fiction, humor, philosophy, science

A Tale of Two Kitties

In Dickens’ tale, Madame Defarge is obsessed with vengeance.  The characters in our tale have different obsessions.  One of them is with understanding the code used to knit the fabric of reality.
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When they called for weird stories to be submitted for Volume 2 of The Rabbit Hole, the editors suggested science and/or weather and/or entertainment as themes.  While the suggestion was not a requirement, many of the writers who responded did use those themes.  In particular, You’re Not Late has great synergy between weather and an aspect of science other than weather forecasting.  Maybe there are other great synergies; it will take me a while to read all the stories in RH-2.

Modern scientific theories are also stories, of a special kind.  Tho hard to read w/o wrangling equations, they are gloriously predictive and useful.  (U don’t need hard copy to read this post.)  They are also weird.  As the editors remark in the preface:

The stories are weird because life is weird; all these stories do is cross the boundary of our logic and assumptions, fetch a few samples from whatever lies beyond, and bring them back for you to see.  Just as explorers did in ages past, and scientists do today.
 

Back in 1935, the physicist Erwin Schrödinger told a story to illustrate the weirdness of quantum theory.  The story eventually became a celebrated meme, and here is yet another celebration:

Ode to Schrödinger’s Cat
|Schrödinger’s cat
|is both skinny and fat;
|both dead and alive
|(past age seventy five);
|both purring and hissing
|(while measurement’s missing);
|both mewing and yowling
|(while Einstein is howling).
|Schrödinger’s gone,
|but his cat carries on
|with a Cheshire cat grin
|at the pickle we’re in.

cheshire-cat

Hmmm.  Saying that the cat is “both dead and alive” is a common (and admittedly oversimplified) shorthand for the statistical limbo called “superposition of states” in quantum theory.  Here is a closer approximation to what the theory actually says:

If the box is opened now, there is a certain probability P_q (which we can approximate) that the cat will be observed to be dead, along with the complementary probability 1-P_q that the cat will be observed to be alive.  Before the box is opened, it makes no sense to say that the cat is “really” dead or alive.
 

Despite having a deterministic philosophy, Einstein had no qualms about common-sense probabilities:

The cat is really dead or alive, but we don’t know which.  From what we do know, we can compute an approximate probability P_c of the cat being dead now and an approximate probability 1-P_c of the cat being alive now.
 

Greenish-BunnyIs the clash between quantum theory and common sense just something for novice philosophers to argue about?  Nope.  To see why, we don’t need the nasty gadgets in Schrödinger’s story.  We need two kittens from the same litter, in separate boxes some distance apart.  We also — ah — ah — ACHOO!  The cat dander is ticking off my allergy.

Never mind.  There is a short humorous allegory about this stuff in my story Entanglements, with petting but no pets.  Spoiler alert: quantum theory wins.

Getting You’re Not Late and Entanglements and 27 other stories is easy.  Just buy RH-2.  To consider buying it from Amazon as either a printed book at $11.50 or an e-book at $2.99, click here.  To consider buying an e-book from other retailers at $2.99, click on the rabbit.

To see the Disney version of the Cheshire cat do its thing, U can get to a video on Facebook by clicking on the cat’s image here.  Clicking twice on the cat’s image there will start the video, but only buying RH-2 will get U to the 29 weird stories.

fiction, humor

Weird Works Wanted in 2019

If my excerpt from a call for submissions sounds interesting, please consider submitting a story or some poetry.  (Previously published work is OK if the author retained the rights.)  This post ends with visual hints about ways to be weirdly funny.
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If the following excerpt from a call for submissions sounds interesting, please don’t lament having missed the deadline in 2019.  The intrepid editors plan to put out an anthology of weird stories (or poems) each year.  (Previously published work is OK if the author retained the rights.)  This post ends with a few visual hints about ways to be weirdly funny.

The Writers’ Co-op invites submissions of short stories (and poems) for the second edition of our yearly anthology, The Rabbit HoleVolume one was released in November last year, volume two is scheduled for September 2019.

This year, we are looking for weird stories dealing with the following themes: entertainment, weather or science.  (If you want to combine all three, we’re very open to stories about a group of scientists on their way to the theatre when they’re caught in a freak snowstorm.)  However, there will also be a section Weird At Large for stories that don’t fit the specific themes suggested.

• • •

The deadline is 31st March 2019.  Submissions should be sent in an attached file to curtis.bausse(at)outlook.com with the subject ‘Co-op submission’.  They may have been previously published on personal websites (or elsewhere) but authors must have full rights to them when submitting.  Authors will retain said rights after the story or poem is published in the Writers’ Co-op anthology.

The call for submissions describes the many kinds of weirdness suitable for the anthology.  While definitely not required, humor is encouraged.  For visual hints about ways to be weirdly funny (and sometimes thought-provoking), those whose memories of works like the classic Far Side cartoons by Gary Larson have faded can look at some of the Bizarro cartoons by Dan Piraro.  The following images are also links to the pages where they appear and are discussed:

Bizarro_girm-reaper-gondolier

Bizarro_road-sign -tropies

humor, mundane miracle, philosophy, photography, science

Partially Reflected Light

There is much to celebrate in the simple act of flipping a switch, and the resulting light provides many other mundane miracles to ponder.  Look closely at a partial reflection in the window.
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As the natural light outdoors fades, a mundane miracle occurs.  Tho I have no supernatural powers, I create light and see that it is good.  I need only flip a switch, and the resulting light provides many other mundane miracles to ponder.

Light ~ Pic and a Word Challenge #133

Before I close the curtains, a pine tree across the lawn is still visible thru the window.  Conversely, a bird roosting in the pine could see the light fixture I have just turned on.  Most of the light that my fixture throws toward the window goes right thru the glass, harmless and unharmed.  My fist could not do that.

It gets better.

Some of the light that hits the window is reflected back.  I see my fixture as a ghostly sphere, apparently hovering between me and the pine.  Hmmm.  Consider a single photon among the zillions that whiz from my fixture toward the window.  How does it decide whether to continue on toward the pine or bounce back toward me?

globe-pine-1_840x840

I know.  Photons are mindless particles that do not decide anything.  They just do whatever a divinely perfect knowledge of physics would say they do, and a humanly possible imperfect knowledge of physics is rather good at saying what big groups of them do.

By far the best current human knowledge says that what a single photon does is unpredictable.  Not just unpredictable because we do not know all the details about the laws of nature or how the photon is moving or what is in the glass where the photon hits it.  Not just unpredictable because exact calculations are not feasible. Intrinsically unpredictable!  On a photon-by-photon basis, even divinely perfect knowledge of the rules and the current situation does not determine what will happen in the next picosecond.  Even God must wait and see.

Dunno whether I will succeed in posting more about intrinsic unpredictability and its consequences.  (Don’t hold your breath.)  Without wrangling equations, a great deal can be still be said about the quantum physics behind partially reflected light and its wider implications.  See pages 173-176 of the excellent book Dice World by Brian Clegg (or web pages like the one U can visit by clicking here, if U do not have the book handy).

haiku, humor, math, philosophy, photography, science

They Are Beyond Space & Time

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Taught myself a crash course in digital photo manipulation to respond to

Numbers ~ Pic and a Word Challenge #106

by posting how Plato bounced back from an encounter with intellectual ancestors of Karl Popper.  Hope I did not flunk.

Plato woke up with a nasty hangover after a symposium that had gone badly for him.  Some new sophists who called themselves “natural philosophers” had come to Athens, and the kind of philosophizing they advocated was anything but natural to Plato.

The new sophists spoke about “observations” and “conjectures” and “predictions” rather than abstract reasoning about perfect ideal forms.  Plato could tolerate his student Aristotle’s interest in easy casual observations and simple inferences from them, but the new sophists were different.  They wanted to measure minute details of how the shadows on the walls of Plato’s metaphorical cave flickered.  They would consider anything imaginable as a candidate for “explaining” their observations, even things so fanciful that Homer would never have dared to sing of Odysseus encountering them on his way back to Ithaca.

Instead of trying to establish a conjecture by reasoning to it from first principles, the new sophists wanted to reason from it to a prediction about what they would observe.  Conjectures that led to many diverse predictions matching what was actually observed were to be accepted as true, but only until somebody came up with “better” conjectures that yielded more accurate predictions by more elegant reasoning.  As one of the brasher “natural philosophers” said,

All knowledge is provisional,
never more than the best we have at the moment.

Flummoxed by such craziness, Plato had been hitting the wine harder than usual.  He had passed out just as another “natural philosopher” began replying to the brash one:

Well, that is a little over the top.  For example, …

All that was last night, when stars had carpeted an inky black sky.  Now the sky was light blue, the sun was shining, and Plato’s head was aching.  He winced when he remembered a new sophist’s remark that each star might be something much like the sun but almost inconceivably farther away.  That example of a loony conjecture had prompted a nightmare with Athens (and its circling sun) lost in a humongous whirling vortex of innumerable stars (rather than stationary near the center of the universe, as Athens so obviously was).

The cash bar at the symposium had been pricey, and Plato wondered if he still had enough money to buy some willow bark to ease his headache.  He put his coins on the nearest flat surface and counted them.  Five should be plenty.  Then he noticed that three coins had the side with the face of a leader facing upwards, while two coins had the side with the leader’s mansion facing upwards.  Suddenly, Plato felt much better.  He even felt ready for another encounter with that brash sophist.

Athens_724x505

Plato’s Challenge
|Three plus two was five
|before any mind could know.
|Where do numbers live?

haiku, humor, photography, science

Tho I know no Noh …

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I think I see serene contemplation in this face:

Noh-Mask_gold_800x838

Hmmm.  The face is a mask that nobody is wearing.  Who could be contemplating?  And yet

There is no nothingness.
|Quantum physics finds
|tumult in vacuum behind
|contemplative mask.

If the allusion in my haiku responding to
« Contemplation ~ Pic and a Word Challenge #103 »is too cryptic, I recommend A Universe from Nothing by L.M. Krauss.

While the form is conventional, the content of the haiku may be the farthest outside the box that I have gone.  As of now, anyway.  So the haiku is also a response to
« Carpe Diem Writing and Enjoying Haiku #6 new ways »

humor, photography, science, serendipity

Serendipity with Squid

HeronSquid_581x684Hmmm?  A ghostly translucent squid seems to hover in midair between the viewer and nesting herons.  Did I superimpose 2 images to create a (clumsy) visual metaphor about the interconnectedness of life? Nope.

The story begins millions of miles away, where the sun emits photons even more copiously than the pols emit factoids.  Minutes later, a tiny fraction of the photons bounce off a neighbor’s window, pass thru my window, and hit me in the eye.  There are many ways I would love to emulate people like Bach or Galileo; going blind is not one of them.

Yes, I could pull the drapes. But only a small portion of my window needs to be obscured.  Would rather not waste winter sunshine.  Yes, I could buy a window decal.  Most of the decals I have seen are cutesy. The rest make a statement:

I am as ugly as a barfing warthog,
but the jerk who owns this dump
bought me as a decoration. Ha!

Of course, I am dissing only the decals I have seen, not any other decal U may have and like.

The Dec/Jan 2016 issue of National Wildlife magazine has photos from the annual NWF photo contest, including a photo of nesting herons by Mario Labado and a photo of a squid by Jackie Reid.  I read the magazine on paper (yes, I am that old), and it so happens that the photos are on opposite sides of the same thin sheet, w/o much else to clutter what is seen when bright light passes thru.  The fraction of duplex printed sheets that look at all good when both sides are seen at once is like the fraction of photons emitted by the sun that bounce off my neighbor’s window:  tiny.

So I cut out the sheet and taped it to my window.  The image of the squid is actually on the far side; the illusion of being closer than the herons is the same in my house as in my photo.

The composite image is indeed clumsy as a visual metaphor for the interconnectedness of life, but it does tone down the excess sunlight.  It cost nothing beyond what I already spent to help support the NWF, and it looks better than a barfing warthog.

haiku, humor, math, philosophy, science

Could a Long Fly Ball Hit a Flying Horse?

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This is one of the few times I need to put some fiction into my blog, so I will change font for a little while.

Plato

Sometimes it is hard to be fair to Plato.  He is basically a good guy, but his politics are bullshit.  That “philosopher-king” notion is so self-serving.  Then there is that cave shtick.  Most people know that philosophers can be a little klutzy in everyday life.  We give them some slack and don’t make a big deal of it.  But Plato says the wannabe king has been looking at ultimate reality and absolute truth (and maybe a pretty girl sunbathing?) in bright daylight, so he stumbles in the cave that passes for the real world among ordinary Joes.  After his eyes adapt to the dim light, he will govern just fine.  No way.

Feeling mellow enough to ignore Plato’s politics, I invited him over to watch a baseball game on TV.  He was surprised that the pitcher threw a ball rather than a discus or a javelin, and that nobody was naked.  But he is a smart guy and soon understood the duel between the pitcher and the batter.  He noticed the (4 balls or 3 strikes) rule for ending an at-bat and said something about the ratio 4:3 in music by The Pythagoreans.  Are they a band I don’t know about?  He broke into a big grin when a batter sent a long fly ball arcing high above the field.  Tho he knows zip about physics, he hangs out with Euclid and knows a parabola when he sees one.


To Plato, the path of the fly ball in the grungy everyday world is an imperfect realization of the timeless perfection of an ideal parabolic form.  To me, the description of the path as a parabola is a good approximation that ignores air resistance and wind.  Ignoring those things is OK in an introductory physics course.  It is not OK in a baseball game.

Pegasus_RM_450x450

Using the parabola to describe the fly ball oversimplifies a staggeringly complex everyday world that emerges from a staggeringly weird tarantella of elementary particles.  Our use of the parabola is fundamentally a story we tell ourselves.  Unlike the story of Pegasus the flying horse, it has been corrected, refined, and integrated with many other stories by scientific processes.  The notion of a flying horse is appealing (to people who have not been hit by a bird splat).  The parabolic story is ultimately more satisfying, as part of something gloriously predictive and useful (despite not being much help to the outfielder running to catch the fly ball).

Pegasus himself is as limited in time and space as the Pegasus story: an idea created by some people at some time and place, elaborated and spread by other people at other times and places.  The Pegasus story will vanish and its starring horse will vanish with it, if we succeed in our current efforts to make the Earth uninhabitable long before we can go elsewhere.  Would the parabolic story vanish also?  That is a question for another time.  The mathematical cast of characters in the parabolic story, on the other hand, is special.  Very special.

Plato’s Challenge
|Three plus two was five
|before any mind could know.
|Where do numbers live?

 
My snapshots of Plato and of Pegasus could not get thru the time warp, but I did some cropping of public domain images with good likenesses.