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Entropy production delusion

It is common in knowledgeable circles to talk about the development of civilization in terms of entropy discussion. The term 'entropy...

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Beat the odds

We are continually being challenged to beat the odds. Headlines about lotto wins raises the possibility "Why not me?" despite the odds. The pokies are an easy way to pass the time that hopefully will throw out some cash - to the lucky few. Scratchies and lotteries attract a bevy of hopefuls. Many of those who go to the races hope that they will back enough winners to pay for the outing. But it is the bookies who have the odds on their side

 Putting money into superannuation in order to have a pleasing retirement is not seen to be a gamble. It is called an investment. Gambling is frowned on  by many in the community but investment is regarded as a fair way to make, rather than earn, money. The Melbourne 'Age' even has a section on Wednesday devoted to  that topic. It is a good prospect whilst the economy is growing but the odds have changed following the GFC. Of course, the financial advisers continue to make money by taking their cut for the service, good or bad, that they provide.

Many people are enjoying a comfortable retirement as the result of a growing economy during their working days. The politicians providing seemingly convincing arguments that the current sovereign debt problems in the financial market will be overcome by their decisions. Thousands of Americans, Greeks, Cypriots, Irish, Italians, Spanish, Portuguese wonder how the dice manged to get things so wrong for them in recent times.   

Many pundits proclaim how it is possible to have lucky runs. They have this belief because they do not understand that there is no connection between the spinning of a wheel and the previous one. They should toss a coin. Suppose the tossing produced three heads in a row. Some people think that heads are having a run so the next toss is likely to be a head. Others will quote the 'reversion to a mean' and expect a tail to be more likely. Neither is right! The result of the next toss cannot possibly be predicted. A complex mathematical model could calculate the dynamics of the spinning coin but it would not predict the outcome because the impulse applied was unknowable so could not be input to the model.

Entering into tipping competitions has become popular as people cannot resist the endeavor to show how smart they are in a harmless pastime. Some, with a mathematical bent, devise methods that use statistical principles in the expectation that this approach will produce better tipping performance than what tipsters relying on their skill can achieve. In soccer games with three possible outcomes, home win, draw or away win, good tipping could well have a success rate of 60 to 70 per cent. This rate will depend on an unknown combination of skill and luck because the outcome of matches is unpredictable to a large extent. A mathematical method may be good enough to out perform the vast majority of skilful tipsters so the mathematicians believe they can beat the odds and win the competition. That is spurious logic as the performance of a method will have an unknowable degree of luck. So will all the many skilful tipsters. Some will be very lucky and so have an unexpectedly and unrepeatable high success rate. The mathematicians will learn the hard way that their methods cannot beat the odds.
Naturally, many people know how to beat the odds. They embrace a fugal life style enhanced by family and friends in close knit communities. They obtain satisfaction by using their personal skills in gardening, cooking and repairing things, often for others. Without using the term, they embrace the 'precautionary principle' even though their governments do not.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Technofix delusion

It is amusing to read of the belief in the ability of technology to solve emerging problems of civilization. Machines are being invented to ease the mining of natural resources as they become scarcer. Cars, trucks, trains, airliners and ships are considered to be indispensable forms of transport for trade, tourism and everyday life even though they all have limited lives and they are using up irreplaceable fuel and materials. Cities provide a wide range of what the populace regard as indispensable  services by using irreplaceable natural resources and producing pollution of land, sea, air and all organisms, including us. Most city dwellers can take shelter, food, water, electricity and sanitation for granted - for now. Avast range of electronic devices have increased the ability for social discourse, online purchase of goods and conduct of financial matters. iPods and the like are deemed by the young to be a necessary accessory. These electronic devices are also made of irreplaceable natural resources, use up energy and have limited lives. They are, like cars, airliners, container vessels, doomed species. Society will find it hard to cope with the withdrawal symptoms.

Society is addicted to all these facets of the technofix. They cannot imagine how they will make do without them! They hold the inventors in high esteem. They believe these inventions form the basis for the sustainable progress of our civilization. The masses are encouraged to believe this delusion by big business chasing the dollar and politicians promoting economic growth - regardless of the ecological cost or the deleterious consequences. Very few, even amongst scientists, understand that all science and technology has ever done is make use of some of the potential of the natural forces that have existed for eons. Technology has never created natural forces or natural states.

The media reinforces this common view as they highlight all signs of advances in knowledge by scientists and all innovative devices. They never mention the role of technology in using fossil fuels, so producing the emissions that have initiated irreversible climate change. The damage done to biodiversity by many technological systems does not make headlines. And toxic wastes produced by technology is harming land, sea, air and organisms, including humans.

The scientists who capture the headlines are those who appear to be advancing the frontiers of knowledge. The populace at large do not realize that the recent findings of scientists in many fields are really accentuating how little understanding we have of how nature has operated for eons. Technology has produced many innovative products by using natural forces in innovative ways, with unintended consequences.

Information overload swamps understanding reality

 The extremely rapid increase in information in recent times due to the phenomenal development of the ability electronics to store vast amounts of information in a digital form and process it at astounding speeds is overwhelming. A few companies, such as Google and Palantir, provide information processing and search services for the community at large as well as for government bodies.

Many people bless this easy access to information and associated visual and aural recordings for entertainment, social discourse, management and education purposes. Others are overwhelmed by the rapidity of the growth of virtual civilization as they find it hard to learn how to handle passwords and the many other novel essential issues to be crammed into the memory.

The media makes a lot of how scientists are advancing the frontiers of knowledge often with the help of the greatly improved ability to handle vast amounts of information, control major experiments and run complex mathematical models. There is no doubt that science and technology has underpinned the high standard of living that many people now enjoy.

However, society has a myopic view of the development of civilization. They welcome the advances without really understanding of how it has come about. The reality is that the systems of civilization irreversibly use up limited natural resources and produce irrevocable waste during their limited life time. Technology only makes use of natural forces to produce goods and services. It has never created any material even when it has enabled the production of many novel items that society happily use without understanding the basic physical principle limiting what civilization can deliver.

Ironically, the information revolution is not helping society to gain the wisdom of knowing that the operation of civilization is unsustainable. The vast amount and complexity of this information hides the simple physical principle that the demise of industrial civilization is certain within this century. And scientists are so preoccupied with their specialties that they do not provide the populace with understanding of the holistic malaise that is the operation of industrial civilization. The slow awakening to the damaging impact of using fossil fuels to supply energy is now awakening society to some extent. Irreversible rapid climate change is one unintended consequence of that lack of understanding.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Bitcoin games

 With the chaos in the financial market causing so much concern, it is not surprising that there is a move to adopt a financial system that is not subject to the manipulation of governments and banks. Bitcoin is deemed by some to be the answer to the predicament posed by the growing booms and busts associated with global currencies.

However, the expectations of the proponents of bitcoin are not being realized. The volatility makes it almost useless while ,as may be expected, numerous rogues are scamming the system to gain unfair advantage of its lack of resilience.

It is amusing to contemplate the arrogance of those people who believe they can invent laws to handle intangible symbols of value in a sound systematic manner. They have this belief because they are used to complex natural systems that behave in a sound systematic way and they think that humans are clever enough to be able to emulate natural forces. The operation of organisms, including humans, provides them with examples of the wonders of nature. Scientists are renowned for advancing the frontiers of knowledge when what they are really doing is acknowledging that there is still a lot they do not know about how natural systems operate after eons of evolution. To top this lack of understanding off, there is widespread belief in seemingly informed forums in the ability of mathematics to describe natural operations. Mathematics is a system devised by humans to roughly describe some natural operations.

So the bitcoin concept is based on a foolish misunderstanding of the ability of to develop a complex resilient system rapidly from scratch. The current financial market has its inherent weaknesses but its development over centuries has resulted in a degree of responsiveness, acceptance and resilience that bitcoin cannot possibly attain, despite the efforts of its proponents.

Denis Frith