Tag: University of Sydney

John Zande

A stirrer of brain cells!

I have just finished reading John’s recently published book On the Problem of Good. I am writing a review of the book that, fingers crossed, I will publish on Friday. But many of you that are recent converts to this blog (you poor, lost souls!) will not remember my review of John’s first book and my reaction to that book when I was only just into it.

So, for both today and tomorrow I am republishing two blog posts. Today, one that was originally published on the 16th September, 2015, and tomorrow the post that was first published on 1st October, 2015.

ooOOoo

Of paradoxes, and headaches!

The interconnectedness of everything – even beyond our wildest imagination.

A while ago John Zande signed up to follow Learning from Dogs. Naturally, I went across to John’s blog to thank him. There I discovered that John is an animal lover and an author. For he states, referring to his book, that, “BUY IT. ALL PROCEEDS GO TO ANIMAL RESCUE AND SHELTER IN BRAZIL”. Fabulous!

John Zande cover_zpsz7wuq9cc

(I did buy the book, am about 20% through it and finding it very stimulating, – if you would like to buy it then click the image of the book on John’s home page.)

Anyway, a few days later we watched the BBC Horizon programme on multiple universes. Here’s how the BBC introduced the programme:

Which Universe Are We In?

Horizon, 2014-2015 Episode 17 of 19

Imagine a world where dinosaurs still walk the earth. A world where the Germans won World War II and you are president of the United States. Imagine a world where the laws of physics no longer apply and where infinite copies of you are playing out every storyline of your life.

It sounds like a plot stolen straight from Hollywood, but far from it. This is the multiverse.

Until very recently the whole idea of the multiverse was dismissed as a fantasy, but now this strangest of ideas is at the cutting edge of science.

And for a growing number of scientists, the multiverse is the only way we will ever truly make sense of the world we are in.

Horizon asks the question: Do multiple universes exist? And if so, which one are we actually in?

Horizon is always great to watch but this episode was incredibly stimulating and interesting. Later, in a exchange of comments to one of John’s posts, where I referred to that programme, John wrote:

The mulitverse is actually the more reasonable explanation for why there is something, and although I don’t understand the maths, the people who do say its simplistically beautiful. Matt Rave is an associate professor of physics and comments here regularly. He has a great book on it all, Why is There Anything?

raveThat lead me to purchasing Matthew Rave’s book that, likewise, is a most fascinating and unusual approach to this topic. His Amazon author’s page reveals that, “Dr. Matthew Rave is an assistant professor of physics at Western Carolina University, in the mountains of North Carolina. His research interests include interpretations of quantum mechanics, the geometric phase, solid state physics, and physics education.” Matthew Rave’s blogsite is here.

Matthew Rave’s book further illustrates the paradox, to my mind, that comes from thinking about why are we here, are we here and, if so, how do we know we are here?

So if that isn’t enough for you and me, then very recently The Conversation blogsite published the following from Geraint Lewis who is Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Sydney. It is republished here within the terms of The Conversation. Did I mention paradoxes and headaches!

ooOOoo

We are lucky to live in a universe made for us

Geraint Lewis, University of Sydney

To a human, the universe might seem like a very inhospitable place. In the vacuum of space, you would rapidly suffocate, while on the surface of a star you would be burnt to a crisp. As far as we know, all life is confined to a sliver of an atmosphere surrounding the rocky planet we inhabit.

But while the origin of life on Earth remains mysterious, there are bigger questions to answer. Namely: why do the laws of physics permit any life at all?

Hang on, the laws of physics? Surely they are a universal given and life just gets on with it?

But remember that the universe is built of fundamental pieces, particles and forces, which are the building blocks of everything we see around us. And we simply don’t know why these pieces have the properties they do.

There are many observational facts about our universe, such as electrons weighing almost nothing, while some of their quark cousins are thousands of times more massive. And gravity being incredibly weak compared to the immense forces that hold atomic nuclei together.

Why is our universe built this way? We just don’t know.

But what if…?

This means we can ask “what if” questions. What if the electron was massive and quarks were fleeting? What if electromagnetism was stronger than the nuclear strong force? If so, what would that universe be like?

