Posts Tagged ‘Science’

A Better More Fruitful World

September 22, 2009

You and I we’re gonna live forever.

Oasis

Live Forever

In recent weeks, several folks, including a scientist, have made claims about impending human immortality. These claims are usually preceded by an “if” statement or some other sort of qualifying remark.  The possibility of being able to live incredibly long lives raises some interesting questions.  The one I am most interested in is, how would immortality change the way human beings live their lives.  If it became possible to beat death by disease and natural causes would people eliminate the less natural ways of dying?  Would people take fewer risks, commit less violence, incite fewer wars, and generally try to live safe lives?  Or would the battle for scant resources increase as human population rapidly increases?  The technology to sustain life indefinitely may only be available to the more affluent countries of the world at first, but slowly the entire world would reap the benefits.

People generally act violently to assert power, obtain some goal, or to defend themselves against a threat.  Being medically immortal does not eliminate any of those elements from the world.  It does create an incentive against dying from unnatural causes that is, potentially, stronger than the current one. Will that be enough to bring a more peaceful world?

Another question raised by possible immortality is the effect on those whose religious beliefs include a conception of the after life.  Would those folks eschew perpetual life to taste the life beyond?  It is essentially a choice between a known existence and an unknown belief.  There is no doubt that many world religions would be faced with major philosophical issues.

The science of immortality is something I will be keeping an eye on in the coming years.

Compelling Questions

June 14, 2009

The Perimiter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario, hosts a series of public lectures. Most of these show up on television in some form or another, usually on Rogers TV.  The TVO program Big Ideas has also shown at least one of these lectures. I caught William Phillips talking about Time and Einstein in the 21st Century.  Phillips works at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, apparently helping to design more reliable atomic clocks.  The most fascinating part of this presentation is the idea that the understanding of accurate time is entwined with the atom.  Phillips does a fantastic job of explaining how atomic clocks work, and the various scientific principles behind them.  He also touches on the implications for quantam physics and quantam computing.  But it is the reality that every atom of a similar type resonates to the same beat no matter where it is in the universe that is compelling.

Religious leaders and philosophers from a number of traditions have speculated and ultimately taught that every item in the universe is inextricably linked. Many North American native communities view the entire planet as an interconnected web of animate and inanimate objects.  There has been speculation that atoms of a similar type are somehow conencted to one another, though to my knowledge no proof has been found.  Given the variety and variability of the objects they form, the smallest blocks in what we see has reality are amazingly uniform. There are probably a number of possible conclusions that flow from this understanding, from belief in a deity to gratefulness for a random confluence of events that have created something where there might otherwise be nothing.  In my view, it’s not that science somehow justifies any kind of spiritual or ideological belief, but that it inspires amazement and curiosity that really matters.  The atomic clock may not unlock the deep mysteries of the universe, but it will keep people asking the questions in new and imaginative ways for generations. Enjoy the lecture.

Knee Bender

May 27, 2009

It’s poetry in motion
She turned her tender eyes to me
As deep as any ocean
As sweet as any harmony
Mmm – but she blinded me with science
“She blinded me with science!”
And failed me in biology

Thomas Dolby

She Blinded Me With Science

Scientific research has vastly improved our lives.  From medicine to technology, very smart and innovative people give us longer and easier lives.  All of that is fantatic, but what I really want to know is why does a fastball appear to break sharply?  Thankfully there are people using their grant money to sort out pressing questions like this. The team of Arthur Shapiro (American Museum), Zhong-Lin Lu (University of Southern California), Emily Knight (Dartmouth) and Rob Ennis (SUNY Optometry) study this visual illusion. Shapiro’s blog outlines the study along with a great visual representation of the effect. The site is filled with neat visual tricks. The point of all this research is to reach a deeper understanding of how we see the world.  I find it amazing that our view of the world is almost completely dictated by what we see.  The work of visual researchers expands our knowledge of how we perceive the world.  This allows us to go beyond the illusions.  A curveball doesn’t really break, but we see it that way.  Maybe that’s why so many players swing and miss.

The Thomas Dolby song I’ve referenced is a clasic 80’s tune.  If you haven’t seen the video for it, you really should. The craziness will blow your mind. It’s really a Sci-Fi B-Movie disguised as a music video. Here it is: