Saturday, February 21, 2015

Air Climbing

Perhaps any sufficiently advanced logic is indistinguishable from stupidity. - Alex Tabarrok, The Rise of Opaque Intelligence

Last night I had a dream that I was doing one arm pull ups on a tree branch.  While I was doing the pull ups I "remembered" that even at my fittest I could never do real one arm pull ups.  That's when it dawned on me that the reason that I was able to do them was because the branch was bouncing a bit.  Except, maybe the branch wasn't initially bouncy but my brain made it bouncy in order to adjust to the newly added information.

Me1: I'm doing one arm pull ups?  Shenanigans
Me2: Oh really?  Check again...
Me1: You're right, it's because the branch is bouncing

When I woke up in the morning I wondered how one might make a pull up machine with a dynamic, rather than a static, pull up bar.  I also wondered whether such a contraption would be beneficial in any way.  The benefit wasn't immediately apparent so my morning mind did a small hop over to an idea that I had a long time ago... air climbing.

Not exactly sure how to define air climbing.  It's not gliding or attaching a rocket to your back.  Human-powered helicoptering is closely related.  

Right now if you do a google image search for air climbing... there isn't a single result that's relevant to what I have mind.  Maybe there's another term for it?  If so, then please let me know.  But the lack of relevant results seems to indicate that most people would be inclined to argue that air climbing isn't possible.  Honestly I'd be surprised though if this was truly the case.

I'll share with you the apparatus/approach that I thought of... and it's probably pretty terrible... maybe even laughably terrible... but I'll share it anyways because I love the idea of air climbing.

Here we go...

Here we have a guy named Geoff holding two ultra light/strong umbrellas.  As he thrusts one umbrella up, it automatically closes.  When he pulls the other umbrella down, it automatically opens.  The problem is that, even if he was the fittest person in the world for this mission, he wouldn't be able to thrust his arms fast enough to "win" (defeat gravity for an extended period of time).  If you've got the math skills then feel free to calculate just how fast he'd have to thrust his arms in order to win (assume he's the average weight of an elite mountain climber... 125 pounds).  The basic problem here is that he's not getting enough bang (air) for his buck (thrust).  How could he get more air for his thrust?

Hah.  We could give Geoff more air for his thrust by stacking umbrellas.  Errr... I have no idea whether this is really true.  It seems true though.  If it is true, then what would be the optimal umbrella tower?  How many umbrellas would be included?  How far apart would the umbrellas need to be in order to minimize drafting / maximize drag?  What would be the optimal shape of the umbrellas?  How much would the optimal tower reduce the thrust rate he'd need to win?  Even with an optimal tower there's the problem that arms aren't nearly as strong as legs are.

There are two problems here.  The first is that most of us don't have prehensile feet and the second is that a horizontal grip would be better for the hands.

Does this make much of a difference?  Could Geoff win now?  Probably not.

Haha... yeah, it's cheating.  But what's the minimum amount of helium that it would take in order for Geoff to win?  Wouldn't that be a cool contest to see who could air climb with the least helium?  Kinda like a different version of the International Birdman competition.

It seems like a given that as the efficiency (air for the thrust) of the approaches improved over time that less and less helium would be needed until eventually air climbing didn't require any helium.  Would efficiency gains stop there?  Could you imagine if air climbing was as easy as stair climbing?

A "minor" detail is that I'm not quite sure how somebody would come down from an air climb.  Would they just decrease their thrust rate?  Imagine if the two brothers in the movie Gattaca had competed with air climbing rather than swimming... "I never saved anything for the climb down".

In a sense, air climbing is very much akin to swimming.  But you're pulling air rather than water.  If you called it "air swimming" though then people would automatically think that you were free-styling horizontally through the air.

I just texted a terrible synopsis of air climbing to Geoff, my bff, and his reply was... "I saw that movie, Mary Poppins, right?  Pixar's UP"

So what's air climbing have to do with pragmatarianism?  Well... they are both ideas that I really like.  There aren't very many people that like pragmatarianism and I'm going to be surprised if it's any different with air climbing.  This means that the opening quote by Tabarrok is applicable to both ideas... "Perhaps any sufficiently advanced logic is indistinguishable from stupidity."

That quote should come to mind whenever you're inclined to argue that something is stupid.  It's important to recognize that there's always going to be logic that's over your head.  This is true of everyone...  

Noah: I'm going to build a big boat
Arnold Kling: I doubt the business model
Alex Tabarrok: Perhaps any sufficiently advanced logic is indistinguishable from stupidity

It's great to doubt, but it's even better to appreciate that you might be wrong (fallibilism).  This is because progress depends on difference.

Maybe I'm wrong that people won't like the idea of air climbing?  If so, then the more people that like the idea, the greater the chances that an air climbing contest will be started.  And the larger the prize money, the more intelligence and creativity that will be attracted to the challenge.

This is of course the concept of value signals...

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