Posts Tagged ‘science’

A Quick Scientific Limerick :)

March 30, 2010

Here’s one way I can show my  love for science and poetry. 🙂 I’m quite sure a lot of you guys out there can also think of your own science, math, or any other limerick under the freethinking Sun no? :)

There was a guy named Schroedinger

who was quite an exceptional thinker

He posited that

there’d either be a dead or live cat

Even before you laid down a finger

(to appreciate my limerick even more, here’s a good reference on Schroedinger’s cat) 🙂

And I don’t want to leave another favorite subject of mine (among others) without its own limerick. ;)

Newton discovered calculus

So did Leibniz, plus its use

There was some dispute

on who’d bring the discoverer’s loot

But Isaac won over a ruse.

(to appreciate my math limerick, please see the Wikipedia article on the Calculus discovery controversy) 🙂

Short review on ‘The Big Bang Theory’ episode ‘The Einstein Approximation’

February 3, 2010

Warning: For those who haven’t seen this episode, spoiler alert!

This is the first, and hopefully won’t be the last, of a series of short reviews I’ll try doing each week for ‘The Big Bang Theory’.

This week The Big Bang Theory (TBBT) episode ‘The Einstein Approximation’ came out,  and is the 14th episode of the show’s 3rd season.
Let me just start this quick and short review of the episode by further stating what the guys there and I have in common, apart from the quite obvious facts that we’re all geeks/nerds by heart.
Even before TBBT, I’ve admired and idolized Einstein myself, because of his great mental feats (which were of course, backed up by other physical theories and experiments at his time). Great because by just the power of his mind Einstein was able to revolutionize our lives and the 20th century, paving ways for faster transportation, not to mention telecommunication and computing, which drove and is still driving the information revolution today. And of course, so much more benefits which we more or less take for granted in our daily lives. In fact, Einstein is oftentimes synonymous with the word ‘genius’.
Einstein was also very much interested in philosophy and politics, not just physics. He’s written several books, articles, letters to people outside the scientific community. He also has a quirky sense of humor, as seen from this  picture of him. At first I thought this photo of Einstein was edited. But as it turns out it was really him, tongue hanging out and all. 🙂 It was at the time he was making fun of people taking pictures of him. Great stuff.

Silly Einstein
Of course Einstein is not without criticisms. Great and accomplished a scientist he maybe, history tells us he left much to be desired when it came to being a father or a husband.

Now, back to the episode review of TBBT. At this point I shall establish a partially objective, partially subjective point system of each episode based on the earlier 2 seasons (which I have watched at least 2 times…).
Let me just start off by saying this is a classic Sheldon episode, which is great in itself. Again we expected lots of ‘weird’ humor: Sheldon’s ability to complicate relatively simple things, as well as him belittling his friends, most noticeably Penny. Hilarious stuff once again. Bravo to TBBT production team.
Not a lot of scifi or comic book references were made though. But lines such as:

Howard: How long has he been stuck? (referring to Sheldon)
Leonard: Umm…intellectually about 30 hours, emotionally about 29 years.


Howard: Have you tried rebooting him? (referring to Sheldon)
Leonard: No I think it’s a firmware problem.

Are classics. 🙂

The part where Leonard and Sheldon were arguing inside the ‘ball play room’, with Sheldon going ‘bazinga’ everytime, was also hilarious.

Sheldon, and of course the rest of ‘the guys’ are fans of Einstein no doubt. Sheldon of course thinks he’s at the same level with Einstein so he tries to do what Einstein did in order to come at the epiphany that is the special theory of relativity: to work for a menial job so he can occupy his basal ganglia with a routine task so he can apparently free his pre-frontal cortex to solve his physics problem.

Another classic moment in this episode is the guest starring of Yeardley Smith, the not so well known voice actor behind the famous cartoon character Lisa Simpson (yes, in The Simpsons fame). Absolutely entertaining piece of the episode.

Another classic dialog is again with Sheldon and Penny:

Penny: What are you doing here?
Sheldon: A reasonable question. I asked myself, what is the most mind-numbing, pedestrian job conceivable? And 3 answers came to mind: toll booth attendant, an Apple Store “Genius”, and “What Penny does”. Now, since I don’t like touching other people’s coins, and I refuse to contribute to the devaluation of the word “genius”, here I am (meaning at the cheesecake factory).

Lines like these make me think of the real meaning and application of LOL. 🙂

I suppose myself and those guys, as well as the show’s production team, can’t help cracking jokes at Apple. 😀

Overall I’d give this episode the following scores:

* reference to sci-fi, comic books, and other geek/nerd pop culture: 6/10

* reference to physics and other fields of science: 9/10

* dialog humor factor: 9/10

* techie/technology factor: 8/10

which gives an overall score of: 8/10


Towards healthier skepticism: Correlation does not imply causation

October 9, 2009

This post will attempt to repeat, clarify, and elucidate the need for the remembrance and understanding of the phrase “correlation does not imply causation”. Scientific studies will be given, and the words in the phrase, which vary in meaning depending on usage, will be defined accordingly.

Scientific studies

Please take a moment to go through the following actual, summarized scientific research results:

1) In a previous scientific research using quantitative assessment, numerous epidemiological studies showed that women who were taking combined hormone replacement therapy (HRT) also had a lower-than-average incidence of coronary heart disease (CHD), leading doctors to propose that HRT was protective against CHD.

2) From a study at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, young children who sleep with the light on are much more likely to develop myopia in later life.

We will get back to them in a moment. Now we focus on correlation or co-relation, and why scientists, statisticians and skeptics, at the very least, should always maintain and promote the phrase “Correlation does not imply causation”.


Stephen Hawking, Theory of Everything, and Goedel’s Incompleteness theorem

April 13, 2008

This post has the following readability test scores:

Flesch Reading Ease: 63.63
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 8.00
Automated Readability Index: 9.00

For more info about readability tests, check out my post about those here.

Whew, it’s been a while since my last post. Work and a project (during and continuing till after the end of a semester) kept me really busy.

Anyway, this post is about the webpage containing prof. Stephen Hawking’s talk about his latest (AFAIK) stand on the search for the theory of everything, how Kurt Goedel’s incompleteness theorem/s influenced his opinion/view.

The speech in text format (1st reference link below), as you may immediately notice, is quite messy and seems to be unedited. I think that the speech laid out in the web page was just a speech-to-text conversion of prof. Hawking’s speech, which by the way you can download, so you can listen to his very iconic “electronic” voice. This speech-to-text conversion is quite evident I think since the starting letter of each sentence is not capitalized, and difficult words (at least for an American English speech-to-text program) such as Laplace (for the French mathematician) turn out to be spelled as Le-plass, which is what you would most probably get if you spoke into a speech-to-text synthesizer just like prof. Hawking’s.

As you may well know, a theory of everything (ToE) in physics aims to unify the four basic forces in the known universe, and which can, in theory, be used to predict anything that ever happened or will happen in the universe. My previous weblog post further clarifies this theory, or the search for it. I found the 1st reference link below when I Googled for “Stephen Hawking Theory of Everything”, hoping that I would be further enlightened about how the man labelled as “the brightest theoretical physicist since Albert Einstein” is going about searching for the ToE. I never expected that he would give up, in a sense, which for a while made me feel uncomfortable, though the feeling eventually disappeared. What made me feel uncomfortable was not because the universe is full of uncertainty and randomness we can’t explain (or at least not yet for some). What made me feel uncomfortable was that the man who so passionately sought for the ToE from his books and studies in the 70s and 80s (an example is the 2nd reference link below) has given up the search for the ToE.

But as I re-read the speech, Goedel’s incompleteness theorem hits the point in between the eyes. The great professor starts out (as he usually does) by discussing briefly the ideas that will prove to be necessary for his lecture’s whole point, including Quantum Chromodynamics (QCD), scientific determinism, Newton’s gravitational law, wave functions, etc. This is a style which I think he is famous for, and which is why his lectures are very popular and well sought after. His funny and comical inserts pop out once in a while to stir things a little bit.

Essentially, the gist of his lecture (as it would seem to me) is that there cannot be a single ToE, one which, as I’ve mentioned previously, will let us know what exactly happened at a specific point in our universe’s history, or what will happen to its future. The ToE should be able to tell you what you were thinking last night, or what you will think tomorrow night. Yes, the ToE is the theory of all theories. The problem however is that the human brain, as prof. Hawking puts it, is composed of so many parts made up of so many particles that we couldn’t possible compute what you’ll be thinking the next minute, even with the most powerful computers in the world today.

Prof. Hawking admits that until he realized the implication of Goedel’s incompleteness theorem, he implicitly assumed that a ToE will be found, probably relying on what can be referred to as “scientific intuition”. According to prof. Hawking, the positivist philosophy of science is that every good physical theory is a mathematical model, which he probably gets from Karl Popper and other positivist thinkers. And since, according to Goedel’s incompleteness theorems, there are mathematical results that cannot be proven, then so must there be physical theories that cannot be proven as well, including the ToE. Goedel’s incompleteness theorems essentially say that, as mentioned by prof. Hawkings himself, math is either inconsistent or incomplete. The professor bets his money (as he did in a previous debate with Kip Thorne decades ago) on the incomplete part of mathematics. Goedel’s theorems are proved using self-referring statements such as

“This sentence is false”

If the statement is true, then (the idea it implies) it is thus false. If the statement is false, then it is the opposite, meaning the idea the statement implies is true. Another would be to apply Bertrand Russell’s paradox on the barber paradox:

In a town which has a rule that the (only) barber shaves only all men that do not shave themselves, and doesn’t shave those who shave themselves. One can then ask, does the barber shave himself? If he does, according to the rule, he shouldn’t. If he doesn’t shave, according to the rule, he must shave himself.

Lastly, prof. Hawkings apologizes if anybody got/gets disappointed on his current view about the ToE. As I’ve said, I was initially disappointed, but considering his rationale about the search for the ToE, I turn out to be fine, though I still think he still leaves room in himself in case he makes a wrong prediction (just as he did in the 2nd reference link) that we might find the ToE in this decade. In his lecture in the 1980s regarding the discovery of the ToE, he said that we may find the ToE, and he’ll give another lecture about the ToE and where we stand 20 years later (which is now). Well, he did tell us where we stand, or at least what his view of where we stand in the search for the ToE. He also said then that once the ToE is found, physicists will lose their jobs, and physics will end. But according to his latest lecture, thanks to Goedel, mathematicians he said will always have a job, and most probably physicists too.


Prof. Fidel’s take on my ‘Nobel laureate’ weblog post

March 9, 2008

Readability test scores for this post are as follows:

Flesch Reading Ease: 76.24
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 5.00
Automated Readability Index: 4.00

For more info about readability tests, check out my post about those here.

This post is just actually a copy-and-paste of my e-mail to Dr. (of science in mathematics) Fidel, and his reply, when I sent him the link to my post about my attendance to a Noble prize laureate presentation. I just wanted it to be placed here in my weblog before it gets buried in my inbox. Also, I just want to share our conversation to people out there who just might be interested in such things. Thanks to Dr. Fidel for allowing me to post this here in my weblog (^)___(^).

The following is my e-mail to Dr. Fidel about my weblog post I wanted him to read through/scan:

Hi sir,
I wrote a post on my weblog, and I was thinking you could consider reading
it as a reaction paper of sort (^)__(^) or even asking some of your students
or friends to check it out.
Anyway, any comment/feedback will be appreciated, that is, if you have the
time to spare (^)___(^) :

And the next one is his reply (with my reply interspersed in between his paragraphs):

Thanks for this! Good to know that there were students in the audience
who appreciated and savored Gross’ talk. I enjoyed reading your post
and will email you my thoughts on the ideas he put forward one of
these days. Or we can discuss over coffee. It’s too bad — I
unfortunately dozed off a couple of times, and no matter how valiantly
I tried to keep awake, I couldn’t keep my eyes open. (Bad case of jet
lag and lack of sleep these last three nights.) But I enjoyed the
talk immensely. I wish I could invite him to talk in STS!

Savour would be a good term to describe it I guess (^)__(^)
It was really too bad Doc. It was too bad you weren’t awake the whole time sir. It was really cold at my seat but I endured it for the hour long or so presentation. I had little sleep too the night before, but my eyes were agape the whole time!

