Tuesday, January 31, 2023

The Connection Between Cosmic 'White Holes' And Wormholes Now Makes Sense


                                  Artist's depiction of a Worm hole

Following the history of the "worm hole" - or its origin artifact called "the white hole"-  is an interesting exercise in the history of modern cosmology.  Originally, in the late 70s, "white holes" were conceived of as time reversals of black holes, e.g. by popularizers such as John Gribbin ('White Holes- Cosmic Gushers In the Universe', 1977).

In the diagram below, one of the earliest models ca. 1975, the black and white holes represent equally open ‘rips’ in the fabric of space-time.

 The difference is that in the first matter is sucked in (by powerful gravity) and in the second it’s explosively blown out. The wormhole, meanwhile, represents the shortcut through space time linking the two.  

How did this theory - or more accurately, model - come about? The discovery of quasars in the early 1960s, which shook the astronomical world, became the plausible stepping stone to invoke white holes.  How could one explain an object a million times smaller than a normal galaxy but which generated a million times more energy?  The white hole proposal sought to 'kill 2 birds with one stone':  It would explain the prodigious energy output of quasars and also explain what happened to the matter at a black hole's singularity.  

The white hole, then emerged quite naturally out of the mathematical consideration of black holes. It turns out that for a static (non-rotating) black hole the singularity is linked via a 'bridge' to another point in our universe (as depicted in the sketch above). It is then at the white hole that the mass-energy consumed by the black hole would be expected to emerge, but now in the form of the quasar.

 Unfortunately, the main problem for this neat model is that a static black hole is not very realistic. After all, the star was rotating when it underwent collapse to form a black hole, so it should be rotating (though much faster) afterwards. Hence, rotating black holes are the only kind one would expect.

Hence, rotating black holes are far more plausible than static ones. Could a rotating black hole work in place of the static one?  Maybe, but let's be clear that there are fundamental differences between the two types of singularities. For the static black hole the singularity is a single point but for the rotating case it is ring-shaped.  

Now replace the single point with a ring-shaped singularity and what do we expect?  Well, we then get a rotating wormhole which might lead to a number of different places in our universe, and at differing times. It is this feature which ed numerous sci-fi writers to speculate on the possibility of using these as 'short cuts' for future space travelers. Say to get between different parts of the universe, as depicted in the 2014 science fiction film, 'Interstellar', e.g.

The film was terrific but cleverly skirted several problems, including that there is no sure way for any would-be space jockey to navigate to his destination through a wormhole. You could end up in a far different location to that you desired, or worse a totally different time.  (The movie escaped this by inventing the ploy of a genius scientist devising a mathematical basis and computer to control for unwanted destinations.)

Added to this, if black holes exist in the way general relativity leads us to suspect, it is doubtful they can be used as ‘gates’ to enter wormholes and get to another part of the cosmos. The reason is that the enormous gravitational pull exerted by a black hole would rend asunder any object in its vicinity. A space ship, therefore, would be ripped to shreds long before it could enter a black hole.

Finally, the whole theory of white holes has fallen more and more into disfavor. We now since found - by way of more recent observations-  that quasars could simply be the ejected cores of energetic galaxies. So, the same source that powers exploding galaxies, could also power them without invoking anything exotic like white holes.  

We may need popular sci-fi writers and screen writers to finally 'catch up' and realize that massive white holes as well as rotating wormholes are no longer 'in', astronomically speaking.  They were exotic constructs for the time, but as in all aspects of science astrophysics has moved on based on new evidence. (Still we must acknowledge that Stephen Hawking in 1975 did succeed in proving at the quantum level that primordial black holes are indistinguishable from white holes.)  

But what we have now, thanks to more recent astrophysical findings, is the connection between white holes and worm holes now make sense.

See Also:

Friday, January 27, 2023

A Question For International Holocaust Remembrance Day : Can A 21st Century Holocaust Be Averted ?


Photo taken outside the Mauthausen Concentration Camp by Russian soldiers in May, 1945.
              Casing of  DVD documentary about Russian liberation of Auschwitz

"Evil takes place when human bonds are broken, when concrete relationships crumble for the sake of abstract identifications. When we divide the world into sheep and goats, into good and evil, the 'sheep' - the self-proclaimed good- have a tendency to subject the goats to the worst imaginable treatment. In doing so, the sheep's group identity is made stronger, something that forms the basis of new and better identification of 'goats'."  - Lars Sevendsen, 'A Philosophy of Evil'

Today, International Holocaust Remembrance Day-   established by the United Nations in 2005 - it behooves all of us to consider what if anything can be done to prevent an abomination like the Holocaust from ever occurring again. Lars Svendsen's book ('A Philosophy of Evil') is a good place to start because it shows the potential for idealistic evil exists within us all. 

Idealistic evil is that form which emerges when people stop thinking of others as human like themselves and instead put them into abstract brackets, especially of a non-human kind. The Nazis did it when they relegated the Jews in Europe to pests, e.g. rats, even making films to depict them that way. The Hutus in Rwanda did it to the Tutsis - of which they slaughtered over 800,000 -- by comparing them to "cockroaches." This was despite the fact no outside observer could ever find the slightest difference between members of the Hutu and Tutsi tribe, the 'sheep' in this case (the Hutus),  did bracket their opposition as predatory 'takers' and traitors. Unleashing a genocide was merely the next step.

In his trenchant book, Svendsen examines  the doings of Rudolph  Höss  (commandant of Auschwitz concentration camp), Adolf Eichmann and Lt. William Calley - comparing why they did the horrific things they did and noting in each case the common denominator was a failure to be conscious of their deeds or their significance- hence to take any responsibility for them.

For example, Höss, an SS-Obersturmbannführer,  in his autobiography - said he was not to blame and he was merely "following orders". Besides, he insisted, he did not actually herd the Jews into the gas chambers or throw in the Zyklon B gas crystals. He had effectively detached himself from the evil he spawned. Adolf Eichmann in his trial, after being captured by Israeli agents, made similar claims and offered that he was merely a mid-level bureaucrat  - again just following orders- assembling names of Jews into documents for transport. How could he be to blame?

Ditto with Lt. William Calley, who while he didn't participate in a holocaust on the scale of the extermination of the Jews, did participate in a mindless massacre of innocents. As Svendsen observes (p. 177):

"Take another famous example,  namely the massacre at My Lai on March 16, 1968. Lieutenant William L. Calley was commanding officer, and therefore was principally responsible for the massacre which lasted around an hour and a half.  In that time, 507 innocent people were murdered- among them 173 children and 76 infants. Calley alone killed 102 people. The official report read: '128 enemy resisters killed in battle'. For one thing it wasn't 128 killed but 507. For another they weren't 'killed in battle' but slaughtered while helpless. They weren't  'enemy resisters' in the sense of soldiers but ordinary civilians."

 The scene at My Lai, Vietnam after William L. Calley and his troops slaughtered hundreds of innocent civilians.

As Svendsen goes on to note (ibid.):

"In his own mind, Calley was simply following orders and doing what was expected of a good soldier. He couldn't believe his ears when he was accused of mass murder."

In other words, Calley was exactly like Adolf Eichmann in the sense that his "orders" trumped any charge he could have done anything wrong. Thoughts of what he was doing when he ordered the massacre of unarmed villagers went out the window as they did with Eichmann as he assembled 1,000 or 1 million more names for his transports to the gas chambers. Or  Rudolph Höss when he ordered his S.S. commandos to herd 1,000 more Jews into the gas chambers at Birkenau ("Auschwitz 2" the actual  death camp) . As in the case of Eichmann and Calley, Höss' orders from the 3rd Reich High Command trumped any need for him to really THINK of what the hell he was doing.  In each case, whether for Eichmann, Calley or Höss, conscious thought was the first casualty as the killers or killing masterminds were turned into automatons.

Svendsen's point is that none of these evils would have occurred, firstly, had the Jews not been reduced to vermin, and the Vietnamese not been reduced to "gooks". Because each group had been abstractly de-humanized they became 'goats' and hence fodder for extermination, whether in the mass form of the Nazi gas chambers, or in Calley's form of troops slaughtering an imaginary enemy (but real innocents) with their M16s.  As Svendsen noted, "they have said it was wrong to kill but they were in a war."

So war made it all right not to think about what you were doing, whether pulling a gas chamber lever or emptying your clip into a 6 -month old  "enemy" infant.

The saddest element, as Svendsen adds, was that the respective populations of the nations themselves were largely ignorant or in denial of the heinous deeds. The "good Germans" protested that they weren't the ones that committed the crimes, and they didn't know where the death camps were. Also, how could you expect them to help hide the Jews when the Gestapo had its eyes and ears all over?

In the case of Calley's supporters, Svendsen writes (p. 179):

"When Calley was condemned, the White House received 100,000 letters in one day alone, supporting William Calley.  'The Battle Hymn of Lieutenant William Calley'  sold a million copies in a week.  TIME conducted an extensive survey in 1970 where two thirds of Americans said they were not emotionally moved by the massacre, while eighty percent said it was wrong to indict him."

This itself is enough to make a sentient person vomit, including the fact not one of Calley's men saw that they'd done anything amiss. Again, "just following my orders". That one's own countrymen could be so desensitized to the evil committed (and in their country's name) as to be emotionally unaffected and to go so far as to support the perpetrator boggles the mind! But of course if those bodies were merely regarded as "gooks' you could understand why so many in the polls wouldn't give a damn. Hell, it wasn't THEIR kids or wives - say slaughtered by the Chinese. Besides they'd been brainwashed to believe ALL the "gooks" were the enemy (Viet Cong.) 

Svendsen's clear point is that so long as other people, other groups, mean nothing to us - in terms of putting them in abstract categories to hate - we will give no thought to their elimination. When we become unthinking supporters of idealistic evil, we become just as bad as those who perpetrated the evil, whether Rudolph Höss as he had 1.8 million gassed at Auschwitz, or Lt William Calley, as his band of warriors slaughtered 507 innocents at My Lai. 

While the scale of the Calley slaughter of  innocent Vietnamese pales beside the Reich Nazis' slaughter of Jews core lessons apply to both - as well as to the Rwanda genocide. That is, so long as specious popular support remains for these types of criminal mass murderers and their actions the potential for future holocausts exists.  It means, or implies, a blind spot to moral failure and evil exists within us all which can be charged at any time, say if the right fanatic gets into power and manages to pull the right cords. 

What Svendsen argues for - and I do as well - is that we must move beyond the nature of being mere puppets or automatons to become conscious of our acts and with whom we align. We also have to applaud those (like Snowden) who refused to follow orders, given that it is exactly the "order"  template that has repeatedly spawned the worst atrocities in the past 75 years-  whether on the small scale (My Lai) or the large (Auschwitz).

A sad commentary on just how little we have really evolved, but totally relevant to whether we can avert a 21st century holocaust.  As George Santayana put it: "Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it."

See Also:




Thursday, January 26, 2023

Asteroid 2023 BU To 'Graze' Earth This Evening


                               How close will asteroid 2023 BU really get to Earth?

This just in compliments of NASA:  An asteroid tagged "2023 BU" and the size of a "delivery truck" (28 feet across) is scheduled  to "graze" our planet in a matter of hours.  According to the space jockeys, we're looking at a passage of just 3,500 km (2,200 miles) above Earth's surface (defined technically as a "graze") given it's barely 1/3 Earth's diameter at 5:27 Mountain standard time.  That puts it at about 4 1/2  hours from the time I am typing this in Colorado Springs, NASA estimated.   According to NASA this is expected to be one of the closest approaches by a near-Earth object on record.  

The good news?  It's not expected to actually strike our planet, although even if it did we are not facing a "planet killer" such as wiped out the dinosaurs.  That asteroid was nearly 1 km across, splattered into the then Gulf of Mexico and created an impact wave almost 1,200 ft. high. The worst that can happen is the object "would turn into a fireball and largely disintegrate harmlessly in the atmosphere.” 

The bigger pieces, scientists say, would then likely rain down as meteorites.  But having had the experience in Barbados some 37 years ago (the Mt. Tenantry object) some of those meterorites could be the size of small (~  0.2 m) boulders. So heads up!

Again, “There is no risk of the asteroid impacting Earth,” NASA said, and I suspect we can take the space jockeys at their word.  In any case, if it does break up in our atmosphere it ought to provide quite a fireworks show!

See  Also:

Retiring to Colorado? New Study Shows You'll Need A Nest Egg Of At Least $1 Million


                                       Traffic on I-25  near Denver not long ago. 

As I've written in earlier posts, thousands continue to move to the state of Colorado each year looking for something different from their own - especially on retiring.  In my own county (El Paso)  3,200 move here on average a year.  Colorado added 26,489 new residents in 2021 while last year 27,717 new folks moved here.

 Most of the newcomers are unaware the available water resources don't support the influx. Many are also shocked to find out the economy won't support a sustainable life style.

According to Prof. Tony Robinson, who chairs the political science department at the University of Colorado- Denver:

 "The Rocky Mountain West was not meant to be a highly populated area. There simply is not enough water in the West to sustain the kind of growh rates going on."

 Why then do so many people - especially looking for a place to retire - want to move to Colorado? Well, because of the majestic mountain scenery,  e.g.

                          Approaching Twin Lakes in Colorado  - scenic drive

which admittedly isn't as crisp as it used to be thanks to too much pollution from places like the Suncor refinery, e.g.

Cold Weather Triggers Another Suncor Pollution Event - Just Before The Holidays 

And, of course, we oldsters are getting a lot of the blame for growth too. According to the same D. Post report from a few years ago, quoting Lieutenant Governor Donna Lynne:

"Even though people talk a lot about the influx of millennials, the population that is really growing and that we're really concerned about is the over-65 population."

The report goes on to state that between 2000 and 2025 the number of people retiring in the state is expected to increase by 74 percent.   This compares to a projected 27 percent increase in the work force over the same period.  Then warning:

"By 2030, the state's senior population is expected to increase by 508,000 or 68 percent over current levels."

But any of these folks coming, I mean the over 65 set, had better have a 'ton' of money, I am talking about at least $1 million saved in addition to the Social Security they may be receiving (and that would be before Social Security is reduced by 2035 unless congress acts to bolster it.)

According to a new study from LendingTree  the average amount a retiree receives in Social Security payments ($25,504), and their average annual spending ($58,992) they'd need to earn $75,245 a year before taxes.  (And I'm assuming they can afford the average home cost in most Colorado communities, of a half million.) retirement portfolio would need to provide $49,741 to meet that demand.  Following the 4% rule withdrawal from portfolio rule, a Denver area retiree would need to set aside $1,243,532 at the time of retirement.   

Thinking of moving to a less expensive Colorado community? Think again. The same study found that a retirement nest egg of $1.16 million was needed in Boulder; $1.08 million would work here in Colorado Springs; $1.12 million in Fort Collins; $1.02 in Grand Junction, and $1.09 million in Greeley. The only metro area in Colorado with a nest egg requirement below $1 million was Pueblo at $943,742.  But given the short housing supply and hundreds of people searching for homes there they can't afford here in the Springs, I'd wager they still need a million or more to make it- even in Pueblo.

The lack of housing, creating a shortage of supply throughout Colorado, has radically driven up costs even forcing many who'd moved to Denver to look for housing 67 miles away in Colorado Springs. So now our housing prices have been shooting up too. (We regularly receive up to two notices a week from realtors begging to buy our place "on the spot, hard cash".  Of course, we just laugh and tear them up. Selling our place even for "hard cash"  would then put us behind the eight ball to get any new place, especially now with current high interest rates.

Thinking of retiring soon?  Best to look beyond Colorado, or if you do intend to come make sure you have that $1 million plus you will need to live here, especially to buy that new home.  And be reminded there are also limits being placed on new developments precisely because of this state's water supply problems thanks to a 20+ year, once in a millennium drought. 

See Also:

New Home Tracts Closed To City Water Access In The Springs? Yes, For Now - Given Limited Water Supply 

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Now It's Pence With Classified Files? How Long Before Media Geniuses Figure Out Over-Classification Is The Problem?


"There are nearly five million people right now with security clearance who have access to classified documents.  So many that the national security bureaucracy can't keep track of them or how they handle the files." - Jameel Jaffer, Columbia Univ. executive editor of 'Just Security'. last night on All In

Newsflash! Newsflash!  Here's the latest in the corporo-media's classified documents "scandal": Now former Trump VP Mike Pence's Indiana home has been found to have harbored a set of such.  Holy shit! And right on top of the Biden docs findings! Will wonders never cease?  Or better: Will the corporate media ever get over its classified docs findings obsession?  

Greg Jacob, a designated representative for Pence’s vice-presidential records, said Pence gave permission for the FBI to collect the classified documents from his home Jan. 19 while the former vice president was in Washington to attend the March for Life, the yearly gathering of antiabortion fanatics. Jacob stated he would deliver the boxes in which those documents were found, along with other vice-presidential papers, to the National Archives on Jan. 23.  IN other words, he's fully cooperating like Joe Biden's lawyers and reps did. 

According to Jacob: “On Monday, January 16, following press reports of classified documents at the personal home of President Biden,  Vice President Pence out of an abundance of caution, engaged outside counsel. " They had experience "with handling classified documents, and were charged with reviewing records stored in his personal home."

In a letter dated Jan. 18, Jacob also wrote:

 “Counsel identified a small number of documents that could potentially contain sensitive or classified information interspersed throughout the records.”

He was in the process of notifying Congress on Tuesday, according to spokesman Devin O’Malley, who said no classified documents were found at the offices of Pence’s organization Advancing American Freedom.

Further, Pence had been unaware that the documents were at his home and is “ready and willing to cooperate fully,” Jacob wrote. According to a Jan. 22 letter to the Archives, Jacob said four boxes contained “copies of Administration papers: the two boxes in which a small number of papers appearing to bear classified markings had been found, and two separate boxes containing courtesy copies of Vice Presidential papers.”

Any of this sound familiar? Maybe like a broken record over the past few weeks?  If not, maybe you've been hiding under a rock. This is because this latest discovery of classified files at Pence’s home comes as President Biden has faced criticism over classified documents found at his home in Wilmington, Del., and a separate think tank office. As I noted in a previous post, e.g.

Critical Thinking Debacle: Comparing Biden Files Case To Trump's Intentional Malfeasance & Obstruction

 All this non-newsworthy nonsense began with a "scoop" (sic) by CBS' cub journalist Adriana Diaz who set off a political firestorm by her reporting about classified docs being found at Joe Biden's Delaware  residence and his think tank (Penn-Biden Center).  The idiotic story grew legs in the clueless media had the unfortunate effect of setting off a 24/7 feeding frenzy over nothing.  This is given the retained Biden classified files were clearly mishandled, carelessly left at x, y, z places. By contrast, Trump actively obstructed retrieval by the National Archives and FBI, as well as and lied about their existence and his possession of them. Night and day difference yet the bonehead pundits often conflated the two.

As hysterical or apoplectic some may get, - believing Biden deserves the same scrutiny as Trump - that is bullshit. Plain and simple. The reason is Biden and his lawyers have been totally upfront and cooperated immediately turning the found docs over to the National Archives. Also fully cooperating with the DOJ in its having the FBI search his premises, as well appointing a special counsel (Hur) to investigate.

I expect Pence will cooperate in exactly the same way, but it was delicious - as Chris Hayes noted on ALL In last night - seeing Pence insist (in an earlier ABC interview with David Muir) that 'Oh no!' he'd never have kept any classified stuff. Not like Biden.  Even the fiends at FOX were upset given they couldn't get any mileage out of this one. 

But this brings up the next question, as Chris Hayes posed:  "Will Garland now appoint a THIRD special counsel to investigate Pence's handling of classified files?"  Also, Hayes played a clip of GOP Rep. Don Bacon asking for Garland to appoint a 3rd special counsel.

Are we now entering the ultimate classified docs clown show?  What next? Will similar files be found at Obama's residences, at Bush Jr's, at Bill Clinton's?  Where does it end?  Can the media finally get it through its dense collective skull that accidentally retaining documents or even mishandling is not the issue?

The Columbia University executive editor of 'Just Security' (Jameel Jaffer) featured on ALL In  last night. made it clear a large part of the problem is that we have a "broken classification system".  In his own words, relating the mess to Hayes:  

"The mere fact something is classified doesn't tell you very much, even if it's top secret. All sorts of stuff gets classified at the highest level that shouldn't be classified. Maybe it was at one point, but shouldn't be any more since so much time has passed to be of national security importance.  Or maybe the government found it convenient to classify it or would be embarrassed if it got out. But that has nothing to do with national security."  

Thus, the core problem in all this brouhaha then, is the overclassification of documents. According to Jaffer nearly FIVE million people in the U.S., including government contractors,   now have access to classified documents - and all the way up those labeled Top Secret.  This vast constellation with classified document access means by its nature there are a multiplicity of ways for such files to be misplaced, mishandled or - classified when they shouldn't be.  The outcome is billions of classified files which simply overwhelm what has become a "broken system".   

When Chris Hayes tried to analogize the national security bureaucracy system of keeping classified documents to a typical library system "which tracks the books you took out wherever you are", Jaffer just smiled and made his comment about how the former is totally broken and can't possibly keep up with the documents that now exist.  So it is inevitable  that there will be files mislaid, misplaced, mishandled and he believes that applies fully to the Biden and Pence cases. However in the case of Trump: 

"He retained files that weren't his, lied about it and interfered with the Justice Department getting possession. Even over years."

As I wrote in a WSJ comment yesterday after the Pence files fiasco was published:

As noted in an earlier comment I posted, since the lowering of classified file standards in the 70s there are now literally billions of classified documents and most are not kept track of. In any case it is the  appointed presidential or VP’s aides'; responsibility to monitor document location, disposition.  A president (or VP) t be expected to do that and do his/her job. The media's drip, drip, drips; reporting of found Biden files is ignorant and plain stupid given that even the conservative WSJ (8 days ago) reported they were usually left after a rush owing to a change in administrations “as often occurs".  

So this isn';t news just more media BS.  Until a rigorous QA process is imposed we can expect more incidents like happened to Biden and Pence, but these are still not the same as Trump’s willful malfeasance and obstruction.  False equivalence reporting by much of the media does no one any good, least of all citizens.

I stand by that and hope in the wake of the Pence classified docs finding the media finally pulls its collective head out of its ass and goes on to recognize the issue is the shameful over-classification of files and their access to more than one percent of the U.S. population. If the talking heads and reporters can do that I might take them seriously.  

See Also:

by Ted Rall | January 25, 2023 - 5:58am | permalink


The worst handler of confidential documents? The Supreme Court.


President Biden and his lawyers have taken their lumps about the piecemeal discovery of classified documents at Biden’s residence and former private office. All but the most dishonest MAGA politicians and their media enablers can tell this bears about as much resemblance to the Mar-a-Lago scandal as does the common cold to a massive heart attack. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Changing One's Personality? Totally A Fool's Errand Given Our Brain Structure


            The brain creates the illusion of a stable self (personality) via its neural processes

The WSJ article ('Changing Personality – Start Small', Jan. 11, p. A11) got my attention given I've been trying to do so for over 50 years.  Also the "start small" tweak appeared to be a novel recommendation. According to the piece, we are informed:

"Now, a body of research by personality psychologists shows that we can change our personality, that many of us want to, and that we’re often happier when we do. A key is to start small. Use your strengths to change your weaknesses and fake it until you make it."

But is "faking it" really going to work given it means adopting what is essentially a false persona to get the job done?  The very notion actually confirms and reinforces Julian Baggini's point (see below) that the brain creates the illusion of a stable self as a singular unified entity.  

To clarify the concept of personality itself, the WSJ author writes :

Personality” is a broad umbrella term for a characteristic pattern of thoughts, feelings and behaviors that people take with them across situations and time. It includes our skills and abilities, goals, motivations and traits. These traits, which are typically adjectives, such as calm, curious or caring, are what most people think of when they hear the word personality. Researchers categorize personality traits into five groupings, known as the Big Five: openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. Each of us has all five of these types of traits. But we each have different levels of them."

The 'trick' then is to work on the given levels, tweaking each in small ways, "similar to trying to lose weight", according to Nathan Hudson, a psychology prof at SMU.  But given most people who have BMIs over 30 seldom lose weight, no matter what they try, this seems a losing proposition. And a terrible analogy. But then the article cites Brent Roberts a "personality researcher"  at Univ. of Illinois Urbana-Champaign who informs us many already have changed personalities on getting a first job, i.e.

"When people start their first job, they typically become more conscientious, emotionally stable and—yes—agreeable,"

True, but what happens after they lose it Then the next, and the next?  Might their personality still remain "agreeable"? Emotionally stable? I doubt it.

Julian Baggini argues (The Ego Trick) that there is no single unified entity or part of a human being that exists as a "personality", a stable "him" or "her". Nothing which can be uniquely pinpointed, though we entertain the illusion of a self thanks to a creative trick of the brain. Basically what we call "personality" is just the assembly of past memory and events and one's reactions to them which are then incorporated as a tentative psychological template.  If those memories leave or our reactions to them change, so does the personality.   Does an Alzheimer's patient have a personality? Baggini and I would argue emphatically 'No'.  He might have had a facsimile of a self at one time but once his memories were extirpated by the disease that self ceased to exist - as did any illusory personality attributed to it. 

"Changing personality"  then actually amounts to playing small tricks on one's own brain (as even the author concedes) to get it to use its neural resources to confabulate - if only briefly - a semi-stable "newer" self - or the illusion of such. That such confabulation of a newer self might make us "happier" is still arguable.

One's brain, body and memories all play a part in "constructing" the Self, according to Baggini, but there is no particular structure which confers identity. All of which means the concept of Self is totally fluid, and the notion of a stable personality amounts to psychological codswallop.  If we have learned anything since the age of Freud it's that we ought not treat the Self as if it's fixed. The Self I am today, for example, is not the Self that I was twenty or thirty years ago, and this goes far beyond mere physical changes. As a results of my collection of unique experiences over decades long interludes I am a different self.  Indeed, looking back at my antics and beliefs, attitudes now compared to when I was a 21-year old living in the Big Easy, I am flabbergasted to say the least.  Just spotting some old images of me at parties makes me wince and my jaw drop, e.g.

Is that really me with that Bourbon on the rocks making those insane faces?  Well, the photo doesn't lie but now some 55 years later it still leaves me in stark disbelief.  But that image embodies the point I am making here along with Julian Baggini. That is, the character captured in that image no longer exists and the psychological beliefs, attitudes he exhibited then are no longer part of the self-assembly package that exists now. 

This is also important to bear in mind in terms of the fragility of the self. For example, a brain tumor or Alzheimer's can destroy the self, by virtue of eliminating vast memory troves as well as cognitive ability.  Janice's cousin Desmond was once a man of quick wit and endless curiosity, especially about astronomy and cosmic physics. When I saw Desmond in 2003 at the family vacation beach house, we had a long  conversation and debate about the mass limits of stellar black holes and also the estimated mass of the galaxy-gobbling black hole at the center of the Milky Way

                            Desmond in 2003 before Alzheimer's wrecked his brain.

Merely seven years later, he was reduced to a hollow shell, his earlier intellectual persona replaced by a man-baby babbling nonsense syllables. He could barely recall even basic events, far less engage in a conversation about dark energy, cosmic expansion or stellar black holes

However, as Baggini notes - and I observed-  certain emotions, such as grief, might still be recognizable in the same person, irrespective of brain deformity or damage. Since each 'Self draft' is capable of recalling the previous ones (as I recall my earlier New Orleans days), this capacity is what confers an essential sense unity of self and stability.  But it is all an illusion.

Baggini, in his book,  follows the model of philosopher Derek Parfit in describing the unity of the Self as being achieved by a trick called "the ego trick". That is, constructing such a strong sense of connectedness and continuity out of disparate memories and experiences in a brain with no single command center. The trick, as he notes, works so well that many are fooled into believing some little controller actually sits behind the eyes and pulls the strings for action!

Baggini then argues that while we as walking brains are matter, we are not "just" matter. In other words, we can't describe ourselves fully with only the vocabulary of physics. One needs to invoke psychological concepts too, because of the immaterial nature of our consciousness. Therefore, we need to accept that thoughts and feelings emerge from the matter of which our brains are constructed. In other words, he is an "emergent materialist". Thus, your mind is not your brain, but rather it's what your brain does. If your brain doesn't do anything then your mind can't exist, at least for that time.

In the end, Baggini succeeds in showing there are three interactive and mutually compatible modes for selfhood, dependent on: 1) the physical body as a self, 2) our assorted memory collections which recall the evolution and tendencies of a Self, and 3) a more traditional selfhood criterion. Each captures part of the truth and each in its way helps to constitute the whole truth.

Since, of course, the self can change so readily, we can see it is somewhat ridiculous to hold it to some firm account for what it may have said or thought earlier.  In my condition -  in that photo above- could I be held responsible for anything I said to my blonde companion?  I doubt it.  (Even omiting the fact I may have been slightly inebriated). Was anything I said in that state a "lie" because some contradiction appeared to have occurred later in what was said or done ? Only if the complainant could show that my self is a fixed entity and not subject to the changes, neurological morphing I cited above!

Can we change our personality?  Only if we believe in the myth that we are stable and unique selves as opposed to subtle confections of our brains that took a jumble of neuronal paths and assembled them into a unity.  Or as Baggini puts it (p. 123): 

 "Generations of thinkers have gone wrong in thinking we needed to postulate a unified core self to account for the unity of self-experience.  In fact such 'unity' is not a cause but an effect of a remarkably disunified, bundle-like system."

Weight, its loss or gain then, has nothing to do with a person's purported personality change.  Since the latter is based on a disunified, unquantifiable 'bundle-like' conglomerate not susceptible to alteration - since it has no firm identity. People will still amuse themselves by playing parlor games about changing their personality, but it's all in the realm of a virtual fantasy.

 See Also: