New Feature: Equations of Everyday Life

“Mathematics consists in proving the most obvious thing in the least obvious way.” — George Polya


Due to the surprisingly strong reactions to the Equations of Kid and Canine Chaosin other words, at least three other people besides me, my wife and my dogs actually read them–I had an epiphany.

Mouse Trap. The game based on Rube Goldberg’s convoluted cartoon contraptions

Are you old enough to remember Rube Goldberg?  His cartoons satirized the politics and society of the mid-20th century with drawings of hypothetical, ridiculously complex machines designed to do very simple tasks.   They were the inspiration for the game Mouse Trap and for an annual Rube Goldberg Machine contest.

But in the digital world of electronics, these analog devices are no longer relevant.  In an age where advanced mathematics can be used to predict the existence of the Higgs Boson long before developing the technology to verify it, a new approach is needed.  And of course, I have it.  Equations of Everyday Life.  These are the mathematical Rube Goldbergs of our time.

Let us begin.

Do you text and drive?  Do you Google stuff in a dark movie theaters?  Do you take Instagrams of every third thing that happens in your humdrum life?  Like most of us in this over-connected era, the more connected we are to virtual reality, the more disconnected we get from actual reality.  Just how disconnected are we?  The phenomenon is quite mathematically reducible, I have discovered, and I call it:


Don’t be deceived.  It is far more complicated than it looks.   Where attention to the outside world in the absence of a smart phone (Aa)equals 1, then attention to the outside world in the presence of a smartphone (As) is approximately equal to the inverse of the number of cool apps on said smartphone (n) times the I-Phone or equivalent model number (m).    Yes, approximately equal to—because nothing is that precise in the quantum mechanical world of electronics, and anyway I like using that smart looking squiggly thingy over the equal sign.   Taking the example of my own I-Phone 4, I have 14 apps I would describe as being “cool.”  As 14 x 4 is 56, then when I am packing my phone, my attention level to the outside world is an astonishingly small 1/56th of normal.  This is dangerous.  As I’m reputed to be a major space shot to begin with,  I should probably be banned from breathing and texting at the same time.   But that calculation can wait for another day, as even the basics get much more complicated.


What happens when you jump to the I-Phone 4s and add the pernicious feature known as Siri?

It gets ugly in a hurry.  The equation now looks like this:

Yikes!  We now have to square the denominator and in the personal example stated above, my attention level would be 1/562of my normally spaced out self.  This computes to 1/3136.

I don’t know if the Planck length applies to this,  but a few more apps and new models and my attention level will certainly approach it.  Also note that the “s” on the right side of the equation stands for Siri and has no numerical value.  It just makes the equation appear more complex and disguises my general ignorance of advanced mathematics. Anyway ,this demonstrates why I don’t have Siri.  If I did, I would have proposed to her long ago and been off to Vegas for a quickie divorce from my wife by now.  Ah, for the days when the internet was still in black and white.

Coming soon: The Index of Inane Celebrity Meme Virality.


Conjecture #2: Inevitability (Part 1)

I Conjecture:  In an infinite multiverse we must exist.

Part One: Inevitable existance

“Everything not forbidden is compulsory.”–

T.H.White, The Once and Future King

The quote above is from fiction;  in reality is anything but.  It has been echoed by Nobel physics laureate Murray Gell-Mann and effectively, if not literally, by many other scientists.  The message of the random, probabilistic nature of the sub-atomic quantum world is clear:  given enough matter, energy and 4-dimensional space time, anything that is physically possible will eventually happen.  If you roll the dice enough times, you will get every possible result.  If you add an infinite multiverse–and remember, the many worlds interpretation  of the multiverse is only one of four types of postulated multiverse–then it is conceivable that every possible set of physical laws exists somewhere.   To some, this may appear to be just a restatement of the anthropic principle, and they may be right.  Others may say that just the mere fact that we do exist makes this a moot point, and perhaps that could be construed as what I am saying.  Admittedly we are getting down to semantics and philosophy as much as science.

But to reiterate this conjecture flat out,  we exist because it is impossible for us not to.  The justification for this statement is hardly original, and the statement itself has at least been alluded to by philosophers since the ancient Greeks.  Friedrich Nietzsche expounded it as The Eternal Recurrence. It is the notion that, in a Universe that is infinite in either space or time, everything physically possible must recur ad infinitum.   If that is the case, then it follows that it is inevitable that we would exist in the first place and inevitable that we will exist again and again in our current form as well as in every every possible variation.   MIT cosmologist Max Tegmark,  who as stated in a previous post defined the four levels of “other universes” in the multiverse, has taken this concept to an almost bizarre extreme.  He has specifically calculated how far you would have to travel to find another earth with an exact copy of yourself–if and only if our local universe extends infinitely beyond the 13.7 billion light year horizon that we are able to observe.    The number makes the Douglas Adams description of the universe as “mind-bogglingly big” appear to be sub-atomically small.  It is, in light years, a 1 followed by something like a million billion billion zeroes.  I don’t even know how to post that in scientific notation on WordPress. So if our existence is inevitably going to repeat itself in an infinite universe or multiverse, does it not follow that our existence is inevitable in the first place?  No, it does not.  This does not answer the question as to why there is something in the first place, rather than nothing. In part two of this conjecture I will address this question in both scientific and philosophical terms.  And the ultimate answer regarding the impossibility of non-existence will come from the same source as my justification for the conjecture of infinity.

All text in this post ©2012 Mark Sackler


“Today must be Thursday.  I could never get the hang of Thursdays.”–Douglas Adams

Please Thursday, don’t muck up my weekend.

My creative pipeline is constipated;  it will probably require a massive mental enema to flush out the next significant post.  In the meantime I’m hitting the golf course this morning.  It’s a form of self-flagellation, I know, but it beats passing kidney stones.  Wish me luck.


Introducing: The BLAHS

“What’s with all these awards?  They’re always giving out awards”–Woody Allen as Alvie Singer in “Annie Hall”

Golden Raspberry

The Golden Raspberry Award. Given annually to the worst films, it’s the only Hollywood award I have any respect for. This is probably because my sister Micki has been a presenter at many of their ceremonies.

Woody Allen is famous for his disdain for entertainment industry awards.  But there is, I have discovered, one media cohort that gives out even more awards than Hollywood.  You’re in it right now.  It’s the blogosphere. It seems that every third blog I visit claims to have won a blogging award.  How can this be?  It’s because just about every third blogger gives out awards.  Hell, I’ve even won one already!  And unlike Groucho Marx, I have no problem belonging to a club that has me as a member.  So without further ado, here come the BLAHS.

The BLAHS (BLog Awards Handed out by Sackler)

There are three significant things you should know about the BLAHS.  (That is, if you are interested, which is a dubious assumption on my part).

First, the term “BLAHS,” itself, is in an appropriate-for-this-blog state of superposition.  It is simultaneously singular and plural.

Second, the awards will be quasi-semi-maybe annual.  This means I will give them out whenever I damn well feel like it for whatever I feel like and too whomever I feel like.

Third, I am still working on an actual physical prize.  Trophies are nearly worthless.  I would much prefer to give out something completely worthless.  Like a years’ supply of rutabaga.  And since I don’t know anybody who actually uses rutabaga–or eats it–the  prize would be….nothing!  OK, you say you can think of uses for a rutabaga?  A doorstop? A very small lopsided bowling ball?  A shot put for a 98-pound weakling?  If you can think up 20 more uses then you have less of a life than I do and still won’t win anything.

And now–may we have the envelope and a piccolo trill, please–the winner of the first BLAHS is:

Dave Carlson of The Blog of Funny Names

Ossee SchreckengostBenedict CumberbatchOuterbridge Horsey…if you haven’t heard of these names, well, you have now!  And if you had been following The Blog of Funny Names since it’s debut last December, you would not have needed me to clue you in.  Every weekday Dave and his co-authors present another great name from history, entertainment or current events.  Special features include a weekly Funny Names in the News column.  Oh and of course, they also give out blog awards; they gave me mine.  Here is what they said about me:

Mark Sackler of Millenium Conjectures wins the Rube Waddell Ridiculousness Award. He’s a newer fan of ours who has already earned some notice. He’s an avid baseball fan and a kindred spirit who formerly kept a funny named baseball players list, and prides his blog on the “ridiculous and sublime” – also a good descriptor for Rube Waddell.

Great demented minds are equally demented.  But besides the obvious quid pro quo, there is another great reason I selected Funny Names for the first BLAHS.  It’s my favorite blog–other than my own, of course.

Endnote: if you have any suggestions for a suitable prize for the BLAHS, or a logo for that matter,  please send them to me, or post them herein.


Quantum Weirdness 103: How Many Worlds?

“There is no question that there is an unseen world. The problem is, how far is it from midtown and how late is it open?” –Woody Allen

For the quantum physics-uninitiated, get ready for the weirdest of the weird: the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics.

In Quantum Weirdness 101, we talked about the wave-particle duality of sub-atomic quanta, and how they appear to be in a superposition of every possible trajectory and location until an observer measures them.

In Quantum Weirdness 102, we discussed The Copenhagen Interpretation, which basically states that reality is just fuzzy on that level.  They are only potential trajectories–probabilities–interfering with each other, and this doesn’t have a measurable effect on our everyday macro world.   But we also visited Schrödinger’s infamous cat–the mind experiment that poked a colossal hole in  Copenhagen.

Image Credit: University of Oregon, 21st Century Science

The Copenhagen interpretation remained the most popular explanation for decades, in spite of Schrödinger.   But in 1957 cosmologist Hugh Everett made an astonishing proposal.  He suggested that the particles themselves–not merely their probabilities–interfere with one-another.  In this interpretation, they actually take every possible trajectory, each in an alternate universe.  Effectively every physically possible history exists in a huge–possibly infinite–number of alternate universes. So when we look in the box containing that possibly dead or alive cat it is actually in two universes: alive in one, dead in the other.   We just see it in the one we are in.   Taken to the extreme, every one of us would exist in a countless number of alternate universes.   Some would be imperceptibly different from ours, in others we might not even recognize ourselves or the the world around us.  And while Everett was mostly ignored or derided in his day, his many worlds interpretation has become a leading explanation of quantum weirdness, rivaling even Copenhagen.

So where do I stand?  Agnostic.  It is a rather optimistic world view.  I hope it’s true; I’m afraid it isn’t.  But many of the world’s top physicists now lean towards many worlds, and David Deutsch, among others, makes some very convincing arguments using deductive reasoning if not direct evidence.  I will leave it at this: it is a strong possibility that greatly influences my millennium conjectures. For more detailed background, check out the Wikipedia articles on The Many Worlds interpretation,  as well as general overview of quantum mechanics interpretations.   Or if you prefer, here is an entertaining video, shamelessly lifted from YouTube.


Timeout: 15 Minutes and 45 Seconds of Fame

“In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.”–Andy Warhol

Bob Watson

The date was May 4th, 1975.  The place was Candlestick Park, San Fransisco.  And the man of the hour was Bob Watson of the Houston Astros,  who scored the 1 millionth run in major league baseball history.  Watson beat Dave Concepcion of the Cincinnati Reds by four seconds in a race around the bases from opposite ends of the country.  It was one of the most exciting early-in-the-season baseball moments ever.

To this day Watson’s name, and to a lesser extent Concepcion’s, is associated with that event in baseball history.  But there was another name in the news that was connected to the story.  He was  a 24-year-old local sportscaster from Westport, CT who used a first generation, eighty dollar electronic calculator to research and originate the millionth run contest, thus scooping all the professional statisticians and baseball journalists.  He went on a media tour to promote a “guess-the-player” contest sponsored by Tootsie Roll.  His picture and name appeared in wire service stories, in Sport Magazine and in the New York Daily News.  He appeared on television and spoke at press conferences alongside the likes of Stan Musial, Ralph Branca, Mel Allen and Bowie Kuhn.  He had 15 minutes of Warholian fame.   Then came oblivion.

The 24-year old whiz kid with the calculator was, of course, me.

I was exhilarated, excited and even euphoric;  then it was over.   And for thirty-something years the memory simply faded, almost to the point that it seemed to have happened to another person in

Millionth run center

The 1,000,000th run countdown center. That’s me talking to the gathered media as Stan Musial naps in the background. Check out my 1975 hair!

another lifetime.  It became just another forgotten footnote in the deep and illustrious history of our national pastime.  After awhile, I didn’t even care, so why should anybody else?

Then something funny happened.  Straight out the blue, nearly four years ago, I received an email from Kansas City Star sportswriter Joe Posnanski.

“Are you the Mark Sackler who originated the millionth run?” he asked.  “I’m writing a book about the 1975 Cincinnati Reds.  I want to include it and the events involving Davey Concepcion as an interesting sidebar to the season’s story.”

The next year, The Machine, Posnanski’s book chronicling a great season by one of the best teams in the game’s history, appeared in bookstores with a chapter on the millionth run.  After 34 years, somebody remembered.   My sister joked that I was getting another 15 minutes of fame.  My retort was that it was more like 30 seconds.

But then it happened again.  A few months ago, a gentleman named Timothy Gregg contacted me on Facebook to make the same inquiry.  Was I the millionth run originator?  Gregg, also a former sportscaster and sports promoter, now a digital media producer, was co-authoring the memoirs of Houston Astros TV commentator Bill Brown.  Of course, there would be a chapter on the millionth run in that book as well.  This time not from the Reds point of view, but the Astros.   This book–My Baseball Journeywas just recently published.  So fifteen minutes of fame is now fifteen minutes and forty-five seconds.   And counting…

If you are a baseball fan, both of these books are worthwhile.  Otherwise, stay tuned for more effluvia from my hopelessly cluttered cranium.


“All generalizations are false, including this one.” –Mark Twain

Mark Twain

Droll?  We would expect that from the greatest raconteur of American letters.  But perhaps this is far more subtle and profound than a mere semantic joke.  Kurt Gödel proved with his incompleteness theorems that every self-consistent mathematical system must include statements that cannot be proven–the mathematical equivalent of “this statement is false.”  But Twain takes the classic liar’s paradox and applies it, it would seem, to all of existence itself.  There are things in life and in science we just can’t determine,  and that is the point of The Millennium Conjectures.   I need to ponder explanations for what the cutting edges of physics and cosmology are telling us, whether we can test them right now or not.   But don’t misinterpret this.  One of my readers suggested that if I believe things that cannot be proven scientifically, then it is no better than philosophy or religion.  I don’t know about philosophy, but this is most certainly nothing like religion, and for two good reasons.

  • First, these are, after all, conjectures and interpretations;  things I feel strongly could be true.  I do not believe absolutely that they are true.  As I said in an earlier post, they are what-ifs.
  • Second, I stand ready to alter or drop any of these conjectures if the light of further developments requires that I do so.  By further developments I mean new scientific discoveries or better explanations by individuals I consider to be credible scientists.

I don’t know of any religion that says either of those two things–let me know if you do.

Keep the above in mind as I present further conjectures.  Quantum Weirdness 103 will precede the next one, coming soon to a computer near you.


…because sometimes you just need a break…

A beach near Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica.   ©2008, Mark Sackler


Timeout: The Sackler Laws (Part 2 1/2)

The Laws of Kid and Canine Chaos

Having kids is like having a bowling alley installed in your brain.”–Alan Bleasdale

Part B: The Equation of Kid Chaos.  As the number of kids in any household or otherwise confined environment increases, the chaos generated by said kids increases logarithmically.

As we saw in Part A of this law, The Equation of Canine Chaos, dog generated insanity increases exponentially as dog population increases.  With kids it is infinitely more complex; so we see:

Heaven help us! (even if we are not pious)

When n=1 then Ck=1, but when n>1 then Ck=10n-1

So…n is the number of kids present in a given environment, and Ck is the potential kid-generated chaos in that environment.   In plain English?  The potential chaos increases by an order of magnitude with each kid added!  In other words—for the mathematically challenged among you—two kids may be 10 times as chaotic as one; three may be 100 times as chaotic; four, 1000 times, and so on.

But the increase in analytical complexity here is far greater than the math.  For dogs, the equation is for actual chaos and is a good average.  For kids, it is only for potential chaos, and is somewhere between an approximation and a wild guess.  For one thing, the interactions between children are so complex that they quickly become incalculable.  A good metaphor for this is Newton’s laws of gravity when applied to orbital mechanics of celestial objects: the interaction between two of them is precisely calculable, but as soon as you add even one more the math becomes intractable.

This does not even bring into the equation the question of other variables, such as age, upbringing, setting and proximity to bedtime.  Setting is particularly important.  For example, put 20 nine-year-olds in a catechism class taught by an angry nun wielding a ruler, and the chaos will appear so infinitesimal even the CERN supercollider would be hard pressed to detect it.  Now put the same twenty kids in an unsupervised free swim in a public pool, and you’ll pin the needle on the Richter scale.

But wait, it gets worse!  Dog chaos is pretty obviously measured by noise and activity; but with kids that doesn’t completely tell the tale.   Even when they are quiet there is no telling what’s going on in their little crania.  Take, for example, those twenty tykes in the catechism class.  They may appear behaved now, but what they are plotting to do to that nun when class gets out makes Lord of the Flies look like a sitcom.

This brings us to the most perplexing problem of all: putting multiple kids and dogs together and attempting to calculate what will happen.  It is not unlike trying to unify relativity and quantum mechanics into a single theory of quantum gravity.   In discussing this with my cousin Marion, I asserted that she could not imagine what the equation would look like.  Her sly reply was that she could not even imagine what the room would look like!  Not being one to back off from a challenge, I found this image which fairly represents what both the resulting math and the domicile will look like.

The Equation of Combined Kid AND Canine Chaos

With that,  have a great holiday week and brace yourself for more.

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