The Monty Hall Problem

Feeling uninspired these days.  So much to do, so little time in which to do it.  Days like these call for random and pointless posts, so here I go.

The Monty Hall Problem

You are given a choice: select any one of three doors.  You are told in advance that one of the doors conceals a prize, while the other two contain nothing.

You select a door, and then the chipper game show host opens one of the doors you did not select, always to reveal nothing.  Now you have the choice to switch, or stay with your original choice.  What do you do?


Like I said, uninspired.  Overdone and boring for that matter.  But in any case… for some reason this problem was not immediately obvious to me when first I considered it.  Although I quickly wanted to switch doors, it was for the wrong reason and with the wrong excepted gain in value.  I had figured my odds of guessing were going from 1/3 to 1/2, which is certainly an improvement, but its not actually what is going on in this problem.  It wasn’t too hard to convince myself of the correct answer, so here it is.

Yes, you always want to switch doors.  In fact, doing so doubles your chances of winning the prize.  The reason for this gain is because the game show host always shows you an empty door, and in doing so, removes duplication from the system.  After he pulls this trick, and the only options available are one car and one door with nothing.  By eliminating duplication, the host has guaranteed that in switching, you always end up with the opposite prize to what you selected originally.

Simple enough, yes?  If you happened to choose a car the first time, switching always lands you with nothing.  If you happened to select a losing door the first time, switching always wins you the prize.  And that is the key.  You can’t switch from a losing door to a losing door, you can only switch to the winning one.

So going in what were the odds?  Two out of three doors landed you on nothing, and one out of three doors land you with a car.  Since switching also swaps your prize as well, two out of three times you will switch from nothing to the car, and only one out of three times will you switch from the car to nothing.  Your odds went from one in three to two in three.

Another way to think about this is to expand the problem to many more doors, say 50.  You select any one of the 50 door, and then the host opens 48 other doors to reveal nothing.  All you have left is the one you picked originally, and one other door in the lineup.  Now it is obvious you should switch, and your odds are much better than pure random one in two.  In this example, 49 out of 50 times you would have picked a door with nothing, and in every one of those cases the switch gets you the opposite prize (the car), so with the switch your odds go from 1/50 to 49/50.

People tend to get caught up by the instantaneous odds, and have trouble convincing themselves the choice to switch or not has any impact on the outcome.  But to the contrary, this is a perfect example of how context can provide meaning and insight to an otherwise colorless math problem.  Here, the relationships created between the original probabilities and the new outcomes are critical.

“To Zanarkand” on Keyboard

This is me playing “To Zanarkand” by Nobuo Uematsu from the FFX Piano Collections.

I’ve only been playing keyboard/piano for 3 months… I really wanted to learn this song so I grabbed a used Yamaha PSR-170 from Amazon for $50, I downloaded the program Synthesia, and used this midi to learn.

I make several mistakes, and the tempo is pretty far off, but hey — I hope it sounds alright for a beginner!

On Aliens…

Recently, UFOs and Aliens have made it into the news sources again and again.  First Stephen Hawkins declared that if we encounter aliens, they will likely be hostel and eager to wipe us aside and absorb the Earth’s resources.  As recently as this week, a handful of ex-military personnel gave testimony that UFOs have been sighted at various United States and Russian nuclear facilities.  But of course UFO and alien encounter stories reach back to the 60’s and earlier.  Hollywood movies and mid-western tales aside, what would it really mean for humanity if we encountered non-terrestrial lifeforms?  What are the odds that we already have?


For the sake of this discussion, I am only considering aliens that originated at one time from another planet and then arrive via space ship (as opposed to various abstract concepts of freely-existing life).  I am also only considering those aliens that are of a construction “similar” to humans, meaning only some kind of body that houses their homeostatic processes and consciousness.

What might they want with us?

Hawkins suggests the Earth’s resources would entice aliens.  Many agree that a violent takeover may be the only feasible ending to a real first contact.  I personally disagree.  What are the reasons any species spreads out?  It certainly could be for lack of resources, possibly due to population growth.  It could be for conquest to spread religion or some other system of control.  Another possibility is simply that a species may expand in the name of exploration.  Are any of these motivations favored by reason?

