Tag Archives: science

Thought #37. Dust.

In the sixteenth century Nicolaus Copernicus developed a theory in which he positioned the Sun near the centre of the Universe, with Earth and the rest of the planets, orbiting around. Despite being imprecise, his theory had laid the foundations for more accurate hypothesis that would be proved in the following two centuries. Now, we know full well that neither the Earth nor the Sun are at the centre of the Universe. In fact, we already know about the existence of exoplanets, which are planets beyond our solar system. As of today, 3475 of those have been confirmed. Kepler 150-f, an Ice Giant, is the latest discovery.

How are exoplanets found? Being completely ignorant about this subject, I would never dare to give a detailed explanation. However, according to NASA’s website, the vast majority of exoplanets are detected by using a technique named Transit. Stars dim when a planet passes directly between the observer and thus, studying the amount of light shed by a star, we can detect the presence of orbiting planets. Logically, we have not yet seen a fraction of the potential solar systems among the stars that are visible at night with the naked eye. The Universe has immense proportions.

Bearing in mind the immensity of the Universe, I would like to radically change the subject and finish today’s post by talking about dust. Not stardust or cosmic dust, just dust. The one that settles between the observer and the object.  The one that accumulates on cupboards, desks, chairs, kettles, souvenirs, or any other banal item. The arch-enemy of allergics, the annoying thing, which triggers a look of disapproval on your mother-in-law’s face. That is the dust that really matters today. Ergo, I would like to praise dust effusively.

The reason is simple, dust has the ability to tell a story. A storyteller that can reveal the amount of time that has passed since you had a coffee, you read that novel, you played the piano, you used that sunglasses, you cooked your mother’s recipes, you had sex, etc. Because dust does not accumulate on living objects, at least on those parts that we regularly use.

Look around you. Read. Be an explorer like those of NASA who are trying to cast light on the origins of the Universe or the origins of life. Let dust orbit around you, love it, praise it, take care of it. In the end, you will be dust too.

Thought #22. The elephant in the room.

Had Darwin never been born, religion would be in better shape today. Well, this statement is not necessarily true, appearances can be deceptive and neither is atheism a spin-off of modern times, nor is religion even in decline. Despite the fact that Charles Darwin is widely regarded as the father of evolutionism and thus of atheism, the rise of disbelief in the modern world has ancient roots. In other words, it is as old as the hills.

However, it is small wonder that atheism has not turned up trumps. Although there is no scientific evidence of the supernatural, mankind’s tendency to believe the unbelievable is an immemorial custom. This deeply ingrained behaviour has been, is and will be an inseparable part of human beings. Apparently, people need to believe in something, true or false.

The paradoxical nature of any kind of religion is basically incontestable, and as yet neither the Greeks nor Science have been capable of convincing believers that living in blissful ignorance could be tantamount to squandering a whole life.  Should there exist a highly controversial subject, it is without doubt the struggle between Science and religion. I understand that no one should be able to judge others on account of their beliefs, but it is no less true that religious justice has historically done a great disservice to their own devotees.

From a purely secular point of view, fervent believers have been largely belittled by their faith. By imposing arbitrary limits on the freedom of action of they followers, religions utter thinly-veiled threats of committing sins and it must be difficult to live when anything could end up weighing on your conscience.

Faith can move mountains, but it cannot avert wars or prevent capital punishment. Do I have to take this matter of misleading leaders seriously? Do I need to believe in a God that promises eternal life and yet allows brutality and savagery? I do not think so. The Spanish inquisition is only an example of religious intolerance and repression towards other beliefs. Countless deaths were caused in vain then, and countless will be caused in the future for “Their” sake.

Fortunately, I do not think the future of humanity is at risk, unless a cruel twist of fate leads us to extinction. Although creationism is still in its heyday, I firmly believe in our intellectual capacities. Science would well need more time to probe deep into the origins of life and find the missing link but the paradoxical nature of a hypothesis will eventually cease to be a paradox when factual evidence emerges and the elephant in the room vanishes once and for all.

Thought #11. Change your mind.

 

I love people capable of enjoying and appreciating every moment to the full. There exists a food-related word that goes perfectly well with the act of lingering enjoyment: savour.

This afternoon I was savouring the embrace of a cosy wing chair when I started asking myself about the definition of thought. After a refreshing siesta, I’m back in front of the computer, determined to type in something aesthetically attractive about thinking and thoughts, brains and minds.

Obviously, thought is the act of thinking. To us, human beings, the brain seems to be the closest thing to a magic wand that almost every single creature has. As always, there are exceptions that prove the rule, though. Deep-sea sponges, for example, are devoid of brain and have lived for millions of years successfully. Some scientists now accept as true that they once had a brain but discarded it. Apparently, there are not the only animals without the organ controlling thought, memory, feelings, etc.

Seemingly, my mind is wandering again. Let me go back to square one. However, the reader must not expect an organised essay as this is just a memory dump.

“I think, therefore I am.” (Rene Descartes)

“You liar, look at sponges!” (Me)

Well, I wonder Descartes did not know about these new insights into thinking machines, aka “brains”. What appears to be more certain is that the ability to be sentient is not exclusive to human beings. Last year, Sir David Attenborough joined 21 signatories to an open letter calling for the end to cruel brain tests on primates. Mr Attenborough explained that there is enough evidence to conclude that primates not only have feelings but also can suffer, for all intents and purposes, like us. Therefore it is inhuman to treat them as mere animals.

Sooner or later, as expected, the obvious counter-argument to the above objection was raised. More than 400 scientists including two Nobel laureates signed another open letter letting it be known that brain experiments on primates are still useful for many purposes and, in particular, are crucial to medical advances.

I read those news items when they were published. After chewing the issue over since then, I have formed a clear mental picture of the crudely wired chimps. In the cold light of day, I realised how cruel and evil we can become. I can’t just bury my head in the sand. I would call on all scientists to think outside the box in order to come up with an alternative solution.

Being a layman in science, I should not judge experts. It just so happens that I keep going over and over the chimp’s picture in my mind and that is unbearable. I prefer to think back to when I saw a couple of chimps capering around in an Attenborough’s documentary, a vivid savouring memory which is still an intoxicating thought.

In conclusion, should scientists rack their brains, they will surely have second thoughts about torturing our closest ancestors. This way, my mind could be set at rest once and for all. It speaks for itself, to err is human and to change your mind is, more often than not, a wise choice.