Tag Archives: science

It Was Ever Thus

The ByrdsI’ve written about this before, the idea that there’s nothing new under the sun — that it was ever thus. The claim is usually made in the face of complaints about how “things are going to hell these days, and how much better it was back then.”

Some cite the ancient Greek[1] who said something about how things never really change (except he was just commenting about kids not respecting their elders). Others cite the famous passage in Ecclesiastes[2] (which also gave us a favorite tune by The Byrds[3]).

So what do I think is new under the sun?

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reblog: Pi in the Sky Science Journalism

I seem to be doing a lot of reblogging lately (a lot for me, anyway). But I’m on kind of a math kick right now, and this ties in nicely with all that.

4 gravitons

You’ve probably seen it somewhere on your facebook feed, likely shared by a particularly wide-eyed friend: pi found hidden in the hydrogen atom!

FionaPi

ChoPi

OuellettePi

From the headlines, this sounds like some sort of kabbalistic nonsense, like finding the golden ratio in random pictures.

Read the actual articles, and the story is a bit more reasonable. The last two I linked above seem to be decent takes on it, they’re just saddled with ridiculous headlines. As usual, I blame the editors. This time, they’ve obscured an interesting point about the link between physics and mathematics.

So what does “pi found hidden in the hydrogen atom” actually mean?

It doesn’t mean that there’s some deep importance to the number pi in nature, beyond its relevance in mathematics in general. The reason that pi is showing up here isn’t especially deep.

It isn’t trivial either, though. I’ve seen a few people…

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Vectors and Scalars (oh, my!)

Math!Put on your arithmetic caps, dear readers. Also your math mittens, geometry galoshes and cosine coats. Today we’re venturing after numeric prey that lurks down among the lines and angles.

There’s no danger, at least not to life or limb, but I can’t promise some ideas won’t take root in your brain. There’s a very real danger of learning something when you venture into dark territory such as this.  Even the strongest sometimes succumb, so hang on to your hats (and galoshes and mittens and coats and brains).

Today we’re going after vectors and scalars (and some other game)!

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How Big is God?

galaxy

“Space is big. Really big.”

When I started blogging here, one of the first bloggers I followed was Robin, of Witless Dating After Fifty. Over the years, she’s several times mentioned a great question her dad often posed when discussing religion with someone: “How big is your god?”

Last week my buddy and I were having our weekly beer- and gab-fest and our (typically very meandering) conversation came to touch on the problems with young Earth creationism — the Christian fundamentalist idea that the universe is only thousands of years old.

In fact, there’s a pair of real whopper problems involved!

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Crumpled Paper Balls

ideaYou couldn’t know this, but my blogging workspace is littered with balls of virtual crumpled paper.  The ones writers make when they rip failed writing attempts from their typewriter, smush them up in disgust, and toss them disdainfully over their shoulder. This post — which has been in my mental queue for well over a year — has the strongest resistance to being written that I’ve ever encountered.

I wrote the note you see here somewhere back in 2013. It seemed like exactly the sort of thought chain that would make an interesting post. Many of the items in that chain (consciousness, art, science) are things that fascinate me and are even areas this blog tries to discuss.

So why is a post about it so dang hard to write?

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Science is Easy!

scientist (mad)No doubt those who regard quantum physics or Einstein’s relativity or even just trigonometry as an impenetrable thicket of unknowable terms and ideas have a hard time believing science could be easy. The lingo alone seems to create an exclusive “members only” club.

The trick is: easy (or difficult) compared to what? Many scientists now disdain philosophy (apparently forgetting what we now call science was once called natural philosophy). They point to the advances of science in the last 500 (or whatever) years and then say that philosophy hasn’t been nearly as successful in 2000 years.

But that’s because science is easy. It’s philosophy that’s hard!

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Sunday Thoughts

signpostDespite the title, this post isn’t as strongly related to the previous three as the naming convention suggests. I don’t really have much to say about religious predestination. If anything, my views on spirituality are key to a belief in free will and choice. The religion I was raised in seems (at least to my eye) quite clear that we are allowed to choose our actions.

The connection to those other posts lies in picking up the thread of physical determinism — normally a necessarily atheist point of view — and doing a riff on religion, spirituality and atheism. This is the post I started to write last Sunday when my mind took off in a completely different direction.

This time I’m going to try sticking to the subject!

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Do Ask Why!

why-0A while ago, a popular mass-produced beer had some commercials that revolved around the line, “Why ask why?” While most beer commercials seem on the stupid side to me anyway (one brand’s only selling point seems to be “coldness”), those especially bugged me. Actually, as I recall, the commercials were pretty cute; it was the idea that asking Why? is pointless that bugged me.

I believe that asking Why? is a uniquely human trait. Animals accept existence; humans question it. And while there is a certain important Zen-like quality to accepting existence, I believe the questions are also important.

Science is really nothing more than the process of asking Why?

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Renaissance Despair

Vitruvian ManAbout 500 years ago a thing happened in Europe: The Scientific Renaissance. It was part of a larger thing, called the Scientific Revolution. These were the seeds that lead to the Age of Enlightenment, when science and rationality were the saviors of humanity lifting us up from the dark ages.

Now the Renaissance is mostly seen as a traveling annual party where people can play Medieval dress-up and eat giant turkey legs (thus proving that anything can be trivialized and you are what you eat). Which is all fine. I enjoy a good outdoor party as much as anyone, and it is interesting finding out what mead actually tastes like.

But I fear we’re forgetting the advances made in the real Renaissance and setting sail back to the Dark Ages.

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Impedance Mismatch

buffalo herdI find myself in an increasing funk the last few weeks. By now I’m feeling maximally funky, but unfortunately not in the good way. Funky often refers to smell, and in this case the increasing stink is mental. I’m just … fed up, halfway between tired and disgusted, many miles south of annoyed.

Work accounts for much of that, perhaps all of it. Yet another week of literally zero progress. In fact there was a setback: vendor work that didn’t, and the vendor is being difficult about dealing with it. I seem to be on the IT project equivalent of the Titanic (and there are a scary number of parallels).

And for a variety of reasons I’m feeling a strong sense of impedance mismatch with the world.

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