aquamarinegreen - On climate change, life, evolution, and everything

Things which catch my eye or make me think - looking for aquamarinegreen, the evidence and the truth of it all.....

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Hackers at CRU - time for a reasoned debate on Climate Change

Perhaps we will now get a more reasoned and public debate about the credibility of anthropogenic climate change, since hackers have exposed the secrecy and un-scientific practices at the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) in East Anglia.

If the sientific method is followed, conclusions should be unprejudiced and repeatable. The scientists at CRU have consistently denied outsiders access to their raw data, which they have manipulated without giving details of the algorithms used. Hence their results cannot be repeated or verified - this is bad science.

The science of climate is incomplete and extremely complicated; temperature data is unreliable; climate models are far too simplistic (and they start with the assumption that CO2 is driving temperature.)

Unfortunately political interests have taken this incomplete and uncertain science, and inflated it into a global crisis. Yes we do need to take care of the environment, and look for alternative energy sources for many good reasons , but man-made climate change is not one of them.

Friday, 14 March 2008

The Puzzle of Personality

We don’t just “decide” how to feel about the situations we find ourselves in - our feelings and emotional responses just seem to be there. What is it that shapes our different personalities and behavior patterns?

The scientific view is that the mind is a product of the brain, which gives the illusion of an inner “self”. The brain is organized in part by our genes, which of course were shaped by natural selection. We know that genes account for about 50% of the variation in personality and intelligence (identical twins separated at birth are highly similar; identical twins raised together are more similar than fraternal twins raised together; biological siblings are far more similar than adoptive siblings).

Most people conclude from this that the other 50% must come from the environment. There is actually no evidence for this – it is an assumption that if it’s not hereditary, it must be environmental (50% nature, 50% nurture – good compromise).

However the other discovery, which is just as important, though less well appreciated, is that the twins separated at birth are no more different than the twins who are brought up together. If there was an environmental effect you would expect more similarity in twins raised together. Not so. This is considered by some to be the most important puzzle in the history of psychology. The suggestion is that it is not environmental influences which determine the other 50%!

Steven Pinker in “The Blank Slate” concludes that there are chance events in the wiring of the brain both before and after birth, which could determine the remaining 50% of the variation in personality and intelligence. Sadly such views are so weighted down with political, moral and emotional implications that we hardly dare speak of them. Why can we not embrace this amazing knowledge, and accept that we probably cannot shape our children’s personality and intelligence?

Monday, 21 January 2008

The case for respecting the earth

Of course we should respect the earth – it has given us life, it is a beautiful place. Also, we must not forget that our species is a natural product of our earth, and so to a certain extent whatever we do to it is natural. Of course we would like the earth to remain hospitable and beautiful for our children, so we must endeavour to keep it so.

We are already developing the technologies to generate clean and sustainable energy, so that we no longer have to dig out fossil fuels from the earth, blighting the landscape and polluting the atmosphere. Solar, wind, and nuclear fusion power can and will be the future.

We must also respect the fact that the earth can only sustain a finite number of people, and we are fast approaching the time when we will exceed its carrying capacity. Unless we address this issue soon with a workable and global program of birth control, the consequences will be severe for humanity. Overcrowding leads to unhappiness, violence, war, hunger, starvation, disease, and death.

Ultimately, all species become extinct and humans will be no exception. Conditions on the earth at the moment are favourable for the life which exists here. This will change in the future, as the earth is a restless planet – driven by plate tectonics and its changing position with respect to the sun. There is little we can do about this, and it is one of the reasons that there is life here on earth. We should not be so arrogant as to presume that we can control the earth’s climate and its future – nature’s forces are far greater than our own. It is not humanity which is causing the extremes of weather and the natural disasters with which we are so familiar, these events are way beyond our control. We should respect those amazing forces, and appreciate what the earth has given us in our finite time here, as individuals and as a species.

Friday, 2 November 2007

The Meaning of Music and Art

I agree with Steven Pinker that music is most probably a by-product of being able to discriminate sounds which come from distinct resonating objects. Clearly it is useful to be able to do this , just as it is useful to pick out objects visually from our environment. These abilities are clearly advantageous , so it gives us pleasure to seek out such objects.....

We can get that same pleasure in a more concentrated form by creating and listening to Music; or creating and looking at Art. The same pleasure centres in the brain are stumulated as when we see an object or hear a sound in our environment. In the case of Art it becomes easy to see why we like pictures of flowers, trees, and animals; as well as man-made shapes such as zigzags and geometric shapes which stand out from the environment.

In the case of Music it is not quite so obvious, until you realize where the most common harmonies and scales come from. Any resonating object produces a fundamental note of a particular frequency and a series of overtones of related frequencies. The most audible overtones are simple multiples of the fundamental frequency, if the fundamental is C

Frequency multiple 1 2 3 4 5
Note sounded C C' G' C'' E

Already we have the major chord CGE. The note which produces C as its first overtone is F with the major chord FAC. The strongest overtone of C is G which would give the major chord of GBD. So there we have all the notes of the major scale arising naturally - in music we layer them to give resonating harmonies, or we separate them out into a melody, in a particular key.The ear can hear these properties without needing to know the theory!

Friday, 21 September 2007

Green Sea Turtles and sea floor spreading

I've always been fascinated by the migration of green sea turtles. They are found all over ther world, but the ones which nest on Ascension Island in the mid-atlantic, where there is a major nesting colony, then migrate to their feeding grounds off the coast of Brazil. It's a distance of over 2,000 km and the mother turtles make the return journey every few years to the beaches where they were born.

Ascension Island is located on the mid-atlantic ridge, and the foraging grounds for this colony of turtles is at the Eastern extremity of South America at Recife in Brazil. One rather romantic theory for this extraordinary migration is that when the Atlantic was starting to open up, several hundred million years ago the ancestors of the green turtles were to be found in the place where Recife and Ascension Island were very close together. As the sea floor spreading continued, the turtles evolved a mechanism to find their way back and forth as the two places moved apart (and continue to do so) at a rate of about 2cm per year.

Friday, 7 September 2007

Laser Nuclear fusion could be the answer

So a British- lead team of scientists has won support from the EU to construct an experimental nuclear fusion reactor - which could make nuclear fusion energy a commercial reality within 20 years.

This is the Physicist's dream - unlimited energy with no harmful waste products, from a freely available unlimited resource - hydrogen (from seawater). The worlds most powerful laser would generate the required temperatures of millions of degrees, at which hydrogen burns to form helium, the process which drives the sun.

The fuel would be the heavy isotopes of hydrogen, known as deuterium and tritium. Deuterium can be made cheaply from seawater, and tritium is produces as a by-product in the reactor. When fusion of these isotopes occurs, helium is produced, and a stream of neutrons which release vast quantities of energy in the form of heat.

At the moment, the energy required to start fusion is greater than the energy released. With laser fusion, a powerful laser is directed at a fuel pellet about 2mm across - the pressure compresses the pellet and generates temperatures of tens of millions of degrees. How cool is that?

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Overpopulation is our biggest threat

The world contains over 6 billion people. Obviously there is a limit to the carrying capacity of the earth - some say that this is about 12 billion as a maximum (could be uncomfortable though). Sounds like we are OK then? NO!!!!!

At current rates of population growth, the worlds population is doubling every 40 years or so. This is within our own lifetimes and unless we address this critical issue we are in trouble. It is a far greater threat to our lives and lifestyles than our "carbon footprint", but it is not seen as being an issue although the maths is quite simple really... Is anyone listening?