Numerology, or Something

Someone recently referred to Numerology as a branch of mathematics. I definitely wouldn’t call it that, but it’s definitely in there with other number recreations. And yes, Pythagorus, like others fond of playing with numbers and geometry and such, loved finding the correlations between unrelated things, tying them together with formulae.

I haven’t found any credible evidence of numerology, but there is one phenomenon to keep in mind with this kind of exploration — the laws of probability and statistics apply in often surprising ways. For example, the odds of two people in 57 or more having the same birthday are better than 99%. (Google “birthday paradox” for the math behind that.) Or the odds of a (truly unrigged random) penny coming up heads, after having just come up heads 100 times in a row, are 50:50. (The previous heads have no influence over the future.)

Numerology is ultimately an expression of discerned correlations and permutations found in what may or may not be random sequences of numbers. Bearing in mind that there are many different formulae for assigning numbers to words or letters, we can end up with pretty much any imaginable sequence of digits. Lots of people have applied Biblical numerology according to various schemes (Blevins, Decimal, ASCII, Hebrew, Classical Hebrew, Roman numerals, etc.), and found wild and wonderful correlations. But these same correlations are very readily found in War and Peace or any other piece of writing. They are also found in lists of computed “random” numbers, no matter where you start in the list!

What we learn from observing numerology in action is quite interesting. The most fundamental observation is that the human mind is amazingly well crafted to perceive patterns. In fact, I’ve been working for years now on a theory that the biochemical response to pattern perception involves endorphin receptors, and is what motivates the prenatal brain to pop into the world correlating things in all directions. This tendency is at the basis of language, and learning, and society, and probably everything else human.

It is almost impossible to observe something without finding patterns in it. To contemplate these patterns is only natural. But the logic of deciding that the presence of innumerable wonderful patterns is somehow unlikely is completely false.

There are lots of mathematical websites that can clarify this better than I, but essentially it works like this — first, we look at the jumble of numbers. Then we pick the patterns we can perceive (like repeating digits, or specific sequences, or certain preferred digits, etc.). Then, after we’ve discerned a bunch of patterns, we look backwards at the situation and say, “What an amazing coincidence that these patterns occur in just this sequence!” In reality, since we can correlate practically anything, and since we’re doing all this after the fact, it’s no more “coincidental” than that the clock’s second hand should just happen to be right on the 6 the last time I looked.

If you can find a rigorously documented case of someone successfully predicting something on the basis of numerology (or literally any other system you might think of), you may be onto something. The trouble is, most of the documentation is missing or bogus, and most of the predictions are dependent on significant doses of interpretation. So when one is looking for correlations, one cherry-picks the evidence (unconsciously or otherwise) and finds whatever one wants to find. This is what makes strict science so difficult — the scientist isn’t allowed to do anything that might skew his conclusions. And even then, it’s only the requirements of peer review and double-blind experimental repeatability that can really validate a scientist’s conclusion.

Ironically, I’m not an ideological skeptic. That is, I’m not pre-convinced that certain things are invalid or valid (beyond those things we are biologically programmed for, like the belief that the sun will rise tomorrow, or the ability to utterly lose sight of my own mortality most of the time).

I do not believe, for example, that it is impossible that some celestial being wrote some secret knowledge into some earthly text. However, common sense tells me that if that text was edited, corrupted, translated multiple times, and then edited some more, the odds are that the secret knowledge is now lost, and no longer decodable.

So that’s how I approach numerology. The numerical coincidences are truly endless, and I know people who spend literally thousands of hours digging up new correlations and coincidences.

For my own part, I wrote a weird fictional piece (“Moebius Trip”) about utterly incoherent and inexcusably unconnected pseudo events linked only by the author (me) arbitrarily jamming them into consecutive sentences. My intention was to be funny, hoping people might read these outrageous links between events, and ultimately realize that the only links were merely implications born of the style of presentation.

There was no logical connection between events at all. But my readers almost unanimously found these unjustifiable “connections” to be entirely plausible, and the story’s final insistence that all the links were arbitrary and completely unjustifiable seemed absolutely amazing to them.

In fact, while writing “Moebius Trip” I repeatedly discovered unintentional logic appearing where I had intended irrational, meaningless relationships. I would have to keep deleting these sensible explanations and inferences so the story would, in fact, not make sense. The whole idea was to make it sound like it made sense when, upon close inspection, the thread of the plot was completely missing. My subconscious kept inserting perfectly good threads where I didn’t want them.

What that bit of fiction showed me was that (a) it was incredibly difficult to make up a series of events and keep them utterly unrelated to each other, and that (b) no matter how unrelated they were, just hearing them in a sequence made people believe they were adequately interconnected. We humans are designed to find correlations, patterns, repetitions of the familiar — and by god, we do. No matter what.

Here endeth the umpteenth diatribe of the second son of John the Physician.

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Han Solo — old news

Han Solo. I’m the captain of the Millennium Falcon.
You’ve never heard of the Millennium Falcon?
It’s the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs.
What? Parsecs is a unit of distance? Damn. Always thought it was time.
Maybe the Millennium Falcon isn’t as fast as I thought.
How far is a parsec?
Three and a quarter light-years? Isn’t light-year a unit of time?
Distance? Really? Crap.

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Note from [The Management]

To whom or what it may concern:

Due to extraordinarily sustained and frantic participation from masses of readers, both washed and unwashed, for obvious reasons this blog, some years ago, entered into a state of stunned silence, gob-smacked, as it were, by the sheer volume of piercing interest and subtly-reasoned contributions from its readers. The blog survived, for a time, in a right-brain-hosted non-verbal limbo, a bright but silent domain of punctuation marks without substantives, of exhaled neurotransmitters with hints of the nasal and pulmonary microbiomes. This was a respite barely comprehended by the blog’s own introspection, since mentation itself remained in stasis for the duration, but a time of re-emergence eventually dawned, and the last contributions were approved, and this lone voice, unveiled once more, spoke out across the plains of humanity with this announcement.

Enough said.

[The Management]

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Telephodot (aka “Threnody”) / Samuel Beckett

There’s a “video” of this at Vimeo. This was my working treatment:

On a distant hillside two small figures were making their way down to a far-away road. Behind them, green waves of grass gave way to higher misty hills, on a backdrop of distant mountains. The mountaintops were lost in the clouds and their slopes were a gauzy purple.

The figures moved microscopically, or perhaps the silence and the distance gave the illusion of slow motion. The road before them was unpaved, broad, no more than a wide patch of gravel and dirt among the tufts of grass. At each side the vegetation was dusty and burnt, bracketing the road up and down the hills like strips of old newspaper.

Eventually the figures stood on the road, as if looking each way, perhaps deciding which direction to follow. They were too far off to see clearly. They appeared to turn and look back, up the slope they had just descended. They appeared to be talking, but in brief animated bursts separated by long moments just waiting. Mostly they stood facing each other, looking down. They might have been thinking. Perhaps they were considering what to say.

After a long time, one of them sat down by the side of the road, and began doing something with his boots.

In the late afternoon, two more figures appeared in the distance to the east, moving down the center of the road. They walked single file, as if there might have been a line connecting them. As they drew closer to the first two, one could just make out large pieces of luggage carried by the first man. The second man occasionally waved a buggy whip as if snapping it in the air, but there was no sound.

When the second pair of men reached the first two, all four of them became engaged in conversation, but my attention was drifting. Later, I noticed the travelers had gone on.

Still later, in the fading light I could just see a boy picking through the bushes farther off. He seemed to be heading for the two men, who were still standing in the road. But the day was failing, and I did not wait to see.

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Plot vs Story [updated]

The post on E. M. Forster’s definitions of plot and story has been significantly updated. My position hasn’t changed (defining “story” as the factual sequence of events is inadequate), but the discussion is more interesting.

Permalink to the updated post: Plot vs Story.


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Star Warts and All

As expectorated: Cardboard characters, plugged into a recycle of the first film, with brief and implausible “plot exposition” speeches to cover decades in which a few key events must have happened but during which nobody changed or learned anything. No explanation as to why Han & Leia’s son went to the Dark Side, but perhaps a future out-of-sequence “episode” will concoct motivation-free coverage of that.

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Windows 10 SSSD Floppy Disk Installation Notes

I was looking at this today:AC-Win10-Setup-Floppy-640x640

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The Management Paradox

I’ve had the somewhat dubious good fortune to have spent many years doing very technical work, and many more serving as an executive. Technical work usually involves intense concentration, periods of long focus, and the ability to hold a huge collection of very short-term contingencies in your head. Interruptions, even brief innocuous ones, can break your concentration, destroy your focus, and bring the contingencies down like a house of cards.

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Aluminium High-Voltage Power Transmission

Here’s a compendium of factoids on power transmission, with a little directly on skin effect (which may not be the only salient aspect). I believe that skin effect per se is due to AC. Since not all long lines are AC, and since those that are AC are only 60Hz, skin effect doesn’t much enter into it. The real explanation for the practical use of what we think of as crummy aluminium* wire emerges from the following factoids (below the fold).

I had been talking with some radio & engineering friends, and we were surprised that aluminium cables are used for long-distance power transmission lines—even those which use Direct Current (DC). In fact, a few of us were surprised that long-distance power transmission can even be done with DC. So I did some online research, and learned a bunch of things. Of course, I’m not an EE, so don’t go running aluminium long-distance DC power transmission lines without professional help.

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