Incomprehensible science

Samuel Arbesman at Slate writes about the likelihood of computers doing science so effectively that the answers they come up with about the universe will be demonstrably true, but beyond the comprehension of any human. Apparently, this has already happened with math.

A computer program known asEureqa that was designed to find patterns and meaning in large datasets not only has recapitulated fundamental laws of physics but has also found explanatory equations that no one really understands. And certain mathematical theorems have been proven by computers, and no one person actually understands the complete proofs, though we know that they are correct.

The article is very clear, really cool, and contains an awesome Issac Asimov quote about relative truth:

“[W]hen people thought the Earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the Earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the Earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the Earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together.”

Readercon!

Today's the first full day at Readercon, so this post is coming to you from the mysterious past, and ANYTHING could have happened since I wrote this post.  There could have been a super-volcano.  Causality might have stopped working.  Another cookie company's flagship product might have come out of the closet. I'm back from the first evening of Readercon, though, so I can tell you what happened on Thursday night.

The first panel I went to was about portrayals of medicine in SF -- mostly, about their absence.  Through that panel, I discovered the Spoon Theory, a method for explaining what it's like to have Lupus, or any other chronic illness without obvious signs.

Most people start the day with unlimited amount of possibilities, and energy to do whatever they desire, especially young people. For the most part, they do not need to worry about the effects of their actions. So for my explanation, I used spoons to convey this point. I wanted something for her to actually hold, for me to then take away, since most people who get sick feel a “loss” of a life they once knew. If I was in control of taking away the spoons, then she would know what it feels like to have someone or something else, in this case Lupus, being in control.

[...]

I asked her to count her spoons. [...] She counted out 12 spoons. She laughed and said she wanted more. I said no, and I knew right away that this little game would work, when she looked disappointed, and we hadn’t even started yet. I’ve wanted more “spoons” for years and haven’t found a way yet to get more, why should she? I also told her to always be conscious of how many she had, and not to drop them because she can never forget she has Lupus.

I also got referred back to an article by Elizabeth Bear on Charles Stross's blog, that I read in 2011 and had mostly forgotten about.

The more research I do into human neurology--and writing Dust and the other two Jacob's Ladder books required more about brains than I ever wanted to know--the more convinced I become that we, human we, are not divorceable from our meat. In one of the Jenny Casey books, I have a artificial intelligence researcher protest to her creation that he's nothing but piezoelectrical patterns in crystal; he retorts that she is, likewise, piezoelectrical patterns in meat. And while that remains true... the shape of the circuitry, and the neurochemical baths that wash it, have a hell of a lot of influence over who we are.

I'm not sure this was the specific feminist critique of the singularity that she mentioned in the panel, but it quotes a large chunk of an earlier piece.

The second session was about the utility of realistic fiction, which was fascinating, but didn't give me a huge amount of stuff to link to.  (They referenced a blog post I haven't yet been able to find, but it's in my notes.)

I'll be taking careful notes over the course of the weekend, and will be coming back on Monday with a lot of stuff to talk about.  For the remainder of the weekend, Mike has a book review that's going up today, and an "Ask A Star Wars Geek" installment for Saturday.

Vernor Vinge at Google

Today is a good day for good video.  Jane McGonigal released a new TED talk, John Green put up his first video on Fahrenheit 451, which I can't watch yet because I haven't gotten around to reading the first section of the book[EDIT: I caved, and am watching it now.  I guess It'll just inform my reading when I get around to it.], and Vernor Vinge's Author Talk at Google went up. I've been meaning to start catching up on Vernor Vinge's thinking and writing for a while now, because he's one of the popular names in the Singularity conversation -- he's the guy who came up with that name.  Personally, my opinion on the Singularity went back and forth for a while, and has now settled into a comfortable state of "I have no ████ing clue what's going on, but I don't think things are going to be the way they are now, this time next year."

This Google Talk turned out to be a pretty nice way to start to dip my toes in -- I found I could follow all of it, which was a plus, and I liked that it explored more Vinge's portrayals of the Singularity in fiction, rather than his beliefs about it in real life -- which seem, largely, to be:  He thinks it will happen, but accepts the possibility it won't, and doesn't have the remotest clue what it will entail.

Here's the talk, also embedded below:

And if you're not familiar with Google Author Talks, it's a channel all on its own, and generally features a few talks a week, mostly around an hour long.  I watch all but the ones that seem really, really boring.  There are probably at least some that would interest you.