Entanglement for peace and freedom

A reader named Prempeh writes in the comments section of my last post:

I’m really no happier because of knowing that a phenomenon called quantum entanglement exist [sic]. Now, you say, this phenomenon has the potential to enable super-powerful computing, teleportation, … I say, until science helps me with a comprehensive, provable, repeatable methodology for using it’s [sic] results to make me (and everyone who wants to be) happy, I really do not see it as significantly more helpful than faith.

NB: Any chance that a unification theory could help the poor stave off devastating climate change caused in part by the profligacy of the west? End the brutality of war? Stop child sexual exploitation? Remove corruption, greed, racism, …

This is not a rhetorical question

A few quick non-rhetorical answers:

  1. At the least, thinking about quantum entanglement doesn’t exacerbate problems like war and climate change (if we neglect o(1) terms like the jet fuel needed to fly to conferences). The same can’t be said for many other human endeavors.
  2. The scientific revolution 400 years ago led directly to a doubling of the human lifespan, the birth of democracy and its subsequent spread across the world (Galileo, Newton → Spinoza, Hume, Locke → Paine, Jefferson → …), and the cessation of practices such as witch-burning. It’s true that those few lucky enough to have been tribal chieftains with large harems probably wouldn’t want to trade places with a modern; and also true that Hitler and Stalin managed to surpass the already-impressive brutality of the ancients. But on the whole, it seems to me that the human condition improved once we started understanding how the universe works. And given the number of utopian ideas that managed to do nothing but drench this vale of tears in new tears of their own, I don’t see the relative success of curiosity-driven science as anything to sneeze at.
  3. I do try to do my tiny part to raise awareness of climate change and other threats to civilization. Of course, every time I do so, I’m attacked in the comments section by hordes of denialists who tell me I should stick to what I know about (like quantum entanglement). There’s just no pleasing everyone.
  4. I see the central problem facing humanity — much more central than climate change, greed, racism, or anything else you mentioned — as collective stupidity. If we, as a species, weren’t so collectively stupid, we’d have error-correcting mechanisms that checked the other problems before they spiraled out of control.I also maintain the possibly-naïve hope that, if people could just understand basic conceptual points about how the world works — like why quantum entanglement doesn’t allow faster-than-light communication, but is still not the same as classical correlation — some tiny contribution might be made to fighting the collective stupidity of our species and thereby helping to ensure its continued survival. That, and not the prospect of teleportation or super-powerful computing, is what really motivates me.

62 Responses to “Entanglement for peace and freedom”

  1. El Christador Says:

    I don’t know about applications of quantum entanglement specifically, or of unification theories, but certainly quantum mechanics has been essential in developing modern electronic communications, and I suspect that if one wishes to reduce warfare and child sexual exploitation, the fact that the world is essentially smaller because of modern communication is important. Without modern electronic communications, southeast Asia would be effectively a lot farther away from North America, and I suspect that international efforts against child sexual exploitation would be even less than they are now. I believe a lot has been written about the effect of Vietnam being the “first televised war”, and how this helped turn public opinion against it.

  2. Anup Says:

    You know what else doesnt exacerbate war and climate change? Sushi. And that’s exactly why I eat tons of the stuff; to do my part.

  3. Koray Says:

    Scott, I think you’ve been trolled. By the same pattern you observed in your previous post: he’s saying that since science doesn’t solve everything, it doesn’t solve anything.

  4. anonymous Says:

    There’s a nice defense of “useless” research in G.H. Hardy’s book “A Mathematician’s Apology”…. I’d recommend it to Prempeh if he/she needs convincing.

  5. roland Says:

    super-powerful computing, teleportation and unification theory, climate change, child abuse, war, racism.

    i’m missing nuclear power, stem cells, Colonization of Mars and under water bubble cities in the mix

  6. Scott Says:

    Sorry about that, Roland! New rule: if I don’t mention underwater bubble cities then the next blog entry is free.

  7. Michael P. Taylor Says:

    Yeah, but Scott! Teleportation! I mean, teleportation!

