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How Your Brain Is Like The Cosmic Web July 22, 2017

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Interestingly enough, the total number of neurons in the human brain falls in the same ballpark of the number of galaxies in the observable universe.

It is truly a remarkable fact that the cosmic web is more similar to the human brain than it is to the interior of a galaxy; or that the neuronal network is more similar to the cosmic web than it is to the interior of a neuronal body. Despite extraordinary differences in substrate, physical mechanisms, and size, the human neuronal network and the cosmic web of galaxies, when considered with the tools of information theory, are strikingly similar.

http://nautil.us/issue/50/emergence/the-strange-similarity-of-neuron-and-galaxy-networks

Boom – See the Shock Wave June 8, 2017

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Super SloMo

In an Internet Minute… May 9, 2017

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If Great Scientists Had Logos March 25, 2017

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How a Solar Flare Almost Triggered a Nuclear War in 1967 August 11, 2016

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Hbomb-detonation-colorizedOn May 23, 1967, multiple radar installations in the Arctic suddenly and inexplicably went dark.The U.S. military believed the Soviets had managed to disable the Early Warning System. With war imminent, the Air Force began prepping aircraft equipped with nuclear weapons. However, those aircraft never launched, as commanders received crucial information at the last minute that may have averted full-scale nuclear war.

That information came from the North American Aerospace Defense Command’s (NORAD) newly established Solar Forecasting Center. A few days prior, it had detected a massive solar storm, one of the largest of the century. The storm produced solar flares and radio bursts that knocked out communications around the world, including the Air Force’s Early Warning System.

The Solar Forecasting Center issued a bulletin warning that severe solar flares were incoming, and that bulletin managed to reach a commanding officer in time to avert action against the Soviets. If that bulletin had been delayed a few minutes, those nuclear aircraft could have launched, and the solar flares would have made it impossible to communicate in the air. If those aircraft had launched, there would have been no way to call them back.

Source: How a Solar Flare Almost Triggered a Nuclear War in 1967

Liberals Are Simple-Minded – Reason.com January 18, 2016

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It is almost a truism among psychological researchers that conservatives are simple-minded and dogmatic. Liberals, meanwhile, are supposed to be more complex and open-minded thinkers. But a new paper is calling those conclusions into question.

The more interesting and telling results were found when comparing the liberal and conservative results derived from the environmentalism and religion dogmatism scales. The researchers report, “Conservatives are indeed more dogmatic on the religious domain; but liberals are more dogmatic on the environmental domain.” In fact, they note that “the highest score for simplicity was for liberals” (emphasis theirs).

They note that liberals scored high for dogmatism in response to these three items:

9. There are two kinds of people in this world: those who are for the truth that the planet is warming and those who are against that obvious truth.

3. When it comes to stopping global warming, it is better to be a dead hero than a live coward.

10. A person who thinks primarily of his/her own happiness, and in so doing disregards the health of the environment (for example, trees and other animals), is beneath contempt.

The researchers point out, “Those are not just statements about having an environmental position: They are explicitly and overwhelmingly dogmatic statements. And liberals are more likely to agree with such sentiments—for an environmental domain.” The liberal respondents are not just asserting “‘I am an environmentalist’ but rather ‘all people who disagree with me are fools.'”

Ultimately, the researchers report that both liberals and conservatives are almost equally simple-minded when it comes to topics about which they feel strongly

Source: Liberals Are Simple-Minded – Reason.com

And we may be born with a proclivity for being Conservative or Liberal.

Why Science is so Hard to Believe March 5, 2015

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We have trouble digesting randomness; our brains crave pattern and meaning.

Even for scientists, the scientific method is a hard discipline. They, too, are vulnerable to confirmation bias — the tendency to look for and see only evidence that confirms what they already believe. But unlike the rest of us, they submit their ideas to formal peer review before publishing them. Once the results are published, if they’re important enough, other scientists will try to reproduce them — and, being congenitally skeptical and competitive, will be very happy to announce that they don’t hold up. Scientific results are always provisional, susceptible to being overturned by some future experiment or observation. Scientists rarely proclaim an absolute truth or an absolute certainty. Uncertainty is inevitable at the frontiers of knowledge.

