Tuesday, December 09, 2014

The Robert J. Marks II Information Theory Watch, Three Months Later

Three months ago I wrote to the illustrious Robert Marks II about a claim he made, that "we all agree that a picture of Mount Rushmore with the busts of four US Presidents contains more information than a picture of Mount Fuji".

Since I don't actually agree with that, I asked Professor Marks for some justification. He did not reply.

Now, three months later, I'm sending him another reminder.

Who thinks that he will ever send me a calculation justifying his claim?

Sunday, December 07, 2014

How Religion Rots Your Brain, Kills You, and Abandons Your Corpse to Rats

From Hamilton, Ontario comes this story of a woman so besotted with religion that she failed to encourage her ailing husband to get medical help and then, after he died, left his corpse to rot for months in a sealed bedroom while it was eaten by rats.

In the meantime, she was praying for a miraculous resurrection.

When, six months later, no miracle occurred, did she rethink her beliefs? No, of course not. She believes more strongly than ever, and is quoted as saying "In fact, it has cast me more at the mercy of God, because he is the ultimate judge."

If there's a better local example of how religion can warp your brain, I don't know it. Why we continue, as a society, to coddle religious believers and treat religion as a positive force is beyond me.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Barry Arrington: A Walking Dunning-Kruger Effect

The wonderful thing about lawyer and CPA Barry Arrington taking over the ID creationist blog, Uncommon Descent, is that he's so completely clueless about nearly everything. He truly is the gift that keeps on giving.

For example, here Barry claims, "Kolmogorov complexity is a measure of randomness (i.e., probability). Don’t believe me? Just ask your buddy Jeffrey Shallit (see here)".

Barry doesn't have even a glimmer about why he's completely wrong. In contrast to Shannon, Kolmogorov complexity is a completely probability-free theory of information. That is, in fact, its virtue: it assigns a measure of complexity that is independent of a probability distribution. It makes no sense at all to say Kolmogorov is a "measure of randomness (i.e., probability)". You can define a certain probability measure based on Kolmogorov complexity, but that's another matter entirely.

But that's Barry's M. O.: spout nonsense, never admit he's wrong, claim victory, and ban dissenters. I'm guessing he'll apply the same strategy here. If there's any better example of how a religion-addled mind works, I don't know one.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The "Call for Pagers"

This is an actual solicitation I just received:

ijcsiet journal call for pagers november 2014

International Journal of Computer Science Information and Engg., Technologies


Dear Authors,

We would like to invite you to submit quality Research Papers by e-mail editor@ijcsiet.com or ijcsiet@yahoo.com or both. The International Journal of Computer Science Infor! mation and Engineering Technologies (IJCSIET).. As per the guidelines submit a research paper related to one of the themes of the Journals, as per the guidelines.

These solicitations seem to be competing to see who can have the stupidest-named journal and the most typographical errors in a single message.

Monday, November 17, 2014

It Takes One

So David Berlinski thinks climate scientists are "intellectual mediocrities and pious charlatans".

Well, he should know, since I suspect he might hold Official Membership Cards in both groups.

If you want to see intellectual mediocrity and charlatanism, just read Berlinski's essay "Gödel's question" in the creationist collection Mere Creation, published by that well-recognized press devoted to research in advanced mathematics and science, InterVarsity Press.

If you can't figure out what is wrong with it, you can read Jason Rosenhouse's takedown.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Kirk Durston Does Mathematics!

Kirk Durston is a local evangelical Christian who likes to construct unconvincing arguments for his faith. Every few years he trots them out at my university.

Here is one of his more recent attempts, a discussion of infinity. Not surprisingly, it is a confused mess.

Durston's argument is based, in part, on a distinction that does not really exist: between "potential infinity" and "completed infinity" or "actual infinity". This is a distinction that some philosophers love to talk about, but mathematicians generally do not.* You can open any contemporary mathematical textbook about set theory, for example, and not find these terms mentioned anywhere. Why is this? It's because mathematicians understand the subject well, but -- as usual -- many philosophers are extremely muddled thinkers when it comes to infinity.

Here is how Durston defines "potential infinity": "a procedure that gets closer and closer to, but never quite reaches, an infinite end". So, according to Durston, a "potential infinity" is not a set but a "procedure". Yet the very first example that Durston gives is "the sequence of numbers 1,2,3, ... gets higher and higher but it has no end". The problem should be clear: a "sequence" is not a "procedure"; a (one-sided infinite) sequence over a set S is a mapping from the non-negative integers to S. From the beginning, Durston is quite confused. His next example is "the limit of a function as x approaches infinity". But a "limit" is not a "procedure", either. Durston also doesn't seem to understand that limits involving the symbol ∞ can be restated to avoid it entirely; the ∞ in a limit is a shorthand that has little to do with infinite sets at all.

He defines "actual infinity" or "completed infinity" as "an infinity that one actually reaches", which doesn't seem to have any actual meaning that I can divine. But then he says that "actual infinity" or "completed infinity" is "just one object, a set". Fair enough. Now we know that for Durston, an "actual" or "completed" infinity is a set. But what does it mean for a set to "reach" something? And if we consider the set of natural numbers, for example, what does it mean to say that it "reaches" infinity? After all, the set of natural numbers N contains no number called "infinity", so if anything, we should say that N does not "reach" infinity.

But then he goes on to say "First, a completed countable infinity must be treated as a single ‘object’." This is evidently wrong. For Durston, a "completed infinity" is a set, but that doesn't prevent us from discussing, treating, or thinking about its members, and there are infinitely many of them.

Next, he says "it is impossible to count to a completed infinity". That is true, but not for the reason that Durston thinks. It is because the phrase "to count to a set" is not defined. We never speak about "counting to a set" in mathematics. We might speak about enumerating the elements of a set, but then the claim that if we begin at a specific time and enumerate the elements of a countably infinite set at, say, once a second, we will never finish, is completely obvious and not of any interest.

Next, Durston claims "one can count towards a potential infinity". But since he defined a "potential infinity" as a procedure, this is clearly meaningless. What could it mean to "count towards a procedure"?

He then goes on to discuss four requirements of an infinite past history. He first asserts that "the number of seconds in the past is a completed countable infinity". Once again, Durston bumps up against his own claims. The number of seconds is not a set, and hence it cannot be a "completed infinity" by Durston's own definition. Here he is confusing the cardinality of a set with the set itself.

Next, he claims that "The number of elapsed seconds in the future is a potential infinity". But earlier he claimed that a potential infinity is a "procedure". Here he is confusing a cardinality with a procedure!

Later, Durston shows that he does not understand the difference between finite and infinite quantities: he claims that "the size of past history is equal to the absolute value of the smallest negative integer value in past history". This would only be true for finite pasts. If the past is infinite, there is no smallest negative integer, so the claim becomes meaningless. So his Argument A is wrong from the start.

At this point I think we can stop. Durston's claims are evidently so confused that one cannot take them seriously. If one wants to understand infinity well, one should read a basic text on infinity and set theory by mathematicians, not agenda-driven religionists with little advanced training in mathematics.

* There are certainly some exceptions to this general rule. The "actual"/"potential" discussion started with Aristotle and hence continues to wield influence, even though mathematicians have had a really good understanding of the infinite since Cantor. Cantor met with resistance from some mathematicians like Poincaré, but today these objections are generally regarded as groundless.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Yet Another Dubious Journal Solicitation

This one was spammed to almost everybody in our School of Computer Science here at Waterloo on Wednesday:

Dear Dr. ,

Greetings from the Journal of Advances in Robotics and Automation!

Hope you are doing well!

The Journal is in need of your fortitude. We would like to invite you to send us your valuable contribution (research article, review article, Opinion article, Editorial or short communication), to publish in our journal and improve it for indexing.

It would be highly appreciable if you could submit the article before or till 30 th November. You can visit our journal website for any details http://omicsgroup.org/journals/advances-in-robotics-automation.php

Please submit the article to the below link https://www.editorialmanager.com/engineeringjournals/default.asp or you can mail to the below link.

Please help in this Regard.

With Regards,

Rachle Green

Editorial Assistant

E-mail: editor.ara@omicsonline.org

All the warning signs are there:

1. Spam sent to everybody without discrimination, including those (like me) who have nothing to do with robotics or automation.

2. Bizarre capitalization like "Regard".

3. Bizarre word choice like "fortitude" and "highly appreciable".

4. Ridiculously rapid deadline for submission.

5. A likely bogus name for the "Editorial Assistant". The first name "Rachle" is extremely uncommon.

I do not recommend having anything to do with this journal.