Friday, May 23, 2008

Time's Arrow

Scientific American has an article about time's arrow this month. I've written about this subject a month ago and I've known about it for years. This is all yawn-inducing crap. And yet I regularly see so-called scientists oohing and aahing about it in pretend amazement while giving the subject a pretentious name like "The Cosmological Arrow Of Time". There is nothing special about the human perception of time being asymmetric.

Human bodies and human minds are computational devices so it's really obvious that they should work from a low-entropy state to a high-entropy state. After all, general computation has this nasty habit of producing entropy. So much so that it all-but requires the production of entropy to happen. Hence why complex computations like human minds only happen in ways that allow for the production of lots of entropy.

Furthermore, the low-entropy state of the big bang doesn't need any explanation - it's just a quirk of our universe. To the extent that it needs an explanation then the Anthropic Principle is explanation enough. If our universe didn't have a low-entropy end somewhere (ie, a "past") then it could never support complex computations like human minds to observe it.

All this painfully-forced "amazement" on the part of physicists is another example of how difficult certain people (the physicists involved) find it to believe that their subjective impressions have no relation to the laws that govern the universe. Here the subjective impression of time "flowing" versus the physical reality of its being a static dimension with the quirky property of conserving information. Elsewhere the subjective impression of being indivisible versus the quantum mechanical fact of decoherence.

Even physicists start cooing like idiots when reality starts demanding they give up some cherished notion they grew up with. It's painful to watch. The only thing more painful is when perfectly obvious facts like the Mathematical Universe Hypothesis are rejected out of hand. Or when something like Goedel's Incompleteness Theorems gets brutally butchered.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Guaranteed Basic Income

The justification for a basic income is pretty simple and even obvious after you know about it.

There's only so much land on the Earth. Nobody is making any more and nobody made what's already there. So who should have it? Well the only just answer is that the land should be divided up each and every year into equal shares and these shares split up equally.

So from the fact you were born you have a human right to 1/(humanity's size) of all the land on Earth. And while we're at it, also all the oceans, all the fish, all the petrol in the ground, all the coal, all the forests, all the ... well you get the idea.

Now if we're sophisticated then we're going to allow people to sell off their rightful annual share of the natural resources on the Earth to the highest bidder. And that my boy, is the guaranteed basic income.

There's another argument that the basic income should be augmented with the share of the labour rent in the economy. Labour rent is the extra value you derive from having a job which some unemployed person can't derive because there aren't enough jobs to go around.

But this argument is iffy to say the least because the economy is bounded by resources. So the reason jobs are scarce is because natural resources are scarce, and we're already providing a basic income due to the scarcity of natural resources. So providing one for the scarcity of jobs would be double-counting. Maybe.

Anyways, when natural resources are so plentiful that everyone can grab as much as they want, then the price of untouched natural resources falls to zero and the guaranteed basic income falls to zero. But in *our modern world* where natural resources are very, VERY scarce, the price of untouched natural resources is extremely high and should be high enough to ensure someone's survival.

This is not the only argument for supporting people in financial straits by the way. There is also the argument from economic efficiency. There are many, many situations where it's best to charge everyone the same fee regardless of how much of a resource they use. This happens when keeping track of everyone's usage is going to cost more than the resources themselves.

Well as it happens you can invert the argument to talk about people's un-renumerated contributions to society. For example, raising your children has economic value to society. Raising them well has even higher economic value to society. These are benefits.

So is writing novels and publishing them online for free distribution. So is dispensing knowledge online. So is volunteering to sustain a community like all the people who run those Craigslist forums do.

The point is, all of those things provide net economic benefits to society as a whole. Should the people who provide them be left to starve to death? Should they be called chumps and laughed at? If you think these people should be rewarded then you've got a problem.

How do you measure people's contribution to society? Even better, how do you measure it without destroying it? Because it's a documented fact that when you start putting a price to people's un-priced voluntary contributions then their motivation disappears.

The answer is that just like charging everyone for oxygen or municipal water or sewers, it's not possible. The measuring apparatus would cost more money than it would save by preventing fraud. So you know what's the solution? The most efficient solution that's not totally unjust? Cut everyone a check and have done with it.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Right-Libertarianism's Defects As A Morality

Dave on reddit gave an excellent explanation of Why So Many Programmers Are Right-Libertarians, bringing up many good points. It wasn't a complete explanation though, so I brought up the couple more points I could think of. I also took the opportunity to chronicle my own insights into moral theory while doing that. And since I've been putting off writing part 2 of Morality for so long, long enough that there's a part 3 planned now, I figured this would at least be something.

[Dave] missed the fact that right-libertarians are extremely superficial thinkers. If they were REALLY good at following logical implications all the way down the chain of reasoning then they would inevitably run into the fact that absolute property rights justify slavery. And from this single reductio ad absurdum the whole system that spawned this atrocity collapses.

Not that this is the only problem there since without a moral system to give it meaning, the term "coercion" is hollow. Is it coercion to stop someone from coercing you? If you say yes then you annihilate the concept of coercion. If you say no then you must define a morality that prioritizes interpersonal actions by different actors so as to answer which are less coercive than others'.