Just a few points, before I go to bed-

Gross is a true believer, convinced that physics is the stuff of life,
and that everything is comprehensible. But how different is this from
religion? His work rests on faith, not in some god, but on the
platonist idea that the world is orderly, governed by transcendent
laws that exists out there, independent of us. And how can it be
otherwise? Scientists like Gross cannot function without that faith.

Yes I agree. But we also need to create some distinction between religious faith and scientific faith. The main difference I would think is that the former is not based on fact or logical reasoning, unlike the latter. Would it seem then that we’re just entangled in a semantic web?

At best, the science community is a communit based on collegiality and
respect; Gross is right, the methods of science and the peer-review
system do provide some model of how democracy can work. At worst, it
is a brew of competing ideas and viewpoints; with each idea creating
tribes of adherents, renegades and heretics. The world is not as
orderly as Gross would want it to be.

which reminds me usually of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle…and how scientists like Einstein felt repugnant that no order can seemingly be found in the quantum mechanical world.

Einstein can be excused for dreaming about a world government. After
all, the WW2 had just ended and everyone was (or appeared to be) in
the business of putting the world together again. But alas, societies
don’t follow the laws of physics, and the UN, that prototype for world
government, has failed miserably in preventing war, famine and

Yes I agree. Perhaps I should add that to my post, about how Einstein suggested (and to which prof. Gross agreed) a supranational government for the world to solve most of our problems.

I think intelligent design is creationism in cloaked in a lab gown.
The real source of the controversy over ID is that its proponents want
it taught in the classroom as science.

Yes as what has been happening in the United States, as recent as last year (and probably still continuing till today). Different states are trying to abolish the theory of evolution in favor of ID as early as primary education, which has caused significant personalities in the academe such as prof. Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris to put out books combating this ( i.e. The God Delusion by prof. Dawkins and A Letter to a Christian Nation by prof. Harris, both New York Times best sellers).

There! Again, thanks to Dr. Fidel. I feel much relieved now (^)___(^)

My attendance to a presentation by a Nobel prize laureate in Physics

January 9, 2008

Readability test scores for this post are as follows:

Flesch Reading Ease: 68.30
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 7.00
Automated Readability Index: 7.00

For more info about readability tests, check out my post about those here.

the first few paragraphs basically describe the place where the event happened, as well as the events that took place before the Nobel laureate presentation as well as how I express how geeky/nerdy I can be. The real meat of the weblog post starts after the title The Nobel laureate presentation

This post is about my recent attendance (just a few hours ago actually, before noon and before I had lunch) on a talk/presentation from a Nobel laureate for Physics. I must say that the feeling of being there, as well as the atmosphere of the event, felt better (and queerer) than any movie premiere I’ve ever been in. It was, in a word…cool.

I happened to be among the audience seated with professionals, students, and distinguished guests (local and foreign) in the academe for the conferment of the degree of Doctor of Science (Honoris Causa) to professor David Jonathan Gross, 2004 Nobel Laureate for Physics. The conferment was bestowed upon prof. Gross by the University of the Philippines (UP) in Diliman, in line with UP’s centennial celebration and the year long centennial lecture series. I consider myself very lucky to have witnessed the talk, and to have been a part of the ceremony itself.

The event started with the walk of the UP’s officials and a number of its brightest minds. After that was the singing of the country’s national anthem, followed by the performance of the world renowned UP Singing Ambassadors (UPSA). It was not the first time that I watched the performance of the UPSA, but unfortunately their performance then wasn’t the best I’ve seen/heard.

I must admit that the event appealed to me in a very geeky(slash)nerdy kind of way. The feeling that you get when you learn of the Emperor’s plans on the planet Tatooine, the feeling you get when youl learn of Saruman’s cunning plans and how he’s been duped as well, the feeling that you get when you finish prof. Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time and you understand most (if not all) the concepts, the feeling you get when you understand the profound implications Albert Einstein brought with him in his theory of relativity, freeing time from its prison and redefining how we look at the physical world, that’s how it felt. At least, to me. Whew.

Anyway, the main point of this weblog post is about the talk given by prof. Gross and the questions afterwards, so I’ll get onto it now.


The Nobel laureate presentation

The talk (on the list of events) was supposed to be on The Coming Revolutions on Fundamental Physics, but prof. Gross changed it, saying that he used up 1.5 hours on that presentation when he presented it in Thailand. He changed it to (sorry I forgot the exact title) a more general presentation regarding science in the 21st century, how far we’ve come, as well as the highlights on biology, medicine, etc. most notably of course, Physics. One of his jokes is about the fact that everything (social sciences, biology, chemistry, economics) basically boils down into Physics, then the audience bursts into laughter. His slides about global warming reminded me of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth.

Prof. Gross’ Nobel prize award together with 2 other colleagues, was for their contribution to the knowledge of the quantumly small. They introduced the theory of Quantum Chromodynamics (QCD), which is a major contribution to the Standard Model of particle physics. The Standard Model (SM) essentially describes (and has been experimentally verified a number of times over) the 3 out of the 4 fundamental interactions between elementary particles which makes all matter, including ourselves. These 3 are the strong nuclear force (the force that binds the particles in the atomic nucleus), the weak nuclear force (related to radioactive decay), and electromagnetism. So far only the interactions between those three have been understood and experimentally verified, while the fourth and seemingly elusive one (though probably not to us since we consciously/unconsciously interact with it in our scale of living) is gravity. So far those 4 have not been successfully unified in a single theory of everything. One of the highlights of prof. Gross and his colleagues’ work on QCD is the discovery that quarks (one of the 2 basic constituents of matter, the other one is the lepton) attract each other less when they’re drawn closer together, and attract (or pull if you will) all the more when moved apart from each other. That’s why no quark has been found floating by itself anywhere in the known universe, an aha! moment if you like. And yes it sounds weird and counterintuitive, but believe me it’s nothing compared to the other more weird interactions and predictions in the quantum mechanical world.

Overall, the presentation was as good as I expected it: it was humorous at times, touching not only on Physics but on poverty as well, global warming, what his country (the U.S.) and us in the scientific community and human beings as a whole can do to help our planet.

Another part of the lecture which really got my attention and interest was the part where the audience could ask questions. The questions came from students and professionals from different disciplines, and I must confess however that I think not all of them where well thought of. Or rather, their intentions for asking the question were good and well meant. It was just that they couldn’t formulate their questions in a better way, probably because of the time constraint and the pressure (after all, the respondent is a Nobel laureate nonetheless). It was also obvious that some of the questions were really prepared for well before the presentation, since they were quoting from famous books and ideas. I had also prepared a question and a back-up question, the night before the event. The following are the questions that were asked which excited, intrigued, and perhaps mesmerized me the most.


First question

The first question that sparked my interest was the question on intelligent design (ID). The question was from (I think) a student and was either a skeptic theist, an agnostic, or an atheist (yey!). I actually didn’t think of asking such a question to prof. Gross since it was not directly related to his talk and his field of work, but I’m glad somebody did. Prof. Gross answered by saying that ID can mean a lot of things, but he defined ID as the presumption that the universe and everything in it (including life) seem to have been crafted and guided by an external (supernatural) agent to become as it is today. He further answered the question that if we look and somehow understand (or at least try to do so) the intricacies, results and descriptions of different bodies of sciences, and how far they’ve gone in terms of removing the mist/shroud of mystery in our world, an external agent would be superfluous. Another thing he pointed out that if we were to sort of blame or hold responsible for the magnificence of our reality, an external agent, it would even be tantamount to even more unanswerable and absurd questions such as where did the external agent come from, etc etc. He ended his answer by saying that he finds it hard to believe in something that cannot be verified by logic, by science, by experimental data and that which is not reproducible (even in the mind, at the least).

My thoughts were: My goodness! Finally, somebody who openly talks about what I’ve been thinking about for a long time now. But I would also think that, as is my personal opinion, being someone who understands real academic science, if anything comes up in the support of ID (which I doubt), he still leaves a bit of skepticism for that. After all, similar to what he said, science is all about skepticism.


Second Question

The second question that caught my attention was the question from a professor about the so called theory of everything (ToE). Such a theory, in contrast to the Standard model of particle physics, aims to unify the 4 interactions mentioned previously. So far, nobody has been successful, since gravity has still remained un-unifiable with the rest of the 3 forces. The question was if we’ll ever find the theory, and which among the 3 predictions of prof. Stephen Hawking in one of his lectures (back in the 80s) prof. Gross agrees more. The 3 predictions of prof. Hawking on the discovery of the ToE are as follows :


1) There is a complete unified theory.


