Archive for ‘Reviews’

June 1, 2013

Friston’s Free Energy for Dummies

by Lucas Wilkins

People always want an explanation of Friston’s Free Energy that doesn’t have any maths. This is quite a challenge, but I hope I have managed to produce something comprehensible.

This is basically a summary of Friston’s Entropy paper (available here). A friend of jellymatter was instrumental in its production, and for this reason I am fairly confident that my summary is going in the right direction, even if I have not emphasised exactly the same things as Friston.

I’ve made a point of writing this without any maths, and I have highlighted what I consider to be the main assumptions of the paper and maked them with a P.

July 9, 2012

Ironic science, pragmatism, and the “is best viewed as” argument

by James Thorniley

I’ve read a couple of interesting books recently, one was “The End of Science” by John Horgan, and the other was “Radical Embodied Cognitive Science” by Anthony Chemero. Horgan’s theme was the question of whether the fundamentals of science are now so solid that before long nothing genuinely “new” will be left to find, and science will be reduced to either obsolescence, or puzzle-solving type application of existing theories to particular problems. The only other type of science that still exists, according to Horgan, is “ironic” science. A kind of semi-postmodern project to explain or describe what we already know in more “beautiful” or appealing forms, but which never produces hypotheses that are empirically testable, and for this reason, don’t actually advance knowledge. Horgan is distinctly dismissive of this kind of science, as being not “proper” science (he deliberately compares it to postmodern literary criticism, which he seems to have particular contempt for, having once been a student of it himself). Chemero would be, I’m sure, classified by Horgan as an ironic scientist. I don’t think Chemero would be able to deny that in a sense, his philosophy is empirically untestable, but he certainly argues that it is pragmatic in the sense of being useful to scientists engaged in solving real world problems.

July 1, 2012

Visualizing the mutual information and an introduction to information geometry

by Lucas Wilkins

For a while now I have had an interest in information geometry. The maxims that geometry is intuitive maths and information theory is intuitive statistics seem pretty fair to me, so it’s quite surprising to find a lack of easy to understand introductions to information geometry. This is my first attempt, the idea is to get an geometric understanding of the mutual information and to introduce a few select concepts from information geometry.

December 13, 2011

Proofs of God in a photon

by Lucas Wilkins

I’ve been reading this article in the independent: “Proofs of God in a photon”. The article is ultimately about some anthropic principle stuff. But the comments are full of silly things that make reluctant to call myself a scientist in case I am associated with the authors. So, as therapy, I shall call a number of the commenters on their bullshit. First, a well meaning guy called Dan,

October 27, 2011

The Magic of Received Wisdom

by Lucas Wilkins

Things That Annoy Me

That’s all I have to say on the matter.

June 22, 2011

Fisher on Thermodynamics and Evolution

by Lucas Wilkins

I’ve been reading Ronald Fishers book: The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection, which is now publicly available. I was a little surprised to find he wrote a page or two on thermodynamics and entropy in evolution, here it is, verbatim, with a couple of comments on the numbered points. First though, his definition, in words, of the fundamental theorum of Natural Selection:

The rate of increase in fitness of any organism at any time is equal to its genetic variance at that time.

with that in mind…

May 2, 2011

Scientific opinion has always been misrepresented…

by Lucas Wilkins

I found a poem about the apparent absolutism of science:

The Microbe is so very small
You cannot make him out at all,
But many sanguine people hope
To see him through a microscope

I do too, even though I feel my temperament is probably better described as melancholic

His jointed tongue that lies beneath
A hundred curious rows of teath;

really?

March 17, 2011

Science, the Media and Philosophy

by Lucas Wilkins

Yesterday, I went to a science communication conference thing at the University of Brighton. Here is what I learned…

So the first thing to say is that it was quite comforting to hear the science editor for The Observer saying that the medias reporting on genetic modification and the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine were real failures of science reporting. He even described the reporting on MMR as “a deep burning shame”. Less favorable was the media representatives description of their roles. Both of them said that their job was not to educate, but rather to either entertain or to “hold our masters to account”. Education, if it occurs, is a side effect. I find this slightly worrying – but less so than other people I have talked to. I will not dwell as I have a different point to make.

March 11, 2011

Book Review: Model Selection and Multimodel Inference

by Lucas Wilkins

This is the worst book in my possession. I dislike it on multiple levels.

February 26, 2011

Falling Into a Black Hole, Part 1

by Nathaniel Virgo

A little while ago I read Leonard Susskind’s book The Black Hole War (subtitle: My Battle with Stephen Hawking to make the World Safe For Quantum Mechanics).  It’s an interesting and mostly quite readable popular science book about the black hole information paradox.  Susskind thinks that information isn’t destroyed when stuff falls into a black hole, and his book is about why.

The first part of the book has some useful thought experiments about black holes, some of which I’ll take you through below.  After that it starts to talk about string theory, whereupon it becomes as utterly incomprehensible as any other book on the subject.

However, I think Susskind makes an important logical error just before he turns to string theory.  I think that if you correct this error then it leads to a much more elegant resolution of the information paradox — one that doesn’t require the use of string theory.  I won’t get as far as talking about that in this post, but I will point out the error I think Susskind makes, and show how resolving it leads to a simpler explanation of what happens when something passes an event horizon.

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