Arcadian Functor

occasional meanderings in physics' brave new world

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Location: New Zealand

Marni D. Sheppeard

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Problem of Time I

It was possible to tell the precise hour of the day with the aid of a pocket sized device a very long time ago. Hipparchus, who recorded star positions from 147 to 127 BC, is said to have invented the astrolabe, a small plate with fitted dials that uses the position of the sun and stars to tell the time. This required knowledge of trigonometry, which Hipparchus also used to calculate the eccentricity of the orbits of the moon and sun, thereby forcing the Earth to be shifted from the true centre of a circular orbit for the sun.

Astrolabes were used extensively in the Islamic world from the 8th century, and Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi listed many uses for it, from astrology to navigation and surveying. A typical astrolabe has a stereographic projection of the night sky on the base plate, and a dial marked with the main constellations, which can be turned to the setting or rising position. The outer edge of the base is marked with the hours of the day. On the reverse side of the plate is usually a rod with sights, which may be used to determine, for instance, declinations of stars (albeit not very accurately).


Blogger L. Riofrio said...

Great stuff, I own an astrolabe almost exactly likethat one. You would be a good teacher along with doing research.

September 03, 2008 6:01 AM  
Anonymous chimpanzee said...

I was at Jaipur/India, & saw the big "sundials". You probably heard of the Long Now, a modern attempt at time keeping. Building some clock in the Eastern mountains in Nevada. Danny Hillis (clock designer) is the same guy seen in NOVA's episode on R. Feynman. He's the ex Disney VP of Research (now has small think-tank company Applied Minds, renting out bldg from Disney), who might be able to help you in your quest for a Category Theory Inst. He is really into Physics, Computation (where he was a pioneer in Supercomputing), his PhD is in the same field as mine: Artificial Intelligence/Computer Vision/Robotics. If he found out that you (& Lisa Randall/Harvard) were the "key" to a revolutionary PR campaign for Physics, he would no doubt support you & your goals.

"Facts tell, Stories Sell"
"They used the Technical Elements [ Physics }, to TELL A STORY. And, everything they do is SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT [ creative ]"
-- commentary, Dmitriev/Kazakova '98 Winter Olympics pairs couple

Your survival story BY ITSELF could be sold ("rights") to Disney/ABC as a TV/Film project (plus residuals), that would be a check in your bank account. That itself could get you out of your waitressing job, & start a self-sustaining income (properly invested in stock market, etc). That could fund your Category Theory Inst, in itself. Better yet, team up with D. Hillis & his Disney contacts. I got off the phone last week with a Disney staff member (woman, both engineering & design experience), who is very helpful & wants to see your resume. She told me about 2 Research Initiatives announced by Disney at SIGGRAPH 2008: R&D Inst started in CMU & Univ of Switzerland. Your Category Theory Inst would dovetail nicely with that concept, maybe they would let you "test" the concept of a 3rd party satellite R&D Institute.

I'm just getting over a crazy virus I caught in China, been down for 3 weeks. I need to back on the warpath to try to help your dream (& Louise's & Garrett Lisi's), as well as mine (same thing: 3rd party satellite R&D Inst). I will send you/Louise a private email, with more details.

More power to 'ya!!

September 03, 2008 1:25 PM  
Blogger Kea said...

Thanks Louise and Chimpanzee. Yes, a multidisciplinary category theory institute would be an exciting project. Hope you get better soon, Chimp.

September 03, 2008 2:01 PM  
Anonymous Tony Smith said...

Chimpanzee, you said that you are "... just getting over a crazy virus ... caught in China, been down for 3 weeks ...".
I am in exactly the same boat, except I caught my "crazy virus" in Connecticut instead of China.
I would like to see such a research institute come to life, so if you think I might be helpful in some way please include me on your email list about details. My email is at bellsouth dot net and the name can be written as f75m17h

Tony Smith

September 03, 2008 2:47 PM  
Anonymous chimpanzee said...


Here's a link to that Disney R&D Initiative:

satellite R&D centers

If you do a Google search, you will find tons of other links.

Brainstorm on the above, you can see Disney is doing what Microsoft Research is doing. Setting up "satellite" R&D centers at key places around the world (to tap into local IP/Intellectual Property). When I mentioned Kea's dream of Category Theory Inst to this helpful woman @Disney, she immediately responded that there is a LOT of talent in Australia/NZ. So, this woman is obviously bright, pro-active. Kea, I think she could be a key figure to help you out (she has a Design & Engineering background, plus she's politically connected at SIGGRAPH). Her Disney is working with Brian Greene/Columbia (fellow String Theorist, if you are working on M-Theory) for some future Outreach projects. You see, Computer Graphics is a powerful visual tool for Scientific Visualization & Communication. Disney sent a couple of people to the recent World Science Festival in NYC (founded by Brian Greene), to reciprocate. Kea, I notice you've been using some basic drawing programs on this blog. You should definitely try using sophisticated illustration, Photoshop, 2D/3D animation packages. That would be your "foot in the door" with Graphics (& Disney): in return for your mathematical expertise (consultant), you also get access to high-end illustration/animation programs. When I attended "Art of Grant Writing" course at SIGGRAPH 2008, "effective use of Graphics" was a factor in getting grant funding. In your next attempt at grant funding, you most certainly need to upgrade the graphics. Remember, 90% of the proposal is in Presentation/Exposition (as repulsive as it sounds, "Style"), rather than Substance. That's the reality of the it or not.

Your name has been circulated among many important figures in Computer Graphics research (President of Disney Animation & former-Director of Microsoft Research, for example). It would be a cinch for you to contribute (hopefully remotely as a math consultant for these computer graphics engineeers, who are challenged in terms of mathematical rigor..too much hand waving), so you can try a 50/50 model: Applications ("concrete") during Morning, Theory in Afternoon ("la la land"). That would get you out of waitressing. Browse these links

my SIGGRAPH 2008 blog coverage

to get a feel of what Graphics/Vision/Robotics researchers are doing. Computer Graphics is essentially Applied Physics..simulation of light & motion. An ex-physicist switched fields (CS/Graphics is more lucrative):

Andrew Hanson

He did some multimedia for Brian Greene's NOVA "The Elegant Universe", Calabi Yau manifold..which L. Motl wanted to use. At SIGGRAPH 2008, I heard him talk to an Autodesk researcher about representing space-time as a slice of a higher-dimension xxx. This is obviously something you are familiar with, being a theoretical physicist.

September 03, 2008 4:36 PM  
Anonymous chimpanzee said...

Here's a portion of the email I sent out to the woman @Disney:

Garret Lisi has an "Alternative Model" (like Kea) for doing research, that of "satellite R&D units". He calls them Science Hostels.

Science Hostels/G. Lisi

This seems to dovetail into what Disney is doing with "satellite R&D institutes" at Univ of Switzerland & CMU. Microsoft has been doing that in the past, with their Redmond, Cambridge/UK, China..& recently Cambridge/US units. I call it a "Distributed Architecture" (as opposed to the "Centralized Architecture", where people have to cluster around a SINGLE think-tank), which is based on the CORO model (Cooperative Robotics). There was such a group @Caltech, studying ant colony architectures for Collective Robotics. It is no longer in existence, but here is a spinoff (in Switzerland):

Distributed Intelligent Systems

If Disney would expand on this model (the recently announced 2-satellite model of U. Switzerland & CMU, is a good 1st step), it could embrace Kea's Category Theory Inst in New Zealand & other satellite R&D units (various disciplines) all over the world. The key question, is how to get all the "distributed parts" working cooperatively together, towards research objectives. The answer, is the Human Brain (& Insect colony models). Each part is a neuron, & the neural links are how Cooperative/Collaborative work is accomplished. The famous Caltech Electrical Engineer Dr. Carver Meade calls it Collective Computation, his group "The Physics of Computation" produced some interesting work like Neuromorphic Engineering, which is essentially the simulation of neural biological circuits with "silicon circuits".

Caltech has an Interdisciplinary Group (Biology, Physics, Engineering) called Computational Neural Sciences for this area of Study. Chris Adami (nuclear physicist by training, who has co-published papers with Hans Bethe/Cornell & hangs out w/Murray Gell-Mann) is a member of this group, since he has switched fields to DIgital Life (similar to S. Wolfram's CA/Cellular Automata, ANKOS/A New Kind of Science). Another member is my CS/Graphics prof friend (he was at SIGGRAPH 2008).

"Everything's related"
-- M. Gell-Mann

I think it's a cool idea, that behind the concept of effective satellite R&D institute Collaboration/Cooperation, is some Brain & Artificial Intelligence/Distributed Intelligence research. Your brain is a network of neurons, interconnected by neural links. Similarly, the "virtual brain" of world-wide R&D is a network of "neuronal" satellite R&D Institutes, interconnected by XXX. What is XXX, & how do they coordinate/cooperate? I think the answer is Networks, like cellphone/satellite/land DSL. Note that PI/Perimeter Institute is funded by the founders of the Blackberry, & THEY may be very interested in this whole concept of satellite R&D institutes interconnected by cellphone network (the famous Blackberry cellphone, killer business tool). That Science & Society Conference next week @PI (coordinated by Bee) should have had something about this concept. NUTS!! If I were paid to do this (it's just a hobby right now, maybe I can submit a NSF proposal), I certainly would have had a contribution.

I think it's pretty cool, that Kea (& others) may have to dabble in Brain & Artificial Intelligence research to make their dream of satellite R&D Institutes come to fruition. The Beckman Inst was pouring a LOT of $$ back in the 90's to Brain Research. Dr. Eric Kandel/Columbia (Nobelist) said that the 21st Century challenge would be understanding of the Brain. Watson (Nobelist, discovery of Double Helix) stated that THIS was the Discovery of the 20th Century, that the genetic code was embedded in this helical structure. Misha Mahowald (Carver Mead's star PhD student, whose thesis was made into a book & had a Scientific American article) stated about Neuromorphic Eng (hardware simulation of brain):

"it's not the xxx [ silicon toys ], but the Brain we're trying to understand"
"I'm interested in KNOWLEDGE, not Product"

I get the feeling Kea & MM are on the same wavelength, with the latter statement. That Boltzmann Brains things that came up recently in Physics, may also signify some related Interdisciplinary Research involving Brain & Physics.

September 03, 2008 5:07 PM  
Blogger Kea said...

OK, Chimp, please. No more details about this on my blog. Please.

September 03, 2008 5:15 PM  
Anonymous Tony Smith said...

Kea, feel free to delete this as off-topic as per your immediately previous post,
I would like to point out that Chris Adami (with Nicolas Cerf) wrote quant-ph/9512022 (published as PRL 79 (1997) 5194) which was one of the foundational papers about quantum computing
in which they showed that
"... quantum ... information flow ... can be ... described by diagrams, much like particle physics reactions ...".

Tony Smith

September 03, 2008 7:49 PM  
Blogger Kea said...

Tony, thanks. Nothing of that nature is ever off topic here.

September 03, 2008 10:22 PM  
Anonymous chimpanzee said...

Most people here know, that J. Preskill/Caltech is very much involved these days with Quantum Computing ("applications"). C. Adami made a break to "applications" with Digital Life (S. Wolfram's obsession..CA/Cellula Automata), the poor guy had to go outside of Caltech to get support (U.C. Pomona, lesser school). That's how bad funding situation is, so Kea you are not alone.

Naturally, Caltech CS/Computer Science profs are involved with this QC thing. This brings up an interesting point about Interdisciplinary Science (my obsession), is that you can't separate Physics from Computation ("computer science") or Mathematics. Or, even Biology. Remember, S. Wolfram was hired @UIUC via triple appointment in Math, Physics, Computer Science (my dad was on the search committee, & was eager to work with SW in his area: CFD/Computational Fluid Mechanics, i.e. Computational Statistical Mechanics). Caltech's CNS/Computational Neural Sciences (where C. Adami is a member of), is the marriage of Computer Science, Biology, Physics. Carver Mead (famous Caltech EE prof) named his group "Physics of [ biological ] Computation", he had some interaction with R. Feynman (who himself dabbled in Computation, & worked that 1 summer for D. Hillis company "Thinking Machines"). So, there's a synergy between Physics & Computer Science.

Going back to Kea's dream of Category Theory Inst. That would require the study of Distributed Intelligent Systems (Computer Science & Biology) to make it work in conjunction with other R&D Institutes. Nothing is really off-topic, then!

September 04, 2008 7:51 AM  
Anonymous Tony Smith said...

Chimpanzee mentions Carver Mead, Richard Feynman, Stephen Wolfram, and Chris Adami.
They are connnected in interesting ways that in my opnion validate Chimpanzee's statement:
"... you can't separate Physics from Computation ("computer science") or Mathematics. Or, even Biology ...".

Carver Mead wrote his book "Collective Electrodynamics" (MIT Press 2000) to show how Feynman should have written his Feynman Lectures with respect to ElectroMagnetism (i.e., from a really quantum point of view instead of the Classical EM point of view that Feynman took for convenience in those famous lectures).
In that book Carver Mead described in detail resonant processes.
Those resonant processes can be applied to a Penrose-Hameroff model of quantum consciousness, making a nice connection between quantum physics and microtuble-based biological consciousness.

Meanwhile, around 1980 Stephen Wolfram went to Caltech and got into an intellectual property dispute with the Caltech administration. IIRC, Feynman advised Wolfram to stay and Caltech and do intellectually interesting work and let Caltech handle any big money business, but Wolfram wanted big money, and rejected Feynman's advice, and in 1986 got a big-money position at UIUC.

Before he got his big-money position in 1986, Wolfram did brilliant work with Cellular Automata, as set out in his 1986 book "Theory and Applications of Cellular Automata" (World 1986).
For example, he described the 256 fundamental k=2 r=1 cellular automata.

After Wolfram got his big-money position, he got his big money and insulated himself with Yes-Men, eventually resulting in his 2002 book "A New Kind of Science" in which he repudiated quantum computation work pioneered by Chris Adami et al,
saying "... one can construct quantum computers ... But ... I [Wolfram] strongly suspect that ... it will not turn out to be a true representation of ultimate physical reality ...".

It is my opinion that Wolfram's hostility to quantum information theory a la Chris Adami et al was due to working in big-money-financed isolation during the 1990s (and therefore not really paying attention to the creation of quantum information theory in that decade), as opposed to his productive work in the early-mid 1980s when Wolfram was not living in such splendid isolation.

It is my opinion that it is a shame that Wolfram, with all his money, allowed brilliant people like Chris Adami to have to "... to go ...[to]... U.C. Pomona, lesser school ... to get support ...",
it is nice that Caltech has things like "... Computational Neural Sciences (where C. Adami is a member of) ..." and a Carver Mead "... group "Physics of [ biological ] Computation" ..."
in which quantum information theory is studied as a fundamental-level intersection of mathematics, physics, biology, ...

Tony Smith

PS - I also disagree with Wolfram's statement in his 2002 book NKS that he "... would be very surprised if the values of constants which happen to be easy for us to measure in the end turn out to be given by simple traditional mathematical formulas. ...",
I have actually calculated them.

September 04, 2008 10:16 AM  

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