Time travelers on the NYC subway

From Making Light:

The funny thing is, I’ve seen time travellers in NYC. Or at any rate I’ve seen people I thought were time travellers, and one case where I was sure.

This happened one day back in the 1980s. I was riding the subway home from work, and this kid got on at 34th or 42nd. He was at most twelve but I think younger, and slightly built at that. What caught my eye first was that he was wearing a jacket with a waistline seam–not a full-blown norfolk jacket, less obtrusive than that, but in that class. Which was odd; it had been over half a century since boys’ and men’s jackets stopped having waistline seams.

I started noticing more things about him. His pants ended just below his knees. That was unobtrusive too; his pants were dark, and so were his long woolen socks. If you weren’t really looking, the combination would register as black trousers, and you wouldn’t think anything of it. He had a flat woolen cap, and a sweater on under the jacket, and his shoes were what you’d expect with the rest of the outfit. Think newsboy, turn of the century or a little later, and you’ve got it.

But what struck me as genuinely odd was that he wasn’t wearing his clothes like a costume. Those were just his clothes, and they weren’t new, either. I honestly believe that if he’d gotten onto the same subway in the same clothing but had felt like he was dressed up for a masquerade, half the car would have noticed him right away.

Practical considerations of teleportation

From IBM:

A teleportation machine would be like a fax machine, except that it would work on 3-dimensional objects as well as documents, it would produce an exact copy rather than an approximate facsimile, and it would destroy the original in the process of scanning it. A few science fiction writers consider teleporters that preserve the original, and the plot gets complicated when the original and teleported versions of the same person meet; but the more common kind of teleporter destroys the original, functioning as a super transportation device, not as a perfect replicator of souls and bodies.

Incompetent people don’t know it

From The New York Times:

Dunning, a professor of psychology at Cornell, worries about this because, according to his research, most incompetent people do not know that they are incompetent.

On the contrary. People who do things badly, Dunning has found in studies conducted with a graduate student, Justin Kruger, are usually supremely confident of their abilities — more confident, in fact, than people who do things well.

The social perils of immortality

From John Shirley:

Immortality? Maybe. There’s one company …: “There’s that UCSF scientist who keeps cropping up with roundworms. Now and then you hear something new about her and her program: Cynthia Kenyon. She’s started a company called Elixir. She’s working on ways to tweak a gene called daf-2 which controls how well cells repair themselves over time. This gene gets shut off somehow–she’s trying to turn it back on, I take it…She did it in roundworms first. Now she’s done it in mice, vastly extending their lifespans. Daf-2 apparently controls a host of proteins and hormones that repair cells, eliminate free radicals, destroy bacteria and so on. All this may be far more complex in humans than in animals though…

If it works, chances are that it’ll be so expensive that it won’t appreciably add to overpopulation. Only a few people will be able to afford it. The rich will become semi-immortal. The poor may be kept in ignorance about how this is done, lest revolution demand everyone gets relative immortality. This partial suppression of the relevant biotech can be justified, perhaps: not only for reasons of space and sufficient resources in an overpopulated Earth, but for reasons of encouraging genetic diversity–mortality is motivation for reproducing. The human race seems to need death…

Our eye seeks the novel

From Retina Adapts To Seek The Unexpected, Ignore The Commonplace:

Researchers at Harvard University have found evidence that the retina actively seeks novel features in the visual environment, dynamically adjusting its processing in order to seek the unusual while ignoring the commonplace. …

“Apparently our thirst for novelty begins in the eye itself,” says Markus Meister, the Jeff C. Tarr Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology in Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences. “Our eyes report the visual world to the brain, but not very faithfully. Instead, the retina creates a cartoonist’s sketch of the visual scene, highlighting key features while suppressing the less interesting regions.”

These findings provide evidence that the ultimate goal of the visual system is not simply to construct internally an exact reproduction of the external world, Meister and his colleagues write in Nature. Rather, the system seeks to extract from the onslaught of raw visual information the few bits of data that are relevant to behavior. This entails the discarding of signals that are less useful, and dynamic retinal adaptation provides a means of stripping from the visual stream predictable and therefore less newsworthy signals.

Strange mental conditions

From A Collection of Unusual Neurological States:

Kluver-Bucy Syndrome: Damage to the front of the temporal lobe and the amygdala just below it can result in the strange condition called Kluver-Bucy Syndrome. Classically, the person will try to put anything to hand into their mouths and typically attempt to have sexual intercourse with it. A classic example is of the unfortunate chap arrested whilst attempting to have sex with the pavement. …

Capgras’ Syndrome: … The Capgras’ patient will typically identify people close to them as being imposters – identical in every possible way, but identical replicas. Classically, the patient will accept living with these imposters but will secretly “know” that they are not the people they claim to be. …

Cotard’s Syndrome: … this syndrome is characterized by the patient believing that he is dead, a walking corpse. This “delusion” is usually expanded to the degree that the patient might claim that he can smell his own rotting flesh and feel worms crawling through his skin (a recurring experience of people chronically deprived of sleep or suffering amphetamine/cocaine psychosis). …

Fregoli Syndrome: This is an extraordinary experience where the person misidentifies another person as someone who clearly he is not. Indeed, he may begin to see the same person everywhere he looks …

Alien Hand Syndrome: Probably a version of “left hemi-neglect”, brain damage in the right place can disconnect the left hand (controlled by the right, unconscious cerebral hemisphere) leaving the left hand without conscious control and the person at the mercy of the unconscious whims of the right hemisphere.

