News Briefs 19-05-2016

Look up...

Thanks Ray and Kat.

Quote of the Day:

I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.

Bruce Lee

What is Information?

Science is a method ready-made for measuring the 'hardware' of the universe. But what about the 'software'?This is a topic that interests me more every day- what is 'information'? The short video above asks that exact question:

Information is on our phones and in our DNA sequence, but what is it exactly? Is it something subjective or a real quantity?

One can see that if we regard our universe/reality as being a computer simulation - like a super-enhanced game of Doom or Skyrim - then the world is constructed completely by information in a computer program.

The well-known American theoretical physicist John Archibald Wheeler proposed that information is fundamental to creating the reality of the Universe, coining the short phrase 'It from Bit' to describe that function.

It from bit symbolizes the idea that every item of the physical world has at bottom — a very deep bottom, in most instances — an immaterial source and explanation; that which we call reality arises in the last analysis from the posing of yes-no questions and the registering of equipment-evoked responses; in short, that all things physical are information-theoretic in origin and that this is a participatory universe.

I know a couple of my favourite authors, Jacques Vallee and Paul Davies, have also covered this fascinating topic. Any recommendations for further reading?

News Briefs 18-05-2016

More nonsense

Quote of the Day:

I like nonsense; it wakes up the brain cells

Dr. Seuss

On the Origins of 'Magick'

Sigillum Dei Aemeth

The next time you use the term 'magick' to describe occult practices, in order to separate it from the other more common term of 'magic' of the Penn and Teller kind, and some wise soul feels the need to pop their head up and ask why you're using the terminology of Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) - feel free to point out this Google Ngram of usage of the term 'magick' in books since 1700:

Yes, 'magic' was still used more often, and Uncle Al is likely the reason for its resurgence - but it did predate him by quite some time. And let's face it - old English or not, it does serve a useful purpose in distinguishing between two very different practices.


News Briefs 17-05-2016


Quote of the Day:

Constantly talking isn't necessarily communicating.

Joel ('Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind')

Our Augmented Future: Expanding Our Reality By Connecting 'Peripherals' to Our Brain

“Our experience of reality,” says neuroscientist David Eagleman, “is constrained by our biology.” As humans, we only 'see' electromagnetic waves in the range from around 430 to 790 THz,, we only hear audio waves between roughly 20Hz and 20kHz, and so on. Eagleman uses the German word umwelt (meaning 'environment', or 'surroundings') to describe that tiny slice of reality that we are aware of, but which we often take for the entirety of existence:

Each organism presumably assumes its umwelt to be the entirety of objective reality. Until a child learns that honeybees enjoy ultraviolet signals and rattlesnakes see infrared, it is not obvious that plenty of information is riding on channels to which we have no natural access. In fact, the part of the electromagnetic spectrum visible to us is less than a ten-trillionth of it. Our sensorium is enough to get by in our ecosystem, but no better.

However, in the TED Talk above, Eagleman points out that the beauty of brains is that they are effectively a 'universal translator' of signals from the outside world, and will adapt (over time) to new types of input. "Your brain doesn't know, and it doesn't care, where it gets the data from", he notes. "Whatever information comes in, it just figures out what to do with it."

This "frees up Mother Nature", Eagleman suggests, "to tinker out with different types of input channels". So our eyes, ears and fingertips, the heat pits on a snake, the electroreceptors of the ghost knife fish, and the magnetites birds use to navigate, are basically "peripheral plug and play devices".

The lesson that surfaces is that there's nothing really special or fundamental about the biology that we come to the table with, it's just what we have inherited from a complex road road of evolution. But it's not what we have to stick with.

From these principles, Eagleman points out that we are in a position to create interfaces that enable both sensory substitution (for those who may be deprived of a sense, of say sight or hearing), and also sensory augmentation: allowing us to expand our umwelt to include more of both the natural world (e.g 'seeing' the infrared part of the spectrum), and even perhaps to include other aspects of human thought or action, such as by using sentiment analysis on social media or data from the stock market to allow us to sense changes to these things in real time.


Archaeoastronomy Finds Sappho's Poetry Written In The Stars


Art is timeless, its beauty as immutable as the North Star. Timelessness can also come from people not having a clue when something was created. Knowing the year of its inception is one thing, as historians can guess at the fashions and trends of the artist's era, but creative types, like poets, are also moved by the seasons.

Sappho of Eresos would be no different than our contemporaries. Rivalling Homer in her stature, and celebrated for her lyrical and lucid style, only fragments of her writing survive in the 21st century. Among Sappho's oeuvre is her Midnight Poem:

The moon has set
And the Pleiades;
It is midnight,
The time is going by,
And I sleep alone.

Bringing us to an astronomical analysis of her poem by Manfred Cuntz (ahem) and his associate Levent Gurdemir. Using a program called Starry Night, they were able to estimate the date Sappho wrote her wistful words. Playing around with their programs, the team deduced Sappho put stylus to tablet sometime between January 25th and March 31st in 570 B.C.E.. [1]

Had she meant to convey the time and date by noting the moon and the Pleiades set together, then the moon would've been at its first quarter. [2][3] Poking around with Stellarium, a free, multi-platform planetarium program, I'd gather the date was Tuesday the 1st of February 570 B.C.E..

While a hopeless romantic, Sappho's poem may have been a wish for extra warmth rather than some nudge-nudge wink-wink say-no-more.

  1. Scientists use planetarium's advanced astronomical software to accurately date 2,500 year-old lyric poem -
  2. The Phases of the Moon -
  3. Moon Phases - Rising & Setting Times -

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News Briefs 16-05-2016

Duty called...

Quote of the Day:

"More human than human" is our motto.

Eldon Tyrell (Blade Runner)

News Briefs 13-05-2016

“The methods of science aren't foolproof, but they are indefinitely perfectible.”

With thanks to Kat!

Quote of the Day:

“The distinction between responsible moral agents and beings with diminished or no responsibility is coherent, real, and important.”

Daniel Dennett