The loss of Mark Fisher, aged just 48, has not just left family, friends and colleagues shocked and devastated; it leaves a gaping crater in modern intellectual life. The poet and writer Alex Niven, with whom he worked at Repeater books, described him as “by some distance the best writer in Britain” and, as a flood of tributes on social media have come appended with links to his work, whether on k-punk, his much-read blog, interviews he conducted for The Wire or extracts from his very latest book The Weird And The Eerie, that is a judgment with which it is hard to disagree.
Posts tagged theory
Mark Fisher, blogger, editor, and cultural theorist, Lecturer in Visual Cultures at Goldsmith’s, University of London, and author of Capitalist Realism (2009) died suddenly on 13 January 2017. He was 48 and leaves a wife and young son.
“Here is how to capsize container ships. Swim along behind it in a train then grip with the teeth and continue to swim as you insert your claspers into the cloaca and pump.”
–Joshua Clover& Juliana Spahr. #MISANTHROPOCENE
For the last ten years you’ve been told that the LHC must see some new physics besides the Higgs because otherwise nature isn’t “natural” – a technical term invented to describe the degree of numerical coincidence of a theory. I’ve been laughed at when I explained that I don’t buy into naturalness because it’s a philosophical criterion, not a scientific one. But on that matter I got the last laugh: Nature, it turns out, doesn’t like to be told what’s presumably natural. Now that the diphoton bump is gone, we’ve entered what has become known as the “nightmare scenario” for the LHC: The Higgs and nothing else. Many particle physicists thought of this as the worst possible outcome. It has left them without guidance, lost in a thicket of rapidly multiplying models. Without some new physics, they have nothing to work with that they haven’t already had for 50 years, no new input that can tell them in which direction to look for the ultimate goal of unification and/or quantum gravity. That the LHC hasn’t seen evidence for new physics is to me a clear signal that we’ve been doing something wrong, that our experience from constructing the standard model is no longer a promising direction to continue. We’ve maneuvered ourselves into a dead end by relying on aesthetic guidance to decide which experiments are the most promising. I hope that this latest null result will send a clear message that you can’t trust the judgement of scientists whose future funding depends on their continued optimism. Things can only get better.
Relaxing the null hypothesis makes for great storytelling, but it’s an unsettling way to live. Which information and which perspectives we take into account, when we try to decide whether a pattern we’ve matched is real or an apophenic false alarm, affects our ability to determine whether something has gone away or whether we’ve just stopped believing in it. In the praxis of science we try to keep the false alarm rate down with things like study size and statistical inference and meta-analyses and replication, and we still get it wrong a lot.
Four years after the original Nature paper was published, Nature News had sad tidings to convey: the latest flu outbreak had claimed an unexpected victim: Google Flu Trends. After reliably providing a swift and accurate account of flu outbreaks for several winters, the theory-free, data-rich model had lost its nose for where flu was going. Google’s model pointed to a severe outbreak but when the slow-and-steady data from the CDC arrived, they showed that Google’s estimates of the spread of flu-like illnesses were overstated by almost a factor of two.
This post is a crash course on the notation used in programming language theory (“PL theory” for short). For a much more thorough introduction, I recommend Types and Programming Languages by Benjamin C. Pierce and Semantic Engineering with PLT Redex by Felleisen, Findler, and Flatt. I’ll assume the reader is an experienced programmer but not an experienced mathematician or PL theorist. I’ll start with the most basic definitions and try to build up quickly.