4 months ago
The Polynomial development news, interleaved with random stuff.
For example. At one critical junction in history, Leo Szilard, the first physicist to see the possibility of fission chain reactions and hence practical nuclear weapons, was trying to persuade Enrico Fermi to take the issue seriously, in the company of a more prestigious friend, Isidor Rabi:
I said to him: "Did you talk to Fermi?" Rabi said, "Yes, I did." I said, "What did Fermi say?" Rabi said, "Fermi said 'Nuts!'" So I said, "Why did he say 'Nuts!'?" and Rabi said, "Well, I don't know, but he is in and we can ask him." So we went over to Fermi's office, and Rabi said to Fermi, "Look, Fermi, I told you what Szilard thought and you said ‘Nuts!' and Szilard wants to know why you said ‘Nuts!'" So Fermi said, "Well… there is the remote possibility that neutrons may be emitted in the fission of uranium and then of course perhaps a chain reaction can be made." Rabi said, "What do you mean by ‘remote possibility'?" and Fermi said, "Well, ten per cent." Rabi said, "Ten per cent is not a remote possibility if it means that we may die of it. If I have pneumonia and the doctor tells me that there is a remote possibility that I might die, and it's ten percent, I get excited about it." (Quoted in 'The Making of the Atomic Bomb' by Richard Rhodes.)
This might look at first like a successful application of "multiplying a low probability by a high impact", but I would reject that this was really going on. Where the heck did Fermi get that 10% figure for his 'remote possibility', especially considering that fission chain reactions did in fact turn out to be possible? If some sort of reasoning had told us that a fission chain reaction was improbable, then after it turned out to be reality, good procedure would have us go back and check our reasoning to see what went wrong, and figure out how to adjust our way of thinking so as to not make the same mistake again. So far as I know, there was no physical reason whatsoever to think a fission chain reaction was only a ten percent probability. They had not been demonstrated experimentally, to be sure; but they were still the default projection from what was already known. If you'd been told in the 1930s that fission chain reactions were impossible, you would've been told something that implied new physical facts unknown to current science (and indeed, no such facts existed).It almost looks like he's trying to paint in your mind a picture: Enrico Fermi knows that fission happens, but Fermi is too irrational or dull to conclude that chain reaction is possible. Other one of these self proclaimed rational super-geniuses made similar assumptions at one of those "rationality workshops". Ohh Fermi wasn't stupid, he was just stuck in that irrational thinking which we'll teach you to avoid.
Fermi was not misleading Szilard. It was easy to estimate the explosive force of a quantity of uranium, as Fermi would do standing at his office window overlooking Manhattan, if fission proceeded automatically from mere assembly of the material; even journalists had managed that simple calculation. But such obviously was not the case for uranium in its natural form, or the substance would long ago have ceased to exist on earth. However energetically interesting a reaction, fission by itself was merely a laboratory curiosity. Only if it released secondary neutrons, and those in sufficient quantity to initiate and sustain a chain reaction, would it serve for anything more. "Nothing known then," writes Herbert Anderson, Fermi's young partner in experiment, "guaranteed the emission of neutrons. Neutron emission had to be observed experimentally and measured quantitatively." No such work had yet been done. It was, in fact, the new work Fermi had proposed to Anderson immediately upon returning from Washington. Which meant to Fermi that talk of developing fission into a weapon of war was absurdly premature.as well as in many other books. They didn't read it. Lesson: don't write about things you do not know.
After reading enough historical instances of famous scientists dismissing things as impossible when there was no physical logic to say that it was even improbable, one cynically suspects that some prestigious scientists perhaps came to conceive of themselves as senior people who ought to be skeptical about things, and that Fermi was just reacting emotionally. The lesson I draw from this historical case is not that it's a good idea to go around multiplying ten percent probabilities by large impacts, but that Fermi should not have pulled out a number as low as ten percent.Lesson: Don't do that. Don't scan for instances of scientists being wrong, without learning much else. If you want to learn rationality, learn actual science. This whole fission business was such a mess. It is a true miracle they managed to unravel everything based on very indirect evidence, in such a short time. There is a lot to learn here.
With the inevitable end in sight – and with the cancer continuing to spread throughout her brain – Kim made the brave choice to refuse food and fluids. Even so, it took around 11 days before her body stopped functioning. Around 6:00 am on Thursday January 17, 2013, Alcor was alerted that Kim had stopped breathing. Because Kim’s steadfast boyfriend and family had located Kim just a few minutes away from Alcor, Medical Response Director Aaron Drake arrived almost immediately, followed minutes later by Max More, then two well-trained Alcor volunteers. As soon as a hospice nurse had pronounced clinical death, we began our standard procedures. Stabilization, transport, surgery, and perfusion all went smoothly. A full case report will be forthcoming.The hidden horror of this defies imagination. There's suffering, there's anxiety, there's fear, and there's burden of choice - anxiously reading about the procedures, second-guessing yourself - are you deluding yourself, are you grasping at straws, or are you being rational? When is the tipping point where you'll deny life support? This kind of decision hurts. I really hope that she simply believed it to be worth a shot and did not have to suffer from the ambiguity of the evidence, but I don't know, and its scary to imagine facing such choices.
It is unanimously agreed that statistics depends somehow on probability. But, as to what probability is and how it is connected with statistics, there has seldom been such complete disagreement and breakdown of communication since the Tower of Babel. Doubtless, much of the disagreement is merely terminological and would disappear under sufficiently sharp analysis.
Leonard Savage, The foundations of statistics, 1954.
Because that shows that they don't understand what the whole *point* of the kernel was after all. We're not masturbating around with some research project. We never were. Even when Linux was young, the whole and only point was to make a *usable* system. It's why it's not some crazy drug-induced microkernel or other random crazy thing.