A Whole New Level of Dumberer


In an interview with The Economist this week president Donald Trump inadvertently communicated that he occupies a whole other level of illiteracy and egotism. Apparently he reads so little that the phrase “prime the pump” and the concept behind it was only distantly accessible to his… “brain.” And he’s so presumptuous and conceited that, being unable to recall any previous usage of the phrase (over the course of several days and a number of policy discussions!!), he had come to the conclusion that he probably coined the phrase, too… It is truly frightening (no longer funny) how epic a moron we now have as president. Even more scary is the number of Trump voters who will actually believe that he did coin the phrase…

Another part of your overall plan, the tax reform plan. Is it OK if that tax plan increases the deficit? Ronald Reagan’s tax reform didn’t.
Well, it actually did. But, but it’s called priming the pump. You know, if you don’t do that, you’re never going to bring your taxes down. Now, if we get the health-care [bill through Congress], this is why, you know a lot of people said, “Why isn’t he going with taxes first, that’s his wheelhouse?” Well, hey look, I convinced many people over the last two weeks, believe me, many Congressmen, to go with it. And they’re great people, but one of the great things about getting health care is that we will be saving, I mean anywhere from $400bn to $900bn.

Mr Mnuchin: Correct.

President Trump: That all goes into tax reduction. Tremendous savings.

But beyond that it’s OK if the tax plan increases the deficit?
It is OK, because it won’t increase it for long. You may have two years where you’ll…you understand the expression “prime the pump”?

Yes.
We have to prime the pump.

It’s very Keynesian.
We’re the highest-taxed nation in the world. Have you heard that expression before, for this particular type of an event?

Priming the pump?
Yeah, have you heard it?

Yes.
Have you heard that expression used before? Because I haven’t heard it. I mean, I just…I came up with it a couple of days ago and I thought it was good. It’s what you have to do.

It’s…
Yeah, what you have to do is you have to put something in before you can get something out.

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A Smarter N. Korea Response: Free Internet


Even the smallest possible military strike against North Korea – one that would disable enough artillery to prevent a catastrophic retaliation against South Korea – will cost well into the tens of millions of dollars. What else might we do with that amount of money to undermine Kim Jong Un? How about air drop tons of cheap internet devices, extended batteries, solar and hand chargers, and secure burst-WAN equipment (using tech that North Korean police can’t easily detect when in use), combined with reverse spy-trawlers – “ISP ships”, balloons, and satellites – to start allowing North Koreans to discover the outside world, unfiltered.

It would be a much better use of the money, and Samsung is right there in South Korea ready and able to produce devices. Consider it an economic stimulus. To further protect citizens accessing the internet, decoy devices could be periodically dropped that simulate the same type of emissions the internet devices emit.

If North Korea will ever get on a path to a Kim Jong-less future, there will have to be some degree of civil war and blood-shed – the regime supporters and those in (relative) power will not give it up without a fight to the death. But indiscriminately killing a bunch of North Korean citizens would be an extraordinarily bad way to try to kick that process off. We’d be smarter to empower the potential dissidents and undermine support for Un as much as possible, first.

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Is Your Reality Just a Simulation? Calculate the System’s Capacity.


Consider the idea that, unless intelligent civilizations tend to self-destruct, or they tend to lack the introspection to simulate their own origins, it is (apparently) statistically more likely that we (including you, dear reader) are a simulation – not the apparent, pinchable, free-willed “reality” we prefer to interpret our sensory inputs as. Personally I find this idea vaguely… off. Like the anthropic principle, it seems to smell of too much… convenience. Or like it might suffer the self-immolating trajectory of the ontological argument. Or the cringe-inducing conclusion that all things – including you – and a billion copies of you – must inevitably be found inside a universe that is infinite. But play along for a bit, and it is possible to roughly calculate the minimum processing capacity – or at least memory – of the system we’re running within, and some evidence in favor of the proposal.

Call it the number of Plank bits. The memory size of the apparent universe is the number of separate spaces that can be found within the hyperspace volume we find ourselves within, that are still causally-linked, measured in Planck lengths. If we assume the current Lambda-CDM model (Big Bang + Inflation + cold Dark Matter) isn’t significantly incorrect, we can think of the Hubble Horizon as a kind of inverted event horizon forming a causality-limiting sphere around us. That horizon marks the point at which space (or the stuff found within that space) is moving away from us at the speed of light, relative to us. Since nothing travels faster than the speed of light (which has also been called merely the speed of causality – as gravitational waves are also limited to this speed limit), nothing at or beyond this horizon can ever be reached or even communicated with.

