Cluster Map

Friday, September 16, 2011

Pollyanna ponders morality and science

Pollyanna is glad to be back with you and to tell you of her new job modeling bras...  For the record, this picture came up when I googled Pollyanna/Images.
Glad to model bras

With the equinox coming up Pollyanna has been thinking a bit about astronomy.  Right now, if you look at the eastern sky a few hours after sunset, you will see a lovely combination of a full moon with Jupiter as it were catching up to it
A Moon-Jupiter conjunction on Aug. 26, 2010. Credit: Tom Cocchiaro. 
Last year Jupiter came as close as it ever does to the Earth at opposition and was the brightest object in the sky after the moon.  It is quite bright now as you can see by looking.
This sky map shows how the moon and Jupiter  appeared on Sept. 15, 2011 at 10 p.m. to skywatchers with clear skies in mid-northern latitudes.
CREDIT: Starry Night Software

Oppositions (the Sun, Earth and Jupiter lining up)of the Earth and Jupiter occur roughly every 400 days, because  Earth catches up to Jupiter and laps it in its race around the sun.  Because the orbits of the planets are slightly elliptical, the distances between oppositions vary, and  the next time [Earth and Jupiter] will be as close as they were in 2010 will not  be until 2022.  This year the opposition will be in late October. 

Since Pollyanna's egomaniac brother Titan was so much into himself last week, she will attempt to make it up to a few smaller satellites of Saturn, in this case Pandora and Prometheus.

Pandora credit Cassini
From do not open that box!

Prometheus credit Cassini

Credit Careful with that fire!
Here they are hard at work as  shepherds of the F-ring of Saturn.   This link includes a movie of the pair in action.  Between them they keep the ring intact and have an orbital resonance that helps them do the job, although there is some suspicion of chaos here. The mythology of both of them is well known.  Pandora opened a famous box(actually a jar, but mistranslated in the 16th century) and Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to humans, for which he was punished by Zeus by being bound naked to a pillar in the Caucasian mountains. A griffon-vulture ate at Prometheus' liver all day long. During the bitter cold of the mountain night, the liver became whole again--poor chap, he only meant well.
Pandora stats: Size: Irregular, 114 x 84 x 62 kilometers - 13th largest moon of Saturn 
Orbital radius:141,700 kilometers - 2.35 Saturn radii - outer shepherd of the F ring 
Orbital period: 0.6285 days -about 1/25 of Titan’s 
Discovery: 1980 by S. Collins et al.
Prometheus stats: Size: Irregular, 145 x 85 x 62 kilometers - 11th largest moon of Saturn
Orbital radius: 139,353 kilometers - 2.28 Saturn radii - inner shepherd of the F ring
Orbital period: 0.613 days - about 1/26 of Titan’s
Discovery: 1980 by S. Collins et al.

The planet eclipses, or transits, both stars; and the stars regularly eclipse each other too
Some of you may remember the Asimov science fiction story Nightfall in which a civilization lives on a planet orbiting a binary pair of stars.  We now have an observation of such a planet from the Kepler space telescope.  For a brief exposition see BBC news.  The scientific paper is in the latest issue of Science  for those having access.  It is a most exciting discovery and Pollyanna is thrilled.

Pollyanna is quite taken with the new finding  about a possible human ancestor. Just be careful about telling any of the Republican candidates about it. They should fear the competition. I refer you to the  details.  Alas there is a 24 second popup commercial in the video, but it is worth the wait and the noise.

Fossils of the extinct hominid known as Australopithecus sediba were accidentally discovered by the 9-year-old son of a scientist in the remains of a cave in South Africa in 2008,   The fossils' mix of human and primitive traits found in the brains, hips, feet and hands make a strong case for it being the immediate ancestor to the human lineage, scientists report in the Sept. 9, 2011, issue of the journal  Science.

The fossils included remains of a male juvenile (whose cranium is shown here) along with a female of the same species, who was likely in her 20s or 30s.

CREDIT: Brett Eloff.  
Pollyanna and I have been discussing an article in the NYTimes that Yosefa sent us about the lack of moral sense among young people, in particular the moral relativism that has become so common.  The idea that "if it feels good it is OK" can have terrible implications.   David Brooks deplores this and received some interesting feedback. We recommend the article. In a recent New Yorker the issue of a universal morality is discussed in a profile of the philosopher Derek Parfit. Unfortunately, as usual, the New Yorker access depends on subscription, but there are many other sources of information about Parfit and his work.   He believes he has a formulation:
 "An act is wrong just when such acts are disallowed by some principle that is optimific, uniquely universally willable and not reasonably rejectable."
BTW, I could not find optimific in my full-sized Webster, but the OED online had it, (adjective: Philosophy, producing the maximum good consequences. Origin: 1930s: from Latin optimus 'best' + -ific) so it is not a made up word.  In any case, the formulation by Parfit makes sense.  I tried my own experiment with youth and morality by asking an educated young woman (nameless) what she thinks about the nefarious plan of our government to relocate by force 30,000 Bedouin citizens of Israel.  She had not heard of the issue, which brings to mind the famous exchange:
Q.: What is the difference between ignorance and apathy?
A.: I don't know and I don't care.
One commenter welcomed Brooks to old age.  I recall that Herodotus, the 4th century BC Greek historian, had many complaints about the youth of Athens and the future their moral laxity might engender.

Book Review: How the Hippies Saved Physics: Science, Counterculture, and the Quantum Revival, David
Kaiser W. W. Norton, New York, 2011. $26.95 (372 pp.). ISBN 978-0-393-07636-3

The book is  reviewed in Physics Today  by Silvan Schweber.  If the link does not open for non-subscribers, there is another review in the New York Times by George Johnson. I quote from the Physics Today review:
"In this book David Kaiser contends that a small group of graduate students “planted the seeds that would eventually flower into today’s field of quantum information science.” He would like to have us believe that this self-titled Fundamental Fysiks Group, with parallel efforts from “a few other isolated physicists, contributed to a sea change in how we think about information, communication, computation, and the subtle workings of the microworld.” Starting in May 1975, the Fundamental Fysiks Group met weekly at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory. Their primary concern was the exploration of the foundations of quantum mechanics in search of explanations for parapsychological, or ‘psi,’ phenomena. From the “spooky actions at a distance” phenomena in the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen (EPR) gedanken experiment, the Fysiks Group was led to hidden-variables descriptions of quantum mechanics and to Bell’s theorem."   Obviously Schweber is not convinced and I will reserve judgement until I have a chance to read the book.

When I was a student we were told that "Quantum Mechanics works, so shut up and calculate". The advent of recognition of the EPR critique of quantum physics, awareness of the implications of  Bell's Theorem and the new experimental results on  retrocausality which are indeed spooky and weird, may well have been helped by the nonconformism of the FFG.  It is certainly interesting.

The 2010 Wolf Prize in Physics was given for work related to retrocausality. The prize was given to Prof. John F. Clauser of the US,   Prof. Alain Aspect of France’s École Normale Supérieure de Cachan and Prof. Anton Zeilinger of the University of Vienna. The jury in this field praised them “for their fundamental conceptual and experimental contributions to the foundations of quantum physics, specifically an increasingly sophisticated series of tests of Bell’s inequalities, or extensions thereof, using entangled quantum states.” I went to their symposium and it was like entering Wonderland. The experiments reported were the most counterintuituve results I had ever heard. The bottom line is that we must either give up Special Relativity or give up reality as we understand it. Here is a video and some links. Enjoy!

In a lighter vein Betty White can still sing and dance in a tribute to Morgan Freeman on the occasion of his receiving a life achievement award from the American Film Institute--thanks to Yosefa for sending this clip to me

One thing that does not amuse Pollyanna is the content of many talkbacks.  In particular, she shares XKCD's opinion of comments on YouTube films:

Since Gene Weingarten has remained silent for a while, I can only update you on American politics with some theology from Rick Perry  and a disclaimer from God re Pat Robertson as delivered to us by our guru Andy Borowitz.  As you may know, Robertson says it is OK to divorce a spouse with Alzheimer's disease. That is not amusing at all.

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