    Still, in the mean time, I guess I can live Cessation Of Stupidity. Just promise me you’ll solve teleportation when you have a moment.

    By the way, I am a dinosaur palaeontologist. A worker in the same field, James Farlow, says “I have always prided myself in being in a field that has no practical application whatsoever”. So true. Good science is worth doing for its own sake, not just for what you can get out of it. Like art.

  8. anon Says:

    Blaming wars/sexual exploitation on stupidity is a common mistake.
    The line of reasoning is something like:
    1. Scientists rearly start/participate in wars or sexually exploit others
    2. Scientists are smarter then other people
    (1,2) => Wars start because people are not smart enough.

    The truth is that people who’s prime drive is curiousity are less likely to kill other people. But it’s not about being smart – the slightest step away from being driven by curiousity could land you on the other side of the “never did anything to harm anyone” fence.

    For instance a lot of very smart people, like Sartre tried really hard to justify pure communism as Stalin was butchering the ukrainian people. And of course if you are very smart, but also really into power over other people – you are actually more likely to cause wars then a dumb version of you.

  9. El Christador Says:

    Again, quantum entanglement specifically, I can’t say, but cryptography enabling secure communication enables people to, with only a minute’s work and a few mouse clicks (and a little typing), use my credit card to donate money to be used as microloan capital halfway across the world. Also note the importance of modern electronics in facilitating the bookkeeping necessary for this sort of transaction. And fibre optics (quantum mechanics, photonics, applied theoretical physics) in facilitating the communications. And without modern communications, there would probably be fewer people over here in the wealthy part of the world who would have even heard of microloans, or heard that people interested in third world development have discovered that in practice they seem to work well.

  10. El Christador Says:

    people to, with only a minute’s work and a few mouse clicks (and a little typing), use my credit card

    Dang. That’s a typo. It should be “allow people to … use their credit cards”.

    It’s an unfortunate downside that the same system also allows people to use my credit card to do it.

  11. epwripi Says:

    Scott said…
    “It’s true that those few lucky enough to have been tribal chieftains with large harems probably wouldn’t want to trade places with a modern”

    Comment: I seriously doubt even this is the case. To look at it another way, what fraction of the modern day population would, hypothetically, trade their modern comforts for being a tribal chieftain with a large harem? (don’t just think about the good parts… consider the big picture of the chieftain’s life from birth to death, so to speak)

    Even more strikingly, what fraction of the modern day population would trade their present day lives with 100 years ago, even if they can be extended the luxury of being among the top 0.0001% of the population in terms of wealth? How about 50 years? Anyone who claims they would easily trade their lives for that of someone from the past, even with a lot of wealth, should think again.

  12. Anonymous Says:

    anon #8: if you want to read a beautifully written and interestingly reasoned analysis of how wars start, and exactly why scientists tend to not be as involved in fights etc. (summary: a fulfilling job allowing for the exercise of creativity has more to do with it than actual intelligence), I recommend one of Scott’s favorite authors: “Why Men Fight”, by Bertrand Russell.

  13. Jay Says:

    I think you are confusing “stupidity” with “ignorance”.

    Or maybe I am.

  14. cody Says:

    anon # 12, i thought you were going to mention in praise of idleness by the same. its unfortunate, between Russell, Feynman and Scott, (and a few others to a lesser degree), i never really get a chance to think about something on my own, im usually really busy agreeing with them, (or often just learning something new). for me, the pursuit of science and mathematics has been a completely selfish one; it is the central positive and enjoyable activity of my life. at the same time, my happiness urges me strongly to spread the world and care very much for others. of course, its easy to choose any combination of decisions about science, ‘good’ and ‘evil’, and the state of modern society, and justify them to yourself. though im not sure how it is that people can criticize me for pursuing science for my own sake of happiness.

  15. milkshake Says:

    The problems you mentioned have everything to do with bad governance, not general doofosity. And some awful regimes had pretty smart people in charge. (Democratically-elected potentates aren’t necessarily any more capable than the autocrats – it is just easier to get rid of them).

  16. Chris W. Says:

    You know, Cody, I think you’ve hit on the essence of the issue. People who have positive activities and experiences around which to build a life and are able to enjoy them and truly appreciate being alive, do not want to deprive others of that opportunity, and do what they can to offer it to others. For a long time science has had an important place among those positive activities, as well as in helping to discover feasible means to provide the opportunities.

    Science certainly isn’t unique in this regard, but it is important. There is no way to reduce the profligacy of the west, or the reduce the potentially devastating impact of the fast-growing economies of the most populous countries on earth, without understanding and solving some really tough scientific and engineering problems, along with many socioeconomic and political problems.

    I have no wish to belittle the subjective power of faith. But faith seems to mean different things to different people, and all too often something going by that name has been used as a pretext for some people depriving others of opportunities for happiness, in many cases “for their own good” (generally in some hypothetical afterlife).

    Let’s say this: Science at its best, as a pursuit, contributes to honesty and honest self-examination, and the resourcefulness needed to make those qualities real. The products of the activity may or may not be valuable, but it is often difficult to make final judgments on that.

  17. Chris W. Says:

    Mostly off-topic, but not entirely:

    See The Blow-up, Part 1 and Part 2, in the latest Technology Review.

  18. Chris W. Says:

    I think the relevance of the following two quotations from Bertrand Russell will be clear, but maybe not:

    “Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom, in the pursuit of truth as in the endeavour after a worthy manner of life.”

    “Religion is based … mainly upon fear … fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death. Fear is the parent of cruelty, and therefore it is no wonder if cruelty and religion have gone hand in hand . . . . My own view on religion is that of Lucretius. I regard it as a disease born of fear and as a source of untold misery to the human race.”

    I don’t the latter is entirely fair, but there is a lot of truth in it. Let’s put it this way: People can be drawn to both religion and science by fear and the hope of relieving it—not the same thing as overcoming it. This is conjoined with a demand for certainty, the promise that the reasons for one’s fear will never return. Ultimately, that demand can never be met.

  19. anon Says:

    Anonymous #12:
    That was more or less the point i was trying to make. But i think “a fulfilling job allowing for the exercise of creativity” is not enough. To oversipmlify a bit – the only thing that guranties that you’re not going to do something “evil” is to be motiavted mainly by curiousity.

    Adolf Eichmann, for instance, had a very fulfilling job in the Central Office for Jewish Emigration, planning the expelling of jews from austria.
    Another example would be kid’s in japan who are forced to study until they collapse. They may have a better chance to understand entangelment but i’m not sure that they will be stopping wars anytime soon.
    The “why” is important here and nonstupidity is just the “what”.

  20. Tapan Parikh Says:

    Why is the essential question. Science helps us answer what, where, when, how – but not Why in the big sense.

    All of human activity and effort can be seen as a computation – but right now all that computation does is to increase entropy and transfer heat. While we may have the capability, we have not programmed the human computer on a societal scale. We are still running on firmware…

    Democracy, which no doubt emerged from the humanist revolution of which Galileo was a part, is definitely a *big step* in the right direction. But, at best it is an operating system, not an application. Health care is a for all is an excellent, but in this analogy its the same as an anti-virus utility. Would you buy a computer just to run Symantec? Still, we can hardly get these to work right without transferring *lots* of heat and generating *lots* of entropy.

    Its about time we figure out how to program the machine to do something we actually want it to do. At the very least, we need to figure out how to dissipate the heat better.

    Anyone got an earth-scale heat sink?

  21. Scott Says:

    Just promise me you’ll solve teleportation when you have a moment.

    It’s already been solved, if by “teleportation” you mean transferring unknown quantum state given classical communication plus entanglement between the sender and receiver. This has even been demonstrated experimentally (i.e., for individual subatomic particles).

  22. Scott Says:

    All of human activity and effort can be seen as a computation – but right now all that computation does is to increase entropy and transfer heat.

    Tapan, you could look at any computer and say exactly the same about it, if you didn’t care what was being displayed on the screen. But I do care what’s being displayed on the screen — don’t you? I see laughter, joy, and STOC/FOCS proceedings being produced as outputs, in addition to misery, hatred, and waste heat.

