Sunday, September 25, 2011

Faster than Lightspeed

Oh dear, I really shouldn't get cute so much with titles, since my writings won't be indexed and no one will be able to get my take on the news of the day. CERN right? That superconducting supercollider or whateverthehell ya whatchamacallit. That border-crossing machine mostly underground where particles, so-called, can be accelerated pretty much the way you might swing a bolero and let fly a rock with more energy than you could get without the windup.

I'd thought they were all about collisions and detecting new particles  - that Higgs boson, again so-called, to be emitted (which really shouldn't apply to particulate matter at all) from the collision of things with more energy than they would ever have "in nature."

But I guess once you have a great machine, there are lots and lots of things you can do with it, and this one let them fling some neutrinos underground through rock to Italy where, with some degree of reliable assurance that the neutrinos arriving at the receiving end bore some relation approximating identity to the ones flung out from CERN, they would be detected.

Do the math, crunch the number and these things seem to have accomplished the transit at something greater than the one bedrock limit we've been pretty certain of up 'til now. Lightspeed wasn't supposed to be transgressable.

Maybe this is just a teaser experiment to be sure we all know that the cost of the machine can be fully justified by the surprising nature of its results.

We're all still looking for surprises, aren't we? Something really cool to get infinite energy into our cars. Some new way to think of money so that we can realize "debt" doesn't really define the condition of all the manipulative power we collectively wield up against the popular sentiment that there isn't enough to pay our bills.

We listen to readings about the economy the way we do the weather, and it fills our days with a cloudy feeling, no matter how much possibility remains for our particular daily outings. These grand science experiments loom also in the background, well beyond our ability to understand their import, but lending a sense, perhaps, of hopeful anticipation.

Where once we got an atom bomb, maybe this time there will be something a little bit less problematical.

Or maybe we won't want to see it because the problem is that we don't have any way to change our mind about what it might mean.

Every day now, I'm faced with my own ignorance about things important to my daily work. These get combine with things I'd really just like to understand to make me feel impressively impotent against the enormity of what I really can't get a handle on.

Like do they have insurance in China now that they have all those cars? What happens to a driver who hits a pedestrian in a system without lawyers and transparent judicial processes? What do the schools really feel like to the majority of kids whose work is never rewarded, no matter the 10 hours per day they must put in? What is really going on with No Child Left Behind, and are we really becoming still more addicted to quasi-quantitative measures for school effectiveness?

Idle questions, surely, but working as I do across cultures, I become impressed that beneath the wreckage of our schools we still allow impressive numbers of self-motivated individuals to pursue dreams toward improvement. Some realize these dreams with impact for the greater good, and not always because they chase after some monetary reward. For my work, I really need to know what the motivations are in China.

Does parental and societal pressure there lead to wonders similar to those we believe that we enjoy over here? Does the implicit intense competition in the face of certain knowledge that there is always someone right behind you willing to work that much harder lead to great accomplishments? Neither here nor there?

I'm getting the sense that Chinese workers, like workers in civilized places the world over, are used to long mid-day siestas, and are a bit baffled by our long workdays and unpalatable cold and hasty lunches. Maybe their Euro-style civilized workday is payback for the relentless pressure they felt in school.

I played and lollygaggled and did my basement science experiments and so now I enjoy the payback of no time in any day to ponder or read a book or consider answers to those many things I remain so curious about. This is what drives the American economy, and I'm almost proud of my hard work. But I'm also wondering if a different kind of productivity is MIA. The kind which led some among my kind to invent this CERN time-machine.

You know it makes me uncomfortable that I am valued in my work partially because I know the Chinese language. I think that's the easy part of cultural border-crossings. The really hard part is to make contact culture to culture not just for the purpose of making friends or doing business, but for the purpose of making education actually happen.

It no longer makes sense to assume that Chinese want to study in the US because we are that much better at stuff than they are. We aren't. One assumption might be that the only difference in accomplishment is that we are temporarily ascendant - that we have all the money and power - and that visiting Chinese would like to learn as much about us as possible so that they can take over that ascendant role.

But a better assumption, and the one which makes it possible for me to remain excited about my work, is that it is the differences which define the value of the education. The assumption of one party having some advantage over the other leaves the education as more of an economic transaction. Trading for comparative advantage leads to benefits for both parties to the trade for sure, but education is supposed to have a direction from ignorance to enlightenment.

I guess that's the same as the direction implied by economic transactions where the net distribution of goods and efforts means that everyone is better off than before the transaction. Despite the cloudy outlook, more of us than ever before can live in comfort and relative security with full bellies and temperature-controlled dry spaces in which to weather come-what-may.

But the end seems near. Our load upon the environment is going to break the limits of the earth's carrying power. What really will happen when that as yet un-posited limit gets transgressed? Or maybe the question is why we don't identify that limit as a universal constant, the way we once did with lightspeed? It really is the limit between life and death, and we, collectively, act like Cher now, thinking that we can cheat death with technology. Maybe in just the way that we cheated the ultimate limit of lightspeed with this supercollider.

I suspect or maybe just hope that someday real soon some among us will start to awaken to the necessary and fairly obvious conclusion that it isn't the lightspeed barrier which has been transgressed. Instead, we've transgressed a definitional barrier without even recognizing it.

Information has long been known to be unlimited by particulate transmission limits. This falls out from certain principles of quantum physics where identities distributed in time and space can be established such that knowing some characteristic at one end entails instant knowledge at the other. No matter that the spatial separation negates the possibility for the information to be transmitted.

The data is now out for analysis, but the one thing which won't happen because it can't happen is for the scientists examining the data to come up with an alternative framework for the interpretation. They will be looking for systematic measurement errors or calculation effects which caused the results to only seem as though the neutrinos could have beaten light to their receivers.

But if they did consider receiver and sender both to be a part of a single identity to begin with, well then I'm guessing that the measurement of arrival before the expected appointment is really nothing other than a measure of the degree of ambiguity in the extent of thingness of the thing being measured. It's the looking glass that's been transgressed. There will be no Higg's boson, since there is a limit to particulate reality.

The measure was a measure of the predictability of the neutrinos' arrival which turned out to have been something greater than unity; a measure, perhaps, of the extraordinary effort expended in making sure the reception was good.

I mean these neutrinos are apparently capable of a kind of shape shifting and so why can't the cloud within which speed can be detected (someTHING has to be detected to start at someWHERE and finish at somePLACE) be large enough to accommodate the lightspeed excess?

If the lightspeed constant remains intact, and assuming no gross errors yet undiscovered, then this greater than lightspeed measure is not a detection so much as a prediction of detection having enough certainty to be nearly identical to actual detection. Sort of like the perfect translation I long for, where I can 'go native' and really understand what the hell is going on when the discussions become animated and hilarious.

I can feel left out in English too, especially when watching a movie. But we all know that solid sense of being native to what's being said. There are always new expressions or words but negotiating their meaning happens quickly and with assurance. Which also creates lots of trouble.

I watch translators who work for us to provide meaningful lectures from the alien tongue of the presenters. I can get pretty frustrated knowing enough Chinese to tell when the translator just moved ahead with what she assumed was being said, and missed the point entirely because its ironic twists was being signaled beyond the subtlety of the non-native translator.

The fact is - maybe this is the only ultimate "fact" - that we can't really know the nature of reality 'out there.' It will always remain elusive, the way that "foreign language" must, but also the way that any other must. It would after all be pretty uninteresting to live in a social world where no communication was necessary. Probably even more uninteresting than one where it isn't possible.

The impulse to communicate is emotional, I think. The sum total of all the things we know or can know rendered into the vector of an impulse. (and yes, I'm bored with this too. There is no way to bring it home without, well, learning yet another language which it is beyond the span of any possible life for me to learn it in).

And so the time will come before too very long when we will once again examine our impulses. What did we think we would discover by this super-collider, if not the limits of our own ability to go native within whatever it is that still is and must ever remain outside our mind's apprehension. Did we really need this expense of energy and money just to en-state the obvious?

And what if the current model were to remain intact, augmented by the further elaboration of the Higgs boson contribution? When would boredom set in? When would we realize that the solutions we must seek now regard the political impulse to drive beyond all reasonable limits?

The Good News is that the shifted figure of emotion as part of the fundament, allows consciousness a role in transformation. Change your mind and change the world.

Well, see ya next time. It's been a nice languid few hours without work, and never enough time to finish a thought. Maybe Christmas?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

More Virtuous Reality

I do remember as a young boy some friends who had some money and whose parents were more indulgent than mine had one of those itty bitty Sony TVs back when they first came out. Cute was the word which came to mind, that quality of animal life which must make young offspring easier to care for.

Actually the TV belonged to the MD Dad, who might actually have indulged himself more than he did the kids. It might have been a way to watch football without hogging the family resources, this when the VW beetle was new on the scene; markets were breaking across borders, and all of us were enthralled by mini.

I'm certain I was pre-pubescent, so my wanting of that cute little B&W TV was chaste in its way. More in the manner of wanting a stuffed animal than a racy automobile. Though I also remember fantasizing about how to get one. It might have been realistic to scrimp and save from the paper route and buy a small portable for my bedroom, but that would never have passed family muster. We weren't even allowed to watch TV except for certain hours; never after dinner.

I think part of the fascination for this particular little TV was that we might bring it along on canoe trips, which the boys of our families shared. I imagined laying on a sleeping bag in a dark canvas pup tent of the sort you might allow your kids now to erect in the backyard, if you live in a gated community. It may have been brought on one trip once, but either the battery was clumsy, or there was simply no reception up north that far in Canada.

Or my Dad exerted some moral authority about the disturbances which were acceptable in nature.

And now you know I can watch movies on my little iPhone, with a screen of such high definition, and a size and weight and battery life to make that boy I was wither with envy. But no, I imagine now some 3D goggles, and projections up on my field of vision. I would lust for such technology.

I just finished a Netflix film, made only in France, distinguishing virtue from reality - a fine exploration of the danger of lust when it invades the world of polite society. It was daylight behind me, I'm ashamed to say, and the light from the window made an annoying reflection on the tiny screen. My own face would intrude when the scenes were dark. I should have been in a darkened room, watching on a larger screen.

My future goggles will also annoy me when the projection is darker than the actual scene and I make the cardinal mistake to mistake virtue in broad daylight. (someday I would like to drive one of those cars whose instruments are projected onto the field of vision; and would they work so well at night or would you steer into the speed limit?)

Perhaps we do get locked ever more tightly into a world which diminishes, no longer cute, into all the time indoors. Which may also be why there is no Windows © which can secure the fortunes of Microsoft. Hell, even finding that copyright sign, unless you know the Mac-like arcane keystroke, is that much easier on my cellphone.

Because I am supersaturated now with possibilities for my entertainment. Though I don't understand how people cluster on-line. Why would you want to be known as a VW hobbyist by posting your exploits to virtual friends. How long can fascination with wooden boat repair and construction last, when you have to move across the continent for work?

Those who stay put, embedded in the craft of whatever-it-is so rarely now adopt the voice of wisdom online, that I actually do remember back when the Internet was new and generous spirits prevailed.

It is now again the case that you will do better to travel to some shop or seaport and start conversations and eventually find that generous spirit. If he will accept a cup of coffee or lunch he might even indulge your questions. Unless they are trivial enough to be answered while continuing to work, up against the deadline which is having enough to live on.

What is it we presume of one another? Where would I find the leisure, for instance, to try this voice in ways which could be worked into something you might like to read? Could I develop a character? Could I imagine interesting exploits, and explore them for you on the virtual page, and could I make them captivating enough for you to follow?

Perhaps, but I must feed myself and the chase after those wages leaves me just that tired that I am fortunate to take a walk and collapse in sleep, only to face another commute and having only enough time to dress and eat and depart on time if I get up at 5:30 in the freaking morning. Where is the leisure I can take advantage of, with so many options floating now around and about me?

It is simply too much effort even to look, and so I catch a random movie, perhaps on my iPhone, based on some selection process which transcends any sense I could ever make of it.

There are times, in other words, when I don't want to think that hard; when I want to be entertained. No wonder we pay to buy tickets at the movies. Which should make the movies like some sort of performance art. Soon  there will be no more worries about copyright. As with a fine comedian, you won't pay to hear him if the jokes are stale: the recorded version is worthless. Or to put it virtuously, the stale jokes need to be camouflaged with something to make them seem surprising. Is there anything new at the movies?

But for now folks unlike me remain unjaded, and skip lustily among the virtual daisies, certain that there can be some perfect flower among the weeds, and that she can be had for nearly nothing. Roll me another one, over and over and over again.

I cannot. I know that every time I search for the best deal and pay as little as I do to be entertained I'm ripping someone off. It's not the copyright infringement. It's the rights infringement of people whose labor is aggregated for the enrichment of someone with the right social capital to exploit it properly. I will sell your handicrafts for you where the buyers have real money. And you will get fair market value and I will find a way to live among the gringos on the hill.

Now I must return to searching for the cheapest shocks for my old Vee Dub. I guess I am looking to avoid paying money I don't have to. I guess I'm trying to stay away from people who would rip me off.

But wouldn't it be actually nice if each of us held on less tightly to what we have? We would have to want less, maybe, or want different things from those which cost us money. What if we were to want time with friends more, or time in the great out-of-doors. You know, without the gear. The gear always costs something north of a couple of grand  (in dollars), and then you're committed.

I know these things. SCUBA diving, skiing, biking, rock climbing, hell even just hiking and camping there is a price point which gets calibrated against our desire. I won't even talk about sailing, and certainly not in an old wooden sailboat. Mainly because it would make me very very sad.

So you know, unlike all my very clever friends, I didn't actually bargain very hard for my car. I had no particular resentment about the commission the salesperson might be making, and couldn't really justify whatever few hundreds I might save at purchase time against the lifetime of the car.

Sure, I've spent lots of money now across over 300,000 miles, but I never did have to replace the shocks. or even the muffler, not to mention the bigger stuff. I struggle now about putting any more money in, but I think there is no virtue in polluting the world with whatever it takes to build a new one. There must be junkyards full of engines for when this one bites the dust. The car itself, you know, feels solid. I should just bit the bullet and buy the shocks. No, I should have them put in by someone who knows how to do it.

Bite me.

Meanwhile what the hell does it really matter? We can't resolve ourselves to agree about these things. There seems to be no way to get trains built which would squander that much less money individually. We'd call it government waste and lament the cost overruns.

We could read, or watch our Netflix on our iPhones or get work done by finding new ways to take it home in Dropbox © (it was still on my clipboard!), and who really cares about full Windows interoperability anyhow? Isn't what I've got good enough finally?

I know, if you don't, that all this chasing after bargains can be resolved easily enough into chasing after our mechanized replacements, who can do so much so cheaply now and where is all that leisure that we all once were promised? It is not really fun to drive a car when the driving is on a California freeway.

And so we focus on the luxury appointments on the inside. Which afford that same faraway satisfaction upon purchase. Someday, perhaps, a trip along a winding country road, ending up in wine country to spend some time with friends in pretense that it wasn't frantically purloined from the rest of the daily grind?

All of those bits of time now render upward to those who have so much of it they really don't know what to do with it. There are cruises and exotic spots to conjur the way they were without you. It all of it enslaves and ensnares the ones who are stuck.

But we're all stuck. I in my language and culture where I become nothing but an annoyance among Chinese, because the social imbalance destroys my poise with language and I don't know whom to ask or whom to trust, to navigate the border crossings in my mind.

For sure there is no God but Ah Ha!

Well, back to home-work. Or maybe I'll go to the movies. The day is not sunny enough to feel any loss of virtue.