Wednesday, May 2, 2018
Modern American Society would likely see both of these previous attempts as 'outdated', 'old fashioned' or even 'primitive'. After all science tells us a lot about happiness right? Brain scans like fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) and EEG (electroencephalogram) along with blood test can show us all the workings of the brain from an electrical and chemical perspective. Further, we can take the data and identify a number of chemicals (dopamine, serotonin, adrenaline, endorphin etc.) present that correlate or predicate experiences that can be identified or associated with happiness. From here drugs can be produced that will either supplement these chemicals or trigger our own increased production of these chemicals, hence doctors can prescribe happiness.
Assuming all human experience is reducible to chemical and electrical impulses in our brains that should be the whole story. Problem solved...but it most certainly is not.
Science can recreate the sensation of happiness based upon observations of our brains whilst we’re happy but that is not the same as making us happy. Happiness persists after the sensation of happiness has passed. This passing transient happiness can be called chemical happiness. Chemical happiness leads to addiction because whether we are aware of it or not we become capable of properly identifying the sensation of happiness with the chemical cause of our transitory happiness and begin to seek out the sensation alone which leaves us feeling empty once it has passed. True Happiness remains as a feeling of satisfaction after the sensation of happiness has left us. Thus we feel satisfied instead of empty and are less likely to seek out the sensation alone as the satisfaction that remains is a far more pleasant experience.
A Neuroscientist sympathetic to this account of the experience of happiness may be so bold as to create a chemical cocktail that will place the proper chemicals in our brains at the precise times needed to give us the boost of happy feelings as well as the satisfaction feelings in an attempt to avoid the empty feelings that lead to addiction. The only trouble here would be to somehow trick the recipient of these chemicals so that they don't associate the taking of the medication with the subsequent happiness feeling. Once that association is made the recipient will likely discover that the chemical therapy is the source of happiness and seek it out, further exasperating the problem.
So what is the solution? Guiding each individual on a exploration of themselves where they learn the true external and internal triggers that cause their brains to produce those very same chemicals. Does this assume that humans are Pavlovian flesh robots, who merely need certain programming to be happy? What does this mean for issues of freedom and will power? My suspicion is that Freedom and Will Power are the source of the answer to human happiness. But that is a topic for another time.
Tuesday, August 15, 2017
There is a saying: "Complex problems have many simple, easy to understand wrong answers". As I researched Dark Matter (I must explain that I am an armchair physicist, not an academic physicist) I discovered more details about the problem and what the observations were indicating. From what I've read it appears that we are in the post Michelson-Morley and pre-Einstein phase with regards to Dark Matter.
That is to say that in the late 19th and early 20th Century we (the scientific community) faced experimental data that challenged our prevailing theories. Theories that held the world together. Nature's mysteries were staring us in the face and we were at a loss for explanation. That is where we are today. Back then, Einstein came to the rescue with a theory so bizarre, yet so simple and elegant, that it must be one of those 'easy to understand wrong answers'. Today we are waiting for an Einstein to help us understand what we are seeing.
This fresh mystery may require as dramatic a paradigm shift as Einstein's theories or Quantum Mechanics. Perhaps instead of unifying gravity with QED we will be incorporating a new, third variant to explain all this missing matter and energy? Perhaps our understanding of space-time will be turned inside-out or upside-down and this will all make sense. My suspicion is that our understanding of time is to blame and will be revolutionized in the answer to this mystery. What if space-time is composed of a defined minimum quanta (string theorists seem to believe space is at minimum 1 plank meter in size, so why not space-time. 1 plank metersecond?) that expands in all 10 dimensions in the presence of energy, but remains static in the presence of matter? Would shape of space-time would inflate and deflate constantly, almost breathing, as energy passed through, or would the expansion cease to contract as energy passed? Could this be reconciled with relativity? QED? Would the math help explain those moments after the big bang?
The great thing about the mysteries of Dark Matter and Dark Energy is the possibility it represents. It shows us that the further we reach with our understanding the further we realize we have to go before we understand our universe.
Dark Matter may be found to have prosaic explanations like the WIMPS or something similar but I sure hope not and I think the mystery of Dark Energy is a clue that something we haven't even imagined is at work out there.
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Sunday, December 5, 2010
Sunday, August 22, 2010
Bourbon versus Scotch
This blog is dedicated to philosophy so it may appear odd to have an entry about tasting the difference between
Philosophers have been debating the importance of physical experiences, or sensations since the beginning. Epicurus is said to have commented that it is best to have water and bread everyday of ones life so that when presented with cheese it will appear a feast. Now Epicurus while father of hedonism, ended up a hermit who reveled in simplicity, while later followers of his philosophy took it mean living in the extremes of pleasure. Moderation has dominated the content of most ethical talk of sensations and pleasure over the years, allowing for people to enjoy life and its sensual pleasures so long as not to overindulge in any one aspect of sensual delights. In keeping with this, expanding ones breadth of sensual experience will allow for a greater range of moderate sensual appreciation and a deeper enjoyment of life.
