Archive for March, 2013

March 31, 2013

The illustrated guide to a Ph.D.

Source: The illustrated guide to a Ph.D.

Every fall, I explain to a fresh batch of Ph.D. students what a Ph.D. is. It’s hard to describe it in words. So, I use pictures.

Read below for the illustrated guide to a Ph.D.

Imagine a circle that contains all of human knowledge:

By the time you finish elementary school, you know a little:

By the time you finish high school, you know a bit more:

With a bachelor’s degree, you gain a specialty:

A master’s degree deepens that specialty:

Reading research papers takes you to the edge of human knowledge:

Once you’re at the boundary, you focus:

You push at the boundary for a few years:

Until one day, the boundary gives way:

And, that dent you’ve made is called a Ph.D.:

Of course, the world looks different to you now:

So, don’t forget the bigger picture:

Keep pushing…

March 31, 2013

A & B -Theories of Time

There are two distinct modes in which all events can be ordered in time.

A-Theory of Time (tensed theory)

Events (or times) are ordered by way of the non-relational singular predicates “is past”, “is present” and “is future”, normally indicated in natural languages such as English grammar. The essential characteristic of this descriptive modality is that one must think of the series of temporal positions as being in continual transformation, in the sense that an event is first part of the future, then part of the present, and then past.  It is A-Theory: time repeating itself.

Presentism is an extreme form of the A-theory. Analogous to actualism in modal metaphysics, it is the doctrine that all reality is confined to the present – that past and future things simply do not exist, and that all quantified statements that seem to carry commitment to past or future things are either false or susceptible of paraphrase into statements that avoid the implication.

B-Theory of Time (tenseless theory)

Events may be described as earlier than, simultaneous with, or later than others. It is B-Theory: where past, present and future all co-exist simultaneously. B-theorists believe that the past, the present, and the future are equally real.

Theory-B was contemplated as a way for time to fit the Theory of Relativity and the theory of Quantum Mechanics, which both have problems with the apparently linear nature of time.

March 30, 2013

16 Tons Lyrics

(originally by Merle Travis)

Some people say a man is made outta’ mud
A poor man’s made outta’ muscle and blood
Muscle and blood and skin and bones
A mind that’s a-weak and a back that’s strong

You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go
I owe my soul to the company store

I was born one mornin’ when the sun didn’t shine
I picked up my shovel and I walked to the mine
I loaded sixteen tons of number 9 coal
And the store boss said “Well, a-bless my soul”

You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter, don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go
I owe my soul to the company store

I was born one mornin’, it was drizzlin’ rain
Fightin’ and trouble are my middle name
I was raised in the canebrake by an ol’ mama lion
Cain’t no-a high-toned woman make me walk the line

You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter, don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go
I owe my soul to the company store

If you see me comin’, better step aside
A lotta men didn’t, a lotta men died
One fist of iron, the other of steel
If the right one don’t a-get you, then the left one will

You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter, don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go
I owe my soul to the company store.


Watch Tennessee Ernie Ford videos on

March 30, 2013

The Biocentric Universe Theory: Life Creates Time, Space, and the Cosmos Itself

Original Link: The Biocentric Universe Theory: Life Creates Time, Space, and the Cosmos Itself

Stem-cell guru Robert Lanza presents a radical new view of the universe and everything in it.


The farther we peer into space, the more we realize that the nature of the universe cannot be understood fully by inspecting spiral galaxies or watching distant supernovas. It lies deeper. It involves our very selves.

This insight snapped into focus one day while one of us (Lanza) was walking through the woods. Looking up, he saw a huge golden orb web spider tethered to the overhead boughs. There the creature sat on a single thread, reaching out across its web to detect the vibrations of a trapped insect struggling to escape. The spider surveyed its universe, but everything beyond that gossamer pinwheel was incomprehensible. The human observer seemed as far-off to the spider as telescopic objects seem to us. Yet there was something kindred: We humans, too, lie at the heart of a great web of space and time whose threads are connected according to laws that dwell in our minds.

Is the web possible without the spider? Are space and time physical objects that would continue to exist even if living creatures were removed from the scene?

Figuring out the nature of the real world has obsessed scientists and philosophers for millennia. Three hundred years ago, the Irish empiricist George Berkeley contributed a particularly prescient observation: The only thing we can perceive are our perceptions. In other words, consciousness is the matrix upon which the cosmos is apprehended. Color, sound, temperature, and the like exist only as perceptions in our head, not as absolute essences. In the broadest sense, we cannot be sure of an outside universe at all.

For centuries, scientists regarded Berkeley’s argument as a philosophical sideshow and continued to build physical models based on the assumption of a separate universe “out there” into which we have each individually arrived. These models presume the existence of one essential reality that prevails with us or without us. Yet since the 1920s, quantum physics experiments have routinely shown the opposite: Results do depend on whether anyone is observing. This is perhaps most vividly illustrated by the famous two-slit experiment. When someone watches a subatomic particle or a bit of light pass through the slits, the particle behaves like a bullet, passing through one hole or the other. But if no one observes the particle, it exhibits the behavior of a wave that can inhabit all possibilities—including somehow passing through both holes at the same time.

Some of the greatest physicists have described these results as so confounding they are impossible to comprehend fully, beyond the reach of metaphor, visualization, and language itself. But there is another interpretation that makes them sensible. Instead of assuming a reality that predates life and even creates it, we propose a biocentric picture of reality. From this point of view, life—particularly consciousness—creates the universe, and the universe could not exist without us.

Quantum mechanics is the physicist’s most accurate model for describing the world of the atom. But it also makes some of the most persuasive arguments that conscious perception is integral to the workings of the universe. Quantum theory tells us that an unobserved small object (for instance, an electron or a photon—a particle of light) exists only in a blurry, unpredictable state, with no well-defined location or motion until the moment it is observed. This is  Werner Heisenberg’s famous uncertainty principle. Physicists describe the phantom, not-yet-manifest condition as a wave function, a mathematical expression used to find the probability that a particle will appear in any given place. When a property of an electron suddenly switches from possibility to reality, some physicists say its wave function has collapsed.

What accomplishes this collapse? Messing with it. Hitting it with a bit of light in order to take its picture. Just looking at it does the job. Experiments suggest that mere knowledge in the experimenter’s mind is sufficient to collapse a wave function and convert possibility to reality. When particles are created as a pair—for instance, two electrons in a single atom that move or spin together—physicists call them entangled. Due to their intimate connection, entangled particles share a wave function. When we measure one particle and thus collapse its wave function, the other particle’s wave function instantaneously collapses too. If one photon is observed to have a vertical polarization (its waves all moving in one plane), the act of observation causes the other to instantly go from being an indefinite probability wave to an actual photon with the opposite, horizontal polarity—even if the two photons have since moved far from each other.

In 1997 University of Geneva physicist Nicolas Gisin sent two entangled photons zooming along optical fibers until they were seven miles apart. One photon then hit a two-way mirror where it had a choice: either bounce off or go through. Detectors recorded what it randomly did. But whatever action it took, its entangled twin always performed the complementary action. The communication between the two happened at least 10,000 times faster than the speed of light. It seems that quantum news travels instantaneously, limited by no external constraints—not even the speed of light. Since then, other researchers have duplicated and refined Gisin’s work. Today no one questions the immediate nature of this connectedness between bits of light or matter, or even entire clusters of atoms.

Before these experiments most physicists believed in an objective, independent universe. They still clung to the assumption that physical states exist in some absolute sense before they are measured.

All of this is now gone for keeps.

The strangeness of quantum reality is far from the only argument against the old model of reality. There is also the matter of the fine-tuning of the cosmos. Many fundamental traits, forces, and physical constants—like the charge of the electron or the strength of gravity—make it appear as if everything about the physical state of the universe were tailor-made for life. Some researchers call this revelation the Goldilocks principle, because the cosmos is not “too this” or “too that” but rather “just right” for life.

At the moment there are only four explanations for this mystery. The first two give us little to work with from a scientific perspective. One is simply to argue for incredible coincidence. Another is to say, “God did it,” which explains nothing even if it is true.

The third explanation invokes a concept called the anthropic principle,first articulated by Cambridge astrophysicist Brandon Carter in 1973. This principle holds that we must find the right conditions for life in our universe, because if such life did not exist, we would not be here to find those conditions. Some cosmologists have tried to wed the anthropic principle with the recent theories that suggest our universe is just one of a vast multitude of universes, each with its own physical laws. Through sheer numbers, then, it would not be surprising that one of these universes would have the right qualities for life. But so far there is no direct evidence whatsoever for other universes.

The final option is biocentrism, which holds that the universe is created by life and not the other way around. This is an explanation for and extension of the participatory anthropic principle described by the physicist John Wheeler, a disciple of Einstein’s who coined the termswormhole and black hole.

Even the most fundamental elements of physical reality, space and time, strongly support a biocentric basis for the cosmos.

According to biocentrism, time does not exist independently of the life that notices it. The reality of time has long been questioned by an odd alliance of philosophers and physicists. The former argue that the past exists only as ideas in the mind, which themselves are neuroelectrical events occurring strictly in the present moment. Physicists, for their part, note that all of their working models, from Isaac Newton’s laws through quantum mechanics, do not actually describe the nature of time. The real point is that no actual entity of time is needed, nor does it play a role in any of their equations. When they speak of time, they inevitably describe it in terms of change. But change is not the same thing as time.

To measure anything’s position precisely, at any given instant, is to lock in on one static frame of its motion, as in the frame of a film. Conversely, as soon as you observe a movement, you cannot isolate a frame, because motion is the summation of many frames. Sharpness in one parameter induces blurriness in the other. Imagine that you are watching a film of an archery tournament. An archer shoots and the arrow flies. The camera follows the arrow’s trajectory from the archer’s bow toward the target. Suddenly the projector stops on a single frame of a stilled arrow. You stare at the image of an arrow in midflight. The pause in the film enables you to know the position of the arrow with great accuracy, but you have lost all information about its momentum. In that frame it is going nowhere; its path and velocity are no longer known. Such fuzziness brings us back to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, which describes how measuring the location of a subatomic particle inherently blurs its momentum and vice versa.

All of this makes perfect sense from a biocentric perspective. Everything we perceive is actively and repeatedly being reconstructed inside our heads in an organized whirl of information. Time in this sense can be defined as the summation of spatial states occurring inside the mind. So what is real? If the next mental image is different from the last, then it is different, period. We can award that change with the word time, but that does not mean there is an actual invisible matrix in which changes occur. That is just our own way of making sense of things. We watch our loved ones age and die and assume that an external entity called time is responsible for the crime.

There is a peculiar intangibility to space, as well. We cannot pick it up and bring it to the laboratory. Like time, space is neither physical nor fundamentally real in our view. Rather, it is a mode of interpretation and understanding. It is part of an animal’s mental software that molds sensations into multidimensional objects.

Most of us still think like Newton, regarding space as sort of a vast container that has no walls. But our notion of space is false. Shall we count the ways? 1. Distances between objects mutate depending on conditions like gravity and velocity, as described by Einstein’s relativity, so that there is no absolute distance between anything and anything else. 2. Empty space, as described by quantum mechanics, is in fact not empty but full of potential particles and fields. 3. Quantum theory even casts doubt on the notion that distant objects are truly separated, since entangled particles can act in unison even if separated by the width of a galaxy.

In daily life, space and time are harmless illusions. A problem arises only because, by treating these as fundamental and independent things, science picks a completely wrong starting point for investigations into the nature of reality. Most researchers still believe they can build from one side of nature, the physical, without the other side, the living. By inclination and training these scientists are obsessed with mathematical descriptions of the world. If only, after leaving work, they would look out with equal seriousness over a pond and watch the schools of minnows rise to the surface. The fish, the ducks, and the cormorants, paddling out beyond the pads and the cattails, are all part of the greater answer.

Recent quantum studies help illustrate what a new biocentric science would look like. Just months ago, Nicolas Gisin announced a new twist on his entanglement experiment; in this case, he thinks the results could be visible to the naked eye. At the University of Vienna, Anton Zeilinger’s work with huge molecules called buckyballs pushes quantum reality closer to the macroscopic world. In an exciting extension of this work—proposed by Roger Penrose, the renowned Oxford physicist—not just light but a small mirror that reflects it becomes part of an entangled quantum system, one that is billions of times larger than a buckyball. If the proposed experiment ends up confirming Penrose’s idea, it would also confirm that quantum effects apply to human-scale objects.

Biocentrism should unlock the cages in which Western science has unwittingly confined itself. Allowing the observer into the equation should open new approaches to understanding cognition, from unraveling the nature of consciousness to developing thinking machines that experience the world the same way we do. Biocentrism should also provide stronger bases for solving problems associated with quantum physics and the Big Bang. Accepting space and time as forms of animal sense perception (that is, as biological), rather than as external physical objects, offers a new way of understanding everything from the microworld (for instance, the reason for strange results in the two-slit experiment) to the forces, constants, and laws that shape the universe. At a minimum, it should help halt such dead-end efforts as string theory.

Above all, biocentrism offers a more promising way to bring together all of physics, as scientists have been trying to do since Einstein’s unsuccessful unified field theories of eight decades ago. Until we recognize the essential role of biology, our attempts to truly unify the universe will remain a train to nowhere.

Adapted from Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness Are the Keys to Understanding the True

March 30, 2013

How Time Works

Original Link: How Time Works

Time is something that most of us take for granted. Have you ever thought about why, for example, there are 12 months in a year? Why are there 30 days in September? Why are there time zones and what’s with daylight-saving time? Why are there 86,400 seconds in a day?

Time’s Origins

Webster’s New World College Dictionary (Fourth Ed.) defines time as:

II. a period or interval. 1: the period between two events or during which something exists, happens or acts; measured or measurable interval

At its core, time is fairly elusive. We can’t see it or sense it — it just happens. Human beings have therefore come up with ways to measure time that are totally arbitrary and also fairly interesting from a historical perspective.

The day is an obvious starting point for time. A day consists of a period of sunlight followed by night. Our bodies are tuned in to this cycle through sleep, so each morning we wake up to a new day. No matter how primitive the culture, the concept of a day arises as an obvious and natural increment.

We use clocks to divide the day into smaller increments. We use calendars to group days together into larger increments. Both of these systems have very interesting origins that we’ll find out about in the course of this article.

Measuring Time 
The measurement of time covers an incredible range. Here are some common time spans, from the shortest to the longest.

  • 1 picosecond (one-trillionth of a second) – This is about the shortest period of time we can currently measure accurately.
  • 1 nanosecond (one-billionth of a second) – 2 to 4 nanoseconds is the length of time that a typical home computer spends executing one software instruction.
  • 1 microsecond (one-millionth of a second)
  • 1 millisecond (one-thousandth of a second) – This is the typical fastest time for the exposure of film in a normal camera. A picture taken in 1/1,000th of a second will usually stop all human motion.
  • 1 centisecond (one-hundredth of a second) – The length of time it takes for a stroke of lightning to strike
  • 1 decisecond (one-tenth of a second) – A blink of an eye
  • 1 second – An average person’s heart beats once each second.
  • 60 seconds – One minute; a long commercial
  • 2 minutes – About as long as a person can hold his or her breath
  • 5 minutes – About as long as anyone can stand waiting at a red light
  • 60 minutes – An hour; about as long as a person can sit in a classroom without glazing over
  • 8 hours – The typical workday in the United States, as well as the typical amount of sleep a person needs every night
  • 24 hours – One day; the amount of time it takes for the planet Earth to rotate one time on its axis
  • 7 days – One week
  • 40 days – About the longest a person can survive without food
  • 365.24 days – One year; the amount of time it takes for the planet Earth to complete one orbit around the sun
  • 10 years – One decade
  • 75 years – The typical life span for a human being
  • 5,000 years – The span of recorded history
  • 50,000 years – The length of time Homo sapiens has existed as a species
  • 65 million years – The length of time dinosaurs have been extinct
  • 200 million years – The length of time mammals have existed
  • 3.5 to 4 billion years – The length of time that life has existed on Earth
  • 4.5 billion years – The age of planet Earth
  • 10 to 15 billion years – The suspected age of the universe since the big bang



How long is a day?
It’s the amount of time it takes for the Earth to rotate one time on its axis. But how long does it take the Earth to rotate? That is where things become completely arbitrary. The world has decided to standardize on the following increments:

  • day consists of two 12-hour periods, for a total of 24 hours.
  • An hour consists of 60 minutes.
  • minute consists of 60 seconds.
  • Seconds are subdivided on a decimal system into things like “hundredths of a second” or “millionths of a second.”

That’s a pretty bizarre way to divide a day up. We divide it in half, then divide the halves by twelfths, then divide the twelfths into sixtieths, then divide by 60 again, and then convert to a decimal system for the smallest increments. It’s no wonder children have trouble learning how to tell time.

Why are there 24 hours in a day?
No one really knows. However, the tradition goes back a long way. Take, for example, this quote from Encyclopedia Britannica:

The earliest known sundial still preserved is an Egyptian shadow clock of green schist dating at least from the 8th century BC. It consists of a straight base with a raised crosspiece at one end. The base, on which is inscribed a scale of six time divisions, is placed in an east-west direction with the crosspiece at the east end in the morning and the west end in the afternoon. The shadow of the crosspiece on this base indicates the time. Clocks of this kind are still in use in primitive parts of Egypt.

The Babylonians seem to be the ones who started the six fetish, but it is not clear why.

Why are there 60 minutes in an hour and 60 seconds in a minute?
Again, it is unclear. It is known, however, that Egyptians once used a calendar that had 12 30-day months, giving them 360 days. This is believed to be the reason why we now divide circles into 360 degrees. Dividing 360 by 6 gives you 60, and 60 is also a base number in the Babylonian math system.

What do a.m. and p.m. mean?
These abbreviations stand for ante meridiem, before midday, and post meridiem, after midday, and they are a Roman invention. According to Daniel Boorstin in his book The Discoverers, this simple division of the day into two parts was the Romans’ first increment of time within a day:

Even at the end of the fourth century B.C., the Romans formally divided their day into only two parts: a.m. and p.m. An assistant to the consul was assigned to notice when the sun crossed the meridian, and to announce it in the Forum, since lawyers had to appear in the courts before noon.

Modern man bases time on the second. A day is defined as 86,400 seconds, and a second is officially defined as 9,192,631,770 oscillations of a cesium-133 atom in an atomic clock.

Time Zones

Everyone on the planet wants the sun to be at its highest point in the sky (crossing the meridian) at noon. If there were just one time zone, this would be impossible because the Earth rotates 15 degrees every hour. The idea behind multiple time zones is to divide the world into 24 15-degree slices and set the clocks accordingly in each zone. All of the people in a given zone set their clocks the same way, and each zone is one hour different from the next.

In the continental United States there are four time zones (click here for a map): Eastern, Central, Mountain and Pacific. When it is noon in the Eastern time zone, it is 11 a.m. in the Central time zone, 10 a.m. in the Mountain time zone and 9 a.m. in the Pacific time zone.

All time zones are measured from a starting point centered at England’s Greenwich Observatory. This point is known as the Greenwich Meridian or the Prime Meridian. Time at the Greenwich Meridian is known as Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) or Universal Time. The Eastern time zone in the United States is designated as GMT minus five hours. When it is noon in the Eastern Time zone, it is 5 p.m. at the Greenwich Observatory. The International Date Line (IDL) is located on the opposite side of the planet from the Greenwich Observatory.

Why is the Greenwich Observatory such a big deal? A bunch of astronomers declared the Greenwich Observatory to be the prime meridian at an 1884 conference. What’s funny is that the observatory moved to Sussex in the 1950s, but the original site remains the prime meridian.

Daylight-saving Time

During World War I, many countries started adjusting their clocks during part of the year. The idea was to try to adjust daylight hours in the summer to more closely match the hours that people are awake. During World War I, the goal was to conserve fuel by lowering the need for artificial light.

To observe DST, clocks are advanced one hour in the spring and moved back one hour in the fall (“spring forward, fall back” is a phrase many people use to remember this). You lose an hour in the spring and get it back in the fall.

During the winter, the United States is on standard time. During the summer, the United States is on daylight-saving time. Even though it’s an act of Congress, some states (like Arizona) ignore it and don’t have daylight-saving time. They are on standard time all year.

The Calendar: Years

As mentioned earlier, the day is an obvious unit of time for people. But what about weeks, months and years?

Years are fairly straightforward. Man created the concept of a year because seasons repeat on a yearly basis. The ability to predict seasons is essential to life if you are planting crops or trying to prepare for winter. Most plants sprout and bear fruit on a yearly schedule, so it’s a natural increment.

A year is defined as the amount of time it takes for the Earth to orbit the sun one time. It takes about 365 days to do that. If you measure the exact amount of time it takes for the Earth to orbit the sun, the number is actually 365.242199 days (according to Encyclopedia Britannica). By adding one extra day to every fourth year, we get an average of 365.25 days per year, which is fairly close to the actual number. This is why we have leap years that are one day longer than normal years.

To get even closer to the actual number, every 100 years is not a leap year, but every 400 years is a leap year. Putting all of these rules together, you can see that a year is a leap year not only if it is divisible by 4 — it also has to be divisible by 400 if it is a centurial year. So 1700, 1800 and 1900 were not leap years, but 2000 was. That brings the average length of the year to 365.2425 days, which is even closer to the actual number.

The problem with the concept of a year is that it is hard to determine the exact length of a year unless your society has fairly good astronomers. Many cultures that lacked astronomers relied on the cycles of the moon instead. A moon cycle lasts approximately 29.5 days (29.530588 days is the exact number), and it is easy for almost anyone to track the moon’s cycle simply by looking at the sky every night.

The Calendar: Months

The moon is where the concept of a month comes from. Many cultures used months whose lengths were 29 or 30 days (or some alternation) to chop up a year into increments. The main problem with this sort of system is that moon cycles, at 29.5 days, do not divide evenly into the 365.25 days of a year.

When you look at the modern calendar, the months are extremely confusing. One has 28 or 29 days, some have 30 days and the rest have 31 days. According to the “World Book Encyclopedia,” here is how we got such a funny calendar:

  • The Romans started with a 10-month calendar in 738 B.C., borrowing from the Greeks. The months in the original Roman calendar were Martius, Aprilis, Maius, Junius, Quintilis, Sextilis, September, October, November and December. The names Quintilis through December come from the Roman names for five, six, seven, eight, nine and 10. This calendar left 60 or so days unaccounted for.
  • The months Januarius and Februarius were later added to the end of the year to account for the 60 spare days.
  • In 46 B.C., Julius Caesar changed the calendar. Ignoring the moon but keeping the existing 12 month’s names, the year was divided into 12 months having 30 or 31 days, except Februarius at the end with 29 days. Every fourth year, Februarius gained an extra day. Later, he decided to make Januarius the first month instead of Martius, making Februarius the second month, which explains why leap day is at such a funny point in the year.
  • After Julius’ untimely death, the Romans renamed Quintilis in his honor, hence July.
  • Similarly, Sextilis was renamed to honor Augustus, hence August. Augustus also moved a day from Februarius to Augustus so that it would have the same number of days as Julius.

This little history explains why we have 12 months, why the months have the number of days they have, why leap day falls at such an odd time and why the months have such funny names.

What about weeks? Days, months and years all have a natural basis, but weeks do not. They come straight out of the Bible:

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt though labor, and do all thy work but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God. (Exodus 20:8)

This fourth commandment, of course, echoes the creation story in Genesis.

The Romans gave names to the days of the week based on the sun, the moon and the names of the five planets known to the Romans:

  • Sun
  • Moon
  • Mars
  • Mercury
  • Jupiter
  • Venus
  • Saturn

These names actually carried through to European languages fairly closely, and in English the names of Sunday, Monday and Saturday made it straight through. The other four names in English were replaced with names from Anglo-Saxon gods. According to Encyclopedia Britannica:

Tuesday comes from Tiu, or Tiw, the Anglo-Saxon name for Tyr, the Norse god of war. Tyr was one of the sons of Odin, or Woden, the supreme deity after whom Wednesday was named. Similarly, Thursday originates from Thor’s-day, named in honour of Thor, the god of thunder. Friday was derived from Frigg’s-day, Frigg, the wife of Odin, representing love and beauty, in Norse mythology.

B.C. and A.D.

In the modern calendar, we label all years with B.C. (before Christ) or A.D. (anno domini, or “in the year of our lord”). There is no “zero” year — in this system, the year Christ was born is 1 A.D., and the year preceding it is 1 B.C.

This practice was first suggested in the sixth century A.D., and was adopted by the pope of that time. It took quite a while for it to become a worldwide standard, however. Russia and Turkey, for example, did not convert to the modern calendar and year scheme until the 20th century.

One interesting side note: Because of a variety of changes and adjustments made to the calendar during the middle ages, it turns out that Jesus was most likely born in what we now think of as 6 B.C., and likely lived until 30 A.D.

