Derivation under the cut
Derivation under the cut
Suppose an alien came down to earth, and described an operation it can perform on you. This operation will make a lot stronger and tougher physically. It will also make you a lot smarter, more conscientious, and can even make you a more moral person. Inexplicably, if you get this operation people will take you more seriously and are more likely to believe anything you say. And all of these effects are huge.
There’s one catch: Anyone who undergoes this operation becomes completely obsessed with cleaning pottery jugs. Seriously, it doesn’t matter how boring you consider this now, it’ll be what you spend all of your time on. If you have anything else you care about you’ll still remember that, but it’ll take second place to cleaning pottery jugs.
Now, you’re expecting the way this hypothetical will continue, you’ll be asked what you think about this operation, and whether you want the alien to perform it on you or not. Yeah right! As if the alien gives a fuck what you think! In fact it has already done this operation. Lucky it takes a while for it to take effect, so you still have some time to be your old self for a few years. Good luck!
[Epistemic status: Crackpot]
This post is a about some observations I’ve been developing for quite a while. I was inspired to post about it by a recent chapter of the new web serial Unsong, which touches upon similar themes. Some details have only been worked out now when I’m writing this up.
The founding legend of Rome, as recounted by Virgil’s Aeneid, was that the Romans were descendants of Trojans. Troy itself a great empire, when it was sacked by the Greeks the Trojan Aeneas was ordered by the gods to found a new Troy in the province of Italy. So he wandered the sea for many years until he finally reaches Rome. Now, there’s a gap of a few hundred years between the accepted dates of the fall of Troy and the founding of Rome; Aeneas did not found Rome right away. Rather, he founded the city of Alba Longa, which his descendants ruled until Romulus and Remus, who founded Rome.
It is certainly not a new idea to compare the United States with Rome. Both are powerful empires that center their self-identity with their democratic institutions. However, I believe the connection between the two is much deeper than that…
People commonly place the fall of the Roman Empire during the fifth century CE. This is not quite right. See, the Western Roman Empire fell in 476, but the Eastern Empire, now known as the Byzantine Empire, persisted a long time after that. In fact, the Eastern Roman Empire only fell in the year 1453.
In 1492, merely 39 years later, Christopher Columbus discovered the continent of America. Most historians believe that he was from the Republic of Genoa, which like Rome is a republic in Italy. However, an even stronger connection can potentially be made. Some people believe that Christopher Columbus was of a Byzantine origin, and may even have been related to Byzantine nobility. This is especially significant if it is possible to trace a lineage from Aeneas himself.
Before Christopher Columbus, Leif Erikson independently discovered and explored North America, and the Norse eventually named the region Vinland, due to the grapevines that grew there. The name Oenotria appears in some ancient sources, including three times in the Aeneid, to refer to southern Italy. The name comes from Greek οἶνος “wine”, since the area was rich in vineyards.
The parallel between Christopher Columbus’s journey and the journeys of Aeneas and Odysseus is obvious. Notice, too, that like how Aeneas does not immediately found Rome, but rather founds Alba Longa which centuries later produces Rome, so too Christopher Columbus is only responsible for exploring the continent wherein centuries later George Washington founds the republican empire.
From the strength of these analogies I can only conclude one thing: That the same events have occured twice, and Columbus was divinely inspired to explore America and found a new Rome like Aeneas was commanded to found a new Troy.
Although originally I only thought to make Graeco-Roman connections, inspired by Unsong it’s worth looking a bit into the Judaeo-Christian relationships. The obvious analogy is Moses, who wandered the desert fourty years seeking to found the new nation of Israel. One interesting contrast is that although both Odysseus and Aeneas reach their intended destination at the end, Christopher Columbus sought to reach India but never arrived there, like how Moses never set foot in the land of Israel. A different interpretation for the fact that Christopher Columbus failed to reach India is that although India was where he desired to reach, the divinely-fated target for his journey was America, like how Aeneas wanted to stay in Carthage with Dido but was fated to found a nation in Italy.
(This was written with the priority of making sure my thoughts don’t just stay in my head forever over explaining anything well. Except some parts to be cryptic or badly phrased.)
Hashlife is currently the best algorithm for simulating large structured patterns in Conway’s game of life and other cellular automata for long periods of time. It is described here. Basicly, it memoized recursive algorithm for computing the evolution of a block.
Memoization means that whenever the algorithm encounters a block that it has seen before it would instantly be able to use the answer it previously computed. This is what gives the algorithm its power. On the other hand, the algorithm can only detect this if the two configurations are aligned exactly the same on the blocks which it divides the grid into. In other words, it doesn’t take full advantage of translational symmetry, but only takes advantage of it when it’s a translation by a multiple of the block size. Due to the way Hashlife calculates many time-steps of a pattern at once there is a similar alignment problem in time.
For example, the Caterpillar is a humongous spaceship that move forward 17 tiles every 45 steps. It has a lot of repeating components, but they all move in this speed, so they are rarely in the same alignment. Here Hashlife runs really slowly.
So I’ve been thinking about how to make a better version of Hashlife which doesn’t have these constraints. Then the problem is to recognize a pattern if it was seen previously with a different alignment. The first idea I eventually came up with is to use what I call a translation-invariant hash. If you take this hash on two blocks of tiles that almost completely overlap, this function should return the same or a similar value. Clearly this is not a good hash function in the conventional point of view, but it is very useful here: If you make a hash table based on a translation-invariant hash, then a lookup for a block B could also return a block B’ which contains a translation of B. This means you can find that the same pattern was calculated already even if it is out of alignment.
Here is a simple example of a translation-invariant hash: Let H be an ordinary hash function on 8×8 blocks. For some large block B, one can define to be the sum of for every 8×8 X that is contained in B. Then a translated block will only differ in terms of the hashes on the boundary, which on a large block will be a minority. By truncating the last digits of this you get a hash that’s completely identical for most small translations.
Now, one problem that can come up is: now that we found two blocks that are approximately translates, how do tell by how much one is a translate of the other? In this case there is an easy method. Alongside the function , one can also calculate two other functions , , such that (respectively, ) is the sum of (resp. ) where is an 8×8 block contained in whose northwest corner has coordinates (Here 8 is an arbitrarily chosen number, in this case because it’s a small power of 2). Then if and satisfy and they really are close translates, the position of relative to would be approximately
then the data structure for a block B will store along with these “integral hashes” , .
I will not discuss how to take advantage of the overlapping blocks found this way to speed up the computation.of the cellular automaton.
This in itself may already be an improvement (I haven’t written any code so I can’t benchmark this), but has some weaknesses. The problem is that it is way too loose. It produces a collision for two overlapping blocks, but it also produces a hash collision in loads of other situations. For instance, it produces an almost identical value for the empty block and an almost empty block except for a small object. These are closer to each other than most of the combinations of overlapping blocks, which are the things what are supposed to collide. Worse, if there are two small objects on an otherwise empty block which are far away from each other, then returns an exactly identical hash. If you want any algorithm based on this hash function to work, it is necessary to check a block found by the hash table to verify it actually overlaps. This adds to the computation time.
The problem is that the hash function is too local: it only depends on the properties of a random 8×8 region in a block. Perhaps a better idea would be to use larger subregions, for instance, sum the hashes of subregions when the block is . However, this would take too long to compute (asymptotically , around the same it would take to calculate the evolution of the pattern directly for steps). Instead, it would be better to look at the hashes of only some of the subregions, which are determined in a translation-invariant way. Here is my second idea: define an -focal point as follows:
Then considering only the -hashes of -focal points is translation-invariant and feasible to compute.
However, once we have these -focal points there’s something even better we can do. Remember that the goal of the whole translation-invariant hash was so that we’d be able to recognize a pattern we’ve already encountered even when it’s translated. However, these -focal points and their corresponding hashes do the job even better: The same region will have the same -focal points no matter how it is translated, and no coarse-graining is necessary from any averaging process. So it is a good idea to make a hash table for caching all the regions associated -focal points to recognize translates, and not at all using the original averaging idea with translation-invariant hashes. However, I only came up with that simplification while I was writing this up I decided to still include the original idea. I know that makes this description pretty messy.
All this doesn’t mention time. The original Hashlife also has a feature where it evaluates blocks for generations at once. This causes temporal alignment problems similar to the spatial alignment problems I’ve already discussed. I expect pretty much the same solutions to work here. These are really just general ideas for recognizing patterns in n-dimensional space and should still work when time is added as a coordinate.
 Actually, the translation only needs to a multiple of half the block size, due to how Hashlife calculates the areas between the blocks.
Note: Woops, made this a “page” rather than an ordinary post. Changed it.
I remember the early days of this blog. A lot of things have changed since then. Back then, it was just me writing things and nobody was reading it. Right now there probably still isn’t anybody reading this (not even you). I guess some things never change.
Indeed, this blog started from nothing and almost quadrupled in size since. And in this great growth story, today is an important landmark. That is because today, this blog has a title. It also now has a tagline.
One very important aspect of modern physics is something called gauge theory.
Gauge theory explains how all four fundamental forces — gravity,
electromagnetic, weak, and strong — work. However, it’s hard to find a
nontechnical exposition of the principles of this theory. Here is the best attempt
I’ve seen, although I still find it unsatisfying. Instead, I’m taking this
absence as an opportunity for me to give my own explanation of gauge theory. 
Let me start with the strong force, which is the most straightforward example.
This is the force between the quarks which makes them combine into protons and
neutrons. Now, quarks have a property called “color”. A quark can have one of
three colors, which physicists call red, blue, and green. However, these
“colors” have nothing to do with the colors that you see. Each of these colors
behaves the same way, and it’s only possible to tell what color a quark is is by
comparing it with other quarks. A proton or neutron is made out of three quarks,
one of each color, and similarly every particle which can be directly observed
has a symmetrical combination of colors. So although we have names for these
different colors, we can’t tell which is which.
This problem is a lot worse than it seems. You see, it’s actually
fundamentally impossible to tell what color a quark is in an absolute
sense. Let me explain: suppose some physicists in MIT decided to set a standard
for quark colors. They start by isolating a quark and making sure that it
never changes color; they declare this to be the standard red quark. Comparing
with this quark, they have a standard for when their own quarks are red. Now,
the physicists in Harvard want to use this standard, so the physicists in MIT
take another quark with the same color as their first quark, and send it to
Harvard. You’d think that the quark in Harvard and the quark in MIT would
have the same color. Now, just to verify this, two days later the physicists in
MIT take another quark with the same color as the one they’re storing and send
it to Harvard. Well, lo and behold, this second quark has a different color
than the first quark. No matter how hard they try to prevent the quarks from
changing color, the colors would still not be consistent.
Here’s the explanation: Color is not actually one universal concept. Every point
in space and time has its own concept of quark color, and MIT September 5th
color is something different from MIT September 7th color, which is different
from Harvard September 7th color. It’s only possible to directly compare quark
colors when they are in the same place and time. There has to be some
relationship between these different concepts of color. After all, a quark which
stays still between 7:00PM and 8:00PM must start with a color in the 7:00PM
sense and end up with having color in the 8:00PM sense. Indeed, there’s
something called a connection which links up these
different sorts of color. The connection is the crucial component to this entire
theory. For any journey a particle can take from one place to another, going in
certain speeds in certain places in the middle, the connection describes a way
to gradually transform a color for the beginning of the journey into a color for
the end of the journey. When time passes for a quark and it needs to have
another type of color, it always gets that color according to the way it went
and the connection. So there is a correspondence between these color concepts,
but it depends on the path you take from one to the other. That’s why the quarks
in my imaginary experiment ended up with different colours; they took different
Now, one of you might ask when are we going to get to strong force. Well,
hypothetical reader, what I described is the strong force. The attraction of
quarks with each other, their formation into protons and neutrons and other
particles, everything about the strong force all comes as an indirect result of
this connection. To give an example, you may have heard of gluons. The
conventional explanation for the strong force is that it is generated by these
gluon particles. What are gluons? Well, the connection only has an interesting
role when multiple paths have inconsistent color changes. This inconsistency is
called curvature. A gluon is a small area of space where this
inconsistency is focused. The connection can always be described as a
combination of many gluons, so in a sense, the strong force really is generated
by gluons. A similar thing is true for all the other forces, so photons,
gravitons, and the W and Z particles are all generated by the curvature of
The connection gives a theory for how quark color works, but how can it be
force? How can it influence how a quark moves, rather than just what color it
is? To answer that, I’ll move on to the second force I intend to discuss, the
The electromagnetic force is similar to the strong force. Here too, there is a
connection, and here it influences every charged particle. One important thing
is different, and it might seem a bit ridiculous: There’s only one color! So
how can this connection do anything? Well, this whole time I have neglected the
laws of quantum mechanics. However, they are important at everything that
happens in this scale.
Let me summarize the rules for quantum mechanics. You would expect a particle
to always be in certain place at any time, and for a quark to always have one
specific color. Instead, particles are usually in something called a
superposition. You can think of it being in a superposition as saying that the
particle has different chances of being in any particular place. However, the
superposition is more than that: it also gives something called a phase.
My description here of quantum mechanics is rather crude, but it will do for
now. For better description, I reccommend this introduction, or for a
more longer explanation these
series of blog posts or the book QED: The Strange Theory of Light and
Matter by Richard Feynmann.
Anyways, the crucial fact is that when a particle can be in many different
positions, it is possible to compare the phases of these different
possibilities. It is also possible to compare the phase between different times.
Now, have you ever heard about how in quantum mechanics, a particle behaves like
a wave? A wave is when the water is rising and falling in a regular pattern. In
quantum mechanics, it is the phase that is changing in a particle which makes it
act like a wave. Now, it turns out that how quickly the phase changes among
different positions determines a particle’s momentum, and how quickly it changes
over time determines it’s energy. Now, back to electromagnetism. You might have
guessed by now what the connection does here: it influences phase. Well, just
like in the case of colors, it doesn’t exactly change anything. More precisely,
for charged particles phase is subjective and has different meanings in
different places, and the connection gives a default for turning one kind of
phase to another. This is just like the strong force.
Now it gets a bit subtle. When a particle is staying still in one spot, it will
minimize energy, and so it will tend to not change its phase from the
perspective of its own path. However, naturally it is not in one exact location,
but in a superposition over a small region. As the phase tries to stay the same
in each spot, the phases will be more and more inconsistent between different
places. This means the particle will accumulate momentum, which will make the
particle move. Put in a different way, the natural movement of phase acts as a
sort of energy, which when it differs in different places generates a force.
So we know now how the connection influences the particle, but where does the
connection come from? How did get to be in whatever state that it is in? Well,
there are internal forces constraining the connection. Remember that the
curvature of the connection measures how inconsistent it is in a small area.
Well, the connection naturally is constrained so that it minimizes how much
curvature it has. So in a vacuum, there is no curvature, and the connection
doesn’t have any inconsistencies, except for small quantum fluctuations.
However, when there is a charged particle, things are different. See, the
particle has its own constraints, and it’s trying to move as smoothly as
possible. How it moves is partially determined by the connection, and so when
the particle is present, the connection naturally gives way. That is where the
curvature of the connection comes from, and why there are forces between
Now let’s get to gravity. With gravity what the connection changes is very
interesting. First of all, here’s a question: Which way is up? There should be a
fairly obvious answer. And yet, what you think is up, if travel far enough
abroad, will turn out to be sideways are even down, with the real up. It can get
even stranger: your watch is telling you the time is 6:00 AM, the locals insist
that it’s 5:00 PM.
Of course, we all know that the Earth being round, and all of the strange
consequences this implies, but that’s nothing profound. It’s just a strange
convention. Although what you recognized as up is no longer called “up”, it’s
still recognized as a direction. And it’s very easy for people from different
locations to synchronize their watches. It’s still the same directions and
times, just given different names.
At least, that’s what it seems. If you make very careful observations, you’ll
find that direction, just like quark color, are not consistent in different
places. Similarly, there is no absolute time which is consistent everywhere.
These effects are all very subtle, except for one.
So now let’s really get to gravity. Throw something upwards, and afterwards it
will fall. What makes it change direction? Nothing. That’s because it
isn’t changing direction. So why does it hit the ground? Because the
ground is moving, upwards and upwards until they collide.
More precisely, the connection also influences what it means to be move and what
it means to stay still. That porcelain cup you threw is changing its path in the
natural way with respect to the connection. The “move up” of one time is the
same as the “stay still” of another which is the same as “move down” still
further in the future. Our notion of staying still comes from comparing things
with the ground, which accelerates upwards compared to the natural flow.
So why is the ground moving upwards? Well, for the small porcelain cup,
following the connection is easy. It’s fairly self-consistent where the cup
moves. But the ground is attached to the Earth, which is very big. And in spite
of the curvature, the inconsistencies, all of the Earth has to move in unison.
And it’s worse, since the curvature is generated by the Earth, and so it won’t
ever move out of the way.
Now, finally, the weak force. Remember the rule with all the other forces: that
a particle has an attribute that has different meanings in in different places,
and so there can’t be a universal standard. Now let’s break these rules.
Back when people first studied the strong nuclear force, they found that it was
very complicated. But in spite of the complexities, they did find one pattern:
that protons and neutrons behave in the same way. The strong force between
protons and protons and between protons and neutrons and between neutrons and
neutrons is the same. Later on physicists discovered the pions. There are three
types of pions, one positively charged, one negatively charged, and one neutral.
They too all behave the same way with respect to the strong force, and all had
approximately the same mass. Later more particles were discovered, and they
always fitted into arrays of similar particles with the same strong interactions
and about the same mass.
The whole thing reminded physicists of something else they’ve already seen,
called spin. Spin is a property that every particle has. For example, electrons
have spin 1/2. This means that each electron can be in one of two states: spin
up or spin down. These are also called spin 1/2 and spin -1/2 (note the
distinction: while the spin of a particular electron may be -1/2, the spin of
electrons in general is always 1/2. Although the same word is used, these are
different concepts). As you can guess from the name, flipping a spin up electron
upside down makes a spin down electron, so spin is related to orientation.
Excuse me while I ignore the question of what happens when you flip an electron
Not all particles are spin 1/2. Spin 0 particles are particles which only have
one spin state, spin 0, while spin 1 particles can be in spin state -1, 0, or 1.
In general, a particle has a set of consecutive spin states, more the higher the
spin is. This is similar to the pattern described earlier for similar particles
with different charges. Based on the analogy, this property of particles is
So because of these similarities, it seems as though there’s some sort of
virtual orientation responsible for this isospin. Physicists considered the
possibility that this virtual orientation has a connection to it, making yet
another gauge theory. But to do that, the different virtual orientations must be
indistinguishable. And yet, the proton and neutron, with isospin up and down,
are clearly different. The virtual orientation with which the proton is isospin
up is special, contradicting the principle that no virtual orientation is
What’s happening is something called symmetry breaking. Although fundamentally
all of these virtual orientations are the same, there is a sort of pointer in
each place in the universe which designates one virtual orientation as special.
These pointers are called the Higgs field. Each pointer tends to align with the
nearby pointer. However, this is impossible when the connection for the virtual
is curved. So what happens is that any curvature of the connection is associated
with movement of the Higgs field. This is called mixing. This mixture manifests
as the Z and W particles. In addition, the Higgs field interacts with particles
so that their behavior depends on how their virtual orientation aligns with it.
