(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘rules

“No law of nature, however general, has been established all at once; its recognition has always been preceded by many presentiments.”*…

Laws of nature are impossible to break, and nearly as difficult to define. Just what kind of necessity do they possess?

… The natural laws limit what can happen. They are stronger than the laws of any country because it is impossible to violate them. If it is a law of nature that, for example, no object can be accelerated from rest to beyond the speed of light, then it is not merely that such accelerations never occur. They cannot occur.

There are many things that never actually happen but could have happened in that their occurrence would violate no law of nature. For instance, to borrow an example from the philosopher Hans Reichenbach (1891-1953), perhaps in the entire history of the Universe there never was nor ever will be a gold cube larger than one mile on each side. Such a large gold cube is not impossible. It just turns out never to exist. It’s like a sequence of moves that is permitted by the rules of chess but never takes place in the entire history of chess-playing. By contrast, if it is a law of nature that energy is never created or destroyed, then it is impossible for the total energy in the Universe to change. The laws of nature govern the world like the rules of chess determine what is permitted and what is forbidden during a game of chess, in an analogy drawn by the biologist T H Huxley (1825-95).

Laws of nature differ from one another in many respects. Some laws concern the general structure of spacetime, while others concern some specific inhabitant of spacetime (such as the law that gold doesn’t rust). Some laws relate causes to their effects (as Coulomb’s law relates electric charges to the electric forces they cause). But other laws (such as the law of energy conservation or the spacetime symmetry principles) do not specify the effects of any particular sort of cause. Some laws involve probabilities (such as the law specifying the half-life of some radioactive isotope). And some laws are currently undiscovered – though I can’t give you an example of one of those! (By ‘laws of nature’, I will mean the genuine laws of nature that science aims to discover, not whatever scientists currently believe to be laws of nature.)

What all of the various laws have in common, despite their diversity, is that it is necessary that everything obey them. It is impossible for them to be broken. An object must obey the laws of nature…

But although all these truisms about the laws of nature sound plausible and familiar, they are also imprecise and metaphorical. The natural laws obviously do not ‘govern’ the Universe in the way that the rules of chess govern a game of chess. Chess players know the rules and so deliberately conform to them, whereas inanimate objects do not know the laws of nature and have no intentions.

Scientists discover laws of nature by acquiring evidence that some apparent regularity is not only never violated but also could never have been violated. For instance, when every ingenious effort to create a perpetual-motion machine turned out to fail, scientists concluded that such a machine was impossible – that energy conservation is a natural law, a rule of nature’s game rather than an accident. In drawing this conclusion, scientists adopted various counterfactual conditionals, such as that, even if they had tried a different scheme, they would have failed to create a perpetual-motion machine. That it is impossible to create such a machine (because energy conservation is a law of nature) explains why scientists failed every time they tried to create one.

Laws of nature are important scientific discoveries. Their counterfactual resilience enables them to tell us about what would have happened under a wide range of hypothetical circumstances. Their necessity means that they impose limits on what is possible. Laws of nature can explain why something failed to happen by revealing that it cannot happen – that it is impossible.

We began with several vague ideas that seem implicit in scientific reasoning: that the laws of nature are important to discover, that they help us to explain why things happen, and that they are impossible to break. Now we can look back and see that we have made these vague ideas more precise and rigorous. In doing so, we found that these ideas are not only vindicated, but also deeply interconnected. We now understand better what laws of nature are and why they are able to play the roles that science calls upon them to play.

What is a Law of Nature?,” Marc Lange explains in @aeonmag.

* Dmitri Mendeleev (creator of the Periodic Table)


As we study law, we might send inquisitive birthday greetings to Federico Cesi; he was born on this date in 1585. A scientist and naturalist, he is best remembered as the founder of the Accademia dei Lincei (Lincean Academy), often cited as the first modern scientific society. Cesi coined (or at least was first to publish/disseminate) the word “telescope” to denote the instrument used by Galileo– who was the sixth member of the Lincean Academy.


“Some people have a way with words, and other people…oh, uh, not have way”*…


A few times each decade, the number of acceptable Scrabble words grows. Some sixty-five hundred new words—“lolz,” “shizzle,” and “blech” among them—will officially enter one of the two major competitive Scrabble lexicons on September 1st of this year. The grumbling that results when a word list lengthens is not so much about the inclusion of obscene or offensive words—though a cleaned-up list was controversially published in 1996, after someone protested the inclusion of “jew” as a verb. Instead, it is more about the growing divide between two Scrabble communities: North America and everywhere else…

The history of everyone’s favorite word game– and an explanation of the controversy roiling it today– at “The battle over Scrabble’s dictionaries.”

* Steve Martin


As we reach for a triple-letter double-word combo, we might recall that, while February 23rd, 1455 is the traditionally-given date of the publication of the Gutenberg Bible, the first Western book printed from movable type, the first evidence-based date is this date in 1456: the copy in the Bibliothèque nationale de France contains a note from the binder establishing the time of its publication.

(The Jikji— the world’s oldest known extant movable metal type printed book– was published in Korea in 1377.  Bi Sheng created the first known moveable type– out of wood– in China in 1040.)



Written by (Roughly) Daily

August 24, 2015 at 1:01 am

“I think it’s wrong that only one company makes the game Monopoly”*…


The game Monopoly was created in the early 1930s as “The Landlord Game” by a Quaker anxious to illuminate the dangers of unbridled acquisitiveness.  But by 1935, when it was acquired by Parker Bros., it had been copied, re-titled, and remade into the paean to aspirational capitalism that’s been a huge success ever since.

But times have changed; the methods of wealth accumulation have morphed…  and now there is a new set of rules to reflect this new reality.

It would be hard to simplify capitalism further than Monopoly. The game attempts to express the ruthlessness of raw capitalism by declaring that whoever has the most money at the “end” is the winner. While it’s true our culture proclaims the rich as our greatest heroes, the method of financial gain in Monopoly is not a system that allows for any creativity. Roll the dice, buy a property, pay rent, pass go, and collect $200. Repeat.

Simple models have long been used to help understand complex ideas. With a few small changes Monopoly can be a space where we can play at being in control of the economic system. All it takes is a few new rules.

Rule Change #1: The Banker

In the original rules the role of the banker is simply a chore–the board game equivalent of taking out the trash. But in real life the banker is no passive entity. The banker is the center of the universe.

The Libor scandal, the UBS money laundering scandal, the SAC Capital scandal, FINRA suing Wells Fargo and Bank of America, TD Bank paying to settle charges of a ponzi scheme, Galleon Group’s insider trading scandal. This list could go on. The point is that banking is
exciting work!

The role of the banker is special. The banker should have no piece on the Monopoly board, but this person is in charge of the bank’s money. The success of the banker is judged the same as any other player: Whoever accumulates the most wealth is the winner. Of course, as in life, the banker has some advantages (like control of all the money)…

Read the rest of the new rules at “Rethinking the game of Monopoly“…  then roll the dice.

Playing this version of Monopoly won’t help you understand the details of a banking scandal. But you’ll have experience with a simplified model of the financial system that generates regular “scandals.” A game where arguing and backstabbing are part of the rules and the winner is hard to determine. This simple model recreates the same results found in the real world.

* Stephen Wright


As we wonder why no one’s done time, we might recall that it was on this date in 1882 that the San Francisco Stock and Bond Exchange was formed;  it later merged with with Los Angeles Oil Exchange to become the Pacific Stock Exchange.  In 1999 it became the first stock exchange in the U.S. to demutualize, and in 2003, closed its trading floors and went to electronic transactions. The PSX, as it was known, merged into the New York Stock Exchange in 2006.

The San Francisco home of the Pacific Stock Exchange from 1930 to 2003


Written by (Roughly) Daily

June 5, 2014 at 1:01 am

From the Department of Fantasy Fulfillment…

Patrick Combs actually did something that most of us have only imagined doing:  he deposited one of the phony, “not negotiable” checks included in the junkmail that swells our recycling… And the check cleared.

As he explains in the Financial Times,

It was a cheque, made out in my name, for $95,093.35 and it came in a junk-mail letter from a get-rich-quick company. It was worthless, meant only as a financial tease, a lip-licking come-on. “This is how much money you could soon be making.” What it was never meant for was deposit. But that’s exactly what made the thought of depositing it so irresistibly funny. What could possibly be funnier than depositing a perfectly ridiculous, obviously false, fake cheque? (Did I mention it had “non-negotiable” clearly written on it?) So, as a joke, I deposited the fake cheque into my bank’s ATM. I felt like a million bucks doing so. I’d never had so much fun at my bank. Come to think of it, I’d never had any fun at my bank until the moment I endorsed the back of this “cheque” with a smiley face and slipped the Monopoly-like money into the mouth of the hungry ATM. For the first time ever, I walked away from my bank laughing.

What I expected to happen next was a short phone call from my bank. Or a letter informing me of what I already knew, that the cheque I deposited was not real. Admittedly, I also hoped for a compliment on my refined sense of humour. A “Mr Combs, what you deposited was not real but very funny, especially considering your real bank account balance history” (an account always bouncing into overdraft).

But the call or the letter never came and I forgot about my joke. Then, five days later, I returned to withdraw some cash from the ATM, and noticed a much higher than usual bank balance. $95,093.35 higher! The bank had credited my account with the fake, false, stupid cheque!…

Vicariously live the good life at the FT, or here— or see Patrick’s one-man show, “Man 1, Bank 0.”


As we reconsider those sweepstakes mailings, we might spare a carefully-regulated thought for Edmond “According to…” Hoyle; he died on this date in 1769.  An expert on whist– all the rage in the 18th Century– Hoyle tutored members of high society on the game.  He converted his notes into a books, which became a best seller, then moved on to other games (backgammon, piquet, chess, and quadrille).  Hoyle never actually wrote an encyclopedic rule book.  But as his name had become synonymous with canonical reference, “Hoyle’s Rules of Games” became a standard title (as “Webster’s” later did in the lexicographical sphere), and “according to Hoyle” passed into use as a testament to its subject’s adherence to rules or concordance with highest authority.


Written by (Roughly) Daily

August 29, 2012 at 1:01 am

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