Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Latest on Simultaneity

Quantum entanglement shows that reality can't be local

Either that, or faster-than-light communications is a go.

By Matthew Francis, ArsTechnica -- Oct 30 2012

Quantum entanglement stands as one of the strangest and hardest concepts to understand in physics. Two or more particles can interact in a specific ways that leave them entangled, such that a later measurement on one system identifies what the outcome of a similar measurement on the second system—no matter how far they are separated in space.

Repeated experiments have verified that this works even when the measurements are performed more quickly than light could travel between the sites of measurement: there's no slower-than-light influence that can pass between the entangled particles. However, one possible explanation for entanglement would allow for a faster-than-light exchange from one particle to the other. Odd as it might seem, this still doesn't violate relativity, since the only thing exchanged is the internal quantum state—no external information is passed.

But a new analysis by J-D. Bancal, S. Pironio, A. Acín, Y-C. Liang, V. Scarani, and N. Gisin shows that any such explanation would inevitably open the door to faster-than-light communication. In other words, quantum entanglement cannot involve the passage of information—even hidden, internal information, inaccessible to experiment—at any velocity, without also allowing for other types of interactions that violate relativity.

Experiments have definitively demonstrated entanglement, and ruled out any kind of slower-than-light communication between two separated objects. The standard explanation for this behavior involves what's called nonlocality: the idea that the two objects are actually still a single quantum system, even though they may be far apart. That idea is uncomfortable to many people (including most famously Albert Einstein), but it preserves the principle of relativity, which states in part that no information can travel faster than light.

To get around nonlocality, several ideas have been proposed over the decades. Many of these fall into the category of hidden variables, wherein quantum systems have physical properties (beyond the standard quantities like position, momentum, and spin) that are not directly accessible to experiment. In entangled systems, the hidden variables could be responsible for transferring state information from one particle to the other, producing measurements that appear coordinated. Since these hidden variables are not accessible to experimenters, they can't be used for communication. Relativity is preserved.

Hidden variable theories involving slower-than-light transfer of state information are already ruled out by the experiments that exclude more ordinary communication. Some modern variations combine hidden variables with full nonlocality, allowing for instantaneous transfer of internal state information. But could non-instantaneous, faster-than-light hidden variables theories still work?

To investigate this possibility, the authors of the new study considered the possible experimental consequences. Obviously, one way to test it would be to increase the separation between the parts of the entangled system to see if we can detect a delay in apparently instantaneous correlation we currently observe. Sufficiently fast rates of transfer, however, would still be indistinguishable from nonlocality, given that real lab measurements take finite time to perform (this assumes that both experiments happen on Earth).

The researchers took a theoretical approach instead, using something known as the no-signalling conditions. They considered an entangled system with a set of independent physical attributes, some observable, some hidden variables. Next, they allowed the state of the hidden variables to propagate faster than the speed of light, which let them influence the measurements on the separated pieces of the experiment.

However, because of the nature of quantum mechanical systems, there was a symmetry between the hidden and measurable attributes of the system—meaning if the hidden variables could transfer information faster than light, then the properties we can measure would do so as well. This is a violation of the no-signalling condition, and causes serious problems for the ordinary interpretations of quantum physics.

Of course, one conceivable conclusion would be that faster-than-light communication is possible; this result provided a possible avenue for testing that possibility. By restricting the bounds on the speed of interaction between entangled systems, future experiments could show whether any actual information is traveling or not.

However, the far more likely option is that relativity is correct. In that case, the strong ban on faster-than-light communication would rule out the possibility of faster-than-light transfer of information encoded in hidden variables, and force us to deal with nonlocality. Once again, it would seem that local realism and relativity are incompatible notions in the quantum world.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Vitally important: motor oil

Motor oil or engine oil is an oil used for lubricagtion of various internal combustion engines. The main function is to lubricate moving parts; it also cleans, inhibits corrposion, improves sealing, and cools the engine by carrying heat away from moving parts.

Motor oils are derived from petroleum-based and non-petroleum-synthesized chemical compounds.

Motor oils today are mainly blended by using base oils composed of hydrocarbons, polyalphaolefins (PAO), and polyinternal olefins (PIO), thus organic compounds consisting entirely of carbon and hydrogen. The base oils of some high-performance motor oils however contain up to 20% by weight of esters.

Motor oil is a lubricant used in internal combustion engines. These include motor or road vehicles such as cars and motorcycles, heavier vehicles such as buses and commercial vehicles, non-road vehicles such as go-karts, snowmobiles, boats (fixed engine installations and outboards), lawn mowers, large agricultural and construction equipment, locomotives and aircraft and static engines such as electrical generators. In engines, there are parts which move against each other causing friction which wastes otherwise useful power by converting the energy to heat. Contact between moving surfaces also wears away those parts, which could lead to lower efficiency and degradation of the engine. This increases fuel consumption, decreases power output and can lead to engine failure.

Lubricating oil creates a separating film between surfaces of adjacent moving parts to minimize direct contact between them, decreasing heat caused by friction and reducing wear, thus protecting the engine. In use, motor oil transfers heat through convection as it flows through the engine by means of air flow over the surface of the oil pan, an oil cooler and through the build up of oil gases evacuated by the Positive Crankcase Ventilation (PCV) system.

In petrol (gasoline) engines, the top piston ring can expose the motor oil to temperatures of 160 °C (320 °F). In diesel engines the top ring can expose the oil to temperatures over 315 °C (600 °F). Motor oils with higher viscosity indices thin less at these higher temperatures.

Coating metal parts with oil also keeps them from being exposed to oxygen, inhibiting oxidation at elevated operating temperatures preventing rust or corrosion. Corrosion inhibitors may also be added to the motor oil. Many motor oils also have detergents and dispersants added to help keep the engine clean and minimize oil sludge build-up. The oil is able to trap soot from combustion in itself, rather than leaving it deposited on the internal surfaces. It is a combination of this, and some singeing that turns used oil black after some running.

Rubbing of metal engine parts inevitably produces some microscopic metallic particles from the wearing of the surfaces. Such particles could circulate in the oil and grind against moving parts, causing wear. Because particles accumulate in the oil, it is typically circulated through an oil filter to remove harmful particles. An oil pump, a vane or gear pump powered by the engine, pumps the oil throughout the engine, including the oil filter. Oil filters can be a full flow or bypass type.

In the crankcase of a vehicle engine, motor oil lubricates rotating or sliding surfaces between the crankcase journal bearings (main bearings and big-end bearings), and rods connecting the pistons to the crankshaft. The oil collects in an oil pan, or sump, at the bottom of the crankcase.

Motor oil may also serve as a cooling agent. In some constructions oil is sprayed through a nozzle inside the crankcase on the piston to provide cooling of specific parts that underlie high temperature strain. On the other hand the thermal capacity of the oil pool has to be filled up, i.e. the oil has to reach its designed temperature range until it can protect the engine under high load. This typically takes longer than heating the main cooling agent - water or mixtures thereof - up to its operating temperature. In order to inform the driver about the oil temperature, some older and most high performance as well as racing engines feature an oil thermometer.

Synthetic lubricants were first synthesized, or man-made, in significant quantities as replacements for mineral lubricants (and fuels) by German scientists in the late 1930s and early 1940s because of their lack of sufficient quantities of crude for their (primarily military) needs. A significant factor in its gain in popularity was the ability of synthetic-based lubricants to remain fluid in the sub-zero temperatures of the
Eastern front in wintertime, temperatures which caused petroleum-based lubricants to solidify owing to their higher wax content. The use of synthetic lubricants widened through the 1950s and 1960s owing to a property at the other end of the temperature spectrum, the ability to lubricate aviation engines at temperatures that caused mineral-based lubricants to break down. In the mid 1970s, synthetic motor oils were formulated and commercially applied for the first time in automotive applications. The same SAE system for designating motor oil viscosity also applies to synthetic oils.

The oil and the oil filter need to be periodically replaced. While there is a full industry surrounding regular oil changes and maintenance, an oil change is a fairly simple operation that most car owners can do themselves.

In engines, there is some exposure of the oil to products of internal combustion, and microscopic coke particles from black soot accumulate in the oil during operation. Also the rubbing of metal engine parts produces some microscopic metallic particles from the wearing of the surfaces. Such particles could circulate in the oil and grind against the part surfaces causing wear. The oil filter removes many of the particles and sludge, but eventually the oil filter can become clogged, if used for extremely long periods.

The motor oil and especially the additives also undergo thermal and mechanical degradation, which reduce the viscosity and reserve alkalinity of the oil. At reduced viscosity, the oil is not as capable of lubricating the engine, thus increasing wear and the chance of overheating. Reserve alkalinity is the ability of the oil to resist formation of acids. Should the reserve alkalinity decline to zero, those acids form and corrode the engine.

Some engine manufacturers specify which SAE viscosity grade of oil should be used, but different viscosity motor oil may perform better based on the operating environment. Many manufacturers have varying requirements and have designations for motor oil they require to be used.

Motor oil changes are usually scheduled based on the time in service or the distance that the vehicle has traveled. These are rough indications of the real factors that control when an oil change is appropriate, which include how long the oil has been run at elevated temperatures, how many heating cycles the engine has been through, and how hard the engine has worked. The vehicle distance is intended to estimate the time at high temperature, while the time in service is supposed to correlate with the number of vehicle trips and capture the number of heating cycles.

Oil does not degrade significantly just sitting in a cold engine.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Advances in Allergy Research

Mechanism found for destruction of key allergy-inducing complexes, researchers say
BY JESSICA SHUGART, Stanford School of Medicine

October 28, 2012 -- Researchers have learned how a man-made molecule destroys complexes that induce allergic responses — a discovery that could lead to the development of highly potent, rapidly acting interventions for a host of acute allergic reactions.

The study, published online Oct. 28 in Nature, was led by scientists at the Stanford University School of Medicine and the University of Bern, Switzerland.

The new inhibitor disarms IgE antibodies, pivotal players in acute allergies, by detaching the antibody from its partner in crime, a molecule called FcR. (Other mechanisms lead to slower-developing allergic

"It would be an incredible intervention if you could rapidly disconnect IgE antibodies in the midst of an acute allergic response," said Ted Jardetzky, PhD, professor of structural biology and senior investigator for the study. It turns out the inhibitor used by the team does just that.

A myriad of allergens, ranging from ragweed pollen to bee venom to peanuts, can set off IgE antibodies, resulting in allergic reactions within seconds. The new inhibitor destroys the complex that tethers IgE to the cells responsible for the reaction, called mast cells. Severing this connection would be the holy grail of IgE-targeted allergy treatment.

The first time a potential allergen enters the body, some people respond by making allergen-specific IgE antibodies. These antibodies stick around long after the initial allergen is cleared from the body. Most of the antibodies get snagged by IgE-specific receptors called FcRs, which are exposed on the surface of mast cells. The mast cells are then primed to react the next time a person encounters the allergen.

Dissociation of this IgE-FcR interaction is a sought-after goal of allergy treatment for a good reason: IgE-coated mast cells are grenades of histamine, and re-encountering the allergen is equivalent to pulling out the clip. When an allergen makes a return visit, it binds to the pre-loaded IgE on the mast cell surface, triggering the release of inflammatory mediators — including histamine — that promote the allergic response. As allergy sufferers are well aware, these nasty reactions can occur within a matter of seconds.

In a severe allergic response, sudden anaphylactic shock and death can be the result.

The key to actively disabling the allergic response lies in the separation of IgE from the FcRs on the surface of mast cells. But separating these dangerous couples is a tall order because their interaction is extremely stable — sensitizing the mast cells for weeks.

Currently available treatment using omalizumab (an anti-IgE antibody sold under the trade name Xolair) can block new interactions between IgE and FcR, but it is not designed to pry the molecules apart once they’ve formed a bond on the surface of a mast cell. So Xolair can dampen the allergic response, but as stated on the product’s website: "Xolair is not a rescue medicine and should not be used to treat sudden asthma attacks."

While simply blocking IgE binding is helpful for some allergy sufferers, when it comes to the rapid quenching of an acute allergic response, "what you’d really like to do is get rid of it," said Jardetzky. Along with scientists at the University of Bern, his team discovered that an engineered protein inhibitor called DARPin E2-79 stripped IgE from the mast cell receptor. Using this inhibitor, "an interaction that normally lasts for hours or days in terms of its stability is stripped off in a matter of seconds," said Jardetzky.

DARPin E2-79 is one of a family of engineered inhibitors containing protein-binding regions called ankryin repeats. While Jardetzky’s group was using structural biology and biophysical approaches to probe the weak spots in the IgE-FcR interaction, scientists at the University of Bern were tinkering with DARPins that dampened IgE’s disastrous effects. The collaboration of the two groups resulted in the characterization of DARPin E2-79, an inhibitor that goes beyond mere blockade to actively disassemble the IgE-FcR power couple.

Jardetzky’s group solved E2-79’S structure and used this information to model its interaction with the IgE-FcR pair. Then, using sensitive biochemical techniques that detect step-by-step binding interactions between molecules, the teams were able to tease out the mechanism that the inhibitor uses to break the IgE-FcR bond.

The researchers found that E2-79 hastens the separation of the two molecules by taking advantage of a moment of weakness in the relationship between IgE and FcR. IgE maintains its interaction with FcR using two contact points, and occasionally one of these points releases while the other one keeps the pair together. Normally this brief looseness isn’t enough to separate the couple, but E2-79 can swoop into the small space between them, effectively driving the couple apart.

While E2-79 is the first molecule to display these IgE stripping characteristics, Jardetzky hopes that this work will stimulate the discovery of smaller compounds capable of working even more efficiently. Drug developers generally expect large macromolecules like E2-79 to be less potent than small molecule inhibitors and unlikely to be able to disrupt complexes, so the fact that E2-79 worked so well was a surprise. Small molecules are more amenable to oral administration, and are easier and cheaper to manufacture than large macromolecules. "Now we’re in the hunt for a small molecule that could have this kind of activity. That would be the real hit," said Jardetzky.

The discovery of E2-79’s mechanism of IgE inhibition could lead to rapid discoveries from other labs as well. Now that scientists know what mechanism to look for, they may be inspired to dig back through freezers full of IgE inhibitors that were identified years ago, said Jardetzky. In the light of techniques described in this study, perhaps once-neglected inhibitors will show new promise in the treatment of allergic disease.

The study’s primary authorship was shared between Beomkyu Kim, PhD, a Stanford graduate student, and Alexander Eggel, PhD, at the University of Bern. The other Stanford co-author is research assistant Svetlana Tarchevskaya.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health, the American Asthma Foundation and the Swiss National Science Foundation. Information about Stanford’s Department of Structural Biology, which also supported the work, is available at


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Huge Storm on Saturn Chronicled

Cassini records Saturn mega-storm, and incredible burp, for history

To put it in perspective, NASA told the Los Angeles Times, the storm was similar to what would be a violent storm large enough to cover all of North America and continue onward around the planet-for nine months.

"It's a very exciting thing. a once-in-a-lifetime thing," Brigette Hesman, a scientist at University of Maryland and the Goddard Spaceflight Center who studies storms on Saturn, told the Times of the storm she referred to as "the burp." "The reason we call it the burp is, essentially, the storm erupted from below and all this energy moved into the stratosphere," she said. Hesman was the lead author on a team that studied the storm and will have their findings published in the Nov. 20 issue of The Astrophysical Journal. "To get a temperature change of the same scale on Earth, you'd be going from the depths of winter in Fairbanks, Alaska, to the height of summer in the Mojave Desert," she added in her report. This storm,which released tons of energy into Saturn's atmosphere, was one of the planet's Great White Spots, which appear roughly every 30 Earth years. This particular storm surrounded the planet by late January 2011, and reached out as far as 9,000 miles before scientists saw the storm ebbing in late June 2011.

According to NASA, the ethylene gas--which NASA is calling a "burp"--that was generated by the storm was 100 times more than scientists thought the planet was capable of making. "The temperature spike is so extreme it's almost unbelievable, especially in this part of Saturn's atmosphere, which is typically very stable," Brigette Hesman, a University of Maryland scientist who works at NASA, said in a statement.
A titanic storm wracking the atmosphere of Saturn, ringed giant planet of the outer Solar System, resulted in an "unprecedented belch of energy" and an associated super-enormous emission of ethylene gas "the origin of which is a mystery", according to NASA boffins. "This temperature spike is so extreme it's almost unbelievable, especially in this part of Saturn's atmosphere, which typically is very stable," explains Brigette Hesman, top NASA brainbox.

Saturn normally has large storms occur once a year which equates to about every thirty years in Earth `s time. Scientists cannot really pinpoint why this type of storm happened on Saturn because storms in space are different from storms occurring on Earth. Scientists are analyzing data that reveal red flags such as the surge in extreme temperature and the detection of Ethylene gas not normally found on Saturn. Scientists hope to gain new knowledge from the study of this phenemenon by piecing the complete science puzzle together, forming their hypothesis. This is what makes science so interesting and fun. This storm also marks a milestone in NASA history because it was the first storm of its kind to be studied by a spacecraft that was orbiting in and around the planet. It was the first of its kind to be observed at thermal infrared wavelengths.

This storm actually came around a few years earlier than expected, but the point is this: the last time a storm like this cropped up, we had no spacecraft in place to watch it unfold. What's more, with Cassini scheduled to plunge into Saturn in just five years, and no spacecraft scheduled to take its place, there are currently no plans to have another spacecraft whipping around the Saturnian system when the next planet-wide storm unfolds. Cassini is a champion, and consistently delivers not just beautiful images of some of the most photogenic astronomical bodies in our solar system, but damn good science.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Latest On Nuclear Fusion

Still Waiting On Nuclear Fusion in Livermore
By Amy Standen from KQED Science by audio report

October 26, 2012 -- The National Ignition Facility in Livermore, California, has been called a modern-day moon-shot, a project of "revolutionary science," and "the mother of all boondoggles."