This horizon forms a sphere around us with a radius of something like 14 billion light years (about 2 * 10^58 Planck lengths), or about 11.5 trillion cubic light years (3.5 * 10^175 cubic Planck lengths). If the bits of the simulation correspond to volume, the minimum memory capacity of the system is that Planck volume – about 3.5 * 10^175 bits (but subject to additional dimensions if they turn out to exist).

On the other hand, if AdS/CFT Correspondence and the holographic principle hold up, the real information content of the simulation we seem to find ourselves in would be the surface area of the Hubble volume, or about 5 * 10^117 bits. This is certainly a lot of bits, but in an infinite universe or one that exists infinitely long such a simulation not only may occur – it will occur. More interestingly, given a large enough universe, such an information-based simulation can arise spontaneously like a Boltzmann brain – or as the product of a Boltzmann brain. The fact that a simulation is only composed of information (that is, after all, the essential quality that separates a “simulation” from “reality”), the medium in which the information exists could be anything from charged particles, to… cupcakes! Don’t think that a simulation written in cupcakes wouldn’t work, either – the time it takes for the medium to evolve from one state of the simulation to the next state (eg the passage of one unit of Plank time within the simulation) can take any length of time in the informational medium – it doesn’t matter how long the “real” time-velocity is.

What I find really interesting about these considerations is that the Quantum Mechanical rules that make the Planck length arise have the effect of making a universe-simulation practical by limiting the fine resolution required, as opposed to a universe that has infinite detail, like a fractal. A perfectly accurate simulation would not be possible in an infinitely-fine, perfect-fractal universe. You could say that the fact that our universe has this fineness-limit is possibly evidence that we really do live in a simulation, and if we really are in a simulation, it may be that the Planck length was just an arbitrary fineness-limit our “creator” chose. Perhaps 1.6 * 10^-35 just happens to give our simulation good-enough results to still be meaningfully likely in the real universe that created our simulation. Likewise, something like the Hubble horizon is exactly what a simulation-programmer would want to use to prevent her from having to simulate “everything.” Looking at the way the Hubble horizon seems to have evolved over the life of our apparent universe, it could be that it – as well as the apparent Dark Energy expansion – is being used to set an upper limit to the system resources needed by the simulation to provide accurate results, enormous as this upper limit is, relative to the size of our apparent universe. A curious reverse way of interpreting the Hubble horizon and Hubble expansion of the universe is that it might not be a real phenomenon happening within our simulation, but rather is just an apparent feature – an emergent phenomenon that is simply a consequence of our simulation having a computational limit, similar to how the apparent flow-of-time would also not be a real phenomenon in the simulation, but rather just be an apparent phenomenon that emerges as a consequence of the “size” (in fractions of a second) of the “temporal steps” our simulation just happens to employ (corresponding to the Planck time!)…

 

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Tachyons and Intersecting Universes


Recently finished John Scalzi’s fine Old Man’s War. One plot point is that tachyons come to betray attacking ships emerging from wormholes. Tachyons have never been detected nor is their place in reality even theoretically firm. But considering the compelling hypothesis that there is an observer duality between reference frames outside a black hole, and the frame of reference  of an observer falling into a black hole (laid out in Leonard Susskind’s excellent The Black Hole War), combined with the ever more salient model of a multiverse (if you haven’t read it already, see Max Tegmark’s Our Mathematical Universe), it may be inevitable that tachyons are all around us.

First, presume Tegmark’s  “level-one” multiverse exists. If I remember his levels correctly, this is the simplest multiverse model that simply states that our observable universe is not special, that the Big Bang – whatever it was that started an Inflationary expansion – occurs from time to time within a larger space, like inflationary bubbles. Assume this has been going on for long time frames, such that many bubbles have expanded, like stars in our own reality – generations of universes that have come and gone. From time to time (possibly often, depending on how rare Inflationary expansions are), the 3- (or 11- or 12-) dimensional “domain” of one universe expands into another adjacent universe. We’re not talking about universes with differing “constants” – this multiverse is the model where the same laws of physics apply across the entire multiverse. We already pretty much know that there is an (inverted) event horizon at the edge of the observable universe, where the expansion of spacetime apprears to us to be faster than light. So what would it look like if another Inflationary universe was already expanding into our own observable universe?

For each of the reference frames in both intersecting universes to be consistent, it seems pretty necessary that either the particles of one universe will pass thru the other as high energy photons, with relativistic time dilation resolving the excess energy implied by the faster-than-light collision; or, if we suppose that time dilation is inconsistent or not in play between the intersecting universes, the particles of one universe will appear as tachyons to the other universe.

