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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
08/05/05 -- Vol. 24, No. 6, Whole Number 1294
Table of Contents
See a Galaxy in Three Dimensions (comment by Mark R. Leeper):
I have on my web site a stereoscopic view of the galaxy NGC4565. This may be your first chance to see a real galaxy in 3-D. Go to http://www.geocities.com/markleeper/3-D_galaxy.htm. [-mrl]
A Question I Asked Myself in English (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I am one of those early-to-bed, early-to-rise guys. Unfortunately I frequently wake up at ungodly early hours and start thinking and cannot get back to sleep. I just lie in bed and think about a question until a reasonable time to get up, which for me is about 4 AM. So you can imagine what time it is when I am sitting and asking myself basic questions. Self-talk is what got me up early today.
When you think do you mentally talk to your self? Do you give yourself instructions through the day like "next boil the water"? I am not saying that you say it out loud. Then people would look at you funny. But do you do it silently? I do. The question I asked myself is why? I clearly have already had the thought. Of what value is translating a thought into words of language if I have no intention of speaking those words to another person. Why do I feel I have to express the thought in words for myself? Am I performing any real function? I guess this is called self-talk.
Now suppose somebody is born deaf. Suppose they never have heard language spoken. Does this mean they have another kind of mind that does not verbalize? Do they self-talk in a different language? Or do they think in a language of their own. Did Helen Keller think in hand gestures? If not, how did she think? Did she have a language of her own? Based on one scene in the film THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER I get the impression that the deaf do talk to themselves in sign language. This who have been profoundly deaf all of their lives cannot think to themselves "now boil the water" in the way we do since we mentally hear words that we have heard spoken aloud. What do they hear?
Do people with multiple languages think in the same language that they dream in?
What is the function of self-talk? Does part of my mind know something that another part doesn't know and must be informed of? That does not seem to be it. I have the feeling it has something to do with logically organizing ideas. I almost said, "organizing my thoughts." Is a thought by definition already verbal? I think we must get flashes of ideas that we then verbalize to ourselves for some reason. Does it make it more concrete for us to put it into words that sound to us like words we have heard spoken.
The next question would be does this habit of mental processing set us apart from other animals. I strongly suspect that the squirrels in my yard do not self-talk in words since they have no words to do it with. But they do have a language of chirps and even tail movements. Do they mentally chirp to themselves when they are alone?
I have often wondered why it seems to me that dogs who are house pets seem to think so much like the way I would, yet there are humans in the world who do not seem at all to think the way I do. I thought it was very strange that I see so many similarities in the way dogs think and the emotions that they have to what I have. Yet, I am still mystified by the amazing diversity of human minds. It really seems to me that I see more similarity to me in the mind of a dog than in that of other humans, as politically incorrect as that would sound. I resolve the paradox by saying that a dog is really an intelligent animal trying to assimilate in a society that he has been forced into. They hear and remember a vocabulary of actual human words. And recently there have been science news stories that say in some dogs this vocabulary ability to remember words is actually better than we would expect from a human. I seem to remember one story in which a dog was demonstrably able to remember the names of something like a hundred toys. Maybe part of what makes them fit into a certain society is that they verbalize thoughts to themselves. I suspect a dog who recognizes phrases like "ride in the car" actually uses those phrases in his own thoughts.
So that may help to explain the mental function of verbalizing thoughts that one has no intention of speaking. [-mrl]
More on Mathematics (letter of comment by Jerry Williams):
Jerry Williams responding to a previous editorial:
You wrote: "In our universe we have different geometries: Euclidean and at least two non-Euclidean geometries. They describe different 'universes' but do not contradict each other."
That depends what you mean by the fact that they don't contradict each other. Some rules of geometry do hold in both 'universes', but others do not.
[They contradict each other I think only in that they have different axioms. It is like the following:
Axiom: In summer I am happy. Axiom: This is summer. Therefore: I am happy.
Axiom: In winter I am unhappy. Axiom: This is winter. Therefore: I am unhappy.
The logic that reaches the conclusion is the same. They contradict each other only because we modify an axiom. -mrl]
Yet these rules are affected by how you construct a particular geometry. For example, a hyperbolic geometry might keep angles intact through translations or it might not (I don't remember the correct term for this). This would affect whether concepts such as parallel have meaning or not. Taking your sphere example, I'm pretty sure you could have constructed it using a hyperbolic geometry so that the notion of "parallel lines" does have meaning.
