Monday, April 20, 2009

Do particles have free will?

"Everything in the universe has some degree of free will. Even quantum particles. An elemental particle "decides" which way to spin. A cosmic ray decides when to decay. Not consciously, but choose they do. A new paper co-authored by mathematician John Conway, inventor of a cellular automata demonstration known as the Game of Life, argues that you can't explain the spin or decay of particles by randomness, nor are they determined, so free will is the only option left. "

The .pdf of the paper. It is pretty numbers-y though...

I've always had a hunch that free will does exist for particles, but not in the sense as we know free will. I have a belief that the free will is enacted in another dimension which we can not see; we only see the resultant spins, break-ups, and collisions. It gets hard to explain, especially since I only know the basics anyway...

More articles, in readable terms, on the topic:

Stephen Hawking is sick?

Mathematician Stephen Hawking rushed to hospital

Famed British mathematician Stephen Hawking has been rushed to a hospital and is very ill, his employer Cambridge University said Monday. Hawking had been expected to travel to Canada this year to act as a Research Chair at the University of Waterloo's Perimeter Institute.

UPDATE: Stephen is expected to recover. His example, and I don't just mean this slight setback, is like so many others that I'm trying hard to follow. It really is fantastic and inspiring. Individuals can make an enormous difference when they decide where and why to make it.

Perimeter tickets!

Remember the Walrus article on the Perimeter Institute in Walterloo? I got lucky and secured two tickets to their next popularized public lecture on physics for May 6th! Here's some more info: Looks like a great topic on the randomness of life's choices, perhaps along the lines of the Black Swan?...

In The Drunkard's Walk, acclaimed writer and scientist Leonard Mlodinow shows us how randomness, change, and probability reveal a tremendous amount about our daily lives, and how we misunderstand the significance of everything from a casual conversation to a major financial setback. As a result, successes and failures in life are often attributed to clear and obvious cases, when in actuality they are more profoundly influenced by chance. By showing us the true nature of chance and revealing the psychological illusions that cause us to misjudge the world around us, Mlodinow gives us the tools we need to make more informed decisions.

Leonard Mlodinow received his doctorate in physics from the University of California, Berkeley, was an Alexander von Humboldt fellow at the Max Planck Institute, and now teaches about randomness to future scientists at Caltech. Along the way he also wrote for the television series MacGyver and Star Trek: The Next Generation. His previous books include Euclid's Window: The Story of Geometry from Parallel Lines to Hyperspace, Feynman's Rainbow: A Search for Beauty in Physics and in Life, and, with Stephen Hawking, A Briefer History of Time. He lives in South Pasadena, California.

Synesthesia - counting the colours 'til Friday.

In Greek, mean syn (together) and aisthesis (sensation), feeling together. People with synesthesia have certain senses hooked together. A neurological phenomenon where one sense (let's say hearing) is connected to another (your vision). So for example, imagine that when you see the numbers 1, 7, 3, you taste blackberries, cherries, and strawberries. Or maybe when you hear a cello, you feel/see green. Thursday makes you see blue.

One of my heroes/people I look up to had it; Richard Feynman. Most estimates fall into the 1 in 2000 range. There are probably many people who have the condition but do not realize what it is. Often times it's never diagnosed... those who have it often think it's natural to all people. So really, these are reported numbers.

Women: in the U.S., studies show that three times as many women as men have synesthesia; in the U.K., eight times as many women have been reported to have it.

Left-handed: synesthetes are more likely to be left-handed than the general population.

Genetics: synesthesia appears to be inherited in some fashion; it seems to be a dominant trait and it may be on the X-chromosome.

Children: more likely to have it and lose it; however, there are some examples of synesthesia appearing after seizures and under the influence of drugs.

Daniel Tammet, talked about earlier in this log of a blog has number/colour synesthesia. He memorized Pi to more than 22,000 decimal places, not by memorizing the numbers, but feeling the colour sequence.

I went back and read a bit about it in Oliver Sacks' Musicophilia. Apparently every 'synesthete' has their own colour combinations/correspondences. However, these colours don't seem to change within the individual over their lifetime. Sometimes it goes both ways (see a colour and hear/feel a musical tone in a certain key). These don't seems to be learned associations either, as I suspected/thought... ie. let's say as a child you played a toy piano with coloured keys, or another toy with coloured buttons and musical tones. Also, some synesthetes report seeing colours not actually visible in the real world... they've never seen that colour before ever, except when they hear something in G major.

Brain imaging provides unequivocal evidence to the simultaneous activation of two or more sensory areas in the cerebral cortex.

Common test for synethesia:

Also, I just learned, there seems to be a space-quality to some experiences. A terrain almost. Listening to music can be described spatially, where sounds come from different areas, analogous to pitch changes with the Doppler effect. And, incredibly, it seems some synesthetes can tell, by listening to someone's music, whether the composer also has synesthesia. Simply by the composition; the movement and colour seem to be a tell-tale sign that the artist also has similar abilities. AMAZING! It literally is another form of communication! It is quite literally a 7th sense (with proprioception being the 6th)... Color isn't added to the music, it's integrated in it.

Anyway, it seems like some futuristic communication device/condition that our future human leaders will be able to send secret notes to each other with. A feeling I'll never get to experience, almost to be sure; I'm definitely green with envy!

Apparently it can be overcoming at times. From Musicophilia: "Within weeks of losing his sight, Jacques Lusseyran developed synesthesia so intense as to replace the actual perception of music, thus preventing him from becoming a musician, as he intended." The colours seemed to "invade" his head... I'm one of those people who can't listen to music while doing other work, cuz it invades my head... not sure if this is similar (grasping for some homogeneity!!), but my father feels the same as I do, whereas my mother and sisters often listen to music while working. I strongly believe there is something inheritable/inherited there, but not sure how to explain it just yet... a type of learning pathway of some sorts...

From Musicophilia: "Perhaps, as Baron-Cohen and Harrison write, "We might all be colored-hearing synesthetes until we lose connections between these areas somewhere about three months of age." In normal development, according to this theory, a synesthetic "confusion" gives way in a few months, with cortical maturation, to a clearer distinction and segregation of the senses, and this in turn makes possible the proper cross-matching of perceptions which is needed for the full recognition of an external world and its contents ... In those individuals with synesthesia, it is supposed, a genetic abnormality prevents complete deletion of this early hyperconnectivity, so that a larger or smaller remnant of this persists in adult life. "

Anyway, I'll end this epic post by quoting from Musicophilia for a third time, bringing full circle this overriding feeling/theme: "But for all of them, synesthesia is natural, almost an extra sense - so much so that such questions as "What is it like?" or "What does it mean to you?" are as unanswerable as asking "What is it like to be alive? What is it like to be you?" I think these are answerable questions; one just needs to do some self-searching, and have someone willing to tease it out of them. hahaha... or at least a blog!

From the magic of youtube:

Album and Song of the day: She & Him - Sentimental Heart

Deschanel and Ward first met on the set of the film The Go-Getter, in which the actress had a starring role. The director of the film, Martin Hynes, introduced the two and asked them to sing a duet together to be played at the end credits of the film. They decided to perform a Richard and Linda Thompson song entitled "When I Get to the Border". The two bonded over their shared interest in certain songs and artists. Ward, having heard Deschanel sing previously in the film Elf, was surprised that she wrote songs herself and had many home demos. He asked her to send them to him. Deschanel was shy about music, but sent them to him anyway. Ward called her a short time later, and told her that he would like to record her songs properly, and their band She & Him was formed.

Ward and Deschanel share a mutual affection for the songs they grew up hearing on Los Angeles radio stations - and keep in their hearts the records that most DJ's aren't playing anymore: Les Paul and Mary Ford, The Ronettes, Nina Simone, Chet Atkins, Linda Ronstadt, the Carter Family and about a hundred others. (warning: music plays on website)

Great album... definitely a slower type album. Highlights are hard to define, but songs 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 8 & 13 are pretty special.

All Music: Deschanel's songs are simple and sad tales of heartbreak and missed connections, with hooky melodies and not a single artless moment to be found.


Here's a sample mp3 if you like; I'll go with the opener... Zooey's voice, her harmonies (with herself), Ward's arrangement, and strings in the background make this really simple song stick. I like it better than their single, but yeah, only barely. Ok, one more.

Do yourself a favour and download the album (Direct download here)

Here's Zooey with Brian Wilson recently. Awkward at first, but gets pretty good.

Artist on Artist: Brian Wilson & Zooey Deschanel