Friday, January 30, 2009
I'm going to have to go with the information technology revolution and all that entails. I can't think of anything that has changed the world we live in more than the way we communicate and get/send information. When I think back 100 years (speculatively of course) and the world as it was then and then think back 500 years before that, the difference between 600 and 100 years is not, in my opinion, as profound as the change in the past century. But, more than that, the world my father grew up in is a damn site closer to the world his father grew up in than to the world I grew up in. And mine is much more like his than my daughter's is to mine.
I don't think it's any one thing but the serendipitous combinations of many things like computers and word processing/image processing, and the internet and telephones/instant paging and faxes and email and truly instant access around the world.
You can't keep a secret any more like you used to. Someone with a cell phone camera will be there. You want to know what something is, google and know. You want an opinion by someone in another country. Find one instantly!
Geography is less of a concern than it's ever been. Information can go anywhere, instantly. The world and entertainment for kids today is a completely different world than it was for me and light years from how it was for my grandfather. Good or ill (and I think much of it is good), it sure as heck is different.
If we're talking about a single contribution, and if we measure the "size" of that contribution as a leap that had a very quick effect rather than a cumulative one over all remaining history, I'd probably have to go with Newton's Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy. To suggest that astronomical motions could be explained in terms of force acting over time was a massive shift in thinking, and to offer no philosophical explanation of this force (contra Descartes' version of mechanistic natural philosophy, itself a huge contribution) simply doubled down on an already massive contribution.
The feat, one might say, was replicated in 1925 when Werner Heisenberg, Max Born, and Pascual Jordan published their "Three Man Work", which postulated the matrix mechanics version of quantum mechanics. This work suggested that at the universe at its most fundamentally microscopic level could not be mathematically described in any continuous way (as with Newtonian motion), but as a probabilistic and immediate succession between distinct states: the original "quantum leap". They then doubled down (really in 1927 with the so-called "Copenhagen Interpretation" of quantum mechanics) by asserting that there was no underlying but undetectable reality causing the transition from state to state. Only what could be observed could be considered real.
I'm going to go with the shift that occurred around the time of the Scientific Revolution in which scientists stopped trying to pigeonhole the universe to their ideas and instead began to described it the way they observed it. I am specifically thinking of the shift from the ancient Aristotelian idea of heavenly bodies circling in shells of aether (which was never able to explain retrograde motion no matter how hard astronomers tried) to planets in elliptical orbits around the sun. This is not the discovery of any one scientist (Copernicus, for example, was the first heliocentrist, but he still believed in spheres of aether), but rather a larger-scale shift in thinking.
At one time, philosophy came up with ideas of how the universe "should be" according to the current understanding of God, and science tried to show how the universe proved that understanding of God. After this shift, scientists observe how the universe is, leaving the philosophers and theologians to work out how it affects our understanding of God.
OK so the giant leap has to "advance a field of science" by the hugest amount. I'm going to interpret this quite literally. So I could go after the father of the field of evolutionary biology but that's too obvious. How about the father of chemistry, Antoine Lavoisier, who in 1789 came up with the principle that mass is conserved in a chemical reaction. This led to the whole idea of chemical constituents combining with each other without themselves changing. Not only did this transform (no pun intended) alchemy into the scientific field of chemistry, but it paved the way for Dalton to come up with his atomic theory, and the idea that chemistry involves atomic elements of different weights combining in simple proportions.
Wikipedia seems to imply that Lavoisier really had to keep his unpopular job as a tax collector in order to fund his scientific research. As a result, he was guillotined during the French revolution. So it has always been hard to keep your head while trying to fund those giant leaps.
My first thought is to second the first suggestion, the computer revolution. The progress of scientific knowledge, at least in the total body of scientific facts known, in the last century has been exponential, based largely on the computer. Not only does computer technology allow a wider dissemination of knowledge (like the printing press), it also helps in the processing of that information. In everything from genetics to cosmology, sheer number-crunching and the ability to simulate complex systems has advanced science tremendously.
I'll offer another suggestion, though, in the interests of provoking thought. Readers of my blog know that I place an emphasis on the interaction between philosophy and science. Science itself isn't even possible without a prior belief in the intelligibility of the universe and a trust in reason to be able to investigate it. Historians have noted that modern science is a distinctly Western venture, and Western civilization is at its heart based in two things: Greek philosophical rationality and the Christian faith. Those two facts are related, I believe. It is the Christian belief that God made a rational, purposeful universe and the tools of classical philosophy ("baptized" by Christan thinkers like Augustine and Aquinas) that have made science bloom in Christian culture in ways that it couldn't in other intellectual paradigms.