NIF, as it's known, is a five-billion dollar, taxpayer-funded super laser project whose goal is to create nuclear fusion – a tiny star – inside a laboratory. But so far, that hasn't happened.

The facility, which began operating in 2009 after a decade of construction at a cost of almost $4 billion, points 192 football-field-sized lasers at one tiny capsule the size of a peppercorn and filled with hydrogen.

It creates degrees of heat and pressure never before achieved in a lab.

Standing outside NIF’s target chamber in 2008, about a year before NIF’s dedication, Director Ed Moses called NIF "more far-out, and far cooler than anything in science fiction or fantasy."

A tiny star for a blip in time

"For a brief period of time, not a hundredth or a thousandth, but a billionth of a second," explained Moses, "we will raise the temperature of the target to a hundred million degrees.

"That’s higher temperature and more pressure than exists at the center of our sun. It’s a hundred million times more pressure than you’ll find at the deepest part of the ocean."

Under those conditions, the hydrogen atoms could enter into a state of controlled nuclear fusion. (In nuclear fission, as in nuclear power plants, energy is generated by splitting atoms. Fusion is the opposite: Atoms are smashed together.)

The goal is referred to as "ignition." It would put out more energy than the lasers had put in to it.

If scientists can make ignition happen at NIF, that achievement could, theoretically, be parlayed into a new kind of nuclear power plant. Unlike fission plants, which eat up uranium and generate radioactive waste, these fusion plants would run on water, and create virtually no waste at all.

Waiting to ignite

At NIF's dedication in 2009, George Miller, then-head of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, seemed to believe that ignition was right around the corner.

"I think we will get ignition," Miller told the crowd. "I think we'll get ignition relatively shortly after we turn the facility on."

Since then, the strength and functionality of the lasers have received praise from the physics community.

"The laser has been working phenomenally," said Christopher Deeney, who directs the Division of Defense Science at the National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees NIF. "It's the most controllable, precise laser the community has ever built."

But ignition – the goal at the center of NIF’s name — hasn’t happened. "We just haven't gotten it to burn yet," explained Moses at a recent interview.

In a July 19, 2012 report, the NNSA concluded that "the probability of igniution before the endf of December is rextremely low."  The report called the functionality of the lasers "outstanding," but blamed NIF’s computer simulations for the failure to ignite.

An NNSA ignition deadline of October 1, 2012, has now come and gone.

Moses bridles at the idea that anyone can put a deadline on this achievement.

"We never guaranteed anything on any particular date," he says. "People have to sort of get used to that.
That’s what great science is."

Nevertheless, by law, on November 30th, Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu is required to report to Congress on why NIF hasn't met its goal, despite significant cost to taxpayers: about 300 million dollars a year on top of over three billion in construction costs.

For Christopher Paine, a longtime NIF critic with the Natural Resources Defense council, this amounts to an "I told you so" moment.

"This project has gone on a long time," he says, "billions of dollars invested. But to what end?"

What is NIF for?

Paine's criticism of NIF boils down to two objections: the project's expense and what you might call a muddled sense of purpose. What, in other words, is NIF for?

There are three answers to that question, explains a 2009 NIF promotional video.
"NIF will explore controlled nuclear fusion to ensure global security, enable sustainable clean energy, and advance our understanding of the universe."

Let’s break that down.

Reason number one:
Global security. This is the primary intent of NIF, and it has to do with the fact that actual nuclear bomb tests have been banned worldwide.

Because NIF simulates a nuclear reaction in a tiny pellet, you could test the strength of nuclear bombs without having to actually explode them.

Paine believes that’s unnecessary. "We haven’t had NIF for the last 20 years," he says, "and we've been maintaining the stockpile."

NNSA"s Deeney disagrees, calling NIF a "key element in our stockpile stewardship program." He says important experiments can be done at NIF even without ignition.

"We're committed to NIF for the long term," he says.

Reason number two:
Clean, fusion energy. This is a very long-term goal. Even if NIF does achieve ignition, it could take decades to adapt that technology into a working fusion power plant, something that could power a light bulb in your house.

A 100-year solution to a 20-year emergency

Paine says with climate change, we don't have that kind of time.

"Dealing with climate change is a 20-30 year planetary emergency," says Paine. "Fusion energy is irrelevant to that timescale. Humanity needs to change its ways now. It needed to change its ways yesterday. Fusion energy is a 50 to 100-year project with no assurance of success."

But it's the third reason, to "advance our understanding of the universe," that Moses emphasizes these days.

"The Higgs Boson was just discovered at the [Large Hadron Collider] in CERN, at a cost of ten billion dollars," he points out. "Was it late? Was it early? Was it on time?"

The answer, he says: Who cares? Moses calls these types of projects "grand challenge science," and insists they cannot be performed on deadline.

"It’s not grand challenge science if you know the answer before you start," says Moses. "And this is exactly that."

NNSA's Christopher Deeney also declines to predict when NIF will achieve its goal.

"Right now we will not make a prediction of when ignition will happen," he says. "It's still a discovery science project. Right now it's unpredictable."

That's the case NIF's advocates will have to make to Congress at the end of this year. It’s worked so far. After all, NIF has something for both sides of the aisle: Democrats like clean energy, Republicans like weapons security.

But everyone likes a breakthrough, and at NIF, that's still out of reach.

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Comment by the Blog Author
Fusion is a pie-in-the-sky, expensive technical toy that might take decades to become feasible. It eats a lot of government money. But, alone, it has the potential to produce stunningly massive and completely clean energy reliably. Here’s a comment to the article above that was published and is worth reading:

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+1 on money well spent. It'd be cheap at twice the price. Developing fusion energy is the single-most important energy-related, scientific goal at present. Tidal energy, wind, geo-thermal, solar; all of these have potential, but none are as attractive and potentially powerful as fusion. All of them also require huge infrastructure commitments in the forms of complex tidal barriers, vast swathes of land covered with solar/wind generators, or massive mining/drilling projects and exchange plants to pull heat energy (usually in the form of caustic/corrosive gases and liquids) from below the earth's surface. Fusion tech is no small thing; fusion plants would be sizeable and expensive. But they'd be relatively self-contained and generate far more - and cleaner - power per footprint than any of the others. And they can be placed anywhere; no need for sunny climes, geologically active areas, or beautiful coastlines & tidal flats. They can take up the ugliest, most barren real estate on earth, and bring skilled jobs - and resulting wealth - to those areas at the same time.

And that goes for off-world applications as well. If we're ever going to establish mankind permanently on the moon, or Mars, what better way than to do so by powering those outposts with Helium 3, the gold standard of fusionable material that is incredibly rare on Earth, but hugely abundant on the moon?

As with putting a man on the moon, the pursuit of sustainable fusion - literally a quest for fire - should, in the words of JFK, "serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too."


Friday, October 26, 2012

The Mind and Modern Warfare

Jonathan D. Moreno has written a book about using the human mind as a tool in military conflicts, Mind Wars. The book touches upon new technologies which changing the wartime uses of the mind, including:
Neuropharmacology and the battlefield
Viruses to addle the brains of the enemy
Neural imaging
Brain-machine interfaces
Moving robots with the mind
Reading brain thought patterns at a distance
Alertness enhancing drugs
Drugs to reduce the emotional reactions of soldiers engaged in violence
Use of hypersonic sound to disable the enemy
He recognizes that these technologies may lead to a "national security state"
He reviews the importance of the CIA in 1950s behavioral science research
He details the history of behavioral science involvement in interrogation techniques
Obviously this is a book of intense interest to those who follow civil liberties, war technology, rule of law and the interface between the humanitarian and the utilitarian.

Background of the Author:

Jonathan Moreno holds the David and Lyn Silfen chair at the University of Pennsylvania as one of the Penn Integrates Knowledge professors. He is also Professor of Medical Ethics and Health Policy, of History and Sociology of Science, and of Philosophy. In 2008-09 he served as a member of President Barack Obama's transition team. Moreno is an elected member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences and is a National Associate of the National Research Council. He has testified before both houses of Congress. He edits the magazine Science Progress. He advises various foundations and agencies. He has several published books and hundreds of papers and reviews.

Further details and reviews are available at at:

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Positive Quiddity: Salvador Dali

Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech, 1st Marqués de Dalí de Pubol (May 11, 1904 – January 23, 1989), known as Salvador Dalí, was a prominent Spanish surrealist painter born in Figueres, Spain.

Dalí was a skilled draftsman, best known for the striking and bizarre images in his surrealist work. His painterly skills are often attributed to the influence of Renaissance masters. His best-known work, The Persistence of Memory, was completed in 1931.

