Friday, December 4, 2009

Religion Beats the Throw

New Research Says: Trust Your Subconscious Wiring

Humans don't make very good decisions. This is clear from the Nobel-prize winning work of Kahneman and Tversky, or to anyone who's spent any time with any humans (including themselves) ever.Now recent work at the University of Rochester confirms that the only sections of your skull you can trust are subconscious.

It's important to remember that your brain, the embodiment of everything you are and the most amazing computation device ever constructed, is a hot-wired adaptation which makes the average MacGuyver gadget look like ten years of planning with a federal budget. Your skull-meats were intended to help you club things smaller than you to death and eat them, full stop, and the fact we've reconfigured them to do a million other things up to and including building and playing pianos is nothing short of astonishing.

All the original functions work well. Things like "what's going left", "is that a bad thing" and "where do I move to intercept it" have been shown to work far better than the higher functions - someone who couldn't solve parabolic equations with drag can still catch a ball. Humans are very good at recognizing imminent danger (is that a hungry saber-tooth tiger?) but almost catastrophically bad at the abstract (should I take out a huge mortgage that I have no ability to pay?)

Professor Pouget has studied this reliable sub-conscious wiring, by directly observing neurons responsible for identifying motion to the left or right while the subject observed a collection of moving dotes. The firing of these neurons increases until, when it becomes continuous, the person suddenly "realises" the answer - once the brain has finished its processing, it hands the answer to the waking mind fully formed.

This explains an awful lot about modern society - the underbrain can easily identify physically moving left or right, but once the higher brain is asked to deal with things being politically left or right it all gets messed up.

Posted by Casey Kazan.

Subconscious study

My Comment: How many different ways has this been said by how many different cultures? This is an example of one of the classic critiques of western science, that they completely disregarded ancient wisdom as if it never existed. It was possible to simply put ancient axioms to a more rigorous test, to at least keep the questions open. But no, the ancients couldn’t have possibly known anything about life, consciousness, or the world. As a result, those waiting on science to discover essential truths have to wait hundreds of years before the ancient axioms can be said just so by just the right branch of science. I’ve always been partial to the phrasing, learn to trust your heart. This might take another hundred years or so for biologists involved in cardiac research to discover that the heart has “brainlike” qualities.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Science and Religion Both Land on Park Place

Stars Form At Record Speeds In Infant Galaxy

ScienceDaily (Feb. 7, 2009) — When galaxies are born, do their stars form everywhere at once, or only within a small core region? Recent measurements of an international team led by scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy provide the first concrete evidence that star-forming regions in infant galaxies are indeed small - but also hyperactive, producing stars at astonishingly high rates.

Galaxies, including our own Milky Way, consist of hundreds of billions of stars. How did such gigantic galactic systems come into being? Did a central region with stars first form then with time grow? Or did the stars form at the same time throughout the entire galaxy? An international team led by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy is now much closer to being able to answer these questions.

The researchers studied one of the most distant known galaxies, a so-called quasar with the designation J1148+5251. Light from this galaxy takes 12.8 billion years to reach Earth; in turn, astronomical observations show the galaxy as it appeared 12.8 billion years ago, providing a glimpse of the very early stages of galactic evolution, less than a billion years after the Big Bang.

With the IRAM Interferometer, a German-French-Spanish radio telescope, the researchers were able to obtain images of a very special kind: they recorded the infrared radiation emitted by J1148+5251 at a specific frequency associated with ionized carbon atoms, which is a reliable indicator of ongoing star formation.

The resulting images show sufficient detail to allow, for the first time, the measurement of the size of a very early star-forming region. With this information, the researchers were able to conclude that, at that time, stars were forming in the core region of J1148+5251 at record rates - any faster and star formation would have been in conflict with the laws of physics.

"This galaxy's rate of star production is simply astonishing," says the article's lead author, Fabian Walter of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy. "Every year, this galaxy's central region produces new stars with the combined mass of more than a thousand suns." By contrast, the rate of star formation within our own galaxy, the Milky Way, is roughly one solar mass per year.