  23. Scott Says:

    Adolf Eichmann, for instance, had a very fulfilling job in the Central Office for Jewish Emigration

    Right, and apparently he was depressed for weeks when his superiors informed him that the expulsion job has over, and that from now on he’d be working solely in extermination. But he quickly recovered and threw himself into the new work.

  24. Tapan Parikh Says:

    Remember, I said at a societal scale. In this analogy – individual laughter, joy are pixels – not the display. (OK, maybe some of you think that the STOC / FOCs proceedings is the sum total of human existence, in which case I stand corrected.)

    At this juncture, could you load a program into this machine (say, a government policy) and say with any reliability what is going to happen with each pixel, at least enough to end up with a reasonably coordinated picture?

  25. Scott Says:

    I think you are confusing “stupidity” with “ignorance”.

    I should clarify that I was talking about collective stupidity, not individual stupidity — and furthermore, that collective stupidity only becomes dangerous when combined with individual intelligence. Trout, for example, are pretty stupid, but despite (or because of) that, pose little danger to the survival of life on Earth.

    As for ignorance, it’s not actually a big problem — provided people know what it is they’re ignorant of. Twain: “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

  26. Tapan Parikh Says:

    Getting back to the original point from the last thread, what I meant to say is that faith seems to do a much better job of programming the human computer then science.

    The pope says that birth control is not a good idea – and millions of little Catholics are born.

    We need to figure out how science can have the same impact… for which Scott’s point about reducing collective stupidity is exactly the right thing to do (although the first primer prb shouldnt be about Quantum Entanglement).

  27. Scott Says:

    Tapan, I find your analogy of society as a computer waiting to be loaded with a suitable program, and of individual humans as pixels in the display, a bit creepy. Who gets to write the program?

    Chairman Mao had a similar saying: “It is on a blank page that the most beautiful poems are written.”

  28. Tapan Parikh Says:

    Whether we want to admit it or not, its already happening.

    The OS (government, hopefully democratically elected) decides which programs to run… Isnt that the job of a scheduler? Mass media and communications provides the system bus.

    Im not saying that we need a blank page, or even that people should be coerced. History has shown neither of those tactics to work…

    What we need is a way to balance individual incentives, free will and desired societal outcomes. Obviously, this is what political economists have worked on for generations.

    Im also not saying that I have the answer – just a way of constructing the problem. Aren’t computational approaches to non-CS problems all the rage nowadays? :-)

  29. anon Says:

    “Right, and apparently he was depressed for weeks when his superiors informed him that the expulsion job has over, and that from now on he’d be working solely in extermination”

    In fact he happily used the reputation he got himself during his time in Austria to get a much better job in Berlin with the RSHA where he masterminded a plan for forced resettelment of all jews in europe to Madagaskar: the Madagaskar Projekt .

    When the Final solution was drafted he was the natural choice for the Transportation Administrator.

    To me that is the saddest part – I really think he just liked organzing transportation and getting positive feedback from his SS supiriors. He testified that his obidience and efficiency was result of what he considered Kantian ethics.

    When someone stupid decides to start a world war and a genocide – it’s appearently not that hard to find smarter people to get the job done….

  30. milkshake Says:

    It depends on the value ideas, not the smarts.

    Once you have decided that “The World is not here to be posessed by faint-hearted races”, and you are consistent and organized, hate is not needed. Its like cutting the grass on the front yard (though you get satisfaction from the higher purpose of it – you are the hand of history.) Genocide is no joke: it a hard work and we all have to do our part.

  31. John Sidles Says:

    Pretty much everyone recognizes that it is still an open question whether having higher intelligence, and more access to information, makes a person’s actions wiser or more foolish.

    The paradox then arises … if a person is smart enough to conceive of good reasons why the above statement might be true, then doesn’t that same conceptual capability constitute evidence that the statement itself is false?

