Sleeping Beauty and Quantum Mechanics

This is a repost of an article I wrote in 2014.  Note that Sean Carroll also wrote about this, and he’s an author of the cited paper.

My newest favorite philosophical dilemma is the Sleeping Beauty problem.  The experiment goes as follows:

1. Sleeping Beauty is put to sleep.
2. We flip a coin.
3. If the coin is tails, then we wake Sleeping Beauty on Monday, and let her go.
4. If the coin is heads, then we wake Sleeping Beauty on Monday.  Then, we put her to sleep and cause her to lose all memory of waking up.  Then we wake her up on Tuesday, and let her go.
5. Now imagine Sleeping Beauty knows this whole setup, and has just been woken up.  What probability should she assign to the claim that the coin was tails?

There are two possible answers.  “Thirders” believe that Sleeping Beauty should assign a probability of 1/3 to tails.  “Halfers” believe that Sleeping Beauty has gained no new relevant information, and therefore should assign a probability of 1/2 to tails.  The thirder answer is most popular among philosophers.

This has deep implications for physics.

[Read more…]

Magic-Angle Graphene Superconductors

A couple weeks ago, there was an exciting discovery in my (former) field of research. It was found that if you take two layers of graphene, and rotate one of the layers by a “magic angle” of 1.1°, then you can create a superconductor.

Some brief background on superconductors. A superconductor is a kind of material that conducts electricity with zero resistance. That means you could transport electrical power without any energy loss. Or you could create so much electrical current that it creates a powerful magnet (used in MRI machines). Superconductors also have special magnetic properties that allow for magnetic levitation (used in maglev trains). But superconductors need to be cooled below a certain temperature to work, otherwise they’re just ordinary materials.

As of 1957, physicists have a working theory of superconductors, but the theory only explains certain varieties of superconductors, called conventional superconductors. Magic-angle graphene is an unconventional superconductor.

So, why would you ever try rotating two layers of graphene? Graphene is simply a layer of carbon atoms that form a hexagonal pattern. If you overlay two hexagonal patterns with a bit of rotation, you create what’s called a Moiré pattern.

Two hexagonal grids, one rotated by 10 degrees, form a moire pattern when overlaid.

[Read more…]

Video game censorship and feminist criticism

Last week, the white house held a meeting to talk about violence in video games, and their potential connection to gun violence. This has many gamers worried that the government will do something to censor video games, or pressure the games industry to self-regulate.  My opinions on the matter: 1) this is an obvious ploy to “address” gun violence without addressing gun violence, 2) I defer to the research that says video games do not cause gun violence, and 3) the second amendment shouldn’t exist. If you disagree with any of these propositions, you are welcome to yell at me in the comments, as one does.

But I’m not really here to talk about gun violence, I’m here to talk about feminism. See, I did a forbidden thing, I read some internet comments. And I found that some people think that Trump’s talk of censoring video games is similar or analogous to feminists/SJWs talking about problematic or sexist aspects of video games. As a feminist/SJW myself, my reaction is, “uh no.”

But it also raises the interesting question, what do I want?

[Read more…]

Any ace panelists?

A few years ago, I organized a panel called Asexual Spectrum Atheists for FTBCon, an online conference. It was great success, and we were praised as “the nightmarish collision of FTB and tumblr!” OrbitCon is the spiritual successor of FtBCon, held on April 13-15. If I organized a similar panel, would anyone be interested in either watching, or being a panelist?

Ideally, the panel would have a variety of viewpoints, including ace/aro atheists/freethinkers who have never been involved in atheist communities, people who used to be involved but left, and people who are involved currently. Probably most of the time spent won’t be about atheism at all.  OrbitCon will provide tools and information if you wish to conceal your identity.

I’m ambivalent about organizing this, because I’ve been doing this for so long and it would be nice to have fresher faces.  Depending on the level of interest we can figure something out.

You may also e-mail me at skepticsplay at gmail dot com.

Link Roundup: March 2018

Is Black Panther Alt-Right? (video) – Apparently several people in the alt-right are arguing that the fictional nation of Wakanda is an alt-right paradise.  Shaun deconstructs this in an entertaining way.  Note: I’ve not watched the movie.

The Ace Flag: A History and Celebration – This is mine, I’m plugging my own article.  It’s a little history of the purple-white-gray-black ace flag.  I was around when it was created.

Lawrence Krauss’s History of Sexual Harassment – Rebecca Watson talks about the Buzzfeed article that revealed Lawrence Krauss’ history of sexual harassment.  My reaction to the Buzzfeed article was, “Didn’t we already know that?”  I had recalled from the distant past that there were accusations, and all the skeptical orgs knew about it too.  But Krauss faced no consequences until recently.  Typical.

What Makes Celeste’s Assist Mode Special (video) – After all that talk about difficult video games, and whether they should include “easy modes”, it seems that some game developers have come up with an effective approach to offer players freedom to play how they want to play, while also maintaining a coherent vision of how the game should be played. The key is to offer options, but to clearly communicate (either explicitly or implicitly) the intended way to play. Also, rather than calling it an “easy mode” it’s best to call it something less judgmental, such as “assist mode”.

[Read more…]

One last conference

This week I will be at the APS March Meeting, the largest physics conference in the world (?).  Although I am no longer working as a physicist, I have a presentation about the work I did just before leaving.

Will I blog about it?  Eh, I didn’t always blog about it in previous years.  But my experience may be a little different this time because I can focus on talks that interest me, instead of the ones that are relevant to my work.  Anyone want to suggest something from among the 800+ sessions?

Origami: Pair of dragons

two dragons, one smaller green one and larger purple one, looking at each other

Dragon by Jo Nakashima

You might have noticed that I have a very strong preference for non-representational origami.  Non-representational origami does not seek to represent any particular object, and only seeks to be itself.  (Arguably many of my models represent mathematical concepts, but I’m declaring that this doesn’t count.)

But I do dabble.  I was part of the origami group at my university, and they would usually fold things like this.  These models represent dragons.  Yes, for some reason I folded two of them.  You can learn how to make these from Jo Nakashima’s website.

I am not particularly skilled at making these, I mean, considering how much origami I do.  The models shown are messy, and I often have trouble interpreting the diagrams.  But I do like these dragons.