Is the Texas PUC Incompetent?

Tell me I’m wrong. Tell me I’m misreading. That I’ve misunderstood what was being said. That I misunderstood the intent.  Because surely, surely, the Texas Public Utilities Commission cannot possibly be so stunningly, overwhelmingly incompetent, as they were during this week’s electricity crisis.  Perhaps the biggest electricity crisis Texas has ever had.

Because I read the two orders that the PUC wrote to ERCOT (the Electric Reliability Council of Texas) at the depths of the crisis.  No matter how many times I read and re-read the legalese, the first order seems to say that the PUC was shocked, absolutely shocked, that the electric generators were not gouging the customers in the midst of the crisis. And they ordered ERCOT to retroactively gouge on their behalf.  The second order, a day later, said “Remember that first order? Never mind.” It was signed by only some of the commissioners. Apparently, Commissioner Shelly Botkin still thinks that her job is to tell the utilities to gouge the customer.

But maybe I am misreading the text. It is, after all, dense legalese 😀. Let me quote; you decide:

ERCOT has informed the Commission that energy prices across the system are clearing at less than $9,000, which is the current system-wide offer cap pursuant to 16 TAC §25.505(g)(6)(B). At various times today, energy prices across the system have been as low as approximately $1,200. The Commission believes this outcome is inconsistent with the fundamental design of the ERCOT market. Energy prices should reflect scarcity of the supply. If customer load is being shed, scarcity is at its maximum, and the market price for the energy needed to serve that load should also be at its highest.

In other words, they are shocked, completely shocked, that the free market is not ripping off customers.  To “fix” this situation, here is what they recommend:

Pursuant to this authority, the Commission determines that adjustments are needed to ERCOT prices to ensure they accurately reflect the scarcity conditions in the market. Accordingly, the Commission directs ERCOT to ensure that firm load that is being shed in EEA3 is accounted for in ERCOT’s scarcity pricing signals. The Commission further directs ERCOT to correct any past prices such that firm load that is being shed in EEA3 is accounted for in ERCOT’s scarcity pricing signals.

I read these paragraphs five or six times to make sure I understood them.  They seem to say: “Free markets aren’t working. We order you to jack up the price to maximum.”  Lets critique this.

  • Free markets aren’t working. Many people agree with this. We live in the era of “late stage capitalism” where there is abundant evidence of the damage and outright evil caused by free markets.
  • However, the GOP have been cheer-leaders for free markets — that is what they shout out to the voters. Behind closed doors, not so much: there is abundant evidence that the GOP leadership gerry-rig deals that are anti-competitive. They only say they want “free markets”; in practice, they interfere whenever they can.
  • The PUC order is an example: ERCOT provides a more-or-less free market for electricity. It seems to mostly work. But the PUC decided that the free market is not good enough. They decided to order the utilities to raise their prices. To the maximum (and then some, in the second part of the order.)
  • The maximum is ninety times the normal rate. Ninety. 90. Normally, you pay about 10 cents per kWh. Sometimes less, sometimes more. (Some parts of the US pay 20 cents, sometimes). The PUC order directs that prices be raised to $9 per kWh. Some perspective: when you sit in front to the computer all day, you might use up 10 cents of electricity. You might think twice if this cost you $9. Also, you might want to turn off the light in the kitchen.
  • The PUC issued this order in the middle of the greatest crisis the Texas electrical grid has ever had. A catastrophe is unfolding. A total electrical blackout must be avoided. Every elected official, every appointed administrator should be working 16 hours a day to avert disaster. Electric linemen are thawing frozen equipment. Their bosses are manning the phones, coordinating relief efforts. Ted Cruz is flying to Cancun to sit in the warm sun. And the PUC figured out how to waste everyone’s time while also showing they are utterly ignorant of grade-school economics.
  • Because this is rank ignorance. Yes, economics is complicated. Yes, the electrical grid is complicated. Yes, the order clearing system is complicated. Penn State offers online classes on these topics. This is not that. This is an order to gouge the victim, because they think that gouging the victim is the normal thing, right thing to do. Something that free markets should be doing. Like, when someone is choking on a piece of food, merket regulation means that each Heimlich maneuver should cost  $9,000. Or whatever the mandated maximum for government-regulated Heimlich maneuvers.

Obviously, this is a gross misunderstanding of capitalism, of economics, of the way the world works, and of basic human decency. Apparently, the PUC realized this, because a day later, they wrote this:

However, the Commission determines that its directive to ERCOT in its order dated February 15 to also correct any past prices to account for load shed in EEA3 should be and is hereby rescinded and directs ERCOT to not correct any such past practices.

In other words, “never mind“. This time, only two of the three commissioners signed the order.  The third, Commissioner Shelly Botkin, apparently is still confused.

In the wake of the gross incompetence demonstrated by the Texas Public Utilities Commission during the height of a historic utilities crisis, I hereby call for the commissioners to resign. If they do not have the common decency to recognize their mistakes, and remove themselves from a position of authority, the Governor of Texas should remove them.  This is the purest form of bad governance that I have directly witnessed in the last few … umm, weeks.

The commissioners are:

Deann T. Walker,
Arthur C. D’Andrea
Shelly Botkin





I’m old enough to know what happened in the Soviet Union. These three people are the American version of Soviet apparatchiks. America faces a disaster as long as people like this are in power.  This is the kind of leadership that destroys countries.

To be clear, I think ERCOT did a commendable job. Gov. Abbott has got things exactly wrong. He needs to think very hard about why he appointed apparatchiks to the PUC.

If you think that I have made errors of fact, errors of exaggeration, distortion or sarcasm, let me know. Convince me that I’m wrong. Show me that these people are not the incompetent buffoons they appear to be.

Harnessing creative talent

Well, actually, paying for creative talent. The old model was capitalism – get a job, get paid for it. The newer model is Open Source – Wikipedia, Linux – volunteer, do it for free. Obviously(?) this is not sustainable; in the end, you have to have money to buy groceries. Where does this money come from? No one has launched a startup business based on editing Wikipedia. To support their habit of editing Wikipedia.

Open Source, Wikipedia, Linux aren’t just habits, they can border on obsessions. Every amateur psychologist knows that engineers are powered by autistic behaviors.  Small-market capitalism (medieval-era market capitalism) worked great, if you were obsessive about candle-making and shoeing horses. Medieval lords and ladies, the landed gentry, were for the most part economic leeches. Maybe providing some military security. Maybe a judge and a courtroom. Only a tiny percentage used their wealth to pursue higher studies – divinity, law, and what we now call science. Market capitalism never paid for science, except for a brief golden era of 1945-1975 when corporations ran R&D departments. Science is partly funded by Universities, but mostly by government grants. Anyway, writing grant proposals is an odiously unpleasant task.

And no one has written an NSF grant asking for money so that they could edit Wikipedia.  Or write open-source software (well, outside of some narrow scientific usage). Yet these activities are recognizably beneficial to society.

This essay is an exercise in hand-wringing:

  • How do we fund socially beneficial behavior in an increasingly knuckle-headed political environment?
  • How do we reach political agreement on what constitutes socially beneficial behavior?

Well, I guess I could sign up for an account on Patreon. Do you think my fans will pay for exclusive early access to physics research results? Or maybe the exclusive privilege to read blog entries like this? What makes you think I have fans? Do you think that sounds far-fetched? Thought so.

Patreon requires you to create content that is mind-blowing enough that you can nurture actual fans. Wikipedia and Open Source don’t fit into that category.


Pull on this thread, and you get nowhere at all. You hit the wall. Capitalism as-we-know-it. Is there an alternative?  Yes there is! The first hints of an outline is in my next (earlier) essay: Post-Capitalist Political Economy.

Post-Capitalist Political Economy

With regards to distributed ledgers and alternative credit/IOU systems, Mixmix wrote:

Might be interesting to look into mana – in te ao Māori (the Māori world) one aspect of mana is like respect / honour, and decisions are made based on whether it increases the mana of all involved. Really interested because it’s not zero-sum at all. The best path is the one where everyone leaves “richer”.

Mana might work when communities are small, e.g. smaller than the Dunbar number (about 200 people). After that, you have to distinguish social policy from monetary policy, and realize that politics plays a fundamental, key role.

Consider the problem of “taking care of grandma” (or raising children, or looking after anyone who is sick … the traditional feminine roles — I have a terrible urge to talk about why these roles are filled by women, not men, but I think you probably already know why…) In a community of 200 people or smaller, everyone can agree that “taking care of grandma” is a worthy activity. The “cost” of taking care of grandma is 100% negative on a ledger system: everyone else must provide food, shelter to her. There is only one positive externality: grandma is alive, and you can visit her. But how are you going to put “grandma is still alive” on your distributed ledger? How do you say “one living grandma is worth 10,000 IOU’s”?

This is where social policy comes in: the village communally decides that taking care of grandma is worthy (unless everyone hates her…) If you have more than 200 people in the village, say you have 20K people, then how do you allocate “money” (IOU’s, whatever) to “taking care of grandma”? The usual process is to propose a “social safety net”, have everyone vote on it, and then levy a tax on all transactions, and earmark that tax-money for taking care of grandma. Walk down this path for a while, and you end up with capitalism-more-or-less-as-we-know-it.

Distributed ledgers are technologically interesting, but are useless/unfair, unless you couple them to a social policy which kind-of means you have to couple them to a voting system. This is how you solve @Dominic’s bootstrap problem.

We need a distributed ledger with an integrated social policy platform. So that we can allocate funds to taking care of someone-else’s grandma, while also giving the boot to free-riders and general assholes. (Until such a day when the free-riders and assholes become homeless w/mental stability issues camping in the neighborhood park. Then things are hard, again.) So what we’re really looking to do is to erect an alternative, parallel political economy that can compete with capitalism.

Coupling a distributed ledger to a liquid-democracy voting system seems like the way to go. Maybe something with smart contracts ala ERC20 to store the social policy.

Wow. for the first time, ever, it seems like maybe there is a path forwards. Thank you @MixMix; I’ve been stumped by this problem for a long long time.

(To be clear: I’m proposing a technology infrastructure that can issue not only altcoins, but can also determine social policy. It is up to individual communities to determine what their social policy is, and to federate as they desire.)


The Global Brain, Redux

Do you mind if I lecture a bit? I’ll try to keep this short. Search for any terms you are not familiar with. (Cross-post from #securescuttlebutt.)

  • Bacteria use small peptides to “talk to each other”. Search “quorum sensing in bacteria“. Tree roots and fungi do this too.
  • Slime mold can solve the two-armed bandit problem: explore vs. exploit. Microscope slide, a drop of food on the left, on the right. Which will they choose? The bigger blob of food? The closer blob of food? The algo they use is a good one, but not the best-possible one; the best possible one requires storing some binary bits.
  • Communication by peptides is limited by speed of chemical diffusion. There’s also huge cross-talk.
  • Neurons are star-gate, star-trek teleporters for small peptides, now called “neurotransmitters”. A neurotransmitter walks into a neuron here, and a millisecond later, pops out three feet away. Speed is a million times faster than diffusion, and no crosstalk! The algorithm space expands hugely!
  • Jellyfish have neurons but don’t have brains. They can eat, and they can flee predators. Except they sometimes do both at the same time, because they have no supervisor to suppress eating while they’re fleeing. Bilatarians do have this. The first brains.

    Jellyfish have a circular ring of neurons running along the perimeter, able to detect and paralyze food as it swims by.
  • Lets skip ahead. Animals invent language. I stub my toe. Some peptides get released, they go up my spine to my brain, I say “ouch”, and the neurons in your brain know that my toe hurts! This is magic! Forget star-trek teleporters, neurons are now communicating with freakin sound waves! That’s just bat-shit insane!
  • In stone-age villages, grandmas pass cultural heritage to grand-children by oral tradition. Culture has a longer lifespan than human lifespan. It also spreads, one to many. Culture is a stable structure that lives on top of neurons, on top of brains, and continues to live and thrive even as old brains die and new brains are born and added to the network. Lo-fidelity maybe, culture mutates over the generations, but … semi-stable.
  • Phonecians invent the alphabet. Just memorize these 26 symbols, and the sounds that match with them, and you can read-write. Joe Blow, anyone with an IQ over 120 can do this, without training, without a classroom, without an education. This lowers the mutation rate of oral tradition, and supplies a stable long-term storage. Much more stable than oral tradition. Also, fraud-tolerant. You’ve got it in writing.
  • This means that thoughts and ideas can survive on pieces of paper. Or clay tablets. whatever. For decades, centuries, millenia.
  • Like, who is Aristotle? Sure, he’s partly dead clay, but he lives on the be brains of thousands of professors and millions of students. Lives on to this very day. Our neurons are connected to Aristotle’s neurons. Aristotle’s neurons are still influencing our behavior. The network is not sound-waves, the network is written material. This is a store-and-forward network that has survived millennia. Aristotle is a store-and-forward network.
  • The printing press / radio / television / mass media changes everything. Network connectivity between neurons changes to a hub-n-spoke model, broadcasters at the hub. About 1% to 5% of neurons on this planet broadcast to the other 95%. The 1% here are the newspaper editors, journalists, TV stars, movie producers, sports stars, mayors, CEO’s. These people are smart: say, IQ of 120 or better. Because mostly book publishers won’t publish a book written by a moron. Think of this as neuro-science: there are brains connected by various channels, transmitting assorted information. Information that is mostly stable, mostly verifiable, mostly true. Long-lived. Broadcast from the governing few to the masses.
  • This means that the total compute power of western civ has ramped up by million-fold, compared to Medieval times. So, in 1300 AD, you had a handful of universities with brilliant scholars: Peter Abelard, Thomas Aquinas. In the Middle ages, you had maybe thousands of scholars at any given time. Maybe 10K. Now you’ve got many tens of millions, not just universities, not just corporate R&D departments, but also sports-coaches figuring out how to fine-tune athletic performance, city councils figuring out how to run a city. There were lots of brains in the Middle Ages, too, but those brains did not have a network to connect them. Mass media and publishing provided the network. We’ve got many millions of brains figuring shit out, but now they are in sync, because they can communicate better. We’ve got the printing press! Raw compute power via human brains is explosively, exponentially larger than the Middle Ages.
  • Twenty years ago, we invent social media. This completely alters the network connectivity between brains. Suddenly, brains that had only a small, limited reach (the drunken uncle at thanksgiving, the sulky teenager in the high-school lounge) now has a freakin huge audience for their nut-ball flat-earth theories. Or whatever else they care to think about. And so memes, like germs and viruses and #covid spread without a mask, unfiltered, infecting other brains. I mean, mass media used to filter out the shit, because, again, newspaper editors filter out the total garbage. But #youtube and #facebook mostly does not have a filter, so anything goes.
  • Spend some quality time studying “phase transitions” and “second order phase transitions”. This is hard science- physics, the physics of ice melting, the physics of water boiling. Phase transitions change freakin everything. We are in the middle of a phase transition in how human brains are connected. It is literally that big. If you are not seeing this, you are truly missing the big picture.
  • And don’t forget the neurotransmitters. #nicotine #addiction is a real thing, and there’s a cascade of half-a-dozen protein expression and DNA methylation processes involved in this. These same (well, similar) circuits keep you addicted to #facebook, and to #gaming and to #QAnon. These circuits in your brain are now wired to similar circuits in billions of other brains, pumping endorphins with each “like”, with each new subscriber. This is the system we are dealing with.
  • Yes, of course, #capitalism and #politics are layers built on top of this system, but they date back to the invention of the printing press. The invention of social media, the phase transition …. changes everything. We are all part of the Borg now, and we love it. Do not be fooled, there is no going back. Whether or not there will be global systemic collapse, who knows, but seriously, we’ve increased global human brain compute power by 1000x maybe more, over what we had in the 1980’s. What is this brain thinking? Well, surf #youtube for a while to find out. Is it healthy? Watch The Social Dilemma to find out. But do not underestimate what happens during a phase transition.
  • Seriously: study network science. The #math, the #physics, the #neurobiology, the #psychology, the algorithmic #propaganda. This is wayyyy larger than what almost anyone suspects. This is fundamental on a planetary scale.


(I posted this on #scuttlebutt yesterday, in response to a discussion about revolution.)

The current reality that I am faced with is almost half of the US and A voted for Trump and I don’t see how any amount of revolutionary fervor will change that. The reality is that these people live in a different mental universe than we do. That’s the “system” that we’re dealing with.

Let me talk about systems.There is the overtly visible system: the elected politicians, the 0.01%’ers who pull the strings, the networks of lobbyists who glue it all together. A very big complex system. Relatively unchanged for decades, centuries.

There is the brand-new system: the Fox News, the #propaganda mills, the delusional posts that is called #facebook, or social-media in general. Social media allows mind-viruses to spread, unchecked. There’s no mask. It’s daunting: its not just human psychology, its also #neurobiology. The circuits in your brain that make #nicotine addictive are related to the circuits that make political affiliation addictive.

Then there’s the reality: half of the US somehow managed to overlook or not notice Trump’s crimes. How is that even possible? What, exactly, is the “system” that causes this to happen? I mean, sure, I can hand-wave about echo chambers and social media and addiction and #capitalism, but honestly, I don’t understand it.

The closest I’ve come was hanging out on an alt-right, sharply 100% pro-Trump social media site and it was … shocking. People talked about being raped as children, by parents, by relatives, by school-teachers. People talked about losing fingers, arms, eyes from dangerous machinery. People complained about having a terrible education – in primary school, grade school. Unprepared for high-school, couldn’t hack it. Not ready for it. All kinds of mental issues, depression, hopelessness, anger. There was one guy, I’m imagining him as bearded redneck wiseman, trying to hold things together, playing the role of pastor, tending to his flock of broken-down chewed up human beings. And yes, of course, the above is interspersed with talk of libtards and guns and bigotry and utter hatred/contempt for Democrats.

Honestly, it was shocking. The mainstream media are happy to report on the gun-toting bigotry; we all know about that. A casual perusal for facebook gives absolutely everyone who cares to look a nice sampling of alt-right insults and hateful behavior and general stupidity.

What is invisible is the pathos. The decrepit and the broken will spew vile bile on facebook. They won’t open up about the absolutely horrible lives that they’ve endured, until they are in a safe space, where they can open up to each other about how completely broken they are.

Ride the white horse!

As revolutionaries, we here in #ssb are, in a sense, very lucky to be able to rationally discuss revolution and the Matrix movies. But we’ve got this problem: this 49% of America that has been so screwed over by the system, so badly, that like a drowning man who can’t swim, they are grasping for straws, enthralled in the delusional belief that Trump will #MAGA, that Trump will save them, heal them, shelter them from the depredations of “the system” aka “the #Democrats” that have screwed them over (too blind, too deluded to the fact that the #GOP is actively making things much worse for them, while playing them for fools (that they are…))

That’s the revolution, that’s the system we have to fight.

Free will

Eisenstein g_3 modular form

As a physicist, I get to think about free will just like the rest of ’em.  I was recently prompted to set my thoughts to writing on the talk page of the Wikipedia article free will theorem. I think I can string together a few more pieces, and clarify how it actually “all works”. Caution: the rest of this article is about physics and math. So good luck with that, if you are not widely read.

The free will theorem starts with three postulates: an upper bound to the speed of information; the importance of spinors, and quantum entanglement. Not a bad foundation. Lets see how it plays out.

In some theories of entanglement, the resolution of wave function collapse happens via propagation of the phases of the wave-function into the past, see, for example, the two-state vector formalism. Here, it is not information that is travelling backwards in time, but rather the geometric phase (aka the holonomy). There is a U(1)-connection relating the phase of the quantum-mechanical particle (taken to be the phase of the spinor on a spin manifold); that phase has to be consistent across time (and not just space, as it is in the Aharonov–Bohm effect); to describe this consistency, one has to use the holonomy of the connection. If the phase in the future, after wave function collapse, is going to be consistent with the past, then you have to propagate it “all the way around”, “into the past” as well as “into the future” — to close the loop — the holonomic loop (aka the Wilson loop). That’s what makes the two state-vector formalism work. Roughly speaking, it is not “information” in the sense of “classical bits”, that propagates into the past, its the qubits. Anyway, that’s the general idea, as I understand it. The article on Aharonov–Bohm effect has a tortured, painful explanation of the space-like only version of this; I’ve seen far more elegant explanations elsewhere. Aim your search-engine at “U(1) holonomy” for details. Maybe throw in “Dirac string” into the search.

Anyway, that is my understanding of wave-function collapse. There’s no speed-limit in this. Basically, you can think of the past as being “not yet fully frozen” or “not yet fully determined” until the future forces those holonomic loops to close; when they finally freeze up, that wave-front of “freezing up” is what necessarily propagates at the speed of light. (I suppose if you are bold, you can claim that the U(1) of the quantum mechanical phase its exactly the U(1) of electromagnetism; this would explain why its the “speed of light” and not some other speed that is involved. I don’t know if one can be that bold, or not, but it sure seems reasonable.) The loops are what is carrying the “classical bits” of information, the classical bit corresponding to the question “is this loop closed yet, or not?” which has a clear yes/no answer.

The elegance of this is that it replaces a fairly nebulous concept of “causality” with something very concrete and algebraic: the holonomy, and Wilson loops, more generally, with which one can do explicit calculations: it is the cornerstone of algebraic topology. You can do calculations with loops, things like spectral sequences or more generally the Postnikov tower. You cannot do comparable calculations with “causality”. You can’t stick “causality” and “determinism” into some equation and turn the crank. It doesn’t work.

The other problem with the naive concept of the “speed of information” is with what happens at the event horizon at a black hole. My (faulty and naive) understanding is that, again, this is where the holonomy plays a key role; the holonomy in a certain sense “escapes” the black-hole information paradox. The holonomic loops are free to thread through the event horizon; that is because they are not “physical particles” and have no “speed” and thus no “speed limit”. Whatever is entangled inside the horizon must still be phase coherent across the horizon with whatever is going on outside. The evaporation is what “tunnels” the phase from the inside to the outside. Thus, it is not “information” that is being radiated away during during evaporation, it is the end-points of the holonomic loops; when these finally close, the “information” that they are closed is now outside of the BH. For evaporation (Hawking radiation), the end-points happen to be entangled spinors. They carry no information by themselves, the information is “created” when the wave-functions that embody them are a part of collapse. That is where “information” comes from. It is also “why” it looks like information “lives on” the event horizon; the information is a count of the not-yet-closed loops that are waiting for closure. This is consistent with the replica trick (from spin glasses) that is used to resolve the ER=EPR suggestion. The ER’s are the places through which the Wilson loops thread through.

In more abstract terms, information is a cobordism, or rather, the content of what is required to specify a specific cobordant arrangement. From what I can tell,  its got something to do with spectral triples, but I don’t entirely get it. The spectral triples describe the operators needed for the operator product expansion across  the event horizon boundary. Or something like that. I dunno.

So, the above is a sketch that offers up the mathematical details for why “causality” and “determinism” are faulty concepts. John Baez explained one aspect of this elegantly  where he argued for getting rid of category “Set” and replacing it by category “nBord” and category “Hilb”. (See “Quantum Quandaries: A Category-Theoretic Perspective” in “The Structural
Foundations of Quantum Gravity” (2006)) It gets rid of the stupidities with set theory and functions, which are the same stupidities of “causality” and “determinism”, that everyone gets so hung up about, and replaces them with e.g. the infinity category (or the infinity groupoid as that’s more appropriate.)

So where does “free will” come from? Roger Penrose suggests a path. Let me suggest a revised model. Modern physics uses the Standard Model to describe particle interactions.  For this discussion, let’s fall back to a simpler description, which can be used in generic settings (including in curved space-time): this is the resonant interaction. In this case, the conservation of energy becomes a Diophantine equation. Now, Hilbert’s tenth problem asks for the enumeration of such solutions, and it is now known that this is algorithmically impossible — there is no computer program that can achieve this. What does this mean? Well, “determinism” or “causality” is that thing which results when you use digital algorithms; such systems have no “free will”.

Put it this way: whatever free will is, it is certainly not a deterministic coupling. When you say “1+1=2”, it is what it is and there can be no other way. Any set of equations that couple together a bunch of different things “determine” those things. For example, mathematical proofs are “determined” by their premises; they proceed in a purely mechanical way unto their inevitable conclusion. When a certain path is not Turing computable, one gains a certain freedom, as it were; one is not forced to march down that path. So, for example,   when pondering the conservation of energy in the resonant interaction, the resonance condition is “fixed”: one must have a balance of energy. Re-interpreting this as Diophantine equations, we equally see that they are “fixed”, determinate. Balancing these against Hilbert’s tenth problem, we’ve got a rub: A certain set of deterministic, unbreakable equations have solutions that are not recursively enumerable. It is, as it were, that these equations can “make a choice”: they can say “I choose to be solved like so, or like so.”  There is no algorithm forcing their hand.  From the point of view of the Conway-Kochen free will theorem, an electron can choose to do this, or to do that. I’m being crazier here: a Diophantine equation can “choose” to express itself this way or that way.

This is how one builds the bridge from undecidability (Turing incompleteness) to “free will” in physics. To be crystal clear: the outcome of the interaction between physical (quantum mechanical) particles (in a curved space-time background) requires a decision problem to be solved, that cannot be solved using algorithms/Turing machines. Ergo “free will”.

(Footnote: It is not clear whether or not geometric finite automata (GFA), for example, the quantum finite automata (QFA) can evade these non-computability results. That is, can a QFA or GFA ever be an oracle? That is an interesting question in itself.)

Chemicals – Footnotes

Supporting articles/footnotes for the other blog posts here.

  • The medications that change who we are. By Zaria Gorvett, 8th January 2020 BBC Future. A single dose of LSD makes one person hallucinate. A single dose of speed gives a single person superpowers for a day. A single dose of anti-depressants makes one person slightly happier for a day. An entire society high on pervetin…
  • Speaking of an entire society high on Pervetin, there’s “The Very Drugged Nazi’s“,  by Antony Beevor, The New York Review of Books.  We’re talking Pervetin (trade name for methamphetamine), Eukodal (trade name for Oxycodone), Benzedrine, and Heroin (everyone knows that: trademarked name for diactyl morphine).
  • How to use chemicals responsibly: “Wireheading Done Right: Stay Positive Without Going Insane“,  by algekalipso, Qualia Computing. August 20, 2016.

A few words about what chemicals do:

Meta Reading List

Notable stuff I’ve stumbled across, worth checking out.

  • The  Dark Forest Theory of the Internet by Bogna Konior. If you just search for the title, you’ll get lots of hits to … something else. The one you want to read is this one: because Bogna is a far superior author.  What’s it about? Well, clearly inspired by the Liu Cixin books.  Written as a companion piece to a sculpture:  Black Market : Zero Hedge (2019) by Andrej Škufca.  Wait, what’s it about? Oh, right. Its about the kinds of things I sometimes write about. In my other posts here.  Except Bogna writes better than I do.  So there. It’s about that. (7 Sept 2020)
  • Facebook is a Doomsday Machine by Adrienne LaFrance  Since the title is left-explanatory, I decided to wallow in photos of decommissioned Titan nuclear missile silos instead.  Afterwards, I forced myself to read the article. It mostly states the obvious, if you think about such things, but let me re-iterate: 1) the algos drive engagement, and that means promoting extremist posts. 2) Zuckerberg is the most powerful man in the world. (yes, he’s more powerful that the POTUS. Good luck with that, Biden. You’re screwed. We’re screwed. We’re all screwed.)  3) His activities are detrimental to humankind. 4) There’s pretty much nothing we can do about it.  5) Lots of other curious commentary.  Misses the point that we are living in a phase change. But whatever, that’s a topic too big, too abstract.  (18 Dec 2020)

Addicted to reality

If you are imprisoned by reality, is it wrong to suffer from the Stockholm syndrome?  I read this quote: “People who are addicted to Twitter,” Lanier said, “are like all addicts—on the one hand miserable, and on the other hand very defensive about it and unwilling to blame Twitter.” Another word for this is doomscrolling — you keep scrolling down, looking for one more post…


Wait, how is this different than, I dunno, club-hopping (or bar-hopping?) Sure, the idea is to dance/get drunk, but along the way, you hope to find one more really great club/bar.  At the end you’re exhausted or drunk or both.  Is this addictive behavior?

Before there were clubs, before there were cities or towns, there were villages and hikes in the forest, and if you wanted to get so far out that you could never return, you could hike clear across some continent. Were such hikes pleasant, or did they end in misery? Both. Hiking is (physically) healthy: it triggers anabolic growth of muscles and assorted other positive physical changes. You feel pleasantly tired at the end of the day, because assorted endorphins are released, as well.   This is reality. This is the physical world the human animal  was born into, evolved into.

World’s first nightclub

We’ve taken aspects of that physical world, and concentrated it, distilled it, enhanced it, and tried to make it even better. Clubbing is like … hiking in a forest … with friends …  finding a visually, spatially, architecturally stunning clearing … taking a rest, but then getting excited enough to dance.  Such clearings are rare.. but we can build them. Perhaps Stonehenge was the first nightclub ever. (OK, so the dolmen in Gaudalperal, Spain are maybe 2,000 years older… but you get the idea.)

Unlike a hike in the forest, clubbing is easier to get to. It’s safer: without wild animals to attack you, or poison ivy to roll around in, you can enjoy some intoxicants.  Sure, dancing can make you sweat, but you don’t even have to dance, if you don’t feel like it. And then there is the sexual tension… and, for some reason, its always hot, and the air is always bad. Why is that?  This is where things skew sideways. We’ve distilled the awesomeness of a hike, made it even better, but in some ways worse.

Hang on, let me change my outfit

Every human activity began as wild animals living in nature. We’ve taken everything to an extreme: The hike in the forest has become the life-threatening hike across the Arctic, or the top of Mt. Everest. The clubbing scene can turn into living for (the Brazilian) Carnival (so, cosplay, before cosplay was invented). Quiet moments reflecting becomes published mathematics. Cracking a joke has become a vast entertainment industry. All small things can be, are plumbed to their most extreme depths.   Is this reality, or is this hyper-reality?

Walt Disney knew a thing or two about paperclip maximization

What’s the driver for extreme behavior? What pushes? Addictive neural circuitry pushes.  Sometimes the results are flawed: nicotine addiction, gambling addiction. The utility of any action is always in question: are the right-wingers correct in decrying this or that activity, or are the liberals correct in saying its harmless? Clearly, planting crops (or any overtly economic activity) is beneficial: it provides you with the food, the energy, the money to pursue extreme behaviors.  This is the basic premise of “capitalism”: it creates wealth, and without wealth, once cannot pursue extreme activities. We applaud STEM because it lies along an indirect path to wealth. Not so clear about music and Hollywood, even thought there’s much money there. But drug dealers also have a lot of money, so being profitable is not a clear-cut signal of social good.  Addiction feels good, at least for a while, at least in certain ways, but it’s a kind of sophisticated paper-clip maximizer:  we’re maximizing the utility function for … something, but was it really “good for you”?

If I’m weird, is it because I’ve developed Stockholm syndrome from reality?

Our neural circuitry enables the relentless exploration of extreme situations.  Sometimes it fails, and we paper-clip-maximize useless addictive behavior. Sometimes it works, when we’ve harnessed  it the achieve great new feats.  Ever notice how some (many?) of the driven over-achievers,  the burning hot, live-wires have a crazed look in their eye? They need to go farther, push harder, do more, be more, and there’s an obsessive quality to it.  Doom-scrolling for greatness. Stellar star-dom or bust.  What  exactly, is going on here, and why must I compulsively write about it?

You, too, can be a winner by exploring the truth


Capitalism Reading List

A list of stories I’ve read, that I found notable, pertaining to economics and capitalism (and so, ultimately, deeply political). I might update it occasionally. Reverse chronological order (roughly).

  • How Suffering Farmers May Determine Trump’s Fate – As rural Wisconsin’s fortunes have declined, its political importance has grown. By Dan Kaufman– New Yorker Magazine – August 10, 2020.
    A story of the demise of the small farm, the deterioration of rural living conditions. A closer look at the specifics of the larger theme that shows in other articles listed here:  the damage caused by capitalism, free markets, free trade and the destruction of cooperatives and social services.  The wanton destruction caused by Republicans, the willful neglect by Hillary-ite Democrats.
  • Flailing States -Pankaj Mishra on Anglo-America – London Review of Books – Vol. 42 No. 14 · 16 July 2020.
    An examination of how 150 years of  social policy in Germany has kept it strong, even as  the US and  Britain flail and fail. An examination of how we got here: capitalist and neoliberal policy, free trade, globalization, Reagan and Thatcher, and also a look at India, China and South Korea.  There have been many social experiments, many alternatives to naked capitalism, that have been tried around the world, and have been found to work.  These offer more than a few alternative realities to the broken dysfunction here in the US. It’s high time we tried a few of these ourselves.
  • Everything You Know About Global Order Is Wrong – If Western elites understood how the postwar liberal system was created, they’d think twice about asking for its renewal. – by Adam Tooze – Foreign Policy – 30 January 2019 (above links the getpocket version, the original is here.)
    Adam  Tooze writes prolifically about the “Global Order” – the globalized neo-liberal capitalistic corporate order under which we live. Envisioned and sold as a way of fighting off the Soviets,  it has out-lived its purpose and is now central for causing wide-spread harm throughout the US. I think he’s right – if the self-styled defenders of free markets understood what they were actually advocating, they might not be such boosters. This is in Foreign Policy magazine, because the wrong-footednes of free trade is actively damaging US interests globally. It’s damaging not just to farmers in Wisconsin, its damaging to our international power.
  • The West Has a Resentment Epidemic – Across the West, the main trigger of populism has been the growing inequality—and hostility—between urban and rural regions. – by Roberto Stefan Foa and Jonathan Wilmot – Foreign Policy – 18 September 2019 – (above links the getpocket version, the original version is here.)
    There’s lots of good reading in Foreign Policy. This looks at the correlation between wealth inequality and political populism, here in the US, and world-wide. Perhaps no surprise, if you follow this stuff, but this provides good ammo. Populism is damaging – its a pseudo-cure, a crackpot cure that is as bad as the disease. The cure is to deal with the causes of populism, rather than trying to fend off the damage it creates.
  • How the American Worker Got Fleeced – Over the years, bosses have held down wages, cut benefits, and stomped on employees’ rights. Covid-19 may change that. – July 2, 2020 Story by Josh Eidelson Data analysis and graphics by Christopher Cannon.
    Who isn’t getting paid, and why. Social safety nets aren’t just Social Security and Universal Healthcare – it also the relation between the employee and the employer. Labor rights have been gutted in the US, which is one reason Americans are loosing their jobs under covid-19 (but not the Germans, as explained in the Mishra article, above).  This article fails to mention co-operatives, which just might offer one of the best ways out of this mess.
  • To Unreality and Beyond – An examination of the “propaganda of unreality” and why age-old principles of resistance to manipulation don’t work against today’s style of unreality. – by Peter Pomerantsev 23 October 2019 Journal of Design and Science
    This article might not belong in in this blog listing, but it serves to link to the other things I blog about — unreality, mental processes, delusion, disinformation, mass hysteria, propaganda, brainwashing, and the difficulty of perceiving reality. This article examines Russian disinformacya, and how it has been used to delude Russian voters over the last few decades, and how the same methods are now being deployed against Americans. That is to say, American workers were not just fleeced of their salaries, America farmers were not just dispossessed of their family farms, but they went along willingly – even worked themselves into this mess, willingly voting for those GOP Republicans who cared not one bit for their health, wealth,  jobs or livelihoods.  (My cousin Tommy voted for Trump!) They vote this way because they are literally being deluded, they are literally being pushed into delusional states of mind by GOP operatives.
  • Yale psychiatrist: Trump’s psychosis has infected his followers. Here’s how to get them better. Without rallies, it’s harder to pass his contagious mental disease to his MAGAites. By Bandy X. Lee – Salon – 22 July 2020.
    Well, since we wandered off into unreality land, this offers a different take on the social process of mental disturbance.
  • Trade-Off. Financial System Supply-Chain Cross-Contagion: a study in global systemic collapse. By David Korowicz – 30 June 2012 – Metis Risk Consulting & Feasta.
    This pertains to another one of my interests: network science. In molecular biology, we have DNA and proteins, signalling molecules and cell membranes all interacting with one-another to up/down-regulate genetic expression and generally alter cell metabolism and communicate with the world via ionic channels and other membrane processes. So also, it seems, in economics.  There are two notable processes at work. First, biological death is the result of the accumulation of many small, tiny injuries and breakages to functional systems. Second, systemic collapse is similar to sand-pile collapse, when the network of places where sand-grains touch each other suddenly shifts, as the slope of the sand-pile approaches criticality. So also in economics. This paper looks specifically at the supply chain.
  • The Real Class War – November 2019 – America Affairs Journal
    Here, Julius Krein argues that the real class war is not between labor and capital – labor lost that one half-a-century ago, but rather, between the professional elites and the capitalists (the 0.1%). This is because the capitalists – the 0.1% of the population that controls almost all the wealth in America, need the remaining top 10% to actually make things work: the professionals – the lawyers, the accountants, the managers, the functionaries, the engineers, the software programmers – the college-trained elite who actually know how to run organizations, who actually know how to make computers work, who actually know how to go about making laws and winning legal cases, how to market products and run supply-chains. Without these people, nothing works. This class, the professional class, shifted to the GOP in the 1980’s. They are now shifting away from it, as they too are starting to feel the pinch of income and wealth inequality. In case you haven’t noticed, stockbrokers are loosing their jobs, and they’re none-too-happy about it.
  • Explaining the Trump Movement Through the Lens of the Social Organism – by Fergus Thomas – Irban Group – 19 Dec 2016
    Marvelous article reviewing the basics of memes and network theory. Recall how I talked about the collapse of sand piles, cellular death, and supply-chain contagion as explainable by network theory? Well, the same applies to the spread of memes on social media, and the incredibly invasive power of memes into the thought-patterns of humans.  The article on “Trump Psychosis” makes it sound like its all about psychology – what individuals think (in a group setting). The article on “Russian Disinformacya” makes it sound like its just social, informational manipulation.  This article  bridges over into the network theory — its the network that matters! The things that are bouncing around between brains — the messages and the memes — are one thing, but the network toppology — which brains are talking to which ones, is really the key.
  • The Wisdom and/or Madness of Crowds – Nicky Case. So in case you’re not following what I mean by “network theory”, and how that applies to politics, economics and psychology, the above is a simple, fun game that explores the mathematics (gasp!) of network theory. Its a game. you can play it in your web browser. Its short – maybe 20 minutes – its fun! Do it now!

OK,  I’m running out of steam here. Some other notable things to read and ponder:

  • Smart, Young and Broke – by Melinda Yiu and Marije Vlaskamp – 19 June 2010 – Newsweek – Chinese universities creating more graduates than the economy can absorb. – link-rotted.
  • The Federal Budget is not Like a Houshold Budget: Here’s Why by L. Randall Wray – 12 April 2010- Roosevelt Institute  – Seven balanced budgets lead to seven depressions: – link-rotted. – Explained MMT in simplified terms.
  • When Droids take your job. 28 November 2011 LA Times Opinion – A duo from MIT argue that rapid computer advances may be vaporizing careers faster than workers can train for new ones.
  • Douglas Adams on electing lizards: – link-rotted
  • The Roving Cavaliers of Credit – Steve Keen’s Debtwatch 31 February 2009 –  This is a “classic” article, written at the height of the 2009 economic collapse, outlining the basic idea of “endogenous money” – It seems to be contradicted by the next one below:
  • Understanding the Modern Monetary Theory – this URL has link-rotted and now redirects to  My View on MMT – by Cullen Roche 16 May 2011 – maybe the links there are still OK.
  • The fundamental difference between MMT’ers and Austrians – by Cullen Roche – 28 December 2011 – Pragmatic Capitalism.
  • Maximizing shareholder value is the dumbest idea in the world.  – by Steve Denning – 28 November 2011 – Forbes Magazine
  • Nobody Understands Dept – Paul Krugman Opinion piece – 1 January 2012 – NYTimes.  Trivialization of MMT theory for the masses.
  • How Republicans Made Congress Stupid – Th0rn – 10 June 2014 – Daily KOS. Congressional staffs were gutted during Regan era, leaving the various staffs and committees quite literally stupid!

Oh and in case all of the above is still too intellectual for you, here’s how Cracked Magazine explains it all: How Half Of America Lost Its F**king Mind – by David Wong October 12, 2016. I’ve got nothing against MAD Magazine, but David Wong is educational at a whole new level.