Dalí's expansive artistic repertoire included film, sculpture, and photography, in collaboration with a range of artists in a variety of media.

Dalí attributed his "love of everything that is gilded and excessive, my passion for luxury and my love of oriental clothes" to a self-styled "Arab lineage", claiming that his ancestors were descended from the Moors.

Dalí was highly imaginative, and also enjoyed indulging in unusual and grandiose behavior. His eccentric manner and attention-grabbing public actions sometimes drew more attention than his artwork, to the dismay of those who held his work in high esteem, and to the irritation of his critics.

In 1922, Dalí moved into the Residdncia de Estudiantes (Students' Residence) in Madrid and studied at the Academia de San Fernando (School of Fine Arts). A lean 1.72 m (5 ft. 7¾ in.) tall, Dalí already drew attention as an eccentric and dandy. He had long hair and sideburns, coat, stockings, and knee-breeches in the style of English aesthetes of the late 19th century.

At the Residencia, he became close friends with (among others) Pepin Bello, Luid Bunuel, and Frederico Garcia Lorca. The friendship with Lorca had a strong element of mutual passion, but Dalí rejected the poet's sexual advances.

However it was his paintings, in which he experimented with Cubism, that earned him the most attention from his fellow students. At the time of these early works, Dalí probably did not completely understand the Cubist movement. His only information on Cubist art came from magazine articles and a catalog given to him by Pichot, since there were no Cubist artists in Madrid at the time. In 1924, the still-unknown Salvador Dalí illustrated a book for the first time. It was a publication of the Catalan poem Les bruixes de Llers ("The Witches of Llers") by his friend and schoolmate, poet Car;es Fages de Climent. Dalí also experimented with Dada, which influenced his work throughout his life.

Dalí was expelled from the Academia in 1926, shortly before his final exams when he was accused of starting an unrest. His mastery of painting skills was evidenced by his realistic The Basket of Bread, painted in 1926. That same year, he made his first visit to Paris, where he met Pablo Picasso, whom the young Dalí revered. Picasso had already heard favorable reports about Dalí from Joan Miro. As he developed his own style over the next few years, Dalí made a number of works heavily influenced by Picasso and Miró.

Some trends in Dalí's work that would continue throughout his life were already evident in the 1920s. Dalí devoured influences from many styles of art, ranging from the most academically classic, to the most cutting-edge avant garde. His classical influences included Raphael, Bronzino, Francisco de Zurbaran, Vermeer, and Valazquez. He used both classical and modernist techniques, sometimes in separate works, and sometimes combined. Exhibitions of his works in Barcelona attracted much attention along with mixtures of praise and puzzled debate from critics.

Dalí grew a flamboyant moustache, influenced by 17th-century Spanish master painter Diego Valazquez. The moustache became an iconic trademark of his appearance for the rest of his life.

1929 to World War II

In 1929, Dalí collaborated with surrealist film director Luis Bunuel on the short film Un Chien Andalou (An Andalusian Dog). His main contribution was to help Buñuel write the script for the film. Dalí later claimed to have also played a significant role in the filming of the project, but this is not substantiated by contemporary accounts. Also, in August 1929, Dalí met his lifelong and primary muse, inspiration, and future wife Gala, born Elena Ivanovna Diakonova. She was a Russian immigrant ten years his senior, who at that time was married to surrealist poet Paul Eluard. In the same year, Dalí had important professional exhibitions and officially joined the Surrealist group in the Montparnasse quarter of Paris. His work had already been heavily influenced by surrealism for two years. The Surrealists hailed what Dalí called his paranoiac-critical method of accessing the subconscious for greater artistic creativity.

Meanwhile, Dalí's relationship with his father was close to rupture. Don Salvador Dalí y Cusi strongly disapproved of his son's romance with Gala, and saw his connection to the Surrealists as a bad influence on his morals. The last straw was when Don Salvador read in a Barcelona newspaper that his son had recently exhibited in Paris a drawing of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ, with a provocative inscription: "Sometimes, I spit for fun on my mother's portrait".

Outraged, Don Salvador demanded that his son recant publicly. Dalí refused, perhaps out of fear of expulsion from the Surrealist group, and was violently thrown out of his paternal home on December 28, 1929. His father told him that he would be disinherited, and that he should never set foot in Cadaqués again. The following summer, Dalí and Gala rented a small fisherman's cabin in a nearby bay at Port Lligat. He bought the place, and over the years enlarged it, gradually building his much beloved villa by the sea. Dalí's father would eventually relent and come to accept his son's companion.

In 1931, Dalí painted one of his most famous works, The Persistence of Memory, which introduced a surrealistic image of soft, melting pocket watches. The general interpretation of the work is that the soft watches are a rejection of the assumption that time is rigid or deterministic. This idea is supported by other images in the work, such as the wide expanding landscape, and other limp watches shown being devoured by ants.

Dalí and Gala, having lived together since 1929, were married in 1934 in a semi-secret civil ceremony.
They later remarried in a Catholic ceremony in 1958. In addition to inspiring many artworks throughout her life, Gala would act as Dalí's business manager, supporting their extravagant lifestyle while adeptly steering clear of insolvency. Gala seemed to tolerate Dalí's dalliances with younger muses, secure in her own position as his primary relationship. Dali continued to paint her as they both aged, producing sympathetic and adoring images of his muse. The "tense, complex and ambiguous relationship" lasting over 50 years would later become the subject of an opera Jo, Dalí (I, Dalí) by Catalan composer Xavier Benguerel.

Dalí was introduced to America by art dealer Julien Levy in 1934. The exhibition in New York of Dalí's works, including Persistence of Memory, created an immediate sensation. Social Register listees feted him at a specially organized "Dalí Ball". He showed up wearing a glass case on his chest, which contained a brassiere. In that year, Dalí and Gala also attended a masquerade party in New York, hosted for them by heiress Caresse Crosby. For their costumes, they dressed as the Lindbergh baby and his kidnapper. The resulting uproar in the press was so great that Dalí apologized. When he returned to Paris, the Surrealists confronted him about his apology for a surrealist act.

While the majority of the Surrealist artists had become increasingly associated with leftist politics, Dalí maintained an ambiguous position on the subject of the proper relationship between politics and art. Leading surrealist Andre Breton accused Dalí of defending the "new" and "irrational" in "the Hitler phenomenon", but Dalí quickly rejected this claim, saying, "I am Hitlerian neither in fact nor intention". Dalí insisted that surrealism could exist in an apolitical context and refused to explicitly denounce fascism.

Among other factors, this had landed him in trouble with his colleagues. Later in 1934, Dalí was subjected to a "trial", in which he was formally expelled from the Surrealist group. To this, Dalí retorted, "I myself am surrealism".

In 1936, Dalí took part in the London International Surrealist Exhibition. His lecture, titled Fantômes paranoiaques authentiques, was delivered while wearing a deep-sea diving suit and helmet. He had arrived carrying a billiard cue and leading a pair of Russian wolfhounds, and had to have the helmet unscrewed as he gasped for breath. He commented that "I just wanted to show that I was 'plunging deeply' into the human mind."

Also in 1936, at the premiere screening of Joseph Cornell’s film Rose Hobart at Julien Levy's gallery in New York City, Dalí became famous for another incident. Levy's program of short surrealist films was timed to take place at the same time as the first surrealism exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, featuring Dalí's work. Dalí was in the audience at the screening, but halfway through the film, he knocked over the projector in a rage. "My idea for a film is exactly that, and I was going to propose it to someone who would pay to have it made," he said. "I never wrote it down or told anyone, but it is as if he had stolen it". Other versions of Dalí's accusation tend to the more poetic: "He stole it from my subconscious!" or even "He stole my dreams!"

In this period, Dalí's main patron in London was the very wealthy Edward James. He had helped Dalí emerge into the art world by purchasing many works and by supporting him financially for two years. They also collaborated on two of the most enduring icons of the Surrealist movement: the Lobster Telephone and the Mae West Lips Sofa.

In 1938, Dalí met Sigmund Freud thanks to Stefan Zweig. Later, in September 1938, Salvador Dalí was invited by Gabrielle Coco Chanel to her house "La Pausa" in Roquebrune on the French Riviera. There he painted numerous paintings he later exhibited at Julien Levy Gallery in New York. At the end of the 20th century, "La Pausa" was partially replicated at the Dallas Museum of Art to welcome the Reeves collection and part of Chanel's original furniture for the house.

Also in 1938, Dali unveiled Rainy Taxi, a three-dimensional artwork, consisting of an actual automobile with two mannequin occupants. The piece was first displayed at the Galerie Beaux-Arts in Paris at the Exposition Internationale du Surrealisme, organised by Andre Breton andf Paul Eluard. The Exposition was designed by artist Marcel Duchamp, who also served as host.

In 1939, André Breton coined the derogatory nickname "Avida Dollars", an amagram for "Salvador Dalí", and a phonetic rendering of the French avide à dollars, which may be translated as "eager for dollars". This was a derisive reference to the increasing commercialization of Dalí's work, and the perception that Dalí sought self-aggrandizement through fame and fortune. Some surrealists henceforth spoke of Dalí in the past tense, as if he were dead. The Surrealist movement and various members thereof (such as Ted Joans) would continue to issue extremely harsh polemics against Dalí until the time of his death, and beyond.

World War II

In 1940, as World War II tore through Europe, Dalí and Gala retreated to the United States, where they lived for eight years. They were able to escape because on June 20, 1940, they were issued visas by Aristides de Sousa Mendes, Portuguese consul in Bordeaux, France. Salvador and Gala Dalí crossed into Portugal and subsequently sailed on the Excambion from Lisbon to New York in August 1940. Dali’s arrival in New York was one of the catalysts in the development of that city as a world art center in the post-War years.After the move, Dalí returned to the practice of Catholicism. "During this period, Dalí never stopped writing", wrote Robert and Nicolas Descharnes.

In 1941, Dalí drafted a film scenario for Jean Gabin called Moontide. In 1942, he published his autobiography, The Secret Life of Salvador Dali. He wrote catalogs for his exhibitions, such as that at the Knoedler Gallery in New York in 1943. Therein he attacked some often-used surrealist techniques by proclaiming, "Surrealism will at least have served to give experimental proof that total sterility and attempts at automatizations have gone too far and have led to a totalitarian system. ... Today's laziness and the total lack of technique have reached their paroxysm in the psychological signification of the current use of the college" (collage). He also wrote a novel, published in 1944, about a fashion salon for automobiles. This resulted in a drawing by Edwin Cox in The Miami Herald, depicting Dalí dressing an automobile in an evening gown.
Also, in The Secret Life Dalí suggested that he had split with Luis Bunuel because the latter was a Communist and an atheist. Buñuel was fired (or resigned) from his position at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), supposedly after Cardinal Spellman of New York went to see Iris Barry, head of the film department at MOMA. Buñuel then went back to Hollywood where he worked in the dubbing department of Warner Brothers from 1942 to 1946. In his 1982 autobiography Mon Dernier soupir (My Last Sigh, 1983), Buñuel wrote that, over the years, he had rejected Dalí's attempts at reconciliation.

An Italian friar, Gabriele Maria Berardi, claimed to have performed an exorcism on Dalí while he was in
France in 1947. In 2005, a sculpture of Christ on the Cross was discovered in the friar's estate. It had been claimed that Dalí gave this work to his exorcist out of gratitude, and two Spanish art experts confirmed that there were adequate stylistic reasons to believe the sculpture was made by Dalí.
Return to Catalonia

From 1949 onwards, Dalí spent his remaining years back in Catalonia. In 1959, Andre Breton organized an exhibit called Homage to Surrealism, celebrating the fortieth anniversary of Surrealism, which contained works by Dalí, Joan Miro, Enrique Tabara, and Eugenio Granell. Breton vehemently fought against the inclusion of Dalí's Sistine Madonna in the International Surrealism Exhibition in New York the following year.

Late in his career, Dalí did not confine himself to painting, but experimented with many unusual or novel media and processes: he made bulletist works. Many of his works incorporated optical illusions, negative space, visual puns, and trompe l’oeil visual effects. He also experimented with pointillism, enlarged half-tone dot grids (which Roy Lichtenstein would later use), and stereoscopic images. He was among the first artists to employ holography in an artistic manner. In his later years, young artists such as Andy Warhol proclaimed Dalí an important influence on pop art.

Dalí also had a keen interest in natural science and mathematics. This is manifested in several of his paintings, notably from the 1950s, in which he painted his subjects as composed of rhinoceros horn shapes. According to Dalí, the rhinoceros horn signifies divine geometry because it grows in a logarithmic spiral. He also linked the rhinoceros to themes of chastity and to the Virgin Mary. Dalí was also fascinated by DNA and the tesseract (a 4-dimensional cube); an unfolding of a hypercube is featured in the painting Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus).

At some point, Dalí had a glass floor installed in a room near his studio. He made extensive use of it to study foreshortening, both from above and from below, incorporating dramatic perspectives of figures and objects into his paintings. He also delighted in using the room for entertaining guests and visitors to his house and studio.

Dalí's post–World War II period bore the hallmarks of technical virtuosity and an intensifying interest in optical effects, science, and religion. He became an increasingly devout Catholic, while at the same time he had been inspired by the shock of Hiroshima and the dawning of the "atomic age". Therefore Dalí labeled this period "Nuclear Mysticism." In paintings such as "The Madonna of Port Lligat" (first version) (1949) and "Corpus Hypercubus" (1954), Dalí sought to synthesize Christian iconography with images of material disintegration inspired by nuclear physics. "Nuclear Mysticism" included such notable pieces as La Gare de Perpignan (1965) and The Hallucinogenic Toreador (1968–70). In 1960, Dalí began work on his Teatro Museo (Dali Theatre and Museum) in his home town of Figueres; it was his largest single project and the main focus of his energy through 1974. He continued to make additions through the mid-1980s.

In 1968, Dalí filmed a humorous television advertisement for Lanvin chocolates. In this, he proclaims in French "Je suis fou du chocolat Lanvin!" (I'm crazy about Lanvin chocolate) while biting a morsel causing him to become crosseyed and his moustache to swivel upwards. In 1969, he designed the Chupa Chups logo in addition to facilitating the design of the advertising campaign for the 1969 Eurovision Song Contest and creating a large on-stage metal sculpture that stood at the Teatro Real in Madrid.

In the television programme Dirty Dalí: A Private View broadcast on Channel 4 on June 3, 2007, art critic Brian Sewell described his acquaintance with Dalí in the late 1960s, which included lying down in the fetal position without trousers in the armpit of a figure of Christ and masturbating for Dalí, who pretended to take photos while fumbling in his own trousers.

In 1982, King Juan Carlos bestowed on Dalí the title of Marqués de Dalí de Púbol (Marquis of Dalí de Púbol) in the nobility of Spain, hereby referring to Pubol, the place where he lived. The title was in first instance hereditary, but on request of Dalí changed for life only in 1983. To show his gratitude for this, Dalí later gave the king a drawing (Head of Europa, which would turn out to be Dalí's final drawing) after the king visited him on his deathbed.


Dalí employed extensive symbolism in his work. For instance, the hallmark "soft watches" that first appear in The Persistence of Memory suggest Einstein’s 's theory that time is relative and not fixed. The idea for clocks functioning symbolically in this way came to Dalí when he was staring at a runny piece of Camembert cheese on a hot August day.

The elephant is also a recurring image in Dalí's works. It first appeared in his 1944 work Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Afound a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening. The elephants, inspired by Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s sculpture base in Rome of an elephant carrying an ancient obelisk, are portrayed "with long, multijointed, almost invisible legs of desire" along with obelisks on their backs. Coupled with the image of their brittle legs, these encumbrances, noted for their phallic overtones, create a sense of phantom reality. "The elephant is a distortion in space", one analysis explains, "its spindly legs contrasting the idea of weightlessness with structure." "I am painting pictures which make me die for joy, I am creating with an absolute naturalness, without the slightest aesthetic concern, I am making things that inspire me with a profound emotion and I am trying to paint them honestly." —Salvador Dalí, in Dawn Ades, Dalí and Surrealism.

The egg is another common Dalíesque image. He connects the egg to the prenatal and intrauterine, thus using it to symbolize hope and love; it appears in The Great Masturbator and The Metamorphosis of Narcissus. The Metamorphosis of Narcissus also symbolized death and petrification.

Various other animals appear throughout his work as well: ants point to death, decay, and immense sexual desire; the snail is connected to the human head (he saw a snail on a bicycle outside Freud's house when he first met Sigmund Freud); and locusts are a symbol of waste and fear.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Positive Quiddity: Occam's Razor

Occam's razor (also written as Ockham's razor, Latin lex parsimoniae) is the law of parsimony, economy, or succinctness. It is a principle stating that among competing hypotheses, the one that makes the fewest assumptions should be selected. Example:

It is possible to describe the other planets in the Solar System as revolving around the Earth, but that explanation is unnecessarily complex compared to the contemporary consensus that all planets in the Solar System revolve around the Sun.

The principle is often incorrectly summarized as "other things being equal, a simpler explanation is better than a more complex one." In practice, the application of the principle often shifts the burden of proof in a discussion. The razor states that one should proceed to simpler theories until simplicity can be traded for greater explanatory power. The simplest available theory need not be most accurate. Philosophers point out also that the exact meaning of simplest may be nuanced.

Solomonoff's inductive inference is a mathematically formalized Occam's razor: shorter computable theories have more weight when calculating the probability of the next observation, using all computable theories which perfectly describe previous observations.

In science, Occam's razor is used as a (general guiding rule or an observation) to guide scientists in the development of theoretical models rather than as an arbiter between published models. In the scientific method, Occam's razor is not considered an irrefutable principle of logic or a scientific result.

Beginning in the 20th century, epistemological justifications based on induction, logic, pragmatism, and especially probability theory have become more popular among philosophers.

Prior to the 20th century, it was a commonly-held belief that nature itself was simple and that simpler hypotheses about nature were thus more likely to be true. This notion was deeply rooted in the aesthetic value simplicity holds for human thought and the justifications presented for it often drew from theology. Thomas Aquinas made this argument in the 13th century, writing, "If a thing can be done adequately by means of one, it is superfluous to do it by means of several; for we observe that nature does not employ two instruments [if] one suffices."


Occam's razor has gained strong empirical support as far as helping to converge on better theories (see "Applications" section below for some examples).

In the related concept of overfitting, excessively complex models are affected by statistical noise (a problem also known as the bias-variance trade-off), whereas simpler models may capture the underlying structure better and may thus have better predictive performance. It is, however, often difficult to deduce which part of the data is noise (cf. model selection, test set, minimum description length, Byesian inference, etc.)

Testing the razor

The razor's statement that "simpler explanations are, other things being equal, generally better than more complex ones" is amenable to empirical testing. The procedure to test this hypothesis would compare the track records of simple and comparatively complex explanations. The validity of Occam's razor as a tool would then have to be rejected if the more complex explanations were more often correct than the less complex ones (while the converse would lend support to its use).

Possible explanations can get needlessly complex. It is coherent, for instance, to add the involvement of Leprechuns to any explanation, but Occam's razor would prevent such additions, unless they were necessary.

In the history of competing explanations this is not the case. At least, not generally (some increases in complexity are sometimes necessary), and so there remains a justified general bias towards the simpler of two competing explanations. To understand why, consider that, for each accepted explanation of a phenomenon, there is always an infinite number of possible, more complex, and ultimately incorrect alternatives. This is so because one can always burden failing explanations with ad-hoc hypotheses.are justifications that prevent theories from being falsified. Even other empirical criteria like consilience can never truly eliminate such explanations as competition. Each true explanation, then, may have had many alternatives that were simpler and false, but also an infinite number of alternatives that were more complex and false.

Put another way, any new, and even more complex theory can still possibly be true. For example: If an individual makes supernatural claims that Leprechauns were responsible for breaking a vase, the simpler explanation would be that he is mistaken, but ongoing ad-hoc justifications (e.g. "And, that's not me on film, they tampered with that too") successfully prevent outright falsification. This endless supply of elaborate competing explanations cannot be ruled out – but by using Occam's Razor.
Science and the scientific method

In science, Occam's razor is used as a heuristic (rule of thumb) to guide scientists in the development of theoretical models rather than as an arbiter between published models. In physics, parsimony was an important heuiristic in the formulation of special relativity by Albert Einstein, the development and application of the principle of least action by Pierre Louis Maupertuis and Leonhard Euler, and the development of quantum mechanics by Ludwig Boltzmann, Max Planck, Werner Heisenberg and Louis de Broglie. In chemistry, Occam's razor is often an important heuristic when developing a model of a reaction mechanism. However, while it is useful as a heuristic in developing models of reaction mechanisms, it has been shown to fail as a criterion for selecting among some selected published models. In this context, Einstein himself expressed caution when he formulated Einstein's Constraint: "It can scarcely be denied that the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience". An often-quoted version of this constraint (that cannot be verified as being posited by Einstein himself) says "Everything should be kept as simple as possible, but no simpler."

In the scientific method, parsimony is an epistemological, metaphysical or heuristic preference, not an irrefutable principle of logic or a scientific result. As a logical principle, Occam's razor would demand that scientists accept the simplest possible theoretical explanation for existing data. However, science has shown repeatedly that future data often supports more complex theories than existing data. Science prefers the simplest explanation that is consistent with the data available at a given time, but the simplest explanation may be ruled out as new data become available. That is, science is open to the possibility that future experiments might support more complex theories than demanded by current data and is more interested in designing experiments to discriminate between competing theories than favoring one theory over another based merely on philosophical principles.

When scientists use the idea of parsimony, it only has meaning in a very specific context of inquiry. A number of background assumptions are required for parsimony to connect with plausibility in a particular research problem. The reasonableness of parsimony in one research context may have nothing to do with its reasonableness in another.

Biologists or philosophers of biology use Occam's razor in either of two contexts both in evolutionary biology: the units of selection controversy and systemics. George C. Williams in his book Adaption and Natural Selection (1966) argues that the best way to explain altruism among animals is based on low level (i.e. individual) selection as opposed to high level group selection. Altruism is defined as behavior that is beneficial to the group but not to the individual, and group selection is thought by some to be the evolutionary mechanism that selects for altruistic traits. Others posit individual selection as the mechanism which explains altruism solely in terms of the behaviors of individual organisms acting in their own self-interest without regard to the group. The basis for Williams's contention is that of the two, individual selection is the more parsimonious theory. In doing so he is invoking a variant of Occam's razor known as Lloyd Morgan’s Canon: "In no case is an animal activity to be interpreted in terms of higher psychological processes, if it can be fairly interpreted in terms of processes which stand lower in the scale of psychological evolution and development" (Morgan 1903).

However, more recent biological analyses, such as Richard Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene, have contended that Occams's view is not the simplest and most basic. Dawkins argues the way evolution works is that the genes propagated in most copies will end up determining the development of that particular species, i.e., natural selection turns out to select specific genes, and this is really the fundamental underlying principle, that automatically gives individual and group selection as emergent features of evolution.

Zoology provides an example. Muskoxen, when threatened by wolves, will form a circle with the males on the outside and the females and young on the inside. This as an example of a behavior by the males that seems to be altruistic. The behavior is disadvantageous to them individually but beneficial to the group as a whole and was thus seen by some to support the group selection theory.

However, a much better explanation immediately offers itself once one considers that natural selection works on genes. If the male musk ox runs off, leaving his offspring to the wolves, his genes will not be propagated. If however he takes up the fight his genes will live on in his offspring. And thus the "stay-and-fight" gene prevails. This is an example of kin selection. An underlying general principle thus offers a much simpler explanation, without retreating to special principles as group selection.

When discussing Occam's razor in contemporary medicine, doctors and philosophers of medicine speak of diagnostic parsimony. Diagnostic parsimony advocates that when diagnosing a given injury, ailment, illness, or disease a doctor should strive to look for the fewest possible causes that will account for all the symptoms. This philosophy is one of several demonstrated in the popular medical adage "when you hear hoofbeats behind you, think horses, not zebras". While diagnostic parsimony might often be eneficial, credence should also be given to the counter-argument modernly known as Hickam’s dictum, which succinctly states that "patients can have as many diseases as they damn well please". It is often statistically more likely that a patient has several common diseases, rather than having a single rarer disease which explains their myriad symptoms.

Also, independently of statistical likelihood, some patients do in fact turn out to have multiple diseases, which by common sense nullifies the approach of insisting to explain any given collection of symptoms with one disease. These misgivings emerge from simple probability theory—which is already taken into account in many modern variations of the razor—and from the fact that the loss function is much greater in medicine than in most of general science. Because misdiagnosis can result in the loss of a person's health and potentially life, it is considered better to test and pursue all reasonable theories even if there is some theory that appears the most likely.

In the philosophy of religion, Occam's razor is sometimes applied to the existance of God; if the concept of a God does not help to explain the universe better, then the idea is that atheism should be preferred (Schmitt 2005). Some such arguments are based on the assertion that belief in God requires more complex assumptions to explain the universe than non-belief (e.g. the Ultimate Boeing 747 gambit). On the other hand, there are various arguments in favor of a God which attempt to establish a God as a useful explanation. Philosopher Del Ratzsch suggests that the application of the razor to God may not be so simple, least of all when we are comparing that hypothesis with theories postulating multiple invisible univiverses.

In speaking on religion in God Is Not Great, Christopher Hitchens espoused his variation named Hitchens’ Razor, which states "What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence."

Penal ethics
In penal theory and the philosophy of punishment, parsimony refers specifically to taking care in the distribution of punishment in order to avoid excessive punishment. In the utilitarian approach to the philosophy of punishment, Jeremy Bentham’s "parsimony principle" states that any punishment greater than is required to achieve its end is unjust. The concept is related but not identical to the legal concept of proportionality. Parsimony is a key consideration of the modern restorative justice, and is a component of utilitarian approaches to punishment, as well as the prison abolition movement. Bentham believed that true parsimony would require punishment to be individualised to take account of the sensibility of the individual—an individual more sensitive to punishment should be given a proportionately lesser one, since otherwise needless pain would be inflicted. Later utilitarian writers have tended to abandon this idea, in large part due to the impracticality of determining each alleged criminal's relative sensitivity to specific punishments.

