Archive for the ‘science’ Category

On Climate Change, and Wringing of Hands

August 14, 2016

We’ve been changing the climate since we first crawled down from the trees.
And promptly began cutting them down.
Instead of shade, the sunlight went directly to the ground. Re-radiated heat was captured by water vapor, carbon dioxide, and methane. But there were still plenty of trees, billions of them, so no one noticed.
We built cities. No one knew there was a ‘heat island’ effect. After all, there were still hundreds of millions of trees. The heat island effect wouldn’t be discovered for a few thousand years. Why worry?
We paved over the ground. No one paid attention. Any fool knows better than to walk barefoot on a macadamized highway in the summer; if he forgets, there are blisters to remind him. But there were millions of trees still remaining, so no one noticed.
The deserts grew larger. There had once been trees there, but they had been cut. The rains no longer came. The forest became productive farmlands, which in time became a place called the Sahara. But no one understood, because there were still millions of other trees.
The fossilized remnants of billions of trees, of trillions of tiny plants, were mined and pumped out. Finally, people began paying attention.
There were still a few trees, after all.
But the forests are vanishing. More people need cars, which need more oil, gas, and coal to provide power for them and for the houses. Instead of billions of trees, we have billions of people.
Who are still doing precisely what that first ancestor did, put pressure on the climate.
We could begin planting trees. Trees take carbon from the atmosphere and shade the surface, meaning there’s less energy to be transferred by infrared radiation, which in turn means a reduced greenhouse effect.
But no, all those people need food. Food production takes a lot of land, so we can’t plant trees there. The food needs roads and highways to bring it to the cities where the people live. In their own heat island. Where trees have been cut down to make room for ever higher buildings. To make room for ever greater numbers of people. In an ever-growing heat island. Which is served by more and more highways that absorb solar energy and re-radiate it to the atmosphere, where carbon dioxide, methane, and water vapor capture it. In the process we call the greenhouse effect.
How nice! We now know about the greenhouse effect, about heat islands. We have NAMES! Not solutions, but at least we know what’s threatening our world.
The simplest solution, long term, is to plant more trees and let them grow until they’re old. But no; poor people will cut them down and sell the wood for lumber,¬† or burn it to keep their houses warm and cook their food.
An almost-as-simple solution is to put reflectors alongside all those miles of highway and on all those heat-island roofs. Reflectors send incoming radiation directly back to space, instead of allowing it to be absorbed by the atmosphere.
But that’s ridiculous. Line highways with cheap reflector panels made from sheets of mirror-finished Mylar? Sure, the reflectors would be cheap, but that’s too simple. It would cut down on the greenhouse effect by preventing surface heating, BEFORE the heat is re-radiated and captured by the atmosphere.
Why don’t we wring our hands instead?


Facebook, and Censorship

June 8, 2015

I’ve begun sending Facebook messages of complaint.
Have you tried to share something and been told “Sorry, this feature isn’t available right now,”?
I’ve seen it twice this morning. The first ‘controversial’ subject was a post describing how Charles Darwin was a geologist before he made the discoveries that led to his Origin of Species book. The second said that Bernie Sanders was less than 10 points behind Hillary Clinton in a recent poll.
By refusing to allow me to share the articles, Facebook has managed to impose censorship on my right to express a belief that runs counter to that held by religious fundamentalists and to express my support for Bernie Sanders. I also mentioned that Hillary wouldn’t get my vote if she refuses to stop straddling issues and express an opinion I can support. I don’t vote for parties, I vote for candidates based on issues; it’s why I’m an Independent.
While Facebook is a private company, they’ve become so dominant that what they do transcends that ownership. Like a newspaper, FB has responsibilities, and at the moment the way they exercise those responsibilities denies my rights to freedom of religious belief and freedom of political speech, through censorship.
Why would an essay about Charles Darwin reflect on religion? It mentions that his discoveries (others had made similar discoveries before Darwin) counter the opinion of Bishop James Ussher that the Earth was only some 4000 years old. Why would this be controversial? In most western nations, this is conventional belief. Only in America is there controversy, because fundamentalists not only believe in Biblical literacy but also in interpretations by churchmen.
If you’re a fundamentalist and you’re pondering this, consider that other churchmen denied the discoveries of Galileo. They placed him under house arrest and he lived out the rest of his life under that restriction. Churchmen also burned Joan of Arc…you may have heard of her…for heresy. I will only mention, but without dwelling on it, that churchmen in general have established an unviable record in modern times.
But according to Facebook, Darwin is controversial.
Pointing out that Bernie Sanders is closing in on Hillary Clinton is controversial.
IMO, censorship by Facebook is more worthy of controversy.

Weather and Climate; some good news, maybe

June 1, 2015

A team of scientists, analyzing trends in Atlantic temperatures, has published their results in Nature.
A phenomenon called the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation, called the AMO for obvious reasons, seems to be entering a cool phase. This cycle lasts tens of years, so there’s not a lot of data to go on. Still, when the atlantic enters this cooler phase, it generates weather changes. Britain has less summer rain. The Sahel region of North Africa has droughts. The US Midwest has fewer droughts and they tend to be shorter. There are fewer hurricanes; reasonable, since hurricanes begin off the coast of Africa, gain strength from the warmer waters of the mid-Atlantic, then come ashore somewhere in the Americas. Hurricanes are essentially heat-transfer mechanisms that take surface heat and move it to the upper atmosphere, where some of it is radiated away into space. The Pacific Coast states, particularly Washington and Oregon, get more rainfall.
I found a summary of this report in The Conversation, a publication I recommend to everyone. It’s free, is emailed daily, and it usually concentrates on international matters of interest, as opposed to the US news industry which concentrates far too much on the US. We are engaged with the nations of the world, after all; it behooves us to know something about what’s going on elsewhere.
The good news is that this analysis offers a prediction we can check later, and it’s one more tool scientists can use to better understand weather and climate.

On Mortality, Memory Loss, and Alzheimer’s (Reference today’s CDC Report)

May 10, 2013

Well, phooey!
I was supposed to attend a Marine Corps dinner tonight, and I forgot. We only got the notice yesterday, and I never put it onto my calendar.
Meantime, that leads me into a discussion (you knew that was coming, right?).
The CDC is now publishing alarming reports that suggest that there will be a surge in the numbers of Alzheimer’s patients. They base this on the numbers who report memory loss.
That would be me.
I first noticed symptoms of memory loss around 1975. I was speaking German regularly, and I noticed that when I spoke English I would sometimes hesitate, not being able to think of the word I wanted. Often enough, I COULD think of the word in German! So I wasn’t worried.
But it’s gotten worse. I find that frequently I can’t think of the word I want; often my sons, who are accustomed to this, supply the missing word.
But I have a huge operating vocabulary. I can either think of another, not so exact, word, or if I’m on the computer, I can think of the definition and use Google to find the one I’m unable to bring out of memory. Google’s been very helpful to me.
So…is Alzheimer’s in my future?
A couple of things to consider. I’m now 73. Statistically, I don’t have much of a future. Add to that one heart attack (the bad news), but that was 16 years ago (the good news). No more blockages, but I do have an enlarged heart as a remembrance. I’m also diabetic. The good news here is that medical science can do a lot to treat diabetes and the secondary effects. I spoke to a man who’d had a femoral artery replaced and another friend had some of the blood vessels in his leg cleaned out, ‘roto-rooted’ so to speak.
I also have an enlarged prostate. The difference between BPH and prostate cancer is the number of indicators in the blood; below a certain percentage, it’s ‘benign’ prostate hyperplasia, or enlargement. Above that point and it’s prostate cancer. Again, good news/bad news. A lot of such are so slow-growing that doctors elect to do nothing, since the patient won’t survive long enough to die of prostate cancer.
So, is Alzheimer’s inevitable. Maybe not.
I began really working on mental or cognitive processes about the time I turned 70. I joined Mensa so that I might have a chance to sharpen my thinking against those who are already noteworthy for thinking skills. I found I could be on an equal footing with Mensans, and without tooting my own horn too loud, I tend to write longer, more thoughtful essays and commentary. So, equal or possibly slightly ahead of the pack. You Mensans can make your own determination; your mileage may differ with this conclusion.
And I became serious about music, which is thought to help with cognition. Plus I’m now adding one or two new songs to my repertoire every week, adding them to memory so that I can perform without aids. This indicates that perhaps my memory might be improving, at least in some sense.
And, FWIW, I wrote this little essay without pausing to look anything up. I called it all from memory and assembled it into a coherent whole. That, too, requires both memory and cognition functioning.
I can analyze current trends, extrapolate from those, and make conclusions about what is probably in the future. I’m more confident about the relationship between my conclusions and the near future than I am about the distant future. And yet, I cannot make any predictions about my own future. It’s a statistical certainty that it won’t be long. Ten years? I’d be 83. Twenty years? Yep, 93. Few achieve that. Many don’t even make it to 73, but I have.
Meantime, if I go bonkers, there’s Jeff.
Maybe we should recruit another moderator for my group, The Intelligent Round Table? ūüôā

