Thursday, 25 November 2010

Chaos Theory in a Wingbeat

Imagine this:

You go to buy a train ticket. You find that you are 1 cent short and didn't bother to bring your credit card. Bummer. So to paliate your annoyance at missing the professional conference you were going to where, little did you know, you would have met your future mentor and business partner where your combined skills would have created a revolutionary new product and made you both multi-millionaires... you go the station café for a coffee.

As chance would have it, a Jehovah's Witness is having a break from their 'ministering' but spots a potential victim and says hello.

Your guard is down and as you recount your unfortunate story he makes sympathetic noises and even jokes that if he had been behind you in the queue he would certainly have given you the extra cent you needed for your ticket.

You warm to him, and, to cut a long story short, accept an invitation to a meeting, meet a whole bunch of 'nice' people who welcome you in, you struggle for a long time before eventually 'accepting' their beliefs, spend years standing outside metro stations with religious magazines in your hand getting in everyone's way, renounce your ambition and drive, sink into misery and are overwhelmed by feelings of uselessness and pointlessness, and end up jumping in front of a train on the very same line the train you would have taken travelled, without you, all those unhappy years ago, for the want of a cent, and killing yourself.

This is an example of chaos theory. The idea that a very small change in the initial starting conditions can cause wildly differing results.

A simpler example is that you're in a traffic jam and you miss your train to the airport by 30 seconds. The next train is in 30 minutes. When you eventually get to the airport, you've missed your plane. The next available flight isn't until tomorrow. A 30 second lateness seems to be responsible, ultimately, for a whole day's delay.

Mathematicians call this a non-linear effect, where the initial small thing can lead on to much bigger things.

A classic example is the weather. Why can't we accurately predict what the weather will be more than a few days in advance, if that? Because the system is far too complex to be able to take into account all the starting conditions, and even less so all the possible consequences.

Despite the name, the use of chaos here doesn't imply totally random events. Indeed, chaos theory is about separating totally random phenomena, which are by definition totally unpredictable, from chaotic ones, which have some chance of being predicted correctly?

Still with me? Never mind. There's a fair bit of chaos gone into writing this little article (I predicted that right from the start), and so much the better, I reckon.

The final example I'll give is actually the most famous: the Butterfly Effect. This is a much-quoted and purposely over-the-top scenario where the gentle flapping of a butterfly's wings in one country causes, eventually, a horribly destructive tornado on another continent.

Chaos theory can be applied to many real-world 'systems', from a leaky tap to the orbit of Pluto. The prices of shares and organisations are also seen to experience chaotic behaviour, where small changes can set of a chain reaction of monumental importance, or a major upheaval can go relatively unnoticed.

So there you have it, more than you probably ever need to know about chaos theory; aren't you glad you didn't ask?

See you in the gene pool

How Long is the Coast of Britain?

Benoît B. Mandelbrot, the mathmatician famous for, amongst other things, asking the above question, died in October of this year, 2010. Take note of that middle 'B.', by the way; it's vitally important, as we'll discover in a moment...

The question might seem a funny one, because obviously we know - we can probably just look it up on Wikipedia or something, right?

Well, no, not right, according to Mr.M. It all depends on what you measure. More specifically, what actually is the coast of Britain, or any other country for that matter.

Any map is obviously a simplified representation of reality. If we actually zoomed in on the grey map on the right, we'd discover lots of little nooks and crannies (bays, promontories etc.) which are definitely part of the coastline but which haven't been taken into account, and which would change the numbers.

And let's take an even closer look, insisted Mandelbrot. What if we have a perfectly straight stretch of beach. We can just draw a line from one end to the other and measure it, can't we? Or is that not a gross simplification and should we not be tracing the contours of every pebble, no, every grain of sand which makes up the line where that beach meets the water to have a better figure. And what about the atomic level... Oh dear!

So Mandelbrot worked on this and many other mathmatical problems, coining the terms fractal and his famous Mandelbrot set.

A fractal is a shape which can be split up into parts and those parts are more or less the same as the big shape, and so on, ad absurdum. Mountains and leaves are other real-world examples of this phenomenon.

A Mandelbrot Set is explained here, (what do you mean I haven't got a clue what I'm talking about, of course I do, look:) and this is a some-would-say rather beautiful pictoral representation of one...

Finally, he was well-known for applying his ideas to the real world where unclear boundaries exist, in the realms of economics and information theory. For example trying to explain price fluctuations in markets.

Just a couple more snippets before we go. He had French / American / Polish nationalities. President Sarkozy said that Mandelbrot had "a powerful, original mind that never shied away from innovating and shattering preconceived notions". Sarkozy also added, "His work, developed entirely outside mainstream research, led to modern information theory." He worked in the research department of IBM for 35 years. He has an asteroid (27500 Mandelbrot) named after him. He's got a heap of honours, including the French Legion of Honour (the big one!).

He was also closely linked to Chaos Theory and the Butterfly Effect, which I'll post about shortly, and... oh yes: apparently the 'B.' in his name doesn't mean anything at all; he invented it just for a laugh, the old dog! Haven't had enough of Mandelbrot yet? Watch this and you will have!
See you in the gene pool

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

It's All In The Mind

The Mole went to a talk on understanding the brain yesterday by some famous boffin called Keith Kendrick, who is apparently a Systems and Behavioural Neuroscientist at Cambridge (UK).

All that's waaaaayyyyy above me, but a couple of the things the Mole reported were fascinating.

By the way, the reason I'm including this Female Brain diagram is honestly because I couldn't find the one about men that Prof. Kendrick used to lighten up his talk, apparently. According to the Mole, the elusive Male equivalent of the above included huge sections for things like football match starting times and women's legs, and microscopic glands and nodes devoted to remembering anniversaries and putting the toilet seat back down... If anyone knows of its whereabouts I'll publish it forthwith, it sound good.

So anyway, this guy was apparently talking about how the brain's processing capabilities are still far far and away better than even our best computer, and probably always will be.

Apparently they are discovering that our senses are far more mixed up when we're little kids than when we're older. Some rare brain damage cases have had people experiencing colours as sounds and seeing things as smells, and smelling things as sounds and so on, and this is giving us clues to very early behaviour.

For example, maybe babies put everything into their mouths, not because they just want to ram things down their throats and choke on them, but because the taste and touch senses are intricately linked to the whole sensory system and are more developed than sight, for example, and it is their first way of fully discovering an object.

You may now eat this computer screen to get a real deep feel for my words, you have my permission.

See you in the gene pool

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

What do you get if you cross a Monkey with a Pig?

There's nothing I like more...

...than a good old rant against religion, and few do it better than dear old Pat Condell, bless him, who knows how to show religious nutters and even sad religious victims for what they are... by reminding us, quite simply, what said nutters and victims actually believe: Utter, Unadulterated Nonsense.

We need look no further for a good few minutes of rollicking good laughs. Here we go.

Of course, there's a serious side to this... only I can't remember what it was.

Oh yes, while people are still believing that we came from Adam and Eve (or even Monkey and Pig, if Pat's theory is also adopted by the school curriculum deciders), our children are growing up with confused, perverted minds, unable to rationally discuss anything at all. Which is a shame.

The real truth about our ancestors?
It's often painful to see religious people (mainly Jesus-believers in my case) try to justify their beliefs when they haven't even got a clue what it is they actually believe in but vaguely know it's supposed to have something to do with God (innit?) but they're not actually sure what that's about either. Tricky.

If the seeds of this nonsense hadn't been sown early on by schools or society in general we could all be getting on happily fighting and arguing with each other for perfectly rational reasons, like you had one more slice of cake than me or your kid rode over my lawn with his bike and crushed the pansies, and hopefully, eventually, arrive at reasonable solutions, as opposed to arguing about nonsense where it is, by definition, impossible to arrive at a rational conclusion or, of course, solution.

See you in the gene pool


Turbulent Tuesday ~ Humble Is As Humble Does

Hmm. I've just spent two minutes trying to work out what the adjective for humility is. Weird. I went through all possible derivations but they kept coming up wrong, so wrong: humiliating / humungous / hubritious / humilitous...

I'm banking on humble now, although I'm not convinced. So a humble little quote today from a great man (a Frabulous physics guru - quantum mechanics and all that) who has every right not to be humble, and yet demonstrates both humility and humour when he said:
"An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes that can
be made in a very narrow field."

  ~ Niels Bohr

"Mr Wrong hasn't got a clue what
he is doing ever, and he never gets
anything right. Everything turns out
WRONG! Everything about his life is
a shambles until one day Mr Wrong
meets Mr Right, someone who looks
exactly like Mr Wrong, but is exactly
his opposite."

It's funny how those who have every right not to be humble (Niels: "Oh, you know, I just helped totally turn our understanding of the world around us on its head...") are actually extremely diffident.

However. And this is a bloody big however. I've just realised that according to the above definition, religious people are actually entitled to use the word 'expert' to very accurately describe themselves.

Because they have indeed made all the possible mistakes that can be made in understanding how we came to be here. Good grief. I'm not sure whether to feel elated or depressed...

Still, Mr. Wrong still looks pretty pleased with himself, doesn't he? Which is all part of the problem.

See you in the gene pool


Monday, 22 November 2010

Nutter Watch - Meher Baba / Darwin Deez

Just listening to the new album from Darwin Deez (yep) which is pleasant hippyish pop, but the cover of the album, as the reviewer says on Deezer, is highly disturbing... check out Google images for more worryingness...

'Darwin...'? Ah yes, apparently he obtained his moniker thanks to parents who belong to the Meher Baba cult. I didn't know about that one, but now I do. Check it out on Wikipedia now if you need to know more.

The other noteworthy thing about this album is the song Constellation, which includes the lyrics:
twinkle twinkle little star
how i wonder what you are
there's a million little lights
when the sky turns black tonight
are there patterns in our skies?
are patterns only in our eyes?

or is a constellation just a constellation?
is a constellation just a consolation?

wrinkle wrinkle little scar
count the freckles on my arm
if freckles don't mean anything,
does anything mean anything?

Here's the nutty guy himself, by the way. Meher Baba. According to Wiki he led a normal childhood until about the age of 19, when he had a brief contact with a Muslim holy woman which triggered a 7-year long process of spiritual transformation.

It gets better. After meeting various other 'spiritual masters' he started doing his own thing and got called 'The Compassionate Father' by his first followers.

From 1925 till his death in 1969 he shut up, using a board or hand gestures to communicate.

At one point he declared his 'Avatarhood', proclaiming himself to be the 'highest of the high', along with other bombastic claims.

Apparently he did some good work with the ill too.

About his 'silence', Wiki says:

Fascinating stuff, Froggy Folks, I'm sure you'll agree. Although I'm still not quite sure why young ringletted Darwin's parents called him... Darwin. There are many mysteries still to be solved in this world, and I guess that's just one of them.

See you in the gene pool


To Humane or Not To Humane

The word 'Humane' caught my eye in this daily feel good e-mail I get (below), but it's not exactly Humanism but then again it is, as humanists certainly believe that we should be nice to our fellow creatures and not catapult ourselves above them to the extent that we exploit them without any regard for them as living entities.

Still with me?

OK, here's the thing:
Did you know...
... that today is the birthday of the Humane Society (1954)?
Founded in Washington, D.C., it's the largest animal advocacy
organization in the world. A nice bit of trivia: During
Hurricane Katrina, the HSUS joined other organizations in a
massive search-and-rescue effort that saved approximately
10,000 animals, and raised more than $34 million for direct
relief, reconstruction, and recovery in the Gulf Coast region.
Which is interesting.

This is the web site where you can get their cute little quotes from, and why not? Here's today's offering:
Today's Inspirational Quote:
"In order to succeed you must fail, so that you know what not
to do the next time."

-- Anthony J. D'Angelo
Which is cool. I like it. I can dig failure to succeed. Sounds sensible to me.

There are occasionally religious-based quotes too, but you can either ignore them if they are too silly, or cut through the chaff to get at the central message and see if it does it for ya.

See you in the gene pool

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Welcome to the Gene Pool

Hi Guys, Gals and Frogs, good to see you here!

You know, it's a funny little project this, and one I've thought of doing on and off over the years whenever I had a break from, well, you know, living life and all that.

After all, free-thinkers are normally far too busy enjoying this life to worry about not living the next one, aren't we? But anyway.

As I'm fascinated by anything to do with how people think, and also as I seem to still regularly come into contact with quite negative vibes and influences from those who choose to believe in nonsense, that I thought I would finally try to bring something to the table.

And besides, as we all know, there's not much funnier in this world than what our credulous friends believe, now is there. So we almost owe it  to ourselves to keep a beady eye on them, both to make sure they're not doing anything too dangerous as well as stupid, and also to get our daily laughs. So here we go.

The Frabulous Frog Freethinker will be, I'm both afraid and happy to tell you, will be a glorious mishmash, a hotchpotch, and real primordial soup of anything I can lay my hands on that I think will tickle the neurones or the funny bone or often enough both. Enjoy. Say hello. Contribute. And have fun. See you in the pond.

Oh, and if you're ever in Paris, then come along to one of our meetings - check it out here.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...