Archive for physics

New Zodiac Signs? Panic? Turmoil?

Posted in Skepticism with tags , , , , on January 15, 2011 by theicidalmaniac

The Facebook is a-flurry this week with a lot of hubbub about a new zodiac sign being recognized, and adding to the panic is the fact that people’s sense of wellbeing is being besieged, plagued even, by worries that matters of fate will no longer be crystal clear through a detailed understanding of time-honored astrological principles, due to the fact that the signs’ places in the Earth’s night sky have shifted due to the wobbly orbit of our little planet.

All of this got me thinking.  Thinking hard.

When I was born Aries was the predominant sign. So hypothetically speaking…(stay with me here)…had I been on the MOON when I was born, and the moon had been between the Earth and the constellation Aries, I would have been even CLOSER to the great goat sign in the sky, and thus more strongly influenced by it.  Doesn’t this mean, therefore, that an April baby on the moon would grow up to be even MORE stubborn and goatish than an Earth baby?

Of COURSE it does.

Obviously.

Crap. Imagine what it’s going to be like when future-people finally leave Earth for good and terraform other planets like Neptune, or Uranus, thinking they have conquered the solar system only to find out that their children are all being born with socially-crippling personality disorders relating to their new proximity to the influence of these powerful stellar arrangements, causing the fledgling human settlements to collapse under self-destructive cancer-on-pisces warfare.  O, the bitter irony!

I have to wonder, though, how this incredible cosmic force affects GOATS who were born in early April. And I wonder if bulls that were born under the sign of Aries ever feel like a goat trapped in a Taurus’ body. Like, is a bull that was born on May 1st more of a bull than one that was born April 1st? Sorry…that’s a silly question.  Of COURSE it is.

Obviously.

But in all seriousness…

…isn’t it amazing that a stone-aged superstition remains intact after all these thousands of years of technology advancement and migration, that it survives despite being at opposition to every premise of physics and biology that we are aware of, and that it flourishes with nothing to support it but pure faith and the notion that it gives meaning to people’s lives?

Gosh.  Really makes you think, don’t it?  I wonder what ELSE we could say that about.  I wonder if there’s anything, anything at all, that many MANY MANY people believe in RIGHT NOW, that is the same kind of hocus-pocus…

Nah.  Doesn’t seem likely that we’d make that mistake more than once.

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Being Omniscient

Posted in Atheism with tags , , , , on December 28, 2008 by theicidalmaniac
mmmmm...chocolate

mmmmm...chocolate

INTRO

Not so long ago I was at a Staten Island bookseller and I perused, as I often do, the physics shelf.  Physics is a topic that I’ve always been interested in but have only a minor understanding of, so I thought I’d pick up a book whose aim is clear; to get someone who has no scientific training to become interested in science.  I found that book…it was called “How to Fossilize your Hamster: And Other Amazing Experiments for the Armchair Scientist” by Mick O’Hare.  Being a rabid enthusiast of all things chocolate I flipped to the chapter about how to measure the speed of light using a chocolate bar and your microwave.  It’s quite a neat trick, really, and very simple, and I’ll not spoil it now, since I think it will be more fun for you to sit and wonder how the hell this is possible for a while.  Sooner or later you’ll look for that book and read about it yourself.

 

ABOUT TIME

The experiment itself is not my focus but rather something that was triggered in my mind.  Let me give a little background: I took a course in electronics math a decade or so ago and it fascinated me that the metric system applied to time in such a strange way.  I mean, we all know what a second is, and anyone who grew up in the 80s had a digital watch complete with  a stopwatch that could track 1/100’s of seconds.  But in this class we would describe and attempt to measure effects in not only milliseconds, but micro-, nano-, even PICOseconds (a pico second is one-TRILLIONTH of a second).  It amazed me that things happened on this time scale.

Later in life I became interested in religion and the supernatural, as well as ethical topics.  One issue seemed to tie all of those interests together.  It was a claim that I had heard pro-life (or as I called them at the time ‘anti-choice’) advocates use when describing WHY abortion is so evil.  It goes back to a claim made by the Vatican, that the soul enters the body at the point of conception, and that once something has a human soul, to kill it would be murder.

Well of course as I later studied in biology, all of life’s little happenings are PROCESSES.  That is to say, events don’t happen instantaneously, but rather they occur in time.  This is something we often don’t realize because our perception is such that we only see things on a very limited scale.  The concept of a 14 billion year old universe is baffling to most, and the same can be said for smaller increments of time.  I had read in an article written by the great neurologist Oliver Sacks, titled “In the River of Consciousness,” that the human mind does not see things in true realtime.  Rather, Sacks says, our minds take snapshots, and they do it approximately 200 times per second.  Our mind gives us a movie, essentially.  It might be said that we see in “reel” time, with 200 still images being displayed every second that goes by.  Of course, what this means is that every thing that occurs in between those still images is lost to our senses.  Portions of time representing fractions of milliseconds simply do not compute; we cannot comprehend them. So while the flick of a switch seems to INSTANTLY turn your lights on, it simply is not the case.  Nor would a human see, as a fly might, the flickering oscillation of flourescent kitchen lights.

 

POINTS & PROCESSES

Nor is it the case that there can be a “point” of conception, an argument that earned me a lot of disdainful looks in a social ethics course that I took some time ago while debating the merits of the Pope’s comments on abortion with my Catholic professor in a science-deprived, all-Christian classroom setting. I attempted to argue that conception was not a moment, but rather a PROCESS.  One cannot define the point of conception so easily, for one may wonder if conception occurs at the point a sperm enters an egg, or (VERY shortly) later when the sperm’s DNA is analyzed by the oocyte’s organelles, or later still when the sperm’s DNA is being BUILT by the egg and if so at what time during this building session would we designate as “the moment?”  Or does conception occur when the the egg divides, forming two completely new and novel recombinations of DNA that will likely result in a unique individual?  We are talking about chemical reactions here, and they happen quick.  To be sure, there is a point where we will finally say, “yes, this woman has conceived,” but drawing the line as to precisely when it happened requires us to make a completely arbitrary value judgment, which is what the “point of conception” argument was attempting to avoid in the first place.

I hope you have stuck with me through my admittedly tangential style…I assure I will return to my loose ends.

My reading of the Hamster book discussed the wavelength of light produced by microwaves.  The author claimed as have several other authors who have written on similar topics, that the standard microwave oven should have a sticker on it somewhere identifying that it operates at 2.45 GHz.  This places the frequency of the light wave at 2,450,000,000 cycles per second.  Going back to my training with electronics, as well as an audiology course I had recently failed, I recalled that a cycle has several noteworthy points within it, namely the peak, the trough, and the neutral point, which happens twice per cycle.  So here I am, a little tiny guy riding the light wave, and I decide to scratch a line in my notebook each time the light beam is in the neutral phase, the trough, or the peak…in ONE SECOND I have penciled in nearly 10 billion tick marks!!!  There are therefore AT LEAST that many discrete peices that a second can be divided into that I can account for via my very tiny Mead notebook.

BLAH BLAH BLAH…where the hell is this guy going with this…?

Well, I’ll continue this discussion later in my next post coming very soon, but suffice it to say that I will discuss the implications that this has on what it means to be an omniscient being, like “they” say their gods are, and what that means for free will.  I won’t go any deeper than I have on any other post, and it’s been such a long time since I have posted that I am pretty sure that I am once again my only reader, but hey…thanks for reading.