Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘science’

24 FEBRUARY, 2012

The Science of Why the Past is Different from the Future, Animated

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Measuring the universe’s disorder in order to understand the arrow of time.

I remain fascinated by time — its science, its visual representation, its subjective perception, its philosophical dimension. This wonderful short video from Minute Physics, based on Sean Carroll’s From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time, explores one of the most mind-bending questions about time: what makes the past different from the future?

Every difference between the past and the future can ultimately be traced to the fact that the entropy was lower in the past and is growing — that’s the second law of thermodynamics: the universe was orderly, and is becoming more disorderly.

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23 FEBRUARY, 2012

Systematic Wonder: A Definition of Science That Accounts for Whimsy

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On “the sheer love of allowing the mental engine to spin free.”

We march through the world armed with intuition and rationality to conquer the unknown, the two in near-constant friction in a culture that frames them as opposing forces. We turn to science and the scientific method as the ultimate bastion of rationality in our quest for Truth. But science isn’t merely reason, science is culture. It’s a poetic and practical sensemaking mechanism for the universe and our place in it, the totality of whose machinery is greater than the sum of its logical parts. In this poignant short excerpt from A General Theory of Love, one of the 5 essential books on the psychology of love, psychiatrists Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, and Richard Lannon eloquently capture that elusive, often intentionally dismissed, but wildly important aspect of science that embraces intuition and imagination:

Science is an inherent contradiction — systematic wonder — applied to the natural world. In its mundane form, the methodical instinct prevails and the result, an orderly procession of papers, advances the perimeter of knowledge, step by laborious step. Great scientific minds partake of that daily discipline and can also suspend it, yielding to the sheer love of allowing the mental engine to spin free. And then Einstein imagines himself riding a light beam, Kekule formulates the structure of benzene in a dream, and Fleming’s eye travels past the annoying mold on his glassware to the clear ring surrounding it — a lucid halo in a dish otherwise opaque with bacteria — and penicillin is born. Who knows how many scientific revolutions have been missed because their potential inaugurators disregarded the whimsical, the incidental, the inconvenient inside the laboratory?”

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21 FEBRUARY, 2012

Why Everything is Connected to Everything Else, Explained in 100 Seconds

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Rockstar physicist Brian Cox uses quantum mechanics to illustrate one of the deepest truths of existence.

UPDATE: Sean Carroll (previously) has a well-argued critique of Cox’s explanation. Thanks, Siddharth.

Last week, physicist Brian Cox showed us why everything that could happen does happen in a riveting tour of the quantum universe. In this fascinating short excerpt from BBC’s A Night With The Stars, Cox turns to the Pauli exclusion principle — a quantum mechanics theorem holding that no two identical particles may occupy the same quantum state simultaneously — to explain why everything is connected to everything else, an idea at once utterly mind-bending and utterly intuitive, found everywhere from the most ancient Buddhist scripts to the most cutting-edge research in biology and social science.

This shift of the configuration of the electrons inside the diamond has consequences, because the sum total of all the electrons of the universe must respect Pauli. Therefore, every electron around every atom in the universe must be shifting as I heat the diamond up, to make sure that none of them end up in the same energy level. When I heat this diamond up, all the electrons in the universe instantly but imperceptibly change their energy levels. So everything is connected to everything else.”

For a deeper dive into this infinitely fascinating world, treat your mind to Cox’s The Quantum Universe.

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