Time travel makes great science fiction, but can it really be done? Travel into the future is already a reality, but visiting the past is a much tougher proposition, and may require fantastic resources such as a wormhole in space. Nevertheless, if going back in time is allowed, even in principle, then what about all those paradoxes that make time travel stories so intriguing?
Paul Davies is a physicist, cosmologist and astrobiologist at Arizona State University, where is Director of the Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science. He is the author of many books, including “How to Build a Time Machine” and, most recently, “The Eerie Silence: are we alone in the universe?”
Dyson’s account of the origins of modern computing, both historic and prophetic, sheds important new light on how the digital universe exploded in the aftermath of World War II. The proliferation of both codes and machines was paralleled by two historic developments: the decoding of self-replicating sequences in biology and the invention of the hydrogen bomb. It’s no coincidence that the most destructive and the most constructive of human inventions appeared at exactly the same time.
How did code take over the world? In retracing how Alan Turing’s one-dimensional model became John von Neumann’s two-dimensional implementation, Turing’s Cathedral offers a series of provocative suggestions as to where the digital universe, now fully three-dimensional, may be heading next.
“The Theory That Would Not Die: How Bayes’ Rule Cracked the Enigma Code, Hunted Down Russian Submarines, and Emerged Triumphant from Two Centuries of Controversy”
Bayes‘ rule appears to be a straightforward, one-line theorem: by updating our initial beliefs with objective new information, we get a new and improved belief. To its adherents, it is an elegant statement about learning from experience. To its opponents, it is subjectivity run amok.
In the first-ever account of Bayes’ rule for general readers, Sharon Bertsch McGrayne explores this controversial theorem and the human obsessions surrounding it. She traces its discovery by an amateur mathematician in the 1740s through its development into roughly its modern form by French scientist Pierre Simon Laplace. She reveals why respected statisticians rendered it professionally taboo for 150 years—at the same time that practitioners relied on it to solve crises involving great uncertainty and scanty information, even breaking Germany’s Enigma code during World War II, and explains how the advent of off-the-shelf computer technology in the 1980s proved to be a game-changer. Today, Bayes’ rule is used everywhere from DNA de-coding to Homeland Security.
Sharon Bertsch McGrayne is the author of numerous books, including Nobel Prize Women in Science: Their Lives, Struggles, and Momentous Discoveries and Prometheans in the Lab: Chemistry and the Making of the Modern World. She is a prize-winning former reporter for Scripps-Howard, Gannett, Crain’s, and other newspapers and has spoken at many scientific conferences, national laboratories, and universities in the United States and abroad. She lives in Seattle with her husband, George F. Bertsch, professor of physics at the University of Washington.
Former ‘New York Times’ writer James Gleick (the man who popularised “the butterfly effect” in ‘Chaos’) has produced the definitive history of the age in which we live, ‘The Information’.
In Gleick’s book ‘The Information’ he speaks about the information “flood”. He talks with Robyn Williams, presenter of ABC Science and ABC Radio National.
We are in a predicament where we have the ability to reach out and get facts easily. Although we may have access this does not necessarily bring with it knowledge. The gatekeepers of information are more important than ever, due to our reliance on these authorities for truth.
This event was presented by Sydney Writer’s Festival 2011
James Gleick is an author, journalist and biographer whose books explore the cultural ramifications of science and technology. His books have popularised concepts such as “The Butterfly Effect” and sold bucketloads around the world. His most recent book, “The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood”, is being hailed as his crowning work. Gleick is also the author of the bestselling books “Chaos”, ‘Genius’, ‘Faster’ and a biography of Isaac Newton. Three of these books have been Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award finalists, and have been translated into more than 20 languages. James divides his time between New York City and Florida.
Robyn Williams has presented science programs on ABC radio and television since 1972. He is the first journalist to be elected a fellow of the Australian Academy of Science, was a visiting fellow at Balliol College, Oxford, and is a visiting professor at the University of NSW.
BBC: In this one-off documentary, David Malone looks at four brilliant mathematicians – Georg Cantor, Ludwig Boltzmann, Kurt Gödel and Alan Turing – whose genius has profoundly affected us, but which tragically drove them insane and eventually led to them all committing suicide.
The film begins with Georg Cantor, the great mathematician whose work proved to be the foundation for much of the 20th-century mathematics. He believed he was God’s messenger and was eventually driven insane trying to prove his theories of infinity.
Ludwig Boltzmann‘s struggle to prove the existence of atoms and probability eventually drove him to suicide.
Kurt Gödel, the introverted confidant of Einstein, proved that there would always be problems which were outside human logic. His life ended in a sanatorium where he starved himself to death.
Finally, Alan Turing, the great Bletchley Park code breaker, father of computer science and homosexual, died trying to prove that some things are fundamentally unprovable.