Cosmology, Dark Matter, and Assumptions

January 13, 2013

Written in answer to a comment by my Australian friend Gavan. FWIW, we’re both members of International Mensa and he’s a believer in currently-accepted theories in Cosmology. I’m a skeptic.

I’ve heard that, Gavan; but at the same time, I maintain that there is much ordinary matter that has simply not coalesced into something that’s visible to us here in any of the spectra that we can detect. As evidence, I cite the emergence of new galaxies and within galaxies, new star systems. And we also keep discovering dim, barely visible items that only our new, more powerful, viewing instruments can detect.
Consider this, as well: most of what we view is seen through a time machine. We’re looking at the events of billions of years ago. We have no way of viewing things that happened this year, or a hundred million years ago. The radiation from those distant events won’t be here for another hundred million or billion years.
So estimating the current total mass of ordinary matter based on an unimaginably ancient photo is simply silly. It’s similar to looking at human populations on the Earth of 1 million b.c. and estimating the current human population…and then declaring that our estimate must be correct, without regard for change that might take place over that time.
We might as well use gravitational influences, which we can detect, as indicators that there was much more unconsolidated matter a billion years ago than there is now.
I could, for example, pencil in a few million new galaxies, enough of them to actually balance the estimates of mass and the observed gravity. And point out that we won’t see them for another billion years, because they’re that far away, and have only begun emitting energy within the last few million years and so aren’t yet visible because the energy hasn’t arrived yet. ¬†Is that less logical than claiming that perhaps 90% of the gravity in the universe is due to some invisible, undetectable (at least, so far) ‘matter’?
Those new star systems and such that we observe in the process of formation and describe with great excitement because they just became visible this week? That happened a few hundred million years ago.
So apply Occam’s razor; there are masses in the universe that we can’t yet see because they’re so far away, or there is some sort of undetected invisible matter that’s here because we need something to balance the equations?
That’s my problem with the math of the universe; the equations may well be right, but the assumptions and estimates and interpretation are much less certain.

Roadways, Microclimates, and the Heat Island Effect

November 27, 2012

I’ve begun work on a hypothesis that’s an offshoot of my experiment last summer. It’s this; while cities are recognized as heat islands and are now being investigated for clues about how the biosphere will react to warmer climates and elevated levels of CO2 and other gases, I think we’ve also created such along our roadway net.
In essence, we’ve been modifying the planetary albedo, and thus the greenhouse effect, by paving streets and roadways. All of these surfaces are dark in color, black to dark gray, and are roughened to aid in traction. As such, they’re absorbers of solar radiation and are more efficient at this than sandy or grassy surfaces.
The ‘heat island’ effect is well known and documented. I’m not aware of any attempt to isolate this as to which percentage of the heat island effect is due to paved roads and alleys as opposed to, say, large buildings.
Meantime, while I was thinking about this, I came to the conclusion that roadways are the equivalent of cities in terms of modification of the planetary albedo. Indeed, cities are by their nature concentrations of roadways but there are equivalent amounts of modified surface sprawling across the continent.
I’ll be looking for evidence of this in the spring. There’s a master’s thesis in this for any student who needs a topic!
I plan to gather data of roadway temperature and the temperature of unmodified dirt a few meters away. The driving surface and any apron on the side of the road are all modified and all absorb heat. I’ll also look at vegetation patterns, if possible. Non-natural vegetation won’t help, and it’s common for highway departments to plant grass seed along the interstate highways. I’ll look for side roads that get the paving treatment but not the other modifications. I can then compare the grassed-over areas with natural areas to look for differences.
I have observed the numbers of forbs that flower in the late summer; they appear to be much more common a few meters away from the paved surface, often across fences that line the roads to prevent cattle from wandering into danger. Conceivably, the heat trapped by the roadways acts to extend the growing season and creates a microclimate that favors these. Goldenrod, a kind of blue daisy-like flower, certain yellow flowers, and pricklypoppies all appear to be more common near roadways than out in the middle of the natural desert area.
For those who don’t live in deserts, you might be interested in looking at your own roadway system. Even in green England and Europe, there might be discernable patterns of vegetation changes. You can write to me if you observe any such: I would be interested in hearing from you regarding your observations!