2) There is no ultimate theory, but there is an infinite series of theories which are such that any particular class of observations can be predicted by taking a theory sufficiently far down the chain.


3) There is no theory. Observations cannot be described or predicted beyond a certain point but are just arbitrary.


The professor who asked the question must’ve really prepared, since if I recall correctly, he asked his question with the exact words I used above (which I got from my book Stephen Hawking’s Universe: An introduction to the most remarkable scientist of our time by John Boslough which has as an appendix the lecture of prof. Hawking). Prof. Gross’ reply was that he’s an agnostic (at this point I wasn’t sure if he was agnostic in prof. Hawking’s predictions, or agnostic as a whole especially in terms of the belief in a supernatural deity, but I’m thinking it’s the former). He continued (wonderfully in my opinion) by first talking about explorers of the planet. At first he said that everybody thought the world was flat, and went on and on infinitely far (hmm…but some thought that we would fall of the edge if we get too far, anyway). Then people found out that when they explored further and further, they just came back to their starting point (you get the idea), and so the theory of geography that the Earth was spherical was finally laid into its firm place. People simply ran out of places in the planet to explore (in a sense), besides the fact that we can have measurements of the spheroidal shape of the planet, not to mention view it from space. His point was that we’ll know if we’re close to the ToE if we ourselves (or physicists at the least) run out of questions to ask. He continued by saying that nowadays, there is still a large space for questions to pop out of. So I would think that he’s implying we’re still not that close yet to the ToE. In the end, I don’t remember him saying he believes there really is a ToE, but I would think, given his optimism on the power of science, if there is one, we will find it.


At this point, I was feeling ambivalent: I was a bit sad that I didn’t get to ask a question (because of time constraints and the number of people asking questions, damn) but I’m far happier since the questions I was supposed to ask got asked by other people anyway. My backup question was supposed to be this:

could you please share your thoughts on the profound implications on physics, and science in general, as well as humanity as a whole, once the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is hopefully completed this year?

Although there was one slide in prof. Gross’ presentation showing the LHC, it was only briefly mentioned. Too bad nobody inquired more about it. I really wanted to hear an expert’s thoughts on the LHC, especially since it’s inline with prof. Gross’ expertise.

One of the most memorable quotes he said/presented was that the best (if not one of the best) gifts of knowledge (which is the by-product of science he says) is ignorance. Counter-intuitive? You bet. Cool? indeed. What he was trying to mean was that the more we know and learn about our reality, the more we see that we still have a lot to know. Ignorance, as stated by him, in this case is academic ignorance; knowing the limits of one’s knowledge and accepting it. He is a firm believer of the power of science, and even made predictions at first, 50-100 years from now, then 100-1000 years from now. He said that he usually doesn’t like to make predictions, but since it’s the business of science, he might as well try.

50-100 years from now, he predicts that human lifespan will not only double, but even be 10 times longer. Better medicine, better health care. Of course, he said that longer lifespans will mean newer obstacles to face in human culture, demand and supply, etc. He made a few more predictions here, but you’ll have to forgive me if I wasn’t able to list them all down, nor to store them all in my memory data banks.

100-1000 years from now, he said, is a bit harder to predict. But he said that we would probably conquer galaxies. He said that we probably won’t be sending humans in other galaxies (probably because of the hazards of space travel on humans, I’m thinking, though he didn’t say more on that), but we will be sending mini-robots and possibly transform some planets into habitable ones (i.e. terraforming).

Prof. Gross also mentioned his prediction about speciation. I forgot which among the 2 groups (50-100 or 100-1000) he mentioned speciation, but what he means by that is that since we’ll be able to manipulate our genes, we’ll be creating new species of homo sapiens, faster than evolution would have wanted it. Probably similar to homo superior i.e. mutants. Cool.

Lastly, the presentation was a dream come true for a science-student/fan, science fiction-student/fan, and probably for a nerd/geek as well, though I may be alone on this last one. Only downside was that the open forum for questions was too short (around an hour or even less). If I get a copy of the video, I’ll upload it asap. Otherwise, if anybody finds it first, please please please tell me!

Comments, suggestions, reactions, corrections, clarifications and questions are always welcome!