[Detail: I believe that it does have meaning in hyperbolic geometry. It does not have meaning in spherical geometry. -mrl]
You could probably even define a spherical geometry such that the "latitude lines" count as parallel. You might even say that we already do that now, although perhaps without much mathematical rigor. :-)
[You could. You would have to change your metric. Generally you define a line segment as the shortest path between two points and a line is the extension of that. If you say that to get from one point to another you have to travel only on latitudes and longitudes (and cannot go diagonally) then latitude circles become the lines of that geometry. But again that is changing the geometry and you would expect different results. -mrl]
Jim Spinosa's point about non-local universes raises an interesting point that cuts deeply into the issue. You mentioned that the shortest distance between two points is always measured along a straight line. Well, perhaps the shortest distance between two points is always zero.
[Usually you assume that the distance between two distinct points is non-zero. If there are some distinct points at zero distance you call that a pseudometic. A universe with wormholes or warp drive (as the Star Trek people explain it) would be a pseudometric space.
I am not sure you really could get anything useful if you say the shortest distance between two points is always zero. It's like doing mod 0 arithmetic with all numbers being equal. -mrl]
A mathematician might handle this by redefining real-world distance. Rather than thinking of distance as some scalar value (corresponding to what you'd normally define as the line segment connecting any two points), you'd have to use a more complex construction. But is there another way to look at it in which that complex construction is really the simple one and the notion of "line" or even "point" is the complex one?
[I am sure there could be. The question is how you would do it and does it lead to something interesting? -mrl]
And importantly, how many different ways of mathematically expressing the problem exist?
[I don't follow the question. I thought we were describing different problems with different assumptions. -mrl
It's probably safe to say that our universe is at least to some degree non-Euclidean,
[Actually it is probably not useful to keep tying all this into the shape of the universe. We can find places where we use non- Euclidean geometry in places easy to picture. For example, the surface of a globe or in a painting where supposedly parallel lines meet at a vanishing point. I suppose projective geometry is non-Euclidean. -mrl]
though Euclidean geometries provide a useful mathematical approximation of reality for most practical purposes. This may not be universally true, however. Inhabitants of other parts of the universe (or of other universes) might have a different notion of "line" than we do (and perhaps may have no notion of "point").
[But does that matter? We are talking about how we would see it. Your dog may live in the same world we do and still implicitly have a different notion of "line" than we do (and perhaps may have no notion of "point"). Aliens might impose a different geometry to measure our space. -mrl]
As Jim pointed out, non-locality can affect more than just geometry. Probabilities (and even logical causality) can be affected in fundamental ways.
[I am not sure what non-locality means other than saying the axioms that describe the place would different. I guess it is not clear that given any set of axioms, albeit consistent, there could exist a universe in which those axioms are true. -mrl]
The universe might be even weirder than we can imagine. Consider observer effects, such as the Schrödinger's cat paradox.
[I am not sure what you are picturing. It is hard to picture changing the basic axioms to be so subtle that you could still consider the Schrödinger's cat paradox. It's like asking if a meteorite had hit the Earth just right in the Jurassic might my mother now have blond hair? -mrl]
I'm not sure this necessarily weighs in either way on whether mathematics is discovered or invented. Does some Platonic ideal really exist? Or is it just some model that people invented? Is it possible that the mere invention of the model affects reality? (OK, the last one is a bit of a stretch, but it's not really that much weirder than some quantum effects. It does seem like an interesting basis for a science fiction story, though...)
[I think it is that the rules of logic define a structure that encompasses the rules of math. Principia Mathematica derives the rules of math from those of logic.
Matter behaves in ways that so closely mimic that logical/mathematical structure that the behavior of matter is predictable by seeing what the math does. -mrl]
Taking it back down to earth, suppose there are an infinite number of mathematical models that could be chosen. As you lay out the rules from the beginning, they certainly lead you down a definite path, though. Perhaps mathematicians on the bleeding edge actually deal with fundamentally incompatible mathematical models, but most of us would never see them. We use models that we've found to be useful based on our experiences in the real world. What if, even given infinite resources, it were impossible to generate a truly accurate mathematical model of the universe? Is the subset of mathematical models that we use as an inferior approximation really discovered or just convenient inventions?
