Monday, August 25, 2014

Behind the 42

Behind the 42 - 3

One of the actions as described in my previous post in this series consisted of looking for existing answers.
These existing answers can fit in the mainstream belief system or can be from a weird point of view.

Weird often means "doesn't fit in my belief system".

Asking the right questions (and finding answers to them) allows you to (un)conditionally accept or (un)conditionally reject an answer.

But don't forget,

It is you, and you alone, that makes up your mind. You are the one who defines your belief system.

Nothing, believe me, really nothing is in your way of generating your own answers. Initially probably better called hypothesis.

But as with all the existing answers, ask the right questions. Not only the ones that support your hypothesis, but also the ones that might discredit it.
For the latter, if you don't, other people will. So if you would like to communicate your answer to other people, it might be useful to think about potential negative evidence (and you can expose these at the same time). Not many scientists do so, so that's an opportunity to provide a better contribution to human knowledge.

Belief systems

Before moving on  a few words about belief systems.
Of course you're free to have another opinion, so I'll just expose the way I think about belief systems.

For me each individual has one and only one believe system. Mine will be different of yours, because my life has been different, my education and knowledge is (not was: life long learning) different, etc.
Even when writing this post my belief system is changing. Yours is changing when reading this.

What is it composed of?

I include everything I know (or think I know), all the questions I have, all hypothetical answers, all uncertainties, all (possibly flawed) certainties, all temporarily best theories and so forth.
That's the intellectual part.
I also include whatever my senses acquire about the state of my environment, whether they make up their way to a perceived level (I become aware of it) or not. These senses are not limited to 5.
Not sure how to categorize dreams, emotions and gut feelings, but they are in.

Thinking out loud: I cannot find anything related to me that's not included. And the universe is related to me (and the other way around).

What about you and me?

As I mentioned above our belief systems are different but parts are similar. We can understand each other (to some extend) without the need to be explicit for everything.
For the parts that do not overlap, I'd like to quote Elisabet +sahtouris from a recent talk:
"In the Runakuna culture, reality is personal experience and collective experience: tell me your perception, your reality truly, don't distort it to manipulate me, and then I'll accept it as your reality without having to make it my own".
Do you need more words to understand the implications?
Just a few for the fun:
Explanations? With pleasure. Trying to convince me? Rejected!


In many of your future hypothesis (and existing answers) this specific aspect will occur.
Other related words can be granularity, dimension, ...
Most of the time it is not the scale itself that is important but

The implications of scale.

Most of us are more or less familiar with distances on Earth: meters, kilometers, several thousands of kilometers, ...
But sometimes there are points we normally don't think about. An example is a noticeable delay between electrons moving from one end of big supercomputer to the other end. And we might enter the realm of relativity.
Grasping a feeling of the implication when going beyond the earthly scale for distance (astronomical distances) is more difficult. We have never experienced it. And things get fuzzy.

Scale effects also occur in terms of for example population: individual, family, town, nation, world population. And many, really many topics exist in which scale needs consideration.

One of these, and very common, one for which many of us are not really aware of the huge implications, is the one I'm going to use to illustrate the effects of scale.


Before any discussions are starting here, I'll give you my belief system related to time. At least the part I use when writing this post.

Time: linear, continually progressing (one second, or fraction of that, at a time). The mainstream time.

A little note about the term now. I have a hard time to conceive the term now without a particular context. In mathematics I can imagine an infinitesimal small point in time, that once has been now (or will be now if it's in the future). But in all other domains, looking at the semantics of now, at the very moment of "now", it already belongs to the past. When we use the term now, the context in which it is used defines some implicit duration.

Two little exercises:
- What is your interpretation of the duration of now in various situations? And the others around you? What do they think? Ask them.
- How would you teach an artificial intelligence what our human interpretation is of now?

What are the implications of time?

When thinking about time, one thing that might pop up (as almost all of us have experienced it) is that time is not perceived as linear (for the last time here: in this belief system).
Just have a look at the numerous expressions in your own language about this non-linear perception.

What was your day like 10 days ago?
Out of your head, no agenda, nothing. Just think about 10 days ago.

We all have some sense of how long a year is. Right?

Let's think of a year in the form of a question: What remains of your experiences of the past 365 days? 
In your internal memory, i.e. what you can remember (the things you did, situations you were in, the dreams you had, etc ) and your external memory, i.e. your persistent creations (writings, photo's, paintings, etc.). Not so much for the things we commonly call achievements, but all the rest.
What is the precision if you would like to put it on some time-line? An hour, a day, a month?

What about 10 years ago? And for those to whom it applies: 20 or 50 years ago?

How do the high volume social networks change this?


Side step: in this context I'll define the term generation as having a length of 25 years. No discussion possible. Right? In this same context I'll consider that the life-span of a generation as lasting 3 generations. If my math is right that is 75 years. I just temporarily aligned your belief system on this topic with mine.

Now think about one generation back in time: your parents. What do you know about their lives? Before and after your birth? And your grand-parents? What would you do if you wanted to know a little bit more about their lives? 
If they are still alive, you can ask them. And/or dive into their archives. You'll get some insight in their personal life. You can use historical information to get a feeling about the general conditions in which they lived.

How far are we back in time?
That's only 2 generations, less than your own life-span.
And things get really blurred already.

The further we go back in time the less we know about personal lives. Exceptions are of course those individuals that occur in some kind of external memory (bibliographies e.g.). But that's quickly becoming a very, very tiny fraction of the world population. And even that is only a very small part of their real life. Or am I wrong here?

Do you know the saying "the winners write history"? Numerous situations are documented where they even rewrite history. Destroying previous memories. In he name of ... whatever.

Side step: Whenever you read a text (look at a painting) remember that the author made it's creation with his or her belief system in mind. And that that belief system is the result of his or her life. Things they've learned, heard, experienced. Got indoctrinated with. That there are huge differences between individuals, cultures and over time. That your interpretation of it is influenced by your own belief system. And thus is necessarily wrong to some extend. That the older the document is, the blurrier your belief system is about what was in the past.

Let's make a 5 generation jump. 1890.
I know, a bit more than 4 months lacking.

Credit Wikipedia, Nicolas Tesla, 34 years, 1890
Engagement present of Jan Mathijs Hubert Poell to Elisabeth Juliana B├╝hler, Breda, Netherlands, 1890.
Spoons made by Popke Siebma in Groningen (Netherlands).

  • With his 34 years Nicolas Tesla is in the bloom of his life.
  • My son's second great-grandfather (the father of my grandfather) gave an engagement present to my future great-grandmother.

Some random facts:
  • The Kingdom of Italy establishes Eritrea as its colony in the Horn of Africa.
  • Wilhelm II, German Emperor, dismisses Otto von Bismarck.
  • Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh moves to Auvers-sur-Oise on the edge of Paris
  • The United States Census Bureau begins using Herman Hollerith's tabulating machine to tabulate census returns using punched card input.
  • Wounded Knee Massacre.
  • Brown trout are introduced into the upper Firehole River in Yellowstone National Park.
  • Francis Galton announces a statistical demonstration of the uniqueness and classifiability of individual human fingerprints.
Side step: When using event list like these in wikipedia it is often useful to look at pages in other languages also (using automatic translations if needed). It will complete greatly your perception of what happened in the world. And remember Wikipedia is a community effort (with it's advantages and inconveniences).
Fingerprints? A few years ago mine were digitally scanned at the US border. Punch cards? At the age of 15 I wrote my first computer program with punch cards.
Looking back for 5 generations shows that there are remains of things that started at that time. Things each of you learned about the history of your country, your nation, your tribe. The good and the bad things that happened.

Documented in external memories. In oral transmissions (with the risk of loss and transformation => this is a hint).

But did you ever asked yourself:

What do we don't know?

What were the hidden agenda's, obfuscated facts, perceptions of the losers?
Remember history is (re)written by the winners.

A big step

I propose to get 23 generations back.

Complicated math shows that we are in 1439.

And we are approximately 5 generations after the suppression of the Knights Templar (Friday, October 13, 1307) and 8 generations before the birth of Isaac Newton (25 December 1642).


In that year, or shortly after that, the book press is said to be invented. By two persons almost at the same time: Johannes Gutenberg (Aachen, Germany) and Laurens Janszoon Coster (Alkmaar, Netherlands). These two towns are at a distance of approximately 250 km.

Up to you to ask the right questions here.

And this is all about external memories, distribution and access to them for a much greater number of people as previously possible. Diminution of the risk of permanent loss of information. Although voluntary destruction has persisted since (even up to our days).

It created the need to learn to read for many people.

A huge leap

And before that?
Handwritten documents, carved artifacts (e.g. Egyptian hieroglyphs, Mayan glyphs) and other external memory systems (like the Inca Quipu, a knot based system).
And probably (potentially many) other memory systems we actually fail to identify as being one.
The oldest known writing system goes back to Mesopotamia some 208 generations ago (3200 BCE).
Side step: Some scholars distinguish writing systems from other symbolic communication systems. To understand the external memory the essence for me resides in knowing as much as possible about the believe system of the person that produced it, not in what is used. Maps and paintings all belong to what I call external memory systems.
Side step: The 208 generations mentioned above are calculated in the believe system that our calendar (Julian followed by the Gregorian) is right. In my believe system there is an area where this is not the case. There are strong indications (= unanswered questions) that our calendar might be flawed by as much as 12 generations.

What is happening between 200 and 20 generations back in time?

Only the privileged have access to the known external memories. Sometimes making a reduced number of more or less exact copies.
Many of them are still difficult to access. But things are changing.

For example the Vatican library contains 75,000 codices, more than a million books (from which 8,500 from before 1501) and 150,000 items in the library of the pope. Only a few months ago (march 2014) they started the digitization project for initially 3000 manuscripts.

Side step: This one is about translation. What is translation? For me there are 2 phases. Understanding the source and then re-express what has been understood in another language. You're now familiar with my concept of believe system and this implies the huge pit-fall of "understanding". Homework: have a look at the chain of translations of the Biblical texts (Who, When, between which languages). Make up your mind.

