Technical and Progressive Death Metal

Filed under: — Bravus @ 2:24 pm

Prompt: Briefly explain the difference between technical death metal and progressive death metal


Technical death metal and progressive death metal are two subgenres within the broader realm of death metal, characterized by their distinctive musical elements and approaches.

Technical death metal, often referred to as tech-death, places a strong emphasis on intricate and complex musicality, pushing the boundaries of technical skill and virtuosity. It showcases advanced musicianship with fast and intricate guitar riffs, complex drum patterns, intricate bass lines, and challenging time signatures. The focus is on precision, speed, and technical proficiency, often incorporating elements of jazz fusion, progressive rock, and classical music. The lyrics in technical death metal may explore a wide range of topics, including philosophical concepts, science fiction, and abstract themes.

Progressive death metal, on the other hand, combines the brutality and intensity of death metal with the progressive and experimental tendencies of progressive rock/metal. It blends the aggressive and extreme nature of death metal with progressive song structures, unconventional time signatures, intricate instrumental passages, and a greater emphasis on dynamics, atmosphere, and melodic elements. Progressive death metal often incorporates progressive rock/metal influences, incorporating extended song lengths, complex arrangements, and a wider range of musical textures. The lyrics in progressive death metal may explore introspective and philosophical themes, introspection, and metaphysical concepts.

While both subgenres share a focus on musical intricacy and complexity, technical death metal places a greater emphasis on sheer technical proficiency and precision, whereas progressive death metal emphasizes a more experimental and progressive approach, incorporating a broader range of musical elements and structures.

It’s worth noting that there can be overlap between the two subgenres, and some bands may incorporate elements from both technical death metal and progressive death metal in their music. The boundaries between subgenres in metal can be fluid, and bands often bring their own unique blend of influences and styles to create their distinct sound.


Wesley Salmon and Explanation in Science

Filed under: — Bravus @ 2:19 pm

Prompt: Please explain why Wesley Salmon discarded his ‘statistical relevance’ model of explanation


Wesley Salmon, a prominent philosopher of science, initially proposed a model of explanation called “statistical relevance” in his book “Scientific Explanation and the Causal Structure of the World.” The model aimed to provide a probabilistic account of explanation in science. However, Salmon later revised his position and discarded the statistical relevance model for several reasons.

One of the main criticisms of the statistical relevance model was its inability to capture the distinction between explanatorily relevant factors and background conditions. According to the statistical relevance model, an explanatorily relevant factor is one that raises the probability of the event or phenomenon being explained. However, critics argued that this model failed to differentiate between factors that are truly explanatory and those that are merely background conditions or incidental correlations.

Additionally, Salmon realized that the statistical relevance model faced challenges when it came to explaining certain scientific phenomena, particularly those involving complex causal relationships. The model was not well-equipped to handle cases where multiple factors or interactions between factors were involved in producing an outcome. In such cases, the statistical relevance model was deemed inadequate in providing a comprehensive understanding of the underlying causal mechanisms.

Furthermore, Salmon recognized that the statistical relevance model did not adequately address the issue of causal asymmetry. The model treated the relevance of causes to their effects as a symmetric relationship, meaning that if a factor is relevant to an effect, the effect should also be relevant to the cause. However, in many cases, causation is asymmetrical, and the statistical relevance model failed to capture this asymmetry adequately.

In light of these criticisms and limitations, Salmon revised his views and developed a different model of explanation known as the “causal-mechanical” model. This revised model emphasized the importance of identifying the specific causal mechanisms and processes that underlie the phenomena being explained. It focused on the identification of causal relationships, the analysis of causal structures, and the understanding of how causes bring about their effects.

The move away from the statistical relevance model and towards the causal-mechanical model was driven by the need for a more nuanced and robust account of scientific explanation that could address the shortcomings of the former model. Salmon’s shift in thinking highlights the evolving nature of philosophical perspectives and the willingness to modify or abandon models when they fail to provide satisfactory explanations for scientific phenomena.

Followup: Is Salmon’s causal-mechanical model tautological? Doesn’t it reduce to ‘the thing that explains the effect is the cause’?


Salmon’s causal-mechanical model, as described in his later works, is not tautological. While it does emphasize the role of causes in explaining effects, it goes beyond a simple tautology by providing a more detailed and nuanced account of causal explanation.

The causal-mechanical model does assert that the cause is what explains the effect, but it also emphasizes the importance of identifying and understanding the specific causal mechanisms and processes that connect the cause to the effect. It focuses on analyzing the underlying mechanisms, structures, and interactions involved in producing the observed phenomenon.

Rather than reducing to a mere tautology, the causal-mechanical model seeks to uncover the specific causal pathways and mechanisms that are responsible for bringing about the effect. It aims to provide a deeper understanding of the causal processes involved, highlighting the relevant factors, mechanisms, and interactions that are necessary for the occurrence of the effect.

By focusing on the detailed examination of causal mechanisms and their interplay, the causal-mechanical model offers a more robust and informative account of scientific explanation compared to a simplistic tautology. It provides a framework for identifying and explaining the mechanisms through which causes bring about their effects, allowing for a richer understanding of the causal relationships at play.

It is important to note that the causal-mechanical model is subject to ongoing debates and refinements within the philosophy of science. Different philosophers may have varying perspectives on the model’s strengths, weaknesses, and applicability to different scientific domains.

Back on my B…. Nonsense

Filed under: — Bravus @ 2:18 pm

The very enjoyable trip to Europe recently disrupted my experiment of sharing ChatGPT-generated content on this blog, but now I’m back in Australia and exploring the field of AI in education again, so it’s time to dive back in.


Sydney to London via Singapore

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:38 pm

Sydney to London via Singapore on Singapore Airlines is a popular route for international travelers. Singapore Airlines is a highly regarded airline that offers comfortable flights, excellent customer service, and a range of amenities to make your journey as pleasant as possible.

The flight from Sydney to Singapore typically takes around 8-9 hours, and from Singapore to London, it takes around 13-14 hours. Singapore Airlines operates a modern fleet of aircraft, including the Airbus A380 and the Boeing 777, which offer spacious seating and state-of-the-art entertainment systems.

During your flight, you can expect to be served meals and drinks, and you’ll have access to a range of in-flight entertainment options, including movies, TV shows, music, and games. Singapore Airlines also offers complimentary Wi-Fi on select flights, allowing you to stay connected throughout your journey.

If you have a layover in Singapore, you can take advantage of the airport’s many amenities, including lounges, restaurants, and shops. Singapore Changi Airport is one of the world’s best airports, offering a range of activities, including a rooftop pool, a butterfly garden, and even a movie theater.

Overall, traveling from Sydney to London via Singapore on Singapore Airlines is a great way to get to your destination in comfort and style.



Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:45 am

ChatGPT explains what is happening to me today:

Splinting is an important part of the treatment for a dislocated thumb after reduction, as it helps to immobilize the thumb and promote healing. There are several options for splinting a dislocated thumb after reduction, including:

  1. Thumb spica splint: This is the most common type of splint used for a dislocated thumb. It immobilizes the thumb and wrist, providing support and stability to the affected area. The splint is typically worn for several weeks to allow the bones to heal.
  2. Custom-molded splint: A custom-molded splint may be used in more severe cases or for patients with specific hand anatomy. It is made by a hand therapist or orthopedic technician who molds the splint to fit the patient’s hand and thumb precisely.
  3. Dynamic splint: A dynamic splint is a splint that allows for some movement of the thumb while still providing support and stability. It may be used in cases where the patient needs to start moving their thumb earlier in the recovery process.
  4. Buddy taping: This involves taping the dislocated thumb to an adjacent finger for support and stability. It may be used for minor dislocations or in cases where a more traditional splint is not practical.

The type of splint used will depend on the severity of the dislocation, the patient’s individual needs and preferences, and the healthcare provider’s recommendation. Patients should follow their provider’s instructions carefully to ensure proper healing and avoid re-injury.



Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:42 am

ChatGPT explains what is happening to me today:

Dislocated thumb is a common hand injury that occurs when the bones of the thumb are forced out of their normal positions. Treatment options for a dislocated thumb include closed reduction, open reduction, and k-wire fixation.

Closed reduction is a non-surgical procedure in which the healthcare provider gently manipulates the thumb bones back into their correct position. The patient may be given a local anesthesia to numb the area, and the provider will use their hands to gently push the bones back into place. This procedure is often done in an emergency room or urgent care center.

Open reduction is a surgical procedure in which the healthcare provider makes an incision in the skin and soft tissues around the thumb to directly access the dislocated bones. This procedure is usually reserved for more severe cases where closed reduction has failed or is not possible.

K-wire fixation is a surgical procedure that involves using a thin wire (k-wire) to hold the dislocated bones in place while they heal. The k-wire is inserted through the skin and into the bones, and it may be left in place for several weeks while the bones heal. This procedure is often used in cases where the dislocation is severe or the bones are unstable.

After any of these treatments, the patient will typically be given a splint or cast to immobilize the thumb and allow it to heal. Rehabilitation exercises may also be prescribed to help restore strength and flexibility to the thumb once it has healed.


My Chemical Romance with Doris Day

Filed under: — Bravus @ 3:53 pm

I was recently struck by the parallels and differences between the opening lyrics of Doris Day’s 1956 hit ‘Que Sera, Sera’ and My Chemical Romance’s song ‘Welcome to the Black Parade’ from 2006.