Let’s consider carbon, an element forged in the hearts of massive stars, and an element essential to life as we know it.

Initial calculations of such stellar furnaces showed that they were apparently inefficient in making carbon. Then the British astronomer Fred Hoyle realised the carbon nucleus possesses a special property, a resonance, that enhanced the efficiency.

But if the strength of the strong nuclear force was only fractionally different, it would wipe out this property and leave the universe relatively devoid of carbon – and, thus, life.

The story doesn’t end there. Once carbon is made, it is ripe to be transmuted into heavier elements, particularly oxygen. It turns out that oxygen, due to the strength of the strong nuclear force, lacks the particular resonance properties that enhanced the efficiency of carbon creation.

This prevents all of the carbon being quickly consumed. The specific strength of the strong force has thus resulted in a universe with an almost equal mix of carbon and oxygen, a bonus for life on Earth.

Death of a universe

This is but a single example. We can play “what if” games with the properties of all of the fundamental bits of the universe. With each change we can ask, “What would the universe be like?”

The answers are quite stark. Straying just a little from the convivial conditions that we experience in our universe typically leads to a sterile cosmos.

This might be a bland universe, without the complexity required to store and process the information central to life. Or a universe that expands too quickly for matter to condense into stars, galaxies and planets. Or one that completely re-collapses again in a matter of moments after being born. Any complex life would be impossible!

The questions do not end there. In our universe, we live with the comfort of a certain mix of space and time, and a seemingly understandable mathematical framework that underpins science as we know it. Why is the universe so predictable and understandable? Would we be able to ask such a question if it wasn’t?

Our universe appears to balance on a knife-edge of stability. But why?

We appear to be very lucky to live in a universe that accommodates life. Zdenko Zivkovic/Flickr, CC BY

One of a multiverse

To some, science will simply fix it all. Perhaps, if we discover the “Theory of Everything”, uniting quantum mechanics with Einstein’s relativity, all of the relative masses and strengths of the fundamental pieces will be absolutely defined, with no mysteries remaining. To others, this is little more than wishful thinking.

Some seek solace in a creator, an omnipotent being that finely-tuned the properties of the universe to allow us to be here. But the move from the scientific into the supernatural leaves many uncomfortable.

There is, however, another possible solution, one guided by the murky and confused musings at the edge of science. Super-strings or M-theory (or whatever these will evolve into) suggest that the fundamental properties of the universe are not unique, but are somehow chosen by some cosmic roll of the dice when it was born.

This gives us a possible explanation of the seemingly special properties of the universe in which we live.

We are not the only universe, but just one in a semi-infinite sea of universes, each with their own peculiar set of physical properties, laws and particles, lifetimes and ultimately mathematical frameworks. As we have seen, the vast majority of these other universes in the overall multiverse are dead and sterile.

They only way we can exist to ask the question “why are we here?” is that we happen to find ourselves in a universe conducive to our very existence. In any other universe, we simply wouldn’t be around to wonder why we didn’t exist.

If the multiverse picture is correct, we have to accept that the fundamental properties of the universe were ultimately dished out in a game of cosmic roulette, a spin of the wheel that we appear to have won.

Thus we truly live in a fortunate universe.

The ConversationGeraint Lewis, Professor of Astrophysics, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

ooOOoo

12963392-An-image-of-a-man-with-a-headache--Stock-Vector-headache-earache-cartoonooOOoo

How to follow that, eh?

Let me give way to Hariod Brawn and part of an extensive comment she left back then:

John Zande is most certainly one of the most thoughtful, perceptive, well-informed and sharp-witted bloggers I have ever come across, and I wish him well with his book, which by the way, appears so far to have been met only with a deluge of 5-star reviews on Amazon. I daresay that you and I will both lengthen that list.

Here! Here!

Of paradoxes, and headaches!

The interconnectedness of everything – even beyond our wildest imagination.

A while ago John Zande signed up to follow Learning from Dogs. Naturally, I went across to John’s blog to thank him. There I discovered that John is an animal lover and an author. For he states, referring to his book, that, “BUY IT. ALL PROCEEDS GO TO ANIMAL RESCUE AND SHELTER IN BRAZIL”. Fabulous!

John Zande cover_zpsz7wuq9cc

(I did buy the book, am about 20% through it and finding it very stimulating, – if you would like to buy it then click the image of the book on John’s home page.)

Anyway, a few days later we watched the BBC Horizon programme on multiple universes. Here’s how the BBC introduced the programme:

Which Universe Are We In?

Horizon, 2014-2015 Episode 17 of 19

Imagine a world where dinosaurs still walk the earth. A world where the Germans won World War II and you are president of the United States. Imagine a world where the laws of physics no longer apply and where infinite copies of you are playing out every storyline of your life.

It sounds like a plot stolen straight from Hollywood, but far from it. This is the multiverse.

Until very recently the whole idea of the multiverse was dismissed as a fantasy, but now this strangest of ideas is at the cutting edge of science.

And for a growing number of scientists, the multiverse is the only way we will ever truly make sense of the world we are in.

Horizon asks the question: Do multiple universes exist? And if so, which one are we actually in?

Horizon is always great to watch but this episode was incredibly stimulating and interesting. Later, in a exchange of comments to one of John’s posts, where I referred to that programme, John wrote:

The mulitverse is actually the more reasonable explanation for why there is something, and although I don’t understand the maths, the people who do say its simplistically beautiful. Matt Rave is an associate professor of physics and comments here regularly. He has a great book on it all, Why is There Anything?

rave

That lead me to purchasing Matthew Rave’s book that, likewise, is a most fascinating and unusual approach to this topic. His Amazon author’s page reveals that, “Dr. Matthew Rave is an assistant professor of physics at Western Carolina University, in the mountains of North Carolina. His research interests include interpretations of quantum mechanics, the geometric phase, solid state physics, and physics education.” Matthew Rave’s blogsite is here.

Matthew Rave’s book further illustrates the paradox, to my mind, that comes from thinking about why are we here, are we here and, if so, how do we know we are here?

So if that isn’t enough for you and me, then very recently The Conversation blogsite published the following from Geraint Lewis who is Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Sydney. It is republished here within the terms of The Conversation. Did I mention paradoxes and headaches!

ooOOoo

We are lucky to live in a universe made for us

Geraint Lewis, University of Sydney

To a human, the universe might seem like a very inhospitable place. In the vacuum of space, you would rapidly suffocate, while on the surface of a star you would be burnt to a crisp. As far as we know, all life is confined to a sliver of an atmosphere surrounding the rocky planet we inhabit.

But while the origin of life on Earth remains mysterious, there are bigger questions to answer. Namely: why do the laws of physics permit any life at all?

Hang on, the laws of physics? Surely they are a universal given and life just gets on with it?

But remember that the universe is built of fundamental pieces, particles and forces, which are the building blocks of everything we see around us. And we simply don’t know why these pieces have the properties they do.

There are many observational facts about our universe, such as electrons weighing almost nothing, while some of their quark cousins are thousands of times more massive. And gravity being incredibly weak compared to the immense forces that hold atomic nuclei together.

Why is our universe built this way? We just don’t know.

But what if…?

This means we can ask “what if” questions. What if the electron was massive and quarks were fleeting? What if electromagnetism was stronger than the nuclear strong force? If so, what would that universe be like?

Let’s consider carbon, an element forged in the hearts of massive stars, and an element essential to life as we know it.

Initial calculations of such stellar furnaces showed that they were apparently inefficient in making carbon. Then the British astronomer Fred Hoyle realised the carbon nucleus possesses a special property, a resonance, that enhanced the efficiency.

But if the strength of the strong nuclear force was only fractionally different, it would wipe out this property and leave the universe relatively devoid of carbon – and, thus, life.

The story doesn’t end there. Once carbon is made, it is ripe to be transmuted into heavier elements, particularly oxygen. It turns out that oxygen, due to the strength of the strong nuclear force, lacks the particular resonance properties that enhanced the efficiency of carbon creation.

This prevents all of the carbon being quickly consumed. The specific strength of the strong force has thus resulted in a universe with an almost equal mix of carbon and oxygen, a bonus for life on Earth.

Death of a universe

This is but a single example. We can play “what if” games with the properties of all of the fundamental bits of the universe. With each change we can ask, “What would the universe be like?”

The answers are quite stark. Straying just a little from the convivial conditions that we experience in our universe typically leads to a sterile cosmos.

This might be a bland universe, without the complexity required to store and process the information central to life. Or a universe that expands too quickly for matter to condense into stars, galaxies and planets. Or one that completely re-collapses again in a matter of moments after being born. Any complex life would be impossible!

The questions do not end there. In our universe, we live with the comfort of a certain mix of space and time, and a seemingly understandable mathematical framework that underpins science as we know it. Why is the universe so predictable and understandable? Would we be able to ask such a question if it wasn’t?

Our universe appears to balance on a knife-edge of stability. But why?

We appear to be very lucky to live in a universe that accommodates life. Zdenko Zivkovic/Flickr, CC BY

One of a multiverse

To some, science will simply fix it all. Perhaps, if we discover the “Theory of Everything”, uniting quantum mechanics with Einstein’s relativity, all of the relative masses and strengths of the fundamental pieces will be absolutely defined, with no mysteries remaining. To others, this is little more than wishful thinking.

Some seek solace in a creator, an omnipotent being that finely-tuned the properties of the universe to allow us to be here. But the move from the scientific into the supernatural leaves many uncomfortable.

There is, however, another possible solution, one guided by the murky and confused musings at the edge of science. Super-strings or M-theory (or whatever these will evolve into) suggest that the fundamental properties of the universe are not unique, but are somehow chosen by some cosmic roll of the dice when it was born.

This gives us a possible explanation of the seemingly special properties of the universe in which we live.

We are not the only universe, but just one in a semi-infinite sea of universes, each with their own peculiar set of physical properties, laws and particles, lifetimes and ultimately mathematical frameworks. As we have seen, the vast majority of these other universes in the overall multiverse are dead and sterile.

They only way we can exist to ask the question “why are we here?” is that we happen to find ourselves in a universe conducive to our very existence. In any other universe, we simply wouldn’t be around to wonder why we didn’t exist.

If the multiverse picture is correct, we have to accept that the fundamental properties of the universe were ultimately dished out in a game of cosmic roulette, a spin of the wheel that we appear to have won.

Thus we truly live in a fortunate universe.

The ConversationGeraint Lewis, Professor of Astrophysics, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

ooOOoo

12963392-An-image-of-a-man-with-a-headache--Stock-Vector-headache-earache-cartoon

More on that democratic deficit.

Improving democracy through deliberation.

Yesterday, I introduced the essay by George Monbiot, Why Politics Fails.  He opened his essay with the sub-heading: Nothing will change until we confront the real sources of power.

His last paragraph read:

So I don’t blame people for giving up on politics. I haven’t given up yet, but I find it ever harder to explain why. When a state-corporate nexus of power has bypassed democracy and made a mockery of the voting process, when an unreformed political funding system ensures that parties can be bought and sold, when politicians of the three main parties stand and watch as public services are divvied up by a grubby cabal of privateers, what is left of this system that inspires us to participate?

And who would disagree with those closing sentiments!

Then just four days ago there was an item on Permaculture News that continued where Mr. Monbiot left off.  It was an interview by Marcia Gerwin of Professor Lyn Carson that sets out a positive approach to correcting the widely-acknowledged issue so well articulated by George Monbiot.

Professor Lyn Carson, is a Professor at the University of Sydney.  As Professor Carson’s website Active Democracy explains:

Hi, I’m Lyn Carson, welcome to my website. I hope to provide easy access to information which individuals, groups or organisations can use to enhance citizens’ involvement in the activities of local, state or federal government.

I’m currently a professor with the Business Programs Unit at the University of Sydney, Australia. I’m researching in the fascinating area of community engagement and deliberative democracy. I’m teaching ‘critical thinking’ which will have resonance for those familiar with public deliberation.

Democracy, for me, is active, interactive, deliberative and genuinely representative of the wider population. It’s as valid to speak of a democratic personality (Gould, 1988) as it is to speak of a democratic workplace or a democratic society. We can enact in microcosm what we imagine for the level of nation state. We need not restrict our thinking to systems of government—we can do democracy at any time, any place.