That being said, I have always been jealous of those who can enjoy a good whisky, wine or cognac. So in an attempt to be able to appreciate the joys of such spirits I have decided to embark on a spiritual culinary journey whereas I attempt to develop a taste for whisky.
Whisky is made from the distillation of a cooked fermented mash of grains. A grain or combination of grains is mixed with water and yeast, similar to the mash created to brew beer, and let to ferment; a process wherein the yeast eats the sugar in the grain and as a byproduct releases alcohol. The mash is boiled and the alcohol is distilled and collected. Distilling is the process by which the alcohol vapor is separated from the mash and cooled through copper tubing and collected as a clear, odorless and tasteless spirit. The clear liquid is not whisky until its aged in a barrel, typically an American white oak barrel.
Let’s talk about the difference between Bourbon and Scotch. First we will look at bourbon. A bourbon mash is made from 51% corn and a combination of other grains such as rye, wheat and barley. Water from the bluegrass region of
Single malt scotch is made from a mash of 100% malted barley. Malted barley is barley that has begun to germinate before it is combined with water and yeast in the mash. For a whisky to be called scotch it must be distilled and aged in
To the taste test. I have an ounce of Maker’s Mark Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky, 90 proof, over a large ice cube and ounce of The Speyside Single Highland Malt Scotch Whisky aged 12 years, 86 proof, over a large ice cube. To set the mood I set my Pandora to the Frank Sinatra station and sipped each drink following it with a palate cleanser of ice water (I know ice water is an inadequate palate cleanser but I did also take a moment in between each sip to reflect on the flavors).
How do they taste? Well, at first taste, right after poured over a large ice cube, I preferred the sweeter taste of the scotch to the bourbon. However, after the ice began to melt the bourbon’s stronger flavor better offset the kick of the spirit underlying both drinks. It may have been Summertime playing on the radio but something about that American born bourbon sat well with me in the end.
Bourbon is a truly American drink and that may have affected my opinion in this particular tasting but I have yet to really gain a taste for whisky. Made from mostly corn, that most truly American grain, and only made in Kentucky there is a certain national pride associated with bourbon that I’m sure resides in every Scotsman as relating to scotch.
In short this not over by far as I have an entire bottle of Scotch to begin to enjoy and most of a bottle of Bourbon to finish. Cheers!
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Sunday, July 18, 2010
We can safely say that the greatest technological innovation of the past 30 years is the proliferation of the internet. I will qualify ‘greatest’ as influencial, far reaching, across genres, changing more other industries than any other innovation since the personal computer (Mac’s included). The most shocking part of this innovation is that its influence is disproportional to the leap in technology necessary for it to happen. To be blunt, no leap was necessary.
The innovations that led to the widespread internet use we see today were not leaps and bounds ahead of the technology of yesterday (i.e. early 80’s and 70’s). In fact the internet has been around almost as long as digital computing. The internet originated as a tool to share information quickly. The technology necessary to make it possible has been around; however the main innovations have been software improvements. This isn’t to say that hardware innovations trump software innovations in the hierarchy of technological development, but they certainly get overlooked in comparison.
Yes, cheap high-speed internet and the infrastructure necessary have improved significantly, however those technologies are modest improvement over cable TV technology. The receiver is now your cable modem instead of your cable box and the signal is not a digital moving picture, it’s a wide variety of digital data coming into your home, which probably includes your digital moving pictures in a package deal offered by your provider to further entice you into the realm of speedy internet access.
The true innovation in the internet is the manufacturing not of physical products like cable modems, computers, browser software, online shopping and gaming. The manufacture of a market for internet/high-speed internet and the transition from that initial luxury or business market to a household necessity is the real innovation of the internet. How that happened is an inquiry for another time. How the internet has effected what we have come to expect of science is of interest in this inquiry.
Let’s get up to speed first. The history of scientific revolutions has been elucidated in every popular physicist’s best seller. From Brian Greene and Stephen Hawkins to even Albert Einstein we can get a view of which discoveries and theories have really re-written the physics and history books. In short there were a few major developments that changed everything. Thomas Kuhn in The Structures of Scientific Revolutions focuses on what he calls the major paradigm shifts in science. For my purposes we will focus on the discipline of Physics often considered the hardest of the ‘Hard Sciences’.
