Monday, March 31, 2008

Bush dumps Space Shutte program

Bush Cancels Space Shuttle Program

April 1st, 2008

President George W. Bush declared today that he had signed a rare Presidential Decree canceling any further expenditure of Federal funds on the US Space Shuttle program.

"We cannot find any justification to continue the deficit funding of a program that has no application other that proving that with enough money America can do anything," said Bush.

"The whole world knows that already, so why keep spending money on it," he added.

The announcement was made during an even rarer press conference with the White House press corps, at which the President started proceedings by handing out Easter Eggs, quipping, "it might be politically incorrect to hand these out, but don't worry we got them on discount at a Wal-Mart sale so they aren't really religious items anymore."

With the press left looking like stunned bunnies, the President took to the podium before dropping today's bombshell that Congressional supporter's of the Space Shuttle have told Scientific American, "will cost thousands of jobs, and leave school children confused as to what America can actually do in space anymore."

During the press conference Bush told reporters, "I don't want to see another NASA administrator - appointed on my watch - left to justify a program to Congress based on lies, disinformation, half-truths and sexed up reports."

During a brief two-minute period provided for questions from the press, the first reporter asked if this meant the Space Station was also being shut down. To which the President answered, "we plan to either hold an auction on Ebay or give it away to "our international partners."

International Year of Astronomy 2009

A very early reminder that next year [2009] will be the official year of "Astronomy" much as 2005 was "The World Year of Physics".

In honor of the 400th anniversary of Galileo's first recorded telescopic observations of the moon, Jupiter, and other extraterrestrial objects, the International Astronomical Union [IAU] has declared an International Year of Astronomy for 2009 [IYA2009]. IYA2009 will provide an opportunity for a global celebration of astronomy, one of the oldest sciences, yet still an area of enduring curiosity and a fertile ground for new discoveries.

The vision of the International Year of Astronomy 2009 is to help the citizens of the world rediscover their place in the Universe through the day- and night time sky, and thereby engage a personal sense of wonder and discovery. All humans should realize the impact of astronomy and basic sciences on our daily lives, and understand better how scientific knowledge can contribute to a more equitable and peaceful society.

Boron vs carbon


Atomic Number: 5
Atomic Mass: 10.811 amu
Melting Point: 2300.0 °C [2573.15 K, 4172.0 °F]
Boiling Point: 2550.0 °C [2823.15 K, 4622.0 °F]
Number of Protons/Electrons: 5
Number of Neutrons: 6
Classification: Metalloid
Crystal Structure: Rhombohedral
Density @ 293 K: 2.34 g/cm3
Color: Brownish
Number of Energy Levels: 2
First Energy Level: 2
Second Energy Level: 3
Isotopes: B-10, B-11
Date of Discovery: 1808
Discoverer: Sir Humphry Davy, J. L Gay-Lussac
Obtained From: Kernite


Atomic Number: 6
Atomic Mass: 12.0107 amu
Melting Point: 3500.0 °C [3773.15 K, 6332.0 °F]
Boiling Point: 4827.0 °C [5100.15 K, 8720.6 °F]
Number of Protons/Electrons: 6
Number of Neutrons: 6
Classification: Non-metal
Crystal Structure: Hexagonal
Density @ 293 K: 2.62 g/cm3
Color: Black
Number of Energy Levels: 2
First Energy Level: 2
Second Energy Level: 4
Isotopes: C-11 [20.3 minutes], C-12 [Stable], C-13 [Stable], C-14 [5730.0 years], C-15 [2.5 seconds]
Date of Discovery: Known to the ancients
Discoverer: Unknown

Gaze at the periodic table and look at all the elements and speculate why "carbon" is the basis for life as we experience it. What are the criteria for life to form? You look at the chart and wonder why carbon instead boron [ or even silicon and sulphur]. Boron is the nearest candidate but boron has problems of its own. But why just carbon? Several come to mind: The ability to have free electrons that can produce a variety of chemical bonds, the ability to replicate with DNA/RNA, and its abundance. It is quite unique that carbon has a fine chemical relationship with hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus, calcium, and sulfur. The replication feature is characteristic of DNA/RNA molecules called "Linear Polymeric Molecules" and it is these molecules that are composed of simple to complex combinations of hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus, calcium, and sulfur. [To note: Trace elements are also employed such as zinc, molybdenum, selenium and the biggies like sodium, potassium, and iron.] Carbon's nearest neighbor, boron, can to some degree display similar molecules but is a bit erratic in that the number of chemical bonds varies from three to six [the same for silicon and sulphur]--not predictable enough to perform replication whereas carbon bonding is always four and very reproducible. And lastly, boron for example is just not that abundant. It looks like that the chemical characteristics fill the criteria for the evolution of life.

The observation of the periodic table and a bit of cosmology yields knowledge, mystery, and awe. Just think about it...when a star is being consumed by the physics and the available elements of the star it basically stops at iron, the star bursts, and, wow, here come the other elements--one right after another. But why was carbon elected as the source for life as we know it. Well, I did offer some explanation above but it remains that it is curious that just one, just one, element was given the task. But then again, we simply don't know about life throughout the universe and some soul a billion light years away is asking: "Why is our life system based on an element with an atomic weight of 10.82?" We may want to believe that carbon-based life is universal and disappointed if we discover a multiplicity of bases.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Mozart Effect?

Well, you can tell by the way I use my walk,
I'm a woman's man: no time to talk.
Music loud and women warm, I've been kicked around
since I was born.
And now it's all right. It's OK.
And you may look the other way.
We can try to understand
the New York Times' effect on man.

Whether you're a brother or whether you're a mother,
you're stayin' alive, stayin' alive.
Feel the city breakin' and everybody shakin',
and we're stayin' alive, stayin' alive.
Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin' alive, stayin' alive.
Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin' alive.

Well now, I get low and I get high,
and if I can't get either, I really try.
Got the wings of heaven on my shoes.
I'm a dancin' man and I just can't lose.
You know it's all right. It's OK.
I'll live to see another day.
We can try to understand
the New York Times' effect on man.

Life goin' nowhere. Somebody help me.
Somebody help me, yeah.
Life goin' nowhere. Somebody help me.
Somebody help me, yeah. Stayin' alive.

Well, you can tell by the way I use my walk,
I'm a woman's man: no time to talk.
Music loud and women warm,
I've been kicked around since I was born.
And now it's all right. It's OK.
And you may look the other way.
We can try to understand
the New York Times' effect on man.

Life goin' nowhere. Somebody help me.
Somebody help me, yeah.
Life goin' nowhere. Somebody help me, yeah.
I'm stayin' alive.

No, the lyrics are not something from Mozart but the Bee Gees's "Stay'n Alive". Is there something intrinsic in Mozart's material that stimulates the brain and increases positive momentary mind functions? Perhaps. However, I submit that other venues of music may well have similar positive attributes. Aficionados of jazz, blues, rockabilly, big band, classic country, blue grass, etc. have an equal say in this matter too. The late Gordon Shaw [Professor Emeritus at the University of California--Irvine] who did considerable research understanding the correlation between types of music [especially Mozart] with brain activity. This study has been referred to as the "Mozart Effect" and does carry some weight in understanding the relationships between music and learning skills. I'm not really sure about this for, no doubt, other forms of music may have similar effects. Skills, aptitude, mental development could well be attributed to "rock n' roll" too.

Besides, is it not possible that music alone is insufficient for the creative, learning process for I find musical note assembly accompanied with words is equally beneficial. Ever since man became established he was entertained by nature's rhythms and it is quite possible man began to mimic them with grunts and groans; thumping different density wood sticks on rocks and against each other; blowing into plant reeds and empty shells. Music is man's companion and virtually an endless cornucopia of cool tunes that make us feel all kinds of moods. Can you imagine the melodies produced on Venus or Titan? A gambit on your question: A rather dull existence where the venues of creativity could be stimulated by other enhanced sensory experiences: Psychedelic colors--natural or induced. Question: How would a totally deaf person adjust creativity and learning minus the muse of music?

"Mozart Effect?"--naw. Renaud Lambiotte and Marcel Ausloos [statistical physicists] has derived the idea that musical tastes for each individual is a huge umbrella of varieties. ""Our method allows us to quantify the music signatures of a large sample of individuals and visualize their collective behavior, that is the emergence of sociological communities,"...." I'm not so I like that.

"If your music collection contains everything from Elvis to Elgar and Franz Ferdinand to Franz Liszt, you should not be surprised. According to two statistical physicists in Belgium, our musical tastes may be more diverse than we realize. Renaud Lambiotte and Marcel Ausloos of the University of Li├Ęge have analyzed data from music-sharing websites and found that people like a wide variety of music that belong to a mixture of several pre-defined categories. The results could provide a new way of classifying musical genres and be useful for analyzing market trends...."

"Never My Love"

The Association

You ask me if there'll come a time
when I grow tired of you;
never my love, never my love.

You wonder if this heart of mine
will lose its desire for you;
never my love,
never my love.

What makes you think love will end
when you know that my whole life
depends on you?

You say you fear I'll change my mind
I won't require you,
Never my love,
never my love.

How can you think love will end
when I've asked you to spend your
whole life with me?

Did it work for Einstein?

"Albert Einstein: The Violinist"


Peregrine White

The Physics Teacher, Vol. 43, No. 5

May 2005

©2005 American Association of Physics Teachers

To the press of his time Albert Einstein was two parts renowned scientist, one jigger pacifist and Zionist fundraiser, and a dash amateur musician. These proportions persisted during 1979, the 100th anniversary of his birth, as writers in all media jostled each other as they recounted his achievements. Relativity tended to hog the show. Relatively little space was given to Einstein the musician.

This report, an attempt to redress the balance, is based on conversations with several people who used to play chamber music with him.

Einstein was given violin lessons at an early age. By his own testimony he first became really interested in music when he was 13 and made the acquaintance of the Mozart sonatas. When Einstein was an adult, a well-worn fiddle case accompanied him wherever he went.

In 1921, when Einstein arrived in the United States for the first time, reporters saw a kindly man with undisciplined hair, somewhat wayward black trousers—a man of no particular style, fiddle case in hand. He looked for all the world like a professional musician on tour.

Einstein spent many years of his life in Berlin, deeply involved in the scientific and cultural life there. He hobnobbed with musical greats like Fritz Kreisler and the philosopher-artist Artur Schnabel. He used to play violin sonatas with Max Planck, the father of quantum theory.

At the time, Schnabel was the greatest living performer of piano works of Beethoven. Mrs. Schnabel was a singer. In fact, the young couple toured Europe shortly after their marriage, giving song recitals which one critic described as "a piano recital with contralto obligato."

The conversations of Einstein and Schnabel, whether on music or philosophy, must have been fascinating. One thinks of "Beethoven the Creator." It was the creativity of Beethoven that troubled Einstein, according to one man who used to make music with him. Einstein felt that the very creativeness of Beethoven tended to interpose itself between Einstein and the music.

By contrast, Einstein relished Mozart, noting to a friend that it was as if the great Wolfgang Amadeus did not "create" his beautifully clear music at all, but simply discovered it already made. This perspective parallels, remarkably, Einstein's views on the ultimate simplicity of nature and its explanation and statement via essentially simple mathematical expressions.

If one could retrace the paths of Einstein's musical travels and talk with his former playing companions, one would meet a long list of fascinating people. But he died in 1955, and only the youngest or most long-lived of his chamber music compatriots are still available for comment.

One of the most interesting of them is Nicholas Harsanyi, who recently retired as conductor of the Piedmont Chamber Orchestra based at the North Carolina School of the Arts, Winston-Salem. Dr. Harsanyi left his native Hungary in 1938 and came to this country to teach at the Westminster Choir School at Princeton, New Jersey. This was five years after Einstein had left Europe for good to work in the United States at the Institute of Advanced Study, also at Princeton.

Before Harsanyi left Budapest, he was feted at a dinner where he met a young woman who, like him, was shortly coming to this country. It turned out that she, too, was moving to Princeton, where she was to marry John von Neumann, famed mathematician who invented game theory and played a crucial role in the wartime development of the electronic computer.

It followed naturally that once in Princeton, Harsanyi was invited to the von Neumanns' for a birthday party for Einstein. Harsanyi, a violinist, provided some music for the occasion, and was instantly enlisted by Einstein for the chamber music sessions scheduled religiously for Wednesday nights at his house on Mercer Street. He would go to extremes with his calendar to keep that night free for music, according to Harsanyi.

Normally the third member of the group was Valentine Bargmann, a Princeton University scientist specializing in mathematical physics. Dr. Bargmann, an able pianist, thought at one time of becoming a professional musician.

Dr. Harsanyi, a dynamic conductor, made himself felt around Princeton as Music Director and Conductor of the Princeton Chamber Orchestra and of the Trenton and Madison Symphonies and of the Bach Aria Group.

At one point he asked Einstein to serve as vice-president of the Princeton Symphony. Einstein at first demurred, saying "What would happen if the president died?" Later, Einstein agreed and served in the job from 1952 until his death.

What kind of fiddler was Einstein? Many appraisals are available.

Harsanyi described Einstein's tone as "accurate but not sensuous." He confirms the fact that Einstein knew the musical literature, at least up to the present century.

"Einstein would never have listened to Bartok," Harsanyi said.

Dr. Bargmann made this comment: "Most amateurs scrape, play out of tune," he said. "Einstein did not; he had a good technique and an opulent tone."

Famed pianist Artur Balsam once played with Einstein. Asked later how the great scientist played, Balsam told friends that he was "relatively good."

At the Mercer Street sessions the musical fare often as not involved Baroque trios for two violins with the piano as continuo. Harsanyi says he occasionally suggested to Einstein that they get a cello also; but Einstein said "No, let's keep it simple."

Depending upon the mood, Einstein and Bargmann would finish off the evening with Mozart and Beethoven sonatas.

Harsanyi recalls how people backstage after a concert by Schnabel or some other old friend of Einstein "would part like the waters of the Red Sea" when Einstein turned up.

Of Harsanyi himself, the rigorous, impeccable conductor, Einstein used to say "You are a crocodile... you mesmerize your players!"

Then he would add: "What a remarkable city, your town of Budapest! Think of all the great musicians who have come from it!" He would tick off the names of Eugene Ormandy, Fritz Reiner, George Szell, Antal Dorati, Georg Solti, and of course, Harsanyi.

Another of Einstein's chamber music friends was David Rothman, now 84, who owns a department store in Southold, Long Island, not too far from Einstein's old summer cottage at Nassau Point. An avid musical amateur, Mr. Rothman sheltered the British musical greats Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears during several years of World War II when, as pacifists, they were sitting it out in this country.

In 1939, Rothman and Einstein became acquainted when Einstein came into the store to buy a pair of sandals. Somehow or other the common interest in music was uncovered. Einstein became a participant in the musical evenings held at David Rothman's house.

On what must have been one of many marvelous evenings of music, Rothman and Einstein and others had a session of quartets, with an entr'acte of Schubert songs sung by Peter Pears, with Benjamin Britten playing the accompaniments.

Mr. Rothman recalls that Einstein felt that of all music geniuses, Haydn was the absolute tops. In fact, Einstein would never let an evening of quartets break up without doing some Haydn.

"Haydn," he would say, "was a musical genius who could write a symphony in an afternoon and we are still playing it."

Amateur quartet players, like scientists, form an international brotherhood. The venue is often as not the living room in a modest house on a quiet street. Maybe the stairs to the second floor come down into the room. The best lighting is concentrated around the quartet, leaving the rest of the room in relative shadow. The nonplaying spouse may well be busy in the kitchen, fixing sandwiches or setting up a few drinks. Children of the house, frequently music lovers like their elders, sit with wan, pale faces as the evening lengthens.

From his Princeton years Nicholas Harsanyi recalls with particular savor a dinner for six that he and his wife, a professional singer, attended at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Frank E. Taplin. (Mr. Taplin, a noted American patron of the arts, once served as Chairman of the Board of the Marlboro School of Music and is currently President and Chief Executive Officer of the Metropolitan Opera Association.) After dinner the host, a good pianist, accompanied Mrs. Harsanyi in some Schubert songs.

The other two members of the party, seated at opposite ends of the table, were Svetlana Alliluyeva,—Joseph Stalin's daughter,—and Albert Einstein's step-daughter, Margot.

As the songs unfolded, Harsanyi relates that he was fascinated to observe that Svetlana was silently mouthing the German texts. It intrigued him that the daughter of Joseph Stalin was conversant with German romantic poetry.

Einstein's passion for music ran deep. His step son-in-law Dimitri Marianoff notes that Einstein remembered chiefly from the short period he spent in Prague "the solemn sounds of the organ in Catholic cathedrals, the chorales in Protestant churches, the mournful Jewish melodies, the resonant Hussite hymns, folk music, and the works of Czech, Russian, and German composers."

In 1929, Einstein visited Belgium and was invited to the royal palace to play chamber music with Queen Elizabeth. The Queen, formerly Princess Elizabeth of Bavaria, was an ardent violinist and supporter of the arts, including the famed Brussels Competition, which she originated.

When Einstein went to Leiden, in the Netherlands, it was often to confer with his lifelong scientific friend, Paul Ehrenfest, Vienna-born physicist and skilled pianist. Einstein and Ehrenfest spent many hours making music together.

At Oxford, where Einstein resided for a short time, he was taken up by the celebrated musical family named Deneke, whose household frequently sheltered professional quartets, composers, and performers at all levels.

Einstein accumulated musical friendships everywhere. He was an intimate friend of Adolph Busch and of Busch's son-in-law, Rudolph Serkin. He was a close friend of Robert Casadesus and his wife, Gaby, both super-pianists living in Princeton.

