Category Archives: Science

Are We Special?

There is a key rule of thumb (or heuristic) in science known as the Copernican Principle. It essentially says: “We’re not special.” (The “we” in question being the human race.) It’s named after Nicolaus Copernicus, who, in 1543, forever banished the Earth and its thin film of humanity from the center of the universe.

Ever since, the science view of humanity is that it’s just part of the landscape, nothing particularly special, a mere consequence of energy+time creating increasing organization in systems. We may be complex, perhaps even a little surprisingly so, but we’re still nothing special.

Yet it seems to me that, at least in some ways, we really are.

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Sideband #74: Volume and Surface Area

I’ve always had a strong curiosity about how things work. My dad used to despair how I’d take things apart but rarely put them back together. My interest was inside — in understanding the mechanism. (The irony is that I began my corporate career arc as a hardware repair technician.)

My curiosity includes a love of discovery, especially unexpected ones, and extra especially ones I stumble on myself. It’s one thing to be taught a neat new thing, but a rare delight to figure it out for oneself. It’s like hitting a home run (or at least a base-clearing double).

Recently, I was delighted to discover something amazing about spheres.

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Inner Voice

I’ve contemplated the voice(s) in my head all my adult life, though it’s only recently I’ve thought deeply about them. One big question I’ve had being why sometimes it’s a dialog rather than a monolog.

To be clear, I am fully aware that it’s all me; it’s my voice(s). “They” (or rather “we”) are aspects of my own mind — my inner voice. Something I’ve naturally assumed everyone had.

But some say they have no inner voice!

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Analog Computing

Analog computer: AKAT-1 (1959)

Last September I posted the Pancomputation trilogy (parts: I, II & III) which was a follow-up to last spring’s Digital Dualism trilogy (parts: 1, 2 & 3). The first trilogy was a continuation of an exploration of computer modeling I started in 2019. Suffice to say, over the course of writing these posts, my views on what “computing” means evolved and crystalized.

As discussed in the Pancomputation posts the notion of computation is difficult to pin down (many general concepts are because we don’t have even more general concepts to define them with). A pancomputation view sees everything as computing. A computer science view restrictively equates it with a Turing Machine.

I’ve realized my view depends heavily on computational dualism.

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BB #79: Near Zero

If you know me, or if you’ve followed this blog a while, you know I honor Solar holidays more than human ones. The former are directly linked with the seasons, obviously (and who doesn’t love seasons), but to me they’re about how much (or how little) sunlight we get.

If you know me, or if you’ve followed this blog a while, you know sunlight really matters to me. The skylight in my living room was a key buying point for my condo, and enough south-facing windows was always a requirement.

I may love the night and the lights, but I thrive on sunlight.

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Wilczek: Fundamentals

I just finished Fundamentals: Ten Keys to Reality (2021), by Frank Wilczek. It’s yet another book explaining fundamental physics for lay readers, and it does so pretty much entirely within the bounds of mainstream science. I enjoyed reading it, but it’s mainly a review of physics as we know it.

I saw it on the library’s list of new books and put it on hold back on May 14th. It didn’t become available until September 3 — more than a three-month wait. Apparently lots of people wanted to read it.

Bottom line, I recommend it as an easy and enjoyable read, especially for those with a more casual interest in physics.

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Smolin: Time Reborn

I’ve been reading science texts almost as long as I’ve been reading anything. Over those years, many scientists and science writers have taught me much of what I know about science. (Except for a Computer Science minor, and general science classes, most of my formal education was in the Liberal Arts.)

Recently I read Time Reborn (2013), by Lee Smolin, a theoretical physicist whose personality and books I’ve enjoyed. I don’t always agree with his ideas, but I’ve found I do tend to agree with his approaches to, and overall sense of, physics.

However in this case I almost feel Smolin, after long and due consideration, has come around to my way of thinking!

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Pancomputation III

Oh, look! Dancing Pixies!

In the last two posts I’ve explored some ideas about what a computer is. More properly, what a computation is, since a computer is just something that does a computation. I’ve differentiated computation from calculation and, more importantly, evaluation. (This post assumes you’ve read Part I and Part II.)

I’ve also looked at pancomputationalism (the idea everything computes). The post hoc approach of mapping of random physical states to a computation seems especially empty. The idea of treating the physical dynamics of a system as a computation has more interesting and viable features.

That’s where I’ll pick things up.

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Pancomputation II

Computer cluster?

Last time I began exploring what we mean by the terms “computer” or “computation.” Upon examination, these turn out to be not entirely obvious, so some resort to the edge cases: Computers are Turing Machines; or Everything is a computer.

Even then the situation remains stubbornly not obvious. Turing Machines are abstractions quite different from what we typically call computers. Saying everything computes creates such a broad umbrella that it renders the notion of computation nearly useless.

This series explores the territory between those edge cases.

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Pancomputation I

Two computers?

Earlier this year I wrote a trilogy of posts exploring digital dualism — the notion that a (conventional) computer has a physical layer that implements a causally distinct abstract layer. In writing those posts I found my definition of computation shifting slightly to embrace the notion of that dualism.

The phrase “a (conventional) computer” needs unpacking. What is a computer, and what makes one conventional? Computer science offers a mathematical view. Philosophy, as it often does, spirals in on the topic and offers a variety of pancomputation views.

In this series I’ll explore some of those views.

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