23 November 2011

What the universe wants.

I've been inspired by reading Kevin Kelly's book, What Technology Wants:

Why is our universe so friendly to life? All physical constants allow it, some are even finely tuned to decimal points away from excluding it.

The Strong Anthropic Principal was advanced to address the problem. According to this hypothesis, the universe is built the way it is because life is somehow necessary.

My favorite twist on the S. A. P. is that one universe can create other universes and the resulting descendants may vary enough in conditions that evolution can operate. Somewhere along the line life either inserted itself virus-like into the process or arose naturally in the more fruitful creations.

Now, in the same way we can speak of an organism wanting something, say food or sex, we can talk about the universe wanting something. We can even venture into what a universe should want.

Clearly, if the S. A. P. is true, our universe was made to want atoms and stars and life. It looks like it also wanted the water molecule, and DNA. I think an argument can be made that it also wants us, sentient life, to have wants and desires.

To paraphrase Steven Weinberg, the universe is perhaps more beautiful than strictly necessary. I think this means two things.

First, the universe is built to be admirable. Second, life is built to admire the universe. Both may be necessary to help the universe reproduce.

Humans obviously have an aesthetic nature. The universe may require this. We love art and regularity. Physicists often say beautiful theories are more likely to be true.

Art appreciation may be a general feature of sentient life. Birds enjoy a good song and a well made nest. Dogs and elephants show taste in music and even paintings.

Without a sense of beauty we may never have contemplated the universe or developed science. Without science we could never develop strong technological skill. Technology may be one essential trait in advanced universe reproduction.

This universe building business would be much easier if we had an operating manual. Perhaps we will write it and encode it into the next iteration. Maybe it's lying around somewhere waiting for us to find it (Carl Sagan suggested we could look far, far to the right of the decimal point of pi).

If the S. A. P. is true, the evolution of universes is a slow affair, billions of years between generations. The process is hindered by it's asexual nature. Each universe is isolated, incommunicado from any neighbor. However, we can look to the future, when our (or some further universe's inhabitant's) science is advanced to the point where we can open a window to another realm, another cosmos.

On that day, the multiverse will discover sex.

27 September 2011

Cut it out

Senator Patty Murray, via email, has invited me to submit ideas for deficit reduction. After filling out the form on the web site she had indicated, the page crashed. Three times.
I therefore offer the ideas here, confident she will see and appreciate them:

End agricultural subsidies.
Close the military bases in Europe and Japan and in about 100 other places. They may well be able to defend themselves.
End the expensive and painful war on people taking drugs. If you must, tax me a little when I use them.
Privatize air traffic control and Amtrak. Also, forget about that high speed rail jazz.
End Homeland Security. If you must pat me down, offer a happy ending.

These measures will save money and minimize distortion to the market and as a bonus, we'd all enjoy a little more liberty.
Of course, I have a few more ideas but they may be deemed less practical.

12 August 2011

Better living through explosives

My folks used dynamite to fix a flooded basement.

The downstairs toilet would occasionally bubble sewage. We did a perk test out front where you pour some water in a hole and see how long it takes to drain. It didn't. A problem, because septic tanks are designed to spill into the drain field and seep into the earth. Otherwise, stuff backs up and heads to the basement toilet. Not the stuff you're looking for...

So a new system and a new front yard. It was Summer break and free labor was at hand; my Mom, Mike, me, our stepfather Joe and his other sons Bruce and Hugh.

We set to it. Shovels and picks and buckets. Trenches were dug in a modified palmate pattern. At the end of each day you couldn't tell Pharaoh from slave.

Two feet down, however, the ground was still impervious. A heavy rain could send it all right back up into our basement. The three foot level was the same.

Joe and my Mom consulted and came up with the big idea: dig a real deep hole at the low end and let all the, ahem, water drain to there. Hard pan couldn't go down forever.

 The hole was about four foot a side and as it got deeper we built a gantry to winch up the buckets of muck.

Bucket after bucket... Thirty miserable feet later we were still in clay, shaky aluminum ladder to the bottom and each load heavier than the last. This boot-sucking crap had to end somewhere!

And then Joe thought: dynamite.

It would punch right through through the hard pan! Loosen it up, anyway. We had already broken one shovel.

Naturally we had a box of dynamite on hand. We wired a few sticks on the bottom of the hole and tossed down some branches and stuff to "deflect" the force. We pulled up the ladder and cleared the area. I was stationed on the road out front to stop any traffic. Joe checked on everyone, yelled Fire in the Hole! and threw the switch.

I was about forty feet away, watching for cars. There was a nice bang, somewhat muffled and dust fountained out of the hole.  Then within a breath, the road convulsed and I was tossed to the ground.
Today you'd hear dozens of car alarms go off, but this was Suburbia in the Sixties and a quieter time (well, not on that particular day).
The blast had no appreciable impact on the clay. Just as smooth as we had left it but covered in debris. We wearily called it good and filled the well with loose dirt and gravel.

The basement toilet seemed to work okay for the next twenty years and then the sewer came to the neighborhood.