The rational skeptic world view

Humans have always tried to make sense of the world we live in. We have always tried to come up with simple explanations that covers what we see. From the four elements and a flat earth inside a dome to a spherical earth and a heliocentric world view, our view of the world has evolved. But the quest has always been to come up with a complete and consistent model that will explain all of existence. Just like Newton’s classical physics. He viewed the world as clockwork obeying a complete and consistent set of physical laws. And when those laws didn’t quite fit the bill, Einstein extended this quest with his theories of relativity. His goal was to come up with a grand unifying theory that could be encompassed in an equation no longer than two inches.

Einstein’s famous discussion with Niels Bohr where the former exclaimed “God does not play dice” was his rejection of the spookiness of quantum mechanics. This branch of physics seemed to destroy the quest to unearth a model for an ultimately orderly and rational, complete and consistent world.

And despite the hints like Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, the Double Slit Experiment and Bell’s theorem, some physicists still believe in a deterministic world where everything is neatly explained and codified.

Graphics by Geir Isene

Had they only looked to mathematical philosophy and seen the same quest fail there. At the start of the 20th century, there was this adventure in mathematics where the major thinkers of that field tried to codify all of mathematics into neat axioms and rules to rule’em all. But alas, Kurt Gödel shot it all down with his Incompleteness Theorems. And decidedly so. There cannot be any complex axiomatic system that is both complete and consistent. And to those who would like to believe that the universe we can observe is all that can be, mathematics is a subset of our universe. And as the universe is then a superset of mathematics, then the universe itself cannot be both consistent and complete. And that has some profound implications that I will cover in a OnePageBook sometime in the future.

Now, what prompted me to again delve into this? I was inteviewed by Aaron Smith-Levin the other day, and one of the comments on the resulting Youtube video read:

“Geir, so much of your world view hinges on the “law” a system cannot be both complete and stable, including the large conclusion that humans are spiritual beings, have you ever questioned the conclusion on systems, and if the conclusion about systems were the opposite, would you conclude you are not a spiritual being? If you were not a spiritual being, would you feel you should adapt the rational skeptic world view?”

To which I answered:

“The proof that complex axiomatic systems cannot be both consistent and complete is among the most solid mathematical achievements in human history. It’s irrefutable. So is the double slit experiment, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and Bell’s theorem. There is nothing rational about refuting any of these. They all point in the direction of consciousness being non-physical. Read my OnePageBook in free will for details: https://isene.me/2017/07/17/free-will-do-you-really-have-a-choice/”

Just like the old, classical Newtonian world view was naive, I believe the modern “rational skeptic world view” to be equally naive.

As for the rest of the interview, here it is:

Creating the AstroCalc

My requirements: Being able to do astronomical calculations while observing through my telescope during cold nights while not hurting my night vision.

With a smart phone, I’d have to use touch gloves or take off my gloves to press “buttons” on the screen. And then I’d have the hassle of filter programs to dim the screen and make it red to keep it from impacting my night vision.

With my HP-41, I’d have to use a led light to see the screen.

But with an old red led calculator, I could get all my requirements at once. Except there are few of these old pre-1980 calculators that would be capable of doing all the calculations I need; Date -> Julian Date -> Date, Sun rise/set, Moon rise/set, Moon Phase, Field of View calculations fro various eyepieces, etc. Fiddling with magnetic cards for the HP-67 would not be ideal.

hp-25e

HP-25E to the rescue! Bernhard Emese (Panamatik) has created a true piece of art with his “brain transplant” for the old HP-25 calculators. His HP-25E boast a 100x increase in programming memory, on-board GPS with time, Latitude, Longitude, heading, speed and more as well as a stop watch, chess clock, hexadecimal conversion and much, much more. It’s the ideal calculator for my requirements. Except it still had only 50 program steps memory per program. Although it had the possibility of storing 100 HP-25 programs in a constant memory (not lost when you turn the calc off – unlike the original HP-25), you couldn’t write programs with more than 50 steps. And this was way too small for the programs I need.

Talking to Berhard about the possibility of “stringing together” different “pages” of 50 program steps, we came up with a neat way of solving this issue. By using some available rare codes, the HP-25E can now jump between various programs – potentially creating programs with thousands of programming steps.

hp-25e_open

And so I embarked on the journey of creating the AstroCalc – the ideal tool for the amateur astronomer. So far, the GitHub repository only includes the calculation of Julian Date from a date and time and the backward conversion, from Julian Date to date and time. With the HP-25E’s possibility of constantly updating the time, this makes writing down the exact Julian Date on my observations a breeze.

I will add the Sun/Moon rise/set, Moon Phase and eyepiece calculations soon. Just check my HP-25E_astro Github page for updates.

I fucking love this calc.

HP-41: The Periodic Table of Chemical Elements

Have your HP-41 right where it should be (in your hand) and unable to find the Internetz to look up nifty details of obscure chemical elements? Worry no more, the solution is here, the HP-41 program, “PERIOD”.

14LaAc_periodic_table_IIb

The program will display:

  • Atomic number, Name and Symbol
  • Group, Period and Block
  • Atomic Weight
  • Property (Alkali metal, Noble Gas, etc.)
  • Type (Gas, Liquid, Solid or Unknown)
  • Occurrence in nature (Primordial, From Decay, Synthetic)
  • Melting Point, Boiling Point (in Kelvin)
  • Year of discovery (“OLD” if known in ancient times)
  • Electron Configuration
  • Atomic Radius (empirical and calculated)
  • Origin (Big Bang, Cosmic Rays, Small & Large Stars, Large Stars, Large Stars & Super Nova, Super Nova and Man Made)

You will find the ROM pages, program listing and element details on the Github project page. It is also included in the HP Museum’s “HP-41C Software Library“. Enjoy 🙂

Is the universe infinite?

I have been returning to this question lately – and I see three possible answers:

  1. The universe is finite
  2. The universe is infinite
  3. The universe is “infinitely finite”

hubble

Option 1 introduces an “edge problem” where the particles at the end of the universe will have interacting forces on only one side. If this option is true, the universe started out as point-like Big Bang, satisfying the requirements for a Black Hole.

If Option 2 is true, the universe has always been infinite since nothing can go from finite to infinite (or vice versa). It started out as infinitely large and very dense at the Big Bang, satisfying the requirements for a Black Hole at all areas of space.

Option 3 would be similar to moving on Earth’s surface – if you move straight in one direction, you eventually circle the Earth and end up where you started. The universe could be a 3 dimensional space residing in a higher dimensional space – if you travel in one direction, you would never reach an edge. Instead you can end up back where you started (given that the higher dimensional space is a uniform “sphere”). The universe could have started out as a small 4D+ space.

I can’t for the moment see other options. Please pitch in with your own views.

One question that often pop up with an infinite universe is this: “If the universe is infinite, would everything that can happen be bound to happen – and an infinitely amount of times?”. The usual answer when you Google this is “Yes.” The answer is the same for “If you throw a dice an infinite number of times, must you eventually roll a six? Must you in fact roll an infinite number of sixes?”

While it may be intuitively correct to answer “yes” to these questions, the answer is in fact wrong. Here’s why:

Consider the natural numbers 1, 2, 3, …

There are infinitely many of them … so 2 must show up more than once, right? Manifestly wrong.

But say we are talking about states of matter in a finite region. This would be modeled by using finitely many numbers, 1, 2, 3, say, and making an infinite list.

1, 2, 3, 1, 3, 1, 3, 1, 3, 1, 3, …

You say 2 must appear again … but it doesn’t. If you have finitely many states and infinitely many trials, all you can say for sure is that at least one state must reappear infinitely many times. But any particular state, such as the state that defines “you” or a pink elephant or a galaxy; might appear zero, one, 47, or infinitely many times.

It’s amazing how many otherwise smart people are fooled into thinking that “in an infinite universe, everything must happen.” This is manifestly false.

So even in an infinite universe, a chance of something specific happening is undecided. This is related to the equation

\frac{\infty}{\infty}

which is mathematically undecided.

The question of whether the universe is finite, infinite or something else poses some interesting questions. And perhaps some interesting answers may arise.