Tag Archives: Science

A Danish research team has found an incredible short-cut  – a lake water sample the size of a shot-glass can contain evidence of an entire lake fauna.

It’s so effective in counting not only which creatures are present, but how many, that the researchers think that in future it may even be used to count fishing quotas.

Researchers at the Natural History Museum of Denmark found that rare and threatened animal species could be monitored simply by taking note of the DNA traces in fresh water environments.

‘In the water samples we found DNA from animals as different as an otter and a dragonfly,’ says Philip Francis Thomsen.

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“If you could send a light beam through the Earth, it should arrive at the same instant as the neutrino – if the neutrino travels at light speed – or slightly before it (if the neutrino travels slower than light) but not later, as that would require the neutrino to travel faster than light. If we could do that experiment, it would be clear cut. The problem is, we cannot. The Earth is transparent to neutrinos, but opaque to light.

If we know the distance from Cern to Rome precisely enough, and the time that the neutrino took to get there, then the ratio of distance to time – kilometres per second – gives the speed. In effect this is what the experiment does, but even this is not straightforward.

Measuring the time to accuracies of nanoseconds involves accounting for the time that electronic signals take to pass through circuits, into readouts and onwards to further parts of the complex of counters, computer chips and the myriad pathways of the nanoworld. If you have all of these measured, and if they are indeed everything you need to know, then you can determine the time elapsed – with some uncertainty. This they have done. However, if there is some unexpected bottleneck, unrecognised and hence unaccounted for, the timing might be a few nanoseconds amiss.

Then there is the measurement of the distance. Determining this to an accuracy of about 10 centimetres in 730km is required – and, apparently, is possible by geodesy. But precisely how this is done is, to me at least, still one of the many mysteries in this experiment. You certainly don’t do it with a tape measure, even if you had one that was accurate to atomic sizes. Sending a radio signal up to a satellite, at the instant the neutrino leaves Cern, which then passes it on down to the receiver in Rome, and comparing which arrives first, and by how much, has its own difficulties. The speed of radio waves through the atmosphere is affected by magnetic fields, and by other phenomena; it is far from simply a radio beam passing through a vacuum at “the speed of light”.

I would bet that a subtle error in the measured distance or time is more likely than that their ratio – the inferred speed – exceeds Einstein’s speed limit.

Ultimately nature knows the answers and we have to find them by experiment. If it is possible to travel faster than light – in a vacuum – then it doesn’t matter how many physicists say nay: the truth will out. And if it is true? I shall rewrite Neutrino and replace email with numail (neutrino-mail) – it’s faster.”

The foreword to The Psychology of Dementia Praecox pays homage to the psychiatric master of the age, Freud — though at the time there were relatively few who acknowledged Freud’s achievement. Jung declared that those who disdained Freud’s theorizing without seriously trying to see through his conceptual lenses were as bad as the seventeenth-century scoffers who had refused to look through Galileo’s telescope. Having studied Freud with the attention he deserves, Jung places himself inestimably in the great man’s debt — with caveats. Important as sexuality is, for Jung it is not as important as Freud makes it out to be — and for Freud there is nothing more important. Despite Jung’s respect, even reverence, the fissure that separates the two minds is apparent already in Dementia Praecox, and in time it will become an impassable chasm.

Jung sent Freud a copy of his monograph. Freud’s response has been lost, but in Jung’s following letter he alludes to Freud’s apparent displeasure: Jung had reprimanded Freud for failing to distinguish clearly between the origins of hysteria and those of dementia praecox. But Freud and Jung had been corresponding with mutual esteem for several months by then — Jung had sent him his major word-association paper, and Freud had answered admiringly — and this new difference of opinion did not derail their relationship. Indeed, Freud quickly put to rest Jung’s fears that he had crossed him: “In reality I regard your essay on D. pr. as the richest and most significant contribution to my labors that has ever come to my attention, and among my students in Vienna, who have the perhaps questionable advantage over you of personal contact with me, I know of only one who might be regarded as your equal in understanding, and of none who is able and willing to do so much for the cause as you.”

Comrades-in-arms, with Freud the superior officer by agreement, the two thinkers fought to advance their revolutionary understanding of the human psyche. Personal warmth stemmed from the two men’s intellectual fellowship: as is often the case with embattled intellectuals, shared ideas drew them ever closer. Freud gushed that Jung’s letter of introduction had been the voice of salvation, breaking in upon a solitude that seemed like doom. Jung wrote back, from the First International Congress of Psychiatry, Neurology, and Psychology in Amsterdam, that hearing from his mentor reminded him he “was fighting not only for an important discovery but for a great and honorable man as well.” Surrounded by sickening dolts and scoundrels, who knew nothing of Freud’s theory but arrogantly trashed it nevertheless, Jung did what he could to defend truth and honor. He closed the letter with “a long cherished and constantly repressed wish: I would dearly like to have a photograph of you, not as you used to look but as you did when I first got to know you.” It was a desire that he had felt again and again. Freud obliged, with a formal portrait of himself, seated with his arms folded sternly and his trademark cigar between his fingers. Sometimes, one trusts, a cigar is only a smoke.

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NASA’s Voyager probes are truly going where no one has gone before. Gliding silently toward the stars, 9 billion miles from Earth, they are beaming back news from the most distant, unexplored reaches of the solar system.

Mission scientists say the probes have just sent back some very big news indeed.

It’s bubbly out there.

According to computer models, the bubbles are large, about 100 million miles wide, so it would take the speedy probes weeks to cross just one of them. Voyager 1 entered the “foam-zone” around 2007, and Voyager 2 followed about a year later. At first researchers didn’t understand what the Voyagers were sensing–but now they have a good idea.

“The sun’s magnetic field extends all the way to the edge of the solar system,” explains Opher. “Because the sun spins, its magnetic field becomes twisted and wrinkled, a bit like a ballerina’s skirt. Far, far away from the sun, where the Voyagers are now, the folds of the skirt bunch up.”

When a magnetic field gets severely folded like this, interesting things can happen. Lines of magnetic force criss-cross, and “reconnect”. (Magnetic reconnection is the same energetic process underlying solar flares.) The crowded folds of the skirt reorganize themselves, sometimes explosively, into foamy magnetic bubbles.

“We never expected to find such a foam at the edge of the solar system, but there it is!” says Opher’s colleague, University of Maryland physicist Jim Drake.

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Like many physicists, Michio Kaku thinks our universe will end in a “big freeze.” However, unlike many physicists, he thinks we might be able to avoid this fate by slipping into a parallel universe.”

One of the most fascinating discoveries of our new century may be imminent if the Large Hadron Collider outside Geneva produces nano-blackholes when it goes live again. According to the best current physics, such nano blackholes could not be produced with the energy levels the LHC can generate, but could only come into being if a parallel universe were providing extra gravitational input. Versions of multiverse theory suggest that there is at least one other universe very close to our own, perhaps only a millimeter away. This makes it possible that some of the effects, especially gravity, “leak through,” which could be responsible for the production of dark energy and dark matter that make up 96% of the universe.

“The multiverse is no longer a model, it is a consequence of our models,” says Aurelien Barrau, particle physicist at CERN.

While it hasn’t been proven yet, many highly respected and credible scientists are now saying there’s reason to believe that parallel dimensions could very well be more than figments of our imaginations.

“The idea of multiple universes is more than a fantastic invention—it appears naturally within several scientific theories, and deserves to be taken seriously,” stated Aurelien Barrau, a French particle physicist at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN).

There are a variety of competing theories based on the idea of parallel universes, but the most basic idea is that if the universe is infinite, then everything that could possibly occur has happened, is happening, or will happen.

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This problem is captured in the famous thought experiment of Schrödinger’s cat. This unhappy feline is inside a sealed box containing a vial of poison that will break open when a radioactive atom decays. Being a quantum object, the atom exists in a superposition of states – so it has both decayed and not decayed at the same time. This implies that the vial must be in a superposition of states too – both broken and unbroken. And if that’s the case, then the cat must be both dead and alive as well.

To explain why we never seem to see cats that are both dead and alive, and yet can detect atoms in a superposition of states, physicists have in recent years replaced the idea of superpositions collapsing with the idea that quantum objects inevitably interact with their environment, allowing information about possible superpositions to leak away and become inaccessible to the observer. All that is left is the information about a single state.

Physicists call this process “decoherence”. If you can prevent it – by tracking all the information about all possible states – you can preserve the superposition.

In the case of something as large as a cat, that may be possible in Schrödinger’s theoretical sealed box. But in the real world, it is very difficult to achieve. So everyday cats decohere rapidly, leaving behind the single state that we observe. By contrast, small things like photons and electrons are more easily isolated from their environment, so they can be preserved in a superposition for longer: that’s how we detect these strange states.

The puzzle is how decoherence might work on the scale of the entire universe: it too must exist in a superposition of states until some of the information it contains leaks out, leaving the single state that we see, but in conventional formulations of the universe, there is nothing else for it to leak into.

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Neuroscience tells us the thing we take as our unified mind is an illusion, that our mind is not unified and can barely be said to “exist” at all. Our feeling of unity and control is a post-hoc confabulation and is easily fractured into separate parts. As revealed by scientific inquiry, what we call a mind (or a self, or a soul) is actually something that changes so much and is so uncertain that our pre-scientific language struggles to find meaning.

Buddhists say pretty much the same thing. They believe in an impermanent and illusory self made of shifting parts. They’ve even come up with language to address the problem between perception and belief. Their word for self is anatta, which is usually translated as ‘non self.’  One might try to refer to the self, but the word cleverly reminds one’s self that there is no such thing.

When considering a Buddhist contemplating his soul, one is immediately struck by a disconnect between religious teaching and perception. While meditating in the temple, the self is an illusion. But when the Buddhist goes shopping he feels like we all do: unified, in control, and unchanged from moment to moment. The way things feel becomes suspect.