physics & philosophical pyromania

Dave Long
Mon, 13 Jan 2003 10:03:09 -0800

[GO: it looked like you'd meant this for the list, so I've replied here]

> > ... if instead of treating [Heraclitus] as some sort of monoelemental 
> >materialist ...
>   Certainly not; after all, wasn't it he that compared time to water (a 
> river), saying that one cannot step in the same river twice?
> >[4] from: > Time is a child playing checkers; the king is a child. to: > 
> >Time is an infant moving counters on a gameboard; > the ultimate power 
> >moves at hazard, without plan.
>   This sounds a bit like deism to me; only, instead of a god dictating (or 
> in this case not) the futures that we will follow, it is time acting at 
> random.  I can see how a powerless god and the random viscissitudes of time 
> can be compared.
>   Apropos, has anyone read 'Einstein's Dreams', by Alan Lightman?  Deals 
> with this a bit, and a good read nonetheless.
>          - Sir Gareth

Yes, the River is Heraclitus' [0].

A rather subtle point is that it *is*
possible for a god to obey Fate (here:
to be statistically indistinguishable
from noise), and yet still have a good
deal of influence.

Haldane wrote an article, "The Faking
of Genetical Results" [1] that said:
> My father published a number of papers on blood analysis.  In the
> proofs of one of them the following sentence, or something very like
> it, occurred: "Unless the blood is very thoroughly faked, it will be
> found that duplicate determinations rarely agree".  Every biochemist
> will sympathise with this opinion.  I may add that the verb "to lake",
> when applied to blood, means to break up the corpuscles so that it
> becomes transparent.
> In genetical work also, duplicates rarely agree unless they are faked.
> Thus I may mate two brother black mice, both sons of a black father
> and a white mother, with two white sisters, and one will beget 10 black
> and 15 white young; the other 15 black and 10 white.  To the ingenuous
> biologist this appears to be a bad agreement.  A mathematician will
> tell him that where the same ratio of black to white is expected
> in each family, so large a discrepancy ... will occur in about 26%
> of all cases.  If the mathematician is a rigorist he will say the
> same thing a little more accurately in a great many more words.

So if one is dealing with systems which
are much smaller than Avogadro's number,
then a god has a good deal of leeway [2]
in realizing outcomes which differ from
the expectation value [3].


:: :: ::

[0] strictly speaking, that is another
straw man: to hold up "Heraclitean Flux"
as an opposite of Platonic Forms.  From
the viewpoint of observing statistical
regularity in an otherwise unrepeating
world, I prefer the translation which
says that one can step into the same
river, but different water flows.  Can
anyone tell with which formulation the
greek best agrees?
> potamoisi toisin autoisin embainousin
> etera kai etera udata epirrei

[1] Haldane, "The Faking of Genetical Results", Eureka, 1941
For the math involved in faking up the
chi-squares, check the portion quoted
on kragen-discuss: "more random stuff"
(Claude Shannon built the "outguessing"
markov machine mentioned)

[2] parting a sea, or bathing a hero in
radiance as they gain glory by getting
the other guy to give it (much like the
hilighted "power-up" indication in old
side scroll shooters), is just the kind
of miracle one doesn't want showing up
in one's dissertation.  A subtle Lord,
however, could overthrow a kingdom by
distracting a farrier during a clinch
("for want of a nail..."), or cause a
major cyclone (driving reinsurers to
run screaming to their mothers) with a
well timed butterfly wing flap. [4]

[3] "the race is not always to the swift"

[4] men, as well as gods, can use these
techniques.  Modern control systems may
deliberately run in a chaotic regime to
increase responsiveness, and Jefferson
noted that in council:
> I never heard [Washington or Franklin] speak ten minutes at a time,
> nor to any but the main point which was to decide the question. They
> laid their shoulders to the great points, knowing that the little
> ones would follow of themselves.