No Silver Bullets

Humans are lazy, short-sighted creatures, and that makes perfect evolutionary sense.  When you’re starving to death in an unfamiliar forest, you don’t have time or energy to make plans for ten years later, or to waste on superfluous activities.  In evolutionary terms, laziness is just another word for efficiency.  Long term planning and the capacity for delayed gratification came with the development of the higher reasoning cortex and the capacity for complex thought, and our brains have a constant battle between the impulsive, instinctual brain and the reasoned, thoughtful brain.  It’s no surprise, then, that we are always looking for silver bullets.

The Fallacy of Regret

Queue swirling lights and rushing sound effects as we go back in time to stop regretting things and make our lives go how we wish they could have gone, with all of the wisdom and hindsight of our later years.  After an arbitrary passage through time and space, we find our former self, and we say something like “hey, don’t invest your money there, use it to start the business you’ve always dreamt of.”  Then, ignoring all considerations of paradox, physics, entropy, and causality, we zip back to the present time to see how much better our life us now that we made the choice we always wished we had.

What is Life?

This might sound like a philosophical question, but I intend it more like a scientific question.  We’ve discussed this somewhat before, like in our post about the universe’s habitable zone, but I want to focus in a little closer on what life really is, on what makes one thing alive and one thing not alive, how we might go about defining the difference, and whether what we call life deserves the distinction we have hitherto applied.

Conservation and Cycles

In any closed system, quantities must be conserved.  Thermodynamics inform us that energy is conserved.  Linear and angular momentum are both conserved, whether we’re looking at billiard balls in a Newtonian paradigm, or photons in a quantum system.  Special relativity expands conservation even further to the equivalence between matter and energy.  In a closed system, where nothing can escape, quantities are inevitably conserved.

Thought Out

of my favorite books growing up were How Things Work, and its sequel.  I read books on circuit design and simple machines from cover to cover, multiple times, and I saw engineering as the ultimate in thinking everything through.  In my head, anything made by human hands was the product of a thorough process of dimensional and material optimization.

Smug Science

I think science as a discipline could benefit from a more practical approach.  This doesn’t so much refer to some of the really abstract and intangible research happening in fields like quantum physics as it does to something that I see more and more presented in lieu of actual experiments: computer models.  In just the past few weeks, I’ve read everything from government reports, to news articles, to peer-reviewed scientific papers that leverage as their evidence not practical experiments or real datasets, but computer models and statistical simulations.  There was even one that proudly proclaimed that it was based on interpolated data – in other words, data that is only inferred to exist between known data points.

Cyropaedia Review

Literally, the title of this piece translates to "the education of Cyrus," though in truth only about the first book or two cover Cyrus's "education," while the others describe the rest of his life. This is meant as a sort of "how to" book on how to rule well, in the form of a biographical treatment of Cyrus, but unlike in The Ten Thousand, Xenophon is not here describing contemporary events, and many historians doubt that this is in more than the most general of ways an accurate depiction of Cyrus's life. Note: by "how to," I mean a book on how to rule as a semi-benevolent authoritarian dictator who is loved and feared by his subjects.