Tag Archives: Science

Marvin Minsky, AI pioneer and MIT researcher, dead at 88

Posted on January 26, 2016 by

To say that the universe exists is silly, because it says that the universe is one of the things in the universe. So there’s something wrong with questions like, “What caused the Universe to exist?” – Marvin Minsky

With all the celebrities passing recently, I thought I would identify a great mind that has also been silenced.

Marvin Minsky was a philosopher/mathematician/Computer Science educator at M.I.T., where he co-founded their Artificial Intelligence lab.

He made many strides in the fields of computer science, artificial intelligence, cognitive science, and the mind.

Minsky was also an atheist. Here is the New York Times article about his death, and here is his Wikipedia page. Both are worthwhile reads.

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Carl Sagan (November 9, 1934 – December 20, 1996)

Posted on November 9, 2011 by

If he were still alive, today would be Carl Sagan’s 77th birthday. Unfortunately, Carl Sagan died of pneumonia at 62 as a result of complications from myelodysplasia in 1996.

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(Image from: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/b/be/Carl_Sagan_Planetary_Society.JPG/225px-Carl_Sagan_Planetary_Society.JPG)

Carl Sagan was a voice for science and rationalism. He made science “cool” (much more so than the actors on the “Big Bang Theory” ever will), he knew how to bring science to people who might not otherwise understand such daunting concepts, and he entertained while he educated.

I remember watching “Cosmos” and being fascinated by all the interesting facts and information about the galaxy. His show, along with David Suzuki’s “The Nature of Things” were two of my favourite shows on television when I was growing up and learning about the world and the universe around us. Both men opened my eyes to new wonders every week.

I read Carl Sagan’s book “Contact” when it was published in the late 1980s and later watched the movie about the book “Contact”, starring Jodi Foster and Matthew McConaughey in 1997. “Contact” (the movie and the book) once again allowed Carl Sagan to teach and  entertain.

As a staunch “non-believer” in religion of any kind (and particularly staunchly against religion’s influence on society), one of Carl Sagan’s quotes rings true to me. It explains quite nicely the fallacy of religions and allows me smile inside whenever someone “preaches” to me that I should/must believe in a god:

The idea that God is an oversized white male with a flowing beard who sits in the sky and tallies the fall of every sparrow is ludicrous. But if by God one means the set of physical laws that govern the universe, then clearly there is such a God. This God is emotionally unsatisfying… it does not make much sense to pray to the law of gravity.

Unfortunately, in a world that every day seems to have more need of a calm, clear voice for science and rationalism, we can only wonder what else Carl Sagan may have accomplished if he were still alive and promoting science and rationalism over mythology and fear.

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An epitaph for humanity

Posted on January 26, 2011 by

Just read a great article entitled “Voyager and the Will to Explore” about the two Voyager missions that are still going strong, lasting far longer than anyone ever imagined they would, and they are sending back information that we would have no other method of obtaining.

But the future of space exploration is in serious jeopardy, and a lot of the problem is the latest recession and subsequent Wall Street bailouts, which emptied government coffers as they bailed out criminal bankers.

When (it isn’t if, it really is when) we get hit by the next asteroid, or if global climate change makes things unbearable and we perish because of that first, our epitaph should read:

“Despite a demonstrated potential for greatness, this species, when it had an opportunity to push forward and explore ways to ensure its long-term survival, gave up power to a few who then gorged at the trough and undermined all by convincing them space exploration was too expensive.”

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CBC Top 10 Miracles of 2010? No miracles, but lots of science, medicine, and chance

Posted on December 27, 2010 by

A friend sent me a link to this article: CBC has a video article article showcasing what they consider to be the greatest miracles of 2010. Wow, I am not sure where to begin with this rather odious piece of journalism, but here goes… Miracles are a funny thing, and not in a way that should make anyone laugh.

Wikipedia defines a miracle as an unexpected event attributed to divine intervention. Sometimes an event is also attributed (in part) to a miracle worker, saint, or religious leader.

While wikipedia is not the final place to go for definitions, it is normally a good place for a general consensus. So, using this basic definition, let’s examine the events surrounding our plane crash survivor. For example, the number one miracle was titled “Sole Survivor”. It is a story about a man who survived a plane crash. He was the only one of 104 passengers and crew to survive. And CBC labelled it a miracle. Do we see the problem here? Where is the divine intervention? I am sure there are 103 families who would disagree that a miracle occurred.

It may seem like semantics, but the word miracle implies divinity and religion, giving undue credence to superstitions and myths that have hindered free thought, blocked scientific advance, and killed countless people in an attempt to remain relevant and force controlling beliefs upon the masses. Religion has followed us since the beginning of our species’ existence, mainly through the indoctrination of our young, when they are the most impressionable. (Here’s an article that explains more about this )

As for the age-old adage about humans not judging events this way, all the dubious, sugar-sweet soothing messages about “god working in mysterious ways” or “it isn’t our place to question him” doesn’t make the foul medicine taste any better or the fertilizer used to grow the story any less offensive.

Our children are permitted to stop believing in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy, but are encouraged – and in many cases forced – to profess belief in outdated superstitious myths with no burden of proof by organizations that don’t even pay their fair share of taxes.

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Does bilingualism help keep Alzheimer’s away?

Posted on November 9, 2010 by

If true, this study is yet another great reason for learning other languages.

Low intelligence or inability to excel in other subjects at school is not indicative of ability to learn a second (or third or fourth) language. Statistically speaking, almost anyone has the capability to learn multiple languages.

Now the province of New Brunswick needs to learn that research by linguists, neural scientists, and educators all show that the earlier the better for learning new languages. Your body actually begins to re-direct those parts of your brain used for language development to other tasks once you hit the teen years. To be successful, immersion needs to start in kindergarten for all NB students in both official languages. Grade 5 is too late!

Link to article

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Rare Snow Leopard Pictures

Posted on June 11, 2009 by

National Geographic just published pictures of Snow Leopards caught by camera traps.

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The article states:

Once found throughout the high altitudes of Central Asia, the cats are thought to number only about a hundred in Afghanistan, conservationists say.

Makes me wonder… If National Geographic can manage to capture footage of some of only the estimated 100 snow leopards in Afghanistan, maybe the US military should hire them to find Osama Bin Laden

Come to think of it, those of us in the Mac user community are wondering if maybe we can borrow some of these camera traps to see if we can’t capture images of our own elusive Snow Leopard anytime soon…

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Breaking News – Black Holes are Heavy!

Posted on June 11, 2009 by

National Geographic recently published an article entitled “Most Massive Black Holes Heavier Than Thought

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According to the article:

A new computer model suggests the supermassive black hole at the heart of the giant galaxy M87 weighs the same as 6.4 billion suns—two to three times heavier than previous estimates.

Admittedly, initial calculations were hampered by the lack of a bathroom scale large enough to support the entire galaxy, and sources close to M87 revealed the reclusive celestial body had been shying away from the public in an effort to hide its eating disorder. Apparently gobbling up neighbouring stars has had a direct impact on its dimensions. A press release from its agent today stated that M87 has decided to enlist the aid of interstellar fitness experts and, despite the negative reviews from dietitians and nutritionists across the universe, will immediately begin a ‘low-star’ diet.

In other news, while National Geographic scientists may be smart, their writers could apparently still use an editor for their work every now and then. This article wins my ‘double entendre of the day‘ award and just begs me to ask the question…

Just exactly how heavy is thought?

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Earth Likely to Relocate in Galactic Collision

Posted on June 11, 2009 by

Don’t worry, apparently the first chance of this happening is about 2 billion years away. You will need more than just ‘Oil of Olay‘ to keep you around to see it happen…

According to a not-so-new (2007) National Geographic article:

The sun and Earth will probably be spun out into a lonely region of space when the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies finish colliding about five billion years from now, researchers say in a new study.

There’s also a small chance that our solar system will be swept from its home in the Milky Way and scooped up by Andromeda during an earlier close encounter, in just three-and-a-half-billion years.

So… we are apparently likely to be flung to the far reaches of this new, merged galaxy that has been nicknamed ‘Milkomeda‘ (who says Astrophysicists don’t have a sense of humour?)

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Just more proof to my theory that our Solar System and life on Earth is really just a big petri dish experiment and something doesn’t want us contaminating the rest of the lab! 😉

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Betelgeuse is shrinking…

Posted on June 11, 2009 by

The star that lights the Betelgeuse system made famous by Douglas Adams (and probably lots of other people) as the place where Ford Prefect and Zaphod Beeblebrox were born is apparently shrinking…

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According to National Geographic:

One of the largest known stars in the universe is shrinking rapidly, and astronomers don’t know why.

Betelgeuse (pronounced almost like “beetle juice”) is a red supergiant star 600 light-years away in the constellation Orion. From Earth the star is clearly visible with the naked eye as the reddish dot that marks Orion’s left shoulder.

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, first measured the star in 1993 with an infrared instrument on top of Southern California’s Mount Wilson. They estimated the star to be as big around as Jupiter’s orbit around the sun.

But measurements made since then using the same instrument show that Betelgeuse is now only about as wide as the orbit of Venus—a size reduction of about 15 percent in 15 years.

The cause of the star’s rapid contraction is a mystery. But the team noted that they had observed an unusual big red spot on the star three years ago.

I suggest you make your vacation plans now before this incredible destination is gone forever.

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