March 6, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 5:56 AM


Gödel's Proof And Einstein's Dice: Undecidability In Mathematics And Physics - Part II (Jochen Szangolies, 3/06/23, 3 Quarks)

But both Turing's and Gödel's results share a similarity in the way their theories seem to extend their scope beyond the originally intended domains. Gödel found that he could encode arbitrary number-theoretical statements into numbers; Turing found that his 'A-Machines' were themselves objects of the theory of computation he intended them to represent. For Turing Machines, this property is called universality: they are themselves objects of their own 'universe'--like the dreamer inhabiting their own dream. It is this property that enables the success of modern computers: whatever their design, they can all perform the same computations--if need be, by explicit simulation, running, say, a virtual Windows machine on a Mac.

If we leave this universe, we also break free of the paradox: suppose we have access to an 'oracle' that can tell us whether a given program halts. Giving a TM access to this oracle, we obtain what Turing called an 'O-Machine'. As this now can perform computations that no TM can perform, it is no longer a member of their universe, but inhabits some separated realm. As long as it only takes TMs as its object, no paradoxical consequences ensue.

But now suppose we 'enlarge' the universe to include O-Machines, and ask for a solution to their halting problem: again, we find the same old troubles resurface, and undecidability return once more--the O-Machine halting problem is undecidable for O-Machines.

Thus, undecidability seems to emerge whenever a theory's substrate--the axioms of number theory, Turing's A- and O-Machines--becomes the theory's own object. The analogy to physics is immediate. Many theories are such that they apply to a limited set of phenomena. Maxwell's theory of electromagnetism describes phenomena concerning the behavior of charges in electric and magnetic fields--a comprehensive, but clearly delineated subset of the (physical) universe. These can be studied 'from the outside': the theory has a limited scope.

But any putatively fundamental theory, claimed to apply to literally everything in the universe, leaves no 'outside' from which its phenomena can be appraised--it leaves no room for a 'detached observer': any possible observer must themselves be an object of the theory. Thus, once a physical theory is universal in this sense, we are in a situation much like that of Gödel and Turing. It is then only natural to look for analogous consequences, as well.

This circumstance has been noticed several times in modern physics. One of the earliest examples, in fact, is due to philosopher Karl Popper, originator of the falsificationist approach to the philosophy of science. In 1950, Popper, in a two-part paper entitled Indeterminism in Quantum Physics and in Classical Physics, considers 'near-Gödelian questions', and proposes that they imply 'the physical impossibility of predicting [...] certain physical events; or [...] an indeterminism of a kind somewhat similar to the one implied by quantum physics'.

However, the task Popper has in mind really is that of self-prediction: asking an agent about their future state. Important work along related lines was done by the eminent quantum logician Maria Luisa Dalla Chiara, who in 1977 explicitly considered the famous 'measurement problem' of quantum mechanics in light of the Gödelian results, by the Austrian mathematician Thomas Breuer, and the Viennese physicist Karl Svozil.

These results largely concern Gödelian phenomena as applied to quantum theory. Wheeler's intuition, however, was quite different: that undecidability might be a foundational principle of quantum theory. That, in other words, quantum theory is quantum because of undecidability. This is a more daring possibility: if it is correct, then it would imply that classical physics was never an option--that the impossibility of predicting certain outcomes is, in fact, a necessary feature of any putatively 'universal' theory.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


A New York Town Once Thrived on Fossil Fuels. Now, Wind Energy Is Giving a Lift.Wellsville, a 20th-century boomtown with a refinery, gets a second act making parts for wind turbines (Jimmy Vielkind, March 5, 2023, WSJ)

WELLSVILLE, N.Y.--This former oil town almost 300 miles from the coast is emerging as one of the early winners in the push to develop offshore wind in the Atlantic Ocean.

The hulking steel components of wind turbines slated to rise out of the ocean east of Long Island are being welded at the Ljungström factory, which for 100 years has sold parts to coal-fired power plants. Plant managers here said their pivot to wind has meant hiring 150 more people and could reopen a facility that has been dormant for several years.

The renewed economic activity has brought new jobs and perspective to some here in Wellsville, a town of 7,000 people about 80 miles south of Rochester that blossomed in the 20th century serving the fossil-fuel economy. As the nation strives to meet a goal of halving greenhouse gas emissions--including enough offshore wind to power 10 million homes--by 2030, the U.S. could see more places with historical ties to traditional energy markets try their hand in renewables.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


How Superman Became a Christ-Like Figure in American Culture (Roy Schwartz, March 6, 2023, LitHub)

The first seeds were sowed with the development of his childhood years, largely by other writers. The one undeniably evocative motif that was there from the beginning is of a child sent down from the heavens by his father. But originally, he wasn't found by the Kents and raised in Smallville. In his first appearance, baby Superman is found by a "passing motorist" and turned over to a city orphanage, where he grows up. When the origin is revised a year later he's still raised in an urban environment, but this time he's found and adopted by Mary--same as Jesus's mother--and her unnamed husband. By 1951 Mary had changed to Martha, her husband named Jonathan and the hometown became Smallville.

With all the pieces in place, Clark's upbringing resembled Jesus's; both were born far beyond and raised in small towns. Both had surrogate fathers who were humble laborers, Jonathan a farmer and Joseph a carpenter. Both are celestial by nature and human by nurture, and it's the years of living as normal people that allowed them to experience, understand and cherish humanity.

With the onset of WWII the patriotic Superman quickly became an infallible American icon, and in the patriarchal, sanitized, comics-censuring 1950s he grew to resemble Christ in his saintly perfection. Though he hasn't been that way since at least the mid-1970s, it's a public image he still contends with.

But where Superman really first became a Christ figure is 1978's Superman: The Movie, starring Christopher Reeve. His father Jor-El (Marlon Brando) is a white-haired man dressed in luminous white, reminiscent of God in Medieval and Renaissance art. In dialog evocative of New Testament passages, he tells his child, "The son becomes the father, and the father, the son" and "They can be a great people, Kal-El. They wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you, my only son."

It marks a fundamental shift in Superman's mythology, from a baby sent to Earth by desperate parents so he can be saved to a son sent to Earth by a benevolent father to become its savior. It recast the Last Son of Krypton as a reimagined Son of God, which became a central theme in later films and shows--though not the comics, which have largely stayed true to the original narrative.

The movie is otherwise suffused with Christian allusions, like Kal-El's spacecraft resembling a Star of Bethlehem/Christmas tree topper and Superman saving mankind from its own sin in the form of Lex Luthor's greed, to the point that director Richard Donner received death threats over the sacrilege.

These themes were further expanded in 1980's Superman II, in which the villain, General Zod (Terence Stamp), is given a tweaked origin story; the leader of Krypton's army, he attempts a coup but fails, and is cast by Jor-El to the Phantom Zone, a prison dimension of "eternal living death." He escapes, seeking to destroy the son of his jailer and place himself ruler of mankind.

It's the story of Lucifer Morningstar in Milton's Paradise Lost, and Zod is even remodeled from his comic book look with slicked-back hair and a widow's peak, sharply manicured beard, and a black and crimson outfit, resembling the popular image of the devil since Goethe's Faust. Superman, accordingly, is cast in the role of Jesus.

In the comics, the first real Christ allegory wasn't until the 1992-1993 storyline "The Death and Return of Superman." A yearlong opus spanning multiple series, it begins with Superman battling the monster Doomsday. Superman endures a Passion to stop him, stigmatically cut by Doomsday's spikes in lieu of thorns and nails, ultimately sacrificing himself to save Metropolis and the world. The issue of his death, Superman Vol. 2 #75, ends with Lois cradling his body like Michelangelo's Pietà.

When a vigil is held at his monument, people carry signs reading "Savior" and "He died for you," and shortly after, his sepulcher is found empty. Four Supermen then appear, false messiahs claiming his name or mantle (just as Jesus warns in Matthew & Mark). One of them, Cyborg Superman, is revealed to be a genocidal villain, and the real Parousia occurs in the nick of time for Superman to save mankind from the great deceiver, completing the scriptural arc.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Human Beings Are Stewards, Not Slaves to God: The biblical concept of imago Dei sets the Judeo-Christian narrative apart from other ancient origin stories. (ALEXANDRA O. HUDSON, FEBRUARY 27, 2023, Christianity Today)

I explored many different origin stories from around the world while creating a video series called "Storytelling and the Human Condition" for The Teaching Company and Wondrium (formerly The Great Courses). And even though I was raised in an evangelical Christian home, I was struck by how much I took for granted in the Judeo-Christian anthropology when I compared it to others.

