Friday, August 29, 2014

Coming to terms with the multiverse

Like most people, my neurons were rebooted a few times between birth and adulthood. So I don’t remember that much about childhood, but I do remember sitting in a schoolyard, perhaps in grade one or two, trying to get my head around the end of the universe.

I’m not at all sure, but I believe at that time, around 1970, I thought of the universe as infinite. Later it became finite, a theoretically countable number of galaxies somewhere between 10-20 billion light years “across” with an estimated age that didn’t quite add up. Then came inflation and the height of a human defined the mid-point between Neutrino and the Universe. That was six or seven years ago.

Those were the good old days. Now we have the Multiverse, and Tegmark’s taxonomy of multiversi …

Level I: Beyond our cosmological horizon[edit]

… A generic prediction of chaotic inflation is an infinite ergodic universe, which, being infinite, must contain Hubble volumes realizing all initial conditions.

Accordingly, an infinite universe will contain an infinite number of Hubble volumes, all having the same physical laws and physical constants…. 

Level II: Universes with different physical constants…

… In the chaotic inflation theory, a variant of the cosmic inflation theory, the multiverse as a whole is stretching and will continue doing so forever, but some regions of space stop stretching and form distinct bubbles, like gas pockets in a loaf of rising bread….Different bubbles may experience different spontaneous symmetry breaking resulting in different properties such as different physical constants…

Level III: Many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics … 

Level IV: Ultimate ensemble …

I’m slowly reading Tegmark’s popular book of which some criticism might be made. That review, however, offers little solace to universe nostalgics (emphases mine)…

Level I [is] just lots of unobservable extensions of what we see, with the same physics, an uncontroversial notion. Level III is the “many-worlds” interpretation of quantum mechanics, which again sticks to our known laws of physics. Level II is where conventional notions of science get left behind, with different physics in other unobservable parts of the universe. This is what has become quite popular the past dozen years …

So an infinite number of universes like the one we observe is “uncontroversial” and the idea that our infinite multiverse is only one extreme instance of vastly larger number (mostly unsuitable for particles, much less life) is “quite popular”.  There are necessarily an infinite number of John Gordon’s typing versions of this post…

Yes, infinity is like that.

I prefer to think that nothing ever happened, and that we are merely granite dreaming, but I try to creep up on the multiverse by way of metaphor. One person standing on a barren planet is inexplicable; 8 billion people on a planet infested with life is relatively easy to understand.

Perhaps so it is with universes.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Human pregnancy is a dynamic struggle - implications for eco-econ, corporate power and secular stagnation

At the “Spherical Cow” level of simplification, human pregnancy is a dynamic tension control system, a kind of brain and gene motivated cold war between fetus and host (emphases mine)

Pregnancy is a war between mother and child – Suzanne Sadedin – Aeon

As the pregnancy continues, the foetus escalates its hormone production, sending signals designed to increase the mother’s blood sugar and blood pressure and thus its own resource supply. In particular, the foetus increases its production of a hormone that prompts the mother’s brain to release cortisol, the primary stress hormone. Cortisol suppresses her immune system, stopping it from attacking the foetus. More importantly, it increases her blood pressure, so that more blood pumps past the placenta and consequently more nutrients are available to the foetus.

The mother … pre-emptively reduces her blood sugar levels. She also releases a protein that binds to the foetal hormone, rendering it ineffective. So then the foetus further increases its production. By eight months, the foetus spends an estimated 25 per cent of its daily protein intake on manufacturing these hormonal messages to its mother. And how does the mother reply? She increases her own hormonal production, countering the embryo’s hormones with her own that decrease her blood pressure and sugar. Through all this manipulation and mutual reprisal, most of the time the foetus ultimately gets about the right amount of blood, and about the right amount of sugar, allowing it to grow fat and healthy in time for birth.

Pre-eclampsia may represent a malfunction of these balancing factors — a malfunction that injures both fetus and mother (many wondered about this in the early 90s).

Eco-econ principles suggest we look for this kind of evolved dynamic tension in our economic and political systems. We might look at something like this…

Feb 2010.png

a three way struggle between powerful economic (voters are also customers) and political forces. 

By analogy our current situation of secular stagnation and extreme wealth concentration is the equivalent of pre-eclampsia — a dynamic control system disorder that ultimately injures even the dominant powers. Corporations  and powerful individuals have accumulated too much wealth and power, resulting in dysfunctional patent laws, increasingly oppressive non-compete contracts, and a corrupt political system.

We can either rebalance our control systems, or we can develop eclampsia.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Exercise and 55 - still CrossFit

When I would lose weight at 35 friends might say I looked well. At 55 friends say nothing, but they look worried. Like they’re wondering who Emily will marry after the cancer gets me. It’s different.

I think the skinniness is the CrossFit though. I’m still doing it, 17 months now, still at CrossFit St Paul. I used to need 3 days to heal after the workouts, but I went to 3 times a week last January. When my bike season ends I’ll go to every other day until spring.

I’m not addicted. Ok, a bit.

Doing this has put an unexpected spin on aging. My hair gets whiter, my brain gets crappier [1], but my body gets stronger and faster. I ran my best lifetime mile a week ago. I finally started doing “double unders” - just took a year and a half of failure. (Ten year old girls do these routinely. I blame it on a 55yo cerebellum and my aspie genes.) I suck at snatchs and handstand pushups, but they don’t scare me any more. I’m doing the chin-ups with the smallest band assist - or none at all.

The pounding music and tattoos have become familiar. You see something every week and pretty soon it’s just background. (I told my daughter if she gets a tattoo I’ll get one too, but I’m bluffing.) Now I see all the levels at CrossFit — on-ramp, newbie, beginner, regular, “Rx”, specialty classes, competitive and beyond. I’m basically somewhere between newbie and regular. Rx, at least Rx for men, is beyond this life.

We have terrific coaches and classmates, times that work no matter my schedule, great location for my commute, no contracts, and great return on time spent exercising. I like the “risky crazy” reputation, though I am positive my bicycle commute is a higher risk for serious injury.

Yeah, it doesn’t go on forever. I know what 80 looks like. Long before that I’ll be doing something gentler, and if I’m lucky I’ll one day be pedaling a electric-assist trike for exercise. Until then, I pay a month at a time.

If you want to try CrossFit and your 40 year warranty has expired I can share what’s worked for me — so far. 

I’m careful. I keep my deadlift under 210 - which is ridiculously low for a guy. I’ve got some history with backs and I respect that. Deadlift aside I aim for 80-90% of “Women’s Rx” on the weight, where Women’s Rx is what a competitive CrossFit woman would do. (Men’s Rx for olympic weights is way beyond me.) When my technique gets poor I slow down — even when time is running out. I like to ride my bike to the gym to loosen up, and a few hours of bicycling on off days is balm for a sore body. In the winter XC skiing works the same way — but this winter I think I’m taking up skate skiing. It’s good for the squats.

There’s some etiquette with being old in a relatively young person’s activity. There’s always something on the body that’s trying to break — don’t whine. It’s just entropy at work.

That’s it. If you want to try I recommend starting twice a week, abandon any idea that you’re stronger or faster than the CrossFit women, respect the body (never push, it will break), be persistent and be patient.

[1] One of the reasons, maybe the main reason, that I started doing CrossFit was that the only damned thing we can do to slow our inevitable brain mushification is to do serious regular physical exercise. If it’s really working for that then I hate to think what my brain would be like otherwise.

Update: This 2012 review of CrossFit is well done.