Thursday, April 15, 2021

A New Endowment Established at Columbia Basin College Celebrating Earth Day 2021

Earth Day this year is April 22
 

To achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement and avoid catastrophic climate change we need to act with far greater urgency than we have to date. We must undertake climate change mitigation efforts now, not in the future, now, that are up to the monumental problems we face -- a rapidly warming climate, rising sea levels, more extreme hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods, mega droughts, and species extinctions that might one day include our own. On one front we see hope -- mayors of the world’s leading cities have emerged as strong and inspiring champions of the kind of ambitious climate action the world needs.

Richard Rogers, the multi-award winning architect, has talked frequently about sustainability and climate change, the growth and density of cities, and the architect’s role as problem-solver. He's said that, “The only way forward, if we are going to improve the quality of the environment, is to get everybody involved.”

It’s in this spirit that I recently endowed a scholarship at Columbia Basin College (CBC). Titled the “Badalamente Earth and Environmental Sciences (BEES) Scholarship,” it recognizes the crucial role community colleges play in serving the higher education needs of an increasingly diverse student population, and the role CBC in particular can play in contributing to an increasing number of students studying and ultimately working in climate change and related fields, particularly in the Pacific Northwest. Student applicants must demonstrate an interest in topics surrounding climate change, with the expectation that they will go on to complete a 4-year degree, and perhaps graduate work in climate science.

I have established the initial endowment for the BEES Scholarship with a $25,000 donation. Investment earnings from the fund and additional donations will be used to award scholarships to students pursuing environmental education at CBC. The more funds that can be raised, the more scholarships that can be awarded.

If you’re interested in donating to the BEES Scholarship, go to the CBC Network for Good donate page, specify the amount, and frequency of donation, then pull down the “Please select” drop-down menu and select “CBC BEES Scholarship.” Alternately, call (509-833-5647) or email (efishburn@columbiabasin.edu) Erin Fisburn at the CBC Foundation and tell her you’re interested in BEES.

Columbia Basin College, Tri-Cities, Washington

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

An Orphanage in Brooklyn

Brooklyn Orphan Asylum
 

My wife's father, Bernard Joseph O'Brien, was a "half orphan." At age 7 his mother, Margaret, was forced to place Bernard and his older brother, John, in the "Brooklyn Orphan Asylum." Bernard's father had died suddenly, and his mother was unable to care for her three girls and two boys, so the boys went into the orphanage. It was an imposing brick and stone structure in the "Modern English Gothic" style that looked like a kid's nightmare vision of an "asylum."

Brooklyn Orphan Asylum sat on Atlantic Avenue, between St. Andrew’s Place and Kingston Avenue in what is now Bedford Stuyvesant. Brooklyn had a lot of orphans and half-orphans in the 19th century, the result of immigration, poverty, disease, and misfortune. Half-orphans had at least one parent, like Bernard, but that parent was unable to care for the child. Bernard and John entered the orphanage in 1902 and spent the next seven years there. They left as teenagers and rejoined their mother and sisters, went to work, and helped support the family.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

What started as a brief Facebook video chat between Richard Badalamente and Jon Phillips concerning "Objective Realty," and "Fiction."

 Richard

Jon, In our video chat yesterday I think I mentioned Historian Yuval Noah Harari, the author of the book, "Sapiens," and more recently, "Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow." I particularly relate to a point he makes about one of the reasons we sapiens became the dominate species on Earth, i.e., we have imagination. He goes on to discuss the difference between "objective reality" and the fictions we imagine are real, using the example of money -- the physical manifestation thereof. He does a rather amusing bit about a human trying to exchange a dollar bill with a chimpanzee for a banana. He goes on to discuss corporations, contending that they are also a fiction; i.e., a figment of our imagination (despite what the SCOTUS has apparently concluded and Mitt Romney so famously paraphrased in his, "Corporations are people, too, my friend," quote). The divisiveness in our country (and really, the world generally) revolves around our often contentious and sometimes violent defense of fictions.

Jon

 That’s the way I thought about it for a very long time. Then one day I was studying something completely different — the black hole information paradox — and an idea (a fiction?) that I thought I had understood for a very long time became more clear to me. I had an epiphany. Objective reality is not just particles whizzing around outside and inside of nuclei. That’s one part of reality. But reality is also the total collected set of information that is derived from the way that particles are ordered. There is what appears to be random but also exquisite and compounding order. In fact, the amount of real information is far higher than the number of particles since order is catalogued in terms of combinations — combinatorics. The massive scale of real information might be the nearest thing to a “countable infinity” if one assumes that the number of particles is a very large but countable figure. So one can think of the objective reality of nature as consisting of two sets: 1) particles and their behavior, and 2) all the information associated with the specific ordering thereof. This is what I thought I understood and is the common way a theoretical physicist thinks about nature. It is also why the black hole information paradox is a long lived conundrum in modern physics (but is now beginning to crack). But my epiphany wasn’t about this, it was about human imagination and animal imagination and any other kind of imagination that may exist now or in the future. Imagination is fundamentally part of the set of information contained in the combinatoric nature of fundamental particles. Why is obvious. Our brains, and the brains of anything that has a brain, is composed of computing structures based on cellular biology, which is based on biochemistry, which is based on physical chemistry, which is based on quantum mechanics of atomic structure, which leads down to quantum chromodynamics ultimately. It is the specific ordering of all that maelstrom of hierarchy that composes the order of imagination. And I suppose that is not limited to biology. Artificial intelligence is also an example that branches (today at least on Earth) through solid state quantum mechanics up to digital circuitry which is simulating some simple models of neural networks. I see no reason in principle why intelligence and imagination is limited to humans or even to biological organisms. Imagination is an outcome of the ordering of information.

Richard [imagines that at this point in the video that he had a chance to get a word in edgewise]

This is all very interesting, Jon, but I believe you're conflating the nature of objective reality with the nature of physical reality. This desk at which I sit does indeed consist of a swirling zoo of fundamental "subatomic" particles that together with weak forces and strong forces, and the electromagnetic force, and the gravitational force, and the interactions between them theorized to be ordered according to the "Standard Model" (about which I know very little) do make up the nature of physical reality. But my hand laying upon the desk and experiencing its solid "feel" is also made up of the same stuff, and somehow, taken together, i.e., interacting, I experience this object as DESK. That is my "objective reality."

The Indian philosopher, musician, and Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, in a July 1930 conversation with Albert Einstein said this about the nature of the "engagement" between me and my desk that I am trying to describe.

"Science has proved that the table as a solid object is an appearance and therefore that which the human mind perceives as a table would not exist if that mind were naught. At the same time it must be admitted that the fact, that the ultimate physical reality is nothing but a multitude of separate revolving centres of electric force, also belongs to the human mind."

Indeed it is my "feel for" (rather than true understanding) the nature of physical reality that informs my belief that everything in our world is interconnected, and I with everything else. Still, what we experience when listening to Nessun Dorma (from the opera, Turandot) is a supremely beautiful and complex rendering of musical notes — the aria’s melody — the words that constitute its lyrics, the voice of the performer, with the orchestra’s accompaniment, the combination of these various sound signals received by and processed through our auditory and neural systems, and assorted aspects of our physical surroundings and emotional state. Each of these components could be broken down further until we are exploring the phonon — the subatomic unit of vibrational energy that makes up sound waves. This deep dive however, will not take us to “objective realty,” but rather “physical realty.”

Jon [not responding to my interjection because I didn't make it at the time]

But the implications of that [imagination is fundamentally part of the set of information contained in the combinatoric nature of fundamental particles] are a little mind blowing. That means religion, as an imagination, is an objective reality.

Richard

I don't understand your reasoning on this, Jon. To me, religion is the perfect example of a fiction devised by humans in an attempt to explain earthquakes that destroy villages and kill its inhabitants. Maybe I'm misinterpreting your point. Are you saying that thinking up the supernatural beings, rituals, rites, and events that constitute religious dogma, i.e., the imagining process itself, is an objective reality, or that what is imagined, generally, that human life is subject to the whim of the gods and to Fate, and these can be controlled through prayer, sacrifice, and divination, is an objective reality?

Jon

That can be easily tested by an experiment and nature has already repeatedly done this experiment. It’s linked to the root of behavior — the development of algorithms of “habits.” So religion, in a statistical sense, is a survival enhancing social and individual habit construct that psycho socially evolves. I know that others have thought of this, but it is not a common thought and I had to think it in order to be able to research it and find it!

But not only religion. All human superstition is referencing a very old information construct that is shared by all humans — magical thinking. It’s a rule set that lies between subconscious instinct and conscious superstition. A sort of boot logic for individual and tribal existence. You see it in versions in the behavior of all social hominids including the great apes. But I suspect doesn’t end there. I suppose it goes down the chain until consciousness disappears. Nature repeats themes, not just in particles, but in borrowed information structures as well. DNA is a classic example that all earthy biology shares. But guess what, base six DNA has been artificially constructed by adding a new base pair and demonstrating the polymerase chain reaction still works. That earthly nature stopped at two sets of base pairs may be some statistical outcome that is favored chemically from a stability point of view over a long time? But the idea (the information content) is extensible just as number theory is.

But a simple mind experiment about the objective reality of religion (which is an imagination) is to ask yourself whether that ordering results in an imagination that results in an observable change or ordering in behaviors and outcomes? And does that reinforce and propagate the evolutionary lineage of that information set? Of course it does.

Richard

Well, Jon, Qanon conspiracy theories also result in, "observable change or ordering in behaviors and outcomes," but they're termed "conspriacy theories" for a reason -- they are not based in objective reality. There was no pedophilia ring being run by Hillary Clinton out of a Washington DC pizza parlor called Comet Ping Pong.

Jon

[My thoughts] flowed out of some Venn diagrams I was sketching after studying the black hole information paradox. I was wondering about these sets of things and how they interrelate...what comes out that set of meditations I performed was that information is not constrained to describe just the first set (of particles and their behaviors) it can be ordered to describe any “nonsense” that has, for some “reason”, some kind of “utility.” If “nonsense” turns out to compel cooperation of a social species, and if cooperation has more survival utility than does “factual reality” (whatever that is), then “nonsense” has more utility from the perspective of natural selection than does “fact.” In that sense, the fact about nonsense is that nonsense has utility — it produces some useful outcome in an evolutionary algorithm. People build institutions out of nonsense much more easily than on the basis of science. Science is hard, nonsense is easy for the individual, but harder for the group. But even for the group, it is easier than science. Nonsense which enables useful behavior modifications to construct a cooperative society only requires negotiations of doctrines and maintaining of that consensus. Thus rises the power of orthodoxy and institutions to maintain it. The law is a perfect example.

So then, if you think about disinformation on the internet spreading through social media....

Richard

So, are you arguing that nonsense, per se, is in fact objective reality? To quote John Heywood (1546);

Ye fetch circumquaques to make me beleeve,
Or thinke, that the moone is made of a greene cheese

Jon

This is a short summary of my pondering the fundamentals underlying economics, religion, social psychology, communications, monetary theory... on and on. They’re all institutional doctrines, including social psychology since we don’t know enough about how the mind works to understand it, so the ratio of fact to nonsense is smaller than in some other sciences.

This popped into my head one day in Vienna as I was walking to the gym. I didn’t stop thinking about it continuously for a few weeks. It really bothered me. I still think about all the threads that lead out of it. It’s a “gnarly hairball” as a surfer or freestyle skier would say.

I haven’t read Harari’s books, but I should. I’m reading a history about the last Shah of Iran and the related foreign policy right now. It’s very interesting.
 
It’s already adjusted my thinking on Mossedegh.

Richard

Operation Ajax

Jon

Yup


A New Endowment Established at Columbia Basin College Celebrating Earth Day 2021

Earth Day this year is April 22   To achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement and avoid catastrophic climate change we need to act with fa...