We begin with Aristotle and what is left of his writings on Physics, from which we retain the name of the discipline to this day. Aristotle was the first to apply logical formulations to the natural world. The key assumption of Aristotle and scientists for centuries after his writing, was the idea that logical analysis, thinking about the problems and nature of the universe we could solve the mysteries of nature. The idea that all we need is our minds, a great deal of concentration and the tools of logic and rationality we will be able to provide all the answers. To say that this ‘worked’ or was ‘useful’ for almost 2050 years would be generous. To say it was influential would be an understatement.
Physics didn’t really begin to move forward until Isaac Newton published the most influential book in physics since Aristotle; The Principia: Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (1722). Yes the Principia uses mathematics, logic, reasoning to figure out the laws of Nature. The key and most important distinction is that
Why did take 2 millennia for someone to finally place primacy on experimentation? One can only guess the various instabilities in the cultures of the western world didn’t allow academic pursuit of knowledge to flourish. Before we go blaming religion, namely Christianity, keep in mind that the ancient texts of western civilization were saved, copied and translated by monks dedicated to keeping the knowledge of antiquity alive, while conquering forces from around the globe were busy sacking cities and burning those cities cultural centers. In fact, in that regard the science of politics also has a major world altering revolution in the birth of modern democracy and the de-legitimatization of monarchic rule shortly after
Many circumstances had to align for this pivotal scientific revolution. This revolution is about as big as it gets and I have ignored many smaller revolutions. The implications of
Following the Industrial Revolution scientific knowledge exploded into the 20th century. Advances in all areas of science were made at an incredible speed. With the beginning of the Nobel Prizes in 1895 fame was introduced into Academia. An argument can be made that the honor did more to legitimize the pursuit of scientific knowledge than anything else in modern times; Albert Einstein being the other contender for most important figure in valuing and popularizing scientific pursuit in the minds of the public.
The most unique aspect of Einstein’s revolutionary theories was that they didn’t destroy the previous very effective and accurate Newtonian Laws. Special and General Relativity added to the knowledge in a revolutionary way. Applying Einstein’s theories to Newtonian Laws made for mind boggling accurate predictions. Newton’s laws still explained the universe and described the movement of the natural processes very well however Einstein now provided what every scientist and philosopher is looking for; the answer to the question why? Why is
What makes this revolutions stick out during this time period is its simplicity and elegance. The exponential expansion of knowledge at this time still has its effects in today’s world. This period of scientific revolution, marked most notably by Special and General Relativity, has not even been approached in the past 100 years. Our base of knowledge has not been expanded upon much in the realm of physics. Yes there have been amazing developments in quantum mechanics 50 years ago and string theory for the past 20-30 years, however nothing as far reaching to constitute a revolution in the sciences has happened since Einstein. What of the role of the greatest technological innovation in 30 years on scientific revolution?
Andrew W. Lo and Mark T. Mueller of MIT have published a very interesting paper: WARNING: Physics Envy May Be Hazardous To Your Wealth!, which deals with financial analysis aspiring to the standards of accuracy available in physics. Perhaps having standards of revolution based on the changes of physics over history leads us to a similar mistake of expectation. It is possible that a truth has been reached that there is no further improvement upon. Here is where the proliferation of the internet can either hinder or help the cause of scientific revolution.
With the easy access to information and the vetting of such information left up to the reader, understanding of all levels, laymen, expert and everywhere in between has been expanded beyond belief. Misinformation and information are everywhere and with simplification comes oversimplification in many cases, so the quality of the information is a bit suspect to be generous. What is really missing and may be a hindrance to future scientific revolutions is the ability to be uninfluenced by the plethora of knowledge. Einstein was operating outside of academia when he wrote his special theory of relativity and operating on the fringes of physics, able to think in imaginative, novel ways he was able to change physics and shape the modern world. Is such novel thought possible in the age of the internet or, even worse, is such thought even recognizable in the sea of ideas that the internet has produced? Has the internet in providing such an accessible medium for the productions and dissemination of knowledge eliminated the possibility of scientific revolution on the scope of Einstein’s influence?
Time will naturally answer these questions. It is my suspicion that revolutions of the scale I have mentioned aren’t extinct, nor have they been replaced by steady technological developments. Using Kuhn’s criteria for scientific revolution being based on a paradigm shift, these steady technological achievements do nothing to change the paradigm; they are just the natural implication of the paradigm shift 100 years ago. We have yet to fully explore all the possible implications of the recent revolutions in science and it may be a full century after those implications are realized before another revolution greets humanity. Technology has yet to reach the limits of the laws of physics as we understand them. When technology does reach that limit, as I suspect it will once nano-technology is fully understood and utilized, the ground will have been laid for the next revolution. Don’t hold you breath though.