Lazy Sunday links

As I try to track down the RSS problem, here’s some things to read…

* Longtime reader Bernie Cullen recommends this analysis over at Pielke Jr’s place on those Australian fires.

* Dan “Audit Blogs” Hughes shows us a typical economics analysis which claims to show that the typical “cell phone call is $3.02 a minute.”

* CB points us back to Gene Expression, where they have an article asking whether information criteria will replace p-values. Answer: yes, they will.

* You can read Chesterton’s Eugenics and Other Evils for free here. Most people don’t know it, but the guy who invented p-values was one of the biggest pushers of eugenics.

* Article on “secret science clubs” that are springing up in various places. This one is in Brooklyn. Apparently, the uber hip crowd asks scientists to come and lecture them. And they’re loving it. Hope for America?

* New book. Is God a Mathematician asks “Is math discovered or created?” Short answer: you can’t discover what isn’t there. So, created.

* Viva Texas! Chuck (He doesn’t sleep; he waits) Norris calls for revolution!


  1. Joy

    I think you meant created.

  2. George Crews

    Hi Briggs,

    I agree with Joy. Nobody has ever seen a zero. No absolute 0 Kelvin. No perfect vacuum. Etc. We created zero and painted it on a dial.

  3. Briggs


    Rats. Yes. It’s fixed.


    We just gave it a name.

  4. Ari

    A revolution in Texas? Fine by me. Can we also let go of Florida, while we’re at it?

    Honestly, one wonders sometimes if the anti-Federalists were on to something.

    Oh, and the cell phone link is fun. $3.02/minute sounds pretty cheap considering the rate I pay for my newfangled “smart” phone!

  5. JH

    I agree that 0, the symbol for emptiness or nothingness, is created. However, in my opinion, the concept of zero is not. Does emptiness not exist inherently? Do you not feel a sort of emptiness or inner slience sometimes? If you are interested, google the Buddhists view of zero and emptiness.

  6. Three things:

    First, I hope that the first rule of Secrect Science Club is ‘Don’t talk about Secret Science Club,’ and that the second rule is, too.

    Second, please give a spoiler alert before pithy book reviews. I just got Is God A Mathematician from the library, and now I have to read it to enjoy the prose rather than to get the answer to the titular question.

    Third, that should probably be ‘Viva Tejas’.

  7. Hi JH,

    A sense of conviction may have nothing to do with reality. Even our convictions about mathematics.

    If you look up the Wikipedia entry for negative Kelvin temperatures you will find that, as Kittel and Kroemer put it, “The temperature scale from cold to hot runs +0 K, . . . , +300 K, . . . , +Infinity K, -Infinity K, . . . , -300 K, . . . , -0 K.”

    That is, for temperatures: +0 is “very” far from -0, +Infinity equals -Infinity, and all negative numbers are infinitely larger than any positive number.

    In science the sole test of knowledge is experiment. And this is what experiment tells us about thermodynamic numbers.

    So what exactly is a zero?

  8. Ed Snack

    How about, “just is”, created smacks of the need for a creator. Perhaps this is one of an infinite number of realized actualities (or actual realities), where the math just happens to be what it is, because if it wasn’t we couldn’t study it.

  9. Ah, the Anthropic Principle of atheism. Rejoinder: could not a Supreme Creator create multiple universes?

    The worry is, if we deny the Creator, and He exists, will He be disappointed in us? Or conversely, if we worship a mirage, will we be disappointed? And of course, the main bother is not personal at all, but what the heck is the other guy doing, vis a vis belief or non-belief.

    Mostly math is discovered, not invented. That’s clear. 2+2=4 is a fundamental property of this universe, not a choice we make. Nobody knows why. It’s kind of a miracle. And once you recognize one miracle, they seem to pop up all over. Maybe it doesn’t matter whether you credit God or ???? The mere recognition that miracles do occur is sufficiently humbling.

  10. Joy

    Mike, thought provoking. I’m wavering.
    I’d say that The magical world of numbers is just a mechanical way of describing the world that has been created so we all can agree! Just as a poem can describe adaisy, maths can count the petals, measure the circumference and fluffy yellow dome in the middle.
    Maths is in this way superior because we all agree that one and one is two.
    It’s not inclined to ambiguity. That’s the only difference. So maths gets it’s reputation of being the truthful method and I’m very jealous.

    Funny thing is that only things that are easily measured are best described mathematically. As soon as things get complex, maths doesn’t get it right, and startslooking clumsy, having to add provisos, caviats, conditions.
    The miracle of two plus two equals four depends upon perspective. I am inclined to see many things in life as a miracle, however, looking at that another way, what’s special about a row of beads or a set of stairs. That’s what numbers represent. They are just labels for slots.
    It’s not clever that two steps plus another two steps is four because we called it the fourth step! We gave each increment a name that represented it’s size or value. It’s a circular pattern of thinking about a lineal thing that makes it seem miraculous. Like the inventor that shouts, “hey, it works!” He set the rule in the first place!
    Man still had to create the names for the integers and since man likes things in rows and lines, it’s no surprise that while she was smelling the roses he was counting the petals. I suppose I can see how you would say that the numbers were discovered, but this depends upon what the word discovered means.
    Now you’ve got me wavering, but I still think they were created by man. Whether or not God exists. That’s what free will is all about and I think it’s lovely that someone so steeped in numbers sees the miracle of things.
    I wonder if miraculous as it is, whether a better system might exist that is more helpful when it comes to the eternal problem- infinity.
    Surely Emperor William will sort out that little problem when he’s not so busy.
    Your point illustrates what I was trying to say, badly about simplistic language is not enough to describe human experience. “0” doesn’t describe emptiness, not remotely whether you mean an empty tea cup or an empty soul.That’s why I hate numbers. (and an empty tea cup is only slightly less sad than an empty soul))
    There are more reasons to love them though, and I’m mostly jealous that I don’t think numerically.

  11. Luis Dias

    The worry is, if we deny the Creator, and He exists, will He be disappointed in us? Or conversely, if we worship a mirage, will we be disappointed?

    Pascal’s worry is shared only by the fearful.

    I also agree that I don’t see that much of a miracle of 2+2 being four. Besides that being only a matter of counting beans or whatever (1,2,3,4…), even if that didn’t happen in this universe, then another pattern would happen, and our “maths” would evolve from that. The fact that the universe has some intrinsic logic is essential for us to be alive, or else all would be entirely chaotic and even the tiny atoms couldn’t agree on the geometries they work upon.

    Now many people gasp at this as if this was some kind of a sign or something, and something to be “humble” about. Well, it’s interesting and awe inspiring, but please. We simply have no data at all to understand if this is indeed a “miracle” of itself, or rather if it is something that was simply inevitable, thus becoming vulgar. (like being in “awe” that the sun never burns out, until we figure out that it will, just that it will take a lot of time)

    I postulate that not, people are just very, very superstitious and see patterns where they do not exist (as is, everywhere) and get to be more certain than they should be. Briggs knows this very well.

  12. Joy

    Luis, how certain are you that too many people are too certain about too many things? If even the tiny little atoms can agree, why can’t we?
    Our free will prevents it. Which makes 1 + 1 a miracle.
    Atheists are frightened of disappointment, this can be a paralysing force.

    I meant my bad illustration not yours, I wasn’t clear.

  13. JH

    Did I open a can of worms here?

    Joy, no worries. I understood your point.


    If we are to decide whether 0 is discovered or created, then we should look into the history of zero and the meanings of zero, which, as I recall, are quite interesting. Zero signifies nothing, empty set, empty space or emptiness. The concept of emptiness existed in Hindu philosophy and the Buddhist concept of Nirvana. If the concept of zero wasn’t there, I would have probably concluded that it’s created. The concept of zero was there; some smart thinker(s) discovered it and symbolized it.

    Zero is an important number. Without zero, there would be no negative numbers.

    Sorry, a short response without any links for reference. I’ve got a bit of work today due to two weeks of absence. I am sure that you are very capable of searching for and sifting through information. You also have problem solving skills judging from the fact that you verified a probability inequality using a computer program in your comments on an earlier post.

  14. Luis Dias

    Our free will prevents it. Which makes 1 + 1 a miracle.
    Atheists are frightened of disappointment, this can be a paralysing force.

    Could you explain this to a humble mortal as I am? Because I could not make any sense from what you said.

    What has 1+1 anything to do with “free will”? Do you even know what “is” free will? (I bet you think you do, but never thought much about it!, only a bet…), and what the frak does that even got to do with the alleged frightened status of atheists? With “disappointment”? Disappointment of what? Of God really existing? That wouldn’t be disappointing, it would only be a mistake. Some people like surprises, others don’t.

    Other people also like to make over generalizations of something they know nothing about. Like saying “atheists are frightened of disappointment”. Which is the point of this blog too. People just make inductive assumptions of what they know next to nothing and boldly claim they’ve sussed it out….

  15. Luis Dias


    Luis, how certain are you that too many people are too certain about too many things?

    Certain enough to prove my theory correct ;).

  16. Joy

    Your first quote is taken out of context and so makes no sense.
    My flippant point is your own remark that if the tiny atoms can agree then why can’t we? It was a rhetorical question. Humour.
    So that leads on to the point that if we agree that 1+ 1 is two then it must be a miracle because we don’t agree on anything else. Something’s gone wrong from atom up to human level, (“medium sized dry goods” level.)
    Hence the free will comment because if individuals are allowed to think and feel what they like, they will come up with different ideas and thoughts; illustrated beautifully by your complete misunderstanding of what I wrote; And please, I don’t blame you for this.
    As for the fear of disappointment comment which touched a raw nerve, it was a reply to your strident claim that,
    “Pascal’s worry is shared only by the fearful.” (also unsubstantiated.)
    I find this ridiculous; sorry, but I don’t think it makes sense as in I don’t think it would be a normal thing to believe in something because you’re afraid! You either believe or you don’t. You can’t be made to be afraid into believing. That would hold true whatever the belief was.
    If James Bond has a gun to his head he might say anything he was asked to, but he wouldn’t believe that the moon was made of cheese because he had a gun to his head.
    One can be afraid by what one believes but not believe because one is afraid.

  17. Hi JH,

    I’m not saying you are wrong. It’s just that other interpretation are consistent, if incomplete.

    For example, Bayesians are very reluctant to assign 0 or 1 to a prior because then the math no longer works as intended — beliefs can no longer change no matter what the evidence.

    For Platonists aka every mathematician I’ve ever known this is not a deal-breaker, say, for such things as 1 + 1 = 2.

    But for those intuitionists that believe the sole test of all knowledge is experiment, absolutes are a big problem. Nature does not allow us to construct absolutes. And so it’s hard to keep a straight face and say something like: “I got to .000001 K, so I am 99.9999% sure I can say that ‘absolute 0 K exists’.”

  18. Bernie

    Didn’t Godel already answer this question? The miracle or unanticipated event, I think, is that we have relatively quickly developed a set of axioms that have proved to be immensely useful, even if we know they are or are likely to be incomplete.

  19. Luis Dias


    Although I quoted you out of context, doesn’t mean I didn’t read you contextually.

    The point is, even if reality is deterministic at its core (even if only probabilistically), the sheer amount of atoms one person has, the sheer amount of reactions, patterns, and scales of actions every particle, molecule, protein, cell, etc. does, there is the possibility of conscience emerging out of that. “Free Will”.

    There is no miracle to it. It just is. There’s also the “illusion of free will” theory. This states that we might have the feeling we are “free” to choose this or that, but anyhow we always chose one or the other. The choice may have been only the product of an immensely complex calculus by our brain. I’m not saying that it happens this way. I am merely stating that because we disagree so often is completely independent of 1+1=2.

    I give you an analogy. A HO2 molecule is always a pair of hydrogen coupled with an oxygen atom making a triangle with 120 degrees. Does this mean that the fact that the weather is always different everyday in the planet is a “miracle”? Of course not. Unwarranted.

    “Pascal’s worry is shared only by the fearful.” (also unsubstantiated.)

    It’s not unsubstantiated, it’s part of the entire Pascal’s wager concept. It’s inherent to his proposal to the man that can’t believe, but has the choice of, well, at least play as if one believes, and accept Jesus, for you will lose nothing in doing this, and you could lose your soul to hell if you don’t.

    I state that this wager, a kind of a blackmail if you want, is shared only by the fearful, the ones that fear that hell may exist after all. If one simply does not believe in such myth, Pascal’s concern is meaningless.

    I find this ridiculous; sorry, but I don’t think it makes sense as in I don’t think it would be a normal thing to believe in something because you’re afraid! You either believe or you don’t. You can’t be made to be afraid into believing. That would hold true whatever the belief was.

    Yes, you’re quite right, but not entirely :). I’m sure you’ve read 1984. Now, I happen to believe that if that kind of fear can be imposed on an human being, then 2+2 can be 5, and the person will actually believe this to be a fact. It’s a psychological problem. Now, imagine the horror of a child being told about the hell fire, if one doesn’t behave well, or stops having faith. Won’t such a child be induced to believe in something out of fear?

    And even an agnostic may think of hell fire as a reason to, well, give it a darn good try. And if one tries good enough, long enough, one may even end up believing it.

  20. Joy

    I’ll wager Pascal was a Spaniard!
    What you describe is not faith, it’s some sort of lie or denial of one’s “better judgement” to oneself, a delusional state, exactly like the bond example, (phew, but he would never submit.) At this point the individual does not have faith, they just repeat a mantra.
    The children example is no different. Their knowledge base and ability to think sophisticatedly may be lacking but that’s a different issue from the sequence I mentioned.
    This is utterly different from the concept of faith or belief, and you can substitute any other belief in there instead of God and the example doesn’t change.
    What Pascal spoke of can’t be taken seriously; probably Catholicism or Christianity inspired? It sounds like that sort of language. It’s not great on even cursory inspection.
    As for 1984, you can fool someone into anything, but you can’t scare someone into thinking anything, because you’re asking them to forget what they know. One’s mistaken thoughts might, often do, cause fear but that’s the other way round. So you would first have to convince someone that 2+2 = 5 or whatever, which could not happen to start with, but in a work of fiction, dare I say fairy tale?
    Deterministic in a probabilistic way! Too much, stop!
    H2O and the weather does not have free will, it’s just complicated.
    Just as neurology and its interfaces are complex. This does not explain what put me in me, and you in you.
    As for 1 + 1 =2, The numbers were created by us, with our free will, we made a stencil that compares very well with what we discover or create as we bumble along. I see now that you must deny free will in order to continue with your disbelief; but then you must submit that you are a droid? I mean that in the nicest way that such a statement could ever be made.

  21. Jean-Luc Picard

    2+2=5?! This reminds me of a painful episode of my life.
    MADRED: I can produce pain in any part of your body… at various levels of severity…. Forgive me… I don’t enjoy this, but I must demonstrate. It will make everything much clearer.

    Madred looks down at the PADD. Picard steels himself, trying to prepare for what is coming. Madred taps a command and a wave of pain overtakes Picard. He gas s and stiffens… perspiration breaks out… he puts his knuckles to his temples and digs them in. Madred taps the control off. Picard slumps, gasping, amazed at the effect.

    PICARD: There are four lights.

    Madred lifts his eyebrows… rises… and walks toward the fixture.

    MADRED: Strange… I see five. Are you quite sure? I can produce pain in any part of your body.
    Picard looks around the room for a moment. Everything has been returned to the way he had it. He looks around at Troi, who is simply waiting.
    PICARD: … I was ready to tell [Madred] anything he wanted… anything at all. But more than that, I was beginning to believe there were five lights.

    And people wonder what made Star Trek so appealing?!

  22. Luis Dias

    Jean Luc, that episode is an homage to George Orwell’s novel. (too literal, if you ask me)


    As for 1 + 1 =2, The numbers were created by us, with our free will, we made a stencil that compares very well with what we discover or create as we bumble along. I see now that you must deny free will in order to continue with your disbelief; but then you must submit that you are a droid? I mean that in the nicest way that such a statement could ever be made.

    Are you so sure that 1+1=2 was decided by us? Sorry if I don’t exactly believe that. Yes, of course, maths is a human created thing, but once you’ve got an axiom or two going, the rest is deduced from it. And because maths are induced from reality, (one banana plus one banana is always two bananas), did we really have a choice in maths? An open question, but not very so I’m afraid :).

    In regard to your second remark, I don’t have to deny free will “in order to” continue my disbelief. I just go where the evidence points to. It seems to me that “free will” is an ill-concept per se, a confusion of terms. It conflates two things that are very important for us, and reificates it into an existing thing per se.

    Now, I’m open minded. Perhaps such a thing exists per se. But I think it’s more likely it to be one of those things that are simply bad understood because of faulty language. We love freedom, and we do things according to our will. To be free, I’d say is to be free to do what we want, but the concept of “free will” supposes that we are free of our own wants, which is ridiculous per se. We are only free of our own wants, when we want to, which is by itself a want, and therefore we aren’t free of our own wants at all. There’s only one way in being “free of our wants”, which is, to be a serf.

    Are you a serf?

    Do you see where these questions leads you to? Not easy questions. I referred to them in one comment above. Most people that talk about “free will” never gave much thought to what it exactly “means”.

    but then you must submit that you are a droid? I mean that in the nicest way that such a statement could ever be made.

    I know, but even if you didn’t, what is the difference? Again, what is in the image of “droid” that you despise so much? I’ll tell you what it is. It doesn’t have wills, it is a serf. We depict a droid as something that obeys orders, and has no desires on its own.

    What if there shall be a droid that have wants? What if such a droid is capable of love? What if such droid is capable of sacrificing near-term wants for long-term wants? What if he is capable of devising a purpose on its own? What if no one is master of it, and no one is slave of it?

    What then, is the difference between it and us?

    I’m asking for the sake of it. I think these are open and very interesting questions.

  23. Joy

    Without the benefit of tone of voice, it is easy to be misunderstood, which is why the droid comment came with a disclaimer.
    “The concept of free will supposes that we are free of our own wants”? How so? That does not follow, who ever said it, it is untrue. A want is a yearning whether it is to scratch your nose or climb Everest. Not the same as will. “Will” implies intent.

    The ‘free’ word is as you say superfluous and there for poetic effect, but it is not the important part of the phrase and ‘will’ alone says enough without changing it’s truth or nature. So I leave it in for poetic effect. An intellectual should probably leave it out, because to them, one word is better than two.

    As said, I love R2D2 but if a droid could do all of those things, not just appear to, then it would be alive. It’s easy to make something look happy or sad.
    The serf does have a choice; whether to stand or sit, lift one or the other arm; to think about tomorrow or live in the moment. It is removing the options that causes the human to start to go wrong. Take everything away as in cases of sensory deprivation and solitary confinement, they still have free will within the mind. Of course, it’s harder to get the same gratification or reward (endorphins) with such limited choice but the free will is not extinguished.

  24. Luis Dias

    So “free will” is only about having wills, intents?

    Hm. I fail to see how that is impressive. A bee has “free will”, then. A mouse. Every living thing.

    What I see different on humans is that we have the mental ability to supress our own wills, “desires”, in order to porsue more distant objectives. “free will” amounts to this. It may be my nature to kill another human being, but my “free will” supresses this nature, and substitutes it with some other rationale, more abstract, (that may be reasonable or not), and therefore there’s a higher level of choice.

    But that’s it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *