Out with the Old Random Links

Since it's now 2019, it's a good time to clear out some random links I've got bookmarked to show you.  Here they are:

♦  You can't take an introductory psychology course without hearing about Zimbardo's "Stanford Prison Experiment", but in fact many aspects were faked.  Part of the scam is that the experiment went so "badly" that it would be unethical for any other researchers to repeat it—but not so badly that it couldn't still be used to catapult himself to perpetual fame and glory.

♦  The hot new result in biology is "epigenetics", the idea that (modifying the standard Darwinian picture) the experiences of one generation can affect which genes are expressed in the next generation.  You'd never guess from the wild news coverage of this that the phenomenon has never been convincingly demonstrated in human beings.

♦  Martin Gardner's attack on Karl Popper.

♦  Llamas, the secret bioweapon for producing vaccines that work on all types of flu?  I'm putting a question mark on this, only because 90% of the amazing news stories about medicine don't pan out somehow.  I wish journalists would write more news stories about the things researchers discovered 10 years ago that are now definitely curing lots of people...

♦  Potoooooooo, a famous race horse and stud.  Pronounced POT-EIGHT-OHS.

♦  Rithomachy, the medieval arithmetic battle board game, was apparently nearly as popular as Chess for a few centuries.

♦  An illustrated history of the American Revolution by a Japanese book in 1861... in which the Founding Fathers battle various giant beasts.

♦  Bitcoin is currently using half a percent of the world's electricity.  Perhaps we shouldn't be squandering the planet's resources on a mindless race to manufacture currency that doesn't actually produce anything valuable?

[UPDATE 2/7/19: here's a possible rebuttal of the guy whose blog apparently started this ecological alarm.  Haven't put in enough work to figure out who's right here, but until then I'm taking these articles with a grain of salt.    If anyone knows more about this I'd be grateful if they weigh in.]

♦  In other cryptocurrency news: The (arguably unconstitutionally appointed) Acting Attorney General was previously involved in a scam to try to trick people into buying time travel cryptocurrency.  Unbelievable!  As if an AG disbelieving in Marbury vs. #@*$^&! Madison weren't bad enough.  (I knew about the UConn crackpot from when I decided not to apply to a faculty position there, but I had no idea these threads were connected...)  Apparently it really is important to educate the public about why time travel is worth talking about but not really worth investing your retirement savings in.

♦  The Sabbath as a radical act of protest against being treated as a slave by the economic system.

♦  The Graphing Calculator Story, another radical act of protest... in favor of voluntarily working without pay?  Hilarious.

♦  As for involuntary servitude, a cynical take on schooling: Part I, Part II.  As a lazy bright kid who didn't do most of the homework I was assigned despite significant feelings of guilt, I 100% endorse these posts (except I disagree with the bit opposing standardized tests, and have some reservations about the section labelled "foreign kids").

♦  Why state educational ratings are measuring the wrong thing.  As a libertarian magazine, Reason has its own biases, but it seems quite reasonable that we should control for different state populations, and shouldn't count money spent on education (which is a cost) as if it were an educational outcome (a benefit).  Don't forget to click on the plot that shows their new rankings.

♦  How the US Educational system does math word problems completely wrong, by a mathematician from Russia.  Come on, folks!

♦  I've heard several times before that there are different potentially valid models of how to look at mental illness, but I think a few paragraphs in the middle of this blog post give a particularly striking answer for what makes a "spiritual model" different from other approaches, namely that it actually engages with—even when it does not agree with—the content of mental issues in a way other approaches do not.  (I don't have any reason to think the author is a Christian, but I still found this helpful.)

Oh, and Ivy League schools should stop discouraging people from being supportive to students with mental illnesses!

♦  This account of fixing an issue causing depression is also somewhat interesting, although I'm not sure how well the method would work on everybody...

♦  St. Shamus Young has an interesting series about procedural world-building that I think is pretty cool; his autobiography/conversion-story is also worth reading through.  Not for the slow of connections, though.

♦  An interview with a Christian neuroscientist at Stanford, St. William Newsome.

♦  Here's a brain viewer that's supposed to show you how different parts of the brain are mapped out, but I'm not sure my own brain is capable of handling the web interface.  Let me know if anyone figures out how to actually extract useful information from this.

♦  A side effect of people becoming less religious is we start treating political cults as if they were a religious identity.

♦  St. Ben Sasse, Senator from Nebraska and St. John's College graduate, had some balanced remarks about the MeToo movement during the recent confirmation fight.

♦  Tips for more productive and realistic political conversations.

♦  The Believing Game, another conversational tool for identifying certain sorts of truths.

♦  A while back I gave some advice about how to read the Bible.  The same guy also asked about Church History, and I put off answering because I thought I might write a whole blog post on the subject.  Ha!  My actual recommendation is to start by reading The Lion Handbook on the History of Christianity.  Then, if you are curious about some particular great Christian of the past, find a translation and start reading their work for yourself.  If it doesn't speak to you, pick something else.

♦  You know how in the Bible, when the king Jeroboam split Israel off from the southern kingdom of Judah, he set up an alternative system of worship involving a sycretistic hybrid religion where YHWH was worshipped in the form of golden calves?  [If the answer is no, click on the first link in the previous item.]  Well, archaeologists have recently found a payrus with some creepy alternative psalms from the Northern Kingdom religion.  Although there are parallels to the Biblical Psalms, in these psalms YHWH is worshipped alongside other Middle Eastern Gods, and may be identified with a "Bull".  He is also portrayed as being satiated by bowls of sacrificial blood.  I think most Christians don't realize how a lot of the biblical Psalms (like #50) are polemics against this sort of crass religion.

♦  One of my ancestors, the Rev. Aron Wall, helped lead a group of Mennonites from the Ukraine to the United States.  I'm staring right now at a photograph of him and his wife that is hanging on our mantelpiece, and he looks almost exactly the same as in the photograph I just linked to.  The Mennonites weren't originally from the Ukraine either; as Anabaptists (the more radical wing of the Reformation) they had been persecuted by both Protestant and Catholic countries in Central Europe.

♦  The Biodeterminist Guide to Parenting, by popular blogger Scott Alexander, one of the few people I trust to summarize the actual scientific evidence in a suitably tongue-in-cheek manner.

♦  Recently I've been commenting sometimes on Scott's blog Slate Star Codex.  Readers of this blog may be interested in my Ask Me Anything which mostly turned into an argument about the evidence for Christianity.

I've also been having some interesting conversations with a guy who is summarizing the beliefs of secular biblical critics about the Bible; this spans many threads but you can find most of them by tracing back links from the index post for the Torah /"Deuteronomistic History", the index post for the Prophets, and the most recent post of his ongoing series on the Writings [I may update this with the Index post later.] You can find out why scholars believe the Documentary Hypothesis, and more about why I'm skeptical of such hypotheses.

Have a blessed 2019, everyone!

About Aron Wall

I am a Lecturer in Theoretical Physics at the University of Cambridge. Before that, I read Great Books at St. John's College (Santa Fe), got my physics Ph.D. from U Maryland, and did my postdocs at UC Santa Barbara, the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and Stanford. The views expressed on this blog are my own, and should not be attributed to any of these fine institutions.
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6 Responses to Out with the Old Random Links

  1. Mike G says:

    Thank you Aron - very interesting and very relevant to me

  2. Neil says:

    Can I ask you a question unrelated to the post ?
    Some atheists claim that this paper leaves no room for a creator
    Is that true?

  3. Scott Church says:

    Hello Neil,

    In a word, no it is not. For at least two reasons...

    First, this paper is just one of many proposed solutions to the Wheeler-DeWitt equation. That equation and its solutions are routinely trotted out in pop-science and atheist forums as quantum gravity theories. They are nothing of the sort. The Wheeler-DeWitt equation is actually what we call a boundary constraint equation. In other words, it's a semiclassical equation that sets some conditions on what we expect a true quantum gravity theory to asymptotically approach at lower energies and larger spacetime regions. Its solutions are interesting, but entirely speculative proposals for what might result from one. In most cases, they involve a fair amount of mathematical jury-rigging and/or leaps of faith to even be solved, and the end result may or may not even have physical meaning. From a physics standpoint, calling them "rigorous proof" of a universe that was "spontaneously created from nothing" (as the authors do in the abstract) is presumptuous at best, and at worst, downright reckless.

    Second, and more fundamentally, all of these attempts to base a "universe from nothing" on physics crash and burn on the same mountain... basic metaphysics. "Nothing" is precisely that--no... thing--the non-being of any noun (person, place, or thing). The second we ascribe physical properties to it--wave/field behavior, uncertainty relationships, boundary constraints--it is no longer nothing, but something. That's what the words "nothing" and "something" mean.

    From theological and philosophical perspectives, the only concept of Nothing that has ever been explored is non-being--the absence of any physical person, place, or thing. When atheist physicists attempt to address that with proposals like this one, what they are in fact doing is just redefining the word nothing in a way that makes magic a sub-branch of physics. It's more than just bad metaphysics... it's a failure to understand the English language. :-)


  4. Aron Wall says:

    In addition to what Scott said, the title of the paper is also highly misleading. They start with something called a "metastable false vacuum" which is NOT nothing even in the sense of no spacetime, it is rather a particular kind of spacetime in what appears for a while to be the lowest energy state (but actually is not, that's what the "false" bit is about) and then quantum tunnels into a lower energy state, producing a rapidly expanding "bubble universe". The paper does not explain where this false vacuum spacetime came from in the first place.

    So the paper isn't even remotely about creation of a universe ex nihilo. As for "what role for a creator", please read my post Fuzzing into Existence.

  5. Aron Wall says:

    Linked to a possible rebuttal of the bitcoin thing.

  6. Neil says:

    Thanks sir Aron
    Thanks sir Scott

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