Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Utopias and Dystopias

Utopias, the descriptions of fictitious perfect societies, owe their name to Thomas More's Utopia (1516), a title of Greek origin that literally means nowhere. Before and after More's work there have been many other utopias, each one to the liking of its author, for the question of the perfect society gives a lot of play to the imagination. Examples include Plato's Republic, Tomasso Campanella's The City of the Sun (1602), Francis Bacon's New Atlantis (1627), Bulwer Lytton's The Coming Race (1871), Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward (1888, see this post), William Morris's News from Nowhere (1890), James Hilton's Lost Horizon (1933), or Aldous Huxley's Island (1962).

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

A Canticle for Leibowitz

This novel, one of my favorites in the science-fiction genre, belongs to the catastrophic subgenre, also called post-apocalyptic. This is its summarized argument:

An atomic war has destroyed our civilization. After the catastrophe, the surviving masses hate science and books, considering them responsible for the tragedy. In the same way as after the fall of the Roman Empire, the Catholic Church collects the remains of knowledge and preserve them for posterity, so they can be used by a new civilization, capable of understanding them, if one day it would arise. But when this happens, history repeats and man self-destructs again.

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Science or imagination?

A large part of the "scientific" research currently being developed, rather than being science, is just an exercise of the imagination of "scientists." It seems that we must consider as scientists all those who do mathematical speculations that have little or nothing to do with reality. And naturally, everything a scientist does is “science”. At least, scientific journals and high-profile media consider it as such.

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Do black holes have hair?

Black holes are strange objects. They are accumulations of extremely compact matter, which exerts such huge gravity that at less than a certain distance (the event horizon) nothing can escape their attraction, not even light. Hence their name.

The existence of black holes had been predicted in the 18th century by the English geologist John Michell and the French astronomer Laplace. At that time nobody paid attention, but from 1915, when Einstein formulated the theory of General Relativity, the interest in these mysterious objects grew. It was soon concluded that when a massive star exhausted its ability to produce nuclear fusion reactions, no force of nature would be able to overcome the gravitational pull of the remaining matter, resulting in a black hole. But for a long time there were doubts about their real existence, for the theory seemed to predict that the matter located inside a black hole would occupy a zero volume and therefore would have an infinite density. As physicists usually suspect that infinity is a mathematical concept that cannot happen in real life, there were two possibilities: either black holes do not exist, or Einstein's theory would have to be modified so that they wouldn’t have an infinite density.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

The most surprising scientific failures

Lord Kelvin

The magazine Science News has published an article entitled Here are the 10 ten times scientific imagination failed, either because it fell short, or because it went too far, with respect to what it was logical to imagine. The study begins by quoting Albert Einstein:

Imagination is more important than knowledge... Imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress.

Tom Siegfried, author of the article, adds:

And yet while sometimes spectacularly successful, imagination has also frequently failed in ways that retard the revealing of nature’s secrets. Some minds, it seems, are simply incapable of imagining that there’s more to reality than what they already know.

Then he specifies one by one the 10 cases where, according to him, the imagination of scientists fell short or went too far. This is the list, from most to least important (according to Siegfried):

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Solar energy and thermal pollution

A previous post in this blog stated that if 100% of the energy used by man came from solar energy, the Earth would warm up, and although air pollution and the greenhouse effect would decrease, there would still be thermal pollution. Can we give figures? By how much would the Earth's temperature rise in that case?

According to various sources ([1] and [2]), world power consumption by humans is currently about 18.5 Terawatts (18.5 trillion watts). To find the energy consumed during a given period of time, we should just multiply this figure by the given time. For example, the total energy expenditure during a non-leap year, expressed in Terawatt-hours, will be found by multiplying 18.5 by 365 and by 24 (the number of hours in a year), which is equal to about 162,000 Terawatts-hour.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Compatible, incompatible, possible, impossible

I wish to clarify the four concepts of the title, which are sometimes confused when talking about physical theories and their application:

  • An event (real or imagined) can be compatible with a theory. In this case, if the event were real, it would not pose any problem for the theory, which admits in principle the possibility of that event taking place.