Monthly Archives: November 2006

Complexity from Simplicity; or, Why Casey Luskin Needs a Math Class

One of my fellow ScienceBloggers, [Karmen at Chaotic Utopia]( pointed out a spectacularly stupid statement in [Casey Luskin’s critique of Carl Zimmer][lutkin] (*another* fellow SBer) at the Discovery Institutes “Center for Science and Culture”. Now normally, I might not pile on to tear-down of Casey (not because he doesn’t deserve it, but because often my SciBlings do such a good job that I have nothing to add); but this time, he’s crossed much too far into *my* territory, and I can’t let that pass without at least a brief comment.
So, here’s the dumb statement:
>The article called evolution a “simple” process. In our experience, does a “simple” process generate
>the type of vast complexity found throughout biology?
Yes, one of the leading IDist writers on the net believes that in reality, simple processes don’t generate complex results.
Karmen pointed out fractals as a beautiful example of the generation of complexity from simplicity. I’d like to point out something that, while lacking the artistic beauty of a well-chosen fractal, is an *even simpler* and possibly more profound example.

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Shrinking Sun (Part 2)

So, as promised, it’s time for part two of “The Creationists and the Shrinking Sun”.
The second main tack of the creationists and the shrinking sun is to *not* use the bare
measurements of an allegedly shrinking sun as their evidence. Instead, they use it as
evidence for a very peculiar theory. It’s an interesting approach for a couple of reasons: it
actually *proposes a theory* (a bad theory, but hey, at least it’s a theory!); it uses some recent theories and observations as evidence; and it casts the whole concept of how the sun works as part of an elaborate conspiracy to prop up evolution.

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Shrinking Sun (Part 1)

One of the more pathetic examples of bad math from the creationist camp is an argument based on the
claim that the sun is shrinking. This argument has been [thoroughly
debunked]( by other folks, so I haven’t bothered to
add my two cents here at GM/BM. I hadn’t heard anyone mention this old canard until
recently, when a reader wrote to me to ask if I could comment on it. I *hate* to disappoint
my readers, and this is *such* a great example of flaming bad math, so I figured what the heck. So hang on to your hats, here it comes!
There are a lot of [different]( [variants]( of [this]( [argument]( out there. There are two main forms of this argument; there’s one version that focuses on extrapolating measurements of
the sun, and the more complicated one that adds in an explanation of the shrinkage and tries
to use neutrino measurements as a support. I was going to cover both in this post, but it was getting way two long, so in this post, I’m going to stick to the first naive argument, and then in my next post, I’ll cover the second.

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Friday Pathological Programming: Quine Madness with Muriel

Due to work stuff, I’m very busy this week, and I don’t have time to write a detailed
pathological language post, so I chose something that doesn’t take a lot of explanation, but
which is delightfully twisted. It’s a language called [Muriel](, aka
the *”Monumentally Useless ReIterative Execution Language”.
Muriel is based on the idea of [*quines*]( A quine for a programming language is a program in that language which produces itself as output. Quines are
considered interesting puzzles in some circles, which has led to generation of huge collections of quines in just about every imaginable programming language. Follow the link above to see one such collection. Muriel takes things a step further: instead of quines being an interesting (if pointless) challenge, in
Muriel, they’re an essential part of the language!

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Friday Random Ten, Nov 17

1. **Trout Fishing in America, “I Get Ideas”**. Trout is a great band; they do both children’s
music and adult music. This is one of their children’s songs, but I love it anyway. What’s
not to like about a song that features shampooing with peanut butter?
2. **Gordian Knot, “The Brook The Ocean”**. Gordian Knot is an instrumental progressive rock band consisting of bassist Sean Malone, and whoever else he feels like playing with. GK has included Bill Bruford, Adrian Belew, Trey Gunn, Steve Hackett, Mike Portnoy, and a ton of other amazing people. This is a spectacular track, a thoroughly great exaple of GK.
3. **Fairport Convention, “John Gaudie”**. A classic old folk tune performed by Fairport Convention.
4. **Martin Hayes, “The Crooked Road/The Foxhunter’s Reel”**. Martin Hayes is a phenomenal Irish
fiddler. In general, he plays things at a very reasonable pace, and is very sparse and elegant
in his ornamentation. This tune is pretty much his way of saying “Yes, I *can* play as fast and fancy as any of those snotty showoffs, I just usually *choose* not to.” Amazing musicianship, played with the same kind of elegance that characterizes his normal playing. I’m glad that he doesn’t do
*everything* in this showy style, but for a once-in-a-while thing, it’s positively brilliant.
5. **John Corigliano, “Etude Fantasy 4. Ornaments”**. A modern classical piece for piano written
by one of the finest composers in America. Corigliano isn’t an *easy* composer to listen to, but
he’s well worth the effort.
6. **Broadside Electric, “Bucimis”**. Broadside is a local-ish (Philadelpha/Central NJ) band that
plays electricified folk music. They specialize in old broadsides from Childe’s ballads, along
with Irish and Klezmer themed instrumentals. This is an instrumental track of theirs, which is
based on a *Bulgarian* folk dance in a meter of – get this – 15/16. (4 fast 2s, followed by one 3 that takes as long as two of the twos, followed by one more two; repeat until dizzy.)
7. **Psychograss, “Big Gravel”**. Funky newgrass from a Darol Anger led band consisting of some
of the most brilliantly twisted players in modern bluegrass: Darol Anger on fiddle, Mike Marshall on Mandolin, the great Tony Trischka on banjo, Todd Phillips on bass, and David Grier on guitar.
8. **Kate Bush, “Nocturn”**. A beautiful piece off of Kate’s latest.
9. **Darol Anger’s Republic of Strings, “The Seagull/Bay Day”**. Another brilliant effort from Darol Anger. The man has *such* a range!
10. **Marillion, “Interior Lulu”**. A wonderful, long piece from my favorite neo-progressive band. This one has a very interesting structure. It starts out with an intro that sounds very much like recent Marillion work. Then it flashes back into a sound like the genesis cover band that they were when they started out, and gradually changes until they sound like todays Marillion again by the end. Very, very cool.

Bad News for Uncommon Descent

In my ongoing search for bad math, I periodically check out Uncommon Descent, which is Bill Dembski’s
blog dedicated to babbling about intelligent design. I went to check them today, and *wow* did I hit the jackpot.
Dembski doesn’t want to bother with the day-to-day work of running a blog. So he has a bunch of bozos
who do it for him. Among them is Salvador Cordova, who can almost always be counted on to say
something stupid – generally taking some press story about science, and trumpeting how it proves
intelligent design using some pathetic misrepresentation of information theory. [That’s exactly what
he’s up to this time.](

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Deepak Chopra is an Idiot

As [PZ]( pointed out, Deepak Chopra is back with *yet another* of his clueless, uninformed, idiotic rants. This time, he’s written [an article trying to “prove” that there is an afterlife]( Normally, when PZ comments on something like this, I have nothing to add; he does such a good job fisking
credulous morons. But this time, I actually have something to add.

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Egyptian Fractions

While I was researching yesterdays post on Archimedes integration, one of the things I read reminded me of one of the stranger things about Greek and earlier math. They had a notion that the only valid fractions were *unit* fractions; that is, fractions whose numerator is 1. A fraction that was written with a numerator larger than one was considered *wrong*. Even today, if you look in a lot of math books, they use the term “vulgar fraction” for non-unit fractions.
Obviously, there *are* fractions other that *1/n*. The way that they represented them is now known as *Egyptian fractions*. An Egyptian fraction is expressed as the sum of a finite set of unit fractions. So, for example, instead of writing the vulgar fraction 2/3, the Greeks would write
“1/2 + 1/6”.

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Archimedes Integration of the Circle

A lot of people have asked me to write something about “Archimedes Integration”, and I’m finally getting around to fulfilling that request.
As most of you already know, Archimedes was a philosopher in ancient Greece who, among other things, studied mathematics. He invented a technique for computing areas that’s the closest thing to calculus before Newton and Leibniz. Modern mathematicians call Archimedes technique “the method of exhaustion”.
The basic idea of the method of exhaustion is to take the figure whose area you want to compute, and to divide it into pieces whose area you already know how to compute; and to make the divisions smaller and smaller, *exhausting* the area not included.

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Great Math Music

By way of PZ, I just found [the website of Jonathan Coulton](, a musician who seems to specialize in humorous and geeky songs. The music is good; the lyrics are absolutely fantastic.
Here’s an example that he gives away, called “Mandelbrot Set”. (For embedding it here, I drastically stripped it from 160K stereo sample to just 16K mono; go to his homepage to get the real, full-quality version.)

Just to give you an idea, here’s the lyrics for the first verse:

Pathological monsters! cried the terrified mathematician
Every one of them is a splinter in my eye
I hate the Peano Space and the Koch Curve
I fear the Cantor Ternary Set
And the Sierpinski Gasket makes me want to cry
And a million miles away a butterfly flapped its wings
On a cold November day a man named Benoit Mandelbrot was born

Go. Listen. Buy!