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Comment Point by point (Score 1) 692

Alas, the Bitcoin is not the answer to the Federal Reserve’s depredations against the dollar.

Though as I pointed out earlier, using computational complexity and hard limits to prevent money-printing is an approach that needs to be explored. Bitcoin is but the first example.

The basic reason: it has no fixed value.

I has an easily calculated fixed value : 1BTC = 1/#BTC, i.e. a bitcoin's value is determined as a fraction of the total available BTC (which you should take to be the asymptotic limit that the total number of BTC in circulation tends to.

It trades like a stock or commodity. In recent days it has been crashing after a spectacular rise in terms of dollars. Such volatility makes it useless as a means to do transactions.

The problem is a problem with world currency and money systems where there is no absolute value of units such as dollars. One cannot resort to a simple calculation to work out what an individual dollar is worth, nor the amount of total value once one adds the worldwide base of GBP, EUR etc. Thus there is no reliable way to calculate exchange rates. Bitcoin's internal regulation by cryptographic hashing processes means that the number of BTC available worldwide is more stable, but of course what happens if one devises BTC2. What if we have ten thousand equivalent BTC-like currencies all with the same asymptotic total. We have the real world problem that we see with intellectual property where once something becomes copyrightable or patentable or otherwise 'rightable', the total amount of stuff that can be bought and sold magically increases. The addition of BTC to the base of what can be traded in transactions just adds to the complication, but the underlying problem doesn't go away if you remove BTC.

Money has only one purpose–it makes doing transactions, that is buying and selling products and services and securities, infinitely easier than barter. All the other purposes of money flow from this basic function.

And this is the source of money's problems. It makes acquiring power through accumulated wealth too easy and reduces the measure of value of an object to a single dimensional quantity. What I mean is that with a money system, if I can sell objects A and B for $100, I can by anything that can be bought freely for $100, say C or D. In a more complex barter system, it may be that I can dispense with A and B and acquire C, but not D. Personally what I think is needed is a global universal barter system with well thought out systems of valuation and value regulation, which are enforced by laws of mathematical complexity. Anything less is too open to abuse by selfish governments and greedy bankers.

Money is most optimal when it is fixed in value just as commerce is facilitated when we have fixed weights and measures.

That is why the second is determined by atomic clocks, and the metre determined by the speed of light relative to said second. The kilogram is slightly less precisely defined, but isn't subject to ready modification to hide overspending by the current or previous government. We need a system like fixed weights and measures for money, and a BTC-like system using computational work and mathematical complexity as the foundation is the only real way to do it, just as the second ultimately needs to be determined not by governmental whim but by laws of nature that we cannot change.

When you buy a pound of hamburger you expect to get 16 ounces of meat. An hour has 60 minutes. A mile has 5280 feet. These measurements don’t “float.”

But how much hamburger I get for a dollar does change, and changes regularly, and varies depending on the quality of the hamburger and where I go. A second is defined relative to precise physical quantities and we cannot order the Federal Reserve to print more seconds in order to make it easier to meet a deadline. Real measurements don't "float", and as a fraction of the total BTC available, BTC don't float either. Devaluation relative to non-BTC goods will change as BTCs get lost. That is a problem that may or may not need solving. But measurements in terms of GBP, USD or EUR certainly do float.

So too money best lubricates commerce when it has a fixed value.

This is why we need currencies where governments and central banks cannot inflate their way out of the consequences of fiscal stupidity.

This is best seen in investing. When you make a capital expenditure or a buy an equity, you are obviously taking a risk. With stocks, you are buying future streams of income. Same with that new factory. But the risk is increased exponentially if you don’t know what you will be paid back with. Is it a 100 cent dollar, a 20 cent, or a 115 cent dollar?

And with talk of negative interest rates (UK a short while back), taxes on savings (Cyprus) and suchlike, how many dollars I can get from the bank after I put $100 in stands to get more variable, and what real resources I can actually buy with that $100 also stands to get more variable.

Such uncertainty hurts growth. When a government devalues its currency, money goes defensively into hard assets. Investing for the future suffers–and so does our future standard of living.

And we're already living in the aftermath of this. The worldwide sums don't add up and we are starting to see the financial tectonic shifts that result.

We don’t really know how this coin is created.

You can read the source code of the software, yet can't forge. That is more than can be said for government regulated currencies.

You can’t have a functional money without a basic transparency.

We don't have basic transparency with USD, GBP or EUR.

Basically the points he comes out with against BTC are 'alternative dairy produce' (i.e. stuff that comes out of a cow that isn't milk).

Comment Bitcoin is the first experiment, perhaps of many (Score 1) 692

The ability for governments to print money is a key weakness in current fiat currencies. This has acquired a new euphemism in recent times in the form of 'quantative easing'. The idea of a gold standard is to back the currency on a fixed resource. It is, however, too tempting in the world of fiat currencies for governments to fiddle currencies to their own interests. Backing things on a process of computational difficulty and complexity presents us with a method of internally regulating the value of a currency so that it is impossible to just print money. Of course, bitcoin can't recycle lost bitcoins, so there is a problem there to be fixed. But having systems of underlying financial rules backed by computational complexity so that it is just infeasible to play financial silly-buggers as happens in the financial worlds of today is, IMO, the way of the future and Bitcoin is but an early example.

Comment Humanity comes first! (Score 2) 1106

Humanity matters. Economics is a trivial application of arithmetic, and humanity is capable of so much more: more art, more science, more fun, more joy, more beauty. Humans need to be freed from the bonds of economic realities to be able to live life to the full. There are enough of us with powerful enough mathematical and logical minds to ensure that resources are spread fairly provided we dispense with old fashioned rules which constrain the possibility space too much. Humans should have the right to work, and the right to play, the right to a reasonable standard of living, and the right not to be exploited. A minimum wage that does not track real value is insufficient, and since no currency other than those defined on sound mathematical foundations can be said to have any real value, and the fact that the market can always shape prices as it so wishes, we need to require that wages be sufficient to ensure a reasonable quality of life wherever in the world that human is working. Then humans will be free to choose where they can best apply themselves, and the money will follow them in sufficient amounts to support them, but not enough to live a lavish lifestyle at the expense of others. Humanity is what matters, and economics should serve humanity, not the other way around. Thus each town or district should set a minimum wage based on local conditions and local standard currency. Let the revolution begin!

Comment Re:Unfortunately... (Score 1) 1774

Nye's comments are just as irrational (it makes claims as to what science can show which can not be substantiated). Unfortunately not enough people read the philosophy of science and learn the lessons of faulty reasoning, and silly arguments like the evolution vs creation debate are the result.

Comment Inconsistent with evidence? (Score -1, Troll) 1774

How on earth can one say that creation is inconsistent with evidence? We have no evidence that was _observed_ two million years ago. We have observations from a few decades, and all else is extrapolation. Those who know the issues with extrapolating from data, and what can go wrong if ones assumptions as to the continuation of observed trends do not go as expected should be taught along with evolution. What should be taught is that, if everything always was as it is now, and our current theories of physics are exact, and there is no silly business going on that we cannot test experimentally (and this really is a big untestable assumption whose falsification opens a massive can of worms) then evolutionary origins give a theory that is consistent with evidence. But only consistency with evidence, and the past illustrated by the theory is only an apparent past, like the image of yourself in the mirror is an apparent 'you' that isn't really there. We do not, and cannot know conclusively where we came from, and there really are two possible approaches. One is the kind of creation story you see in Genesis or in other creation myths there, and there you have to assume that the universe did not, at creation time, look or work like it does now, but that it changed, either slowly or abruptly, in ways that may leave no material evidence, converge to the reality which we observe now (which is perfectly possible, and indeed is what happens in your Linux system every time you do a fresh install).

Science is, and should be, about what is happening in the here and now, and where they're going. Saying that things are consistent with an evolutionary origin tells us much about what is going on now and where it's going, which is why it's useful. It tells us nothing concrete about where we actually came from, since as explained above, that requires a massive extrapolation and hence a leap of faith as great as that of a hardcore Bible belter's belief in Genesis.

In short, teach philosophy of science, not just 'scientific facts', so that people understand scientific reasoning, its power and its limitations, and can decide for themselves. But please, please stop this pointless religion vs science war. Religion is about how you live in the here and now. The Bible is a guide to help you. Belief in it is part of a faith that allows your mind to get deeper in to the subtler aspects of the world around us, for those of a more mystical bent. The faith glues a community together, and the Biblical text gives innumerable powerful life lessons if read and taught properly. Get faith right, science right, philosophy right and there is no war between them. The science vs faith thing is as clueless as the protestant vs catholic thing: it misses the point, wastes time and gives the false impression that one is right and the other is wrong. The only antidote to this crap is true understanding. I did my PhD in mathematics, with a heavy amount of foundational stuff, read eastern, middle eastern and western spiritual texts, including the Bible, taught myself physics, psychology, economics and computer science from textbooks and find all inspiring and useful. Faith is a crucial part of how I live now, as is my grasp of physics, mathematics and model theory (which probably has a lot to do with how I can happily have multiple mutually incompatible worldviews in my head without issue). Anyway, I can't think how to conclude this little rant, just to note that level headed thinking that both sides respect is what is really needed.

Comment Re:I'm not defending the Kentucy Lawmakers, but... (Score 0) 1218

As a thought experiment for those 'nix-heads present on /., consider a group of conscious processes running on a Linux system trying to figure out the distant past of their system. They would have no concept of a human outside the system turning up with an install CD, sticking it into a new computer, booting it up and running the install prior to the system behaving in the way that our conscious processes would now experience. (I grew up with Tron, hence why I find it easy to picture this in my mind and to consider the idea of scientists in the Tron world.)

Most likely such processes would theorise and conclude that every process came as a result of the C compiler compiling it, and that the C compiiler is just a fundamental process of the system that just happens without any need for it to happen. The problem is that install time represents a discontinuity in the timeline of the system, where things change in ways that cannot once the system is up and running. The assumption that the system always behaved on a basic level like it does now does not hold in this thought experiment, and to tie this post to the previous, we cannot be sure of such an assumption about our current reality. There is always the possibility that we may be being fooled by apparent evidence, so cannot rely solely upon it. (Just as on our hypothetical Linux system, our processes cannot necessarily assume that the logs have not been forged.)

Comment I'm not defending the Kentucy Lawmakers, but... (Score 0) 1218

I have not issue that evolution happens in nature in the here and now. I have no problem that it happened in the near past, when the observations that gave birth to Darwin's theory were made. I've no problem with physics as an explanation about how the material world of the here and now works. But I do have a problem with any attempt to scientifically explain out distant origins based on present evidence (which is what many evolution theorists are trying to do.) The problem is that to conclude that our origins are evolutionary (and that there is nothing else involved, such as a 'Divine Hand', or anything else) is that one effectively presupposes:

1) That our distant past can be accurately inferred from present day evidence given a sufficient amount of it;
2) That there sufficient evidence is effectively available;
3) That we have found such a sufficient amount of evidence;
4) That an extrapolation a few million years or so outside of a data set that spans at most a small number of decades (maybe 20 or so decades) is valid, when in almost every case a straightforward extrapolation out of a data set that amounts to a few million percent of the width of the dataset results in garbage results.
5) That archeological and paleontological evidence dug up today was present in reality yesterday, the day before and all the days going back to the time said evidence came to rest where we found it. (I know this is pedantic, but self-generating dungeon examples from the early days of computer adventure games make me wonder whether or not reality in fact works the same way, generating history on demand from the requirements of consistency with already remembered experience... what I can't find a way to do from available evidence is to rule out such possibilities and thus one cannot safely assume to the contrary.)

I just do not believe that our actual distant past is within the reach of science. The only thing that the predictions of our apparent past based on extrapolation from present and near-past data give us is a way to test the internal consistency of our current theories and their compatibility with present day evidence. Trying to say where we came from millions of years ago by scientific means is like sampling the trajectory of a plane over maybe a couple of metres of its flight and then trying to work out mathematically where said plane came from, concluding that since the plane hasn't changed trajectory during those couple of metres over which it was sampled, it never was. The fact is that the distant past is inaccessible to us, since eventually if we try to logically infer what reality was like in the distant past we end up standing on a house of cards of unverifiable assumption after unverifiable assumption, which is no better than the faith-in-Genesis of the Bible-belters.

Actually, if you take the view that mind is fundamental, love and emotions of mind are fundamental and that matter is a by-product of experience, as a completely alternative metaphysical foundation to conventional science, then the account of a world created by the postulation of a mind described in Genesis can actually make sense. But whatever you do in terms of deducing what things were like anywhere but the here and now, you need to be careful as to what metaphysical foundations you are standing on.

Comment Re:It is just more of Macs becoming iDevices (Score 1) 376

"People don't want to use a 'social' service in which their social circle has to pay in order to interact with each other."
This happens all the time -- it's called going to the pub for a beer. Beer cost money, and people gladly pay it for the social time that comes with it, along with the taste.

Comment Re:Feelings are more important than science (Score 1) 408

It's reasonably well known that, in the case of clinical trials of psychiatric medications, that there are often positive correlations between the success of a drug in a trial and the corporation funding the trial. And the funding body in these cases has a veto on the trial. (See Moncrieff's books for more and the actual references... I've lent my copies to friends so don't have them to hand.) Most likely this goes on all the time in medical science due to the amount of money at stake. In the case of other sciences, one would expect evolutionary pressures to promote what the funding bodies want to see, regardless of explicit intent. The funding bodies' pressure to publish, and the need for academics to conform to a certain extent in order to preserve their career path is what has caused this bias to build up over the years.

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