Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘documentary’

20 APRIL, 2012

To Infinity and Beyond: BBC Untangles the Most Exponential Mystery

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‘There are infinitely many infinities, each one infinitely bigger than the last.’

From BBC’s fantastic Horizon series — which previously explored such intriguing topics as the nature of reality, the age-old tension between science and religion, how music works, the volatile history of chemistry, Richard Feynman’s legacy, quantum mechanics, and the nature of time — comes To Infinity and Beyond, which teases apart the seemingly benign idea of infinity to pull you into a world of perplexing paradoxes.

What is the biggest number? Is the universe infinite? How did the universe begin? Might every event repeat again and again and again and again… Is the Earth just one of uncountable copies, tumbling through an unending void? Your intuition is no use here. Faith alone can’t save you.

Mathematicians have discovered there are infinitely many infinities, each one infinitely bigger than the last. And if the universe goes on forever, the consequences are even more bizarre. In an infinite universe, there are infinitely many copies of the Earth and infinitely many copies of you. Older than time, bigger than the universe and stranger than fiction. This is the story of infinity.

For complementary mind-bending reading, treat yourself to physicist Lawrence Krauss’s A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing and David Deutsch’s The Beginning of Infinity, one of the 11 best science books of 2011.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/0375869832/ref=as_li_ss_til?tag=braipick-20&camp=0&creative=0&linkCode=as4&creativeASIN=0375869832&adid=02YXM5MD2VFTBCC5WMM6&Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

11 APRIL, 2012

It Started with Muybridge: Vintage Short Film by the U.S. Department of Defense, 1965

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What galloping horses have to do with nuclear reactors and supersonic missiles.

This week marked the 182nd birthday of photographer Eadweard Muybridge, who conducted some of the earliest experiments in chronophotography and whose locomotion studies shaped early animation. In 1965, more than half a century after Muybridge passed away, the U.S. Department of Defense commissioned It Started with Muybridge — a fascinating short documentary, currently in the public domain, tracing how Muybridge’s motion studies contributed to the science and technology of the Atomic Age, from testing the safety limits of nuclear reactors to measuring the speed of supersonic missiles.

Towards the beginning of the film is also a fine addition to this omnibus of famous definitions of science:

Discovery begins with observation. The scientist studies forms, movement, patterns — the commonplace with the unusual.

For some ownable Muybridge, see Eadweard Muybridge: The Human and Animal Locomotion Photographs and grab a print of his most iconic work from 20×200.

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09 APRIL, 2012

How Long Is a Piece of String? BBC and Comedian Alan Davies Explore Quantum Mechanics

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Making sense of 319.44 millimeters of infinity.

The fine folks at BBC’s Horizon series have previously explored such intriguing topics as the nature of reality, the age-old tension between science and religion, how music works, the volatile history of chemistry, and what time really is.

In How Long is a Piece of String?, they enlist standup-comic-turned-physics-enthusiast Alan Davies in answering the seemingly simple question of the film’s title, only to find in it a lens — a very blurry lens — on the very fabric of reality. Along the way, Davies asks some of the world’s top scientists to measure his piece of string, gets repeatedly discombobulated by mathematician Marcus du Sautoy (he of The Number Mysteries fame), and turns to quantum mechanics to try to work out where the individual atoms and particles that make up the string actually are. The result is as enlightening as it is entertaining.

Your string does not actually possess a length. Somehow, by measuring it, we create a length for the string.

The matter of everybody in the world, the whole of the human race, amounts to a sugar cube. The rest is just space.

Reality, in some sense, does not exist unless we’re actually observing it. And it’s our act of observation that makes things real.

For a deeper dive into these most fascinating frontiers of human thought, you won’t go wrong with Brian Cox’s The Quantum Universe: Everything That Can Happen Does Happen.

@kirstinbutler

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29 MARCH, 2012

Brian Cox Explains Entropy and the Arrow of Time with Sandcastles and Glaciers

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Understanding the joy and tragedy of the human condition through desert sand and polar ice.

It’s hard not to be perpetually perplexed by time and its arrow, which we’ve previously examined through a BBC documentary, a visual history of the timeline, and 7 essential books. After Minute Physics’ animated one-minute explanation of entropy and the Arrow of Time, here comes physicist Brian Cox with his penchant for using ordinary objects to explain the extraordinary: In this fantastic segment from BBC’s The Wonders of the Universe, Cox builds sandcastles in the Namib Desert to explain why, thanks to the second law of thermodynamics, entropy is the reason time flows in one direction.

Entropy always increases… because it’s overwhelmingly more likely that it will.

In another segment from the same program, Cox uses the Perito Moreno glacier in Patagonia, Argentina to explain the Arrow of Time and its unidirectional movement:

The Arrow of Time dictates that as each moment passes, things change, and once these changes have happened, they are never undone. Permanent part is a I a fundamental part of being human. We all age as the years pass by — people are born, they live, and they die. I suppose it’s part of the joy and tragedy of our lives, but out there in the universe, those grand and epic cycles peer eternal and unchanging. But that’s an illusion. See, in the life of the universe, just as in our lives, everything is irreversibly changing.

Cox’s new book, The Quantum Universe: Everything That Can Happen Does Happen, came out last month and is a mind-bender of the most stimulating kind.

The Kid Should See This

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