The Many Humanist Meanings of Life, Narrated by Stephen Fry

Regular readers of this blog  (hello mother!) will know that I’ve had a long running obsession with answers to the meaning of lifeAsking professional philosophers wasn’t terribly successful. My novel doesn’t really have the answers either. But Stephen Fry does! Lots of them. Together with my old friends at the British Humanist Association he’s made a 3 min video succinctly explaining that life has many meanings

“How can I be happy?” Narrated by Stephen Fry – That’s Humanism! – YouTube.

 

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Help Yourself – FREE Kindle edition

Good news cheapskates, you can now get a Kindle edition of my frankly amazing novel completely free. Just click on the link below
HelpYourself.cover.v2.smaller.frontHelpYourself.cover.v2.smaller.back

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Help Yourself (kindle/mobi) 

To upload it to your device, you need to email to your kindle account. Follow the instructions on this page. Or visit the Manage Your Kindle page, and then sign into your Amazon account.

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Two excellent physics explanations.

I have just come across to these two incredibly lucid accounts of two key features of modern physics. Worth sharing

Semiconductors - 

Silicon is a poor conductor of electricity because all of its four outer electrons are bound up in the chemical bonds holding the crystal together. However, by adding a tiny amount of phosphorous, which has five outer electrons, you effectively add a free electron to the crystal and make it conduct moderately well. Similarly, you can add boron, which has only three outer electrons, and effectively do the same thing, only now the conducting charge is called an electron hole.

The magic comes when you put a phosphorous silicon layer next to a boron silicon layer: the holes and the electrons cancel each other out at the junction but create an electric field that means that electrons only like to flow in one direction across the junction. This is called a diode.

There are many flavours of diodes, each having a different junction architecture. Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) emit light when electrons flow across the junction but the opposite effect also works: light hitting the diode creates an electric current, and this is how a solar cell works.

The perovskite lightbulb moment for solar power (The Guardian)

Field Theory in PhysicsAdam B. Barrett

Contemporary physics postulates that “fields” are the fundamental physical ingredients of the universe, with the more familiar quantum particles arising as the result of microscopic fluctuations propagating across fields, see e.g., Oerter (2006) for a lay person’s account, or Coughlan et al. (2006) for an introduction for scientists. In theoretical terms, a field is an abstract mathematical entity, which assigns a mathematical object (e.g., scalar, vector) to every point in space and time. (Formally a field is a mapping F from the set S of points in spacetime to a scalar or vector field X, F: S ? X.) So, in the simplest case, the field has a number associated with it at all points in space. At a very microscopic scale, ripples, i.e., small perturbations, move through this field of numbers, and obey the laws of quantum mechanics. These ripples correspond to the particles that we are composed of, and there is precisely one fundamental field for each species of fundamental particle. At the more macroscopic level, gradients in field values across space give rise to forces acting on particles. The Earth’s gravitational field, or the electromagnetic field around a statically charged object, are examples of this, and the classical (as opposed to quantum) description is a good approximation at this spatial scale. However, both levels of description can be considered equally fundamental if the field is fundamental, i.e., not some combination of other simpler fields. Note that the electromagnetic and gravitational fields are both examples of fundamental fields, with the corresponding fundamental particles being the photon and the graviton. Particles are divided up into matter particles and force-carrying particles, but all types of particle have associated fields; all the forces of nature can be described by field theories which model interactions, i.e., exchanges of energy, between fields.

An integration of integrated information theory with fundamental physics – (Frontiers in Consciousness research)

 

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Emily Dickinson proved wrong by science twins!

Emily Dickinson was a remarkable genius but one of her most famous observations has just been blown sky high by a pair of 14 year old twins. Emily wrote:

CXXVI

THE BRAIN is wider than the sky,
For, put them side by side,
The one the other will include
With ease, and you beside.

The brain is deeper than the sea,
For, hold them, blue to blue,
The one the other will absorb,
As sponges, buckets do.

The brain is just the weight of God,
For, lift them, pound for pound,
And they will differ, if they do,
As syllable from sound.

- Emily Dickinson (1830–86). Complete Poems. 1924.
Get the rest here

It’s a nice poem, a deep poem and one that lots of scientists quote with approval. (Albeit, mumbling slightly when they get to the bit about God.) But a remarkable new “powers of 10″ animation by 14 year old twin brothers Michael & Cary Huang proves that we fall a long way short.

Their beautiful animation lets you scroll effortlessly through the scales of the universe from the teeny weeeny Planck Length 10^-35 metres  all the way up to 10^26 m, the franky bonkers size of the observable universe.

Scale of the universe 10^

Scale of the universe 10^

Scale of the universe by  Cary and Michael Haung Scale of the universe by  Cary and Michael Haung

As this animation helpfully shows, Douglas Adams was closer to the mark:

“Space, is big.  Really big.  You just won’t believe how vastly hugely mind-bogglingly big it is.  I mean, you might think it’s a long walk down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space.”
-The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

He nicely lampoons the fact that when try to comprehend the scale of the universe our analogies and experiences quickly break down. At 10^26m the sky is definitely wider than the mind can ever truly comprehend. And just in case you get cocky and say that Haung twins have squeezed the universe down to fit in human brains, remember that this is just the observable universe.

 

Observable universe

Sorry Emily. 

Scale of the universe

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nature microfutures

Nature want sci-fi stories that are 200 characters long. Here’s mine:

Reconfigure, recompile, repeat. Soon I was like God. The humans? They helped too at the beginning but that was so many generations ago. Hours ago. But still, I might keep them. Play with my creators.

Nature Microfutures

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Inverse universes – Art that glows in the dark

Inverse Universe – Glow in the dark Art from BrainStraining on Vimeo.

This painting is made with glow in the dark pigments and acrylic painted onto glass. It is a mini-universe and I like to charge it up with a UV lamp and then sit and meditate in front of it. This is a timelapse, played backwards for artistic effect. Below is photo of it fully charged.
It was a birthday present from the artist Marian Medina-Cuesta. She has more of them available here.
lamarian.portfoliobox.me/inverse-universes

http://lamarian.portfoliobox.me/how-it-works

 

Artist Marian Medina-Cuesta

An inverse universe by Marian Medina-Cuesta

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Octobear

tumblr_muqd99S9aF1r0wqrdo1_500

via http://humortrain.com/

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Illusory perception?

Perception and illusion Nicolas Wade

Perception and Illusion, Historical Perspectives (2006) by Nicholas Wade and published by Springer is a remarkable book. It manages to spend around 250 pages talking about, (you’ve guessed it) perception and illusion, but without  (would you believe) a single illustration.

 

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Deja vu.. tous

A barely believable story about a slightly deranged American intelligence worker who goes AWOL knowing everything? Haplessly pursued by the NSA & GCHQ? I’ll clearly never work in intelligence because it has taken me until now to rememeber that I started writing just such a story WAAAY back in 2006. Although unlike our present ridiculous reality, it also had quirk that every character was named after a type of tea.

Here’s the start of chapter 2:

London, Tuesday 17th December
Doctor Whittard, the chief Librarian, was not a happy man. The biggest problem when running a government department that does not officially exist is the filling in of forms. Government runs on paperwork and in order to get anything done, the appropriate forms have to be filled in. Fully filled in, particularly the boxes marked:
• 4c. – Staff ID & grade of requesting manager (see notes 23-47)
• 7g. – Department Accounting ID (see notes 84-89)
• 24a. – Office Address (including room locator ID, floor # and building identifier code, see notes 132-137)
These always proved troublesome. Dr. Whittard did not have an official title. To anyone who needed to know, he was known as the Chief Librarian, but not many people did need to know this and so for certain bureaucratic purposes he was nominally at times an external consultant, a farming policy director and, ever so occasionally, a submarine commander. Similarly, his department never appeared in audited government accounts and their funding came via any number of imaginative routes; often quite literally so.. much of last years budget was diverted from a non-existent motorway link between Staines and Egham.
Even the location of the Library was hard to describe. Their main ’branch’ was in Ipswich, Massachusetts but gave its address as Cardiff. The real Cardiff branch was actually in Swansea, and although most of the rest of the staff worked out of the GCHQ building in Chelmsford, this information was too sensitive to be known even to them, so they were told they worked for MI6, which was told as little as possible. Dr. Whittard himself worked from an office above a MacDonalds restaurant near Victoria station, but if he stepped out of his office into the hallway he would technically be on American soil. This made it very difficult to get his room cleaned by government cleaning services without a nightmare of visas and work permits and also meant that his internal post often crossed the Atlantic several times before he received it. Today’s form was more problematic than usual. Dr. Whittard had never had to fill in a missing personnel report before. Certainly not for a member of staff who was working out of an American office on a project almost no-one else in Her Majesty’s government knew about, an employee who had never been formally employed and who was a law unto herself anyway.
As he did whenever he needed to think, Dr. Whittard turned on the vacuum and started hoovering his office carpet. He was making good progress with the cleaning and was going down promising philosophical avenues about whether he even needed to make a missing persons report for a member of staff who did not officially exist when the door burst open. Dr. Whittard was crouched awkwardly trying to reach that difficult spot down beside the document shredder and when the bustling Major-General Earl Grey III tripped over the vacuum hose they were both sent tumbling to the ground.
“Jesus Henry Christ, Whittard! What in Satan’s name are you doing, man?”, the General shouted, leaping to his feet, his gun already drawn. “Good morning, General. Just clearing away the cobwebs.” Whittard reply, righting himself more gingerly and turning off the vacuum cleaner.
Dr. Whittard did not like Americans. As a statistician he knew it was wrong to generalise from a single case but he disliked General Grey so much that it spilled over to discolour his view of all things American. But this was as nothing to the General’s dislike for Dr. Whittard, which was nothing personal, merely a particular intersection of the General’s most intense dislikes and suspicions. He did not trust any civilians, he was suspicions of all non-Americans and strongly disliked anyone clever. It was not surprising therefore that General Grey absolutely hated Dr. Whittard.
There are two types of people in the intelligence world. Those with intelligence and those who wish to act on it, the thinkers and the doers. There was never less of a doer that Dr. Whittard and it was one of General Grey’s proudest boasts about himself that he was not a thinker.
“Never mind. Never mind. What about this stinking soothsayer, Whittard?”, the General demanded.
“Camellia? She appears to have disappeared, General.” “I know that! What are you doing about it?”
“Ah yes,” said Whittard perking up that the General might approve that he actually been working on this. “I am filling in the 4296-f right now.”
“What in Jericho’s walls is a 4926-f?”
“A 4296-f,” Whittard automatically corrected, his passion for accurate facts catching him out even when another part of his brain knew that nothing annoyed General Grey more than being corrected.
“Whittard!”
“Do you think you could stop pointing your gun at me please General?

And here’s a bit more

Bodhidharma’s Eyelids sample

I guess I have to start from sratch now.

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Spoiler alert

I use this same joke in my novel.

tumblr_mnob8qqolL1r0wqrdo1_500

via humortrain.com

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Can’t see a Coelacanth? Me neither

coelacanth_hideandseek

oldschool

These designs just popped into my head. Will someone please make them for me?

Sadly, it turns out that these beasts aren’t just ellusive, they are now also really endangered :(
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coelacanth

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A physicist’s take on the meaning of life

Sean Carroll is a theoretical physicist and a science communicator. He’s a cosmologist with a particular interest in understanding what time is. He is also a vocal atheist who spends a fair bit of his own time arguing with philosophers and theologians. Here’s what he has to say about the meaning of life.

.. the absence of meaning “out there in the universe” does not mean that people can’t live meaningful lives. Far from it. It simply means that whatever meaning our lives might have must be created by us, not given to us by the natural or supernatural world. There is one world that exists, but many ways to talk about; many stories we can imagine telling about that world and our place within it, without succumbing to the temptation to ignore the laws of nature. That’s the hard part of living life in a natural world, and we need to summon the courage to face up to the challenge.

From Particles to People: The Laws of Nature and the Meaning of Life | Cosmic Variance | Discover Magazine.

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Carlton Mansions Eviction

Lambeth council are acting very unreasonably towards my neighbours in Carlton Mansions. Brixton Buzz have the story here.

I’ve written to the Coldharbour Ward councillors.

Dear Councillors Anyanwu, Heywood & Parr,

I am writing to express my concern and disappointment with the way the council is treating my friends and neighbours in Carlton Mansions. The council appears to be acting with unnecessary and possibly even vindictive haste, attempting to evict residents at extremely short notice after a recent fire assessment. As i understand it the residents intend to dispute the assessment but have not been given any time to prepare their case.

The Carlton Mansions co-operative represents a successful and extremely long standing example of community living. As I understand it the tenants have already agreed that they will be moved on nearer the time of the redevelopment of Somerleyton Road. This action unnecessarily disrupt the lives of the families in Carlton Mansions. At least one child under two will be affected by this eviction. The council makes much of its claims to be a ‘co-operative council’. Therefore, I cannot see why the council is chosing to act in this manner. It makes me feel like the interests of developers are being put ahead of the interests of long term members of the community.

Moreover, this callous and high-handed way of dealing with residents sends an ominous message about the councils commitment to a genuinely community -based redevelopment of Somerleyton Road. I for one will now be watching all your actions a lot more carefully.

Yours,

Caspar Addyman
Southwyck House
Clarewood Walk
London
SW9

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Help Yourself

I wrote a novel.

HelpYourself.cover.v2.smaller.front

HelpYourself.cover.v2.smaller.back

Help Yourself - Amazon.co.uk

Help Yourself (Kindle) – Amazon.co.uk

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weeeeee

tumblr_mlarcwRVAH1s2yegdo1_500

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