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Posts tagged: physics

There Is No Way to Stop Space Rocks From Hurtling to Earth and Killing You

Klint Finley

I just finished a new Psychetect track last night. Hopefully I’ll be able to share it with you before Space Kills Us All:

Space is out to kill you. There is no way to stem its aggression. But it’s usually an incompetent killer, so don’t freak out. […]

All the advanced air defenses that humanity has invested in? The interceptor missile that are (sometimes) able to stop an adversary missile from impacting? The early-warning monitoring systems that are supposed to give humanity enough time to plan a response? They are useless, useless against a meteorite onslaught. Do not believe the stories about the Russians shooting the cosmic rock down. […]

But there’s good news. Space rocks are lousy shots. The Earth is mostly ocean and uninhabited areas. The frequency of meteorite impacts is correlated with size, Weeden explains, and the smaller the meteorites, the more often they land. “But the places where people are is actually pretty small,” he says. Even the injuries that occurred at Chelyabinsk were mostly concussions and accidents from shattered glass, not from the meteorite itself. Close but no cigar, space: “Your odds of dying by a meteor are pretty damn small. You’re thousands of times more likely to die by car on way to work.”

Full Story: Wired Danger Room: There Is No Way to Stop Space Rocks From Hurtling to Earth and Killing You

Man, Space must really hate Siberia.

Scientists Cast Doubt On Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle

Klint Finley

Science Daily reports:

Werner Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, formulated by the theoretical physicist in 1927, is one of the cornerstones of quantum mechanics. In its most familiar form, it says that it is impossible to measure anything without disturbing it. For instance, any attempt to measure a particle’s position must randomly change its speed.

The principle has bedeviled quantum physicists for nearly a century, until recently, when researchers at the University of Toronto demonstrated the ability to directly measure the disturbance and confirm that Heisenberg was too pessimistic. […]

The findings build on recent challenges to Heisenberg’s principle by scientists the world over. Nagoya University physicist Masanao Ozawa suggested in 2003 that Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle does not apply to measurement, but could only suggest an indirect way to confirm his predictions. A validation of the sort he proposed was carried out last year by Yuji Hasegawa’s group at the Vienna University of Technology. In 2010, Griffith University scientists Austin Lund and Howard Wiseman showed that weak measurements could be used to characterize the process of measuring a quantum system. However, there were still hurdles to clear as their idea effectively required a small quantum computer, which is difficult to build.

Full Story: Science Daily: Scientists Cast Doubt On Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle

Higgs Boson Discovery May Not Be So Exciting After All

Klint Finley

From the Guardian a couple weeks ago:

Scientists working at the Large Hadron Collider have found no evidence that the new particle discovered earlier this year is anything but the simplest – and most boring – variety of Higgs boson.

Staff at Cern, the particle physics lab near Geneva, celebrated in July after they found what looked like the elusive boson amid the debris of scores of high-energy collisions inside the huge machine.

At the time, preliminary results from the two main experiments, Atlas and CMS, hinted that the particle might be something more exciting than the singular beast originally described in equations nearly 50 years ago. A more exotic Higgs could pave the way to a profound new understanding of nature.

But fresh data released by both teams at a conference in Kyoto today show that – so far at least – there is nothing peculiar about the particle’s behaviour. The results do not completely rule out a more exotic Higgs particle, though. Some versions would look so much like the so-called Standard Model Higgs boson they could take years to identify.

Full Story: The Guardian: Higgs particle looks like a bog Standard Model boson, say scientists

Previously: New Particle Resembling Long-Sought Higgs Boson Uncovered at Large Hadron Collider

How An Anti-Feminist Screed Ended Up In a Physics Journal

Klint Finley

Zen Faulkes explains how an issue of the Canadian Journal of Physics dedicated to chaos theory ended up running an anti-feminist screed that reportedly claimed that “half the children of working mothers suffered ‘serious psychological damage.’”

The article was penned by Gordon Freeman (pictured), who was the guest editor of this one issue of the journal. It was pretty obvious what had happened, in broad strokes: he abused his editorial power to get his poisonous opinion piece into the pages of the journal.

The details of exactly how this happened were a little more complicated. Freeman organized a conference on chaos theory, and was assembling papers that had been presented at a conference for publication in the Canadian Journal of Physics. Apparently, the deal was that the journal would publish all the papers Freeman compiled, provided that they were presented at the conference, and that they were peer-reviewed.

Full Story: Neurodojo: Retraction classic: Physics and feminism

XKCD Creator Randall Munroe On Making Physics Fun

Klint Finley

XKCD creator Randall Munroe on his work, including his new What If? series.

First things first: Why did you create What If?

It actually started with a class. MIT has a weekend program where volunteers can teach classes to groups of high school students on any subject you want. I had a friend who was doing it, and it sounded really cool — so I signed up to teach a class about energy, which I always thought was interesting, but which is a slippery idea to define. I was really getting into the nuts and bolts of what energy is, and it was a lot of fun — but when I started to get into the normal lecture part of the class, it felt kind of dry, and I could tell the kids weren’t super into it. And then we got to a part where I brought up an example — I think it was Yoda in Star Wars. And they got really excited about that. And then they started throwing out more questions about different movies — like, “When the Eye of Sauron exploded at the end of The Lord of the Rings, and knocked people over from this far away, can we tell how big a blast that was?” They got really excited about that — and I had a lot more fun doing it than I did just teaching the regular material.

So I spent the second half of the class just solving problems like that in front of them. And then I was like, “That was really fun. I want to keep doing it.”

The Atlantic: A Conversation With Randall Munroe, the Creator of XKCD

Researchers Propose A Way To Build The First Space-Time Crystal

Klint Finley

Imagine a clock that will keep perfect time forever, even after the heat-death of the universe. This is the “wow” factor behind a device known as a “space-time crystal,” a four-dimensional crystal that has periodic structure in time as well as space. However, there are also practical and important scientific reasons for constructing a space-time crystal. With such a 4D crystal, scientists would have a new and more effective means by which to study how complex physical properties and behaviors emerge from the collective interactions of large numbers of individual particles, the so-called many-body problem of physics. A space-time crystal could also be used to study phenomena in the quantum world, such as entanglement, in which an action on one particle impacts another particle even if the two particles are separated by vast distances.

A space-time crystal, however, has only existed as a concept in the minds of theoretical scientists with no serious idea as to how to actually build one – until now.

ECN: A clock that will last forever

(Thanks Bill)

Quantum Encryption Becomes A Little Less Impractical

From Bob McMillan at Wired Enterprise:

Sharing encryption keys the quantum way is exciting because it promises to be an incredibly secure way of doing encryption. In quantum cryptography, the encryption key is read by measuring the polarization of the photons being sent between computers. And according to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, anyone listening in on the communications would have to start messing with that polarization. And that would be detectable.

Up until now, the photons used to exchange quantum keys have been built using external lasers. But this new laser-free technique would be cheaper to mass-produce, says Sven Höfling, a group leader with the applied physics department at Würzburg University. “We can make Quantum key distribution with electrically driven sources,” he says. This is really compatible with standard semiconductor technology, meaning it could be, in principle, very cheap.”

Wired Enterprise: Quantum Crypto Takes Practical Step With Photon Breakthrough

Bob also notes that this may never actually be a practical technology.

Disclosure: I work for Wired Enterprise

New Particle Resembling Long-Sought Higgs Boson Uncovered at Large Hadron Collider

As you’ve likely heard, both the ATLAS and CMS teams at the Large Hadron Collider believe they’ve found the Higgs Boson:

Crucially, both teams’ findings appear exceptionally robust. In physics terms, evidence for a new particle requires a “3-sigma” measurement, corresponding to a 1-in-740 chance that a random fluke could explain the observations, and a claim of discovery requires a 5-sigma effect, or a 1-in–3.5 million shot that the observations are due to chance. In December representatives of the two experiments had announced what one called “intriguing, tantalizing hints” of something brewing in the collider data. But those hints fell short of the 3-sigma level. The new ATLAS finding met not just that level of significance but cleared the gold standard 5-sigma threshold, and CMS very nearly did as well, with a 4.9-sigma finding. […]

The newfound particle fits the bill for the Higgs boson, but the researchers cautioned that more work is needed to compare the properties of the particle to those predicted for the Higgs. After all, the LHC’s detectors cannot identify the Higgs directly. The LHC accelerates protons to unprecedented energies of four trillion electron-volts (4 TeV) before colliding a clockwise-traveling proton beam with a counterclockwise beam. From the smash-up new particles emerge, some of them existing for just an instant before decaying to other particles.

Full Story: Scientific American: New Particle Resembling Long-Sought Higgs Boson Uncovered at Large Hadron Collider

Previously: CERN May Have Found the Higgs Boson Particle, but Don’t Get Too Excited Yet

Huge Solar Flare’s Magnetic Storm May Disrupt Satellites, Power Grids

solar flare march

A coronal mass ejection is headed for earth:

A massive solar flare that erupted from the sun late Tuesday (March 6) is unleashing one of the most powerful solar storms in more than five years, a solar tempest that may potentially interfere with satellites in orbit and power grids when it reaches Earth. […]

"When the shock arrives, the expectation is for heightened geomagnetic storm activity and the potential for heightened solar radiation," Kunches said.

This heightened geomagnetic activity and increase in solar radiation could impact satellites in space and power grids on the ground. Some high-precision GPS users could also be affected, he said.

"There is the potential for induced currents in power grids," Kunches said. "Power grid operators have all been alerted. It could start to cause some unwanted induced currents."

Airplanes that fly over the polar caps could also experience communications issues during this time, and some commercial airliners have already taken precautionary actions, Kunches said. Powerful solar storms can also be hazardous to astronauts in space, and NOAA is working close with NASA’s Johnson Space Center to determine if the six residents of the International Space Station need to take shelter in more protected areas of the orbiting laboratory, he added.

Space.com: Huge Solar Flare’s Magnetic Storm May Disrupt Satellites, Power Grids

(via Jon Mitchell)

Social Physics with Kyle Findlay - Technoccult Interview

Kyle Findlay

Regular readers of this site may have noticed a large number of posts on this site credited to “Social Physicist" – the Twitter handle of Kyle Findlay (and yes, you could be forgiven for confusing our names). Kyle works for a group within one of the world’s largest market research companies, which he describes as a “mini-think tank” with the purpose of exposing people to new ways of thinking and doing things. Having enjoyed his Twitter stream for the past year or so, I got in touch with Kyle Findlay to ask him about the practice of “social physics.” He talked to me by instant message from from his home in Cape Town, South Africa.

Klint Finley: What, as a “social physicist,” do you actually do?

Kyle Findlay: Well, at the moment I’m on my own in this “field,” if you can call it that. It just seems like the best description of what I do and what interests me so hopefully it sticks.

Basically, my interest is in understanding how people act as groups. As emergent entities that have their own (hopefully) predictable and describable topological forms. That’s the lofty idea anyway. And the tools of chaos theory, systems theory, network theory, physics, mathematics, etc. help describe this.

Do you have a background in physical sciences?

None at all. I studied “business science” at the University of Cape Town. My first job was for a company with a strong academic background, started by a professor of religion and a statistician. They used a 5-dimensional catastrophe cusp model to describe people’s relationships with ideas.

The moment I was exposed to this thinking, something clicked. A lot of contradictions that I saw in the world around me were resolved. Ever since I have had an insatiable desire to understand these areas. Which led me to interact with experts in many disciplines from neuroscience to economics, math, physics, AI, ecology, biology, etc. Every field has a piece of the puzzle. I am lucky to work in an environment that gives me free rein to indulge my passion.

Fractal Zoom
Sketch: Fractal Zoom by Kyle Findlay

Do you think what you do is different from systems thinking or social cybernetics?

They are definitely components. Systems thinking is a broad umbrella term. Cybernetics definitely helps us to understand and describe the patterns and multi-dimensional shapes that society creates. But I think that you need the hard sciences like math and physics to really get at the heart of it. Which is why I am feverishly trying to catch up on many years of missing education.

Do you think there are any dangers in applying models designed for physical systems to human behavior?

Yes there are - you will always be at least slightly wrong. There are a lot of parallels between the way people act in groups and other types of particles. But you also have the same problems of predictability in complex systems: sensitivity to initial conditions, 3-body problem, etc. It’s kind of the paradox of it all, something I am still trying to come to grips with.

What’s the most surprising insight you’ve discovered since you started studying this?

Everything is the same and everything is just information. The universal nature of nature is astounding. You see the familiar signs everywhere: from the atomic through to the cosmic level. It makes me think that there really is only one true science or line of inquiry and that most specialised fields are just facets of this. The more fields I delve into, the more commonalities I discover. It’s become par for the course for me now I think. But in the beginning, it really blew my mind.

Man's Part in the System
Sketch: Man’s Part in the System by Kyle Findlay

Have you been able to apply this stuff in any interesting ways? For example, I know you’ve prepared presentations on network theory and power laws for work.

Those have gone down really well within the silos I work in. People have really been amazed when I’ve shown them these kinds of things. It gets their minds racing.

I’m also doing some work applying systems theory to sports science, which can really benefit from changing the way they view the human body. Music is another area that makes a lot more sense from this point of view.

One of my favourites is understanding how human attention works and how to synchronise communication so that it becomes internalized, but that is very theoretical and could be seen as slightly Machiavellian so I won’t go there.

Also, I’ve been having some interesting chats with a neuroscientist around decision-making, attention, etc. The applications are really endless, it’s just where you choose to focus you own attention.

How would you suggest someone interested get started studying social physics?

Well, considering I’m not 100% sure what falls into the bounds of the field myself, it’s difficult to say. There’s no university course for it as far as I know. I would say that you need to have an intense desire to understand why people do what they do. And a slightly perverse fascination with the human condition. Looking at life from a systems perspective is a good start. Understand that patterns are formed internally, that change is the only constant. You can then use tools like network theory, noise analysis, entropy, etc. to understand these ebbs and flows.

Are you familiar with Stephen Wolfram? He wrote a book called a New Kind of Science.

Yes, I know of Stephen Wolfram from his software and Wolfram Alpha. I’ve been intimidated by the size of his book, though. I struggle justifying devoting so much time to one book, which probably says more about me…

Yeah, I haven’t picked it up yet either.

He sounds like a really bright guy. I think I watched a talk of his at the Singularity Summit or somewhere similar, but to be honest, can’t remember much of it.

Most of my reading is in the scientific literature, interspersed with a good book or graphic novel.

Flatland by Edwin A. Abbott

Speaking of which, do you know of any works of fiction that demonstrate the principles you’re interested in?

Good question. Not too many spring to mind. A classic is Flatland by Edwin Abbot - the quintessential metaphor for perceiving multiple dimensions. The guy wrote a book about perceiving multiple dimensions in the 1800s! Impressive.

A recent book that blew my mind was Accelerando by Charles Stross. He has a great worldview but his insights were more in terms of extrapolating the directions technology is going in.

Yourself? Any suggestions?

Snow Crash seems like it might be relevant. Or the film Run Lola Run.

I am ashamed to admit that I haven’t read Snow Crash. Why do you say Run Lola Run? Time? Sensitivity to initial conditions?

Yep. It shows how tiny changes in a system can have far-ranging results. A starting delay of only a couple of seconds radically changes things for several characters in the different timelines.

True. I’m not going to mention Back to the Future 2 or The Butterfly Effect (although I just did).

Have you heard of the 1990 film, Mindwalk?

No.

It was co-written by Fritjof Capra and consists of several characters discussing the nature of the world from a systems perspective. I have to admit that i fell asleep during it… but I was very tired.

That sounds pretty amazing though.

Yeah - good credentials right there.

My personal favourites are any films or books that push society’s limits. Subversive materials rule in my book (no pun intended). Anything that helps me push back my pre-conceptions and shatter my expectations. They were great at that in the 70s, in music, film and literature. Probably a side-effect of the 60s experimentations. I’m a big fan of exploitation flicks.

Let’s see, what else… I haven’t read Alan Moore’s Big Numbers. But Moore seems to have a pretty good grasp on complexity, judging by Watchmen and From Hell.

I haven’t read Big Numbers either. What elements do you think he draws on in those books?
Watchmen

Watchmen itself seems to be very mathematical - the use of symmetry and so on. In terms of themes, maybe it doesn’t touch on this stuff much, apart from some of Dr. Manhattan’s comments.

Yeah, he definitely weaves a non-linear richness into his tales that is admirable. The way he weaves the various threads of a story together.

I forget why I thought From Hell was relevant. Maybe it’s not.

Also, he calls himself a chaos magician. Watching an interview with him a while back, I could actually identify with a lot of what he was saying.

I wasn’t going to go there, but… have you studying chaos magic or the occult at all?

No I haven’t. That Moore interview is probably as far as I have gone. It’s just not a direction I feel I can go in and remain “grounded” if I want other researchers to take me seriously. But I can definitely see how he got there.

Well, I have and I think you’re better off studying natural sciences, systems, and complexity IMHO.

[Laughs] Cool, thanks for the advice.

But the book Techgnosis by Erik Davis examines a lot of parallels between information theory and cybernetics and mysticism and the occult. I think it stands up pretty well, even if you’re not interested in magic.

I think you have to have a certain detachment to take a step back and observe the world. And when you start seeing everything as inter-related and part of the same thread it becomes easier to start imagining that you can define the tapestry with your perceptions. I guess I don’t want to open that Pandora’s Box. In my view it untethers you. Again, talking from an inexperienced point of view in this area.

Davis’ book sounds interesting though.

From an interview with Manuel DeLanda (who you might be interested in) -conducted by Davis, incidentally:

As Deleuze says, “Always keep a piece of fresh land with you at all times.” Always keep a little spot where you can go back to sleep after a day of destratification. Always keep a small piece of territory, otherwise you’ll go nuts.

Yeah exactly. I find that the concepts I deal with in my day job challenge me enough, and that’s all based on empirically grounded ‘fact’ in the scientific literature.

Most people work very hard to maintain their reality, but I do think that you have to have an affinity towards detachment. A certain world view that is open to having your illusions shattered and actually enjoying that experience. And the cutting edge of science delivers those experiences in spades.

Kyle Findlay

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