The Antikythera mechanism

The device now known as the ‘Antikythera mechanism‘ — because of where it was discovered in the early 1900s — is a complex clockwork mechanism that is believed to have been constructed in the late second century BC.

One of the most amazing things about this presumably unique bronze artefact is that nothing like it was made until the 14th century, almost 1500 years after its manufacture.

The Antikythera mechanismAmong other things, it could be used to predict eclipses decades in advance.

The quality and complexity of its manufacture suggests that it has undiscovered predecessors. Certainly, its intricate design must have been the end result of a great many years’ effort in various disciplines, including mathematics, astronomy and metalworking.

If you’ve read my earlier post ‘Total solar eclipse: coincidence?‘ you’ll see where I’m going with this; I see it as possible proof that humanity’s fascination with the heavens in general, and eclipses in particular, may be directly responsible for the development of our intellect.

Advertisements
Posted in ... wait, what?, Computers and Internet, Education, History, Phlyarology, Science | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Biological pest control

A terrific short story from Bob Rich. Well worth the few minutes it will take to read 🙂

Bobbing Around

Blin was bored beyond belief, sitting idly while the machine did its automatic scan. “Why must we do this, watch after watch?” It demanded.
At Its own console, Daita said, as during many previous watches, “Because if something is found, a sentient reaction is required.”
“Oh yes, and when was the last time something was found?”
“About three tours of duty ago.”
“Exactly! And–”
Daita’s machine sounded the alarm.
The two of them inspected the information that rapidly appeared. Location 3548965# had a sick Being.
Daita was on the communicator to the Captain while Blin monitored the details. It found the location, which was way out in the periphery of the Galaxy. The Being had an elevated temperature, and It was radiating energy in a strange way. “I think it’s an infection of some kind,” Blin said.
The Captain entered and activated the remote sensor. The Being was sending out…

View original post 383 more words

Posted in ... wait, what?, art, Drama, Fantasy, Just for laughs, Phlyarology | Tagged | Leave a comment

A new kind of self-awareness

‘Overview’ is a short film that explores the phenomenon of ‘the Overview Effect’ through interviews with five astronauts who have experienced it, and features insights from commentators and thinkers on the wider implications and importance of this understanding for society, and our relationship to the environment.

Earth from spaceIt’s less than twenty minutes long, but I guarantee it will blow your mind — or your money back.

We have to start acting as one species with one destiny — we are not going to survive if we don’t do that.

With thanks to The Superstitious Naked Ape for pointing me to this marvel.

Posted in ... wait, what?, art, balance, Communication, consciousness, Core thought, Culture, Education, Environment, History, People, Science, Strategy | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

A lunatic life

“When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams — this may be madness. Too much sanity may be madness — and maddest of all: to see life as it is, and not as it should be!”
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote

I saw this quote on The Scarlet Pumpernickel‘s website, and wanted to make a note of it, somewhere I wouldn’t be likely to lose it (as in: not on a scrap of paper!). Here seemed a natural choice.

It reminds me of my poem ‘The Master and his Squire‘ which I penned some time ago.

Posted in art, History, People, Phlyarology, Poetry | Tagged , , , , , | 12 Comments

Total solar eclipse: coincidence?

Preamble: There are five video clips in this wibblette. The longest is just over three minutes long, and they total a smidgeon over ten minutes. Just so you know.

The short clip above, which comes from an hour-long BBC documentary ‘Do We Really Need the Moon?‘, illustrates a theory of how our moon came to be: it’s not proven fact. And yet, it rings true: the Moon was once much closer to the Earth than it now is — it is fact that the Moon is moving away from us (at about the rate our fingernails grow).

The diameter of the Moon is 400 times smaller than that of the Sun. In our epoch, the Moon is 400 times closer to us than the Sun, which means that when the Sun, Moon and Earth are in line, we can see a marvellous thing: a ‘total solar eclipse’. In that same documentary, the narrator (Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock), like Johannes Kepler trying to find cosmic significance in the fact that our planet Earth is 93 million miles from our sun, admits trying to “find something in the physics to make it so [the apparent size of the Sun and Moon is the same from the Earth]”. She expresses the belief that this size differential is just a cosmic coincidence. But, is it really?

Humans have only been around for about 200,000 years — a mere eye-blink in comparison to the vast time it has taken for the Moon to crawl, at less than a snail’s pace, from its initial position very close to the Earth to where it is now. How, then, can it be that we exist at precisely the right time to view a total eclipse of the Sun? Were the Moon any closer, we’d still get a total eclipse, but not the same magical one we now see; and if the Moon were further away, we would only ever get a partial eclipse. This is the real ‘coincidence’, and it’s this that I call into question.

