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This is another logical “principle” to add to Occam’s Razor. The two may seem quite similar, but this is the broader category. Occam’s Razor is a single principle whereas rationalism is an entire field of study in epistemology (the philosophy of knowledge). Rationalism is often associated with the introduction of mathematical models into philosophy, and the pioneers in this approach were Rene Descartes, Baruch Spinoza, and Gottfried Leibniz. You should have heard of at least one of those three philosophers as they are quite famous.

Rationalism is any view appealing to reason as its source of justification. That means that our knowledge can be developed a priori (existing in the mind, independent of experience) through reason. This is arguably the opposite position of empiricism, which holds that all knowledge must come from experience.

For example, I can reasonably argue something predicated on the assumption that this doesn’t exist:

I wouldn’t be required to disprove the existence of the image above because reason dictates that it doesn’t exist. If you want to get more technical, you’d be very hard put equating the mathematical probability of the reality of the image above (hence, it is irrational). This is a bottom up approach similar to the one in Occam’s Razor. Unfortunately, the boundaries reason are often blurred by subjective experience and external teachings, which is why the introduction of mathematics into reasoning was so ground-breaking.

Because rationalism allows for a priori knowledge, it extends our understanding of everything, and provides a logical basis for the understanding of much deeper things. Because empiricism postulates that knowledge can only come from sensory experience, we would have no logical basis for undertaking any work based on the work of others (because we did not experience the thing ourselves), and thus we would have no basis for any advanced science at all. Rationalism essentially broadens the mind by allowing for a logical process by which we can determine “fact” – where fact is the most reasonable explanation. At this point, I should mention that 100% certainty in anything is impossible, so our world operates on a basis of highest probability (so we say that it is a fact if I drop a ball, it will fall to the floor, but there’s actually a tiny probability that a gravitational anomaly would suck the ball up into space at the speed of light).

So here’s the crux of the matter: arguments based on that tiny possibility that something might exist are irrational (and thus illogical) because rational conclusions are based on the most reasonable, mathematically reconcilable answer. If we link this to methodological naturalism, we come to the conclusion that the most logical answer is the simplest one that can describe the given phenomenon.

Following a lively conversation on Facebook, sparked by the picture below, one of my friends suggested that someone weigh up the benefits of science to society in comparison to the benefits of military research. I figured I’d tackle the task, but as I am aware people don’t like reading long posts, I thought I’d just focus on one particular part of science. And believe me, the list would be long if I were to try it from every field of science. I doubt I’d even be able to finish it.

So the “part” of science I’m going to talk about is NASA. It’s just one organisation, and yet, NASA has contributed more to society than most people give it credit for. This post is largely inspired by the comment I hear a lot that goes roughly along the lines of “why spend money going into space when we have enough problems here on Earth”. Well, here’s why.

First and foremost is the ultimate pursuit of knowledge. Since the development of the human brain, especially the growth of the neocortex, humans have been obsessed with answering everything they can observe. This used to be done largely through the use of deities, but as science developed, we formulated functional, physical understandings of the universe. This is important because it was precisely due to this drive that we have achieved our current level of advanced society. If this drive to explain things didn’t exist, we would still be living as cavemen.

Second, there’s the fact that humankind will inevitably require the means of traveling outside of our solar system. This need is due to two things – the first being the fact that humans are destroying the Earth through exploitation of resources. The World Wildlife Fund predicted that by 2050, we would need to colonise two planets if we continued to expend resources at our current rate. While this report is a decade old, the very fact that we even have to consider something like this in our lifetime is a sign of bad things to come. This prediction is not alone either, with Stephen Hawking also proclaiming that our species will face extinction if we do not colonise other planets. And even if we manage to survive all the things that could kill us (meteors, black holes, climate change, ourselves), somehow managing to survive five billions years into the future (super unlikely), our sun will go Red Giant on our asses and kill us all anyway. So for starters, NASA contributes to our society by developing technology that helps ensure we even have a future to live in.

Finally, and here’s where the examples come in, NASA technology has resulted in a wide range of what are known as “spin offs”. These are essentially technologies developed by NASA and incorporated by others to suit other needs, and I will focus on these as the core of NASA’s contributions. After all, human nature dictates that what occurs in the future is less important than what happens now, so let’s look at some of the technology NASA has contributed to our current lives. There are so many of these that I’m only going to pick out a few. There’s actually 35 archived catalogues dedicated to NASA spinoffs, which you can find on this page.

But let’s look at a few examples. I’m not sure how to go about this so I’ll just make a quick list and explain the more obscure ones.

