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Leland LeCuyer
Of two minds, in contradiction with myself...
Of two minds, in contradiction with myself...


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How Much?

David Orrell's new book, Quantum Economics, was published as an ebook today both in the U.S. and the U.K. I have just finished reading the introduction, and my initial impression is that this is by far Orrell's finest book. The writing has the laser focus of someone who has something important to say and knows it. There's a clarity, depth, and conciseness that was absent in his previous books, and which are absent in most books.

The Latin word “quantum” means “how much.” Drawing from the numerous parallels between everyday economic transactions, large and small, and quantum physics, Orrell is attempting to redefine both the meaning and the practice of economics. This is a radical proposition. Orrell himself explains: “This book argues that we need to start over from the very beginning, by considering the most basic feature of the economy, which is transactions involving money. Rather than treat money as a mere metric, or as an inert medium of exchange, we will show that money has special, contradictory, indeed magical properties which feed into the economy as a whole.”

Foremost of these magical properties inhering to money is “entanglement.” Money entangles the buyer with the seller, the lender with the debtor, the investor with the entrepreneur. Indeed this network of entanglements weaves the fabric out of which an economy and, by extension, a society, emerges.

Although some familiarity with quantum physics may assist the reader, Quantum Economics does not require this. The properties of money Orrell examines are commonplace phenomena we have all encountered as we buy and sell in the marketplace. What is new is the interpretive apparatus Orrell uses to explain what is happening and why it happens the way it does. Any intelligent reader whould be able to follow Orrell's account. More importantly, they will likely find themselves often repeating to themselves: “I’ve never thought of it that way. But it sure makes a lot of sense.”

On a personal note, several people I've corresponded with here on Google+ have experienced how strange my ideas about money are.( I'm especially thinking of +David Amerland and +Gregory Esau.) I have often railed against the corrosive power of money, how it distorts interpersonal relationships and tends to devalue whatever it can reduce to a price. Like Gene Roddenberry, I imagine and long for a future where money is no longer needed; where people do what they do not in pursuit of financial advantage but simply because it is the right thing to do. We are very far from that post-money world. Farther than a permanent human colony on Mars.

Entangled as we are in an unjust world, we struggle just to stay afloat. Financially and morally. I think Orrell's book goes a long way towards explaining why money is simultaneously liberating and enslaving. I look forward to learning more as I continue to read this revolutionary new work.
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Close Encounters of the AI Kind
In the ultimate cosmic mashup, +Caleb Scharf, concatenates SETI, the search for extra-terrestrial life, with AI, artificial intelligence, and stamps a two-sided coin. On one side, the most efficient and effective way for humans to explore the galaxy and ultimately the cosmos would be by sowing swarms of miniature AI-governed machines in every direction across the vast expanses of emptiness. On the other face, it well might turn out that the first encounter humans make with an alien civilization will not be with the aliens themselves, but with the autonomous machines they dispatched to survey space who happen to turn up in our neighborhood.

Much intrigue here.

I wonder how different alien AI would be from our own?

cc +Gideon Rosenblatt
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Wow! Simply, wow!!!
Chemistry Upended

Next time we have a carbon atom that does something so weird that we have from it, as a result, new ways of storing hydrogen and organic compounds with some pretty impressive properties it's because a High Schooler in Oklahoma proved that it can be done!
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What Is Real?
The Unfinished Quest for the Meaning of Quantum Mechanics

Adam Becker's new book, What Is Real? The Unfinished Quest for the Meaning of Quantum Mechanics looks fascinating. I am encouraged by the recent shift in both science and philosophy towards ontology.

Mélanie Frappier's review details one major disappointment in Becker's presentation: that he treats the "Copenhagen Interpretation" as a single monolithic framework when it clearly is not. Bohr and Heisenberg separately and independently simultaneously arrived upon their respective solution to the apparent contradiction in fundamental nature: Bohr's "Complementarity" and Heisenberg's "Indeterminacy" (better known under its English mistranslation as "Uncertainty").

Far from monolithic, Bohr accused Heisenberg of failing to address the problem while Heisenberg thought Bohr was stubbornly clinging to a quasi-religious mysticism. The two men who had hitherto been like father and son wouldn't speak to each other again until the famous clandestine wartime meeting when Bohr urged his German colleague to "go slow" in the Nazi atomic bomb project.

They never reconciled.

Despite this flaw, Becker's book looks like a good read for anyone inclined to ponder about "stuff." As Socrates asked: "What is it?"
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PETM: History Never Repeats — But It Always Rhymes
Scott Wing is a big, fat crybaby. He had spent over a decade splitting rocks (literally) to little effect. Then one morning under the blazing sun in Wyoming’s Bighorn Valley, his split rock revealed a fossil. Not just any fossil, but one he immediately recognized originating from the Paleocene Eocene Thermal Maximum, abbreviated to PETM, a geological epoch eerily and uniquely reminiscent of our own, the Anthropocene.

His first reaction was to break down in tears — tears of joy!

Apart from today, the PETM was the period of most rapid global warming in the four-billion-year plus history of planet earth. Thus it offers an analog and warning about where our planet and only home for the foreseeable future is likely headed.

Check out the story and especially the video at the beginning of Ms. Kaplan’s article.

In the event you are unable to get thru the Washington Post paywall (they offer five free articles a month to non-subscribers), here’s a direct link to the video:

Keep cool.

(cc +Sakari Maaranen)
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"What is it?" Socrates would ask at the beginning of each conversation. "What is wisdom?" "What is justice?" What is courage?"

Socrates was also renowned for "irony," calling into question whether or not he truly believed what he said. The most famous of Socrates's "ironic" claims was his often-repeated assertion that he "knew nothing."

Obviously, Socrates knew something. He knew, for example, the Greek language. And he knew it far better than I do. At risk of sounding repetitive, Socrates obvious knew something — a fact that prima facie falsifies his protest of ignorance.

Nevertheless, despite my Jesuitical hair-splitting, I think that some merit does apply to Socrates insistence of ignorance. This becomes clear if we leave the third century BCE — and Socrates — behind and focus upon our own ignorance.

For all the achievements of modern science, physicists today still have no answer to the question "What is it?" "What is an electron?" "What is the Higgs Field?" "What is gravity?"

Physicists can describe the effects of gravity, the location or momentum (but not both simultaneously) of an electron, the mass of a particle as it transits the Higgs Field. But physicists are at a complete loss to explain what it is that they are describing with exact mathematical precision.

As academics so often do, they imbued the struggle to answer the "What is it?" question with a fancy name — Ontology — thereby elevating it to the status of a discipline. Ontology is generally regarded as a subset or branch of the broader and much-disparaged discipline Metaphysics.

The bad reputation of Metaphysics has in fact been well-earned over the centuries. But this does not diminish the irony that jewel in the crown of the physical sciences, Physics, may properly be understood as Metaontology — the study of "What is."

The rock that Samuel Johnson allegedly kicked was real. And physical.

But as I lead you down this primrose path, for the moment let's assume that this rock wasn't real. Heck, let's assume that Samuel Johnson isn't real. This doesn't imply that rocks are not real or that there exist no real rocks.

Many years ago in my misspent youth, I was running through the woods in Rhode Island and jumped over a fallen log. My foot landed upon a loose rock. The rock rolled. My ankle turned. A bone fractured.

Perhaps you have broken an ankle sometime in the course of your life journey. Perhaps not. It doesn't really matter. The fact is that rocks, real rocks, have properties. And these properties enable it to have effects in the world — effects like breaking ankles.

We can describe these properties. We can describe these effects. But it escapes the current powers of human language to describe what a rock (or anything else) is.

This is why +David Amerland's question "Are you really real?" carries weight. It is also why Bishop Berkeley's radical immaterialism can't be easily refuted.

The mind contains everything. The entire universe. All that is. All that ever was. Everything that will be. Everything.

Even the rock that broke my ankle.

Yet this doesn't imply that radical immaterialism must be true. For every question Berkeley's hypothesis answers, it opens new unanswered questions. The most pressing is the question about other minds: "Do other minds exist?"

Although other minds — if they exist — must be contained in my mind, the content of other minds remains concealed from me. For example, I think David Amerland has a mind. A very active, energetic, and interesting mind. But I never perceive what David is thinking. I can only read the words and images he has shown me (and you). I follow this trail of bread-crumbs and deduce in my mind what I think David thinks. But in any event, what I think David thinks is my own thought, encompassed within my own mind, a product of my imagination.

The problem with radical immaterialism is that it seems to lead inevitably to complete isolation — to solipsism. I exist. But I cannot know that you exist. Or that David exists. Nor even that the world exists.

It is easy to see why Samuel Johnson dismissed Berkeley's hypothesis. It doesn't ring true to his (or anyone's) experience. We live in a world. A real world. A world that is different than anyone of us imagines it to be. A world that breaks ankles.

But the fact that radical immaterialism seems inconsistent with the human experience of reality doesn't imply that materialism is true. For we have no explanation for how physical matter can produce a mind — something we have immediate experience of. Perhaps someday we will find the mechanism by which lifeless matter can create mental images, but that day hasn't arrived.

Yet for all the fierce urgency with which reality assaults us and our ankles, we remain as ignorant as Socrates about what reality is. So we limp along, as best we can, cutting a path through something that is not only mysterious and ineffable, but wondrously marvelous.

It's great to be alive. Greater still to be aware of it.

Are you really real? That question, asked over 300 years ago in a heated discussion between Samuel Johnson ( and his biographer Boswell ( over Bishop Berkeley’s ( theory of immaterialism, led to the now famous “appeal to the stone” ( refutation.

In the time since the argument has not gone away. Einstein, famously, went back and forth over it with Neils Bohr in their debates ( with the former refusing to accept that God played dice with the universe ( while the latter thought that everything was entirely subjective:

It would appear that every technological advance we have made, since, has only deepened our unease about objectivity in the existence of the world:

The Matrix (inevitably) made the conversation a little more real sparking off a chain of discussions ( about whether we actually are simulations ( living in “someone’s hard drive” -

Quantum Physics does present a radically different view of the world: and makes it easier to challenge reality: As we struggle to grasp what being real means: we also try to find a balance within us that we can live with:

In The Sniper Mind ( I explain how reality can be hacked so we can get the outcomes we want: It appears that the reality we see is only an interface designed to enhance our chances for survival:

All of this would be fabulous if we were somehow constrained in what we can perceive and what we can do which meant that all fancy theories aside we just needed to be happy with our lot and get on with it in order to be ‘OK’. But this is not the case. Ever instance in which we seem to bend the norms of reality and exceed our specifications (so to speak) -, is a reminder that we are capable of so much more.

Of course, to hark back to a moment from The Matrix there is another dimension to this. Our brains are capable of constructing dreamscapes that feel pretty real: False awakenings are amongst the most mind-bending experiences we can have: - a true Inception landscape:

Science is, as it happens, grappling with all of these concepts: And so does psychology: Reality and along with it, consciousness may be nothing more than a case of data and data processing: If that’s the case we may just be able to rewire ourselves to experience the world differently and then, as a result, think differently:

Even without augmentation we can rewire our brains:

We are at a junction point in our development right now. We begin to understand that we are more than the sum of our parts but, at the same time, we are also comprehending the complexity each part represents and the monumentally high value of the sum that makes each of us what we are. There are two core questions at the very heart of it all: What are we? and How far can we go?

My guess is that within the next 20 years or so both of these will become self-evident.

I hope you’ve used your perception of the world to your advantage, in which case, right now you have a full pot of coffee, several donuts, croissants, cookies and chocolate cake. You’re good to go. Have an awesome Sunday, wherever you are.
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Is Moral Choice Natural?
I found this essay about the philosopher Phillipa Foot refreshing.

I will defer for now the urge to write my response, in order that you may read the author's words as they were meant to be read, slowly, uncolored by my opinions.
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Mind-Body Conundrum
A nice introductory overview of the Mind-Body Problem. Via Maria Popova's Brain Pickings (

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Mind-Body Conundrum
A nice introductory overview of the Mind-Body Problem. Via Maria Popova's Brain Pickings (
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I just want to take a moment to congratulate you, +David Amerland, on the publication of The Sniper Mind. I've only begun reading it, but it is quite impressive. I'm taking copious notes and will offer my critical if idiosyncratic appraisal. Upon first review, this appears to be your most insightful and important book yet. I look forward to reading it and picking up the gauntlet you cast at me.

— Leland
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