    Practical situations in which such reasoning applies occurs quite often in game theory and in economics … Papadimitriou’s work on the complexity of finding Nash equilibria, and its implications for libertarian notions of “free markets”, is a good example.

  32. John Sidles Says:

    Scott says: “I also maintain the possibly-naïve hope that, if people could just understand basic conceptual points about how the world works [then] some tiny contribution might be made to fighting the collective stupidity of our species and thereby helping to ensure its continued survival.”

    IMHO, that was a fine blog entry that struck a welcome note of hope in this holiday season. So I was surprised (dismayed really) at the tepid response from the QIT blogosphere.

    Maybe the problem is the word “tiny” ? `Cuz geez … a planet with ten billion recently evolved chimpanzees is going to need more than just “tiny” contributions. It is pretty clear that “big” contributions would be more welcome.

    So, is there a “big contribution” that QIT could be envisioned as making?

    I will note that the generation of Pauling, Feynman, Turing, Wiener, von Karman, von Neumann, von Braun, etc. did not hesitate to “think big” about applications of mathematics, science, and technology.

  33. NoJoy Says:

    Wow, a rare instance of the simpler, happier version of Godwin’s Law, in which the arrival of the Nazis does not spell the end of the discussion. And we got Mao as a bonus. I wonder if Colonel Green enjoyed his job?

  34. james Says:

    So I was reading this tonight, and I do feel as though my soul is a little better off for it.

  35. anonymous Says:

    Well, personally I used to focus almost 100% on scientific/technological pursuits, but gradually the humanities and social studies tore me away. I used to believe that the big problems facing humanity are primarily technological problems, and that without new technology (no-footprint energy source, for example) we’d be doomed inevitably. Then little by little exposure to social sciences convinced me that the problems the world faces are not technological, but social. Sure, new technology can help, but it can also harm. If you help to develop a cure for AIDs or cancer, but the social implementation remains that only the rich benefit, can you say you helped? I think not, the critical work is devising and implementing the social program. Likewise, perhaps a new technique for converting cellulose into fuel could help curb global warming, but not if all the worlds rainforests are burned down to be converted into cellulose plantations. Communication technology is another good example. Alot of people predicted that with the advent of the PC and internet, the proletariat would rise up and overthrow the man. Some are disappointed that it hasnt happened yet, and others still have hope. Its up to us to make history and decide if it will prove to be yet another tool of the powerful to dominate the poor, or if the poor can use it to liberate themselves.

    On that note, I would be careful about saying that using our credit cards to offer microloans to the poor is helping them (it was the globalization of economic exploitation that made them poor in the first place). And I would be even more careful about bowing down to the scientific revolution and giving it credit for “the birth of democracy”. This is a dangerous view of history in which everything good that we have is a descendant of Western culture that never existed before and everything bad is a mere perturbation. Although some historians love to paint “primitives” as brutal and cruel and deny the concept of the “noble savage”, there is enough evidence to suggest that plenty of pre-western societies were alot more peaceful and egalitarian than we are today, such as Columbus’s own description of the “indians” for starters.

  36. Will Says:

    If you help to develop a cure for AIDs or cancer, but the social implementation remains that only the rich benefit, can you say you helped?

    Of course you can. If a complexity theorist proves that BQP is not in NP, can he really say he helped?

  37. Will Says:

    and by “in” in that last sentence, i really mean “”.

  38. Sam Says:

    There are a limited number of smart people. Everybody who chooses to work on complexity theory instead of today’s urgent crises, like climate change, is one less in the battle. I don’t know how Scott would put his talents toward advancing world peace, but I think his scientific talents might very well be helpful in fighting climate change. So I find his argument disingenuous.

    “I also maintain the possibly-naïve hope that, if people could just understand basic conceptual points about how the world works — like why quantum entanglement doesn’t allow faster-than-light communication, but is still not the same as classical correlation — some tiny contribution might be made to fighting the collective stupidity of our species and thereby helping to ensure its continued survival.”

    Is this supposed to be a joke? I don’t believe it.

    Pursuing research questions for their pure intellectual pleasure is important and a worthy use of our tax dollars. (I assume Scott probably has some federal funding.) But it is also a luxury, and that should be acknowledged. Scott’s first two reasons are both negative, what he isn’t doing. He isn’t exacerbating war or climate change (although one suspects that his personal carbon usage is higher than average if he’s flying around the world for conferences), nor is he promoting “utopian ideas that managed to do nothing but drench this vale of tears in new tears of their own.” 99.9% of Americans can say the same things (any individual’s carbon contribution is O(1)). Is this good enough?

  39. Sam Says:

    By the way, regarding flying-to-conference carbon emissions, will MIT buy carbon offsets for you?

  40. MeMe Says:

    A nonsequitar:

    Scott did you see this movie?

    http://www.teethmovie.com/film.html

    I feel that your blog may have been stolen from again.

  41. John Sidles Says:

    Sam Says: There are a limited number of smart people.

    Gee, by any measure of intelligence, there are “only” 60 million people in the top one percent. That’s *huge* pool of top-notch researchers. :)

    The point being that as a species, we definitely are not making the best use of our collective brainpower.

    Why is this? Maybe we’re not focusing on the right problems?

  42. cody Says:

    hmm, Einstein quoted Schopenhauer who said, “man can do what he wills, but he cannot will what he wills.” which i take to mean: we dont choose what we find interesting or pleasing.

    to Sam: i didnt decide to be interested in something as impractical (at least in regards to bettering the masses) as theoretical physics, i just am. as someone who is (very) mildly interested in global warming, maybe i will contribute to a solution some day. but most likely someone who is passionately interested in global warming, or anything intricately linked to it will do most of the solving.

    to John Sidles: i think we should just continue to pursue what it is we find interesting; some of us find it really interesting that other people dont even have the concepts of ‘collective brain power’, or ‘thinking as a species’, and so we want to spend a lot of time passing those ideas on to others, thus increasing the available computing power for… whatever they want!

    in the end, the world is a decent place for more people than ever, and probably a less crudy place for more people than ever too; the difficulty is restraining oneself from direct comparision with how much greater it could (so obviously) still be.

  43. Ryan Budney Says:

    Sam, it’s a strange thing to disparage a guy for his choice of research area. You seem to have a zero-sum view on the world where if somebody doesn’t contribute to what you consider the most important thing, then in effect they aren’t `with you’ they’re `against you’. To me it’s not clear that having more people working on climate change in a scientific context is going to help much at all — if anything, substantial change is only going to happen when Joe Sixpack knows in his bones what has to be done. Technology can help, but looking for a miracle cure from science is a potentially *highly unproductive* point of view to take, moreover it indicates a misunderstanding of what science is.

    If there’s any lesson that should be learned from the history of science, it’s that some people have particular talents suited to particular fields. If a society can afford it, let them have their day and do what they can. It’s not immediately clear how a theorem in computer science or a result in physics or mathematics may later effect the world. That said, the sciences shouldn’t be viewed as a repository of wizards that can conjure up all kinds of magic. Scientists peck away at the frontiers of knowledge, but it’s a slow process that largely can’t be forced. At best, you can allow it to exist.

  44. Anonymous Says:

    What would one do supposing we get over with “devastating climate change caused in part by the profligacy of the west? End the brutality of war? Stop child sexual exploitation? Remove corruption, greed, racism, …”.

    Why not then do some of those things right now especially let people who are more adept do those. Considerable effort can still be put for the above problems.

  45. John Sidles Says:

    Such a tepid response, to such an interesting topic!

    When it comes to Scott’s challenge of how best to “fight the collective stupidity of the species”, Fabrikant, Papadimitriou, and Talwar in their article Complexity of pure Nash equilibria suggest “melting the ice” that separates theoretical computer science from other disciplines.

    IMHO this is a good approach that is very nicely expressed. Their article is good too.

  46. Jonathan Vos Post Says:

    Friedrich Schiller [1759–1805]: “Mit der Dummheit kämpfen Götter selbst vergebens.”

    (“Against stupidity, the gods themselves contend in vain.”)

  47. K o m m i s t o Says:

    I think the mere transformation of the mostly military issued funding into virtual or real deforestation (papers) is helping the world peace by diverting the funds that could otherwise go boom!

  48. cody Says:

    Scott, do you moderate all comments or did i say something offensive?

  49. dave tweed Says:

    Sam said “There are a limited number of smart people.” I really don’t believe that. I’ve met remarkably few people who I’d consider to be incurably “dumb”. Most people are “smart” in some areas that interest them, and most of the dumbness is more character traits (like refusal to lose an argument and hence learn, etc). I’m assuming when Scott talks about stupidity he’s really talking about short sightedness/personality induced blind spots (and indeed downright refusal to be long-sighted). Cue the joke: how many psychiatrists does it take to change a lightbulb? 1, but the lightbulb has to want to change.

    My personal view is that I’m probably doing more to “make the world a slightly better place” working with 100% enthusiasm at something that interests me that’s probably only counts as “general technological progress” than I would working with 1% enthusiasm, say, on climate change “out of a sense of duty”.

  50. Scott Says:

    Cody: No, you didn’t say anything offensive. Certain comments (for example containing certain keywords, which might be completely innocuous in context) get held up in either the WordPress moderation queue or the spam filter. Please be patient; I’ll generally get around to reviewing them within a day at the most, and usually (as in your case) will allow them to appear.

  51. Johan Richter Says:

    “Sam said “There are a limited number of smart people.” I really don’t believe that.”

    Are you saying there is an infinite number of smart people?

  52. Job (UG) Says:

    Johan, you’re playing with words there, you’re able to understand what Dave was saying, and yet you choose not to. Do you find that to be the most effective approach to a discussion?

  53. Peter Sheldrick Says:

    I think what Prempeh was trying to say, is that people who think that science can solve all problems, and that we only need science to be happy are idiots. Where idiot is supposed to have its original Greek city-state meaning, c.f. http://in.answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20070327092003AAFK7vX

  54. cody Says:

    Scott: after the second post went through, i assumed it must have been the length or something, but i figured it wasnt worth saying. i was just curious. i wouldnt expect you to dedicate too much of your time to any of this anyway.

  55. John Sidles Says:

    As a thread-coda, some of von Neumann’s practical experiences and personal insights into math-versus-morality issues are reviewed in a lengthy article by Robert Leonard, New light on von Neumann: politics, psychology and the creation of game theory.

  56. Miles Archer Says:

    Does the phrase “Shtetl-Optimized” have a personal meaning for you? It makes no sense to me.

  57. Scott Says:

    Miles: See the first post.

  58. Miles Archer Says:

    As you suggested, I have read your first post. However, it still doesn’t make sense. In Computer Science, to optimize is to increase the computing speed and efficiency of a program. I’m guessing that it means that some computer program, somewhere, has been optimized by a small European town that contains many Hebrew citizens. Sorry to be annoying. Forget that I asked.

  59. John Sidles Says:

    Having grown up on a farm, I can assure everyone that the vision in Scott’s first post of “a field-ploughing algorithm that is provably within a 1+ε factor of optimal” concisely captures the intellectual reality of field-plowing.

  60. robert Says:

    How do you define “democracy”? Talking about it spreading across the world makes it sound like a positive pandemic; I would argue that democracy nowadays is ill-defined to mean something like
    “rule by moneyed interests, not of voters.”

  61. Charles Hamel Says:

    This subject fascinates me. I could listen to Dr Michio Kaku for hours.

    The thing that amazes me is quantum entanglement, where it has been proven that we are connected on a cellular/consciousness level.

    Mom and baby animals that had been separated by great distances were shown to have spikes when tested with ekg type machinery when one was hurt.

    Now testing is ongoing to prove whether the earth itself has a consciousness of it’s own, preliminary findings point to the affirmative.

    Great Blog

    Thanks

  62. Job Says:

    Charles, i don’t think anything that you mentioned has been proved. Maybe with some bias you can interpret the data as suggestive, but to go farther than that…