Saturday, June 5, 2010

Blinding You With Science!

It’s a great time to be alive. Science has given us things that were unthinkable to prior generations. Television brings us images of places and things prior generations didn’t even know existed. We’ve seen the surface of the moon and the bottom of the ocean. We can instantaneously talk to friends the world over. Medicine makes us healthier and gives us longer lives. Modern business methods bring us food, products and luxuries previously undreamed of. And science has been busily expanding our understanding of everything. Lets point out a couple of cutting edge theories you may not have heard about before, but which may soon change our lives again.

1. Life Abounds: When I was younger, I remember the first real scientist (sadly, the guy’s name escapes me) proposing that other planets exist. This made total sense to me. If the universe is nearly infinite, then there should also be a nearly infinite number of planets. This is just a matter of working out the probabilities. But when the guy said this, boy did the establishment heap scorn on him. To them it was easier to image the universe as empty, except for lonely suns and the handful of planets in our system. Talk about small minded.

Well now it’s been proven. There are other planets. In fact, the universe is teeming with other planets. The ones they’ve found so far have all been about the size of Jupiter, but that’s because of the crude methods we need to use to find them -- basically, we are measuring the gravitational wobbles of suns to see if planets are tugging on them. But as with all things scientific, the techniques are getting better and they are finding smaller and smaller planets.

Now they’ve discovered water on other planets in the solar system and on asteroids. And water means life. Thus, conventional thinking now holds that the universe is crawling with planets and that there is probably life on a great many. Nanoo nanoo.

2. The Multiverse: Remember the evil Spock? He might be real. Recent thinking has begun to suspect that there might be more than one universe. In fact, a great many scientists are now factoring that into their equations. This all started because there are problems with the Big Bang Theory, which can explain how our universe grew, but can’t explain where it came from the moment before the bang. Moreover, based on what we know, the universe is missing both matter and gravity. To resolve these issues, the current thinking is that our universe may be one bubble among many and that it leaks into other universes.

Proving this is the point to the New Hadron Collider in Bern. . . the one that was supposed to kill us all in a shower of black holes. What they are doing is smashing particles together at incredible speeds and then monitoring the ensuing explosion. If energy from the explosion goes missing, then they think that energy has shifted into another universe.

What does this matter you ask? Well, this is helping us to understand the nature of our universe. And that kind of knowledge will help us unravel the mysteries of existence. And, frankly, who knows what else this can lead to? Indeed, at a time when they are creating computer chips one atom at a time and they are talking about putting data on molecules, you simply can’t rule out the possible benefits of this kind of research.

3. The Missing Link: This one is not well-accepted yet by science, but it’s gaining traction. One of the problems I’ve always had with evolution is that it assumes that traits will appear as needed or that they already existed. In other words, if birds fly now, then either they always flew or, somehow, the ability to fly will develop when it becomes desirable. But that doesn’t make logical sense because that assumes that these traits were always there to begin with and just needed an environmental push to become the dominant traits. This can explain minor changes, but it really can't explain major evolutionary leaps.

But a new theory may solve this problem. This new theory speculates that it may be retroviruses that push evolution along. Yep, viruses like AIDS. A normal virus attacks living cells and kills them. But a retrovirus takes over a cell and changes it. Indeed, they are now discovering that retroviruses actually affect the DNA. Moreover, about 98% of our DNA is junk -- useless genes that apparently serve no purpose. The new thinking is that this is the result of mankind (and animals) being infected by millions of retroviruses over the millennia, and that these infections resulted in changes being made to our DNA, which resulted in new genes being implanted, which then spread as the infected bred. By adding new genes to the DNA, it would be entirely possible (indeed likely) that new traits would appear which didn’t exist before. If true, this may be the missing piece to the evolution puzzle that explains how we got from there to here and why different species evolved differently even though they had similar starts. It may also give us the key to controlling our own futures.

4. Faster Than Light: Everybody knows that you can’t go faster than light, right? Well, that doesn’t appear to be true anymore. Indeed, they have discovered that some particles can be changed from positive to negative and the process actually takes place faster than the speed of light would allow. Moreover, in lab conditions, they’ve now been able to pass light through matter at faster than light speeds. This could one day become the key to traveling the universe.

5. Gravity Smavity: Finally, let’s finish with another controversial theory. Some scientists are starting to wonder if there is such a thing as gravity after all. We think of gravity as a force that pulls two objects together. But there is a problem with gravity: there isn’t enough of it in the universe. Indeed, there should be more. So what if we’re wrong about gravity? What if gravity isn’t a force at all, but is really only the bending of space? In other words, we’ve learned that space, which seems empty, really isn’t. And we know that objects bend space with their weight, like a bowling ball on a mattress. Thus, an object traveling in a straight line will appear to fall toward the bowling ball as it follows the bent space. If the bend is large enough, the object with strike the bowling ball. It is entirely possible that what we perceive as gravity is actually objects simply rolling toward a heavier object that has bent space toward itself. And if the theory of gravity goes out the window. . . then how do we keep the change in our pockets? ;-P

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

I remember the last time you wrote about mind-bending stuff, I asked this question so I will again: Can I buy some pot from you? :-P

Re: other planets, to paraphrase Contact: "If it's just us... seems like an awful waste of space." Sometimes I do wonder what the reaction will be when we find life on another planet. No doubt it'll be some bacteria and not a humanoid species. Will it usher in an era of world peace, like on Star Trek? Uh... no. But it will be interesting and it'll definitely get the pundits talking. I just don't know how much we'll be affected by it in our daily lives.

Re: the multiverse... as a geek, this possibility delights me (and not just because there might be a version of me out there that can grow a beard!). Alternate histories, alternate futures, a crisis of infinite earths... fascinating stuff. And yes, I've often wondered what my friends and I would be doing in another universe, assuming I met the same people (which itself is an interesting thought)... and that's assuming I didn't die at a young age or ship off to war or something.

LL said...

My evil twin liked your blog post.

Tennessee Jed said...

Interesting stuff, Andrew. It reminded me of a book that once really made me think about the nature of the universe, "The Emporor's New Mind" by Sir Roger Penrose. It came the closest to giving a layman like myself a glimpse of Einstein's theory or relativity. Is the universe expanding only to ultimately collapse back onto itself?

Poems are made by fools like me, but only God can make a tree.

StanH said...

From the “Age of Reason,” too present day is a really phenomenal leap of mankind. I know it’s anecdotal, but my grandmother who passed several years ago, used to go on about the changes in her life, from the horse and buggy, to the moon shot. Too me that illustrates mans scientific leap forward, really amazing when you think of it.

Tam said...

The Lostie in me fully believes in alternate universes.

LawHawkSF said...

Andrew: Good Lord. I'm gone for a week, and you start raving. Next I suppose you'll expect me to believe that the earth isn't the center of the universe, and that the planets don't revolve around good old Terra.

BevfromNYC said...

Fabulous and mind-bending. Let's not tell Al Gore that even gravity isn't "settled science". He's having a really bad week.

Writer X said...

Cool post, Andrew! I think it's so fascinating to think about all that we don't know. And I'd really really like to visit another planet some day, preferably on one of those transporter thingamajigs. Yes, I am a Stargate geek.

StanH said...

Well Lordy! …Lawhawk the country gentleman speaks again. I saw your post yesterday, are you moved in, or in the process thereof.

AndrewPrice said...

LL, Cool. But sadly, in some alternate universe. . . he hated it!

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, "and not just because there might be a version of me out there that can grow a beard!" -- LOL!

So no to drugs Scott, get high on science! :-)

Yeah, it does seem like a waste of space if there's nothing more out there. And I think it's fascinating that there might be an infinite number of universes where every choice we could make has been made -- but I actually doubt that. I think, more like, there are just a lot of different universes. Still, it's interesting to think about.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I haven't read the book, but it's very rare that scientists are able to bring this stuff to a level that we an understand. That's one thing I really like about the Discovery Channel, they have some great programs that manage to bring science down to an understandable level.

AndrewPrice said...

Stan, That's so true. There is a theory that our technological level doubles exponentially, with each time taking half as long as the last. And you can kind of see that when you see the rate of advances today. It's amazing to think that in 1983, no one had a computer on their desk. Today, they are literally in everything. We went from letter to telegraph to radio to black and white tv to color to cable to satellite to HD, and now they're talking 3-D.

Everything is like that. What a cool time to be alive. I really wish I could live long enough to see how far human ingenuity eventually takes us!

AndrewPrice said...

Tam, That's funny! All of the alternate universe stuff is still theory, but apparently it's making a lot of sense. I look forward meeting myself! :-)

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, I am sorry to break the news to you. ;-)

There's no Easter Bunny either.

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, I've tried and just can't feel bad for Algore. They guy's a jerk who is trying to destroy the economy of this planet with bogus science.

Fun stuff though huh? I wonder what new things we'll learn in the next ten years? This is a truly cool time to be alive!

AndrewPrice said...

Writer X, I would LOVE to see other planets and other galaxies and all these cool space things going on!

I think its great that we can already see so much of this on television, but to see it in person would just be incredible.

Like I said above, this is a truly cool time to be alive!

LawHawkSF said...

STAN: I'm settled in, except for all those boxes in the guest bedroom which are either still full or partially-full of things that have to be moved out to other rooms or thrown away. But I found my computers and printers, so I guess I'm settled in enough for now. I'll be telling the story of my great trek from city to country on Sunday and Monday. It's great to be back.

BevfromNYC said...

How is time calculated in outer space?

StanH said...

Funny Bev! …I was thinking the same thing.

AndrewPrice said...

Bev and Stan, I understand the unit of measurement is the "centons." A little Battlestar Gallactica joke!

Actually, I suppose it doesn't really matter how you measure time because it will be different where ever you go?

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