Extra Terrestrial Scientists

One thing I think we can be sure of is that any aliens that can reach us are scientists.  In order to build something like a spaceship, tremendous accomplishments in learning must have taken place, and this requires creatures with a certain curiosity, and a capability for learning and rationality.  Without a means of logic, there is no way to build concepts on top of one another and progress from the specific to the general.  Without learning and curiosity, there is no way to advance knowledge towards a goal.  The existence of a space ship would instantly establish that the alien lifeforms were scientists of a sort.

Consider what is involved in the simple task of remaining alive during flight.  This requires an understanding of one’s required atmospheric composition (and temperature and pressure), one’s tolerance to acceleration, and susceptibility to atrophy, radiation, and weightlessness.  Even in principle, these concepts are scientific in nature, and the process of acquiring knowledge about them and re-applying that at a later time requires a scientific method.  It is very unlikely that any creature developed on a planet’s surface and therefore subject to the general concepts of evolution (and for this reason in need of an artificial vessel for travel in the first place) could survive a vacuum.  Just to ensure one could stay alive, these aliens would need to have an intimate understanding of their own bodies, and furthermore technology capable of replicating their environment.  Extraordinary achievements in materials sciences, engineering, architecture, navigation, and propulsion would be required to name a few.  Very likely, these categories include such physical concepts as relativity and chemistry.  The fundamental principals in nature and mathematics are necessarily what they are, and they are entirely species agnostic (that is to say the human identification of them in no way indicates they are applicable only to humans).  For instance, the Pythagorean theorem is a property of euclidean space, and it does not matter if it is a human looking at it or something else entirely, and it does not matter if the language is mathematics or something we have never even considered — the property is what it is, and must be analogous across all languages that understand it.  These species agnostic concepts provide a common denominator, and let us draw certain conclusions about intelligent aliens.

No matter how different alien lifeforms may be, and no matter what extra or deficient capabilities they possess, we can conclude a common grounding in the basic laws of reason, even if those laws are expressed and understood entirely differently, because only this basis enables the scientific methodology required to explain their advancement.


So we will necessarily be dealing with a species that is intelligent (in some sense), rational (in some sense), and scientific (in some sense).  Of course none of this yet requires they be conscious, sentient, or moral.  So what might they want with us?

According to Stephen, aliens that reach Earth seek it out for its natural resources, intent to scrape it dry and move on.  This presupposes that aliens are spreading for reasons of dwindling resources, and it further suggests that these aliens are able to survive on this diet of worlds.  This seems shockingly unrealistic to me.  Even allowing any incredible achievement of technology possible in physics, it still remains undeniable that a journey from other planets to Earth would require between decades and millennia to complete.

This fact seems to narrow down the intention of the travelers somewhat.  Does it seem practical that a species in need of resources would look to outer space?  The search for planets matching their requirements (assuming as Hawkins does that their requirements are Earth-like planets) would take centuries upon centuries for each one, requiring the ship and inhabitants to survive this massive interim without any infusion of resources. This seems insurmountable, and far less likely than the alternative that a vessel capable of traveling and supporting life for such time intervals would need to be self sufficient to an enormous degree.

If anything, I would expect them to park near our sun and utilize its energy output to some capacity, as energy is the true foundational requirement from which anything else could in theory be synthesized.


Before moving on, are the assumptions I have made this far sound?  Isn’t it possible these creatures can survive thousands of years, so searching for planets is not out of the question?  I believe we are safe, because no matter how foreign these beings might be, the concepts of evolution underpin their existence as they do ours, and with the same universal relevance as the Pythagorean Theorem.  Unless one wishes to argue that a species popped into full form spontaneously (the odds of which are too small to consider), we must accept that higher lifeforms are the result of simpler lifeforms enhancing themselves though some mechanism.  In order to explain a higher order being, some natural (mechanical) mechanism must explain the evolution, and also the selection that lets changes propagate.  On Earth we understand natural selection, and various copy errors that cause genetic evolution in species.  The particular medium / manifestation of this evolutionary process need not have any similarity with an alien world, but the fundamental principal of a simple construction self-replicating and improving is definitely universal, and therefore the underlying properties of natural selection apply.

Considering what we do know about the process of evolving, it seems to support that aliens would not be timeless, nor would they lack resource requirements.  No processes in nature operate with zero energy consumption, and conservation of energy requires every process (alive or not) to take in at least as much energy as it puts out.  Our alien friends must take in more than enough energy to remain operational or at least alive.  Given the efficiency of natural systems, it is a stretch to imagine a species that can store enough energy to survive centuries without any additional energy input.  This does not close the door to stasis or other methods to suspend energy consumption during travel, but it at least lengthens the odds against any enterprise by an intelligent species in need of resources that involves random space travel (keep in mind that no signals from Earth have yet reached any foreign worlds, and therefore no species can possess knowledge of our existence except by chance encounter).

And of course if the species has other ways of absorbing energy, then the underlying assumption that resources on Earth are required is broken.

From basic arguments of evolution, it seems unlikely that a species is timeless or long-lived on the order of centuries.  If this were the case, it becomes unlikely that the species could have survived long enough on a confined planet to develop space travel.  Additionally, it would greatly slow down the process of evolution, and tend to reduce the chances of higher lifeforms taking charge.

The Blue Zoo

Going forward on the belief that the aliens that might arrive on Earth are 1) scientific in nature, and 2) not in need of any resources they are not already capable of producing, is there still any concern that they may wipe us out just for the fun of it?  It is certainly possible.  Arguments from evolution on Earth suggest that morality is a natural development that assists in the formulation of civilizations (essential for large-scale social and technological development) as well as in the rearing of children.  I do not have enough information to speculate if these particular elements in Earth evolution would apply universally or not.  My hunch is that they will.

Without morality in some degree, it is impossible for organizations of a species to form and target a common goal.  Implicit in any such arrangement are things like trust (which implies honesty), fairness (required for accurate scientific evaluations), and order.  If a species has accomplished something like space travel, it is very likely they have long since accomplished civilization and interdependence.

So if we can assume our aliens have some concept of internal morality, where does that leave us?  Are we an interesting exhibit on a large turning zoo?  Or might we fall victim to one of the other reasons a species might spread out — conquest?  Perhaps we can be assimilated or employed in a manner suitable to a lesser life form?  Or converted to some “religion” of the aliens, like a cosmic “white-man’s burden”?

I doubt both.  Few slavery tasks needed by one species are suitably executed by another, not to mention the rarity of intelligent life would leave any slave-dependent system dry in no time.  As for religion… that is a whole other topic.  Short answer is I doubt a species of such intelligence will have religion at all, let alone a concept of god that needs to be forced onto others.

Sightings and Abductions

I am very skeptical of all such stories.  The primary reason is the absurd laziness and lack of elegance in these accounts.  I think the level of technology required for a species to reach us is exponentially more staggering than the average person appreciates.  To a life form with such capabilities, the capacity for secrecy from our primitive technology and predictable habits is easily achieved.  Why these sloppy encounters?  Just enough witnesses to get a story churning, but not a proper first contact?

Once again, we are necessarily dealing with a scientific species.  Studying the broadcasts from Earth (and even observing us) is easily achieved from afar, using the very familiar scientific process.  Avoiding detection is no trouble, and initiating first contact just as easy.  But the accounts we see paint the picture of aliens trying to keep cover, but incapable of doing so.  Bright lights, crop circles, day-time flights in front of witnesses — this is just lazy.  We could argue that the aliens are not concerned with detection, and yet in every story they fly off quickly, and are never caught (really caught) on camera or radar.  It is like they are there being morons, and yet smart enough to keep proof hidden.

These reports demonstrate a lack of rationality and purpose, but have all the markings of superstitious ghost stories.

But When?

I believe that if we do encounter aliens, it will be those from the third option I presented at the start: the explorers.  They will be searching the cosmos to explore and to learn.  Encountering humanity would be an excellent learning opportunity for them and for us, and would not spell any kind of disaster.

Well I really do hope we have our first contact in my lifetime, but my guess is we will not.  I personally believe it next to impossible that life does not exist elsewhere, but the odds of intelligent life more advanced than us existing close enough for them to reach us is exceedingly low.  The milky way houses 100 billion stars, spread across a 100K light year disk… so even granting the odds of one star in one billion that has an orbiting planet with intelligent life, that only leaves 100 such lifeforms in our galaxy.  Assuming they are evenly distributed in the 125 million cubic light-year volume of our milky way, that is only one species per million cubic light years.  So, at best we are 1,000,000 light years away from our closest neighbor, making the odds of them stumbling across us astronomically small.

As for making statements about our nuclear weapons, I suspect they could do a lot more then temporary de-active our warheads if that is what they wanted to do.  The whole thing sounds superstitious and lacking common reason.

Calculating N-Spheres

As a result of my years studying String Theory at the undergraduate level, I eventually developed a method for determining the properties of N-Spheres, with the ambition and then-enthusiastic hope of finding the required testing distance over which the strength of gravity would need to be measured to determine the number of physical dimensions there are in space.  While I did eventually come up with an equality that might produce an experimental setup, the choices I made with my career after my undergraduate degree obviated the need for further investigation.  In any event, I thought I would share what original research I did develop, so here is goes.

Why Spheres?

Gravity is weak.  This is well known and endlessly recited, but the explanations for why it might be weak are often too esoteric to delve into.  One proposal  comes out of string theory research (now several decades old), and revolves around the properties of the graviton.  Although presently undetected, the graviton is a proposed member of the complete standard model, and serves as the carrier of the force of gravity.  These particles are theoretically exchanged by massive objects and thereby guide their attraction to one another.

But why is the strength of gravity so far out of whack from the other forces?  Employing an example of this weakness from Brian Green, think about a common refrigerator magnet.  Here we have a competition — a battle of strength against a few ounces of iron on the magnet, and the gravitation pull of the entire planet Earth.  Were gravity and electromagnetism on equal footing, the magnet would fall straight to the ground (and weight much more than a few ounces for that matter).  But that is not what we actually see.  In fact, the few ounces of iron have no trouble at all resisting the pull of the Earth’s gravity, and the magnet sticks resolutely to your refrigerator.

In string theory, there are more than three dimensions in real space, but those extra degrees of freedom are only accessible to certain types of string configurations, one of which is the graviton, and only over very small distance scales.  In normal 3-space, a force emanating from a point will expand as a spherical wave, thereby experiencing a flux density that drops in proportion to R squared.  Why squared?  Because the total flux emitted by this point must spread itself over the surface of a sphere growing  with time, therefore the density is the total flux divided by the surface area of a sphere.  This can be clearly seen built into the common equations of force.  Take for instance Gravitation:


‘G’ is the gravitation constant, and being a constant it can accurately be rewritten as any combination of constants, leading to the unusual but entirely accurate formulation:


And there we have it, a flux (numerator), divided over the surface area of a sphere.  This is visible again in Coulomb’s Law, and here the constant is often defined in terms of 4π:


Again the flux (numerator) is divided by the surface of a three-dimensional sphere.  So if you are dealing with these forces, you are dealing with spheres, and if you are dealing with three dimensions, you are dealing with ordinary looking “2-spheres” described by their usual properties.

Moving to N-Sphere

Without going into too much detail, the string theory explanation is pretty simple.  If string theory is correct about the true makeup of space-time, then over very small distances the force of gravity is much stronger.  As gravitons emit from a source, many of them drift off into extra dimensions.  The pieces that stay in our coordinates then move along and obey normal 2-sphere propagation attenuation, but appear as if they were very weak to begin with, as so many gravitons have already disappeared.  What I sought to accomplish was to determine what the force of gravity should actually look like in small scales, if space-time has more than three dimensions.  Clearly a 2-Sphere no longer describes the real “surface” that the net flux is distributed over.  The theoretical test, once a n-sphere formulation of gravity is identified, would be to find a means of balancing gravity against electromagnetism (a force that cannot see the extra dimensions, and is therefore 2-spherical all they way down) and see where they balance.

So one last time, the gravitational FLUX is described by the numerator in the equation above, and we are searching for the new surface to distribute it over.  Let psi-g represent the flux, and the constant k-g will be defined as follows (or merely the gravitational constant divided by 4π):



When trying to imagine N-Spheres, like many before me, I work on analogy starting from lower dimensions.  Lets bear in mind the definition of a circle (a 1-Sphere) to help extrapolate: the set of all points equal distance from one center point.  In the case of a 0-Sphere, (a “sphere” that exists on a single line), the “set of all points” would refer to only two points.  The point R away from me along the line in one direction, and the point R away from me along the line in the other direction.  The “volume” of this sphere can be calculated by doing a “shadow integral” over an identity function running between R and -R.  As with any sphere, the surface area is then the derivative of the volume.


These answers make some sense intuitively.  If you have two points, separated by 2r then the “volume” of your 1-d enclosure is simply the length of line between them, or 2r.  The “surface” is really the sum of two points, which is harder to visualize, but expressed in the math.  Lets move ahead to 1-Spheres… commonly called circles.  We already know what to expect from these results, but lets test it.  Now I am going to do a “shadow” integral over an identity function, first describing a circle, and then from -r to r once again:


Lets do the last familiar case, so the pattern in the equation can emerge.  Here is the 2-Sphere:


Whenever you want to determine the “volume” of the next dimensional sphere, you need to first integrate over a circle that contains all of the degrees of freedom in question, and then treat that as your “shadow” and integrate up each dimension in the chain.  As expected, each dimension adds an extra power to the radius, which each time extends into a new degree of freedom.  Here are the results of the next several N-Spheres, arriving ultimately at a 9-Sphere whose surface can describe the flux distribution in an 11-dimensional string theory (special thanks to the TI-89 Titanium, and several sets of batteries!):


Here are the final order ones that matter for String theory.  These took hours to verify on my TI-89, although I originally determined these using an expansion I derived from the previous 5.


And there we have it.  String theory calls for at least 11 dimensions, meaning one time dimension and 10-spatial dimensions.  A ten dimensional sphere, or a 9-Sphere (9 because the numbering indicates the number of dimensions that makeup the bounding surface), therefore describes the needed volume and surface.  Of course I make no claim of having inventing the concept of shadow integrals, but I can take credit for deciding to use them to solve for N-Spheres in this way.  Just to cap this off, here is my formula (fully original, deduced only from my previous calculations) for finding the volume of an N-Sphere.  I have not proven this formula mathematically, but I have verified its predictions up to 10-Spheres:


New equivalence

If string theory is correct and gravity is very strong on a small scale, the relative strength of gravity compared to electromagnetism should change drastically on those scales.  I surmised that a test could be undertaken, attempting to find an equilibrium between the attractive force an electron’s gravity, and its repulsive force of its electromagnetism.  Let see on what scale such an equilibrium could be found:


Now we can solve this equation with the known values for an electron, and we find:


So when two electrons are brought to a halt about one thousandth of a millimeter from one another, we should be able to get them to balance IF a) string theory’s proposition of 11-dimensions is correct, and 2) if the wrapped up dimensions described in the theory are on the order of 1000ths-of-millimeters or more.

In other formulations of string theory that require more dimensions, this equilibrium shrinks.  Unfortunately, current experiments have only been able to probe the strength of gravity on scales two orders of magnitude greater (tenths of millimeters), which suggests an answer will not be forthcoming for at least a couple years.  But in any case, lack of any finding is insufficient to falsify string theory because either of the two premises leading to the above equivalence may be wrong without string theory itself necessarily being wrong.

Avoiding the slippery slope that is my personal dislike of string theory, let me leave this entry alone as only a commentary on N-Spheres.  Well, now I can’t say my undergraduate degree in physics was a complete waist!  At least I got one Blog entry out of it.

Out to Lunch

I’ve been working on a more extensive writing project for the last few weeks.  In particular, I am developing a sci-fi Screenplay tentatively called, “Mindscape Awakening”.  For the time being, I will be dedicating any inspiration (and any free time) to developing that story, so this blog has gone a little quiet.  I will be back online shortly.

Pre-Story Synopsis:

Having abandoned a global stalemated war and a lifeless Earth some 50 years before, the survivors on board the U.W.U. Noah were seeking a new home. In 2384, long-range scanners detected a planet with an inhabitable atmosphere, and of comparable size to Earth.  Early investigation unveiled the planet had some unusual properties, in particular it had an anomalous non-constant electrical term in the Deterministic Quantum Mechanics wave collapse expansion, called the context function.  This meant that certain electrical conditions could cause the physics on the planet’s surface to shift and change, manifesting physical anomalies and physical instability through a so-called Adonis Field.  The planet was named Mayarius in reference to this, and was considered the last hope, and a god-send for all.

Six years later, as the planet came into closer view, they realized it was a massive desert.  Ocean, and desert… totally inhospitable to life.  Resources running extremely short and population dwindling, a new project was undertaken to cybernetically enhance humans to reduce their energy expenditure and nourishment requirements.  Unfortunately, the project was abandoned when the modified humans exhibited violence, personality swings, and ultimately terminal complications.  In 2392 an executive decision was made to seek out and re-unite with the other old countries that had left Earth.  It was a questionable move, since really the war had never been resolved, but it was decided that no other option existed at this point.  Everyone had to hope for amnesty.

As a desperate protest to this controversial decision, the ship was sabotaged and ultimately forced to crash-land on Mayarius.  Very soon after landing, it was discovered that the human brain had the electrical properties required to interfere with the Adonis field.  Within a year of living there, the human influence was obvious.  What had once been a vast barren landscape called the Ananta Waistland, was now large circular area of life pressing the Ananta boundry away.  This “Jaya Sphere” was spreading out from their center, creating trees, grass, and life.  It seemed that they had found a new home that could bend to their requirements.

However, within the first year, it was discovered that not only good things could come to be from the Adonis field.  Creatures called “Deimos” were starting to emerge, often at night, the result of peoples’ fears and dreams.  In one case, an entire village of nearly 100 was destroyed in a single night.  A cybernetics programs was reinstated, this time seeking to control emotions and dreams.  Unfortunately, the same few that had sabotaged the ship are also in control of the Human Upgrade program, and they have their own agenda.  They spend the next 23 years putting that agenda into play before our story begins.

It becomes a war of human verse cyborg, thoughts verse the Adonis, and freedom verse control.  An unexpected hero emerges from a hybrid race, and needs to restore a balance to this twisted world.  But what balance can be possible?  How can adversaries as dangerous as cybernetic humans, and as subtle as fear be overcome simultaneously?

Avatar 3D IMAX

Neytiri with bow

I finally saw Avatar (in 3D IMAX no less).  I realize I missed this train by a little, as Alice in Wonderland has done a job of pushing Avatar out of most of the 3D theaters by now.  Nonetheless, I wanted to write out my thoughts on this remarkable experience.

The Experience

I am really struggling to recruit words suitable to describe “the experience” of Avatar in 3D.  In place of any poetic inspiration let me simply state that it was utterly the most immersive sub-reality I have every lost myself in.

I have heard many people arguing that the 3D did little to enhance the movie, but I could not disagree more.  I am a regular to the movies and I am not ashamed to admit that I can get lost in a good story – I can relate to some characters, and even respond to events emotionally.  But I have never forgotten that I was watching a movie (cliché sentiment notwithstanding), no matter how drawn I was to the story.  When the credits began to scroll after Avatar, it was actually jolting and disorienting when I realized where I was and how long I had been there.

In examining my memories of the movie, I find that my mind has attached a huge number of senses, emotions, and details to the images — a level of perception that I associate with real life memories, but a level far beyond the internalization any past movie has invoked.  I am not sure exactly why this was the case, but I do think it was largely the 3D.  I mean, there were scenes where I felt inescapably within the frame, for instance scenes in the forest where you can see (and almost feel) the bugs flying right around you (as well as around the characters).  Scenes where the trees and the animals seemed so real and familiar (however alien) that they pull you in.  Many very simple scenes where just the basic existence of actual space and distance was so strikingly familiar with real-life, and simultaneously so foreign to “the movies”, that everything was reversed.  Much like Jake, for three hours the real world was through my polarized glasses, and the other world was just a dream.

The Story & Characters

Loved them all.  Clearly this was not the most original movie as far as the conflict and resolution is concerned.  It reeks of Dances with Wolves, among others.  However the unique context that the story was recast into, and the very relatable journey we observe makes the plot largely rewarding.  I was also very happy to find none of the key junctions were predictable.  There were several climactic moments where my heart was pounding fit to burst with anticipation, and I could fully expect any number of things to happen next.  Some of these moments were very touching and even frightening.

The science in the movie is covered just shallow enough to be ostensibly complete, which I think does a great service to the experience.  Many sci-fi movies get lost trying to justify and reason how they accomplish certain feats, when they don’t need to.  It is enough for us to know that the brain patterns of the Avatars are linked to the humans… it would have only slowed the story if we had to go into how any of it worked.  The mystery also helped us relate to the main character, Jake Sully, who himself is not a scientist and likely unfamiliar with the inner workings of the technology.  In this way, as well as in our first experience with 3D, we get to explore the same sensations of realism and discovery that Jake is experiencing in the movie.

I found the Na’vi (and in particular Neytiri) very engaging, and very powerful.  Their faith and spirituality is easily envied, as is their strong camaraderie and precise harmony with their surroundings and their purpose.  They were entirely believable, and entirely relatable, despite the heavy physical differences between them and humans.

The human characters were perhaps a little less relatable… in particular Colonel Quaritch.  I did see a trace of regret in Parker Selfridge (the RDP administrator), making him feel human, albeit of an unpleasant cast.  But to the contrary, Colonel Quaritch seemed evil beyond the reasonable scope of his character, to the point that his cynical analogy to Cameron’s view of humanity was overly apparent.  None the less, the overall effect was excellent.

The Special Effects

Being a student of 3D myself, I was blown away by the realism of the CG characters.  The textures, the lighting, the mastery of the skinning / rigging was unbelievable.  The Na’vi’s eyes are deep and engaging, and their skin reveals every detail of reality, right down to the freckles and blood vesicles.  Mixed with the beautiful landscape and inspired flora, fauna, and wildlife, I was completely awed throughout the movie.  One of the final scenes in particular caught my eye.

Neytiri and Jake

Just stunning.  Here we have a human being propped up by a CG character… they two are touching, and on each of them you can see their shadows interacting.  Even on Jake’s mask, you can see the reflection of his hand touching Neytiri.  On closer inspection of the animation, you can see Neytiri’s skin deforming exactly as you would expect under Jake’s pressure… this is revolutionary all around.


The movie was all around inspiring, deeply touching, and wonderfully presented.  Like many, I feel a strange pull to return the world I was a part of for a few short hours.  The experience was so real and wonderful, it has left me craving more.  For now I await the BlueRay (which incidentally should be here in a week), but I know that without the 3D it will not be the same as it was before.  I am keeping my fingers crossed for a fall re-screening, which the rumors suggest is in the pipeline.

Collective Consiousness

In the dampened wake of the Holidays, I found myself once again drifting aimlessly into my own mind, an activity that almost inevitably leads to a blog entry or at least mild insomnia. In this case the former; in particular, I became absorbed with the concept of a Collective “hive” mind, and how it might affect a species such as humans.

The common portrayal of such a paradigm is never positive, exemplified most vividly with the Star Trek The Next Generation antagonists: the Borg.

Borg Drone

The Brog are a cybernetic species that specialized in the indiscriminate assimilation of foreign biology and technology. The Borg are also pivotally characterized by a collective mind… the members of the Borg are merely drones without any personal awareness or sense of individuality. Indeed the horror of assimilation, and the compulsive replacement of your individuality with the collective, are recurring themes in Star Trek, as well as other scifi stories that touch the concept.

I take issue with several of these portrayals, and ultimately assume the unpopular perspective that a collective mind would be a huge opportunity and sign of maturity for humanity. It would also represent a fundamental paradigm shift of unprecedented proportions to the “human experience”.

Nodes in the Network

The key to keep in mind is that joining a “collective” does not alter the way individual brains process, it simple interconnects the brain with others. What a connection to a collective is supposed to entail is an instant and unfiltered exchange of all thoughts and experiences between all members of the hive. Each human connected (or node) remains an individual processing center, meaning they continue to have their own consciousness and their own interface with experiences. The difference is that after the instant of initial experience, the event becomes public and known to all, and free for everyone to individually react to.

This is where the idea of losing one’s self enters the picture. Of course it is a matter of speculation, but I don’t subscribe to this model. It seems reasonable that people in a collective might arrive at interpretations or beliefs that they would not have held individually. From this deviation, we might deduce that the node is no longer an individual as it was unable to hold its own opinion. In other words, it may seem the individual’s opinion was forcibly overwritten by the collective. To the contrary, however, I would expect this sort of deviation. The change in a node’s “personal” opinion is not because the individual is unable to hold their own thoughts, but because their own thoughts mingle with every other person’s thoughts and a massive averaging takes place whereby every node individually aggregates the diversity of opinions and knowledge and arrives inexorably at the same conclusion. The key to remember is that the nodes share everything, so any differences of perspective or personality of individual nodes are subjected to every opposing opinion and perspective, allowing each node to personally agree with the “collective” personality and perspective.

This difference may seem subtle, but I insist it is not. Consider the elements that prevent people from agreeing on fundamental principals — take for instance an Evangelist and an Atheist. These two groups have entirely incompatible world views, and no amount of arguing could ever get them to agree. If they were connected to a collective, however, they would suddenly be able to exchange feeling associated with experiences, inherent instincts that cannot be explained, and they would be exposed to each other’s actual belief. As stated, they cannot have both beliefs, points would come into conflict and all internal reasoning would be shared and inclusive.

With the extra information and understanding, they would each likely arrive at some middle ground based on the various points one group or the other was unable or unwilling to internalize previously — In essence they are each so well informed and have such common experiences (personal or learned) that they nearly inevitable arrive at similar conclusions. The end result is that their opinions may have changed, but not because they had to… only because each individual grew beyond their original perspective and actually choose to agree with the collective. If disconnected from the collective, I would expect each individual to truly continue to believe whatever middle ground that had previously discovered

Averaging Knowledge

The ability to exchange information on the level of our “inner voice” opens up the door to this idea of true knowledge averaging. When we all have the same pieces and the same feedback on the best and worst way to use those pieces, then our interpretation of information is likely to average out to the “most-globally-reasonable” interpretation. This is not a loss by any means, it is a huge gain. It enables the enhancement of human understanding and influence to extravagantly unthinkable levels. It also does not require us to lose anything that we value in our current method of individual contributions, those contributions simple become lower level. For instance, an individual whose perspective is very innovative and new can still redirects the whole collective. But in a collective mind, that innovation can be leveraged to a greater capacity because as soon as it is discovered by a single node, it becomes available to all nodes to leverage.

Because the processing of information is still within the brain of the nodes, it makes sense that certain nodes would have certain values — some more likely to innovate and some more likely to make abstract connections, much like in our world. Again with the key difference that all nodes instantly understand how and why that innovation was realized, and can hopefully simulate the thought process.

This dispersal also allows humans to optimize themselves in ways previously unimaginable. Technology as is stands now — wikipedia, social networking, televised entertainment, music — none of it would be required anymore when culture and enrichment is available on demand. We would not lose these facets of our culture, we would simply be able to experience them without the technology middleman. I imagin a collective culture relying very little on technology or surroundings for happiness or entertainment.

Portability of Consciousness

I will close with a curious afterthought on this subject. If the individual consciousnesses in a collective were so interconnected that they could actually distribute their existence over multiple brains, a very sci-fi opportunity appears. Up until now, I describe a node as its own person who is fully connected to each other person. In many ways, this allows the group to control the group, because every decision (where to walk, what to say) is influenced and planned by the whole collective. However to execute the actual action, the host of that particular body must agree with the collective, and their brain must control their body. In this new sense of shared consciousness, individuals could actually move their consciousness between particular nodes, or even share control of nodes living primarily in the cloud. For physical tasks, a strong body might be occupied by an individual, and then for solving a problem, a node better suited to mental work might be occupied. In addition, several individuals might share control of multiple nodes at once.

This kind of collective allows humans to break the 1:1 connection that exists between a body and a mind — in fact it opens up the ability for n:m where n minds control m bodies, and n >= m. Now if a body is lost, it does not necessarily pull its host out of the collective — the host may exists redundantly across the network. Now any consciousness can actually control any body, a subtle difference from before where only one could control a body, even through its decision to do so was largely the decision of the collective.

Enlisting in the Borg

The technology to achieve the kind of interconnectivity a collective requires is no where near the horizon, and may be permanently delegated to the Sci-Fi realm. If it does every make it to reality, however, I think we stand to benefit greatly from its potential. The changes it represents to our way of life are so small compared to the amazing opportunity for peace, advancement, and growth as a species. If it ever comes to be, I envision plugging in will be a major point of contention, but inevitably everyone would seek its refuge and comfort, and be much happier they had done so.