The film also talks to the latest in the line of thinkers who have continued to pursue the question of whether there are things that mathematics and the human mind cannot know. They include Greg Chaitin, mathematician at the IBM TJ Watson Research Center, New York, and Roger Penrose.
Dangerous Knowledge tackles some of the profound questions about the true nature of reality that mathematical thinkers are still trying to answer today.
Ferguson reveals the killer apps of the West’s success – competition, science, the property owning democracy, modern medicine, the consumer society and the Protestant work ethic – the real explanation of how, for five centuries, a clear minority of mankind managed to secure the lion’s share of the earth’s resources.
Competition: The first programme in the series begins in 1420 when Ming China had a credible claim to be the most advanced civilization in the world: ‘All Under Heaven’. England on the eve of the Wars of the Roses would have seemed quite primitive by contrast.
Science: In 1683 the Ottoman army laid siege to Vienna, the capital of Europe’s most powerful empire. Domination of West by East was an alarmingly plausible scenario. But Islam was defeated: not so much by firepower as by science.
Property: Professor Ferguson asks why North America succeeded while South America for so many centuries lagged behind. The two had much in common (not least the subjugation of indigenous peoples and the use of slavery by European immigrants), but they differed profoundly on individual property rights, the rule of law and representative government.
Medicine: The French Empire consciously set out to civilize West Africa by improving public health as well as building a modern infrastructure. Yet in other European empires – notably Germany’s in southwest Africa – colonial rule led to genocide. What was the link from medical science to racial pseudo-science?
Consumerism: Today the world is becoming more homogenous and, with increasingly few exceptions, big-name brands dominate main streets, high streets and shopping malls all over the globe.
Work: The sixth element that enabled the West to dominate the rest was the work ethic. Max Weber famously linked it to Protestantism, but the reality is that any culture, regardless of religion, is capable of embracing the spirit of capitalism by working hard, saving, and accumulating capital.
All watched over by machines of loving grace is Adam Curtis’ latest three-part documentary series. The introduction to the series reads:
This series of films investigates how people have been colonised by the machines they have built.
Although they may not realise it, the way many people see everything in the world today is through the eyes of the computers. Not just politics and the economy — but also in the way bodies, minds, and even the whole of the natural world are perceived.
The underlying argument is that people have given up a dynamic political model of the world — the dream of changing things for the better — for a static machine ideology that says everyone is a component in a system, and that the aim is to manage these systems and keep them stable.
From the utopian visions of the worldwide web to the idea of an interconnected global economic system, to the dream of balanced ecosystems, all these ideas share an underlying machine vision of organisation and order.
The films tell an extraordinary range of stories: from novelist Ayn Rand and her tragic love affairs to the dreams and the frightening reality of the hippie communes; from the brutal politics of the Belgian Congo to the doomsday computer model behind the rise of modern environmentalism; from the lonely suicide in a London squat of the mathematical genius who invented the selfish gene theory to Alan Greenspan and his faith in a new kind of global economic system. And there’s also the computer model of the eating habits of the Pronghorn antelope.
The series argues that by embracing this new machine ideology something very precious has been given up: the idea of progress and political struggle to change the world for the better.
Some of the people included in this story: Ayn Rand, Barbara Branden, Larry Ellison, John McCaskey, Kevin O’Connor, Loren Carpenter, Kevin Kelly, Stewart Brand, Alvin Toffler, Keniche Ohmae, Peter Schwartz, Bill Clinton, Nathaniel Branden, Alan Greenspan, Joan Mitchell, Stephen Roach, Joseph Stiglitz, Robert Rubin, Carmen Hermosillo, Monica Lewinsky, Suharto, Mahatir Mohamad, Arthur Tansley, Sigmund Freud, Peder Anker, Jay Wright Forrester, Norbert Wiener, Fred Turner, Howard Odum, Eugene Odum, Peter J Taylor, Daniel Botkin, Buckminster Fuller, Randall Gibson, Molly Hollenbach, Richard Brautigan, Alexander King, Jan Smuts, Tord Björk, Steward Pickett, George Van Dyne, Al Gore, (W.D.) Bill Hamilton, Patrice Lumumba, Mobutu Sese Seko, Michael Ruse, George R. Price, Kathleen Price, Edward Teller, John von Neumann, James Schwartz, Diane Fossey, Richard Dawkins.
The episodes are titled: Love and Power, The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts, and The Monkey In The Machine and the Machine in the Monkey. The three parts, each lasting ~55 minutes, in a YouTube playlist:
Curtis in the The Guardian: How the ‘ecosystem’ myth has been used for sinister means When, in the 1920s, a botanist and a field marshal dreamed up rival theories of nature and society, no one could have guessed their ideas would influence the worldview of 70s hippies and 21st-century protest movements. But their faith in self-regulating systems has a sinister history
Also check out Curtis’ blog over at the BBC. The post of the trailer to this series has a bunch of interesting comments, including some that gather most of the music used. It includes the following tracks: