In a world dominated by magical thinking, superstition and misinformation, give yourself the benefit of doubt. This is one skeptic's view of the Universe; natural wonders and supernatural blunders.

"Tell people there’s an invisible man in the sky who created the universe, and the vast majority believe you. Tell them the paint is wet, and they have to touch it to be sure."

-George Carlin

“If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed”.

-Albert Einstein

“Skeptical scrutiny is the means, in both science and religion, by which deep thoughts can be winnowed from deep nonsense.”

-Carl Sagan

The person who is certain, and who claims divine warrant for his certainty, belongs now to the infancy of our species. It may be a long farewell, but it has begun and, like all farewells, should not be protracted.

-Christopher Hitchens

 

Scientist (Hawking) says “the Higgs Boson could collapse spacetime IF you had a particle accelerator the size of the Earth”.

Science headline reads “God particle could destroy the universe says Stephen Hawking”

Are We Living In A Hologram?...Get Real!

…Our 3 dimensional existence then would not be merely an illusion even if their wild contention were true. 3D-ness would just be an aspect of reality that emerges only at scales much larger than the Planck realm. This is like consciousness emerging from a large-scale collection of neurons which is not evident by just looking at one neuron. This doesn’t make our cognition any less real or meaningful.

My take then is that all this talk about us living in a hologram is that it’s sensationalistic at best but I sure bet the clicks went through the roof, which was probably the point.

Physics and the Immortality of the Soul

-Prof. Sean Carroll

The topic of “life after death” raises disreputable connotations of past-life regression and haunted houses, but there are a large number of people in the world who believe in some form of persistence of the individual soul after life ends. Clearly this is an important question, one of the most important ones we can possibly think of in terms of relevance to human life. If science has something to say about, we should all be interested in hearing.

Adam Frank thinks that science has nothing to say about it. He advocates being “firmly agnostic” on the question. (His coblogger Alva Noë resolutely disagrees.) I have an enormous respect for Adam; he’s a smart guy and a careful thinker. When we disagree it’s with the kind of respectful dialogue that should be a model for disagreeing with non-crazy people. But here he couldn’t be more wrong.

Adam claims that there “simply is no controlled, experimental[ly] verifiable information” regarding life after death. By these standards, there is no controlled, experimentally verifiable information regarding whether the Moon is made of green cheese. Sure, we can take spectra of light reflecting from the Moon, and even send astronauts up there and bring samples back for analysis. But that’s only scratching the surface, as it were. What if the Moon is almost all green cheese, but is covered with a layer of dust a few meters thick? Can you really say that you know this isn’t true? Until you have actually examined every single cubic centimeter of the Moon’s interior, you don’t really have experimentally verifiable information, do you? So maybe agnosticism on the green-cheese issue is warranted. (Come up with all the information we actually do have about the Moon; I promise you I can fit it into the green-cheese hypothesis.)

Obviously this is completely crazy. Our conviction that green cheese makes up a negligible fraction of the Moon’s interior comes not from direct observation, but from the gross incompatibility of that idea with other things we think we know. Given what we do understand about rocks and planets and dairy products and the Solar System, it’s absurd to imagine that the Moon is made of green cheese. We know better.

We also know better for life after death, although people are much more reluctant to admit it. Admittedly, “direct” evidence one way or the other is hard to come by — all we have are a few legends and sketchy claims from unreliable witnesses with near-death experiences, plus a bucketload of wishful thinking. But surely it’s okay to take account of indirect evidence — namely, compatibility of the idea that some form of our individual soul survives death with other things we know about how the world works.

Claims that some form of consciousness persists after our bodies die and decay into their constituent atoms face one huge, insuperable obstacle: the laws of physics underlying everyday life are completely understood, and there’s no way within those laws to allow for the information stored in our brains to persist after we die. If you claim that some form of soul persists beyond death, what particles is that soul made of? What forces are holding it together? How does it interact with ordinary matter?

Everything we know about quantum field theory (QFT) says that there aren’t any sensible answers to these questions. Of course, everything we know about quantum field theory could be wrong. Also, the Moon could be made of green cheese.

Among advocates for life after death, nobody even tries to sit down and do the hard work of explaining how the basic physics of atoms and electrons would have to be altered in order for this to be true. If we tried, the fundamental absurdity of the task would quickly become evident.

Even if you don’t believe that human beings are “simply” collections of atoms evolving and interacting according to rules laid down in the Standard Model of particle physics, most people would grudgingly admit that atoms are part of who we are. If it’s really nothing but atoms and the known forces, there is clearly no way for the soul to survive death. Believing in life after death, to put it mildly, requires physics beyond the Standard Model. Most importantly, we need some way for that “new physics” to interact with the atoms that we do have.

Very roughly speaking, when most people think about an immaterial soul that persists after death, they have in mind some sort of blob of spirit energy that takes up residence near our brain, and drives around our body like a soccer mom driving an SUV. The questions are these: what form does that spirit energy take, and how does it interact with our ordinary atoms? Not only is new physics required, but dramatically new physics. Within QFT, there can’t be a new collection of “spirit particles” and “spirit forces” that interact with our regular atoms, because we would have detected them in existing experiments. Ockham’s razor is not on your side here, since you have to posit a completely new realm of reality obeying very different rules than the ones we know.

But let’s say you do that. How is the spirit energy supposed to interact with us? Here is the equation that tells us how electrons behave in the everyday world:

Don’t worry about the details; it’s the fact that the equation exists that matters, not its particular form. It’s the Dirac equation — the two terms on the left are roughly the velocity of the electron and its inertia — coupled to electromagnetism and gravity, the two terms on the right.

As far as every experiment ever done is concerned, this equation is the correct description of how electrons behave at everyday energies. It’s not a complete description; we haven’t included the weak nuclear force, or couplings to hypothetical particles like the Higgs boson. But that’s okay, since those are only important at high energies and/or short distances, very far from the regime of relevance to the human brain.

If you believe in an immaterial soul that interacts with our bodies, you need to believe that this equation is not right, even at everyday energies. There needs to be a new term (at minimum) on the right, representing how the soul interacts with electrons. (If that term doesn’t exist, electrons will just go on their way as if there weren’t any soul at all, and then what’s the point?) So any respectable scientist who took this idea seriously would be asking — what form does that interaction take? Is it local in spacetime? Does the soul respect gauge invariance and Lorentz invariance? Does the soul have a Hamiltonian? Do the interactions preserve unitarity and conservation of information?

Nobody ever asks these questions out loud, possibly because of how silly they sound. Once you start asking them, the choice you are faced with becomes clear: either overthrow everything we think we have learned about modern physics, or distrust the stew of religious accounts/unreliable testimony/wishful thinking that makes people believe in the possibility of life after death. It’s not a difficult decision, as scientific theory-choice goes.

We don’t choose theories in a vacuum. We are allowed — indeed, required — to ask how claims about how the world works fit in with other things we know about how the world works. I’ve been talking here like a particle physicist, but there’s an analogous line of reasoning that would come from evolutionary biology. Presumably amino acids and proteins don’t have souls that persist after death. What about viruses or bacteria? Where upon the chain of evolution from our monocellular ancestors to today did organisms stop being described purely as atoms interacting through gravity and electromagnetism, and develop an immaterial immortal soul?

There’s no reason to be agnostic about ideas that are dramatically incompatible with everything we know about modern science. Once we get over any reluctance to face reality on this issue, we can get down to the much more interesting questions of how human beings and consciousness really work.

Michio Kaku on the "Hard Problem" of consciousness

What is a physicist doing weighing in on the mysteries of the mind? Tim Dean went to find out.

…David Chalmers, Director of the Centre for Consciousness at the Australian National University in Canberra, puts it a different way. He draws a distinction between what he called the “easy problem” of consciousness, which is explaining how electrical impulses racing through a network of neurons can produce behaviour, and the “hard problem”, which is explaining how on Earth that network can ever produce something like the redness of red. Chalmers imagines a being that does all the information processing we do, and which can make the kinds of decisions we make, but doesn’t have any conscious experience, no “qualia”. If such a being is at all possible, then it suggests a complete theory of the mind needs to talk about more than just information processing and brains. It needs to talk about conscious experience too.

I ask Kaku about the conspicuous absence of consciousness in his theory and he hastens to dismiss the problem, borrowing another analogy from science. “It used to be that the question of ‘what is life?’ dominated and paralysed biology for decades. Now the question is irrelevant. We now know there are gradations – we have different kinds of viruses, different forms of life. So biologists no longer ask the question ‘what is life?’, because it turned out to be many layers of a continuum.

“It’s the same thing about ‘what is redness?’, ‘what is a sunset?’, ‘what is a sensation of ecstasy and thrill?’ or ‘what are qualia?’. Today that absorbs a lot of philosophers’ attention, but I think that just like ‘what is life?’, that will disappear.”

His counterpoint to Chalmers’ thought experiment of a thinking being without qualia is a thought experiment of his own. One day, he muses, “we will have a robot that understands red in ways a hundred times richer than any human. We will have a robot that can tell us the electromagnetic spectrum of red, that can give you all the sensations of red for different kinds of animals, a richness of red far beyond any human’s. And then the robot will say, ‘do humans understand red?’, and it will say, ‘obviously not’.”…

jtotheizzoe:

Richard Feynman discusses why there is a difference between the past and the future, in this clip from his legendary 1964 lecture series at Cornell: The Character of Physical Law.

It’s well worth taking 45 minutes out of your day to hear Dr. F explain why the workings of nature unfold in one direction. You see, while we innately know that the future is different from the past, and so much of our conscious experience is built around the fundamental just-so-ness of time moving forward, the equations of physics describing phenomena from gravity to friction can be run in either direction without breaking the rules. Yet irreversibility is what we observe.

That’s where entropy and probability come into play. When we take into account complex systems, like the jiggles and wiggles of the uncountable atoms that make up our bodies and this chair and my coffee and our world and even out to the scale of the universe itself, there is simply a greater chance that things will become more disordered than less. It’s not that the universe can’t run in reverse, it’s just that there are so many other ways for it not to.

Or as Feynman says, nature is irreversible because of “the general accidents of life”.

This seven-part series, which Open Culture has assembled in its entirety, captures the physicist in his prime, one year before he won the Nobel Prize and became a household name. Feynman was seemingly born for the scientific stage. He had this uncanny ability to weave profound observations of the universe’s inner workings with off-the-cuff (and often brash) humor. James Gleick wrote of Feynman’s unique style and skill:

He had a mystique that came in part from sheer pragmatic brilliance–in any group of scientists he could create a dramatic impression by slashing his way through a difficult problem–and in part, too, from his personal style–rough-hewn, American, seemingly uncultivated.

This clip was a huge influence on my recent video Why Does Time Exist? Although my take scarcely measures up to Dr. Feynman, you can watch below:

What is Astrophysics?


Astrophysics is a branch of space science that applies the laws of physics and chemistry to explain the birth, life and death of stars, planets, galaxies, nebulae and other objects in the universe. It has two sibling sciences, astronomy and cosmology, and the lines between them blur.

In the most rigid sense:

-Astronomy measures positions, luminosities, motions and other characteristics

-Astrophysics creates physical theories of small to medium-size structures in the universe

-Cosmology does this for the largest structures, and the universe as a whole.

In practice, the three professions form a tight-knit family. Ask for the position of a nebula or what kind of light it emits, and the astronomer might answer first. Ask what the nebula is made of and how it formed and the astrophysicist will pipe up. Ask how the data fit with the formation of the universe, and the cosmologist would probably jump in. But watch out — for any of these questions, two or three may start talking at once!

Goals of astrophysics

Astrophysicists seek to understand the universe and our place in it. At NASA, the goals of astrophysics are “to discover how the universe work, explore how it began and evolved, and search for life on planets around other stars,” according NASA’s website.

NASA states that those goals produce three broad questions:

How does the universe work?
How did we get here?
Are we alone?

It began with Newton

While astronomy is one of the oldest sciences, theoretical astrophysics began with Isaac Newton.
Prior to Newton, astronomers described the motions of heavenly bodies using complex mathematical models without a physical basis. Newton showed that a single theory simultaneously explains the orbits of moons and planets in space and the trajectory of a cannonball on Earth. This added to the body of evidence for the (then) startling conclusion that the heavens and Earth are subject to the same physical laws. [Related: How Isaac Newton Changed the World]

Perhaps what most completely separated Newton’s model from previous ones is that it is predictive as well as descriptive. Based on aberrations in the Newtonian orbit of Uranus, astronomers predicted the position of a new planet, which was then observed and named Neptune. Being predictive as well as descriptive is the sign of a mature science, and astrophysics is in this category.

Milestones in astrophysics

Continue

Why Do I Study Physics - a short film about knowledge and beauty -Aeon

wildcat2030:

Why Do I Study Physics? Physics is a complex discipline, one that simultaneously illuminates and beguiles. Though it promises to make sense of a chaotic world, and find order in disorder, it can be as confounding as it is enlightening. In her short animated documentary Why Do I Study Physics?, Xiangjun Shi finds beauty in both the orderly world of physics and the chaos of real life. Touching on concepts as diverse as gravity, time, and parallel universes, she offers a personal response to the fundamental questions that physicists are trying to answer. But her film is also a celebration of the mystery of unanswered questions: for Xiangjun Shi, there is as much joy and beauty to be found in the pursuit of knowledge as there is in its acquisition. Director Biography: Xiangjun Shi is an independent animator and filmmaker based in New York City, who also goes by the name of Shixie. An immigrant since a tender age, she has lived in China, the UK, Singapore, Russia, and now the US. This has made her determined to use her work to break down the communication barriers between people, both across cultures and between academic fields. Her works have been featured in local and international film festivals, and she is versatile with a variety of animation techniques, ranging from classical hand-drawn to 3D. Her clients have included Google, Daptone Records, Adult Swim, PBS, CNBC, and Sundance. Director: Xiangjun Shi Producer: Xiangjun Shi Running Time: 3 minutes Language: English

jtotheizzoe:

Want to learn particle physics in 30 seconds? I think I’ve got it! And by “it” I mean “no idea what is going on.”

(This funny little video is from Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics)

It’s just that easy! No wonder people opt for supernaturalism!

Sacred Geometry, infinite free energy, chi healing: Why new age “spirit science” is simply nonsense.

thebrainscoop:

This is StarStuff. 
The cloudy, nebulousness of this vial are nanodiamonds, carbon molecules only a thousand atoms strong, bonded together. During the formation of our solar system a cloud of dust ballooned from the collapse of a massive molecular cloud and was circling around what would be our new, baby sun. These carbon atoms were trapped within larger molecules and compounds and became inclusions, embedded within meteorites which would become evidence of the earliest solids that condensed from the cooling of protoplanetary disks.
The Field Museum has part of the oldest known meteorite - the Allende meteorite - from which these carbon nanodiamonds were extracted through chemical processes developed by Philipp Heck, our Curator of Meteoritics. We know how old the solar system is by dating these inclusions from the Allende meteorite, giving us an estimate that our solar system is 4.567 billion years old. The carbon atoms I’m holding in the above photo are, in a sense, our greatest ancestor, and ultimately became the building blocks for all life on our planet. 
TL;DR I’m holding our greatest ancestor in the palm of my hand.

thebrainscoop:

This is StarStuff. 

The cloudy, nebulousness of this vial are nanodiamonds, carbon molecules only a thousand atoms strong, bonded together. During the formation of our solar system a cloud of dust ballooned from the collapse of a massive molecular cloud and was circling around what would be our new, baby sun. These carbon atoms were trapped within larger molecules and compounds and became inclusions, embedded within meteorites which would become evidence of the earliest solids that condensed from the cooling of protoplanetary disks.

The Field Museum has part of the oldest known meteorite - the Allende meteorite - from which these carbon nanodiamonds were extracted through chemical processes developed by Philipp Heck, our Curator of Meteoritics. We know how old the solar system is by dating these inclusions from the Allende meteorite, giving us an estimate that our solar system is 4.567 billion years old. The carbon atoms I’m holding in the above photo are, in a sense, our greatest ancestor, and ultimately became the building blocks for all life on our planet. 

TL;DR I’m holding our greatest ancestor in the palm of my hand.

wildcat2030:

A New Physics Theory of Life
-
Why does life exist? 
-
Popular hypotheses credit a primordial soup, a bolt of lightning and a colossal stroke of luck. But if a provocative new theory is correct, luck may have little to do with it. Instead, according to the physicist proposing the idea, the origin and subsequent evolution of life follow from the fundamental laws of nature and “should be as unsurprising as rocks rolling downhill.” From the standpoint of physics, there is one essential difference between living things and inanimate clumps of carbon atoms: The former tend to be much better at capturing energy from their environment and dissipating that energy as heat. Jeremy England, a 31-year-old assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has derived a mathematical formula that he believes explains this capacity. The formula, based on established physics, indicates that when a group of atoms is driven by an external source of energy (like the sun or chemical fuel) and surrounded by a heat bath (like the ocean or atmosphere), it will often gradually restructure itself in order to dissipate increasingly more energy. This could mean that under certain conditions, matter inexorably acquires the key physical attribute associated with life. “You start with a random clump of atoms, and if you shine light on it for long enough, it should not be so surprising that you get a plant,” England said. England’s theory is meant to underlie, rather than replace, Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, which provides a powerful description of life at the level of genes and populations. “I am certainly not saying that Darwinian ideas are wrong,” he explained. “On the contrary, I am just saying that from the perspective of the physics, you might call Darwinian evolution a special case of a more general phenomenon.” (via A New Thermodynamics Theory of the Origin of Life | Simons Foundation)

wildcat2030:

A New Physics Theory of Life
-
Why does life exist?
-
Popular hypotheses credit a primordial soup, a bolt of lightning and a colossal stroke of luck. But if a provocative new theory is correct, luck may have little to do with it. Instead, according to the physicist proposing the idea, the origin and subsequent evolution of life follow from the fundamental laws of nature and “should be as unsurprising as rocks rolling downhill.” From the standpoint of physics, there is one essential difference between living things and inanimate clumps of carbon atoms: The former tend to be much better at capturing energy from their environment and dissipating that energy as heat. Jeremy England, a 31-year-old assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has derived a mathematical formula that he believes explains this capacity. The formula, based on established physics, indicates that when a group of atoms is driven by an external source of energy (like the sun or chemical fuel) and surrounded by a heat bath (like the ocean or atmosphere), it will often gradually restructure itself in order to dissipate increasingly more energy. This could mean that under certain conditions, matter inexorably acquires the key physical attribute associated with life. “You start with a random clump of atoms, and if you shine light on it for long enough, it should not be so surprising that you get a plant,” England said. England’s theory is meant to underlie, rather than replace, Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, which provides a powerful description of life at the level of genes and populations. “I am certainly not saying that Darwinian ideas are wrong,” he explained. “On the contrary, I am just saying that from the perspective of the physics, you might call Darwinian evolution a special case of a more general phenomenon.” (via A New Thermodynamics Theory of the Origin of Life | Simons Foundation)

astrogasmic:

Do you have poor eyesight? Hey, don’t feel bad, it turns out that no human can really ‘see’ much of anything at all.