What about the ordinary people? Didn't they had some kind of external memory? Why?

How can we learn about the period where we don't have identified external human memories?

Let's say 2000 generations in the past (around 50000 years ago).
We're in the middle of the last ice-age. In Europe and Asia there were Neanderthals. Around that time or a bit later the first modern humans came to Europe. Believed to come out of Africa.
The sea level was about 90 m below the actual (-120 m around 800 generations ago (20000 years) and rising ever since).

We have fossils, archeological findings (artifacts and traces of human activity), geological records (e.g. a gigantic volcanic explosion near Naples 1576 generations ago -39400 years-, a short magnetic field inversion 1640 generations ago -41000 years-), (micro-)climatological records, partial eco-system records,...

Stop! There is one thing in the sentence above that might bring your thoughts back to a previous question.
Before reading on, can you figure out what that is?

When I asked you to think about your own past, how many among you forgot to think about the traces you left? The electronic traces. The plastic bottle you threw away (perhaps ending up somewhere in the sea), the fingerprints you left on it. The DNA you left on a cigaret.
The DNA itself that represents a part of your ancestral history. The scars on your body, representing a particular event in your life.

Side step: A personal experience. About scars and memory. My curiosity developed very early in my life and has never left me since. But learning the hard way had also some negative consequences. Around the age of 18 months I got severely burnt on my chest. On a sunday morning my father was pouring hot tea in a cup to serve it for my mother in bed. I was curious to see what was going on on the table and reached out. Flipped over the cup. You can imagine the rest. Second degree. That scar is still visible. But what is curious is that I'm not supposed to have any memories going further back than the age of three. But I do. There is one first person and two out-of-the-body views my memory produces related to this event: the moment I reached for the table (first person), the moment my father carried me into the black taxi just before I lost consciousness and the last one in the hospital when the doctor said to my father: "Fortunately he is a boy and not a girl". Made up memories? Possible, my father liked to tell stories and this one has been told a few times.

Me before the accident.
A few words about the dating of this event. For the fun. I have a letter from my father's girl friend in southern France (before he met my mother) from August 30 1958 in which she mentioned that my burning is now nothing but a bad souvenir. That letter is an answer to a letter my father wrote her on July 31 1958. The picture above was taken in our kitchen which was not heated. The last day with a temperature above 15°C was on September 22 1957 and the first one next year on May 8. I didn't traced my length curve yet, but that might give another precision for the picture. My actual estimation is that this accident has happened by the end of 1957 or more unlikely in May or June 1958. 
My parents died 10 years ago but in 2012 I was able to trace my father's girl friend and had a few mail exchanges with her. Unfortunately she doesn't remember much of the period in which she met my father (in this period of the year but 64 years ago). She must be close to the hundred now. I tried to meet her in person but didn't succeeded in that till now.

Combining what is known

Or perhaps the subtitle should be: not-combining what is known or the lack of multidisciplinary science.
When reading about astrological orientation of ancient human constructions (pyramids in Egypt, Stonehenge, UK, etc...), there is at least one thing I cannot find in the documentation.
It's plate tectonics. The African plate is moving to the north-east 2.15 cm per year since 100 million years. Europe and Northern America are drifting apart at 1.5 cm or so per year.
Speaking about plate tectonics, ever seen the origin (coordinate 0,0) mentioned? Are we measuring only relative plate movements?
If the pyramids are dated 5000 years ago, then the relative movement was about 10.5 Km. Is this used in the astronomical math? Is it negligible given the measurement precision? Show me.

The same question arises for Stonehenge and the Eurasian plate.

Can you figure out a question related to Greenwich, atomic clock, length of a day and plate tectonics?
Scales: 1 day, 1 year, 1 generation, 2000 generations, ...

And one for Darwinian evolution theory and global variation in human physical aspects?
Scale: 2000 generations.

Can you come up with something you "know" in a specific scientific domain that apparently isn't taken into account in another domain (and it looks like it should have been)?

From a historic perspective scientists have become more and more specialized because a human life is so short and access to information rather time consuming.

Now a huge amount of information is accessible. As stated earlier, it is still far from what is needed to get the answers to the right questions. But this is within reach. If we want. If everyone is convinced that everything should be published and accessible by everyone. Even the raw measurement data, allowing potentially everybody (including artificial intelligence) to verify the conclusions.

We have made the first baby steps towards a real interdisciplinary scientific and cultural collaboration. Let's get mature and hurry on.

Wrapping up

This post is a long and winding road. I'm fully aware of that.
And I hope it has, if necessary, opened your mind a bit to think for yourself. To ask yourself questions. That navigating between various disciplines is a must. That you are the owner of your own belief systems. And that this belief system is unique.

I didn't include any reference to data I used. On purpose. Because I think it would have been distracting. The target was to make you think in a particular way. The data I used was for illustration purposes only. Not to provide answers, nor to provide questions.

Curious fact to end with:
To some extend you are reading this because of the 12 spoons in the photo above.

Ronald Poell

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