At the very beginning of The Tacit Dimension, Michael Polanyi reminds his reader why he turned to philosophy:
I first met questions of philosophy when I came up against the Soviet ideology under Stalin which denied justification to the pursuit of science. I remember a conversation I had with [Nikolai] Bukharin in Moscow in 1935. Though he was heading toward his fall and execution three years later, he was still a leading theoretician of the Communist party. When I asked him about the pursuit of pure science in Soviet Russia, he said that pure science was a morbid symptom of a class society; under socialism the conception of science pursued for its own sake would disappear, for the interests of scientists would spontaneously turn to problem of the current Five-Year Plan. 
How ironic that modern capitalism seems to be asserting much the same thing. (And now, now it seeks to erode general education in favor of “workforce development”.)
More on Bukharin (Wikipedia).
I hate titles like 6 Ridiculous Science Myths You Learned in Kindergarten, but it got my attention, and I read through the six. Here are the top three: bats aren’t blind; airplanes fly by redirecting air; and milk isn’t good for your bones.
A terrific composite of all the colors emitted by the sun from the National Optical Astronomy Observatory. Each of the fifty rows covers sixty angstroms (i.e. 0.1 nanometers) of the visible spectrum (which itself spans roughly 4000–7000 angstroms, or 400–700 nanometers), increasing in wavelength from left-to-right, bottom-to-top. Visit the NOAO’s site for more.
The Colors of the Sun
And if you are wondering about the nature of spectral light… (Click the link!)
I am reviving a blogging tradition because some days you just have lots of tabs open in your browser and it’s all interesting. Sometimes those links get shot out as individual dishes — and there are plenty of blogs that really make that their business (no names here, but you’ve encountered it) — and sometimes you get served a buffet:
- TYWKIWDBI (pronunciation is provided) notes that “A graph of 40 years of data from the U.S. Census Bureau, shows that fewer American households are comprised of married couples with children. Now there are more men and women living alone, and other “nontraditional” arrangements. … As more Americans are opting to live alone than ever before, that now seems like an entirely unremarkable choice. But for years we’ve been building houses for that big nuclear family that’s now less common. And housing data released earlier this summer by the Census Bureau, illustrated at right, suggests that the U.S. is now a country where many people live alone in a land of 3-bedroom houses.” The two graphs accompanying the post are worth viewing.
- Space.com reports that the evidence for water on mars is pretty overwhelming. There’s a slideshow available for those, like me, who enjoy space porn. Water! Mars! Let’s go!
- The Octomatics Project argues that a number system based on 8 or 12 makes more sense — and those interested in the dozenal system (useful when you are trying to discuss time with a fourth grader!) should know that there is a Dozenal Society of American (really, not making that up, but I would if I were writing a novel about maths at war … say, maybe I will!). I especially like the graphic that advances a numerical notation that “looks more technical”:
Uncertainty quantification has a nice ring to it. Of course, human beings have been doing this kind of thing for a long time. It’s not quite clear to me what threshold we crossed, but at least a few scientists think we have and that we need a name for that threshold.
I remember when I first read about how many times the Fibonacci sequence is found in nature — it seems to be the most efficient way to pack things spirally — or when reading one of the introductions to network theory I began to glimpse how powerful the idea, and the pattern, of a network was. It’s not entirely clear with me what or how to think about such regular patterns in our natural, or cultural, worlds, but the tree is another of them. This image of river beds in the California Baja could just as easily be images of blood vessels to profiles of trees in winter.
River Beds in the Baja California
Matt Might breaks it down in a series of images that explain the nature of expanding our knowledge of ourselves and the universe in which we find ourselves and how we sometimes come to find ourselves believing that that small arena in which we work is actually the whole enchilada. See for yourself.
The stuff that is available for everyone, kids and adults, when it comes to learning about science is just amazing. As someone who learns best when I am learning on my own, I’m really happy to while away my hours re-learning (or learning anew) topics that I wish I had long ago mastered. (How to structure this into a proper education remains a mystery and I fully recognize that the weakness of the autodidact is in not understanding all the connections and relations.)
I have two tabs open right now on my tablet: the Phylogeny Wing of the University of California Museum of Paleontology and the Kerbal Space Program.
The earth and moon have the same water. This has implications for how we think not only the two formed but the solar system itself formed. One possible explanation involves Jupiter making a trip into the inner solar system. Scientific American has the story.
Analysis of data from the European Space Agency’s Planck mission has found some new things about our universe, including:
- It’s older than we believed, at about 13.81 billion years.
- It’s expanding more slowly than we expected.
- It’s made up of 4.9 percent normal matter, 26.8 percent dark matter, and 68.3 percent dark energy.
- And finally, our universe is a tiny bit lopsided.
Of all of that, it’s the lopsided that catches your attention, right? How can the universe be lopsided? I mean, what could that possibly mean? Slate‘s Bad Astronomy blog has some explanations.
(It turns out, I think, that the lopsidedness reveals, potentially, a possible pre-Big Bang pattern or existence. Yeah, let that sink in.)
And then there’s this incredible visualization:
Timeline of the Universe
The Economist article on Islam and science is focused on reporting the good news that science is returning to Muslim countries: that rulers (sigh, rulers) and governments are funding universities and research at levels even the West would envy. That is good news. The article makes a surprising turn, however, that make the Islamic world become a mirror to the Christian world: scientists are chided for not focusing on “useful” work and evolution faces an uphill battle among too many.
In June of this year, Japanese researchers published their findings that cedar trees in Japan indicated a surge in Carbon-14 production. This particular Carbon isotope is produced when energetic particles from space transform atmospheric nitrogen into carbon. A UCSD student found the following reference in the The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle:
A.D. 774. This year the Northumbrians banished their king, Alred, from York at Easter-tide; and chose Ethelred, the son of Mull, for their lord, who reigned four winters. This year also appeared in the heavens a red crucifix, after sunset; the Mercians and the men of Kent fought at Otford; and wonderful serpents were seen in the land of the South-Saxons.
The find won him a published note in the pages of Nature. Scientists debated whether a solar flare could have been the cause, if only because the solar flare would necessarily be so large as to cause other, very obvious, and probably fatal problems. Perhaps a supernova? No, the consensus seems to be back to solar flare.
I would love to stumble across some historical event like this that has such convergences. (I would also like it if the humanities would adopt the DOI scheme as soon as possible.)
DOIs for this note:
Japanese Cedar Tree Research: 10.1038/nature11123
The Red Crucifix: 10.1038/nature.2012.10898
Solar Flare Explanation: 10.1038/nature11695