Matryoshka World

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

What has Curiosity found on Mars?

 Popular Science says to expect some earth shattering news from Mars in the next few weeks:
"Curiosity’s principal investigator, John Grotzinger, was quoted on NPR Tuesday morning saying the team might have some very big news soon. “Earthshaking” was the word of choice from NPR’s science correspondent, Joe Palca. Palca was apparently in Grotzinger’s office when some of the data from SAM started streaming in through the Deep Space Network last week."

Friday, November 2, 2012

Simple Math Could Bridge Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity

One of the great problems of modern physics has been the failure to reconcile the theory of quantum mechanics, which deals with the behavior of fundamental particles, with Einstein’s general theory of relativity, which describes gravity and therefore the behavior of things on a larger scale.  There are some inherent contradictions in the two theories that suggest areas where our understanding is incomplete.

This article at the Scientific American website discusses a recent paper that uses "simple math" to "present a straightforward way for quantum particles to move smoothly from one kind of ‘topological space’ to a very different one."  The article notes that while this may present progress in the reconciliation of the two theories, there is no claim the the theories have been brought together in unifying a theory of quantum gravity:
The analysis does not model gravity explicitly, and so is not an attempt to formulate a theory of ‘quantum gravity’ that brings general relativity and quantum mechanics under one umbrella. Instead, the authors, including Nobel laureate Frank Wilczek of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, suggest that their work might provide a simplified framework for understanding the effects of gravity on quantum particles, as well as describing other situations in which the spaces that quantum particles move in can radically alter, such as in condensed-matter-physics experiments.

The original paper can be found here

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

One Step Closer to Building a Simulated Human Brain

From io9:
 Researchers working at the Blue Brain Project have successfully reconstructed a virtual microcircuit that is making it possible to predict the locations of synapses in the neocortex. This breakthrough could dramatically accelerate the brain-mapping project — while adding further credence to the suggestion that a simulated brain may someday be possible.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

How Do You Count Parallel Universes? You Can’t Just Go 1, 2, 3

Blog post from Scientific American about the "measure problem" of counting parallel universes:

Counting Parallel Universes

"The process produces a family tree of universes. The tree is a fractal: no matter how closely you zoom in, it looks the same. In fact, the tree is a dead ringer for one of the most famous fractals of all, the Cantor set."

Sunday, August 5, 2012

NASA's Press Kit for the Curiosity Landing

Mars Curiosity Landing Press Kit from NASA

This NASA PDF is a treasure trove of information on the Curiosity rover and the current Mars mission.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The "Evo Devo" Universe

The EDU hypothesis is a “just so” story, a self-selected and suspicious fantasy that must be held at arms length until it can be more objectively evaluated. It has parsimony of sorts and intuitive appeal to (at least some) purpose-seeking, biological minds. We present it in a long tradition of Goethe (1790), Schelling (1800), Chambers (1844), Darwin (1859,1871)...and other philosophers of science who suspect a naturalistically teleological (directional, progressive, and partly purposeful) universe that uses natural selection as an integral process, but not the only process in its successive self-improvement.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Strange Neuroscience of Immortality

The Chronicle Review interviews Ken Hayworth  a neuroscientist who believes that "By 2110, mind uploading—the transfer of a biological brain to a silicon-based operating system—will be as common as laser eye surgery is today."

Monday, July 23, 2012

How big is the universe?

This excellent blog post by Ethen Siegal explains how the latest findings from the WMAP satellite indicate the radius of the universe is at least 150 times larger than the observable universe.  So, at a minimum the universe is vastly larger than what we can actually observe.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Brian Greene offers explanation on the Higgs field and mass

The following post by Brian Greene offers additional (and very interesting) insight into the Higgs field and how fundamental particles derive mass.  In short most of the mass that exists in everyday objects made up of atoms does not come from the Higgs field, but instead results from the nuclear forces inside of the atoms ("gluons").  Because energy and mass are interchangeable this energy imparts the vast majority of the mass to the particles that make up atoms.

Hi Everyone,

Following up on my somewhat cryptic statement on twitter (@bgreene), I want to briefly explain a point about the Higgs idea that, on a few occasions, I’ve seen incorrectly reported.

