Showing posts from January, 2008

Education and Experience

Emerson wrote this in "The American Scholar":

The first in time and the first in importance of the influences upon the mind is that of nature. Every day, the sun; and, after sunset, night and her stars. Ever the winds blow; ever the grass grows. Every day, men and women, conversing, beholding and beholden. The scholar is he of all men whom this spectacle most engages. He must settle its value in his mind. What is nature to him? There is never a beginning, there is never an end, to the inexplicable continuity of this web of God, but always circular power returning into itself. Therein it resembles his own spirit, whose beginning, whose ending, he never can find, — so entire, so boundless. Far, too, as her splendors shine, system on system shooting like rays, upward, downward, without centre, without circumference, — in the mass and in the particle, nature hastens to render account of herself to the mind.

In these words, we find an early compelling account of the idea of experie…

Boltzmann's Brain

This NYTimes article on cosmology headed the "most emailed" list for a few hours this morning. I think that this graphic explains the view best. The article's position on this popularity list raises a couple of questions. First, how is it that scientists could hold such a strange view of the universe? And second, why do readers of the New York Times care so much (at least this morning) about this totally strange view?

My problem with Boltzmann's Brain theory (which basically suggests that the probability that we are brains in vats is much higher than the probability that our ordinary commonsense world exists) is that it is not an empirical theory, but a mathematical one. It starts with an idea, the notion that matter is basically a collection of atoms sitting in empty space, and then sets out to ask whether or not our current universe is consistent with that idea. Well, when it turns out that our universe and the original idea aren't too compatible, the reaction…