Are all geniuses obnoxious?

28 May

One of the true greats of physics, Murray Gell-Mann, passed away a few days ago. While most of the hard sciences tend towards a brutally pragmatic terminology that reflects only historical or technical aspects of the topic at hand, Gell-Mann is responsible for giving one of the most fundamental science a uniquely whimsical bent. That science is particle physics as captured in the Standard Model, a remarkable theoretical construct that Gell-Mann helped create back to the 1970s and 1980s. The Standard Model as shaped by Gell-Mann is full of little things called “quarks”, which come in three (really six) colors and six flavors, those flavors including “strangeness” and “charm”. Moreover, these quarks are held together by sticky things called “gluons.”

All in all, Gell-Mann helped make fundamental particle physics sound oddly tasty and colorful, like some sort of treat put together for creative children. Moreover, his whimsical names simultaneously hid incredibly profound insights into the nature of matter. For example, his use of everyday primary color terminology for the strong force gives a remarkably solid analogy for getting at least a basic understanding of how the symmetry mathematics called SU(3) operates at a practical level.

In short, Gell-Mann was a true genius. And he could also be obnoxious.

When his former officemate, friend, and arch competitor Richard Feynman died, Gell-Mann refused to follow one of the most prevalent instincts of society by writing a reflection on Feynman that was more about settling the score on offenses, real and imagined, than about praising Feynman for anything he had done or been. It was obnoxious and rude, and yet those who knew Gell-Mann mostly shrugged off.

Why? Because geniuses are supposed to be obnoxious.

That is, there is a widespread presumption in both academic circles and the general population that if you are truly brilliant in some area of learning, you will also be obnoxious. It just comes with the turf.

But is obnoxiousness truly a part of genius?

Prejudices are odd little things. They appeal to our perceptions in ways that are often subtle and intuitive, working their way in gently and usually without much fanfare. A good way to become away of this sneaky process is to take the same assertion and change all the nouns to make an a similar assertion about some different group.

For example, is a group of thirty geniuses asked to talk about their work any more likely to be obnoxious than a group of thirty people selected at random and asked to talk about politics?

Probably not! In other words, the idea that geniuses are more likely to be obnoxious than randomly selected people is an example of selective vision, of us seeing what we want to see simply because someone we respected casually introduced the idea to us. Obnoxiousness is no stranger to the human condition, and in any fair accounting of it, the rarest among us is is someone who is never obnoxious about anything.

However, in the case of geniuses there is another intriguing aspect to this question that is worth exploring. If someone is a genius, will they be unavoidably “obnoxious” about their area of special insight? Does that very insight ensure they will be especially annoying to those around them?

This depends in part on what we mean by “expertise” in some topic, and how that affects their conversations with others on that topic. A medical doctor who understands his area well is going to say things in the fashion and with an adamancy that others will not understand, simply because they do not know the details behind the seeming rigidity of the doctor’s views on certain medical issues. This is not a problem conversationally as long as those around the doctor acknowledge that the he has a right to say things that they will not immediately understand. If however the others do not respect the opinions of that doctor, the result will be conversations in which both sides can become very adamant, and thus obnoxious, about their perspectives.

This kind of adamancy can be complicated. While often extremely useful for speeding up selection of whom to listen to, the imprimatur of respectability can also be artificial, incomplete, or simply false. Should George Washington have argued against his doctors about using so many leeches on him after he became ill? He did not because he accepted their imprimatur of respectability. He probably would have lived a lot longer, though, if he called them all quacks and thrown them out of his house.

True geniuses — and to be honest I don’t even know what that really means in any definitive way, since one could argue that everyone has some area of their life in which they are are more of a “genius” than anyone else — are an even odder case, since pretty much by definition the only person who can give them an imprimatur the respectability is themselves.

Thus as with a trained medical doctor, a true genius will see things in ways that others do not. Furthermore, since they are geniuses it is pretty much a given that they cannot point to someone else as their defining authority. After all, they are called geniuses because they are defying that previous authority!

Further compounding the conversational complexity of talking with such people is that for most of the sciences the ratio of crackpots to geniuses is always a rather large number. Why this is is worth a brief examination.

So why are crackpots so common in some disciplines, at least when compared to the number of geniuses? Well, one deep reason is that our educational system does very poorly at teaching people that certainty is an emotion rather than a logical proof of truth. Without this clearly in mind, it is too easy for people to develop absolute certainty about issues for which they have no particular logical argument. As long as they recognize that certainty is only an emotion and not a proof, the emotion of certainty can turn into a useful search heuristic for trying to find a real proof. But in most cases, the defining characteristic of a crackpot is that they have no internal ability to differentiate between the feeling of certainty and the actual proof of certainty. The latter is typically many order of magnitude harder to achieve.

A pleasant and quite intelligent person I once knew had difficulty with this distinction on one very narrow topic, which was (of course) physics. When he found out that I knew some physics, he made several attempts to explain his theory of space to me. He was absolutely certain that vacuum of space is composed of little hexagons of heavy, highly radioactive particles that decay in microseconds. No amount of gentle persuasion about how such a space would collapse instantly or blow up or both made any difference. Any physics picture he saw with a little hexagons in it became supporting evidence for the absolute certainty he felt about this idea. It was purely an emotion, not a logical conclusion, but for him it was an emotion so powerful that was not subject to ordinary conversational persuasion.

The widespread addition of some folks to the delightful feeling of certainty makes being a “real” genius even harder, since by definition an outsider is not going to be able to tell the difference without a lot of work that they may not have the time to do. The genius who is adamant because they have truly worked out some new truth is, too often, going to look to others almost exactly like the person with no idea what they are talking about, but who is very certain they are correct. This too can make it more likely for geniuses to come over as overbearing and obnoxious, since they may have found through the school of hard knocks that if they do not argue adamantly and in detail for their positions, they will be assumed to be crackpots worthy of immediate dismissal.

So, bottom line: Are geniuses really harder to get along with than regular folks?

I rather doubt it. My suspicion is that the polite geniuses simply don’t get noticed as much, whereas ones like Wolfgang Pauli and and Ernst Mach who made it a point of pride to grind down hard on other people’s ideas and even self-respect tend to get remembered more. Pauli destroyed the career of the man who gave Pauli the idea for which he later got a Nobel prize. Mach drove Ludwig Boltzmann, arguably a gentle genius of the first order, to suicide. Ironically, Mach despised Boltzmann because his deeply insightful thermodynamic definition of time relied on atoms, which Mach, almost uniquely for a physicist of that time, did not believe in.

Once again, it is a matter of perception: We tend to see geniuses as obnoxious in no small part because historically, a certain number of geniuses used their fame to promote a sort of “my way or the highway” approach to their topics as the only way to proceed down the course of changing the world.

The world is more complex than that. A discerning and more detailed look at who was right and who was wrong — e.g. Boltzmann the quiet but correct genius versus Mach the brilliant but profoundly wrong one — shows us that as with many sides of ordinary life, there are many routes to expressing genius. Some of the paths that we choose are obnoxious and some are not, just as people are people whether they are geniuses or not.

The Cosmological Implications of Metallic Aluminum in Meteorites

4 May

This is a paper I would like to work on, but at present it’s pretty far down on my priority list. This abstract summarizes the main points. Anyone interested in the topic might want to consider the testable implications of the cosmic electrolysis hypothesis.

Abstract: The findings of a remarkable Siberian expedition organized by cosmologist Paul Steinhardt helped establish beyond reasonable doubt the existence of metallic aluminum and aluminum alloys in some meteorites. However, aluminum minerals pose a profound chemical mystery: How can oxygen-greedy metallic aluminum exist naturally when the only environments energetic enough to make it are necessarily also hot enough for the aluminum to steal oxygen from nearly any type of oxide, via a generalized version of the thermite reaction? Since aluminum is roughly as reactive as sodium metal, synthetic aluminum remains stable in open environments only because its surface forms a protective and self-healing sapphire layer. Commercial electrolysis methods synthesize aluminum at low enough temperatures for sapphire coatings to protect the resulting metallic aluminum. In this paper the author proposes that meteoric aluminum results from a natural process that parallels commercial aluminum production methods, specifically by the induction of substantial direct electrical currents in relatively cool aluminum-bearing asteroids. The author further proposes that these currents are induced when asteroids pass through the powerful electrical fields found in the polar jets of a neutron star. Such events would be most likely to occur after the star of the system in which the asteroids formed went supernova, leaving behind both asteroid debris and a neutron star to which the debris is bound by gravity. This cosmic electrolysis hypothesis leads to testable predictions that include: (a) the presence in aluminum-bearing meteorites of grains that are older than our solar system, specifically dating to the era when supernovas created the local bubble of relatively empty space in which our solar system now resides; (b) association of metallic aluminum with minerals such as cryolite that support aluminum electrolysis; and (c) the presence of other minerals and structural signatures characteristic of prolonged exposure to substantial direct electrical currents, with such characterizations made by subjecting warm asteroid-like mineral mixes to strong direct currents.

Using Xi space to label fermions consistently

2 Dec

Here’s my latest Xi space diagram. It leverages the RGBQ labeling to provide a compact, self-consistent way to label all known fermions, that is, fundamental particles with 1/2 unit of spin:

At the deepest level, the common structure of all fermions breaks down into just four architectures that are based on the magnitude of their electrical charges. These four fundamental fermion architectures are: neutrino-type fermions with electrical charge magnitude zero; down-type quarks with charge magnitude 1/3; up-type fermions with charge magnitude 2/3;  and electron-type fermions with charge magnitude 1.

However, these four simple patterns balloon into a total of 90 variants when all quantum numbers and factors are taken into account. First, there are three “Generations” of  fermions, each with 30 variants. Strangely, these three generations differ only by the masses of the fermions within them, e.g. in terms of quantum numbers a muon looks very much like an inexplicably massive electron. Each Generation of 30 fermions is further divided into 15 ordinary matter fermions and 15 antimatter versions. The quarks in each family, which are the fermions with fractional 1/3 and 2/3 magnitude electrical charges, are tripled in number by three strong-force “color charges.” Finally, every non-zero-charge (non-neutrino) fermion has both a left-handed and a right-handed version. These two chiral versions of a fermion alternate and interact with each other at a quantum level via the Higgs boson, and by doing so create the mass of the ordinary versions of those fermions that we see everyday.

The phi notation augments RGBQ labeling with generations, chirality, and something called “weak isospin” to enable consistent labeling of the key properties of all of these 90 fermion variants.

A Four-Particle Theory of Dark Matter

14 Nov


Paper preview: A Simple Unified Charge Space for Fermions

14 Sep

I’m an open-source kind of person, so I deeply believe in free access to and sharing of ideas. In keeping with that philosophy, here’s a peek at a paper I’m working on to help folks navigate the Standard Model more visually. For those of you who want to see the story first in colorful graphics first, here are the three main figures:

Xi Fermion Charge Space
Color Hexagon, Q View
Color Hexagon, Q-bar View

Related, but enormously more comprehensive (and lots of fun to use) is:

Garrett Lisi’s Elementary Particle Simulator

which anyone interested in particle physics should try.

Fully understanding the Standard Model of particle physics requires years of study in some fairly intense mathematical topics, including group theory, or the study of symmetries in complex systems.

However, the fact that the Standard Model is all about symmetries means there are points within it in which complexity suddenly snaps into perspective, providing a simpler, more intuitive way of understanding certain aspects of the model. This potential for uncovering elegant, more insightful views of the Standard Model and beyond (including gravity) is delightfully exemplified by the Elementary Particle Explorer, a free application from Garrett Lisi, Troy Gardner, and Greg Little. The Explorer allows anyone to explore different perspectives of Garrett Lisi’s E8 grand unified model of particle physics, and through that exploration understand ways in which the model snaps into simpler viewpoints. (See again Lisi’s simulator at

Computer science encourages viewing patterns not in terms of particles, but rather as indications of abstract structures that need to be reduced to their simplest possible forms. A good example of this principle is the decades-old particle concept of “rishons,” which attempts to construct fundamental fermions from still smaller particles. For multiple reasons, the symmetries that led to the rishon idea lead to inconsistent and poorly defined particles. However, if those same symmetries are instead analyzed and reduced to their simplest possible forms, they lead to a rather unexpected destination: A three-dimensional space whose axes represent the Red, Green, and Blue (RGB) color charges of the strong force.

That is, the “rishon” concept is nothing more than a reflection of structure of the color force, distorted by attempting to force-fit that structure into a full particle model. But conversely, if the rishon concept is used to guide the representation of color charges as quantized vectors within a special three-dimensional space, the color force suddenly snaps into a cleaner perspective that makes it much easier to visualize and comprehend.

Surprisingly, a large part of this simplification comes from treating the electric and color charges as non-orthogonal components of a single unified charge vector. Certain orientations of these vectors in the oriented (anisotropic) three-dimensional charge space become pure electric charge, while other orientations mix electric and strong charges. Weak force transitions become vertical, one-unit moves parallel to pure electric vectors.

My name for the integrated three-dimensional charge space is Xi, which in the math world is pronounced  “zah-ee”, like “sigh” with a z in front instead of an s.

What is remarkable about Xi space is that by predefining just four vectors {R, G, B, Q} and their inverses, all legal charges for fermions and anti-fermions within a generation can be defined by simply rearranging and simplifying the additive terms of the charge equation RGBQ=0, which is just a short form for R+G+B+Q=0.

Xi even captures baryon construction if three rules are added: (1) “Chaining” of the four predefined vectors R, G, B, and Q and their inverses is permitted, which results in jagged paths along the edges and surfaces of the cubes; (2) The chained paths must begin and end on the color-free Q “axis” (body diagonal), and; (3) Adding a +Q vector to the chain also always adds +1/2 spin, while adding a -Q (Q-bar) vector adds -1/2 spin.

With these three rules the standard baryons and their spins pop out easily. Examples included the spin 1/2 protons and neutrons and the spin 3/2 delta+ baryons. Even the delta++ and delta– baryons show up by adding another layer of cubes above and below the ones shown. Spin 1/2 combinations of three down quarks are forbidden not by Pauli exclusion, but by the impossibility of reversion the spin of one of the three down quarks without at the same time reversing its charge.

Two important additional references:

(1) In 1979, S.L. Glashow published without comment the upper cube of Xi space in “The Future of Elementary Particle Physics.” He mentions it simply as a mnemonic for remembering the particles in a generation! I did not find out about his use of this model until a couple years ago.

(2) Starting in 2008, Piotr Zenczykowski began publishing a series of articles that redefine the rishon concept in terms of Clifford algebras, rather than as particles. Unlike the Glashow cube, I found and looked at one of his papers while attempting to refactor the rishon idea down to its basics. I am not aware of them making a direct link to the strong force, but his papers very much capture the need for a deeper, less “particle first” examination of these remarkable symmetries in the fermion family. I heartily recommend his papers for anyone interested in looking for deeper fermion family structure.

Here’s what the Xi Fermion Charge Space looks like graphically.

—– Addendum 2016-09-14.14:51 ET —–

One of the points of Xi space is that adding the Q vector as a non-orthogonal diagonal within a fully orthogonal 3D color space enables a much simpler and more elegant navigation of two main charge characteristics of fermions, electric and color. Even the weak force shows up in simplified form as Q or Q-bar transitions that remain within a single color, e.g. R to RQ.

However, if the goal is only to track color charge and ensure color balance, it turns out that the best perspective is not the full Xi space, but its projection onto a plane perpendicular to the Q diagonal. In this plane, Red, Green, and Blue become three non-orthogonal points on an equilateral triangle, with their anti-colors occupying another similar triangle. The result is a hexagonal view in which the quarks and colors that make up matter stay in one triangle, the RGB triangle, while antimatter and anticolors occupy the other triangle. The Q subscript keeps track of the exact vector relationships, but for the purpose of the color hexagon it can simply be ignored, since Q transitions only change the non-color electric force.

The first view of the Color Hexagon is looking down from the positive Q direction, and the second view is looking up from the negative Q (Q-bar) direction. These two views show exactly the same vectors and vector relationships as the Xi space figure, but using octahedrons rather than cubes to frame the vectors. The octahedrons in these perspectives better capture the three-dimensional origins of the axis projections:

Color Hexagon, Q View

Color Hexagon, Q-bar View

Why Grand Unification Theories Keep Failing

22 Dec

The Diversity of Grand Unified Theories

The grand unified theories of everything in physics are supposed to explain, well, everything. They are just one step shy of theories of Life, the Universe, and Everything.

So how are grand unified theories of everything doing these days? This link from Quanta Magazine gives a beautiful interactive map of the situation:

The diversity is amazing. If you were hoping for an answer with the brevity and simplicity of 42, however, you will be sorely disappointed.

Lessons from Alchemy

Historically, if a discipline suffers from an overabundance of theories it is likely that something is amiss with the overall approach, not just with the individual theories.

Alchemy is instructive. Alchemy is what chemistry was before a unifying theory of chemical elements and their properties was finally uncovered. After that, the fascinating diversity and strangeness of the mostly directionless field of alchemy disappeared.

Alchemy’s single largest impediment against progress was not a lack of experimentation, but a stubborn bias towards an idea that simply did not work: The belief that there were only four or five elements. To the alchemists, the idea that the worlds had, say, about a hundred elements was offensive in a way that is surprisingly familiar to modern science: They just could not believe that the deeper fabric of the universe was that large and ayrbitrary. Consequently, the four or five elements that had been proposed centuries ago always seemed like a good launching point for almost every new experiment or attempt at exploration.

The great irony of alchemy is that the alchemists who believed in simple fundamentals were essentially correct in their assumptions, but had failed miserably in practice because they were looking at wrong level of how the universe is constructed.

All of the compounds at which they were looking were are in fact composed of just three primary elements, those being protons, neutrons, and electrons. The alchemists, alas, did not know that those three elements operated at levels and energies so far beyond their reach that they would not be identified unambiguously until centuries later.

Grand Unification Theories as Alchemy

Sadly, the diversity and lack of convergence of grand unification theories in physics suggests that it is at present an endeavor that is more closely aligned with alchemy than chemistry.

The Problem: Particle Parochialism

So if there is some kind of bias or misconception that is keeping particle physics from converging to a single well-defined path and set of grand unification concepts, what might it be?

Here is a simple suggestion: Particle parochialism, by which I mean the tendency to isolate and separate the problem of why particles exist from the medium in which they exist, that is, from space and time.

The converse approach is to assume that despite their seeming simplicity in comparison to the wild zoo of particles that we have uncovered, space and time as we know them are at some deeper level just as structured and arbitrary as the zoo of particles we find within them. More importantly, the deeper structures of space and time are structured in ways that require the existence of those particles, and vice-versa. That is, to emerge from its current alchemy-like status grand unification will need to look for some deeper and odder set of fundamental ideas that link particles, space, and time (p+s+t) into a single theory from which properties such as distance, direction, rotation, charge, particle spin, quantization, quantum uncertainty, and classical certainty all emerge on an equal basis.

​​Why Symmetry Theories Keep Failing

Like fish who accept water as a given, physicists tend to accept certain concepts as givens that require no further breakdown or explanation, such as distance (space), time (change), charge, spin, and the rules of quantum mechanics. They then try to combine some subset of these givens, usually the more particle-focused ones such as charge and spin, into a broader structure that combines them in diverse ways to create our universe. Those broader structures are called symmetry theories.
It won’t work. The problem is not symmetry theory per se, but that fact that the pieces that physicists and mathematicians are feeding into it are too complex and need to broken down into more fundamental and likely stranger properties. What’s being done now it like trying to build a Ford Fiesta from GM and Nissan motors and frames. With enough creativity and hacking the result may sort-of work and sort-of look like a Fiesta. But it will always end up hokey and not very satisfying.

Such is the current state of symmetry theories in physics. Just as someone trying to understand how to build a Ford Fiesta must abandon prefab motors and frames in favor of more primitive alloys, electronics, and plastics to create an actual Fiesta, someone seeking to explain the particles and fields we see must go farther down into the fabric of the universe, and there seek out ideas that precede and contribute as much to space and time as they do to particles within space and time.

The Siren’s Lure of Mathematical Infinities

So how carefully do physicists and mathematicians presently pick apart the properties of space, for example? Do they respect limits known for real space as also implying limits in their abstractions of that space, many of which are extend deeply into the structure of mathematics?

Most physicists accept the concept of a point particle, but there is flatly no evidence from the physical world that true point-like objects exist in space. Quite the contrary: Quantum physics requires that no true point-sized objects exist, since such a point would require infinite energy to overcome quantum space-momentum uncertainty.

So what if the only way to create a fully self-consistent theory for describing particles+space+time is to apply that same principle to mathematics? That is, what if ideal points in mathematics are no more real than they are in physics, and so cannot be used to describe the real universe without creating paradoxes? That would mean that even the simple number line we were taught in elementary school is just a classical approximation that only works if you don’t push it too far.

That happens to be true. A ruler contains an infinite number of irrational points. Attempting to express just one of those points as a literal real number, one that a computer could process for example, would require a storage device capable of storing an infinite number of digits. Such a storage device cannot be constructed, since it would require infinitely more mass and space than exists in the universe.

Rotation is another remarkable property of space, one that is extremely complex when expressed as executable mathematics. Yet in both relativity and particle physics, it is accepted as “given” in trying to explain how physics works.

It’s Time to Dive Deeper

The bottom line is that when it comes to space, we are fish, and space is the water we swim in every day. That makes us accept its properties so deeply that we don’t realize how complex, weird, oddly specific, and non-intuitive they really are.

So when we try to create a grand theory of particles, we can’t help leaning towards treating it mainly as an issue of why particles exist. But the deeper problem is this: Why do particles+space+time exist? How do they help create each other? Which of the deepest properties of those three are deeply interconnected at some level we are currently missing? In that approach, no part of the particles+space+time triad would be isolated from the other two, or any more fundamental.

The Trickiest Part: Creating Boundary-Aware Mathematics

Trickiest of all, mathematics cannot keep assuming non-existent ideas if it is to describe such deeper relationships correctly. Thus p+s+t physics would no longer be able to use Dirac deltas, which are fundamental to much of quantum physics math, without simultaneously recognizing that every such invocation in effect blows up the universe by creating a point of infinite energy. At present, mathematical physics gets an almost universal free pass on such highly convenient usages. That will need to change, since otherwise the infinities get shifted off into the math and enable statements that are non-physical, such as point-like particles.

What is needed instead are boundary-aware expansions of mathematics that incorporate the mathematical equivalent of quantum uncertainty deeply into their fabric and formulas. How this would work is unclear, since it would require a rethinking of the entire concept of cost-indifferent use of infinitesimals, replacing it with a formulation where uncertainty is the norm and specificity emerges only after the application of sufficient resources. Computer science, with its very much real-world representations of otherwise idealized number concepts likely would be an instructive starting point.

An indication of progress would be formulations in which the uncertainty of quantum mechanics becomes very natural and, quite likely, much more computationally efficient. The latter property would emerge due to the omission of the false levels of precision that approximations of infinitely precise numbers imply when performing such calculations.

Hints and Allegations

But what about the physics itself? It’s easy to assert that there exist deeper “links” between space and fermions, for example, but what would the nature of those links even be?

The lesson from chemistry is that unexpected patterns are sometimes important… and sometimes not. Mendeleev, using little more than cards with notes and a lot of persistence, managed to ferret out patterns that in time would prove deeply related to the later worlds of both nuclear physics and quantum mechanics. He could not even begin to explain why eight was such an important number in the patterns he saw, but it didn’t really matter to him. His objective was simply to find those patterns, whatever they might be. A similar logic applied over a century later with recognition of the eight-fold way in particle physics.

The data for linking such disparate concepts as space and particles is far sparser, and so is also much more treacherous to interpret. One simple example that occasionally makes its way into peer-reviewed physics papers is the curious coincidence of 3 spatial dimensions and the SU(3) gauge group that defines the color force. A link between the color force and the number of spatial dimensions would not necessarily be direct, however. In fact, as with the examples from chemistry, the occurrence of the number 3 in both of these cases would be more likely an emergence from an underlying common source that at present is not even recognized as existing, let alone specified in detail.

Quantum theory is rich with opportunities deeper exploration, especially since issues such as boundaries between quantum and classical physics remain so oddly ill-defined. Quantum uncertainty in particular forces a deeper relationship between particles and space, since it is this uncertainty that makes the concept of a point particle in real space into a volume limit that can never be reached in practice. If the lure of infinitesimals is discarded, this seemingly minor aspect of uncertainty is transformed into something deeper and a good deal stranger, a problem of how to define what a particle even is if it is not a point hidden away by uncertainty.

The Challenge

If particles, space, and time are in fact far more deeply and fundamentally tied into each other in ways we do not yet understand, the implication is that attempts too unify all of physics through particle-focused symmetry theories will necessarily fail. Like cars made from motors and frames from the wrong sources, many such failures will occur in odd, “almost right” ways that are close enough to seem promising.

But the very breadth and diversity of such theories argues that such promises are simply mirages in a desert of misdirection. It is more likely that Grand Unification needs to dive deeper… much, much deeper. Such dives are likely to prove very uncomfortable, since the infinity-studded  mathematical tools used now are likely to fail or, worse, misdirection when applied to a world . It is likely that real and continuum forms of mathematics will require serious reexamination, extension, and even outright  repair. The resulting extended formalisns will provide both the improved vision and structural support needed to explore those hidden depths safely.

Bush and the Zombie Campaign

1 Nov

The TOP Blog — Nov 1, 2015

It is the day after Halloween, and a zombie is shuffling through the halls of the Republican Presidential nomination process. Like most zombies, it does not yet realize it is dead.

My somewhat retro future prediction for this blog entry* is that the Presidential campaign of Governor Jeb Bush died from a self-inflicted short, sharp, shock back on October 24, a week before the debate in which he did a truly and exceptionally conspicuous job of not standing out in any way.

More specifically, on October 24 Jeb chose to leap far beyond the bounds of the social contract envelope of what is acceptable for a Presidential candidate to say.** That envelope of acceptability varies by both candidate and audience, and is absolutely gigantic for Donald Trump — a fascinating topic for a future blog entry.

Alas, for Jeb Bush the contract for what is acceptable public speech is far less forgiving. As the incarnation of the traditional Republican candidate, he has inherited the same envelope of verbal acceptability as his predecessors, including in particular that of his father.

What Governor Bush said was this:

“… I’ve got a lot of really cool things I could do other than sit around, being miserable, listening to people demonize me and feeling compelled to demonize them. That is a joke. Elect Trump if you want that.”

Ouch. With that single statement, Governor Bush catapulted himself far outside the critically important “I Will Be Your Totally Dedicated Leader” contract that every candidate implicitly signs when they announce. Even Teflon Trump, the indisputable mastermind of how to exploit the I’m Your Leader contract to his advantage, would have hurt himself seriously if he had made that particular comment.

The issue is simple: People never, ever want a quitter for a leader, particularly when fear dominates their thoughts. Their leader is their defense and anchor against the terrifying currents of fear that threaten to carry them out int the ocean of the unknown. It is their trust in that leader that lets them sleep at night, thinking “The world is falling apart, but as long as My Strong Leader is in charge and looking out for me, there’s hope.”

(In a nutshell, that is also why both Donald Trump and Ben Carson are doing so well, albeit with different parts of the Republican psyche.)

So, if a candidate then says “Sorry bub, I realize you are terrified, but I’ve got better things to do than waste my time protecting you,” their acceptability as a candidate for Protecting Leader is over — and for this particular fear-fulled election cycle, little else counts.

It’s possible Governor Bush could have survived such a statement in an earlier era of less persistent communications. But in our modern web-linked world, his declaration of indifference instantly transformed into a powerful and sharp-fanged attack dog. It’s a dog anyone can now hire and unleash at will if they see Jeb Bush creeping up on them in the polls, even if they are themselves in the back of the pack.

In short: While the well-funded zombie campaign of Governor Bush can likely use fiscal energy remaining from when it it was truly alive to lurch and stumble forward for a few more weeks, its actual relevance in terms of plausible futures ended on October 24. To use an image shared by gardeners and game theorists, that was the day when the branch of the tree of possible futures labeled “Jeb Bush Becomes President” was inadvertently hacked off and tossed into the trash by none other than Jeb Bush himself.

* This TOP (Terry On Politics ) blog is not intended to advocate any particular political position, but rather to apply ideas from artificial intelligence and game theory to make limited predictions on what may or may not happen in this election year.

Specifically, I’m using a variation of the old game theory concept of weighted branch searches, applied to a possible-future-outcomes tree. The variation is that I look mainly for strong social-contract invariants to add incomplete weighting factors to the branches. By “invariants” I mean factors whose impacts remain unusually stable over time even while other factors are highly or even chaotically variable.

Precise prediction of social events is of course impossible due to those many and inevitable chaotic factors, but the existence of invariants means that in certain cases the weight of the invariant will so dominate a branch that it becomes possible to make branch-level predictions. Certain branches of the future can for example become vanishingly unlikely regardless of how other factors play out.

** All of us operate everyday under incredibly broad straighten envelopes of what is acceptable and not acceptable to say or even think. We do not usually notice these constraints, since when used skillfully they are also the foundation for powerful and persuasive communications, enabling us to convey ideas in ways that are more persuasive to others.

However, if you stop for a moment and think of all different sentences you coulf construct that are completely out of the bounds of what you would ever actually say, you will realize that the concept of socially binding contracts on your speech is actually very broad and powerful. For politicians this is even more true, since those seeking leadership positions have additional constraints that don’t apply to the everyday person.

Advice to Republicans: How to Win the White House in 2016

25 Oct

The TOP (Terry On Politics) Blog – Sunday, October 25, 2015 (Blog #2)

First the advice: If you are a Republican and you want a conservative Republican to win the White House in 2016, here is what you need to do: Make sure that Governor John Kasich of Ohio becomes the nominee, and make sure that he picks Marco Rubio (or someone very similar) as his running mate. That’s it.

Why? Because after the Benghazi Select Committed gifted Secretary Hillary Clinton with many hours of free and incredibly effective pro-Clinton advertising on October 22, the options of the Republican party for winning the Presidential election in 2016 have narrowed dramatically. More specifically, the only Republican candidate in the field who now has any chance of overcoming what the Benghazi Committee did that night is one who knows Washington well enough to counter the advantage they gave Secretary Clinton. It has to be one real insider knowledge, with real political chops, and one who is capable of real debate with Secretary Clinton. That narrow the field down very quickly to Governor Kasich, the one Republican who can for example claim to have balanced the federal budget and then pull out real-world proof that he’s not just making up the claim. The Republican Party will need that kind of solid foundations when they go in to debate Hillary Clinton.

So Republicans (I am not one), hear me: If you pick any other route, if pick any other nominee, you will see Secretary Hillary Clinton (or possibly Bernie Sanders) become President. Your odds are only about 50/50 even if you do pick John Kasich. But those odds will fall to single digits if you choose anyone else as your nominee, especially the current leader Donald Trump.

How can I say such things? I’m no talking head on TV, analyzing and re-analyzing each day’s news as if somehow, amazingly, that particular day’s news is more critical to the future than anything else that has ever happened. I have no experience in that kind of talky-talk. I’m not even an advocate for either party in this context. Instead, I just see an interesting problem, one to which I believe I can apply some experience I’ve gained over the years.

My job for the last ten years has instead been largely about predicting the future. It ain’t easy.

More specifically, I’ve spend years assessing how innovative new products and ideas could change society in unexpected and even dramatic ways. Understanding a new idea or radical technology is just the start, since how that idea interacts with the world around it is often the most baffling part of the equation. Good ideas die and bad ones thrive, more often than you might think and often for reasons that can be amazingly opaque.

Yet the future is not without its patterns and paths of lesser resistance. In fact, it is often a bit like an uncut diamond, rough in form and difficult to judge. Yet if it can be assessed correctly and struck in just the right fashion, it often can split along well-defined planes that lock the future into clearly defined paths.

And so it has struck me: The political impacts of unique individual are fundamentally not all that different in terms of future impacts from the impacts of unique technologies. Like technologies, people and components of politics can be very complex and opaque. Yet those impacts also have their planes of leverage and lesser resistance. As with diamonds, sometimes it is the application of just the right force at just the right angle that can lead to a clear outcome. What that force and angle are depends critically on the shape, strengths, and flaws of the gem that is being cut.

The TOP (Terry On Politics) Blog – Sunday, Oct 25, 2015

25 Oct

Mark Twain on the Benghazi Hearings

I’ve always admired fellow Missourian Mark Twain’s sense of humor when it comes to politics. For example, he (may have) once said:

“Suppose for a moment that you were a politician. Then suppose for a moment that you were a jackass… oh sorry, sorry, I’m repeating myself…”

So one wonders what might Mark Twain have said about the Benghazi Select Committee’s October 22 marathon grilling of Secretary Hillary Clinton? I can’t resist! Here’s my best guess.

In a time when many of us have all but given up on the ability of our elected officials to extend the hand of friendship across the political aisle, it pleases my heart to note that last night we were treated to a truly gracious and entirely unexpected example of giftmanship and skillful political maneuvering.

I am referring of course to the eleven-hour interview of Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton by the Benghazi Select Committee.

I had no idea before watching this spectacle that this illustrious committee was so dedicated to getting Secretary Clinton elected as the next President of our great nation. Nor did I have any inkling of the level of political acumen and effort they were willing to exercise to achieve that goal!

Clearly I am but a rank amateur when it comes to political subtlety. I did not think it humanly possible to make Secretary Clinton look both incredibly competent and deeply worthy of sympathy from everyday working folks, yet these true political geniuses under the brilliant leadership of Chairman Trey Gowdy somehow managed to pull off just that. I am breathless in admiration and respect for such a profound display of skills!

And how can one not admire the committee’s display of the utmost in politically generosity? Those clever scalawags, pretending to despise the Secretary while in fact working feverishly both day and night to ensure her election! The fervor they displayed last night to unite our divided country under Secretary Clinton gives new hope to the cynical of mind, including most of all myself.

Chairman Gowdy, I can only bow my head to you in humble thanks! It is rare indeed to find a man gifted with such a powerful combination of insight, subtlety, and political magnanimity, but in you we have found that man. Your all-but-sealed gift to our nation of a new President Clinton will be spoken of in hushed voices for generations to come.

Especially by Republicans… Continue reading

A New Rhyme for Remembering Months

1 Mar

30 days are in September,
April, June, and November.

The other months have 31,
With 28 there is just one.

February causes troubles,
In years that Leap the last day doubles!

Take the year, divide by 4,
If nothing’s left add one day more.


For years that end in zeros (two!),
The Leap rule fails, the year stays true.

For years that end in zeros (three!),
The Leap still adds a day for free.

–Terry Bollinger, March 1, 2015

(with thanks to Edward Morbius
for prompting the last two lines)