The Higgs field provides mass to fundamental particles like electrons and quarks, and that’s extremely important. But when it comes to the mass of ordinary matter such as you and me and trucks and baseballs, most of the mass does not arise from the Higgs field.

Ordinary matter is made from atoms, whose mass mainly comes from protons and neutrons—which, in turn, are each made from three quarks. But if you add up the masses of the quarks (whose mass comes from the Higgs) the total is only a few percent of the mass of a proton or neutron. So where does the bulk of the mass of protons and neutrons come from?

The answer comes from Einstein’s famous E = mc^2, written in the equivalent but more illuminating form m = E/c^2, where it establishes that energy (E) yields mass (m). The quarks inside a proton are held together by a kind of nuclear glue (“gluons”), and that glue that harbors significant energy. Indeed, most of the mass of protons (and neutrons) comes from that energy.

So, while the Higgs gives mass to the quarks and other fundamental particles, it’s the energy of the gluons that is responsible for most of the mass of the protons and neutrons, and hence the mass of familiar matter.

--Brian Greene

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Scientists Discover New Particle- Likely Higgs

Higgs discovery

CERN has announced latest findings on the search for the Higgs boson. Experiments confirm a 5 sigma excess, sufficient to qualify as a "discovery" of the new particle.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

More on the Higgs Boson

Below is an extended description of the Higgs Boson (and field) by Dr. Ed Copeland of the University of Nothingham and Sixty Symbols. The interviews also include discussion of who will receive a Nobel Prize if the Higgs is discovered:


Brian Greene on the Higgs at the Aspen Ideas Festival last week

In this clip from NOVA’s The Fabric of the Cosmos with Brian Greene, Peter Higgs himself explains the origins of the hypothetical elementary particle that could help explain how matter was created:

Watch The Higgs Particle Matters on PBS. See more from NOVA.

Evidence mounts that CERN has discovered the Higgs

Science News reports that a video briefly available today on the CERN website appeared to confirm that the European physics lab has discovered a new particle — most likely the long-sought Higgs boson.

 "We've Observed a New Particle" 

CERN has scheduled a major announcement for tomorrow, and anticipation has been building that this announcement will reveal either the discovery of the Higgs Boson, or evidence strongly pointing to the Higgs. 

Joe Incandela, spokesman for the CMS experiment at CERN's Large Hadron Collider, says in the video "It may in the end be one of the biggest discoveries, or observations, of any new phenomenon that we've had in our field in the last 30 or 40 years."

 Per Wikipedia: "The Higgs field is a quantum field that fills all of space, and explains why fundamental particles (or elementary particles) such as quarks and electrons have mass. The Higgs boson is an excitation of the Higgs field above its ground state. The existence of the Higgs boson is predicted by the Standard Model to explain how spontaneous breaking of electroweak symmetry (the Higgs mechanism) takes place in nature, which in turn explains why other elementary particles have mass."  

Higgs Boson

What is the Higgs Boson?

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Future of Scientific Simulations: from Artificial Life to Artificial Cosmogenesis

We argue that a simulation of an entire universe will result from future scientific activity. This requires us to tackle the challenge of simulating open-ended evolution at all levels in a single simulation. The simulation should encompass not only biological evolution, but also physical evolution (a level below) and cultural evolution (a level above). The simulation would allow us to probe what would happen if we would “replay the tape of the universe” with the same or different laws and initial conditions. We also distinguish between real-world and artificial-world modelling. Assuming that intelligent life could indeed simulate an entire universe, this leads to two tentative hypotheses. Some authors have argued that we may already be in a simulation run by an intelligent entity. Or, if such a simulation could be made real, this would lead to the production of a new universe.

 The Future of Scientific Simulations

Monday, June 4, 2012

Scientific American: The Case for Parallel Universes

The Case for Parallel Universes

 "Multiverse proponents Alexander Vilenkin and Max Tegmark offer counterpoints [to previous criticisms of multiverse theory], explaining why the multiverse would account for so many features of our universe—and how it might be tested."


Thursday, May 31, 2012

Scientific American: How a plan for a faster than light communication device led to a breakthrough in understanding quantum mechanics

Scientific American has an interesting blog post on Nick Herbert's attempt to create a faster than light communication device several decades ago that led to the discovery of the "no-cloning theorem": which states an arbitrary or unknown quantum state cannot be copied without disturbing the original state. 

The Faster-Than-Light Telegraph That Wasn't


Friday, May 25, 2012

Monday, May 21, 2012

Brian Greene: Welcome to the Multiverse

Brian Greene has an article in Newsweek about the possibility of a multiverse.

   Welcome to the Multiverse

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Multiverse Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics

Raphael Bousso and Leonard Susskind argue that the many-worlds of quantum mechanics and the many worlds of the multiverse are the same thing.
We argue that the global multiverse is a representation of the many-worlds (all possible decoherent causal diamond histories) in a single geometry. We propose that it must be possible in principle to verify quantum-mechanical predictionsexactly. This requires not only the existence of exact observables but two additional postulates: a single observer within the universe can access in nitely many identical experiments; and the outcome of each experiment must be completely de nite. In causal diamonds with nite surface area, holographic entropy bounds imply that no exact observables exist, and both postulates fail: experiments cannot be repeated in- nitely many times; and decoherence is not completely irreversible, so outcomes are not de nite. We argue that our postulates can be satis ed in \hats" (supersymmetric multiverse regions with vanishing cosmological constant). We propose a complementarity principle that relates the approximate observables associated with nite causal diamonds to exact observables in the hat.
 The Multiverse Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Lack of evidence of dark matter in solar neighborhood may indicate dark matter theories are wrong

A new study of the motions of stars in the Milky Way has found no evidence for dark matter in a large volume around the Sun.

This is's article on the findings:

Serious Blow to Dark Matter Theories?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Monday, April 16, 2012

A disappearing physicist, and a discovery that may lead to understanding dark matter and a real quantum computer has an article on the possible recent discovery of “Majorana fermions” — particles that "would be right on the border between matter and antimatter."

Some theories even suggest that these particles may ultimately provide the explanation for Dark Matter. Also, the article suggests that "Majorana fermions could be fundamental building blocks for a future quantum computer that would be exceptionally stable and barely sensitive to external influences. This would avoid the central problem with all current quantum computers: the dreaded decoherence."

The article is based on this paper published last week in Science Express.

This video summarizes the experiment leading to the discovery:

Friday, April 13, 2012

Artificial Intelligence Could Be on Brink of Passing Turing Test has a post summarizing an article in Science which suggests recent advances in information technology could have us on the brink of strong AI capable of passing a Turing test. This means that if you had a conversation with the computer program you would not be able to distinguish whether you were talking to a program or real person. Kurzweil has predicted the first AI capable of passing the Turing test sometime in the latter part of the next decade.

“Two revolutionary advances in information technology may bring the Turing test out of retirement,” wrote Robert French, a cognitive scientist at the French National Center for Scientific Research, in an Apr. 12 Science essay. “The first is the ready availability of vast amounts of raw data — from video feeds to complete sound environments, and from casual conversations to technical documents on every conceivable subject. The second is the advent of sophisticated techniques for collecting, organizing, and processing this rich collection of data.”

Monday, March 12, 2012

Questions no one knows the answers to

In a new TED-Ed series designed to catalyze curiosity, TED Curator Chris Anderson shares his obsession with questions that no one (yet) knows the answers to. This introduction leads into two questions as follow-up films: Why can't we see evidence of alien life? and How many universes are there? ... Find more TED-Ed videos on our new YouTube channel:

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Technium: Next Transitions

As a follow on to the recent post about future filters civilization may have to survive, the Technium provides this post that considers possible transitions civilization may go through in the foreseeable future:

Next Transitions in the Technium

"What kinds of developmental thresholds would any planet of sentient beings pass through? The creation of writing would be a huge one. The unleashing of cheap non-biological energy is another. The invention of the scientific method is a giant leap. And the fine control of energy (as in electricity) for long-distant communications is significant as well, enabling all kinds of other achievements. Our civilization has passed through all these stages; what are some future transitions we can expect -- no matter the fashions and fads of the day? What are the emergent thresholds of information and energy organization that our civilization can look forward to? Most of these thresholds are gradual, so we can't assign dates, but each of these structures seem to be a natural transition that any civilization must reach sooner or later."

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A website dedicated to the search for harmony between science and religion

"The objective of this website is to collect high-quality, authoritative information on topics in the intersection of science and religion, and to present this information in a rigorous, well-documented manner. Topics range from the philosophy of science, Judeo-Christian theology, biblical scholarship, creationism, intelligent design, modern physics and big bang cosmology, organized into more than 70 separate pages of information (not including numerous articles in the blog). Each article will be updated periodically as new results and scholarship become available. Detailed references are given in all cases."

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A Neophyte’s Guide to the Singularity

From emotional intelligence:

A Neophyte’s Guide to the Singularity

Anyone who’s just learning about the Singularity undoubtedly begins, as I did, with Ray Kurzweil. Prolific inventor, future thinker, it was his 2005 book, The Singularity is Near, that pushed the concept of the Singularity into the public’s consciousness, and he’s been the relentless public face of the idea since. I started with the recent documentary about him, Transcendent Man.

The take aways: Kurzweil is not the only advocate of the Singularity, the concept has its detractors, and there are many lesser riffs on the idea–ways in which technology may amp and extend our performance, capabilities, without taking over.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Fermi's Paradox, the Great Silence and the Great Filter

Recently, thanks in large part to the Kepler space telescope, new planets have been discovered outside of the solar system at an ever increasing rate. Currently, over 750 planets are known to exist outside of the solar system, and Kepler has identified many hundreds of other possible planets that have not been confirmed yet. Further, several planets have already been identified that could possibly support life, including one planet discovery announced yesterday.

It is now generally accepted that planets are plentiful throughout the galaxy and almost certainly throughout the observable universe. This discovery, along with other discoveries (for example the abundance of the materials necessary for life throughout the universe) have greatly increased the odds that life is common. Of course, it is still not completely understood exactly what triggered the first complex molecules to begin replicating and from there evolving, but life arose very soon after it first became possible for life to exist on earth, suggesting that perhaps the starting process was not an exceptionally improbable event, and would occur anywhere that the conditions are right.

This line of thinking leads inevitably to a quandary: if life is in fact common throughout the universe, where are they? Where are the alien visitors welcoming us to the neighborhood? This mystery is known as Fermi's Paradox. The lack of evidence of other intelligent life in the universe has also sometimes been referred to as the Great Silence. A comprehensive (and highly recommended) recent book on the subject by Paul Davies was titled The Eerie Silence. Regardless of what it is called, the lack of any evidence of alien intelligence is mystifying to many who believe all of the trends of discovery in science are moving in the direction of support for the concept that life should not be that uncommon.

But even if it is assumed that life is common, should we really consider it a great mystery we have not discovered life yet in the universe? Of course, before moving on to consider this question it must be acknowledged that there are some who claim earth is currently being visited, and numerous eye witness accounts have been offered supported by photos and videos of alien spacecraft. However, no evidence has been produced that from a scientific point of view would be considered to carry significant weight. Therefore, while such claims can be interesting, they do not constitute evidence of alien intelligence unless something more substantive develops from the supposed visitations. That returns us to the original questions: Where are they and is it a mystery that we haven't heard from anyone yet?

A Great Filter?

One consideration that has been raised is the possibility that despite the fact that planets and the ingredients for life appear to be plentiful throughout the universe, perhaps there is some filter process that keeps life from evolving into stable, advanced civilizations that then spread through the galaxy. Without such a filter, the aliens would surely be here (the argument goes), as once a civilization becomes space faring, it could colonize the galaxy within a relatively short period of time. This line of thinking is somewhat speculative, as will be addressed further below.

Assuming there were a filter, this could potentially have tremendous implications for our own future. There are two basic possibilities- one being that the filter was in our past, and we have already made it through, the other being that the filter lies waiting for us in our future. It is possible that there is some evolutionary step that is highly improbable, or perhaps the initial beginning of life is highly improbable, and we just happened to win the lottery. If this is the case, the filter is behind us and we may have little to worry about.

A far more disturbing possibility is that the filter is in front of us. If this is the case, perhaps every advanced civilization inevitably develops some type of technology that leads to certain and total destruction. Looking at our own future horizon genetic engineering, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence loom as potentially dangerous near term technologies, and there are certain to be many others. Maybe any sufficiently advanced civilization becomes powerful enough to destroy itself completely and this is never avoided. Out of concern of this possibility, some have suggested we should hope to not find any other life, particularly more advanced life, because this would mean the filter is ahead of us and our destruction is virtually assured.

It seems safe to say that the universe can be a fairly hostile place for complex life, and there are any number of things that may stop the advancement of life before it reaches the stage of an advanced civilization. In our own past it seems likely that asteroid impacts, climate changes, and other large scale disasters c
reated enormous extinctions of life on Earth. So there is no doubt that even if life is relatively commonplace, things would often happen to create setbacks, or even end it completely. Mars may end up being one example of many for this outcome.

However, as discussed below it is too early to know if we really need to evoke the concept of a Great Filter in more absolute terms given our current state of knowledge in order to explain our observations.

Our Exploration So Far

A common misconception is that we have searched
a significant chunk of our galaxy for extraterrestrial life, and have not found anything. In fact, the search has been very limited to date. We have just begun to discover planets around other stars in recent years, and we can only spot planets that our orbiting in a path between us and the host star. Also, very few stars have actually been searched for planets. Regardless, even the results we obtain from the systems we have checked for planets can not tell us much about intelligent life there. We can get some sense of whether any of the planets we see might be a potential candidate for life as we know it, but our detection abilities are very limited. These systems could have a Death Star from Stars Wars or other products of an advanced civilization and we would have no way of seeing it or knowing it with our present technology.

The search for radio transmissions from an alien civilization has been a little better but until very recently only a few thousand nearby stars had been searched thoroughly, and larger searches would look only within a very narrow frequency range. Technology is expanding the search, however, the case remains that a very, very small fraction of our galaxy has been searched for alien transmissions. It also is important to keep in mind that we will only detect any possible signals if an alien civilization is trying to communicate with us. If they don't care to talk to us it is unlikely we would hear their transmissions. For instance, any radio transmissions using compression algorithms or encryption would simply look like background noise to us.

So it is not at all clear that, even if the galaxy is teaming with life, that we would necessarily have looked enough to know about it yet. And of course we are making assumptions about alien intelligence that may be completely off. Maybe aliens have a far better technology to communicate with than radio transmission. That may be the equivalent to smoke signals to them. SETI has attempted to anticipate this and has considered other options, including looking for optical transmissions. However, the reality is we have no idea what a civilization 1 million or 100 million years advanced from us would use to communicate.

Considering how rapidly technology is evolving on our planet, it seems a futile effort to anticipate what an advanced civilization may send as a signal, or how they could be detected. Outside from confirming they are not engaged in mega-scale projects like building shells around stars or things of that nature, it is impossible to know even what we are supposed to be looking for in an attempt to discover if alien intelligence exists. Many suggest that if they were out there they would already be here. However, again, we would only know of them being here if they want us to know, and it seems plausible they would choose not to interfere with the development of life on earth. The universe is plenty big enough to allow an alien civilization to bypass a system that already has life, and our planet has had life for billions of years.

Of course, returning to the idea of the problem detecting a far advanced technology. They could be nearby and simply not be detectible to us due to the use of technology we can not even comprehend. Ultimately the problem is we simply do not have enough information, either in terms of the amount of the galaxy we have searched or in terms of even having an idea what we should be looking for, to be able to draw any vast conclusions from the apparent absence of clear evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence in our galaxy.


Fermi's Paradox simply highlights our bias to expect other life to be like us, and our lack of understanding of how advanced intelligent life would likely develop. We should not expect to detect other life similar to our own as our current level of technology will be very short lived, and without knowing what comes after we do not know what to look for. We can not form conclusions about the prevalence of alien life based on our current knowledge and what some consider an absence of evidence of alien life.