Saturday, June 23, 2018

Science as Art

For my birthday, my oldest daughter gave me the book "Waves Passing In The Night", by Lawrence Weschler, 2017, 176 pages, subtitled "Walter Murch in the Land of the Astrophysicists". She got me both the hardcover and the Kindle versions of the book. I scanned through the hardcover and looked at the pictures and then read the Kindle version so I could annotate passages. The book is a quick and interesting read.

Per Wikipedia, Walter Murch "is an American film editor and sound designer. With a career stretching back to 1969, including work on Apocalypse Now, The Godfather I, II, and III, American Graffiti, The Conversation, and The English Patient, with three Academy Award wins (from nine nominations: six for picture editing and three for sound mixing), he has been referred to as "the most respected film editor and sound designer in the modern cinema."" He is also an amateur astrophysicist, and this book is the story of him trying to get professional astrophysicists interested in revisiting the mostly discredited 18th century Titius-Bode's Law, which predicts the positions of planets' orbits in the solar system. Bode's Law largely was assigned to the dustbin of history when Neptune was discovered in an orbit completely at odds with the law.

Murch seems like a very bright and creative guy. He helped develop the now ubiquitous Dolby 5.1 sound system with George Lucas. He carries a knapsack filled with "fortune cookie fortunes". 9 are given, this was my favorite:

Music is the pleasure the human soul experiences from counting without being aware that it is counting. — GOTTFRIED LEIBNIZ
There is a a lot of interesting material on ancient ideas including the Music of the Spheres. I had never heard of the quadrivium.
From Pythagorean antiquity through the Middle Ages and well into the Renaissance, all learned gentlemen (and they were all mainly gentlemen) were steeped in the fourfold classical curriculum known as the quadrivium, which is to say, arithmetic (pure number), geometry (number in space), music (number in time), and astronomy (number in space and time).
I liked this new word: apophenia - "“The widespread tendency of human beings to see patterns where there are no patterns.”" Ah, Wikipedia says our old friend Confirmation Bias "is a variation of apophenia", and lists another old friend, pareidolia, as its 1st example of apophenia.

There has always been opposition to the acceptance of Bode's Law. Carl Friederich Gauss, the 18th century "Mozart of Mathematics", raised 3 objections, the last 2 being

Gauss observed that, furthermore, Titius and Bode were dealing with just too few “planets” (eight) from which to derive a reliable law— any chance arrangement of a small number of objects (coins tossed on a table, birds singing on a tree branch), he argued, could be accounted for if you allowed yourself, as Bode and Titius had, a sufficient number of arbitrary constants.

Finally, there didn’t appear to be any physical explanation for why this clunky formula might be playing out in the actual physical world.

But Murch still forges ahead. He feels like his expertise with sound gave him insight into something that maybe was a resonance-based phenomenon, like musical harmony is. He applies Bode's law to Jupiter and Saturn's moons, and to some of the data on the new non-solar planetary systems being discovered by observatories like the Kepler satellite.

But, there are so many exceptions that the acrobatics required to try to make things work reminded me of the epicycles of earth-centric theories of the solar system. Munch theorizes the existence of some form of standing wave around gravitational bodies. This is evocative, but as 1 of the astrophysicists who reluctantly engages with Munch points out, if there were such standing waves in the metric, they would have to throw off all satellite communications, both nearby such as GPS, and far away, such as our spacecraft exploring the outer solar system. But then Munch finds an article saying that there are some discrepancies in GPS signals, so off we go again.

Several of the astrophysicists with whom Munch does succeed in engaging seem sympathetic, but, in the end, rightfully dismissive. Here is the conclusion of Lee Smolin of the Perimeter Institute of Toronto, who seemed to be very sympathetic to Munch and his efforts.

My sense is that Walter has done just about as well as any lay person could do, without the tools and discipline instilled by succeeding in a Ph.D program. The main thing a professional life in science teaches is that almost every idea is wrong. [my bold] All of us who work in science have seen most or all of our cherished, beautiful ideas fail. This is the tragic element of a life in science. Few are immune. What a life in science teaches one is that science is really, really, really hard to do right.

The main mistake Walter is making is to stay in love with his first idea. Only when you have seen your first 20 or 50 ideas die do you begin to appreciate what it means to have a good scientific idea. This is why laypeople like Walter never succeed in contributing to science— they cannot give up their first ideas.

The second mistake Walter is making is to underestimate the likelihood that a flexible theory can be invented and adjusted to fit random data, even when it is based on wrong ideas. This, unfortunately, happens all the time in medical science. If one has 100 factors to try to correlate with a disease, and one requires 95% probability for a match to be taken as a result, then at least five of them will appear to fit, just by chance. The literature of science and medicine is full of ideas that had some success at a 95% or even 99% level, but on further examination were found to be wrong.

Every year we see “discoveries” of new particles in experiments at the 95% or 99% level, which is to say better than Bode’s law does, which go away when larger data sets are taken. This is why the standard for discovery in particle physics is five sigma (one chance in 3 million of arising by chance). Even so, last year there was a five sigma “discovery” in cosmology that got lots of attention before it was shown that the effect could be explained by reflection off of dust in our own galaxy.

Bode’s law has if I understand right three free parameters. There were initially six known planets. The right question to ask is how likely is it someone could have invented a rule with three free parameters that fit six numbers. The answer is that given that there are a vast number of simple patterns with three parameters, the probability that something like Bode’s law could have been found to match random planetary orbits is close to one. And given Neptune, and the 50% success rate with some systems and the 5% success rate with other systems, the law has done about as poorly as could be expected were it an accidental fit, fine tuned to a small data set.

When a hypothesis works in half the new cases, or when it has a five percent success rate against a new data set, the right conclusion to draw is that the hypothesis is wrong. We must throw such ideas away if science is to be a source of reliable knowledge, and progress.

Note that Smolin has been critical of science becoming too inbred. In 2006 he published a book titled "The Trouble With Physics", which was critical of string theory. Weschler references these objections, and recalls how at the start of the Enlightenment, a lot of scientists were amateurs.

But, that was 250 years ago, we have moved beyond that now. Towards the end of the book, I found myself getting a little annoyed with the degree to which Weschler seems to have drunk Munch's kool-aid.

This brings me to the title of this post. Maybe we need something new to call what Munch is doing. It's not science - he simply doesn't have the training or math. But it is interesting and pretty. Who doesn't love a good pattern, even if there is nothing particularly fundamental underlying it?

So, maybe "science-art"? Googling "science as art" brings up shows and competitions for the prettiest pictures generated by science via microscopes, etc. "Science-fiction" and "science-fantasy" are already spoken for. There must be a good word for this. Maybe Aimee Mann can inspire us ...

A quick and enjoyable read, with several FFTKAT. Thanks Erica!

Tuesday, June 19, 2018


With this post, I think I'm going to get mostly caught up on music in. _Unrated smart playlist in iTunes is only at 111 songs.

But 1st, a music out update. From June 1 to June 5 I played 3 paying gigs: with Steve & Chris at J. Render's Friday, filling in in the house band for Dane Sadler at the Squires Tavern Sunday jam, and in the house band at the Tuesday's Sherman House Blues Jam at Lynagh's. I have been 2nd guitarist of record st the Tuesday Jam for a few weeks now, with Brent Carter on the other guitar, Matt Noell (whose gig it is) on bass, and Roger Barber on drums.

So, we did Purple Rain last week and everybody seemed to like it. I figured we'd close out the night with it again. We get like 4 lines in & the bar owner, our patroness Amy, walks up to me and says "I love you guys to death, but no Purple Rain". So we stopped ?!?!? Really kind of freaked me out. A mental blow of some sort - plus I suspect that this songus interruptus is going to leave "Purple Rain" stuck in my head for days. And what about 1A?

I just had a birthday, I'm 67 now, at some point I'm assuming I will be too old to keep going out and playing blues and rock in bars - this made me think maybe it's time to quit - or maybe to quit playing at Lynagh's. I think it's at least 1 strike.

Music in, let's see what we got. I have determined that in general it takes a max of 4 listens to rate an album.

  • "Soul of a Woman", Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, 2017. Is the 1st posthumous album I've rated? Ms. Jones death was untimely. This album is as good as her others - open up a can of funk. 4 stars. Here's "Searching for a New Day".

  • "Diamonds", JOHNNYSWIM, 2014. Not sure where I found this. A male/female singing duo out of LA. Very listenable. I had this as 4 stars, but I couldn't find a track I liked enough to include here, so, 3 stars
  • "Utopia", Björk, 2017. The world's greatest living composer. She has recently done themes for albums: all brass, all voices. This one has lots of woodwinds, but also songs without them. Like this one, "Arisen My Senses". What a weird-ass video. Wow, this woman is such a genius. 4 stars.

  • "The Greatest Gift", Sufjan Stevens, 2017. This album has both remixes and new material. Several of the remixes are some of my fav of his songs, so 4 stars, because I really enjoy his music. He was raised in some sort of christian cult, sometimes he seems to be carrying some of it with him. Several of his songs reference "the cross". Here's the short title tune.

  • "Tribute To 2", Jim James, 2017. Mr. James is the leader of the most successful band in KY history, My Morning Jacket, out of Louisville. I was confused. I thought this was a "tribute to" 2 artists. But, no, he earlier released "Tribute To", a general "old standards" type album, this was the 2nd edition of that concept. None of the songs really work much for me. 3 stars.
  • "How To Solve Our Human Problems (Part 1)", Belle & Sebastian, 2017. Only 5 tracks. 4 stars. Since they upped their energy level a little while back, I have liked their stuff a lot more. Here's "We Were Beautifil".