The right-libertarians' axiom of "I was there first" is ludicrous as a morality since it violates the second basic self-consistency check which every moral system must pass to merit the name. A moral system must not adjudicate different outcomes depending on point-of-view or order of events. A moral system is ONE system, one viewpoint, for ALL of the group.

(The second basic self-consistency check is really a lemma off of the first self-consistency check. Which itself is a theorem that stems pretty directly from the definition of a morality as the rules which a group should obey for the benefit of the group. The theorem is this: since the group is the entity that reasons about and applies the rules, there can't be an internal inconsistency in the application of the rules when the group applies the rules. The lemma just extends this to time order by noting that logic transcends time.)

To get back on topic, you also have to add in the fact that right-libertarians are incapable of creativity. Because if they were capable of creativity they would have an independent conception, one not arrived at by deductive reasoning, of social justice. And this conception of social justice would be in direct violent conflict with right-libertarian precepts on a constant basis.

There do exist perfectly logical and coherent systems but they aren't well-known so you essentially have to create them. That's what I ended up doing using possession as a basis and weaving human rights together with procedural freedom. I ended up having to recreate the whole foundation of human rights too.

The thing is, creation comes from creativity and that's something all but exceptional programmers lack. A person certainly doesn't demonstrate the least shred of creativity by parroting others' systems of thought whole.

I recommend you examine the philosophy and politics entries on my blog. Especially the one on morality.

I'll leave you with a little fact. What mathematics is to all the hard sciences, the language which underlies all the other fields and unifies them together. So too psychology is to all the social sciences. If you don't know psychology, and by and large economists don't, then you can say nothing about systems of human beings.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Science Fiction versus Fantasy

Have you read anything by Julian May? Her Pliocene Exile series has dwarves, elves and magic powers. Only the dwarves and elves are really exiles from a dimorphic alien species who came to earth because their sentient ship determined it was biologically compatible, and the magic is psionics.

Then in her Moon series, magical amulets are communications devices made by a sadistic species of energy beings who live, or are, the Aurora Borealis. They call themselves the Greater Lights and you properly greet them in your request for favours by saying "All hail the Cold Light Army".

There is no difference between science fiction and fantasy except for this: science fiction is rationalistic whereas fantasy is mystical. That's why there exists the dichotomy between ray guns, aliens, psionics versus wands, elves, magic. Talking trees? Baah, that's just biotechnology!

No, the real reason why LOTR is fantasy is because of JRR Tolkien's crap about the Maiar, powerful spirits that rule the world. Also because of his feudalism. In a science-fiction context you can portray feudalism, as Julian May does, but you can't say this is how the world should or ought to be.

So when princes win kingdoms in science-fiction, it's because they're smarter, stronger and braver than anyone else. It isn't because they've got any Divine Right To Rule. And when the humans struck down the elves' tyranny in May's Pliocene Exile series, this was a GOOD thing. Not like in LOTR where the humans' defiance of their elvish overlords in the divinely preordained order resulted in them being destroyed.

When Picard the starship captain defies the gods then this is good. When Paksennarion the paladin defies the gods then this is evil. Because in a rationalistic worldview the universe is to be controlled and subjugated, but in a mystical one the universe is to be feared and propitiated.

Given that our civilization is entirely the result of rationalists, it amazes me that we allow the magical thinkers to enjoy the fruits of civilization instead of driving them into the wilds to die of starvation. I remain hopeful this is only because we haven't figured out how to eugenics the mysticism out of human DNA, yet.

No comment on this subject can be complete without reference to David Brin's essay on the romantics now only available at the internet archive from its former URL ( The only non-Romantic mystical writer I know of is Ursula K LeGuin in her Earthsea series.

Oh and the Romantics are still with us today. They're calling themselves Greens now. And they're just as dedicated to anti-industrialism as ever. They've given up the hierarchy bit but have more than made up for it in sheer misanthropy.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

The Hydrogen Economy

Idiots parrot all the time how the Hydrogen Economy is going to save the status quo. To a first order analysis this is ludicrous since fuel cells are overcomplexified expensive pieces of crap and hydrogen can't be transported.

However, say we did away with all the futuristic vapourware, what could "hydrogen economy" possibly mean then? Well, it could mean very high temperature nuclear reactors that produce hydrogen thermochemically at very high efficiencies. Assuming the hydrogen produced were cheap enough, there are plenty of applications for it.

Reducing iron ore to pig iron would be one of them. Pig iron can be efficiently turned to steel in an electric arc furnace, without the use of coal. By that point in time, all electricity would be produced by nuclear reactors and coal power plants would have been removed from the equation.

So what would happen to the current production of 1 billion tonnes of coal annually? Well some of it would certainly go to calcinating clinker for concrete cement. Assuming this could be displaced somehow, and assuming enough hydrogen were produced cheaply enough, then it should be possible to transform all of that coal into some synthetic fuel.

Currently, coal to liquids is extremely expensive partly because some of the coal must be burned in order to produce the hydrogen to synthesize the hydrocarbon chains. Assuming this weren't a problem then 1 billion tonnes of coal per year converts into about 30 million barrels per day of synthetic fuel. This falls far short of the current 80 million barrels per day the world uses but it's certainly ... interesting.