  1. Velcro
  2. Teflon
  3. Scratch resistant lenses
  4. Freeze dried food
  5. Sports shoes (shock absorbers, stability and motion control)
  6. Cordless power tools
  7. CAT and MRI scanners (so anyone with fractures or internal injuries can thank NASA for this technology allowing doctors to see what’s wrong in your body).
  8. Light emitting diodes (can be used for cancer treatment and promote faster healing of wounds).
  9. Infrared technology
  10. Mammography systems (reducing need for biopsies due to better breast cancer detection).
  11. Miniature heart assist device (implanted into patients waiting for a heart transplant).
  12. Memory foam
  13. Sunglasses (the technology of the lense being able to filter out UV rays).
  14. Water purification systems
  15. All manner of protective coatings (used on tools, vehicles, buildings and bridges)
  16. Kidney dialysis machines
  17. Medical rehabilitation equipment
  18. Insulation (specifically aluminium and propylene/mylar)
  19. Retroreflectors (used as a sensor to detect hazardous gases in oil development, chemical planets and waste storage sites)
  20. Anthrax detection system
  21. Wireless light switches
  22. Decontamination processes (specifically for areas contaminated by chemicals, used by many companies)
  23. WARP-10 (a portable pain reliever for muscle and joint pain)
  24. Patient harnesses (to assist patients recovering from traumatic brain injury, stroke, spinal cord injury, hip/knee replacements, etc.)
  25. Crash test models (and dummies)
  26. Liquidmetal (used in a large range of sporting equipment, jewelry, watches, mobile phones, orthopedic implants, and coatings).
  27. Navigation systems for planes allowing terrain recognition in all conditions
  28. Gas sensor (used by aircraft to detect dangerous weather conditions and avoid them).
  29. Eye surgery equipment (improving on LASIK)
  30. Bank terminal technology

As I write this, I realise that there is way too much for me to keep going. I’ve put down 30 of the more common ones. You are welcome to take a look at a longer list available here (even if you don’t read it, I advise you to click that link and scroll down just to get an idea of just how much NASA alone – let alone all of science – has given us). One thing is for sure though, in 35 years, NASA has given humankind a ridiculous amount of things. Science in general is responsible for everything you see around you. I guarantee that there is at least a dozen things around you right now that are the result of science, so when people ask why we should bother spending money on science (not only in the case of NASA, but for the LHC as well), I shake my head in dismay. But wait, I’m not done yet.

It’s become a cliché to compare the chronically underfunded NASA to the comically-bloated military establishment, but the comparison is instructive. In 2010, total military spending (not including indirect costs from interest on incurred debts) was 683.7 billion dollars. This was a three percent increase over the previous year.

Let me put it another way. At the same time the NASA budget was being nickle and dimed with budget decreases every year, the budget increase in the military for that year was about equal to the total NASA budget. The military budget increased by nearly $20 billion dollars the same year that NASA was cut back by a critical few hundred million.

– Joel Boyce, Care2

To wrap your head around it, here’s a quick comparison. It costs $1 billion more than NASA’s budget just to provide air conditioning for temporary tents and housing in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I’ve been sloppy with my hyperlinks, for which I apologise. This post was a huge undertaking. Here are my last two links for you guys. Dr. Tyson is fun to listen to and is quite popular on the internet, so I thought you guys might enjoy these.

Neil deGrasse Tyson defending NASA before the Senate

Neil deGrasse Tyson talking about NASA’s importance

These two are easily confused with each other, and it’s no wonder why! The two are related to each other, blurring the line between. I was guilty of using the two almost interchangeably in my early years of high school, until I read this:

“A metaphor is not language, it is an idea expressed by language, an idea that in its turn functions as a symbol to express something.” – Susanne Langer

Let’s go through a quick definition. A metaphor is a rhetorical device in which the traits of something are attributed to something else, but not in a literal sense. It helps to understand that a simile is a type of metaphor, so let’s take a look at an example:

“But look, the morn, in russet mantle clad, Walk o’er the dew of yon high eastern hill” – Hamlet, William Shakespeare.

The coming of morning is likened to being clad in a “russet mantle” (where russet is a red-orange tinted brown). Now obviously, this is not literal. Morning does not wear any clothing. The russet mantle is a metaphor for the rising sun and the colour of dawn.

Let’s look at symbols now. These are not used in rhetoric or discourse, and is usually a specific thing that represents some other thing or concept. Symbols, unlike metaphors, are not specific or definitive in their interpretation. They carry a wide range of ideas through generations in an almost meme like fashion. Because of this, the symbol’s meaning must be inferred from context. For example, anything long and roughly cylindrical can be considered a phallic symbol; whether or not it was intended that way depends entirely on the context.

Definition aside, this is what really helps me remember the difference. Metaphors are like similes, they liken the principle term to something else (whether it be a thing, idea or process) to endow the principle term with characteristics reminiscent of that which it has been likened to. A symbol is much more succinct; it can be a single thing (usually an object but not limited to one) that is not directly given meaning through comparison (like a simile/metaphor) but whose meaning is created by the context in which that symbol is used. Basically, that means I don’t have to explain a symbol because that’s for the reader to determine for themselves based on what’s been written, whereas a metaphor must be directly explained by the text.

As promised, a literary post. This one is a common misconception. I was disappointed when it appeared on the Big Bang Theory because the show is normally fairly accurate when making its witty jokes. I’m not sure why this one is so persistent when all grammarians agree that this claim is false.

So, what’s a preposition? Well, simply put it’s a word that creates a relationship with another word. Here are a few common ones: for, of, about, in, to, with, on, at, by, after, over, etc.

To use the Big Bang Theory’s example, Dennis Kim the genius Korean boy tells Leonard that his English is pretty good, except for the tendency to end his sentence with a preposition. Leonard replies: “What are you talking about?” (Which ends with a preposition).

Now, is this wrong? Certainly not. To avoid ending with prepositions, one would have to talk like Yoda. It would be “About what are you talking?”.

Apparently this convention for not ending sentences with prepositions began in the 18th century when some grammarians believed that English should follow Latin grammar. Regardless, it is not wrong to do it.

The only time you shouldn’t end with a preposition is when that preposition is extraneous (unnecessary). An example would be “Where are you at?”, where the “at” is unnecessary because “Where are you?” is perfectly proper by itself.

I normally don’t get too involved in politics, but this was too awesome to pass up. How could you not vote for such a cool guy? It’s not actually a quote as much as a speech, and I’m sure everyone’s heard it already, but I’ll leave it here as a funny keepsake:

I feel like I’ve been neglecting the literary side of this blog for a while now and will remedy that in the near future. However, today I want to address a conceptual problem in the (often theistic) claim that the universe could not have appeared out of nothing because that is a violation of physical laws. Well, guess what? It’s not.

I’ll try keep this post short and easy to understand, so just keep in mind there are decades of scientific study and evidence going into this, and it is in no way as simple as I can make it seem. Let’s start from the beginning.

Matter, antimatter, and photons all consist of positive energy. However, this energy is exactly balanced out by the negative gravitational energy of the everything in the universe. Essentially, we have a universe where the total energy is zero (J.M. Pasachoff and A.V. Filippenko, 2001). If you remember Einstein’s famous equation, you’ll know this means all matter is also equal to zero. Basically, we live in nothing, but fortunately, the nothing is separated into the positive and negative parts. To use Stephen Hawking’s analogy, it’s like a man building a pile of dirt on a flat land. As he digs up dirt, the pile of dirt is exactly the same size as the hole he is digging. They balance each other out.

Now to see why gravitational potential energy is considered negative because potential energy is considered negative by convention in science. A quick explanation for you guys would be to consider this: an object at rest an infinite distance away from a source of gravity will be said to have zero kinetic energy (as it is resting) and zero gravitational energy (as it is infinitely far away, so it does not experience gravity). As the object gets closer to the gravitational source, it gains kinetic energy (by moving towards it due to the attraction), but this energy is exactly balanced out by the negative gravitational energy. This energy is negative because to counteract the energy of the system, you would have to put in more energy (to push the object away from the gravitational source).  If you have to add more energy to get back to zero, then the potential energy of the attraction is obviously negative.
Together, this is known as a zero-energy universe and, along with inflation, suggests that all that is needed is a tiny volume of energy to get things started and the universe will experience inflationary expansion without creating net energy. So essentially, the universe is still nothing, just in positive and negative states (where we live in the positive state).

Well, those of you that are sharp enough to pick up on the details will be asking “where did this tiny volume of energy to get things started come from?” which would lead you back to the original question, how to get that little something from nothing? Here comes the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. This is a long established scientific law that allows for particles and antiparticles to appear out of nothing and then annihilate each other without violating conservation of energy. These pairs are known as virtual particles and appear in a process known as quantum fluctuation. Studies have shown quantum fluctuations to appear everywhere at all times, so really, something is appearing out of nothing all around us. Although the virtual particles annihilate each other, they leave a very real effect on the energy levels of atoms. Originally, the Uncertainty Principle (part of quantum theory) was to help account for experimentally measure energy levels disagreeing with predicted levels, and introduced quantum fluctuation, which had to be accounted for to arrive at correct answers.

Again, the smart ones will see where I’m going, and it’s almost done. If we understand that energy can appear out of nothing, then it is entirely possible and even likely that our universe appeared out of “nothing”. There’s possibly one last argument that can be made – the Uncertainty Principle only applies to tiny particles. Well, let’s not forget the singularity that exploded in the Big Bang was, by definition of singularity, an infinitely small point. As Hawking has said, the universe is the “ultimate free lunch”. We got it out of nothing without violating any laws of physics.

Here’s a little bonus to add on to the concept of a zero-energy universe where the positive and negative are separated. Scientists at the University of Michigan developed a mathematical model allowing a super-high-energy electron laser to rip apart nothingness (a vacuum) into its matter and antimatter components (http://ns.umich.edu/new/releases/8167). Basically, what we call “nothing” is actually a perfect balance of positive and negative components – our universe could essentially just be an expanding “nothingness” caused by quantum fluctuation.

Ok, I’m getting sick of all the ill-informed arguing over this math problem. I’ve been seeing replies everywhere trying to prove one answer correct, and even some replies from youtube channels claiming to specialise in maths. Everyone is missing the one, fundamental truth. But let’s save the bombshell for later.

This is the equation: 6/2(2+1) = ?

Now, stop quoting your calculators and Wolfram or any other crap like that because the program is only as accurate as you make the equation. And that’s the answer. This equation is wrong. A maths equation should never be written like this – the point of the parentheses is to make the equation easier to solve, and the point of the equation is to lay out an easy to solve problem. If you make it obscure what you mean, the equation is written incorrectly. This is something I’ve confirmed with two university professors (just to make sure I was right, which I am as usual). In reality, the equation should have been written either as (6/2)[2(2+1)] or 6/[2(2+1)].

Now, I know people have been arguing over the “two answers” to this, one going left to right after parentheses, making the answer 6/2*3 = 9 and the other using multiplication first making it 6/6 = 1.

As I’ve said, the correct answer is that the equation is written wrong. However, if you were to force me to pick one incorrect answer over the other, I would pick 1. Why? Because it’s more intuitive.

First of all, 6/2(2+1) implies 6/[2(2+1)] because the entire point of factorising the 2 with parentheses is to make it a single term (drawing from algebraic mathematics). That makes the 2(2+1) a single term, and thus the denominator of the fraction.

Second of all, nobody writes 6/2(2+1) and expects people to interpret it as (6/2) * (2+1). That’s just a retardedly queer way to write an equation. You would clarify it by writing the fraction properly (with the 6 over the 2 and the (2+1) at middle height).

But again, this is precluded by the fact that the equation is just written wrong. I hope this clears up the issue.

This one’s inspired by a conversation I had today. Someone saw the bandage on my wrist and asked what happened, to which I responded that I tore a ligament whilst boxing. He said I should take anti-inflammatories to fix it. Me, being a know-it-all, said that anti-inflammatories wouldn’t help since my swelling is already gone. He proceeded to say “are you a doctor?”, then claimed to have worked as one at various private gyms. Unwilling to match wits with someone in their own field, I shrugged it off and went home to do some research.

Well, turns out I’m right (as per usual). I don’t know if he was actually a doctor or not but in your face random guy, you’re wrong. Anti-inflammatories inhibit the production of prostaglandins, which is a chemical released by the tissue that causes swelling and increase the electrical pain signal from the damaged area. Basically, it’s a pain killer that can reduce swelling. It does not help with tissue repair. In fact, it can inhibit recovery by blocking protein synthesis (Dr. Hakan Alfredson). So not only was I right, the guy trying to prove me wrong was totally arguing in the wrong direction. Here’s some more proof (NSAID stands for Non Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs):

In spite of the widespread use of NSAIDs there is no convincing evidence as to their effectiveness in the treatment of acute soft tissue injuries.” (Bruckner, P. Clinical Sports Medicine. New York City, NY: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1995, pp. 105-109.)

