Monthly Archives: April 2014

Houston We Has A Purrblem

Major Tom

By two_kittehs

When I checked ICHC this morning, I was pleasantly surprised to find that a  picture  I captioned had made it to the first page of both ICHC and ICHC/lolcats, over the weekend. My first in 2014, all in all a good start to the week.  More first page lols here and here.

Pundits React to the Cosmos Reboot

Greg Pollowitz at the National Review thinks Cosmos is boring;

I think we have a real dud of a show in the making.

I beg to differ, my reviews of Cosmos are here and here.

Daily Beast’s  David Sessions, argues that Bruno was a theologian not a scientist.

What Cosmos doesn’t mention is that Bruno’s conflict with the Catholic Church was theological, not scientific, even if it did involve his wild—and occasionally correct—guesses about the universe.

Sessions must have fallen  asleep while watching the episode, because I distinctly remember De Grasse Tyson mentioning that Bruno’s was not a scientist.

Andrew Sullivan at the Dish, finds the history lessons cartoonish.

The segment previewed above is on the 16th century priest and philosopher Giordano Bruno, which includes deGrasse Tyson intoning that the Roman Catholic Church sought to “investigate and torment anyone who voiced views that differed from theirs”. Really?

Yes, really. Has the great scholar of history not heard of Galileo? Besides, what does it matter if Bruno was not a scientist? I thought Andrew Sullivan was against torture. Or is torture okay if condoned by the Catholic Church?

Besides have Sessions and Sullivan not heard of Copernicus? He delayed the publication of his book until the year of his death.  The book, postulated a heliocentric solar system based on his observations of the planets.  Perhaps, because as a man of the cloth, Copernicus was aware of the blow back from the Church if he published his thesis.

What exactly is Bruno’s being a priest supposed to prove? In fifteenth and the sixteenth  centuries, not many besides priests and noble men had the time to dedicate their life to philosophical or scientific questions.  I don’t really get Sullivan’s and Sessions’ criticism.

Cosmos Episode 4: The Journey Across Space-Time Continues

Neil De Grasse Tyson and Cosmos continue its journey through space-time.  The reason this journey seems stranger than science fiction is because it  is beyond our direct sensory perceptions.  In the interior of stars, the effects of both quantum mechanics and relativity cannot be ignored.   We can safely ignore quantum mechanical effects in our day to day lives,  unless we are dealing with matter on the atomic atomic scale or smaller.  As for relativistic effects, they become important  only when we approach the speed of light.   If you are interested in exploring what quantum mechanical  and relativistic phenomena would look like if we could experience them via our senses you should read the Russian born physicist, George Gamow’s Mr. Tompkins series.

Coming back to Cosmos, this week’s protagonist was the British astronomer William Herschel, voiced by none other than Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart to  non-Trekkies).  Herschel is credited with discovering Uranus among other things. The  exploration of space-time  dealt with the consequences of applying Newton’s laws of motion and that of universal gravitation to the astronomical objects.  Tyson also tackled the concepts of action-at-a-distance through the presence of  a  force field.  We  learned about an astronomical unit of distance, a light year, and the mind bending consequences of nature’s speed limit, the speed of light.

We were also introduced to  Maxwell’s equations and the origin of electromagnetic waves of which the visible light is but a very small portion.  If human beings are the products of intelligent design then pray tell why our eyes are sensitive to only a tiny fraction of the  electromagnetic spectrum?

I wish the show had spent some more time on the idea of ether, the Michelson-Morley experiment which failed to detect its existence and proved that light unlike sound did not need a medium to propagate. De Grasse Tyson introduced the work of Albert Einstein and talked about both the General and the Special Theories of Relativity.  The show ended with a thought experiment exploring what might be inside  of a black hole. A collapsed star with a gravitational pull so great that even light cannot escape it.  I do wish though that Tyson would spend more time discussing  the physics behind the dazzling  light show.

Although, none of the physics De Grasse Tyson discusses is cutting edge, most of what he tackles would be covered in undergraduate physics, it is timely and necessary.  Especially if it helps bridge the gulf that separates lay people from practitioners. The depth of scientific ignorance, seen in debates over climate change and evolution,  even by media heavy weights is mind boggling, so the timing could not have been better.

Lasting economic success is built on technological progress which is not possible without basic science.  This fact  seems to be lost on  policy makers, who give preference to tax cuts for the 1% over funding for basic science.   Industry is not going to step in to fund basic research, or any product that can’t be marketed for an immediate return.   We need science for the sake of science, to satisfy our innate curiosity, a purpose higher than increasing quarterly earnings.

You will find the review of the earlier episodes of Cosmos, here.