This post is a follow up to the one yesterday about TV shows I’ve been watching recently, but this one is about recent movies. Actually, there’s a dessert dish I snuck in to make it a four-course meal — I haven’t seen Hardcore Henry in a while, but it’s so unique and tasty I had to include it.
I have two entrées today, one an Amazon Prime original modeled after the great (but as it turned out not inimitable) Groundhog Day. The other, which I also saw on Prime, is an interesting and wry murder mystery with a great cast and an interesting twist on the whodunnit murder mystery.
The side dish is a Netflix animated comedy about the robot apocalypse.
For me, one of the challenges of writing a blog post is coming up with a title. A scan of my Index shows I like short and punchy (with a dash of clever if I can manage it), and I’m not above using puns (in fact, quite love them). I wanted to call this Channel Surfing, but I’ve already used that title. (In retrospect, I should have called that one TV Triple. If only I’d known.)
Earlier this year I read a lot (see: this, this, this, or this). Lately I’m watching more TV, trying to whittle away at various watch lists. (For a retired guy, I have a lot of TODO lists. Lists on multiple ebook platforms, lists on multiple video streaming sites, household lists, personal lists,… I even have a list of local breweries to try.)
Here’s a list of what I’ve been watching lately. And a cutaway about cutaways.
Last Saturday, on Netflix, I watched Stowaway (2021) an engaging and compelling hard science fiction film by a new filmmaker, Joe Penna. The story, which has only four characters, is reminiscent of Gravity (2013) or Apollo 13 (1995), not only in how it involves a disaster aboard a small spacecraft, but in how it tries to respect physics as much as possible. (Apollo 13, of course, was a real story which made it a lot easier.)
It is, on both counts, also similar to The Martian (2015), in which it bears a third similarity — a connection to Mars. They differ, however, in that The Martian is about a guy trying to get away from Mars whereas Stowaway is about three people trying to get to Mars.
The disaster for them is the fourth person, the stowaway.
Lately I’ve been playing a little game of What’s the Wavelength? The question is certainly a bit evocative. Wavelength could refer to many things: a favorite radio station or, metaphorically extended, a favorite anything. It might even evoke an old news meme, although the supposed question posed that time was about frequency (which is just the inverse of wavelength).
Wavelength might even apply to one’s political, social, sexual, musical, or whatever, alignment, but in this case I mean it literally and physically. Under quantum mechanics — our best description of small-scale physical reality — everything manifests as a wave. That means everything has a wavelength — the de Broglie wavelength.
I’ve been curious about it for a couple of reasons.
Lately, for my mystery reading, I’ve returned to another old friend from my past: the Lovejoy series by British author Jonathan Gash. It’s a murder mystery series — the sort where the star, who is not a detective of any kind, in each book is confronted with a murder to solve. Usually against their will; they’d rather be doing anything else.
The Lovejoy series has the added attraction that each book spends a fair fraction of the text talking about antiques. The main character, known only as Lovejoy, is an antiques dealer struggling to make a living. He’s also an antiques “divvie” — he has a definite, if somewhat mystical, connection with genuine antiques. He can always tell the difference between real and fake (as he describes it, a bell goes off in his chest).
I just started reading them last week, and I was immediately struck by something.
The notion of emergence — because it is so fundamental — pops up in a lot of physics related discussions. (Emergence itself emerges!) A couple of years ago I posted about it explicitly (see: What Emerges?), but I’ve also invoked it many times in other posts. It’s the very basic idea that combining parts in a certain way creates something not found in the parts themselves. A canonical example is how a color image emerges from red, green, and blue, pixels.
Also often discussed is reductionism, the Yin to the Yang of emergence. One is the opposite of the other. The color image can be reduced to its red, green, and blue, pixels. (The camera in your phone does exactly that.)
Recently I’ve been thinking about the asymmetry of those two, particularly with regard to why (in my opinion) determinism must be false.
My serious effort lately to reduce my pile of notes has resulted in picking the low-hanging fruit and leaving the ones that demand more effort. (One reason those notes have been notes all this time is not feeling the effort needed to develop them into something.)
The good news is that I’ve dug through most of the new layer — the one that formed when I started blogging again after taking a break all through 2017 (being in shock from 2016). Now I’m tapping into the older much larger — and in many cases now outdated — pile from before 2017. (Notes about politics in 2016 I can now just toss.)
Three of today’s notes are from that old pile. Three obviously aren’t.
particles & their momenta
Over the decades I’ve seen various thinkers assert that entropy causes something — usually it’s said that entropy causes time. Alternately that entropy causes time to only run in one direction. I think this is flat-out wrong and puts the trailer before the tractor. (Perhaps due to a jack-knife in logic.)
The problem I have is that I don’t understand how entropy can be viewed as anything but a consequence of the dynamical properties of a system evolving over time according to the laws of physics. Entropy is the result of physical law plus time.
It’s a “law” only in virtue of the laws of physics.
Back in 1974 Thomas Nagel published the now-famous paper What is it like to be a bat? It was an examination of the mind-body problem. Part of Nagel’s argument includes the notion that we can never really know what it’s like to be a bat. As W.G. Sebald said, “Men and animals regard each other across a gulf of mutual incomprehension.”
But in What It’s Like to Be a Dog: And Other Adventures in Animal Neuroscience (2017) neuroscientist Gregory Berns disagrees. In his opinion Nagel got it wrong. The Sebald Gap closes from both ends. Firstly because animal minds aren’t really that different from ours. Secondly because we can extrapolate our experiences to those of dogs, dolphins, or bats.
I think he has a point, but I also think he’s misreading Nagel a little.