If it ends up as tachyons, what happens when these tachyons occasionally impact a particle in our universe? Perhaps tachyons decay into normal-looking matter in our own universe? Maybe they do this via neutrino creation. Maybe this constant influx of matter everywhere within the intersection domain (which might easily be as large as our entire universe – imagine the generations of intersecting universes in the same way that myriad dust clouds from generations of dead stars now intersect and overlap in our own universe as a tangled mess), is playing a part in what we currently call Dark Energy – a mysterious, unresolved acceleration in the expansion of our observable universe. Do tachyons, or at least the particles of intersecting universes, play a role in Dark Matter? Do they play a role in the statistical nature of Quantum Mechanics? Is the apparent randomness of QM transitions actually being influenced by unseen other particles? Could we test this intersecting-universes model by analyzing the cosmic microwave background – or maybe it is only visible by looking at the cosmic background in much lower or higher energies? On the other hand, maybe such a survey  would see nothing but a random tangle of exotic decays, because that’s the only pattern…?

The thing I find most compelling is simply the near necessity that this is what is occurring. To say that this is not what the larger level-1 multiverse looks like requires invoking a special place for we humans – or our universe. This view seems to be the natural extrapolation of assuming that not even our position in time, within the lifespan of the multiverse, is special.

 

 

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Libertarian Nirvana, or how I realized Objectivism is a slippery slope to pointlessness


Many of my posts exists within a dialogue-debate between my siblings. Lately, I realized I’ve been posting few thoughts on this blog because they were all going into reply-comments on Facebook… So I’m going to try to post more of those here, where I hopefully will have a little better access to them in the future… (after all, this is, basically, my journal…). So here’s one of those that arises out of Facebook comments…

My brother re-posted this from Nassim Nicholas Taleb:

Some clarity.
The Golden Rule (do to others what you want them to do to you) is an invitation to interventionism, utopianism, and meddling into other people’s affairs, particularly poor nations, as represented by the the NGO clowns at TED conferences trying to “save the world”, and causing more harm with unseen side effects. Remember that Mao, Stalin, Lenin, and were following the positive Golden rule. At the personal level, I may feel good trying to nudge a vegetarian to eat raw kebbeh (Lebanese steak tartare) because I like it myself.

The Silver rule (do NOT do to others what you don’t want them to do to you) leads to a systematic way to live “doing no harm” and gives rise to a liberating type of ethics: your obligation is to pursue your personal interests provided you do not hurt others probabilistically unless you are yourself exposed, & not transfer risks to others (skin-in-the-game at all times). But, and here is the key, should there be a spillover, it will necessarily be positive. It is therefore convex.(Typical via negativa rules are convex). It separates the “self-interest” in Adam Smith from the “selfish” version. And if you want to help society, just try to benefit WHILE at least harming no one.

This distinction puts a lot of clarity behind the idea of free markets and morality. You should never have to prove that what you do is GOOD for society (hard to express in words and rationalistic framework), but you can certainly show you are NOT hurting others more than yourself via skin-in-the-game.

My brother only added the comment, “Gold or Silver?” As usual, I’m not 100% sure what he wants to say – or wants his audience to get. More importantly, as I generally agree with Taleb and have cited Taleb to my brother in our debates, I feel the need to explain how Taleb’s comment is not actually in-line with Ayn Rand Libertarians. My response to my brother was this:

While I agree with the general concept, I want to point out that there is, absolutely, a COLLECTIVIST aspect to “The Silver Rule.” You cannot judge whether or not you are “doing no harm to others” objectively without drawing on the perceptions, considerations, opinions, and (potentially) tyranny of others. I throw in that last “tyranny” one just for you, since you seem to believe The Silver Rule – and definitely believe other Libertarian ideals – are some how the opposite of Collectivism – yet the Tyranny of The Majority – just as the Tyranny of a Monarch – is inherent within any political system that seeks to two or more people to “live” together – it is all a matter of degrees.

Automatically, anytime anyone speaks of “objective’ truth (using whatever terminology) they are invoking socialized arbitration of reality – a position where each individual BY DEFINITION “subjects themselves” “TO” “REALITY” – but where, of course, “reality” is always, everywhere, a social construct.

Do no harm? GREAT! However, people will disagree about what harms and what does not.

If you find yourself irritated that your Libertarian freedom is under attack here – just imagine the way out. It is educational to do so. There is a way out of this collectivist trap – but it comes with cosmic unintended consequences:

       ===== The Libertarian Paradise =====

Choose not to care.

