Life, the Universe and Pretty Much Everything



I love this  :)   Gagan and I watch Bewitched all the time and I think Endora called Darrin 'Darwin' so many times.  Oh.. and I have to say, (to quote evil Ted) I have a full-on robot chubby for Samantha... she is way cute!  

Pity she put up with that sexist marriage though....  sign of the times I guess.

Holy Smut

The Spiritual Physicist

I never use the word 'spiritual' ... but I just listened to something I really liked, and I think it sums up why learning about the universe - from the largest to the smallest things, can be so wonderful and make us feel fulfilled in every sense.

I love to walk down a street, and imagine that because I'm walking I'm kind of shattering  the time around me. I'm causing time to elapse at a different rate than it would if I were standing still. I love that idea. ....  When I look at the table top I delight in the fact that I can, in my mind, picture the atoms and molecules, and the interactions between them and the mostly empty space that's in there, and that when my hand touches the table top I see the electrons in the outer surface of my hand pushing against the electrons in the outer surface of the table. I'm not really touching the table. My hand never comes into contact with the table. What's happening is the electrons are getting really close together and they're repelling each other. And I love the fact that I'm in essence deforming the surface of the table by making my electrons come really close to it. That enriches my experience. 

Brian Greene, a physicist from Columbia University was talking about time in respect to the theory of relativity, and how the speed of time depends on our position and how fast we are going.  The thing is, he just gets really excited... like a kid... his voice gets faster and faster, and his cheeks get full of spit, like he can't get the words out fast enough. It's really delightful and passionate and full of a sense of wonder that you kinda hope every scientist still has.  If you can feel things like this just by walking around and touching inanimate objects, who needs invisible magic men in the sky!

Note:  To hear him, you need to go about 25 minutes or so into this show, but the whole programme is *definitely* worth a listen.

Late to the Party

I said to Gagan that learning all about science is a little like arriving late to the party.  I feel like everyone else is here already and I have walked in to a crowded room dressed in decidedly ugly 80's clothes with a daggy haircut and the whole place has turned around to stare and point. 'Did you see what just walked in? How embarrassing!'  I am trying to melt into the corners and look inconspicuous .. pretend I've always been here, but you know how it is. The harder you try to not be noticed, the more likely you are to end up with french onion dip smeared on your cheek and the lights showing up your visible pantyline.

But... better late then never eh?  Phew..... at least I'm here and I'm not leaving.

I was introduced to this wonderful article called Lockhart's Lament written by a friend of a friend. It's about the teaching of mathematics in school. It's radical, confronting, brilliant and punchy.  It makes you think of everything you felt when you were at school and *wanting* to like maths but wondering why it was easier to gaze out the window instead.  It brings up such fundamental ideas about what mathematics is in the first place - an art or a science.  It firmly, aggressively in-yer-face states that it is an art just the same as poetry, literature and painting.  Rote learning is missing the point completely... and the case for why is very convincing.  Though the article is long (25 pages), it's really worth the time and makes me wish I could start all over - get the chance with someone as inspired to teach from such a viewpoint.

It also makes me remember something that happened when I was little. I was at a cousin's house, and tinkering around on her wonderful piano. She was a piano teacher - very accomplished and not a little intimidating.  She was very proper, quite old, rather grandiose and though kindly, was strong minded and I was small and always a little nervous around her. She had a wonderful huge garden, in sections that seemed like they went on forever - perfectly tended with English flowerbeds and blossoms of every colour. A visit there was always special and I remember that my Mum (also a wonderful pianist who taught piano for many years before I was born) was chatting with her while I got to play on her very grand piano. After what seemed a long time, I proudly had made up a little song. I'm sure it wasn't long at all... just a series of notes I imagine (I must have been 7 or 8) but I was excited to play it for them.

I'm sure what I played was utter crap! They will have smiled after indulging me, but the main thing I remember was that I was hoping for an 'oh great' and mainly got a delicate little talk about how music works. About how it is structured and its rules and so on. I know they were both kind about it, but I can remember just being so deflated.  I was a pretty stubborn kid and I have a memory of just giving up on music then.  What a shame.

I think in some small way it's the same thing. I had had no concept of rules or restrictions and was very free about it.  I was just exploring (which also meant what I did was rubbish - but maybe that is not the point).  Maybe the journey is more important than the result - just like in mathematics.  Perhaps there would have been some way to gradually introduce more structure once my passion was captured. Who knows.  And...I was a very sensitive kid (still am)!

Imagine if we were all just learning to explore - in whatever discipline. Whether it's exploring an idea about how the timbre and rhythm of certain words fit together to make a beautiful sentence, how completely perfect a circle is and the concept of pi, maybe the idea of how mirror neurons in the brain can fire when simply observing someone else having an experience.  I'm not sure that we should separate art and science when it comes to how our brain works - the beauty of exploring and learning to think in new ways - challenge ourselves,  is all that matters in the end.  Maybe there is no difference, and art and science is simply 'knowledge', for want of a much better word, and should be taught as such.

No More Nails!

teehee  :D


An Atheist in Space!

Weirdly edited YouTube clip... but I loved the 'weightless and godless' bit  :)

A Little Gem

"I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it's much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong."   - Richard Feynman

You wha'?

I woke up with a start this morning. Straight out of a dream with the last words echoing in my mind.  I think I had asked a friend (I won't say who) about my blog and he looked at me with a weird expression, and exclaimed 'well.. THAT was a giant arse-cube of seven Galactic floaters!'

I don't think it was a compliment.



How Do You Catch an Atom?

One of the many documentaries we have watched lately was this one....  Project Poltergeist.  It talks about the discovery of the neutrino. I admit... I didn't really know what a neutrino was before I saw this, and even after watching it, I feel like my brain is stretching and pushing against my eye balls trying to grasp some of the concepts. A little like quantum theory really!  But anyway.... it was amazing watching what these scientists were doing.   Basically, a mathematician had calculated the number of neutrinos that should be coming from the sun, and the physicists were trying to prove that was so. The problem was, when they counted them... the numbers didn't add up. The 'Solar Neutrino Problem' was born.

The thing was.... the documentary glossed over the bit that I wanted to know the most.  Perhaps it wasn't interesting to other people - but see what you think.  A giant swimming pool sized vat of chlorine-based cleaning fluid deep deep under ground to lessen the background radiation. The neutrinos pass right through the planet, and just a few of them should interact with the cleaning fluid, causing the creation of an Argon atom.  So even though they couldn't see the neutrinos - they could see the result of them as proven by the Argon.  Collect and count the Argon atoms and you can tell how many neutrinos you have... voila!       Huh?  What....  'scuse me?

They just breezed past that.  Suddenly there was Ray Davis (who was to go on and win the Nobel Prize for this astounding work)... carrying a test tube.. with... *what* in it?   his wife was joking about how he would travel across the country with a little tube full of nothing.  But... but....  hang on.  How do they catch an atom.. how do they count it? How did they know they only had a measly three?  That was a huge amount of liquid... this is not like looking for a pea or something.  From everything I have seen and read, I didn't think we had a way to see atoms or measure them... so this is huge to me. I really want to know.  I can't seem to find it on google.

So they went on to discover that the neutrinos didn't quite travel at light speed and actually have a mass (both of which they didn't expect), which enabled them to change their state on their way to earth and in fact show up as 3 different flavours of neutrino - all this good and groovy stuff... but I am still hung up on how the frak do you find and count a few atoms in a swimming pool?  If anyone reads this and knows... please comment. I am eagerly waiting....

A New Centre of the Universe?

Well....  just for a few days in February anyway.   TED is happening  right. now.   Ooh... I am like a teenager fawning over the schedule and speakers. It really feels like a bubbling cauldron of concentrated human possibilities. Very exciting.. and waiting for the talks to come online is edge of the seat stuff.

The blog has pictures to drool over - meanwhile.

Two quotes from it that I took an instant liking to... as is my want ;)

Michael Specter: "You're entitled to your own opinion -- but you're not entitled to your own facts."

Sam Harris: "Does the Taliban have a point of view on physics that is worth considering? ... No."


What a Send Off

This is something special. J.K. Rowling makes such an inspiring speech. There is nothing you can say about it really. Just watch.

J.K. Rowling Speaks at Harvard Commencement from Harvard Magazine on Vimeo.

I don't think we had big commencement speeches or the like in Australia - at least we didn't when I went to Uni.  I didn't even go to my graduation ceremony, but I don't think there was anything like this big deal. Perhaps because it wasn't for as many students. I think they split the graduation up - humanities students were one night and sciences were another.  That makes me think, I am reading Carl Sagan's book The Demon-Haunted World and he said something that struck me profoundly.

"My parents were not scientists. They knew almost nothing about science. But in introducing me simultaneously to skepticism and to wonder, they taught me the two uneasily cohabiting modes of thought that are central to the scientific method."

That is identical for me.  If I look back on my childhood, I can certainly say my parents instilled both of those in me. So why on earth didn't I study science?  Damn... what a missed opportunity. I want a do-over!  I guess we figure out the things that really matter much later in life.

A Smidgeon


I've been a bit quiet on the blog unfortunately. Sorry... just battling fibro and depression - ah how sweet it is. But anyway,  I hope to be getting back to it. What keeps me going is all the inspiring science I read and watch, and I do want to post it, even if I don't write a lot.   In the meantime, here are a few images that were worth posting.






The Out Campaign: Scarlet Letter of Atheism