This symbol represents why I remain buoyed by the Internet. Knowledge and learning resurfaces in unexpected ways, and then catapults itself to our list of top blog posts after a two-year hiatus.
The string theorist S. James Gates wrote an article for Physics World titled "Symbols of Power: Adinkras and the Nature of Reality." Here he explains how research on a class of geometric symbols known as adinkras could lead to fresh insights into the theory of supersymmetry — and perhaps even the very nature of reality.
A thrilling, mind-bending view of the cosmos and of the human adventure of modern science. In a conversation ranging from free will to the meaning of the Higgs boson particle, Physicist Brian Greene suggests the deepest scientific realities are hidden from human senses and often defy our best intuition:
"To me, the question of whether there are three dimensions or 10 dimensions is so captivating that it does impact my desire to live. And again, I don’t mean that in some melodramatic sense. If tomorrow we established that there are three dimensions in space, I’m not going to sort of jump off the Empire State Building. But what I mean, is that these questions about the rock bottom structure of reality do inform my life. They are not esoteric scientific issues that I leave in the office when I go home at night."
So many interesting things to chew on here:
- Married people are 10% happier than unmarried people, but having a child reduces happiness by one-quarter of 1% on average. Hmmm… doing the math (tapping finger on temple).
- Happiness is maximized at, get this, 57 degrees Fahrenheit. Current outside temperature in Minneapolis is -11 degrees Fahrenheit. Do they even do studies measuring people’s happiness at negative temps?
- If 94% of people in Iceland say they are happy and the warmest day of the year on average is 57 degrees Fahrenheit, does happiness decrease at the same rate when the temperature increases or decreases by one percentage point?
- I’m writing this up at 2am because I can’t sleep. Would my questions be stated with more positive words if I read this infographic at 2pm?
- I’m way behind my 100 hours of service in the community. Time to get moving!
From the Tumblr desk of our executive editor trentgilliss.
It’s a constant theme these days: Where is technology taking us? Are we heading towards greatness, or just hyperconnected collapse? This challenge was foreseen a century ago by the Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
A world-renowned paleontologist, he helped verify fossil evidence of human evolution. As a French Jesuit priest and philosopher, he penned forbidden ideas that seemed mystical at the time but are now coming true — that humanity would develop capacities for collective, global intelligence; that a meaningful vision of the earth and the universe would have to include, as he put it, “the interior as well as the exterior of things; mind as well as matter.”
The coming stage of evolution, he said, won’t be driven by physical adaptation but by human consciousness, creativity, and spirit. It’s up to us. Some enlightening conversations about this man with Teilhard de Chardin biographer Ursula King, New York Times Dot Earth blogger Andrew Revkin, and evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson.
Read more and hear the unedited interviews for "Teilhard de Chardin’s ‘Planetary Mind’ and Our Spiritual Evolution" on the On Being website.
Some of the biggest philosophical and ethical questions of this century may be raised on scientific frontiers — as we gain a better understanding of the deep structure of space and time and the wilder “microworld.” Astrophysicist Martin Rees paints a fascinating picture of how we might be changed by what we do not yet know:
"If science teaches me anything, it teaches me that even simple things like an atom are fairly hard to understand. And that makes me skeptical of anyone who claims to have the last word or complete understanding of any deep aspect of reality."
"Where did the thought of the Higgs boson come from? Does this particle exist only in our mind? Can it be manipulated by our thoughts? Is it possible that matter isn’t so much a thing as it is a perspective? If so, could it be that by changing this perspective we might discover that our essential nature isn’t matter-based after all?
Maybe the most important thing we have learned with the discovery of the Higgs boson is that there are a lot more questions to be answered and a lot more discoveries to be made – discoveries of both cosmic proportion and, perhaps more importantly, spiritual dimension.”
Read Eric Nelson’s full commentary on how the Nobel Prize for the “God Particle” discovery prompts deeper questions about ourselves.
Photo by Rene Passet
You will not believe how the pediatric neuro-oncologist uses the venom from a scorpion’s sting to paint the malignant tumors in children’s brains and lymphatic systems. And, in the process, tap the human spirit.
"Inside the brain it is very difficult to tell the difference between normal brain and cancer. It’s all about millimeters. You’re a millimeter off, take a few grams of tissue that belong safely in the brain, then the patients wake up not as perfect as when they went into the surgery."
To solve this problem, Dr. Olson looked to the natural world. He found his answer in an unlikely candidate: the Israeli Deathstalker scorpion. which has the most powerful venom of any scorpion. The Deathstalker’s venom contains chlorotoxin, a peptide that attaches to certain brain cancer cells while leaving surrounding healthy cells untouched.
Pair this targeting peptide with a fluorescent dye (a beacon) and Dr. Olson came up with“tumor paint.” This method of lighting up cancer cells is 100,000 times more sensitive than an MRI in detecting cancer cells. And, more importantly, the tumor paint shows surgeons precisely what to cut out while leaving healthy cells in place.
We’re fascinated with outer space, but there’s a place on earth that’s just as alien — and just as mysterious. It’s the bottom of the ocean, and Sylvia Earle has walked there:
"[I walked] on the bottom, two and a half hours, and I later spoke with an astronaut friend, Buzz Aldrin, and he said, ‘Well, that’s about as long as we had to walk on the moon, two and a half hours.’ But what they did not have on the moon, Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong and those who came later, they didn’t have just this avalanche of life, this great diversity all around. Everywhere you looked, there were little fish with lights down the side. Of course, the corals themselves are alive. There were little burrows of creatures that were dwelling in the sediments on the sea floor. The water itself is like minestrone, except all the little bits are alive."
And that life of the ocean sustains all life on earth. Sylvia Earle takes us there with singular urgency and passion.
I kind of think of this interview as a show for those of us on summer holiday. As you’re driving or hiking or sailing, geomorphologist David Montgomery helps you see the world around you differently — through the lens of geology. As I was driving through the Black Hills (Paha Sapa in Lakota) of South Dakota this past week, I looked at the canted rock formations differently. And I found a deeper appreciation for the push and pull between religion and science has shaped advances in geology from the beginning.
And, if you’re looking for some good dinner table conversation, you really ought to listen to David Montgomery talk about how Noah’s Flood might actually be rooted in an historical event — of the Mediterranean rising so high that it spilt over into the valley of the Black Sea. Or, my favorite line: plate tectonics is to geology what DNA is to biology.
Montgomery tells us how the evolution of landscapes and geological processes shape ecology and humanity, and , how we should read rocks for the stories they tell about who we are and where we came from:
"Geology really is, essentially, the scientific creation story. How did it really work? What can we tell from the nature of the universe around us that would inform us in our thinking about how we got to the place we are now? I think that really is central to our sort of view of ourselves as a species, our place in the universe, as well as sort of your personal relationship to the universe. What am I doing here?"
This 1944 infographic on electromagnetic radiation makes your chart of electromagnetic radiation invalid.
Courtesy of the fine folks at Lawrence Livermore, you can tour the 10,000 x 6,958 pixel version to your heart’s content. Do it. You can’t overdose on this kind of cool.
Best thing since the XKCD radiation dose infographic.