  • "I can feel you creep into my private life", Tune-Yards, 2018. 4 stars. Still not as good as her 1st album but better than the last. Here's the 1st track, "Heart Attack".

  • "My Life in the Bush of Ghosts", Brian Eno/David Byrne, 2006. Byrne describes this album almost as a sound-effect-making effort in his book "How Music Works", reviewed/summarized here. It is odd to listen too, but its 17 tracks will be something different when they come up individually on shuffle play. 3 stars.
  • "Always Ascending", Franz Ferdinand, 2018. A good album, but they are a bit brash for me at this state. 3 stars. However I did like the song "Huck and Jim": "We're coming to america, we're going to tell them about the NHS."
  • "Everything Was Beautiful, and Nothing Hurt", Moby, 2018. Moby writes such beautiful stuff. 4 stars. Here's "Like a Motherless Child".

  • "Nudes", Lucius & guests, 2018. 4 stars. I still like their songs best when the guys get to sing too. They do a cover of "Right Down The Line". Here's "Tempest".

  • "Yellow House", Grizzly Bear, 2006. 4 stars. I mentioned to my drummer nephew Max how Grizzly Bear was probably my favorite "new" band. He questioned the "new" - well, new to me anyway. He referenced this early Grizzly Bear album as one he listened to a lot Back In The Day - thanks Max. A lot of this sounds more like Department of Eagles than Grizzly Bear - that offshoot continues to be a source of confusion to me. Here's "Lullabye".

  • "Valleys of Neptune", Jimi Hendrix, 2010. 4 stars. In March "Both Sides of the Sky", a posthumous album of unreleased recordings came out to generally good reviews. I learned that this was the 3rd album like this that had been produced. So I decided to go back to the 1st 1, "Valleys of Neptune" and work up to the latest. I liked a version of "Sunshine of Your Love". Here's the title track.

  • "American Utopia", David Byrne, 2018. 4 stars. Byrne continues to produce great albums. Here's "Every Day Is A Miracle".

  • "The First Sip", Whilk & Misky, 2014. 4 stars. 4 tracks. The Goddess of YouTube decided I should see the 1st track of this album after something else I had requested. What a great tune! Plus I love the mouth trumpet. Steve & Chris has added this song to our book. The band is a duo of white guys out of London. Here's that 1st track, "Clap Your Hands". This is a great video too.

  • "My Round", Whilk & Misky, 2017, 4 stars. Those 4 tracks weren't enough, this album has 6 more. Here's "Oh Brother (featuring Nia Wyn)".

  • "Clean", Soccer Mommy, 2018. 4 stars. I bought this album by mistake. Soccer Mommy was playing at The Burl and I really enjoyed the 1st act, Madeline Kenney (see below). So I went to the table and brought a CD - for the headliner. Regardless, I have enjoyed it. Very laid back indy rock type stuff. Here's "Last Girl".

  • "Sex & Food", Unknown Mortal Orchestra, 2018. I think I got referred to this album because I liked Tame Impala - basically a 1-man Austraiian band - and UMO is a 1 man New Zealand band. 4 stars. Very creative, particularly on the orchestration. Here's "Hunnybee", with a tasty opening guitar lick followed by a disco beat.

  • "The Cloud And The Clearing", My Brother's Keeper, 2017. I saw these guys at the Twisted Cork open mic and at Willie's Locally Known. Very tight and clean 3-piece bluegrass. Got the album and, listening, found every song to be pushing serious theist propaganda. Ugh. 2 stars.
  • "Let's Make Love", Brazilian Girls, 2018. 4 stars. 13 tracks. Better than their last couple of efforts. Wow, it's been 10 years since their last album. Great dance music. Here's the 1st track, "Pirates".

  • "Treasures from the Temple", Thievery Corporation, 2018. 4 stars. 12 tracks. What a great mix of influences these guys put together, particularly the reggae. Here's "Water Under The Bridge (featuring Natalia Clavier)".

  • "Night Night At The First Landing", Madeline Kenney, 2017. 4 stars except for 1 track I didn't like. This the woman who opened for Soccer Mommy (see above). After I figured out I hadn't bought her album, I found it online and downloaded it. She was playing a Strat largely on the low strings, with a female drummer and a male bass player. Some really unique sounds, in a fairly laid back indy rock framework. Here's "Rita".

  • "Dirty Computer", Janelle Monáe. 2018. 4 stars. 14 tracks. She has such great concepts, but I don't think the tunes on this album are as catchy as some of her prior work. Here's a nice dance number, "Make Me Feel".

  • "Last Man Standing", Willie Nelson, 2018. 4 stars. This got good reviews, and us old guys got to stick together. Damn, Willie is 85. I will buy all his albums from here on out. I like the lyrics to the title track: "I don't want to be the last man standing. But, wait a minute, maybe I do."

  • "7", Beach House, 2018. 3 stars. A review of this said "Finally an album you can listen to with other people rather than just by yourself". Still seemed a little too laid back for me.
  • Eponymous, Rage Against The Machine, 1992. 4 stars. My FL friend Joe Fink (drummer) posted a cover of "Wake Up" by Brass Against The Machine. What a strong video. This is the music from the end of the 1st Matrix movie, when Neo flies off into the sunset. Strong female singer, good guitar player, drummer, horn section of sousaphone, bari sax, 2 trombones, 2 trumpets. I really seem to hear a bass guitar, but can't spot a bass player in the video. The Rage Against The Machine album is a lot brasher than I usually listen too, but it is great stuff.

    The message of this song is so topical now. But this song originally came 26 years ago. So the line at the end "How long? Not long!" has not played out. A little discouraging. But, still, we gots to keep on keepin' on, and fight the old lizards.

Wow, 26 albums, and we are current through the end of May! FTW!

Monday, June 11, 2018

This Time For Sure

Posted as a comment to this article:
Look. Capitalism has worked. The world is awash in capital. We used to have tons of nature & not much capital, now we have tons of capital but a rapidly diminishing amount of nature.

Since the 1950s we have been in a post scarcity economy - else the marketing industry would not be spending $$$B to convince people to buy things they don't need.

There's plenty to go around, for the whole world. We just need to thank capitalism for the great job it did accumulating capital and then adopt an accounting system that changes our score keeping algorithms to where everyone wins, not just the .01%.

The filthy rich will still be filthy rich. We may not even need to go to the punitive 95% tax levels of the 1950s - the greatest decade ever, right, old white people?

Money is software. We can literally say "OK, everyone is rich now!" and make it work. Everybody won't get a McMansion. but, we can have universal health care; universal education, academic or trades, to whatever level you are capable of; universal basic income; universal capital access; and NO HUNGRY CHILDREN WITH STUNTED BRAIN GROWTH.

I've said this so many times, I think I keep on doing it periodically because I hope that at some point I will state it perfectly and it will go viral and everyone will say "Yes! That's easy! Let's change our post-scarcity economy into a post-scarcity utopia!"

You know though, the biggest problem may be the need that some people seem to have, that there be people that they can look down on. Come on, folks, can't we get past that?!?!?

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

7 Down, 34 To Go

My Unread shelf in the Kobo eBook app on my iPad was up to 41 books, so I decided binge some science fiction.

1st up, "Overclocked", by Cory Doctorow, 2016, 388 pages. 8 most excellent stories mostly dealing with computing and artificial intelligence, which Doctorow totally gets. I particularly liked a couple of stories that feature robots who were programmed to obey Asimov's 3 Laws of Robotics and robots who weren't. "The Man Who Sold The Moon", I had already read in the excellent "Heiroglyph" collection, blogged here. I didn't reread it.

Next up, "Null States", by Malka Older, 2017, 432 pages. The sequel to "Infomocracy", blogged here. So the system of micro-democracy proposed in "Infomocracy" may not be working out. Plus ninjas. Almost all the major characters are women, plus it has the same international feel as "Infomacracy". All in all a page turner.

Next up, "Head On", by John Scalzi, 2818, 336 pages. The sequel to "Lock In", blogged here. People with consciousness locked into their bodies (Hayden syndrome) who escape into VR and robot bodies. The same characters as "Lock In", the Hayden FBI agent and his bad-cop-from-hell partner. A snappy police procedural, definitely a page turner.

Next, 3 short pieces by Scalzi. He sells these for $0.99 or occassionally $1.99, which is more than you would pay for them in a short story collection. It's probably a nice supplemental income for Scalzi, and they are usually pretty amusing. They were:

Finally, "Infinity Wars", edited by Jonathan Strahan, 2017, 356 pages. Apparently Strahan has done a number of collections with "Infinity" in the title. This is 15 short stories set in the future concerning war. I was around 1/2 way through before there started being some interesting stories. The 1 that really stood out was "Weather Girl", by E.J. Swift, about US info-warriors using cyber-warfare to hide climate crisis induced weather events from their future victims so as to maximize the damage. Horrifying and cynical to a level reminiscent of Frederick Pohl. I have ordered Ms. Swift's latest novel, "Paris Adrift".

It looks like the 35th Year's Best Science Fiction will be the last. Gardner Dozois died May 27, 2018. Reading that collection has been an annual ritual for ... 35 years. I'm not sure if I'll pick a new annual collection to read or not.

I'm on the magazine stack for June now. I think more sci-fi up next, still need to get that Unread shelf down to size.