Close to the physical limit

It has been known for some time that young galaxies can produce impressive amounts of new stars, but overall activity is only part of the picture. Without knowing the star-forming region's size, it is impossible to compare star formation in early galaxies with theoretical models, or with star-forming regions in our own galaxy.

With a diameter of a mere 4000 light-years (by comparison: the Milky Way galaxy's diameter amounts to 100,000 light-years), the star-forming core of J1148+5251 is extremely productive. In fact, it is close to the limits imposed by physical law. Stars are formed when cosmic clouds of gas and dust collapse under their own gravity. As the clouds collapse, temperatures rise, and internal pressure starts to build. Once that pressure has reached certain levels, all further collapse is brought to a halt, and no additional stars can form. The result is an upper limit on how many stars can form in a given volume of space in a given period of time.

Remarkably, the star-forming core of J1148+5251 reaches this absolute limit. This extreme level of activity can be found in parts of our own galaxy, but only on much smaller scales. For example, there is a region within the Orion nebula (Fig. 2) that is just as active as what we have observed. Fabian Walter: "But in J1148+5251, we are dealing with what amounts to a hundred million of these smaller regions combined!" Earlier observations of different galaxies had suggested an upper limit that amounts to a tenth of the value now observed in J1148+5251.

Growth from within

The compact star-forming region of J1148+5251 provides a highly interesting data point for researchers modelling the evolution of young galaxies. Going by this example, galaxies grow from within: in the early stages of star formation, there is a core region in which stars form very quickly. Presumably, such core regions grow over time, mainly as a result of collisions and mergers between galaxies, resulting in the significantly larger star-filled volume of mature galaxies.

The key to these results is one novel measurement: the first resolved image of an extremely distant quasar's star-forming central region, clearly showing the region's apparent diameter, and thus its size. This measurement is quite a challenge in itself. At a distance of almost 13 billion light-years (corresponding to a red-shift z = 6.42), the star-forming region, with its diameter of 4000 light-years, has an angular diameter of 0.27 seconds of arc - the size of a one euro coin, viewed at a distance of roughly 18 kilometres (or a pound coin, viewed at a distance of roughly 11 miles).

There is one further handicap: the observations rely on electromagnetic radiation with a characteristic wavelength, which is associated with ionized carbon atoms. At this wavelength, the star-forming regions of J1148+5251 outshine even the quasar's ultra-bright core. Due to the fact that the universe is expanding, the radiation is shifted towards longer wavelengths as it travels towards Earth ("cosmological redshift"), reaching our planet in the form of radio waves with a wavelength of about one millimetre. But, owing to the general nature of waves, it is more than a thousand times more difficult to resolve minute details at a wavelength of one millimetre, compared with visible light.

Observations at the required wavelength and level of detail became possible only as recently as 2006, thanks to an upgrade of the IRAM Interferometer, a compound radio telescope on the Plateau de Bure in the French Alps.

Future telescopes

Use of the characteristic radiation of ionized carbon to detect and create images of star-forming regions of extremely distant astronomical objects had been suggested some time ago. A significant portion of the observational program for ALMA, a compound radio telescope currently under construction in Northern Chile, relies on this observational approach. But up until the measurements of Fabian Walter and his colleagues, this technique had not been demonstrated in practice. Quoting Walter: "The early stages of galaxy evolution, roughly a billion years after the Big Bang, will be a major area of study for years to come. Our measurements open up a new window on star-forming regions in very young galaxies".

My Comment: This is one of those moments that is a bit uncomfortable for both scientists and religious people, when their questions about the world are identical. For Jews, all of this data is quite helpful because the passages describing creation are, for us, quite complex. How complex? Well, Nachmanides interpreted the first seven days with a description that sounds remarkably like the Big Bang. That is, what is written down in the Torah, the words, are distantly related to the actual meaning. Another question, given the above data about this particular galaxy, is whether time is the same out there. The implication is that it is not—since the Western concept of time is tied to the pace of planet and star revolution and formation. Here again religion and science occupy the same spot on the gameboard—as the Torah strongly hints at differences in time during different epochs of the earth. In other words, time is not uniform. But mostly, the ultimate questions of science and religion, at this stage of history, are pretty much the same. What kind of universe, by what universal laws are we actually governed?