On one of the rare occasions in which Einstein played in public, it was a benefit recital in Princeton for the American Friends Service Committee for Refugee Children in England. Einstein was accompanied by Gaby Casadesus.

On December 17, 1955, following Einstein's death, Nicholas Harsanyi conducted the Princeton Symphony in a memorial concert. Robert Casadesus was soloist in the Coronation Concerto ("Homage to a King") of Mozart, written in 1790. The orchestra played the Christmas Concerto of Corelli and the Sonatina (funeral music) from the Actus Tragicus, Cantata No. 106, by Bach.

One could perhaps describe Einstein as a professional musician's amateur musician. He was the intellectual match of the pros. As a violinist, he practiced regularly, was a careful, reasonably talented player, with the speed of mind essential to ensemble playing.

As a dedicated quartet player, Einstein presents no contradictions and is completely understandable. He is seen as the denizen of dimly lit music rooms of the world where enthusiastic friends and fiddlers bend together over their instruments and sleepy children yawn, and towards the end of a long evening someone says "Let's play some Haydn and then call it a night."

Articles to read...


"Gordon Shaw"

"GRAY MATTERS: Music and the Brain"

"The Mozart Effect"

"The “Mozart Effect”: A Psychological Research Methods Case"

"What music do you like?"

Edge of the universe

Daniel Boorstin, The Discoverers [dust-jacket illustration;
attributed to a 16th-century woodcut by the Bettmann Archive]

A Medieval science thought experiment...well, maybe not so Medieval:

"If you thrust your hand beyond the outermost sphere, would your hand be in a place?"--Aristotle

Or to put it another way..."What is outside of the universe?"

Aristotle replied:

"It is therefore evident that there is no place or void or time outside the heaven [i.e., the outermost sphere of fixed stars]. For in every place, body can be present; and void is said to be that in which the presence of body, though not actual, is possible; and time is the number of movement. But in the absence of natural body there is no movement, and outside the heaven, as we have shown, body neither exists nor can come to exist. It is clear then that there is neither place, nor void, nor time, outside the heaven. Hence whatever is there, is of such a nature as not to occupy any place, nor does time age it; nor is there any change in any of the things which lie beyond the outermost motion...."On the Heavens, Book I, Chapter 9.

Okay, from the Medieval perspective this was more of an issue for an argument for the "flat Earth" hypothesis and despite that stance it did provide fodder for analytical thought experiments. [As old as the Stoics the thought experiment is thus: What would happen if a man tried to extend his arm beyond the outermost sphere? (See the above woodcut)]. Clearly Aristotle advocated a "finite" universe where neither matter or time existed beyond the known universe and many Medieval theologians/philosophers saw an opportunity to place God and heaven in that realm. Guess what, we are still asking that question some 700 plus years beyond the Medievalists. The question it still a relevant question despite our sophisticated technology to peer into the universe, the ability to mathematically extrapolate hypotheses, to find the nebulous question of our own existence, fragility, destiny? Is the question of finiteness-infiniteness of the universe a matter of science or philosophy--or both?

Single events/scientific epistemology

The following is an excerpted and edited conversation from a physics chat room [October 6th, 2003]. The discussion was initiated by member "X" and essentially asked if a event occurring once can be admitted to the realm of scientific epistemology? Thus, the discussion.

X--Ok, a serious topic. Do events which can happen only one single time belong to the realm of science/physics--justify answer.

Y--Neither X. Religion--falls in category of miracles.

Z--If an experiment is valid, it can be repeated.

Y--I just cannot imagine a single event--one would never empirically prove it.

X--So physics/science is limited to phenomena which are repeatable?

Y--I agree with Z.

Z--X, I think if the event just occurs once, it would be as if a physics law were created only during that event and later destroyed.

Y--Theories are connected to repeatable events by definition.

X--Well anyway I thought a miracle was an event that takes place without respecting the laws of physics etc.


Y--But X....

Y--Part of a definition of a theory is that it is repeatable.

X--Is the miracle concept dependent on the state of our knowledge then?

Y--Its part of scientific method--multiple experiments.

Z--Like I had said.... if an experiment cannot be repeated it is as if the laws of physics existed only for the moment that the experiment occurred.

Y--Current knowledge, yes.

Y--Yes Z.

Z--Not all the laws.. .the ones that permitted that experiment to occur.


X--OK Y, if science can only handle repeatable events, then we are doomed to never "KNOW" anything about unique events.


Y--How important are unique events in epistemology?

Y--Any significance?

Y--Other than saying that our current knowledge may be incomplete.

Y--There is room for uniqueness.

Y--An indication of an incorrect and incomplete body of knowledge.

X--Or, is the issue really a matter of human interpretation in that we only accept that which we understand /a la caveman having a wind god because he couldn't understand air.

Y--In a way yes.

Y--Knowledge is always unfolding and will accept the unique.

X--No brain--no epistemology ???


Y--Maybe X....

Y--There may be in the future room for miracles.

Y--Like a burning bush that Moses experienced.

X--Then maybe physics is a dead end in our trying to answer fundamental questions since "brains" are just parts of some kind of bio mechanisms.

Y--Not really X.

Y--Physics--a body of knowledge--will always be unfolding.

Z--If our brain were different.... would physics be different?

X--As I was saying, even with a unique event there is hope since we still can talk about probabilities and information content etc.

Y--Miracles may be a part of a body of knowledge in the future.

Y--Everyone will have a Moses burning bush.

X--The miracle concept is independent of any religious connotation / just depends on our state of scientific knowledge right ?


X--How so?

Y--Religions use a unique event to bolster their faith.

Y--Not really scientific for them.

X--Their faith or their faithful?

Y--If anything else, it is a slam by religions against science.

Y--Burning bushes, parting a large sea, water into wine, and so on.

X--Can we agree that science is just ordered/classified knowledge plus methodologies to obtain new knowledge ?

Y--In the future--yes, begging the question Z--these events may be part of a new body of knowledge.

Y--Yes X.

X--So, to know what science is, we must know what knowledge is.

X--And we are back to the premise that all "human" knowledge is based on actual physical observations.

Y--Uh--not entirely.

Y--There may well be metaphysical.

X--So, if we physically observe a unique event, it is part of our body of knowledge.


Y--Maybe an undiscovered explanation.

Y--Consider the following....

Y--Ancient mans’ very first observation of Halley’s comet.

X--Seemed unique to ancient man.

Y--He may have considered it a miracle or unique event based on current knowledge--then guess what--76 years later it appeared again--now the current single event knowledge of the event was understood and became a part of a new body of knowledge.

Y--So the same maybe with a burning bush.

X--So we open the door for "religious miracles" to someday be part of our knowledge base. I cannot accept that on the simple basis that many such "religious miracles" were made up in the minds of people and never were observed.

Y--We don't know that for sure X.

Y--The events could have happened.

Z--And what about the virgin Mary visions? They occurred many times... is that an unique event?

Y--But I do agree that they have more mythical/religious meaning than an actual physical event.


Y--Repetition does not yield uniqueness.

Y--That is part of an hypothesis of an event.

Y--Quantifiable repetition.

X--There is quite a difference also in an event which reoccurs on its own and an event that we can make reoccur, say in a laboratory.

Y--Yes--but to add bona fide events to a body of knowledge does require lab testing.

Y--The lab can be the universe--not a building downtown.

X--I think it is an unanswerable question as to whether or not there are miracles.

Y--For the time being yes.

X--For example, if a miracle is more than just not yet discovered science.

Z--An example just occurred to me... the cases of "miracles" in medicine.. a terminal person is about to die and suddenly survives... the doctors cant say what happened and made this person continue alive... is it undiscovered science?

X-- Also we have to look at the possibility that all events are unique! After all each is characterized by a time parameter etc., etc., etc.

Y--I think so Z.

Y--Recovery from a disease can be a mystery.

Z--But while they don't discover, they say "it was a miracle".

X--Z, I would say unknown science since we do not yet know all there is to know about physiology etc. And we may never "discover" what kept the person alive.

X--We are all just skirting the deity issue.

Y--My point exactly.

Y--Ultimate knowledge of everything may never be know.

Y--There must be some mystery.

X--Z, Also remember the survival due to a medical miracle may in principle be like knowing that the probability of one single number in the unit interval being chosen is zero yet individual numbers are chosen i.e., happen.

Y--Perhaps man is incapable of knowing all.

[The names were changed to protect the innocent.]

Any thoughts about single, non-repeatable events and scientific knowledge? Should miracles be left to matters of faith? They certainly don't fit within the criteria of scientific epistemology.

Saturday, March 29, 2008


Reading a back issue [ "The Serious Search for an Anti-Aging Pill" ] of "Scientific American" [August 2002], I found an article concerning the issue for developing a pill to retard the aging process. "Human population in general is living longer than it ever has because of better agriculture, medicine, and technology in general." No doubt about that. But I wonder about the rates of mortality compared to longevity increases and those very things you mentioned that curtail longevity. Specifically, hazards of genetically engineered foods, foods treated with potentially deleterious preservatives, pharmaceuticals that are untested and tainted, or faulty technology. Remember DDT, the bromide preservative for apples, excessive nitrites, thalidomide, the Ford Pinto? It’s almost a "catch-22" situation.

It is not a pleasant thought of understanding and realizing the temporality of mankind either through natural progression of life [birth, maturation, death] or by accident [just being in the wrong place at the wrong time or some biological malfunction]. And since this realm is the only one we experience familiarity [creature comforts; celebration of other members of the species or environment], we do what we can by controlling our world and life to do whatever we can by extending it. Sensory experience of the afterlife expressed by religions doesn't provide much comfort. Belief is evaporating. Curiously, if mankind knew for sure of life after death and it was even better than the current situation, the species would soon vanish for all would want something better. Alas, that is impossible and such promises are a mater of faith. "...The longer people live the less frequent it occurs and the less we need to deal with untimely and unexpected death." Perhaps, but that is just prolonging the inevitable and the end result is the same--just spread out more. Perhaps emphasis should be placed more on discovering the primal reasons for aging and human biological ailments instead, down the road, of offering nothing but palliative solutions.

More articles...

"Christmas Candy Encourages Longevity"

"Discoveries May Help Unlock Secrets of Long Life"

"Do You Want to Live Forever?"

"Ethics of Anti-Aging Medicine Questioned"

"Hang in There: The 25-Year Wait for Immortality"

"Social Consequences of Manufactured Longevity"

Andrei Sakharov vs Edward Teller

Sparing of two theoretical physicists--what a story of science and ethics. The focus of this topic is to discuss the implementation of programs developing and maintaining a nuclear arsenal [and potential deployment] and the ethics of such considerations. Part of the analysis is a function of global political temperament in post World War II and current climate--the balance of power issue.

Some brief background material:

Andrei Sakharov:

1.) Born 1921 in Moscow.

2.) After a two year interruption during World War II he returned to his academic studies under the guidance of Igor Tamm in theoretical physics.

3.) Research in 1951 lead to the Tokamak reactor design.

4.) Major contributor to the Soviet development/testing of the first thermonuclear bomb in 1953 and H-bomb test in 1955.

5.) Contributed to the 1963 Test Ban Treaty.

6.) Returned to theoretical physics--"baryon asymmetry"/"uneven disbursement of matter and antimatter in the universe".

7.) Strong political antinuclear proponent during the antiballistic missile defense issue between the Soviet Union and the United States.

["Reflections on Progress, Peaceful Coexistence and Intellectual Freedom" was a keynote paper. Unfortunately, I cannot locate a complete copy of the essay. It appeared in the "New York Times" July 22nd 1968 issue. If anyone can supply a full copy please provide a link.]

8.) Ostracized from science/military spheres by Soviet government.

9.) Awarded Nobel Prize for Peace in 1975.

