Tag: science

Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate 2007

Once again, it looks like I’m going to miss the Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate. In 2007, the debate will take place on Monday, March 26, the day before my birthday. However, on Sunday, March 25, I will be getting back from Orlando, Florida (returning from Norm and Vicky’s wedding) and there is just no way that I can take time up to go up to New York for the debate.

Details on the panelists or what the debate will be about this year have not yet been posted. But the basic information has been posted here.

I’ll get there one day…

Remembering Carl

It’s been a busy day today, but I am finally squeezing in time to write about Carl Sagan. When I woke up this morning, the date was vaguely familiar, and it was on the train into work that I realized that it was 10 years ago today that Carl Sagan passed away. I am not the only one who realized this, and in fact, there is a Carl Sagan blogathon going on today in honor of his memory. Here is what I have to say:

On December 17, 1996, I read a particularly good article in SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN on science versus pseudoscience. It turned out to be an exerpt from Carl Sagan’s new book, The Demon-Haunted World. I had read Cosmos many years before, but that was my whole exerience with Sagan. However, the essay in SCIAM was outstanding and I picked up the book at a bookstore a few days later and began reading at once. I was so impressed with the book when I was only halfway through, that I told my friend Paul about it. Now, I wasn’t paying much attention to the news at this time, but when I told Paul about the book, he said, “Yeah, you know, Sagan died a few days ago.” I couldn’t believe it.

Since then, I’ve become a Sagan fan. In the month that followed I read The Dragons of Eden, Broca’s Brain, and Pale Blue Dot and loved them all. I read Contact in May 1997 before the movie came out and it is one of the few books that I have rated 5 stars. (And for a while, the movie became my favorite movie.) I devoured Billions and Billions when that came out, and I even recently re-read The Demon-Haunted World.

In March of 2000, I read William Poundstone’s biography of Carl Sagan and I enjoyed that as well. Carl Sagan was brilliant; he was a rationalist and humanist; he could be funny. He was an excellent writer and popularizer of science, but he was also a preeminent scientist himself.

I remember feeling very sad when I heard that he had passed away. I worried that another “candle in the dark” had been extinguished.

Why libraries and Sunday schools will be the downfall of society

I free associate when I drive. Driving to a clothing store this morning, I passed a church that was having a flea market in the parking lot. In front of the church was a sign that had the times for worship, as well as the time for Sunday School classes. Sunday school got me thinking about the days when I attended Sunday School, and that in turn got me thinking how it is ironic that I have no religious beliefs (which is a polite way of saying that I am an athiest). This last thought lead me to wonder just why I hold no religious beliefs. Thinking hard, as I pulled the car into a narrow parking space between two massive SUVs, I came up with three reasons. The irony is that the first of the reasons is Sunday School itself.

My transmogrification, or the road to apostacy

Intelligent design is not science

There is some amount of sanity left in the world.

I just came across a news item in which the Vatican praises a U.S. court ruling that rejects “intelligent design” theory as non-scientific. This is as it should be.

Science is that which can be derived from observation and experimentation, tested by peers and repeated again and again until proven wrong. The whole point of science is to show what is not true in the hope that by eliminating falsehoods, we move closer to the truth (in mathematics, this is known as reducio ad absurdum.

Intelligent design is not science, nor should it pretend to be. People can and should believe in what they want. For some people, faith is about religion, for others it’s something else. Make faith into something that can be demonstrated scientifically undermines the whole meaning of faith, it seems to me. It also demonstrates a lack of confidence in a belief system; a need to show others that what you believe is just as good if not better than what she believes.

This is exactly what the U.S. courts said and what the vatican has reiterated.

Science and faith are two seperate things. They can co-exist peacefully, and even successfully. They are not mutually exclusive. It’s we humans and our egocentric natures that color both science and faith in mutual exclusivity. Usually in the direction that best suits our own beliefs.

The Most Popular Myths in Science

I came accross this link on digg.com earlier today:

Most Popular Myths in Science

This is the kind of stuff that the skeptic in me thrives on. All sort of goodies here. This site debunks or confirms the following “myths” of science. How many of them do you think are true?

  • It takes seven years to digest gum
  • The Great Wall of China is the only manmade structure visible from space
  • Humans use only 10 percent of their brains
  • Adults don’t grow new brain cells
  • Water drains backwards in the Southern Hemisphere due to the Earth’s rotation
  • Animals can predict natural disasters
  • A penny dropped from the top of a tall building could kill a pedestrian
  • A dog’s mouth is cleaner than a human’s
  • Men think about sex every seven seconds
  • Lightening never strikes the same place twice
  • A falling cat will always land on its feet
  • Yawning is “contagious”
  • Eating a poppy seed bagel mimics opium use
  • There is no gravity in space
  • Chicken soup can cure the common cold
  • Seasons are caused by Earth’s proximity to the sun
  • Chickens can live without a head
  • The five second rule
  • You get less wet by running in the rain
  • Hair and fingernails continue to grow after death
  • Laughing Outloud: from “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!”

    I was reading this book shortly after getting back from vacation in November. There is a lot of funny stuff in this book, but one passage in particular made me burst out laughing, mainly due to the nature of the subject. I received a few strange glances, laughing so hard at something contained within a physicists autobiography. Here’s the passage:

    I often liked to play tricks on people when I was at MIT. One time, in mechanical drawing class, some joker picked up a French curve (a piece of plastic for drawing smooth curves–a curly, funny-looking thing) and said, “I wonder if the curves on this thing have some special formula?”

    I thought for a moment and said, “Sure they do. The curves are very special curves. Lemme show ya,” and I picked up the French curve and began to turn it slowly. “The French curve is made so that at the lowest point on each curve, no matter how you turn it, the tangent is horizontal.”

    All the guys in the class were holding their French curve up at different angles, holding their pencil up to it at the lowest point and laying it along, and discovering that, sure enough, the tangent is horizontal. They were all excited by this “discovery”–even though they had already “learned” that the derivative (tangent) of the minimum (lowest point) of any curve is zero (horizontal). They didn’t put two and two together. They didn’t even know what they “knew.”

    From “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” by Richard P. Feynman.

    Science and Law on SCIAM

    This month’s “Antigravity” column in Scientific American (by Steve Mirsky) was really funny. For anyone who doesn’t subscribe to Scientific American (shame on you), the Antigravity column is on the website. You can find it here.

    The author takes issue with the fact that Supreme Court nominees should be familiar with business law. He thinks they should be more familiar with science and has ten (very funny) questions that he would ask all nominees if here were on the Senate committee.