The Universe is a brain. Well, not exactly…

The human brain and the “cosmic web” (the physical material that composes the observable universe) are organized in similar ways, which is surprising because there’s no necessary reason for it to be true. The structure of the brain and the arrangement of the cosmos show commonalities when statistically analyzed for “connectedness” and “clustering,” and for their theoretical capacity to contain information.

“While the physical processes that drive the structure of the Universe and the structure of the human brain are extremely different, they can result in similar levels of complexity and self-organisation. … That’s not to say that the Universe is a brain, or capable of sentience. But it does hint that the laws that govern the growth of the structures of both could be the same.”

Left: Neurons and ganglia in the brain. Right: Galaxies and filaments in the “cosmic web.”

Is this simply a charming, coincidental observation, or does it tell us something important? Are we, indeed, looking at the brain of God?

Questions of that kind reside in the realm of mystery. There’s no way we can create a meaningful answer, and there is no need to try to pin it down. It is, however, reassuring to know that the material structure of the universe is adequately complex to host “cosmic cognition,” should that be necessary.

Less extravagantly, it is informative to see that processes governing the organization of physical material apply on widely differing scales of measurement (in this case, across 27 orders of magnitude). The same processes that shape the Universe shape our brains. On the one hand, that should be obvious; what other processes would shape our brains? On the other hand, to actually observe these similarities gives us a reassuring clue that the connections between humans and the wider Universe are deeper than we usually understand.

To stop COVID, help poor people, data shows.

Cell-phone data from the spring of 2020 shows that poorer people moved around more, and spent more time in public places, early in the pandemic, making them more likely to catch and spread COVID-19. To stop the pandemic, we must make it possible for poor people to stay home, like rich people do.

People with lower incomes can’t stay home because they need to go to their jobs, which cannot be performed remotely. When they go out to get what they need – for groceries, for example – the places they go are more crowded, allowing the disease to spread. If we want to control the disease, we need to help the poor.

Finding ways to help people stay home could help erase differences in people’s movements based on their income. In the Chicago metro area, overall visits to public places plummeted 54% in March, but in April people living in the lower-income neighborhoods were 27% more likely to travel to public places than people from higher-income neighborhoods. The authors said the gap probably reflects frontline workers holding jobs that could not be performed remotely.

Beyond capping occupancy at grocery stores, the scientists urge policymakers to open emergency food distribution centers. They also advocated for free, widely available testing in high-risk neighborhoods. To improve the lives of people who can’t work from home, they recommend better paid leave policy or income support so people can stay home when they are sick.

These humane and fundamental measures are unlikely to occur in the U.S. The government’s policy is not to take care of people, but rather to keep them on the edge of survival so they’re easier to control. The pandemic has revealed the hazards of this brutal and commonplace injustice.

The Democrats must do better.

The Democrats have become a party of the educated, technocratic class, abandoning their roots in the New Deal. Instead of help for poor and working people, they offer an obsession with “identity politics” and half-hearted gestures towards anti-racism. Their failures brought us Trump, and will bring much worse.Read More »

“The Queen’s Gambit” is a damn good show.

The entire 7-part mini-series – “The Queen’s Gambit” – is incredibly good-looking, starting with its star, Anya Taylor-Joy. The photography is colorful and stylish, the editing is crisp, and the narrative pacing is refreshingly swift. (The action does not stop for people to talk about their feelings, which is the greatest failing of modern drama.)

It’s all rather artificial. We don’t end up feeling these characters are real, but rather bold renderings of imaginary types, like a comic book, perhaps. But artifice can be a virtue when it’s done exquisitely well. This is a comic book with gorgeous production values, and it’s well worth the watch.

It’s about chess; or rather it uses chess as the peg on which to hang the story. The main character, “Beth Harmon,” is a savant who rises to glory because she can visualize chess positions on the ceiling. There are sub-themes about addiction, sex, and finding out what really matters in this big, cold world, but really it’s about chess.

The games in the show are based on real, famous games. Former world chess champion Gary Kasparov consulted on the show to make sure everything was true to life, chesswise. Amazingly, you can watch on YouTube a chess expert play through and analyze the games, with historical commentary. If you dig chess at all, it’s fun; see agadmator’s Chess Channel: specifically here, here, and here. (Watch the show first, for maximum appreciation.)

In these times, good entertainment is…well…good! This is a damn good show, and I recommend it.