Featured imageThat provisional quality of science is another thing a lot of people have trouble with. To some climate-change skeptics, for example, the fact that a few scientists in the 1970s were worried (quite reasonably, it seemed at the time) about the possibility of a coming ice age is enough to discredit what is now the consensus of the world’s scientists:

Americans fall into two basic camps.  Those with a more “egalitarian” and “communitarian” mind-set are generally suspicious of industry and apt to think it’s up to something dangerous that calls for government regulation; they’re likely to see the risks of climate change. In contrast, people with a “hierarchical” and “individualistic” mind-set respect leaders of industry and don’t like government interfering in their affairs; they’re apt to reject warnings about climate change, because they know what accepting them could lead to — some kind of tax or regulation to limit emissions.

via Why science is so hard to believe – The Washington Post.

Drones Sacrificed for Spectacular Volcano Video March 3, 2015

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First Direct Observation of Carbon Dioxide’s Increasing Greenhouse Effect at the Earth’s Surface February 28, 2015

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The scientists measured atmospheric carbon dioxide’s contribution to radiative forcing at two sites, one in Oklahoma and one on the North Slope of Alaska, from 2000 to the end of 2010. Radiative forcing is a measure of how much the planet’s energy balance is perturbed by atmospheric changes. Positive radiative forcing occurs when the Earth absorbs more energy from solar radiation than it emits as thermal radiation back to space. It can be measured at the Earth’s surface or high in the atmosphere. In this research, the scientists focused on the surface.

Both series showed the same trend: atmospheric COemitted an increasing amount of infrared energy, to the tune of 0.2 Watts per square meter per decade. This increase is about ten percent of the trend from all sources of infrared energy such as clouds and water vapor.

Based on an analysis of data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s CarbonTracker system, the scientists linked this upswing in CO2-attributed radiative forcing to fossil fuel emissions and fires.

The measurements also enabled the scientists to detect, for the first time, the influence of photosynthesis on the balance of energy at the surface. They found that CO2-attributed radiative forcing dipped in the spring as flourishing photosynthetic activity pulled more of the greenhouse gas from the air.

via First Direct Observation of Carbon Dioxide’s Increasing Greenhouse Effect at the Earth’s Surface – News Center.

"All palaeotemps" by Glen Fergus - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:All_palaeotemps.png#mediaviewer/File:All_palaeotemps.png

“All palaeotemps” by Glen Fergus – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:All_palaeotemps.png#mediaviewer/File:All_palaeotemps.png CLICK TO ENLARGE IMAGE

The Best Defense is a Good Offense February 20, 2015

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J0216075The US has made the strategic choice to put its resources into engineering better attack tools and an infrastructure to support them. In a way it’s a smart choice. It’s a truism that the cyber battlefield is asymmetric—a defender has to get it right every time, while an attacker only has to succeed once. If the US spends a billion dollars in cyber defense, it will still be vulnerable. But spend it on cyber attack, and you get the most advanced computer espionage and sabotage tools that history has ever seen.

 The tool hides itself encrypted in the Windows registry, so that anti-virus software can’t find it on the computer’s disk. It carves out its own virtual file system on your machine to store data for exfiltration.  It uses a well-engineered piece of software called a bootkit to control the operating system from the ground up. There are update mechanisms, dozens of plug-ins, a self-destruct function, massive code obfuscation, hundreds of fake websites to serve as command-and-control. One of the NSA’s malware plug-ins can even reprogram your hard drive’s firmware, allowing the implant to survive a complete disk wipe.

via Surprise! America Already Has a Manhattan Project for Developing Cyber Attacks | WIRED.

Causes of Autism Found January 26, 2015

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Bird picture by autistic artist David Barth 2008

Bird picture by autistic artist David Barth 2008

“Let’s suppose you buy a book, we’re used to getting books where the cover’s on right, the pages are in order, and they tell a continuous story. But imagine a publisher that duplicated his pages, dropped some pages, changed the order of the pages. That’s what happens in the human genome. That’s copy number variation.”

This form of mutation turns out to appear with surprising frequency in the human genetic text. Wigler’s group first glimpsed the phenomenon in cancer cells, but his hunch was that similar “publishing” errors might also play a role in diseases like autism. Sure enough, when the researchers examined the genomes of people with autism, they often found weird, large-scale duplications or deletions of DNA—mutations not present in the mother or father. The fact that they were not inherited strongly suggested that they were recent corruptions of the genetic text, almost certainly arising in the sperm or egg cells of the parents.

“The evolutionary twist on this whole story, is that our genome is really set up to fail, in the sense that we’re prone to delete and duplicate. The flip side of it is that that selective disadvantage is offset by the emergence of novel genes that have conferred an advantage to us cognitively.”

via Genetic Advances Provide Insight into the Causes of Autism | MIT Technology Review.

GMO Mosquitoes to Fight Spread of Dengue and Chikungunya January 26, 2015

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Global_DengueTransmission_ITHRiskMapThere are no vaccines or cures for dengue, known as “break-bone fever,” or chikungunya, so painful it causes contortions. While U.S. cases remain rare for now, they have been rapidly spread throughout the Caribbean and Central America. But Aedes aegypti, whose biting females spread these diseases, have evolved to resist four of the six insecticides used to kill them.

Enter Oxitec, a British biotech firm that patented a method of breeding Aedes aegypti with fragments of genes from the herpes simplex virus and E. coli bacteria as well as coral and cabbage. This synthetic DNA is commonly used in laboratory science and is thought to pose no significant risks to other animals, but it kills mosquito larvae.

Oxitec’s lab workers manually remove modified females, aiming to release only males, which don’t bite for blood like females do. The modified males then mate with wild females whose offspring die, reducing the population. Oxitec has built a breeding lab in Marathon and hopes to release its mosquitoes in a Key West neighborhood this spring

via Millions of GMO insects could be released in Florida Keys.

Just What We Need – Something Else To Worry About July 24, 2014

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solarstorm1On July 23, 2012, the sun unleashed two massive clouds of plasma that barely missed a catastrophic encounter with the Earth’s atmosphere.  These plasma clouds, known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs), comprised a solar storm thought to be the most powerful in at least 150 years.

Fortunately, the blast site of the CMEs was not directed at Earth.  Had this event occurred a week earlier when the point of eruption was Earth-facing, a potentially disastrous outcome would have unfolded.

Analysts believe that a direct hit … could cause widespread power blackouts, disabling everything that plugs into a wall socket.  Most people wouldn’t even be able to flush their toilet because urban water supplies largely rely on electric pumps.

“In my view the July 2012 storm was in all respects at least as strong as the 1859 Carrington event,” Baker tells NASA. “The only difference is, it missed.”

During the Carrington event, the northern lights were seen as far south as Cuba and Hawaii according to historical accounts.  The solar eruption “caused global telegraph lines to spark, setting fire to some telegraph offices,” NASA  notes. The infamous solar storm of 1921 caused “the entire signal and switching system of the New York Central Railroad below 125th Street to be put out of operation, followed by a fire in the control tower at 57th Street and Park Avenue.”  global manufacturing capacity for high voltage transformers is estimated to be only about 70 units per year. A repeat of the 1921 space weather event might damage at least several hundred such units worldwide, with replacement of so many transformers taking a year or more

Though it’s impossible for scientists to predict exactly when or where the next solar storm happen, what they do know is that with more sunspots come more stoms. And the fall of 2013 is when the Sun is set to reach the crest of its 11-year sunspot cycle.

via How a solar storm two years ago nearly caused a catastrophe on Earth.

Fracking without Water May 20, 2013

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It’s possible to fracture gas-rich rock formations without using any water at all. Indeed, gas and oil companies have been using carbon dioxide this way for decades, albeit on a limited basis. Right now carbon dioxide fracking is used in places, like Wyoming, that already have carbon dioxide pipelines. But if this approach is going to be used on a large scale, it will require a major investment in infrastructure for getting carbon dioxide to fracking sites. And in some cases a price on carbon emissions may be the only way to make the economics work.

A price on carbon, for example, could create a big supply of cheap carbon dioxide by giving utilities incentive to capture it from power plants’ smokestacks. This might make sense in China, where the best shale gas deposits are in arid areas (see “China Has Plenty of Shale Gas, but It Will Be Hard to Mine”).

via Fracking with Carbon Dioxide Could Help Shale Gas Production in Arid Areas | MIT Technology Review.

How Vaccines Have Changed Our World April 1, 2013

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The data in this graphic come from the web site of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, but a graphic designer in Purchase, N.Y., named Leon Farrant has created a graphic that drives home what the data mean.

Below is a look at the past morbidity (how many people became sick) of what were once very common infectious diseases, and the current morbidity in the U.S.

Print

via How Vaccines Have Changed Our World In One Graphic – Forbes.

When Enlightenment Meets Science April 1, 2013

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The veteran meditators in the MRI could do each of the resting states perfectly, but when it came to creating a contrasting condition, they were helpless. They had lost the ability to “let their minds wander” because they had long ago shed the habit of entertaining discursive narrative thoughts. They no longer worried about how their hair looked, or their to-do lists, or whether people thought they were annoying. Their minds were largely quiet. When thoughts did come – and they did still come – these subjects reported that the thoughts had a different quality, an unfixated quality. The thought “This MRI machine is extremely loud” might arise, but it would quickly evaporate. Thoughts seemed to emerge as-needed in response to different situations and would then disappear crisply into the clear backdrop of consciousness. In other words, these practitioners were always meditating.

This turned out to be the least dramatic of Vago’s discoveries. With the two most experienced meditators, something even more surprising happened, something that, to the knowledge of the investigators involved, had never before been captured on any kind of brain imaging technology.

Lying on their padded gurneys in the center of the humming MRI in this famous research hospital in the heart of East Boston and Harvard Medical School, each of the two research subjects suddenly … disappeared.

Har-Prakash Khalsa, a 52-year old Canadian mail carrier and yoga teacher – and one of the veterans to whom this happened – describes his experience:

“It’s a kind of pressure or momentum. I was in one of the rest states, and as I let go of it, I felt myself heading into a much bigger dissolution – a bigger ‘gone’ as Shinzen would call it. It felt impossible to resist.  My mind, body and world just collapsed.”

A few moments later – blinking, refreshed, reformatted – Har-Prakash returned to consciousness, not at all sure how he was to supposed to fit this experience into the research protocol. He couldn’t indicate it with a button press even if he wanted to: there was no one present to press the button.

This wasn’t rest – it was annihilation.

via Understanding Enlightenment Could Change Science – Psychology TomorrowPsychology Tomorrow Magazine.

Solar Panel Breakthrough April 1, 2013

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A novel fabrication technique developed by a University of Connecticut engineering professor could provide the breakthrough technology scientists have been looking for to vastly improve the efficiency of today’s solar energy systems.

Silicon solar panels have a single band gap which, loosely speaking, allows the panel to convert electromagnetic radiation efficiently at only one small portion of the solar spectrum. The rectenna devices don’t rely on a band gap and may be tuned to harvest light over the whole solar spectrum, creating maximum efficiency.

The nano-antennas – known as “rectennas” because of their ability to both absorb and rectify solar energy from alternating current to direct current – must be capable of operating at the speed of visible light and be built in such a way that their core pair of electrodes is a mere 1 or 2 nanometers apart, a distance of approximately one millionth of a millimeter, or 30,000 times smaller than the diameter of human hair.

The potential breakthrough lies in a novel fabrication process called selective area atomic layer deposition (ALD) that was developed by Brian Willis, an associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of Connecticut and the former director of UConn’s Chemical Engineering Program.

The atomic layer deposition process is favored by science and industry because it is simple, easily reproducible, and scalable for mass production. Willis says the chemical process is particularly applicable for precise, homogenous coatings for nanostructures, nanowires, nanotubes, and for use in the next generation of high-performing semi-conductors and transistors.

“Until the advent of selective atomic layer deposition (ALD), it has not been possible to fabricate practical and reproducible rectenna arrays that can harness solar energy from the infrared through the visible

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2013-02-patented-fabrication-technique-key-solar.html#jCp

“Until the advent of selective atomic layer deposition (ALD), it has not been possible to fabricate practical and reproducible rectenna arrays that can harness solar energy from the infrared through the visible

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2013-02-patented-fabrication-technique-key-solar.html#jCp

Silicon solar panels, by comparison, have a single band gap which, loosely speaking, allows the panel to convert electromagnetic radiation efficiently at only one small portion of the solar spectrum. The rectenna devices don’t rely on a band gap and may be tuned to harvest light over the whole solar spectrum, creating maximum efficiency.

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2013-02-patented-fabrication-technique-key-solar.html#jCp

Silicon solar panels, by comparison, have a single band gap which, loosely speaking, allows the panel to convert electromagnetic radiation efficiently at only one small portion of the solar spectrum. The rectenna devices don’t rely on a band gap and may be tuned to harvest light over the whole solar spectrum, creating maximum efficiency.

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2013-02-patented-fabrication-technique-key-solar.html#jCp

Silicon solar panels, by comparison, have a single band gap which, loosely speaking, allows the panel to convert electromagnetic radiation efficiently at only one small portion of the solar spectrum. The rectenna devices don’t rely on a band gap and may be tuned to harvest light over the whole solar spectrum, creating maximum efficiency.

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2013-02-patented-fabrication-technique-key-solar.html#jCp

Silicon solar panels, by comparison, have a single band gap which, loosely speaking, allows the panel to convert electromagnetic radiation efficiently at only one small portion of the solar spectrum. The rectenna devices don’t rely on a band gap and may be tuned to harvest light over the whole solar spectrum, creating maximum efficiency.

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2013-02-patented-fabrication-technique-key-solar.html#jCp

Silicon solar panels, by comparison, have a single band gap which, loosely speaking, allows the panel to convert electromagnetic radiation efficiently at only one small portion of the solar spectrum. The rectenna devices don’t rely on a band gap and may be tuned to harvest light over the whole solar spectrum, creating maximum efficiency.

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2013-02-patented-fabrication-technique-key-solar.html#jCp

via New patented fabrication technique key to new solar power technology.

Debunking the Moon Landing Hoax January 25, 2013

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Even though this came out back in December, in case you haven’t already seen it…

How Leaded Gasoline Caused Our Violent Crime Wave. January 5, 2013

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Starting in the 1960s, America saw a huge increase in levels of violent crime that peaked in the early 1990s, then steadily declined, and continues to decline today. All kinds of theories have been promulgated to explain this peak and decline in crime, and plenty of politicians in the 1990s took credit for it. Lead emissions from automobiles explain 90 percent of the variation in violent crime in America. Toddlers who ingested high levels of lead in the ’40s and ’50s really were more likely to become violent criminals in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s.

And with that we have our molecule: tetraethyl lead, the gasoline additive invented by General Motors in the 1920s to prevent knocking and pinging in high-performance engines. As auto sales boomed after World War II, and drivers in powerful new cars increasingly asked service station attendants to “fill ‘er up with ethyl,” they were unwittingly creating a crime wave two decades later.

The use of lead pipes to carry water to wealthy neighLeadedCrimeWaveborhoods is claimed to be one major factor that contributed to the weakening and eventual destruction of the Roman Empire. At least we had the Science to discover our lead folly and correct it, even though much is to still be remediated. But the huge penal/judicial/police industrial complex budget justifications are threatened by such a simple crime source. Turns out criminologists were blaming the wrong Lead, when some accused the music of Led Zeppelin, among others.

via America’s Real Criminal Element: Lead | Mother Jones.

Arctic Ocean Flowers December 15, 2012

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ArcticOcean Flowers These spiky little bunches of ice form on thin and new ice in the Arctic Ocean. But these badboys can only form under very special conditions:

1) Calm winds. We can’t have these beauties blown away can we?

2) Cold, cold air. It has to be about 20C less than the water and since seawater freezes around -2C, that means the air must be about -22C or -7.6F. BRRR.

Frost flowers form when newly formed ice sublimates, that is ice changes directly from a solid to a gas totally bypassing the liquid stage. Initially, the water vapor formed by sublimation is the same temperature as the sea ice, but gets quickly cooled by the cold air. The air is then becomes supersaturated with water vapor, which means the air has too water much in it. Air really doesn’t want to hold all that excess water vapor, so when the supersaturated air touches another ice crystal the water vapor quickly turns back into ice. (Click the image to enlarge)

via The icy plumage of the Arctic | Deep Sea News. (more…)

Video – Southern Lights From Space Station December 9, 2012

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Video of the Aurora Australis taken by the crew of Expedition 29 on board the International Space Station. This sequence of shots was taken September 17, 2011 from 17:22:27 to 17:45:12 GMT, on an ascending pass from south of Madagascar to just north of Australia over the Indian Ocean.

Explore A Virtual Human Body With Stunning Graphics December 6, 2012

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bdhumanIn the old days, learning about the components of the human body meant poring over a copy of Grey’s Anatomy. Or, if you were studying medicine, you could take a scalpel to a real cadavre of course.

Now, thanks to a fabulous web site at www.biodigitalhuman.com, you can learn about the makings of the human body without having to resort to boring textbooks or a lab.

With nothing more than a web browser and a decent internet connection you can browse the virtual skeleton.  You can choose between male and female, zoom and rotate the skeleton, and turn on/off the display of specific bodily systems such as reproductive, cardiovascular and so on. You can also view the location and symptoms of hundreds of common diseases.

via Explore A Virtual Human Body With Stunning Graphics.

Watch “NASA | Earth at Night” on YouTube December 5, 2012

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Trying To Prove We Live In A Virtual Reality October 30, 2012

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One of modern physics’ most cherished ideas is quantum chromodynamics, the theory that describes the strong nuclear force, how it binds quarks and gluons into protons and neutrons, how these form nuclei that themselves interact. This is the universe at its most fundamental.

So an interesting pursuit is to simulate quantum chromodynamics on a computer to see what kind of complexity arises. The promise is that simulating physics on such a fundamental level is more or less equivalent to simulating the universe itself.

There are one or two challenges of course. The physics is mind-bogglingly complex and operates on a vanishingly small scale. So even using the world’s most powerful supercomputers, physicists have only managed to simulate tiny corners of the cosmos just a few femtometers across. (A femtometer is 10^-15 metres.)

That may not sound like much but the significant point is that the simulation is essentially indistinguishable from the real thing (at least as far as we understand it).

It’s not hard to imagine that Moore’s Law-type progress will allow physicists to simulate significantly larger regions of space. A region just a few micrometres across could encapsulate the entire workings of a human cell.

Again, the behaviour of this human cell would be indistinguishable from the real thing.

It’s this kind of thinking that forces physicists to consider the possibility that our entire cosmos could be running on a vastly powerful computer. If so, is there any way we could ever know?

Today, we get an answer of sorts from Silas Beane, at the University of Bonn in Germany, and a few pals. They say there is a way to see evidence that we are being simulated, at least in certain scenarios.

via The Measurement That Would Reveal The Universe As A Computer Simulation | MIT Technology Review. (more…)

See Inside Google’s Brain October 20, 2012

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Data centers – Google Data centers.

Photo of the brains behind Paw (dad for those that don’t speak Country). Does have a Sci-Fi  Matrix-like look to it. This link will take you to a wall of photos, of various Google Data centers, inside and out. Google has also posted a video.

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