On Sunday, January 12, 2003, at 08:50  AM, John M wrote:

Dear Tim, I am sorry that you did not read my 1st par:

"Dear Tim,
this writing is not about YOU, only addressed to your post. It is about the
topic of it. I have no argument with you, maybe you will have with me."
I read and absorbed this. I commented on your comments, as normal.

And I love to read them, mostly as a 'lurker', posting occasionally and in
very select topics. I definitely do not want to 'reorganize' or 'change' the
list. I don't believe I wrote anything understandable as "what I would like
to read", only referred to the free spirit that was frequently readable by
contributors who let
their (professionally well trained) minds walk - roam around, as someone
in a post-post-post modern scientific view.
I've looked over the archives from the time before I was formally subscribed, and I just don't see many differences in "free spirit" (to use your phrase) posts, either in number or in nature.

In any case, no one is stopping similar posts today. We had a good discussion of the really weird ("free spirit") Poincare recurrence idea not too long ago. And Bruno continues to post his ideas.

I wrote "more conventional" referring to the formalistic classical physics
of the textbooks (not exclusively, but the majority of the list-contributors
seem to prefer physics over other 'scientific' disciplines).
Not "you", and my remark was not complaining, rather observing - even if you
overestimate the "alas" in it. It only means that I enjoy the
'nonconventional' more. I always stood up for free spirit/speech/ideas,
whether I was in agreement or not, and it feels really bad to have to
defend myself against the image of a fascist tyrant. So please, remember
the omitted 1st par above.
I didn't characterize you as a fascist tyrant...I said that the list is what it is, and that the solution to perceptions that it is no longer as free-spirited is to increase the number of posts you think are needed, not ask others to not critique them or to use "conventional physics" to analyze the new theories.

This raises an interesting point, one I was thinking about quite a bit last night after sending off my last comment.

Consider a wild and whacky idea: Vernor Vinge's "slow zone" ontology in some of his short stories ("The Blabber," for example) and in his award-winning novel, "A Fire Upon the Deep." For those not familiar with Vinge, he posits that the speed of light varies in certain ways at different places inside galaxies, and that intelligence itself varies within regions of the galaxy. (The precise details don't matter.) The result is that some parts of our galaxy are "slow zones" where intelligence is limited, some parts are "The High Beyond" (I think was his name for it) where intelligence runs at breakneck speed ("the Powers"), and then there are "The Unthinking Depths."

This is what is called "a conceit." Nothing pejorative there. A conceit is an assumption made by an author for the purposes of creating a world, a setting. "His conceit was to imagine a world where Hitler had won the Second World War."

Now this is where it gets interesting. When Vinge presents this conceit, this basis for a suspension of disbelief, we the readers may shrug and groan and be skeptical, but the force of a full-length novel and our inability to interact with him in real time means that he "gets a chance." We get drawn in and we think to ourselves some variant of "OK, a weird idea. Probably completely impossible. Probably easy enough to disprove--I can think of observations which already disprove his speed of light idea. But let's see where he goes with this idea."

In Vinge's case, his idea took his novel very far. So though I think his Slow Zone idea is impossible, he at least is thought-provoking, and he even added a metaphor for our times. (Back in the early 90s it was a common joke in my circle to refer to someone as "being in the Slow Zone.")

Other writers have done the same thing. Niven in "Ringworld," faster than light travel in general, Tolkien's Middle Earth, and so on.

Here's the relevance to this list. Imagine that Vinge subscribed to this list and presented his "Slow Zone" ideas not as a fictional conceit but as a idea tossed out for discussion. He would, of course, be ripped to shreds. People would point out the relevant physics about red shifts, Lamb shifts, gravitational lensing, and so on.

Vernor knows this, of course. This is the point of a conceit.

Likewise, one of my current favorite authors is Greg Egan. He tosses out wild ideas and develops them with great enthusiasm. His novels "Distress," "Quarantine," "Diaspora," "Permutation City," "Schild's Ladder," etc. are wildly imaginative and thought-provoking. Best of all, he gets to develop his ideas at length and with fictional characters to explicate the details, WITHOUT people like us to point out obvious flaws or lack of observational details.

(I'll add that I think he's the most realistic author I've seen in a while on how some of the physics may unfold. For example, in some of his novels (SL, Diaspora) he has "new physics" only being discovered a century or so from now, which I think is a plausible timeline. And, even with a new TOE, it takes another thousand years of AI-enhanced thinking before new energy regimes are adequately probed (via an accelerator that is roughly the size of the solar system, to probe Planck scales).)

The point is this: anyone proposing a "wild theory" here or any other realtime list is going to need to expect folks taking potshots and pointing out inconsistencies and flaws. For most of science, this works very well.

(The case of Wolfram's "new kind of science" is an excellent example to discuss in this connection. Maybe in another post.)

We are like the Caltech students that Niven described in the early 70s: they demolished the physics of "Ringworld" and pointed out ways that it could and could not work. How could we be otherwise?

I suppose your line:
I cannot understand your point here. But if the "several" who were once
here are no longer posting, I am not stopping them.<
refers to my phrase "'well composed' edifice of the scientific doctrines..."
(discounting the personal defensive) - maybe if you care to glance at my
essay (http://pages.prodigy.net/jamikes/SciRelMay00.html) that would release
me from lengthy explanations - subject maybe to my newer miscraftings here -
OK, I just checked out your URL and scanned your essay. It looks to be about religion and memes. I'm not sure what it has to do with analysis of "Everything" theories a la Tegmark, Egan, Schmidhuber, Fredkin, Zuse, etc.

Again, I have no idea what you are talking about here<)
Idea I have, wording is hard. I may mention some key-phrases without
contextual explanations (and without asking Wei Dai to reformulate the list
in favor of these <G>) as stirring around lately in select speculations:
-- "complexity-thinking", -- extending the limits of reductionism:
induction-buildup, to deduction-analysis, -- extending the limited models
of reductionist science, -- natural systems as networks of networks, --
total interconnectedness -- etc., but I am afraid that whatever I mention
opens another Pandora's box of worms.
We (working in these lines) have still arguments how to understand (then
formulate) concepts like impredicative, endogenous, emergent, etc., beside
the re-identification of 'older' terms galore.

I certainly encourage you to more fully explicate your ideas. But understand that I (and others, I think) will "compare and contrast" theories with what has been observed, what appears to be solidly known, etc. This is what we would do if Vinge were to post ideas here, like I said.

I'm quite skeptical that much of the "complexity-thinking" is as important as some think it is. (I know about Chaitin, and introduced him to the "Extropians" list in 1993, as Hal can confirm. I've also corresponded with him, and I went to the first Artificial Life (A-LIFE) conference in Los Alamos in 1987 largely because I'd read that John Holland, Greg Chaitin, and several others that I wanted to meet would be there...as it turned out, Chaitin cancelled. I've also read the usual complexity theory stuff. Close links with computation and cryptology, of course. But drawing overbroad conclusions, as I think Prigogine does, is why I am skeptical.)

(To add another comment. At this first A-LIFE I also had a lot of time to talk to Stuart Hameroff about his "nanotubules" and "cytoskellular consciousness" theories. Strange stuff. A perfect example of my novelization point: were Hameroff to develop his ideas in a novel, a well-written and engaging novel, we might be able to say "Weird, but interesting!." But when I see Hameroff's ideas in essays on the Web, or Penrose's vague claims that gravity may have something to do with quantum weirdness, I remain intensely skeptical.)

I think there's more than plenty of fascinating new physics being vigorously discussed in the modern physics community. The arXive site is fun to browse.

When a theory is so weird that it is not even discussable by workers in the field, then our skepticism meters must reflect this.

Your comments did not "aggravate" me...they simply prodded me to set down some of the many ideas percolating in my head. This may make me seem like a "conservative" here, but it's my nature to analyze and critique, to compare and contrast.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.

--Tim May

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