Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The guy who created the universe

A great divide runs through the world. On one side you have people who insist that they love Jesus and that you should too, or who prostrate themselves toward of Mecca several times daily, wear a hijab and/or grow out their beards and mustaches. The bearded and mustachioed women among them generally prefer to wear a burqa instead, and who can blame them. On the other side you have those who consider themselves educated, and therefore enlightened, and who look down upon the Jesus-lovers. They generally decline to do the same for the Muslims, at least in public, out of political correctness. Instead of finding succor and solace in their faith, this latter group seeks to achieve the same effect by popping pills.

I believe that I am in a position to help bridge this gap because I have spent a lifetime on both sides of it without experiencing any cognitive dissonance. On the one hand, I am an engineer by training and had a career in high energy physics designing equipment for experiments that tried to find out whether protons decay, why there is so much more matter than antimatter in the universe, and just how precisely can we measure a certain physical constant before the project runs out of money. On the other hand, I am ordained as Reader in the Orthodox Church, know how to chant in Church Slavonic and am generally conversant with the culture and the rituals of Orthodox Christianity. In the interest of helping people understand each other better, I want to try to bridge this gap by posing and answering a few probing questions such as: “Who is this God character anyway?”, “Does it make any sense to say that God either does or does not exist?”, “How can we prove that our faith in science isn’t blind?” and “No matter what we believe, aren’t we all delusional anyway?”

Read more… [2,618 words]

Monday, March 20, 2017

Going into hiding...

For the past couple of weeks I have been hiding behind a paywall. This has been working out quite well. First, I have stemmed the flow of effluent known as "blog comments" from evil-wishers. Good riddance! Second, I have an incentive to work on a weekly essay that I didn't have before. Lastly, and least importantly, I am no longer speaking truth in public. I am now speaking truth in private. Speaking truth in public is, given the decrepit state of this republic, a seditious act. Thank you for your understanding.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

“A Houseboat that Sails” in the Press

A write-up on Quidnon has been published in Bob Hicks' venerable publication, Messing About in Boats. Enjoy.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

From Hypocrisy to Cynicism

Our wondrous, mysterious universe abounds in sudden changes of state. They can be observed at every scale: huge stars suddenly collapse into black holes; droplets of water suddenly turn into snowflakes. Sometimes such almost instantaneous transitions are induced to good effect: soft iron is transformed into the hard martensite of tool steel; soft graphite is compressed into super-hard industrial diamonds. Whenever such shifts occur, they display one common property: their exact timing is arbitrary, and therefore impossible to predict. Thus, seismologists can predict the direction and the distance of a tectonic shift, but not when it will happen. Even very simple systems studied in carefully controlled laboratory settings, such as tiny sand piles, behave unpredictably. The triggering event may be significant enough to be measurable, or it may be infinitesimally small and thus undetectable. But one observation is valid for all such phenomena: they run their course very quickly relative to the duration of steady-state conditions that precede them.

Such shifts of state are not limited to mechanical systems but also affect behavior of groups of animals. The sound of a single gunshot can cause a flock of birds to fly up or a herd of grazing animals to set off in a stampede. Humans are not immune from such behavior either, and panicked crowds often surge toward the exits, crushing people underfoot. But it is human society, in all of its complexity, that can undergo the most dramatic and impressive shifts of state. Governments crumble, empires collapse, financial pyramids evaporate, and people are left scratching their heads because they can’t identify the triggering event. But just as it doesn’t matter which single snowflake triggers an avalanche, this is irrelevant: the trigger is not the root cause.

As the social order decays, previously equitable arrangements are gradually transformed into blatant swindles. Social tensions build. At some point some relatively insignificant event—these days it might be a tweet, a “hot mike” incident, the death of a public figure—sets off a chain reaction in which nobody wants to fall behind the rest and remain as the last fool to believe in a lie, but numerous people spontaneously opt for a horrible end to the status quo, seeing it as preferable to horror without end.

All of the above qualifies as “hand-waving analysis”—pretty much just words. But I intend to go beyond hand-waving and propose a conceptual model and a technique for analyzing various aspects of societal status quo in order to gauge how close any given society is to the point when a huge effect can ensue from a tiny, arbitrary cause. To this end, I choose to employ a couple of morally and philosophically loaded terms such as hypocrisy, skepticism and cynicism—but I intend to strip them of any moral significance and treat them as purely functional descriptors of psychological mechanisms. The model of society I will use may seem somewhat unsophisticated, but I think that it will suffice for our purpose—which is to be able to spot the situation when a heretofore stable society turns into one “rigged to blow” at any moment and without any warning.

Continue reading…

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

The Real Nuclear Threat

[Please note: all new original content will only be accessible in full to those who pledge a minimum of US$1 per month through Patreon. Worthwhile content doesn't grow on magical content trees, you know. I intend to continue posting every Tuesday.]

On January 26, 2017 the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board has moved up its Doomsday Clock 30 seconds closer to metaphorical midnight, and it now stands at just 2.5 minutes to midnight. Why did the Board decide to make this change? Essentially, “because Donald Trump.” In other news, the Board also observed that although the Paris climate accord is a good thing, the climate is pretty close to midnight as well.

These are very serious people: well-educated, professional, some Nobel Prize winners—in a word, experts. We should trust their word. But then they trust Donald Trump’s word. What gives? Apparently, none of them are experts on Donald Trump. I don’t pretend to be one either, so for the paragraph that follows let me turn it over to my old friend and resident expert on all things Trump, Captain Obvious.

“If you look at Trump’s business dealings, he has been consistently cautious and risk-averse. If you look at his political maneuverings, and glance briefly at his book, The Art of the Deal, you discover that his negotiating technique always involves making an extreme first offer, then seeking compromise. And if you look at his Twitter feed, you discover that he loves to troll people. Have these respected Atomic Scientists been trolled? It would certainly appear that way…”

And so I remain entirely unimpressed by the untestable hypothesis espoused by the atomic experts that Trump’s mouth is capable of moving the minute hand of the doomsday clock. But I am even less impressed by something else: the complete and utter failure of these nuclear sages to understand what the actual nuclear threat is, which is, at this moment, becoming quite extreme. For this they may perhaps be forgiven; if all they do is read and listen to Western media sources, then they would never find out anything about it. Western intelligence sources are no better, seeing as they appear to have been “hacked by the Russians.”

In fact, it would appear that the only way to get an inkling of what’s really going on…

Continue reading…

Eating Your Animals

The message of the recently published book Prosperous Homesteading raises very few objections with most people. Some elements initially surprise, especially those that haven’t received much thought. These include the motto “No farming!”: farming is a business that feeds strangers in exchange for money; a homestead is a family that feeds itself; these concerns are orthogonal. Another element that may be hard to grasp is the entire financial scheme that allows homesteaders to prosper: no debt; no monthly bills; no insurance; only the bare essentials as far as unproductive assets such as a house or a car; few assets at risk. The suggestion that young people should work, save, buy land and start families instead of going to keg parties and cramming for tests while hung over may seem radical to some; but then what about the radical notion that young people should be pushed into the higher education racket, from which a majority of them emerges with few practical skills, uncertain job prospects and a mountain of debt that cannot be discharged through bankruptcy?

Yes, such practical considerations take a while to wrap one’s head around. But another point of confusion comes from an image, apparently held by many, that a homestead is a house with a garden. Homesteading is not gardening. You should certainly eat your vegetables and, since you won’t be shopping for food any more, you should certainly grow plenty of them. Fancy horticultural experiments are not out of the question once the homestead has achieved prosperity—defined as not needing an external source of money—but the basic ingredients for success are water (from rainwater capture), energy (in the form of deadfall harvested from the woodlot) and hay (from hayfields and pasture). These are all free—which is why you shouldn’t pay for them. Energy grows on trees, water falls from the sky, and grass keeps growing… provided you spread manure on the hayfields, and for that you need livestock. Hence, Jeffers concludes, “No livestock—no homestead!”

Friday, March 03, 2017

Interview on Legalise Freedom

Podcast link

Over the past two centuries we have witnessed the wholesale replacement of most previous methods of conducting both business and daily life with new, technologically advanced, more efficient methods, but what exactly is progressive or efficient about this new arrangement is hardly ever examined in depth. If the new ways of doing things are so much better, then we must all be leading relaxed, stress-free, enjoyable lives with plenty of free time to devote to art and leisure activities. But a more careful look at these changes shows us that the rapidly evolving brave new world of gadgets, gizmos and constant connectivity is instead a metastasising matrix of manipulation and control in which we have become slaves to money and machines. Creeping ever closer to outright omniscience, the Technosphere is an emergent intelligence in its own right.

The harm to the environment, society, and our individual lives is plain to see, but is brushed off amid hollow mantras about productivity, progress, and the graven idol of economic growth. Shrinking the Technosphere guides readers through the process of bringing technology down to a manageable number of carefully chosen, essential, well-understood, and controllable elements. It is about regaining the freedom to use technology for our own benefit, and is critical reading for all who seek to get back to a point where technologies assist us rather than control us. The endgame of the Technosphere is total domination; the outcome will be total destruction. But can humanity take back control before digital Armageddon finally dawns?