Wide awareness at minimal cost

 Quakers  Comments Off on Wide awareness at minimal cost
Nov 192011

Wide awareness is not enough. We also need to disturb the Universe as little as we can. We are a burden to the Universe and, in our own interests we should minimise the burden.

This is, in part, an obligation echoing the principles of physics. Nature herself works by minimising action: soap bubbles seek a shape of minimum energy, a thrown ball travels the path of least action.

One good reason for following this principle is our limited understanding of the world. If we don’t fully understand what is going on, isn’t it prudent to avoid making waves? Being “green” is one way of sticking to this principle: we should consume as few resources as we can, leave as little waste as possible, avoid wasting energy.

These two principles – wide awareness and minimal burden – are in competition. Acquiring new information – increased awareness – inevitably makes a disturbance.

Our natural desire is to want to know about earlier times and most distant future, about the largest systems and the smallest particles, about the near at hand and about the furthest reaches of space.

But the best way is to gain this knowledge with only the smallest impact on the wider world.

 Posted by at 14:53

Awareness is provisional

 Quakers  Comments Off on Awareness is provisional
Nov 182011

Being a physicist – well, at any rate I was one once – I am acutely aware of the temporary nature of any insight. Newton understood things a bit better than Galileo, but then along comes Einstein and our ideas have to change again.

So, accurate awareness must always include awareness of the limits to our awareness, its incompleteness.

And even our knowledge of those limits is limited.

The source of a lot of trouble in our lives is the mistaken conviction that, on some points at least, we have “got it right”. Or that someone else has. If we were more careful to admit we might be wrong, we could avoid a lot of even more serious errors.

 Posted by at 09:39

What’s the point?

 Quakers  Comments Off on What’s the point?
Nov 182011

In my view the objective of life is to increase one’s awareness, making it as accurate as possible and as wide ranging as possible in both time and space.

If this is the goal of life then studying cosmology and astrophysics is the most devout activity possible.

The greatest sins are to limit your horizons, to confine your knowledge and experience to a small place, or to maintain (or even aggressively promote) an untested and ill-founded belief.

 Posted by at 00:59

Tiff, jay-peg, bit-map, png …

 Quakers, Uncategorized  Comments Off on Tiff, jay-peg, bit-map, png …
Oct 082011

I have been preparing some fractal pictures for printing.  They will appear in a local exhibition of local artwork.

I have been getting hot and bothered by the many, mutually-inconsistent layers of software I have had to deal with.  The worst element is the very last bit of the process – the great big print machine at the local print works.  It seems to need an instruction in the graphics file for the dots-per-inch scale.  I think I’ve figured out how to give it the right data, but it took ages of experimenting and trying different packages.

Oddly, the problem is partly caused by the huge number of “features” available at each step of the process.  There are so many options the chances of picking the right combination is not very high.

It is a feature of our current technology that though it gets cleverer, it requires you to know odd little bits about the inner workings if you are to get the result you want.  Maybe it will soon be easier to use, but I’m not very hopeful.

I still remember the sixties, though for various reasons my memory may be unreliable.

There were a lot of programming languages available then.  I think there were at least three – Fortran, Cobol, Algol.  So IBM decided to simplify matters by producing a single language.  It would combine the best features of all the rivals and be a veritable Esperanto of computing.  It would be so good that no one would ever need another language.  We would all speak the same digital tongue.

They called it PL/1.

I remember thinking, at the time, that this implied there would also be PL/2, PL/3 … PL/Aleph-null.

This is Babel, nor am I out of it!

 Posted by at 11:34


 Mortality  Quakers  Comments Off on Mortality
Apr 092011

Mortal am I, the creature of a day – and yet
I trace the secret pathways of the stars,
No longer tread the earth, but there with Zeus
Break bread and share the food
Of everlasting life.

Claudius Ptolemy, writing in about AD150.

 Posted by at 01:00