Probability Theory and Statistics
One intuitive justification of Occam's razor's admonition against unnecessary hypotheses is a direct result of basic probability theory. By definition, all assumptions introduce possibilities for error; if an assumption does not improve the accuracy of a theory, its only effect is to increase the probability that the overall theory is wrong.

There are various papers in scholarly journals deriving formal versions of Occam's razor from probability theory and applying it in statistical inference, and also of various criteria for penalizing complexity in statistical inference. Recent papers have suggested a connection between Occam's razor and Kolmogorov complexity.

One of the problems with the original formulation of the principle is that it only applies to models with the same explanatory power (i.e. prefer the simplest of equally good models). A more general form of Occam's razor can be derived from Bayesian model comparison and Bayeds factors, which can be used to compare models that don't fit the data equally well. These methods can sometimes optimally balance the complexity and power of a model. Generally the exact Ockham factor is intractable but approximations such as Akaike Information Criterion, Bayesian Information Criterion, Variational Bayes, False discovery rate and Laplace approximation are used. Many artificial intelligence researchers are now employing such techniques.
William H. Jefferys and James O. Berger (1991) generalise and quantify the original formulation's "assumptions" concept as the degree to which a proposition is unnecessarily accommodating to possible observable data. The model they propose balances the precision of a theory's predictions against their sharpness; theories which sharply made their correct predictions are preferred over theories which would have accommodated a wide range of other possible results. This, again, reflects the mathematical relationship between key concepts in Bayesian inference (namely marginal probability, conditional probability and posterior probability).

The statistical view leads to a more rigorous formulation of the razor than previous philosophical discussions. In particular, it shows that "simplicity" must first be defined in some way before the razor may be used, and that this definition will always be subjective. For example, in the Kolmogorov-Chaitin Minimum description length approach, the subject must pick a Turing machine whose operations describe the basic operations believed to represent "simplicity" by the subject. However one could always choose a Turing machine with a simple operation that happened to construct one's entire theory and would hence score highly under the razor. This has led to two opposing views of the objectivity of Occam's razor.

In literature and writing
Occam's razor has been recommended as a measure of how good the plot of a novel is. Simple and logical plots are easy to explain and this enhances the experience of the reader. The writer is also less likely to make an error while explaining the plot to the reader.

In psychology and humor
Hanlon’s razor -- to explain human behavior, assume incompetence before malice.

Controversial aspects of the razor
Occam's razor is not an embargo against the positing of any kind of entity, or a recommendation of the simplest theory come what may. Occam's razor is used to adjudicate between theories that have already passed "theoretical scrutiny" tests, and which are equally well-supported by the evidence. Furthermore, it may be used to prioritize empirical testing between two equally plausible but unequally testable hypotheses; thereby minimizing costs and wastes while increasing chances of falsification of the simpler-to-test hypothesis.

The other things in question are the evidential support for the theory. Therefore, according to the principle, a simpler but less correct theory should not be preferred over a more complex but more correct one. It is this fact which gives the lie to the common misinterpretation of Occam's razor that "the simplest" one is usually the correct one. For instance, classical physics is simpler than more recent theories; nonetheless it may not be preferred over them, because it produces inaccurate predictions in some circumstances.

Another contentious aspect of the razor is that a theory can become more complex in terms of its structure (or syntax), while its ontology (or semantics) becomes simpler, or vice versa. Quine, in a discussion on definition, referred to these two perspectives as "economy of practical expression" and "economy in grammar and vocabulary", respectively. The theory of relativity is often given as an example of the proliferation of complex words to describe a simple concept.

Galileo Galilei lampooned the misuse of Occam's razor in his Dialogue. The principle is represented in the dialogue by Simplicio. The telling point that Galileo presented ironically was that if you really wanted to start from a small number of entities, you could always consider the letters of the alphabet as the fundamental entities, since you could construct the whole of human knowledge out of them.

This and much more at:

Monday, October 22, 2012

Positive Quiddity: Therapy Dogs

A therapy dog is a dog trained to provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing yhomes, schools, hospices, people with learning difficulties, and stressful situations, such as disaster areas.

Therapy dogs come in all sizes and breeds. The most important characteristic of a therapy dog is its temperament. A good therapy dog must be friendly, patient, confident, gentle, and at ease in all situations. Therapy dogs must enjoy human contact and be content to be petted and handled, sometimes clumsily.
A therapy dog's primary job is to allow unfamiliar people to make physical contact with it and to enjoy that contact. Children in particular enjoy hugging animals; adults usually enjoy simply petting the dog. The dog might need to be lifted onto, or climb onto, an individual's lap or bed and sit or lie comfortably there. Many dogs contribute to the visiting experience by performing small tricks for their audience or by playing carefully structured games. In hospice environments, therapy dogs can play a role in palliative care by reducing death anxiety.

History of the therapy dog
During World War II, under combat operations against Japanese forces on the island of New Guinea, Corporal William Wynne came into possession of a young adult Yorkshire Terrier abandoned on the battlefield. He named the female dog Smoky.

Smoky accompanied Wynne on numerous combat missions, provided comfort and entertainment for troops, and even assisted the Signal Corps in running a telegraph cable through an underground pipe, completing in minutes what might have been a dangerous, three-day construction job which would have exposed men and equipment to enemy bombers.

Smoky's service as a therapy dog began when Corporal Wynne was hospitalized for a jungle disease. As Wynne recovered, Wynne's Army pals brought Smoky to the hospital for a visit and to cheer the soldier up. Smoky immediately became a hit with the other wounded soldiers. Dr. Charles Mayo, of the famed Mayo Clinic, was the commanding officer who allowed Smoky to go on rounds and also permitted her to sleep with Wynne in his hospital bed for five nights. Smoky’s work as a therapy dog continued for 12 years, during and after World War II.

The establishment of a systematic approach to the use of therapy dogs is attributed to Elaine Smith, an American who worked as a registered nurse for a time in England. Smith noticed how well patients responded to visits by a certain chaplain and his canine companion, a Golden Retriever. Upon returning to the United States in 1976, Smith started a program for training dogs to visit institutions. Over the years other health care professionals have noticed the therapeutic effect of animal companionship, such as relieving stress, lowering blood pressure, and raising spirits, and the demand for therapy dogs continues to grow. In recent years, therapy dogs have been enlisted to help children overcome speech and emotional disorders.

In 1982, Nancy Stanley founded Tender Loving Zoo (TLZ), a nonprofit organization that introduced animal therapy to severely handicapped children and to convalescent hospitals for the elderly. She got the idea while working at the Los Angeles Zoo, where she noticed how handicapped visitors responded eagerly to animals. She researched the beneficial effects that animals can have on patients and soon thereafter, Ms. Stanley began taking her pet miniature poodle, Freeway, to the Revere Developmental Center for the severely handicapped.

Inspired by the response of the patients and the encouragement of the staff, she took $7,500 of her own money, bought a van, recruited helpers, and persuaded a pet store to lend baby animals. Soon requests for TLZ were coming from schools, hospitals and convalescent homes all over the county. Partly as a result of Ms. Stanley's work, the concept of dog-therapy has broadened to "animal-assisted therapy" or "pet therapy", including many other species, such as therapy cats, therapy rabbits, therapy birds and so on.

A body of research has suggested that interactions with therapy dogs can increase oxytocin (bonding) and dopamine (happiness), while lowering cortisol (stress).

Classification of Therapy Dogs
Therapy dogs are not service or assistance dogs. Service dogs directly assist humans and have a legal right to accompany their owners in most areas. In the United States, service dogs are legally protected at the federal level by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Therapy dogs do not provide direct assistance and are not mentioned in the Americans with Disabilities Act. Institutions may invite, limit, or prohibit access by therapy dogs. If allowed, many institutions have rigorous requirements for therapy dogs.

Many organizations provide testing and accreditation for therapy dogs. In the United States, some organizations require that a dog pass the equivalent of the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen test and then add further requirements specific to the environments in which the dogs will be working. Other organizations have their own testing requirements. Typical tests might ensure that a dog can handle sudden loud or strange noises; can walk on assorted unfamiliar surfaces comfortably; are not frightened by people with canes, wheelchairs, or unusual styles of walking or moving; get along well with children and with the elderly; and so on.

In Canada, St John Ambulance provides therapy dog certification.

In the UK Pets as Therapy (PAT) provides visiting dogs and cats to establishments where pets are otherwise not available.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Movie Review: The Master

by the Blog Author

The Master is a triumphant film about cultism and the attraction that cults have for those with disturbed personalities. Joaquin Phoenix is perfect as Freddie Sutton, a young and alcoholic World War II sailor stuck in a time warp of adolescent sexuality and possessed of an uncontrolled temper. Running away from a group of migrant workers because he has shared one of this dangerous concocted drinks with a worker who the other workers think has been poisoned, Sutton winds up sleeping on a boat which is at sea when he awakens. Sutton realizes that the boat is making a private cruise for a cult leader, Lancaster Dodd, played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

The cult leader likes the young alcoholic sailor and his dangerous mixed drinks. The two get along. Dodd forces his family to accept Sutton as an acolyte, but Sutton misbehaves and has a tendency to violence. The family confronts the cult leader and suggests that Sutton be purged. But Dodd can’t quite force himself to take that advice, though he thanks his family for their concern and protective impulses.

There is a masterful scene in which both Sutton and Dodd are arrested and given side-by-side jail cells.  Phoenix, as Sutton, gives us a bravura performance of frustration and violence.

With careful direction, we are lead to suspect the stability of the cult founder’s personality. The founder’s family and followers also become suspect for their own abnormalities, especially in the face of their blatant obsequiousness.

Sutton may be disturbed and angry, but when he revisits the home of his young wartime girlfriend, he talks to the girl’s mother instead. He is informed that she has grown up, gotten married and has children of her own. Phoenix superbly demonstrates that this confused character was obsessed with this young woman, but he has no right to interfere with her well-adapted adult life.

The film is about cults and false cures, and these are not ultimately positive themes. There is a final, edgy meeting between the cult founder and the sailor in which the founder makes dark spiritual threats against the sailor. As preposterous as this scene might appear by itself, it is cloaked in intense realism by the building of these characters that has taken place throughout the film.

Many critics and moviegoers wonder if this film is an expose of Scientology and L. Ron Hubbard. That seems to be a reasonable supposition. But a more accurate comparison might be Elmer Gantry encounters The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. Thus, through this admixture of abnormalities, The Master is a nightmare melodrama worth seeing and worrying about.

An Overview of Viruses

A virus is an intrusive biological agent that reproduces inside the cells of living hosts. When infected by a virus, a host cell is forced to produce many thousands of identical copies of the original virus, at an extraordinary rate. Unlike most living things, viruses do not have cells that divide; new viruses are assembled in the infected host cell. Over 2,000 species of viruses have been discovered.

The origins of viruses are unclear: some may have evolved from plasmids -- pieces of DNA that can move between cells, while others may have evolved from bacteria. A virus consists of two or three parts: genes, made from either DNA or RNA, long molecules that carry genetic information; a protein coat that protects the genes; and in some viruses, an envelope of fat that surrounds and protects them when they are not contained within a host cell. Viruses vary in shape from the simple helical and icosahedral to more complex structures. Viruses are about 1/100 the size of bacteria; it would take 30,000 to 750,000 of them, side by side, to stretch to 1 centimetre (0.39 in).

Viruses spread in many different ways. Each species of virus relies on a particular method. Plant viruses are often spread from plant to plant by insects and other organisms, known as vectors. Some viruses of animals, including humans, are spread by the transfer of body fluids which may occur by a number of means. Viruses such as influenza are spread through the air by people when they cough or sneeze. Viruses such as norovirus, are transmitted by the faecal-oral route, which contaminates hands, food and water.  Rotavirus is often spread by direct contact with infected children. The human immunodeficiency virus, HIV, is one of several major viruses that are transmitted during sex. Other viruses are spread by blood-sucking insects.

Viral infections can cause disease in humans, animals and even plants. However, they are usually eliminated by the immune system, conferring lifetime immunity to the host for that virus. Antibiotics have no effect on viruses, but antiviral drugs have been developed to treat life-threatening infections. Vaccines that produce lifelong immunity can prevent some viral infections.

Animals, including humans, have many natural defences against viruses. Some are non-specific and protect against many viruses regardless of the type. This innate immunity is not improved by repeated exposure to viruses and does not retain a "memory" of the infection. The skin of animals, particularly its surface, which is made from dead cells, prevents many types of viruses from infecting the host. The acidity of the contents of the stomach kills many viruses that have been swallowed. When a virus overcomes these barriers and enters the host, other innate defences prevent the spread of infection in the body. A special hormone called interferon is produced by the body when viruses are present, and this stops the viruses from reproducing by killing the infected cell and its close neighbours. Inside cells, there are enzymes that destroy the RNA of viruses. This is called RNA interference. Some blood cells engulf and destroy other virus infected cells.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Limits of Modeling

by Karlis Podnieks
University of Latvia


First, I propose a new argument in favor of the Dappled World perspective introduced by Nancy Cartwright. There are systems, for which detailed models can't exist in the natural world. And this has nothing to do with the limitations of human minds or technical resources. The limitation is built into the very principle of modeling: we are trying to replace some system by another one. In full detail, this may be impossible. Secondly, I'm trying to refine the Dappled World perspective by applying the correct distinction between models and theories. At the level of models, because of the above-mentioned limitations, we will always have only a patchwork of models each very restricted in its application scope. And at the level of theories, we will never have a single complete Theory of Everything (or, a complete pyramid of theories) allowing, without additional postulates, to generate all the models we may need for surviving in this world.

-- Podnieks, Karlis (2010) The Limits of Modeling

full study at:

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Positive Quiddity: Rhodium and its Uses

Rhodium is a chemical element that is a rare, silvery-white, hard, and chemically inert transition metal and a member of the platinum group. It has the chemical symbol Rh and atomic number 45. It is composed of only one naturally-occurring isotope, 103Rh. Naturally occurring rhodium is usually found as the free metal, alloyed with similar metals, and rarely as a chemical compound in minerals such as bowieite and rhodplumsite. It is one of the rarest precious metals.

Rhodium is a so-called noble metal, resistant to corrosion, found in platinum- or nickel ores together with the other members of the platinum group metals. It was discovered in 1803 by William Hyde Wollaston in one such ore, and named for the rose color of one of its chlorine compounds, produced after it reacted with the powerful acid mixture aqua regia.

The element's major use (more that 80% of world rhodium production) is as one of the catalysts in the three-way catalytic converters in automobiles. Because rhodium metal is inert against corrosion and most aggressive chemicals, and because of its rarity, rhodium is usually alloyed with platinum or palladium and applied in high-temperature and corrosion-resistive coatings. White gold is often plated with a thin rhodium layer to improve its optical impression while sterling silver is often rhodium plated for tarnish resistance.
Rhodium detectors are used in nuclear reactors to measure the neutron flux level.

Rhodium is a hard, silvery, durable metal that has a high reflectance. Rhodium metal does not normally form an oxide, even when heated. Oxygen is absorbed from the atmosphere only at the melting point of rhodium, but is released on solidification. Rhodium has both a higher melting point and lower density than platinum. It is not attacked by most acids: it is completely insoluble in nitric acid and dissolves slightly in aqua regia.

Rhodium is one of the rarest elements in the Earth’s crust, of which it comprises an estimated 0.0002 parts per million (2 × 10−10). Its rarity affects its price, and thus its usage in commercial applications.

The industrial extraction of rhodium is complex as the metal occurs in ores mixed with other metals such as palladium, silver, platinum, and gold. It is found in platinum ores and extracted as a white inert metal which is very difficult to fuse. Principal sources are located in South Africa, in river sands of the Ural Mountains, and in North America, including the copper-nickel sulfide mining area of the Sudbury, Ontario region.

Although the quantity at Sudbury is very small, the large amount of processed nickel ore makes rhodium recovery cost-effective. The main exporter of rhodium is South Africa (approximately 80% in 2010) followed by Russia. The annual world production of this element is less than 30 tonnes and there are very few rhodium-bearing minerals. The price of rhodium is historically highly variable. In 2007, rhodium cost approximately eight times more than gold, 450 times more than silver, and 27,250 times more than copper by weight. In 2008, the price briefly rose above $10,000 per ounce. The economic slowdown of the 3rd quarter of 2008 pushed rhodium prices sharply back below $1,000 per ounce, but they rebounded to $2,750 by early 2010 (over twice the gold price).

The primary use of this element is in automobiles as a catalytic converter, which changes harmful emissions from the engine into less polluting gases. Of 27,200 kg rhodium consumed worldwide in 2010, some 22,500 kg (82.7%) went into and 7,300 kg recovered from this application. About 1,770 kg of rhodium was used in the glass industry, mostly for production of fiberglass and flat-panel glass, and 2,110 kg in the chemical industry.

Rhodium finds use in jewelry and for decorations. It is electroplated on white gold and platinum to give it a reflective white surface. This is known as rhodium flashing in the jewelry business. It may also be used in coating sterling silver to protect against tarnish, which is silver sulfide (Ag2S) produced from the atmospheric hydrogen sulfide (H2S). Solid (pure) rhodium jewelry is very rare, because the metal has both high melting point and poor malleability (making such jewelry very hard to fabricate) rather than due to its high price. Additionally, its high cost assures that most of its jewelry usage is in the form of tiny amounts of powder (commonly called rhodium sponge) dissolved into electroplating solutions.

Rhodium has also been used for honors or to symbolize wealth, when more commonly used metals such as silver, gold, or platinum are deemed insufficient. In 1979, the Guinness Book of World Records gave Paul McCartney a rhodium-plated disc for being history's all-time best-selling songwriter and recording artist.