Monday, 24 October 2016

What ought to be done?

What we are forced to ask every now and then is, what do we truly want?

This question kind of contains all meaningful questions concerning morality, ethics, right and wrong and in general all conceivable oughts. Even when we ask if we have the right to decide this for some other species, we're simply asking what we truly want - what kind of rights we wish to grant the other species. It's all on us whether we want it or not.
Of course we also have to ask ourselves more specific questions like what we want as a group or as a species and at the same time what we want as individuals, but these are simply extension of the "other species". These are the only meaningful prescriptive questions. Even if you're a religious person, the situation doesn't change very much. Your deity might act as an additional source of prescription to you and you might think you have access to their prescription as a description, but I posit that you are still faced with the exact same questions as the rest of us who don't believe. You need to ask yourself how you wish to value your supposed deity's prescription and determine what, if any, describes your deity's prescription most accurately. It's all on you. Even the methods are exactly the same, your very own reason and judgement.

What is the origin of their will and motivation ultimately? Why they feel thighs ought to be one way instead of the other? My limited understanding is that our motivation is a result of natural selection, history of our species, our personal histories and partly because of the history of our societies. However, going back even further, it would appear that these are simply arbitrary coincidences, some of which have served our species well in the battle for survival, some less so.

These are arbitrary preferences. Generally people prefer to continue to exist and avoid suffering for example, but what is generally considered moral varies from group to group and the extent that it doesn't vary, appears to be mostly simply due to our biological similarity.

Knowing this does not limit us from acknowledging the consequences, for example, we understand it is likely in our interest to grant certain degree of equality to other people, given we don't know how our own lives are going to evolve. We might be the other people one day. It's like gambling, but for a rational person, it's not really gambling, it's investing. It could fail, but it's still better to play the stock market than it is to play the lottery.

Unavoidable conflicts between dissimilar groups are perfectly expected, but luckily most groups are at least somewhat rational and optimize by compromising. However, it is conceivable that conflicts that cannot be solved by negotiation might emerge. These are normally called wars and the worst ones are about survival and extermination rather than anything that could be reasoned.

Once we've determined what we want as a species, we only need to figure out how to best approach that goal. There basically exists only a single method to answer these question for us - science. Science is nothing more than a name for the rational process of fishing out the best model out of all the possible descriptions out there by any means imaginable. Science gives us a description of the universe including its inhabitants - us, and tells us how to best achieve our goals and what outcomes to expect given specific choices. It doesn't tell us what we ought to do. That task is left for us.

Every decision has consequences, typically both good and bad, often unavoidable. There are many ways to make a decision, none of which are necessarily any better than the other. We can aim for least suffering, most pleasure, least boredom, maximized fairness, longest life, maximum number of lives, maximum knowledge, maximum safety, etc. Many of these are mutually exclusive. Most pleasure could mean most suffering. Longest life could mean most boring life. Least suffering almost certainly means minimum number of lives. We can expect negative consequences due to our decisions as well as positive, there will almost certainly always be some of both. Maximizing the number of people is not going to maximize the quality of life for an individual, it might not even maximize the total sum of happiness. Not to mention it probably won't maximize the long term total sum considering all the generations to come who will have to live a life of scarcity when resources have been depleted by the previous generations. Some alternatives are obviously excluded, like maximum suffering. Although, it's not entirely clear we know how to do this either, because what is bad for the humanity now, might be good for the humanity later if we manage to save the planet and its resources for times when they can be more efficiently used. Economic growth tends towards faster depletion and increased rate of destruction. Diseases limit the number of people and save the environment. None of these alternatives are trivially good or bad. Never the less, to deny the nature of this answer, not to mention the existence of these questions and knowledge concerning them is to deny the truth and to deny who we are. We know that doing one thing now will favor some and hurt some others. Not deciding has its own consequences as well. That is the nature of the game. We shouldn't just ignore it.

Friday, 21 October 2016

The barrier has begun to yield

The following papers might have tremendous implications for astronomy as they imply telescopes far beyond our current ones can be built without making them any larger. In other words, they've beaten the diffraction limit, even for incoherent astronomical light sources.

In case you're unfamiliar with the diffraction limit, for telescopes it says that the ultimate limit for angular resolution is a function of the used wavelength and diameter of the used focusing element. For a microscope their resolution is a function of the wavelength and the index of refraction. That's why astronomical telescopes tend to be huge and microfabrication uses shorter wavelengths.
We already knew superlenses existed, but they were mostly limited to near field. Spatial-mode demultiplexing on the other hand can be utilized to beat the diffraction limit in the far field as well. While not entirely surprising, it's not everyday news. I can't wait to buy a telescope that allows me to see the footprints on the moon (likely not going to happen anytime soon).

This method has some similarities to Fourier transforms in a way that is decomposes the spatial modes of the electromagnetic field into orthogonal components that not only carry information about the amplitude, but phase as well.
Here's an unrelated figure.
Subdiffraction incoherent optical imaging via spatial-mode demultiplexing

"The seemingly infinite enhancement offered by SPADE does not imply unlimited resolution for finite photon numbers. Provided that enough photons can be collected, however, the giant improvements over direct imaging should still be useful."

Far-field linear optical super-resolution via heterodyne detection in a higher-order local oscillator mode

"If our technique is used with state-of-the art microscopes, precision on nanometer scales can be expected."

Achieving the ultimate optical resolution

"Our results stress that diffraction resolution limits are not a fundamental constraint but, instead, the consequence of traditional imaging techniques discarding the phase information."

Saturday, 8 October 2016

What can be shown, cannot be said.

When something is "known for certain" and we cannot doubt it, then we cannot truly speak of knowledge. An experience is something like this, it is rather like a simple reaction, an unavoidable brain state dictated by a thin causal chain, a quale (plural: qualia) if you will. Being our brain state, an essential part of what we are, we by definition cannot doubt its existence any more than we can doubt our own existence. This causal chain is what allows us and in fact forces us to be conscious and experience things, but knowledge is something more complicated.

Being unique to our particular brain states and history, it should not be a big surprise that qualia can never be communicated to others. We are all individuals and live unique lives, and this forbids anyone from truly knowing what it is to be some other individual. We can only communicate our experiences to others by assuming a degree of similarity, but you can never truly tell a blind person what it is like to see and you shouldn't expect to. After all, the causal chain leading to the experience of vision cannot be the same for the blind person as it is for the one seeing. Simply telling the physical facts does not reproduce this causal chain and therefore cannot lead to the same brain states.

So experience is an integral brain state to the existence of our consciousness, but existence of that state does not represent the nature of reality or fundamental truth underlying all of existence in any obvious way besides perhaps simply by existing. Qualia alone tells you nothing about the underlying reality. Like an apple falling from the tree, it has no particular meaning before meaning is assigned to it by a consciousness for example by using complicated correlations and words like apple, fall, tree and such that point to some interpretation, model, history, reoccurring experience and most of the time the ability to share these experiences to certain degree with other similar creatures of our kind.

Experience cannot be said to be primary or secondary representation of truth without interpreting the experience, and immediately when an interpretation is made, a claim is made. Something is said using some kind of language and the claim becomes subject to doubt. By building beliefs which are consistent with each other, i.e. increasing coherence, we are building knowledge.

All knowledge is uncertain, if it isn't uncertain, it isn't knowledge - only a reaction. We can never be sure of what the fundamental nature of the universe is simply based on our experience, but this does not prevent us from playing the game by building coherence. This has undeniable utility and allows us to experience a life much more diverse than that of a mere reacting puppet, even if we fundamentally still are only some kind of puppets of the "second degree", without true free will, but at least we're no longer simple puppets of the "first degree".


It is suggested that quantum entanglement emerges from the holographic principle stating that all of the information of a region (bulk bits) can be described by the bits on its boundary surface. There are redundancy and information loss in the bulk bits that lead to the nonlocal correlation among the bulk bits. Quantum field theory overestimates the independent degrees of freedom in the bulk.