28 September 2010

Science News 28 September 2010

The UN has appointed an ambassador to greet alien visitors. Now when ET comes asking to be taken to our leader they won't be directed to some star chamber meeting room where the Bilderbergers are discussing the future of world politics, they'll be taken to see astrophysicist Malzan Othman. The propaganda machine at the other wiki says the story is fake. Who am I going to believe, them or the Daily Telegraph? That's not a tough choice.

In other news, Jimi Heselden, the inventor of the Segway, died. He accidentally drove one of his devices off a cliff. I never thought those things were very safe, or practical, or didn't look completely stupid. What more proof do people need that these things are a bad idea? (Corrected 30 September. I put the wrong name for the Segway inventor.)

12 September 2010

Balking Hawking Part 2

Stephen Hawking (see previous post for a more or less complete bio) has a new book called The Grand Design out in which he lays claim to an idea he didn't come up with, namely that the universe created itself from nothing by some sort of quantum fluctuation wizardry.

Stephen M. Barr, physics professor from the University of Delaware, writes in an article from First Things: "Right up front, it must be noted that this idea is extremely speculative, has not yet been formulated in a mathematically rigorous way, and is unable at this point to make any testable predictions. Indeed, it is very hard to imagine how it could ever be tested. It would be more accurate to call these “scenarios” than theories." He then cautions theists that just because the idea that a wizard did it isn't testable or has no mathematics doesn't mean it can be rejected outright. In order to reject it, Mr. Barr has more to say on what he feels are good reasons why Hawking's idea doesn't hold water.

First, Hawking and his ilk define the universe as a physical structure, like a bubble (at least pop science writers in Scientific American and Michio Kaku on his Science Channel program use the analogy of bubbles). This bubble universe is floating in some sort of plenum with many many other bubble universes that are also just physical structures. Also, these bubble universes are constantly popping into and out of existence due to quantum fluctuations in the soapy water plenum of all that is (which, if you want to be pickey would really be the universe and the so called "universe" bubble would be just a region within the real universe; hardley seems worth calling this bubble a universe, but some people want to blow some things way out of proportion).

Andrei Linde had an idea called eternal inflation about bubble universes branching off one-another forever within a false vacuum. When a new "universe" branches off, a big bang happens, but all that's really happening is the whole system is branching, nothing is really being created. That's why it's called eternal. The whole system has always existed, and so needs no explanation (at least Linde believes it's eternal in the past, most cosmologists don't think so*).

*Dr. Bruce Gordon says in an interview, The Argument for Design in Cosmology, that: "At first it was thought that it might be eternal into the past too, thus obviating the need for a universal beginning, but it was shown conclusively in 2003 that universes having an expansion rate of greater than zero over their history, universes like ours, must have a begining.... even if the string multiverse existed it would have an absolute beginning in the finite past." He continues to say that even if one were to postulate that quantum laws always existed, even before the multiverse, or plenum as is referred to above, such abstract mathematical laws are causally inert and cannot force anything to happen on their own.

For Hawking and Linde and others the universe wasn't created out of nothing, because nothing has no positive atributes, even if Hawking may misappropriate the word "nothing" to mean something completely else. The universe also didn't "create itself." What happened was the damn thing inflated. This reduced definition of the universe requires the preexistence of the plenum itself, inflaton fields, and quantum laws, but everyone has to assume the preexistence of something, so that itself doesn't toss this idea out. I would say it gets messy having to assume 10^500 random universes just to explain away the fine tuning of the laws of the universe, but parsimony only counts when the most parsimonious option isn't God.

Barr seems to think that Hawking has really goofed the flute with his new book, since in his A Brief History of Time (which I do have and wasn't all that great), Hawking acknowledged that the equations of physics are just numbers and can't cause anything to happen on their own and that physics can't address the issue of why something exists instead of nothing. Now Hawking proposes a new old story for how the universe always existed and so no explanation is necessary. I bet Hawking will rename this "theory" after himself like he does with every idea he steals. Barr concludes: "There are two answers to the question: “Why does anything exist rather than nothing at all?” The atheist answers, “There is no explanation.” The theist replies, God. An intelligent case can be made for either answer. But to say that the laws of physics alone answer it is the purest nonsense—as Hawking himself once realized."

And with that we leave the Sad Sad Tale of Stephen Hawking, a man so consumed by egoism that he no longer is the respected physicist of yesterday, but instead is now spouting nonsense.


10 September 2010

Chris Christie Schools the Schools

Governor Chris Christie is the single greatest politician, not just New Jersey Governor, of my lifetime. This guy has more balls than any ten office holders I have ever seen. When some asshole teacher rolls her entire head when he begins to answer her question, (before he even says anything!) he teaches her to treat others with respect and shuts her up handily. He laid the smackdown on her candy ass. And then he goes on to explain in pure facts how the teachers union is to blame for the problems facing NJ teachers, not him. Best. Governor. Ever.

Balking Hawking Part 1

Jane Hawking, former wife of world famous scientist and sore loser Stephen Hawking (he is notorious at losing bets with fellow scientists and never paying up, even after decades), has written a book, Music to Move the Stars. In it she tells of how they met, the troubles of dealing with his progressive illness, raising three children, and religious disputes that put an end to their marriage after 25 years. 25 years is a long time, and this book is suitably lengthy: at over 600 pages you could seriously hurt someone with this doorstopper. Surprisingly, every Amazon review is positive, something you just don't see very often, especially books about celebrities.

Cosmologists like to reduce everything in the universe to equations, she says, and God just gets in the way of what they percieve as mathematical harmony. She goes on to say that because the work of cosmologists is so complex that for some people it becomes a substitute for traditional religion. The cosmologists are seen as being so smart they must have all the answers, and if their answers leave no room for God (because God would mess with their perfect tick-tock system) then God must not exist, end of discussion.

She is distressed over the pseudoscience (my word, not hers) of evolutionary psychology. They try to reduce all human behaviour to natural selection, tossing out things like altruism and artistic expression that do not fit their NeoDarwinian narrative. Unable to answer why certain human faculties exist (or why something exists instead of nothing), the scientistic elite scoff and deny the general public the right to even ask why. Science forbid if one of their own rank should ask why! Such a person is denied tenure or kicked out of academia all together. Asking why the universe exists or why altruism exists is like asking "why Mount Everest exists" (here's a hint: it involves continental drift). It should be noted that none of their hypotheses are testable and therefore do not count as science. There is no way, short of building a time machine, to test what human ancestors did tens of thousands of years ago or whatever survival function their actions served. Evolutionary psychology just takes old hat psychological ideas (every revolutionary idea evo psych has ever come up with has been said by a regular psychologist at some time in the past) and puts a sexy evolutionary spin to it to make it sound science-y.

Jane says of her former husband Stephen: "on one historic occasion he actually made the startling concession that, like religion, his own science of the universe’ also required a leap of faith as did theism."

As Stephen became more famous he became more dogmatic in his atheism and surrounded himself with people who cared more about their careers and equations than about other people. Over time their equations began to replace the real world around them, and Jane couldn't handle living in that world of mathematics. As his fame grew ever higher, Stephen became cold and cruel and condescending and loveless in his vastly increasing arrogance and narcissism. Despite the fact that his wife had to take care of his every bodily function he remained an ungrateful bastard (my word). She says: "I found myself telling him that he was not God. The truth was that supercilious enigma of that smile which Stephen wore whenever the subjects of religious faith and scientific research came up was driving me to my wit’s end. It seemed that Stephen had little respect for me as a person and no respect at all for my beliefs and opinions." (p. 536) He was insulted by his wife's compassion for him, because for him compassion reeked of religion. Stephen divorced his wife in 1995 and married his nurse because he cared more about himself than anyone else. Never satisfied with anything humanity had to offer, he divorced his second wife ten years later.

Fuck you Mr. Hawking. Fuck you very much.


09 September 2010

Forbidden Knowledge

If you're one of the two or three regular readers here you have probably read a comment made eight months ago on a post Uri Geller Bends On, in regard to a book review I made of the book The Geller Papers by Charles Panati. A man by the name of Bob Couttie, who I assume is either a magician or a maritime investigator (or both?), posted a comment saying that a permanent bend can be made in the metal nitinol using nonpsychic means. The enigmatic Couttie tells the reader to google his name plus nitinol. Then he disappeared, for eight months. About a week ago he posted another comment, on the same exact post, that was almost identical to the first one he posted. He said that he can tell anyone how to make a permanent bend in nitinol using nonpsychic means. I was a bit surprised that he returned eight months later to post a nearly identical comment, and after some thought deleted it because there was nothing really new in his comment.

He posted another comment again yesterday, in which he goaded me to approve his comment, questioned my masculinity, and called me closed minded. He also suggests that I have never met Uri Geller, though I don't know what I said in my book review which would lead him to believe that, and so I must assume he is bluffing and doesn't really know whether I met Geller or not. I did google his name and found an essay from 1988, a few references to said essay on some magic forums, and a site about maritime disasters, about 70 results in all, counting duplicates (The above linked Uri Geller Bends On being one of them). I have not had time to read the whole essay (linked here for your reading pleasure, and mine in a few days), but it seems to suggest that by tying nitinol in a knot and heating it with a match a permanent bend can be made similar to Geller's. Not having the money to spend on nitinol I leave the experiment up to you. Mr. Couttie also has a book, Forbidden Knowledge, that was published in 1988 and doesn't seem to have gone into reprint yet. There is no description of the book so I'm not sure what it's about but I'm guessing it's about Geller and other psychics of the 70s and 80s. There are nine used copies for sale for four dollars and up plus shipping. It's only 160 pages, a nice afternoon's read (maybe a weekend if you're a slow reader like me). I am personally endorsing the book, for what it's worth, and suggest all three readers buy a copy. As soon as I update my Amazon account I myself will buy a copy and read it when I get the chance (I have three books already in que), and when I am finished I will post a review like I did for The Geller Papers.