NSAIDs have been shown to delay and hamper the healing in all the soft tissues, including muscles, ligaments, tendons, and cartilage. Anti-inflammatories can delay healing and delay it significantly, even in muscles with their tremendous blood supply. In one study on muscle strains, Piroxicam essentially wiped out the entire inflammatory proliferative phase of healing (days 0-4). At day two there were essentially no macrophages (cells that clean up the area) in the area and by day four after the muscle strain, there was very little muscle regeneration compared to the normal healing process. The muscle strength at this time was only about 40 percent of normal.(Greene, J. Cost-conscious prescribing of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for adults with arthritis. Archives of Internal Medicine. 1992; 152:1995-2002.)

Muscles injuries treated with Flurbiprofen (NSAID) were significantly weaker. The muscle fibers were shown under the microscope to have incomplete healing because of the medication. (Almekinders, L. An in vitro investigation into the effects of repetitive motion and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication on human tendon fibroblasts. American Journal of Sports Medicine. 1995; 23:119-123.)

I have heaps more but I doubt anybody will read it all. Suffice to say, anti-inflammatories are bad.

I realise I’m tooting my own horn a bit here but I find it very satisfying when I find out somebody trying to prove me wrong was wrong all along, and this event is still fresh in my mind (happened a few hours ago).

Well, the moral of this story is that anti-inflammatories do not speed up the recovery process, and in fact are more likely to slow it down. They have also been linked to some other health issues lately. I won’t get into them, but you can Google “side effects of anti-inflammatories” if you’re interested. The other moral of this story is:

Well, what should you take if not anti-inflammatories? As a true scholar, I know when to draw the line and say there is a limit to my knowledge. Honestly, it depends on what the injury is. Personally, I avoid all drugs. I haven’t taken any medication for the past 9 years and have only felt stronger every year. I catch a cold about once a year and it goes away within a week. I have some permanent injuries but since I learned more about nutrition, the pain has been mostly absent. This is my own personal approach – I’m not saying all drugs are bad for you, but if you can avoid it, then avoid it. I don’t think it’s good for your body to be popping pills like candy. I know for a fact that people who take painkillers often have a much lower pain threshold (another reason why I never take painkillers).

What do I do during recovery if I don’t rely on pills? Well, I do all the scientifically sound stuff like increase protein intake (as your body needs the amino acids to repair damaged tissue), increase or maintain a good level of micronutrients and other essential fatty acids (omega 3 being a good one), follow the RICE procedure (Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate) for the following three days to a week after injury, and engage in rehabilitation exercises for the injured area to rebuild flexibility and functional strength. See, these things make more sense don’t they? Pssh. Anti-inflammatories my foot.

Been meaning to do a science related post for a while. I actually have some good follow-up information on the Higg’s Boson and its implications to science, but as that’s a long post I’ll have to do it later. It’s getting busy now that I’m approaching exam period.

In the meantime, enjoy this:

 

 

 

There are various versions of this floating around on the internet because, well, it’s stupid. How stupid you say? Well, here comes the science.

First of all, the neutrino that supposedly travelled faster than light (but was eventually proven not to), is also known as a ghost particle because it does not interact with matter. It quite literally travels through objects without slowing down. Unfortunately, a human doesn’t have this ability.

Second, special relativity means that an object approaching light speed will gain a mass approaching infinity. Not only would Fearless Felix have died, he probably would have formed a black hole that destroyed our solar system.

Finally, it’s just not possible to reach light speed. Humans don’t have the propulsion technology to get anywhere close, let alone free falling with only gravity accelerating you at 9.8m/s/s. Especially if you know that the speed of light is 299,792,458 metres per second. Now, the diameter of the earth is 12,756,200 metres, so Felix would have gone through the Earth more than twenty times in one second. Sounding stupid now?

So yeah, found a funny post in relation to this image: “This is what happens when you let art students tell the news”. Couldn’t help but chuckle.

I’m just here to quickly express a little gripe I have. It may seem like nitpicking but it ruffles my feathers when people use the word “inception” to mean something multi-faceted. Even little amalgamations like “forkception” annoy me because they operate on the misunderstanding of the actual word, inception. No, it does not mean mind fucked, or something in something in something, or confusing or anything close to those. Inception is, quite simply, a noun denoting the start/beginning/commencement of something. To my great anguish, dictionary.com has now included this definition due to the movie’s popularity:

3. (in science fiction) the act of instilling an idea into someone’s mind by entering his or her dreams.

I just want everyone to know that definition is wrong, and if it ever becomes an acceptable usage of the word inception, it will be due to society’s overarching ignorance of the English language forcing academics to bow to stupidity and amend definitions (much the same way “swag” is constantly used incorrectly).

So yes, everyone is doing it. Stand out by being one of the few intellectuals that realises everyone is wrong.

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