Thursday, June 30, 2016

The hollow Earth in pseudoscience and science

Cyrus Reed Teed (Koresh)
1870 saw the first appearance of a curious variant of the hollow Earth theory outside the literary field. The American Cyrus Read Teed proclaimed his belief that the Earth is hollow, but (here is the difference with previous theories) we live inside. Although the sea surface has been known for over two thousand years to be convex, and in spite of the arguments that led the Greek philosophers to assign the Earth a spherical shape, with ourselves on its outer surface, Teed was convinced that the Earth is really concave. The apparently infinite outer space would be a hollow bubble inside a universe made of rock. Teed changed his name to Koresh and founded a religion (Koreshanity) which reached several thousand followers, although they were scattered after his death in 1908.
Soon after, a German aviator named Bender, a prisoner in France during the First World War, read Teed publications and believed them. Bender developed these theories and asserted that the universe is an infinite mass of rock surrounding a bubble 13,000 kilometers in diameter, in whose inner surface we live. The atmosphere, 60 kilometers thick, thins up to the central vacuum, where three bodies move: the sun, the moon and the ghost universe, a ball of gas with shining points of light: the stars. When the ghost universe passes before the sun, it causes the alternation of day and night in the various regions of the inner surface of the Earth.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The hollow Earth in religion and literature

The idea that the interior of the Earth is hollow and inhabited is probably as old as man. In almost all ancient religions, the dead are the inhabitants of the hollow Earth. The origin of this belief may depend on the custom of burying the bodies, which dates back at least from the Neanderthals. Volcanoes and earthquakes also contributed to this idea, while caves plunging into the bowels of the earth seemed to be the entries to the underworld.
In ancient Egypt, survival after death was an obsession. At first the Pharaoh, as representative of the gods, was the only one who could achieve immortality, but the privilege was later extended to others. During the second millennium B.C.E., the democratization of the afterlife was complete. The dead were judged by a court of forty-two gods, presided by Osiris, the lord of the underworld. The next life was considered a simple continuation of this life. This is why they filled the graves with useful objects and statuettes of slaves and workers, which would play the role of servants, replacing the deceased person in the work to be done in the afterlife. But the dead Egyptians did not spend all their time underground. In the night, provided with a lantern, they would stroll around heaven: these were the stars.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The scientific mistake in Cube

Cube is a horror movie directed by Vincenzo Natali and released in 1997. The film was inspired by an episode of the popular television series of the end fifties and the sixties, The twilight zone. The episode in question, issued on December 15, 1961, was titled Five characters in search of an exit, a title which in turn was inspired by Pirandello’s play Six Characters in Search of an Author. This is the summary of Cube’s plot:
Six persons find themselves inexplicably in an unfamiliar place, consisting of cubic spaces connected together. As they explore, they discover that there are 17,576 spaces, which together form a larger cube, 26 small cubes per side; that each space is numbered with three three-digit numbers; and that some of the cubes (those where at least one of the numbers is prime or a power of a prime) contain deadly traps, while the cubes marked only with composite numbers (the product of different primes) are safe. Before being transferred to the cube (we never learn how) the five characters were engaged in different activities: a policeman, a crook specialized in escapes, a doctor, a math student, an autistic genius and the architect of the cube. The autistic boy has the amazing ability to decompose numbers into their prime factors, which helps them make sure that cells are safe. The math student says that breaking a number into its prime factors is very difficult. In the end, only the autistic boy gets out of the cube alive.

Sometimes, in my classes, I posed my students the following problem:
What is the scientific mistake in Cube?

Thursday, June 9, 2016

The scientific mistake in The Matrix

Let's start with a summary of the plot of the famous science fiction movie The Matrix, directed in 1999 by the Wachowski brothers, the first of a trilogy:
During the twenty-first century, as a result of a total war between human beings and artificial intelligence machines, the humans are defeated. As a result of the war, the Earth is caught in a nuclear winter and sunlight cannot reach the surface. To find an alternative energy source, which they need to ensure their operation, the machines collect the human survivors and put them in a state of suspended animation to extract energy from their bodies, entertaining their minds with a virtual reality program (The Matrix) that makes them live in a world similar to that of 1999. Some of the humans escape that fate and carry out a guerrilla war against the machines, using the algorithms in The Matrix to obtain superpowers in the virtual reality world. One of the free humans (the main character, an exceptional hacker played by Keanu Reeves) manipulates The Matrix in such a way that, at the end of the film, he is hailed as the chosen one, who has been sent to save mankind from slavery.
During the last years when I taught, I used to pose my students the following problem:
What is the most important scientific mistake in The Matrix?

Thursday, June 2, 2016

The anthropomorphism of animalists

Flag of the animals in
Animal Farm, by George Orwell
A year ago I published an article in which I showed with multiple arguments that man is not just an animal, despite attempts by materialists to reduce us to that level. In fact, many animalists seem to do exactly the opposite: they inadvertently raise the animals to the human level. They do this even with insects, as when they speak of the horror suffered by a caterpillar being devoured by a hymenopter larva, although they reserve their special compassion for the higher animals: birds and mammals.
In their campaign against animal acts in circuses, animalists use the following motto:
A circus is a prison
They usually say the same of zoos, even though modern zoos have little resemblance to those of the early twentieth century, the so-called menageries.