Book Review: Calculating The Cosmos

Calculating The Cosmos is a book about the history and current practice of physics, astronomy, and cosmology by British mathematics professor Ian Stewart. The book gives the reader an overview of many topics, including gravitation, the solar system, spacetime, extraterrestrial life, and quantum mechanics. The book is divided into nineteen chapters, as well as a short prologue and epilogue.

The prologue begins with the mission to comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, then gives a brief recounting of previous space missions. The role of mathematics in astronomy is discussed, followed by its role in cosmology. The first chapter takes us through the history of gravitational theories, from the ancient Greeks to Galileo, Kepler, and Newton, and onward to general relativity and quantum mechanics. More detail in the path toward relativity would have improved the book here. With the second chapter, Stewart begins discussing the solar system, starting with its formation. The nebular hypothesis of a collapsing gas cloud that forms stars and planets is the main focus, along with previous theories and why they were rejected. These are used to illustrate the importance of physics concepts like momentum and angular momentum. The chapter ends with a discussion of possible futures for the solar system, some of which involve planetary collisions and ejections.

The third chapter is devoted to the theories for the formation of the Moon. These include the giant impact hypothesis, as well as several other ideas that fail to explain the Moon’s composition, tidal locking with Earth, and angular momentum. Much of the chapter concerns the nature of constructing simulations for events like an impact between Earth and a Mars-sized object, or the formation of a solar system. In the fourth chapter, Stewart examines the Titius-Bode law, then expands to power laws in general. Their use in discovering Uranus comes next, followed by the use of perturbation techniques to find Neptune. The chapter ends with the accidental correctness of perturbation techniques concerning Pluto and their failed prediction of Vulcan, a hypothetical planet closer to the Sun than Mercury. Oddly, no mention is made here of the hypothetical Planet Nine, and Stewart does not note that Neptune is out of place by the Titius-Bode law.

The fifth chapter is called Celestial Police, in reference to a group of astronomers at the turn of the 19th century, though most pages have the chapter name “Number of Asteroids.” Stewart gives the history of discovery of the asteroids, then explains how resonances with Jupiter’s orbit explains gaps in the asteroid belt. This leads into a discussion of the 2½-body problem and the five Lagrange points of such a system. The chapter concludes with natural examples of objects in Lagrange point orbits, such as Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids and Saturn’s moons Tethys, Telesto, and Calypso. The next two chapters concern the moons and rings of Saturn and Jupiter, respectively. The discovery of Saturn’s rings and the path toward discovering their true nature comes first, then Stewart shows how resonances with Saturn’s moons explain both the gaps in its rings and how the F ring stays in place. Resonances appear once more in Chapter 7 to explain conjunctions between the moons of Jupiter and Pluto. The chapter ends with facts about some of Jupiter’s and Saturn’s major moons.

Comets are the focus of the eighth chapter. The comet 67P and the effort to land a space probe on it are examined in greater detail. Better known comets, such as Halley’s Comet, are discussed to illustrate the predictive power of mathematics. The origin of comets leads to sections on the Oort Cloud and the Kuiper Belt, then the chapter concludes with the 1994 impact of Shoemaker-Levy 9 on Jupiter. The ninth chapter gives a basic overview of chaos theory, and does a good job of clearing up common misconceptions in popular culture about the subject. After this, Stewart returns to the asteroid belt resonances to discuss a possible origin for the object that likely caused the Cretaceous extinction event.

The tenth chapter discusses various types of orbits and how they can be used to send spacecraft from one place to another with varying degrees of efficiency and travel time. In the eleventh chapter, Stewart brings optics into the discussion to write about stellar composition and classification, illustrated by the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram. The nuclear fusion reactions that power stars, as well as the ultimate fates of stars of various masses comes next. The role of stars in producing all of the heavier elements is explained, from supernovas to newer stars. The observation of sunspots is the subject of the next section, as well as a possible explanation for their cycles. The last subject of the chapter is the means of measuring cosmic distances, from the distance from Earth to the Sun to the distances of various stars. The chapter ends with a few pages of color illustrations, the only ones in the book.

Chapter 12 is devoted to galaxies. Stewart begins with the Milky Way, observed since antiquity but only explained relatively recently. Hubble’s empirical classification of galaxies is cited, then attempts to explain the various shapes are discussed. The failure of galactic rotational speeds to match predictions is left as a puzzle for a later chapter. In the thirteenth chapter, the methods for discovering exoplanets are examined, along with possibilities for extraterrestrial life both elsewhere in the solar system and elsewhere in the universe. The chapter concludes with Stewart’s inventive imagination concerning a hypothetical alien world. The fourteenth chapter begins with the historical steps toward current theories about black holes. The difference between a static black hole and a rotating black hole are explained, as well as their possible role as a link to other universes and hypothetical white holes, which function as expellers of matter and energy that cannot be entered. Alternative explanations for black hole geometry, such as gravastars, are considered at the end of the chapter. The Penrose diagrams here could use more explanation, as they can be quite confusing to a lay reader.

The fifteenth chapter is about the distribution of matter in the universe, as well as the topology of the universe. Stewart does as well as he can without resorting to complex mathematical equations, but doing so would greatly aid the reader’s understanding of the subjects involved. In the sixteenth chapter, the discoveries and interpretations leading to the Big Bang theory are discussed, as well as the various proposals for how the far future of the universe may play out. The next two chapters deal with inflation, dark matter, and dark energy, which are correctives to make the Big Bang theory agree with experimental results. Stewart criticizes this standard cosmological model for its large number of unobserved conjectures, then discusses some alternative theories. The final chapter waxes philosophical about the unlikely combination of physical constants that seem fine-tuned to produce life, then Stewart critiques some of the more outlandish claims regarding this. The epilogue recounts many subjects from the book and points out the difference in procedure between science and mathematics.

Overall, Stewart does a good job of both exploring past and present scientific theories while stressing that science is always tentative, subject to new theories and empirical evidence, unlike his native mathematics. He helpfully notes the scientific jargon so that the lay reader can look up the relevant topic to learn more. However, there is relatively little mathematics in the book, and this can be disappointing for people who cannot see physics without the mathematics. Even so, Calculating The Cosmos is a good read for an intelligent layperson who wants an introduction to cosmology.

Rating: 4/5

Book Review: In Our Own Image

In Our Own Image is a book about the prospects of creating artificial intelligence as well as the cultural, economic, historical, philosophical, and political concerns about it by Greek author and scientist George Zarkadakis. The book considers the problem of AI from the perspectives of human evolution, cybernetics, neuroscience, programming, and computing power.

Zarkadakis begins by briefly speaking of his early years and doctoral research, then spends the rest of the introduction outlining what he will discuss in the rest of the book. The book proper is divided into three parts, each with five or six chapters. The first part covers the evolution of the human brain from the primate brain, especially the most recent 40,000 years. The role of language in accelerating human progress is discussed, as well as the effects of totemic thinking, story-telling, philosophical dualism, and theory of mind. The use of metaphor and narrative to understand the world is examined, along with the inaccuracies inherent in them. The invention, uses, and limitations of the Turing test are explored, as are Asimov’s laws of robotics and the role of AI in fictional stories throughout history.

The second part is about the nature of the mind. The differences in approach between dualism versus monism, rationalism versus empiricism, and materialism versus Platonism are discussed. The thought experiment of the philosophical zombie and the possibility of digital immortality are explained. On the matter of why there appears to be no other intelligent life in the cosmos, Zarkadakis shares an interesting hypothesis: science is an unnatural idea at odds with our cognitive architecture, and an intelligent alien species would be unlikely to widely adopt it. This means that the universe is likely full of Platos, as well as Ancient Greeces, Romes, Indias, Chinas, and Mayas, but is perhaps devoid of Aristotles and societies advanced beyond that of humanity in the early eighteenth century. Daniel Dennett’s explanation of consciousness is overviewed, as well as the contributions of a great number of scientists to the field of cognitive psychology. Finally, the field of cybernetics and its offshoots are examined, showing that the hard problem of consciousness is actually solved with ease. The brain-in-a-vat paradigm of consciousness is shown to be insufficient by applying cybernetic theory.

Everything up to this point lays the foundation for understanding the last part of the book. The third part details the history of computers and programming, from ancient theorists to more recent mathematicians, and from punched cards to modern electronics. The limitations of symbolic logic and the implications thereof against AI in conventional computers are explored, and possible solutions in the form of new electronic components and computer architectures are explained. Charles Babbage’s inventions are discussed, as well as the lost potential of their lack of adoption in their own time. The role of computational technology during World War II is considered, along with the results of government spending on computer research at the time. The development of supercomputers, including IBM’s Deep Blue and Watson, is outlined. The ‘Internet of things’ is compared and contrasted with true AI, and the possible societal impact of large-scale automation of jobs is considered. The possibility of evolving rather than creating AI is examined, as are the possible dispositions of an AI; friendly, malevolent, or apathetic. Interestingly, Zarkadakis shows that there is good reason to believe that a strong AI may exhibit autism spectrum disorders. A short epilogue that begins with a summary and then considers possible economic, political, and social implications of strong AI completes the book.

The book is well-researched and impeccably sourced, at least in its core subject matter. That being said, the book struggles to find an audience, as it can be a bit too technical for the average layperson, but does not venture deeply enough into the subjects it covers to interest a professional in AI-related fields. In other words, it is lukewarm where being either cold or hot is best. Zarkadakis also commits some ultracrepidarianism, particularly in the fields of economics and politics. He seems to believe that AI will overcome the limitations described by Hayek’s knowledge problem and Mises’s economic calculation problem, but unless AI can get inside of our heads and know us better than we know ourselves, this is impossible. In politics, he briefly mentions the possibilities of AI leading to anarchism or to neoreactionary-style absolute monarchies with computerized philosopher-kings, but does not give these possibilities the amount of consideration that they warrant. Finally, the book contains more typographical errors and grammatical abnormalities than a competent editor should fail to correct, though we may grant Zarkadakis some leeway because English is not his first language.

Overall, In Our Own Image is worth reading for those who already have some knowledge of the subject matter but would like to fill gaps in their understanding, but there is room for improvement and expansion.

Rating: 4/5

Read the entire article at ZerothPosition.com

How The Left Can Still Win The 2016 Election

So, dear leftist, it is 2017. The current year, as it were. Donald J. Trump occupies the Oval Office, and the “her” you were with does not. All of the accusations of bigotry and threats of violence you could muster were simply not enough to sway people who were hurting economically and were tired of being talked down to by the likes of you. Your massive street demonstrations against the election result after many of you never made it to the polls only earned you derision and scorn. Your plan to throw the Electoral College to the House of Representatives by convincing electors to vote against the results of democratic elections in their states actually cost the Democratic candidate more electoral votes than her opponent. Your protests at the certification and the cabinet hearings have only gotten you physically removed from the Capitol building. Your actions at the inauguration have resulted in many of you facing significant prison time for felony rioting. I know it must be difficult to lose one dream (socialism) after another (the first female president), but all hope is not lost. You still have options, and believe it or not, this libertarian reactionary is here to help.

If you wish to live in a world in which Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, or some other left-wing candidate won the 2016 election, your only options now are to go back in time and alter the results or to go to an alternate universe in which the person of your choice is President. These could very well be equivalent, for reasons we will discuss later. Of course, this amounts to election tampering and voter fraud, but when has that ever bothered the left? Everyone knows that you only really believe in democracy when it gives results that you like. Although no one has yet accomplished backward time travel or inter-universal travel, general relativity does appear to allow for it. You are going to need far more knowledge of mathematics and science than your major in gender studies and minor in queer literature gave you, but why let this stop you? You are a special snowflake, and you can do anything if you just believe in yourself.

You may encounter difficulties in obtaining funding, as Trump and Congressional Republicans would never appropriate funds for their own retroactive removal from power. Being out of political power, you will have to subject yourself to market forces by funding your project through voluntary means and providing investors with a reasonable return. Being a productive capitalist will go against your beliefs, but consistency is of no concern for a leftist, especially when serving the greater purpose of removing “Literally Hitler” from power.

There are four ways to accomplish time travel into the past, go to another universe, or both: faster-than-light travel under certain conditions, use of cosmic strings, use of black holes, and use of traversable wormholes. Each of these methods requires a form of exotic matter with negative energy density to avoid infinities and imaginary numbers in the calculations, but it may be that the insanity of leftist thought is caused by the presence of such substances in the brain. Additionally, the Casimir effect might be able to produce the negative energy density needed to power a time machine or traversable wormhole. If finding what you need becomes a problem, just demand that the exotic matter check its privilege. I am sure that it will do as you ask, since reality is just a social construct for you.

On second thought, the time travel idea might not work. If you go back in time and make a Democrat win the election, you will remove the reason for time traveling, along with the knowledge that there ever was a reason. This means that you will not time travel because you will have no motivation for creating your time machine, thus undoing all of your work. Another possible mechanism for the avoidance of temporal paradoxes is the many-worlds interpretation. In this view, you would not be preventing Trump’s election in this universe, but in another parallel universe that is branched off from this universe by your interference.

We are left with the idea of using a traversable wormhole to go to another universe where you can live under your leftist ruler of choice. Alternate reality may seem like a stretch, but you already live there in your mind; we are just making it official. I know, I know, you want to stay and fight. But given that the most radical elements of your coalition are going to keep escalating their violence until most non-leftists cheer a brutal crackdown on all of you, and none of you seem willing to rein them in, you are not safe here.

I ask only one thing in return. In whatever alternate universe you choose or create, there will likely be people there who disagree with you. Please let them travel in the opposite direction through whatever portal you open. You are getting your own universe; at least give us this one (or whatever new one is formed by their exodus here) in return. You say you believe in fairness and justice, and what could be more fair and just than a one-for-one trade? And should not an open border work both ways?

