Tag: Daily Telegraph

Just one in trillions!

The immensity of the universe and what it means for Planet Earth.

Jean and I have been watching the astounding BBC Series Wonders of Life presented by Professor Brian Cox.  Here’s the BBC trailer:

and there are more clips from the programmes on the relevant part of the BBC website.  There is so much about the series that is breath-taking.  So much that reminds one of what a beautiful and fragile planet we live on.  Quite rightly, the series received great reviews.  Here, for example, is a little of what the UK Daily Telegraph newspaper wrote:

Wonders of Life, BBC Two, review

Sarah Crompton reviews the first episode of Brian Cox’s latest series, Wonders of Life (BBC Two).

By 

10:00PM GMT 27 Jan 2013

When it comes to presenting styles, Professor Brian Cox is hard to keep still. There isn’t a beach he won’t feel compelled to stroll on, a mountain he won’t climb, or a river he won’t jump into. And what does he carry in that bag?

Once you got beyond these irritating stylistic tropes, however, Wonders of Life (BBC Two) was Cox at his absolute best, using his natural enthusiasm to communicate complicated ideas in very simple ways. He decided, for example, to show us his own DNA by spitting in a test tube – and missed.

“A physicist doing an experiment,” he giggled, with unforced charm. But when he actually succeeded, those little strands of white that you suddenly see brought everything he subsequently said to life.

He was brilliant at explaining his thesis, which was actually about the second law of thermodynamics, so not that much of a doddle to grasp. If I’ve got it right, what Cox thinks is that life itself may have been the inevitable consequence of the laws of physics and can be explained in the same terms as we explain “the falling of the rain and the shining of the stars”.

Sarah rounds off her review, thus:

The programme’s sophisticated use of graphics, and Cox’s patient repetition of his conclusions, all added to the sensation that this is a series that is actually going to tell you something. For the BBC to unveil both this and The Story of Music over a single weekend reveals a pretty impressive commitment to public service broadcasting. Long may it last.

One of the clear messages that comes from the program is the fact that our universe and the formation of life are intimately connected.  That the ‘big bang’ some 3.2 billion years ago, the huge interstellar gas clouds, the formation of the carbon atom and the subsequent long-chained molecules, the collapse of those gas clouds to form suns and planets, the start of life, evolution through natural selection to ever more complex life forms, and on and on and on were and are inevitable.  The science is clear. There is nothing mystical about it.

Yes, of course, anyone with half-an-ounce of sensitivity will be in awe of it all; the power and beauty of nature and of the natural world.

But here’s the rub.

As another BBC television programme explained, the universe is bigger than beyond imagination.  That was from the BBC Horizon broadcast of August, 2012: How Big is the Universe?  Here’s the trailer for that programme.

Stay with me a little longer!  Just look at the following image.

The Andromeda galaxy.
The Andromeda galaxy.

This image of the Andromeda galaxy, taken in infrared and X-ray, consists of over a trillion stars.

The detailed Spitzer Space Telescope view above features infrared light from dust (red) and old stars (blue) in Andromeda, a massive spiral galaxy a mere 2.5 million light-years away. In fact, with over twice the diameter of our own Milky Way, Andromeda is the largest nearby galaxy. Andromeda’s population of bright young stars define its sweeping spiral arms in visible light images, but here the infrared view clearly follows the lumpy dust lanes heated by the young stars as they wind even closer to the galaxy’s core. Constructed to explore Andromeda’s infrared brightness and stellar populations, the full mosaic image is composed of about 3,000 individual frames. Two smaller companion galaxies, NGC 205 (below) and M32 (above) are also included in the combined fields. The data confirm that Andromeda (aka M31) houses around 1 trillion stars, compared to 4 hundred billion for the Milky Way.

Please stay with me for a few more minutes.  Keeping the Andromeda galaxy in mind, now read this:

March 29, 2013

An ‘Infinity of Dwarfs’ –A Visible Universe of 7 Trillion Dwarf Galaxies

ESA astronomers say that for every ten far galaxies observed, a hundred go undetected.
ESA astronomers say that for every ten far galaxies observed, a hundred go undetected.

Astronomers estimate that there are between 100 billion and 200 billion galaxies in the known universe. A single galaxy such as the Milky Way contain upwards of 200 billion normal stars. About 75 percent of all stars in the Milky Way are less than half as massive as our Sun. In the universe at large, the majority of galaxies are classified as dwarfs, each with less than a few hundred million stars. The image above is a computer simulation of a colliding dwarf galaxy triggering the formation of the Milky Ways spiral arms.

The largest project ever undertaken to map out the Universe in three dimensions using ESO telescopes has reached the halfway stage. An international team of astronomers has used the VIMOS instrument on the ESO Very Large Telescope to measure the distances to 55,000 galaxies as part of the VIPERS survey (VIMOS Public Extragalactic Redshift Survey). This has already allowed them to create a remarkable three-dimensional view of how galaxies were distributed in space in the younger Universe.This reveals the complex web of the large-scale structure of the Universe in great detail. The light of each galaxy is spread out into its component colours within VIMOS. Follow up analysis then allows astronomers to work out how fast the galaxy appears to move away from us — its redshift. This in turn reveals its distance and, when combined with its position on the sky, its location in the Universe.

Wow!

Millions of galaxies, trillions of suns, inconceivable numbers of planets.

Please pause and let the numbers sink in.

Now back to that Wonders of Life BBC series, during which Professor Brian Cox, said, “that it is inconceivable that there isn’t life elsewhere, that life is not present on countless other planets circling countless other suns …“.

In other words, if mankind is so intent on ‘fouling our nest’ on this most beautiful of planets, so what!

In the bigger scheme of things, it matters not.  Find that tough?  Then go and hug a dog and enjoy the moment.  For tomorrow may never come.

The death of the USA?

The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated! Mark Twain.

Mark Twain

Origin

Mark Twain quotation after hearing that his obituary had been published in the New York Journal.

Mistaken publications of obituaries aren’t as rare as you might expect. A recent example is of Dave Swarbrick, the British folk/rock violinist, who was killed off mistakenly by the Daily Telegraph in April 1999 when they reported that his visit to hospital in Coventry had resulted in his death. He did at least get the opportunity to read a rather favourable account of his life, not something we all get to do, and to deliver the gag “It’s not the first time I have died in Coventry”.

So why have I opened with this quote from Mark Twain?  Read on and I hope all will be clear.

Integrity is always about getting to the truth!

A little under a week ago I published a couple of posts that proposed that the United States of America is an empire in decline.  The first was What goes up? and the second Might just come down! As a Brit I well know that aspect of British history!

However a recent conversation with a friend of many years back in England, who has also been a shrewd and wise entrepreneur for longer than I care to remember, argued that the evidence for the ‘end of the USA’ could be challenged.

He cited five reasons why he thought the USA would remain, more or less, in its dominant position.  They were:

  1. Spirit of innovation
  2. Relaxed labour laws
  3. The importance of Mexico
  4. The uncertainty of China in terms of the next ’empire’
  5. The likely energy self-sufficiency for the USA in the near-term.

So let me expand on each of those points.

Spirit of innovation

Let me quote from an article in TIME Magazine of the 5th June, 2011,

Innovation is as American as apple pie. It seems to accord with so many elements of our national character — ingenuity, freedom, flexibility, the willingness to question conventional wisdom and defy authority. But politicians are pinning their hopes on innovation for more urgent reasons. America’s future growth will have to come from new industries that create new products and processes. Older industries are under tremendous pressure. Technological change is making factories and offices far more efficient. The rise of low-wage manufacturing in China and low-wage services in India is moving jobs overseas. The only durable strength we have — the only one that can withstand these gale winds — is innovation.

Now there are plenty to argue both ways in terms of the future innovation potential for the USA, as a recent article in The Atlantic does, see American Innovation: It’s the Best of Times and the Worst of Times.  But the spirit of innovation will be a powerful economic potential for the USA for many years to come.

Relaxed labour laws.

Definitely an area that I have little knowledge of except for the subjective notion that compared to many other nations, the laws in the USA are much less of a restraint on economic productivity than elsewhere.

The importance of Mexico.

Importance in the context of providing the USA with a source of cheaper manufacturing facilities.  My English friend thought that this was a significant competitive advantage for the USA.  Now, as it happens, we had a couple staying with us over the week-end of the 6th/7th October.  The husband is a senior manager of Horst Engineering, an American firm based in Guaymas, Sonora County, Mexico.  Here’s a picture from their website,

We are a contract manufacturer of precision machined components and assemblies for aerospace, medical, and other high technology industries. Our core processes include Swiss screw machining, turning, milling, thread rolling, centerless grinding, and assembly. Our extensive supply chain offers our customers a full service logistics solution for managing their precision product requirements. We are ISO9001:2008 and AS9100 registered and proud of our 66 year, three-generation legacy of quality and performance.

I was told that many American and British firms were using Mexico rather than China for a number of reasons.  Not least because Chinese suppliers require full payment before shipment.  Plus that taking into account that financial aspect together with shipping costs and other logistical issues, China wasn’t as ‘cheap’ over all.  Here’s a recent announcement from Rolls Royce,

Rolls-Royce plans new Sonora hub

The burgeoning aerospace industry in Guaymas had its efforts validated recently when the venerable Rolls-Royce chose it as the site for its newest global purchasing office.

Surrounded by several of its aerospace manufacturing suppliers, London-based Rolls-Royce will move into a Guaymas industrial park owned by Tucson-based The Offshore Group to develop a supply hub for commercial jets and military aircraft around the globe.

“Rolls-Royce has very robust booking orders for the next 10 years,” said Joel Reuter, director of communications for Rolls-Royce in North America. “We need to double our production.”

Because a number of Rolls-Royce suppliers already operate in Guaymas, the city was a logical choice, Reuter said.

The uncertainty of China in terms of the next ’empire’

The point made in terms of China taking over ’empire’ status from the USA, as Simon Johnson argues over at Baseline Scenario, is countered by the fact that politically China is an unknown quantity.  Until China endorses some form of democratic process, that unknowingness is not going to disappear.

The likely energy self-sufficiency for the USA in the near-term.

I can’t do better than to ask you to watch this video!  Just 27-minutes long, it is a very interesting review of the energy future of the USA.

As the TED website suggests in terms of why you should listen to Amory Lovins,

Amory Lovins was worried (and writing) about energy long before global warming was making the front — or even back — page of newspapers. Since studying at Harvard and Oxford in the 1960s, he’s written dozens of books, and initiated ambitious projects — cofounding the influential, environment-focused Rocky Mountain Institute; prototyping the ultra-efficient Hypercar — to focus the world’s attention on alternative approaches to energy and transportation.

His critical thinking has driven people around the globe — from world leaders to the average Joe — to think differently about energy and its role in some of our biggest problems: climate change, oil dependency, national security, economic health, and depletion of natural resources.

More on Reinventing Fire may be found here.

So, don’t know about you, but I found those five points deeply convincing.  How about you?  Are the reports of the death of the USA  greatly exaggerated? Do leave a comment.

Know your brain? Possibly not.

“Exact knowledge is the enemy of vitalism.” Francis Crick.

On the face of it, I’m going to write about two totally disparate aspects of the brain.  Or are they?

I subscribe to Naked Capitalism and one of my favourite aspects of Yves’s daily email presentation are the Links.  They cover an incredibly broad range of news items.

So it was perhaps a week ago or thereabouts that one of those links was to an item in the British newspaper, The Daily Mail.  Here’s how the article started,

Power really does corrupt as scientists claim it’s as addictive as cocaine

More than a hundred years after noted historian Baron John Acton coined the phrase ‘power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely’ scientists claim the saying is biologically true.

The feeling of power has been found to have a similar effect on the brain to cocaine by increasing the levels of testosterone and its by-product 3-androstanediol in both men and women.

This in turn leads to raised levels of dopamine, the brain’s reward system called the nucleus accumbens, which can be very addictive.

Across in the English paper The Daily Telegraph, Dr Ian Robertson writes on this subject and says,

Unfettered power has almost identical effects, but in the light of yesterday’s Leveson Inquiry interchanges in London, there seems to be less chance of British government ministers becoming addicted to power. Why? Because, as it appears from the emails released by James Murdoch yesterday, they appeared to be submissive to the all-powerful Murdoch empire, hugely dependent on the support of this organization for their jobs and status, who could swing hundreds of thousands of votes for or against them.

Submissiveness and dominance have their effects on the same reward circuits of the brain as power and cocaine. Baboons low down in the dominance hierarchy have lower levels of dopamine in key brain areas, but if they get ‘promoted’ to a higher position, then dopamine rises accordingly. This makes them more aggressive and sexually active, and in humans similar changes happen when people are given power. What’s more, power also makes people smarter, because dopamine improves the functioning of the brain’s frontal lobes. Conversely, demotion in a hierarchy decreases dopamine levels, increases stress and reduces cognitive function.

OK, moving on.  On April 29th., there was an article on the Big Think website with the intriguing title of You Are Not Your Brain! 

What’s the Big Idea?

“Contemporary research on consciousness in neuroscience rests on unquestioned but highly questionable foundations. Human nature is no less mysterious now than it was a hundred years ago,” writes philosopher Alva Noë in his book Out of Our Heads.

It’s a bold assertion in an age when fMRI has enabled us to see images of the brain functioning in real time, and when many prominent public intellectuals (Stephen Hawking, Eric Kandel) have argued, either implicitly or vociferously, in favor of reductionism. The “brain-as-calculating machine” analogy assumes that human thought, personality, memory, and emotion are located somewhere in the gray matter protected by the skull. In other words, you — at least, the waking you who gets out of bed in the morning — are your brain.

But you’re not, says Noë. Just as love does not live inside the heart, consciousness is not contained in a finite space — it’s something that arises, something that occurs: a verb rather than a noun. And since the publication of Francis Crick’s influential The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul, scientists have been looking for it in all the wrong places.

That’s enough of me republishing the article – if it grabs your interest, do go and read it in full here.

And here’s Francis Crick with an extract from his DVD on the Scientific Search for the Soul

NOTE: This is an excerpt from the two-part, 60-minute DVD.
http://www.thinkingallowed.com/2fcrick.html

A noted scientist discusses free will, consciousness, attention and memory and their relationship to the human nervous system. In a wide ranging discussion, Crick points out that the hypothesis that the brain is the seat of consciousness has not yet been proven.

Francis Crick, Ph.D., received the Nobel Prize in 1962 for the discovery of DNA’s central role in the process of genetic reproduction. He is author of Life Itself, What Mad Pursuit and The Astonishing Hypothesis.

“Chance is the only source of true novelty.” Francis Crick