## From Herzog on Herzog

July 31, 2007

Notable quotes.

In response to “What are your views on film schools?”:

It has always seemed to me that almost everything you are forced to learn at school you forget in a couple of years. But the things you set out to learn yourself in order to quench a thirst, these are things you never forget.

[...]

Actually, for some time now I have given some thought to opening a film school. But if I did start one up you would only be allowed to fill out an application form after you had travelled alone on foot, let’s say from Madrid to Kiev, a distance of about 5,000 kilometres. While walking, write. Write about your experiences and give me your notebooks. I would be able to tell who had really walked the distance and who had not. While you are walking you would learn much more about filmmaking than if you were in a classroom… academia is the very death of cinema. It is the very opposite of passion.

On the mysterious ‘something else’ (that is not happiness) he seems to be after:

One aspect of who I am that might be important is the communication defect I have had since a young child. I am someone who takes everything very literally. I simply do not understand irony… Let me explain by telling a story. A few weeks ago I received a phone call at my apartment from a painter who lives just down the street from me. He tells me he wants to sell me his paintings, and because I live in the same neighbourhood, he says he wants to give me a good real on his work. He starts to argue with me, saying I can have this painting for only ten dollars or even less. I try to get him off the phone, saying, ‘Sir, I am sorry but I do not have paintings in my apartment. I have only maps on my walls. Sometimes photos, but I would never have a painted picture on my wall, no matter who made it.’ And he kept on and on until all of a sudden he starts to laugh. I think: I know this laughter. And he did not change his voice one bit when the painter announced that it was my friend, Harmony Korine.

[Then comes another anecdote about another prank played on him by a friend.] When [the second prankster] called as the personal assistant he did not change his voice, but I took them as two different people. That is how bad my communication defect is. I am just a complete fool. There are things in language that are common to almost everyone, but that are utterly lost on me.

And compared to other filmmakers — particularly the French, who are able to sit around their cafes waxing eloquent about their work — I am like a Bavarian bullfrog just squatting there, brooding. I have never been capable of discussing art with people. I just cannot cope with irony. The French love to play with their words and to master French is to be a master of irony.

I find the above passage intriguing, because much of the appeal of his movies to me lies in their heavy metaphors. It would seem that he constructs heavily metaphorical films without being entirely aware of what metaphors he has included. This fits in with his explanations of why he did this or that in his films — they often have a lot to do with how he ‘feels’ about the film rather than clear, explicit reasons.

In response to “How do you feel about ‘customizing’ your films to fit television schedules?”:

Those who read own the world, and those who watch television lose it.

On why his films are more popular overseas than in Germany:

Germany is just not a country of cinema-goers. It has always been a nation of television viewers. The Germans have never liked their poets, not while they are alive anyway.

The following story about picture perception is intriguing, if true:*

One of the doctors in [The Flying Doctors of East Africa] talks of showing a poster of a fly to the villagers. They would say, ‘We don’t have that problem, our flies aren’t that large’, a response that really fascinated me. We decided to take some of the posters… to a coffee plantation to experiment. One was of a man, one of a huge human eye, another a hut, another a bowl, and the fifth — which was put upside down — of some people and animals. We asked the people which poster was upside down and which was of an eye. Nearly half could not tell which was upside down, and two-thirds did not recognize the eye.

On the final midget-laughing-at-camel scene in Even Dwarfs Started Small, about which a rumour spread that Herzog had cut the the camel’s sinews to get it to kneel for so long:

…I learned something that was to come in useful years later when I made Fitzcarraldo: that you can fight a rumour only with an even wilder rumour. So immediately I issued a statement that actually I had nailed the dromedary to the ground. That silenced them. Of course, in reality the creature was a very docile and well-trained animal whose owner was standing about two feet outisde of the frame giving it orders. He was trying to confuse the dromedary by constantly giving it conflicting orders by hand: sit down, get up, sit down, get up. And in despair the animal defecated, something which looks absolutely wonderful on screen.

More excerpts to come as I work my way through this fascinating, if sometimes implausible, biography.

*Herzog has so many fantastic stories that I can’t help but be a little sceptical.

## Typicality Assumptions

July 19, 2007

James Hartle and Mark Srednicki have a paper in Physical Review A arguing against what they call typicality assumptions (arXiv preprint here). A typical argument employing typicality assumptions goes as follows:
1. If theory T is true, then humans would be extremely atypical beings in the universe.
2. Any true theory must imply that humans are typical beings.
3. Therefore theory T is not true.

2 is the typicality assumption. It has been used in several papers by prominent physicists, notably Don Page, who uses it to argue against models of the universe that predict vast numbers of Boltzmann Brains (relevant papers include arXiv:hep-th/0610079v1, hep-th/0611158v1, hep-th/0612137v1, hep-th/0612194v1; J. Cosmol. Astropart. Phys 01 (2007) 004.). A Boltzmann Brain is essentially a vacuum fluctuation that happens to have the right configuration of atoms to form a (momentarily) conscious brain. Any universe that persists for an infinite amount of time would contain vacuum fluctuations forming an infinite number of Boltzmann Brains (BBs from now on). Most BBs would have nothing more than a series of disordered, disjointed experiences — they persist too fleetingly to have the continuous, coherent experiences that we have. So we can safely say that we are not BBs. In a universe with an infinite lifetime, then, we would be atypical observers, outnumbered by BBs. Therefore, if we accept the typicality assumption, then we should rule out theories that predict that our universe has an infinite lifetime.

First, let me say that I don’t even see why an infinite number of Boltzmann Brains need imply that our experiences are atypical. I have the impression of continuous, coherent experience, but surely this could just as well be due to my brain being a BB that just happens to have the right arrangement of neurons and electrochemical signals to give me the impression of having coherent memories of past experiences. If we have an infinite number of Boltzmann Brains, then surely we have an infinite number of BBs that are observers with coherent experiences, and it’s not obvious to me that one infinity is larger than the other in the strict mathematical sense. Page takes the fact that it is ambiguous how we take the ratio of ordinary observers (OOs) and BBs in this case as a reason to reject theories that contain infinities of both OOs and BBs (arXiv:hep-th/0612137v1). But if we take a step back and think about it, surely it is absurd to reject a possible reality just because that reality would not be amenable to us conducting certain mathematical operations on it. Why should any reality be such that we can unambiguously determine a ratio of OOs to BBs?

Another problem is that typicality has to be defined relative to some class. Since Page considers BBs to be in that class, we can make a reasonable guess that he means typicality of experience relative to all other conscious objects with experiences. But this class of objects seems to be quite arbitrary. How in the world are we supposed to decide what qualifies as a minimal experience? Would we include a Boltzmann Beetle Brain in that class?

Those are just some of my own objections. Hartle and Srednicki raise others. The centerpiece of their paper is a Bayesian analysis of candidate theories about a model cyclic universe. Hartle and Srednicki describe it as follows:

Consider a model universe which has N cycles in time, k = 1, . . . ,N. In each cycle the universe may have one of two global properties: red (R) or blue (B), which could be thought of as (for example) two different possible values of the CMB temperature. To further simplify the discussion, the only relevant observables are assumed to be (1) the value of the property and (2) the existence of an observing system that is able to determine this value. In each cycle, the probability for such an observing system to exist is taken to be pE; this probability is assumed to be independent of whether the universe is red or blue in that cycle. Furthermore, observations are assumed to be perfectly accurate, so that if red is observed in any cycle, then the universe is red in that cycle, and conversely.

Two competing theories are considered: one that says the cycles of the universe are all red, another that says that only some are red. Via a Bayesian analysis, Hartle and Srednicki show that the probability of observing a red universe given a theory that stipulates how many red cycles there are, depends on the sum over all possible values for the number of observing systems not observing a red universe. So the actual number of observing systems not observing a red universe doesn’t matter. The implication is that the probability of our observing a certain set of data is independent of how many other observers there are with different sets of data — only our set matters. We can ignore the observations of hypothetical BBs.

While that disposes of Page’s dismissals of theories that imply that our observations are not typical, a deeper problem with Page’s reasoning, I think, is that the probability of observing what we observe given that a theory is true is not the quantity we should be looking at to gauge if a theory is acceptable. Instead, we should be looking at the probability that the theory is true given a certain data set; that is, P(theory | observation) instead of P(observation | theory). Since Page is arguing against accepting theories with an infinite number of Boltzmann Brains, surely what we’re concerned with is the probability of a given theory being true given a set of data, not the probability of a set of data being true given a certain theory. With P(theory | observation), we would not need the problematic typicality assumption. In fact, if we look at P(theory | observation), we can see where the mistaken intuition that typicality matters comes from. Hartle and Srednicki show that in their toy universe, the probability that the all-red-cycles theory is true given that we observe a red universe, P(all red | our cycle is red), is much larger than P(a few red cycles | our cycle is red),* the probability that a given theory with a small number of red cycles is true given that we observe a red universe. In other words, the theory in which our observations are more typical is favoured. This, however, does not justify the typicality assumption, at least with respect to Boltzmann Brains. A crucial assumption in Hartle and Srednicki’s toy cyclic universe is that the probability of an observing system to exist in any one cycle is independent of the property of the cycle under scrutiny, that is its colour. For BBs, however, it is not true that the probability of an observing system to exist in a given ‘bubble’ of inflation in the universe (say) is independent of the ratio of BBs to OOs in the entire universe. So one cannot apply Hartle/Srednicki’s Bayesian analysis to the case of hypothetical BBs, and the typicality assumption is not justified.

*Note that in this context, “few” or “many” BBs/OOs is relative to the numbers of the other kind of brain; i.e. there are “few” BBs iff the BB:OO ratio is small and there are “few” OOs iff the BB:OO ratio is large, regardless of the absolute numbers of each kind.

## HHGG in Cosmology

July 14, 2007

In Don Page’s paper Return of the Boltzmann Brains:

For example, in [37] I made the estimate that the probability per 4-volume for a brief brain is $\Gamma_{1B} \sim {e^{-10}}^{42}$, where the upper exponent had already been predicted 33 years ago [42].

The relevant citation:

[42] D. Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Pan Books, London, 1979).

Having skimmed the paper, I missed the whole “33 years ago” joke, and only went back to look for it when I skimmed through the citations and saw HHGG in it as #42. Notably, the paper has exactly 42 citations.