The 12 million body problem

Chinese authorities: “this is normal”

I’m aghast at this.

Five Republican US senators have asked Netflix to reconsider its plans to adapt the bestselling Chinese author Liu Cixin’s book The Three-Body Problem, citing Liu’s comments in support of the Chinese government’s treatment of Uighur Muslims.

In a letter to Netflix, the senators said they had “significant concerns with Netflix’s decision to do business with an individual who is parroting dangerous CCP propaganda”. The letter cites Liu’s interview with the New Yorker last year, in which the Chinese novelist was asked about the mass internment of Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang.

“Would you rather that they be hacking away at bodies at train stations and schools in terrorist attacks? If anything, the government is helping their economy and trying to lift them out of poverty,” Liu said, adding: “If you were to loosen up the country a bit, the consequences would be terrifying.”

The Guardian, “Netflix faces call to rethink Liu Cixin adaptation after his Uighur comments”

The question of separating the art from the artist doesn’t have an easy answer. Usually, I can – for example, Orson Scott Card’s political views are at odds with mine, but I am still able to enjoy Ender’s Game. However, Dan Simmons went completely overboard back in April 2006 to an unforgivable degree and rendering Hyperion completely unreadable to me. The above, from Liu, is equivalent in my view and arguably worse as he is glibly parroting CCP propaganda and justifying religious and cultural genocide.

I just finished saying that I try to avoid politics on this blog, but the simple fact is that science fiction is about the human condition. When writers of other genres offend me, it doesn’t sting. And at least with Card I can see where he’s coming from (I disagree profoundly, but I get it). Liu and Simmons made it personal.

I don’t begrudge him his Hugo but I sincerely hope that Netflix doesn’t reward Chinese propaganda with a TV deal. If they do, then I will not be watching.

Replicated food is not halal or kosher: a secular argument

Fake meat is going mainstream – you can buy burgers at Burger King, White Castle, and Del Taco. Surely Chipotle and McDonalds are not far behind. This is exciting for people like me who are Muslim Eaters obsessed with the halal scene. But plant-based meat is one thing, what about the science fiction dream of totally replicated meat?

The basic concept of the replicator in Star Trek (and now, The Orville) is that food is just molecules, so instead of cooking plants and animals, you can assemble the dish (and the dish upon which it is served) from raw molecules of matter. Which then leads to the inevitable question, would replicated pork be halal or kosher?

Rather than make a theological argument for why it would or would not be, I want to approach that question from the other direction. Why would it be? The basic answer is that the molecules from which we replicate the pork don’t actually come from a pig. They could come from stockpiles of carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen, and oxygen (CHON). There probably would be some trace molecules too, but if the replicator can assemble foods by molecule, then it can probably assemble molecules from atoms. These are just implementation details. Therefore, if the meat doesn’t come from a pig, then there’s no problem. Of course there are additional requirements of halal and kosher with regards to how the animal is slaughtered, etc. But we by removing the animal from the equation, these requirements are moot.

The problem is that the molecules of pigs don’t originate in pigs, either, Ultimately, molecules are formed from atoms, and atoms are formed mostly from cosmological forces (all the good stuff in particular from supernovae). So, consider two groups of molecules. Both are formed from the same supernova explosion of a star that was birthed from primordial hydrogen in the Big Bang. One group of molecules never enters the biosphere and gets processed into raw stock, and then replicated into a pork chop. The other group of molecules ends up in a pig, and then excised into a pork chop. One of these is clearly not halal or kosher. However, the origin of the molecules is identical. It’s purely a matter of how these molecules were arranged since they were created, that renders them non halal/kosher. IN another billion years, both will end up part of the same gas cloud in an expanding red giant anyway, and that brief arrangement into “pig” will just be a tiny blip.

What if you then collected those molecules from the second group, the group that was for an insignificant period of time, a pig, retrieved them from the gas cloud, and then reassembled them into a porkchop? (This is the nonsensical kind of thing that I imagine bored superintelligent post-singularity entities would do for self-amusement, which is so ludicrous but inevitable that it is another reason why I am skeptical of the singularity and AI in general). This reconstituted porkchop is still not halal or kosher.

Think about that. Out of 20 billion years, a negligible period of time being arranged into a pig renders these molecules forever, inescapably, non-halal and non-kosher. There is something profound and eternal about form, about morphology, that transcends time and space.

I don’t pretend to understand my faith rationally. It’s faith, after all. But the above thought experiment says to me that there is something more to halal and kosher, than merely about the animal. There is something inherently impure in the morphology itself. By recreating the morphology, we are in a sense recreating that impurity. So, the only safe answer, is no. Replicated pork is not halal or kosher. Replicate turkey bacon instead.

UPDATE: As a friend pointed out, wild boars do die and decompose, so their molecules can be re-purified if they end up as grass eaten by a cow that is slaughtered according to halal/kosher. So there must be some kind of re-purification process that can undo the impurity of the brief morphological state. So, by analogy, the replicated food in a replicator can be halal/kosher even if the molecules were briefly non-halal/non-kosher. as long as they were “laundered” through the biosphere first. Still, assembling the molecules into a porkchop would still return to the forbidden morphology, so the answer to the main question is still no.

UPDATE 2: In the comments below, J. sends this link discussing in detail whether cloned pigs are kosher. (spoiler: they aren’t). However, the discussion therein still leaves the door wide open for replicated pork. I still hypothesize no.

my god, it’s full of stars

High-resolution original image here. Technical details about the EHT:

Creating the EHT was a formidable challenge which required upgrading and connecting a worldwide network of eight pre-existing telescopes deployed at a variety of challenging high-altitude sites. These locations included volcanoes in Hawai`i and Mexico, mountains in Arizona and the Spanish Sierra Nevada, the Chilean Atacama Desert, and Antarctica.

The EHT observations use a technique called very-long-baseline interferometry (VLBI) which synchronises telescope facilities around the world and exploits the rotation of our planet to form one huge, Earth-size telescope observing at a wavelength of 1.3 mm. VLBI allows the EHT to achieve an angular resolution of 20 micro-arcseconds — enough to read a newspaper in New York from a sidewalk café in Paris.

This image is fated to be as iconic as the Pale Blue Dot and Earthrise.

Of particular note is that the algorithm to combine the data from all the different sources was the product of research by Dr. Katie Bouman, who is the overnight face of women in STEM, deservedly so.

Here’s a wide angle shot of the area around the black hole, from NASA’s Chandra X-Ray telescsope:

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.