Besides B.C. and A.D., some people use B.C.E. (for “before common era”) and C.E. (for “common era”).

March 30, 2013

The Human Brain

Origin of information:Top 10 Myths About the Brain

The brain is one of the most amazing organs in the human body. It controls our central nervous system, keeping us walking, talking, breathing and thinking. The brain is also incredibly complex, comprising around 100 billion neurons. There’s so much going on with the brain that there are several different fields of medicine and science devoted to treating and studying it, including neurology, which treats physical disorders of the brain; psychology, which includes the study of behavior and mental processes; and psychiatry, which treats mental illnesses and disorders. Some aspects of each tend to overlap, and other fields cross into study of the brain as well.
Many animals can use their brains to do some of the things that humans can do, such as finding creative ways to solve problems, exhibiting self-awareness, showing empathy toward others and learning how to use tools. But although scientists can’t agree on a single definition of what makes a person intelligent, they do generally agree that humans are the most intelligent creatures on Earth. In our “bigger is better” society, then, it might stand to reason that humans should have the biggest brains of all animals, because we’re the smartest. Well, not exactly.
The average adult human brain weighs about 3 pounds (1,361 grams). The dolphin — a very intelligent animal — also has a brain that weighs about 3 pounds on average. But a sperm whale, not generally considered to be as intelligent as a dolphin, has a brain that weighs about 17 pounds (7,800 grams). On the small end of the scale, a beagle’s brain is about 2.5 ounces (72 grams), and an orangutan’s brain is about 13 ounces (370 grams). Both dogs and orangutans are pretty smart animals, but they have small brains. A bird like a sparrow has a brain that weighs less than half an ounce (1 gram).
You may notice something important in all of those comparisons. An average dolphin’s body weighs about 350 pounds (158.8 kilograms), while a sperm whale can weigh as much as 13 tons. In general, the larger the animal, the larger the skull, and therefore, the larger the brain. Beagles are fairly small dogs, at about 25 pounds (11.3 kg) maximum, so it stands to reason that their brains would also be smaller. The relationship between brain size and intelligence isn’t really about the actual weight of the brain; it’s about the ratio of brain weight to the entire body weight. For humans, that ratio is about 1-to-50. For most other mammals, it’s 1-to-180, and for birds, it’s 1-to-220. The brain takes up more weight in a human than it does in other animals.
Intelligence also has to do with the different components of the brain. Mammals have very large cerebral cortexes, unlike birds, fish or reptiles. The cerebellum in mammals houses the cerebral hemispheres, which are responsible for higher functions like memory, communication and thinking. Humans have the largest cerebral cortex of all mammals, relative to the size of their brains.

March 30, 2013

What exactly is the Higgs boson?

Original Link: What exactly is the Higgs boson?


Particle physics usually has a hard time competing with politics and celebrity gossip for headlines, but the Higgs boson has garnered some serious attention. That’s exactly what happened on July 4, 2012, though, when scientists at CERN announced that they’d found a particle that behaved the way they expect the Higgs boson to behave. Maybe the famed boson’s grand and controversial nickname, the “God Particle,” has kept media outlets buzzing. Then again, the intriguing possibility that the Higgs boson is responsible for all the mass in the universe rather captures the imagination, too. Or perhaps we’re simply excited to learn more about our world, and we know that if the Higgs boson does exist, we’ll unravel the mystery a little more.
In order to truly understand what the Higgs boson is, however, we need to examine one of the most prominent theories describing the way the cosmos works: the standard model. The model comes to us by way of particle physics, a field filled with physicists dedicated to reducing our complicated universe to its most basic building blocks. It’s a challenge we’ve been tackling for centuries, and we’ve made a lot of progress. First we discovered atoms, then protons, neutrons and electrons, and finally quarks and leptons (more on those later). But the universe doesn’t only contain matter; it also contains forces that act upon that matter. The standard model has given us more insight into the types of matter and forces than perhaps any other theory we have.
Here’s the gist of the standard model, which was developed in the early 1970s: Our entire universe is made of 12 different matter particles and four forces . Among those 12 particles, you’ll encounter six quarks and six leptons. Quarks make up protons and neutrons, while members of the lepton family include the electron and the electron neutrino, its neutrally charged counterpart. Scientists think that leptons and quarks are indivisible; that you can’t break them apart into smaller particles. Along with all those particles, the standard model also acknowledges four forces: gravity, electromagnetic, strong and weak.
As theories go, the standard model has been very effective, aside from its failure to fit in gravity. Armed with it, physicists have predicted the existence of certain particles years before they were verified empirically. Unfortunately, the model still has another missing piece — the Higgs boson. What is it, and why is it necessary for the universe the standard model describes to work? Let’s find out.

Higgs Boson: The Final Piece of the Puzzle
As it turns out, scientists think each one of those four fundamental forces has a corresponding carrier particle, or boson, that acts upon matter. That’s a hard concept to grasp. We tend to think of forces as mysterious, ethereal things that straddle the line between existence and nothingness, but in reality, they’re as real as matter itself.
Some physicists have described bosons as weights anchored by mysterious rubber bands to the matter particles that generate them. Using this analogy, we can think of the particles constantly snapping back out of existence in an instant and yet equally capable of getting entangled with other rubber bands attached to other bosons (and imparting force in the process).
Scientists think each of the four fundamental ones has its own specific bosons. Electromagnetic fields, for instance, depend on the photon to transit electromagnetic force to matter. Physicists think the Higgs boson might have a similar function — but transferring mass itself.
Can’t matter just inherently have mass without the Higgs boson confusing things? Not according to the standard model. But physicists have found a solution. What if all particles have no inherent mass, but instead gain mass by passing through a field? This field, known as a Higgs field, could affect different particles in different ways. Photons could slide through unaffected, while W and Z bosons would get bogged down with mass. In fact, assuming the Higgs boson exists, everything that has mass gets it by interacting with the all-powerful Higgs field, which occupies the entire universe. Like the other fields covered by the standard model, the Higgs one would need a carrier particle to affect other particles, and that particle is known as the Higgs boson.
On July 4, 2012, scientists working with the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) announced their discovery of a particle that behaves the way the Higgs boson should behave. The results, while published with a high degree of certainty, are still somewhat preliminary. Some researchers are calling the particle “Higgslike” until the findings — and the data — stand up to more scrutiny. Regardless, this finding could usher in a period of rapid discovery about our universe.

March 30, 2013

Who Are We? Experiments Suggest You’re Not Who You Think

This article is taken from: Who Are We? Experiments Suggest You’re Not Who You Think

“Who in the world am I?” asked Alice (in Wonderland). “Ah, that’s the great puzzle!” The question may make you wonder about taking time to ponder such philosophical babble. The answer is usually defined by what you can control. A reply might be, “I can wiggle my toes but I can’t move the legs of the table.” The dividing line between self and nonself is taken to be the skin. This is reinforced every day of our lives — every time you fill out a form: I am ___ (your name here). It’s such an integral part of our lives that the question is as unnatural as scrutinizing breathing.

Years ago I published an experiment (Science, 212, 695, 1981) with Harvard psychologist B.F. Skinner (the “father” of modern behaviorism) showing that like us, animals are capable of ‘self-awareness.’ We taught pigeons to use a mirror to locate a spot on their body which they couldn’t see directly. Although similar behavior in primates is attributed to a self-concept, it’s clear there are different degrees of self-awareness. For instance, we didn’t report in our paper that the pigeons attacked their own reflection in the mirror. Biocentrism suggests we humans may be as oblivious to certain aspects of who we are as the pigeons.

We are more than we’ve been taught in biology class. Everyday life makes this obvious. Last weekend I set out on a walk. There was a roar of dirt bikes from the nearby sandpit, but as I went further into the forest the sound gradually disappeared. In a clearing I noticed sprays of tiny flowers (Houstonia caerulea) dotting the ground. I squatted down to examine them. They were about a quarter-of-an-inch in diameter with yellow centers and petals ranging in color from white to deep purple. I was wondering why these flowers had such bright coloring, when I saw a fuzzy little creature with a body the size of a BB darting in and out of the flowers. Its wings were awkwardly large and beating so fast I could hardly see their outline. This tiny world was as wondrous as Pandora in Avatar. It took my breath away.

There we were, this fuzzy little creature and I, two living objects that had entered into each others’ world. It flew off to the next flower, and I, for my part, stepped back careful not to destroy its habitat. I wondered if our little interaction was any different from that of any other two objects in the Universe. Was this little insect just another collection of atoms — proteins and molecules spinning like planets around the sun?

It’s true that the laws of chemistry can tackle the rudimentary biology of living systems, and as a medical doctor I can recite in detail the chemical foundations and cellular organization of animal cells: oxidation, biophysical metabolism, all the carbohydrates, lipids and amino acid patterns. But there was more to this little bug than the sum of its biochemical functions. A full understanding of life can’t be found only by looking at cells and molecules. Conversely, physical existence can’t be divorced from the animal life and structures that coordinate sense perception and experience (even if these, too, have a physical correlate in our consciousness).

It seems likely that this creature was the center of its own sphere of physical reality just as I was the center of mine. We were connected not only by being alive at the same moment in Earth’s 4.5 billion year history, but by something suggestive – a pattern that’s a template for existence itself.

The bug had little eyes and antenna, and possessed sensory cells that transmitted messages to its brain. Perhaps my existence in its universe was limited to some shadow off in the distance. I don’t know. But as I stood up and left, I no doubt dispersed into the haze of probability surrounding the creature’s little world.

Science has failed to recognize those properties of life that make it fundamental to our existence. This view of the world in which life and consciousness are bottom-line in understanding the larger universe — biocentrism — revolves around the way our consciousness relates to a physical process. It’s a vast mystery that I’ve pursued my entire life with a lot of help along the way, standing on the shoulders of some of the most lauded minds of the modern age. I’ve also come to conclusions that would shock my predecessors, placing biology above the other sciences in an attempt to find the theory of everything that has evaded other disciplines.

We’re taught since childhood that the universe can be fundamentally divided into two entities — ourselves, and that which is outside of us. This seems logical. “Self” is commonly defined by what we can control. We can move our fingers but I can’t wiggle your toes. The dichotomy is based largely on manipulation, even if basic biology tells us we’ve no more control over most of the trillions of cells in our body than over a rock or a tree.

Consider everything that you see around you right now — this page, for example, or your hands and fingers. Language and custom say that it all lies outside us in the external world. Yet we can’t see anything through the vault of bone that surrounds our brain. Everything you see and experience — your body, the trees and sky — are part of an active process occurring in your mind. You are this process, not just that tiny part you control with motor neurons.

You’re not an object — you are your consciousness. You’re a unified being, not just your wriggling arm or foot, but part of a larger equation that includes all the colors, sensations and objects you perceive. If you divorce one side of the equation from the other you cease to exist. Indeed, experiments confirm that particles only exist with real properties if they’re observed. Until the mind sets the scaffolding of things in place, they can’t be thought of as having any real existence — neither duration nor position in space. As the great physicist John Wheeler said, “No phenomenon is a real phenomenon until it is an observed phenomenon.” That’s why in real experiments, not just the properties of matter — but space and time themselves — depend on the observer. Your consciousness isn’t just part of the equation — the equation is you.

After she left the pool of tears, the Caterpillar asked Alice “‘Who are you?’ This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, ‘I—I hardly know, Sir…’” Perhaps the Hookah-Smoking caterpillar, sitting there on his mushroom, knew that this unusually short question was not only rude, but difficult indeed.

March 30, 2013


I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people going by
I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do
They’re really saying I love you.

I hear babies crying, I watch them grow
They’ll learn much more than I’ll never know
And I think to myself what a wonderful world
Yes I think to myself what a wonderful world.

“What a Wonderful World” is nice song written by Bob Thiele and George David Weiss. It was first recorded by Louis Armstrong and released as a single in 1967.

March 30, 2013

Why Does Life Exist?

This article is taken from:Why Does Life Exist?

For over 10,000 years we’ve looked to the sky and gods for answers. We’ve sent spacecraft to Mars and beyond, and continue to build even bigger machines to find the “God” particle. We’re like Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz,” who went on a long journey in search of the Wizard to get back home, only to find the answer was inside her all along.

In “2001: A Space Odyssey” astronauts are sent on a quest to Jupiter. At the end, David Bowman finds himself pulled into a tunnel of colored light — beyond space and time — to learn the secrets (but merely finds another riddle). Loren Eiseley, the great anthropologist, summed it up best:

“If the day comes when the slime of the laboratory for the first time crawls under man’s direction, we shall have great need of humbleness. It will be difficult for us to believe, in our pride of achievement, that the secret of life has slipped through our fingers and eludes us still. We will list all the chemicals and the reactions. The men who have become gods will pose austerely before the popping flashbulbs of news photographs, and there will be few to consider — so deep is the mind-set of an age — whether the desire to link life to matter may not have blinded us to the more remarkable characteristics of both.”

Steven Weinberg, who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1979, concedes in his book “Dreams of a Final Theory” that there’s a problem with consciousness, and despite the power of physical theory, the existence of consciousness doesn’t seem derivable from physical laws.

When asked if he believed in God, even Einstein replied “There must be something behind the energy.” According to biocentrism, that something is the human (or animal) mind. It’s you, the observer, who collapses reality. Consciousness is one side of the equation, and matter and energy the other. In these days of experiment and disconnected theory, one point seems certain: the nature of the universe can’t be divorced from the nature of life itself. If they’re split, the reality is gone.

“It will remain remarkable,” said Nobel physicist Eugene Wigner, “in whatever way our future concepts may develop, that the very study of the external world led to the conclusion that the content of the consciousness is an ultimate reality.”

Here is the universe: our sense organs perceive atoms and galaxies to some 14 billion light-years, although we can’t see with the eye of reason that the world is for us animals merely a bundle of sensations unified by laws that exist in our understanding. We can’t see the laws upon which nature is built, from the intricate form of a seedpod to the periodicities of the planets and stars. We can’t see the laws that uphold the world, or that if they be removed, then the trees and the mountains, indeed the whole universe, would collapse to nothing.

In this world, only an act of observation can confer shape and form to reality — to a dandelion in a meadow, or a seed pod, or the sun or wind or rain. Anyway, it’s impressive, and your cat or dog can do it, too. And even the spider, there on her web, moored outside my window.

The answer to life and the universe can’t be found by looking through a microscope or inspecting spiral galaxies. It lies deeper. It involves our very selves. Our consciousness is why they exist. It unifies the thinking, extended worlds into a coherent experience and animates the music that creates our emotions and purposes — the good and the bad, wars and love. It doesn’t load the dice for you to play the game of life. True, there’s pain and strife everywhere. But as Will Durant pointed out, we need to see “behind the strife, the friendly aid of neighbors, the rollicking joy of children and young men, the dances of vivacious girls, the willing sacrifices of parents and lovers, the patient bounty of the soil, and the renaissance of spring.”

In whatever form it takes, life sings because it has a song. The meaning is in the lyrics.