Grace - Mirror
Grace – Mirror (Photo credit: phil41dean)

Who is this strange person “Me”? Obviously I am “Me”, but you claim that “Me” is you. How could that be? And when you say “You”, you mean me! You are you and I am me and that’s an end of it! It is absurd for you to claim to me when, patently, you are you.

Have you (yes, YOU! I know that I have!) ever read science fiction? An SF story might revolve around a device, maybe invented by Professor MacGuffin, which allow the actors in the drama to move instantly from one place to another. The ‘transporter’ may be a simple tool to place the actors in a situation from which they have to extract themselves (as in the Startrek TV series and movies), or a device central to the plot, such as the machine in movie “The Fly” (‘Help me! Help me!)

Cover of "The Fly [Blu-ray]"
Cover of The Fly [Blu-ray]
Sometimes, for plot reasons, the device may malfunction and instead of transporting the person from A to B, it essentially copies the person so that he exists at both A and B. (Both you and I agree that he is ‘he’ or she is ‘she’, don’t we? I’m glad that that is sorted out, at least).

Transporter (Star Trek)
Transporter (Star Trek) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So if I walk into the transporter at A, I walk out of it at B, don’t I? But the person at A claims to be me and to have walked into the transporter at A and walked out of it at A, thinking that it hadn’t worked. He, (obviously “he”, since he isn’t me and he isn’t you), also claims that my car, my dog, my wife, are all his, and they are because he was me when he walked into the transporter. Obviously “his”, since they aren’t yours and they aren’t mine. Hang on a minute! They ARE all mine! This is getting tricky.

So which of us is me, and which isn’t? Which is ‘him’? Which of us gets my things? Do we get half each? It’s a puzzle.

Even when we exclude transporters as ‘impossible’ (but who would be so bold as to rule them out entirely), even then, there are other ‘mes’ to consider. There’s the ‘me’ from five minutes ago. The ‘me’ who had yet to write this sentence, who didn’t even have this sentence in mind, in fact. There’s the ‘me’ of five minutes in the future, who know what the next sentence brings. (I can’t even guess what it will bring). Are they the same ‘me’? Well the future me knows things that I don’t, and I know things that the past me doesn’t (yet) know.

Memories (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It gets worse as you consider moments further from the ‘now’. When I was at school, I was not the same person as I am now – I have years of experiences that the schoolboy had not yet had. I’ve no idea what will happen in the future, but the future me does. So are the future ‘me’ and the past ‘me’ really me? They are different from me in terms of their memories and experiences. They have different bodies, maybe sporting scars that I don’t have or vice versa.

Ages of Man, late 16th century
Ages of Man, late 16th century (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most people would think that they are ‘me’, in spite of these differences. There is a continuity of memory, a thread of remembrance, that joins all these ‘mes’ in a continuous thread of experience. But if you take two widely time separated ‘mes’ they in fact have little in common. The schoolboy ‘me’ has not learned things that the future ‘me’ knows and the future ‘me’ may have forgotten much of what they schoolboy has experienced.

From some points of view they are very much not the same person. It reminds me of the saying by Heraclitus “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man”. While it may seem to me that the memories I have connect me to the school boy that I was, as I can work backwards down the stream of memories and say ‘I was that school boy’, that same stream of memories makes me different from him. Even in my own mind I think of the school boy as ‘him’ and refer to him as ‘myself, X years ago’.

English: Fast flowing. The fast flowing river ...
English: Fast flowing. The fast flowing river from the Coedty reservoir flowing into the River Conwy at Dolgarrog (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s not uncommon for people to say things like “If I hadn’t done so-and-so, something else would have happened”. “If I hadn’t read that book in school, I wouldn’t have chosen to study history at university…” There is a probabilistic component to personality. If things had been otherwise I would be a different person, probably living in a different country, and certainly with different memories and desires. “I’m glad I went to the moon, even though it meant giving up that opportunity to live and work in Antarctica”. Well, something like that!

So this mysterious ‘me’ lives only in the present, and is different to all other ‘mes’ through time. Yet this ‘me’ is singular, for I am the only ‘me’, and your claim to be ‘me’ is patently false. This ‘me’ is not any of the possible ‘mes’ that could have been, had things been different. This ‘me’ is not the same as the ‘mes’ that have been and the ‘mes’ that will be, even considering the chain of memory that connects us. The ‘me’ that goes through a transporter device is not the ‘me’ that stepped into it, as the new ‘me’ is composed of different atoms (presumably, ducking a few questions), even though the transported ‘me’ feels otherwise. But then again neither is the ‘me’ who stayed since time separates him from the ‘me’ that entered the transporter, even if it is only seconds.

“A Vision of the Future. An aërial motor-car”
“A Vision of the Future. An aërial motor-car” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The more that I consider ‘me’, the stranger ‘me’ (or ‘I’) appears to be. Each ‘me’ exists only in the now, but is linked in more ways than one to future and past ‘mes’, just as the river exists today, and is different to the river yesterday, though they are connected by the flow of time.

Flowing Waters of Time
Flowing Waters of Time (Photo credit: MaugiArt)


A bouncing ball captured with a stroboscopic f...
A bouncing ball captured with a stroboscopic flash at 25 images per second. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mathematical models are supposedly descriptions of a real phenomenon. The descriptive and predictive power of a model depends on how well the model represents the real phenomenon. Extreme precision is not necessary for a good models, so long as it doesn’t vary wildly or deviate from the real phenomenon. If the accuracy of the measurements or observations of the phenomenon are less than the deviation of the model from the real phenomenon, then the model suffices for the purposes.

For instance, a stone thrown upwards or a ballistic round fired from  a cannon roughly follow a parabolic trajectory and the model (in this case a simple algebraic equation) is often accurate enough. However other effects, such a the resistance of the air to the passing of the object and the curve of the earth have to be accounted for in the model if the accuracy of the measurements is such that deviations from the model caused by these effects can noticed.

FN 57 ballistics 100yd
FN 57 ballistics 100yd (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m going to draw a slightly artificial distinction here between ‘mathematical effects’ and ‘physical effects’. By mathematical effects I mean effects like the curvature of the earth (and also, the distance to the centre of the earth), both of which affect the geometry of the model. By physical effects I mean things like air resistance, and the roughness of the missile, which can’t be directly deduced from the physical situation and have to be assessed by experiment. Of course in many cases others have studied the effect of things like air resistance and their results can be plugged into our model to enhance its accuracy.

English: Diagram of simple gravity pendulum, a...
English: Diagram of simple gravity pendulum, an ideal model of a pendulum. It consists of a massive bob suspended by a weightless rod from a frictionless pivot, without air friction. When given an initial impulse, it oscillates at constant amplitude, forever (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mathematical effects are ultimately based on physical ones. For instance Newton’s Law of attraction between two masses is a physical effect represented by a mathematical equation – the product of the two masses and the gravitational constant divided by the square of the distance between them gives a measure of the gravitational attraction between them. On the surface of the earth, where the vertical movement of a thrown stone is negligible compared to the distance between the centre of the earth and the stone, this means that we can ignore the variation of the trajectory due to this effect since it is so small and use the mathematical model of a parabola for the projectile’s trajectory.

It turns out that simple parabola is useful as a model only for simple cases where the velocity is low and the distances are small, and the accuracy of measurement is low. For artillery purposes a model based on a simple parabola is not accurate enough. To drop a shell on someone’s head, where you know the distance, you need to factor in not only wind resistance and the curve of the earth, but also such factors as wind direction and strength and even then a sudden gust of wind could put your aim off. The model that artillery men used is contained in a set of tables which were built up over years of experience.

Cannon Model - Part of my military models coll...
Cannon Model – Part of my military models collection (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is clear, I think, from the above discussion that models are pragmatic constructs. If a model doesn’t work you merely change it or replace it with one that suits your purposes better. That doesn’t mean that the old model is totally abandoned. After all, the artillery man doesn’t need his complicated tables when all he wants to do is shoot a basketball through a hoop.

Some models are purely descriptive and non-quantitative, such as the economic ‘supply and demand’ model. This is usually depicted by a graph showing one line sloping down from left to right crossing another line sloping up from left to right. The upwards sloping curve is the ‘supply’ curve and the downwards sloping curve is the downwards sloping one. The vertical axis is marked ‘Price’ or similar and the horizontal axis is marked ‘Quantity’ or similar. Rarely are there any tick marks or values on either of the axes.

Supply and demand
Supply and demand (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The trouble this model is that it is, to my mind, too vague and woefully incomplete to be really useful. Firstly, the lack of any quantitative units means that any usage of the model must be qualitative and prevents it from being useful in any real situation. Secondly, while the trends of the supply and demand curves may be generally in the directions usually shown, this is not generally true, especially if the demand or the price moves far from the current ‘equilibrium’ point. Thirdly price changes are usually discussed in terms of change in demand, whereas the opposite is probably more usually true, and demand is driven by price. Fourthly, the shape of the curves does not stay static and they change with time, often unpredictably. Fifthly, there are many more external influences that are likely to have a bigger effect on price than simply supply and demand. Monopolies and monopsonies have huge effect on prices, and supply and demand can have little or no effect in these situations. The validity, if any, of the model is limited to a very restricted domain of situations.

The biggest criticism of this economic is that it doesn’t lead to quantitative models. It doesn’t direct strategies and few people, I’d suspect, actually use the curves for anything, except economics lecturers.  It is not alone in the economics field, though, as there appear to be no models which are quantitative, valid in more than a small domain, and generally accepted in general use. It’s possible that there never will be.

And Again? Throw the Ball!
And Again? Throw the Ball! (Photo credit: wharman)

I’ll close off by mentioning two other usages of the word ‘model’. There are many more usages, but I’ll leave those for now.

Firstly there is the catwalk model – young ladies and some men who acts clothes horses for fashion and ‘haute couture’. I’ve no problem with that except the usual one, that the models are thin to the point of anorexia, and sometimes the clothes stray to the bizarre side of the street. These young people, should they catch the eye of the fashion industry, may make many millions of dollars. The people who pay them these dollars must feel that they get some benefit from the payment, which brings us back to economics, supply and demand!

Model (Photo credit: vpickering)

Secondly there is the constructional meaning of the word – where people construct sometimes exquisite copies of objects at a much smaller scale and of different materials to the original. Often these models are placed in context in models of the usual surrounding of the original – a model train may run on a complex layout with stations, signals, bridges and so on. Often as much care is lavished on the model’s surroundings as on the model itself. Many of these are true works of art.

"Carlton J. Dearborn, S2c [cements a stri...
“Carlton J. Dearborn, S2c [cements a stringer on the fuselage of balsam model of Stuka Dive Bomber at Camp Smalls, U.S. Naval Training Station, Great Lakes, IL. Dearborn teaches sailors to identify enemy and Allied aircraft].”, 03/13/1943 (Photo credit: The U.S. National Archives)

The Hubris of Scientists

Screenshot from the public domain films Maniac...
Screenshot from the public domain films Maniac (1934) showing Horace B. Carpenter as the character “Dr. Meirschultz” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Scientists talk about gravity,  mass and probabilities, atoms, Higgs boson, black holes and qasars. Certainly the universe seems to behave as if these concepts represent reality and so scientists are justified in the their assertions and predictions. Nevertheless the assumption that the concepts that scientists use represent reality is debatable.

The scientific method which has been a part of science since 17th century is a set of rules that scientists use to develop and test theories about the scientific view of the world. Basically, the scientist formulates a hypothesis (based on an earlier theory or as a totally new theory) and develops experiments to test the theory. The experiments produce observations which either support or do not support the theory.

English: Flowchart of the steps in the Scienti...
English: Flowchart of the steps in the Scientific Method (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If the observations agree with the theory they are said to support the theory. If they do not, they are said said to disprove the theory. So far, so black and white. An experiment may be challenged on many grounds. For example the search for the Higgs boson is not done by actually isolating candidate particles and looking at it directly. Instead the expected properties of the Higgs boson, perhaps its mass or energy, the way it interacts with other particles, or other more esoteric properties,  can be used to deduce that, for example, in a particular experiment a peak at a certain point on a graph produced by a scientific instrument could only be the result of the presence in the apparatus for  at least an instant of the required Higgs boson.

One possible way the Higgs boson might be prod...
One possible way the Higgs boson might be produced at the Large Hadron Collider. Similar images at: (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In a similar way, we don’t detect an electric current directly. Instead we rely on electromagnetic theory which predicts that moving electrons should produce a magnetic field and that magnetic field would interact with a static magnetic field of a permanent magnet perhaps to produce a force on the permanent magnet hence moving a needle. Behold! We detect an electric current. Actually what we see is the movement of a needle and we infer the electric current from that observation.

Sometimes the chain of inference is short, as in the electric current experiment, while in others it is very much longer. I expect that the detection of the Higgs boson falls into the latter category, but I could (easily) be wrong. It is apparent that the more links that there are in the chain of inference, the higher the likelihood that one of the links might be debatable.

How to deduce various data with the observatio...
How to deduce various data with the observation results (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, faced with an experiment that supposedly tests a theory, the result does not absolutely prove or disprove the theory. If the experiment appears to show agreement with the theory, an opponent of the theory may cast doubt on the experimental method or in the theories that the theory being tested relies on. He or she would claim that the result doesn’t show what it purports to show. In addition he or she might point out that one experiment does not prove the theory as the next experiment could show the opposite. One experimental failure is enough to disprove the theory.

My cooking companions this evening- Zak dispro...
My cooking companions this evening- Zak disproved the “watched pot” theory. (Photo credit: who_da_fly)

Or is it enough to disprove it? Not really because the proponent of the theory  could claim that some currently unknown effect or other is preventing the experiment from producing the correct observations. So debate follows, more experiments follows, and in the end, a consensus is achieved. History will record that theory A was generally accepted until so-and-so’s experiment replaced it with theory B. Or that theory A was extended by theory B and confirmed by so-and-so’s experiment. Or similar. Much more black and white!

Scientists explain experimental results in terms of theories. For instance when sodium is introduced into a flame (perhaps in the form of sodium chloride – salt) and the light from the flame is passed through a prism then a bright yellow line is seen. Scientists explain this as the result of the transition of an excited electron from an elevated orbit to a lower one. This explanation depends on several, maybe many, other explanations, such as an explanation of what ‘excited’ means and what ‘electron’ means and what ‘orbit’ means. In many cases these explanations are based on mathematics, and an explanation is based on concepts each of which requires explanation.

sodium flame test
sodium flame test (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So therein lies the hubris of scientists. Their attempts at explanation of observable facts is a bottomless pit of explanation on explanation. There is no ultimate explanation. The universe is and does what it is and does.

So, am I saying that science is pointless? No, I am merely saying that we need to be careful and not treat our explanations as anything other than very clever descriptions of those bits of the universe that we are have seen.

Contents of the universe according to WPAP 5-y...
Contents of the universe according to WPAP 5-year results (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I like the analogy of the sheet. Suppose you have an object hidden behind a sheet. You are allowed to make pin pricks in the sheet, one at a time. The universe is the object behind the sheet and each pin prick is an observation. As you make more and more pin pricks in the sheet you see more and more of the object behind the sheet. You may discover that a line of pin pricks is showing red. You form a theory that behind the line joining the existing pin pricks, between the existing pin pricks and, with less certainty, beyond the end pin pricks in the line, everything is red. To check this theory you make a pin prick between two existing pin pricks and find that the new pin prick shows red. The theory is supported by this new observation.

Scientists have been creating these pin pricks for centuries and now have a pretty good idea of the shape of the universe (and a pretty holey sheet!). Nevertheless there are parts of the object behind the sheet, the universe, that they haven’t yet uncovered, and maybe never will.

An example of simulated data modelled for the ...
An example of simulated data modelled for the CMS particle detector on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN. Here, following a collision of two protons, a is produced which decays into two jets of hadrons and two electrons. The lines represent the possible paths of particles produced by the proton-proton collision in the detector while the energy these particles deposit is shown in blue. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As an example of the type of thing that I mean, consider the so-called dark matter. Scientists appear to have pretty much discovered what constitutes matter but they can’t account for some aspects of certain large scale phenomenon observed in the universe and have hypothesised a new type of matter called ‘dark matter’, which doesn’t appear to interact with normal matter except gravitationally. It’s like suddenly finding some pin pricks showing blue in a line that is otherwise red. Something unexpected that needs explanation.

I accused scientists of ‘hubris’ above. That’s not entirely fair as hubris implies arrogance and while scientists confidently create explanations for phenomena that they study, I believe that most would concede that their explanations could (with very low probabilities, I would guess) prove to be erroneous.

''I think that it's important for scientists t...
”I think that it’s important for scientists to explain their work, particularly in cosmology. This now answers many questions once asked of religion.” – Stephen Hawking (Photo credit: QuotesEverlasting)


English: yellow traffic light Español: señal d...
English: yellow traffic light Español: señal de tráfico amarilla Deutsch: gelbes Verkehrszeichen Français : feux de signalisation jaunes Italiano: segnale stradale giallo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I believe that some firm or other once tried to patent the colour yellow, but I’ve not be able to track this down so far. Although this sounds silly, I believe that the firm extensively used the colour yellow in all its adverts and publicity material and believe that people identified the firm’s adverts by the blocks of yellow colour used in the adverts and that a competitor could take advantage of this by using adverts with similar blocks of yellow. One can see where the firm was coming from, of course, but thankfully the attempt failed I believe.

Yellow is, in the societies that I have lived in anyway, associated with sun, well-being, summer and generally good and beneficial things. In subtractive combinations of colours, yellow, along with magenta and cyan are the primary colours. Many computer printers use these three colour. When I was researching this post I found that computer screens use additive combinations and the primary colours are red, green and blue. (“Research” is a fancy name I use for Googling for something – I usually end up at Wikipedia, so ‘caveat emptor‘!) Apparently the reason that there are three primary colours is that the human eye contains three types of cone cells, and each type is most sensitive to one of the ‘primary colours’.

English: Three doors in Wilmington Square Thre...
English: Three doors in Wilmington Square Three adjacent doors in the primary colours in one corner of the square. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some animals have four types of cone cells and thus would see four primary colours. According to the Wikipedia article on the subject some human females may have four types of cone cells. Most placental mammals seem to have only two types of cone cells so can only distinguish two primary colours. As Wikipedia says, it would be wrong to suggest therefore the world ‘looks tinted’ to them. It would look normal to them.

I said above that the colour yellow is generally associated with positive things, like summer, warmth and other things. It is however also associated with cowardice, but I haven’t really been able to find out why. This Yahoo Answer is inconclusive, for example. The best answers, in my opinion, relate it to the ‘yellow bile’, one of the four fluids that were assumed to circulate around the human body. It was assumed that one character was determined by the balance of these four ‘humours’.

English: An un-official 80cm FITA archery targ...
English: An un-official 80cm FITA archery target Italiano: un bersaglio FITA non ufficiale da 80cm per il tiro con l’arco (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hmm, what else about yellow? The centre of an archery target is yellow, although it is often referred to as ‘gold’ for some reason. Interestingly, in the obviously related sport of darts the centre ring is red or black. Rifle shooting, which also uses a target of concentric circles, uses only black and white, with the circles quartered and the inner circles all coloured black, the outer ones being white.

Yellow flags flown on a ship used to indicate that the vessel had a contagious disease on board. A plain yellow flag stands for the letter ‘Q’ in semaphore core and the speculation is that this was used because it was the initial letter for the word ‘quarantine’. The Wikipedia articles says that these days the plain yellow flag is used to indicate that a vessel is free of contagious disease and requests boarding for customs inspection. I had not heard of that change of meaning, but then again, I’ve not had need to raise a yellow flag! The current flag used to indicate contagious is a quartered yellow and black flag which stands for the letter ‘L’ in semaphore code.

Edited version of Image:Color_icon_blue.svg.
Edited version of Image:Color_icon_blue.svg. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In many cases yellow is used to indicate warnings as in ‘yellow alert’. A yellow alert is usually one level below a red alert which is usually the top level of seriousness.  Generally a yellow alert means ‘avoid, take care, and be alert’. The GeoNet site currently shows a yellow alert level for the volcano called ‘White Island’ which is around 50k from the coast of New Zealand. The volcanoes on the mainland are currently quiet. Incidentally if you look closely at the Crater Floor image at the bottom right you will see Dino the Dinosaur quietly monitoring the volcano as he has done for several years.

Warning sign.
Warning sign. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Animals are often referred to as ‘yellow’ although it might be more accurate to describe them as ‘light brown’. Some birds, however, are definitely yellow and domestic canaries have given their name to the colour ‘Canary Yellow’. The Yellowhammer, introduced into New Zealand from Britain is a handsome bird with a yellow head breast and belly, marked with black, and with a yellowish brown back. They can form quite large flocks and are probably more numerous in New Zealand than they are back in Britain (as are many European species). The American Yellow Warbler is also a fine yellow plumaged bird.

A Yellowhammer on North Island, New Zealand.
A Yellowhammer on North Island, New Zealand. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are some yellow animals and someone has made a collection on this web page. Most appear to be cold blooded or insects, but there are a few ‘yellow’ mammals. The mammals don’t look particularly yellow actually, but the snakes, spiders and crabs certainly are. Some albino animals (eg ferrets) tend to look distinctly yellow at times.

English: Tree with yellow leaves in autumn
English: Tree with yellow leaves in autumn (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In autumn (fall) leaves on some trees go yellow, while species have leaves that turn red. This is because the chlorophyll which is green is lost in the autumn as the trees prepare for winter. Many flowers, like the buttercup, have yellow flowers and domestic plants like the tulip or the rose have been bred to have yellow blossoms too. Daisies also have yellow centres and I’ve seen speculation that yellow plants are the colour that they are because the pollinating insects are sensitive to that colour, which makes sense, but I’m not sure if that is the whole story, since I believe that most insects’ eyes are most sensitive to ultraviolet. The pollen that the insects inadvertently transfer from flower to flower is often yellow.

English: Daisy (Bellis perennis), Wellington, ...
English: Daisy (Bellis perennis), Wellington, New Zealand (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Finally to end this ramble through the colour yellow, I’ll just mention that the inanimate world also has yellow chemicals. The element sulphur is the obvious one, though some Chromates, some Iron compounds, and lead iodide are examples of yellow compounds. In addition chemists (and almost any schoolboy) who have put sodium compounds into a flame will be familiar with the deep yellow colouration of the flame that results. It’s often the first step in the analysis of a compound.

Sulfur (Photo credit: d4vidbruce)