Science Corner

Well, CERN still hasn't blown us all up, and the time saved has been one of fantastic discovery and contention. I was too busy and distracted to blog this last Summer, but I was fascinated by the science stories that caught my eye.

Let's start, Paracelsus-style, with the big and go down to the small. John Gribbin has long been an interesting physicist, and wrote a book once on Entropy which I read in a hot car in a car park, near a fish and chip shop, when I was fourteen or so--long ago. His central contention, as I recall, was that the very nineteenth century physics idea that thermodynamics, and specifically the second law, formed some sort of binding Hobbesian statute in the universe, was unquestionable. Consequently, matter and energy would proceed with diminishing return to an inevitable heat death in some impossible future. At the time he wrote, one may as well have quoted the Bhagvad-Gita as raised the idea of white holes and a multiverse. These were manically outrageous concepts to the scientific mind.

Yet now, thirty years later or so, what do we see? Moved by the idea of a paradigm shift, Dr Gribbin is entertaining the view that the Universe may have been designed by slightly superior scientists in a cern-style experiment. He's been much taken with the multiverse for a while, displaying that mixture of gnostic, Mormon and discarded Hindu ideas which one sees in some scientists.

Gribbin bases what at first glance appears to be a somewhat doting insight (it isn't, but it may be akin to James Lovelock's raging against his own mortality and calling it Gaia) on a point Michael Frayn has made a good bit of money out of. The universe seems uniquely suited to complex life when it did not have to be. A slight change in light here, a shift in the way molecular bonding works there, an underabundance of things that are just present in enough quantity--and nothing would have been.

I don't have the astrophysical chops to argue much with Gribbin, and several very good Chemists and Physicists I know rate his idea. What does occur to me is that, if quantum entanglement is a given, and if the universe is as it appears to be a system wider than the capacity of light to cross it but adaptive in some fashion, then a multiverse must exist. Perhaps energy is balanced across universes; one couldn't have time and potential actualising and fading, or things that happened in the future affecting the past unless there was some wider continuum.

The other things that occur are how prone scientists have been to tautological arguments since Aristotle, and also how much of a religious impulse there is within them.

Closer to home, over the past decade, water may have been identified on at least four moons and one planet other than earth in this solar system, at the same time as earth-sized planets are being identified in the wider abroad. Ganymede, Titan, Europa and Earth's moon all seem to have deposits of water, but tidal heating on the first three also raises the possibility that it could be warmed up. Life is very hardy, and ingenious. Water and heat, and basic chemical compounds, lead in some way to it.

We tend to make things similar to that which we know, and in doing so make mistakes. I know that. But, on the edge of a winter which I amongst much better informed others suggested might be bad, because of the way the solar wind is related to cloud formation and the way sunspots relate to earth temperature, my heart still thrilled to see chilled percolate looking like raindrops on the leg of a robot on Mars.

How mad is it to write such a thing? We are such strange primates--making our clever boxes and throwing them at stars.

Writing of which, the space probes now leaving the solar system are encountering somewhat strange forces that are holding them back. Quite what they are is still a matter of speculation, but I wonder what future physicist, like Augustine in the long ago, is hearing 'Tolle Lege, Tolle, Lege' play through his or her mind? Take this and read. Is there a magnetic barrier at the edge of the solar system, or a new force, or are forces wrapped up by gravity in multiple dimensional coils uncoiled at the edge of things?

The aeroscraft has not taken off, and given the recession and the world shortage of helium may not do so. However, the skylon looks like a goer, and I can only hope that it works. In 1969, Armstrong sailed the heavens dark, and the idea that he was some sort of contemporary Columbus was all the rage. Now, people have more or less forgotten what was done. Peak oil may be driving us backward.

There's so much more. Chimerica has begun producing small 'plug and play' nuclear reactors; the Vatican Observatory has joined the Pontifical Academy in the public debate about extraterrestrial life; quantum manipulation of matter has begun to be mastered; and the hypothesis that Magma Oceans rage beneath our feet has grown more solid.

I love science. Meanwhile, Her Majesty's Secretary responsible for the Environment, farming and rural affairs (who has recently lined her own pockets by getting me and others to pay for a nanny despite earning hundreds of thousands, some of it with her husband through a consultancy which was in part based on her position as an MP) says that we should move the hospital-places to the hills in case the Sea-God is angry with us for making smoke.

Onward and Upward. We may be able to leave the solar system, but my kindle--which I have preloaded with lots of books from project gutenberg and Amazon's cheap sections--has still not arrived....