Saturday, July 26, 2008

Physics and Philosophy - Thoughts on the Implications of Quantum Mechanics, and Other Matters #23

23. Why is the lone scientist, or (true[17]) intellectual in general discouraged? Why is patronage corporate, foundation, academia or state only? Conformity is controllable. Imposed structure requires deadlines. Mediocrity flourishes by demanding a product. Publish or perish.

[17] As opposed to an Idiot.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Physics and Philosophy - Thoughts on the Implications of Quantum Mechanics, and Other Matters #19

19. The constant demand for unattainable uniformity always degenerates into mediocrity through its means. Where Technique[16] abounds, creativity is stifled, and humanity is reduced. Unity eliminates possibilities. Culture stagnates when so fundamentally constrained by the dictates of the “lowest common denominator” mentality. Science, engineering and technical fields are no more immune being stifled than the greater society. In physics, historically, the greatest leaps forward in fundamental scientific understandings have been undertaken as generally solitary intellectual endeavors. Yet, the modern era would believe otherwise. The dollar devaluates more than just economic value.

[16] See The Technological Society by Jacques Ellul (and elsewhere in this book) for further reading.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Physics and Philosophy - Thoughts on the Implications of Quantum Mechanics, and Other Matters #18

18. Mathematical prediction is a corner stone of modern scientific pursuit. In general, a science achieves legitimacy in direct proportion to its predictive accuracy. As a consequence, the scientist is rarely rewarded or encouraged to explore and investigate the limits of science. The Uncertainty Principle, along with chaos theory and certain studies in complexity are rare exceptions, but mostly scientists would appear to believe science is ultimately reducible to simple components or explanations. Faith is not just the providence of religion.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Holiday Reading

A giant breaks his chains and again walks the earth: inflation.
Otto Freidrich’s Before the Deluge: Berlin in the Twenties tells about the effects of hyperinflation in the Wiemar Republic:
The fundamental quality of the disaster was a complete loss of faith in the functioning of society. Money is important not just a medium of economic exchange, after all, but as a standard by which society judges our work, and thus our selves.

… “The collapse of the currency meant not only the end of trade, bankrupt businesses, food shortages in the big cities and unemployment” according to one historian, Allan Bullock. “It had the effect, which is the unique quality of economic catastrophe, of reaching down and touching every single member of the community in a way which no political event can. The savings of the middle classes and the working classes were wiped out at a single blow with a ruthlessness which no revolution could ever equal. … The result of the inflation was to undermine the foundations of German society in a way which neither the war, nor the revolution of November 1918, nor the Treaty of Versailles had ever done. The real revolution in German was the inflation.

“Yes, the inflation was by far the most important event of the period” says a 75 year old journalist. … It wiped out the savings of the whole middle class, but those are just words. You have to understand what that meant. There was not a single girl in the entire middle class who could get married without her father paying a dowry. Even the maids — they never spent a penny of their wages. They saved and saved so that they could get married. When the money became worthless it destroyed the whole system for getting married, and so it destroyed the whole idea of remaining chaste until marriage.

“The rich had never lived up to their own standards of course, and the poor had different standards anyway. But the middle class, by and large, obeyed the rules. … But what happened from the inflation was that the girls learned that virginity didn’t matter anymore. The women were liberated.”
In the World of Yesterday Stefan Zweig describes some of the result of this inflation on society:
In the collapse of all values a kind of madness gained hold particularly in the bourgeois circles which until then had been unshakable in their probity.

… How wild, anarchic and unreal were those years, years in which, with the dwindling value of money all other values in values in Austria and Germany began to slip! It was an epoch of high ecstasy and ugly scheming, a singular mixture of unrest and fanaticism. Every extravagant idea that was not subject to regulation reaped a golden harvest: theosophy, occultism, yoga … Anything that gave hope of newer and greater thrills, anything in the way of narcotics, morphine, cocaine, heroin found a tremendous market; on the stage, incest and parricide; in politics communism and fascism constituted the most favored themes; unconditionally proscribed, however, was any representation of normality and moderation.

… Nothing ever embittered the German people so much — it is important to remember this — nothing made them so furious with hate and so ripe for Hitler as the inflation.
Every Move You Make.
Established mechanisms of political power are, of course, the immediately available means for attempting change. Notions of citizens’ rights, freedom, and democratic participation are compelling paradigms that have consistently stirred the bravery of U.S. citizens – and yet elder political scientist Sheldon Wolin, who taught the philosophy of democracy for five decades, sees the current predicament of corporate-government hegemony as something more endemic.

“Inverted totalitarianism,” as he calls it in his recent Democracy Incorporated, “lies in wielding total power without appearing to, without establishing concentration camps, or enforcing ideological uniformity, or forcibly suppressing dissident elements so long as they remain ineffectual.” To Wolin, such a form of political power makes the United States “the showcase of how democracy can be managed without appearing to be suppressed.”
Fear Factor: Surviving a disaster often depends on self-control
Fortunately, in many disasters, someone is often biologically and psychologically well-suited for dealing with the chaos. Such people typically are the most likely to survive or to shepherd a docile group of survivors out of a disaster zone. What makes them different? Some have a natural psychological buffer that allows them to bounce back from extreme stress. Examination of people who always perform well in extreme circumstances has shown high levels in the blood of “neuropeptide Y”—a compound that allows one to stay mentally focused under stress. It’s so closely correlated with success in pressure situations that it is almost a biological marker for selection into elite groups for military special operations.
Have fun!