Choose to put blinders on, and focus only on your own self-interest.

Does someone think something you did harm them? Say you don’t care. Tell them they can try to do the same back to you, but since you refuse to accept any kind of left-wing, socialistic, collectivist dealing or bargaining or the slippery slope of validating any social considerations…. tell your complainants that you are FORCED 🙂  to not care about any alleged harm they say you caused.

What does that kind of reality look like? Well, for one thing, it’s a SUBJECTIVE reality where each individual is “FORCED” to choose not to consider the perspective of others, and thus must suppress the notion that any objective (which, in this view, is just code for COLLECTIVE) facts exist. Everything is opinion (not just perception – but subjective perception), and since in a Libertarian paradise, all opinions are equally valueless, there are no facts but those you CHOOSE to accept as truth.

Okay, switching back to my own voice now (rather than The Libertarian Paradise…)

This is precisely what Taleb was talking about – this is that dividing line between “self-interest” and “selfishness.” But I’m trying to show you that your views often draw from the “selfish” side of this line, often ignorant that the line even exists: You cannot have philosophical Unobtrusive Self-Interest without a very healthy dose of Collectivism. There’s no way to purify one from the other – the blend of the two is what DEFINES the dividing line.

Acceptance of this realization is why I’ve become a “Liberal” and vote for “Liberals” – and why I say not only are Conservatives in error, but Ayn Rand and philosophical Libertarians and Austrian economic idealists, too.

The only way to avoid the problems of Collectivism (and they certainly do exist! I’m not denying that) is to find yourself in a situation where you are truly disinterested in everything around you, and even disinterested in your past and future. Only then are you free from the constraints – the dictates – of others. (Any addict can tell you that even our own minds dictate to our “selves” – but not just pathological addicts – we’re all “addicted” to air, water, and sustenance – and most of us are addicted to self-preservation, most of the time).

If you see notes of Zen Buddhism here, you’re on the right track – and yes, I am aware of the link. It is absolutely true (I’d say “self evident – but with difficulty“)  that we can only achieve total freedom by giving up all desires. And from that arises the paradox: what is the point of freedom if, in giving up all desires, you can no longer CHOOSE TO DO ANYTHING WITH IT?

To that, I say, “Exactly.”

Libertarianism is a slippery slope to pointlessness.

 

Literally. And I really do mean LITERALLY.

In all of these philosophical links you can see the music of modern libertarian conservatives:

– lack of empathy for those that disagree with them
– lack of desire to negotiate policy
– rejection of “science” and “academia”
– rejection of collective judgements, except for claims of NON-infringement
– pursuit of hyper-rationalism (only through rational calculations can you have preferences without actually caring)
– tone-deafness to the disagreement between human realities and rational ideals

Atlas Yoga Injury

Atlas shrugged, went to the beach, then got tangled up while exercising his new-found freedom.

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Fed Up: The real GMO


I’m really happy to see a documentary like Fed Up be released. I didn’t hear of Robert Lustig’s viral lecture (or his other one) until just 9 months ago, but it crystallized everything I’d been reading up to that time.

Reading this NY Times blurb about Fed Up I couldn’t help but think about how sucrose is, actually, the real instantiation of what pure-food advocates have been concerned about in GMO’s. I’m not “pro” GMO, but I’m also not explicitly against them, either. I think it is entirely accurate to say that hybridization has a roughly equivalent potential to produce unforeseen side-effects. (To any anti-GMO advocates out there, I do realize that GMO can produce never before seen proteins or side-effects – but so can hybridization). I do possess that vague worry we all feel about eating GMO food, (“what if?”) – and I prefer to avoid it. But my fear of unknown chemicals has been softened as a result of having to research what various drugs and their metabolites do in the body, if anything. I’ve been surprised how many are harmless. However, this makes sense. There are infinite shapes carbon chains can assemble themselves into, with a few atoms of nitrogen, sulfur, phosphorus, etc, thrown in. The reason any chemical causes problems in the body is that it just happens to fit (or interfere with) an enzyme protein (well, usually). Since the number of configurations that will fit an existing human enzyme/protein is so much smaller than the essentially infinite number of possibilities, it shouldn’t be surprising that most chemical configurations are harmless.

Anyway, I do realize this is an imperfect security blanket. This is why I’m biased against GMOs. But my point is that what we’re beginning to realize on a vast, cultural scale is that fructose is the GMO poison we’ve all been afraid of! But it isn’t a new chemical – which makes sense, since for anything to hurt us, we would tend to need to already have an enzyme or protein that actually interacts with it. This existing chemical (fructose) occurs naturally, but as Lustig teaches, in the natural world, fructose tends to come packaged with similar parts fiber (such as sugar cane), historically limiting the amount of it we get – and limiting blood-sugar peaks. And like the GMO mystery chemical we’ve all been vaguely fearing might eventually pop up, fructose became a problem when we learned how to mass-produce it via an industrial process.

