Thursday, 28 May 2020

Zeno’s paradox

Zeno’s paradox is based on the idea that time and space are divisible. Here is the paradox in its simplest form:

A moving thing to get from A to B must first traverse half the distance. And to get halfway it must traverse a quarter of the distance - and so on. Since the thing has to traverse an infinite number of (progressively smaller) distances this would take an infinite amount of time. Therefore it cannot move at all - so motion is impossible. Mathematically the resolution of this paradox depends on the fact that when you add the series 1/2+1/4+1/16 …. and so on, you don’t get infinity - you get one. But the paradox reveals a deeper problem about the nature of time and space.

Is space granular?

in other words are there are tiny compartments or ‘quanta’ of space? 
If it is then there would be a finite number of compartments between A and B so the paradox is resolved. But how does a thing move from one compartment to the next?

Is time granular?

Think of the analogy of a film or video - each frame of which is a still image which if projected quickly enough gives the illusion of smooth motion. But is this ‘smooth motion’ really what is happening?
If time is made of a succession of instants or ’nows’ then either each ’now’ has no duration and time is smooth or each now has a finite duration and it is lumpy. If time is lumpy then how does it get from one lump to the next? 

This is the same problem that Physics faces in trying to resolve a tension between ‘lumpy’ quantum theory (which applies to tiny phenomena) and ‘smooth’ relativity and wave theory (which applies to big phenomena). Or between ‘digital’ vs ‘analog’.

Perhaps we should remember that time and space are simply human concepts with which we try to explain the World. The World just IS.

Thursday, 9 April 2020


How is anything new ever made?

Perhaps this question can be boiled down to a simpler one: How do we make a choice when there are few constraints? or How do we choose between alternatives? or even How do we make random choices?

Ask a computer to choose a random digit and it may be programed to generate an apparently random number by using complex algorithms involving huge prime numbers.

We imagine we can choose between 2 alternatives easily. Apolonius’s ass is said to  have starved to death because it could not decide between 2 equally attractive piles of hay. How do we decide? ‘We just pick one’ you say but what does this process of just piking involve?

Evolution is meant to proceed by  selecting the most well-adapted random mutation. But what does the process of randomness actually entail?

The second law of thermodynamics depends on random interactions more likely to produce chaotic than ordered structures. But what governs these random interactions? How do they take place?

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Pity Poor Bradford

Once they have enjoyed the splendour and energy of City Park and admired the ornate elegance of City hall, a visitor wandering though the City’s streets will be met with one clear impression: urban decay. Beautiful facades with ornate embellishments are now derelict or disfigured by a series of cheap additions which tell a tale of failed enterprises. Empty and neglected buildings reinforce the story that we are heading on a downward slope to disaster. Buildings constructed since the 1960s are amongst the most depressing examples of brutalism to be seen anywhere in Britain.  Parts of our City are deserted at times when other towns are bustling with activity.  The visitor retires to a more pleasant environment with all their prejudices confirmed. 

But what of the good people of Bradford?
The symptoms of depression include: 
  • Low self-confidence and self-esteem
  • A sense of unreality
  • A feeling of no pleasure in life - turning to alcohol and other drugs for solace.
The City’s many planning mistakes have been based on two fundamental myths:
  • That “A New Era of Prosperity’ is just around the corner.
  • That hope lies in imitating successful (and sometimes unsuccessful) schemes often promoted by sharks from other towns.
Lack of vision, creativity and confidence have plagued some disastrous, and sometimes even corrupt, decision-making in the past. For too long we have laboured under the heavy grey cloud of low expectation: 
“Well, it’s Bradford isn’t it?” (shrug).

Wake up Bradford!
The citizens of Bradford deserve much better than this. We need to rediscover pride in our City and ourselves. The City centre should be at the very heart of our inspiration and hope.

Let’s paint Highpoint pink!
Highpoint is the derelict, ex-YBS, bunker-like building at the foot of Westgate. Painting it bright pink could be the very beginning of a new urban aesthetic. And why stop there?  Over time, Bradford could become a colourful city of wonder and excitement, lifting the spirits of its citizens and its visitors.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016


Old Father Time
Old Mother Space
Young Sister Gravity
Little Daughter Grace

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Let's hear it for the dead

Let's  hear it for the dead.
What was it that you said?
I said 'Let's  hear it for the dead'.
My granny,  that friend of mine,
My mother and my dad.
Gurdjieff, Neitzche, Wittgenstein,
Let's  not forget the bad:
Hitler, Stalin, Ghengis Khan
Let's  hear it for the dead.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Fine tuning

In the sixteenth century, the biggest cosmic entity known about was the solar system. The astronomer, astrologer and mathematician Kepler was convinced that the orbits of the planets must be fine-tuned by God according to some harmonious law.
Now we know there is no such harmonious law and  the orbits of planets are the result of chaotic and unpredictable events, but we are searching for harmony at some deeper level.
The world we live in is perfectly fine-tuned for our existence in two ways:
  1. We live on a 'Goldilocks' planet, just the right size and distance from the sun to be favourable to life.
  2. We live in a universe with just the right physical constants (gravity, speed of light and so on) for the creation of stable atoms, molecules, stars and forces which conspire to allow us and everything else to exist.
  1. Obviously the Goldilocks question is easily answered: There are billions of possible life-supporting planets so even if life is a very unlikely event, the conditions for life must be right  on many of them.
  2. The answer to question 2 is a bit harder - here's 3 possibilities:
a) There is a fundamental reason for the physical constants to have the values they have, but we haven't found out what it is.
b) There is no fundamental reason, but there is a very big number of universes so the constants are just right in some of them. 
Or the incredible nature of our existence might suggest there is an INFINITE number of universes - so every kind of crazy world must exist! I have a gut-feeling that this is nonsense and for a real world to exist there cannot be an infinite number of anything - and for that matter there can't be zero (nothing) either.
c) WE ARE HERE so we must accept our existence prima-facie. All other other facts derive from this observation. This shifts the focus to us rather than the moment of creation. 
We create the universe in our minds. Reality just is because it is. 
There is no time, no space, no universe, no creation - these are all concepts of our collective minds.

Three Black Boxes

Suppose there are three sealed black boxes with locks which are impossible to open. We are not allowed to investigate them  (poke them, weigh them or interrogate them in any way).
We are told that no one can EVER open Box 1 now or at any time in the future. There is no history of it. No one knows or will ever know what it contains.
Someone has placed something in Box 2 and died, telling no one and leaving no record of its contents.
Box 3 has a time-lock mechanism so that at some time in the future it will spring open and reveal its contents.

So in Box 1 we cannot know its contents, nobody has ever known its contents and nobody will ever know its contents.
In Box 2 someone once knew its contents but we don't know its contents now and nobody in the future will ever know its contents.
In Box 3 someone once knew its contents, we don't know its contents now, but somebody in the future will know its contents.

Q. Is it reasonable to ask the question "What is in the box?"?
A. 1 No; 2 Maybe; 3 Yes.