June 28, 2008
Edward N. Lorenz, Father of Chaos Theory, Disappears Like The Wind From a Butterfly's Wings
I was struck by the relatively quiet observation in MSM of the April 16, 2008 death of the originator of one of the most powerful memes of the twentieth century.
- Edward N. Lorenz, a Meteorologist and a Father of Chaos Theory, Dies at 90
Edward N. Lorenz, a meteorologist who tried to predict the weather with computers but instead gave rise to the modern field of chaos theory, died Wednesday at his home in Cambridge, Mass. He was 90.
The cause was cancer, said his daughter Cheryl Lorenz.
In discovering “deterministic chaos,” Dr. Lorenz established a principle that “profoundly influenced a wide range of basic sciences and brought about one of the most dramatic changes in mankind’s view of nature since Sir Isaac Newton,” said a committee that awarded him the 1991 Kyoto Prize for basic sciences.
Dr. Lorenz is best known for the notion of the “butterfly effect,” the idea that a small disturbance like the flapping of a butterfly’s wings can induce enormous consequences.
As recounted in the book “Chaos” by James Gleick, Dr. Lorenz’s accidental discovery of chaos came in the winter of 1961. Dr. Lorenz was running simulations of weather using a simple computer model. One day, he wanted to repeat one of the simulations for a longer time, but instead of repeating the whole simulation, he started the second run in the middle, typing in numbers from the first run for the initial conditions.
The computer program was the same, so the weather patterns of the second run should have exactly followed those of the first. Instead, the two weather trajectories quickly diverged on completely separate paths.
At first, he thought the computer was malfunctioning. Then he realized that he had not entered the initial conditions exactly. The computer stored numbers to an accuracy of six decimal places, like 0.506127, while, to save space, the printout of results shortened the numbers to three decimal places, 0.506. When typing in the new conditions, Dr. Lorenz had entered the rounded-off numbers, and even this small discrepancy, of less than 0.1 percent, completely changed the end result.
Even though his model was vastly simplified, Dr. Lorenz realized that this meant perfect weather prediction was a fantasy.
A perfect forecast would require not only a perfect model, but also perfect knowledge of wind, temperature, humidity and other conditions everywhere around the world at one moment of time. Even a small discrepancy could lead to completely different weather.
Dr. Lorenz published his findings in 1963. “The paper he wrote in 1963 is a masterpiece of clarity of exposition about why weather is unpredictable,” said J. Doyne Farmer, a professor at the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico.
The following year, Dr. Lorenz published another paper that described how a small twiddling of parameters in a model could produce vastly different behavior, transforming regular, periodic events into a seemingly random chaotic pattern.
At a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1972, he gave a talk with a title that captured the essence of his ideas: “Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil Set Off a Tornado in Texas?”
Dr. Lorenz was not the first to stumble onto chaos. At the end of the 19th century, the mathematician Henri Poincaré showed that the gravitational dance of as few as three heavenly bodies was hopelessly complex to calculate, even though the underlying equations of motion seemed simple. But Poincaré’s findings were forgotten through the first three-quarters of the 20th century.
Dr. Lorenz’s papers also attracted little notice until the mid-1970s.
“When it finally penetrated the community, that was what started people to really start to pay attention to this and led to tremendous development,” said Edward Ott, a professor of physics and electrical engineering at the University of Maryland. “He demonstrated a chaotic model in a real situation.”
Born in 1917 in West Hartford, Conn., Edward Norton Lorenz received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Dartmouth College in 1938 and a master’s degree in math from Harvard in 1940. He worked as a weather forecaster during World War II, leading him to pursue graduate studies in meteorology; he earned master’s and doctoral degrees in meteorology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1943 and 1948.
Dr. Lorenz was a staff member of M.I.T.’s meteorology department from 1948 to 1955, when he became an assistant professor. He was promoted to professor in 1962 and served as head of the department from 1977 to 1981. He became an emeritus professor in 1987.
In addition to his daughter Cheryl, of Eugene, Ore., Dr. Lorenz is survived by another daughter, Nancy Lorenz of Roslindale, Mass; a son, Edward H. Lorenz of Grasse, France; and four grandchildren. His wife, Jane, died in 2001.
Dr. Lorenz remained active almost to the end of his life, in both research and outdoor activities.
“He was out hiking two and one-half weeks ago,” Cheryl Lorenz said, “and he finished a paper a week ago with a colleague.”
Wizard Rubber Bowl
From the website:
Wizard Rubber Bowl
Designed by Ego of Denmark, this amazing piece is actually a rubber cone — the ridges in the rubber allow the bowl to be formed and re-formed in a myriad of different possibilities.
Use it as an ice bucket, a fruit basket or a compartmentalized snack tray.
Made from food-safe rubber.
Small (2"H when flattened x 6.7"Ø) or Large (2.5"H when flattened x 9.5"Ø).
Black or White.
$65–$95, depending on size.
Who you gonna believe? Me, or your lying eyes?
What if I told you the two tabletops above have identical shapes and sizes?
You'd say no way.
That's precisely what I said.
From Gerd Gigerenzer's fascinating book, "Reckoning With Risk: Learning To Live With Uncertainty": "Roger Shepard's 1990 'Turning the Tables' (top), a depth illusion..., illustrates how our perceptual system constructs a single, certain impression from uncertain cues. You probably see the table on the left as having a more elongated shape than the one on the right. The two surfaces, however, have exactly the same shape and area, which you can verify by tracing the outlines on a piece of paper. I once showed this illustration in a presentation during which I hoped to make an audience of physicians question their sense of certainty ('Often wrong but never in doubt'). One physician simply did not believe that the areas were the same shape. I asked him how much he wanted to bet, and he offered me $250. By the end of my talk, he had disappeared."
"What is going on in our minds? Unconsciously, the human perceptual system constructs representations of three-dimensional objects from incomplete information, in this case from a two-dimensional drawing. Consider the longer sides of each of the two tables. Their projections on the retina have the same length. But the perspective cues in the drawings indicate that the longer side of the left-hand table extends into depth, whereas that of the right-hand table does not (and vice versa for their shorter sides). Our perceptual systems assume that a line of a given length on the retina that extends into depth is actually longer than one that does not and corrects for that. This correction makes the left-hand table surface appear longer and narrower."
"Note that the perceptual system does not fall prey to illusory certainty — our conscious experience does. The perceptual system analyzes incomplete and ambiguous information and 'sells' its best guess to conscious experience as a definite product. Inferences about depth, orientation, and length are provided automatically by underlying neural machinery, which means that any understanding we gain about the nature of the illusion is virtually powerless to overcome the illusion itself. Look again at the two tables; they will still appear to be different shapes. Even if one understands what is happening, the unconscious continues to deliver the same perception to the conscious mind. The great nineteenth-century scientist Hermann von Helmholtz coined the term 'unconscious inference' to refer to the inferential nature of perception. The illusion of certainty is already manifest in our most elementary perceptual experiences of size and shape."
As has been remarked in the past, "If you can't tell a difference then there is no difference."
your avatar's on the line....
What is it?
Answer here this time tomorrow.
BehindTheMedspeak: World's most expensive house call
Look at the photo above.
Whom do you see (the guy, silly)?
It's none other than 29-year-old Raffaello Follieri, among other things Anne Hathaway's ex-boyfriend, now under house arrest at his Trump Tower apartment after being arrested last Tuesday and charged with fraud and money laundering.
Geraldine Fabrikant's June 25, 2008 New York Times story noted that "Judge Henry B. Pitman set bail at $21 million, to be secured by $16 million in cash and property and guaranteed by five financially responsible persons. Mr. Follieri had to surrender all travel documents and was ordered confined to his home in Manhattan with the exception of legal, religious and medical needs."
Further on in the article we find, "... Mr. Follieri used the money he raised to indulge a lifestyle that included the perquisites of the wealthy: ... a house call by his doctor that cost $30,000...."
Yo, Raffaello — give me a holler (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I'll be there instanter for half that.
I'll even spring for my own plane ticket.
What amazed me was how fast Ms. Hathaway threw Follieri under the bus once the heat got turned up on her beau.
Talk about a New York minute....
She doesn't even know any Italian guys — what're you goin' on about, joe?
SCRIBOman Table — 'Dedicated to all of us with compulsive actions, fetishes and bad habits like permanent doodling. It is pleasantly self-destructive.'
Designed by Dejana Kabiljo.
"SCRIBOman is a paper-topped acrylic table dedicated to all of us with compulsive actions, fetishes and bad habits like permanent doodling. It is pleasantly self-destructive, decomposing itself down to its ultimate sheet."
Bob Dylan riffs on Joe
It's obvious that too many years of breathing unscavenged waste gas in the OR have taken their toll.
How else to explain the headline up top?
Unless... you click here.
No place for scoffers or doubters in joeworld, fer shur.
'Stop Consuming Your Body'
Anti-smoking ad campaign in Brazil.
Advertising Agency: NeogamaBBH.
Sidney Araújo was the art director and Alexandre Gama the copywriter.