Saturday, 30 July 2016

Entropy




"We expect order in our lives and if we are unlucky we will achieve this, but at what cost?"
 

Entropy, all is entropy
Some folk confuse entropy with energy. While entropy and energy are interrelated like a first cousin marriage they are not strictly equivalent or sexually compatible, but that's another story. 

An increase in 'disorder' is the natural progression of nature. Things, unless injected with energy, tend toward disorder. Or in other words, objects obey the natural progression of causal events and tend to decay. We call this concept, entropy.

If we accept that 14.7 billion years ago our current universe burst forth from a cosmic big bang, and most physicists conform to this view, then the initial state could be described as 'low entropy'. In fact this would have represented the lowest entropic state of the universe there has ever been. Since then universal entropy has been steadily increasing. Just as a main spring in a watch slowly uncoils, so the universe 'winds down' to eventually reach a state of stasis and maximum entropy (perhaps not). This will not occur for a very, very, long time, if at all.  

But entropy is not just a concept for very clever physicists to ponder upon. We can observe entropy in our every day lives. A dropped glass starts with low entropy however, when it shatters on the floor its entropic state increases. The old state of low entropy is irrevocably lost. While it is not truly impossible to reassemble the component pieces to the original state of low entropy, the energy required to do this would require entropy to increase elsewhere.

Living organisms are a perfect example of how entropy works. Life exists at a constant low entropic state. But this state is unnatural and can only be maintained with a constant injection of energy provided by the dissolution of ingested food, in most animal species, at least. The food items consequently undergo an increase in entropy- there is truly no such thing as a free lunch. Increasing localised order (low entropy) will invariably cause a corresponding increase in entropy somewhere in the universe. Once we die entropy is no longer restrained and consequently runs amok.

Actually disassembly, over time, is not necessarily the only configuration predicted by physical laws. The second thermodynamic law is usually defined in terms of entropy however, it can also be couched in different terms. It is actually a consequence of statistics. There are more (a lot more) disordered states for any system than ordered. Therefore, it is possible that a broken glass could spontaneously coalesce to its original low entropic state without violating the laws of the cosmos although such an occurrence would only occur with an infinitesimal probability. A probability so low as to render it a virtual impossibility.  

Could it be that time's arrow is just a manifestation of entropy? Entropy defines change in systems. And if we do not measure the forward march of time in terms of change in our physical world, then how do we measure it? This necessarily encroaches into the philosophical domain. I don't want to consider the 'nature of time' here as it is incredibly convoluted and complex and has occupied the smartest minds for over 2,500 years. Perhaps another post, if I can be bothered.
 
Entropy should not be taken as a measure of the disorder in my own chaotic life. That takes a lot of energy and work. Mayhap I've achieved an acquired sense of equilibrium. Or as I like to call it: 'A refined state of ignorance and disarray'. 

 
Can't help but notice that this is the fourth 'sensible' post in a row. Either the medication is taking effect or I'm turning into a sensible old scrote (Arse). Take your pick. 
 
 

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Chance and Circumstance?


 
The randomness of life? I learned today that an ex-colleague has had a stroke. I was taken aback as she was the last person I would suspect as being laid low by a cerebral infarction. At 55 she appeared superbly fit and slim. Running and working out at the gym five times a week has honed her into an athlete. No meat passes her lips; she does not smoke or drink. And yet she still suffered from a major life debilitating episode. As I've said in previous posts: Genetics plays a big component in our ultimate health. Some folk are genuinely protected from life's excesses and some are genetically prone. Add in a good dollop of chance and circumstance and you have the complex mix which is susceptibility to disease and illness.

Just learned that my son has landed a plumb management position with NZ Post. So this weekend I’ll be out celebrating. I can see a large steak, red wine (a whole bottle) all finished off with a good cigar.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Writing Bollocks


Every morning when I arrive at work I check my emails over a strong cup of coffee. I've usually accumulated about twenty. Most are mundane admin crap which I immediately delete. However, the other day one email in particular piqued my interest. I've included it in its entirety for my reader's edification and delight:
 
Dear Dr Flaxen Saxon,      
I hope this email finds you well. My colleague Sharon asked if I could get in touch with you about a paper you authored titled 'A examination of the Mustelidae genome with special emphasis on the evolution of synaptic mechanisms during meiosis'. Firstly thank you for taking the time to publish this, it was an interesting read. I am hoping to have the opportunity to discuss having a short follow-up or perhaps a review article published in one of the next issues of the Tipton Medical Review. I think our readers could be interested in a paper with information from any continued research or new data since this was published. It would not have to be a long article, but if you don't have time for this perhaps you could also reach out to the co-authors or one of your students to collaborate. 

If you have moved on from this line of research I am certainly interested in knowing more about your current projects; perhaps there is the potential for an article that would fit our journal. If you have any questions about whether or not a certain subject fits our scope I can put you in contact with Dr. Earwig Mugumbo from our editorial board. 

Sorry if it has proved a long tedious read. Wow, a solicitation to publish in a journal I've never heard of. And knock me down with a sock with a billiard ball inserted, they seem genuinely interested in my arcane research into ferret genetics. This deserves to be investigated especially as I do have a follow-up paper to my original masterpiece, entitled: 'Further ruminations on Muctelidae meiosis pertaining to pachytene chromosome configuration'. Today is going to be a good day.   

Dutifully I looked up said journal to check out author requirements and similar such shit. Methodical is my middle-name, after all (actually it is Stanley). The actual requirements seemed a little loose for my liking however they did stipulate that I would have to pay an author's fee of US$1,000. What? I am particularly fond of the previous model of journal publishing where I get my paper published for nowt and where those shiny pieces of gelt stay firmly grasped in my prodigious and often sticky hands.

Being a wise old scrote I was well aware of the 'predatory journal model'. Anyone can set up a website claiming to be a 'journal'. Existing literature can be trawled and authors names culled. Thousands of emails are then sent out to scientists throughout the world soliciting papers for their journal. The only requirement, as far as I can see, is that you pay a huge fee. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with the open access model where the author pays a small fee to allow content to be published for free online access. And indeed, some very successful and respectable journals operate this way, PLOS ONE, for instance. However open access is exploitable by unscrupulous individuals hoping for a quick buck. The established model of journal publication does not charge the authors but instead there is a subscription fee for those wanting to access content. Both publishing models share one very salient feature: They peer review all submissions. While not a perfect filter it will highlight poor quality papers and blatant bollocks. I suspect the new breed of online journals do no such thing and therefore become a repository for junk science.  

To be honest most researchers will not be fooled by these people but the fact that they can run a lucrative business means that some scientists are willing to pay to see their name in lights. A quick check of the online papers is very revealing. Most are coming from the 'Third World'. Very few papers are being put forward by scientists based in Western Europe, US or Australasia.

So what is the harm? If folk are gullible and stupid- more fool them. After all these companies are not operating illegally, although the practice is morally dubious to say the least. The problem arises because of the increase in the proliferation of poor quality and useless papers and data. It makes the job of the professional scientist harder as he or she wades through research papers trying to select the wheat from the chaff. There are online lists outing dubious journal mills however, the folks running these enterprises are getting canny. They are in the habit of buying  respectable 'journal names' for promulgating their crap. Therefore they are relying on the journal's prior good reputation to fleece the befuddled. They even 'steal' journal names and set up convincing websites; very naughty. Thus researchers may be fooled although the large fee should raise a red flag for the prudent scientist. Caveat emptor. 

To give you an idea how much of a problem this is, here is a few stats: In 2013, 126 predatory journals were identified. In the first half of 2016 this had gone up to 882. Someone, somewhere, is making a lot of money. 

Anyway, I've decided to ask my student to write a bogus paper and submit to the 'Tipton Medical Review'. It will be plausibly written but a complete load of bollocks. I will place my name as co-author and we will see what transpires. I'm hoping that they will be greedy enough to accept the article for publication before they receive the fee. I'll keep my diligent readers informed of developments. Watch this space.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Doppelganger


It often transcends species
Ever wondered whether there is someone 'out there' who looks like you? Or are you totally unique, without equal and all alone in an uncaring world? Folk wisdom declares that there exists an exact replica of everyone, a doppelganger. But so called 'folk wisdom' has a well earned reputation for being a total load of bollocks. Remember: 'Red sky at night, arsonist's annual get to together' or who could forget, 'Too much cake, big fat arse. 

I'll try not to digress.  

In a world of 7 billion people there should be a lot of potential matches, mayhap? Would you believe that some geek has actually investigated this phenomenon in an empirical manner? Anyway, some daft bugger examined four thousand military photos and measured salient physiognomic features (not really). Eight key features were measured such as distance between the eyes etc. On the basis of these limited features (data) they calculated that the chance of an exact match between two individuals to be less than one in a trillion. On current population estimates this means that there is a 1 in 135 that there is a single pair of doppelgangers in the world. Given those statistics what are the chances of you bumping into your other self in the High Street? The mind boggles.  

Science can answer many questions but perhaps this is not one of them. Our minds are set up to perceive general patterns. When we observe a face our eyes first flit to the eyes and then to other features. We garner a general impression without knowing measurements to the exact millimetre. A gestalt perhaps: noting an organised whole as perceived as more than the sum of its parts. Therefore, we don't have to be exact to recognise someone who looks like us. When considered in this way, there are more doppelgangers than we should care for.

The Flaxen Saxon Experience

I distinctly recall being on a train in Brisbane Australia some years ago. There was a man in front of me and from the back I could see some faint resemblance, which initially made me intrigued. As we both stood up to leave the train we both turned face forward and acknowledged some shock as we recognised recognition. Not necessarily a perfect match but a certain similarity which showed a mutual resonance. We both smiled and sadly, I winked (may Woden forgive me). And that was it. We went our merry way reflecting on how life can be interesting in the most mundane of situations.      

Humanity is not fixed and for all our manifest faults we must embrace our diversity, with aplomb, especially if it conforms to our preconceived prejudices. 

 

 

 

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Tipton faked the moon landings!

Mr Loony in a rare moment of clarity

Shock news from the sprawling but pert town of Tipton. Mr Swiveleyed Loony, a keen amateur astronomer and regular inmate of the local secure mental health facility had this to say from his padded cell: "I have incontrovertible evidence that the Tipton Aeronautical Research Space Establishment (ARSE) faked all of the supposed moon landings during the late 1960s and early 1970s. The whole charade was filmed exclusively in the storeroom of Mr Khan's halal meat emporium and bespoke pork butchers. The Tipton spacecraft was merely a mock up consisting of pigs feet and calf carcases all cunningly fashioned and held together with the finest beef dripping (yum)".



Fuzz Mugumbo reposing in the space capsule


"The photographic evidence of the moon is clearly a travesty. For instance in the scene on the moon where Fuzz Mugumbo is seemingly moon walking you can clearly see that his 'spacesuit' has not been buttoned up correctly and his helmet is at a jaunty angle and positively askew. If he was really prancing about the lunar landscape he would have suffered a catastrophic loss of oxygen leading to death by anoxia".

Xenomorph
"And another thing, the 'moon ferret' brought back to earth was none other than Fuzz's pet ferret, Shagger with antennae strapped to his head". Go Shagger!



Space ferret or Shagger?
 
  
 An ARSE spokesman responded when challenged about the so called Tipton moon landings: "Of course Tipton put a man on the moon. How can anyone honestly think that the whole episode was fabricated in a Tipton abattoir. Surely the hot studio lights would cause incipient putrefaction and the whole enterprise would smell something offal......"      
 
 
Flaxen talking out of his ARSE, again

 

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Herman the German and the battle of the Teutoburg forest



The fury of the Teutons
 
In modern popular conception the Roman army is viewed as an invincible war machine bestriding the known world like a colossus and crushing all comers usually with veritable aplomb (steady Flaxen). While it is true that the Roman professional army was a formidable force and forged a mighty empire, it did suffer a number of reverses and even catastrophic defeats. Here is just a few: Allia (387BC), Cannae (216BC), Carrhae (53BC), Teutoburg forrest (9AD) and Adrianople (324AD). With the exception of Adrianople, the Empire bounced back and continued to expand and thrive. A testament to the resilience, stoicism, toughness of the Romans and ultimately the stability of the Roman political system. 

I'm going to consider the battle of the Teutoburg forest and its central protagonist, Arminius (?Hermann). Arminius was the recipient of typical Roman Imperial policy. As a young German nobleman he was sent to Rome as a hostage. Whilst in Rome, Arminius received a liberal Roman education and was exposed to Roman culture in all its guises. What effect this would have on a rude barbarian used to simple dwellings and unsophisticated folk is hard to divine. For the Romans, the design was simple: inculcate a love and respect for the Roman way of life. Once returned to their people, these potential rulers would pacify their people from within. No doubt the majority of the folk would still live in hovels however, their leader would have rich tapestries on the walls of his Garth, partake in fine Gaulish wine and would be able to quote from Homer from memory- barbarians love this sort of shit; the incongruity couldn't be more starkly revealed. For the pragmatic Romans, this represented a far seeing policy and a subtle expression of 'Divide and Rule'. 

Like a true Roman protégé, Arminius was installed as commander of a detachment of Germans in 4AD. He seemed to have learned his Roman lessons well and was trusted implicitly by his Roman masters and more intriguingly by his people. Indeed, when the Romans decided to send three legions plus auxiliaries east of the Rhine on a punitive expedition in 9AD, Ariminus was given an important role as guide and commanded native troops. As the Romans marched through the grim dark forests full of brooding, dark oak, their Teutonic allies melted away.....Pelting rain soaked the troops and made the Roman shields heavy. And then, out of the mist, Herman's men came casting javelins. Without armour they approached swiftly through the trees. The Romans were placed in a wretched position. There was no way they could deploy in effective battle array within the confined woods and the stretched out column lacked coherent command. Each man fought as he stood against a swift and tactically flexible enemy. It seems that Arminius had learned his lessons too well. Soon the column broke into small groups and disparate desperate battles continued throughout the day. Although the survivors were able to construct a night camp they were annihilated the next day and night during their retreat. It is said the Romans lost 20,000 men during the battle. Rome had nursed a viper within its breast and suffered accordingly: 'Vae Victis,'. The Germans sacrificed many of the survivors to their powerful war god, Wotan or Woden, according to tribal source. Three military standards (Eagles) were lost to the Germans. Then, as now, the loss of military standards was considered a terrible disgrace and calamity. For many years after the battle the Emperor Augustus would wander the corridors of the palace, shouting:"Publius Quinctillius Varus", where are my Eagles". 

Aftermath
Not only was the territory east of the Rhine denuded of Roman troops but the whole of Gaul lay protected by only two legions which were content to guard the Rhine bridgeheads. When news of the defeat reached Rome there was panic amongst the populace. Hordes of marauding Teutons were expected to descend into Italy. The Roman Emperor took a more sensible approach and quickly organised troops to be sent north. The Germans never invaded Gaul. As clear heads in Rome predicted, the German barbarians decided to loot instead. The Roman colonies east of the Rhine were easy and rich pickings. Also, Herman's ultimate goal was to free his people from the Roman yolk and in this he succeeded extremely well. An invasion into Gaul would have not suited his purpose at all and would likely invite eventual defeat. It was best for him to remain behind the mighty Rhine and consolidate his power amongst the tribes. From now on the Roman empire stopped at the Rhine. Apart from a few punitive forays across the great river, the Romans would never gain a toe hold east of the Rhine. 

All this would have grave repercussions for the future of Rome and the Western world. The Germans were never Romanised and remained a fierce independent folk. They would continue to be a thorn in the side of Rome and in the 5th century AD would be responsible for dismantling the Western Roman Empire. It is interesting to speculate if Roman ambitions east of the Rhine had continued without check. History may have turned out different if the German nations had become 'civilised'. Perhaps under these circumstances the Roman Empire would have lasted another thousand years.    

It is said, by Roman writers themselves: 'That the Germans loved freedom more than life itself'. Mayhap the Romans should have taken heed.

The 'Arminius monument'

 

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Life the universe and everything....

The universe seems neither benign nor hostile, merely indifferent
 
It is hard to think that we are not the centre of the universe. For most of humanity's existence we thought exactly that. Humankind was special and so was the earth. The sun revolved around the earth and indeed the whole heavens did so too. Everything in the universe was set up for our enjoyment, life and enlightenment. And god oversaw all and provided mankind with ample bounty for he was a good god and so loved his elect creation. 

We now know better. We are just a speck in a possible infinite universe (Einstein's theories of relativity allow this). Our galaxy is one of a least a 100 billion galaxies, most receding from us at incredible speeds. Some are receding even faster that the speed of light (how so?). Our position in the cosmos is nothing special. As life forms we are like other life forms except smarter. An individual's existence is marked in just a few scant decades and then extinguished. We emerge from oblivion and meet it again all too soon. The universe, as we know it, has existed for 14 billion years and perhaps will last forever. Our place in the vast cosmos of space and time doesn't even count as a blink, a jot, or iota.  
 
                                                                         Futility

Move him into the sun—
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields half-sown.
Always it woke him, even in France,
Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know.

Think how it wakes the seeds,—
Woke, once, the clays of a cold star.
Are limbs, so dear-achieved, are sides,
Full-nerved—still warm—too hard to stir?
Was it for this the clay grew tall?
—O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth’s sleep at all?

by Wilfred Owen
 
O well, I don't know about you, but I'm off out for a meal and a glass of good beer.


Yea, but what is the question?
 

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Liiving the Australian/New Zealand Dream?

ANZACS

Australia has always been a big draw for New Zealanders. Historically, Australian wages are higher for jobs requiring similar skills. For instance, I can earn about 20% extra by crossing the Tasman. The Aussie cost of living is also lower, although tax rates are higher. There are many advantages for being tucked away in the South Pacific, however, when your nearest neighbour is three thousand miles away transport costs for essential imports are always going to be high. And then there is the climate. The New Zealand climate varies greatly. In the far north it is sub-tropical while the southern tip of the South Island's weather is similar to that experienced in Scotland. Furthermore, due to innate geography, New Zealand weather can be unsettled. In contrast, the vast continent of Australia goes from sub-tropical to tropical. In summer it is bloody hot, everywhere. Of course no one moves to a country based on weather alone, otherwise Britain would be bereft of folk.....

But times are a changing. For the first time for many a long year there is a net influx of Kiwis from Australia to New Zealand. Contrast this with 2012 when 54,000 New Zealanders left their native shore to live the Australian dream. So what has changed?

Although New Zealanders have the right to live, work and have access to health care in Australia, they are not entitled to unemployment benefit. This was not always the case. Until 2001, Kiwis had the right to the Australian dole. However, it seemed that too many unemployed Kiwis were moving to Oz with no intention of working but instead hunkered down on the Gold Coast taking advantage of the sun, sea, beach and generous hand-outs (Bondi Bludgers). Understandably the Australian government decided enough was enough and tightened up the rules. Unfortunately for hard working Kiwis who lose their jobs in Oz, the situation can become economically precarious very quickly. With the Australian economy stalling, partly due to the downturn in the mining industry, jobs are becoming hard to find. In comparison the New Zealand economy is buoyant with a budget surplus predicted for the end of the year. Good Jobs, although not plentiful, are there if you care to look. A case in point: After 10 weeks in Australia and after numerous job applications, my son has returned to New Zealand because he could not find work. Ten days after setting foot in his adopted country he has secured three job interviews for management positions.  

If the economy in Australia doesn't improve soon we might see the unprecedented movement of Aussies to our fair shore. Watch this space.


 


 

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Mad, mad, world



I've been pondering again.....

Last week a young friend and colleague took a couple of days off work due to an anxiety attack. Her doctor diagnosed anxiety and depression. All this surprised me mightily as my young friend appears to have it all. She is smart, funny, gracious, endowed with a wondrous personality and dare I say it, as sexy as hell (steady Flaxen, your wife sometimes reads your blog). She has a good job, home and is married to a man who dotes on every cell in her body. She is the last person I thought to be blighted with a mental health issue. 

All this got me a thinking. When I considered my family, colleagues, friends and acquaintances, about 40% are on medication due to mental health issues, mostly depression. Admittedly this is not a valid cross section of society and the numbers are small, but perhaps this is a reasonable reflection of middle-class society?

Depression appears to be a very modern disease and the incidence has grown prodigiously over the past 50 years. An American study estimated that depression is 10 to 20 times more prevalent than 50 years ago. Why should this be the case? Are we more mentally unsound than our parents and grandparents, or is something else at work here?

Certainly our attitude toward mental illness has changed. For my father's and grandparent's generation there was a real stigma attached to mental health. My mother was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia when she was 21. Her initial episode was severe necessitating a 6 month stay in a secure mental health facility. Her family was ashamed and indeed my grandmother vehemently denied that my mother had a mental health problem at all! All very strange. Today we are more accepting and no longer treat people with mental health problems as lepers. Some still need locking up though. Could it be that our parents and grandparents had the same rate of mental issues as today but were less likely to come forward for help because of societal pressure? Perhaps this is part of the explanation, but I don't think it is the whole story.

Mayhap modern life is more stressful than in times past. I don't think this the case for most folk in Western society. Our parents and grandparents lived through two horrendous world wars and still kept their sanity. How can events in our modern lives be considered more stressful than the real possibility of being shot or bombed?

Main stream psychiatry does not think that, in the past, mental disorders were under diagnosed. So perhaps the opposite is true. Are mental health issues being over diagnosed? Maybe 'normal behaviour' is being deemed pathological by some psychiatrists. Of course, normal behaviour is a spectrum disorder (surely some mistake?). Are psychiatrists moving the border in an overzealous shift to aid their diagnosis and professional pride?  

Is the mighty pharmaceutical industry to blame? This is where it gets interesting. Modern medicine is big bucks. And for every malady, real and imagined, there is a tailor designed pill. Every successful industry must sell their wares, otherwise they wouldn't be successful, would they? - strange tautology, I know.

Pharmaceutical companies aggressively promote their drugs to psychiatrists and the doctors on the front line, General Practitioners; lots of free samples and sales hype. They sponsor conferences and provide funding for professional activities. Doctors are human and like everyone else are influenced by slick professional advertising and promotion. Pharmaceutical companies can be subtle and even subliminal. These tactics work and no doubt work very well. Are doctors being persuaded and even duped to over prescribe? This is a highly complex issue. Doctors are under pressure to actively treat the patients under their care. Drugs often work and fix the underlying symptoms but they don't treat the root cause of the problem. Sorting this out is going to take time and also a lot of money. Behavioural therapy doesn't come cheap. 

Some argue that drugs might be great in the short term but in themselves exacerbate mental illness in the long term converting an acute time limited episode into a lingering chronic illness. While it is true that all drugs come with side effects the benefits should always outweigh the negatives. Medication is not always exact and individuals vary in their physiology and metabolism making therapeutic response difficult to predict. We are a long way off the golden ideal of targeted pharmaceuticals to suit everyone's unique disposition.   

I have no clear/clean answer, in this case. Complex problems have complex causes. I think we are dealing with a real phenomenon when we look at the modern increase in mental health disorders. However, the causes and the solutions are perhaps beyond our understanding and consequently our resolution. 

I'll finish with a few personal observations

As I understand it, schizophrenia is a multi-factorial disorder. Many genes are involved which add up and once a threshold has been reached, madness ensues. I'm very much aware that I have a good dose of the predisposing genes. Not enough to tip me over the edge but enough to make my thoughts interesting. Because of this I am blessed with a certain degree of creativity and an askew take on the world and life. The downside is that I can't control or turn off the cascade of random thoughts which constantly assail my mind. Sometimes this can be exhausting. I have been told that there are drugs available which will turn off or at least dampen the cacophony in my head. But if I complied I would lose something quintessential that makes me, 'me'. And this a price I am not prepared to pay. 
 
"But I like my madness. There is a thrill in it unknown to such sanity as yours"
 
 
I'm aware that I have cited no references for my assertions. If anyone is interested I am more than happy to comply. 

Bugger! Two sensible posts in a row, perhaps the new medication is starting to kick in after all. Arse.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Occum's Razor

Bloody smart arse

Time for another sensible post, I suppose.  

Occum's razor, or the law of parsimony, is simple in concept but powerful in application and is attributed to a fourteenth century scholastic monk, William of Ockham. This is not to say that William of Ockham first formulated the concept. It was certainly known to previous savants and is mentioned in Aristotle's Posterior Analytics. However, for reasons which I will not divulge, the law is indelibly linked to our William. 

For all its so-called rigorous intellectual credentials it is actually rooted in the concept of 'simplicity'. The ancients and the moderns up to the 19th century often thought of nature as rather simple. And indeed the work of great scientists such as Newton (look at Newton's three laws of motion and tell me this is not so) seemed to confirm this. Simple laws seemed to underpin the universe. No one thinks this way today. Since Einstein, the rise of modern physics and modern biology, the universe appears astonishingly complex, convoluted and perhaps impossible to fully grasp with our limited intellects. A simple universe has an aesthetic that a blackboard full of differential equations can never have, unless of course you are a mathematician. 

We must be clear on one thing: Occum's postulate doesn't state that the explanation has to be 'simple' just the least complex of competing explanations. That aside, we have to ask, and ask in a hard-headed fashion, is the postulate of parsimony of any merit when we come to examine our existence? Or in other words, other things being equal, are simpler explanations generally better than more complex ones? Could it be that we are beguiled? Mayhap simplicity is no more than a theoretical virtue. Is it really self evident or a mere short cut for our lazy intellects? Elegance is not necessarily synonymous with truth.

It is to be accepted as axiomatic, that for any phenomenon there is an infinite number of explanations. Many will be intricate and complex and almost all will be incorrect. However, we must bear in mind, that as fallible humans, we are often drawn to 'simple' explanations rather than the complex mainly because they are within our intellectual grasp. An explanation of any event or phenomenon, if it has any intrinsic merit, should in some way be testable. There should be predictions which can be either validated or falsified. 'Simple' constructs are easier to validate than their more complex cousins. Or according to the musings of the Austrian philosopher, Karl Popper, they are easier to falsify. Furthermore, the more elements to an explanation the greater the probability that it will fall down due to its inherent complexity and therefore, fail to remain coherent. 

Be appraised: This but a simple foray into the topic. Blogs (such as this) do not do due justice to the topic in hand. Indeed, the topic is more complex than noted here; isn't that the ultimate irony. Arguments for and against can become very technical. However, I am more than happy to discuss and elaborate according to comment.  

Regardless, of any philosophy, as a practicing professional scientist, I have found the 'Law of Parsimony' useful in my research. Sometimes we over think to our detriment. 

And finally, here is something else to ponder. Our models of nature are imperfect and always open to review or rejection. We strive to understand nature but we always fall short. Think in terms of Newton's description of gravity. When first postulated it explained the natural world extremely well. The motions of the planets were finally mastered and understood. However, with more accurate measurements minor perturbations and inaccuracies became manifest. Einstein's theories of relativity plugged the gap. Einstein's genius works for us, now. But this may change and a new postulate might do better, if only we can find another Einstein.......

 

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Awkward Buggers

This is the definition of bloody awkward 


Some birds are just downright awkward. They don't fly with or pander to the crowds, or the crows for that matter. They spread their wings and beat them to a metre which suits them. High fliers they are not but their speed and height is never predetermined. Flocks are not for them and they always stand out from the clouds.  

And yes, they build their nests where the fuck they like.    
Arse

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Annual Appraisal

Or arse, for that matter
 
It's that time of year again: The time of the annual work appraisal. Many years ago this used to be a rather informal affair. A simple chat with the Boss and an opportunity to have a mutual moan about incompetent colleagues. The Personnel Department consisted of a dowdy, slightly dishevelled middle-aged spinster forever wandering the building with a bundle of files precariously tucked under her arm. Peggy (for it is she) always smelled slightly of ‘rubbing liniment’ and had an impressive wardrobe of long floral print skirts. Her distracted foray through the corridors of power could be followed by the paper chase of confidential folios carelessly lost. No one was sure what Peggy actually did, but what she didn't do was bother departments with staff appraisal templates.
Then something changed round about the time that 'Personnel' became 'Human Resources'. For some unaccountable reason Peggy disappeared in a cloud of shredded documents and edicts started to trickle down from HR and structured appraisal templates became foisted on harried managers and overworked employees alike. Strange jargon appeared in the dreaded document: Incentivise; holistic; pre-prepare and going forward. There was the initial shock of having to actually do some preparation for the ‘annual chat’. However, once mastered subsequent years simply involved cutting stock answers to stock questions and pasting them into the latest annual review document. Just had to make sure the year was changed at the head of the document. Everything settled down and the employment gods were appeased once again and they saw it was good. Thus we were all lulled into a fool’s paradise.......
Come hither to a few scant weeks ago when I received an email with an attached appraisal doc. I wasn't too bothered as I expected the same format that had been doled out for the past eight years. Characteristically I skipped through the email and missed two very important, but bone chilling words: 'New Format'.
As I opened the template my heart sank. Before I had even read any of the questions I noted that the document was ten pages long and composed in small font. Shit, this looked like I would have to do some serious work. As suspected, the document was well larded with barely comprehensible words and phrases. Here is just a few choice extracts together with my replies. 
I could not help but inject a little commentary which doesn’t appear in my final appraisal document (in Italics).
 
Question
  •  Relates well to all kinds of people – up, down, and sideways, inside and outside the organisation
  •  Builds appropriate rapport
  •  Builds constructive and effective relationships
  •  Uses diplomacy and tact
  • Can diffuse high-tension situations comfortably
The relating to people, up, down and sideways, inside and outside the organsisation is one of my personal/personnel favourites. Reminds me of the ‘Hokey Cokey’. You can always count on HR for obscurification and verbiage.
 
Response
Relate well with most people, irrespective of their position, up, down, sideways and around about and inside out. Treat people with respect and courtesy unless shown otherwise.
Always ready to dispense a modicum of my characteristically unique sense of humour to cement good working relationships unless I’ve forgot to take my medication.
Tact and diplomacy lie at the heart of any successful interpersonal relationship. Sadly as frail human beings we don’t always behave as we should.
 
Question
  •  Is cool under pressure
  •  Does not become defensive or irritated when times are tough
  •  Is considered mature
  •  Can be counted on to hold things together during the tough times
Answer
Times are always tough. However, I can be relied upon not be defensive or irritated (who's the miserable bastard calling me defensive and irritable?) and indeed launch the offensive and take the fight to Dr Wilkins in the next office. Can I have a pointed pole to mount his head? I think it would make an attractive adornment next to the photocopier.
Always hold things together except when I don't; my maturity is self evident.
 
Question
  •   Develops constructive working relationships with other team members 
  •   Has a friendly manner and a positive sense of humour
 Now this is more like it. My working relationship with my colleagues is exemplarly, Dr Wilkins excepted (and Dr Jones, he's a total twat). As for a sense of humour- I don't know what to say.
 
Answer
Always available to my colleagues for advice and sage wisdom meted out with style, humour and effortless aplomb.
 
Post Appraisal
    The old adage comes to mind: ‘Bollocks in, bollocks out’
     
    Needless to say, I didn’t get a pay rise but at least I wasn't suspended, which just as well as I've mortgage, wife and a mistress with expensive tastes.