Author: Sam

Religion vs Science

Religion vs Science

As the West becomes more and more secular, and the discoveries of evolutionary biology and cosmology shrink the boundaries of faith, the claims that science and religion are compatible grow louder. If you’re a believer who doesn’t want to seem anti-science, what can you do? You must argue that your faith – or any faith – is perfectly compatible with science. And so one sees claim after claim from believers, religious scientists, prestigious science organisations and even atheists asserting not only that science and religion are compatible, but also that they can actually help each other. This claim is called “accommodationism.” But I argue that this is misguided: that science and religion are not only in conflict – even at “war” – but also represent incompatible ways of viewing the world. My argument runs like this. I’ll construe “science” as the set of tools we use to find truth about the universe, with the understanding that these truths are provisional rather than absolute. These tools include observing nature, framing and testing hypotheses, trying your hardest …

Brexit: A Profound level of political stalemate

Brexit: A Profound level of political stalemate

After the collapse of Theresa May’s efforts to push her withdrawal agreement through parliament, and the failed subsequent Conservative Party motion of no-confidence against her, two factors have been fairly well established. There appears to be no withdrawal agreement available that commands a majority in the House of Commons, least of all the current one. And both parliament and the Conservative Party lack the will to oust the prime minister. Not only is opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn reluctant to submit the motion required for parliament to hold a vote of no confidence because he does not think it would pass, but in addition, May is safe from another confidence vote from her party for a full year. In short, Britain is now in a situation where the prime minister is relatively safe in her position but unable to move forward on the most important subject of the day. This is a profound level of political stalemate at a time when some form of forward motion is urgently required. There are no immediate solutions available. The …

How mathematicians still grapple with the issues Einstein confronted

Albert Einstein released his general theory of relativity at the end of 1915. He should have finished it two years earlier. When scholars look at his notebooks from the period, they see the completed equations, minus just a detail or two. “That really should have been the final theory,” said John Norton, an Einstein expert and a historian of science at the University of Pittsburgh. But Einstein made a critical last-second error that set him on an odyssey of doubt and discovery — one that nearly cost him his greatest scientific achievement. The consequences of his decision continue to reverberate in math and physics today. Here’s the error. General relativity was meant to supplant Newtonian gravity. This meant it had to explain all the same physical phenomena Newton’s equations could, plus other phenomena that Newton’s equations couldn’t. Yet in mid-1913, Einstein convinced himself, incorrectly, that his new theory couldn’t account for scenarios where the force of gravity was weak — scenarios that Newtonian gravity handled well. “In retrospect, this is just a bizarre mistake,” said Norton. …

Questions about exploring outer space

Questions about exploring outer space

Metallic shrapnel flying faster than bullets; the Space Shuttle smashed to pieces; astronauts killed or ejected into space. The culprit? Space debris – remnants of a Russian satellite blown up by a Russian missile. The one survivor, Ryan Stone, has to find her way back to Earth with oxygen supplies failing and the nearest viable spacecraft hundreds of miles away. Over on Mars, 20 years in the future, an exploration mission from Earth is going wrong. An epic dust storm forces the crew to abandon the planet, leaving behind an astronaut, Mark Watney, who is presumed dead. He has to figure out how to grow food while awaiting rescue. Hollywood knows how to terrify and inspire us about outer space. Movies like Gravity (2013) and The Martian (2015), present space as hostile and unpredictable – spelling danger for any intrepid human who dares to venture outside Earth’s hospitable confines. This is only part of the story, however – the bit with people centre stage. Sure, no one wants to see astronauts killed or stranded in space. And we all …

America’s declining relevance and China’s gains in the South China Sea

America’s declining relevance and China’s gains in the South China Sea

At a top regional security forum on Saturday, US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said China’s recent militarisation efforts in the disputed South China Sea were intended to intimidate and coerce regional countries. Mattis told the Shangri-La Dialogue that China’s actions stood in “stark contrast with the openness of [the US] strategy,” and warned of “much larger consequences” if China continued its current approach. As an “initial response”, China’s navy has been disinvited by the US from the upcoming 2018 Rim of the Pacific Exercise, the world’s largest international naval exercise. It is important to understand the context of the current tensions, and the strategic stakes for both China and the US. In recent years, China has sought to bolster its control over the South China Sea, where a number of claimants have overlapping territorial claims with China, including Vietnam, the Philippines and Taiwan. China’s efforts have continued unabated, despite rising tensions and international protests. Just recently, China landed a long-range heavy bomber for the first time on an island in the disputed Paracels, and deployed anti-ship and anti-air missile systems  to its outposts …

Our Time Has Come - Alyssa Ayres

Our Time Has Come – Alyssa Ayres

How India is Making Its Place in the World Publisher –Oxford University Press     Release Date –Jan 2018   Pages –336    ISBN 978-0-190-49452-0 Over the last 25 years, India’s explosive economic growth has vaulted it into the ranks of the world’s emerging major powers. Long plagued by endemic poverty, India was hamstrung by a burdensome regulatory regime that limited its ability to compete on a global scale until the 1990s. Since then, however, the Indian government has gradually opened up the economy, and the results have been stunning. India’s middle class has grown by leaps and bounds, and the country’s sheer scale—its huge population and $2 trillion economy—means its actions will have a major global impact. From world trade to climate change to democratization, India now matters. While it is clearly on the path to becoming a great power, India has not abandoned all of its past policies: its economy remains relatively protectionist, and it still struggles with the legacy of its longstanding foreign policy doctrine of nonalignment. India’s vibrant democracy encompasses a vast array …

Finding links between the Standard Model of particle physics and the octonions

Finding links between the Standard Model of particle physics and the octonions

In 2014, a graduate student at the University of Waterloo, Canada, named Cohl Furey rented a car and drove six hours south to Pennsylvania State University, eager to talk to a physics professor there named Murat Günaydin. Furey had figured out how to build on a finding of Günaydin’s from 40 years earlier — a largely forgotten result that supported a powerful suspicion about fundamental physics and its relationship to pure math. The suspicion, harbored by many physicists and mathematicians over the decades but rarely actively pursued, is that the peculiar panoply of forces and particles that comprise reality spring logically from the properties of eight-dimensional numbers called “octonions.” As numbers go, the familiar real numbers — those found on the number line, like 1, π and -83.777 — just get things started. Real numbers can be paired up in a particular way to form “complex numbers,” first studied in 16th-century Italy, that behave like coordinates on a 2-D plane. Adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing is like translating and rotating positions around the plane. Complex …

Time to look closer to home

Time to look closer to home

Immigration is at the heart of the Brexit debate. It’s a large reason why economic arguments have failed to sway voters. Despite warnings of the high economic costs of leaving the EU (warnings supported by a majority of economists), immigration has continued to have a powerful influence – and is perhaps the major reason why the opinion polls have become so close in recent weeks. The immigration debate is quite polarised. On one side, the Remain campaign either ducks the issue or focuses on the benefits that immigration brings to the economy as a whole. On the other side, the Leave camp focuses on its costs and plays into fears (often in a cruel and cynical way) that migrants are putting pressure on public services that are already at breaking point. At least among Labour supporters intending to vote leave, immigration also appears to be a key issue. The need for a more even-handed assessment of the costs and benefits of immigration is sorely needed. While immigration brings undoubted benefits, it also places pressures on particular communities. It also feeds a sense of …

Challenges of keeping the masses moving

Cities worldwide face the problems and possibilities of “volume”: the stacking and moving of people and things within booming central business districts. We see this especially around mass public transport hubs. As cities grow, they also become more vertical. They are expanding underground through rail corridors and above ground into the tall buildings that shape city skylines. Cities are deep as well as wide. The urban geographer Stephen Graham describes cities as both “vertically stacked” and “vertically sprawled”, laced together by vertical and horizontal transport systems. People flow in large cities is not only about how people move horizontally on rail and road networks into and out of city centres. It also includes vertical transport systems. These are the elevators, escalators and moving sidewalks that commuters use every day to get from the underground to the surface street level. Major transport hubs are where many vertical and horizontal transport systems converge. It’s here that people flows are most dense. But many large cities face the twin challenges of ageing infrastructure and increased volumes of people flowing through transport …

When Milky Way Collided With a Dwarf Galaxy

When Milky Way Collided With a Dwarf Galaxy

As the Milky Way was growing, taking shape, and minding its own business around 10 billion years ago, it suffered a massive head-on collision with another, smaller galaxy. That cosmic cataclysm changed the Milky Way’s structure forever, shaping the thick spirals that spin out from the supermassive black hole at the galaxy’s core. Two new studies — one published earlier this month, another still under peer review — describe the evidence for this previously unnoticed event. “This is a big step forward,” said Elena D’Onghia, an astrophysicist at the University of Wisconsin who is unaffiliated with the new research. “It’s interesting because we can finally see what the history of the Milky Way is.” To uncover evidence of the collision so many eons later, astronomers have to work like galactic archaeologists, sifting through myriad sources of surviving information to piece together a story consistent with the available evidence. Both research teams relied on data from the European Space Agency’s Gaia space telescope, which has spent years gathering exceptionally rich biographies of millions of stars — …