Tuesday, November 29, 2005

At the Edge

Although I've visited the following web site briefly in the past (a couple of years ago) I didn't pay too much attention to it back then. But now I've decided that it needs much closer attention from me in my newly-launched resolve to search for the "meaning of lfe, and all that".

It's the Edge Foundation and its mandate is "to promote inquiry into and discussion of intellectual, philosophical, artistic, and literary issues, as well as to work for the intellectual and social achievement of society."

It has an interesting section title "The Third Culture" but what whets my appetite more (in relation to this particular blog of mine) is its World Question Center so it will be indeed interesting for me to examine there all the questions that others have raised previously!

Friday, November 11, 2005

Stretchy, stringy questions

When relating a story or giving a presentation, did you ever "get ahead of yourself" the saying goes? Well, that may be the closest you ever get to to time travel! But the topic of time travel is fascinating -- as are related realms of physics -- and certainly puts more mundane earthbound happenings into perspective.

Here are a few sites with some VERY nice multimedia demonstrations and explanations of this sort of thing:

  • Einstein Light - multimedia modules that present the main ideas of relativity, with background info about mechanics and Galilean relativity; electricity, magnetism and relativity (Maxwell); the principle of Special Relativity; relativistic mechanics leads to E = mc2 ; how relativity implies time dilation, and more.
  • The Elegant Universe - a fascinating and thought-provoking journey through the mysteries of space, time, and matter. Brian Greene's excellent 3-hour visual feast, with outstanding graphical animations explaining string theory (alias "the theory of everything").
  • Superstring Theory >> Cosmology >> Take a trip through the Big Bang >> Black Holes
You'll find some more links like this, towards the bottom of the page at http://asiapac.com.au/Links/Sciences.htm ... or its mirror/backup USA site http://notestracker.com/Links/Sciences.htm

I really like the explanations given by physicist Joseph Wolfe of the University of New South Wales (in Australia) at the Einstein's Light website. For example, at www.phys.unsw.edu.au/einsteinlight/jw/module4_time_dilation.htm (in the section called Is time dilation true? How big are the effects?) there's this interesting example:
"Some particles striking the Earth's upper atmosphere have energies that exceed 2*1020 eV. If such particles are protons (with mass of about 1 GeV), their speeds would be 0.999 999 999 999 999 999 999 995 c. For them, g is 1011. Now the age of the universe is about 13 billion years for us, but for such particles, the age of the universe would be about (13 billion years/1011), ie about a month. Such a particle could cross the visible universe in a matter of months (their time)."
You'll have to read the rest of the article to see this in context, but it's a sobering thought all the same.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

How wide is the Universe?

Is the universe bound to be twice as wide across, measured in light year units, as it is old (measured in years)?

The universe is reckoned to be some 13 billion years old. Does it follow that it must be some 26 billion light years across?

(This would presumably be a result of spreading out in all directions at the same speed following the "Big Bang" ... See some musings about my state of growing ignorance in this posting at my other blog: Blissfully getting to know less about everything )

NOTE: see an update to this post at:

How Wide is the Universe? - revisited

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

What are the "basic questions" of life and the universe?

Just last month, I spent a week or so in "outback" Australia, and was a little taken aback when somebody mentioned that the town's water supply was not fluoridated.

This -- and several recent interesting TV programs about ice ages, global warming, nuclear energy and so on -- set me thinking about scientific controversies and the "big questions" of life, the universe, and everything else.

A few decades ago there was an extremely vigorous debate in Australia about the pros and cons of fluoridating our water supplies. In the capital cities at least, fluoridation nowadays is a fait accompli and rarely if ever rates a mention. In the aftermath of the December 2004 Asian tsunami, I saw a news report in which an Australian forensic dentist sent to Thailand explained how it was easy to tell the age of an Australian victim via dental evidence: the younger victims who grew up post-fluoridation had excellent teeth, while the older (pre-fluoridation) victims had rows of fillings. (It wouldn't surpsise me if the fluoridation debate is raging right now somewhere outside Australia, that's the way things go.)

That old debate about water fluoridation is but a minor example of the sorts of debate that come and go over time. Some of these debates are of more global importance, in a variety of fields affecting us all as global citizens. Some of them rage fiercely, others are conducted in a more sedate fashion. Some questions are of immeditate interest and significance, others are much more "long term".

Here are a few such areas:

  • Evolution, versus "creationism" and "Intelligent Design"? Religion versus science?
  • How can past events (last week, last year, last century, last milennium, in prehistory) be accurately analyzed and reconstructed?
  • Renewable energy, versus carbon-based and nuclear fuels?
  • Global warming, or not? Will there soon be a sudden ice age?
  • Is the earth flat? Probably not! ... But can the speed of light be exceeded? Can time go backwards? Are there multiple time-space dimensions, with multiple editions of you and me?
I am interested in hearing your considered views (without too many biases, prejudices or rantings) about WHAT are the basic questions that need to be raised in order to resolve such matters?

Please focus only on HOW the questions can be answered. Or even, if they can be. Scientifically? Rationally? By tossing dice? Via black magic, abstract logic, philosophical reasoning? How indeed?

Be sure to omit voluminous details! Link to your own blog or web site if you wish to direct readers to such details.

Finally, to put a different perspective on it, I used to be an avid reader of the Biggles books -- the "flying adventures of Biggles" --- written by Captain W.E. Johns around sixty years ago.

I vividly remember how one of them, Spitfire Parade, had as its frontispiece BIGGLES' PHILOSOPHY which went as follows:

When you are flying, everything is all right or it is not all right.

If it is all right there is no need to worry. If it is not all right one of two things will happen. Either you will crash or you will not crash.

If you do not crash there is no need to worry. If you do crash one of two things is certain. Either you will be injured or you will not be injured.

If you are not injured there is no need to worry. If you are injured one of two things is certain. Either you will recover or you will not recover.

If you recover there is no need to worry. If you don't recover you can't worry.

Perhaps Biggles' dialectical approach is the way to go!

A book that I read quite a few years go adopted more or less such an approach: The General Science of Nature, by Vincent Edward Smith (The Bruce Publishing Company, Milwaukee, 1958). Are the methods of Aristotle and Aquinas still applicable in modern debates (see http://www.morec.com/natural.htm for more)?

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Hey, guess what? Only a few hours after starting off this new blog, I happened across the following Web site: ... Ask Philosophers - "You ask, Philosophers answer"

OVER TO YOU for your contributions and feedback ...