Tag Archives: science

One day soon we will all be smart

29 Mar


After scientists took control of the atom, weapons with the destructive power of hell were possible. Because they were possible, they were made.

Once we established a vast network of digital communications, it was possible to know almost everything that was said or written – and in some cases thought. Because it was possible, governments, corporations and marketers took possession of this information.

Teams of scientists are planning a one-way trip to Mars. They won’t be able to come back, but because they know they can at least get there, they will go.

If it can be done, it will get done. This is immutable.

Law, regulation, ethics and good sense always resist. It never matters.

Now, there is something new to consider.

We are in possession of a “God Hand” that allows us to alter and enhance the qualities and features that comprises Homo sapiens.

DNAFor years we’ve toyed with our genes, but two recent developments have brought this work to an advanced stage where even scientists are shouting, “Stop!”

The developments are:

  • Specific pieces of DNA can now be easily and accurately targeted and manipulated.
  • The changes made can now be inherited.

“I personally think we are just not smart enough — and won’t be for a very long time — to feel comfortable about the consequences of changing heredity, even in a single individual,” said David Baltimore, a former president of the California Institute of Technology and a member of a group of biologists calling for a moratorium on gene editing.

The group published a paper on the topic in the journal Science. A story on it appeared in the New York Times.

George Q. Daley, a stem cell expert and member of the group, said taking control of our genetic destiny “raises enormous peril for humanity.”

Controlling inherited DNA mean we can control, beauty, disease, intelligence and probably even behavior, maybe mortality.

I shudder at the thought of small armies of Frankenstein monsters roaming the cities and countryside. But I cannot displace the dreamy idea of our still barbaric species living in peace and harmony, with a focus not on the accumulation of capital but on the development of knowledge, betterment, the arts and sciences, altruism and the ability to provide everyone with the resources for living.

This, in effect, is a chance to rise above and beyond what our present species is capable of.

This is extraordinary, which is why it will be done.

Will it be done right and fair and with justice? Probably not at first.

In the beginning, people will prefer the inherited traits for beautiful rather than intelligence. For those who do choose intelligence, we’ll have to worry about them creating a superior class and lording over us.

But think of the potential.

Science is giving us a second chance. We can be like those big-headed movie aliens who visit Earth and know everything and look down on us as if we are quarreling children.

Future cityIf we were supreme and peace loving, we could do the impossible just with the money saved on weapons and warfare. For one, we could rebuild our cities. There would be high-speed rail lines running everywhere, self-driving cars and wide roads without potholes. Food, college and health care would be free.

And we could fund the Mars expedition so they’d be able to come back.

Best yet, when those explorers stepped off their spacecraft, they’d be the big-headed aliens.

Let’s see where this goes. It might be wise to invest in companies that make large-size hats. From a personal standpoint, those who are 10s and do nothing may be knocked down to a 5. Still, it is likely you’ll go the winter without the flu or even a sniffle. Getting into Harvard will be harder. When playing poker or games of chance, be sure those at the table haven’t been to the genetics lab.

For myself, I can see a self-help book in the works.

By Lanny Morgnanesi

Nearly every physicist in the world will insist that you – yes, you — have married a movie star, earned millions of dollars and lived in an exotic locale. They know you’ve done this – even if you don’t –because their research proves it. Strangely, this is what science has come to, and it’s bunk.

18 Sep


Basic science once was easy. Now it’s difficult for even scientists, and those who pretend to understand it probably don’t.


There is no logic to it. Nothing in the observable world compares to it. Metaphors can no longer explain it. Wild imagination is required just to discuss it.


In ancient times, when there was a lunar eclipse, people would say their god ate the moon and later vomited it up. Don’t laugh. The stories our scientists tell today also sound like fables.


Consider this standard, nearly universal tenant of science:


We cannot predict what a particle will do because it actually does everything while inhabiting a multitude of universes.


What this means on a larger scale is that each one of us has married a movie star, become a millionaire and done nearly everything else that is possible to do — and maybe more. We just didn’t do it in the single universe we wake up to every day. We did it somewhere else.


There is no word yet on how to jump our consciousness to those other universes, where clearly we are having a lot more fun.


Rather than just accept such ideas, which evolve from a desperate, almost ruthless attempt to boil science down into a single theory of everything, I take the position that human being are incapable of fully understanding what exists and how the universe works.


It’s a concession few are willing to make, but I have made it.


To their credit, scientists keep trying to figure it all out. The problem is, they try too hard.


In the time-honored tradition of changing the facts to fit the theory, scientists – mainly physicists — make their single-theory equations work by adding 10 or more dimensions to the four we know. They have pushed the limits of logic by describing a key component of matter as having only two dimensions while at the same time saying it seems to have only one. Perhaps most interesting but hardest to accept is that the theory assumes our universe is one of many universes and that the history we know is but one occurrence of infinite occurrences, meaning all things in all ways have happened.


Yes, you have driven a Lamborghini and owned a house in the South of France.


Only by assuming such things can a single theory work.


Feynman quoteModern physics used to be about spheres revolving around a central core of matter. The planets revolved around a sun; electrons around their nucleus. Big and small objects sort of worked the same.


The catastrophe of science began when it was determined that big and small did not work the same. Things were far more complex than a bunch of balls circling around other balls.


Scientists who longed for a single theory could not live with this duality of big being different from small. And so they struggled for a theory that would handle both. These theories only worked with 10 or 11 dimensions, with vibrating strings replacing atoms, with everything having not one life but a history of every possible life.


There actually is an assortment of these theories. And, mathematically, they all work – which I think means they can predict what is observed or sort of observed. In the new science, you really can’t observe anything.


Any scientist reading this will know I am not one of them. For the past several decades, however, I have tried keeping up with their progress. I’ve enjoyed and felt comfortable with Einstein’s theories of special and general relativity. They were complex and not entirely in line with what we experience in life, but scientists found believable ways to explain them using stories of clocks on trains and twin space travelers.


Next came quantum mechanics, which defied all logic and seemed impossible and ridiculous but could not be proven wrong. Then, when physicists started trying to unify theories on the four forces of nature (gravity, electromagnetism and the weak and strong forces of the atom), a big mess started to accumulate and I could not keep up.


But recently, I checked back to see if anything sensible had developed. I picked up the book, “The Grand Design” by Stephen Hawking (the guy in the wheelchair) and Leonard Mlodinow (a physicist at Caltech). Like any survey of science for the layman, it starts off good.


The authors even make jokes about their profession.


stephen-hawkingAbout all those new dimensions, they say: “Ten dimensions might sound exciting, but they would cause real problems if you forgot where you parked your car.”


They included cartoons. One is of a woman introducing two men saying, “You both have something in common. Dr. Davis has discovered a particle which nobody has seen, and Prof. Higbe has discovered a galaxy which nobody has seen.”


The authors easily convey the genius of such minds as Richard Feynman (who in his spared time played bongos at a strip club), John Conway (the creator of a simple game that seems to explain the workings of God) and so many others.


But they also let on that few if any of today physicists really understand the things they expect us to believe.


Indeed, Feynman, a quantum god, once said that no one understands quantum mechanics. He described is as “nature as She is — absurd.”


Niels Bohr, a quantum pioneer, said that anyone who does understand quantum mechanics would be shocked by it.

It’s difficult to find a concise explanation of quantum mechanics, but author and theoretical physicist Sean Carroll said the theory tells us that what we can observe about the world is only a tiny subset of what actually exists.


Einstein recognized the importance and power of quantum theory while admitting an inner voice told him it was not the real thing.


Neils quoteI have this same problem. Something tells me that without elegance, logic and relative simplicity, a theory cannot be correct. The strange, counter-intuitive ideas of science, these mathematical attempts to explain what we are not yet capable of knowing, are earnest and hard-fought attempts to penetrate the impenetrable. They are not, however, for me.


I prefer to put in with Aristotle, who didn’t need to test, measure or even observe. If he could think it through and see the sense of it, he accepted it. If it explained the world and what he knew of it, that was enough.


Science is a marvel, but so are the philosophers and poets – so many of them ancient Greeks – who could explain the unseen and unknown without so much as a microscope. They were intuitive and in touch with the creation and they just knew.


That’s what I’m waiting for. A new Aristotle. A philosopher who just knows.


And even then, what is explained will be far short of reality. It will be a beautiful metaphor that we can grasp, glorify and use; one that will enable us to carry on in a long harmonic march toward the greater understanding of ourselves.


But I remained convince that the truth, the ultimate theory, is just not for us to know. We were created for another reason, a reason that will never be revealed. Something or someone else, a force not of this world, has the job of knowing. Tough luck for us.


The best part, however, is that few but me will admit it, and that the search continues. The search is good. It keeps us alive and gives us meaning, even if it takes us in circles.


As the biblical proverb says:


“It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.”


By the way, there are a few scientists who have come around to thinking their colleagues are dead wrong on quantum mechanics. For more, read this.

By Lanny Morgnanesi

Secrets of the Universe Revealed – Or Not?

29 Aug

A pause in the conversation led the old man to look up at the cloud formation and think about his future, which is death.

“I wonder if you learn everything,” he said. “How it all came to be; its meaning and purpose. It can’t be like that Big Bang crap. How could it all have gotten down into an infinitesimal speck, and how did it explode, instead of being sucked into itself like a black hole? And if there was nothing outside of it, how did it have a place to go?”

Death would be sweet if it meant getting all the answers. Without a body you couldn’t do much, but if you knew everything you’d feel pretty good about yourself. It would be like learning how the magician did the trick, only a trillion times better.

My intention was not to depress the old man, but I told him my theory of the moment.

“I doubt we get to know,” I said. “Our opinion of ourselves is exaggerated. Considering all that exists, I’d say we lack importance. I’m sensing we are the equivalent of a low-level employee who gets no time or attention from the boss.”

Top management, to whom the secrets might be disclosed, probably occupies another planet or dimension, is not prone to war and genocide and generally makes things easier for the CEO rather than more difficult.

While the Bible tells how Jesus came to save us, there also are passages like this one in Isaiah:

All the nations before him are as nothing; and they are counted to him less than nothing, and vanity.

In a wonderfully written New York Times column (The Man in the Moon) Lydia Netzer says:

When humanity was in its infancy, we thought the universe revolved around us. Then, with Copernicus, we aged into heliocentrism, became aware we were one of a family of planets inside the walls of our house, the solar system. Nearby stars gather like a town, rotating through the galaxy, our country. Clusters are like continents. We realized in stages that we were very insignificant. And then, almost like grown-ups, we pulled our boots on and began to try to leave a significant mark anyway.

Sitting in a car seat next to the old man, I couldn’t accept that in a few years he would know it all. It’s too grand a gift. In the military, personnel are told things on a “need to know” basis. As humans, do we really need to know?

Once we have performed on Earth, it’s likely we will be whisked away like a bad vaudeville act. There’s plenty more in the wings.

But all is not lost.

“In a way, we are immortal,” I said. “Since matter is neither created nor destroyed, every atom that is you remains as part of the creation. After you die, your atoms eventually scatter. They say we could easily have been part of someone like Socrates or Newton. Can you image that? On the other end, you may help create the next Newton. But you won’t be conscious of it.”

“If what you say is true, I’ll make the next Newton but never know an ounce of what he will know,” he said.

“Look, this is only what I’m thinking today,” I said. “Tomorrow, when the clouds are different and I read a different Bible passage and cut and paste from a different New York Times column, I’ll have another opinion for you.”

“So maybe I will get to know everything.”

“Maybe you will.”

And then he went off to play cards with some ladies who had outlived their husbands and only worry about getting from one place to another without it causing too much pain.

— Lanny Morgnanesi

What good are crowds when you’re dead?

20 Feb

Mulberry Tree

Yesterday I stood in line with hundreds of people waiting to see a show by an artist who, while alive, sold only one painting.

The “Van Gogh Up Close” exhibit at the Philadelphia Art Museum was a collection of paintings done in the last four years of the artist’s life. Many were completed at an asylum where he was being treated for mental illness.

In the context of his time (the late 1800s), his work was revolutionary. It was unacceptable – almost a joke — to the majority of the established art world. Vincent Van Gogh, in his life, was a failure. It is a sad thing that greatness has to suffer in its time because it is so far ahead of its time.

The rest of us are so slow to catch up.

“This was done by a free mind,” my wife, an artist and teacher, said. “My young students can do work like this.”

Van Gogh self-portrait

She did not mean they reach Van Gogh’s level of artistry, craft and creativity. She meant that like Van Gogh their minds are unshackled.

It takes time to shackle a mind, but in the end they get locked down pretty tight.

In many ways, the reaction to new art is like the reaction to great scientific discovery, which is said to have three stages:

  • First, people deny that it is true.
  • Then they deny that it is important.
  • Finally they credit the wrong person.

Well, at least Van Gogh got his credit … belated though it was.

Can the unexplainable be explained?

28 Jan

Ernest Rutherford




Ernest Rutherford, a great and historic Nobel Prize winning scientist, once said, “All science is either physics or stamp collecting.”

As physics gets stranger, with the counter-intuitive Quantum mechanics and the many inelegant versions of string theory and multi-dimensional universes, the deep core of science almost seems unexplainable, perhaps unknowable.

How close to the shore of heaven can we get before light blinds us?

So, with a tip of the hat to Rutherford, I say:

All science is metaphor.

What do you scientists say to that?


%d bloggers like this: