love to plug a good brain into a robot body. Large language models can answer any question a robot may have about how to do a task, and robots have bodies to connect words to reality, so it seems logical to connect them.
A working robot reviews the actions it can perform and chooses the ones that best fit its instructions. It sends electrical signals to its mechanical parts, making them move. Then it learns from its sensors how it has affected its environment, responds again, and so on.
An LLM is a neural network. Each node sends and receives information over its connections and assigns each input a weight. The node sums up the weights to decide whether to fire off a signal to other nodes. The model adjusts its weights to act as people want.
An LLM has no real understanding of what it says. When you give an LLM a prompt, the model converts your words into numbers. The math in the model predicts the most probable response. The model then converts the numbers back into text.
A robot linked to an LLM has huge language ability and a body that can do only so much. To avoid mistakes in math and logic, the LLM needs prompting with a sample question and an example of how to solve it. Then ChatGPT can write a Python script for a robot.
An LLM can make a plan for a robot. Executing that plan requires a program in hard code. Researchers are working on multimodal models that generate not just language but images, sounds, and even action plans for robots.

AR Yes, this seems logical. I see huge potential in this step. Indeed it's a premise in my latest, upcoming novel about how AI may come to dominate the world.



2024 February 20

Quantum Computers, Cosmic Rays

New Scientist

The qubits in quantum computers are fragile and easily disturbed. Nearly a fifth of all the errors in them are caused by cosmic rays. Quantum error correction fails for too many errors at once.
Researchers monitored an array of ultracold superconducting qubits next to radiation detectors. They established a strong correlation between cosmic rays and qubit errors.
The qubits used in both experiments took 10−100 μs to recover, but standard error-correction techniques would need them to recover in much less than 1 μs.

AR Cosmic rays could spoil any computation in principle via bit flips, but the probability with our present architectures is small enough for error correction to keep up. This could be an insoluble problem for cryogenic quantum computation.

Yuliia Paievska
Yuliia Paievska


2024 February 19

Europe Must Defend Itself

Patrick Wintour

Ukrainian veteran Yuliia Paievska: "We are the dogs of war. I had children die in my hands .. I pray that none of you and your children will be forced to defend your own land just because Russians would decide that they have a right to your land."
German chancellor Olaf Scholz: "We need greater military clarity. We need to articulate a more operational and coordinated package of support to Ukraine."
Polish foreign minister Radosław Sikorski: "We are on a knife edge because Europe .. is not at the moment capable of producing all the equipment and ammo that is necessary."
Danish prime minister Mette Frederiksen: "Europe still has military equipment. We have weapons, ammunition, air defense systems .. we need to transfer them to Ukraine."
Timothy Snyder: "It is a world war in which only one country is fighting. It is shocking .. how slowly we have mobilized .. We have not been creative and quick enough."
Niall Fergusson: "The challenge is to convince certain people and politicians .. Only a small and dwindling minority of Republican voters think that the US is not doing enough."

AR Europeans need to feel the urgency of the need both to arm up and to send arms to Ukraine. We must make sacrifices. The UK government is still bleating about high taxes and hoping to cut them.
Putin's recent threat to nuke Western capital cities if he is defeated in Ukraine must be faced down sternly. We cannot let ourselves be blackmailed by a desperate old man.

US VP Kamala Harris
at MSC 2024


2024 February 18

Security Report 2024

Munich Security Conference

The Munich Security Report 2024 explores the lose-lose dynamics spurred if ever more governments prioritize relative payoffs rather than engage in positive-sum cooperation and invest in an international order for the benefit of all.
Key actors in the transatlantic community, in powerful autocracies, and in the Global South have become dissatisfied with what they perceive to be an unequal distribution of the absolute benefits of the international order.
As more and more states define their success relative to others, a vicious cycle of relative gains thinking, prosperity losses, and growing geopolitical tensions threatens to unroll. The resulting lose‑lose dynamics are already unfolding.
The transatlantic partners and like-minded states thus face a difficult balancing act. Amid increasing geopolitical rivalry, they must invest in defense and deterrence while restricting the pursuit of mutual benefits.

May's plan for EU defence treaty
Lisa O'Carroll

Valérie Hayer, leader of Emmanuel Macron's political group in Brussels, Renew: "I know that in Theresa May's time, there was a defence treaty on the table. I think that would be very, very useful .. to accelerate European defence."
At the Munich Security Conference, UK shadow foreign secretary David Lammy said a Labour govern­ment would seek a security deal with the EU: "My party is proposing a new EU−UK security pact. And it's a pact that is effectively built on the fact that we obviously have war here in Europe."
Hayer: "Because of what has happened since Brexit with the war in Ukraine, I think we can actually move in this direction .. We need the European Commission to make this a top priority .. We need to step up the pace on these issues."

AR The shift from global thinking to relative advantage is a troubling development. In the context of wars in Ukraine and the Mideast and of economic troubles in most rich countries, it's no surprise, but the outcome will be more friction and less progress.
A new EU−UK security pact is the least we need in Europe. I say we also need a unified continental nuclear deterrent based on the merged British and French deterrents. This may be technically challenging, but with German help it must be doable.



2024 February 17

Navalny and Russia's Lost Future

Daniel Beer

Alexei Navalny had tried to work within the democratic structures of the Russian Federation. His success worried the regime. He was prevented from running in the presidential elections in 2018.
Navalny amassed millions of followers. In 2020, the regime bungled an attempt to poison him. After treatment in Germany, he decided to return to Russia. He was arrested and imprisoned.
Navalny saw his survival in prison as a clarion call to Russians. His death testifies both to his appeal as the alternative to Putin and to the fragility of the regnant political system.
Russia's invasion of Ukraine is a strategic failure. The expansion of NATO, Ukraine resolved on membership of NATO and the EU, and the Russian casualties are all disasters for the Kremlin.

AR Putin is emulating Stalin and Hitler in his treatment of political opponents. He deserves a similarly ignominious fate. But the cost of delivering it with the requisite decisiveness will be high for the democratic West.


Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, 47, "died suddenly" in an Arctic penal colony.
US president Joe Biden: "Make no mistake, Putin is responsible for Navalny's death."
Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelensky: "It's obvious he was killed by Putin."

E Kara
MIT astrophysicist
Erin Kara


2024 February 16

Viewing Black Holes

Erin Kara

We can measure the mass and spin of a black hole from information about gas flows in the strongly curved spacetime around it. If we see X‑rays from a billion light-years away, they're probably from an accreting supermassive black hole, a.k.a an active galactic nucleus (AGN).
High-energy plasma around the black hole creates X‑ray photons. A black hole accretion disk is topped by a hot corona: The material in the accretion disk is O(1 MK), but the corona is O(1 GK). As the corona irradiates the disk with X‑rays, it causes ions in the disk to radiate their own X‑rays.
These secondary X‑rays are reverberation echoes. We measure time delays between a primary X‑ray flash from the corona and the echoes from the accretion disk. We read time delay Δt as distance cΔt, which amounts to mapping the gas flows within a few times the event horizon radius.
We simulate corona-accretion disk systems to match the data we see. Using general relativistic ray-tracing simulations, we take a model for the corona, shine light rays from it in all directions, and follow where the light rays go. Some of them irradiate the disk and reflect into our telescope.
The Event Horizon Telescope has been imaging the black holes at the center of our galaxy and M87. To find out how black holes grow, we need to look at black holes that are actively growing and are extremely luminous in X‑rays. That's where reverberation mapping comes in.
We find black holes that behave as expected, trace the geometry around them, and make precision measurements. A clean system close to Earth is an X‑ray binary called MAXI J1820+070. This 10 M⦿ black hole is pulling gas off a companion star to form an accretion disk and a corona.
ASASSN‑18el is an AGN that suddenly went crazy. It had initial outbursts, then it turned off, then it turned back on again to become the brightest X‑ray source in the extragalactic sky for about a year, and then it began to turn off again. Now it may be turning back on.

AR This is fascinating work: echo-location with X‑rays. The dynamics in the neighborhood of our local supermassive black hole unfolds fast enough for our human span to encompass major changes, so we can hope for an explanation for the "crazy" behavior of ASASSN‑18el soon enough.



2024 February 15

Large Language Models

Stephen Ornes

The Beyond the Imitation Game benchmark (BIG-bench) uses tasks to test large language models (LLMs). On most tasks, performance improves predictably and smoothly as the models scale up. But with other tasks, the leap in ability seems unpredictable and emergent.
LLMs become more effective as they scale up. The added complexity of larger models should enable them to get better at more difficult and diverse problems. But whether this improvement looks smooth and predictable or jagged and sharp results from the choice of metric.
Three-digit addition offers an example. In the 2022 BIG-bench study, the ability to add seemed to emerge at a certain threshold. But the LLMs were judged only on accuracy: Either they did it perfectly, or not at all. Even if an LLM predicted most of the digits correctly, it failed.
New metrics show that as parameters increase, the LLMs predict an increasingly correct sequence of digits. This suggests that the ability to add grows gradually. Emergence is explained away by different measuring tools. This may not be so for future LLMs.

AR Artifacts of measurement are a common distraction in science, so no surprise here. But at some point in the growth of complexity, our ability to devise fair tests gives out. Then we see emergence whether we like it or not.



2024 February 14

Hegel's Big Self

Terry Eagleton

For GWF Hegel, the Christian gospel of selflessness could not prevail in a world of power and property. The Reformation freed Christianity from medieval superstition, but its deepening of subjectivity led to a cult of guilt and repentance.
Kant believed the French Revolution was the most auspicious episode in history since the coming of Christ. Hegel found a similar retreat from history in Kant as he did in Christianity. He saw the French Revolution as a flight into a void.
Hegel was aware of the defects of the society over which the modern constitutional state stood guard. Along with excessive wealth, he said, there was a plunging of the masses into spiritual and material deprivation.
Hegel said the Weltgeist attains its goal when it curves back on itself. It finds a human mind in which to become conscious that everything had to happen as it did. It chose his own mind as its mirror.

AR This rational closure into a loop is what makes Hegel's philosophy so fascinating. It prefigures the strange loops that Douglas Hofstadter described in his classic 1979 book Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (and in his 2007 book I Am a Strange Loop).
The Hegelian loop also prefigures the thalamo-cortical loops that neuroscientists have found in the neurodynamics of conscious brains, where neural circuits form giant recursive loops that spiral into an I‑vortex (Rodolfo Llinás) or an ego tunnel (Thomas Metzinger).
I say the neurodynamic architecture of consciousness is this recursive looping through a succession of neural configurations that manifest phenomenally as a series of worlds of consciousness. William James described these worlds in his 1902 Gifford lectures.
For a vividly impressionistic (but baffling) glimpse of my views, see my 2002 slide show Mindworlds. For a more thorough presentation, see my 2009 book Mindworlds.



2024 February 13

Trump vs NATO

Jim Sciutto

Warning: Donald Trump will seek to formally withdraw the US from the NATO alliance if he wins a second term. Former Trump administration national security adviser John Bolton: "NATO would be in real jeopardy. I think he would try to get out."
Retired general and Trump White House chief of staff John Kelly: "The point is, he saw absolutely no point in NATO. He was just dead set against having troops in South Korea, again, a deterrent force, or having troops in Japan, a deterrent force."

Europe can't count on US
Financial Times

Trump is working to undermine NATO. On Saturday, he said he would encourage Russia to do "whatever the hell they want" if NATO members failed to spend 2% of GDP on defence.
Russia has initiated the most devastating war on European soil since 1945. It poses the biggest threat to the security of NATO in decades. The US still has tens of thousands of troops stationed in Europe.
NATO rests on confidence that its promise of mutual defence will be upheld more than any legal obligation. Trump has shattered that confidence. Even doubling European military expenditure tomorrow would not repair it.
Trump's message is a clear signal to Europeans that they must start preparing to protect their security without US involvement. Many capitals still appear in denial about the investment needed.
Europeans must plan for war without America. That requires a European pillar within NATO. Europeans must prepare for a new world.

AR This why I warned that a second Trump presidency would usher in a catastrophe of Biblical proportions. Encouraging Putin in Europe and Xi in East Asia would usher in WW3.

Charles Darwin
1809-02-12 — 1882-04-19


2024 February 12

Darwin Day

Bertrand Russell

"Whoever wishes to become a philosopher will do well to pay attention to the history of science, and particularly to its warfare with theology. With the exception of pure mathematics, every science has had to begin by fighting to establish its right to exist .. Darwin came too late to suffer penalties, but Catholics and the Legislature of Tennessee still regard evolution with abhorrence. Each step has been won with difficulty, and each new step is still opposed, as if nothing were to be learnt from past defeats." (1942)
"It is amusing to hear the modern Christian telling you how mild and rationalistic Christianity really is and ignoring the fact that all its mildness and rationalism is due to the teaching of men who in their own day were persecuted by all orthodox Christians .. The gradual emasculation of the Christian doctrine has been effected in spite of the most vigorous resistance, and solely as the result of the onslaughts of freethinkers." (1930)

AR Quite right, so far as it goes. The New Atheists in the decade following 9/11 were intellectually indebted to Russell. Today we can look back more benignly on Christianity as having shaped the civilization that gave rise precisely to science as we know it.

Eichmann in Jerusalem

Stuart Jeffries

Adolf Eichmann was tried in Jerusalem for having helped to organize the Holocaust. Hannah Arendt was there to report on the trial for the New Yorker. She was a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany, a former student and lover of Martin Heidegger, and then an American political journalist.
Arendt on Eichmann: "The longer one listened to him, the more it became obvious that his inability to speak was closely connected to his inability to think .. from the standpoint of somebody else .. There's simply resistance ever to imagine what another person is experiencing."
Arendt was raised in Königsberg, where Immanuel Kant had lived and taught. She was 16 when she read his Kritik der reinen Vernunft and became committed to what he called an enlarged mentality. Arendt: "You think your own thoughts but in the place of somebody else."
Arendt: "Kant's whole ethics amounts to the idea that every person, in every action, must reflect on whether the maxim of his action can become a universal law .. it really is the complete opposite, so to speak, of obedience .. In Kant, nobody has the right to obey."

AR Interesting: Heidegger never moved us beyond the Kantian moral law, in my opinion; instead, he presided over a retreat from Kantian morality.

Jorge Stolfi


2024 February 11

Hash Tables

Steve Nadis

Hash tables need to be fast and compact, but these objectives are at odds. Accessing and modifying a database is faster when the hash table has more memory, and operations are slower in hash tables with less space.
Hash tables are designed to perform three basic operations: insertions, queries, and deletions. Entries in a hash table are stored as pairs, with the item connected to a key. Plug a key into a hash table query algorithm, and it takes you directly to the item.
In theory, a "Bender" hash table delivers the best combination of time and space efficiency. A trade-off curve defines space as the extra space required to store a given set of items as the number of wasted bits per key. The curve gives the fastest time for a hash table with a given amount of space, or the smallest space for a given operation time.
A primary data structure stores the items with no wasted bits. A secondary data structure helps to find the requested item. The overall memory efficiency depends on how the primary structure arranges its stored items.
The basic idea is that every item in the primary structure has preferred storage locations ranked as 1 through N. An item in its best spot has key 1 in the secondary data structure. In response to a query, the secondary structure answers 1 to locate the item. An item in its nth‑best spot has key n.
In binary, n takes more memory than 1, so if you continually shift items in the primary data structure into their more preferred locations, you can reduce the memory consumed by the secondary structure without increasing query times.
This idea sets an upper bound for the most efficient hash tables. A lower bound on the runtime for a space-efficient hash table matches the Bender hash table exactly. Bender tables are optimal.

AR This is hardly breaking news for most of us, but for me it's a nice result to know.



2024 February 10

American Decline

Lee Siegel

America looks set to choose an old leader. Republicans are too afraid to renounce Donald Trump as their standard-bearer, Democrats are too afraid to ask Joe Biden to step aside.
Americans were stunned by revelations about President Biden's mental condition that emerged from the investigation of his handling of classified documents. The special prosecutor concluded that Biden "was a well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory" and decided not to pursue criminal charges, suggesting a jury would regard Biden as mentally incompetent.
Biden hastily arranged a press conference to refute this picture. But when the reporters began shouting their questions to him simultaneously, he froze, unsure of how to proceed. An ageing president who does not function effectively is an insult both to the people he is supposed to represent and to anyone in the world who looks to America for guidance.
America has forgotten what it was like to act in unison for the good of all.

AR The moves so far toward the 2024 presidential election present a deeply saddening spectacle. Many Brits look to America for political inspiration, and what they see is dismaying.





2024 February 9

Reading Is So Sexy

Chloe Mac Donnell

Gen Z kids born between 1997 and 2012 read physical books.
Model Kaia Gerber, 22, has launched her own book club, Library Science: "Books have always been the great love of my life. Reading is so sexy."
Last year in the UK, 669 million physical books were sold. Print books account for 80% of purchases from November 2021 to 2022. Libraries report an uptick in gen Z users.
Books on the Bedside co-founder Hali Brown, 28: "The gen Z book sphere is incredibly broad. There is a lot of appreciation for literary fiction, memoirs, translated fiction, and classics in particular."
Model Kendall Jenner, 28, was pictured on a yacht reading a volume of essays on the objectification and commodification of the body.
We have entered an era of performative reading.

AR I hope this new Gen Z interest in printed books will extend to my latest novel, a brief and breezy love story set against a backdrop of AI finding new ways to dominate our world, which should be published later this year.

2024 February 8


Cory Doctorow

The American Dialect Society made "enshittification" its Word of the Year for 2023.
Enshittification is a three-stage process:
1  Internet platforms are good to their users.
2  They abuse their users to make things better for their business customers.
3  They abuse those business customers to claw back all the value for themselves.
Then they die.

AR The fuller text in the FT is a delight to read. Doctorow is a visiting professor of computer science at the Open University. This text is adapted from the Marshall McLuhan Lecture he delivered in Berlin last month. Toward the end of the FT text, he says this:
"We can reverse the enshittification of the internet. We can halt the creeping enshittification of every digital device. We can build a better, enshittification-resistant digital nervous system, one that is fit to co‑ordinate the mass movements we will need to fight fascism, end genocide, save our planet and our species."
I hope so.



2024 February 7


New Scientist

Saturn's moon Mimas appears to have a vast global ocean underneath its icy shell. Observations show its orbit around Saturn is wobbling. Astronomers rejected the ocean explanation because the friction needed to melt the ice should mark the surface, but recent simulations suggest the ocean can exist without the marks.
Observations by NASA spacecraft Cassini show the orbit of Mimas around Saturn has drifted some 10 km over 13 years. This orbital drift would be produced by wobbles from an icy shell sliding over an ocean. The moon's elongated orbit and ancient surface suggest the ocean is around 30 km deep and formed less than 25 million years ago.

A massive young ocean
Scientific American

Mimas is an oceanic world. Its ocean appears to be relatively new. The moon has an elliptical orbit around Saturn that periodically squeezes it in Saturn's gravitational field. That squeezing creates enough frictional heating to melt ice and sustain an ocean.
A new study focuses on the moon's motion, finding a drift in its orbit via archival data from the NASA Cassini spacecraft. Some of the drift can be explained if Mimas has an icy shell that slides over an ocean.
The geologically quiescent exterior of Mimas should be impossible atop an ancient ocean whose churning waters would fracture and fragment the icy crust. The ocean must have formed less than 25 million years ago.
Mimas has an old surface. Its craters, such as the 140 km Herschel, are hard to reconcile with a tidally heated ocean under an icy shell. But Mimas wobbles about on its axis, and Enceladus does so because its icy crust is decoupled from its more sluggish underlying ocean.
Saturn is 4.5 billion years old. Its rings are maybe 100 million years old. Mimas has an ocean less than 25 million years old.

AR An interesting development: It suggests similar oceans may well hide beneath the icy shells of the moons of Uranus and Neptune. Imagine experiencing submarine views of all these lunar oceans via telepresence from robot craft sent in future planetary missions.



2024 February 6

Quantum Thermodynamics

Tom Rivlin

In quantum mechanics, the Copenhagen interpretation says a measurement collapses the wave function into a single outcome.
By decoherence, stray air molecules hitting electrons can measure them. All the information in the system, including quantum information about its superposition, spreads into the environment. The classical information remains easy to access, but the quantum information is practically impossible to see, as it gets spread out between the object and the detector.
The measurement-equilibration hypothesis (MEH) says measurement causes a quantum system to interact with a measuring device and spread information into the device until an equilibrium of information is reached between system and device. The equilibration can make the system look classical by hiding the quantum behavior but not destroying it.
MEH says that all the measurement outcomes are still there but hard to see. There is no wave function collapse.

AR This is good. The collapse story was always a fudge, as Einstein understood already. Now we have the decoherence and thermodynamics story, there's no excuse to go on about it.

Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift won the album of
the year Grammy for Midnights:
"For me the award is the work
.. I love it so much."

AR  ♥


2024 February 5

Mental Health Apps

David Cox

Mental health apps can play an enormous role in terms of improving access to care, collecting useful data for an accurate diagnosis, and filling gaps left by overstretched healthcare systems.
Yet privacy violations are common within the industry of mental health apps, which includes virtual therapy services, mood trackers, mental fitness coaches, digitized forms of cognitive behavioral therapy, and chatbots.
Independent watchdogs have identified platforms exploiting regulatory gray areas to either share or sell sensitive personal information. At present, any company with sufficient funds for marketing can easily enter the market.
AI chatbots are marketed as a safe space for people to discuss their mental health or emotional struggles. Without oversight of the responses and advice these bots are offering, these algorithms can manipulate vulnerable people.
Neuroscientist Thomas Insel: "Mental healthcare as we've known it for the last two or three decades is clearly a field that is ripe for change and needs some sort of transformation."

AR I think this is a hugely promising application area for big AI, so much so that the story of exactly how, in my humble opinion, it will be is the topic of my next novel, the (draft) manuscript of which, by happy chance, I finished this morning.





2024 February 4

The Zone of Interest

Wendy Ide

The Zone of Interest is an adapted screenplay of the book by Martin Amis. The film shows the daily details of the life of an upwardly mobile Nazi couple: Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel) and his wife Hedwig (Sandra Hüller) and their five children. The Höss family are raised according to the tenets of the Artaman League, a German movement that advocated an agrarian ideal and respect for the natural world.
They enjoy picnics by the river and days in the garden of their villa. We never see beyond the walls that separate them from the industrial death factory on the other side. But the ambient noise generated by the horrors within the camp is evoked with a suffocating intensity that matches the choking pall of smoke billowing continuously from the Auschwitz furnace chimneys.
A gnawing sense of dread permeates the film. It's a bruising watch.

The prosaic triviality
Charlotte Higgins

Karl Jaspers, in a letter to Hannah Arendt written in 1946, told her he was uneasy with her view of the Holocaust: "It seems to me that we have to see these things in their total banality, in their prosaic triviality."
The Zone of Interest is a riposte to the illusion of the exceptionalism of the Holocaust. The film is set just outside the camp perimeter, in the house inhabited by Auschwitz camp commander Rudolf Höss, his wife Hedwig, their children, and the servants. Their garden abuts the camp wall. The family adore the pastoral lifestyle they enjoy.
In many ways, nothing happens. The family is simply oblivious to the sounds that drift over the wall. But the noise is almost a second movie.

This is not about the past
Jonathan Glazer

For me, this is a film about us and our similarity to the perpetrators. I was really interested in making a film that went to the primordial capacity for violence that we all have.
I entered the camp and looked at the wall from the other side, trying to imagine what the prisoners must have heard. They would have heard happiness and gaiety as the Höss children laughed and splashed around in the pool. The film became about the proximity of the horror and the happiness.
There are, in effect, two films, the one you see, and the one you hear, and the second is just as important as the first. We already know the imagery of the camps. I felt that if we could hear it, we could somehow see it in our heads.
I made this film to try to restate our close proximity to this terrible event that we think of as in the past. For me, it is not ever in the past.

AR What more can one say? I shall have to go and see it.



2024 February 3

A Dark Dimension

Steve Nadis

The dark dimension scenario offers a recipe for dark matter and suggests a link with dark energy.
String theory suggests there are six compactified spatial dimensions. If one of them is much larger than the others, say 1 μm across, massive gravitons generated within it make up dark matter.
Recall the cosmological constant, Λ, O(10−122) in Planck units. In string theory, a tiny Λ implies much lighter WIMPs, which in turn implies that one of the compact dimensions is larger than the others.
In the first moments ABB, the cosmos was dominated by radiation. In the dark dimension scenario, colliding particles create dark gravitons with mass O(nM), for integer n and the value of M tied to Λ.
Imagine the extra dimension as a small loop attached to every point in our 4D world. If two particles collide and create a graviton, the graviton can leak into that loop and travel around it like a wave.
As gravitons leak into the loop, the waves they produce can have different frequencies and energy levels. These massive gravitons act where the loop attaches to the sphere.
A large dark dimension leaves room for long-wave, low-mass particles. But if a dark graviton leaked into a tiny dimension, its wavelength would be short, its mass and energy high, and its life short.
Gravitons permeate all the dimensions of string theory. But the dark dimension is so much bigger than the others that gravity gets diluted, making it look weak in 4D and solving the hierarchy problem.

AR An intriguing chain of speculations that might bring us further. I reserve judgment until the chain is tested and corroborated in other ways. Dark matter and energy are still deeply mysterious.


Overnight: USAF B-1B Lancer takes off to bomb targets in Syria and Iraq

Taylor Swift


2024 February 2

Gen Z Men

Gaby Hinsliff

Taylor Swift is an unstoppable cultural phenomenon, but something is happening to Gen Z. Barbie was taken seriously by many young women, but young men are getting more conservative.
For some young men, the anti-feminist backlash seems to have been a gateway drug to harder views on issues from immigration to social justice. Anti-immigration rhetoric is being linked with falling fertility rates and demands for white women to knuckle down and have babies.
Why would the Swift generation want to settle down with men who seem to hate them? The angriest Kens may be heading for lonely lives.

AR The predicament of uncharismatic males in a fading patriarchy is unenviable. In past generations, they may have joined an army and achieved an honorable death on a battlefield, but woke politics have made that fate a less likely one. No easy answer for surplus young men today.

2024 February 1

Deepfake Porn

Jill Filipovic

Taylor Swift found her image in deepfake porn images circulated online. Deepfake porn brings up a whole host of moral, ethical, philosophical, and legal questions. Deepfakes are the tip of an iceberg.
Animating the discussion of deepfake porn is a growing rightwing hostility to Taylor Swift. The right is rife with Swift conspiracy theories. Their problem with her is part of a wider hostility to a culture they feel has left them behind.
Swift is a woman whose appearance and country music roots once led white supremacists to turn her into an icon of Aryan womanhood. She uses her music to speak to the complex feelings of women and girls. Deepfakes threaten us all.

Taylor Swift
Megan K Hall

Taylor has recorded 10 studio albums in 17 years. She has fluidly moved between country, pop, rock, synth, hip hop, folk, alternative, and indie genres. She has written or co-written 243 songs, some in collaboration, and sold 200 million records.
Taylor has won 324 awards, including 12 Grammys, 23 MTV Video Music Awards, 40 American Music Awards, 40 Billboard Music Awards, 12 Country Music Awards, and an Emmy. She is the most-awarded artist of all times at the AMAs and BMAs.
Swift was the most streamed artist of 2023 on Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon Music. She is the first living artist to simultaneously chart 5 albums in the top 10 of the Billboard 200.
Over 20 universities include a Taylor Swift course in their catalog. Scholars compare her to major literary figures and songwriters. She fights for things she believes in and speaks up for women, LGBTQ, and artists. She is a poet.

AR Wonderful achievements. I really like listening to her albums. They reveal a complexity of feeling that makes the experience endlessly rewarding. Pity about the porn, but such is the price of fame.


My chair is endowed with a new textile investment



2024 January 31

Integer Linear Programming

Lakshmi Chandrasekaran

Integer linear programming (ILP) is popular in applications.
Algorithms to solve ILP problems require a number of steps. In the trivial case where the variables assume binary values (0 or 1), ILP has a runtime scaling exponentially with the number of variables, a.k.a the dimension. Once the variables take values beyond 0 and 1, the runtime grows longer.
A new algorithm solves ILP in almost the same time as the binary case.
ILP transforms a given problem into a set of linear equations satisfying some inequalities. Turn the inequalities into a convex shape representing the constraints of the problem. The interior of this convex body corresponds to all possible values that can solve the inequalities. The problem dimension sets its dimension.
Next, imagine all the integers as a lattice of grid points with a dimension depending on the dimension of the problem. The possible solutions meet the set of integers at the intersection of the convex body and the lattice. An algorithm can search this space exhaustively.
The ILP algorithm runtime is (log n)O(n), where n is the number of variables and O(n) says it scales linearly with n.

AR This is a good and reassuring result to know, given the importance of ILP.

Tower 22
⦿ Planet Labs
Tower 22


2024 January 30

Mideast 'Incredibly Volatile'

Felicia Schwartz, James Politi

US secretary of state Antony Blinken: "This is an incredibly volatile time in the Middle East. I would argue that we've not seen a situation as dangerous as the one we're facing now across the region since at least 1973."
President Joe Biden is considering his response to an attack that killed three US service members on Sunday amid concerns about the potential for an expansion of the conflict. He blames Iran-backed militias for the drone strike. The US military had failed to stop the drone approaching Tower 22, a base near Jordan's border with Syria.
Blinken: "We will respond."

AR This is an alarming development. If the Mideast goes up in flames, the risk of WW3 rises hugely. When the conflagration in the region ends, the world will look completely different.
I guess that the aftermath would include the end both of militant Islam and of the state of Israel. The region would need decades to recover, and the population that remained would be chastened beyond recognition.
But who am I to say?

Neuralink Brain Implant


Neuralink founder Elon Musk says the first human to receive an implant from the brain-chip startup on Sunday is recovering well. The US FDA had given the company clearance last year to conduct its first trial to test the safety of the wireless brain−computer interface implant and the surgical robot. The interface will enable people with quadriplegia to control devices with their thoughts.
Musk: "Initial results show promising neuron spike detection."

AR This is encouraging. If this trial and others like it go well, I can imagine such chip implants as routine accessories for people who want to access their apps more conveniently.


SLIM lunar rover LEV-2 image of the lander's orientation on the lunar surface
Japan's Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) robotic explorer is back in action.
The explorer landed at 2024-01-20-00-20 JST facing the wrong direction after an engine fail, so its solar panel was in shadow
and it reverted to battery power. JAXA shut off the explorer and planned to restart it when its solar panel caught sunlight.
JAXA has now established communication with SLIM and resumed operations.



2024 January 29

Large Language Models

Sam Leith

The idea of the inspired author originating a text is a hangover from the Romantics.
Every text is made of other texts. Every word in a novel or poem depends for its meaning on the vast constellation of other contexts in which it has appeared and through which its reader understands it.
Every author is a meat-brained ChatGPT, trained by years of reading classics and copyright works.
The Romantic model of the artist is that we have an ineffable inner essence, captured in the act of expression, which makes us more than a neurological compost of our inputs.
The distinction between LLMs and human creativity may not be deep.

AR Human understanding is a bit more than composting our inputs, but not as much as many imagine. We structure our understanding to reflect patterns in the input, although most input is too "random" (as the young Bill Gates used to say) to reveal much structure.



2024 January 28

Trump Return Threat

Andrew Rawnsley

A second coming of Donald Trump is terrifyingly possible. What seemed unimaginable to most Europeans back in 2020 is now all too conceivable.
Trump shredded US climate commitments when he was in office. In a second term, he would be an aggressive protectionist and would wreck the "special relationship" with the UK, still the backbone of its foreign policy.
Trump yelled "I don't give a shit about NATO" when he was last in the White House. There were enough adults in the room to constrain him, but the fear in European capitals is that "Trump unbound" would shatter NATO.
Trump claims that he could end the Ukraine war in 24 hours. He would try to coerce Ukraine into accepting a deal that left huge swathes of its territory in Russian hands. That would be catastrophic for European security.
European leaders would look supremely foolish for failing to fulfil the pledges they made to improve their military capabilities.

AR It is surely time to consider this possibility seriously and prepare precautionary policies in all European capitals accordingly.



2024 January 27

Holocaust Memorial Day

King Charles III

"Holocaust Memorial Day offers a valuable opportunity for the richly diverse communities of this nation to come together and recommit to building a society free from antisemitism, persecution and hatred."

AR Public service announcement



2024 January 26


Christian Guay, Emery Brown

Anesthesiologists promise patients that they will be disconnected from the outside world and their inner thoughts during surgery, retain no memories of the experience, and feel no pain.
Anesthetics can be tools to probe questions about consciousness. They allow us to induce profound and reversible changes in conscious states and to study brain responses during the transitions.
To measure the transition from one state to another, a sensitive and precise approach is to ask patients to squeeze a ball whenever they breathe in. The squeezes are tracked using a dynamometer and an electromyography sensor. This technique tracks the sleep onset process without disrupting it.
The breathe−squeeze task is a sensitive approach to measuring the transition out of connected consciousness. The squeezing task appears not to disrupt the state of consciousness.

AR This is interesting for a consciousness researcher, but it doesn't help much in understanding how consciousness is implemented in the brain. We can work with brains that are clearly conscious or unconscious, then later, once we have a theoretical model, we can explore the clinical story.

2024 January 25

The Cerebellum

R Douglas Fields

The cerebellum contains some 50 billion neurons organized in an almost crystaline arrangement. It not only controls movement but also regulates complex behaviors, social interactions, aggression, working memory, learning, and emotion.
The wiring pattern in the cerebellum is organized and compacted to concentrate its neurons into a 10 cm lobe. The principal type of cerebellar neuron, the Purkinje cell, is branching like a fan coral, yet flattened and nearly 2D. The fan blades are dendrites. The blades are arranged in parallel, stacked in a tight bundle. Thousands of neurons run axons through the depth of the stack, each axon connecting with tens of thousands of Purkinje cell dendrites.
The cerebellum's circuitry can crunch enormous amounts of incoming data from the senses to regulate body movement. The motor control required for speech alone includes not only the intricate gymnastics of tongue and lips but also gesticulation. Our words are timed so we don't talk over the other person, and they are regulated for the social context: infused with the proper emotion, and driven by motivation, thought, anticipation, and mood.
Coordinating these functions requires tapping into most of what the brain does. It also requires engaging with the higher cognitive functions in the prefrontal cortex. The cerebellum has connections spanning the entire brain.

AR Fascinating. I'm sure there's a lot we still have to learn about how the cerebellum works, in computational terms, and how it contributes to overall brain function.


Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics, Moscow
"Glory of the Space Heroes − Glory of the Soviet People!" (Boris Berezovsky, 1963)



2024 January 24

Russian Cosmism

Gary Saul Morson

Russians have been inclined to utopian mysticism. In Tsarist times, intellectuals imagined revolution would transform not just society but also the universe. Atheists said scientific laws, as outlined in Marxist−Leninist philosophy, would accomplish everything mystics had foretold.
The philosophy now called cosmism infused its spirit into Marxism−Leninism and now competes with Eurasianism and other ideologies to replace it. Unlike most Russian visionary schemes, it has influenced American transhumanists.
Konstantin Tsiolkovsky inspired the Russian space program. President Putin: "We are not going to build just a cosmodrome and a launch pad here, but a research center, and a whole city. I think that if .. we call this future city Tsiolkovsky it will be only fitting."
Tsiolkovsky: "I am afraid you will leave this life with bitterness in your heart if you do not learn from me, a pure source of knowledge, that continuous joy awaits you .. The way I see it, my sermon is .. a strictly mathematical conclusion based on precise knowledge."
Tsiolkovsky said atoms are asleep but can wake up in a brain. When it dies, its atoms eventually become part of other brains. In the interim they sleep. When they wake, life will seem to have been continuous. In that sense, we are immortal.
Tsiolkovsky believed in eugenics. Central planners would control mating to produce a superior species: "And those who cannot be helped will be subsumed into nirvana."

AR Russian culture needs a complete overhaul to be up to the challenge of existing and coexisting in the modern world.



2024 January 23

Can Chatbots Understand Text?

Anil Ananthaswamy

A new theory suggests that the big LLMs powering chatbots improve and develop in a way that hints at understanding.
An LLM is a massive ANN with neural connections as parameters, whose number denotes its size. Its training algorithm takes its initial word choices, calculates a loss, and uses this loss to tweak the parameters. For that input, the LLM now calculates a lower loss. The algorithm does this for all the training data until the overall loss is acceptable.
A trained and tested LLM, given a text prompt, generates the most likely next word, appends it to the prompt, generates another next word, and so on. Nothing suggests that bigger LLMs should improve at reasoning. But big LLMs demonstrate new abilities, from solving elementary math problems to answering questions about other minds.
Random graphs have edges between nodes set randomly with probability p and can model LLM behavior. Bipartite graphs have nodes for pieces of text and for the skills needed for a given piece of text. They can define the loss function for an LLM by connecting skill nodes to text nodes. A bipartite graph can show how an LLM gains skills.
Big LLMs connect new random combinations of skill nodes to individual text nodes and seem to show understanding.

AR It seems hard to connect such technical processes with understanding, but ask yourself: How does human understanding work? I can well imagine our brains doing something analogous to this to generate what we naively regard as understanding. Don't trust our own introspected "understanding" of understanding!

Lana Lava
Helen Breznik


2024 January 22

Brexit: What Went Wrong

Martin Wolf

Populism is a potent form of democratic politics. It is also a destructive one. A classic populist alliance of fanatics and opportunists mixed simplistic analysis with heated rhetoric and outright lies to weaken the UK by committing Brexit.
Countries cannot be fully sovereign in trade, which involves partners. The rules of the single market were created because the alternative was multiple different regulatory regimes and red tape. The European Court of Justice decided on abiding by the rules.
Creating the single market was an act of regulatory simplification. Leaving it increases regulation for any business trying to sell in both the UK and the EU. No business entering the EU market today would locate in the UK rather than in an EU member state.
The Brexit "liberation" has greatly curtailed the freedom of many millions of people on both sides. It has increased the freedom of British politicians to lie and to bend or break laws and regulations. All this is a result of populism.

AR Brexit was the most egregious and appalling act of betrayal and folly by the British political establishment in my lifetime. I will not tire of condemning it and advertising its contemptible idiocy for as long as I retain my power to fight back.
Given the painfully obvious absurdity and failure of the whole project, Brits need to press the next government (wake up, Sir Keir Starmer) to get Brexit undone by rejoining the EU as soon as possible − see ALBION.