"Uncompromisingly and with unflagging strength Sakharov has fought against the abuse of power and all forms of violation of human dignity, and he has fought no less courageously for the idea of government based on the rule of law. In a convincing manner Sakharov has emphasized that Man's inviolable rights provide the only safe foundation for genuine and enduring international cooperation. In this way, in a particularly effective manner, working under difficult conditions, he has enhanced respect for the values that rally all true peacelovers."--1975 The Nobel Committee

10.) Internal exile from 1980 until 1986 when exonerated by Mikhail Gorbachev.

11.) Died in 1989.

"Andrei Sakharov: Theoretical Physics and Practical Humanics"

"Sakharov: Person of the 20th Century"

"Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov"

Edward Teller:

1.) Born 1908 in Budapest.

2.) Studied physics in Germany [Werner Heisenberg] and Denmark [Niels Bohr].

3.) Contributor to theoretical physics in the 1930's--Jahn-Teller effect concerning crystal symmetry as determined by electron and atomic nuclei reactions.

4.) Emigrated to the United States in 1935.

5.) Actively involved in atomic programs even before United State's involvement in World War II.

6.) Major participant in thermonuclear weaponry and eventual testing of said weapon in 1952.

7.) He and his buddy Ernest Lawrence lobbied for a new weapon testing facility--now Lawrence Livermore Laboratory.

8.) In the mid 1950's he butted against J. Robert Oppenheimer.

9.) Subsequent statements pushing for the H-bomb set a barrier between him and the scientific community for his lack of ethics. He too was ostracized.

10.) Given the Enrico Fermi prize 1962.

11.) Died in 2003.

"Edward Teller"

"Edward Teller in the Public Arena"

"Edward Teller, Ph.D./Father of the Hydrogen Bomb"

"Edward Teller's Scientific Legacy/Current Trends In International Fusion Research: 6th Symposium/Edward Teller Memorial Lecture"

"The death of a nuclear legend" by, Barton J Bernstein

"Truth Teller/The nuclear scientist the Left loves to hate"

Here are two brilliant men of theoretical physics that are passionately involved in their beliefs and goals: One [Andrei Sakharov] pleading for detente and restraint between two super powers, the other [Edward Teller] advocating continued nuclear weapon production.

I don't know that much about the physics of nuclear weaponry and was surprised about a particular feature of the hydrogen bomb in that it is an "unlimited" weapon in regards to megaton yield. The "slolika" [Soviet hydrogen bomb] was limited in megaton yield and that it was redesigned by Sakharov and Zel’dovich.

"The idea was to use the radiation (photons) generated by an initial atomic explosion to compress a tube, thereby igniting fusion within it. The design, similar to the Ulam-Teller one, had potentially unlimited yield because the length of the tube could be increased as required."

And, it was while he was at Arzamas-16 that Sakharov began his political changes about nuclear proliferation.

"The Metamorphosis of Andrei Sakharov: The inventor of the Soviet hydrogen bomb became an advocate of peace and human rights. What led him to his fateful decision?"

Strange world of "publish or perish"

Many years ago when in graduate school one of the hot academia topics was "publish or perish" covering all the disciplines of the academic world: From Socrates to Einstein; Medieval reed instruments to high energy physics. Publishing was cool for the university: Status and external sponsors like the Federal Government, private enterprise, or individual philanthropic endeavors. Talk about stress. Interdepartmental memos cascaded from the chairman of the philosophy department to urge the professors to start writing "that" book or "monograph" that would shine some limelight and draw attention. Discretely hinted was the threat of loss of tenure or no pay raise. So, nervous professors jump started their somewhat lackadaisical posture and honed their writing skills, combed their egos, researched--and wrote that book. Result: Very little...for the book or monograph was publish by the university press and wound up stuffed on a dusty library shelf. There may have been peer approval, but little significance resulted. And the university was temporally placated. Today, the same situation still exists and I suspect in the realm of science that "publish or perish" was been replaced by "profit or perish"--the driving engine is dollar acquisition and, of course, status.

This appears to be a more complex issue than suspected. The following is a an umbrella article dealing with the dissemination of published scholarly materials via libraries and the electronic medium. Venues and areas of research are dividing and subdividing while costs of accessing this material is increasing--some as much as 350%.

"Publish or Perish--An Ailing Enterprise?"

Writing science books for the populace may not fall under the perspective of "publish or perish" but the display of the material can be crucial. Most citizens are not familiar or comfortable with the mathematics of physics--or any of the science for that mater and are somewhat put off and bored. It may even make them put the book down indicating only 12 worn pages or repeated reading in an attempt to make an understanding. How many pages does one have to read to say comfortably..."Yes, I have read the book." Stephen Hawking is a prime example of a publisher's admonitions. But for Hawking, it wouldn't make much difference anyway. Hawking was warned that for every equation included in his text [A Brief History of Time] the sales would be halved. Hawking acquiesced but added only one equation: "E=mc²". The books sales soared and I doubt that if Hawking included Maxwell's equations of electromagnetism or the Euler equation that sales would have slumped.

Any thoughts?

Space ethics

Tied to the previous post is the much broader question of "space ethics". It will happen...mankind will explore the universe; we will visit other solar systems and planets and hopefully encounter other beings. What sort of criterion should be established in exploring the universe as regards to extraction of resources and, assuming that we are not unique in the universe, alien life forms? Does mankind march in with dollar signs in our eyes [greed and the desire to make a "quick buck"] or with our Model 101445 Atomic Blaster Ray Gun blasting those different from us out of their chairs--either scenario radically modifying/destroying environments and other life forms? Essentially, what sort of rules of conduct should be employed on mankind's odyssey and who should contribute to those rules of conduct: Scientists, philosophers, teachers, you and me?

It's quite possible that we are descendents of a "cosmic" sneeze. Scientists are still fussing over the Mars rocks. But as an extrapolation, consider this: It is truly one species feeding off another. We just happen to be at the top right now unless we are confronted with faster, stronger, and smarter species [or in the wrong place at the wrong time]. But those are anomalies such as the human being eaten by a tiger, stepped on by an elephant, or succumbing to a bacterial infection, etc. This situation is reminiscent of a Twilight Zone episode called "To Serve Man" : A cookbook for aliens feasting on mankind. We could be just a link in an enormous food chain--not yet realized.

Mankind will probably carry the history of plunder into space. If there is a buck to be made, someone will be there with exploitation high on their agenda. Tucked away in the back of the space ship's cargo bay will be crates of chewing gum and pretty beads.

Here's a sticky situation. Suppose that man met with an alien life form equally intelligent and yet, despite all attempts, communication could not be established. Would it be the wise thing to step backwards, throw the ship in high gear, and place an "X" on the celestial map warning all others to avoid the planet at all costs or...? The issue of galactic language [communication] truly muddles the issue even more. It would be lucky indeed if there were a common universal means of communication. Some have offered mathematics, but those are very precise descriptive forms of communication of common events and by no means tender emotions. Some have offered pictographs. We now have the metaphorical "Tower of Babble" in outer space. Thus, one must start all over again. Perhaps it would be better to stay home and read a book. You know, when one thinks about it, regardless of a working set of galactic ethics, all of it is totally worthless when confronting an alien species if communication is impossible. Certainly universal tragedies would happen. Perhaps "distance" and "communication" will define the history of mankind's movement and contacts in space more profoundly that a set of good ethics and technology. Homo sapiens may really be reduced to an existence of isolation and loneliness.

Who would initially be involved in establishing a workable sense of ethics. Granted, as eons passed and other beings became involved, a set of ethics must be established. By whom? Do we take advise from philosophy, theology, science? And what a confusion would occur when other cultures incorporate, as quite normal, something that mankind would find repulsive. Who or what body would be the ultimate arbiter in the formation of intergalactic ethics?

Similar to the idea of establishing intergalactic buoys warning species who share our perspectives to avoid this planet would we disdain similar cultures that have a sense of ethics extremely repulsive such as a ritual sacrifice involving their own species. Suppose these individuals could provide something that would be very important to enhance mankind and the travel in space...maybe a fantastic cure for a debilitating disease or a serum to eliminate or reduce toxic chemicals ingested by humans. Would practicality over shadow a set of ethics. Could we condone a savage situation to take home a box of trinkets--regardless of the benefits?

How ironic it would be to discover at least one or all galactic cultures exactly like ours. A stagnant universe? A universe of the same species would certain alter one's perspective in the formation and acceptance of the universality of ethical concepts. Perhaps the basic traits of benevolence and bellicose postures and everything in between are universal characteristics of all species. So, essentially, we need not be too concerned about establishing a sophisticated ethic. We will just meander the universe plundering and reconstructing the damage done. My Model 101445 Atomic Blaster Ray Gun would be ethical after all.

"Prime Directive"? A directive fraught with potentially disastrous results. The issue of "interference" regarding another species could run the risk of self-annihilation or another species being eliminated. And the issue could well be compounded by the factors of "pain and suffering" which most humans find intolerable. And yes, western influence run the same risk here on this planet. Whatever the motivation in the name of greed, power, conquest, or religious conversion the western influence can certainly cause major changes. I well remember a story regarding an anthropological study of one of the indigenous peoples of South America--the feared head hunter tribe called the Jhivaro. The deal was that the anthropologists were to strictly observe and yet a rather unpleasant episode happened that would cause one to stop taking notes and do something to alleviate the botched decapitation of a woman from a rival tribe. Where does one draw the line, for the anthropologist could have finished the demise of the woman with a single gun shot but opted to let the events play out as agreed. The same could be applied to ethics in space. As far as NASA is concerned, I seriously doubt that the astronauts are provided much ethical material since the space travel issue hasn't even begun. I suppose that each astronaut carries a bundle of personal ethics.

Maybe we have this all wrong. Perhaps the most practical posture to adopt is nothing more than the perpetuation and protection of Homo sapiens. To the trash can for any ethical stands of universal fairness or "prime directives". The universe may well be a cauldron of vicious and violent species where only the strongest and aggressive survive. Species will come and go in an infinite universe. So the "prime directive" may now state: "Shoot now and ask questions later". Perhaps the "conflict resolution" posture would work well on a large scale of species vs species. But suppose you were at the O. K. Corral on a Venutian desert facing a very hostile and armed alien bent on beating you to the draw and terminating your existence. I seriously doubt that talking your way out of that potentially mortal situation is going to keep you alive. The "conflict resolution" notion evaporated and was replaced by a "quick draw". The "prime directive" has become very personal--your life is on the line and there are not very many individuals that would succumb to the ultimate sacrifice.

I am not convinced that altruism, good will, fairness, etc. permeate the universe. Such a notion is unfounded and simply may be a minority point of view doomed to universal evolution of all species. But, from our perspective, they are fine ideas to carry into space and subject to rejection and modification despite being somewhat Pollyanna. A set of rules and regulations from NASA would be inadequate for not taking into account all contingencies and possibly biased depending on the constituents of the NASA committee that agrees on a code of "space ethics". Who are these people And, the "exception to the rule" idea is an open ended interpretation that may precipitate disastrous consequences depending on circumstance and various individuals.

The history of mankind has not been too stellar [pardon the pun] with greed and violence among many more characteristics being all too normal. There is no current evidence or belief that mankind will change anytime soon. Thus, those traits will be carried into space and practiced on alien environments and species. Mankind is just not mature enough to develop a set of universal ethics and travel in space. It is possible that those characteristics are temporary [evolution will dictate a better species] and that the whole of the universe is peopled with similar species. Good news for the former for it shows change and hope. Bad news for the latter for it shows a violent and aggressive universe. Perhaps by the time mankind achieves a higher set of universal ethics, the chances of contacting other life forms may have faded away if one subscribes to the popular hypothesis of the "big bang" and the ever expanding universe--it would be impossible to contact anyone for the factor of "distance".

Don't misunderstand me...ethical goals are a "good thing" regardless of the inherent nature of the universe.

If mankind is to remain in solitude by design [the uniqueness of a species/a theological view] or a result of the physics of the universe, a heuristic set of ethics will surly ensure an extended duration of the species Homo sapiens. Life without ethical values is not a life worth living.

Outright declared hostility by an aggressive species would dictate self-preservation without a doubt--"prime directive" or not. It may well be that the definition or interpretation of "self-defense" may be wrong. The apparent aggressive species may be just posturing to protect themselves much like a growling/barking dog, the rattle of a rattle snake, the discharge of n-butylpercaptan by a skunk, etc.

And another factor to consider, and this compounds the issue too, is the issue of language. There just may be no way for communication and, as exemplified on earth, many words/phrases have different meanings: A "hello" may be misunderstood as "get off our planet" and who knows what would result from that situation.

Assuming that the incident of the demise of an alien happened in the early stages of mankind in space and there was no universal judicial system then the individual that caused the demise of the alien would be responsible and perform a certain retribution. That could be a problem for it may extend beyond something personal. If communication with the rock were possible, it might well be that to satisfy the demands of the aliens that the individual must forfeit a life--maybe the lives of the entire crew. Now that would cause problems. Problems would be compounded if it were discovered that these rocks held some important information or harbored certain necessary resources. If the event, way distant in the future, where there was a consortium of aliens in conjunction with humans whose purpose was to adjudicate such species infraction, then the issue would be different. I suppose that when the time arrives and we become friends and trade with many species, that such a body of lawgivers would exist. Oh my, lawyers in space!

Remember the book by H. G. Wells called The Time Machine where in the very distant future on earth the subterranean subspecies called the Morlocks bred and fed upon the weak surface subspecies called the Eloi? Perhaps "ethics in space" is a non relevant issue or so we may discover--just a big "free for all", the old West mentality, only the strong and dominate survive. Frankly, I would invest my money in stock that promoted a set of "universal ethics". That might even the odds against the bad guys of the universe and level the playing field a bit. Universal justice may prevail.

Mankind will begin a journey into space with the best set of ethics possible based on our limited knowledge and experience and as the universe unfolds modifications will be made. Endless global debate without mankind taking the first step would be counter productive. And there may well never be a unified set of ethics--mankind's course of existence as the species Homo sapiens may just disappear.

It is somewhat ironic that there is the notion that man wants to perpetuate his species through, for example, efforts to curb world hunger and financially assist third world countries; but, on the other hand, man is forever redefining and refining methods to self-destruction. Perhaps this existential dichotomy will work out.

Being the recipient of extra terrestrial assistance is also an issue of philosophical significance for the paranoid features may be demonstrated in not really knowing the authenticity of a benevolent alien race. I guess when faced with ultimate peril, mankind, if such an offer were presented, would cash in on the offer and sort things out later.

It is interesting to note that some of the linguistics that we use to discuss these issues may have no universal antecedent. The term “pride”, for example, may exist nowhere but on earth. Thus, such philosophical statements are meaningless and further the complications with other beings.

Our questioning about our species in relation to the universe is not unique. Grant that there are conditions in the universe for the evolution of sentient beings and that sentient beings evolve and also contemplate their own existence and juxtaposition to the universe. We and they ponder the possibility of extraterrestrial life and contact with same. Would this conclude a posture of cascading universal interrogatory questions of co-alien existence: That there is a possibility of a universal body of ethics too? Interesting to discover, as we are now finding out, that there are many fundamental laws governing the function of the universe and just perhaps there is a body of ethical precepts that await unfolding by all sentient species. Sentient species uniqueness would not be necessarily measured only by what we ethically carry into space, but simply by our physical constitution and whatever matrix of dominant species characteristics is promoted--a propensity for conquest, subjugation, and dissemination of evil, the antithesis, or a mixture.

There is room for freedom of species diversity. The point being that similar questions of the universe may well be shared by all inhabitants of the universe. Not all aliens have to be thinking of mankind as a food source.

In conclusion, there is something more fundamental here and that is the major types of ethical values employed. Two salient types are: 1.) “universal” ethics and 2.) “situational” ethics. In the former it is assumed that the principles of ethics are true throughout the universe and that all sentient beings will adopt such values and strive to abide by them. This is sort of another “argument ad ignorantiam” whereby the postulate is considered true by virtue of the fact it cannot be proven untrue. That is somewhat on shaky ground even though the values are considered good and worthy. There is no guarantee that sentient beings would adopt the same philosophy let alone the fact that there may or may not be other sentient beings that we would even contact. The “situation” ethics simply states that ethical values are contingent upon such factors as cultural dispositions, geography, and time [historical]. In other words ethical values are constantly changing. Historical evidence is abundant, for we today would look at Spartus and its ethics as barbaric and crude--but it worked for them. Even today there are situations that are common and accepted in Asia that are not approved of in Western Europe. So to extrapolate this concept to space travel, it would be apparent that man’s early sojourns and possible alien contacts be based on one set of ethics and always subject to modification. To have a positive relationship with aliens that consume their pets as fine cuisine, mankind might just have to adapt rather than storm the kitchen with lasers blazing in an attempt to save the "Trebles”. No doubt, such modifications don't come easily and will certainly affect all humans as our species is dispersed throughout the universe. It would be arrogant for mankind to assume that the “universal” or “situation” ethics would be the “correct” ethical principles. Somehow, we must learn to get along with our neighbors be they next door or on the other side of the galaxy.

Further reading...

"A Grim Reckoning"

"Astroenvironmentalism: The Case For Space Exploration As An Environmental Issue"

"Law, Ethics and Extra-terrestrial Life"

"Life, Longevity, And A $6,000 Bet"

And finally, a spaceperson's personal hygiene may be everyday issues on deep space ventures and may become a serious issue of "space ethics". Bad enough for the travelers to endure each others personal issues but all may well fall short when the ambassadors of Earth finally contact the inhabitants of planet Mongol and Emperor Ming gets "wind of" the emissaries. All that cool advanced technology denied and potential galactic wars ensue because Captain Pharto and crew neglected to address those issues. I'm sure NASA is somewhat concerned about the problems of personal hygiene, containment of bacteria, and the general placation of the crew's overall general well-being and comfort.

"No Bath Time/ In space, it's not easy being clean"