Archive for February, 2010

Today I’ll be looking at a paper on the fine-tuning of the universe by Professor Fred Adams. He is professor of physics at the University of Michigan, where his main field of research is astrophysical theory focusing on star formation, background radiation fields, and the early universe.

Fred Adams published a paper in 2008 entitled “Stars In Other Universes: Stellar structure with different fundamental constants”. The paper garnered some interest from the science blogosphere and popular science magazines. Here are the relevant parts of the abstract:

Motivated by the possible existence of other universes, with possible variations in the laws of physics, this paper explores the parameter space of fundamental constants that allows for the existence of stars. To make this problem tractable, we develop a semi-analytical stellar structure model. [We vary] the gravitational constant G, the fine structure constant $\latex alpha$, and a composite parameter C that determines nuclear reaction rates. Our main finding is that a sizable fraction of the parameter space (roughly one fourth) provides the values necessary for stellar objects to operate through sustained nuclear fusion. As a result, the set of parameters necessary to support stars are not particularly rare.



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Continuing my series on truly awful internet articles on the topic of the fine-tuning of the universe for life, we turn to the work of Professor PZ Myers. Myers is a biologist at University of Minnesota Morris. He is known for his work in evolutionary biology and his outspoken opposition to the Intelligent Design movement.

On November 24, 2007, Paul Davies published an OpEd piece in the New York Times entitled “Taking Science on Faith”, discussing the commonly held but rarely discussed belief among scientists that the laws of nature are dependable, immutable, absolute, universal, and mathematical. The Edge Foundation published replies from a number of scientists. I hope to be able to discuss the wonderful, thoughtful responses of Lee Smolin and Sean Carroll soon. Here I will focus on the Myers’ reply.

In his response-to-the-responses, Davies takes Myers to task for missing the whole point of his article: “Myers goes on to attribute to me precisely the point of view I am seeking to refute”. It only gets worse when the fine-tuning of the universe is raised. Here’s Myers:

Alas, Davies also brings up the anthropic principle, that tiresome exercise in metaphysical masturbation that always flounders somewhere in the repellent ditch between narcissism and solipsism. (more…)

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I’ve elsewhere described my views on the so-called fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life. In the course of preparing that talk, I read some internet articles that were rather woeful. It’s time to quote John Leslie again: “The ways in which ‘anthropic’ reasoning can be misunderstood form a long and dreary list”.

My first target is Dr Hugh Ross. Ross was a postdoctoral research fellow in astronomy at Caltech before founding Reasons to Believe, a Christian ministry that aims to “show that science and faith are, and always will be, allies, not enemies”. (more…)

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The Civilised World

Joshua Gans informs us that, at long last, an Australian ISP will be offering broadband without a monthly bandwidth cap. Here is something interesting that he says regarding why it hasn’t happened already:

I had suspected an adverse selection issue whereby the small percent of very high users would migrate to the first mover causing them disproportionately large costs.

The cost is $100/month on a two-year contract. But if it works (and the PR for this company will be good if nothing else), I can imagine other ISPs offering the same service before long.

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Week-end reading

Orange you gladThis week, on the Internet:

  • Through Laughing Squid, a sculpture that sells itself perpetually on eBay, titled A Tool to Deceive and Slaughter. Says artist Caleb Larsen: ‘Every ten minutes the black box pings a server on the internet via the ethernet connection to check if it is for sale on the eBay. If its auction has ended or it has sold, it automatically creates a new auction of itself. If a person buys it on eBay, the current owner is required to send it to the new owner. The new owner must then plug it into ethernet, and the cycle repeats itself.’
  • The end of Adobe Flash. HTML5 is the next incarnation of the web’s core markup, and it can do this. (Will of course require a browser that supports HTML5, so, not IE; more on that here.)
  • Because I don’t know anything about French literature, this accessible article by Tom McCarthy was an interesting read about a small modern section of it. I was more impressed before I got to the following sentence: ‘This, perhaps, is the nouveau roman’s greatest legacy: an understanding of what renders space meaningful.’ An understanding of what renders space meaningful! I will spend today saying that fragment aloud, emphasising a different word each time.
  • I am a bit disturbed by Google Buzz. It’s too much, at least for now. That is all.
  • Escher’s Relativity constructed with Lego.

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End-of-week reading

WaleeSome things on my mind:

  • The Netherlands Cricket Board has announced that they will begin handing out central contracts to their players, a substantial step in the further professionalisation of the game there.
  • Sarah Kendrew has a nice introductory post on gravity emerging through changes in entropy rather than being a force in its own right; the idea was introduced last month by Eric Verlinde in a fairly readable paper.
  • Two items from the LRB: Michael Hoffman on Stefan Zweig and an entry from their blog on swine flu conspiracy theories.
  • Julian Sanchez hosts a documentary on remix culture, which is informative and interesting, though he sounds at times the way I worry I sound when I don’t sound very good. Yglesias, who links it, suggests second-order remixing, but I disagree and suggest instead that all orders of remixing are the same.
  • Anton Garrett guest-blogs at In The Dark on the topic of colour and includes some images of very pretty and imaginative art that I nevertheless decline to call abstract.

Congratulations to the New Orleans Saints on their victory in Super Bowl XLIV this evening!

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Same colour illusion

Apparently I am in a somewhat frivolous mood this evening (not that Dali is ever frivolous). Via John Baez comes a wonderful optical illusion:

Same colour illusion

I assure you that the squares labelled A & B are the same colour.

No, really. This is a wonderful illusion in that, unlike some others that I won’t shame by naming (I have geometric illusions with lines and the like in mind, however), I can’t convince myself in any visual way that the squares are similar. Even this alteration, which goes some way to dispelling the trickery, can’t fully convince. I had to open the image in Pixelmator* and confirm with the eyedropper that they are, in fact, both (120, 120, 120). You should do the same.

(I have given up on GIMP for the Mac, ‘cos the X11 interface is horrendously buggy, and the most recent versions simply crash on launch. I don’t want to have to pay for Pixelmator, though; could someone suggest an alternative?)

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Well, this is news. In nineteen hundred and forty-five, Salvador Dali and Walter E. Disney collaborated on an animation project based on the surrealist’s aesthetic. After a long period of dormancy, it was completed in 2003. I don’t know of any official release of the work, yet it has appeared on Youtube, and so, it appears here.

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Rosalie Joy

It’s true … I’ve recently become a father. Here’s a photo that I’ve shown everyone within a 5 mile radius:

Mother and child are doing excellently. I understand that it’s much easier for me to win arguments now (See 3:42 on this clip of the wonderful Ed Byrne).

It’s good to see Berian doing more than his fair share in my absence. I’ll be back soon with a new series. In the process of preparing my talk on the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life, I read a few articles that I’d like to respond to. These are the kind of articles that get quoted on internet forums as the golden bullet for/against fine-tuning. Some have minor flaws, others make we want to quote my favourite letter to the editor, from David Moore of North Lambton (Sydney Morning Herald, Sept 13, 2008):

What type of third-rate reporting is going on at the Herald? Chris Henning decides to vomit onto his keyboard and call it an “opinion”.

Stay tuned.

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