[I would say they are discovered. It is really the subset of the more complete model that we happened onto. -mrl]
I don't really have a firm opinion on this matter, and to some degree am playing devil's advocate by taking it this far. There certainly seem to be some mathematical truths, even though they all fall apart at some point when you try to apply them to reality. But I'm willing to accept that my opinion on these truths could be biased. Not that I'd expect to see any practical benefits by abandoning those biases. :-)
[Practical? Things have to be practical????? -mrl]
WHISKY (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: This is a laid-back comedy of personality set in Argentina and Uruguay. The film has the natural style of watching real people and story seems aimless. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
Juan Pablo Rebella and Pablo Stoll direct a low-key bittersweet comedy about a sock manufacturer who needs to feel his life had meaning. The film comes from Argentina. Jacobo (played by Andres Pazos) runs a modest factory making knit socks in Argentina. Every morning it is the same dreary routine. The people of the firm are almost as mechanical as the knitting machines. Jacobo's assistant Marta (Mirella Pascual) is equally dreary. Then Jacobo has a problem. The time is coming for the unveiling of Jacobo's mother's tombstone. His brother Herman (Jorge Bolani) is coming from Brazil for the ceremony. The problem is that Jacobo has told the family that he is married. Herman is expecting to meet Jacobo's wife. Jacobo convinces Marta to pose as his wife for Herman's visit. To his amazement Marta dresses herself in style and fixes up his dreary apartment to look like they are really are a prosperous married couple.
Most of the rest of the film just covers Herman's visit. The plot is in no hurry to go anywhere. We discover that while Herman and Jacobo are fairly staid and repressed around each other, Herman and Marta seem to warm up to each other. Together they take a leisurely tourist trip to Uruguay. The attempt is to be comic, I suppose, though much of the film just seems to be too subtle to catch the real humor. The three main characters just seem to bounce off and react to each other.
This is not a film with a Hollywood ending. It just sort of peters out at the end without any sense that anything has changed. WHISKY leaves the viewer with several unanswered questions. And the viewer is invited to complete the story for himself. The futures of Herman, Marta, and Jacobo are in the hands of the audience.
Juan Pablo Rebella and Pablo Stoll are two young filmmakers from Montevideo, Uruguay. The have previously wrote directed 25 WATTS.
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Paul Chisholm reports, "bn.com says this book [RECOLLECTIONS AND LETTERS OF ROBERT E. LEE] was published in June 1992. Amazon.com says, "This item has not yet been released. You may order it now and we will ship it to you when it arrives. Ships from and sold by Amazon.com." Odd. [-psrc]
(Even odder, amazon.com lists a 1998 publication date for it. [-ecl])
We recently were in the Los Angeles airport, and I dropped into a Hudson Bookseller there. As I have said before, I have no idea how they decide what goes in "Fiction" and what goes in "Classics". Jorge Luis Borges's SELECTED POEMS were in "Classics"; his various fiction collections were in "Fiction". (I don't think they had his SELECTED NON-FICTIONS.) Faulkner, Hemingway, and Kafka were in "Fiction." (I could be wrong, but I suspect Faulkner might have been in "Classics" before Oprah picked his books for her book club.) In part, it may be that anything from Penguin books with a rust-colored spine is filed in "Classics", but not everything in "Classics" meets that qualification. Why do I care? Because if I'm trying to find a book, I don't want to have to check three or four sections. The bookstore may have a different agenda--in fact, I'm sure they do- -but I don't have to like it.
While in Los Angeles--or more specifically, in Los Angeles traffic--we listened to Robert A. Heinlein's CITIZEN OF THE GALAXY on audiobook (ISBN 0-786-18479-5, paperback ISBN 1-416-50552-0). It is typical Heinlein, with a lot of lecturing about societal mores, and a juvenile hero amazingly naive and clueless for someone raised as a slave and a street beggar. (Not only he is clueless about girls/women, but at age eighteen or nineteen, he's not even interested in them. And, no, he's not gay.)
The script for the film of Graham Greene's THE THIRD MAN is available from Faber & Faber (ISBN 0-571-12634-0), and even if you are familiar with the film, it is worth reading, because this edition is annotated to indicate the changes from the original script that were made in the film. For example, Anna was originally Estonian, but the filmmakers decided that people were more familiar with Czechoslovakia. The part of the British Cultural Officer (played in the film by Wilfred Hyde-White) was originally written as two parts, intended for the British comedy team of Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne (probably best known to fantasy fans as the golfers in DEAD OF NIGHT or to thriller buffs as the cricket fans from THE LADY VANISHES). And the "cuckoo clock" speech was not in the original; it was added by Orson Welles himself. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: We rarely think people have good sense unless they agree with us. -- Francois de La Rochefoucauld
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