So there you have it. As I’ve just shown you, every fundamental force is based
on the same idea: Some aspect of a particle is relative in place and time, and
the connection mediates this aspect over different places and times to make it
seem consistent locally. This is the basis of gauge theory. However, for each
force this a different subtlety or tweak is added on. This makes each force
behave in a unique way. But the underlying concept is always the same: gauge
 While I was writing this article in my leisurely pace, Sean Carroll posted
this article which is pretty much the sort of thing I was looking for, and
so my justification for writing this is out of date. Oh well, these sorts of
things happen in a 50 year old field.
 Actually, even getting this far is impossible. There is a phenomenon called
quark confinement, which is that quarks never exist on their own, only in
color-neutral groups. I hope you trust me when I tell you that this subtlety
isn’t important, because I’m going to completely ignore it from now on.
 I will continue talking about this virtual orientation, but I want to note
that it’s not a technical term. I don’t know if there is a technical term for
Added 2016-06-04: Although I wrote this at the bottom, to be extra clear I’m writing this at the top: After further investigation, the method I described was found not to work.
Scott Aaronson has a post in his blog, Projects aplenty, where he proposes many research problems for students. One of them is:
20. Do there exist probability distributions , over n-bit strings such that (an equal mixture of two independent samples from and two independent samples from ) is efficiently samplable, even though and themselves are not efficiently samplable? (This is closely-related to a beautiful question posed by Daniel Roy, of whether the de Finetti Theorem has a “polynomial-time analogue.”)
In the comments, I proposed one solution to the problem. Scott Aaronson sent me an email pointing out that the conditions in which the solution work are so strong that the solution is effectively trivial. I have thought about the problem more and I believe I have found a much better solution.
To be specific, what I have is: Given data there are distributions and such that it is possible to efficiently approximately sample given . However, neither nor are efficiently approximately sampleable, even given bits of advice. Moreover, it is easy to generate appropiate , in the sense that there is a polynomial-time probablistic algorithm which given creates an with and satisfies these properties.
Before I present the solution, some definitions: If and are prime with and , then I define . When is an odd number, not necessarily prime, and , then is the Jacobi symbol of mod .
Now, to generate : first, pick primes , , and with approximately bits. Let and be primes with and . Set . Set to be a natural number with , and . Set to be a random th root of unity. Set to be a random of elements of subject to these properties:
Given and a permutation , define the value . Then for random , samples from a distribution , which constists of random with and and such that where is sampled from .
It is possible to split the distribution , where consists of sampling and post-selecting for squares, and consists of sampling and post-selecting for nonsquares. Then it is possible to sample as follows: Pick a random permutation and take . However, as far as I can tell, it is impossible to sample either or individually.
Note that must be large. Otherwise, there is a nonnegligable probability that , in which case both and can be sampled by taking for appropiate and large random .
One concern with this approach is that is not being sampled exactly. However, I believe what is being sampled has a neglible statistical distance from , at least for large enough . However, I haven’t proven this.
Added 2013-10-25: I have now written an implementation of this distribution. Find it here.
Added 2014-01-01: Two problems were found in this method. First of all, this method
relies on the fact that and have the same
square-status. However, more is true. If is the
decomposition of into cycles and given any with each equal to either or , then still and have the same
square-status. Then picking a with many cycles and sampling randomly
from is a way to sample from where if
is a square and otherwise.
This alternate process has around possible outcomes while the
process for sampling has possible outcomes.
This suggests a possible resolution of this problem, namely, fine-tuning so that the latter has enough entropy to sample randomly, while the former
does not. To investigate weather this works, I analyzed more carefully how
random is using a Fourier analysis. I discovered a second
problem: My method does not perfectly sample , but
creates a small correlation between the elements of this pair which decrease
polynomially in rather than exponentially in .