27 February 2016

Time Travel and Cruise Ships

The kids and I watched the old Time Machine movie the other night, and it's shortly after the announcement that gravity waves have been really detected at the LIGO thing and it has physics and time rolling around in the back of my head here. But this post is for record keeping more than anything else, don't expect fully formed thoughts or cogent arguments...you'll be lucky if I spell check.
-> onward!

Imagine you're standing on the deck of a cruise ship along with all the chairs and toys and several other people. Now the ship starts to list just a little to port. Some items on that deck, like the bottle of sun tan oil that's on its side, will start to roll toward what is now effectively "downhill." As the ship lists more and more each object and each person will feel the gravitational pull toward the port rail. Some are more stable than others, some are bolted to the deck. What if the "arrow of time" is a little like that? What if, not unlike Einstein's insight that gravity is best understood as the geometry of warped space, that time is also "geometric" in that it reflects the fact that our universe lists toward the future? In such a world then moving toward the future is simply the path of least resistance like a ball rolling downhill.

If that deck on the ship has just a few people on it then a determined man might plant his feet and stand still - fighting the portward pull. If the deck is crowded shoulder to shoulder with people then the downward pressure of all the "uphill" people would make such a choice harder and harder, he'd be carried along with the falling crowd. In that case, the way we try to walk across a river might be a better picture. When the water is slow, or only to our ankles, we find ourselves fully capable of fording it. But as it deepens or goes faster the downhill energy of the river is transferred to us and we get swept away. If the whole universe is heading downstream and the constant collisions of atoms and subatomic particles pushes us with it then it would suggest going with the flow would take less energy than going against it.

How is it that motion in the three normal directions is linked to the speed of time? If I can say that going faster slows time down I can also say that going slower speeds time up. How can motion/speed be linked to time? 

What if entropy isn't a result of time but the other way around? What if it is the regular degradation of order that creates the slope of the ships deck? 

26 February 2016

Sanders, Socialism, and The Big Short

There are so many things going on in this election that have forced me to think along totally different axes, it's been a heck of a ride.

One of those has been the rise of Bernie Sanders and the sudden and widespread (or at least openly widespread) embrace of Socialism in the US. When Sanders came on the stage I thought there was exactly zero chance he'd be elected because Americans would never elect a socialist or anybody reasonably associated with that word. For all my life that's been an accusation in US politics, not a label. Now my best guess as of today is that he still wont be the Democratic candidate but it's not at all settled and no matter it got waaaaaay closer than I would have ever imagined.

Without debating whether or not he's really a socialist or not it has given me reason to think about why socialism is suddenly popular when it was so recently anathema and if I'm honest with myself I have to admit that several of the things Bernie is pissed at - I'm pissed at too - a lot!

Here's the thing - I believe in capitalism. Not because it's perfect but because it's the best option. But capitalism goes bad from time to time and I think one of those times is right now. I want to point people to The Big Short (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d80xVJC4pso) which was a truly fantastic movie about an incredibly boring topic - gross fraud and negligence driven by staggering greed. It's a true-story movie (more or less) about the profound douchebaggery surrounding the 2008ish housing bubble blow up. You come out of that movie wanting very much for heads to roll and people to go to jail but instead it tells you how nobody went to jail (except one poor little patsy) and it's all starting over again - it's infuriating. And several years ago I saw Wall Street 2 and I had as similar feeling though that felt a lot more fictional so I got over it quicker.

When I see that kind of thing stacked alongside a whole bunch of other things like CEO pay, $110M in Jeb!'s SuperPAC, the impact of Bernie Madoff and on and on and on then I find myself on common ground with Berners. The financial system feels deeply broken to me right now and in ways that deeply prick at my sense of right and wrong.

That said, I split with Sanders sharply when it comes to solutions. Yes, capitalism goes bad and when it does it causes real damage but socialism goes bad too and when it does - it goes a lot worse. But I'm not writing to debate the merits of the two economic systems but rather to acknowledge that I find common cause with Berners in a growing frustration with corruption and a financial system that looks to me as if it's lost its center and I never expect to see things that way.