Answers of the Weeks

What is the difference between hurricanes, typhoons, and maelstroms?

Hurricanes are basically large storm systems (aka tropical cyclone). Typhoons are just hurricanes which form in the Pacific ocean; as far as I can tell, it's just a naming difference.

Maelstroms are giant whirlpools; they have nothing to do with the above.

How do 3D glasses work?

3D glasses allow movies to be turned into "stereograms". Humans (and most animals, I assume) have depth perception because each of our two eyes sees slightly different things. This is most clearly demonstrated if you put a finger in front of your nose. If you then focus on something far away, you will have two semi-transparent fingers. This comes from the brain trying to compensate for the blocked view, and piecing information from the two eyes together.

Cute trick - take a hollow, see-through, cylindrical tube (like a used toilet paper roll), and put it up to one eye. Now, take your hand, and put it along the tube in front of the other eye. Open both eyes. If you're doing this correctly, you should see a "hole" in your hand. It's the same principle as the two "fingers" above - your brain fills in the what should be behind the hand, and since it only knows what your other eye can see through the tube, that's the only part it fills in.

Anyway, back to stereograms and 3D movies. In the old days, 3D pictures are created with color-filtered glasses. Two images of different colors are projected onto the movie screen, and when people put 3D glasses on, each eye sees only one of the colored pictures - because the filter blocks out the other color. By presenting each eye with a slightly different image, the illusion of depth is created. In the two images, things that should be "closer" would have more horizontal displacement, while things that should be "further" would have less. This can be demonstrated by moving the finger back and forth, while still staring at something far away. The further you extend your finger, the closer the two "fingers" appear.

What my question was really getting at was the new, polarized, 3D glasses. I watched Pixar's Up in those, and noticed while standing in line that the glasses only darken when paired with one lens and turned to a certain angle, but it would not darken with the other lens at all. We knew it was polarized, but we thought it would be linearly polarized at first. If that was the case though, the lens should darken regardless of which other lens it was paired with. I thought they were circularly polarized, which would explain the odd pairing thing, but I never did find out why it would be darkest at a certain angle.

Does truth exist?

This question was suggested to me by a friend. Clearly, the answer to this one would not be as... objectively truthful most other questions. I can, however, give my personal belief: yes.

I do believe in an objective truth. To me it's simple: either the trees, the mountains, and my laptop all exist, or I'm a brain in a vat and hallucinating all this, or even I'm part of a strange dream of a giant frog. Whichever one of these is true - and I'm not saying that I know which one is - the basic idea remains that one of them is true. Of course, it could be that none of those are correct, but it's hard to imagine a reality where there is no truth at all. It would almost be a paradox to call it a reality at that point.

Whether we, as humans, would ever know the truth is a completely different question.

Why do humans have social needs?

As far as I can tell, it's evolutionary. This section of Wikipedia gives a fairly simple answer.

I actually made a mistake in the list of questions; the question of whether AIs can become a human's best friend should have been under this question of social needs. That was the true point of asking this question: if social needs could be met without physical contact (for example, through the phone, through email, IM, etc.), then it is almost inevitable humans will eventually befriend an AI.

Let me attack the conditions first. Could human social needs be satisfied without physical contact? I think so. In the old days people have pen pals and write letters to family members in far away places. There is satisfaction in doing those things, and it could only be social in nature. Nowadays people have phones, email, IM, Facebook, etc. which makes it even easier to keep up with people without their physical existance.

A deeper question could be asked as to how advanced the AI has to be. Now that people are used to computers and the idea of AI, it would have to be quite advanced. When AI was just being invented, however, people were willing to believe that they were interacting with a human. Just look at the first ELIZA tests. People got attached to the computer, despite being told how it works and that it's just a computer program. That's one of the big downfalls of the Turing test - that people are too willing to believe. For the purpose of meeting social needs, however, this willingness to believe might be exactly what is needed.

On another level, and also speaking personally, the AI would have to be quite advanced for me to be satisfied. I'm interested in people's stories, not just discussions on various topics. Sure, a lot of my conversations with people have a philosophical leaning, but it's interesting because they have experiences which led them to their believes. Without this experience, it's no different from reading a dry book which simply lays out the argument - or it should more properly called the plan of attack, because there wouldn't be any argument at all.

That said, I believe we will eventually have the technology to create AIs which have their own - albeit not physical - histories and stories.


  1. The question of whether truth exists is equivalent to that popular paradox of the guy saying "I am a liar!"

    Suppose truth doesn't exist. Then the statement "truth doesn't exist" is a lie, which implies that truth does exist, which contradicts the original statement.

    I think it's interesting that you're using the word "truth" as "reality".

  2. A closer analog is the liar's paradox, eg."this sentence is false".

    Interesting that you picked up on the truth and reality thing. I didn't consciously write that, but it does express my metaphysical view pretty well.

  3. Perhaps the 3D glasses have one polarized lens, and one that is completely normal? That would explain why lenses only darken if paired with certain other ones?

    When I asked, does truth exist, I was more along the lines of asking, is there such a thing as a fact? Take for example, this car is red. Is it realllly red? What is red? Or is the color red subjective? How you can say that this car is even a car? What defines a car? Could you person call it a car, and another person call it something else?

    Those are the types of questions that my philosophy professor posed us on the first few days of lecture--questions that subsequently gave me a headache. Nevertheless, they bothered the heck out of me as someone who very much trusts that certain things are not subjective, and therefore that something, truth, can be objective. Like you, I also believe that reality is highly correlated with truth. There is a state at which things are in, and I believe this to be truth, whether we can describe them adequately with language or not.

  4. If the glasses are circularly polarized, it would explain why only certain pairs darken. When I said it only darks with one lens, I mean from the same side of the glasses. Since there are only two possible rotations, and each pair of glasses has one lens of each rotation, only when the opposite rotation is matched up would it darken.

    I still don't get why it would darken more at a certain angle though.

    The question you're asking about "redness" is called "qualia" in philosophy. I tend to think that "redness" is just an agreed upon word for the same stimulus, but not the same experience. It is, after all, just certain frequencies of light.

    As for what I may call a car and you may call something else: that has already happened. In France they call it une voiture.

    The question of what defines a car is a more difficult question, I think. As it turns out, it's a rather active area of research in computer science: how to get computers to recognize objects as objects.