The God Delusion

It’d probably be an understatement to describe The God Delusion as a controversial book. Written by Professor Richard Dawkins from Oxford University, the book describes itself as a "hard-hitting, impassioned rebuttal of religion of all types and does so in the lucid, witty and powerful language for which he is renowned".

It’s certainly not the type of book I’d normally have picked up; I received it at Christmas. I will say after reading it that I thought it was a fantastic book which I enjoyed a lot.

It certainly is a well argued systematic rebuttal of religion. Dawkins writes clearly and explores many of the topics he covers with jokes, examples and letters which he has received. Besides simply exploring the evidence about God, Dawkins argues that it is perfectly rational to be an atheist – that atheists can be good and happy people.

I think the main aim of this book is to change the minds of agnostics and pantheists (those who believe in God in the more metaphorical sense that Einstein does). If you consider yourself an atheist, you may find this book an interesting read. Dawkins also challenges religious people to read it as a test of faith, but that seems to have just sparked off somebody to write a book called The Dawkins Delusion, which in turn has been parodied by a Youtube Video.

Scientists and free-thinking philosophers will love this book which will explore not only God but issues such as morality and how we tell whether something is right or wrong. It could be considered a form of religious conversion but it’s possible to read the book critically and to make up your own mind. And  at the very least, it should inspire you to write a blog post or two about it.

3rd Stargate Series: "Stargate Universe"

Gateworld reports that the third series of Stargate has the working title "Stargate Universe" and that it will deal with the ninth chevron.

Gateworld

The new series has been conceived to be "a completely separate, third entity," Cooper said in an interview — "much more so than Atlantis was. Atlantis was much more of a spin-off seires of SG-1 and was sort of born out of SG-1."

Like many of the producers ideas, Cooper said, the idea for Stargate Universe was originally conceived as a stand-alone movie. "When we originally were sitting around talking about this we were trying to come up with ideas for a Stargate feature — not an SG-1 feature or an Atlantis feature, but a feature that would fit into the Stargate franchise that we feel we have created," Cooper said. "We were thinking, ‘How do we create a third arm to the franchise that is very connective and that fans will feel is born out of the material that has come before, but at the same time is very much something that stands alone?’

What We Know

  • Targeted for early 2008
  • Ninth Chevron plays big role in series
  • Will be separate from SG-1 and Atlantis, rather than spin-offs.
  • Will be gate-based rather than ship-based
  • Will be set in the present; will not be a prequel or a sequel
  • Will relate to existing mythology but will have separate storylines
  • Will have a team on adventures (presumably a team from Earth)

The Name

My first reaction when I saw the name "Stargate Universe" was really of shock. It’s a terrible name, almost something you’d expect from a children’s television programme. It doesn’t really seem to capture any of the magic but it is only a working title so may change. 

The Ninth Chevron 

We know that the show will involve the 9th chevron. It has been hotly debated amongst fans of what this chevron does. 

We know that most gate addresses use 7 chevrons. The 8th chevron is used to add an extra distance calculation like a area dialing code; it was required to travel to Atlantis and the Asgard galaxy. The name "Universe" implies that the show will perhaps be set in a much larger area than SG-1 which is set in the Milky Way, and Atlantis which is set in the Pegasus galaxy. The 9th chevron perhaps will add yet another distance calculation – like an international dialing code.

Some have suggested the 9th chevron could account for time or parallel universes. The first is unlikely, as the show is set in the present, and the producers of Stargate have made it quite clear that they don’t want to dabble with time travel, causality.

The second is a possibility. We know that the idea for Stargate Universe originally was for a movie. It’s quite easy to imagine a movie which is set in a parallel universe. However, there is already a quantum mirror to travel between universes. Effects such as the entropic cascade failure have already been established. And the title of the series is Universe, singular, not Universes.

My bet would be on the 9th chevron being an additional distance calculation. 

Mythology 

We also know that the show ties into existing mythology. So the chances are, the Ancients will come into it somehow. The whole Ancients storyline has been done in Atlantis and the Ori have been done to death and finished in SG-1. It’s hard to imagine a series which will be able to relate to the Ancients again, without having it tie in to existing story lines in SG1/Atlantis. 

Stargate also has a lot of mythology about the Goa’uld, but as far as we’re concerned they’ve been finished off. But it’s possible there could still be Goa’uld around, who have perhaps worked out how to use the ninth chevron, and escape to another galaxy. Then again, coming back to the Goa’uld could make a very, very tedious TV show. 

Movie Tie-In?

The original plan was for one of the SG-1 movies to "dovetail" into the third series. We know of two SG-1 movies at the moment:

The Ark of Truth, where SG-1 travels to the Ori home galaxy in an attempt to stop their onslaught.

Continuum, where the timeline has been altered, meaning the Stargate programme never existed.

It is unlikely a movie could be spun from Continuum. In some ways, it would provide a reset button and allow us to go back to the mythology of the original movie. This is unlikely, and certainly discovering the ninth chevron when the Stargate programme doesn’t even exist. Then again, if the ninth chevron travels between universes…

More likely, a third series could be launched from The Ark of Truth. There would be opportunities for tie-ins with the Ancients storyline, and presumably the Ori will be destroyed, leaving a whole galaxy to be explored.

Just Speculation

Of course, we know very little about the third series, and it’s all speculation.

Are Particle Accelerators Worthwhile?

In particle accelerators such as those at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland and Fermilab in Chicago, IL, scientists accelerate particles to high speeds with huge amounts of energy, colliding particles, to probe the building blocks of matter – the quarks, bosons, leptons, the neutrinos.

Just recently, scientists at the Tevatron in Fermilab, Chicago believe they have finally found the elusive Higg’s boson, the one member of the standard model of particle physics which, to date, hasn’t yet been found. The Higg’s boson is believed to be the particle which gives particles mass.

Large Hadron Collider

Right next to Geneva airport in Switzerland, sits CERN. It’s a huge particle physics research laboratory with a massive particle accelerator. CERN is funded by the 20 countries which are signatories of the CERN convention.

CERN 

The picture shows a circular ring which is the particle accelerator at CERN, and Geneva Airport is in the foreground. The Large Hadron Collider, as it is now known as is located about 100m underground and has a circumference of 27km. It even crosses the border between France and Switzerland; several times!

The Large Hadron Collider is set to go through engineering tests next month and to open later this year. It cost around $2.5billion USD to build. Considering that one of the reasons the LHC was built was to look for the Higgs boson, the Europeans will surely be pretty pissed if the Americans pipped them at the post with a fairly old piece of kit.

The Future?

Although the LHC isn’t even yet complete, scientists are already planning upgrades and improvements.

Physicists are already campaigning for a successor to the LHC – the International Linear Collider (ILC). The cost is estimated at $10bn with an aim to develop a Grand Unified Theory of everything combining the forces of nature: electromagnetism, gravity and the nuclear forces.

Is it worth it? 

Though I personally think it’s be great to develop a unified theory, I do wonder whether it’s worthwhile to spend $8.2billion on a particle accelerator. It might tell us a little bit more about why there is so much matter and so little antimatter around, and the conditions in the first seconds of our universe, right after the Big Bang.

But is there any use in knowing that? I certainly understand the desire simply to discover and to find out something, simply for the knowledge. But at the day, how do we benefit from understanding sparticles, muons or string theory?

At the same time, $8.2billion could do so much good elsewhere. Maybe we can develop treatments for cancers or AIDS, which could save millions of lives. We could find a solution for global warming: a problem which will affect each and every one of us, every day.

So I suppose I’d like to put out this question:

Is it worth pouring over $8billion into a project which ultimately will not lead to any practical benefit or technology? Should we be putting so much money into a new particle accelerator when we’ve just built one at great expense, even though it turns out that we may not have needed it after all?

Edit: This article originally incorrectly stated $2bn was spent on the LHC. The actual figure is closer to $10bn according to The Economist. 

Pi Day

It’s Pi Day tomorrow! March the 14th, or 3/14 as written in the American MM/DD date format. This is of course a worldwide celebration of the mathematical constant which is the ratio of the circumference of a circle to the radius.

Ideas to celebrate Pi day:

  • Pi recitation contest. I reached 55 digits once but I’m currently down to 40: 3.1415926535897932384626433832795028841971
  • Pie eating contest (first you have to measure the circumference and radius of the pie to ensure that it is a perfect circle).
  • Hypnotise yourself on YTMND.
  • Allow your computer to celebrate pi day by making it calculate 256 million digits of pi!
  • Watch the film Pi.

A few facts:

  • In the movie The Matrix Reloaded, 314 seconds is "the length and breadth of the window" which Neo has to reach the "source" of the matrix.
  • In the Star Trek episode "Wolf in the Fold", when the computer of the Enterprise is taken over by an evil consciousness, Spock tells the computer to figure π to the last digit, which incapacitates the entity as all computer resources are devoted to this impossible task. (obviously the USS Enterprise doesn’t have dual-core technology. Could a forkbomb take down the USS Enterprise?)
  • In Time Warp Trio, Sam shuts down a threatening robot by telling it that his number was π.

Have a good Pi Day!

Relativity

A little post about Einstein’s theories of relativity.

Special Relativity

With Special Relativity, Einstein updated the laws for motion which were set out by Newton, the laws that we learn today in maths lessons.

Einstein’s special relativity said that we are all moving at the speed of light, all of the time. There are of course the 3 dimensions of space and 1 dimension of time. At the moment you’re probably sitting on a chair in front of a computer, and unless you are one of those people who swing your chair from side to side, you’ll be stationary.

Time Travel is possible!

According to Einstein, that means you are moving through time, at the speed of light. It’s difficult to imagine that because we don’t experience the dimension of time like we do with space.

Imagine you were moving at half the speed of light – your speed of movement through the dimension of time will actually be the remaining half the speed of light. Time is not a constant!

An real-world analogy with a bike

We can try to explain the above behaviour using some trigonometry – imagine somebody on their bike, riding northwards at 5mph. If we resolve their motion in the northerly direction, they move at 5mph; in the easterly direction they move at 0mph.

Now imagine they were moving North East at 5mph. If we resolve their movement in the North direction, it could be 3mph, in the East Direction it could be 4mph. The bike still moves at 5mph, but because some of the motion is now directed in the East direction, it moves more slowly through the North direction.

General Relativity

A few years after his theory of special relativity, Einstein came up with general relativity. This was a theory of relativity which also took gravity into account.

Imagine you are sitting on a Boeing 747, cruising at 570mph. Aside from looking through the windows and occasionally feeling turbulence, you can’t actually tell that you’re moving. I suppose what Einstein said was that you could claim that actually the whole world was revolving around you, and that would be a perfectly valid thing to say.

But when you feel turbulence, you know your definitely moving. You can feel it. Similarly when your taking off – you couldn’t claim that you were stationary. You feel the g-forces pushing you into the back of the seat.

You can feel accelerated motion and accelerated motion will influence the laws of physics and the behaviour around you. However, once you are moving at a constant speed, the laws of physics are exactly identical to if you were totally stationary.

Gravity

With general relativity, Einstein combined gravity and relativity. He said that gravity is the exact same thing as accelerated motion. We feel our weight on the ground is because gravity is pulling us towards the Earth. That’s the same thing as acceleration, thus why we can have zero-g flights in the sky.

When a plane is in freefall and moving at it’s terminal velocity, air resistance upwards is equal to gravity downwards. The resultant force is zero, so you feel weightless.

Newton and the Apple

We have already said that anybody moving at a constant velocity can claim they are stationary, and the laws of physics will back them up.

Objects which are accelerating or under the influence of gravity cannot.

With general relativity, Einstein dismissed the idea of an absolute space or absolute time. They’re both relative. We can move through space at different velocities or through time at a different speed, and observe that everybody else is moving relative to us.

However, he also introduced absolute spacetime. If an object moves at constant velocity without acceleration or gravity, that object can claim that it is stationary.

So lets go back to Newton, and the infamous apple which struck him on the head. Newton feels the force of gravity, so he cannot claim that he is stationary. The apple, however, is in freefall. Assuming it reaches terminal velocity, the apple can claim it is stationary.

What does this mean? No, the apple did not fall and hit Newton on his head. In fact, it was Newton’s head which rose and struck the apple!

YouTube Picks

A few picks from YouTube.

Infinite Solutions

Infinite Solutions with Mark Erickson is a pretty genius and funny video channel. He makes video tutorials about some pretty stupid stuff but makes it look so real that most people will actually believe it.

View YouTube Channel

Kiwi

This is a really nicely done animation, which has been viewed over 6 million times.

The Dawkins Delusion

If you’ve read The God Delusion, you’ll find this absolutely hilarious.

Penn & Teller – Water Banning Petition

The Dihydrogen Monoxide prank is quite famous. It sounds dangerous; perhaps because of monoxide’s association with the deadly carbon monoxide. It’s just water. Penn and Teller asked people to sign their petition to ban DHMO (Water) to show that in fact, too many of us sign petitions without knowing what it’s even about.

Unkle – An Eye for an Eye

This is quite a strange anti-war music video. It’s a powerful video and could either confuse or stick with you for the next few days.

Lunar Eclipse

Eclipse

It was, of course, the lunar eclipse last night. I took some pictures at 5 minute intervals and created an animated gif out of them.

See larger version of animation. 

The first frame was taken at 9:53 PM GMT and the last at 10:33 PM GMT.

Taken using a handheld "point and shoot" Canon camera at 4x optical zoom so the quality isn’t too good, but I still think it’s pretty cool nonetheless.

I’m not sure why but the moon actually appeared blue around 10:18. The animation actually shows the moon becomes yellow, then blue, followed by red. Images were taken on a 1/350 exposure. 

Anyone else go out to see the eclipse?