Thinking Inside of the Box

Illustration of the expansion of the Universe ...
Illustration of the expansion of the Universe after the Big bang. In Bulgarian. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Science aims to explain things, and by extension to explain everything. Is this even possible? Suppose the Universe consisted of a box, 20 million metres in each direction. Scientists inside this box could investigate this universe, but could they explain everything about this universal Box?

Suppose that the Box had impenetrable walls, so scientists could not probe outside of it. So they could say that the width, height, depth of the universe was 20 million metres and they could describe what was in it. They could also say that one side of the cube attracted everything in the Box and that side could be labelled “down” and the opposite side “up”.

English: Snapshot from a simulation of large s...
English: Snapshot from a simulation of large scale structure formation in a ΛCDM universe. The size of the box is (50 h -1 Mpc) 3 . Run using GADGET (GPL software) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There also might be statistical laws, so that the temperature, on average, might be 20 degrees Celsius, but could differ from that norm from place to place and from time to time. Box scientists might determine that everything appeared to be made up of tiny indivisible particles. Box atoms.

Some Box philosophers might ponder what was beyond the limits of the Box. They’d ponder the fact that starting from one side of the Box, one could travel 20 million metres in a perpendicular direction, but one could not travel 20 million and one metres. Why not?

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I’m sure that they would have plenty of theories. For instance, one philosopher might contend that the Box was embedded in an infinite impenetrable bedrock, while another might say that it was obvious – the Box was embedded in nothing. No space, no time, no thing!

Meanwhile scientists probing the Box atoms might split them and discover a whole new world of sub-atomic particles. Others might conceive of space in the Box as being a seething mass of pairs of virtual particles, being created and moving apart for a brief instant and then merging into nothing, no thing, again.

English: Tracks of ionizing radiation in a clo...
English: Tracks of ionizing radiation in a cloud chamber (thick, short: alpha particles; long, thin: beta particles). Français : Traces d’ionisation matérialisées sous forme de micro-trainées de condensation par des particules radioactives dans une chambre à brouillard ; Les trainées épaisses et courtes signalent des particules alpha ; les longues et files matérialisent le passage de particules beta). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But, says one bright spark, what about a particle pair created on the boundary of the Box? One particle would enter the Box, and the other would travel somewhere else! This would lead to other speculation – if the second particle travelled in another Box, then that other Box would presumably be a mirror image of our Box!

Such speculation would wait on experimentation by the Box scientists and I’m aware that I cannot push the Box analogy too far with out it breaking. But, just as in the case of the Box scientists, philosophers and scientists in this Universe have similar issue.

An illustration of a ramified analogy, one com...
An illustration of a ramified analogy, one component of Gordon Pask’s Conversation Theory. Self-made (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In our Universe there are no bounds (under current theories, I believe) but that doesn’t mean that we can’t speculate about what is beyond our Universe, whatever “beyond” may mean in this context.

The Box scientists could potentially explain every thing in the Box, maybe even the fact that it had existed, pretty much unchanged (on average) for all time, and that is periodically, over astronomically long time scale is doomed to repeat itself, time and time again.

Mesquita, repeat ad infinitum
Mesquita, repeat ad infinitum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When they go further than that, it is pure speculation, as all the data that they have relates to the Box. They have no data from outside of the Box. All the waves and particles that are observed originate in the Box. All the forces and fields are part of the Box. While scientists may speculate about “other Boxes”, that is all that they can do.

That’s the problem. The Box scientists, and the scientists from our Universe, can only observe events in the Universe in which they are embedded. Observations relate only to events in the local Universe.

English: Multiverse, a light sculpture by Leo ...
English: Multiverse, a light sculpture by Leo Villareal featuring 41,000 computer-programmed LED nodes, located between the National Gallery of Art’s East and West Buildings, on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some conjectures suggest that our Universe is one of many universes all linked together in some way. Some conjectures suggest that the laws of our Universe apply in many other similar universes separate from ours. Some people conjecture that universes may exist where there are no laws or the laws that there are have no similarity in any way to the laws of our Universe.

In the Box universe these conjecture would amount to ideas that there may be other Box universes out there with similar laws to the Box universe, maybe linked in some way to the hypothetical Box universe. There may even be universes which have laws which are not at all similar to those of the Box universe. For instance a universe which springs from a single point in a vast explosion and expands at a vast rate either forever or to a certain point only to collapse once again. How bizarre!

The Big Bang era of the universe, presented as...
The Big Bang era of the universe, presented as a manifold in two dimensions (1-space and time); the shape is right (approximately), but it’s not to scale. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Box scientists would not have any way to decide whether or not their were any other Boxes as their observations would only observe events in their own Box. The only way that events in one Box could possibly affect the events in another Box would be if there was a link between them in some way.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that the event would be observable as the effect of one universe on the other universe. It would just appear as an event in each universe as it transpires as a result of the laws of the universe in question.

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The theory may posit a link between two universes but the events in one universe can only result from events within that universe. If this were not so, the event in the universe would appear to happen without any causation in the universe. In other words it would be an anomaly or a miracle.

In other words, suppose a scientist in one universe knows of a law where he can cause an effect in another universe. If he can cause this effect in his universe then in the other universe something will also appear to cause this effect. Maybe this cause will be a scientist in the other universe trying to create an effect in the first universe!

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This possible symmetry of cause and effect across more than one universe would mean that it would be difficult if not impossible to detect the presence of another universe by its effects on our universe.

The person in the Box universe would likely be in the same position. This means that he would never know if there were anything outside of his 20 million metre cube. He could postulate an infinite series of Boxes stacked like bricks in an endless array. Or he could postulate Boxes grouped into “houses”. Or he could postulate that his was the only Box and that speculations about universes started from “Big Bang” explosions are mere fiction.

Detail of the bricks in the Great Wall at Muti...
Detail of the bricks in the Great Wall at Mutianyu. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Caves, real and virtual

English: The Hall of the Mountain King, Ogof C...
English: The Hall of the Mountain King, Ogof Craig a Ffynnon, South Wales. Photo by Daniel Jackson, who has released the image under the GNU FDL. Subject in the photo is the submitter. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was younger I did a bit of caving, spelunking, potholing, call it what you will. This mainly consisted of donning smelly boiler suits or wet suits and crawling, and in some cases, swimming through muddy, dusty, or wet caves, and later downing a few pints at the pub.

I and my friends visited caves in England and South Wales. Some cavers went further a field to places like Ireland, and places in Europe. I expect that most countries have caves of some sort, either limestone caves carved by streams and rivers, or sea caves blasted out of the rock by the waves, or even lava caves created by volcanoes.

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We always wore hard hats and carried lamps, and sometimes we would carry ropes and coiled ladders for the bits that we could not otherwise free climb. (This is not meant to refer to the technical sport of climbing without aids – in caving, the climbing is secondary to the prime purpose of exploring the cave).

Lamps varied from the usually reliable “carbide” lamps, through various type of “miner’s” lamps to sophisticated battery powered lamps. All were worn mounted on the helmet.

Brass carbide lamp by Justrite
Brass carbide lamp by Justrite (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The carbide lamps, usually reliable, burned acetylene created by dripping water onto calcium carbide. Starting them up was occasionally difficult and involved opening the water valve and lighting the gas thus generated. They were usually reliable (unless clogged with mud) and gave a bright light. However there were problems with the disposal of “spent” calcium carbide and many people didn’t like the idea of carrying a lighted flame on their head!

The “miner’s” lamps were usually second hand, sourced from coal mines. They could be recharged many times, but because they were second hand, they could be fickle and could discharge rapidly, leading to the user relying on his/her companions for light. They also contained lithium hydroxide, which is pretty powerful chemical and this could leak from the old rubber seals, possibly resulting in burns.

Caver with carbide lamp
Caver with carbide lamp (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The newer lamps were electric, with batteries that could be recharged and I see that the newer ones can have battery packs that are mounted on the helmet, which could be useful. I suspect that one could take spare power packs and plug them in as needed. The older “miner’s” lamps had a cable that allowed the battery pack to be strapped around the waist.

Of course, all the lamps had a limited range. This did not matter too much as the view tended to be restricted to the back of the person in front for most of the time. When the group entered a larger cavern however, a caver’s view of it depended on the power of his/her headlamp.

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In general a headlamp could not easily distinguish details in the distance in a cave, but a group of people in a cavern could illuminate it pretty well, or enough to spot the things that needed a closer look, like cave formations and stalactites and stalagmites, and the next bit of the intended route.

Nevertheless, the beauty of some of the formations in a cave is breathtaking. Huge stalactite flows, hanging curtains and sheets, rimmed pools of mirror like water in glorious colours can be seen. I’ve several times seen delicate helictites, which are rarely to be seen in show caves.

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“Real” cavers scorn the show caves, but I’d guess that all have visited them at some time or other. For a “retired” caver they are a reminder of all those hours spent underground. The cave formations are pretty ordinary as compared to those found in the more natural caves, and the lighting and concrete paths, stairs and indeed the touristy commentaries by the guides seem laughable to those have experienced “real” caving.

When you visit a cave, at least those that have formed in limestone, they have been carved out of the rock by water (“phreatic”) and therefore have a distinct slope. There are exceptions but in most caves you go down into them and up out of them.

English: Scalloped limestone Limestone, now in...
English: Scalloped limestone Limestone, now in a stream bed but showing the typical scallop marks formed in a phreatic cave environment. (Ie indicating that it was once in a totally water filled cave) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When you are exploring a cave, you generally don’t have a map, but in most cases you will be following someone who has already visited that part of the cave that you are exploring. You look forwards and down going in, pointing your headlamp at place, generally, below you. On the way out you look upwards, pointing your lamp in the direction of the exit.

You look into interesting nooks and crannies which points your light into them. Interestingly, when I have visited show caves I have looked into nooks and crannies and unconsciously expected them to light up. Of course they don’t as show caves don’t supply helmets with lights on them!

English: This is a picture taken looking out a...
English: This is a picture taken looking out at the sea lions from inside the main cavern of the cave. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve played the game Minecraft quite a bit, and that has a feature which resembles caving. When you dig a mine in Minecraft you generally dig downwards. At first you might just hammer rocks to clear your way, but sooner or later you will hit a void in the ground. The trick here is not to fall into it.

You may hit the void or cave at any point – the bottom, the middle or the top. In any case you will initially see only darkness with maybe a a few blocks dimly visible in the gloom. To proceed further (and find all the desirable ores and minerals) you will need to get down to the bottom and root around.

A view of a set of steps in a Minecraft clone game
A view of a set of steps in a Minecraft clone game

This generally means that you carefully cut steps around the edges of the void until you reach the bottom. I generally leave torches attached to the walls of the excavation as I go, as a sort of “breadcrumb trail“. Eventually one reaches the bottom of the void and can go exploring.

At the bottom of a void, it is much like the bottom of a cave. A jumble of blocks and the occasional pitfall await. The only difference is that the blocks that form the virtual cave are all cubes and don’t move as you walk over them, whereas in a real cave there are all sorts of shapes, and they can move under your feet.

Trees in a glass building
Trees in a glass building

Interestingly coming upon a gaping void in Minecraft induces the same gripping tension as entering a large, unknown chamber in a real cave, at least to some extent.

Looking up from the depths at the bottom of the pothole
Looking up from the depths at the bottom of the pothole

Crime and Punishment

English: Donald Trump at a press conference an...
English: Donald Trump at a press conference announcing David Blaine’s latest feat in New York City at the Trump Tower. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Donald Trump got into trouble the other for, if you read the media, suggesting that women who seek abortions should be punished if abortion was made illegal in the US. Much as I dislike the Trump and fear for the US and possibly the world if he should become president, he is right.

It’s the conditional that makes the difference. If abortion was to be made illegal, it would make it a crime, and all crimes have an associated punishment. I think that Trump made a political misstep, and that he should have stood firm on the matter, explaining the logic of his statement.

A bar chart depicting selected data from the 1...
A bar chart depicting selected data from the 1998 AGI meta-study on the reasons women stated for having an abortion. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He doesn’t even have to support the outlawing of abortion. He just has to explain the logic. Of course, if abortion were illegal, then the doctors and nurses who perform the operation would also be help responsible and punished. But if abortion were ruled illegal then the woman seeking the abortion would be breaking the law, and that implies punishment.

I personally believe that abortion, per se, should never be made illegal, although it should not be treated as just another birth control method, and should not be undertaken casually by the woman, or casually by the doctors and nurses. Clearly something living dies in the process.

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The Trump got caught out by knee-jerk and politically based reactions all round. Logically, the stand makes sense – if a crime is committed, then the perpetrators should be punished. Trump wisely backed down on this position in the case of a hypothetical law, and may have missed his chance at the presidency because of this political gaffe on a hypothetical situation!

Crime and punishment go together like Adam and Eve, like right and left, like good and evil, like a fine rump steak and a good Cab Sav. Ahem. As a determinist, I feel that choice is illusory and that the apparent choices that we make in fact depend totally on past events that narrow down our options to just one.

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Let’s take the case of a woman who “chooses” to have an abortion. She may have been informed that this is the safest option by medical specialists, she may be carrying a child who will not be viable when delivered because of genetic and other defect, or she may unable to care for a child for whatever reason. There is always a reason.

The woman balances all the information that comes to her and uses that information to “choose” to have an abortion. What really happens is that all the factors added together result in her trying to get an abortion.

English: Female demonstrator wearing a hat in ...
English: Female demonstrator wearing a hat in Madrid. It says “Abortion is my freedom, my choice.” She protested against Pope visit to Spain. Español: Chica manifestante con un sombrero en Madrid. Protesta contra la visita del papa a España. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You could of course argue that she could/should have decided to have the baby and adopt it out (assuming that the child is viable outside the womb, but that option is often not viable.

In general, punishment of a criminal is used to deter other criminals (and the criminal his/her self) from committing a similar crime in the future. Punishment should always give the criminal and similar people like him/her pause for thought. It is a factor that determines whether or not someone commits the crime in the future.

Crime and Punishment
Crime and Punishment (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When a criminal is thinking about committing a crime he/she will (consciously or unconsciously) consider the implications. If he/she chances it anyway, that will be because the pros outweigh the cons from their point of view at the time, not as a result of any free choice.

If someone is starving they may well steal a loaf of bread as one of the pros in the case may be continuing to live. This trumps any cons there may be if the person is desperate enough. Of course the person may be caught and fined or imprisoned or even transported to Australia, but at least he/she will be alive!

Tolpuddle Martyrs' Memorial Shelter, Tolpuddle...
Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Memorial Shelter, Tolpuddle Tolpuddle, Dorset, UK. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The justice system still works even if the concept of choice is removed. The person who commits a crime does so because they cannot do otherwise, and any punishment is merely the result of the actions that the person is destined to take. Such punishment is seen by others and becomes a factor that is considered when another person is contemplating a similar crime.

All the factors that go into the mental consideration of committing a crime result in either the crime being committed or not. They don’t result in a choice being made as the factors involved result in the person committing the crime or alternatively the factors may add up to the person not committing the crime.

English: 'Campus Watch' sign, Belfast One of d...
English: ‘Campus Watch’ sign, Belfast One of dozens erected around the university area of Belfast, this sign promotes the ‘Campus Watch’ scheme for students. Developed by the police in Belfast in partnership with the Northern Ireland Office, University of Ulster & Queen’s Students’ Union, it is similar to a neighbourhood watch scheme and promotes practical crime prevention for students. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you get people to “make a choice” where they have no sufficiently compelling reason to “choose” one way or another, they find it very difficult to do so. For example if you put a person in a room with two unmarked buttons and told them to push a button when a buzzer went, I’d say that they would initially have great difficulty, but once they had pushed a button once, it would become easier, I suspect.

If asked why they pushed one button on the third trial, they might reply that they had pressed the other button twice so it was the button’s turn to be pressed. Consciously or unconsciously I’d suggest that they would be led to make the choices random.

English: 'Arcade Button' photo by Daniel, free...
English: ‘Arcade Button’ photo by Daniel, free to use (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If the experimenter then pauses the test and mentions that the subject had favoured one button over the other and then continued, I’d guess that this would cause the subject to favour the unfavoured button more. I have no idea if such experiments have been done.

We are machines of meat, and machines don’t have any choice – they behave in a way that is built in, or lately, programmed in. Would you punish a machine that gives an answer that doesn’t satisfy you? You’d maybe add a new input into the machine to achieve a desired result.

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In humans punishment is a new input. It could affect the result of the calculation that the brain makes and hence the human would come up with a result different to the result that would be observed without the punishment. Perhaps if or when machines become intelligent, it may be that we will need to introduce the concept of punishment to make them do what is required. Let’s hope not.

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(Photographs of politicians below are not intended to imply that the pictured politician is any way corrupt or discredited. Even Trump.)

Donald Trump appears to be on the verge of being named the Republican candidate for President of the United States. While it is unlikely that he will become president, his rise has been amazing, and his appeal surprises many, in the USA and elsewhere.

He has made some astounding promises but it is unlikely that people really believe that he is going to be able to achieve them. However, as a many shared post on Facebook has it, people are really looking more at the direction he is promising to move the country.

English: Donald Trump's signature hairstyle
English: Donald Trump’s signature hairstyle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Trump is not a politician in the usual way. A politician would normally take great care not to upset people, not to rock the boat as it were. Politicians almost always try not to promise anything, as they might not be able to deliver what they promise and that will harm their re-election chances.

All human interactions involve politics to some extent. When a group of people forms, be it a family or a tribe or a nation and selects one of their number to represent them in an interaction with another group of people, that’s politics.

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Human nature being what it is, the representative feels empowered by this responsibility, and often becomes arrogant and domineering. This may or may not result in the representative being replaced by someone else.

However there are advantages in having someone as figurehead in interaction with other groups. The elevation of someone to be the group’s representative can become permanent, with the representative becoming the chief, the king, the emperor. Or even the President of the United States.

The figurehead and prow of the SS Great Britain.
The figurehead and prow of the SS Great Britain. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Politicians in general do not have a high reputation. Mark Twain once said “Politicians and diapers must be changed often, and for the same reason”. The implication is that while politicians may start off idealistic, they may often come to become arrogant and believe that they are better in some way than the people who gave them the power.

Lord Acton’s dictum often appears to be true of politicians. The more power that they have, the more they consider themselves to be more important than the average man in the street. They may come to believe that they are above the law, and eventually fall foul of it. While power does not directly corrupt, the feeling of importance and the ability to wield power sometimes does.

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Politicians do recognise this fact and, if they are sensible, try to  avoid this trap. They try to remain “grounded”. They talk about getting back to the roots, keeping in touch and other such phrases, but it is very hard to do this as when they try to interact with those who put them in power, those people treat them as special, and tend to address the role and not the person.

Politicians are overthrown all the time. It may be that they no longer serve the people who selected them, or it may be that they have become arrogant and have been caught doing something illegal or dubious.

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Often these peccadilloes are things that would not get a normal person into too much trouble. An insulting email, maybe, or perhaps an affair with a person that the politician works with. Or getting someone to paint the roof, when the politician is in a position to help the painter.

Sometimes, though, the politician takes advantage of their position in ways which are very wrong. Sometimes they accept money to advance someone’s business, or they may divert money to their own bank accounts, when it should be spent to further the aims for which they were selected. They might take holidays overseas or travel to conferences for which their seems little justification.

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It’s no wonder then, that people look on politicians with distrust. They are aware of all the temptations that beset politicians and they are aware that such temptations are hard to resist and that some politicians may be corruptible.

That’s why we surround our politicians with laws and rules above and beyond those that apply to the man in the street. We want our politicians to be above reproach, but we know that they are fallible.

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But we do not hold them to their promises, which is why Trump can get away with promising that he would build a wall between the United States and Mexico, if he gets elected, when everyone knows that such a wall is very unlikely to be built. Even if it is, illegal immigrants from Mexico to the United States will find ways around it. Or under it. There are already tunnels under the border between the two countries.

The electors in the United States know that Trump’s promises are hogwash, but they like the way that he promises something towards dealing with the problem of illegal immigration. It shows that he is thinking about it, and may well do something.

English: American politician Hubert Work.
English: American politician Hubert Work. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The same goes for Trump’s promise to prevent Muslims entering the United States for a period. It will never happen, and if it did, it would not be effective, as many potential IS terrorists are already in the country, and such a move would likely persuade them to actively attack the United States from within.

But Trump promises something to deal with the entry of terrorists into the country. Once again, while he probably will not do anything like this, people hope that he will do something.

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However, the big thing that Trump has going for him is that he is not a politician, in the sense that he has not had a career in politics, he has not worked his way up in politics. No, Trump has started at the top. Trump is a businessman. If he does get elected he will probably find that his business skills don’t really equip him for a life in politics, and persuading people to go along with his schemes will make herding cats look easy.

After all, in the business world Trump may be able to hire and fire as he wishes, but in government, the other elected representatives cannot be fired and he will need their cooperation. Trump’s (apparent) bullying tactics will not work in government. In some ways it would be interesting to see if he could achieve anything if he were the POTUS.

Plaque of the Seal of the President of the Uni...
Plaque of the Seal of the President of the United States on the southeast side of Hoover Tower on the campus in Stanford, California. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)