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Posts Tagged ‘Stephen Hawking’

It is clear that we are just an advanced breed of primates on a minor planet orbiting around a very average star, in the outer suburb of one among a hundred billion galaxies.  BUT, ever since the dawn of civilization people have craved for an understanding of the underlying order of the world.  There ought to be something very special about the boundary conditions of the universe.  And what can be more special than that there is no boundary?  And there should be no boundary to human endeavor.  We are all different.  However bad life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at.  While there is life, there is hope.
    —    Stephen Hawking
“The Theory Of Everything” (2014) — movie review
Today’s review is of the romantic drama / biography – story of the college and adult life of Stephen Hawking (played by Eddie Redmayne) and his first (and longest) wife: Jane Hawking (played by Felicity Jones).  Both Redmayne and Jones received Best Actor / Actress Oscar nominations for their respective roles with Redmayne actually winning the Oscar.  The movie received three other nominations, too, including Best Picture.
The movie roughly covers the time between 1960 and 2010, with some after-notes about the subjects lives.  Basically, Hawking is a brilliant student, who falls in love, finds out he has a deadly disease and then goes on to outlive the medical prognosis and become a world-famous celebrity physicist.  His “popular” fame arises from both his brilliance and his overcoming his illness (motor neurone disease, aka ALS – amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, aka Lou Gehrig’s disease).
The movie makes a passing attempt to explain the general concepts of a black hole, a singularity, time, and the creation of the universe.  It also spends a fair amount of time establishing the belief disagreements between the two leads.  Steven is an atheist and Jane is CoE (Church of England / Protestant).
Hawking achieved general fame by authoring a book (“A Brief History of Time“) in which he tried to explain his work / theories in terms the “common man” would grasp.  I remember reading the book a few years after it was published and by then it had firmly established its reputation as the most widely un-read coffee table book of the 20th century.  Just as a side note: I asked the few friends who did display the book on their coffee tables (or book shelves) if they’d actually read the book.  The response was 0.  Only 1 admitted to having even started reading it.  Granted it was a limited sample size, but it made me feel a bit sad – mostly because it meant I had no one to discuss it with.  The sad life of an unrepentant nerd…
Anyway, this is a very good movie which is instructive about human character (Jane’s and Stephen’s) and ends with the message that what is achieved through love is often the greatest accomplishment of any life.  Final recommendation: Highly recommended.
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On This Day In:
2017 Don’t Sink Now
2016 A Burning Passion To Teach Freedom
2015 Before Debit (And Credit) Cards
2014 Herding Cats
2013 Ooops!
2012 Understand A Great Truth
2011 Start Here…
2010 Random Acts of Vandalism On Easter Weekend…

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The implications of an unparsable machine language aren’t just philosophical.  For the past two decades, learning to code has been one of the surest routes to reliable employment — a fact not lost on all those parents enrolling their kids in after-school code academies.  But a world run by neurally networked deep-learning machines requires a different workforce.  Analysts have already started worrying about the impact of AI on the job market, as machines render old skills irrelevant.  Programmers might soon get a taste of what that feels like themselves.
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This explosion of indeterminacy has been a long time coming.  It’s not news that even simple algorithms can create unpredictable emergent behavior — an insight that goes back to chaos theory and random number generators.  Over the past few years, as networks have grown more intertwined and their functions more complex, code has come to seem more like an alien force, the ghosts in the machine ever more elusive and ungovernable.  Planes grounded for no reason.  Seemingly unpreventable flash crashes in the stock market.  Rolling blackouts.
These forces have led technologist Danny Hillis to declare the end of the age of Enlightenment, our centuries-long faith in logic, determinism, and control over nature.  Hillis says we’re shifting to what he calls the age of Entanglement.  “As our technological and institutional creations have become more complex, our relationship to them has changed,” he wrote in the Journal of Design and Science.  “Instead of being masters of our creations, we have learned to bargain with them, cajoling and guiding them in the general direction of our goals.  We have built our own jungle, and it has a life of its own.”  The rise of machine learning is the latest — and perhaps the last — step in this journey.
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To nerds of a certain bent, this all suggests a coming era in which we forfeit authority over our machines.  “One can imagine such technology outsmarting financial markets, out-inventing human researchers, out-manipulating human leaders, and developing weapons we cannot even understand,” wrote Stephen Hawking — sentiments echoed by Elon Musk and Bill Gates, among others.  “Whereas the short-term impact of AI depends on who controls it, the long-term impact depends on whether it can be controlled at all.”
   —    Jason Tanz
From his article: “The End Of Code
Appearing in the June 2016 issue of Wired Magazine
[Every 10 years or so we are cautioned about computers, the end of programming, Artificial Intelligence and “the end of code”.  And, as always, I am reminded of the quote: “The survival value of human intelligence has never been satisfactorily demonstrated.”   —  Michael Crichton from his book: “The Andromeda Strain“.   I guess we may see, sooner rather than later.   —   KMAB]
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On This Day In:
2015 Okay, Maybe Not Ceaseless
2014 Can Do
2013 Are You Helping?
2012 Inside All Truth Is A Vacuum
2011 So, Whom Are We Trying To Fool Then?

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Today’s book review is: “The Aims Of Education” (1929 ©), by Alfred North Whitehead.  The book is a collection of papers and presentations (speeches) given by the author on a number of topics: education, freedom and discipline, science, the function of universities and the nature of thought itself.  Although a relatively small work, it is quite deep and scholastic / academic in tone, which will not be to everyone’s taste.
Whitehead was a mathematician who emigrated to America and became a philosopher in his later years.  Apparently, Cambridge had a lecturer time limit of twenty-five years and he was forced into retirement.  He lectured in London for another dozen years before moving to Harvard where he also spent a little over a dozen years.
The book is really in two parts for me: the parts I understood and agreed with wholeheartedly (the first half of the book) and the later part (mainly dealing with the “organization of thought” and “the anatomy of some scientific ideas“) which I believe I understood, but which I disagreed with.  Metaphysically speaking, Whitehead poses that reality is what we (individually) perceive it to be and the normalization of perception is (what we agree on collectively) what we “scientifically” say is the “real” world.  In a strange way, the only things which can be real are those which we perceive to be real and on which we can agree with others in their perceptions.  This “relativism” of a perceived real world has consequences, but I’m not sure I have ever been able to get my head around them.  (I went through this in a political theory class back in my own university days.)
While I feel I understood what Whitehead was trying to express, I found it extremely dry reading and in the end (after several weeks of having the book on my bedside table), I had to force myself to read the last 30-40 odd pages.  My difficulty was less my “disagreement” with his proposition, as the general feeling of its irrelevance in “my” real world.  I don’t really care if all the universe is really changing and even mountains are eventually reduced to sand.  For my lifetime, they are mountains.  I recognize that in a billion or so years, the Earth will no longer be here (or the mountain), but for now, I still need to climb it, ski it, or build a train tunnel through it and I (we) can still ascertain (agree) on it’s location, height, circumference, etc.  It is as real as I need it to be.
If this review seems a bit negative, let me also high-light the books strengths (or at least the parts I agree with), too.  The book’s title refers to the first lecture in the book and describes what we as a society should hope to gain by educating our youth.  It describes the “rhythm” of education in a person’s life.  It also relates Whitehead’s views on subjects to be taught and their order of learning.  As mentioned above, he goes on to discuss the value of a liberal education, the use of classics in education, and the role of a university in developing the leaders society requires.  Whitehead does not neglect the necessity of practical and technical training in the spectrum of education .  He simply notes they will be sufficient for the masses and remain a minimum standard for the well developed (pre-) university graduate.  This seems an extremely elitist view until one recognizes that education is a lifetime endeavor and returning to school (university) is not (or it should not be) prohibited for those who start their working lives as tradesmen and technicians.
Final recommendation:  moderate to strong recommendation.  This book is a definite “classic” and I feel I am “better” for having experienced it.  But, and this is a rather large qualification for me, it isn’t a book I left feeling many others would be interested in.  Primarily because of the nature of the subject matter, but also because of the way it’s expressed (extremely erudite language), this is not a book (I believe) many will force themselves to wade through.  Very reminiscent of a description I once heard of the book “A Brief History of Time” by Stephen Hawking, this is a book you want people to see on your coffee table, but which nobody ever actually reads.  Stick to the first bits on education, liberal arts and the purpose of a university, and leave the rest for when you tire of insomnia.
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On This Day In:
2014 Sums
2013 Memories & Binging
Admiration Due
2012 Choices Matter
2011 Acceptance Is The Key
2010 Just A Permanent Crease…
Bodily Functions

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One, remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet.  Two, never give up work.  Work gives you meaning and purpose and life is empty without it.  Three, if you are lucky enough to find love, remember it is there and don’t throw it away.
     —    Stephen Hawking
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On This Day In:
2014 Lend Your Hand
2013 Amnesty, n.
2012 Best Resolv’d
The Clock Is Running
2011 Magic

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