Thursday, March 26, 2015

About the problem of evil

The Auschwitz concentration camp
In a previous article on the hunting hymenoptera I mentioned the problem of evil, often called the problem of pain, the well-known title of a book by CS Lewis. Although this question is mainly ethical or philosophical, it also has some relationship with science, as will be seen at the end of this post.
We can consider two different types of the problem of evil:
  1. Human evil, caused by man. The Auschwitz concentration camp has become its most mentioned paradigm.
  2. Natural pain, the fact that natural processes can cause severe pain to humans and other living beings.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Are we about to become immortal?

Arthur C. Clarke
In 1965 Arthur C. Clarke published a short story, titled Dial F for Frankenstein, later published in the collection The wind from the sun: stories of the space age. In that story Clarke proposed the following scenario:
When all global telephone systems are connected via geostationary satellites, the number of components of the global system will exceed those in the human brain. As such a system will have access to the information in all the computers connected to the network, we’ll have a very complex system with an extremely high amount of information. If conscience arises automatically from such a system, the computer network, connected by telephone, should be conscious and, being far superior to any human brain, will take control of the Earth.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

What is life?

Saccharomyces cerevisiae
After a century discussing about the origin of life, we are not closer to knowing what did happen. In the mid-twentieth century, when Stanley Lloyd Miller performed the famous experiment where he applied energy to a mixture of methane, hydrogen, ammonia and water, and obtained amino acids, scientists announced the imminent manufacture of artificial life in the laboratory. Such estimates are often too optimistic. In this case they were.
The first question to be solved here is what is meant by being alive. If we consider the problem carefully, we’ll find beings that are clearly alive and others that definitely are not. Plants, animals and ourselves are alive. Stones, distilled water, carbon dioxide, are not. In these cases deciding is no trouble. When Antony van Leeuwenhoek discovered microorganisms (yeast, infusorians, bacteria, spermatozoa and red blood cells) nobody doubted that they are alive. But things are not always so simple.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The scientific work of Stephen Hawking

The scientific work of Stephen Hawking has been quite productive, although the media, influenced by his sad personal situation, tend to exaggerate its importance, putting him sometimes at the level of Einstein. His most renowned works are the following:
  • The singularity theorems, published in 1970 in collaboration with Roger Penrose, proved that the application of the equations of Einstein’s General Relativity to the entire universe requires at least one singular point in that universe (a point where all the geodesics in the universe converge). As a consequence of this theorem, in the book The Large Scale Structure of Space-Time (1973, written with George Ellis), Hawking unequivocally embraced the theory that the universe began at a point of infinite density (the Big Bang).

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Interview with Manuel Alfonseca

This is the translation of an interview about my activity as an author of fiction, published in El Templo de las Mil Puertas

1.         What drives an apparently scientific person to get involved on the wonderful task of creating, writing and sharing stories?
Many scientists have written novels, especially in the genre of science fiction. To name a few: Carl Sagan, Leo Szilard, George Gamow and Willy Ley. I also like to try other genres. Throughout my life, I've been interested in many subjects that are not supposed to be science, such as history or philosophy. Later, when I tried to express myself in the field of fiction, such knowledge found its natural place.