Category Archives: Basics

Irreducible Concepts

Hard to define…

It’s very easy for discussions to get hung up on definitions, so a serious approach to debating a subject begins with synchronizing everyone’s vocabulary watches. Accurate and nuanced communication requires mutually understood ideas and terminology for expressing those ideas.

Yet some concepts seem almost impossible to define clearly. The idea of “consciousness” is notorious for being a definition challenge, but “morality” or “justice” or “love” are also very difficult to pin down. At the same time, we seem to share mutual basic intuitions of these things.

So the question today is: why are some concepts so hard to define?

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Quality vs Taste

I’ve written about configuration spaces before. I plan to use the notion in some upcoming posts, so this seems like a good time for a refresher. (If you’re new to the idea, I recommend that you read at least the first post in the series. The third one might be a helpful read, too.)

Today I’ll talk about a configuration space where the axes consist of personal taste and objective quality. Which obviously implies there is such a thing as objective quality. I think there is, and I’ll try to make a case for it. (Certainly production quality offers objective metrics.)

Of course, as everyone knows, there is no accounting of personal taste.

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Pickles in Beer? Oh, hell no!

Maybe you saw the article about putting a pickle in a (cheap) beer to make the beer taste — so we are told — much better. I’ve read three articles now recommending it. To be frank, the idea utterly horrifies me, mainly because I can’t stand pickles. Also because I love beer.

However, human tastes in foods and beverages span a vast range. I suspect very few people like everything that gets put on the worldwide table. (Despite my Norwegian upbringing, I wouldn’t touch lutefisk with a ten-foot pole. It’s up there with pickles on the list of stuff I Will Not Eat.)

But apparently some love a pickle in their beer.

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Black Lives Matter — Triton Station

I don’t normally reblog, but I’m still trying to find my voice on this, and I thought this post very well expressed many of the things I’m feeling. I’ll get out of the way and let you read it.

I started this blog as a place to discuss science, and have refrained from discussing overtly political matters. This is no longer possible. Today is June 10, 2020 – the date set to strike for black lives. I want to contribute in a tiny way by writing here. If that seems inappropriate to you or […]

via Black Lives Matter — Triton Station

Black Lives Matter.

Capable of Greatness

I’ve been slowly going through the NPR Tiny Desk Concerts. Most of the musicians and groups are unknown to me (it’s been decades since I even attempted to keep up with music). Truth is, most of the acts are interesting, but don’t really grab me. Maybe one in ten engages; none have made me a new fan.

Which is a whole other story. I mention it because many of these music makers are sweet, gentle, loving people who just want everyone else to be sweet, gentle, and loving. It’s a common sentiment. Banish the bad forever!

But balance is required. There is a Yin-Yang aspect to life.

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There is an oft-quoted line from the delightful movie, The Princess Bride. The line, by Inigo Montoya, is: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

The first time I noticed it was Rachel Maddow, enough years ago that I was still watching her show (so three or four, at least). Maddow is a Rhodes Scholar, so it caught my attention — my first thought was that I must be wrong about the word. I looked it up, and… I’m maybe slightly more right than wrong? Or, honestly, maybe it’s just a wash.

The word I’m talking about is craven.

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The Playfair Cipher

Code master Wheatstone

Among my second tier interests are murder mysteries, detective stories, and cryptography. The first typically includes the second, but there are many detective stories that don’t involve murder. Two of my favorite detectives, Spenser (by Robert B. Parker) and V.I. Warshawski (by Sara Paretsky), often have cases not involving murder.

The third interest I listed, cryptography, doesn’t usually coincide with the first two, but it did play a role in a recent locked-room murder mystery involving the delightful amateur detective Lord Peter Wimsey (by Dorothy L. Sayers). While I’ve always enjoyed secret codes, I’d never heard of the cipher Sayers used — the Playfair cipher.

It dates back to 1854, and is kind of cool, so I thought I’d share it.

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Magnitudes vs Numbers

One of my earliest posts was Analog vs Digital. A few years later, I wrote about it in more detail (twice). Since then I’ve touched on it here and there. In all cases, I wrote from the perspective that of course they’re a Yin-Yang pair.

Recently I’ve encountered arguments challenging that “night and day” distinction (usually in the context of computationalism), so here I’d like to approach the topic with the intent of justifying the difference.

I do agree the grooves on a record, and the pits on a CD, are both just physical representations of information, but the nature of that information is what is night and day different.

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Cubes and Beyond

I’ll end these posts about the configuration space metaphor where I began: in a big cube. I started the series in the Neapolitan room, a three-dimensional space where we could indicate our feelings about vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry ice cream with a single marker. From there we visited the Baskin-Robbins 31 Flavors space (which is tasty but beyond our ability to visualize).

Then I focused on spaces with only two-dimensions (which are easy to visualize). These are probably the best use of the metaphor; they turn a tug-of-war into a sensible place to stand. They also strongly differentiate “don’t care” from “care about both.”

Now let’s see what we can do with three dimensions…

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Expanding the Middle

My blog has such low engagement that it’s hard to tell, but I get the sense the last three posts about configuration space were only slightly more interesting than my baseball posts (which, apparently, are one of the least interesting things I do here (tough; I love baseball; gotta talk about it sometimes)).

So I’m thinking: fair enough; rather than go on about it at length, wrap it up. It’ll be enough to use as a reference when I mention configuration space in the future. (There have been blog posts where I couldn’t use the metaphor due to not having a decent reference for it. Now the idea is out there for use.)

And, at the least, I should record where the whole idea started.

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