Will a technology become revolutionary?

From "The Challenges Facing Nanotechnology", on Ockham’s Razor:

Let us now examine nanotechnology, and assess the hurdles it must overcome before it becomes a society-transforming revolution. In our view there are four major issues:

Feasibility: can we do what we claim we can do, or is it as fantastic as the Nanobot?

Secondly, economic value: does it change the economy in any way? Does it open new sources of wealth?

Third, safety: is it safe, or does it create new dangers we don’t yet know how to handle?

And finally, necessity: do we really need to do it? And have we a choice about it?

These are the major questions all new sciences should face, and nanotechnology is no different.

Science, secrecy, & mysticism

From "Secret Science", on Ockham’s Razor:

Etymologically, the word ‘science’ just means knowledge, and in pre-modern Europe, when most people would have framed their understanding according to a religious doctrine, questing after new knowledge about the created world could be rather suspect. Things understood according to the word of God were revealed to you, and the work of creation was revealed to your senses. Any form of knowledge that had to be earnestly sought after was by definition, hidden. A landmark study of magnetism, published in 1600 by Queen Elizabeth’s physician, William Gilbert, begins with a statement about "the discovery of secret things and the investigation of hidden causes."

Gilbert’s book was to become one of the foundation texts of the new science of electricity a century later, but writing in 1600, he was aware of the need to argue the case for why ‘things formerly hid in deplorable darkness’ must be brought to the knowledge of mankind.

In Gilbert’s time, seeking forms of knowledge that might enable you to perform operations with material objects and substances carried the implication that you were interfering with the divine work of creation.

6 distinct food consumers

From "Lies, Deep Fries and Statistics", at Ockham’s Razor:

So why is that, if so many people state that they are concerned about GM foods?

An indication of why has been provided by Environics International, a Canadian company which has done some cluster graphs on consumer attitudes to food and whose research translates well into Australia. The general finding of its research shows that attitudes towards GM foods are more driven by general attitudes towards food than attitudes towards gene technology.

They have defined six distinct consumer segments:

The first, Food Elites, who prefer to eat organics and the best foods and will pay for them ( about 1 in 10 amongst the population ).

Then, the Naturalists, who prefer to buy from markets rather than supermarkets ( about 1 in 8 ).

Fearful Shoppers, who have concerns about most foods, predominantly elder consumers ( about 1 in 5 ).

Nutrition Seekers, who treat food as fuel for the body ( about 1 in 5 ).

Date Code Diligent, who read labels, but generally only look at the use-by date and fat content, predominantly younger women ( about 1 in 8 ).

And The Unconcerned, who don’t really care too much about what they eat, predominantly younger men ( about 1 in 8 ).

Those top three, the food elites, the naturalists and the fearful shoppers, are concerned about many food issues and also concerned about GM foods. The bottom three, the nutrition seekers, the date code diligent and the unconcerned have specific concerns only, or aren’t too concerned about foods at all and are not concerned about GM foods.

Timelessness, eternity, god

From "Science and Faith", at Ockham’s Razor:

Time, along with matter and space is a constituent part of our universe. Time cannot exist without matter and space. So it makes no sense to talk about a time before our universe came into existence. …

To begin with, what does the fact that there is no absolute time say about God? If one accepts that God has created the universe, through the Big Bang or some other means, then he must have created time in the process.

So God is not constrained by time, and God is not carried along in time as we are. God simply is. …

It follows that God is not waiting to find out what the future holds. For God, it is already present. You might imagine God as seeing the whole of creation, beginning, middle and end, all laid out before him. Rather like the pictures on the wall of an ancient tomb, or perhaps like the frames of a movie film. …

At first glance, God’s knowledge of the future might suggest predestination. But that does not take into account that we ourselves are moving through time. …

But having made that choice, you will not be able to go back and change it. It will have been swept away in time to become an immutable fact. And similarly for all our lives, our free choices are turned into unchangeable facts by the passage of time. … Does that mean that it was predestined? Certainly not. It simply means that our free will, within time, exists alongside God’s foreknowledge, outside of time.

The common understanding of eternity is of time simply going on and on forever. But as science now indicates, time can only exist as long as space and matter, that is our universe, exists. And since science also indicates that the universe is finite (that is, it had a beginning some time ago and will come to an end one way or another sometime in the future), our time, and hence our eternity are finite also. …

We need to think of an afterlife that involves a transfer of consciousness into a timeless state that is linked in some way to God’s being.

The history of =

From "The History of the Equals Sign", at The Science Show:

In 1543, [Robert] Record published The Ground of Arts, the first ever maths book in English, which ran through over fifty editions … Until 1557, mathematicians had finished off a calculation by laboriously writing out the words, is equal to, which was sometimes abbreviated to AE or OE from the Latin word for equal, aequalis. But Record had a better idea, why not use a symbol, he said, to avoid, as he put it, the tedious repetition of these words he proposed the use of a pair of parallel lines. Using this simple device that we now call the equals sign released an enormous logjam in the efficient handling of numbers and the implications extended far beyond pure maths.