Saturday, December 28, 2013


2012’s NYI also brought with it the uncertain experience of finding myself in a relationship.  Quantum physics remained on my mind and they mixed into what follows.  (For some more background, see this post: The Quantum Moment).
The course also examined Michael Frayn’s play, Copenhagen.  It describes a meeting between the two atomic physicists, Neils Bohr and Werner Heisenberg, during World War II.  Bohr, a Jew in occupied Denmark; Heisenberg, working with the Germans.  Former colleagues, now separated by The War.

The meeting went badly, and its purpose was never understood.  Why did Heisenberg come to Copenhagen?  To advance the German nuclear program?  To warn the Allies of it?  To try to sideline the development of atomic weapons by both sides?  The play explores this question, Bohr and Heisenberg going through “several drafts of the paper”, so to speak.
One theme of the play, is that decisions—like the particles—can perhaps not be understood until after the fact.  That the act of analyzing and observing them can change them (see the work of psychologist Elizabeth Loftus).
We read the play, and watched the PBS movie version. I find it rather melancholy.  The score behind it is one of those beautiful sorrows that adds to the mood (based, incidentally on Schubert’s Piano Sonata in B Flat Major, D. 960 2nd movement, which Heisenberg briefly plays in the film).  The final dialogue is no less hollowing than Macbeth’s “tomorrow” soliloquy.

We've all felt it, right? The gnawing uneasy excitement, spinning around in our head, our stomach, our chest. You like someone. Do they like you back? Mathematicians might call it a "Nash Equilibrium" (dimming the likelihood of a "yes" answer for them): no one is willing to say anything, because neither is sure of what the other is thinking. Each person thinks they are making the right choice by staying silent. But together, it's the wrong one.
What if the answer is yes? But no one could break the silence?
Then again, what if the answer is no?
Either way, the relationship is going to change forever if you go for it. Do you?

Friday, February 1, 2013

Sunday, 2010-10-17; Magnificent Kotor

Well, today it's off to Kotor. During breakfast the old-ish lady traveler was eating too, and we chatted a bit. I omitted most of my trip when she asked where I'd been, and gave the impression that I was only visiting the former Yugoslav countries.  I didn’t feel like recounting the whole story. This time it was she who gave the line about us all, in the end, being basically the same.

Anyway so this is where it starts to get hectic, until I get back to Zagreb. And then after Zagreb I'm on my own again. This time, so far I've only been alone in Vladimir / Nizhniy (6 days or so), then Istanbul (a week). This part (Split, Dubrovnik, etc., back to Zagreb) will be the longest stretch so far.

The bus ride was pretty nice though I was foolish not to sit on the right side this time. The weather seemed pleasant but it didn't stay that way for long once I got settled in. The hostel itself is nothing special and lugging the briefcase was a chore.  It was hard to find in the labyrinthine old town. I also started to get another damned headache as we went along. Maybe more pressure problems?


I set out for the walls but had trouble finding access to them, and eventually had to ask at the tourist info center. It began to rain of course as I head towards them, but it did mean that there was no one manning the checkpoint. Well, sorry, what do you want me to do?

Climbing the walls was incredible. The only thing more exciting that climbing a mountain, or visiting a fortress, is climbing a mountain fortress! Pity the lighting was so poor, but from time to time the rain and clouds let up. It was impossible to capture the scale of being up in the mountains, though I took a short video clip and thought "Foundations of Stone" would make for a perfect soundtrack.


Thursday, January 31, 2013

Saturday, 2010-10-16; Departing Dubrovnik

Another day of rain.  I looked into my upcoming plans: Kotor, Trebinje, Mostar. It is going to be a tricky ride before I get back to Zagreb mainly because I intend to spend little time in each place and they won't be touristy (being touristy, admittedly, helps for getting around). I realized I was running low on laundry and decided to just wash pretty much everything for the 50 kuna ($10).


I walked around Old Town and visited some of the churches before heading to Fort Lovrijenac. I visited another church on the way back and then stopped at the hostel. After collecting my laundry, eating more cereal, and wasting more time on the internet, I set out and walked around some more. Mike is really getting annoying, or rather, he is the same but I am getting sick of his weird happy chatty arrogance; I can't describe it.

The weather got a bit nicer though it's still cloudy. I went to the Dominician monastery; it was 20 kuna but hardly worth it. It was just like the Loreto or whatever it was in Prague. I then ascended that other nearby hill behind Lovrijenac (Gradac) which had a marvelous view of it, and just relaxed to the sound of the sea beating against the cliffs.


As wonderful as this was, though, could I really spend another three months doing this stuff?

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Friday, 2010-10-15; Dubrovnik from the Wall

IMG_3865Of course today despite my best efforts I got started really late. I should probably stop reading Slashdot so much, otherwise I need to be much more discriminating about what I waste my time on. I took a shower and all that, looked into further destinations, answered emails and messages, and didn't make it out until 1:30. I'd awoken at 9:30 or so. This will be unsustainable when I get back to having a job and such.

I did the walls - it was unbelievably magnificent. I think Dubrovnik is one of the most beautiful places I've visited. Pictures don't even begin to do it justice.  Nevertheless.  I can only imagine how wonderful it is in nice weather. After that I chilled in the hostel for another hour or so.

IMG_3868I went to see if I could see the Fort Lovrijenac (this other fort in the adjacent picture), but it closed at 5:30, just when I got there. I noticed it was nearly sunset and decided to head up the cable car. It was all right, it only left every half-hour so sunset was pretty much finished by the time we got underway. It was a nice view but of course again, pictures can’t convey it.

I bought only a one-way ticket and intended to walk down; I went maybe 15 minutes the wrong way and it took kind of a while to get properly oriented and it was quite dark. I debated the wisdom of descending a hazardous path in the dark but whatever. I realized that I was made for this. I was exploring in the middle of the night at Stony Brook, long before I set foot out of the country.


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Thursday, 2010-10-14; Dubrovnik and the War


I eventually head out, despite the rain. I made my way upward, partially at least. The view was still magnificent and beautiful. I'm really glad I came here. I can't imagine how breathtaking it must be when the weather is actually nice. I'm amazed at how poorly most of the photos I've seen depict the landscape, showing just a cluttered red-roofed Old Town, which doesn't do justice to the majesty of it at all. I'm glad I took the path I did: as I wrote to Bojana, as I travel down the coast, each place is more beautiful than the last. But unfortunately with crappier weather and more full of tourists.

I had another chat with Mike[1] while I was using the computer out in the hall. This time about QE[2] and inflation. He had what I thought were kind of nutty ideas that inflation was good and that it's just numbers and it doesn't matter.[3] I thought it was quite bizarre; reminiscent of that chat with Denis in Murmansk.

Speaking of money, now I can see from my cheapest month of $xxxxxxx that I am going to be spending quite a lot to make it to January, especially since this was the cheap part. I don’t know that I can sustain two or three months in Western Europe especially with the dollar in the tank against the Euro. Hrm.

I had more crappy bakery lunch, and then saw a sign for a photo exhibition about the war. It was 30 kuna[4] which I thought was a bit steep, but whatever. It was pretty terribly set up, in my opinion. The photos lacked captions; each group had miniatures of many of the photos with descriptions (but in different groups from the full-sized). So it was impossible to see the picture and its description right there. I wonder if it wasn't the point, but I found it frustrating.

I was dismayed that at first it appeared to be just one floor, and that exhibit was about the Afghanistan war. It was a grim reminder at how the country had been shit all over by international interference. And another reminder about things raised in нити[5], I mean these are just regular people born into a terrible position from which they probably cannot ever escape. Like at этажи (photo exhibit we'd visited in St. Petersburg, with more war photos), a reminder of what a god-awful place the world is, as I'm simultaneously reminded of its beauty by my surroundings.

But on the next floor, there were—in addition to more middle-eastern stuff—photos from the Balkan wars.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Wednesday, 2010-10-13; Psychology in Dubrovnik


So today I'm off to Dubrovnik. I took far longer to get ready than I should have, but I made it to the bus station and bought the ticket without issue. It's a shame I didn't make it to Brač (a nearby island to Split, the town where I was just coming from), but oh well.

I continued thinking about psychology on the bus.

I wonder if prosopagnosics are able to see the triangle in the gestalt demo with three pac-man shaped circles[1], and whether they have trouble with other similar optical illusions (two arrows of the same length pointing in and out) and mental rotation. Could they be better at "spot the difference"-type things?

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Tuesday, 2010-10-12 (Part II); Prelude

So, I may have stopped publishing for a while, but I didn’t stop writing.  Years go by quickly, alas.

I finished the "My Brilliant Brain" series. It confirmed what I already concluded long ago. There was a chess grandmaster that recognized games the same way most recognize faces. The fusiform "face recognition" area was equally active. I always assumed that things are more generalized and it's just specific training. I bet language involves similar intuition abilities in the auditory area, and that musical virtuosos have lots of overlap with language. I think Skinner was partially right, but it's not direct copies of input, but rather the intuitive sense of correctness and incorrectness that results from combinations of input. There is a critical period for everything. I have similar intuition about computers, but I wonder where it's manifested. The same is undoubtedly true for spelling: my voracious reading was certainly responsible for all that. It's the same with everything, what patterns have you been exposed and paid attention to, and how it gives you "intuition" which is simply the predictive activation framework described in On Intelligence. All this was exposited in Blink to some degree.

Anyway I theorized that prosopagnosia (face-blindness) is a general defect of visual gestalt. Sure enough:

A patient with severe, lasting prosopagnosia could not get an immediate overview of a face sufficiently specific for successful identification. He also failed completely in tasks of visual closure despite adequate performances on numerous other tests of visual perception and memory. We conclude that prosopagnosia represents a loss of visual “configural processing”—a learned skill enabling immediate identification of individual members of a class without conscious visuospatial analysis or remembering. Prosopagnosia and agnosic alexia represent two distinct defects of configural processing: Alexics cannot identify items with distinctive features that are themselves identifiable. Prosopagnosics cannot identify objects whose critical distinguishing features have no independent identities.

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Monday, January 21, 2013

The Quantum Moment

2012’s NYI included a seminar on the metaphors of quantum physics.  Why are quantum physics metaphors (like Schrodinger’s Cat, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, Parallel Worlds) surprisingly common, more than you’d expect since quantum physics is relatively obscure subject matter for the public at large?  This is the question we tried to tackle with Robert Crease, the author of a book on this, called The Quantum Moment.

This post is background for another post on Uncertainty and Relationships. 

Perhaps one of the most surprising findings in quantum physics is from the so-called double-slit experiment.  Understanding the results will alter your entire understanding of reality.

If you’re not familiar with it, an illustrated explanation is here.  Very briefly, if you shine a laser at a card with two parallel slits cut in it, you would expect to see two corresponding lines of light behind it (say, on a piece of paper), representing the two lines cut in the card. 

But what you actually get is a pattern of interference: packets of light going through one slit interfere with the ones going through the other slit (and vice versa), and so you get multiple bands of dark and light, where they cancel each other out or add on to each other.  So the light behaves not like “particles” (each going through its own slit) but like “waves” (like ripples from a rock dropped in a pond).

Where things start blowing your mind is that this happens even if you shine only one packet of light at a time: that one packet goes through both slits and interferes with itself! 

However, if you try to be clever and add a detector, to find out which slit the light goes through before it goes through the slits, this stops happening and you get the two lines of light that you would have expected originally. 

The upshot is this: until you observe the packet of energy, it is in all places at once (with varying probabilities).  Then it interacts with something else, and of all the possibilities one ends up being the case.  This is the case for everything, not just packets of light!  Remember high-school chemistry, where the electrons orbit the nucleus at certain levels?  In some sense, each electron is in all places in that orbit at once (remember the “electron cloud”?).

This forms the basis of the Schrodinger’s Cat thought experiment: a cat is in a closed box with an apparatus that might kill it (with 50% probability).  In some sense, until you open the box to check what happened, the cat is simultaneously alive and dead.

One of the questions we were to answer:

"[W]hy does the image [of Schrodinger’s cat] still seem as packed with creative force as ever?"