Farewell, ‘Oumuamua

‘Oumuamua, a cigar-shaped body of extra-Solar System origin

a large international team of researchers is weighing in with another vote for comet. The argument, says the team, is based on the odd behavior of ‘Oumuamua, which appears to have been accelerating away from the Sun.
The researchers then modeled an additional, non-gravitational effect based on ‘Oumuamua’s distance from the Sun. If the Sun was having an additional influence on its motion, then this should be able to compensate for it. It worked, in that an additional acceleration based on distance from the Sun could get ‘Oumuamua’s calculated motion to better match the observations. Quite a bit better, in fact, as the authors say that their modified equation “corresponds to a formal detection of non-gravitational acceleration with a significance of about 30?.” Typically, only five sigma is needed to call something a discovery.

Kudos to John Timmer for playing this one straight. I would not have been able to resist.

UPDATE: I was going to title the post Rendezvous

yet another super scholar

I read this profile of Christopher Langan with genuine curiosity – allegedly having the highest IQ in the US, if not the world. Imagine my surprise to find that he claims he can prove the existence of God:

Some of these projects relate to a book I’ve been writing on mathematically proving the existence of God. Surprising as it may seem, this can certainly be done. In fact, save for a few crucial ingredients, it was nearly accomplished by (e.g.) Anselm of Canterbury in the 11th century AD. (Sadly, neither Anselm nor his various followers and modern analysts were able to pin down all of the logic and ontology required to fill out and support his essential argument.)

Some people, reasoning from past failures, regard such a proof as impossible. But then again, many people had considered it impossible to solve the venerable chicken-or-egg problem, for which I presented a concise case-by-case solution around a decade ago. The chicken-or-egg problem and the existence of God both relate to the general issue of circular dependency, a connection to be explored in the book.

He also asserted in an interview in 2014 that he can solve the P vs. NP problem, and has his own “cognitive-theoretic model of the universe.” I reproduce the abstract below:

Inasmuch as science is observational or perceptual in nature, the goal of providing a scientific model and mechanism for the evolution of complex systems ultimately requires a supporting theory of reality of which perception itself is the model (or theory-to-universe mapping). Where information is the abstract currency of perception, such a theory must incorporate the theory of information while extending the information concept to incorporate reflexive self-processing in order to achieve an intrinsic (self-contained) description of reality. This extension is associated with a limiting formulation of model theory identifying mental and physical reality, resulting in a reflexively self-generating, self-modeling theory of reality identical to its universe on the syntactic level. By the nature of its derivation, this theory, the Cognitive Theoretic Model of the Universe or CTMU, can be regarded as a supertautological reality-theoretic extension of logic. Uniting the theory of reality with an advanced form of computational language theory, the CTMU describes reality as a Self-Configuring Self-Processing Language or SCSPL, a reflexive intrinsic language characterized not only by self-reference and recursive self-definition, but full self-configuration and self- execution (reflexive read-write functionality). SCSPL reality embodies a dual-aspect monism consisting of infocognition, self-transducing information residing in self-recognizing SCSPL elements called syntactic operators. The CTMU identifies itself with the structure of these operators and thus with the distributive syntax of its self-modeling SCSPL universe, including the reflexive grammar by which the universe refines itself from unbound telesis or UBT, a primordial realm of infocognitive potential free of informational constraint. Under the guidance of a limiting (intrinsic) form of anthropic principle called the Telic Principle, SCSPL evolves by telic recursion, jointly configuring syntax and state while maximizing a generalized self- selection parameter and adjusting on the fly to freely-changing internal conditions. SCSPL relates space, time and object by means of conspansive duality and conspansion, an SCSPL-grammatical process featuring an alternation between dual phases of existence associated with design and actualization and related to the familiar wave-particle duality of quantum mechanics. By distributing the design phase of reality over the actualization phase, conspansive spacetime also provides a distributed mechanism for Intelligent Design, adjoining to the restrictive principle of natural selection a basic means of generating information and complexity. Addressing physical evolution on not only the biological but cosmic level, the CTMU addresses the most evident deficiencies and paradoxes associated with conventional discrete and continuum models of reality, including temporal directionality and accelerating cosmic expansion, while preserving virtually all of the major benefits of current scientific and mathematical paradigms.

Mr. Langan has critiques of academia. Not the usual ones, that higher degrees are being commoditized, that there is self-selection in peer review for positive results at the expense of null results, p-value hackery, the social disruption of adjunct positions, and the fundamental tension of the paid journal business model vs the need for unfettered creative access to other researchers’ work. No, his critique is that high school sucked for really smart kids, and kids like himself who fell asleep in class and who didn’t pay attention to the teachers were unfairly excluded from college by small-minded administrators. Fair enough.

I propose Z’s Law: anyone claiming to be able to prove the existence of God is not as smart as they say they are.


Consider this a proposal, not a formal whitepaper, for an initial coin offering of a new cryptocurrency, Otakucoin.

Otakucoin (OUC) is intended to be used to support Otaku who write reviews of anime, science fiction, and other television and film fiction, as a measure of credibility and authority. It is therefore analogous to Reddit gold and Medium claps, i.e. can be bought in order to be given, or sold after accumulation.

I am still planning the technical backend and the details. Some references are below. I encourage anyone who is interested in participating to contact me by leaving a comment in this thread. This isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme, it’s an excuse to learn something cool and have some fun. To that end, I intend to structure the coin so it does not pass the Howey test and is in no danger of being labeled a security. We may need to launch a Kickstarter to raise some money so we can hire Token Deck, Espeo, or IcoBox to take care of the details.


Goodbye, Cassini

I met Cassini in 1996 at JPL before it departed for Saturn. For 20 years I have cheered its mission. That mission is over, and Cassini’s watch has ended.

I posted this six years ago here at haibane, but it’s worth reposting in salute: an incredible compilation of a flyby of the Saturnian system:

5.6k Saturn Cassini Photographic Animation from stephen v2 on Vimeo.

the hype about Hyperloop

Elon Musk comes to town
Elon Musk comes to town

This article makes an important point about the Hyperloop:

America has the means to reduce traffic and connect people to where they want to go in less time — but solving these problems entails politically difficult choices to shift travel away from cars and highways. Any high-tech solution that promises a shortcut around these thorny problems is probably too good to be true.

I can’t help but see an echo of the wishful thinking surrounding the EMDrive in the Hyperloop marketing campaign. Maybe I’ll be proven wrong.

Here’s the original white paper PDF from Elon Musk, and here’s a rather detailed critique by mathematician and transit analyst Alon Levy. Anyone who takes Hyperloop seriously should read both.

the Ummm… Drive


So, there is now a peer-reviewed paper on the fabled EmDrive, which empirically measured a statistically significant thrust. The important results are in Figure 19 up above, and here is what the paper has to say about it:

Figure 19 presents a collection of all the empirically collected data. The averaging of the forward and reverse thrust data is presented in the form of circles. A linear curve is fitted to the data and is shown with the corresponding fitted equation. The vacuum test data collected show a consistent performance of 1.2±0.1uN/kW

It’s not clear if the fit was to the averaged data or the raw data. I suspect the averaged, because looking at the raw data, at no time did thrust exceed 130 uN, even when power was increased from 60 to 80 kW. In fact the data at 80 kW points averages out to the same thrust as at 60 kW, and the error bars are a textbook example of the difference between accuracy and precision.

These results are peer-reviewed, and there is a “statistically significant” linear fit to the data that does demonstrate a correlation between the input power and the observed thrust, but this data does not show that the EmDrive actually works. As Chris Lee at Ars Technica put it, the drive still generates more noise than thrust:

The more important point is that the individual uncertainties in their instrumentation don’t account for the variation in the thrust that they measure, which is a very strong hint that there is an uncontrolled experimental parameter playing havoc with their measurements.

Lee also points out that there are a lot of experimental questions left unanswered, including:

  • Why are there only 18 data points for an experiment that only takes a few minutes to perform?
  • Where is the data related to tuning the microwave frequency for the resonance chamber, and showing the difference between on-resonance mode and an adjacent mode?
  • What is the rise-time of the amplifier?
  • What is the resonance frequency of the pendulum?

on that last point, Lee elaborates:

The use of a pendulum also suggests the sort of experiment that would, again, amplify the signal. Since the pendulum has a resonance frequency, the authors could have used that as a filter. As you modulate the microwave amplifier’s power, the thrust (and any thermal effects) would also be modulated. But thermal effects are subject to a time constant that smears out the oscillation. So as the modulation frequency sweeps through the resonance frequency of the torsion pendulum, the amplitude of motion should greatly increase. However, the thermal response will be averaged over the whole cycle and disappear (well, mostly).

I know that every engineer and physicist in the world knows this technique, so the fact that it wasn’t used here tells us how fragile these results really are.

This is really at the limit of my empirical understanding, but it’s a question that the authors of the paper (not to mention anyone over at /r/emdrive) should be able to field with no worries.

Basically, this paper doesn’t answer any of the substantive questions. But it does at least validate the notion that there is something going on worth investigating. But let’s be real about the outcome – because we’ve seen this before:

For faster-than-light neutrinos, it was a loose cable. For the BICEP2 results, it was an incorrect calibration of galactic gas. For cold fusion, it was a poor experimental setup, and for perpetual motion, it was a scam. No matter what the outcome, there’s something to be learned from further investigation.

and that’s why we do science. It’s not as if scientists are fat cats out to protect their cash cow. (Seriously. I wish it were so). Maybe we are on the verge of another breakthrough, but it will take a lot more than this paper to convince anyone. And that’s as it should be.