Chasing Good Intentions With Bad Physics

Posted in Life with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 12, 2018 by virtuoid

Comedian Joe Rogan interviewed physicist Amit Goswami in his 334th podcast (here).  In the two-and-a-half hour interview, Dr. Goswami shares his views about what quantum mechanics teaches us about human consciousness and reality.  He echoes the likes of Deepak Chopra and many others who use quantum mechanical concepts to support their belief in the supernatural (or at least, the super-normal).

Many, including Joe, find this worldview appealing.  The average person may not understand the details, or even really care to, so popularizers of such worldviews can get away with a considerable amount of sloppy, scientific-sounding ideas.  Then again, quantum mechanics itself can be rather nonsensical, as Nobel laureate physicist Richard Feynman said, “I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.”  Niels Bohr, one of the founding architects of quantum mechanics, said something similar:  “Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it.”  In fact, in the interview, both Joe and Dr. Goswami quote them on this point, though they used the quotes to justify sloppy thinking about what quantum mechanics really says.  Spreading nonsense about what is nonsensical does not help advance the state of our search for truth.

A Non-Local Consciousnesses Entered A Bar …

For example, in the interview, Dr. Goswami tries to explain to Joe how human consciousness has supposedly been shown to be non-local.  According to classical physics, which applies to macroscopic (non-quantum) objects, all physical phenomenon is local, that is, the speed of physical communication is limited to that of light.  Think of physical signals such as sound waves for verbal communication (which travel at a snail’s pace compared to the speed of light), digital electronic pulses for landline phones and the internet (which travel nearly the speed of light), and radio waves for cellphones and laser pulses through fiber optic cables (which travel at the speed of light).  But if something is non-local, it can communicate across time and space without limit, potentially instantaneously to the farthest reaches of the universe, as well as backward and forward in time, without need of any physical signal, perhaps with just a thought as if by magic.  To say human consciousness is non-local is to say it can communicate instantaneously by non-physical means.

To support why he believes human consciousness is non-local, Dr. Goswami describes how certain quantum mechanical systems behave, hand-waving away the details as probably too complicated and uninteresting to Joe’s audience.  However what he did try to explain was at times inaccurate, misleading, and simply incorrect.  It is one thing to simplify complicated theories and experiments to make them more understandable to the general public, but quite another to misrepresent scientific findings to legitimize mystical beliefs.  To understand the truth about some of his points, let us first gain an appreciation of how entangled photons actually behave quantum mechanically.

Einstein Gets Bohr’d

First a brief history lesson.  Even though Albert Einstein was one of the founders of quantum mechanics, he refused to believe to his dying day it is a complete theory, because it is inherently probabilistic, and he couldn’t believe God plays with dice.  In a famous series of public debates, he argued against Neils Bohr, a strong proponent of quantum theory, whom we quoted earlier.  Einstein and his team would propose arguments to poke holes in the new theory, and Bohr and his team would refute each in turn.

One of Einstein’s thought experiments went as follows:  Imagine two photons which are entangled (Dr. Goswami prefers to use the term “correlated”), that is, created in such a way the laws of conservation require them to have properties dependent on each other.  For example, one conservation law says the total spin (imagine a spinning top, but only as an analogy) of a system must be conserved.  This means if a system starts out with a total spin of zero, where nothing as a whole is spinning, then the final total spin of the system after any reaction must still add up to zero.  So, starting with an atom which initially has a spin of zero, two photons which are emitted by the atom as a result of a reaction must have opposite spins, say, spin up (+1) and spin down (-1), to conserve the total spin of the system (0+1-1=0).  In this way, the spins of the entangled photons are correlated, and upon measuring the spin of one, you will instantly know the spin of the other.  To keep this discussion simple and focus on the key concept, I’m intentionally leaving out some technical details, such as how the measurements are performed.

Here is where Einstein gets clever.  Take these two entangled photons and separate them over a vast distance, way beyond which they can communicate by the speed of light within the timeframe of the experiment.  For example, put them in two separate galaxies millions of light years apart (a light year is the distance it takes light to traverse in a year), so millions of years would be required for information to be classically transferred between them.  Never mind how you managed to accomplish this, since this is just a thought experiment meant to help bring out our intuition on the essence of a problem.

Now measure the spin of one of the photons.  If the result of the measurement is spin up, then at the same moment, you know with absolute certainty the other photon millions of light years away must have spin down, since the photons are entangled.

If photons behaved classically in the above example, there would be no violation of locality, because each one has a definite spin the moment they were created.  As an example, at the moment they were created, photon 1 definitely has spin up, and photon 2 definitely has spin down.  So, after their spins are finally measured millions of light years apart, no information needs to travel from one to “tell” the other what spin it should have:  they both had definite spins all the while from the start.

However if photons behave quantum mechanically, neither photon actually has a definite spin until they are measured.  Before the measurement, only probabilities for the spin exist.  As an example, each photon may have a 50/50 chance of being spin up, meaning after 100 measurements, on average 50 times the spin would be up, while the other 50 times, down, like the odds of flipping a fair coin.  The catch is, whatever the spin of one of the photon is measured to be, because the two photons are entangled, the spin of the other photon must be the opposite at the same instant in time.  Even if they are millions of light years apart when the measurement occurred!  So how did one photon “tell” the other its spin has to be the other way if physical communication between them could not occur?  The entangled photons appear to violate locality.

The analogy of flipping coins is helpful.  Replace the 2 photons with 2 coins.  If a pair of entangled photons behaved classically, they would be like 2 coins prepared to always have opposite sides (one heads, one tails) before they were separated.  Once they are millions of light years apart, you finally see one of them is heads, so you know instantaneously the other is tails.  There is no magic here, since their states of heads or tails was fixed from the start.

In contrast, if a pair of entangled photons behaved quantum mechanically, measuring their spins would be like flipping two coins millions of light years apart from the other, and when one coin comes up heads, the other must (must!) come up tails.  If the coins were flipped at the same time, since no physical signal could have communicated the information to the other, which by their separation distance would have taken at least millions of years by the speed of light, then the information somehow transferred instantaneously.  Non-locallyMagically.

Note another semi-classical, semi-quantum possibility:  flip the coins millions of light years apart, one coin comes up heads, but it takes millions of years for the information to travel through their separation distance to “tell” the other coin it must be tails.  In this scenario, we illustrate both the probabilistic nature of quantum mechanics, and we also preserve locality, since the speed of communication is limited to that of light.  This would certainly be an odd state of affairs, since either coin could be flipped at any time, but whether its counterpart comes up heads or tails would be in limbo for millions of years awaiting the information to finally arrive.  The absurdity of this outcome suggests it could not in fact happen.

Einstein proposed this clever little thought experiment to argue quantum mechanics must be incomplete, because thanks to his special theory of relativity, he understood the speed of light to be the ultimate speed limit of information transfer.  The classical universe governed by special relativity is local.  Locality appears to be violated by the entangled photons in the thought experiment, and thus quantum mechanics must be missing something.  The thought experiment is a proof by contradiction, whereby assuming something is true (entangled photons behave quantum mechanically), we show what follows is false (information can travel faster than the speed of light, violating special relativity), and thus the original assumption must be false.  Bohr had to concede to Einstein quantum mechanics must then violate locality, however counter-intuitive that may seem.  To Einstein, this “spooky action at a distance” is ludicrous.  To Bohr, it is a necessarily true aspect of the quantum realm.

It took many decades before physicists could actually put Einstein’s thought experiment to the test in the laboratory.  Soon after theorist John Bell recast the essence of the argument in a statistical formulation, now known as the Bell’s Inequality Theorem, physicists developed the technical skill to test it.  To date, every experiment testing Bell’s Inequality Theorem supports the non-local nature of entangled quantum mechanical systems.  Einstein was wrong:  quantum mechanics is not missing something, and locality can be violated.  (Ref:  Bell’s Test Experiments, Wikipedia.)

That is the actual physics.

Bad Physics

In the interview, Dr. Goswami misrepresents the above in the following ways:

He says by “flipping” the polarization of correlated photons, physicists have proven superluminal (that is, faster than light) communication is possible.  No, they have not. 

First, physicists do not “flip” anything in these experiments, like a light switch, but merely take measurements of specific quantum properties, like whether a spin is up or down.

Second, what propagates instantaneously between the two entangled photons is the collapse of their probability wave-functions, the technical way of saying their spins become definite values from initial probabilities.  But it is not possible to use this wave-function collapse to convey other information, simply because the results are entirely probabilistic.  You can no more control whether a spin is up than you can a fair coin toss coming up heads.  The only thing you do know for certain is that if one spin is up, the other must be down.  On the other hand, meaningful communication requires definite, deterministic control of signals, which is completely absent here.  So, while something does happen instantaneously, violating locality, it cannot be utilized to devise some sort of quantum-based telegraph to meaningfully communicate with someone else.  As far as we know, the rate of meaningful communication is still limited to the speed of light.

Dr. Goswami also says when experimentalists like Alain Aspect first demonstrated non-locality, they were proving Einstein right, when in fact, they were proving him wrong, since Einstein had framed the argument as a contradiction.  Einstein would not be pleased to learn of the results of the actual experiments.

Dr. Goswami then went on to describe an experiment which supposedly showed brain waves of two physically isolated, meditating human subjects synchronizing with each other.  The subjects were placed in separate rooms, isolated by Faraday cages which effectively shielded them from electromagnetic signals.  Subject A was exposed to regularly pulsing stimuli (for example, lights or sound), and his brain waves became entrained to the frequency.  The brain waves of the other subject, who was not exposed to the stimuli and was physically isolated from Subject A, synchronized with Subject A’s.  Dr. Goswami explains because they were meditating, they were correlated, and because they were isolated in Faraday cages, no physical means of communication could occur between them.  Thus they must have experienced non-local communication.  Ergo human consciousness is non-local.

While the analogy between meditating humans and entangled photons may be creative, it is completely inconsistent.  First, entangled photons require considerable technical expertise to create, which is why it took decades before we could accurately test Einstein’s thought experiment.  To say meditative intention correlates human consciousness in the same way entangled photons are correlated is an enormous leap which is at best scientifically unsupported and at worst simply wrong.  Indeed, Dr. Goswami’s usage of the word correlation to characterize synchrony between macroscopic entities like people is completely opposite from its quantum mechanical meaning.  More on this inconsistent usage later.

Second, Faraday cages only shield certain frequencies of electromagnetic radiation, such as radio waves, so even if the subjects’ brain waves really did synchronize, many other possible physical factors which do not require invoking violation of locality may have been involved.  Joe himself tried to propose alternative explanations, which Dr. Goswami reject, though without any good objective reasons.

To actually demonstrate non-locality had occurred, the researchers need to demonstrate the subjects’ brain waves synchronize instantaneously upon changing stimuli.  For example, if the brain waves synchronize immediately (or at least faster than could by communicating at light speed) in response to a change in stimuli, then indeed locality may have been violated.

Still Confused!

To his credit, the astute Joe kept pressing Dr. Goswami over and over again that even after over an hour of discussion, he still did not understand why human consciousness is non-local.  That’s right, Joe, because you have good reason to still be confused!

The examples then strayed further away from quantum mechanics and into the realm of psychology and sociology.  For example, Dr. Goswami cites how the emotions of people in stadiums at athletic events seem to become correlated with each other.  Joe chimed in to offer his own example of correlation about how his listeners report positive changes to their mentality and lifestyle after listening to his podcasts.  Dr. Goswami also appeals to Rupert Sheldrake’s concept of morphic resonance to suggest non-locality extends to all consciousness, including those of animals and even plants.

However, while certainly interesting, none of these examples has anything to do with quantum mechanics, and none require invoking non-locality.  For example, the group psychology of mob mentality has more to do with how our brains evolved to conform to group behavior as a survival mechanism.  Neuroscience has discovered “mirror neurons” in our brains, which specifically help us empathize with others.  And Joe’s listeners still rely on physical mechanisms to hear his podcasts, and it takes time and processing before positive changes begin manifesting in their lives.  All this happens far slower than light speed.  So, while we can all relate to how humans can become correlated by sharing similar emotions and behaviors, it is a phenomenon which occurs many orders of magnitude in size above that of the quantum mechanical realm where correlation between entangled photons occurs.  The two are literally worlds apart.  Brains, beings, and groups are macroscopic entities, which as far as we know behave classically and locally.

Indeed, the very meaning of correlation in Dr. Goswami’s macroscopic examples contradicts the meaning of quantum correlation:  macroscopic correlation means something acts in sync with something else (if one person in a crowd becomes angry, the whole crowd becomes angry), while quantum correlation of entangled properties means something is diametrically opposed to the other to conserve the original property (if one photon is spin up, the other must be completely opposite, down).  If Dr. Goswami is trying to extrapolate quantum principles of correlation to the macroscopic world, then he should say if one person in the crowd becomes angry, then another must become happy to balance things out.  Otherwise, his usage of correlation is inconsistent and misleading.

Pressing for more clarity, Joe asks Dr. Goswami for the best evidence human consciousness is non-local.  Dr. Goswami then describes experiments in telepathy and remote viewing, such as those performed at the Standford Research Institute for the U.S. military during the Cold War by physicists Russel Targ and Harold Puthoff.  He also cites the experiments of Dean Radin, chief scientist at the Institute of Noetic Science, which was founded by astronaut Edgar Mitchell to study paranormal phenomena.  The paranormal investigations of parapsychology certainly have a long, fascinating history filled with controversy, well beyond the scope of this essay to even summarize.  Suffice it to say while some parapsychology research offers intriguing results which tickles the imagination, the experiments are notoriously difficult to consistently reproduce, let alone be accurately and coherently explained with a rigorous theory.  Consequently,  parapsychology lies outside the mainstream of science, though diligent researchers continue to work to push its state forward.

Indeed, Joe challenges if parapsychology is valid, why has magician James Randi’s One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge prize to anyone who can unequivocally demonstrate any paranormal phenomenon remained unclaimed?  Dr. Goswami responds by criticizing Randi for always pushing the bar ever higher to avoid having to concede and pay out the prize money.  Some even question whether the money really even exists. Truly, the field is filled with controversy.

So, Who Observes the Observer?

Dr. Gowami also describes the role of the observer in forming reality.  He gives the example if everyone in a city falls into a deep sleep such that no one is consciously observing it, then the city itself becomes just a cloud of probabilities, which could cease to exist altogether, though with a very small probability.  He asserts without conscious observers, only probabiliy exists.  (Ah ha, maybe that is why Randi’s prize money may not exist!)  Joe expresses his bewilderment and disbelief something could stop existing just because no one is observing it.  Again, Joe, you have every reason to be skeptical.

After all, if something must be observed to exist, then who observes the observer to ensure he exists? (and on and on …)

Perhaps this notion that observers create their reality arose from misinterpreting experiments of the wave-particle duality of light.  Set up the experiment to observe the wave nature of light, and light will behave as a wave.  Alternatively, set it up to observe the particle nature of light, and light will behave as a particle.  In other words, the result of the experiment depends on what the observer expects.  The reality of the nature of light, whether it is a wave or a particle, depends on the observer.  That much is true.

Somehow, this fact gained metaphysical wings into the questionable notion that macroscopic reality depends on an observer.  Another founder of quantum mechanics Erwin Schrodinger poked fun at those who would try to extend the probabilistic nature of quantum mechanics into the macroscopic world with his famous half-alive/half-dead cat.  In his thought experiment, a cat is in a closed box which also contains an apparatus which may release poison based on a radioactive decay trigger.  Radioactivity is a quantum mechanical process which is probabilistic and completely random.  Indeed, it is non-causal, not caused by anything.  Something radioactive simply decays or it doesn’t.  But since the box is closed, no observer can witness whether the decay had occurred.  So, what is the state of the cat?  Does it also exist only probabilistically, neither alive nor dead until someone opens the box to see?  Be assured in this context, the cat is definitely alive or dead independent of observation.  A fuzzy line appears to separate the macroscopic from quantum realms, and our every day reality of cats and the like is devoid of quantum effects.

Moreover, in quantum mechanics the observer does not have to be a conscious human being at all.  It could simply be a macroscopic object such as a camera or other non-conscious recording apparatus.  Any object conscious or non-conscious can satisfy being an observer, so there’s no danger of never being observed.  If every conscious being in the universe suddenly ceased to exist, the universe will still be here, as it had been here long before consciousness ever arose (though some propose consciousness is a fundamental aspect of the universe which has always existed, but that is a metaphysical theory for another time).

The Good, the Bad, the Beautiful

My purpose here is not to bash on Dr. Goswami, but to point out inaccuracies in his use of quantum mechanics to support his particular worldview.  He offered some things which I did appreciate, such as how psychological issues like depression and anxiety should not be treated by default with pharmaceuticals; we should always strive to love and be compassionate toward others; blindly chasing career goals may leave one feeling empty and lost; yoga, meditation, and other spiritual exercises and traditions can help clear and focus one’s inner self; humans are filled with potential and possibility; and everything we do begins as a thought in the imagination.  These positive notions have comforted, strengthened, and motivated for ages.  If worldviews such as Dr. Goswami’s are helping people progress towards greater enlightenment, peace, joy, and self-activation, then more power to him in spreading his message.  We need more who have his good intentions.

But in our quest to evolve, let’s be careful not to chase good intentions with bad physics.  Channeling long ago sages, Feynman warned, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”  Misrepresenting science to promote spiritual worldviews is a disservice to both spiritual and scientific seekers, because the actual science may justifiably cast doubt on the otherwise good intentions.

Rather than pretend we know more than we do, we should honestly acknowledge how ignorant we really are.  The mysterious realm of the quantum is just the tip of the iceberg of our ignorance.  Dark matter and dark energy are two other examples, together constituting over 95% of the mass-energy of our observable universe, which means we know next to nothing about the vast majority of what makes up our reality.  And consciousness is another deep mystery about which we do not know where to even begin to understand it.  Let us dedicate ourselves to careful experimentation and honest reflection, always mindful what we think should be is often not what is.

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Signs of Lies

Posted in Life with tags , , , , , on June 16, 2018 by virtuoid

This is the 3rd in a series about how I got scammed.  See the Table of Contents for links to all the posts.

I’d like to think most people are honest, though according to psychologists, everyone becomes Pinocchio at least once a day.  I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt and believe what I’m told.  Most lies are harmless, white lies uttered with good intentions meant to avoid hurting someone’s feelings or delivering a social nicety, for example, praising a child’s sloppy scratches as a work of art, or excusing oneself from an invitation due to other (actually non-existent) plans.  Other lies may be morally justified if offered to protect others from malicious threats by an unjust power, for example, by the brave souls who helped hide and smuggle slaves from the South to freedom in the North during the U.S. Civil War, or more recently, Jews in German controlled European territories during Hitler’s reign.

But many lies have selfish intent, spoken to purposely deceive and hide a wrongful deed.  But how do you know when someone tells you such a lie?  If only it were as easy as spotting Pinocchio’s nose.  Short of subjecting the suspect to a lie detector test, which of course, is usually impractical, you basically have to spot the equivalence of cookie crumbs on a child’s otherwise innocent-looking face.

If someone I trust, or at least want to trust, such as a business partner, tells me something, I will believe him at first if I have no reason to doubt him.  My trust in him tends to blind me from the possibility he might be lying.  Yes, intellectually, I know he might be lying, but since I can’t prove otherwise, and since my success requires I believe him, I willingly choose to believe him, even if blindly.

After awhile, a suspicion arises that something may not be entirely right.  He states things which are discovered to be inaccurate or simply untrue.  He promises things which never materialize.  He resists and gives excuses when confronted about rightful concerns.  He even becomes defensive and hostile at the hint of any wrongdoing.  This happens so often that a pattern emerges.

The little voice inside my head says, yes, I think he’s lying to me.  I have no evidence of it, primarily because he holds the evidence, and he will guard it with his life.  But at a certain point, the lack of evidence itself becomes perceived as evidence against him.

Still there is doubt.  And the tendency is to give him the benefit of the doubt.  Why?  Because that’s the path of least resistance.  And because no one want to realize he’s been fooled.  Easier to protect one’s ego and keep believing, trusting, hoping, and praying that everything will turn out alright.

The difficulty of crossing the bridge of suspicion from trust to distrust increases proportionally with how much you’ve invested in the suspected liar, naturally because the more at stake, the more will be lost when the truth comes crashing down.

What if I’m wrong about my suspicions?  What if, against all reasonableness, every excuse he’s given was in fact true?  Never mind that every friend, relative, colleague, accountant, and lawyer I’ve consulted smelled fraud a mile away.  I want to believe him.  I don’t want to be made out to be a fool.

Even when evidence begins to emerge, a liar will double down like a cornered animal and assert like never before obvious lies.  The ferocity of their commitment to deceive to the bitter end is truly astonishing.  The evidence clearly contradicts his claims, yet he still insists upon his innocence.  Does he think I am really that stupid?  Yes, to both:  1) he believes I am really that stupid, and 2) I really am that stupid to have believed him.

This drama between the deceiver and the deceived, whether in business, romance, politics, or religion is ages old and fills volumes written in ink, money, and blood.  But perhaps the greatest deception which has hoodwinked us all is committed by reality itself.  What we perceive to make up our reality, such as time, matter, energy, and all the other familiar things in which we take comfort and identify as “real” are illusory, mental models which our neurons construct.  If everything we think is real is not really, what does that say about our higher aspirations for all things “good,” such as nobility, beauty, purpose, meaning, and, yes, truth?

Our lives are but small lies wrapped inside a big Lie.

How Not To Find A Business Partner

Posted in Life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 29, 2018 by virtuoid

This is the 2nd in a series about how I got scammed.  See the Table of Contents for links to all the posts.

No good story about a scam begins without Craigslist.  So, let’s start right off with the first lesson in how not to find a business partner:

1. Use Craigslist!

Craigslist is awesome.  I’ve used it countless times to buy, sell, trade, announce, explore, and connect.  It’s (mostly) free, a household name, easy to use, reliable, and by far the largest online classifieds site in North America.  Sure, it’s also a haven for scammers, spammers, or worse.  No worries!  Just apply a little common sense and due diligence to weed out the frauds and discover the gems of legitimate opportunities. Treasures await!

I thought the author of the following post might be offering one of them:

Real Estate Investment Partner or Investor for Expansion

I am an experienced investor in real estate, seeking a partner experienced in new construction and remodels or investors with cash, for expansion in real estate investments and monthly cash flow. If you are looking to make serious money in houses & rental properties, we can share in the financial backing, the remodeling, repairs, marketing, management, etc.. I have experience in all areas of home repair, remodeling, and property management. I am a degreed Architect, have been licensed in real estate, and have several real estate holdings. I have more than tripled my investment equity, as well as receive monthly income from these properties. I know how to incorporate modern and historical materials to maximize profits, stay within the architectural characteristics, and create demand for the properties. I know the locations that offer the best cash flow, lowest cost, least risk, and highest real estate appreciation. I find the properties as well as design, and implement ideas for the fastest turn around.
I have equipment, tradesman contacts, and dedicated assistants. I have worked in the home repair/remodeling, and property management fields for 23 years. I love doing the work and take pride in all that I do. I am seeking an experienced tradesmen or investor to compliment my existing staff of cleaning, general labor, marketing, real estate & leasing agents. The market is huge for rental properties, & house flipping. You can make serious money, and now is the time make these properties rent ready and/or marketable for sale. Believe it or not June and July are great leasing & selling times.
If you’re interested in the number one hedge against inflation, and securing your financial future, feel free to contact me. Please provide your name, phone number, personal skills, and interests related to real estate investing.
Thank You.

2.  Believe promises of great reward with little risk.

When someone claims, “You can make serious money,” “… securing your financial future,” and “I know the locations that offer the best cash flow, lowest cost, least risk, and highest real estate appreciation,” pay attention, because only a successful business guru could possibly be offering these secrets of abundance and wealth.  Nevermind the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires him to provide counterbalancing warnings of possible risk and loss.  Granted, someone who hides risk when promising reward is breaking truth-in-advertising laws, but that’s okay as long as he makes you rich.

Reference: Ads for Business Opportunities: How To Detect Deception, by the FTC

3.  Forego requiring proof of history, identity, and claims.

While complete background and credit checks to verify identity and history are at anyone’s fingertips thanks to online sevices, they’re total wastes of time and money.  After all, the past is the past, and someone with a criminal background and/or poor credit history can still be a stellar business partner, especially since he’s a graduate of the Ivy League school of hard knocks.

Moreover, when someone makes such concrete claims that he is a degreed Architect, was licensed in real estate, tripled his investment equity, has decades of experience, and employs a whole support staff, simply take him at his word.  Proof is implied, because if he said it, it must be true.  Sure it may take years to discover he is a pathological liar, but where’s the fun in knowing that from the start?

A few days after I had responded to the above, a gentleman, let’s call him Mr. Sly Russ, contacted me by phone.  He sounded very knowledgeable and sincere, at least sane.  Of course, it was his job to convince me to trust him, and at first, I was simply curious, attentive, and inquisitive.  Over the next weeks, we had many long phone conversations, and we were both feeling each other out.  At best, two honest businessmen were exploring the possibility of pooling resources to create something bigger than either could create himself.  At worst, there was one honest businessman doing this, while the other less honest one was sizing up a possible mark.  I suppose I qualified on all counts.

4.  Do something about which you know little.

No one knows everything, so consider yourself lucky if an expert in a field about which you know little is graciously offering to be your mentor and speed you through the fast track to success.  Just relax and rely on him for everything.

This was the time the real estate market had started to recover from its severe crash, and prices were still low but starting to tick back up.  As the old trading adage goes, “Buy low, sell high.”  This was the time to buy.  Many investors were still suffering from their losses, while I was hoping to catch the recovery wave up.

I knew a little about real estate investing.  I owned a couple properties, and I leased out one single family house, as well as shared my two bedroom condo with a roommate.  I did all the advertising, showing, leasing, maintenance, repairs, collecting, bookkeeping, and overall, it was a very successful business.  I also experienced the risks first hand, having had to deal with a tenant who didn’t pay rent for 9 months, but that is another story for another time.

But compared to Sly, I was in the minor leagues.  He supposedly had decades of experience in every facet of real estate investing and was currently making a nice living by it.  Not only had rental income paid for his properties several times over already, the equity had also tripled in value since he first purchased them.  Making money in real estate was easy!  And he had a grand vision for future expansion:  starting with a few properties, we keep reinvesting the profits to build a real estate empire.  Each of us would be millionaires within a decade.  The plan was simple:  I buy the properties, and he manages them.

It certainly sounded intriguing.  Supposedly, he had all the experience, knowledge, and everything in place to make it happen.  He just needed an investment partner.

I asked the obvious question:  If you’re already so successful, why not just invest your own money into your plan and keep 100% of the profits for yourself?  Why do you need my money and have to share the profits with me?

His answer was simply that it would take much longer to reach his goal by himself.  With the extra resources of an investor, he could do in 5-10 years what it would otherwise take him 15-20 years alone.  That sounded reasonable, especially to someone all too willing to believe.

We met in person a few times, and we drove around a few cities, checking out the property landscape together.  Sly seemed personable, knowledgeable, responsive, professional, and an all-around decent, likable guy.  More and more, I started to believe he could actually do what he envisioned.  And more and more, he must have discovered I really didn’t know much about real estate at a professional level, and if we were to go into business together, he would be essentially in complete control.  After all, I was the “dumb money” guy, and he was the guy who supposedly knew how to use that money to make more.  It was, quite simply, the classic con.

Compared to real estate, I knew even less about business partnerships.  My formal training is in the sciences, where all efforts and relationships were founded upon the common dedication to what is real and true.  I was accustomed to working with intelligent, responsible, honest, trustworthy, and transparent colleagues of the highest ethical character.  I naively assumed everyone operates at the same high level.

5.  Leap before you look.

If a rare opportunity presents itself, grab it at all costs before it gets away!  Another one may never come.

After a couple months of getting to know each other, I still wasn’t ready to commit to a formal partnership.  There was even a period of a couple weeks when we didn’t talk, and I remember thinking, oh well, I’m not ready to do this with him anyway, so no big deal.  I was actually hoping I’d never hear from him again.

But then one day, Sly called and told me about a sealed-bid auction for a million-dollar mansion.  I listened with rapt attention and became excited at this great opportunity.  Because the deadline was just days away, he urged me to act quickly, and I rather impulsively agreed on an amount to bid.  After all, there was no real money required yet, and even if we won, we still had time to inspect the property and relinquish our right to purchase it if we were dissatisfied.  So, we rushed in our bid.  We simply didn’t want to lose the chance to acquire a huge asset for so little.  Unfortunately (or fortunately!), we lost.

The experience was a first shared step, and it opened me up to working with him on a formal basis.  I proposed we needed an official agreement between us to formally define the terms and roles of our partnership, and we started to discuss the details.

Shortly afterward, Sly presented me with another great opportunity to buy a distressed residential-commercial building far below market value.  I went to see it with him and a realtor, and while it wasn’t in the best condition, Sly assured me everything was reparable.  Moreover, the immediate income stream from the already existing tenants could pay for all the repairs and improvements.  It seemed to be a no-brainer.  The catch:  again, Sly urged me to act quickly, because another buyer may very likely scoop this great opportunity out from under us.  The problem:  we still did not have a formal contract for the partnership in place.

Nevertheless, I let expediency get the best of me, and I purchased the property to officially launch our partnership.  I simply trusted things would work out.  I have since learned that naive trust never justifies impatience and greed.

6.  Contracts are optional.

Trust that everyone is fundamentally trustworthy, always chooses to do the right thing, and always works toward the highest good.  Especially a stranger, because a stranger is just a friend you haven’t yet met.  Therefore, contracts are superfluous.

A few more “must-buy” opportunities rapidly followed, and soon we had a decent portfolio of properties, but still no contract between us.  I kept pressing for one, but he kept delaying, his excuse being he was too busy attending to the properties.

Worse than not having a contract, our company also didn’t have an official bank account.  We tried to open a joint account at a credit union right after we acquired the first property, but because I was not a resident of the state, I could not be on the account.  We needed to wait until the company was officially incorporated, after which a company account could be opened.  However, the tenants monthly rent had to go somewhere in the interim, and we agreed to use Sly’s own account.  Big trust.  Not deserved.  Haste truly makes waste.

7.  Be your own lawyer.

Lawyers are expensive.  Trust someone will do what they say, rather than pay a lawyer to make sure he does.  Besides, if shit hits the fan, you’re not going to sue him anyway, so why bother?

Other than the lawyers required to complete real estate transactions, I have never sought the services of a lawyer.  My life was relatively simple, straightforward, and quiet.  I am the furthest thing from being litigious (an important point to remember as my story unfolds), and I always concede to others to avoid conflict.  Where basic human rights are not at stake, I prefer peace over justice.

After many months of discussion, we had a draft of our partnership agreement.  The most important point to me was that we would equally share the net profit after my initial capital contribution and expenses.  That is to say, if I initially invested $100, and in the end, the business made $150 after expenses, then after I receive my initial investment of $100 back, we would each share $25 of the remaining $50 net profit.  In the end, we each would have gained $25 equally.  We shared equally in both reward and risk, since if the venture lost value, I would take the financial hit, while he would have lost time and effort. This is a fair arrangement, so common as to have its own term, profit partners, a term I only learned much later.

After reviewing the draft, Sly hired a lawyer to formalize it into a partnership agreement and incorporate our company.  I tried to read the drafts as best I could, but to be honest, could not understand most of the legalese.  Nor did I really care about the details, because again, I was simply naive.  Of course, the lawyer advised each of us to seek personal legal counsel before signing.  I should have.  Before the day of signing, I simply asked Sly in no uncertain words whether the formal version exactly represented the profit arrangement to which we had agreed.  He assured me it did.  I believed him and left it at that.  I should not have.

I learned the truth only after my tax accountant informed me after reading our agreement that Sly had manipulated it to make him an equal partner, giving him an immediate 50% ownership of the company!  That is, in my example above where I initially invested $100 and in the end the business made $150, according to the final agreement, we would each get $75.  I would have lost $25 overall, while he would have made $75 in profit.  Indeed with this arrangement, I effectively took all the risk, while he enjoyed only reward.  The company would have needed to at least double in value just for me to just break even!  What investor in his right mind would agree to that?

I assured my accountant if the agreement really said this, it was a mistake, and that it will be corrected.  So, I was completely shocked when Sly nonchalantly said this is the way it is supposed to be per what we agreed to from the start!  I still remember his sharp tone:  “We are in no way profit partners; we are equal partners!”  When I objected to the way he had completely misrepresented our agreement (euphemism for “deceived me”), he scoffed, “Too bad.  You’re an adult.  You should’ve had a lawyer review the agreement before you signed it.”

It’s hard to describe the utter betrayal I felt when I realized he had blatantly deceived me this way.  My heart raced, my blood drained, my hands froze yet sweat, my breathing convulsed.  With a quivering voice, I threatened to sue him, and he laughed, “Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face, but you have to do what you have to do.”  I could only respond, “Thanks for everything, Sly,” and hung up.

Upon consulting an attorney,  I learned he had also (no doubt intentionally) worked into the agreement that it supersedes any prior verbal or written agreement, so I had no legal recourse.  The attorney advised me to simply propose to sell all the properties to dissolve the partnership and be happy with my half, because that would be the likely injunction from a judge ruling on this case.  As the realization of how Sly had fully taken advantage of my naive trust sunk in, I went into emotional shock and sunk into depression.

Later, a couple attorneys assured me equal partnership arrangements are not uncommon, and it really isn’t that big a deal, provided the business has a good chance to succeed.  Had Sly just explained to me he wanted this kind of arrangement, I might have considered it, especially if I believed the value he was bringing was worth making him an equal partner from the start.  But the way in which he gained the advantage in our partnership was deliberate and deceptive.  Indeed, the wording of the contract that made us equal partners was very subtle, no doubt intentionally to fly under the radar, stating only that I, the investing partner, contributed $X as my initial capital contributions, while he, the managing partner, contributed $X in services as his initial capital contribution.  To untrained eyes as mine when I reviewed the drafts, this did not appear to say he was getting half of the company immediately.  But in legalese, it did.

How did it happen?

If someone else had written this post and committed all the idiotic mistakes I had, I’d certainly shake my head and say he deserved what he got for being so stupid, and that I’d never be so dumb myself!  I feel embarrassed to share this at all, because it is certainly not my best moment.  I spend a lot of time kicking myself and wondering how so many avoidable pieces could have fallen neatly into place to have completely blinded me.  How could I easily spot the small-time scammers but not avoid falling for a big-time scammer like Sly?

Many reasons …

  • The “con” in “con man” stands for “confidence.”  The con man has a certain charm which instills confidence in his marks.  Granted, the marks are just as guilty for being conned by their own greed and willingness to trust.  But the con man is the facilitating agent in this relationship, and he melts away all reasonable doubts with his persistence, promises, and charm.
  • Real estate ventures are legitimate business opportunities, and many investors have made their fortunes through it. Calculating the expectancy of a real estate investment is not as easy as that of a mathematically dictated game.
  • I met Sly many times in person and talked to him extensively on the phone over several months.  I began to know him as a person, an expert in the field, a possible business partner, and even a friend.  He came across as a decent, rational, and fair businessman.  But see the point about “cons” above.
  • Sly gave me a sense of urgency to act, because prices were on the uptick, and competition for the remaining bargains was heating up.  This tactic to inflate the time pressure out of proportion could have been his deliberate way to manipulate me to seal the deal, but the urgency felt real at the time.
  • The excitement of a new venture with so many profitable possibilities blinded me.  It was exciting and it felt good.  When you’re dreaming about coins falling from the sky, you don’t consider how they might hurt when they hit your head.  When you’re getting married, you’re not thinking about divorce.

What you really should do …

This post is framed facetiously, because I did pretty much everything I shouldn’t have to find a business partner.  Of course, if you want to find a good business partner …

  • Craigslist?  Seriously?
  • Promises of reward without risk?  Pass!
  • Comprehensive background, identity, and credit checks at a minimum. 
  • Require proof of all claims.
  • Become an expert in what you want to invest.
  • Look before you leap.  It’s better not to act than to act and regret.
  • Contract must be first.  Read and fully understand every word in it.
  • Hire the best lawyer you can afford.

Sly’s manipulating the terms in the contract to his advantage completely shattered my trust in him and cements his place as a royally dishonorable scammer, who has absolutely no qualms about unfairly taking advantage of others.  Even so, such a breach of trust may have been overlooked had he really come through to deliver on his promises to build a solid, prosperous business.  Sadly, that would not be the case, as my story unfolds.

How An Astute Scam-Buster Got Scammed

Posted in Life with tags , , , , , on April 22, 2018 by virtuoid

Many years have passed since I last posted here.  Many things experienced, relationships born and ended and reincarnated,  projects launched and completed and resurrected, and a lot in between.  I never expected to find myself writing another entry here again, given my life has moved far away from the core of my interests when I started this blog, namely computationally analyzing games of chance and trying to objectively demonstrate whether a player could realistically make a consistent profit, let alone a living, by playing them.  I was motivated by the hope I would be able to help just one person see the light of truth in these matters and save him from losing a penny at best, or to stop losing much more at worst.  It turned out, my work was able to help many, and I am so grateful modern technology could provide a permanent residence online to keep the content alive for ongoing consideration.  But little did I realize the one I was helping most was myself, as my story will show.

Readers know I’m fairly intelligent and dedicated to demonstrating and telling what is true.  I am passionate about this, and thanks to my relentless skepticism which demands the highest level of evidence, I’m able to quickly get to the heart of a claim and determine its veracity.  So, how was it such an astute scam-buster got scammed?  And in an embarrassing large way?  How could Virtuoid, renown for being able to easily spot the small-time scammers, fall prey to a pretty big-time one, and even to this day, still entertain the very small possibility he was not scammed at all, but was just terribly unfortunate to have encountered a completely incompetent business partner?

Alas, had I approached my business decisions in the real world with as much critical analysis and precision as I had my numerical simulations of casino games, I would’ve been able to avoid many years of worry, anguish, loss, and sleepless nights.  Wisdom does not necessarily come from the results of running hundreds of thousands of simulations, whether of dice or cards or business scenarios.  But common sense becomes common only after generations of experience, life’s own version of running simulations.  By then, not heeding it is one’s own fault.  Sometimes, life rewards the stupid.  But usually not.

The end of this story is still being written in life, but the story is long enough such that I should start telling it now.  What motivates me is what motivated me to start ImSpirit way back when:  to hopefully help at least just one person avoid the mistakes I’ve committed, thereby saving him time, energy, money, and life.  And perhaps, as it has happened already, find it might somehow help my future self in unimaginable, unexpected ways.  It’s sometimes fun to ponder and joke about mystical things like karma, but when hints of it seem to actually be manifesting in life, I can only feel more humbled and in awe of the force behind life.

Thus it feels fitting that I share my story here, since the heart of the moral is consistent with the original theme of my work, and because thanks to it, I was able to avoid going down a possibly catastrophic path and be pointed instead to a much more trustworthy source of help when I most needed it.

The enlightened know that when we give freely, it comes back tenfold.  Is the same true when knowingly giving to a scammer?  Perhaps it is a hundredfold in that case?  Unfortunately, I am not enlightened enough yet to trust it will.  Nevertheless, I share my story, flawed as I am, with the hope that doing so will begin to pay back or pay forward how richly I’ve been blessed with such interesting experiences.

In the next post, I will begin this long tale, well, at the beginning.

The Many Irrationalities of Gamblers

Posted in Life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 27, 2013 by virtuoid

I’m not an expert in the psychology (or pathology) of gambling (which I define as any activity involving wagering on uncertain outcomes, examples of which include casino gaming, sports betting, and trading), but I would draw the following rough categories of gamblers:

  1. The Poor, who believe their only real chance to make more money is by gambling.
  2. The Bored, who happily regard gambling losses as the price for entertainment.
  3. The Rich, who have more money and time than they know what to do with.
  4. The Skilled, who are scholars of gambling, and who may make careers out of it.

Ballpark estimating, I would break down the categories in terms of percentages as follows:

  1. 50% The Poor
  2. 50% The Bored
  3.   5% The Rich
  4.   1% The Skilled

Note that the above doesn’t add up to 100%, because I’m just rough estimating in the first place, and there could be substantial overlap between categories, as well.

Allow me to use broad brush strokes to generalize those in each category:

  1. The Poor:

These gamble because the action is like instant lotteries. The chance to multiply what little money they have is available 24/7, and they frequent casinos regularly. They may not have the education, mentality, or inclination to believe otherwise. They tend to hold onto irrational beliefs and superstitions, which become the basis of their playing methodology. Even when presented with objective evidence to the contrary, they simply can not or do not comprehend.

  1. The Bored:

These regard gambling as a source of pure entertainment. They expect to lose money to the House, but that’s okay, because that’s just the price of an entertaining, fun evening for them. If they win, all the better, and the winnings are usually spent quickly in some celebratory manner as an unexpected windfall. They typically gamble infrequently as a novelty or on a whim.

  1. The Rich:

These have cash to burn. Gambling can be a status symbol for them. In their professional lives, they may be accustomed to winning, and thus they expect the same outcome at the tables. When they lose, they are especially prone to revenge playing, since they believe they have enough resources to bankroll any downturn.

  1. The Skilled:

These approach gambling intellectually. They are scholars of practical mathematics, constantly learning and improving their game. Gambling may just be a fun, challenging hobby for some of these, but for others, it becomes a passion which may motivate them to turn gambling into a profession. Those who are skilled enough to make a living from gambling usually gravitate towards activities which are not bound to pure luck and actually offer positive expectancy, such as poker, bridge, blackjack, sports betting, and trading (and those who trade may prefer the euphemism “investing”). They are knowledgeable enough to understand that many games (such as baccarat, roulette, craps, and slots) are doomed to be negative expectancy, and thus best avoided unless used as diversionary tactics (for example, to foil casino management from marking them as potential candidates for barring), or as pure feeling-lucky-tonight entertainment.

Some of the Skilled may not be particularly Poor or Rich. For example, many have recently lost their day jobs due to hard economic times. They have some money saved up, not a lot, but enough to serve as a decent bankroll. They believe as long as they are disciplined enough, they can make a sustainable living for themselves and their families by gambling. They make seemingly reasonable, daily session goals, and promise to call it quits when achieving them. Becoming self sufficient financially by simply playing a game and/or the markets is too alluring for many to ignore. If nothing else, some accept it as a challenge, one that offers a certain level of glamor, freedom, and independence.

I’ve enjoyed opportunities to work with folks from all these categories. Interestingly, I’ve found that no group is entirely immune to irrationality.

Irrationality seems to abound in the Poor group. While they make up the majority of bodies, they contribute relatively little to the House’s overall revenue. Nevertheless, they certainly have the most to lose. Perhaps for lack of better things to do or the inclination to do them, they pray to Luck and Good Fortune for salvation. If some have the notion to follow a system, they do so rather blindly, based merely on the unsubstantiated claims of a shady system seller.

The Bored can be irrational in the sense that they really don’t care what the outcome is. As long as it was fun, it was worth the price. But at what price? Because all the wagering occurs in the spirit of spontaneous fun, the purse strings may not be held too tightly, and they may wind up losing much more than intended. Moreover, the Bored are particularly fond of alcohol during their excursions, which doesn’t help their higher faculties one bit.

The Rich feel they can afford to be irrational. Whether their false confidence arises from having attended that exclusive gambling seminar by a gold-sporting guru, or just how many 0’s buffer their fat accounts, the Rich wind up donating the most into the House’s coffers. The distance between the Rich and Poor groups can be a very short one. For some, it is a fatal journey.

Even from the Skilled group, I have witnessed irrationality. I know of those who have spent (wasted?) decades of their lives coding and testing countless strategies sold by supposedly winning gurus, never giving up hope that the next $99 special offer will be the Holy Grail. I have worked with others who swear by methods which they have used to win over a significant amount of live action, but even after my long term simulations clearly show their methods to be negative expectancy, they prefer to hold onto concrete experience over abstract expectations. And then there are a few genuinely deluded crackpots whose rose-shaded glasses blind them to the very truth they supposedly devote their lives to upholding, though in every other way, seem to be decent, well-adjusted human beings.

No one ever said the human race is a rational one. Generation after generation, we repeat the same mistakes over and over again. Einstein famously said that insanity is doing the same things and expecting a different outcome. What every gambler shares is the desire to win against all odds. The Poor want money. The Rich want more money. The Bored want a good time with money. And the Skilled want to grow money. Take away the money, and I wonder how many would still willingly go through the rather inherently empty motions of gambling.

The Mathematics of Roulette (The Teaching Company Video Clip)

Posted in Life with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 11, 2013 by virtuoid

Here’s a short (less than 5 minute) clip of Professor Arthur Benjamin (Harvey Mudd College) explaining the basics of roulette math, including clear examples of calculating expected values, which in roulette, comes out to be around -0.053 (that is, you expect to lose 5.3 cents for each dollar bet):

mathroulette

From The Teaching Company’s Great Courses:

The Mathematics of Games and Puzzles: From Cards to Sudoku.

A Baccarat Card Counting Method for Six Deck Shoes (from Padova University)

Posted in Life with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 23, 2013 by virtuoid

A friend sent me the following card counting system for baccarat.

According to him, it was developed and tested by researchers at Padova University with “great success.”  (What that means and who authored it is unknown and unverified.)

It is meant to be used with six-deck baccarat shoes, which means its usage in the United States is limited, since the vast majority of U.S. casino uses eight-deck shoes in baccarat.

He gave me permission to post it here for your consideration.  Please regard it for informational and educational purposes only.  Please take to heart the Disclaimer at the end of this post.

Please note that I have not been able to verify the claims of the author for this system.

The method verbatim as he sent it to me (English is not his native language):

THE METHOD WORKS ON 6 DECKS SHOES (312 CARDS) ONLY.

IN EVERY 6 DECKS SHOE THERE ARE 58-62 HANDS: THE METHOD CALCULATES 60 HANDS(40 OBSERVED HANDS AND 20 PLAYED HANDS).

DURING THE FIRST 40 HANDS WE NEED TO COUNT CARDS AS FOLLOWING:

A=1,5
2=2
3=2
4=6
5=6
6=4
7=5,5
8=7,5
9=9
10=1

AFTER 40 OBSERVED HANDS, WE NEED TO FIND THE FOLLOWING CONDITIONS (OTHERWISE WE DO NOT PLAY)

1) THE COUNT MUST BE BETWEEN 554 AND 702

2) FOR THE SCORES ON THE POINT SIDE, THE EVEN SCORES MUST BE MORE THAN THE ODD SCORES.

FOR EX., ON 40 HANDS:

22 EVEN SCORES AND 18 ODD SCORES=GREAT!
22 ODD SCORES AND 18 EVEN SCORES=NO PLAY
20 EVEN SCORES AND 20 ODD SCORES=NO PLAY

WHEN WE FIND THESE CONDITIONS, WE KNOW THAT IN THE REMAINING HANDS OF THE SHOE THERE ARE 9 SURE WINNING HANDS ON THE BANKER SIDE

Note that the comma in the numbers is equivalent to a decimal point. (e.g. 1,5 = 1.5)

Disclaimer: The betting strategies and results presented are for educational and entertainment purposes only. Gambling involves substantial risks, and the odds are not in the player’s favor by design. The author does not state nor imply any system, method, or approach offers users any advantage, and he shall not be held liable under any circumstances for any losses whatsoever.

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