Saturday, November 12, 2011

New material on the way!

Hey guys, sorry I haven't been able to update in a while; I've been a bit busy. I've got a bunch of brain-melting ramblings coming up this week that you definitely don't want to miss. Stay tuned!

For the time being, get lost in this Hubble deep field!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

'The Fabric of the Cosmos' with Brian Greene

Tonight at 9pm EDT, PBS is kicking off their brand-new NOVA miniseries called 'The Fabric of the Cosmos' with renowned American theoretical physicist Brian Greene. Greene specializes in string theory, one of science's most recent and well-known attempts to unite Einstein's general relativity with quantum mechanics. The show will explore the cutting-edge scientific theories that modern physicists are using to tackle the mysteries of the universe, such as space, time, and quantum and cosmic-scale interactions.

I am interested to see how intellectual an approach the series will take. These types of shows deal with incredibly complex theories, and as such they tend to be dumbed down in order to appeal to a broader, less theoretically-minded audience. After viewing the preview (video below), 'The Fabric of the Cosmos' appears to be rife with computer-generated graphics and highly-simplified scenarios. I hope that the show's video effects are used to illustrate concepts intelligently and do not detract from the actual substance of the topics they address.

Theoretical physics truly is the greatest playground for an inquisitive mind. It attempts to answer the most fundamental and awe-inspiring questions of the universe in which we live. In my opinion, there is no higher pursuit in science than discovering the very nature of the time and space that we invariably occupy. I hope we are in for a treat with this series.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Black holes may hold universes, not singularities

A recent paper published by Nikodem J. Poplawski of Indiana University theorizes that black holes might not contain singularities after all but instead spawn the creation of another universe. Theoretically, a singularity is a point where the curvature of spacetime is infinite. In other words, it is a point of zero volume and infinite density that contains the total mass of the black hole. According to Poplawski, the gravitational collapse toward a singularity is not the end result of a black hole; instead, it triggers a chain of events that ultimately generates an incredible amount of mass and energy in another universe.

The current theory concerning empty space is that particle and anti-particle pairs are consistently popping into and out of existence, constantly annihilating one another (For more on this concept, check out these recent article describing scientific efforts to build the largest laser on Earth.) According to Poplawski, the conditions near the center of a black hole disrupt this mutual annihilation of particles, spawning the generation of an enormous amount of mass and energy which manifests itself as the big bang of another universe. 

For those of you willing to brave the scientific jargon (including gems such as "Parker-Zel'dovich-Starobinskii quantum particle production in strong, anisotropic gravitational fields"), I encourage you to check out the paper.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Complex organic compounds more common than previously thought

Astronomers have recently discovered evidence that suggests large amounts of complex organic compounds exist in space. The chemical structures of these compounds are very similar to those of coal and petroleum. Coal and petroleum are formed on Earth over time from the remnants of ancient life. These newly discovered compounds, however, appear to be naturally synthesized by stars and ejected into interstellar space. Professor Sun Kwok and Dr. Yong Zhang of the University of Hong Kong studied infrared emissions from deep space that were previously thought to be caused by simple organic molecules composed of carbon and hydrogen. Kwok and Zhang's recent data suggests otherwise; the two analyzed star dust formed in exploding stars to find characteristics that would not be present with simpler organic molecules. This discovery sheds new light on the existence of complex organic molecules throughout the universe, such as those that may have been present during the development of life on Earth.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

What do Athiests and Theists have in common?

Both factions commit the fallacy of holding a strong belief in something for which there is no scientific proof. Theists believe that god absolutely and necessarily exists, while atheists contend the opposite, that he absolutely does not exist. Now, you may be saying, "But there is no proof for god, so how can you lump the atheists in with the theists?" I'm sure you've all heard the phrase, 'Lack of evidence is not evidence of lack.' There is no proof for god, which is why the theist claim is invalid. However, there is also no definitive proof for the non-existence of god, which renders the atheist argument invalid as well.

This concept will draw a lot of heat from the atheist crowd, but I ask you to consider the following: You will deny a theist's beliefs while citing the lack of evidence for the existence of god, but you must hold yourself to the same standards. What solid evidence do you have that god necessarily does not exist?

The lack of evidence for god does not support your belief as much as you'd like to think, atheists. It does not invalidate your belief (like it does to the theists). It is compatible with your belief, but you must remember that a strong belief requires strong proof... and lack of evidence is NOT evidence of lack.

Your friendly neighborhood agnostic

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Pale Blue Dot

I imagine most of you have heard of Carl Sagan's The Pale Blue Dot, but if you haven't I'd highly recommend watching this quick video. It's great for acquiring more of a cosmic perspective. When the universe is shown on this scale, it is easy to see how insignificant a role the earth and our lives play in the grand scheme of everything. However, it also makes these things much, much, much more significant as well because you can appreciate how valuable and rare they truly are. I highly recommend Sagan's book if this is your type of thing.

The beauty in not knowing.

Science and Religion are two topics that cannot be easily compared, despite how often they come up in discussions together. There is a key difference between these two fields, and it is often overlooked or at least oversimplified by theists and non-theists alike. Science is a method; It is NOT a system of beliefs. It is merely a process for determining a system of beliefs. It is not an answer but rather a means for asking a question. Scientists do not “believe in” science; it would be more apt to say that they trust in the scientific method. Religions, on the other hand, are belief systems. They dictate a set of beliefs to the follower. These beliefs can include anything from how to treat others to what happens after death. Beliefs are intended to be answers to a question.

I am making this distinction as a result of a conversation I had with a co-worker the other day. We were discussing the universe and the existence of a god. At one point, he asked me, “If you don’t believe in God, then where did everything come from?” Although there immediately appears to be something flawed in this sort of question, it’s nonetheless an awkward question for a non-theist to answer. Although we have theories of the origins of the universe, they are obviously highly theoretical and it would be scientifically reckless to pick one and go with it. The correct answer to the question, “Where did everything come from?” is simply “I don’t know.” This answer is usually highly unsatisfying to a theist, and they may interpret it as a sign of weakness. However, if you want to have an open conversation (and not a primitive science vs. religion argument), you must expand on what you mean by “I don’t know” and why it is actually a beautiful answer to the question.

The point of science is that theories gain their value from scientific verification; in other words, certain beliefs can be said to be “justified” if there is adequate proof for their existence. Obviously, there is not much decisive evidence concerning the creation of the universe, so non-theists cannot provide a definitive answer to the question.

The lesson to be learned here is essentially this: Do not be afraid if you do not have all of the answers in life. It is easy for the uncertainties in life to make us anxious and feel like we need to pick an answer. This is called cognitive dissonance and it a natural feeling. Once you step back and take a deep breath, you can start to find comfort in the uncertainty. After all, what would be the point of life if we had all the answers from the start?

Remember Socrates' famous line, "I know that I do not know."