Blogging from Asheville, NC circa Feb. 2003, when we were dorks.

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Even in absurdity, sacrament.
Even in hardship, holiness.
Even in doubt,
Even in chaos,
Even in paradox,

jay's books:

Digging the Immaterial Rainbow Over Crossroads One for the Nameless


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Mon 17 Jun 13

Says it all, y'know

filed under: the cosmos blogged: 02.16 Mon, 17 Jun '13

Wed 10 Apr 13

The Sound of the Big Bang

Just close your eyes, breathe, and listen. This is the birth pang which begat every iteration of you.

filed under: the cosmos blogged: 01.54 Wed, 10 Apr '13

Fri 22 Mar 13

The Higgs Boson: The Shaman Particle

pg-1-eureka-1-epa.jpgMuch has been said of the "God" particle. Now that we know it exists, here come the implications. Among those is a concept that- at least symbolically- shamen and mystics have for a long time espoused; the cyclic Universe. Things grow, expand, meet their purpose, degenerate, and from that breakdown forms the new creation. Call it a dance of cosmic spores, but one that persists for billions of years, trillions of lifetimes. Perhaps, if this cycle is one day verified, it will further illustrate the fractal way in which we experience this turning ecologically and deeply embedded in our psyches.

Mine this excellent article for the gem: BBC: Cosmos may be inherently unstable.

Meanwhile, and possibly apropos: Dung beetles guided by Milky Way. "Scientists have shown how the insects will use the Milky Way to orientate themselves as they roll their balls of muck along the ground."

Then again, don't we all?

filed under: the cosmos blogged: 10.27 Fri, 22 Mar '13

Fri 17 Oct 08

An Accidental Re-Discovery Rewrites Evolutionary Biology

We all know the story of the Miller-Urey experiment. In 1953, a young graduate student named Stanley Miller ran an off-the-wall experiment: he ran water, methane, ammonia, and hydrogen in a sealed flask with a pair of electrodes to produce a spark, and from those simple building blocks discovered that more complex compounds, such as amino acids, were spontaneously produced. Stanley Miller died in 2007, and in going through his effects, the original apparatus was discovered, and in addition, several small sealed vials containing the sludge produced in the original experiment were also found... Now the cool part, though: the scientists who unearthed the old samples ran them through modern analysis techniques, which are a bit more sensitive than the tools they had in the 1950s. In 1953, Miller reported the recovery of five amino acids from his experiment. The reanalysis found twenty two amino acids and five amines in the vials. He was more successful than he knew!

filed under: the cosmos blogged: 20.09 Fri, 17 Oct '08

Mon 28 Apr 08

Numbers, times, and distances just too big to fathom

"...the twin universe will have the same laws of physics and, in particular, the same notion of time as in ours,” Singh said. “The laws of physics will not change because the evolution is always unitary, which is the nicest way a quantum system can evolve. In our analogy, it will look identical to its twin when seen from afar; one could not distinguish them.”

That means that our universe today, roughly 13.7 billion years after the bounce, would share many of the same properties of the pre-bounce universe at 13.7 billion years before the bounce. In a sense, our universe has a mirror image of itself, with the Big Bang (or bounce) as the line of symmetry.

“In the universe before the bounce, all the general features will be the same,” said Singh. “It will follow the same dynamical equations, the Einstein’s equations when the universe is large. Our model predicts that this happens when the universe becomes of the order 100 times larger than the Planck size. Further, the matter content will be the same, and it will have the same evolution. Since the pre-bounce universe is contracting, it will look as if we were looking at ours backward in time.”

filed under: the cosmos blogged: 21.54 Mon, 28 Apr '08

Mon 20 Aug 07

Dust ‘comes alive’ in space

Scientists have discovered that inorganic material can take on the characteristics of living organisms in space, a development that could transform views of alien life.

An international panel from the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Max Planck institute in Germany and the University of Sydney found that galactic dust could form spontaneously into helixes and double helixes and that the inorganic creations had memory and the power to reproduce themselves.

A similar rethinking of prospective alien life is being undertaken by the National Research Council, an advisory body to the US government. It says Nasa should start a search for what it describes as “weird life” - organisms that lack DNA or other molecules found in life on Earth.

The new research, to be published this week in the New Journal of Physics, found nonorganic dust, when held in the form of plasma in zero gravity, formed the helical structures found in DNA

filed under: the cosmos blogged: 06.50 Mon, 20 Aug '07

Wed 16 May 07

Lunch Special: Boxing Outside the Think

Here's a nice helping of remixed mind/cosmos perspectives and related jumbo-mumbo:

  • Clifford Pickover's new book, The Heaven Virus: What if we started downloading our minds to computers?
  • Gene mutation linked to cognition is found only in humans
  • Human evolution has stalled
  • How things 'become:' The Infinity of Definition
  • Wade Davis' Ethnosphere: "the sum total of all thoughts and dreams, myths, ideas, inspirations, intuitions brought into being by the human imagination since the dawn of consciousness."
  • Weird space critters could be right beneath our planetary probes
  • Neil deGrasse Tyson: embracing cosmic realities can give us a more enlightened view of human life.
  • Astronomers date star's birth back to nearly the dawn of time
  • More on downloading your mind, just in case you're interested.

    filed under: the cosmos blogged: 12.36 Wed, 16 May '07

  • Tue 08 May 07

    The Spiral Life; Fibonacci is reflected all around us.

    The Mathematical Lives of Plants

    The Fibonacci numbers tend to crop up wherever the golden ratio appears, because the ratio between two consecutive Fibonacci numbers happens to be close to the golden ratio. The larger the two Fibonacci numbers, the closer their ratio to the golden ratio. But this relationship doesn't fully explain why parastichy numbers end up being consecutive Fibonacci numbers.

    Scientists have puzzled over this pattern of plant growth for hundreds of years. Why would plants prefer the golden angle to any other? And how can plants possibly "know" anything about Fibonacci numbers?

    Initially, researchers thought these patterns might provide an evolutionary advantage by somehow promoting plants' survival. But more recently, they have come to believe that the answer lies in the biochemistry of plants as they develop new leaves, flowers, or other structures. Scientists have not entirely solved the mystery, but a basic understanding of the process seems to be emerging. And the answers are sending botanists back to their electron microscopes to re-examine plants they thought they had already understood.

    Mathematicians made the first contribution to the puzzle. In 1830, two brothers, Auguste and Louis Bravais, worked out a mathematical proof that spiral lattices generated by the golden angle have parastichy numbers that are consecutive Fibonacci numbers. But their proof still left the question of why the plants prefer the golden angle and Fibonacci numbers in the first place.

    Scientists find clues to the formation of Fibonacci spirals in nature

    While the aesthetics and symmetry of Fibonacci spiral patterns has often attracted scientists, a mathematical or physical explanation for their common occurrence in nature is yet to be discovered. Recently, scientists have successfully produced Fibonacci spiral patterns in the lab, and found that an elastically mismatched bi-layer structure may cause stress patterns that give rise to Fibonacci spirals. The discovery may explain the widespread existence of the pattern in plants.

    Fibonacci Numbers and Nature

    Fibonacci and the original problem about rabbits where the series first appears, the family trees of cows and bees, the golden ratio and the Fibonacci series, the Fibonacci Spiral and sea shell shapes, branching plants, flower petal and seeds, leaves and petal arrangements, on pineapples and in apples, pine cones and leaf arrangements. All involve the Fibonacci numbers - and here's how and why.

    filed under: the cosmos blogged: 12.47 Tue, 08 May '07

    Sat 28 Apr 07

    Bonus Viddy: Cosmos

    The last, and most prescient/poignant episode in the series.

    filed under: the cosmos blogged: 16.09 Sat, 28 Apr '07

    Tue 24 Apr 07

    The Universe engineers its own bio-friendliness

    You prepare an atom in a particular state, moving in a certain way perhaps, and quantum mechanics tells you that at a later time that atom can have a variety of behaviors. When we make observations at that later time, you find one particular behavior. You’ve resolved that ambiguity that was inherent in the initial quantum state. But this goes back in time as well, and when we make observations today, they can resolve ambiguities about the past.

