View Full Version : Science Saturday: Eternal Return

01-26-2008, 10:20 AM

01-26-2008, 10:49 AM
focusing to the segment on conspiracy theories...

a fuel cell car will require fossil fuels or nuclear, too. unless we can make solar cells affordable ...

01-26-2008, 02:04 PM
FYI, there are 3 Billion DNA base pairs in the human genome (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_genome).

01-26-2008, 02:39 PM
Somehow when I saw John do this (http://brainwaveweb.com/diavlogs/8356?in=00:53:35&out=00:54:25), I just knew that Susie must have gone to catholic school and experienced the thrills of being taught by nuns.

The nuns at my grade school helped to promote antisemitism. There were two lumber yards (remember those - in the days before Home Depot) in my neighborhood, Rubinstein and Shannon. Each school year, Rubinstein would donate yardsticks to the school. Looking back, he probably thought it was both good promotion and a good deed. Shannon never gave yardsticks to the school - he knew what the nuns used them for. I think I had the words Rubinstein Lumber Company imprinted on my back by the time I go out of grade school.

In high school, the priests and brothers had no need for yard sticks - they just punched you with their fists.

01-26-2008, 02:47 PM
George should not be so self critical. (http://brainwaveweb.com/diavlogs/8356?in=01:02:50&out=01:03:10) Dedicated Science Saturday fans are not only looking for the latest science news. We just love being able to eavesdrop on the conversation between George and John. Always entertaining, warts and all. Heck, the warts sometimes are the best parts. It has been three weeks since we last so the scientific duo so judging standards may be low this week.

01-26-2008, 06:15 PM
Hmmm. OK, I guess, but this one seemed almost too relaxed. Nothing very cutting edge, here.

Why don't these fellows give "Eternal Return" a more focused treatment, say by reviewing both of the following at the same time and exploring both the scientific and metaphysical implications:

#1: http://www.amazon.com/Endless-Universe-Beyond-Big-Bang/dp/0385509642/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1201388695&sr=1-1

(That's "Endless Universe: Beyond the Big Bang," by Paul J. Steinhardt and Neil Turok.)

#2: http://www.amazon.com/Life-Before-Scientific-Investigation-Childrens/dp/0312321376/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1201388927&sr=1-1

(That's "Life Before Life: A Scientific Investigation of Children's Memories of Previous Lives," by Jim Tucker, an M.D. at University of Virginia.)

Of course to do this justice, instead of lapsing into snarky generalizations about the latter title genre, one would actually have to read it (mercifully short), and then do one's best to explain away what I, for one, am finding rather difficult to explain away, given the relative rigor devoted therein to a field of research not much noted for rigor.

So, yeah, this was OK, but not very stimulating. It get's maybe a "2" on a scale of "5," with possible "extra-credit" for moderately-enjoyable banter.


01-27-2008, 10:20 AM
Hi, I'm an epidemiologist and I enjoyed hearing an epidemiology-related subject in the science Saturday discussion.

My comment is: If flu virus is more transmissible in cool, dry weather, one would expect to see much lower flu transmissibility and overall lessened flu mortality in tropical regions; in fact, there are quite similar flu rates between tropical and temperate countries. In addition, the article, which was in PLoS Pathogens, mentions that flu epidemics in the tropics appear to coincide with rainy seasons. The authors highlighted this conundrum themselves; clearly there is more to be discovered on the seasonality of flu epidemics.

01-27-2008, 11:45 AM
Interesting comments about the mechanics of the blog.

Do you see each other when you are recording the blog?

Thanks for the stimulating contributions!

01-27-2008, 12:22 PM
Do you see each other when you are recording the blog?

This has been established (by the complaints or wry comments of several diavloggers), and the answer is no.

Happy Hominid
01-28-2008, 01:39 AM
Maybe it came from space? http://www.bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/8356?in=00:26:39&out=00:27:39

Happy Hominid
01-28-2008, 01:42 AM
New Years Resolution...

Your blue eyes are nice. We'd love to see them! I'm just sayin'...

Happy Hominid
01-28-2008, 01:49 AM
Is this because different species of virus gravitate to the climates they survive best in? If so, then when John is talking about virus contagion it would be focusing on the viruses that we are more familiar with here in the Northern Hemisphere and those viruses have probably mutated to have the greatest success in the most common weather - cool.

01-28-2008, 09:14 AM
Not necessarily; you are forgettting (as almost everybody does) the possibility of geothermal energy. Throughout the USA, if we drill down 2-4 miles, we have sufficient heat to generate clean electricity for millions of years by way of steam turbines that create no pollution. Although the drilling technology is complex, we have a lot of experience with oil. The technology necessary to exploit the heat has been updated but rests on 19th century principles.

We can make non-polluting power plants practically anywhere in the country (or world), and they would be smaller than nuclear plants and without any nuclear fuel, and a thousand times safer. Under terrorist attack they have destroyed a steam engine, or perhaps a hole in the ground, and nothing more.

If we want we can use that electricity to refine or produce other useful forms of fuel, such as separating hydrogen and oxygen. We can use it to refine seawater into drinkable water, or irrigation water for crops. Some other fuel types are more useful and portable than electricity, so hydrogen fuel cells have their place. But the cleanest, most environmentally friendly alternative fuel is geothermal. It isn't an eyesore and doesn't kill birds like wind turbines, it doesn't require exotic materials like advanced solar arrays, it doesn't require dangerous fuels like nuclear power, and isn't hard to maintain like sea power, and doesn't require a massive environmental intrusion like hydro-electric power. Virtually every place in the USA is within a few miles of a suitable geothermal site; so the sites can be small scale and unobstrusive. They could be housed on existing power plant sites with plenty of room to spare, using the steam turbines that are already there. Geothermal plants can be redundant, so if one goes offline or is attacked by terrorists, its neighbors pick up the slack. And since the depth needed varies throughout the USA, there are hundreds or thousands of sites that are easy-pickings at shallow depth which could be constructed immediately and in parallel which would reduce our dependence on foreign oil within a year.

The technology is as simple to understand as a steam locomotive. Unlike wind or solar, it is weather independent, the temperature 2 miles down is constant day and night, winter and summer. It is essentially a basic plumbing solution of valves and pipes, and once the hole is drilled the maintenance is straightforward.

uncle ebeneezer
01-28-2008, 12:59 PM
George has a great potential pickup line:


"hey baby, whaddaya say we go back to my place and stroke each other memetically?"

01-29-2008, 08:51 AM
From The Future of Geothermal Energy (http://geothermal.inel.gov/publications/future_of_geothermal_energy.pdf), done by MIT under the sponsorship of the US Department of Energy in 2005:

The accessible geothermal resource, based on existing extractive technology, is large and contained in
a continuum of grades ranging from today’s hydrothermal, convective systems through high- and
mid-grade EGS resources (located primarily in the western United States) to the very large,
conduction-dominated contributions in the deep basement and sedimentary rock formations
throughout the country. By evaluating an extensive database of bottom-hole temperature and regional
geologic data (rock types, stress levels, surface temperatures, etc.), we have estimated the total EGS
resource base to be more than 13 million exajoules (EJ). Using reasonable assumptions regarding how
heat would be mined from stimulated EGS reservoirs, we also estimated the extractable portion to
exceed 200,000 EJ or about 2,000 times the annual consumption of primary energy in the United
States in 2005. With technology improvements, the economically extractable amount of useful energy
could increase by a factor of 10 or more, thus making EGS sustainable for centuries.

That is saying that just using current technology; there is enough geothermal resources within the USA to satisfy the entire nation's energy needs for centuries. We don't need oil, wind, solar, ocean, hydroelectric, or anything else; we have the resources to be 100% self-sufficient in a matter of years. The holes take an average of 3-6 months to drill. Of all types of power plants, geothermal has the smallest footprint both visually and environmentally. It is safe and emissions free, just like solar or wind nothing comes out but electricity, it can be entirely closed-cycle. And unlike solar or wind, it is reliable and easily scalable; a single hole (3-feet wide) can supply about 2000 homes, so even small towns can generate their own power locally.

We don't need to make solar cells more efficient with ever more exotic materials; like rare-earth metals that cannot be scaled up. Wind farms are cool, but more expensive than geothermal, requiring more maintenance with greater environmental impact, and unlikely to generate more than a small fraction of our energy needs anyway. Both solar and wind are intermittent, requiring storage technology for energy capable of withstanding several weeks of either overcast skies or near windless days. Geothermal produce 24/365, and when we exceed the capacity of one well, we can drill another one a few blocks away. We literally have the answer to our energy problems in our backyards throughout the country, we just haven't felt enough pain to demand the country develop the most obvious and best solution. Instead we dither with futuristic technologies that cost more, require more maintenance and are less certain.

01-29-2008, 05:44 PM
I may be way out in left-field here (or even in the bleachers somewhere), but I guess I don't understand how the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uncertainty_principle) is anything more than a reference problem.

"There are no states in which a particle has both a definite position and momentum." I will accept that we cannot know both position and momentum of a given particle at the same moment in time. It seems to me though that this is because momentum is defined as the rate of change in position, thereby requiring multiple measurements of position (which, by definition, cannot occur at the same point in time) in order to ascertain.

If our consciousness and ability to observe were not constrained to a fairly constant forward flow of time, would we be able to make measurements that violate HUP? What happens if you derive the momentum of a particle by measuring the force of impact of the particle? I will accept that any measuring device disrupts the system to a degree by displacing or altering existing forces, but unless that is the point of HUP, I would think force of impact of a particle would give you both position of the particle (point of impact) and momentum (derived from degree of displacement of the measuring device) of the particle at a given point in time. Of course, you couldn't know them both at that moment in time, as calculations would need to be carried out.

I'm probably missing something, but I don't know what it is...

01-29-2008, 11:14 PM
any measuring device disrupts the system to a degree by displacing or altering existing forces, but unless that is the point of HUP

That is pretty much the point of HUP!

I believe the real point is that in the equations, the uncertainty in the position of the particle are related to the inverse of the uncertainty in the momentum of the particle, so the more finely you determine one, the more uncertain the other becomes. This linkage cannot be broken, and that is the nature of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle.

Unfortunately I know of no good analogy in the real world; macro particles do not obey HUP, only atomic scale particles do, and that is why our intuition fails us in trying to comprehend it. I suppose a good metaphor would be something like a spyglass, or microscope: The greater the magnification, the smaller the radius of vision. Under 1000X magnification the biggest things you can see are microbes. The field of vision is 1/1000 of what you normally see; it is the inverse of the magnification power. It is impossible to increase magnification without decreasing the field of vision.

01-30-2008, 08:35 AM
I believe the real point is that in the equations, the uncertainty in the position of the particle are related to the inverse of the uncertainty in the momentum of the particle, so the more finely you determine one, the more uncertain the other becomes.

Ah. I have been thinking about this some more (with the help of some coffee), and perhaps what I'm not understanding is why this is perceived to be a fundamental property of the observed system, instead of a flaw in the observer/measurement process.

If it is accepted as a fundamental property of the observed system, we will never move beyond it, but if it is framed as a flaw in the observer/measurement process, then we can begin to think of ways to overcome it.

01-30-2008, 12:43 PM
If it is accepted as a fundamental property of the observed system,

It is accepted as a fundamental property of quantum mechanics, but there is still dispute about it. In particular, the 2001 Afshar Experiment (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afshar_experiment) is controversial, and at least in my opinion, compelling. But on that page you can read both supporters and detractors. I believe Afshar has a blog you can find as well.

His experiment seems to violate the Principle of Complementarity (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principle_of_complementarity), one element of which is the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. So the book is not closed on the subject.

01-30-2008, 01:01 PM
Wolfgangus - that's good info, thanks. Hadn't heard of the Afshar experiment before.