1.8 Million?!

I have not checked in a while, but apparently that “Planning vs. the Internet” diagram now has 1.8 million views. That’s more five times the total number of views this blog has. Damn. Way to go, StumbleUpon community!

Of course, with the Chrome stumble bar, the diagram is obsolete. But the point still stands. :D

Also, Edward Munch’s The Scream, which is featured in the diagram, set a record just two weeks ago for the highest auction price paid for a painting, at $120 million. Nice!

So What is Real?

Now obviously one blog post will be insufficient for answering this question. But that’s fine. Perhaps “what is real?” is an unreal and irrelevant question. Or perhaps it is the most meaningful question ever to have been asked. How could anyone know?

Levels of Reality

I shall take as a starting point the film Inception. In it, the dream-within-a-dream motif cascades down several times, creating many levels of reality within a coherent story. In each successive level, the dream world is more fantastic, with what would otherwise be logically impossible objects, until the final stage called Limbo, in which entire worlds can be constructed, built convincingly enough to fool a dreamer’s belief in reality. But this raises the question of which stage should be called reality. If a dreamer has been in Limbo for decades, maybe centuries, he would have spent more time in a dream than in the original level of reality, and thus Limbo would seem more real to him than the original reality. In fact, he may even forget that the original reality ever existed. Limbo would not just be a more relevant reality—it would be the only reality.

This assumes that Limbo is convincing enough. For Limbo to work, it must fool our senses so much as to cover truth with a blank canvas and let our imagination paint it with only the facts we choose to accept. Then we choose to accept nothing else, so that we have quite literally our own picture of reality.

Now Limbo is purely a fictional concept. But perhaps you have already taken Limbo as real in some part of your imagination. Maybe you have already begun to formulate your own realities in Limbo. Maybe you are designing the architecture as we speak. If so, you should pat yourself on the back for doing your job as an open-minded reader.

If, on the other hand, Limbo seems to you just as false as unicorns and the tooth fairy, then perhaps the canvas has already been placed in front of your eyes. Your own opinion of reality has excluded the possibility of Limbo, because you find it outside of what you want to accept. Since you do not think it is true, it must be false. Thus you may already be inside your own Limbo.

Determining Reality

The trouble is, it is somewhat difficult to tell whether we are in a false reality. Maybe we are merely trivial details of someone else’s dream. We might be in Limbo and thus not be real.

“I am real!” you might say. In the Limbo-sense of real, then yes, everything is real. Anything we can imagine is real within someone’s imagination. Going down one level is easy. But going up is the hard part. What kind of experiment would be able to tell us whether we are in a true or false reality?

The Persistence of Memory, 1931

Perhaps there is a giveaway error. In a dream, if you flip a light switch, the light might not change. But we can only detect this error because we are expecting the light switch to do something. If we only remembered what happened since the start of the dream and remembered nothing of what a light switch was supposed to do, then we would not be able to conclude anything when we flip it. The room would stay dark, but that would not say anything about being in a dream or not.

So maybe there is some analogous error that we can find with our common reality. But if the case is like the above, then we have no idea what we are searching for. In fact, we may have already stumbled upon the giveaway error that proves we are in a dream right now, but we do not know how to interpret it. Perhaps when you place oxygen molecules near one another, they are supposed to trigger a nuclear explosion. But in our level of reality, they do not do anything—we just breathe them in.

If we knew that flipping the light switch should trigger the light, but it doesn’t, we would deduce that we are in a dream. And if we knew that oxygen molecules should cause nuclear explosions, but they don’t, then we would likewise deduce that we are in a dream. But how are we supposed to know that oxygen molecules should explode? It would be knowledge coming from outside our universe, and would be hence unobtainable unless there were intervention from outside. This could happen if some entity came down to us, demonstrated supernatural powers (e.g., causing many black holes to form in the sky, without destroying Earth), and told us that we are in a dream. Most people would consider this entity to be a god.

But there are still issues with this method. What if the entity was not a transcendental being, but rather, just an alien with advanced knowledge of physics playing a prank on us? If that were the case, would most civilizations in the world still think of this entity as a god?

The Matrix Scrolling

Questions that Cannot Be Answered

The common belief is that if a question has no answer, then it is not meaningful. I claim that this is false, by showing examples of questions that cannot be answered and yet are meaningful. Historians, for instance, would benefit a great deal from investigating the many mysteries of mankind. But this is a cheap example, you might say. A question such as “Who shot John F. Kennedy?” has an answer, and perhaps some people alive today even know it. But surely no one today knows the answer to the question “When did Homer live?” or even “Was Homer a real person?” Even so, these questions do have answers; we just can’t find them.

There are some more bizarre questions, however, in mathematics. For example, “Can every even integer greater than or equal to 4 be written as the sum of two primes?” The answer must be either “yes” or “no,” but no one has found a proof yet. Much worse are Gödel’s incompleteness theorems, which imply that there are true statements that cannot be proved. Equally bizarre is the question “Is there a cardinality between that of the natural numbers and that of the real numbers?” The answer is, almost paradoxically, that both “yes” and “no” are valid answers, which seems to raise the question of whether this constitutes an answer at all.

Soft Watch at the Moment of First Explosion

Then we go on to physics and metaphysics. “What is time?” “How did the universe begin?” “Is our universe a false reality?” I think that all of the questions in the last few paragraphs are relevant for us. Knowing more about time could, in the far future, open up many new technologies and possibly time travel. Knowing how the universe began would tell us much about the laws of physics, which we still don’t quite understand. And knowing the reality of the universe would grant us some much-needed insights about the truth, of which we are ever in pursuit.

The Number 23

It turned out to be one of those movies that seems kind of interesting when you’re watching it, but then, when you’ve finished it, you can’t help but to notice how much time you just wasted. The problem is that The Number 23 takes the paranoia of the number 23 far too seriously, despite some scenes being totally hilarious. It wasn’t clear at certain parts whether we were supposed to laugh or not.

Also, some of the references to 23 seemed way too far-fetched. I thought it was cool that numerous events and even names (by adding their letters) were linked to the number 23, but what crossed the line was linking things to the number 32, which is explained of course as 23 backwards. If anything that adds to 32 can pass, why not just make the title of the film The Number 32 and have all the things that add up to 23 be explained as just 32 backwards? This made absolutely no sense.

Perhaps the funniest event was when Jim Carrey (I don’t really remember any of the names, except for a fictional character that exists in a book inside the movie) explains that a certain person is innocent of a crime just because his numbers don’t add up to 23. Almost by definition, there must be some way to make it add up to 23. In fact, after we watched the movie, some friends and I spent the next two hours turning literally anything we thought of into the number 23. This was probably more of a waste of time than watching the movie itself.

And then of course, the length of the paper that I handed in today was… okay yep, 23 pages. *Cues dramatic music.*

Percents

And thus follows my official list of percents:

  • Chance that you will read through this entire post: 22%
  • Chance a fair coin will land on a particular side (but for the sake of political correctness, I cannot specify which one): 50%
  • Chance that a random percent between 0% and 100% is less than 67.284%: 67.284%
  • Percent that corresponds to “100%” as used in everyday speech: 70%
  • Percent that corresponds to “110%” as used in everyday speech: 60%
  • Percent that corresponds to “100%” as used by computer scientists when estimating the chance that their program will work correctly on the first try: 3%
  • The percentage of lies that are statistics: 94%
  • The chance that this particular percent is correct: 64%
  • The percentage of total views of this blog that came from a single post: 57.2%
  • Chance of drawing a royal flush: 0.000154%
  • Suppose 2 individuals were each told to pick an arbitrary grain of sand in any beach on Earth. Chance that the two picked the exact same grain of sand: ~0.00000000000000001%
  • Chance that a randomly chosen number on the number line is rational: 0%
  • Percent mass of the solar system that is taken up by the Sun: 99.86%
  • Chance that a long-count cycle of the Mayan calendar ends on 12/21/12: 99%
  • Chance the world will end on 12/21/12: 0.00000001%
  • Chance that there will be a mass panic on 12/21/12: 2%
  • Difference between .999999999999… and 1: 0%
  • Chance that we are actually living in a simulated reality, according to this paper: ~100%
  • Percent of people who are in the top 10%: 10%
  • Percent of posts I write that contain self-reference, such as this one: 32%
  • Chance that some percentage is repeated in this list: 100%
  • Percent of your brain that you use, according to a popular but nonetheless made-up fact on the Internet: 10%
  • Percent of your brain that you actually use: ~100%
  • Chance that a randomly chosen word contains the letter “e”: 13%
  • Chance that this entire list is useless: 99.59%
  • Percent of the percent-sign (%) that I can draw in 0.2 seconds: 33%
  • The percent of KNOWLEDGE that human beings currently understand, assuming knowledge is infinite: 0%
  • How much I care about politics: 0.1%
  • 1 + 1: 200%
  • Chance that 42 is your favorite number: 42%
  • Chance that something which works in theory will work in practice: 1%
  • Chance that something which works in practice will work in theory: 1%
  • Chance that there will be a spam comment, which will be caught immediately by WordPress’s magical anti-spam system: 97%
  • Chance that there is something ironic in this post: 97%
  • Difference between a “slim chance” and a “fat chance”: 0%
  • Chance that a randomly chosen integer in the neighborhood of 1 trillion is a prime number: ~3.62%
  • Chance that the previous result invoked the prime number theorem: 100%
  • Percent of readers who actually clicked the link in the previous bullet: 17%
  • Percent of readers who originally didn’t click that link, but then did after reading the bullet after that link: 35%
  • Inflation rate of the United States in March 2012: 2.7%
  • Inflation rate of the United States in January 1922: -11.1%
  • Inflation rate of Hungary in July 1946: 41,900,000,000,000,000%
  • Inflation of volume of the Universe, according to the conventional Big Bang Model, in an extremely tiny fraction of a second: 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000%
  • Percent of people who scrolled through this article, but then stopped for a while to look at what the above commotion of 80 zeros in a row meant: 88%
  • Freshness rating of The Titanic (1997): 87.7%
  • Size of the model of the ship used for the film, compared to the size of the actual RMS Titanic (comparing length): 87.5%
  • Chance that some boredom has caused me to compose this list of percentages: 93%
  • Percent of people who want this list to end soon: 95%
  • Top speed of a cheetah compared to the top speed of the fastest human: 321%
  • Speed of sound in standard atmospheric conditions compared to the top speed of a cheetah: 1000%
  • Speed of light in a vacuum compared to the speed of sound in standard atmospheric conditions: 87,350,000%
  • Strength of the electromagnetic force compared to the strength of the gravitational force: 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000%
  • Percent of people who are puzzled by the number above: 100%
  • Percent of physics that can be explained by assuming all particles are made of tiny spherical monkeys, who are of course typing furiously on tiny typewriters: 100%
  • Chance that we will find the Higgs boson by the end of the year: 33%
  • Chance that we will find evidence of extraterrestrial life, by the end of the 21st century: 50%
  • The width of a dollar bill to its length: 42.6%
  • A percentage of great important to statistics: 95%
  • The amount of sense that the next 3 bullets make, when looked at together: 30%
  • Nitrogen composition of Venus’s atmosphere: 3.5%
  • Nitrogen composition of Earth’s atmosphere: 78%
  • Amount of nitrogen in Venus’s atmosphere compared to the amount of nitrogen in Earth’s atmosphere: 404%
  • Percent of people who instantly realized what is going on above: 10%
  • Chance that a random fact on the Internet is correct: 13%
  • Chance that someone is, at this moment, wrong on the Internet: 100%
  • 1/0: ∞%
  • -1/0: -∞%
  • The ability to destroy a planet, next to the power of the Force: 0.0000000000000000000000000000000000000000000001%
  • The power level of a certain character: over 900,000%
  • The number of people reading this article who will post a comment: 0.1%
  • The absolute temperature (Kelvin) of Hell compared to the absolute temperature of Heaven, according to the Applied Optics journal: at most 89.975% (yes, this means Hell is cooler than Heaven, and thus Heaven is hotter than Hell)
  • Percent of Americans who aren’t entitled to their own opinion: 38%
  • Percent of Americans that believe the above statement: 87%
  • Percent of all money that is wasted: 93.2%
  • Percent of facts in this list that were made up: 32.5%
  • Chance that the writer has to attend some completely useless meeting in the next half-hour, and therefore must end the list: 110%