Now, I’m no statistician, and I do understand that coincidences do happen. But it seems to me that the probability of humanity arising at precisely the time when the Moon is exactly this distance from the Earth incredibly unlikely. We’re talking geological timescales, here. I don’t know how long the window in which this ‘400 coincidence’ would be valid (I’d love to hear from anyone who knows such stuff, so we can have a chance of guesstimating the odds!).

Earlier in that same documentary, Dr Aderin-Pocock discusses the theory that our moon was in part responsible for life itself arising on our planet. (That’s too much for this short article, go watch the documentary if you’re interested.) She’s not the first to suggest this: I came across this idea many years ago in Isaac Asimov’s book ‘The Tragedy of the Moon‘. This ties in with the anthropic principle, which suggests that we perceive the universe to be as it is because if it were any other way, we wouldn’t be here at all to perceive it….

If it’s not coincidence that we exist at the ‘Goldilocks‘ moment when it’s possible to perceive a total solar eclipse, what then could the reason be?

I put it to you that the reason is, quite simply, that the Moon, and in particular this ‘cosmic coincidence’, has played an important part, not just in the generation of life on this planet, but in the creation of intelligent life. Us.

In ‘2001: A Space Odyssey‘, a mysterious obelisk is cast in the role of having imbued our species with the ability to reason. If you read the book from which that movie came, you’ll find that the character having the epiphany in the clip above is named ‘Moonwatcher’. Subtract the fictional obelisk from the scene, and we have a hominid marvelling at the wonder of the factual Moon. Perhaps Moonwatcher encountered that numinous event which is a total solar eclipse. And perhaps it scared him (as it did my nephew when he first experienced that curious darkness). Maybe it scared him into thinking.

It’s long been thought that structures such as Stonehenge were built to chart the passage of astronomical phenomena, including, naturally, the Moon, across the sky. Just think of the prodigious effort that went into such constructions — and how much we humans must by necessity have learnt in the process. Humanity has long had an interest in charting the movements of the Moon in particular: lunar agriculture, for instance, has been practised for thousands of years, and can be traced back to the ancient people of the Nile and Euphrates river valleys.

Consider:

  • Solar eclipses (the Sun being eclipsed by the Moon) reveal the Sun’s corona, a marvel that would otherwise remain forever hidden.
  • Eclipses happen on human timescales. The Sun, Earth, and Moon return to nearly identical relative positions every 18 years 11 1/3 days (the Saros cycle).
  • Within any given year, a maximum of seven eclipses can occur (either four solar and three lunar or five solar and two lunar) and there is one total solar eclipse somewhere on Earth three times every decade; a high enough frequency to promote study within a single human lifetime.
  • A given spot on the Earth will be on the path of a solar eclipse only about once every 370 years, so it is better to move to an eclipse than to wait for one to come to you…

… so move forward in time a little, and humans develop the ability to travel farther away from their birthplaces — armed with the knowledge of when, and where, total solar eclipses can be experienced. Such knowledge would be valuable, sought-after, stuff.

Moving further forward in time: One prediction made by Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, that massive bodies would bend light, was first proven correct by the observation of starlight passing near the Sun during a total solar eclipse in May 1919. If there were no total solar eclipses, this observational proof would have been impossible to acquire simply because under normal conditions the brightness of the Sun hides the light from any such stars.

Surely this sequence of events is more than mere coincidence. Isn’t it possible that we are who we are, when we are, because of the Moon’s unique position in our sky?

Postscript: Many thanks to Paul Handover (Learning from Dogs), Mark Nunn (East River Meditation Healing Centre), Patricia and Tom who all gave me valuable feedback on this article before it was published.

Posted in ... wait, what?, consciousness, Core thought, Education, Environment, Phlyarology, Science | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Asking the right questions

Soon, I plan to publish an article in which I’m going to try to persuade you to consider something that you may well find unbelievable. Before I do that, I think it might be helpful to ask you to think about some other incredible concepts.

In the clip above (taken from a TED talk ‘Why is our universe fine-tuned for life?‘) , Brian Greene explains how it is that we live on a planet that is just the right distance from our sun to sustain life as we know it; not too close, and not too far away — the ‘Goldilocks principle‘. But he does more than just this: he talks about how Johannes Kepler spent a great deal of time trying to figure out why it is that the Earth is 93 million miles from the Sun — which turns out to be the wrong question.

The right question is: “Why do we humans find ourselves on a planet at this particular distance instead of any of the other possibilities?”. The answer turns out to be, quite naturally, “it yields conditions vital to our form of life”. (This is the anthropic principle.)

Hold on to your hat: the rabbit hole goes deeper.

(Our current understanding is that) our universe is expanding. But even more importantly: the rate at which it is expanding is accelerating. At some point in the far distant future, all of the other galaxies in our universe will have receded from us so far, and so fast, that it will be impossible for anyone to perceive them. As Brian Greene says in the same TED talk:

… because the expansion is speeding up, in the very far future, those galaxies will rush away so far and so fast that we won’t be able to see them; not because of technological limitations but because of the laws of physics. The light those galaxies emit — even travelling at the fastest speed, the speed of light — will not be able to overcome the ever-widening gulf between us.

So astronomers in the far future, looking out into deep space, will see nothing but an endless stretch of static, inky, black, stillness. And they will conclude that the universe is static and unchanging and populated by a single central oasis of matter that they inhabit: a picture of the cosmos that we definitively know to be wrong.

Now, maybe those future astronomers will have records handed down from an earlier era, like ours, attesting to an expanding cosmos teeming with galaxies, but: would those future astronomers believe such ancient knowledge? Or would they believe in the black, static, empty universe that their own state of the art observations reveal? I suspect the latter.

Which means that we are living through a remarkably privileged era when certain deep truths about the Cosmos are still within reach…

So we are alive at a point in both space and time that allows us to examine the Cosmos in a particular way — that may, or may not, represent the ‘truth’. Brian admits:

… when we learn that astronomers of the far future may not have enough information to figure things out, the natural question is: “maybe we’re already in that position”.

It does my head in 🙂

Here’s that TED talk in full. It’s 22 minutes long, and I found parts of it quite difficult to follow, but well worth the time.

Posted in ... wait, what?, Core thought, Education, Environment, History, People, Science | Tagged , , , , | 11 Comments

We are a way for the Cosmos to know itself

As a prelude to an article I’m working on now that I plan to publish shortly, I offer you Carl Sagan’s words…

The Cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be. Our contemplations of the Cosmos stir us; there is a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation as of a distant memory of falling from a great height. We know we are approaching the grandest of mysteries.

The size and age of the Cosmos are beyond ordinary human understanding; lost somewhere between immensity and eternity is our tiny planetary home, the Earth. For the first time, we have the power to decide the fate of our planet and ourselves. This is a time of great danger, but our species is young, and curious, and brave: it shows much promise.

In the last few millennia we have made the most astonishing and unexpected discoveries about the Cosmos and our place within it. I believe our future depends powerfully on how well we understand this Cosmos in which we float like a mote of dust in the morning sky.

We wish to pursue the truth no matter where it leads; but to find the truth, we need imagination and scepticism both. We will not be afraid to speculate, but we will be careful to distinguish speculation from fact. The Cosmos is full beyond measure of elegant truths, of exquisite inter-relationships, of the awesome machinery of nature.

The surface of the Earth is the shore of the cosmic ocean. On this shore, we’ve learned most of what we know. Recently, we’ve waded a little way out; maybe ankle-deep: and the water seems inviting. Some part of our being knows this is where we came from; we long to return — and we can, because the Cosmos is also within us: we are made of star stuff.

We are a way for the Cosmos to know itself.

Posted in ... wait, what?, Biodiversity, Communication, consciousness, Core thought, Education, Environment, memetics, Poetry, Science | Tagged , , | 10 Comments

Majestic sunrise

It’s sad but true that one can be
Adept at counting numbers,
Yet at the same time fail to see
Which ones make up the wonders.

All things in life may be defined
As strings of ones and zeroes.
Discernment of a finer kind
Transforms someones to heroes.

 

Posted in Poetry | 5 Comments

‘Social’ media doesn’t recognise death

When I go on ‘Linked In’, I’m often reminded to congratulate an old friend of mine for having been in business for x years.

The problem is, this old friend passed on some time ago…

Today I was reminded by Facebook that it was a relative’s birthday. Again, this person has been dead for some time. Nevertheless, I followed the link and found that no fewer than five of this person’s ‘friends’ had wished him a happy birthday.

So not only does the Internet suffer from linkrot and media rot, it also suffers from a lack of sanity checking.

Posted in ... wait, what?, Computers and Internet, People, Phlyarology | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Have I been pwned?

Pwned‘, in case you’re not aware, is a ‘leetspeak’ slang term derived from the verb ‘own’, as meaning to appropriate or to conquer to gain ownership. The term implies domination or humiliation of a rival, and is used primarily in video game culture to taunt an opponent who has just been soundly defeated (e.g., “You just got pwned!”)

In the context of this short wibblette, I’m using it to refer to having had one of my online systems compromised in one way or another.

And the answer to the question is ‘yes’: I was recently advised by haveibeenpwned.com that the main email account I rely on may have had its password snatched. I wasn’t alone: I was in the company of some 700+ million other folk. So I did what anyone should do in such a situation: I immediately changed the password for that account. Hopefully, I’m now safe, for a while, from having my email ‘hacked‘.

If you want to check whether you too may have been ‘pwned’, I recommend you take a quick trip to haveibeenpawned.com to check out your own online systems.

Here’s hoping you never get hacked.

Posted in ... wait, what?, Communication, Computers and Internet, Education, Phlyarology, Strategy | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments