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If Great Scientists Had Logos March 25, 2017

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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.

Extreme Weather – The New Norm May 4, 2013

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The climate will swing to extremes as it tries to find a new equilibrium, in response to the warming climate. Siberian winters will be colder, heat waves extended, etc. This report says that if you are in a rainy location, expect more deluges, and if you live in a dry area, expect more droughts. Specifically, the new study found that although the 14 climate models differ when it comes to the amount of rainfall in individual locations such as cities, over larger areas, they all point to the same average picture. That is, for every single degree Fahrenheit the global average temperature climbs, heavy rainfall will increase in wet areas by 3.9 percent, while dry areas will experience a 2.6 percent increase in time periods without any rainfall.

Rain will get more extreme thanks to global warming, says NASA study | The Verge.

Video -Humongous Greenland Glacier Collapse February 2, 2013

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On May 28, 2008, Adam LeWinter and Director Jeff Orlowski filmed a historic breakup at the Ilulissat Glacier in Western Greenland. The calving event lasted for 75 minutes and the glacier retreated a full mile across a calving face three miles wide. The height of the ice is about 3,000 feet, 300-400 feet above water and the rest below water.

Chasing Ice won the award for Excellence in Cinematography at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, and has won 24 awards so far this year. Playing in theaters now. Thanks to Valerie Sanders. Click on the YouTube logo, choose the HD option and go Full Screen for the full effect.

Arctic Ocean Flowers December 15, 2012

Posted by tkcollier in Cool photos, Enviroment, Science & Technology.
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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…)

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

Posted by tkcollier in Cool Sites, health, Science & Technology.
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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.

Spectacular Ice Caves in a Swiss Glacier November 24, 2012

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 British adventure photographer Robbie Shone descended into the Gorner Glacier near Zermatt in Switzerland to capture spectacular pictures of ice caves

via British photographer Robbie Shone explores beautiful ice caves in a Swiss glacier – Telegraph.

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…)

Oldest Evidence of Regular Meat Consumption by Human Ancestors Found October 7, 2012

Posted by tkcollier in Enviroment, Lifestyle.
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Meat-eating was an important factor affecting early hominin brain expansion, social organization and geographic movement. Stone tool butchery marks on ungulate fossils in several African archaeological assemblages demonstrate a significant level of carnivory by Pleistocene hominins, but the discovery at Olduvai Gorge of a child’s pathological cranial fragments indicates that some hominins probably experienced scarcity of animal foods during various stages of their life histories. The child’s parietal fragments, excavated from 1.5-million-year-old sediments, show porotic hyperostosis, a pathology associated with anemia. Nutritional deficiencies, including anemia, are most common at weaning, when children lose passive immunity received through their mothers’ milk. Our results suggest, alternatively, that (1) the developmentally disruptive potential of weaning reached far beyond sedentary Holocene food-producing societies and into the early Pleistocene, or that (2) a hominin mother’s meat-deficient diet negatively altered the nutritional content of her breast milk to the extent that her nursing child ultimately died from malnourishment. Either way, this discovery highlights that by at least 1.5 million years ago early human physiology was already adapted to a diet that included the regular consumption of meat.

via PLOS ONE: Earliest Porotic Hyperostosis on a 1.5-Million-Year-Old Hominin, Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania.

Why the Arabic World Turned Away from Science September 15, 2012

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From coffee to cheques and the three-course meal, the Muslim world has given us many innovations that we take for granted in daily life. Click on this link to see 20 of the their greatest discoveries. How Islamic inventors changed the world – Science – News – The Independent.

Today Muslims are a fifth of the world’s population, yet contribute only 7% of the world’s GDP. Arabs comprise 5 percent of the world’s population, but publish just 1.1 percent of its books, according to the U.N.’s 2003 Arab Human Development Report. Between 1980 and 2000, Korea granted 16,328 patents, while nine Arab countries, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the U.A.E., granted a combined total of only 370, many of them registered by foreigners.

What went wrong?

The Islamic turn away from scholarship actually preceded the civilization’s geopolitical decline — it can be traced back to the rise of the anti-philosophical Ash’arism school among Sunni Muslims, who comprise the vast majority of the Muslim world.

While the Mu’tazilites had contended that the Koran was created and so God’s purpose for man must be interpreted through reason, the Ash’arites believed the Koran to be coeval with God — and therefore unchallengeable. At the heart of Ash’ari metaphysics is the idea of occasionalism, a doctrine that denies natural causality. Put simply, it suggests natural necessity cannot exist because God’s will is completely free. Ash’arites believed that God is the only cause, so that the world is a series of discrete physical events each willed by God.