Que Sera, Sera starts with:
“When I was just a little girl
I asked my mother, what will I be
Will I be pretty? Will I be rich?
Here’s what she said to me:

Que sera, sera
Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not ours to see
Que sera, sera
What will be, will be”

It’s not a bad message about accepting life as it comes rather than wishing our lives away, but it feels to me like Welcome to the Black Parade captures a different sense of the world and our places in it:

“When I was a young boy
My father took me into the city
To see a marching band
He said, “Son, when you grow up
Would you be the savior of the broken
The beaten and the damned?”
He said, “Will you defeat them?
Your demons, and all the non-believers
The plans that they have made?”

Both are songs about formative experiences as young children with parents, but the latter song is much more outward-looking, and focuses on the protagonist’s obligations to the vulnerable in our world.

And this seems to me to be an attitude that, in the face of all our defeated reactions to what’s happening in the world at the moment, has taken root. I know that most of my young friends are much more aware of and concerned about other people in the world, especially the vulnerable ones, and what they can do to make the world better.



Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:31 am

My nickname has been ‘Bravus’ (from ‘Brave Dave’ and then ‘Bravus Davus’) for something like 40 years.

I acquired the domain bravus.com many years ago, and hosted my web site and blog there for a long time.

A craft brewery in the US wanted to call itself Bravus, and bought that domain from me. I haven’t tasted their products, but I can definitely get behind their efforts in producing non-alcoholic and low alcohol beers:


When I sold that one I was pleased to discover that bravus.com.au was available, so I grabbed that and moved my web site and blog to it for a few years.

Earlier this year a marketing company approached me about acquiring that domain, and after naming what I thought was a fair-to-high price for it, they agreed and paid me out.

I acquired profbravus.com, since @ProfBravus is my Twitter handle anyway, and the site you’re reading this on is hosted at that domain.

I used the money from the marketing company and thought no more of it, until today, when I learned that Indian mining (and other industries) company Adani have changed their name, at least in Australia, to Bravus… and sure enough, which I checked, good old bravus.com.au is now theirs.

That’s not something I can get behind or support! I’m a member of the Queensland Greens party, and am adamantly opposed to the opening of Adani’s proposed massive new coal mine in Queensland’s Galilee Basin.

So this post is mainly to distance myself from the new Bravus… or rather, to distance them from me, since I was here first, by decades!


For Whom The Bell Tolls, or, Death and the Dutton

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:52 am

Pretty sure I’ve quoted this here before, because I think it’s so powerful, but it’s relatively short and it bears repeating:

No Man is an Island

No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were;
any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

MEDITATION XVII Devotions upon Emergent Occasions John Donne

It first came back to me when I heard that Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton had contracted COVID-19. Dutton is a vicious and awful man, who has brutalised refugees for many years and continually seeks opportunities to brutalise them more and harder.

Unlike quite a few others, though, I didn’t wish that he’d die from the infection. There was an online debate about ‘civility’, but to me that isn’t the point: the point is Donne’s poem. Anyone’s – any human being’s, and arguably any animal’s, but that’s a more complex conversation for another day – death diminishes me.

If I’m to genuinely be a humanist, then Dutton being voted out of office and losing his power to harm is something devoutly to be wished, but his death is not something I can wish for.

The other context that made me think of Donne was the sentiment – probably only pronounced in black humor, though in many cases I don’t think so – that “don’t worry, this virus only kills the old and sick”.

That, too, devalues the lives of others and, I would argue, devalues our own lives by extension.

There are good and important arguments to be had around euthanasia but that’s also something for another day. When it’s a death from disease, what we ought to be doing is whatever we can to ensure that others live.

None of us is an island.


What’s It Like Inside Your Mind?

Filed under: — Bravus @ 2:47 pm

This article was shared on social media about two weeks ago and caused quite a stir:

Have to admit, I was surprised that people were surprised. One of the things Suzie and I have been doing for over 30 years now is comparing notes: “What’s it like inside your mind?”

Our minds are quite different. She really doesn’t have an internal monologue. I sort of do, but it’s much more of a cacophony of images and voices and sounds and songs than it is a monologue.

(If you follow me on Facebook you get some of the random things that float up in the middle of living life…)

Her mind was subjected to some trauma do to abuse in childhood that may have led it to adapt, at a very plastic time, in ways it wouldn’t ‘naturally’ have done, but we don’t have a ‘control’ mind to compare.

You’ll notice I’m saying ‘mind’, not ‘brain’. There’s a fair bit of both psychology and philosophy behind that distinction, but for the moment I’m just using it to emphasise that I’m talking about our own subjective experience of our own minds.

It’s often tempting to ascribe differences to gender, but in many ways we don’t fit the traditional gender stereotypes: she’s more logical and analytical, I’m more intuitive, she’s a problem-solver, I’m more nurturing.

I tend to be very self-conscious, and (I hope) that also means I’m aware of my impact on others, and how what I’m saying and doing is impacting on them. Suzie is less so, and therefore is authentically herself in any context.

I do quite a lot of 3D mental modeling and rotation when we’re doing things like assembling Ikea furniture or working out whether a fridge will go through a door. It’s hard to know whether those skills caused my study in physics or were caused by it – probably a little of each.

But, specifically around the issue of an inner monologue, she definitely still thinks things through, but either that happens in her subconscious/unconscious mind and is then simply presented to her conscious mind as a fait accompli, or else it happens in dialogue with other people.

Conversations with others are crucial to hone her thinking. I tend to much more work through things and turn them around in my mind, look at options and solutions, try to simplify and clarify ideas and so on.

I’m pleased that the original article above was posted, though: the more people in society are able to simply recognise and understand that projecting their own subjective experience of their own mind onto everyone else doesn’t get the job done, the better.


A Theism of Transcendence

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:38 am

I’m not really a theist in a sense most people would recognise. I think the universe’s existence and origin is well explained by natural science. I think human moral reasoning has the potential to be morally better than the dictates of any religion, and so on.

A conversation with a friend got onto these topics, and he made the point that a God can be dispensed of entirely with those views. Probably true, but my reply was as follows:

To me, God is there to be the transcendent, much more than to be a surrogate parent or president. A name for that which is beyond us… and perhaps a big part of the 21st century mallaise is that so few of us recognise that there is anything beyond us.

– me in a FB DM conversation

My friend is a pastor, and noted that this sounds like Paul Tillich, and I suspect it probably does: there’s nothing new under the sun. I haven’t read Tillich, though, this is just what I’ve arrived at for myself.

Maybe applying the name ‘God’ to this doesn’t work well: for so long it has been used as a claimed supernatural guarantor for ‘you should be like me and do what I say’. Perhaps using a different wording like ‘The Nameless’ or something works better.

But I think there’s some remaining value in the concept. Your mileage may vary.


How Firm a Climate Foundation? – Taking One For The Team

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:19 am

Dr Paul Giem is a medical doctor who leads a discussion group at Loma Linda University in the US and publishes 90 minute videos on YouTube. Many of his presentations are about creationism, but he did one about climate change recently (late November 2019). It’s being posted around Seventh-day Adventist circles as though it were evidence, although I note that at the time of writing it has had only 155 views.

I decided to ‘take one for the team’ by watching it and fact-checking it. I tend to avoid 90-minute YouTube videos as a medium almost entirely.

Anyway, here’s the video:

I’m not really a fan of a picky, point-by-point approach, but it does worry me when the first graph used stops in 2010: prior to another decade of warming.

Doesn’t notice that one graph is in C and another in F and makes much of the ‘exaggeration’ on the Fahrenheit graph, despite the fact that the magnitude of the increase is very similar if the same endpoints and units are used. Ascribes this to ‘data adjustment’ and uses it to impugn the accuracy of the data.

Claims there was a ‘pause’ after the 1998 El Nino despite a clear rising trend in the averaged data.

First citation was to Roy Spencer, climate denier (although there is a discussion of Spencer’s own claims not to be…), second is to WattsUpWithThat climate denial blog, third is to Joanne Nova… He began by talking about going to the science and evidence, but the wells he’s choosing are all poisoned.

LOL – a piece from John McLean’s doctoral thesis at James Cook University is cited damning the HadCRUT data for a number of sins including… confusing Fahrenheit and Celsius! I went for a look, by the way: John McLean’s doctorate was supervised by… climate denier Professor Peter Ridd. The thesis (freely available on the JCU site) is a bitty mess, but it basically expresses astonishment that there are errors and issues in a massive data set. Lots of exclamation marks for a thesis. Bro, do you even data?

Twenty minutes in, and only the coffee is keeping me going.

At 22 minutes there is a graph, showing a strong Medieval Warm Period, supposedly from the first IPCC report, but the y-axis isn’t even labelled. Pretty sure it’s a fabrication, happy to be corrected. Nah, apparently real (when I fact-checked myself), but as part of a larger set of graphs showing variation on longer and shorter timescales. Not much ends up being made of it in this presentation.

Key point to make is that the Medieval Warm Period was most probably a local phenomenon in the North Atlantic, probably related to changes to ocean circulation currents, not a net warmer period for the whole globe. This is crucial in showing why the argument ‘the Medieval Warm Period was warmer than now’ is false, when the topic is global warming.

“But [their] emails!” gets a run as well, with ‘Mike’s nature trick’ making an appearance. Dammit, I forgot to make a ‘Denial Bingo’ card! How many of the traditional touchstones will be touched?

At 33 minutes Soon’s work on solar irradiance variation and Arctic air temperatures is considered. The fact that it’s Arctic-only, not global, work is not noted, and the CO2 trend line which maps the data well is discounted.

The other key point, of course, is that we don’t control the sun, and we do control greenhouse gas emissions. If the sun were causing some of the observed warming, that would be more reason to work harder at what we can control, not less.

At 35: “is global warming harmful?” With the Australian summer we’re in the middle of, this is just insulting. (inquisitr.com – not exactly one of my go-to sources for peer-reviewed science…)

Ooof – proposed geo-engineering. Sulphur dioxide for a lovely yellow sky? Solutions to us putting too much $&# in the air is to intentionally put even more $&# in the air? Yeah nah.

Not at the halfway point yet, but we’re apparently finished with the science and getting into the politics. Oh wait, there’s a graph from WattsUpWithThat claiming that the US has reduced its emissions by 30%. Nope: one sector only.

40 minutes, first mention of the Pope. Oof: “we breathe out carbon dioxide, so kill people to reduce emissions” (slight paraphrase).

46 minutes and we have Al Gore and ‘An Inconvenient Truth’. Allow me to repeat my regular mantra: “Al Gore is not climate change and climate change is not Al Gore. Al Gore could be a saint or a serial killer and it wouldn’t move the thermometer a millionth of a degree. Go to the data.” In this case, Gore’s comments are straight up lied about.

“Global cooling in the 1970s” – notes that it’s nonsense, but decides he was there and it was a real thing. Literal quote “You can’t get much more authoritative for that period in the literature than Walter Cronkite”. A reputable newsreader, no doubt, but not a scientist and not in the (scientific) literature. Cronkite reported some work by Herbert Lamb. Have a quick look at the Wikipedia article for a decent factual rundown on this claim: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_cooling

‘Nother screenful of denialist blog pages.

Attempted critique of the Oreskes work finding that 97% of science papers which expressed a view on the causes of warming stated that human activities are a significant contributor, but it demonstrates a lack of understanding of the methodology. This is a robust finding, and newer studies have found much the same, or an even higher proportion. Among active, working climate scientists, this is not at all a controversial view.

Enforced Sunday worship gets another mention at the end, but no evidence that anyone is contemplating that was adduced anywhere in the presentation.

The presentation went for the first hour, and the remaining 30 minutes is for questions and comments. I never listen to talkback, so this bit requires even more coffee.

First question, paraphrased: “Peer reviewed journals will not even allow some papers to be published”. Um, yeah, that’s what peer review does! It is a check for quality, and makes sure that the evidence adduced and the methods used actually lead to the conclusions presented. If a paper fails peer review it is overwhelmingly because it is a bad paper, not because of bias. I mean, like any human system, peer review is subject to random errors, but there is not a systematic error where valid evidence for one ‘side’ of an issue is suppressed. That’s just conspiracy theory thinking, founded in a failure to understand how peer review actually works.

Giem’s response “we have proof that there was interference”… wanders to slide show, scans around but doesn’t find it.

LOL: 1:02 “just be aware that if you use it (the graph showing solar irradiance) you’re going to be piled on by people with other graphs that aren’t as good” – i.e., graphs that don’t show the desired answer, just the accurate answer! And this dude had the cojones to allude to ‘cheery-picking’ within the last couple of minutes!

The question, I think, is about the arctic data, vs the global data. Unsurprising for a number of reasons. The lower graph on the same slide shows a significant CO2 correlation as well.

In the end, much of the discussion is mutual agreement. No-one really challenges the claims made.

Pretty ignorant point about 1-year running averages versus longer-period running averages…

Question about longer-term climate variation, beyond the span of human civilisation. Giem hasn’t gone to long ice-core scales and so on because he’s a creationist and doesn’t accept that the planet has been around that long. Does bust out the ‘warming leads CO2‘ claim, though.

Explicit question on how AGW is ‘packaged and sold’ and how evolution is. Roy Spencer gets a shout-out in the response.

LOL – question arises about a claim from Soon that, despite increases in atmospheric CO2 the greenhouse effect has remained flat. Giem pauses for a moment and then says “Well, I think Soon sometimes overstates his data a little bit”. OK, so you already knew that when you cited Soon as an authority earlier in this presentation, right?

1:18, audience question “All the data are based on computer models…” Yeah nah. Most of the data are based on measurements. The models model multiple scenarios, and in general have under-estimated the level and rate of change. Giem doesn’t really address the question, and goes to personal (local) experience rather than to either data or modeling. When the questioner insists, Giem claims that the models over-estimated change. Simply not the case.

Question from an audience member about a graph no-one else present has seen. Question from an audience member about sea level rise. Giem ends up acknowledging that it’s happening, though he focuses on ice melt and ignores ocean thermal expansion. Does a decent job on the distinction between sea ice and land ice. Claims polar bear populations are increasing. A quick fact check shows that this is a common denialist meme, but also not supported by the best available evidence. https://www.sej.org/publications/alaska-and-hawaii/magic-number-a-sketchy-fact-about-polar-bears-keeps-goingand-going-an

Question about ‘the Pope getting scientists together next May’. Anyone know anything about this?

In the end, of course, people will choose their sources and their biases, and if you want someone who you consider to be authoritative to bolster your existing view, this presentation might be for you. But Dr Giem says right at the start that you have to go to the peer reviewed evidence, then goes to un-peer reviewed denialist blogs and web sites for the great majority of everything he cites in the entire presentation.

Along the way he actually does acknowledge that the globe is warming and that human activities are significant contributors. Why, then, spend so much time trying to impugn the data that establish those two scientific findings?

There are legitimate debates about the best mix of approaches to reducing emissions and mitigating climate change, but this presentation doesn’t really get into that in a genuine way, instead heading off into conspiracy theories about socialists and Sunday Laws.

If you’re seeking a firm foundation in understanding what’s happening with Earth’s climate and what we should do about it, I’d advise looking elsewhere.


How Greenhouse Gases Work

Filed under: — Bravus @ 2:26 pm

I’ve wanted to make this video for a while: hope you find it interesting and useful.

I did make one mistake: water definitely has more options than just ‘waggling its legs’. 😉 The hydrogens can move toward and away from the oxygen, in or out of sync.


5.3 km = 51:48

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:32 am

So I had the bright idea of going for an early morning run on the beach this morning. Thought it would be lovely, and in some ways it was, but without daylight saving, even though I was up and out at 5:30 the sun was well and truly up.

Not sure whether the photo fully conveys it, but the sea was rough and the sky was hazy because there was a howling southerly gale.

That meant that running south down the beach meant running straight into the teeth of it (and then it’s less help than one might assume and hope on the way back). Also, the tide was coming in, not going out, so rather than the firm plane of sand I’d expected to be running on, it was near-quicksand.

It’s a dog beach we come to often, and we tend to think that it’s 2 km from the sand dredging jetty in the photo to the point that marks the end of the dog beach, and therefore our round trip is 4 km. My plan was to add an extra 700 m or so south at the end to make it just over 5.3 round trip. Pushed, fought, struggled – glasses gradually being obscured by salt spray – to the marker, only to discover it’s 1.5 km, not 2.0.

At this point, with the deep sand, my right achilles was on the verge of protected industrial action, so I decided to turn around, finish the beach section, and then finish the distance around the park. It did get a bit easier on the way north, but the sand was still treacherous.

More dogs than usual said “Hi”. Maybe the sweat smells good to them, maybe it was because I was alone and am usually in a group… or maybe they were just checking in whether I was in need of assistance!

The first two runs I’d forgotten to wear the Apple Watch with its built-in heart rate counter (a gift from a very kind friend), which was not clever, but this time I brought it. I think it confirmed that I’d been doing pretty much the right thing. I’d run for a bit, until I felt kind of wrecked, then slow to a fast walk for a bit, and alternate.

I found that, when I chose to stop running, my heart rate was usually at about 161-162 bpm. Since the danger zone is considered to be roughly 220 minus your age, that intuition was serving me pretty well in keeping me at a place where I was pushing the boundaries but not to the point of risk or harm.

After running on the beach in those conditions, I have to admit I paused the Strava for a moment to put shoes on (I’m no triathlete) and then run-walking in the park felt like… a run-walk in the park.

On the beach I’d been thinking the time would be over an hour with the tough going, but in the end it was less than 5 minutes longer than my first run, less than a week ago. Slight increase in fitness? A few more steps run to hit the target zone? Who knows: stay tuned for Marathon in a Month 4/8!


Quantum Supremacy and the Threat of AI Supremacy

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:51 am

OK, it’s not the zingiest title in the Hogwarts world… 😉

Google recently claimed (a claim disputed by others, including IBM) to have achieved ‘quantum supremacy’. This is a term, popularised by John Preskill, for the ability of a quantum computer to solve a computing problem that would be impossible for a conventional computer within its lifetime.

Google claimed that their ‘Sycamore’ quantum computer, with 54 ‘qubits’ (quantum bits) solved a problem in 3 minutes 20 seconds that would take a conventional computer 10,000 years.

The details are contested, but a working quantum computer (IBM also has one, which for some reason has 53 qubits) is a huge step forward.

Conventional computers use bits that can take values represented by 0 or 1. Like Schrodinger’s Cat, though, a qubit doesn’t have to choose until it’s ‘observed’. It allows quantum computers to ‘explore a problem space’ more efficiently. (This is a very lay explanation of quantum computing in a paragraph that has everyone who actually knows anything about it cringing!)

Dr Stuart Russell has recently published a book called ‘Human Compatible: Artificial Intelligence and the Problem of Control’. The book is well worth reading, but the Probably Science podcast interviewed him a week or so ago, and that’s how I learned about the book and his arguments.

I tend to be an optimist in these kinds of issues, but Dr Russell poses a simple but hard question: “So, you’re spending hundreds of millions of dollars a year to create entities much smarter than you. How do you plan to keep control of the world once you succeed?

He has some great examples of the unintended consequences of even the dumb AI we currently have – helping corporations make profits while making society worse – but the extra ‘horsepower’ offered by quantum computing just makes his key question a lot more urgent.


Three Grounds

Filed under: — Bravus @ 1:30 pm

I’m not vegetarian, although I’m increasingly moving in that direction, trying to taper off the flesh and add more plants.

Both my daughters, Cassie and Alexandra, and their respective partners, Crank and Peter, are vegetarian, but all of us have our different reasons, and that’s what this post is about.

For Cassie and Crank, it’s primarily about the environmental impact of meat production: the rainforests cut down for beef grazing land, the methane produced by sheep and cattle, the runoff from piggeries and so on.

For Alexandra and Peter, it’s mostly about animal welfare: they love animals and don’t want to see them mistreated during production and killed for their flesh.

For me, some of those reasons also resonate strongly, but it’s also about health: about managing my weight and cholesterol and blood pressure.

On the one hand, all those are great reasons. On the other, the kinds of people who try to argue with vegetarians often miss the mark by arguing against a ground which is not the primary one for the person they’re arguing with.

Application of this concept to a wide range of other arguments in society is left as an exercise for the reader…


The Universe Pushes Back

Filed under: — Bravus @ 6:31 pm

I guess this is a response to the claim I sometimes read that “We choose our beliefs”. I think there’s some truth in that, but would supplement it: “We choose our beliefs… but the universe pushes back”.

What do I mean by that? Perhaps an analogy that I owe to Ernst von Glasersfeld will be helpful. He describes our experience of the universe as like being blind-folded in a pitch black forest and having to find our way out. We can’t see a thing, and some paths are blocked by tree trunks, deadfalls, cliffs, rivers and so on. We can feel a way out by touch, but it’s not the only possible way: there are others, perhaps many others. Some of them will be shorter and better than the one we found, so it’s worthwhile to keep exploring.

He suggests that we don’t have direct access to the universe itself to observe and measure it. Our access is always mediated by our assumptions and by the limitations of our senses. He’s an ‘instrumentalist’, in philosophical terms: our theories are not the truth about reality, they’re just useful for our purposes.

So a concept like the ‘quark’, which we can’t see directly but must infer from experiments, is not seen as ‘real’, but as a concept that is helpful for explaining the behaviour of subatomic particles. But something we can see, like light – the thing we use to see – is also understood as a concept, rather than reality itself.

Some people – who usually have some form of motivated reasoning going on, either in terms of selling something or persuading others to an ideology – tend to take that and say “No-one has direct access to reality, so anyone’s beliefs are as good as anyone else’s, and no-one can be told they’re wrong”. Doesn’t matter whether it’s anti-vax, climate change denial or recent creationism, these philosophical ideas tend to be abused to suggest there is no meaningful difference between different knowledge claims.

This is where the notion that “the universe pushes back” becomes important. Because it does. No matter what your beliefs, if you step off a tall building, you will plummet toward the ground. No belief system will change that. If you don’t get your kids vaccinated, and they’re exposed to the disease, they (very likely – it’s more probabilistic than gravity) will get the disease. If you pump vast quantities of carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere while cutting down forests, the global climate will warm.

When finding our way out of that forest, it’s pretty easy to slam into a tree really hard.

We can certainly have an argument about realism vs instrumentalism. I kinda doubt we’ll solve it, since philosophers have been debating it for decades. But either way, really: the universe pushes back.


I Am Large

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:23 am

Never fear, not another weight-loss post (which my Facebook friends have seen from me ad nauseum)! My title is drawn from a line I love:

Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes.

Walt Whitman

People on Facebook and Twitter have mentioned occasionally (and, I suspect, thought more than occasionally) that I’m difficult to pin down. It’s not entirely clear what I believe on a whole range of issues.

Sometimes that is ‘read’ as being dishonest or strategic. I don’t think it is: if someone wishes to ask a straight question about what I believe, I’m always willing to give a straight answer. That answer itself might be ‘it’s complicated’… and might then spin out into something like a blog post. That’s because I’m very comfortable with ambiguity and complexity, so what I really think about something is often not easy to communicate in a sentence.

I guess the other thing is that I’m happy to talk to other people in their own register, not in mine. I recently wrote a piece, which will be published in Adventist Today in a month or so, about climate change. I clearly outlined the science, but also made the point that it is the most vulnerable people on Earth who will be most harmed. I quoted the book of Revelation, which says that at the Second Coming Christ will return to ‘destroy those who destroy the Earth’, and I quoted Matthew 25 where Jesus talks about what his followers have done for ‘the least of these’.

For myself, I don’t necessarily believe that there will be a Second Coming. It seems wildly improbable to me. But I’m not being dishonest, I don’t think, in speaking to Christians in the language of their own wisdom literature, to motivate them to act in a way that is simply humane and human. To clarify for them that, despite the ‘prosperity gospel’ and all the deeply evil shit some of their ‘leaders’ espouse, if you actually look at what Jesus (is reported to have) said in the Bible, it’s generally a decent guide to life.

One of my atheist friends immediately commented one of the less lovely things Jesus (is reported to have) said, about creating division between families, and used that to dismiss everything Jesus (is reported to have) said. I see that approach pretty often, but I don’t necessarily see it as a way of having a connected human conversation with people.

I try to apply the same approach to other belief systems, unless and until they’re harmful. Taking the vitamin and herbal supplements your naturopath prescribes is, to me, a silly way of creating very expensive urine (because with a balanced diet, most supplements go straight through us), but I’m happy to leave you to it… until s/he prescribes bicarb soda instead of chemo for your cancer (because s/he believes it’s fungal) and significantly shortens your life.

So yes, I’ll engage with Christians on their own terms – until they’re opposing same-sex marriage in Australia or working toward the death penalty for gay people in Uganda: then I’ll resist them as hard as I can.

I guess there’s the danger of seeming condescending with this approach: “Oh well, I have this ascended understanding, so I can talk to all these deluded people in their own language to try to enlighten them.”

I don’t think it’s that, though. I think it’s an attempt to make a genuinely human connection ‘across the aisle’ with everyone. To hold no person in contempt… but to support and advocate for ideas that lead to human flourishing, and challenge ideas that do harm.

So, if you’re confused by who I am and what I stand for (a) I hope this little chat has been helpful and (b) so am I, a lot of the time and (c) ask!


A Range of Possibilities

Filed under: — Bravus @ 2:46 pm

Returning to the creationism well one more time, and then I really will leave it alone and talk about something else for a while!

Human groups around the world have a wide range of different creation and origin stories for Earth and life. For the purposes of this, I’ll only talk about Christian creation stories. But I do encourage you to read widely and get a sense of the range. There’s an interesting list here: http://www.gly.uga.edu/railsback/CS/CSIndex.html

Basically, the two (slightly different) creation stories in the first and chapters of Genesis, the first book of the Bible, have been interpreted in a range of ways. And each interpreter will loudly and repeatedly tell you that their particular interpretation is the simple, clear, plain and literal reading of the text, and all other interpretations are heretical or worse.

If we consider ‘young’ to mean something like ‘less than 20,000 years old’ and ‘old’ to mean something like ‘more than 10 million years old’ (because almost no-one believes that any of the things we’re about to talk about happened in the space between those periods. No-one things Earth is middle-aged, apparently. It’s a bimodal distribution.

So there is a range of possible views, within that scheme:

  1. Universe, Earth and life is young
  2. Universe is old, Earth and life is young
  3. Universe and Earth are old, life is young
  4. Universe, Earth and life is old

The interesting thing is that of these, only 4 does not require any kind of supernatural intervention – but 4 is still completely consistent with the possibility of supernatural intervention. That is to say, only 4 allows sufficient time for natural processes to create everything we see around us.

When I say ‘Earth’ above, it’s probably worth noting that that might mean ‘Earth and our Solar System’. The relevant texts in Genesis 1 talk about the creation of the Sun and Moon:

14 And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:

15 And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so.

16 And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.

17 And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth,

18 And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good.

This occurs after the creation of plants, and some folks like to make a ‘gotcha’ of that, but I don’t have a lot of appetite for that kind of frame-shift argument.

A lot tends to hinge, in arguments between proponents of the various positions in the numbered list (1-4) above, on the few words I’ve bolded above in Verse 16: “he made the stars also”. If their positioning with the creation of the sun and moon means they were created at the same time, the universe must be young, and only position 1 is tenable. Many interpret it as a parenthetical comment that allows the possibility that God made the stars, but some considerable time earlier.

To some extent these are accommodations between science and religion, but they are also readings of an ancient text through modern eyes. Terry Pratchett captured it nicely “the stars began to come out, like pinholes in the curtain of night. Or like enormous exploding balls of gas, as some people would say. But some people will say anything.”

The distinction between Earth, solar system, galaxy and universe is not something that would have been a commonplace for people almost 3000 years ago: they’re not even necessary commonplaces for many people now.

I believe that conflict between science and religion is not inevitable, but that conflict between science and certain simplistic readings of religious texts is much more common. Once a religion has become organised, there is systematic pressure to preserve particular interpretations.

I do always find it interesting to observe the passionate arguments between people who believe very strongly that a particular text is sacred and infallible, but read it very slightly differently.


Science and Authority

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:54 am

Every couple of months this year I’ve written a short piece on the relationship between science and religious faith for a site called ‘Adventist Today’. (Searching my name in the search bar in the page will easily bring up all of the pieces published so far.)

The most recent has just appeared, so I thought I’d share it here, since it addresses similar concerns to some of of the recent posts here. I don’t think I’ve repeated myself too much…

Hope you find it interesting and useful. There’s a link at the bottom to the Adventist Today Facebook page where discussion usually ensues. (If your background is not Seventh-day Adventist some of the discussion may require a little interpretation…)