Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Brain food

It is in the nature of news outlets, whether online or traditional, to emphasize what has gone wrong, is in the process of failing, or could yet run off the rails. "You're okay, and chances are you'll stay okay," neither captures eyeballs nor sells newspapers to their shrinking audience.

I'm not in the news biz, but on this blog I, too, have sometimes paid more attention to black clouds than to silver linings. But there is good news. I sincerely believe that.

Home, sweet home
For one Big Picture look at why things aren't so bad, see (from The Wall Street Journal), "The World's Resources Aren't Running Out: Ecologists worry that the world's resources come in fixed amounts that will run out, but we have broken through such limits again and again.") A key quote:

... here's a peculiar feature of human history: We burst through such limits again and again. After all, as a Saudi oil minister once said, the Stone Age didn't end for lack of stone. Ecologists call this "niche construction"—that people (and indeed some other animals) can create new opportunities for themselves by making their habitats more productive in some way. Agriculture is the classic example of niche construction: We stopped relying on nature's bounty and substituted an artificial and much larger bounty.

Economists call the same phenomenon innovation. What frustrates them about ecologists is the latter's tendency to think in terms of static limits. Ecologists can't seem to see that when whale oil starts to run out, petroleum is discovered, or that when farm yields flatten, fertilizer comes along, or that when glass fiber is invented, demand for copper falls.

All in all, it's a compelling look at two very different mindsets: economists vs. ecologists. Does either discipline have a monopoly on understanding the carrying capacity of the planet? I think not. But (IMO), the economist's view -- and millennia of progress in the human condition -- too often gets short shrift in old and new media.

Are you inclined to debate the upbeat perspective in that last paragraph? Before you commit, and still on today's brain-food theme, consider another way to burn time: the Rubik's cube. I'd succeeded in putting those fiendish devices from my mind until (curse you, Google!), "Google Celebrates 40th Anniversary Of The Rubik's Cube With Doodle Game."

Click through to the actual online/interactive doodle at your peril ...

Your next ride?
Your next ride?
SF and Nonsense draws its share of science-fiction fans and space enthusiasts. So: how cool is it that "Virgin space flights cleared for takeoff." I'm not prepared to spend $250K for a suborbital flight -- but that's a lot closer to my budget than the $20M Dennis Tito paid for a lift to the International Space Station. And I imagine space-tourism prices will continue to fall ...

from IEEE Spectrum
Here's Something Really Cool that's kicked around in my files for too long: "First Single-Molecule LED."

As today's theme is the power of the mind -- it's the reason for optimism -- let's turn our attention to an astronomical look-back and poser. Trusting in the gravitational theory of their time, nineteenth-century mathematicians converted observations about the anomalous orbit of Uranus into insight where astronomers could look for -- and did find -- the thitherto unknown planet now named Neptune. OTOH, an explanation of the anomalous perihelion of Mercury's orbit only came about following rejection of the several-centuries-successful Newtonian theory of gravity. In taking that radical step, Einstein came to develop his far more powerful and complete Theory of General Relativity.

In contemplating the two recent astronomical puzzles we call (putting names to our ignorance) dark matter and dark energy, Science News turns to the mixed results from reliance upon established gravitational theory, in "Trust in gravity isn’t always the best astronomy policy." Real food for thought ...

To end on a lighter note, this sneak peek at an iWatch is hilarious!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think many people are too afraid or lazy to learn something new. Change upsets their comfortable inertia. It would be the end of the world, at least their world, which they think they know and understand. It is easier for them to see what will be lost (it is all around them) than to imagine a brighter future.