Freitag, 16. Dezember 2011

A wonderful journey through Indonesia

It is a long time that I wrote my last post in this blog:
No problem, 2011 has been a very good time, private as (post-) professional.

Now a private post, less physophy, no physics, more on life. I write about a highlight in 2011 for me (better for us, more precisely, travelling with my love) - a round trip through Indonesia. An unbelievable trip through Sumatra, Java, Bali and Flores! With very different highlights:

Landscape with beaches, lakes, jungles, islands and volcanos,

Cultural with temples, churches, castles
and museums, some politics, and people
(and last not least, graceful dances by girls),

Humanistic and social with a special visit to
a catholic school center deep in the jungle,
and to a missionary hospital.

The lightest life style we found in Bali - an incredidle symphony of beach, flowers, and friendliness. The second picture seems characteristic for this life style:

Wonderful kites flying over the beach as sailing ships in the air. Most of them colored, some in black.

The next blog will be on Physophy.

Dienstag, 26. Januar 2010

We humans become adult and have to live in the "vide au milieu"


As a student in an astronomical club, I was asked to talk about Copernicus and the philosophical consequences that we humans are not in the center of the world: During all my life, I observed that the process of "Copernichization" went on in more dimensions. With this I mean that we humans are shifted from the solid and royal center of everything as we are used to feel in our classical Abrahamitian Weltbild from Christian, Jewish or Islamic tradition.
Mainly, we are
  • not only not in the center of the solar system (although it seems so regarding the modern universe where every galaxy seems to move from each other), as learned in astronomy, but also
  • not infinitely high above animals but in a continuous line with the other species, learned by biology and geology, e.g. through evolution,
  • we will become inferior to the machines we create, in some areas - as e.g. numerical calculations, we are already inferior by factor of billions and millions of billions -, but computers will do every intellectual thing better, as learned through the progress of computer technology,

  • we are not capable to understand in any direct sense how nature works, think about what "is" an atom, what "are" 100 000 light years, what "is" general relativity. We learned this the hard way by experiments (defying often intuition) and through mathematical models in science.

There is another human effect similar to "Copernichization": Modern science shows the childishness of many ideas in ancient religions and beliefs, e.g. the human images of God (e.g. God as old man with beard), of personal connections to God, of a quasihuman interpretation of the origin of the universe (God as the "Creator"), but also the easygoing existence of human-like (spiritual) worlds beside the real world per se. This is all much harder for us to grasp and to digest and to live with - i.e., even impossible!

Last week, we had a semi-public philosophical discussion of this together with philosophers and a well-known Swiss author around this Copernican idea:
Life under the umbrella of classical religions had been restricted but was clear and easy (or is it still for those closing their eyes), it was assisted by many rigid scaffolds delivered by the classical religions. This has changed for the people:
Source: Midwestscaffoldservice

Many parts of the scaffold (which made life so clear, both for the ecclesial professionals and the public believers) are not acceptable anymore and cannot help anymore. We have to live without scaffolds at the end!
This is similar to become adult and look back to the beliefs and perceptions as a child which are only acceptable as literature. This dissolution of the scaffolds and the becoming also spiritually mature is an issue for educated people - and in the discussion last week there has no easy solution been found, just the notion of living with the "empty center", "avec le vide au milieu": Who can fill it? What can fill it? Maybe only fine arts ...

Samstag, 21. November 2009

Innovation Book published and available!

So many talks on Innovation are just positive - only seeing one side of the coin "innovation" (and often just claiming how good the author or his (or her) company is in innovation). Therefore I tried to write a book with main objectives
  • showing both sides of innovation: conflicting goals ("paradoxes") which have to be managed,
  • and bringing some news - what has changed in the last decade?

The results are a list of about 20 paradoxes from the well-known "destructive creativity" to the "exuberance paradox" and the "tradition paradox", and, in some sense, almost a textbook on (Corporate) Innovation with a lot of personal experience. As with my first book, I have added a rather extensive modern glossary of terms and of references. If a reader has worked through the book, he or she should be familiar with the main ideas and trends in Innovation!

And I found a very valuable co-author and co-fighter to publish: Rainer Willmanns, the president of the German Managers' Association!

Although the book is in German, I love to give talks and discuss in German or English - with students as with innovation professionals.

Done last Monday in Munich with the innovation managers of companies from the Munich area!

Freitag, 4. September 2009

Life Stress, Death and Psychological Coherence

My wife died August 23, 2009, after three years of cruel disease (ALS) - slow death, switch after switch of her life switched off. Now what? Her electric stair-case climbing chair is empty, and much more is terribly empty after 41 years of good marriage: Pls see the photo at the cemetry chapel.
Now what, Walter?
In the book "Fantastic Voyage - live long enough to live forever", the authors Ray Kurzweil and Terry Grossman cite a table of stress factors titled "Stressful Events and How They Rate":

I proudly own currently with the factors 'Death of a spouse' and 'Retirement' two of the main negative (killing) factors - and with Christmas I will get another one!

How to survive? fortunately, I understand at least rationally what to achieve and what to do: the psychological theory of Salutogenesis helps defining as goal (for feeling healthy resp. being healthy) the status of coherence and a 'sense of coherence' (SOC). Coherence in this sense of the sociologist Aaron Antonovsky means
  • Comprehensibility:
    The cognitive side - understanding the situation with underlying reasons and the naturality of the process (apart from all the contingencies of life and this "why she"?),
  • Manageability:
    Being able to work through all consequences - from administrative work to a rearrangement of life as far as possible,

  • Meaningfulness:
    Accepting some meaning and significance of continuing, e.g. re-finding some directions or detecting new meaning.

This Sense of Coherence is a key notion of the theory of "Salutogenesis".

Although a very, very large portion of human activities in politics, in religions and pseudoreligions and even around science is certainly desastrous, there remains hopefully enough trust in continuing, personally and in general! But this will probably become my 3rd book.

Montag, 6. Juli 2009

Are there proofs in science? e.g. "the babies of smooking mothers are healthier"

Strong proofs, weak proofs, and very weak proofs: Strong proofs can be seen as adding a burdock to a cluster of burdocks ... in mathematics in particular but (in a somehow softer meaning) also in physics:

The term "proof" is often used in science - but in what sense?

Everybody knows mathematical proofs: A mathematical proof has to be precise and convincing - and then the mathematical lemma is proven for all cases and all times. There are just two minor blemishes:

  • Some proofs are so complicated that they are very difficult to comprehend even for the best specialists (and to be proven as proofs),

  • more and more proofs are by computers (and mainly by brute computational force): These proofs check e.g. thousands or even million of cases which are all components of the subject lemma (e.g. as has been the case with the four color problem).

In any case, a mathematical proof is interwoven in the system of mathematics (which is for a physicist (see Einstein) as a system and in its perfectness a magic secret):
In this sense, a proof in mathematics is always “strong”.
On the other side, refutation is unavoidable if there has been found at least one case violating the lemma – then the lemma is not in the system of mathematics.
In science we have to be even more careful: If the term “it has been proved” is used, it can only mean:
1. One (or a small number of) experiment(s) with measurements of some precision deliver(ed) in their limits the claimed property.
2. Then we claim that the experiment could be repeated as often one liked to do (and where you would like to do) with the same results in the experimental limits.
Disproof (falsification) means that we have a problem with at least one failing experiment and we have to go “back to the drawing boards”).

Two examples from physics:

  • Newton used the solar system and Kepler’s (i.e. Brahe’s) data, and the Jovian satellite system, as the experiments to derive celestial mechanics – and he had, as we know, the magic feeling to have found a law valid for the entire universe, earth and heaven.

  • Cockroft and Walton initiated a nuclear reaction by bombarding Lithium with protons and observed experimentally (“proved”) the validity of the equivalence of matter and energy according to the famous formula
    E = m c² .

But there are invisible interconnections within many proofs:
The statements and the experiments are often not isolated but networked and parts of “the system”: We have in science therefore marginal statements which are loosely coupled with the system, and substantial statements that are tightly coupled:

  • Loosely coupled statements can be falsified without general impact,

  • Tightly coupled statements (as E = m c² ) hold the system together. Falsifying means a revolution (probably a Nobel prize).

Through this integration and the securing through the system by many bolts clicking in, we can call this second class a “strong” scientific proof – the hooks to the network give strength (and the looser proof is just a “weak” one).

In another Blogpost, we have introduced the notion of “scientific hardness” - this is just another view of the hardness of a scientific area.

But we have also “very weak” proofs through a practical issue:
Often, experiments and statements use statistical data – and this makes it very difficult to achieve “proofs” even for a singular experiment:

  • “hard” (and reliable) are statistical experiments with very large numbers, e.g. in classical physics with 10**23 or more objects, or experiments in the Internet, e.g. by Amazon, with millions or hundreds of millions of clicks,

  • “weak” (or just invalid) are experiments with small numbers and by depending on small differences for the proof, as, e.g.,
    o “leukemia in the proximity of high tension lines
    (or mobile ground stations)”,
    o “cancer in the proximity of nuclear reactors”.

It is very easy to make wrong statistical experiments and to draw wrong causal conclusions, and very hard to conduct and analyze correctly. There are many cases where claimed pro-results (e.g. “magnetic fields increase cancer risk”) after a professional analysis on the same data proved clearly the null hypothesis!
Never believe statistical medical studies where only one or two cases more or less make the difference: Try to make experiments under trivial conditions where possible.

The probably most striking wrong and even counter-intuitive “proofs” are examples of Simpson’s paradox which are true ("proven"):
“The mortality in Sweden is higher than in Costa Rica” (in spite of the extraordinary Swedish health care system) – is it really healthier to live in Costa Rica?
”The mortality of babies with low birth weight of smoking mothers is lower than the mortality of low-weight-babies of non-smoking” – is it healthier for a baby to have a smoking mother?

The explanations are:

  • In all age groups in the population, Swedish mortalities are lower than the Costa Rican' - but the Costa Rican population in total is so much younger that the total mortality is higher,

  • Smoking mothers are from all parts of the population, mothers with low-birth-weight babies have probably some serious health problem. The mother's smoking affects the birth weight more neutral – together, this gives the observed crazy statistics.

If there are underlying unknown degrees of freedom, the statistical result can be completely nonsense – again: make things simple as possible (but not simpler), a quote loaned from Albert Einstein.

Montag, 29. Juni 2009

IT: Status and Outlook of AI

Forbes recently had a nice collage of articles on AI and the status of AI :

One problem with many critics of AI is that they overestimate the "Human Understanding"! And they are not fair to computers - finally, also we humans do not understand some words or jokes or some CAPTCHA graph (intended to inexpensively differentiate humans and simple computers).
We have to see that some appliactions (e.g. numeric computing, storage and storage-based applications as, e.g., Google) directly benefit from Moore's law and grow exponentially, others only much weaker and grow only linearly in power (as, e.g., speech recognition and natural language understanding).
Therefore, Computers can often directly solve problems by "brute force", e.g. in translation by learning from all accessible sentences Chinese-English. In this Forbes series, Peter Norvig from Google describes this as "unsupervised learning": Given a sufficiently large base of material, e.g. master chess games or spoken English, the computer solution becomes great! The computer is in many cases by orders of magnitude better in pattern finding and association detection!
But orthogonal to this success is improvement by method i.e. in software:
Every software programmer knows that the performance of a simple approach and a better programmed approach can differ by many orders of magnitude even in elementary tasks!
The Turing Test will go the same fate as other negative predictions e.g. "computers will never be able to drive a car" (I remember hot discussions on this): The issue will just become meaningless and uninteresting because it will be obvious that computers can. Then the next human task will get in the focus, e.g. (some degree of) creativity or biomimetic personal robots as Kevin Warwick explains in the parallel article. And finally, there will not be "natural" and "artificial" intelligence, just intelligence - if you use some paper and pencil to make notes and support some thoughts, you are not ashamed either.

Donnerstag, 25. Juni 2009

Private: ALS and Dog Therapy

There is nothing positive to report from the ALS disease of my wife - it is just strugglng with more and more problems. Now she cannot even stand any more, I have to carry her. It is now very difficult to put clothes on etc..

One highlight was yesterday: our friendly neighbor visited us with the wonderful huge white dog Don Merlin. This Pyreneen shepherd dog is so friendly and beautiful - this was for my wife (and me) a great highlight! Don Merlin is a therapy dog mainly working with disabled children.
A wonderful creature - hope to see you two again soon!