Thoughts on Thinking

October 19, 2012

Most of our thinking consists of a set of responses that I call subroutines. We’ve learned those by education or experience and we can now call them up from memory in response to whichever task we need to accomplish.
Consider the routine of an ordinary day. We get up, brush our teeth, shower, get dressed, have breakfast, start the car and drive to work. During all of this there is no need for any original thinking. It’s all programmed, including driving to work. You can carry out all of these while using your conscious mind for other purposes. Thinking about plans for the evening, or carrying on a conversation, or for some even making a phone call or texting or putting on makeup or eating breakfast on the way.
And during the course of a week, you’ll face nothing at all that hasn’t got at least a partial subroutine in memory. New customer? Routine operations to deal with that. Complaining customer? You’ve seen it before.
Short of suddenly facing a man with a gun or similar unknown event, you’re not faced with a necessity to really think. And when you ARE faced with an emergency (choking victim, drowning person, rescuing someone from a car crash, whatever), most have no subroutine that fits the situation and so they freeze, unable to decide on a course of action. Famously, advice says to do something, even if it’s wrong,because doing nothing is guaranteed to be wrong. But even taking that decision is difficult, because there are inhibitions about making wrong decisions.
For each selected subroutine, there is an expected outcome. It’s a part of a series of probabilities that range from desired outcomes to undesired outcomes. We can modify those subroutines to an extent and even learn new ones that diverge from what we already have in memory. At the same time, there are inhibitions that in themselves are subroutines. Those inhibiting subroutines can vary from mild to absolute prohibitions based on what we’ve acquired as we go through life.
Consider an example: if you’ve been to a public pool recently, you’ve probably observed a child climb up on the diving board. The child ascended the board because he/she wanted the thrill, but then froze when they realized that the water was quite some distance below. Intellectually, they’ve seen others jump or dive, and they want to do that; but fear inhibits that first attempt. Jump? Or face ridicule if they choose to climb back down the steps? They may wait for some time, frozen and unable to make a choice…but then for those who DO jump or dive, they realize that the fear is unfounded. And then they climb back up the ladder. This time, there’s a subroutine to use that tells them they can jump safely and not suffer hurt. They never freeze in place again. There may be a subroutine that urges caution, but absolute prohibition won’t be there.
It’s the same with any fearful thing. Do it just once, and you’ve learned how to deal with the fear. Training and practice can provide that first partial subroutine, and after someone has once added it to their own store in memory, it’s always there. And small steps may be better because they fall within the ‘comfort zone’ of that learned subroutine.
It doesn’t have to be fear that’s the inhibitor. In some cases, it’s simple confidence. Watch a young boy deciding whether to remain with his male friends or go ask a girl to dance (inhibitor here is fear of ridicule or rejection), and then look at older boys who’ve already gone through this and learned how to deal with the question. They’re confident…and it shows.
I’ve concluded that much of success is based on a suite of learned subroutines that we can call on at need; and failure is attributable to the lack of those.
Chemistry also plays a part, particularly the balance of hormones that circulate in our blood as we grow and develop.
Can knowledge of this system of subroutines be used, or even taught?
Yes. It’s the basis for such programs as Outward Bound. Students are exposed to frequent challenges and as they overcome those they gain subroutines that can be used in future to address any similar challenge. Simply undergoing challenges that require courage weakens any subroutine that might prohibit future responses to challenges. Military training addresses this through ‘confidence courses’ and challenging courses for Rangers, Seals, Special Forces, and Pararescue operators.
And knowing what you’re doing can help an individual direct his own development and acquire the confidence that will turn losers into winners in life.
A lot of people are investigating what I cannot, chemistry of thought and how hormonal levels can affect that. So instead I concentrate on a sort of users manual. I know chemistry makes a difference; a friend recently described what happens when he takes his periodic shot to adjust his testosterone levels. He said that for a few hours he simply avoided people because the shot increased his aggression levels. He’s quite an easygoing man, but according to what he reported, he has to control the urge to punch someone. So he avoids people lest he lose his temper.
As I was developing the model I’ve described, it occurred to me that criminals and other anti-social people lack the inhibitors that ‘normal’ people do. Without inhibitors they indulge whatever impulse occurs to them, whether it be aggression or robbery or rape or murder. I also considered whether ‘mental illness’ or conditions such as autism might reflect the inability to form archived memories or those subroutines. And for a few, the archived memories may be formed and not modified when we encounter new conditions. For most of us, forming a new memory or modifying an existing one means that earlier forms are deleted. But for those with eidetic memory, perhaps they’ve bypassed that destruct function? No idea; and I’m exploring ideas that I can’t truly understand in the way that I’ve earlier described.

Global Warming: a Cheap, Easy, Temporary Fix

August 29, 2012

I’ve been thinking about global warming. The US Meteorological Service has now changed its official stance and states that global warming is at least partially caused by human activity. That got me to thinking, and so I’ve now posted an idea in two Facebook groups I’m a participant in.
Global warming means that we will see more drought, more intense and more giant storms, and a general change to the surface of the Earth with disruption of food supply and probably an increase in hunger for those who live in marginally-productive countries. I suspect that in time we’ll find a long-term solution, but in the short term, there’s going to be a lot of human misery and death and loss of wealth among the developed nations. So even a temporary fix would be useful, until the science and engineering is available to provide a longer term solution.
I know how to fix global warming.  The worst problem I foresee is not cost or efficiency, but the resistance of people and politicians.  This idea needs no new science, but it does need an reinterpretation of existing science.

I’ll begin with an overview of the greenhouse effect. Global warming depends at bottom on that. ¬†Global warming is simply a slight rise in efficiency of the trapping process of the insolation.

So what is the greenhouse effect, and why does it work? Much solar radiation passes through the atmosphere without being absorbed; that’s how we can use it to see. This radiation has a certain set of bandwidths, the colors that can be separated by a prism or rainbow. There are also ultraviolet and most interesting for our viewpoint, infra-red radiation. This is, in essence, radiated heat. It’s easy to demonstrate; you can feel it on your skin, and you feel its absence when a cloud shades the sun. It strikes the earth and is differentially absorbed or radiated back to space. Dark farmland, for example, absorbs heat quite efficiently; water less so, although what is absorbed is also released in the form of latent heat in evaporation (this is what fuels hurricanes, and usually begins off the coast of Africa in the northern hemisphere). Sunlight striking sand is partially reflected, and that which strikes snow and ice is almost totally reflected.
Reflected sunlight, like incoming sunlight, is not efficiently absorbed by atmospheric gases. It’s still at the same frequency/wavelength as it was when it came in, so it passes through the atmosphere and back to space. ¬†Photos taken from space use this reflected energy.
But what of the energy that strikes the ground and is absorbed? It heats the Earth’s surface. That’s easy to prove; take a walk on a warm day barefoot, you can feel it. I also once used the heat-trapping effect of color (black plastic tubing to design and build a solar heater for my swimming pool in El Paso; 300′ of 2″ irrigation tubing, coiled on the roof of my porch, then a system of pipes to connect this to the pool circulation pump, and so whenever I used the pool filter, I also got free heat. Very efficient; I often swam as early as February and as late as November in El Paso, in West Texas).
The Earth not only reflects incoming radiation, it also radiates. It must; this is how the Earth disposes of absorbed radiant heat and also heat from the interior. ¬†But because it has a temperature that’s different from that of the sun, it radiates in a different bandwidth. The soil doesn’t glow, but you can feel the heat radiating in the evening; very pleasant. This radiation is at a wavelength that is readily absorbed by water vapor, Carbon dioxide, and Methane. ¬†Absorption of radiated heat is the greenhouse effect.
So it occurred to me that the way to interrupt the greenhouse effect was to change the albedo selectively; to reflect, rather than to absorb, the incoming radiation. The best place to do this is in the band of deserts that surround the Earth, at about 30¬ļ north and south of the Equator. The tropics, the band from 23.5¬ļ north to 23.5¬ļ south through the equator, generates its own albedo change through cloud production. But the deserts are often clear; no clouds, no rainfall, just heat absorption.
If we could change that pair of desert zones from a strongly-absorbent to a reflective zone, it should reduce the greenhouse effect and hence reduce global warming.
This is the science. ¬†Change not global warming, instead change the Earth’s greenhouse effect.

I came up with a way to do this.  It depends on the fact that not all parts of the Earth absorb energy equally.  Change the part that is most energy-absorbent, you have a much greater effect on the greenhouse effect than you would have if you attempted to change the greenhouse effect by, for example, working at the poles.

I would first begin with a small test unit and gather data; one day, then a week, then ideally  over the course of a year. What seems practical in theory might not work in reality.

So I intend to build a test unit. ¬†I will then gather the data, interpret it, put it into graphs and then present it. Only data needed is temperature, preferably from electronic thermometers taking readings from under the reflective panel and one or more readings outside it but nearby. ¬†Simply put, to change the planet’s temperature, I would build large numbers of frames, preferably of aluminum, but wood would also work. Across these I would stretch 2-mil reflecting mylar film (one roll, $35 from Amazon, 50″x50′). Support the panels above the ground. For the test plot, perhaps a meter above ground; for actual use, two or three meters up. Make small units, say 5m x 5m. Install, move on. They can be manufactured over Winter, begin installation in early Summer, hope to last a year at least. They should be installed for maximum effect around the world on all land surfaces that are currently desert. At the designed height, they would not interfere with passage of humans and animals below them. I would slant them at about 13¬ļ facing South in the Northern hemisphere, facing North in the Southern Hemisphere. It is not necessary to wrap the entire planet in these; the beauty of it is that it’s cheap and each installation has some small effect. The shaded land won’t be harmed; it’s desert, hence not used for anything except grazing.

Maintenance: if damaged, a frame could be reused and the mylar film simply replaced. I suspect it wouldn’t last more than a season, perhaps with luck two, before solar UV deteriorated it. But even fragments blowing along the ground are minimally useful because they reflect sunlight.
Incremental effect; each panel reduces insolation, the basis for the greenhouse effect, by a small fraction. Many of these, large fraction. Adjustment: getting too cold, close down some of the panels. Still too hot, glaciers melting? Put up more.  The effect is incremental and linear depending on the numbers of panels.
Proof: easy to construct a cheap panel farm. Take temperature readings ¬†underneath the panels in the shade, and around them in full sunlight. Collect daily information, say at 8am, at 12 noon, and at 6pm. Do this for a year. Examine how much maintenance is required. Large winds will likely destroy a significant number of panels, but a ‘breakaway’ fastener on one side might alleviate that while still keeping the panel tethered. Deterioration from the Sun, a problem. It may turn out that 5mil or 10mil would be better, but the cost would be higher. Costs should be less for mylar than I quoted; that $35/50″x50′ is retail, so wholesale and economies of scale should reduce that.
End of the year: assemble the data, graph it, discuss and publish.  Budget for a full-scale test? Say $1 million.  Actual cost?  Less than $100 000.  The rest is reserve for unexpected expenses.I intend to set up the test plot, consisting of one or two panels and the land surrounding them, and begin collecting data.  I should begin to do this within two weeks.
Feel free to circulate the idea and run it by experts. ¬†The only thing I ask is that if you’re using my work, I get credit for my input.
Update: I’ve now acquired three thermometers, one that measures minimum and maximum temperature values, another as a check on the first (both are digital and use probes for sensing), and a non-contact infrared based thermometer.

I built a test panel and installed it today, Sep 15 2012.   I used salvaged plastic and wood and fastened the plastic to the wood with staples, then wrapped the plastic once around the wooden end pieces to keep the staples from ripping through the plastic.  I put up four T-posts that I had on hand, installed guy ropes to stabilize and tension the panel, and then clamped the end boards to the T posts.  The panel is approximately 50cm above the ground.  I have posted photos on my Flickr page.

I took first readings this afternoon about 3pm. ¬†The differences between the shaded ground and plastic (those read approximately the same) and the sunny ground alongside the panel were 12.5¬†C degrees. ¬†I’ll be making more precise measurements using the sensors of the digital thermometers. ¬†But I conclude that this afternoon I became the first person to deliberately reduce the greenhouse effect, and global warming, by a small but measurable amount.

A Philosophical Approach to the Physics of Astronomy

September 27, 2011

My philosophy regarding science, and particularly theoretical physics: It seems to me that there’s a tendency to examine observations and then interpret those observations in ways that have no basis in the observation.¬† First the theory, then a long and expensive search to attempt to prove it.¬† Not observed: dark matter, dark energy, strings.¬† And yet, any number of researchers and theoreticians are busily spending enormous sums in an attempt to find these, all to bolster the interpretations and resultant theories.

Not considered in all this is the question: what if the theories are wrong?¬† Note that I’m not challenging the observations, just the subsequent interpretations.¬† And, for my part, there’s a basis for these interpretations that depends on one or more assumptions.

I have a problem with the dual-nature of particles and light.¬† I don’t challenge this, because I don’t personally have a better explanation.¬† But my problem comes from Einstein’s equation, E=MC^2.¬† Note that in this, if you hold the C^2 in abeyance, the formula says that energy is equal to mass, and that C^2, an enormous number, is simply the conversion factor.¬† And so somehow mass is also energy but without consideration for the difference in their relationship that’s demanded by Einstein.¬† It’s a problem for me.¬† I watch, and wait for someone to come up with a better explanation.¬† The quantum mechanical atom, and the levels of the electrons in their orbitals, provides a good model (I think) for absorption/release of energy of a specific amount, a quantum.¬† But I don’t understand how jumping from one quantum level to another generates something that is non-energy, the other half of the dual-nature question.

But when looking at the current ideas involving dark matter, dark energy, strings, and such, I note that the theorists and their fellow-travelers have not addressed an assumption.¬† That same assumption has much to do with the ‘expanding’ and ‘accelerating’ universe.¬† This current model is accepted by most theoreticians because Doppler’s work gives an explanation, and so they don’t waste their time looking for other explanations.¬† Despite the picture this Doppler shift gives of a universe in which the further an object is, the faster it’s going, somehow accelerating in all directions away from Earth, speeding up as you get further away. ¬†The assumption here is that this is a true picture and so an explanation is sought, and if there’s no reasonable or logical explanation, then something unreasonable and non-logical is postulated. ¬†Any search for evidence is therefore directed in this specific direction. ¬†There’s no Nobel prize in going back to reexamine the assumptions that led up to the conclusion.

All of our observations, theories, everything depends on our understanding of light, with the term used here as representative of the entire electromagnetic spectrum.  So my question is, what if our understanding of light and how it behaves is wrong?  Are we making an assumption when we look at light?  And the answer is yes.

That assumption is that the light emitted from a distant object arrives at the observer unchanged, except in ways perfectly understood (e.g., Doppler shifted due to relative motion). ¬†There’s also the absorption of specific lines in the spectrum of the light from the source, which again changes the light in ways that are understood.

Suppose there’s another agency, another method, that changes the light in some way?

I didn’t know what that could be, and of course I’m not certain even now.¬† But I do have an alternative explanation to be considered.¬† It’s based on elementary science, known to everyone who ever studied modern physics.

A common, well known experiment uses one or two slits in a barrier and a light beam is passed through it.¬† An interference/reinforcement pattern of light and dark areas is created past the barrier, and the interpretation is that this shows the wave nature of light (and some other particles, such as electrons; but that’s not what I’m concerned with here).¬† No argument with this.¬†¬† But what isn’t realized (or at least I haven’t found anything in the literature to show that this interpretation is considered to be important)¬†is that this experiment demonstrates something else: that light can affect other light.¬† In this case, one light wave is either adding to or interfering with another. ¬†There may also be other ways in which one light field, for lack of a better word, can affect another. ¬†We know that different frequencies of light respond in different ways to phenomena, such as a prism, being differentially deflected; whether there’s a differential response to other light fields based on frequency is something that might happen. ¬†Not proved, so I’ll only mention it as something that could profitably be investigated.

So: the further away an object is, the more likely it is that the light it emits, over the thousands of light-years that it’s traveled, will have encountered and possibly have been affected by light from other sources.¬† Only the closest light sources, our own sun and probably Alpha Centauri, may be exempt from this.¬† But even these may have transited the same space as other light waves, so I suspect that these objects show minimal effects from any influence of other light, but not absolute absence.

I don’t make the claim now, nor ever, that the explanations I’ve put forward are true, or that others are false.¬† I haven’t invented any dark whatzit or used little green men or added 15 new dimensions.¬† I simply have taken standard, accepted ideas from past scientists and put them together in new ways.¬† And I do this because it seems to me that assumptions don’t get examined often enough, and that preposterous theories are too-quickly adopted into the mainstream without being backed up by observational proof.¬† And my explanations are simple and don’t require 10 years of study of mathematics to understand.

I’ve always thought Occam’s Razor doesn’t get used nearly often enough.