But let us be realistic. The technology required to do this is decades away at the earliest, and may turn out to be impossible. So sit back and enjoy the Trumpenführer’s time in office. There are many reasons to oppose him, but that is true of every President. Perhaps the institution itself is the real problem, but you are a leftist, so that is a bridge too far.

The Santa Claus Lie And The Harm It Does To Children

Every year on Christmas Eve, children across America eagerly await a visit from Santa Claus. Children are typically led to believe that he is a nice man who visits the homes of good children to bring them presents. While many parents may believe that this is a harmless “white lie”, there is a case to be made that the myth of Santa Claus is actually very harmful to children. Let us examine the facts.

First, we begin with the true origin of Santa Claus and the custom of leaving presents under a tree. His original form was nothing like his common appearance today. The custom of presents placed under a tree began with mother/child cult of Semiramis and Nimrod in ancient Babylon. The mythology says that Nimrod married his mother, setting her up as the “queen of heaven” and himself up as the “divine son of heaven.” The two of them had a son named Tammuz. Upon Nimrod’s death, Semiramis claimed to see an evergreen tree spring up to full size overnight, symbolizing the “new life of Nimrod.” She then taught Tammuz to go into forests and make offerings to his father on the day that is December 25 in the Gregorian calendar (the origin of the date of Christmas), who was now worshiped as the sun god Ba’al, the false god mentioned numerous times in the Old Testament of the Bible. This Babylonian myth is the true origin of the custom of leaving presents under a tree. The custom was well-known to the author of the book of Jeremiah in the Old Testament, which includes the following:

“Do not learn the way of the Gentiles; do not be dismayed at the signs of heaven, for the Gentiles are dismayed at them. For the customs of the peoples are futile; for one cuts a tree from the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the ax. They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with nails and hammers so that it will not topple. They are upright, like a palm tree, and they cannot speak; they must be carried, because they cannot go by themselves. Do not be afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, nor can they do any good.” ~Jeremiah 10:2-5 (NKJV)

The book of Jeremiah is believed to have been written in the late 7th century and early 6th century BCE, which was well before the time of Jesus, disproving any assertions that the customs surrounding Christmas were an invention of Christians. According to William L. Langer’s Encyclopedia of World History, Nimrod was also known as “Santa” throughout Asia Minor. Another name for Nimrod, used in Greece, was “Nikolaos.” The name Nikolaos (Nicolas) is a combination of the Greek words nikos and laos, which together mean “victory over the laity” or “conqueror of common people.” So “Santa Claus” or “Saint Nicholas” is really a manifestation of the ancient cults of Babylon.

Now that we know the truth about the Santa Claus myth, let us examine what a parent is doing when telling a child that Santa Claus is real. Parents who participate in the Santa Claus lie are destroying their own credibility. The children will someday realize that their parents have lied to them, and while this particular lie may not do a great deal of damage in and of itself, the fact is that the children cannot trust their parents after that point. This can lead to trust issues that persist even into adult life, as well as damage a fundamental and irreplaceable relationship in a young person’s life.

Another danger is that the Santa Claus myth teaches children to believe in entities whose existence and efficacy are not supported by credible evidence. A scientific analysis of what Santa Claus and his flying reindeer would have to do to fulfill the conditions set for him shows that he would have to endure G-forces more than 1,000 times beyond what is lethal. The idea of gifts coming seemingly out of nowhere, deus ex machina style, to those who deserve them, requires a supernatural violation of physics as well as economics. If a child can be taught to believe in Santa Claus in the absence of credible evidence, then it will be easier for them to fall prey to religious cults or confidence schemes later on.

But perhaps the most damaging aspect of the Santa Claus myth relates to the similarities between Santa Claus and the institution of the state. Remember the song that goes, “He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake?” The idea of a benevolent gift-giver who regularly violates one’s right to privacy is a close approximation of government under the ideals of collectivism, and sets up children to be accepting of a state apparatus that frequently violates their natural rights. A young child is not yet able to grasp the ideas of the state, taxation, bribery, etc., but he or she can understand the idea of rewards for obedience. Thus the myth of Santa Claus makes the subjects of the state easier to control, and helps to fulfill the definition of the name “Saint Nicolas.”

All things considered, the story of Santa Claus is a setup for destroying trust in the family, trust in reason and science, and the desire for freedom and liberty in the mind of a child. For this reason, we can fairly say that telling the Santa Claus lie to children is a form of mental abuse. If you want children to value honesty and have a healthy, independent mind, tell them the truth about Santa Claus.