My subjective take on issues in and around science. Profiles of interesting scientists, etc. Also, juicy videos of nature, physics, and chemistry, etc.
Science is a Gas Giant.
I don’t mean anything disparaging by that. It’s a mental model to freshen up our thinking.
The unequivocal territory of science is the sum of theories plus experiments that have unambiguous, replicable results. This body of knowledge is the diamond-hard core at the heart of science. There are a lot of physics and chemistry experiments here. They seem to know their parts by heart.
Just beyond the border of that core, the gas atmosphere begins but it is nearly as hard as the core itself. It’s a long, dense gradient from here to the wispy edge of the atmosphere that is literally made of thin clouds under scattered atoms and space. Close to the core, the experiments are as replicable as the day is long when you average them out. There are enough squishy, stochastic details here that any random experiment might say something new, but not useful. The ambiguous results are overwhelmed by un-ambiguous ones like a single black grain in a bag of white rice.*
Heading outward, the variables faced by theorists get more complicated and slippery. If the questions science aims to answer were pickle jars, we’d crack them open without a beat at the core, struggle with rubber gloves and screwdrivers around the middle, and create thought experiments about jars and pickles at the foggy upper edge. Your thought experiment may perfectly predict opening the jar, and what’s inside but it’ll be a long time before anyone gets a pickle.
There is an entire UNIVERSE of questions in need of answers outside this atmosphere. These are unscientific questions such as, are there orders of existence above this one, is there a god, is there any foundation to astrology, extrasensory perception, or life after death?
These pickle jars are literally unrecognizable as jars of pickles when dragged down into the atmosphere of the Scientific Gas Giant. The implications of unscientific questions are so far from detection or measure within the atmosphere that they are literally nonsense down there. They are all noise, no signal. Science reacts to these questions scornfully and answers unambiguously.
This is a bit like having a masseur go over your taxes or a policeman rate the quality of your dental work. You can do it, but why on earth would you? What scientists and new-age and religious believers should recognize above all is this:
The only possible response to an Un-Scientific Question is an Un-Scientific Answer.**
If you as a layman, doubt and question the diamond core of science, you’re opting for stupidity, because that shit is proven. Then there’s a long climb through that atmosphere where if you bet against the science you are going to lose. However, outside the atmosphere, no answer is scientific and every answer is unscientific. Most everything in life, especially stuff that truly matters, is outside the atmosphere. And that’s FINE! Inside the atmosphere good, outside good too!
Out here it comes down to style and passion. Cautious people, people afraid to be wrong, or thought silly, choose the Sciency Style©. It disparages and looks down on answers that come from outside the atmosphere even though the atmosphere can’t generate a relevant word about them. It isn’t science or even scientific, but it smells just like it. It’s a “grown-up” thing you wear like a headscarf or a tie, to fit in.
Thesis: Reality is allowed to have any, (and as many), details and causes as it wishes. We are allowed to speculate wildly about these.
Welcome to Crazy-Zoo!
How about we start speaking openly about the experiences of our hearts, minds, and souls. Forcing your life and words into sciency mode is no better than forcing them into fundamentalist religious mode. If you’re a “cards close to the chest” cautious person who hates ambiguity I’m not judging you. That’s the genuine version of you and that is what we need you to be.
If you censor yourself from a pro-social fear that some critical mass of idiots will hit their flashpoint and overrun the rest of us pushing their dumb ass beliefs, let me reassure you that happened LONG ago. This isn’t about that. This is about opening your horizons from their current cramped position. It’s about canalizing restricted freedom of thought. Remember, the flatness we’d be arguing in favor of isn’t supported by the scientific method, it’s just a posture.
Especially if you’ve censored yourself out of fear of judgement I want you to uncork the ocean of reality poetry inside you and let it flow. Crazy-Zoo is my “Might as well own it” name for the wide-open territory ahead where we say what we really think, (and even learn what we really think), in bold, colorful language without checking to see who approves.
We’ll soon revisit and explore Crazy-Zoo. Hope to see you there.
|* These black grains, by the way, are the life rafts clung to by those fighting against truth for pay or trollish perversity. Global warming and a spherical Earth, for two examples.
|** There is a scientifically correct answer: “I have no way of knowing”.
I pray this is the beginning of reducing anxiety for real. Imagine the liberated potential and freedom from fear.
Study of nonhuman primates lays the groundwork for new strategies in treating anxiety
Boosting a single molecule in the brain can change ‘dispositional anxiety,’ the tendency to perceive
many situations as threatening, in nonhuman primates, researchers have found. The molecule,
neurotrophin-3, stimulates neurons to grow and make new connections.
/ Than are dreamt of in your philosophy [science]. – Willy the Shake
I grumble about scientific reductionism (SR) regularly but I thought of an angle that shows starkly, what is wrong with it. It is a Jekyll and Hyde thing. The problem comes when it escapes from the lab.
SR identifies the core reality of things as their simplest parts and origins. It is a filter against complexity, seeking the Least Story. SR understands the essence of something as “What it all boils down to”. As if a whole chicken, boiled for days down to greasy, particulate liquid better-represents chickens than the prepared carcass, let alone a living chicken. In an experiment, SR is like reducing fractions or maximum simplifying of non-essential variables. It makes results less ambiguous and that is good.
But it spread.
“All religions, nearly all philosophies, and even a part of science testify to the unwearying, heroic effort of mankind desperately denying its contingency.”
― Jacques Monod, Chance and Necessity
Monod is the man chiefly responsible for the successful neo-Darwinian movement1. I’m not specifically picking on him but using him as a fair example of scientific reductionism when it climbs over the wall. There are tons of these quotes from him and I chose the nearest one. He is using the word Contingency to mean unpredictable randomness. He means all of us are hiding from the truth that we are an accident of the universe. Excuse me, we are MERELY an accident of the universe. Excuse me, I mean a meaningless universe.
Careful philosophy shoppers should ask questions.
- What are the tools he used to run his meaning experiments?
- How were the experiments constructed?
- How would he recognize meaning if it existed? How would he observe its absence?
- Provided he had a meaning detector, and observed its absence, why would he take that to mean that the result is universal?
You need just under 5 minutes for this oddly moving visit to another planet. Watch the telemetry.
Where does this technique reside within this one spider? Where does it reside within the species?
What triggers the processing of this knowledge?
How does the spider understand (or at least experience) the need and the solution?
How does the spider brain process this knowledge without a sort of visualizing?
If spiders can visualize physics concepts
and the parts they’ll need… and collect them…
and assemble them properly…
How should we visualize the minds of spiders?
A dye that glows brighter in the presence of calcium ions is loaded into the neurons. Neurotransmitters released by an upstream neuron in a network lead to rapid calcium influx in downstream neurons, seen here as a sudden burst of green. The influx triggers an electrochemical propagation of a signal down the length of the neuron, called the axon, and causes the subsequent release of more neurotransmitters, which signals the next neurons in the same network to fire.
“Noble” gasses near a Tesla coil.
“[We] cannot find out the use of steam engines, until comes steam-engine-time. ” Charles Fort
Charles Fort was an extraordinary thinker and a witty if challenging writer. Born into the heart of the steam-driven industrial revolution, He was nonplussed to learn about the Aeolipile, an ancient Roman steam engine. It was a very simple device and researchers aren’t certain if it was an entertaining party trick or had some small practical use. We do know that its impact on this historical period is zero. It didn’t capture the imagination of the time or generate new ideas and new technologies. It was intellectually inert.
What then makes a technological breakthrough roar into life seemingly from nowhere? Why do paradigm shifts sometimes appear startlingly fast?
“Steam engine time” may sound too techno-mystical to be an idea of practical use but I think the meaning is straightforward. Steam engine time (or gunpowder time or antibiotic time) is an EMERGENT effect of the laying down sufficient essential substrate to make the idea fertile. That substrate collects slowly and incrementally. It consists of underlying 1. technological and 2. intellectual readiness.
- The sort of hardware needed to express the idea physically must be “off the shelf” accessible. Not like Superstore accessible but in the general world of the moment and probably serving completely unrelated purposes at present. If you have to invent a bunch of other things to compile and test your idea, it isn’t time yet.
- There must be a sort of slowly heating or charging excitement growing in the community of innovators and thinkers. They may keep their thoughts to themselves but related ideas are percolating and making connections throughout the surrounding world. The questions are crystallizing and there is a growing sense of urgency. Competition plays a part too. Pride and fear add to the pressure. This process speeds up when more people are engaging with the issue.
If you’ve read my stuff on Darwin and Wallace you know of their representative competition but the IDEA of evolution was on a low boil everywhere in their cultural moment. The substrate was laid and the moment was fertile. Their theories (and others) could only emerge in a powerful way that shaped the future from this state of readiness. A breakthrough theory coming before the substrate is ripe and ready is roundly ignored.
Feuding Dutchmen, and Telescope Time
With the Renaissance came a new freedom of thought and hunger for knowledge. Ptolemaic knowledge of astronomy was rediscovered and published along with mythology, astrology, and philosophy. Our place in the universe was one of the ideas beginning to bubble in many minds. Technology and craftsmanship rose from the old, rediscovered knowledge and quickly had a practical impact. It was inevitable that as glassmaking and lens-grinding techniques improved in the late 1500s, someone would hold up two lenses and observe what they could do.
The first patent application for a telescope came from Dutch eyeglass maker Hans Lippershey. In 1608, Lippershey claimed he’d invented a device that could magnify objects three times. His telescope had a concave eyepiece aligned with an objective convex lens. Another eyeglass maker, Zacharias Jansen, claimed Lippershey had stolen the idea from him. Jansen and Lippershey lived in the same town and both worked on making optical instruments.
We have no evidence that Lippershey did not develop his telescope independently therefore, he gets the credit for the telescope, because of the patent application, while Jansen is credited with inventing the compound microscope. Both appear somehow to have been a part of the development of both instruments.
This is an extraordinary impact on science and the future from one little Dutch town and two very competitive residents. Our exploration of the very big and far and the very small and close comes to us courtesy of this jealous, grumpy lens grinding soap opera. Continue reading
Euler’s disk, (pronounced ‘Oiler’) which can spin for an absurdly long time, and seemingly defy gravity by increasing its axial precession as it decreases its azimuthal rotation. It appears to break physical laws (it doesn’t) but it truly shatters expectations.
The Signal to Noise Ratio
- Formal: the ratio of the strength of an electrical or other signal carrying information, to that of interference, generally expressed in decibels.
- Informal: a measure of how much useful information there is in a system, such as the Internet, as a proportion of the entire contents.
Signal is meaning detected against a background of meaninglessness, or Noise. This is something you and I never stop doing. You are doing it to read this on the screen and doing it again more subtly to decide whether I’m full of crap, then more subtly still, to decide if you care one way or the other. Our need to discern is endless. An animal using stealth or mimicry to catch prey or to escape becoming prey is imitating noise. Detecting signal can easily be a matter of life and death. Continue reading