In the Judeo-Christian worldview, the origin story of humankind is defined by the imago Dei: the notion that God created human beings in his image. And when I compared the creation narrative in Genesis to other ancient origin stories from the Mesopotamian region, this concept hit me in a new way.

Genesis reveals important information about the character of the Judeo-Christian God. There is a single Creator who acts upon the world with intention and brings order out of chaos. There is a purpose to it all. It is all done in a peaceful environment: The phrase "Let there be" is sufficient to bring whole new creations into being.

After the creation of the cosmos, earth, and animals, God creates Adam and Eve--suggesting that humankind is the pinnacle of the created world. Human beings bear the imprint of the divine, as we share in the nature of the God who created us. The imago Dei means that we have dignity as well as a responsibility to steward the rest of the created world.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Reagan, Religion, and the Evil Empire (Joseph Loconte, March 6, 2023, Providence)

"The real crisis we face today is a spiritual one," Reagan told a gathering of evangelicals on March 8, 1983. "At root it is a test of moral will and faith." It was this conviction that lay at the heart of Reagan's "Evil Empire" speech, delivered forty years ago. It is hard to think of another world leader who could combine, convincingly, the themes of spiritual salvation, the reality of evil, and the nature of the totalitarian state:

"Yes, let us pray for the salvation of all of those who live in that totalitarian darkness-pray they will discover the joy of knowing God. But until they do, let us be aware that while they preach the supremacy of the State, declare its omnipotence over individual man, and predict its eventual domination of all peoples on the earth, they are the focus of evil in the modern world.

Secular elites in the academy and in the media, of course, excoriated Reagan for his "simple-minded" and "Manichean" approach to U.S. foreign policy. It is easy to forget the mood of the hour: Conventional liberal wisdom was that the United States and the Soviet Union had equally flawed political systems. They must work to "converge" and compromise for the sake of world peace.

Reagan took this liberal dogma to the woodshed. Quoting from C.S. Lewis in The Screwtape Letters, he warned his religious audience not to be deceived by smooth-talking Soviet leaders, "quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices." He cautioned against the dangerous temptation of "blithely declaring yourselves above it all and label both sides equally at fault, to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire." In this outlook--as popular today as it was a generation ago--Reagan saw the sin of spiritual pride.

Although Reagan believed deeply in American exceptionalism, he was not blind to the nation's shortcomings. Although labeled a racist by today's left, Reagan spoke candidly about America's racist history: "Our nation, too, has a legacy of evil with which it must deal." It is a remarkable fact that the same president who extolled America as a "shining city on a hill" also lamented its "legacy of evil," a record of ethnic and racial hatred that has deeply burdened America's democratic journey.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


South Australia enjoys 80.1 pct wind and solar share in blackout-free summer (Giles Parkinson, 6 March 2023, Renew Economy)

South Australia has maintained its extraordinary and world-leading share of wind and solar, which accounted for more than 80 per cent of its local electricity demand over the latest summer that officially ended last week. [...]

Wind accounts for the bulk of the output in the summer, at 46 per cent, but rooftop solar accounts for 26 per cent (despite its daytime limitations). in the summer of 2007/08, renewables totalled just 2.6 per cent.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Good and Evil in Tolkien's The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings (Pedro Blas Gonzalez, 3/06/23, Voegelin View)

The wars that take place in Tolkien's work originated in the quest for the power of evil forces. Careful readers of The Silmarillion can trace the origin of evil to Melkor's defiance of Eru Ilúvatar, the "One": "And he descended upon Arda in power and majesty greater than any other of the Valar, as a mountain that wades in the sea and has its head above the clouds and is clad in ice and crowned with smoke and fire; and the light of the eyes of Melkor was like a flame that withers with heat and pierces with a deadly cold." From the beginning of The Silmarillion, Melkor becomes intent on destroying and defiling everything that Eru Ilúvitar has planned for Arda (Earth) and the beings with which it will populate this world.

The Silmarillion is the philosophical groundwork that explains the causes of the events in The Lord of the Rings. It is a cosmological work that establishes Tolkien's ontology: the origin of Being and its varied manifestation as becoming. The Silmarillion is also a work of philosophical anthropology that answers the question: what is the nature of man? Tolkien addresses this question by fashioning man's nature alongside other beings, such as dwarves, immortal elves, and a host of evil entities that dominate the struggle between good and evil.

Man, who Tolkien introduces in a rather late stage of development in his epic legendarium, is said to be blessed with death. Death? This seemingly counterintuitive idea, at least judging by the postmodern corruption of human reality, is an existential drama that man must embrace and live to fruition. Death, which delivers man to the afterlife, Tolkien suggests, is life-affirming.

TOLKIEN AND THE GIFT OF MORTALITY (Anna Mathie, November 2003, First Things)

[W]hen chance or boredom finally led me to leaf through them one day, I came upon what I still find the most exquisitely sorrowful moment in a book filled with exquisitely beautiful sorrow.

The wise and good Arwen, who has given up her elvish immortality to be the mortal Aragorn's queen, is overcome at his deathbed and pleads for him to stay with her longer. He refuses, saying that it is right for him to go with good grace and before he grows feeble. Then he tells her:

I speak no comfort to you, for there is no comfort for such pain within the circles of the world. The uttermost choice is before you: to repent and go to the Havens and bear away into the West the memory of our days together that shall there be evergreen but never more than memory; or else to abide the Doom of Men.

Arwen replies that she has no choice:

I must indeed abide the Doom of Men whether I will or nill: the loss and the silence. But I say to you, King of the Numenoreans, not till now have I understood the tale of your people and their fall. As wicked fools I scorned them, but I pity them at last. For if this is indeed, as the Elves say, the gift of the One to Men, it is bitter to receive.

In this new and bitter knowledge, she goes away alone after Aragorn's death, "the light of her eyes . . . quenched . . . cold and gray as nightfall that comes without a star." She dies alone in the dead land of Lorien, where deathless Elves once lived.

For Arwen, otherwise infinitely wiser than we, death is the one unknown, a new and unexpected discovery. Aragorn knows better; he knows, as all mortals should, that comfort is impossible and even unworthy in the face of death. Yet he still holds fast to what Arwen has only known as an abstract theological tenet: that death is truly God's gift.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


I opposed Jimmy Carter, but I praise him (Jeff Jacoby, 2/28/23, The Boston Globe)

"During the early weeks of the administration, officials spoke out against harassment and human rights violations in Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union, and Uganda," the State Department notes on its website. Under Carter, the department began the practice of annually reporting on the status of human rights in other countries -- including countries friendly to the United States. Granted, the president's record when it came to advancing liberty and democracy was far from perfect. On one occasion, he described Romania's brutal despot Nicolae Ceaușescu as a ruler who believes "in peace, in personal freedom, [and] in enhancing human rights." And while he rightly denounced the repression of Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza, he never held the Sandinista junta that deposed him to the same standard. Nonetheless, Carter's elevation of human rights as a factor in foreign affairs set a laudable standard -- one that too few presidents since have aspired to emulate.

Something else too few presidents do is admit that a major assumption they brought to the job was wrong.

Carter came to the White House willing to believe the best of the Soviet Union, which was then led by Leonid Brezhnev. In an address at The University of Notre Dame, Carter advised Americans to jettison their "inordinate fear of communism." But the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 woke him up to the reality of Soviet malevolence. To his great credit, he said so. Moscow's aggression "has made a more dramatic change in my opinion of what the Soviets' ultimate goals are" than anything he had previously observed, Carter confessed in a TV interview. Soon after, he announced the Carter Doctrine, declaring that the United States would use military force if necessary to defend its interests in the Persian Gulf. He also ordered a military buildup, setting the stage for Ronald Reagan's later expansion and the ultimate US victory in the Cold War.

To err is human. To acknowledge error and correct it is not easy. Carter did so -- openly and frankly. Even after all these years, his candor deserves applause.

He deserves still more applause for his role as the Great Deregulator. During his time in the Oval Office, he supported legislation to strip away costly and counterproductive regulations that had stifled competition and innovation in numerous industries, from airlines to railroads to trucking.