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Aug. 22nd, 2007 @ 09:22 pm (no subject)
Reponse to “August Moonlight” by Richard Le Galliene
            The astrophysicist stands in a daze. It’s mildly disconcerting to his audience, a group of people who wanted to hear the successful genius from their small town show off his research. He never was known for his social skills even as a kid, but the almost glazed look in his eyes was starting to irk some people. The scientist realizes he has been daydreaming when his watch beeps to announce the beginning of a new hour of the day. He abruptly shuffles his notecards and walks towards a seat by the podium and hesitantly returns the audience’s smiles. 
            The head of the civic center merrily introduces the astrophysicist and lists the numerous contributions he has made in his field. Through a window, the astrophysicist sees a patch of field in the distance. It reminds him of his of childhood. The sky was so clear when he was a boy. He could see thousands of stars in the middle of the night. There was no light pollution to contend with, no unnatural obstacles preventing a clear view of the universe. The universe seemed so perfect back then; created for a specific reason. 
            The introduction is finished and the astrophysicist slowly walks up to the podium. He unexcitedly begins his speech and instinctively glances at his notecards. A poster at the other hand of the room shows a diagram of the constellations. It is very old, since the center doesn’t really have the money to buy something as frivolous as a new wall decoration. He remembered asking his father about the constellations. His father didn’t really know them but he could at least show his son the North Star. The boy didn’t let that stop him. He wanted to understand Nature’s patterns in the sky, so he checked out all the books he could from the town’s small library. He also notices some strange symbols on the poster. The poster, it turns out, is dedicated to astrology. There was a time after he learned all the constellations where he obsessively read his horoscope.  He hoped that Nature worked its magic through the movement of the stars and planets and this would show some underlying meaning. In retrospect, it was a silly interest. His meaningful universe was shattered by his own interest in understanding it. He read about how astrology was nothing but a bunch of silly superstition and had never been proven accurate. The beautiful patterns in the sky never looked the same after he read that the constellations were completely arbitrary; pictures ignorant people drew in the sky because they had nothing better to do. It saddens him to consider that there are people in his hometown who probably do not understand the difference between astrology and astronomy.
            A loud noise interrupts the astrophysicist. It was high-pitched, though he couldn’t immediately identify the source. His observing sessions were never quiet. Nature provided him with background music as gazed up towards the heavens. In the summer, a cricket choir would chirp the night away. In the spring and fall, he could hear the calls of birds migrating for the season. He was fascinated by migrating birds. He always wondered how they could always find their way in this confusing world. They were so dedicated to their goal and they refused to give up. It seemed so inspiring.  He then hears a women make a shushing noise, and looks around. The noise, it turns out, was a baby crying. The scientist takes a close look at the audience for the first time. He sees that the people are hanging on his every word. Some are even taking notes. He hears the mother again, this time trying to soothe her child by quietly humming. The tune is familiar, Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. The astrophysicist suddenly thinks about how insignificant Earth is in the universe and how little he really knows about it. At the same time though, he remembers how beautiful that “pale, blue dot” is for the first time in a while.
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astronomy: my anti-drug
Dec. 22nd, 2006 @ 02:00 pm Hello spontaneity
Current Mood: crazycrazy

So last night last weekend was interesting.  

And speaking of video games
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sora - wisdom form
Aug. 23rd, 2006 @ 05:22 pm Where Philosophy and Science Collide

Because I seem to have this habit for going off on weird tangents mildly related to someone's original, deep philosophy entry.

The Science of Realities
The Best (and Worst and Mediocre) of all Worlds
Quantum mechanics is confusing.  So confusing that scientists are still trying to figure out how to interpret all that happens in the hyper-microscopic realm of reality.  One interpretation of quantum mechanics is known as the Many Worlds Interpretation (MWI).  This interpretation is based on the fact that when you try to observe a particle such as an electron or photon, its wavefunction (a representation of all the probabilities of where a particle could be) spontaneously collapses into the whimsical point particle we all see in pictures of atoms. The particle could have appeared anywhere on the wavefunction, but we only see one.  MWI says the particle appeared in different places on the wavefunction in different universes that split off from the original one.  Each possibility happens in its own universe.  Theoretically, this also happens on macroscopic scales.  If you flip a coin and you see it lands tails, another universe will have split off where it landed heads.  And theoretically, there's another you in that universe that saw the coin flip that way.  Universes split off for every possibility of every action ever.  In one universe, you won the lotto 5 years ago.  In another universe, Al Gore is president right now.  In a third universe, the dinosaurs never got wiped out and evolved to become reptilian humanoids and started creating space colonies.  

But what does this have to do with reality?  Not much really.  Just that if MWI is right, there is an infinite number of realities and an infinite number of futures with an infinite number of possibilities.

It's All in Your Head
Another popular interpretation of quantum mechanics is the Copenhagen interpretation, which leaves out constantly branching universes.  I'll leave the explanation for this one to Bob Berman:

"They believed the inability to know both an electron's motion and position simultaneously was not just a measurement problem. Instead, the issue was far more fundamental: An electron does not have a position or a motion unless someone looks at it!

The idea goes like this: Every solid object is made of energy and has a wave nature. Small-particle waves are well understood, and their wave function collapses when they are disturbed. Only then can that particle actually exist in a specific spot. What makes a particle's wave function collapse? To measure it, you have to hit it with something like light, and that instantly does the job. But these guys went further and said merely learning about the electron triggers the collapse. Knowledge alone collapses a wave function.

Wait, it gets worse. From there, it was only a short mad stroll to the increasingly accepted (but still minority) notion that no objective universe exists. Observations are the cosmos. Without your mind, things don't exist — certainly not in their present forms."

Certainly a weird consequence of physics if there ever was one.  Here, reality wouldn't exist were it not for conscious minds to observe it.  

So Big
Now for some non-quantum reality warping theories. 

You all have heard about the Big Bang.  Well after the Big Bang created our universe, there was this spiffy thing called inflation when the atom-sized universe went from that size to the size of a tennis ball in 10-43 seconds (way faster than it would have without inflation).  In recent years, a lot of scientists says inflation leads to multiple universes, though there are several variants.

Flavor 1:  Our universe is big.  Reaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaal big.  So big that we can't see it all actually.  In fact, we live in just one pocket universe in thi scenario.  We can only see so far as light lets us.  There are many other pocket universes too (thousands and thousands) in this version.  The exact number depends on the details, some people say the thing is finite in size so there aren't infinite universes but still a hefty lot.  Other versions say it's infinite in size and there's an infinite number of pocket universes, but there's a finite number of histories for the set.  That means there are copies of universes.  For example, there is an exact copy of you 10^{10^{29}} meters away.  And yous in different universes might have different life stories.

Flavor 2 (Eternal Inflation):  The way inflation works, only part of the fledgling universe inflated.  The rest was surrounded by false vaccuum.  Bits and pits of the false vacuum constantly decay and inflate into other universes, but the false vaccuum expands more than the universes expand within it, meaning new universes will be created forever.  This one says that the universes that inflate into existence can have different physical constants (thought Flavor 1 may allow that too, I can't remember).

Give Me Some Branes
This one comes at you from string theory, the current wunderkind of physics.  Some variants of string theory that predict higher dimensions say our universe could be a brane, a realm of space with fewer dimensions than the "bulk" (seriously, it's called that).  There could be multiple branes in the bulk that move through the higher-dimensional space.  Some think the Big Bang could be the result of our brane hitting another brane.  String theory and many other particle physics models allow for the branes to have different physical laws again.

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sora - wisdom form
Mar. 11th, 2006 @ 07:32 pm Hannah's Blurb
Current Music: Friendship - Bill McCutcheon & Patti LuPone
Tags: ,
Mood:  Productive

One down, two to go.

More to come with this one, but tell me what you all think.
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astronomy: my anti-drug