Archive for November, 2011

November 23, 2011


by Nathaniel Virgo

It seems like there should be a word that goes in the bottom-right here:

Energy Power
Entropy ?????

However, as far as I’m aware no such word exists, so we’ll have to make one up.  Does anyone have any good ideas?

To be clear, what I’m after is a general term for any quantity whose units are entropy-units-per-time-unit, i.e. JK^{-1}s^{-1} or \text{bits}\cdot s^{-1}.  The term “entropy production” is currently in use for the rate at which systems create entropy, but I want a word that can also refer to the rate at which systems extract negative entropy from their surroundings. (You can have a power loss as well as a power gain.)

The only thing I can think of is “empowerment”, which sort-of makes sense but is icky.

November 22, 2011

What is a computer?

by James Thorniley

I’ve been trying to work out what is and isn’t a computer. There are some different ideas about this, and I’m not totally sure myself. So here’s some thoughts I’ve been thinking for a while and felt like jotting down, in case anyone feels like criticising. It’s the kind of question that might seem abstract or trivial (I mean, everyone knows what a computer is, right?) But I want to know when it’s fair to call something a computer or not. I’m not talking about the differences between iPads and desktop PCs and laptops and smartphones – they are obviously all computers. I mean questions like is your brain a computer.

November 13, 2011

The reification of reproductive skew…

by Lucas Wilkins

I thought that I would revisit reification. It’s been a while since the original discussion and I’ve had this almost written for ages.

I think all of us here at jellymatter agreed that Gould’s reification was not the same as reification as usually used in philosophy: Gould’s reification is sociological, whereas the philosophical term refers to a mistake in thinking (more specifically a category error). This is not to say the two are unrelated. I came across the following passage by Kant which to me summed up exactly what I considered to be happening in Gould’s reification. This bit is about the huge academic effort put into investigating ontological proofs of the existence God – an undoubtedly reified entity:

November 11, 2011

Ecological flatness of the earth (part 1)

by Lucas Wilkins

Pretty much everyone (including me) thinks that the world is round, but very rarely is it obvious that this is the case: In our every day lives the world is for all intents and purposes flat. It strikes me as a little absurd that thinking that world is flat is taken to be so incredibly ignorant, when there is so little direct sensory evidence for it. If you haven’t gone to the sea and observed ships crossing the horizon, or performed some experiment to demonstrate it, thinking the world is round is really only taking other peoples word for it. The roundness of the earth is almost completely detached from what we experience and the fact that most of us have this knowledge is a real tribute to our ability for abstract thought.

The intangibility of the roundness of the earth is an excellent example for my ongoing campaign to make people aware of just how far our understanding of the world is from our direct experience of it. Considering the world at the level of our physical interactions with it seems to be ignored by our post-enlightenment mindset – I think it needs setting straight. And the best way of doing this is to represent familiar but abstract concepts in ways that relate to our basic interactions with the world (ecologically, to borrow J. J. Gibson‘s term)

This is my first demonstration of how unnatural thinking the world is round is: I will calculate how big a circle I need to walk in to decide with confidence that the world is round. We all have an intuitive grasp of how far it is to walk somewhere, so the question is: how affected should this understanding be by the curvature of the earth. This is based on the principle that circles are “smaller” on a sphere than they are on a flat surface, reflecting the formal definition of curvature (almost) exactly.


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