Think of that. We’ve been complaining about GMO possibilities – fearing that some unknown or rare chemical might suddenly pop up in all our farm-grown food, when the actuality is that a depressing number of us are dying and will die from a chemical added to our food that we knew (or could have known) all along was industrially mass-manufactured…

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Fiscal Stimulus: Target The Oversupplies


Adding a bit to Krugman’s latest.

Think about it: what would the true costs be of repairing our roads? It wouldn’t divert capital from other investments — capital has no place to go, and markets are practically begging the federal government to borrow funds and put it to work.

 

Conservatives and Libertarians and Austrians want to ignore the fact that government debt is amortized, and fall back on Say’s “Law,” saying that deficit stimulus doesn’t work because the market adjusts spending based on future taxes. (The response is that no one has the credit score of the US government at the moment, so when the US government borrows, it borrows at a rate that is lower than anyone else currently gets, so there is no spending the free market can offer that costs less over time).

But some will object on the grounds that government spending causes over-investment – causes market resources to be devoted to something that only the government is interested in buying, and once the spending on that terminates, the market adjustment will produce another shock. Also, a big expenditure by the government will surely lead to opportunistic price-setting, forcing the government to overpay for whatever it decides to buy during the stimulus. These two inter-related points are what I really want to address.

If you’re going to engage in stimulus, you want to focus on goods that are oversupplied. There’s an oversupply of capital into government bonds, so we’re good on deficit spending. There’s an oversupply of construction labor, so we’re good there, too. The only real limits to infrastructure spending are the fact that a lot of construction workers and companies have either gone under or started looking elsewhere. It would have been better to do this five years ago, of course.

But the real key here is to see that, for instance, stimulus is a bad idea if, say, you focus it on purchasing services from physicians. The supply of physicians is limited and not elastic (because new ones take about 8 years to train up, and there’s a very small supply of physicians that gave up medicine to work elsewhere in the economy). Thus, supply-vs-demand pricing tells you that a large, sudden increase in physician-services spending by the government will cause a huge shortfall in the supply of physician services – leading to a huge increase in prices, and, TA-DA, inflation. This is the inflation people like Peter Schiff and Ron Paul have been prognosticating about continually, claiming it’s going to hit us any day now. But if you focus government spending on parts of the market that are oversupplied, you don’t get inflation.

This doesn’t merely work during recessions, nor must it be limited to infrastructure. What is the preferred teacher to student ratio? State and local governments laid off large numbers of teachers and to the degree they’ve begun to replace those jobs, they’ve been using teaching aids much more than actual teachers – because teaching aid jobs allow districts to pay people less for a very similar job. All of this means we have an oversupply of people qualified to teach, an oversupply of students, and a ripe opportunity for “stimulus” spending on restoring the number of teachers to the preferred teacher-to-student ratio. (Personally, I think the teacher-to-student ratio is a poor way of measuring education quality, but we’ve underfunded schools so much and laid off so many educators over the past 5 years that the ratio is good enough for speaking about where we have a “buying” opportunity).

Once we get through this recession, nothing will have really changed on the general principle that it is a perfectly valid use of government spending to weigh the borrowing costs of government bonds against the price at which government spending can “stimulate” market sectors that are essentially “under-priced.” Defense spending is one such area – not that we “need” to spend more on defense, but rather, in our society, the private sector doesn’t spend much on national defense. If it did, we wouldn’t need a Federally-financed military (as far as funding is concerned – the needs of the power hierarchy are another thing). Since we happen to live in a culture that sees fit to offload this investment (the wisdom of the investment varies depending on the international climate), it is appropriate for the government to execute what amounts to a military-goods market stimulus – even when we’re not in recession.

Many Conservatives critique calls for stimulus during a recession, saying that to liberals, the solution is always stimulus – not just during a liquidity-trap – but even during the mildest recession. They are partly correct – but they’ve missed the general rule: A government should always look at its borrowing costs and its “market opportunities” – and spend if and when a “buying” opportunity arises. This is a subjective process in many ways – president George Bush saw a military “buying” opportunity in Iraq that others didn’t agree with. But when federal borrowing costs reach something close to 0% interest, infrastructure projects that have a 50-100 year payback start to become no-brainers.

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