Like C. Douglas Lummis, I see democracy as the antithesis of centralised power:

…democracy is one of those beautiful, absolute clear principles… that poses a maddening, tantalizing puzzle to humankind and launches us on the historic project of seeking to realize it in our collective life (Lummis, 1982).

I note the words of Frances Moore Lappé (2006): “To save the democracy we thought we had, we must take it to where it’s never been.” One way of saving democracy—or causing a democratic breakout (Blaug, 1999)—is to involve citizens in political decision making.

I’ve written numerous articles on public participation in decision making—from setting up citizens’ juries to improving community consultation in your local council. Go to Publications if you’d like to download some of my written works. Your feedback is warmly encouraged after you have roamed around this site.

Here is that article that was published on Permaculture News.

Marcin Gerwin: There are many people who are disappointed in the way the democratic system works. They see politicians arguing and making decision in the interest of their political parties rather than the common good. What is wrong with modern democracy?

Lyn Carson: The difficulties that relate to modern democracy probably start with the use of that term. We have begun to believe that the system of

Professor Lyn Carson
Professor Lyn Carson

representative government that is pervasive in both the West and increasingly in other locations is actually a democracy. I think we do well to reflect on the origins of democracy, and how democracy was first conceived. We know it was a very different system. We also know that representative government was designed during periods of the French, the American and the English revolutions to perpetuate elites. It was certainly designed to ensure that those who had money, who had property — usually men in the early days — would have their power maintained. I think what we have are the remnants of that.

Democracy is a beautiful ideal in its true sense of people power or the ability for people to make decisions about their own destinies, about things that affect them. In locations where we’ve been able to replicate at least of some of the qualities of ancient Athens, which was the cradle of democracy, then I think we can say that democracy can take root and can actually deliver its promise. It may serve us better not to use the word, I would suggest, to describe what it is that we have, which is far from the notion of genuine democracy. If we call it representative government or even an oligarchy we might start to realise what it is that we have.

MG: I think politicians will not be happy to hear that. They like to present themselves as democrats and some of them don’t acknowledge that there is a problem with a political system.

LC: Scholars are increasingly using the term “democratic deficit” to describe what is happening in the world. There is a widening gap between the governed and those who are doing the governing. There is a crisis of trust, and a growing mistrust because of what is called short-termism — political parties, because of the system, have an eye on the next election and not on the long-term needs of either humans or the even bigger picture, the environment and planetary survival. What we try to create in deliberative democracy are circumstances where all of the voices are in the room, where we can create what we call a “miniature population” or “mini-public” that resembles the entire population so it can achieve what we call a descriptive representation.

At the moment we have representation in parliaments, but it’s not descriptive of the wider population. In Australian parliament there is an inordinate number of lawyers, policy advisers, unionists — usually male — and they don’t resemble the entire population. As deliberative democrats what we are trying to do is to tune into the wider population. We can’t ask the entire population constantly. We can certainly ask what their opinions are but we actually want their judgment, which can only be arrived through a process of very deep deliberation, through a lot of education, through a lot of sharing of information, experience and stories. We want to achieve a very different democratic space than anything that we see in parliaments.

MG: Do you think that mini-publics could be used for actual decision-making instead of public consultations only?

LC: In deliberative democracy we talk about three ideals. That’s the notion of inclusion, or representativeness — that’s the principle of the miniature population. The second ideal is deliberation — you need people to be able to really wrestle with the complexity of an issue, to be fully informed, to argue it out, to use reason, to use storytelling, including emotion. The third ideal is the notion of influence. It is incredibly important that it is attached to decision-making. The NewDemocracy Foundation, that I’m a director of, deals only with projects that have influence. We have continually proved that we can achieve representativeness and deliberation, but the most difficult to achieve is influence. And that’s because elected representatives don’t want to give up power. They believe that they have a mandate to govern and they are disinclined to do so.

But there have been some fantastic examples where elected representatives have done just that. We’ve had a premier of a state in Western Australia who promised to act on the decisions of mini-publics. As Minister for Planning and Infrastructure she stood by citizens’ recommendations. We’ve had a participatory budget in New South Wales with Canada Bay Council. The local government agreed to abide by its decisions. It was the only reason we agreed to be involved. So it is happening. It’s not happening enough, but it’s certainly possible. I would suggest that none of us should proceed with mini-publics anymore unless it has the imprimatur of the decision-maker. It’s a little wearisome to keep proving that we can do these robust processes and then have the decision-makers ignoring the recommendations.

MG: What does the participatory budgeting work like in Australia?

LC: In the case of Canada Bay people were randomly selected, we had a group of 40 who came together face to face over five weekends. They deliberated on the entire budget of the council, they listened to expert speakers, they spent many hours having discussions. They split into small working parties to consider different aspects of the budget and they worked hard to deliver their recommendations to council and it was considered in a council meeting.

MG: Five weekends is a lot of time. Did the citizens receive a compensation for being involved in participatory budgeting?

LC: They received compensation, but it was a very small amount, something like 50 dollars a day or a weekend. It’s not huge and people don’t actually need a lot of money. They don’t want the equivalent of their salary. It’s an honorarium, a way to say “we value your participation”.

MG: If it was possible to change the law, would you like to have the decisions made by mini-public binding just like those made in referendums?

LC: That’s certainly my dream and there’s no reason why it can’t be so. A couple of examples exist. In Denmark there was a Danish Board of Technology which routinely convened mini-publics and fed those recommendations into the parliament. The parliament had to say why it wasn’t going to abide by those recommendations. That’s in a way the closest we’ve come to it. There’s a law in Tuscany in Italy, it’s called the Tuscan Law 69 which had a trigger mechanism which said that if there was a controversial issue it had to go to a deliberative process and again the regional government had to say why it would not act on those recommendations.

If I had a dream it would be to say that we would routinely convene policy juries to consider issues like education, health, transport and so on. You wouldn’t want to do it for everything. The whole point is to use these processes when and where appropriate, otherwise you would be bogging down the decision-making process which is often working quite well just through the current mechanisms that we have. It’s only when controversy emerges or long-term decisions have to be made, or when politicians are reluctant to act.

MG: What about the referenda? Are they a good way of making decisions?

LC: I’m not a fan of referenda. The reason is that they lack the deliberative element. We’ve had many referenda in Australia. I think we’ve had 44 and 36 of them was unsuccessful. That’s because the issue tends to become very polarized unless it has bi-partisan support, from the two major parties. They are inevitably rejected by the population because it’s so easy to run a negative campaign. Australian governments provide a lot of information when there is a referendum. But this can be quite confusing and citizens need an opportunity to deliberate on them, as they do in Oregon with the Citizens Initiative Review, or to have serious discussions with other people. A referendum for me without that deliberative component is nothing more than an opinion poll. It’s absolutely destined to failure unless you have all the major parties supporting it.

The citizen-initiated referendum sounds good on the surface because there is a groundswell of support, but what I would like to see is the groundswell of support demanding a deliberative process and then letting that deliberative process make a decision instead of putting it to a referendum.

MG: For some people it may be hard to accept that only those who are chosen by lot are going to make a decision instead of everybody as in referenda.

LC: That’s going to vary from country to country. In Australia we have a great deal of faith in random selection because it’s fair. Everyone has an equal opportunity to be selected. We also have an independent Australian Electoral Commission that has earned public confidence and it could have oversight of such lotteries. As long as you have faith in the process there shouldn’t be a problem. The difficulty is that it is not a routine to do that, although in Australia it is quite a routine to do that through criminal juries — people are randomly selected to sit on those juries. So actually we understand that process and we have faith in it to make very binding decisions about whether or not someone is guilty or not guilty, whether they should go to jail for life. We actually give that power to citizens at the moment. If that process doesn’t exist in a country, then yes, it needs to become a routine in order for trust to develop.

OOOO

Wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that many, if not all, that read that interview had heads nodding in agreement.

Back on Lyn Carson’s website you can find an interesting selection of her publications.  I, for one, will be browsing through them.