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|WARNING: THIS SITE FEATURES ORIGINAL THINKING...Jim Croce once sang Don't tug on Superman's cape..., which seems like reasonable advice should we not wish to anger the supreme powers. We do have this duality in our culture: the Superman that is the state collective, the leftist call to a politics of meaning managed by the state, the deification of "we're from the government and we'll take care of you" - versus the Superman that celebrates individual freedom, private property, freedom of conscience, free enterprise, and limited government. We humbly take on the latter's mantle and, eschewing the feeble tug, we dare to PULL, in hope of seeing freedom's rescue from the encroaching nanny state. We invite you, dear reader, to come and pull as well... Additionally, if you assume that means that we are unflinching, unquestioning GOP zombies, that would be incorrect. We reject statism in any form and call on individuals in our country to return to the original, classical liberalism of our founders. (We're also passionate about art, photography, cooking, technology, Judeo/Christian values, and satire as unique, individual pursuits of happiness to celebrate.)|
Superman's product of the century (so far):
I don't want to drive the hairpin turns in the dark - so reluctantly leave ... hoping to somehow capture the elusive numinous that pervades this magic mountain.
There is still a little breeze at Reflection Lake. But as all the escarpment falls into shadow in the fading light ......Continue reading "Rainier - Day's end..."
The US-European Cassini spacecraft has imaged a feature on Saturn's largest moon - Titan, that may be a 235km x 75km liquid methane lake - in the top-left portion of the image:
Upon further examination, though, there is a much more momentous discovery:
Now with UPDATES:...Continue reading "Cassini sees a lake?"
This week the Hubble space telescope folks released some pictures it took using its (Advanced Camera for Surveys) ACS coronagraph masking technique to expose the debris ring around the nearby star Fomalhaut (a star in the Southern Fish constellation Piscis Austrinus).
How about that one Nathan? Feel like the Ringlord is watching?
(H/T Commonsense and Wonder)
On further investigation, there is a significant mystery relative to this star and these photographs. Scientists are convinced that there must be a large planet orbiting this star because the debris ring is offset from the gravitational center of the star.
(Please click below to continue...)...Continue reading "Ringlord"
I finished reading a book on the 10 hour flight from Seattle to Narita over the weekend. It's called: A Different Universe - Reinventing Physics From The BottomDown. It's by Nobel Laureate Robert B. Laughlin who is the Robert M. and Anne Bass Professor of Physics at Stanford University. He shared the 1998 Nobel Prize for Physics for his work on the fractional quantum Hall effect in semiconductor physics. His book was just published this year - just a few weeks ago.
I like this book very much. Maybe I like it because he says a lot of the things that I've been saying - at least it sounds like that to me - and it's from someone who has a lot more credibility in the scientific community than I have.
Laughlin's book is about a lot of things - it touches on many subjects. But mostly, it is about the problems with reductionism and about the age of emergence (collective phenomena) which he champions. He contends that physics - and though he alludes to it, I don't think he comes out and says it completely so I will: all of 'science' - has been entirely focused on taking things apart - breaking them down into their most primitive constituents in an effort to understand and control them. In physics we see this in string theory for example - the constant quest for a 'theory of everything'. He contrasts this with the organizational properties of 'massive objects' (such as proteins and semi-conductors) and demonstrates that understanding the parts doesn't provide understanding of the 'wholes' - and in many cases, the 'whole' constructs provide detailed accuracy of things like scientific constants that flabbergast scientists when they discover them.
A case in point has to do with Laughlin's work with the Hall effect (which has to do with what happens when a magnet is placed next to a current flow.) Laughlin's Nobel work was related to a discovery that Klaus von Klitzing made involving low temperature semiconductors and the Hall effect - in field effect transistors at low temperature the Hall resistance becomes quantum mechanical and is revealed in 'quantum' stairsteps. Von Klitzing's insight was that these quantum staristeps were a combination of fundamental constants: the quantum of electric charge e, Planck's constant h, and the speed of light c - all of which we think of as the fundamental building blocks of the universe. Here's what Laughlin has to say about this:
This fact has the obvious implication that you can measure the building blocks with breathtaking accuracy without dealing with the building blocks directly. This is deeply important and deeply upsetting to most physicists. The more thoughtful of them find it impossible to believe until they study the numbers, end even then suspect something to be amiss. But nothing ever is... The impact this discovery had on physics would be hard to overstate. I remember the day my colleague Dan Tsui brought the von Klitzing paper and ... urged everyone to thing about where this astonishing accuracy could have come from. No one had an explanation. We all knew that von Klitzing's samples were imperfect... These [imperfections] are known to influence other electrical measurements... But this explanation turned out to be wrong. As a result of theoretical work done after the fact, including some of my own, we now understand that imperfection has actually the opposite effect, namely to cause the perfection of the measurement - a dramatic reversal worthy of the finest Greek drama. The quantum Hall effect is, in fact, a magnificent example of perfection emerging out of imperfection... Collective phenomena are both common in nature and central to modern physical science, so the effect is in this sense neither unprecedented nor hard to understand. However, the extreme accuracy of the von Klitzing effect makes its collective nature undeniable, and therein lies its special significance.
He goes on to say that this discovery was a watershed event in science - in which physical science stepped out of reductionism into the age of emergence. Laughlin and his colleagues went on to show that there are even quantized steps within the Hall effect which divide the fundamental electrical charge e into thirds and thus "proved the existence of new phases of matter in which the elementary excitations - the particles - carried an exact fraction of e." A further demonstration of emergence.
Laughlin addresses a number of subjects in this light - he's particularly fond of phase states of matter - and spends a good deal of time talking about water in its frozen, liquid, and vapor states - and what we don't understand today about those transitions.
He also introduces some new terms into the science lexicon - like 'protectionism' and 'Dark Corollaries' which is his effort to popularize the concepts of renormalization of which there is a large body of work in existence but which is poorly understood. Basically, there are natural barriers to getting any meaningful information by taking something more and more apart - both having to do with 'balance universalities' (like the invariance of scale), and relevance (or losing the meaning you are seeking by taking something further apart or running down a rabbit hole - what he calls a 'Deceitful Turkey'.) He also points out that getting people to understand this at large is a significant economic threat since so much of science is occupied with pursuing these things - which have little value. He ends his chapter on his new lexicon thus:
One can imagine I am none too popular saying things like this, but I do not care. It is better to be on target and hated than craven and beholden, and anyway, I have sacrificed plenty on the altar of irrelevance and thus know what I am talking about. But for those who are still not satisifed, I am selling little Dark Lord dolls in a likeness of myself, which they may purchase and then do with as they please. You pull a string and the doll squeaks out, "May the Schwartz be with you." It is adorable.
Oh, yes, did I say Laughlin was very funny?
He turns his attention for one chapter on the Principles of Life - and examines some of the same reductionist versus emergence arguments that he has earlier in reference to physics. For example:
... I know a terrible experiment when I see one. The symptoms are always the same. The measurements do not reproduce, they do not lend themsleves to commonsense analysis, and the cannot be quantified. The argument that animate things are just fundamentally different from inanimate things in this regard is false. There are plenty of highly quantifiable things in biology: the ribosomal genetic code, the fidelity of DNA replication, the crystal structure of proteins, the shapes of self-assembled virus parts, and even sophisticated behavior of higher organisms such as rats and people. The truth is that the control machinery for converting genes into life is not understood...
Whether such corollaries [the Dark Corollaries mentioned earlier] are at work in living things is not known, but the mere suggestion that they are has extremely disturbing implications for experimental biology. It places the burden of proof on the scientist to show that his or her experiment has meaning - something not commonly done at present, and even considered slightly diesreputable - since measuring first and asking questions later has the potential to generate massive amounts of information that is not even wrong. It impugns the common practice of not repeating and checking experiments, since variability need no longer be natural but a symptom of instability. It devalues truth determined by consensus to the status of politics and raises the possibility that the consensus is simple enshrined and legitimized falsehood. It transforms proprietary secrecy into a golden opportunity for fraud. [Emphasis added]
Laughlin delivers his most scorching criticism immediately after:
Most important of all, however, the presence of such corollaries raises the concern that much of present-day biological knowledge is ideological. A key symptom of idealogical thinking is the explanation that has no implications and cannot be tested. I call such logical dead ends antitheories because they have exactly the opposite effect of real theories: they stop thinking rather than stimulate it. Evolution by natural selection, for instance, which Charles Darwin originally conceived as a great theory, has lately come to function more as an antitheory, called upon to cover up embarrasing experimental shortcomings and legitimize findings that are at best questionable and at worst not even wrong. Your protein defies the laws of mass action? Evolution did it! Your complicated mess of chemical reactions turns into a chicken? Evolution! The human brain works on logical principles that no computer can emulate? Evolution is the cause! Sometimes one hears it argued that the issue is moot because biochemistry is a fact-based discipline for which theories are neither helpful or wanted. The argument is false, for theories are needed for formulating experiments. Biology has plenty of theories. They are just not discussed - or scrutinized - in public. The ostensibly noble repudiation of theoretical prejudice is, in fact, a cleverly disguised antitheory, whose actual function is to evade the requirement for logical consistency as a means of eliminating falsehood. We often ask ourselves nowadays whether evolution is an engineer or a magician - a discoverer and exploiter of preexisting physical principles or a worker of miracles - but we shouldn't. The former is theory, the latter antitheory. [Emphasis added]
This from someone not identified with the ID movement or anything like it.
Laughlin has quite a few other criticisms of the science establishment. I'll give you one more:
The need for precision, in turn, redoubles the need for that other great Greek tradition, open discussion of ideas and ruthless separation of meaningful things from meaningless ones. Precision alone does not guarantee good law. Financing practices in the Age of Emergence have the side effect of diluting content, engendering the famous joke that the Physical Review is now so voluminous that stacking up successive issues would generate a surface traveling faster than the speed of light - although without violating relativity because the Physical Review contains no information. The problems, which is not restricted to physics, occurs because large experimental laboratories cannot get the conitnued funding they need without defending their work from criticism, which they typically do by forming self-refereeing monopolies that define certain ideas and bodies of thought to be importatnt, whether they actually are or not...
I'll leave his ultimate punchline for you to grok for yourself. This is an amazing book - with significant implications for the future of science. I will watch intently to see how Laughlin is treated by his peers after they read his book.
I realize that much of what Laughlin writes is not about dissident science - but the issues, politics, and ideologies are the same. For me it is very meaningful to read someone as accomplished as Laughlin is, and hear him decry the same kind of conditions that describe our science culture that have disturbed me so much.
Spaceweather is reporting on a monster sunspot that is presently about five earth diameters in size - there's going to be a whopper of an M-class solar flare coming up soon - maybe May 1st.
Photographer Sylvain Weiller captured this image of the monster - probably using a filter that collects film image in response to the hydrogen fires of the sun.
That dark spot is about 40,000 miles across folks. Whoa!
Today marks the anniversary of Albert Einstein's death in 1955.
This year is also the 100th anniversary of three of Einstein's seminal papers - particularly the one on special relativity.
This evening, scientists around the world commemorated Einstein's work by creating a worldwide relay of lights.
Perhaps, even Einstein would be amazed at the progress that has been made in quantum mechanics and string theory since he left this plane.
But, perhaps he'd offer some new thought experiments to the scientific brahmans of our age. And the question is: Would Einstein be heard today?
Some of us know when the clocks can tick dear Albert. Rest in peace.
Immediately saw a rainbow looking to the south. Pulled out the camera and took a few shots from the truck.
Heading east on I-90 the rainbow became significantly more intense and as I headed up the East Gate hill it became a double bow and was as brilliantly colored a rainbow as I have ever seen in my life.
I just downloaded the pics off of the camera. Of course the pics don't do justice to the reality but in at least a couple of them show the intensity of the rainbow straddling the north and south of I-90.
I learned on Thursday that several of my relatives just think it was the Saint Patrick's Day entrance of Leprechaun John.
Though I continue to be generally dismayed with the scientific brahmanism that characterizes much of the science world, occasionally an interesting idea makes it past the censors into the public dialogue.
Such was a cover item of the November 27-December 3rd 2004 New Scientist (yep, I broke down and subscribed - running about 2 months behind reviewing them!): Einstein Eclipsed The puzzle that relativity can't solve.
This fascinating article describes the behavior of a common enough science experiment - the movement of a pendulum - that may exhibit very strange behavior under certain conditions.
Discussing some of the things the happen during an eclipse, author Govert Schilling presents:
But there may be more to an eclipse than meets the eye. Swinging pendulums go wild as if some mysterious force were tugging on them. Sensitive gravimeters give readings that fluctuate violently. Gravity itself seems to quiver a bit. Or so say a small band of physicists who claim that these mysterious phenomena hint at a fundamental flaw in Einstein's general theory of relativity.
And immediately follows with:
Needless to say, such claims have proved controversial. Celestial alignments, pendulum experiments, Einstein bashing - it all smacks of fringe science that deserves to be ignored. Surely there must be some conventional explanation.
Yet when physicist Chris Duif of Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands published a review in August this year of the various explanations that physicists have put forward, he concluded that they all fail to make sense of the bizarre findings. So now researchers are planning to pack up their pendulums and chase eclipses across the globe in the hope of settling the debate once and for all.
And the heart of the matter:
The first indication that something might be wrong came 50 years ago, in the summer of 1954. At the School of Mining in Paris, engineer, economist and would-be physicist Maurice Allais carried out an impressive series of pendulum experiments. Allais's original aim was to investigate a possible link between magnetism and gravitation. What he found was much stranger.
Let go of a pendulum and it will start swinging because gravity tugs down on it. Einstein's general theory of relativity explains this relentless tugging geometrically: every mass bends the fabric of space-time around it, so other masses slide down into the dimple in space-time. Walk into a room and you subtly distort space-time, pulling everything gently towards you.
Left to swing freely, a pendulum will always trace the same path through space. But because of our planet's rotation, the plane in which the pendulum swings appears to rotate slowly with respect to a laboratory on Earth. This effect was first demonstrated by French physicist Léon Foucault in 1851.
Surprisingly, Allais saw the pendulum's rotation rate increasing and decreasing in the course of a day, which was mysterious enough. Then, during a partial eclipse of the sun on 30 June 1954, one of Allais's assistants noted that the pendulum went mad. At the start of the eclipse, the pendulum's swing plane suddenly started to rotate backwards
(see Graphic). It veered furthest off course 20 minutes before "maximum eclipse", when the moon smothered a large fraction of the sun's surface. Afterwards, the pendulum's swing went back to normal. It was as if the pendulum had somehow been influenced by the alignment of the Earth, the moon and the sun. (Ed. Emphasis added.)
In an improved version of his experiment four years later, Allais placed two pendulums 6 kilometres apart. During June and July that year, both displayed the same erratic rotation. The work caught the attention of Wernher von Braun, the pioneering rocket engineer. Spellbound by these apparent gravitational anomalies, he urged Allais to publish his results in English and not just in French (
Aero/Space Engineering, vol 9, p 46).
And what could this all mean?
To Allais, the mysterious behaviour sounded as if it could signal the collapse of Einstein's general theory of relativity - a view he still holds today at the age of 93 and with the 1988 Nobel prize for economics under his belt. In particular, he claims that the pendulum results point to the existence of the ether, the hypothetical substance through which light waves were once thought to propagate. (Ed. Emphasis added)
Needless to say, none of this sits well with the established scientific views - there is a rehash of postulations that the original observations may have been due to instrument errors, 'cool spots' projected onto the earth during an eclipse - causing air movements or pressure changes, people being more active during eclipses (as if their running around would affect pendulums).
But Thomas Goodey, an independent researcher based in Brentford, Middlesex, in the UK, a trained mathematician is prepared to investigate the phenomena thoroughly - having been disappointed at a lunar eclipse on October 28, 2004 - he especially looks forward to the solar eclipse which will occur on September 22, 2006 under almost the same conditions as the one that Allais observed in 1954.
So, at least one series of scientific observations will be conducted to test a new theory - isn't that how it is supposed to work?
In a sidebar there is also discussion that the pendulum problem may be related to another real world observation:
According to physicist Chris Duif of Delft University of Technology, the mysterious behaviour of pendulums during solar eclipses may be related to another gravitational enigma: the Pioneer anomaly. In 1998, physicists and engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, discovered that the unmanned space probes Pioneer 10 and 11 are slowly veering off their expected course, as if the solar system is tugging a bit too hard on the two craft.
Fuel leaks and heat radiation are among the proposed explanations of the Pioneer anomaly, but despite extremely careful analyses the problem has never been solved. During a special conference on the anomaly last May in Bremen, Germany, a wide variety of unconventional solutions were discussed, but no clear consensus emerged. Scientists from JPL and the universities of Bremen and Cologne have now proposed a European Space Agency mission to study the mysterious deceleration in more detail.
Some astronomers think the Pioneer anomaly is evidence of a minor but important flaw in the laws of gravity. According to Newton's laws, the strength of gravity falls with the inverse square of distance. But Mordehai Milgrom of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, has proposed an alternative explanation which he calls modified Newtonian dynamics. In MOND, the inverse square law only applies where gravity is strong. Where it is weak, gravity fades more slowly with distance
( New Scientist, 20 July 2002, p 28).
Modifying the inverse square law, some physicists claim, would also explain the motion of stars and galaxies without the need to invoke huge amounts of unseen dark matter in the universe. It may even point the way to a successful merger of general relativity with quantum mechanics - something scientists have been unable to accomplish so far.
So let's see - observable physical phenomena that call relativity, Newton's laws of gravitational mechanics, and the dark matter cosomological theory into question - and scientific observational inquiry takes place in what 50 something years privately funded by an interested researcher?
At least it's something. Which is more than we can say about most of the worshipped edifices of the new brahmans. Now those are some capes to pull on, eh?
From NASA Space Weather:
CHINESE NEW YEAR: Tonight's new moon, because it is the second new moon of winter, marks the beginning of a new year--in China. According to the Chinese calendar, Wednesday, Feb. 9th, is the first day of the year of the rooster. Happy New Year!
Dr. Benjamin Fong Chao and Dr. Richard Gross of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory report on their findings:
NASA scientists studying the Indonesian earthquake of Dec. 26, 2004, have calculated that it slightly changed our planet's shape, shaved almost 3 microseconds from the length of the day, and shifted the North Pole by centimeters.
There is an interesting map at the above link that shows the epicenter and surrounding aftershocks along with the plates that caused the main earthquake.
Most references to early reports on this story opined that the earth wobbles more than this during a given year - but I think the key issue that hasn't really been explored is that this event didn't happen over a year - the earth began to spin faster and changed its shape and axis in a veritable instant on December 26th.
I don't know about you, but that is more than just a little scary to me.