I'll suggest that Copernicus' theory that the Sun is at the center of our Solar System is the greatest leap in the history of science.
Not only did this theory redefine astronomy, his work is seen by many as the starting point of the Scientific Revolution itself, and led to significant advances in a number of the Sciences. Understanding that our world does not hold a special place in the universe was a truly revolutionary change, and one that sparked a radically new way of thinking about our world and ourselves.
If thinking about inventions, I would say that Gutenberg's invention of the printing press was a giant leap in pretty much all the areas one can think of.
It caused a social and economic revolution as education became more accessible to laypeople and was not only the domain of the church.
It was an information or communication revolution (and I think the Internet, with all due respect, is simply its follow-up, sequel or logical consequence).
All this had enormous impact on religion, government and brought about a changing and more receptive mentality. It brought about more accurate geographical information through actualized maps.
Various other academic disciplines evolved and spread rapidly through books. In other words, knowledge was finally, at least theoretically, available to all. Without the printing press I would venture to say that we would not be where we are today.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
If two thermodynamic systems are each in thermal equilibrium with a third, then they are in thermal equilibrium with each other.
In any process, the total energy of the universe remains the same.
The entropy of an isolated system not in equilibrium will tend to increase over time, approaching a maximum value at equilibrium.If we consider "entropy" to be the amount of disorder in a system, then we can be certain that our entrepreneur above will increase your entropy over time if you team up with him. Imagine: you've decided that you want to grab this golden ring and shoot for a "relatively good return" and make "serious money online". So with your IT Techie know-how you meet with him and get the scheme up and running. Then comes the late night phone call from your new business partner asking you to "shut it down immediately!!!!" and "shred everything now!!!". Followed soon after by the knock on the door from the SEC and the visit from the FBI men in black investigating interstate fraud. Oh yes, my friend, the amount of entropy in your life will certainly increase over time. You will also likely end up in an "isolated system" such as.... umm... a prison cell.
As temperature approaches absolute zero, the entropy of a system approaches a constant minimum.
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Monday, January 26, 2009
Sunday, January 25, 2009
Saturday, January 24, 2009
This is the place to spar with others about significant events in science history for the Big Ol' Time Line of Science. Duke it out over people, places, events and times. The BOTLOS will be updated based on discussions here.
Friday, January 23, 2009
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Leave the Lights On reminded me of the tenuous wonder of the beginning of life in the post How Human Fertilization Takes Place. And then the post hearkened back to my high school biology class where I originally learned what "haploid" and "diploid" meant. Then forgot. But it also hearkened back to a book called "Fearfully and Wonderfully Made" by Dr. Paul Brand and Phillip Yancy. And when I hearkened back to that book, I hearkened back to the chapter on neurons*.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Perhaps you've already voted for the scientific advancement that you consider to be the "One Giant Leap". But if not, get over there and vote, join the discussion. We're looking for which single advancement pushed science the farthest in one increment. Or, perhaps you're thinking, "Those ideas suggested are corn*, and I have a way better one!" If that's you, then we'd love to hear from you in the comments to the post. I think there are some very thought-provoking candidates for the One Giant Leap, but we might be missing something. Bring it. Vote!
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Monday, January 19, 2009
I'd like to get your recommendations for "Must Read" books and/or blogs in the areas of science, history and faith. It's not that I'm short of reading material, or have excess time on my hands, but I'm always scouring for treasures.
At best , science and religion have very little to do with one another. At worst, they are completely incompatible. And what little connection between the two even in the best of cases involves a one-way street. Science may enrich faith, but not vice versa. [emphasis mine].
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness... And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.
Saturday, January 17, 2009
Now you can get fabulous stuff with the Bonus Points you've earned from contributions to TSON. Fortunately I have connections in places and have been able to secure stuff for you to buy with Bonus Points.
Just post a comment on this SHOP page indicating what you'd like buy, then the minions of TSON will deduct the BPs from your account and change in the Leader Board. Satisfaction is practically guaranteed.
Now you face a dilemma: Do you try to be atop the Bonus Point Leader Board and get the respect of your peers? Or do you cash in some BPs to get terrific stuff? An age old problem (just back off Zeno!!! This one is not for you!!! Back off!!!)
Here's what's hot off the gridle!
Store House O' Prizes*
2 Bonus Points = Recommendation for an outstanding mountain bike trail system.
2 BPs = Recommendation of my top 5 blogs.
2 BPs = A step by step guide for how to make a backpacking stove out of a pepsi can.
4 BPs = You decide the next post on The Secret of Newton (choose one from the topics of science, history, faith, Free Comedy Gold from Craig's List, Cool or Creepy)
5 BPs = Interesting geology factoid not likely to be commonly known to the general population.
10 BPs = I will share my tightly guarded source of outstanding coffee which donates a portion of the sales to the charity of your choice. This is killing two birds with one stone: caffiene and charity!
1,000* BPs = Learn the actual secret of Newton.
20,000* BPs = Posting of my infamous "mullet" picture.
More fabulous stuff will be added to the Store House O' Prizes so check back regularly!
*Prices subject to change.
Chicken pot pie! Chocolate covered raisins! Glazed ham!** What? Oh! The mWebEx has started!!! Oops. OK, I'm going to start watching the video.
First dimension. Piece of cake (weird I'm thinking about food a bunch. Darn, can they hear that?) OK, that's easy. 1D here we go, just a point, infinitely small. Like that plate of ravioli I had for dinner tonight. Man that was good, but the serving sizes could've been bigger than a spec. Shoot! Back on track, man! You have the world wide web of information listening to you ramble. C'mon! Right. Take that point and connect it to another by a straight line, to make the first dimension. Easy squeezy.
No problem. Second dimension. Blah, blah, blah. I should've been an astrophysicist. This stuff is so simple.
That's gotta hurt. How does the pour sap drink his coffee? Man, I'd get a raging headache if I was a flatlander and couldn't drink coffee.
Length, width, height. 3D. Sheesh, is this Sesame Street or what? I thought I was going to learn something from this video. And man! they're skimping on the computer animation. No color even? Cheapskates... There had better be a car chase scene. Or that this is like a Sixth Sense deal where you learn that the guys is a ghost.
Umm, alright.... I get that mostly. Gears are turning just a little bit. OK, this is getting interest. Fold the second dimension to move through the third dimension.
Yeah... folding....When am I going to fold that huge pile of laundry on my couch? Maybe I could fold it through the fourth dimension and it will be done in the future and I won't have to worry about folding it now. That would be sweeeet! Maybe I will learn something after all from this video.
Alright, that looks nothing like a snake. More like a slug. So he's saying the 4th dimension is a slug? What???? This guy has no clue what he's talking about. Snakes look like snakes. Not slugs. C'mon buddy, get your analogies in line.
Yeah, like that mullet I had in high school. I'm completely unaware of why the "me" in the past EVER thought that was a good idea. With my yearbook picture alone that "old me" chump completely shot down the political career of the "future me". Thanks buddy! Get a hair cut, why don't you!!!!
Ummm.... OK, that was an abrupt transition. We just went from Sesame Street to Stephen Hawking's Lucasian Chair lecture at Trinity College. Alright, hang in there Brian. You know what subatomic particles are, you know what probability is, you know what observation is.... Umm...I think I just reached that point when you are walking deeper into a very, very cold pool of water. Eeep!
Hang in there Brian.... take deep breaths. He's just saying that the 5th dimension gets collapsed down into the fourth dimension by actions and choices... Right? I think I understand. So if I choose not to grow a mullet today, then I'm eliminating years of humiliation and shame tomorrow as a path in my future. Right? Right? Hello? Echo echo echo echo.... I've got to concentrate... concentrate... concentrate***....
Yeah! With some scissors!
OK, so what is that genius invention that kid has in the video? Looks like a possum trap! Not sure if that would make that kid wildly rich, but it would sure take care of some critters in my basement!
Owwww! Owww! My head is starting to ache!!
Grrrrrr!! Owwwww!! I think my head is splitting apart!!!
I love you. You love me. We're all part of a family. With a great big hug**** ....
Huffy Thunder Road bicycle... penny loafer shoes... tank Atari game...
Beef stroganoff... Volkswagen bug... pinewood derby car.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
Then burn thy Epicycles foolish man;Break all thy spheres and save thy head.Faith needs no staffe of flesh, but stoutly canTo heav'n alone both go and leade.Excerpt from "The Temple", George Herbet, 1638