Posts Tagged ‘ Science ’

Reluctance to Let Go

Sean Carroll in Cosmic Variance:

There’s a movement afoot to frame science/religion discussions in such a way that those of who believe that the two are incompatible are labeled as extremists who can be safely excluded from grownup discussions about the issue. It’s somewhat insulting — to be told that people like you are incapable of conducting thoughtful, productive conversations with others — and certainly blatantly false as an empirical matter — I’ve both participated in and witnessed numerous such conversations that were extremely substantive and well-received. It’s also a bit worrisome, since whether a certain view is “true” or “false” seems to take a back seat to whether it is “moderate” or “extreme.” But people are welcome to engage or not with whatever views they choose.

What troubles me is how much our cultural conversation is being impoverished by a reluctance to face up to reality. In many ways the situation is parallel to the discussion about global climate change. In the real world, our climate is being affected in dramatic ways by things that human beings are doing. We really need to be talking about serious approaches to this problem; there are many factors to be taken into consideration, and the right course of action is far from obvious. Instead, it’s impossible to broach the subject in a public forum without being forced to deal with people who simply refuse to accept the data, and cling desperately to the idea that the Earth’s atmosphere isn’t getting any warmer, or it’s just sunspots, or warmth is a good thing, or whatever. Of course, the real questions are being addressed by some people; but in the public domain the discussion is blatantly distorted by the necessity of dealing with the deniers. As a result, the interested but non-expert public receives a wildly inaccurate impression of what the real issues are.

Over the last four hundred or so years, human beings have achieved something truly amazing: we understand the basic rules governing the operation of the world around us. Everything we see in our everyday lives is simply a combination of three particles — protons, neutrons, and electrons — interacting through three forces — gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong nuclear force. That is it; there are no other forms of matter needed to describe what we see, and no other forces that affect how they interact in any noticeable way. And we know what those interactions are, and how they work. Of course there are plenty of things we don’t know — there are additional elementary particles, dark matter and dark energy, mysteries of quantum gravity, and so on. But none of those is relevant to our everyday lives (unless you happen to be a professional physicist). As far as our immediate world is concerned, we know what the rules are. A staggeringly impressive accomplishment, that somehow remains uncommunicated to the overwhelming majority of educated human beings.

Read on

ISS Crew Captures Beautiful Image of Green Aurora Over the Indian Ocean

Ian O’Neil in Discovery News:

June 21, 2010 -- This spectacular photograph shows a snaking aurora over the Southern Hemisphere as the International Space Station (ISS) orbits overhead. It occurred during a geomagnetic storm, likely caused by a coronal mass ejection (CME) slamming into our planet's magnetosphere.

The ISS was passing over the Southern Indian Ocean at an altitude of 350 kilometers (or 220 miles) meaning this is the “aurora australis” — aurorae that occur near the South Pole. The aurora borealis occurs near the North Pole. The space station astronaut was pointing the camera toward Antarctica at the time.

Aurorae occur when energetic particles from the sun — carried by the solar wind or a solar ejection — flood into the Earth’s magnetic field. The particles (mainly protons) are then funneled into the polar regions, where the magnetic field lines feed into the Earth’s surface. As the particles fall toward the surface they hit atmospheric gasses. When they collide, light is emitted, producing aurorae.

In this case, the aurora is dominated with green light. This means the atmospheric oxygen is glowing under the onslaught of solar particles. The light show is most likely located between 100-300 kilometers (60-190 miles) up, inside the Earth’s ionosphere.

Image: Photograph from the ISS Crew Earth Observations experiment (NASA)

Science ends here

Nadeem F. Paracha in Dawn:

Ever since the late French physician, Maurice Bucaille — on a hefty payroll of the Saudi royal family in Riyadh — wrote Islam, Bible & Science (1976), many believe that ‘proving’ scientific truths from holy books has been the exclusive domain of Muslims. However, in spite of being impressed by the holy book’s ‘scientific wonders’, Bucaille remained a committed Christian.

Very few of my wide-eyed brethren know that long before Muslims, certain Hindu and Christian theologians had already laid claim to the practice of defining their respective holy books as metaphoric prophecies of scientifically proven phenomenon. They began doing so between the 18th and 19th centuries, whereas Muslims got into the act only in the 20th century.

Johannes Heinrich’s Scientific vindication of Christianity (1887) is one example, while Mohan Roy’s Vedic Physics: Scientific Origin of Hinduism (1999) is a good way of observing how this thought has evolved among followers of other faiths. It is interesting to note how a number of Muslim ‘scientists’ have laboured hard to come up with convoluted interpretations of certain scriptures. Ironically, their ancient counterparts, especially between the 8th and 13th centuries in Baghdad and Persia, had put all effort in trying to understand natural phenomena and the human body and mind through hardcore science and philosophy.

Those great men of Islamic antiquity weren’t over-reading into divine texts for scientific answers; instead, to them God’s command to reflect on nature and the world around them was enough to inspire them to become dedicated rational scientists and philosophers. They were celebrated not only by Muslims, but humanity at large for their scientific prowess.

But, alas, beginning around the early 1970s, with the collapse of a secular nationalist mindset in the Muslim world, and the rise in influence of totalitarian oil-rich puritanical monarchies, Muslim polities and mindset began to suspect science as a tool of western and communist social engineering and imperialism.

Read on