Archive for May 27th, 2008

Funny timing.  Yesterday I wrote about our use of time cliches.  This morning I finally opened my latest issue of Scientific American.  Yup, there’s a lead article about the asymmetry of time (runs only forward).  It asks this question:

“The basic laws of physics work equally well forward or backward in time, yet we perceive time to move in one direction only—toward the future. Why?”

I’ve childishly puzzled over the philosophy of time since I was 12.  None of the popular science nor most of technical books provide a decent explanation or answer to the above.  You can find a huge amount of philosophy, math and physics that circle the question but never answer it.  Why not?

Just like the cliches in my post yesterday, we lack the language.  Time, as we experience and talk about it, moves only in one direction – forward – because time is relationship, a measurement of rate of change.  It’s a lot like counting.  No one ever asks why we can’t uncount.  Counting goes in one direction, even if you are counting negative numbers.  The number of counts always goes up. e.g. 1, 2, 3,4 = 4 counting events just as -1,-2,-3,-4 or 4,3,2,1 = 4 counting events.  Measuring time is the same thing.  Ticks.  Even if you went “back in time” you’d still have ticks.  That said, I think most people wonder why we can’t “undo” things.  Why can’t I undo events in my life, unbreak the egg, unswirl the coffee – pick your metaphor.  Even if you put it in complicated math and physics terms you never really get around to “going back in time”.  You can return systems to previous states (likely not completely, but very close to initial states), but in doing so you’ll still have ticks that mark the transition to those previous states.  Those ticks of time aren’t anything more than observational markers.

Ok.  You still want to know why we remember the past but not the future?  Again, another language trick. To remember the future all we need is to experience it.  As soon as we experience it we’ll be able to remember it.  Can we predict the future?  No.  And really we can’t “predict” the past (which is really what we do when we “remember”) like we try to do in anthropology, history, physics, etc.  We can only model based on the accuracy of our data.  We happen to have more data about the past so our “predictions” about what it must of been like with those set of conditions is slightly more accurate than what it will be like under conditions we’ve not yet observed.  (try remembering when you were four.  it’s probably about as accurate as what you think you’ll be at 84)

Sorry folks, there’s no shortcut and their may not even be a philosophical or physical paradox.  Our limitations are related to language and metaphors.  

I’m not suggesting I’ve unraveled the mystery of time or solved quantum physical problems.  My claim is much more straightforward – the language and imagery gets in the way of what’s really going on.

Go back to the question at the top.  It answers itself, in a sense.  If the physical laws work “in either direction of time” and yet we perceive it going forward only.  Our perceptions are a collection of observational ticks (we are always counting/adding to the number of observations, behaviors, memories, predictions, thoughts… go back to my point about time flies when you are having fun.  The more you observe the more time (speed and volume) seems to pass.)

For those that want the good ol’ entropy discussion, read the SCIAM article. 

This logic even works when talking spacetime and all that.

Again, it bears repeating, we have to be careful with the language.  Time is a baggage word.  


p.s. just for fun…

What about time travel?  Is it possible? No.  It basically asks can I reobserve/reexperience the same events or events I haven’t yet experienced.  Doesn’t really make any sense.  People get clever and suppose that it can happen and ask, “What if I met myself?”  It wouldn’t matter.  

You are different now than when you read this post.  Your entire atomic structure is different.  Why would it matter if you existing twice in one “instance of time” when you are never really you from one observational tick to the next?   You can’t be duplicated in spacetime in exactly the same conditions and you certainly can’t be observed in exactly the same way in the same configuration.

Let me bring it home.  Often people say well I can move backwards and forward in space, but not in time.  That’s not really true of space either.  Whether you move 1 meter forward or backwards the arrow of space was still going forward to 1 meter, a tick of distance.  

“yeah, but I can return to a point in space! and I can’t return to a point in time!”

a) no you can’t go back to the exact point in space but I digress (points in space are relative to other points in space…)

b) time is the measure, in most use, of rate of change.  It, too, is relative like space.

c) I have to think about framing this as a “closed system” question where we fix the frame of reference.  Oddly enough, that’s not how we exist in the real universe.  Nothing exists only in one frame of reference.

Time to go.

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ADDED 12:30PM: TPM – Trusted Platform Module – it’s a hardware based cryptology
ADDED 11:45AM: I wanted to share a decent, but somewhat technical, research paper on downloading behavior.

“The SCT view of media behavior suggests that the expected positive and negative outcomes of downloading are important initial causes of behavior. The expected outcomes that users experience at a given point in time should govern both their current behavior and their intentions to perform it in the future. That is, if I expect to save money by downloading music, this expectation will logically be reflected in my current level of downloading activity and also frame my intentions to engage in further downloads from this point forward. “

Follow the consequences.  And to do that you have to correctly identify both the consequences (positive and negative reinforcers), the schedules of those consequences, and the behaviors (i.e. it’s not “theft” like you read in many accounts of “piracy”).

For those thinking about TPM and video game piracy and DRM in general, you have to dig into the science of behavior -100% of piracy deterrent or 100% of profit increase is there.  Forget cryptology and all that.  It’s like arguing the format wars in HD video make a difference.  They don’t.  It’s like thinking your door locks at home keep the bad guys out.  Really, do they?    

Why I like this paper:

  • It uses downloading and sharing rather than piracy as the behavior, which is more accurate to the behavior than piracy, which is a negative baggage word.
  • It uses actual data
  • It can be verified, refuted, retested
Why I don’t like this paper:
  • Social Cognitive Theory is a an unnecessary layer on top of the analysis of behavior
  • It uses a variety of technical terms that don’t add much clarity
  • It could use more data
  • It uses surveys instead of raw usuage (which is sometimes a limitation in social studies…)
Key Conclusions which certainly correlate to my anecdotal and NDA covered studies:
  • A sense of morality has little significant effect on downloading/sharing/piracy behavior
  • Schedules of reinforcement (getting the music/games I like immediately, sharing with others, keep doing what I’ve been doing etc. etc.) explain a major chunk of variability in sharing behavior
  • Social aspect is key – “Sharing music/games/conversation is cool.”
  • Habit – the schedules set in and you lose site of why you started.  “I download because at night that’s what I do vs. I really want this cd”
  • Improved downloading / purchasing experience (better quality downloads and easier to use software) should reduce free sharing (think itunes and amazon mp3s)
  • Pricing doesn’t matter as much as people think


FROM ORIGINAL POST early this morning:

This blurb on slashdot had a higher than average set of comments today.

a) TPM is not directly meant as a DRM facilitator (but it will be overloaded, certainly)

b) Piracy is about behavior not technology.  Stopping piracy can only be done by modifying behavior not through technology. Technology can aid in modifying behavior.  Unfortunately most DRM schemes provide incentive (reinforce) for cracking media/software, not punishment.

c) never say never (or absolutely) in technology, especially DRM.  There are too many variables, and most variables involve non-technical companies, not hackers. Oh, and hackers love the absolutist mantra.

d) our laws, economic policy and business practices are a generation behind our technology and media consumption behavior

e) Piracy Prevention starts with making something people value and pricing it according to that value.  GTAIV didn’t have any profit trouble caused by piracy, nor Halo 3, nor Call of Duty, nor World of Warcraft… is piracy in gaming REALLY keeping developers, publishers and companies from making their profits?

f) Does TPM get in the way of consumer satisfaction?  and, I mean real consumer satisfaction – consumers stop buying because it becomes so annoying.  That remains to be seen but it’s not like Vista (the biggest implementation of TPM to date) makes a strong case for this.

g) TPM adds cost which adds to retail price (licensing cost, manufacturing cost, customer support cost) which gives the consumer more incentive to pirate

Can’t stop piracy. You just can’t.  As long as people don’t want to pay the current price for media and the risk of punishment or losing access isn’t great enough to dissuade them you’ll always have someone trying to crack the DRM schemes.

Then again, we have to ask why media companies insist on DRM efforts.  They must value whatever revenue they think they are losing.  Or do they value something else?

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