2024 January 21


Lily Lynch

There is a greater moral offence at play in Gaza than mere Western hypocrisy. The United States is currently furnishing Israel with bombs while supposedly giving the people of Gaza humanitarian aid. If Israel succeeds in forcing the population of Gaza into the Sinai desert, the presence of western humanitarian aid organizations sent to receive them there might even be used to set a precedent. Ethnic cleansing would be enabled by humanitarianism.

AR So it is with all the rules of war. Kill the enemy and do nasty things, but stop short of the banned atrocities to show your peaceful intentions. This is hypocrisy.

2024 January 20

Easy Peace Is Over

New Statesman

With the end of the Cold War, US president George HW Bush hailed a peace dividend for the West. With the demise of the Soviet Union, the West assumed the era of great power competition was over. China joined the WTO in 2001 and Vladimir Putin was welcomed as a reformist leader.
But today the West confronts multiple threats. A revanchist Russia is waging a brutal war in Ukraine. An expansionist China is menacing Taiwan. Across the Mideast, an axis of resistance led by Iran is challenging the established regional order.
Europe continues to rely on US military power. Only seven NATO countries met the target of spending at least 2% of GDP on defence in 2022. If Donald Trump regains the presidency in November, the era of easy peace is over.

AR Europe must organize itself to defend its values. The EU must regiment it more effectively. And the UK must step back from its US vassal status and cooperate again in Europe.



2024 January 19

World War 3: NATO vs Russia

Gina Kalsi, Chris Jewers

NATO Military Committee chair Admiral Rob Bauer: "We .. are preparing for a conflict with Russia .. anything can happen at any time."
NATO is mobilizing 90,000 troops for war games starting next week. Steadfast Defender will run until late May and involve units from all 31 NATO member countries plus Sweden.
Bauer: "Ukraine will have our support .. this war will determine the fate of the world."

Germany prepares for Putin to attack NATO in 2025
Rachael Bunyan

German ministry of defense documents show how Russia can escalate its war in Ukraine to WW3:
February/March 2024: Russia mobilizes another 200,000 troops.
April/May 2024: Russia launches a spring offensive against Ukraine.
June 2024: Russia advances through Ukraine.
July 2024: Russia launches cyber attacks and incites violence in the Baltics.
September 2024: Russia exercises 50,000 Russian troops in Belarus and W Russia.
October 2024: Russia moves troops and missiles to Kaliningrad, attacks the Suwalki Gap.
November 2024: Chaos in Europe influences US presidential election.
January 2025: NATO convenes. Poland and the Baltics ask for help.
March 2025: Russia moves 70,000 more troops toward the Baltics and Belarus.
May 2025: NATO reconvenes.
Day X: NATO deploys 300,000 troops to its eastern flank.
Day X + 30: The end.

AR Horror scenario.



2024 January 18

The Algorithm

Anna Shechtman

Add computing to culture, and culture changes. Algorithmic recommendation systems draw strategic attention to the agency of their operations over that of the humans who populate their datasets.
Kyle Chayka says algorithms have made culture homogeneous, repetitive, less interesting, and therefore less rewarding to consumers. He warns that algorithmic recommendation systems are shaping our aesthetics and diminishing cultural production. He values the friction of cultural particularity as a pledge of aesthetic value and calls for a return to human curators.
Taylor Lorenz says social media platforms have become entertainment industries. The apps once envisioned as portals for online friendship have been redirected to the content creator economy. Lorenz says the engine for this corporate revolution has been white women.

AR This is my cut of a long and thoughtful review. I found that review overloaded with heavy academic jargon. I think the topic demands clear thinking that cuts through the old tropes that fog our view and leave us fatalistic in face of change.



2024 January 17

Bill Gates on AI

Jordan Valinsky

Bill Gates is bullish on artificial intelligence. He predicts it will be transformative for everyone within the next five years. He says AI will make everyone's lives easier.
Gates says OpenAI's ChatGPT‑4 is "almost like having a white collar worker to be a tutor, to give health advice, to help write code, to help with technical support calls" and will be "fantastic" in education and medicine.
Gates is worth $140 billion.

Social media and populism
Jan-Werner Müller

Social media weaponized with AI may play a destructive role in these elections this year. Democracies must work to strengthen political parties to rein in populists.
Social media can help populists sell their core product. A direct connection between leaders and followers erodes political parties. The prospect of an unfiltered encounter promises authenticity and a sense of connection. Algorithmic curation to increase engagement amplifies this dynamic.
Democracies must overhaul how platforms are governed to make life harder for populists. Platform power gives too much power to a few people.

AR Weaponized AI will not make everyone's lives easier. It will further polarize politics, exacerbate economic inequality, and give "a few" people powers they should not have. People will need to use AI to curb AI, with the effect of entrenching AI power.



2024 January 16

Trump Wins Iowa

Arwa Mahdawi

Iowa went for Donald Trump by a landslide. Trump is facing 91 felony counts in four separate cases covering everything from conspiring to overturn the 2020 election to falsifying records on hush money paid to an adult film star.

Lloyd Green

Trump romped to victory in the Iowa caucus. Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis vied for a distant second. Looking ahead, a Trump loss in New Hampshire would be a mere speed bump. Meanwhile, Trump's legal woes remain the soundtrack of the political calendar.

Bhaskar Sunkara

Donald Trump won big today. He's running for the candidacy of a Republican party he's all but created. His style has made personal loyalty to his brand a litmus test in the party. Trump has made the Republicans a coherent, largely unified entity, bound together by a worldview and a leader.

Ben Davis

Trump's landslide victory felt inevitable. Trump has already led a coup attempt, been indicted with dozens of counts of various felonies, and even compared his own views on immigrants to Hitler's. The Republican party is now a vehicle for the politics of cultural grievance and petty reaction.

Geoffrey Kabaservice

Trump has remade not only the Republican party but Republican voters. He has persuaded them to reject the beliefs they once held and deny they ever held them. Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley could only have displaced Trump by splitting the party.

Moira Donegan

Trump is what happens when a country pretends to be a democracy without empowering its subordinated populations, when republican government coexists with dramatic inequality of wealth, when corruption guides politicians more than principle, and when voters have no say on policy.

AR Trump as POTUS 47 will be the downfall of America, the end of the American century, and a Götterdämmerung as spectacularly hideous as that of the Third Reich. If this is what US voters want, so be it, but the rest of the world must gird its loins to ride out the mess.



2024 January 15

The Rich Get Richer

Rupert Neate

The world's five richest men have more than doubled their fortunes to $869 billion since 2020, while the world's poorest 60% − almost 5 billion people − have lost money.
A report by Oxfam says the gap between rich and poor is likely to increase and will lead to the first trillionaire within a decade. The world's billionaires are $3.3 trillion richer than in 2020.
The combined wealth of the top five richest people in the world − Elon Musk, Bernard Arnault, Jeff Bezos, Larry Ellison, and Mark Zuckerberg − has increased by $464 billion, or 114%. Over the same period, the total wealth of the poorest 4.77 billion people has declined by 0.2% in real terms.
Business profits have risen too: 148 of the world's biggest corporations together raked in $1.8 trillion in total net profits in the year to June 2023, a 52% jump compared with 2018−21.
The latest GINI index shows global income inequality is now like that in South Africa. The world's richest 1% own 59% of all global financial assets.

AR The governments of civilized countries should set wealth taxes at a level that softens the impact on poorer people. There is no moral case for accepting such inequalities as "the hand of the market" or any such twaddle. Money is a social good that should be regulated to serve the social good.

2024 January 14

Life on Alien Worlds

Marcelo Gleiser, Lisa Kaltenegger, Sara Vannah

For now, indirect evidence for the existence of biology on distant worlds is our best bet to find it.
Astronomers can detect planets orbiting distant stars and measure the chemical composition of their atmospheres. Life at a global scale on a planet can leave signals in the atmosphere.
We propose using information theory tools to detect signs of biological activity in other worlds. We have used the tools to compare the spectral data from simulated exoplanets to Earth's across a range of contexts at different stages of their evolution and orbiting around different host stars.
One tool compares two absorption spectra and computes a configurational entropy that has a small value if the two compared worlds have similar overall atmospheric compositions and a large one otherwise. Another tool computes the configurational entropy for selected spectral frequencies.
For us, an exoplanet is an Earth analog not only when it has the right radius and mass but also when its absorption spectrum is close in information space across planetary history.
Our information measure can be applied to worlds with alien biological activity.

AR This work looks good to me. We shall never travel to most of the worlds of interest to us, but tools like this enable us to learn much of what we want to know anyway.

2024 January 13

Human Behavioral Crisis

Rachel Donald

Record heat, record emissions, record fossil fuel consumption: The world is further than ever from reaching its collective climate goals. At the root of all these problems is a human behavioral crisis.
Merz Institute co-founder Joseph Merz: "We've socially engineered ourselves .. We need to become mindful of the way we're being manipulated."
He says most climate solutions proposed so far only tackle symptoms rather than the root cause of the crisis. This leads to overshoot in materials usage, waste output, and growth of human society.
Merz: "We can deal with climate change and worsen overshoot .. Essentially, overshoot is a crisis of human behavior."
Marketing strategies create behaviors incompatible with a sustainable world. One strategy against overshoot is to campaign using the tools of the marketing, media, and entertainment industries.
The Population Media Center creates mainstream entertainment to drive behavior change on population growth.

AR I've long been bothered by our neglect of overpopulation and overconsumption as drivers of the climate crisis. This campaign is exactly what we need, on a massive and global scale.
Sadly, powerful pressures in the other direction will stymie it. The result will eventually be willed genocide against weaker groups by consumers socially engineered not to care.



2024 January 12

Cosmic Megastructure

Hannah Devlin

A ring-shaped cosmic megastructure challenges existing theories of the universe. The Big Ring has a diameter of about 1.3 Ym and is more than 9 Ym from Earth.
The size of the Big Ring appears to defy the cosmological principle that above a certain spatial scale, the universe is homogeneous and looks identical in every direction.
The observations were presented at AAS243 in New Orleans.

AR This could be bruise from a dent made by a colliding brane within the cosmic bubble bath. Or it could be an unexpectedly large Einstein ring. Whatever, the cosmological isotropy principle is only a faute de mieux philosophical assumption.



2024 January 11

Transparent Brain Implant

University of California San Diego

UCSD researchers have developed a neural implant that provides information about activity deep inside the brain while sitting on its surface. The implant is a transparent polymer strip packed with a dense array of graphene electrodes.
Existing surface arrays are unable to capture information beyond the brain's outer layers. Electrode arrays with thin needles that penetrate the brain can probe deeper layers but often lead to inflammation and scarring.
The implant is a thin and flexible polymer strip that conforms to the brain surface. The strip contains an array of circular graphene electrodes, each 20 μm in diameter and each connected by a graphene wire to a circuit board.
In tests on mice, the implant captured high-res data on electrical activity and calcium activity. Correlations between surface electrical signals and calcium spikes in deeper layers were used to train neural networks.

AR This is a useful step forward for neuroscientists. Implants that can read neural activity with high resolution in real time and allow direct connection to external circuitry enable us to map brain circuitry more fully and accurately than ever before.



2024 January 10

German Deportation Masterplan

Philip Oltermann

AfD politicians met Identitarian Movement head Martin Sellner and neo-Nazi activists to discuss a masterplan for mass deportations. They met last November in Potsdam.
The meeting was also attended by Bundestag MP Gerrit Huy and Roland Hartwig, a former MP and an aide to AfD leader Alice Weidel since September 2022.
Sellner is a key figure in the pan-European New Right. Identitarians oppose multiculturalism and the "great replacement" of whites in Europe by people from Africa and the Mideast.
Sellner aims to nudge politicians to accept remigration, the return of migrants to their countries of origin by mass deportation, with perhaps up to 2 million people to a state in northern Africa.
He refuses to distinguish between different types of German citizen and says all remigration measures must be legal.

AR The plan doesn't surprise me. It's wildly unrealistic to allow the immigration of millions of alien and sometimes hostile people into a cohesive society and not expect serious tensions to arise.


Surface view on Sol c in the Sol system, 2024-01-10-13-32 UTC

European Commission
25 years ago this month


2024 January 9

Hottest on Record

Damian Carrington

The year 2023 was the hottest on record by a huge margin. Earth was 1.48 K hotter in 2023 compared with the period before the mass burning of fossil fuels.
Scientists at the EU Copernicus Climate Change Service (CCCS) say the 1.5 K mark set at IPCC in Paris in 2015 will likely be passed for the first time in the next 12 months.
The average temperature in 2023 was 0.17 K higher than in 2016, the previous record year, marking a huge increase in climate terms. The primary cause was record emissions of CO2.
The high temperatures drove heatwaves, floods, and wildfires. Some of the extreme weather would have been virtually impossible without anthropogenic global heating.
For the first time on record, every day in 2023 was at least 1 K warmer than the 1850−1900 record. Almost half the days were 1.5 K hotter.
CCCS director Carlo Buontempo: "The extremes .. provide a dramatic testimony of how far we now are from the climate in which our civilization developed."
CCCS deputy director Samantha Burgess: "2023 was an exceptional year, with climate records tumbling like dominoes."

AR This is alarming. Soon we shall see mass migration from the hot zones that only military force can stop. Droughts and starvation will lead to mass deaths. The global population will shrink.

2024 January 8

Believing in America

Gideon Rachman

Donald Trump is leading in the polls for the 2024 presidential election. He has already shown that he has no respect for a free election. His promise of retribution threatens to put his political enemies on trial. These would be political show trials.
Like every great power in history, America has done terrible things. But in the three great global confrontations of the last century, America was the decisive factor, ensuring that the democratic world prevailed over autocracy or dictatorship.
America is the leader of the free world, both an example of democracy in action and the protector of its fellow democracies through a network of alliances. If democracy crumbles in America, then liberal democracies all over the world will be in trouble.
American greatness has always involved turmoil and melodrama. The melodrama that America churns up can be a sign of vitality as much as sickness. Voting for Trump is a sign that people are demanding fundamental change.

AR If Americans can't stop Trump before November, he looks likely to be elected. This would be an existential catastrophe for the free world and an end to the American Dream. Can't someone stop him before November?



2024 January 7

Giving Up

Adam Phillips

Giving up certain things may be good for us. Yet the idea of someone just giving up is never appealing. Life has to be worth living.
Sacrifice is about what we should give up to get the lives we should want. It depends upon our knowing what we want. Giving up anything exposes what we think we want.
Desire is where need and want become blurred. When Darwin claimed survival and reproduction as the driving forces of evolution, he was making appetite the real driving force.
The great religions and political ideologies tell us what we should want. Theories of human nature are stories about what people are deemed to need and want.
The psychoanalytic story tells how biological need becomes morality. It is a secular and materialist account of modern life. Survival and appetite underpin our ambitions and ideals.
Our ways of talking about wanting may be frustrating. If what sustains us also undoes us, we may ask what appetite can do.

AR This is a short take on a long (and wordy) source text, so it may seem disjointed, but I hope to have exposed the good insights that were buried in it.






Ge-Cheng Zha

Mars Aerial and Ground Intelligent Explorer (MAGGIE) is a fixed-wing aircraft powered by solar energy to fly in the Martian atmosphere with VTOL capability enabled by advanced deflected slipstream technology. In a Martian year it could fly 16 Mm.
MAGGIE could conduct atmospheric and geophysical investigations:
A study of the origin and timing of the Martian core dynamo
An investigation of the source of methane signals detected by the Curiosity rover
A mapping of subsurface water ice at high resolution in the mid-latitudes
MAGGIE could perform a global atmospheric mission over Mars.

AR This looks promising. I'm impressed that we can achieve sustained powered flight in the thin Martian atmosphere. The benefits in terms of survey results will be worth it.



2024 January 6

Straightening Curved Spacetime

Piotr Ogonowski

General relativity and quantum mechanics seem incompatible. A method combines the two but leads to a surprising conclusion.
The Alena tensor lets us describe events in such a way that the curvature of spacetime can be smoothly adjusted as if using a slider. In curved spacetime, the equation naturally transforms into the Einstein field equations. In flat spacetime, it lets us use special classical relativity. It is amenable to a quantum description.
The slider works for gravity and electromagnetism. The Alena tensor lets us add further fields, so it may let us reconcile previously contradictory descriptions for other fields. The field invariant of the equation behaves like the cosmological constant in the Einstein equations. The tensor implies a force in addition to gravity.
The method suggests the world around us is a constantly waving field and that spacetime is only a way of perceiving this field.

AR This tensor seems to deserve more study than I have time to give it. It represents a class of stress−energy tensors with interesting properties. But it seems to be terra incognita.
I find it intriguing that the mathematical structure around general relativity has such unexplored richness. Perhaps we shall one day program an AI to explore all this more fully.
The idea that our reality is an evolving quantum field is now familiar. We have for years been accustomed to saying spacetime may be an emergent phenomenon.

2024 January 5

The Afterlife

Alexander T Englert

Kurt Gödel is well known for his incompleteness theorems and contributions to set theory, but his philosophical and religious views remain obscure.
In 1961, Gödel argued for belief in an afterlife. His argument depends on the irrationality of human life in an otherwise reasonable world. The fact that our lives consist in unfulfilled or spoiled potential made him confident that this lifetime is but a staging ground for things to come.
Gödel believed in a rational order: "There reigns in everything the greatest regularity and order. Order is .. a form of rationality .. The idea that everything in the world has meaning is .. the exact analog of the principle that everything has a cause on which the whole of science is based."
Gödel believed the world's deep rational structure and the soul's postmortem existence depend on the falsity of materialism. Materialists said anything ungrounded in physical facts had no meaning or reality, so an immaterial soul had no meaning. He believed materialism was false.
Gödel claimed to have proved that either the human mind "infinitely surpasses the powers of any finite machine" and is irreducible to the brain or that certain mathematical problems are absolutely unsolvable and hence more than human creations. He thought both were true.
Gödel: "The next world .. must be one that liberates us from our current earthly limitations."

AR Gödel was a logical genius but a philosophical dummy. His arguments are wishful thinking from strongly desired outcomes to sophistical constructions claiming to prove them. His mathematical results are immortal, but his physical body was only too human, and mortal.

Raye, Royal Albert Hall,
January 3


2024 January 4

AI and Quantum Computing

Davide Castelvecchi

Machine learning + Quantum computers = Quantum machine learning (QML)
Quantum computers promise to solve certain problems much more efficiently than can classical computers. Machine learning is a form of AI that spots patterns in data and learns rules of inference. Both technologies are making big strides forward.
CERN uses machine learning to look for signs of certain elementary particles in data from the LHC. Scientists there are experimenting with QML.
A new quantum algorithm, HHL, is exponentially faster than a classical computer at solving the large sets of linear equations used in machine learning.
A typical quantum computing app has three main steps: (1) the quantum computer is initialized, (2) it performs a sequence of logical operations, (3) it performs a readout. Algorithms such as HHL promise to speed up step 2. But in many apps, steps 1 and 3 could be too slow.
Speed is not the only metric. A QML system could spot patterns in the data that a classical system would miss. Entanglement establishes correlations among data points.
A quantum measurement appears on a classical instrument. Quantum sensing uses quantum instruments. For QML, that could be good.

AR Solved big sets of linear equations is a huge application area, so QML has an enormous future. Watch this space.

2024 January 3

A Universal Computer Simulation

Simon Duan

The simulation hypothesis that the universe is a computer simulation is not a scientific hypothesis.
Our perceptual experience of the world is the result of processing by systems and functions in the brain. These brain processes generate a vast amount of information beyond what we perceive. Our reasoning relies on concepts and words that are contingent on our social and psychological histories. Ergo, we will never know if we live in a computer simulation.
But we can model the universe as a computer simulation. Modeling reality is what we do as scientists. To facilitate our comprehension of the world, we build models based on conceptual metaphors that are familiar to us, such as the computer simulation metaphor.
In a universe modeled as computation, the computer that renders space and its contents is beyond spacetime, for example in the Platonic realm of Forms. Many mathematicians say numbers have an objective existence in the realm of Forms. By locating numbers there, we can give physics an objective reality independent of the human mind.
Models are not reality but tools. A model of the universe as a computer simulation can be fun.

AR The Matrix scenario is a nightmare derived from a model. It's no more worth scientific attention than the visions in Dante's Inferno. But contemplation in that direction can correct a tendency to take the latest findings in cosmology too seriously.
The idea that the simulation runs in the realm of Forms is one I had in the early 1990s. I wrote it up in a paper I called Soul Theory, where I proposed that human souls were structured Forms accessible through a suitable "hyperfax" machine.
Springer chief executive Herr Dr Heinz Götze, for one, found the idea most amusing.



2024 January 2

The Bats and the Bees

Kelso Harper, Sophie Bushwick

Scientists are starting to communicate with such creatures as bats and honeybees.
We can use digital bioacoustics to understand animal communication. Portable field recorders like mini­mikes record sound 24/7 and collect lots of data. We can apply natural language processing algorithms to detect patterns in these recordings and decode what animals say to each other.
Researchers recorded audio and video of fruit bats, then used a voice recognition program to analyze the sounds and another algorithm to correlate sounds to social interactions in the videos. Bats have signature calls like names, they distinguish between sexes when they talk, and bat mothers use a baby language with bat babies.
Honeybees communicate using sounds and body movements like the waggle dance. We can track them and predict the impact of what one bee says to another. Bees use toots, quacks, piping signals, and a hush or stop signal. A robotic bee went into a hive and issued commands the bees obeyed.
Digital bioacoustics can change how we think about humans and other animals.

AR Brilliant! It won't be long before we, or rather our AI systems, can talk with the animals.Then all those old philosophical debates about animal minds and what it's like to be a bat will be obsolete and the mass slaughter of animals for food will look barbaric.

2024 New Year's Day

Hot Earth

Science News

The year 2023 is likely to be Earth's hottest year on record. The 12-month period from November 2022 through October 2023 is the already hottest such period on record.
From January through September, Earth's average global surface air temperature was about 1.1 K higher than the 20th century average. June, July, August, September and October were each the hottest ever recorded for those months.
Global average daily air temperatures in 2023 reached extreme heights during the Northern Hemisphere summer. The Southern Hemisphere had a hot winter and early spring, with peak temperatures above 40 C across parts of South America. In some areas, daytime temperatures were about 20 C above normal.
From late March through October, the global average sea surface temperature consistently broke daily records. By July, it was nearly 1 K above average. On July 6, in Adrar, Algeria, nighttime temperatures never dipped below 39.6 C. On July 16/17, Death Valley in California recorded a midnight temperature of 48.9 C.
In 2023, wildfires ravaged the Boreal region that wraps around the Earth just south of the Arctic Circle. Canada had its worst fire year on record, with estimated carbon emissions exceeding 400 Tg, more than a quarter of the world's wildfire emissions in 2023.
In the Northern Hemisphere, a wildfire in Greece became the largest ever recorded in the EU. Hawaii recorded the deadliest US wildfire since 1918. In the Southern Hemisphere, wildfires spread in many regions including Argentina and the Amazon rainforest.
Antarctic sea ice hit its annual maximum at about 1700 Mha in September 2023, some 6% below the previous maximum.

AR Bad news, with no indication that 2024 will be any better, and every chance it will be worse.


BLOG 2023 Q4


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