The Ash’ari view has endured to this day. Its most extreme form can be seen in some sects of Islamists. For example, Mohammed Yusuf, the late leader of a group called the Nigerian Taliban, explained why “Western education is a sin” by explaining its view on rain: “We believe it is a creation of God rather than an evaporation caused by the sun that condenses and becomes rain.” As Robert R. Reilly argues in The Closing of the Muslim Mind (2010), “the fatal disconnect between the creator and the mind of his creature is the source of Sunni Islam’s most profound woes.”

Inquiry into the history of Arabic science, and the recovery and research of manuscripts of the era, may have a beneficial effect — so long as it is pursued in an analytical spirit. That would mean that Muslims would use it as a resource within their own tradition to critically engage with their philosophical, political, and founding flaws. If that occurs, it will not arise from any Western outreach efforts, but will be a consequence of Muslims’ own determination, creativity, and wisdom — in short, those very traits that Westerners rightly ascribe to the Muslims of the Golden Age
The New Atlantis » Why the Arabic World Turned Away from Science.

The End of Cheap Food September 15, 2012

Posted by tkcollier in Enviroment, Food, Science & Technology.
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Ever since the days of Thomas Malthus, who famously predicted in the 18th century that population increases would far outstrip gains in food production, those who have foreseen global famine have been proved relentlessly wrong.

Twice before, our species has been saved from starvation by science. But as we move towards a planet of eight billion people, we are in uncharted territory. Let’s hope a new Norman Borlaug is waiting in the wings.

Shortly after Malthus made his grim prediction, we saw the first Agricultural Revolution – the systematic application of science and technology to farming. New varieties of crops, an understanding of crop rotation and the development of mechanisation saw yields soar. Hunger was also averted by the development of a global trade in food, spurred by the advent of steam ships and refrigeration.

Still, the population kept rising – but along came a saviour in the form of Norman Borlaug, one of the most important human beings ever to have lived. Hitler will always be famous for killing millions; yet Dr Borlaug, an American food scientist, saved billions, and yet relatively few of us have heard of him. In the 1960s, he bred new varieties of wheat and rice and other crops, a breakthrough now called the Green Revolution. If it hadn’t been for him, then Asia and perhaps South America would have seen serious famine in the 1970s.

Now we are reaching the limits of the Green Revolution.

 

via Can science prevent the great global food crisis? – Telegraph.

A Computer Built For Mars August 11, 2012

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The PowerPC RAD750 chip at the heart of the Curiosity Mars rover’s central computer can withstand temperature extremes and massive doses of space radiation without the dreaded ‘blue screen of death.’

“First, you have to develop the radiation hardening techniques and actually implement them in the design,” said Scott Doyle, a BAE systems engineer for satellite electronics. “The next step is you have to qualify each of those individual components and that qualification is normally a year, a year-and-a-half, just to do that.””Then they get integrated on the board, and that board has to go through qualification activity to prove out the board. Then once that board gets integrated into the satellite at the system level, there’s several years worth of qualification testing that goes in at the satellite level. You add all that up, you’re talking five to eight years of qualification work.”

The resulting computers can cost anywhere from $200,000 to a half-million dollars. While all that might seem like overkill to an outsider, space-based computers simply have to work. “There’s no repairman in space,” Doyle said.

But given the unavoidable limitations in processing speed and memory, Curiosity’s programmers face a daunting task when it comes to writing software. “What’s hard about this, my phone has a processor that’s 10 times as fast as the processor that’s on Curiosity and it has 16 times as much storage as Curiosity has and my phone doesn’t have to land anything on Mars,” Cichy said. “All my phone has to do is follow (a friend’s) Twitter feed.”

via Slow, but rugged, Curiosity’s computer was built for Mars | Cutting Edge – CNET News.

Amazing Micron Pictures June 27, 2012

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Wellcome Image Awards 2012 | Wellcome Image Awards.

Click on the link above to see the 16 finalists and the winning photo closeup of a living brain.

Catherine Draycott, head of Wellcome Images and a member of the judging panel, said: ‘The Wellcome Image Awards are unique in that the winners are chosen for their scientific and technical merit as much as for their aesthetic appeal.

‘They offer people a chance to get closer to science and research and see it in a different way, as a source of beauty as well as providing important information about ourselves and the world around us.
The other picture here  is of a Caffeine Crystal.

Newly Discovered Mayan Calendar Disproves End-of-the-World Hoopla May 19, 2012

Posted by tkcollier in In The News, Religion, Science & Technology.
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Oldest Known Mayan Astronomical Calendar Stuns Scientists – TIME.

Archaeologists, excavating the ninth-century Maya complex of Xultun in Guatemala, say they have found what may have been a workspace for the town’s scribe. Paintings on the walls, they report, appear to include calculations related to the Maya  calendar.

The researchers, writing in today’s edition of the journal Science, say the calculations project 7,000 years into the future. There’s no hint that the calendar ends on Dec. 21, 2012, despite popular belief.

“Why would they go into those numbers if the world is going to come to an end this year?” said Anthony Aveni at Colgate University, a scholar of Maya  astronomy and a co-author of the paper. “You could say a number that big at least suggests that time marches on.”

“We Can See Through the Big Bang to the Universe That Existed in the Aeon Before Ours” March 24, 2011

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The core concept in Penrose’s theory is the idea that in the very distant future the universe will in one sense become very similar to how it was at the Big Bang. Penrose says that “at these points the shape, or geometry, of the universe was and will be very smooth, in contrast to its current very jagged form. This continuity of shape, he maintains, will allow a transition from the end of the current aeon, when the universe will have expanded to become infinitely large, to the start of the next, when it once again becomes infinitesimally small and explodes outwards from the next big bang. Crucially, he says, the entropy at this transition stage will be extremely low, because black holes, which destroy all information that they suck in, evaporate as the universe expands and in so doing remove entropy from the universe.”

via “We Can See Through the Big Bang to the Universe That Existed in the Aeon Before Ours” (Today’s Most Popular).

See 50 Billion Years Back In Time in 3D HD Via Hubble August 14, 2009

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Stephen Hawking: “Humans Have Entered a New Stage of Evolution” July 4, 2009

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Steven HawkinsHawking says that we have entered a new phase of evolution. “At first, evolution proceeded by natural selection, from random mutations. This Darwinian phase, lasted about three and a half billion years, and produced us, beings who developed language, to exchange information.”

But what distinguishes us from our cave man ancestors is the knowledge that we have accumulated over the last ten thousand years, and particularly, Hawking points out, over the last three hundred.

“I think it is legitimate to take a broader view, and include externally transmitted information, as well as DNA, in the evolution of the human race,” Hawking said.

In the last ten thousand years the human species has been in what Hawking calls, “an external transmission phase,” where the internal record of information, handed down to succeeding generations in DNA, has not changed significantly. “But the external record, in books, and other long lasting forms of storage,” Hawking says, “has grown enormously. Some people would use the term, evolution, only for the internally transmitted genetic material, and would object to it being applied to information handed down externally. But I think that is too narrow a view. We are more than just our genes.” (more…)

 Dharma Bummer May 3, 2009

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dharmabums-reduxAs many as 4 million Americans now practice Buddhism, surpassing the total of Episcopalians. Of these Buddhists, half have post-graduate degrees, according to one survey.

Four years ago, I joined a Buddhist meditation class and began talking to (and reading books by) intellectuals sympathetic to Buddhism. Eventually, and regretfully, I concluded that Buddhism is not much more rational than the Catholicism I lapsed from in my youth; Buddhism’s moral and metaphysical worldview cannot easily be reconciled with science—or, more generally, with modern humanistic values.

All religions, including Buddhism, stem from our narcissistic wish to believe that the universe was created for our benefit, as a stage for our spiritual quests. In contrast, science tells us that we are incidental, accidental. Far from being the raison d’être of the universe, we appeared through sheer happenstance, and we could vanish in the same way. This is not a comforting viewpoint, but science, unlike religion, seeks truth regardless of how it makes us feel. Buddhism raises radical questions about our inner and outer reality, but it is finally not radical enough to accommodate science’s disturbing perspective. The remaining question is whether any form of spirituality can.

via Why I ditched Buddhism. – By John Horgan – Slate Magazine.

Monkeying With Darwin’s Theory of Evolution February 13, 2009

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darwinevolution

Thanks to Adam Brown

It is 150 years since the publication of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, which suggested that all living things are related and that everything is ultimately descended from a single common ancestor. This has troubled many, including Darwin himself, as it subverted ideas of divine intervention. It is not surprising that the countries least accepting of evolution today tend to be the most devout. In the most recent international survey available, only Turkey is less accepting of the theory than America. Iceland and Denmark are Darwin’s most ardent adherents. Indeed America has become only slightly more accepting of Darwin’s theory in recent years. In 2008 14% of people polled by Gallup agreed that “man evolved over millions of years”, up from 9% in 1982.

via It is 150 years since the theory of evolution was unveiled, but which countries believe in it? | Untouched by the hand of God | The Economist.

Lightning’s Secrets Revealed March 31, 2008

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Researchers unravel mystery of lightning diversity | NetworkWorld.com Community
For example, most people don’t see lightning see lightning strikes that go from clouds to the ground, but some lightning goes upward, forming blue jets and gigantic jets. Perhaps the most dangerous lightning appears as “bolts from the blue” – lightning that begins upward, but then moves sideways and then downward to hit the ground as much as three miles from a thunderstorm.

About 90% of lightning occurs inside clouds and is not visible to the casual observer, researchers said. (more…)

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