Saturday, April 21, 2018

Two book reviews by Freeman Dyson

A wonderful review The key to everything, a review of

Scale: The Universal Laws of Growth, Innovation, Sustainability, and the Pace of Life in Organisms, Cities, Economies, and Companies

by Geoffrey West
Freeman Dyson not only points out good points of the book as well as what is missing and words of caution towards the end:
The last time humans invented a grand unified theory to make our existence sustainable was when Karl Marx came up with dialectical materialism. The theory had great success in changing human behavior over large areas of our planet. But the changes did not prove to be sustainable, and the theory did not remain unified. It seems likely that West’s theory will run into similar difficulties.
The choice of an imagined future is always a matter of taste. West chooses sustainability as the goal and the Grand Unified Theory as the means to achieve it. My taste is the opposite. I see human freedom as the goal and the creativity of small human societies as the means to achieve it. Freedom is the divine spark that causes human children to rebel against grand unified theories imposed by their parents.”
Along the way, Freeman Dyson points out “West is evidently unaware of Fang and Li’s insight.” 
The insight is explained in an earlier review of Freeman Dyson:
“This gloomy picture of the future was known as the heat death. Learned scientists and scholars portrayed the heat death as our inevitable fate. The paradox appears when we look out at the real universe and see nothing resembling the heat death. Both in the world of astronomy and in the world of biology, we see evolution moving in the opposite direction, from disorder to order, from death to life. Everywhere we see new and intricately ordered structures arising out of primeval chaos. The most obvious and familiar example of order growing out of chaos is the emergence of our ordered system of sun and planets out of a featureless cloud of interstellar dust and gas.
Fang’s chapter “How Order Was Born of Chaos” is a beautiful piece of scientific explanation. He explains the paradox of order and disorder as a consequence of the peculiar behavior of gravity. Unlike other kinds of energy, gravitational energy is predominantly negative. Our gravitational energy becomes more and more negative as we walk downhill toward the center of the earth. In any situation where gravitational energy is dominant, temperature and energy flow in opposite directions. The flow of heat works against the heat death, making warm objects hotter and cool objects colder. Instead of disappearing, temperature differences grow as time goes on. In the universe as a whole, gravitational energy is always dominant, and so the heat death never happens. Order grows out of chaos because we live in a universe with structures dominated by gravity. The dismal images of doom and gloom associated with the heat death turn out to be illusory. Fang’s understanding of the paradox brings us into a hopeful universe, with beauty and diversity growing around us as we move into the future.”
This passage from his review of the autobiography of Fang Lizhi The heritage of a great man.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

A Telugu lullaby

On Syria

Robert Fish Searching for truth in the rubble of Douma... “War stories, however, have a habit of growing darker. For the same 58-year old senior Syrian doctor then adds something profoundly uncomfortable: the patients, he says, were overcome not by gas but by oxygen starvation in the rubbish-filled tunnels and basements in which they lived, on a night of wind and heavy shelling that stirred up a dust storm.”
General background from two years ago from Robert Kennedy Jr. Why the Arabs don’t want us in Syria

After a flu injection

Just had a flu injection at government medical centre. First a doctor inquired about the general background and then sent me to a nurse. The injection was gentle and I was asked to wait for fifteen minutes after the injection to see whether there were any adverse reactions and was then advised on watch to in the next few days. I find that it is generally like this in government medical centres here though some like Monash Medical Centre are quite crowded. Once you get in to the system, there is little waiting time, doctors are good and equipment excellent. Around 1988, I lived in a very poor area and most of dental care, except for dentures, was free. It seems that even dentures were free earlier. But some benefits started disappearing due to pressure from private practitioners and pharmacies companies. Even now the services are excellent for pensioners like me though there is waiting time for some non life threatening ailments like cataracts. That allows me to send about 10-20 percent of my pension ( I have no savings) to projects in India. May be good government services allow people to a bit more benevolent though it is not clear where the government is coming from. At one time it was from mining at home and abroad in which some poor countries were exploited heavily.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Dependence on trade?

Review of book on democracy

Democracy in peril by Sanford Levinson. Mostly about America.  A quote:
Mostly about American democracy “As he wrote in Federalist 63, “The true distinction” of the new system of government created in Philadelphia “lies IN THE TOTAL EXCLUSION OF THE PEOPLE, IN THEIR COLLECTIVE CAPACITY, from any share” in actually making specific decisions of policy. (The capitalization, incidentally, is Madison’s.) The Constitution, though “ordained” in the name of “We the People,” unlike almost all subsequent state constitutions written in America (and many new constitutions written abroad), deprives the people of the ability to engage in even a scintilla of what is often called “direct democracy.” Consider only the initiative and referendum found in many countries and in at least 26 of the states within the United States (the most famous, or infamous, being California). ”

Dani Rodrik on globalization

Globalization has contributed to tearing societies apart An excerpt
I think globalization has contributed to tearing societies apart. You can see some of that in terms of greater inequality, but you can also see it in the increase of what one might call “social distance” between different groups in society: those who are globally networked and feel themselves to be part of a cosmopolitan group that don’t recognize or need national borders, who have the assets and the mobility to take advantage of the world economy, and those who think that their fates are tied up with local communities, that don’t have the assets or the resources and networks. It’s a social and cultural cleavage that globalization has deepened by having very asymmetric effects on different groups.”

on Ilaiyaraaja, composer from Tamilnadu

Why many Ilaiyaraaja songs sound as if they emerged from a jam session with Salil Chowdhury
Related Ten Electronic Extroverts from the Middle East and South Asia, Part 2. Andy Votel has this to say “The opinion that I’ve saved the best for last is technically undeniable, because whatever “genre” of music you choose to like/love/promote/protect/politicise/over-intellectualize/despise/defend or pretend to enjoy Ilaiyaraaja has done it! Even if it only lasted for four bars. And even if there were no less than two other styles of music playing at the same time.”

Thursday, March 29, 2018