    In that manner, what we must imagine is that the origin of the universe is an amalgam of realities, and only those realities that lead to observers who can resolve those ambiguities are going to be selected for. So the universe can engineer its own bio-friendliness, because the very observers who arise at a later stage are those who project out from the bio-friendly histories. The universe explains observers, and observers explain the universe.

    Although this sounds very radical, it’s a very old idea. It goes back at least 30 years to the work of John Wheeler. A number of other well-known physicists – including Hawking, and Murray Gell-Mann and Jim Hartle – have suggested something similar. I’m here at George Mason University with Yakir Aharonov, who is also suggesting something similar. He calls it the destiny wave function from the future.

    These are just ways of reformulating standard quantum mechanics to bring out in a dramatic way the fact that you can’t chop time up into slices and expect them not to be connected. What’s happening now links back to the past just as it links to the future. And in quantum mechanics, there’s always such a clever mechanism that there is no way of using this to send information back in time or change the past.

    filed under: the cosmos blogged: 13.07 Tue, 24 Apr '07

    Tue 17 Apr 07

    Impossible things for breakfast, at the Logic Café

    Right from the start, quantum theory has had a reputation for giving odd answers to even seemingly simple questions. In the everyday world, everything has nice, clear-cut properties: people are either dead or alive, electrons either spin up or down. Yet according to quantum theory, what we're seeing is just one manifestation of a whole panoply of possibilities, all mixed together.

    How all those possibilities turn into just the one reality we see has caused endless debate among theorists. Their efforts have produced various interpretations of quantum theory, the most famous of which is the Copenhagen interpretation, named in recognition of its inventor, the Danish quantum pioneer Niels Bohr. According to this view, it is the act of observing that triggers the panoply of possibilities to collapse down to the single reality we experience.

    Quite how this collapse process works isn't exactly clear. What is plain is that it raises profound questions about the whole notion of truth in quantum theory. For it implies that it is impossible to know the truth of any statement about, say, an electron until it has been observed. Unless that happens, it doesn't really make sense to talk of the electron - or anything else for that matter - as being real.

    Things get much worse when quantum theory is applied to the entire universe. If the universe is as real as we believe, then it must have been cast into that state by an observer able to view it all. Yet since the universe includes everything, there can be no external observer.

    filed under: the cosmos blogged: 12.28 Tue, 17 Apr '07

    Fri 30 Mar 07

    Is Beauty Truth and Truth Beauty?

    How Keats's famous line applies to math and science

    ...[W]hat on earth did Keats mean? T. S. Eliot called the lines "meaningless" and "a serious blemish on a beautiful poem." John Simon opened a movie review with "one of the greatest problems of art--perhaps the greatest--is that truth is not beauty, beauty not truth. Nor is it all we need to know." Stewart, a distinguished mathematician at the University of Warwick in England and a former author of this magazine's Mathematical Recreations column, is concerned with how Keats's lines apply to mathematics. "Euclid alone has looked on Beauty bare," Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote. To mathematicians, great theorems and great proofs, such as Euclid's elegant proof of the infinity of primes, have about them what Bertrand Russell described as "a beauty cold and austere," akin to the beauty of great works of sculpture... Is string theory beautiful? Its promoters think so. Smolin and Woit believe that its recent absorption into a richer conjecture called M-theory has turned the former beauty of strings into mathematical structures as ugly as the epicycles Ptolemy invented to explain the orbits of planets as they circle the earth. We are back to the mystery of Keats's notorious lines. In my opinion, John Simon is right. Even beautiful mathematical proofs can be wrong. In 1879 Sir Alfred Kempe published a proof of the four-color map theorem. It was so elegant that for 10 years it was accepted as sound. Alas, it was not. Henry Dude­ney, England's great puzzle maker, published a much shorter and even prettier false proof.

    filed under: the cosmos blogged: 12.39 Fri, 30 Mar '07

    Fri 23 Mar 07

    The Universe is something like pasta, it seems

    Light and matter unified

    The [researchers] ran simulations to see if their string-nets could give rise to conventional particles and fractionally charged quasi-particles. They did. They also found something even more surprising. As the net of strings vibrated, it produced a wave that behaved according to a very familiar set of laws - Maxwell's equations, which describe the behaviour of light. "A hundred and fifty years after Maxwell wrote them down, here they emerged by accident," says Wen.

    That wasn't all. They found that their model naturally gave rise to other elementary particles, such as quarks, which make up protons and neutrons, and the particles responsible for some of the fundamental forces, such as gluons and the W and Z bosons.

    From this, the researchers made another leap. Could the entire universe be modelled in a similar way? "Suddenly we realised, maybe the vacuum of our whole universe is a string-net liquid," says Wen. "It would provide a unified explanation of how both light and matter arise." So in their theory elementary particles are not the fundamental building blocks of matter. Instead, they emerge from the deeper structure of the non-empty vacuum of space-time.

    "Wen and Levin's theory is really beautiful stuff," says Michael Freedman, 1986 winner of the Fields medal, the highest prize in mathematics, and a quantum computing specialist at Microsoft Station Q at the University of California, Santa Barbara. "I admire their approach, which is to be suspicious of anything - electrons, photons, Maxwell's equations - that everyone else accepts as fundamental."

    filed under: the cosmos blogged: 12.38 Fri, 23 Mar '07

    Wed 21 Mar 07

    Journey to the 248th dimension

    Map of weird mathematical entity may point way for string theory.

    A map of one of the strangest and most complex entities in mathematics should be a powerful new tool for both mathematicians and physicists pursuing a unified theory of space, time and matter.

    The strange 'thing' that has been mapped is a 'Lie group' called E8 — a set of maths that describes the symmetry of an (unimaginable to most) 57-dimensional object.

    The creation of this map, which took 77 hours on a supercomputer, resulted in a matrix of 453,060 ? 453,060 cells, containing more than 205 billion entries — "all related in intricate and complex ways", says Jeffrey Adams, the project leader and a mathematician at the University of Maryland.

    This represents 60 gigabytes of data, enough data to store 45 days of MP3 music files, or fill a piece of paper the size of Manhattan (about 60 square kilometres). The human genome takes up 1 gigabyte.

    filed under: the cosmos blogged: 13.18 Wed, 21 Mar '07

    Wed 14 Mar 07

    A Slice of π

    It's World Pi Day

    Posted 3/14 at 1:59.26. I know, nerdliness.

    I also spewed my love for pi in mefi.

    filed under: the cosmos blogged: 01.59 Wed, 14 Mar '07

    Mon 12 Mar 07

    A New Theory of the Universe

    Biocentrism builds on quantum physics by putting life into the equation.

    The urgent and primary questions of the universe have been undertaken by those physicists who are trying to explain the origins of everything with grand unified theories. But as exciting and glamorous as these theories are, they are an evasion, if not a reversal, of the central mystery of knowledge: that the laws of the world were somehow created to produce the observer. And more important than this, that the observer in a significant sense creates reality and not the other way around. Recognition of this insight leads to a single theory that unifies our understanding of the world.

    Modern science cannot explain why the laws of physics are exactly balanced for animal life to exist. For example, if the big bang had been one-part-in-a billion more powerful, it would have rushed out too fast for the galaxies to form and for life to begin. If the strong nuclear force were decreased by two percent, atomic nuclei wouldn’t hold together. Hydrogen would be the only atom in the universe. If the gravitational force were decreased, stars (including the sun) would not ignite. These are just three of more than 200 physical parameters within the solar system and universe so exact that they cannot be random. Indeed, the lack of a scientific explanation has allowed these facts to be hijacked as a defense of intelligent design.

    Without perception, there is in effect no reality. Nothing has existence unless you, I, or some living creature perceives it, and how it is perceived further influences that reality. Even time itself is not exempted from biocentrism. Our sense of the forward motion of time is really the result of an infinite number of decisions that only seem to be a smooth continuous path. At each moment we are at the edge of a paradox known as The Arrow, first described 2,500 years ago by the philosopher Zeno of Elea. Starting logically with the premise that nothing can be in two places at once, he reasoned that an arrow is only in one place during any given instance of its flight. But if it is in only one place, it must be at rest. The arrow must then be at rest at every moment of its flight. Logically, motion is impossible. But is motion impossible? Or rather, is this analogy proof that the forward motion of time is not a feature of the external world but a projection of something within us? Time is not an absolute reality but an aspect of our consciousness.

    filed under: the cosmos blogged: 13.10 Mon, 12 Mar '07

    Mon 05 Mar 07

    The Universe's Invisible Hand

    What took us so long? Only in 1998 did astronomers discover we had been missing nearly three quarters of the contents of the universe, the so-called dark energy--an unknown form of energy that surrounds each of us, tugging at us ever so slightly, holding the fate of the cosmos in its grip, but to which we are almost totally blind. Some researchers, to be sure, had anticipated that such energy existed, but even they will tell you that its detection ranks among the most revolutionary discoveries in 20th-century cosmology. Not only does dark energy appear to make up the bulk of the universe, but its existence, if it stands the test of time, will probably require the development of new theories of physics.

    Scientists are just starting the long process of figuring out what dark energy is and what its implications are. One realization has already sunk in: although dark energy betrayed its existence through its effect on the universe as a whole, it may also shape the evolution of the universe's inhabitants--stars, galaxies, galaxy clusters. Astronomers may have been staring at its handiwork for decades without realizing it.

    Ironically, the very pervasiveness of dark energy is what made it so hard to recognize. Dark energy, unlike matter, does not clump in some places more than others; by its very nature, it is spread smoothly everywhere. Whatever the location--be it in your kitchen or in intergalactic space--it has the same density, about 10-26 kilogram per cubic meter, equivalent to a handful of hydrogen atoms. All the dark energy in our solar system amounts to the mass of a small asteroid, making it an utterly inconsequential player in the dance of the planets. Its effects stand out only when viewed over vast distances and spans of time.

    filed under: the cosmos blogged: 12.47 Mon, 05 Mar '07

    Thu 15 Feb 07

    Carl Sagan

    A Familiar and Prescient Voice, Brought to Life

    “I would suggest that science is, at least in part, informed worship,” he writes at the beginning of a discussion that includes the history of cosmology, a travel guide to the solar system, the reason there are hallucinogen receptors in the brain, and the meaning of the potential discovery — or lack thereof — of extraterrestrial intelligence.

    Never afraid to venture into global politics, Dr. Sagan warns at one point of the danger that a leader under the sway of religious fundamentalism might not try too hard to avoid nuclear Armageddon, reasoning that it was God’s plan.

    “He might be interested to see what that would be like,” Dr. Sagan wrote. “Why slow it down?”

    Almost in the same breath, Dr. Sagan acknowledges that religion can engender hope and speak truth to power, as in the civil rights movement in the United States, but that it rarely does.

    It’s curious, he says, that no allegedly Christian nation has adopted the Golden Rule as a basis for foreign policy. Rather, in the nuclear age, mutually assured destruction was the policy of choice. “Christianity says that you should love your enemy. It certainly doesn’t say that you should vaporize his children.”

    filed under: the cosmos blogged: 12.41 Thu, 15 Feb '07


    "Aut Viam Inveniam, Aut Faciam." - Seneca