Monthly Archives: February 2016

Run That By Me Again…

The word “run” is particularly rich in the number of different (not to mention subtle and colourful) meanings it conveys.

Let’s start with the simplest senses of verb and noun: if you are in a hurry, you run. And if you are fitness-inclined, you go for a run.

But these basic meanings soon give way to more sophisticated nuance.

A Word Cloud for the text of the post <i>Run That By Me Again</i>

A Word Cloud for the text of the post Run That By Me Again

You can run a business. You can run a series of tests — or perform a series of tests; run and perform are equivalent here. But curiously, although you can perform a play, you do not run a play.

You can run the numbers. Or be given the run of the place.

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Lawrence Krauss: Finding Beauty in the Darkness

Lawrence Krauss, one of our very best science writers, has penned a fine article describing the aesthetic significance of the recent LIGO discovery of gravity waves. It is a short article, full of wonder at the accomplishment and its implications. I urge you to go and read it. It is entitled Finding Beauty in the Darkness and appeared in the Sunday Review section of the New York Times on 14 February 2016.

Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein

Such a near perfect piece needs no review from me, but I don’t mind stealing some of Krauss’ text. These brief passages fit the “wonders” side of the “wonders and deception” theme that is the backbone of this blog. So I just cannot resist.

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On the 300 Millisecond Issue II

I have written earlier about Sam Harris’ book Free Will, particularly a passage on page 8 where he cites the work of Benjamin Libet. To recap, in the 1970’s, Libet used EEG scans to show that activity in the brain’s motor cortex region can be detected approximately 300 milliseconds before a person is consciously aware of having taken a simple decision to move his or her finger or wrist.

This work has been used as an argument against the notion of free will, and Harris doesn’t hesitate to press it into service:

These findings are difficult to reconcile with the sense that we are the conscious authors of our actions. One fact now seems indisputable: Some moments before you are aware of what you will do next — a time in which you subjectively appear to have complete freedom to behave however you please — your brain has already determined what you will do. You then become conscious of this “decision”, and believe you are in the process of making it. (Free Will, pg. 9)

It strikes me as curious that Harris should lean so heavily on an experiment that tests such a simple aspect of conscious human decision making. It is a big leap from trivial finger movements to more decisive or contemplative situations in life, where really significant issues of free will come into play.

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A Key to the Charles Bridge, Prague

Every once in a while you hear a story that is just so good, the pessimist gets the better of you, and you immediately think it is of apocryphal origin. But I trust the guy who told me this one, and he claimed it happened to him. So I believe it.

And it would be so nice if it were true….

I was in Prague at the beginning of February, pursuing a job opportunity, and had the chance to meet up with a friend there, a mathematician and engineer, Václav. He reminds me a bit of my old Classics professor/friend, Ceri Stephens: kind, engaging, intelligent, and loves his beer. Not quite the same age as Ceri, so perhaps in his 60’s. Václav and I had dinner on the outskirts of town near the castle that overlooks it, and walked back towards Prague around 23:00.

Charles Bridge, Prague

The Charles Bridge, Prague

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