Tag Archives: science

The Big Picture by Sean Carroll

God, you little devil.

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Sean Carroll’s The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself is a primer for the state of science today. But at the heart of book lies a core belief and explanation for poetic naturalism. Just what is poetic naturalism? Here’s Carroll in an interview with WIRED’s Eric Niiler:

Atheism is a reaction against theism. It is purely a rejection of an idea. It’s not a positive substantive idea about how the world is. Naturalism is a counterpart to theism. Theism says there’s the physical world and god. Naturalism says there’s only the natural world. There are no spirits, no deities, or anything else. Poetic naturalism emphasizes that there are many ways of talking about the natural world. The fact that the underlying laws of physics are deterministic and impersonal does not mean that at the human level we can’t talk about ideas about reasons and goals and purposes and free will. So poetic naturalism is one way of reconciling what we are sure about the world at an intuitive level. A world that has children. Reconciling that with all the wonderful counterintuitive things about modern science.

For a layman, Carroll breaks down today’s fundamentals of science to painstaking detail (outside of the use of equations) and builds them back up to something simpler that speak to the justification for poetic naturalism. He dives into physics, philosophy, quantum mechanics, biology, and many other fields. He tackles many questions that are asked from casual daydreamers and the depths of Sci-Fi alike. And it all comes wrapped in an idea that there lies something between atheism and theism.

Carroll strives to pit Science against Theism on an even playing field, or one that’s as level as possible; Modern science challenging the ever shrinking God of the gaps. But for all of Carroll’s scientific professing, he is careful never to discount just how vast the gaps remain. By sheer virtue of his lessons on Bayesian credences, he never shuts out theism entirely, always leaving the door unlocked and possibly cracked open.

We’ll see that the existence of life provides, at best, a small boost to the probability that theism is true—while related features of the universe provide an extremely large boost for naturalism.

Chapters and sections read like deep troughs with a steep decline. As soon as the reader is introduced to a concept, Carroll has them barreling down a chasm at breakneck speed, only to bring them up for air in the last few paragraphs. I understood hardly a lick of the depths, but that’s okay. The meat lies in the simplified 30-percent of the pages. I took the rest as hard scientific justification, in the event the reader has any doubts as where Carroll comes up with these notions.

After 433 pages, Core Theory and quantum mechanics and multiverses and up quarks and down quarks are still a mystery to me. But what I did learn — what I can say without a shadow of a doubt — is with as much as we’ve discovered of the Universe, we still know very little. Maybe that will always be the case. Maybe there will always exist the God of the gaps with those gaps shrinking exponentially, but never quite stamped out.

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EyeWire

Years back, an odd desire to complete a coloring book developed. I never scratched the itch, but I may have just found a solution: EyeWire.

Gareth Cook, The New York Times:

In 2012, Seung started EyeWire, an online game that challenges the public to trace neuronal wiring — now using computers, not pens — in the retina of a mouse’s eye. Seung’s artificial-­intelligence algorithms process the raw images, then players earn points as they mark, paint-by-numbers style, the branches of a neuron through a three-dimensional cube. The game has attracted 165,000 players in 164 countries. In effect, Seung is employing artificial intelligence as a force multiplier for a global, all-volunteer army that has included Lorinda, a Missouri grandmother who also paints watercolors, and Iliyan (a.k.a. @crazyman4865), a high-school student in Bulgaria who once played for nearly 24 hours straight. Computers do what they can and then leave the rest to what remains the most potent pattern-recognition technology ever discovered: the human brain.

Ultimately, Seung still hopes that artificial intelligence will be able to handle the entire job. But in the meantime, he is working to recruit more help. In August, South Korea’s largest telecom company announced a partnership with EyeWire, running nationwide ads to bring in more players. In the next few years, Seung hopes to go bigger by enticing a company to turn EyeWire into a game with characters and a story line that people play purely for fun. “Think of what we could do,” Seung said, “if we could capture even a small fraction of the mental effort that goes into Angry Birds.”

EyeWire is the most addictive and challenging coloring book I have tried. It’s easy to loose track of time while filling in the neuronal wiring, not to mention the increased level of difficulty that follows the tutorial. Bonus: It’s for science!

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‘A Passionate, Limited Core’

MIT lecturer Michael R. Trice on #GamerGate numbers, emphasis his:

In both the case of tweets and RTs about 500 accounts create half of the total volume in the conversation. Regular daily participation floats around 3,000 users. Then there’s a large body of several thousand accounts dipping a toe in the conversation.

This suggests that however organized or unorganized the movement, the conversation around #GamerGate on Twitter has a central core limited to a few hundred highly active accounts. The total mass of the conversation is in the tens of thousands, though over 80% of those members are involved on less than a daily basis.

Interesting case study. Social media can certainly act as a megaphone for tiny groups and individuals. These small groups get even louder when they play to our natural sensitivity toward criticism, threats, and negativity. An 8-year-old kid and sound as legitimate and scary as a group of fully capable 28-year-old adults.

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Sokobond: Chemistry-themed 2D indie puzzle game

This game looks fun, gorgeous and powerful. Coming to Steam on July 21st. Eventually being released on iOS and Android.

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Game Play Has No Negative Impact on Kids, UK Study Finds

Game Play Has No Negative Impact on Kids, UK Study Finds
Games and Learning

Less TV. More games!

Headed into the study, the authors wanted to study both television and video games, arguing that connections with attention disorders, anger and other problems might be connected to both. Still, researchers wondered if “games may have more powerful effects due to active user engagement, identification with characters and repeated rehearsal and reinforcement.”

KEY FINDINGS

– Exposure to video games had no effect on behavior, attention or emotional issues.

-Watching 3 or more hours of television at age 5 did lead to a small increase in behavioral problems in youngsters between 5 and 7.

– Neither television nor video games lead to attentional or emotional problems.

– There was no difference between boys and girls in the survey results.

In my own experience, the participatory nature of video games adds stress, problem solving, and exploratory functions that can enhance one’s imagination. Speaking for myself (and hopefully many others), I feel that this medium has helped flesh-out ones creative passions be it storytelling, pattern assessment, communication, and/or technical know-how. ‘

As I am currently writing a book, I have found it easiest to open up a world by envisioning how I would explore a video game. I am able to more effectively envision the world through a first or third person view by relying on the mechanics that have been built into some of my favorite video games. The ability to attach myself to video game characters has had a profound impact on my writing abilities. My book may or may not be very good but the ease of writing it has been nurtured by a lifetime of gaming.

How have you benefitted from gaming?

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