Thursday, August 02, 2007

Counting, Numbers, and the Else

The semantics of count vary dramatically from context to context. I have sat in the big chair on the phone, "Do I have your vote? Can you think of anything that would change your vote? Will you will let me know if anything changes your vote?"

A recent thread compels me to discuss the concept of what is countable. Wikipedia at the link just provided does a better job than I can. Critical is the awareness that countable does NOT imply finite. Think of the biggest number you can possibly imagine, and it is countable by virtue of your ability to imagine it.

Know where Google got its name?

The number Googol exceeds the estimated number of atoms in the known universe. The English name for it is ten duotrigintillion. Even larger we have a Googolplex.

By the way, Googleplex is the name of Google’s headquarters near San Jose. I drove by the place once while taking some training at Sun Microsystems. Cisco hangs out there as well.

Seriously smart people.

As big as these numbers can get, they are nothing. My first PhD endeavor in the 90s involved probability theory, which requires a command of measure theory, which requires a command of real analysis. Do you know the measure of a countable set of numbers on the real number line, even a googol of googolplexes?

So you see, I get cranky when people assert the cosmos, i.e. All and Everything, is countable. Dustin’s speculation that a human being’s cell count is countable is not only reasonable, it is accurate. We even know the counts. Just for fun I’ll share a few for adult humans.

AN = Average Number of.

AN neurons in brain: 100 billion
AN synapses: 60 – 240 trillion (yeah, trillion)
AN taste buds in mouth: 10,000 (tongue only: 9,000)
AN olfactory receptor cells in nose: 12 million
AN olfactory receptor cells in nose (dog): 1 billion
AN olfactory receptor cells in nose (bloodhound): 4 billion
AN eye retinal receptor cells: 5-6 million cones; 120-140 million rods
Light required to excite a rod: 1 photon. To excite a cone: 100 photons
Maximum rod density: 160,000 / sq mm.
Maximum rod density (cat): 400,000 / sq mm.

It can be powerfully argued that the physical universe is countable. One could even argue that although googol type huge, it is even finite.

As I write in Something Else, humans have the tendency to “thingify” concepts that are not things. We apply mental models suggesting physics that do not exist, limiting our perception of scope and comprehension. We think in countable terms. Then very smart people like Schopenhauer and other philosophers paved the way for guys like Einstein, Heisenberg, and Schroedinger to pose interesting questions. Suddenly, as we broke reality into smaller and smaller components, we hit a barrier where all assumptions bought the farm. When we looked at the particles, they looked back at us. Then they started breaking all of our rules, including a particle literally occupying two places at the same time.

Then to really mess with us, they started traveling through time, and that has us completely screwed, as does the hard problem of consciousness. Both point powerfully to the conclusion that there is more to reality than the physical universe, a most interesting development the spiritual people have been saying all along.

Forget the teaming masses of sheep believing what they are told. We have solid, brilliant geniuses saying, "There has to be more to reality than the physical world."


What else is there?


Anonymous dustin said...

I must confess a personal dogma. I find it very difficult to cede ground to folks who rely heavily on spirituality. I have always considered such explanations as just a method to dismiss what we don't understand without making the effort to do so. Clearly, I am mistaken. Still, I feel compelled to take a stance opposite something, even if I hold that something to be true. The link to what is countable clears things up for me considerably, it would seem I don't actually have $45 after all. I basically agree with your assertion that there is something else, but as I said earlier, feel compelled to argue against it, if for no other reason, to test my own assumptions.

Mathematics was never my strong point, in fact, I'd call it a weak point. Whatever else happens, I think I'll have to leave it alone when it comes to math, as I don't know what the hell I'm talking about. Still, I find the idea that there are layers of reality we may never understand to be deeply troubling. I can't help but think how conventional wisdom has been proven wrong time and again. Most glaringly of these, the earth is flat, the earth is the center of the universe, going faster than 50 mph is lethal, the sound barrier will never be broken. What happens if and when we have a workable TOE?

Anyone else here read "The Dancing Wu-Li Masters"?

8/03/2007 8:01 AM  
Blogger Sirocco said...

I have a response to this, but it was getting quite lengthy, so I turned it into a post over at my blog here.

I am afraid I have never read The Dacing Wu-Li Master, although I have looked at picking it up several times ... it's never quite made it into my purchase stack though.

8/03/2007 8:58 AM  
Anonymous dustin said...

great post sirocco. After reading about that patient regaining brain function, I found myself thinking about phinneas guage. He was a railroad worker involved in an accident involving some TNT and a railroad spike, the spike becoming lodged in his skull. From what I understand, a normally respectable guy turned into the complete opposite overnight.

8/03/2007 10:05 AM  
Anonymous The Navigator said...

Are you athiests, Sirocco and Dustin?

x4mr is not. He believes in an "else" and although I don't know his position on an afterlife I would guess he supports it. Those having been at the border for any length of time are never the same.

X4mr's remark at Sirocco's blog about evil and intelligence deserves much consideration. How could Hitler be so smart and yet want to murder an entire race? X4mr points to the very troubling problem of evil that has perplexed religion for centuries. (Since everyone else is linking to wikipedia, I thought I'd start as well).

That a gifted mind can have an evil soul is beyond dispute. x4mr's two sided stick poses perplexing questions for both Sirocco and Dustin. I remain curious how Sirocco or Dustin get to the existence of malice and evil from matter and electricity.

It is not all bad. How does Darwin explain Mozart?

I eagerly await your words on navigation and the border, x4mr.

8/03/2007 7:11 PM  
Blogger x4mr said...


Frankly, it irritates me that you have my email address and voice eagerness for my material when I have invited you to meet with me. You are not going to get at this blog when you can get if you pass muster at a coffee shop.

Fine, it can be beer at Bambi's for all I care. Let's compare notes.

Your reluctance is understandable if you are not what you claim to be, but so far what you have written suggests you're for real.

I repeat my invitation for you to contact me.

8/03/2007 7:47 PM  
Anonymous The Navigator said...


No you're not.

Nice try, though. I said the fall.

8/03/2007 8:35 PM  
Anonymous dustin said...


I'm sure you are referring to moral relativism vs. absolute morality. While I would like to beleive in an absolute morality handed down from god, I'm not sure I can with any conviction. Why are victims of childhood sexual assault often pedophiles later in life? My main point is this, do we beleive things because we were raised to? or because we are born with inherent knowledge? I have to wonder. I personally do not beleive in god, nor do I deny god's existence. How can you, when it is clearly accepted by so many? The question I have about faith is pretty narrow. Which one is the right one? nearly every religion makes the claim to be the only correct one, especially abrahamic ones. With each religion comes it's own set of heavens and hells. Everything from fire and brimstone, to a simple distance from god. Many of my childhood chums have grown into staunch atheists, I assert that there is no definitive answer, any such being deeply personal.

I will be frank. There are many things in this life that I don't understand. Sometimes, when out in the world, or on a hike, or even in my own front yard I wonder, how can all this be random? But then I feel balanced by the knowldge that in a universe that is possibly infinite, or at least very large, why couldn't it be random? You know, infinite monkeys with infinite typewriters. Maybe the attempt to ascribe actions to god are simply an attempt to thingify the else, or quantify the unquantifiable.

My leaning is more toward no absolute morality, but that answer is intuitive to me. I ask you this, it is agreed that holding slaves can be considered evil. Americans held slaves nearly half of our existence, romans held slaves for their entire existance. If Morality is absolute, then it would have been absolute since the beginning of time, but history seems to say that it hasn't. I'm not talking about hindsight morality, where you read about hitler and say "damn, that's evil" I'm talking about the nazis themselves. They had to know they were doing something evil, yet they did it anyway. There are two possibilities. One, they knew it was evil, but did it anyway. Two, they felt that it was not evil. Bear in mind that any person not of aryan descent was considered inferior, not just jews. Many of those folks were themselves religious, on both sides.

Even if there is absolute morality, it has to be adhered to. I guess morality is up for interpretation, seemingly making it relative anyway. Thou shalt not kill, unless......

8/04/2007 9:31 AM  
Blogger x4mr said...

Touche, Navigator. I am not irritated. Those simple understandings (that are anything but simple) are what make you intriguing.

You have healthy agnostic written all over you, which is what I would have bet. I would guess the same for Sirocco.

Without getting into the moral absolute discussion, the useful inquiry is where such strong feelings originate. Moral outrage can get the juices flowing about as hot as immediate mortal danger. Why?

Darwin would simply note that the development of moral standards and spiritual cravings promote the survival of the species, a sound speculation.

My counter to Darwin is that wouldn't we have better survival with a system that had no evil at all? What survival value comes from evil? That hole goes deep.

The first cut comes from military necessity when tribes compete for resources. Even competition within tribes (two of one gender competing for one of the other, especially men wanting the same woman). Clearly we had to develop a means for addressing conflict, and we have.

I assert it cannot touch true evil the same way countable cannot touch uncountable.

I can get survival value of symbols and language (biggest distinction between homo sapiens and Neanderthals).

How much language the latter had remains a mystery, but the former had full blown symbolism, which led everything we have today including this discussion. I can get symbolism to language, and I can get to art, but all art? Music?

Darwin to Mozart is a stretch.

8/04/2007 10:34 AM  
Anonymous dustin said...

I must admit, it is a stretch that we would have evolved music based on necessity. I don't think that is the case. What I do think is that as we devolped better tools for survival, the amount of leisure time we had increased. As civilization has taken hold, we have done everything we can to remove natural selection from the equation. Think about it, many of our first advances involve agriculture and sanitation. I will readily admit, I have never heard of a "culture center" brain structure, but with considerable brain power not applied to everyday survival, other abilitis are sure to develop. It can also be argued that music is a by product of language development. Sheet music is a language all it's own, likewise visual art. My personal opinion is that art developed as a way to communicate something normal spoken word could not.

8/04/2007 6:27 PM  
Blogger x4mr said...

Good point, which of course immediately leads to the question of what art communicates that language cannot.

The artistic experience is a rich subject in itself. I'll never forget seeing Giacometti's "The Chariot" at the Museum of Modern Art. The question for Darwin is a compelling one. Why would we develop music, and why is good music SO GOOD?

Of course, Nine Inch Nails makes Mozart look like kindergarten.

8/04/2007 8:16 PM  
Blogger Sirocco said...

In matters religious, I tend to be an adherent of Epicurus.

X4mr, what makes you think art expresses anything language cannot? Rather, it might only address something language can too, but address it more elegantly, more precisely.

Good music is good for the same reason good literature is good - it crates stories for us, or expresses thoughts familiar to us, but in a new way (or new medium), in a manner better than we might have done ourselves.

8/05/2007 6:42 AM  
Anonymous dustin said...

A Nine Inch Nails fan? you never cease to amaze. Sirocco, what you say is true, but I ask you this. We have a word for happy, a word for sad, etc. Can you say with certainty exactly what that is? I have a hard time describing sad without using the word sad or any of it's synonyms. I know for a fact that BB King has no trouble explaining sadness, or at least sadness as he feels it. For added fun check out Andy McKee on youtube. That guy is amazing.

8/05/2007 8:02 AM  
Blogger Sirocco said...

Dustin, aren't you making my point for me? I.e., art is simply (or, at least, partly) another form of language?

8/05/2007 9:06 AM  
Blogger x4mr said...

Epicurus, Sirocco. I should have known. That makes perfect sense.

I've expended considerable horsepower pondering the experience of art and music and its relationship to that which can be experienced in conversation written or oral with language. Basically, we are discussing our views on Aesthetics, itself a rich subject.

I can appreciate your position, and certainly have a mature relationship with the distinction "elegance" and the idea that perhaps music and art merely capture a particular ? in a way that language would find far more cumbersome.

However, I cannot escape my dualist position that indeed, art and music cross a line and tap into the "Else."

Driving for coffee this morning, listening to 3:30 to 4:30 of the third track of NIN Fragile's Right ("Where is Everybody?"), it clicked solid and irrefutable, "No way in hell can language ever do this. No effing way."

Music and art come from another place. We can agree to disagree. I have no emotional "righteousness" about this and respect both of your remarks.

Perhaps when I provide a richer treatment of the border and navigation, you'll have to reconsider your perspectives:-)

8/05/2007 11:04 AM  
Anonymous dustin said...

sirocco, you're right. I must have gotten confused somewhere down the road.

8/06/2007 5:51 AM  
Blogger Sirocco said...


When I mentioned Epicurus, I had in mind this quote specifically:

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?”

Although there is a lot I like about his general philosophy.

I am more than willing to set this aside as something to congenially disagree on, and will look forward to future postings.

8/06/2007 7:30 AM  

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