Thursday, April 18, 2024

The aliens are coming!

Before the 20th century, some philosophers considered the possibility of the existence of intelligent aliens, from outside the Earth. We can cite Lucretius (De Rerum Natura, book II, 1st century BC), Nicholas of Cusa (15th century), and Giordano Bruno (16th century). The idea was happily adopted by science fiction writers, such as Lucian of Samosata (Vera Historia, 2nd century) and Cyrano de Bergerac (Comic History of the States and Empires of the Moon, 1656), of whom I spoke in another post.

During the 19th century, public attention focused on possible intelligent inhabitants of other bodies in the solar system, especially the moon and Mars. In 1835, The Sun newspaper published in New York six false reports declaring that flying men had been discovered on the moon. It is said that nine out of ten Americans believed it. In fact, The Sun had published a science fiction novel as though if it were real news, making reference to existing people, such as the astronomer Sir John Herschel. Near the end of the century, The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells (1898) raised the possible existence of Martians, at the time of the scientific controversy over the canals of Mars, which was not finally solved until 1965.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Impossible? Perhaps not!

Lord Kelvin

Throughout the history of science there have been proofs that something is impossible. These proofs are usually true in mathematics, such as that it is impossible to generate the number π with a ruler and compass. Despite which, many amateurs continue to assert that they have made it. I myself have had to face one of these “proofs”.

Another similar case is the proof, this time related to physical science, that it is impossible to build machines with perpetual motion, because they oppose the first or the second principle of thermodynamics. Also, in this case many amateurs insist that they have made it. In these cases, one should not waste time looking for the error, which is known to exist.

Thursday, April 4, 2024

Genes arising from nothing?

I have been asked me to clarify a recent piece of news that has hit the popular science press with headlines like the following:

New genes found that can arise from nothing. (, 12/8/2023)

The tenacity of the media (and some scientists) to abuse the concept of nothing is unbelievable. They don’t know that nothing does not exist, and that nothing can arise from what does not exist. This is something that pre-Socratic Greek philosophers did know. (The first to assert this was Parmenides). Twenty-five centuries later, modern man, so proud of the advancement of science and technology, makes the same mistake once and again. In these posts I have often criticized the phrase, common today, that the universe arose spontaneously from nothing, which atheists often formulate to deny the creation and, therefore, the existence of God. This phrase does not belong to science (because current theories do not let us go back to the moment of the Big Bang). As philosophy, it’s just a flagrant proof of ignorance.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

The mystery of the cosmological constant

Alexander Friedmann
(Александр Фридман)

This post completes a previous post with a similar title:

The problem of the cosmological constant.

First of all, we should define three different concepts that could be closely related:

  1. Vacuum energy: due to the constant appearance of pairs of particles and antiparticles that immediately mutually disintegrate, so they are undetectable through direct experimentation. Their appearance is a consequence of the uncertainty principle: ΔΔt<ħ/2, which implies that a particle with energy ΔE can appear spontaneously during a time Δt<ħ/(2ΔE), which is smaller for larger ΔE. Thus, a virtual electron would last less than 4×10-21 seconds. A proton, whose mass is 1837 times greater, would last 1837 times less. By applying quantum field theory to all the known particles, the energy of the vacuum can be estimated.
  2. The cosmological constant: introduced by Einstein in his cosmological equation, which in the format devised by Alexander Friedman is expressed as follows: The symbol Λ is the cosmological constant. Einstein proposed a negative value, to compensate for a cosmic expansion, in which he initially did not believe. Today it is thought to be positive, which would explain the accelerated expansion of the universe discovered in 1998.
  1. Dark energy: an unknown agent that would cause the accelerated expansion of the universe.

Thursday, March 21, 2024

They bark, therefore we ride

Illustration by Gustavo Doré

In September 2003, reading the book On the Will in Nature (1836) by the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, I found the following words in page 40 of its Spanish translation by Alianza Editorial:

…according to those verses by Goethe: “The dog would like to come with us from the stable: the echo of its barking proves that we are riding.”

I immediately thought that this phrase must be the origin of the Spanish proverb they bark, therefore we ride, which used to be attributed to Don Quixote. Since I didn’t remember having read it there, just in case, I found a digitalized version of Don Quixote and looked up the phrase in question. It was not there. Next I did a Google search of the phrase, which came up with about sixty references, all of which stated that it was a phrase from Don Quixote. I also looked for the German translation of Goethe’s phrase as quoted by Schopenhauer, and got five references to Goethe’s poem Kläffer (Barker, 1808). Therefore, at that time the information used by Google to search for that phrase in Spanish was totally wrong, while the information written in German was correct, although less abundant.

Thursday, March 14, 2024

Pope Francis, Technocracy and Artificial Intelligence

The last Apostolic Exhortation by Pope Francis, entitled Laudate Deum and published on October 4, 2023, dedicates a chapter to the technocratic paradigm that has been imposed throughout the world, to which the following definition applies: a certain way of understanding human life and activity [that] has gone awry, to the serious detriment of the world around us. It refers mainly to the degradation of the environment in relation to climate change of anthropogenic origin, although the phrase used can be interpreted broadly, since there are many more ways to degrade the environment, in addition to releasing gases into the atmosphere.

But it doesn't stop there. The next paragraph says this:

21. In recent years, we have been able to confirm this diagnosis, even as we have witnessed a new advance of the above paradigm. Artificial intelligence and the latest technological innovations start with the notion of a human being with no limits, whose abilities and possibilities can be infinitely expanded thanks to technology. In this way, the technocratic paradigm monstrously feeds upon itself.

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Chance, design and artificial life

In previous posts in this blog I have mentioned my experiments on artificial life: the simulation in a computer of processes similar to those that take place in living beings. Artificial life should not be confused with synthetic life: construction of artificial living beings in the laboratory.

One of the most used tools in artificial life (and in other related fields) are genetic algorithms, which simulate biological evolution within the computer, and make it act on the entities that are the subjects of the research. In these experiments, a mixture of chance and necessity (the title of Monod’s book mentioned in the previous post) is used. Chance is usually applied with a pseudo-random number generator that modifies the operation of the rest of the algorithm, which represents necessity.