About a month from now, it's possible that the most important Go match in history will take place in Seoul, Korea. The two players will be Lee Sedol,About a month from now, it's possible that the most important Go match in history will take place in Seoul, Korea. The two players will be Lee Sedol, widely regarded as the best Go player in the world, and AlphaGo, the breakthrough AI program recently announced by Google's Deep Mind group in London. The prize will be $1M.
There is a speculation about this unique event all over the web. The most interesting pages I've found so far are the Deep Mind paper in Nature (I think this actually isn't supposed to be freely available, so the link may break soon), and the GoGameGuru match site. Both of them are pretty uncompromising, but there is some fascinating stuff there. In particular, I've been looking at a long video on the GGG site in which Myungwan Kim, a top Korean Go professional, gives a very detailed and insightful breakdown of AlphaGo's strengths and weaknesses.
It seems clear from Kim's analysis that the version of AlphaGo which in October 2015 won the already famous match against Fan Hui, the European Go champion, would have poor chances of beating a truly world-class player. It made several mistakes which at that level were close to outright blunders. But Deep Mind will have had another five months of development time to improve it. Also, Google must be very confident if they're rushing things and holding the match so early and in such a high-profile way.
So like everyone else, I have no idea what's going to happen! But there was a period of a couple of years back in the 80s when I was very keen on Go, and now I'm dusting off my old Go books and trying to remember what this amazing game is about. I want to be able to follow the match as well as I can, and I'm thinking that Appreciating Famous Games, available for free download here, might well be part of my training program... ...more
After that annoying hiccup last night in Iowa I'm sure you'd hear some people whining and moaning and carrying on, but not the author of The Art of thAfter that annoying hiccup last night in Iowa I'm sure you'd hear some people whining and moaning and carrying on, but not the author of The Art of the Comeback! He won't be complaining he was five points behind Cruz, no sir, he'll be pleased he was a whole point ahead of Rubio. He won't be bitching that his glass is half empty, he'll be telling his friends it's half full. Well, maybe a quarter full if you want to get really technical, but the bottom line is that nearly 25% of the delegates were willing to listen to good solid arguments about forcing Mexico to build a wall along the border and deporting all illegal immigrants and denying Muslims entry to the US and kicking ISIS's butt. There's still plenty of Americans who can tell the difference between a true statesman and a clown who's trying to bluster his way into the White House.
Think positive, that's the moral! And watch the Comeback Kid come back! Yes, a week from now in New Hampshire, mark my words, we'll all be saying Look Who's Back. ...more
Googling around to see if anyone knows who Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby and Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid are based on (I have often wondered about this), I discovGoogling around to see if anyone knows who Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby and Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid are based on (I have often wondered about this), I discover by chance that the author invented the word 'cuddly', which first appeared in The Water-Babies.
Well, there's your useless fact for today. ...more
For two or three years of my life I was very interested in topology, so when I saw this little novel going for a few francs at the second-hand book shFor two or three years of my life I was very interested in topology, so when I saw this little novel going for a few francs at the second-hand book shop on the Rue de Carouge I couldn't resist it. The description on the back didn't seem unpromising: brilliant young French mathematician goes to Japan, falls in love with Japanese girl, then things go wrong. I was curious to find out how, and even more to know where the topology came in.
Well, it really is quite annoying. The idea is fine, and the right author could have made a good book out of it. Thomas is a gifted mathematician of the Platonic school. He loves mathematics because it liberates him from the dreary contingency of the world, and allows him to live in the intangible spaces of logical truth. For this reason, the author tells us, he's drawn to the field of topology, which is abstract even by the standards of pure mathematics. Laboriously calculating things on paper to reach a conclusion is still too earthly for Thomas; he wants to see the proof in its essence, through the power of his mind alone. This way of thinking starts to affect the way he lives his life. He takes a scholarship to spend a year in Japan and finds that Japanese girls are crazy about handsome, gifted young Frenchmen. After seducing a number of them (they put up not even token resistance; it's just "Do you want to come back to my place?" "Wakarimashita"), he meets Ayako and decides after a few days that she is The One. It is, you understand, the ineffable purity of her soul that captures him. But then things start getting complicated. First Fukushima happens; everyone in France is telling him to come home at once, but he decides he can't leave his true love, and sticks it out when all his colleagues are fleeing like rats. Then, after his year is up, he brings her back to France with him. (He must stay true to his ideal). But they need money to live, so he takes the only job he can find, which is teaching math at a school in one of the nastier banlieues. Their relationship starts turning sour under the strain. After a while he gets involved with another Japanese girl he meets by accident on the subway, his wife finds out, and it all ends in tears.
Even though the story is on the banal side, the author has a plan in mind; in order to convey Thomas's unusual, mathematical way of looking at things, the writing throughout nearly the whole book is extremely abstract. We get to hear very little about what kind of person Ayako is, or even what she looks like; it's all conveyed in generalities. It's only right at the end, when Thomas has the disastrous adventure with the other Japanese girl and is forced to confront the fact that he's a human being and not a pure spirit, that we get any descriptions of normal reality. This is subtly conveyed by (view spoiler)[the scene where, after trying to persuade her to have sex with him and being turned down because she's having her period, he comes all over her, leaving her gasping with disgust and desperately looking for more Kleenex since the first packet wasn't enough to wipe everything off. (hide spoiler)]
I'm sure someone could have made this work very well. The problem is that Arnaud, despite being a competent constructor of French sentences, doesn't appear to know anything about mathematics. He can't decide whether Thomas's field is general topology or algebraic topology, appears to be confusing both of them with category theory, and in general is unable to say anything even remotely plausible about what it is his hero is so abstractly thinking. He's severed Thomas's relationship with the material world, but he hasn't got anything to replace it. The mathematician's view of reality is in fact rather more interesting than the purely negative picture which Arnaud presents, though you won't learn that from Topologie de l'amour. I can't quite figure out what he imagined he was doing; hasn't he ever heard of "write what you know"?
Oh well. I suppose I should have paid more attention to the picture on the front than the blurb on the back; with 20/20 hindsight, the fact that none of the formulas have anything whatsoever to do with topology is a rather significant clue. From now on, I promise to judge more books by their covers. Lesson learned.
Looks like one of the two best Trump-inspired satires written this week. The lack of any obvious gay sex does leave me feeling a little uneasy, but maLooks like one of the two best Trump-inspired satires written this week. The lack of any obvious gay sex does leave me feeling a little uneasy, but maybe the author can make up for that with the Girl Scouts.
I'm just going to have to spell this out: the author is a pedophile. There's no reasonable doubt about it.
Charmides, an early volume in the very populI'm just going to have to spell this out: the author is a pedophile. There's no reasonable doubt about it.
Charmides, an early volume in the very popular Socrates series, is a particularly clear case. There's a kind of vague plot, but basically it's not much more a step-by-step manual in the art of seducing young boys with smooth talk about epistemology, the relationship between philosophy and science, and the nature of virtue. The fact that Socrates is a role model to many overimpressionable men only makes it worse.
No doubt Goodreads will delete my review. But someone had to say it. ...more
I had never heard of Karen Marie Moning until earlier this morning, when Navessa complained that her review had been deleted, if I understand correctlI had never heard of Karen Marie Moning until earlier this morning, when Navessa complained that her review had been deleted, if I understand correctly because she complained that Ms Moning portrayed pedophilia in a favorable light. It's possible she said something else, but since the review has gone I don't really know. Anyway, pedophilia was definitely in there somewhere.
I was sufficiently curious that I googled "Karen Marie Moning" + pedophile and found several people expressing similar opinions. So I guess, hey, no smoke without fire. I suppose I could have checked it out in more detail, but I'm constitutionally allergic to this kind of book and in general it just seemed like too much trouble.
Nice going, Goodreads! Carry on deleting those reviews, and help vague rumors with a tenuous relationship to fact to keep circulating. ...more
I must admit that I was somewhat taken aback when Donald Trump suggested the US should deny entry to Muslims and require them all to carry ID cards. BI must admit that I was somewhat taken aback when Donald Trump suggested the US should deny entry to Muslims and require them all to carry ID cards. But having had time to get over the initial shock and consider it on its merits, the idea has definitely started to look more attractive. The only problem is that Trump doesn't go far enough.
Come on, we need to be realistic here: half-measures won't help. We simply have to face up to the fact that monotheists are extremely dangerous. From the thousand Philistines that Sampson slew with the jawbone of an ass (Judges 15, 14-16), through the Conquistadores and the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre to the Thirty Years War, monotheists have shown time and time again that they are ruthless terrorists who will stop at nothing to spread their sick, perverted ideology. And it's hardly surprising. What do you expect of a religion originally founded by a man who was on the point of killing his only son because the voices in his head told him to do it, and whose most important principle is to deny the validity, or even the right to existence, of all other faiths?
Don't get me wrong. I'm saying all this in a spirit of tolerance - some of my best friends are monotheists! - but we need a complete ban on them entering the United States, or indeed any other Western country, until we figure out what the hell is going on. Nothing else will do.
I was sent a copy of The Frames of Reality a couple of weeks ago by the author, who said he thought I might find it interesting. I've just finished, aI was sent a copy of The Frames of Reality a couple of weeks ago by the author, who said he thought I might find it interesting. I've just finished, and now I'm trying to decide how to evaluate it.
First, a few facts. The book is a work of philosophy, about 360 pages long. According to the the back cover, the author, Juan Gabriel Ruiz, is a 29 year old Columbian with a degree in chemical engineering from the University of Bogotá and a Masters in International Development from Tsinghua University, Beijing. His native language is Spanish, but he has written the book in English so as to be able to reach a wider audience. He has clearly read a good deal of philosophy, though it is not obvious that he has ever studied it formally. His favorite philosophers from the Western tradition appear to be Plato, Aristotle, Hume, Kant, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Einstein, Russell and Wittgenstein. He is also very interested in the Chinese philosophical tradition. He often quotes Feynman, Dawkins and Taleb with approval.
Drawing on these diverse sources, Ruiz proposes a way of thinking about reality which centers on the concept of what he calls a "frame". He says at the start that he isn't going to define what a "frame" is, but illustrate using examples; the intention is that it will gradually start to cohere. The book doesn't in any way come across as the work of a crank. There is no imputation that the author has discovered some deep, mystical principle which has hitherto been overlooked. He intends, rather, to provide a conceptual tool which he thinks people may find useful.
One of the obvious messages of the book is that things can usually be viewed in many ways, none of which are necessarily better than others. It seems reasonable to apply this principle to the book itself. A superficial way of looking at it would be to complain about the presentation, which is unimpressive. There are errors in spelling and grammar on every page (e.g. the word "let's" is frequently misspelled as "lets"), and the fact-checking is on the sloppy side (e.g. we are told at one point that Aristotle lived three thousand years ago). Unfortunately, this will already be enough to convince many readers that the book is not worth looking at. If the author is serious about wanting to reach a wide audience, he might want to consider engaging the services of a professional editor and bring out a revised edition.
Another superficial approach would be to think about the author's character. The tone is quite personal, and you feel after a while that you have got to know Ruiz, who comes across as a pleasant and interesting guy. I soon decided that I wanted the book to be a success, and I think a fair number of readers will have the same reaction. But when you are writing philosophy, it's not obvious that character is the central issue. Michael Frayn's The Human Touch is charmingly written - so much so that even the great Alan Lightman was charmed - but it is a terrible piece of philosophy. So I'm inclined to discount this way of looking at things too, though other people may have a different reaction.
To me, the thing that determines whether a piece of philosophy is worthwhile is whether it changes the way you think. Plato makes you change your thinking about the notion of virtue, Wittgenstein forces you to reconceptualize your ideas about the nature of language, and Hume teaches you to be rigorous in your scepticism. I can see that the author finds the concept of a "frame" useful - so useful, in fact, that it has made him write this book - but I don't believe I've learned how to use it. At a couple of points, I felt I was maybe getting it. There is a recurrent argument about what we understand. We have a good understanding of certain simple things, for example the reactions in a chemical plant, and that tempts us to believe we understand much more. But whenever we think about anything that's genuinely important to us - what we should do, how we should act - we don't really understand it at all. If we look at things in one frame, a certain course of action may seem good (I prepared systematically for the exam and passed it with a high grade). If we look at it in another, it may seem bad (by passing the exam, I got into a profession I didn't like). In a third, it may seem good again (even though I hated the job I ended up with, it was as a result of taking it that I met my wife). We should try to be realistic about what it is we actually do understand, and how little it is in the greater scheme of things. But I still don't really grasp what a "frame" is, and there were many passages, particularly when the author was talking about the physical world, where I felt it was hindering rather than helping my understanding.
As you can see, I am undecided about the value of this piece of work. I don't think The Frames of Reality is a very good book as it stands. But maybe the author can write a better one if he reorganizes his thoughts in the right way. I hope this review encourages him to do so. ...more
This little book - as the title says, really just a long letter - is the last thing Charb wrote before he and several of his colleagues at Charlie HebThis little book - as the title says, really just a long letter - is the last thing Charb wrote before he and several of his colleagues at Charlie Hebdo were murdered by Saïd and Chérif Kouachi on Jan 7, 2015. Note to other ardent jihadists: if the Kouachi brothers hadn't committed this despicable crime, I would never have read Lettres aux escrocs de l'islamophobie qui font le jeu des racistes and I wouldn't be writing about it now. Remember, the martydom thing works both ways.
I was not particularly impressed by the text, which perhaps would have been edited more carefully if its author had lived longer, but I thought it made some good points. The most important one is to call into question the idea that "Islamophobia" is a bad thing, or indeed a well-defined concept in the first place. As Charb says, racism is indeed a very bad thing. People often denounce "Islamophobia" because they conflate it with racism.
But does this idea stand up to serious examination? Islam is not a race but a religion, a set of ideas and beliefs. It should be possible to express criticism, or indeed violent dislike, for an ideology, without being called racist. Charb argues that talk of "Islamophobia" confuses all these issues. He was very strongly against racism. But he was also very strongly against Islam. He disliked and held in contempt all versions of monotheism, which to him were no more than repressive and dangerous superstitions. It is surely unreasonable to expect an atheist who dislikes Catholicism to like Islam better; it is logical to expect him to like it even less.
Well, I'm inclined to agree with Charb on this. It should be possible to criticize ideologies on the grounds that they are harmful or dangerous, and not be accused of racism. It is generally regarded as acceptable to criticize Stalinism, on the grounds that it was directly responsible for killing millions of people and ruining the lives of tens of millions more. It is similarly regarded as acceptable to criticize Scientology, on similar but less extreme grounds. Believers routinely criticize atheism, which most atheists would immediately agree is their right. Why should Islam be an exception?
Charb comes across as a good-natured person who loves teasing, who can't believe that anyone would really want to kill him because he's constitutionally incapable of passing up an opportunity to make a good joke. And yet he can see that this is what's almost certainly going to happen. He's still not quite sure why. It's very sad reading.
Click the above image to check out the lamb-related commercial that's ignited a worldwide firestorm of controversy. Poles, Danes and vegans are just
Click the above image to check out the lamb-related commercial that's ignited a worldwide firestorm of controversy. Poles, Danes and vegans are just three of the most outraged groups. Don't miss YOUR chance to post a few angry tweets and maybe sign an online petition complaining about those insensitive, inappropriate, politically incorrect Australians! ...more
I must reproduce the wonderful description in Crowe's History of Vector Analysis:
1844. Grassmann publishes the first full exposition of his system, hi
I must reproduce the wonderful description in Crowe's History of Vector Analysis:
1844. Grassmann publishes the first full exposition of his system, his Die lineale Ausdehnungslehre, ein neuer Zweig der Mathematik dargestellt and durch Anwendungen auf die ubrigen Zweige der Mathematick, wie auch auf der Statik, Mechanik, die Lehre vom Magnetismus und die Krystallonomie erläutert. Whereas on the title page of Hamilton’s Lectures on Quaternions, Hamilton was identified by a large array of titles and memberships, Grassmann’s title page identified him only as “Lehrer an der Friedrich Wilhelms Schule zu Stettin.” The book attracts almost no attention and about 600 copies of it were in 1864 used for waste paper.
Grassmann’s Die lineale Ausdehnungslehre (Linear Extension Theory) demonstrated deep mathematical insights. It also in one sense contained much of the modern system of vector analysis. This, however, was embedded within a far broader system, which included n-dimensional spaces and as many as sixteen different products of his base entities (including his inner and outer products, which are respectively somewhat close to the our modern dot and cross products). Moreover, Grassmann justifies his system by philosophical discussions that may have put off many of his readers. The abstractness of his presentation and the originality of his insights also contributed to the difficulties readers had in comprehending Grassmann’s message, as is evident from comments made by various mathematicians who had struggled with the book. Möbius, for example, labeled it unreadable, Baltzer reported that reading the book made him feel “dizzy and to see sky blue before my eyes,” and Hamilton wrote De Morgan that to read the Ausdehnungslehre he would have to learn to smoke.
1845. After Grassmann’s unsuccessful efforts to persuade Möbius to write a review of his book, Grassmann, at Möbius’s urging, writes a review of his own book—the only review his book received! He also publishes a paper containing a new discovery in electrical theory that he had derived using his new methods. The result: more neglect, until the 1870s when Clausius made the same electrical discovery and published it, only then realizing that Grassmann had preceded him.
It turns out that the band of murderous criminals running the US isn't the Republican Party after all, but a different band of murderous criminals. IIt turns out that the band of murderous criminals running the US isn't the Republican Party after all, but a different band of murderous criminals. I think a hot woman takes her clothes off at some point.
Sorry. I know I shouldn't drop all these spoilers, but sometimes I can't help myself. ...more
Rather perversely, given that I keep telling people I don't like translations, I read Randall Munroe's new book in German - but I thought it might helRather perversely, given that I keep telling people I don't like translations, I read Randall Munroe's new book in German - but I thought it might help develop my language skills to go through this unusual piece of work, where the inventive Mr Munroe spends sixty-one A4 pages explaining a lot of complicated things using a vocabulary of only the one thousand most common words. My feeling is that it's done me some good, despite the disapproving look I got from one of my germanophone colleagues. ("You'll learn all the wrong vocabulary," she sighed, shaking her head). But I've hopefully escaped intact: my German is good enough by now that I'm not likely to believe Bildermacher really is the word for "camera", or Hochziehzimmer the word for "elevator", or Himmelsboot the word for "airplane". Anyway, enough about that. The content of the book is more interesting than the language.
Most people seem to be treating Thing Explainer as no more than a weird bit of entertainment; but, like Perec in La disparition, I think the author isn't just doing it to demonstrate his ingenuity. A couple of weeks ago, I read an annoying novel called Topologie de l'amour, which purports to give you an idea of what mathematicians are like. The author has evidently met some mathematicians, and he's by no means wrong about everything: for example, mathematicians tend to be very impractical in romantic matters. What he missed, though, is that the interesting thing about them isn't their habit of falling in love with the wrong people, but their way of looking at the world. Munroe's book does a far better job of conveying what that unusual angle is.
Clever people, as Munroe says in the introduction, typically like to demonstrate that they're clever by using big, unusual words. Mathematicians don't exactly refuse to use big words, and they can also think it's fun to show off this way. But in their hearts, mathematicians don't want to do this. Mathematics is all about reducing things to their essence, and that means using as few words as possible. If a mathematician could get by using only one word, that would make them truly happy. (Formal logic is the most thoroughgoing expression of this impossible dream). Thing Explainer doesn't go to such absurd lengths, but Munroe shows that you don't need to know a lot of words to be clever; it's enough to understand what the words really mean, and how they are connected to each other and to the world. He gives wonderful, concise explanations of things like plate tectonics, and how a cyclone forms, and the strategy the Mars Rovers used to come down successfully in one piece. I learned here how a turbofan works - for some reason, I had never got around to finding out. He has the best one-sentence summary of quantum mechanics I have ever seen. ("About a hundred years ago, people learned that the idea of 'Where' doesn't always work for very small things"). When you describe things in this unusual way, you can get a different idea of them, and you can think that the big words you normally use are really stopping you from seeing the world instead of helping you see it better. Munroe has a couple of deadpan, helpfully informative pages on nuclear weapons ("Machines for burning cities"). When he gives you a schematic of a Trident submarine ("World-ending boat") and the history that led up to building this interesting device, it's possible that you may briefly wonder whether it is in fact a good thing.
On the last page, Munroe shows you the Tree of Life: the family tree of all the living things there have ever been, who, as he says, are all related to each other. Or, to be exact, he shows you a tiny part of this tree - which really should contain a branch for every creature alive, and the many, many more that used to be alive and are now dead. He asks you to imagine all the grains of sand there are on all the beaches on Earth. And then he asks you to imagine that each of those grains was another whole Earth with its own seas and beaches, and how many grains of sand you would have if you added all those beaches together. Well, that's how many branches you would need to draw if you really drew the Tree of Life.
As he says in the book's last sentence: compared to the world we are talking about here, all our words are small. ...more