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Has anyone else (especially in Australia) noticed that all our milk cartons spontaneously developed “Permeate Free” labels? Seems some genius came up with the idea of labelling their milk as permeate free, to which every single other milk company responded by doing the same. Simple marketing and economics.

However, I disapprove of the entire hype and I’m here to call it for what it is – a load of bull (pardon the pun). The onset of this permeate free craze seems to be fuelled by some sort of misconception that permeates are a cheap waste product that is added to milk. It is not. Permeate comes from the milk itself. What you buy, regardless of whether or not it’s permeate free, is still 100% milk product.

What is permeate specifically though? Well it’s basically a collective term for the lactose, water, vitamin and mineral components of the milk. It is greenish due to the high vitamin B content.

So what was the supposed “scandal”? Milk companies were adding it to milk. Or should I say, re-adding, since it came from the milk in the first place. This process is done for standardisation of nutrient levels. The nutrition table on your milk can only be accurate because permeates are used to keep the milk at that level.

There’s a lot of rubbish about it being a “waste product”. If anything, it’s the healthy part of milk.

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Just finished watching a discussion between Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss. There were many profound things said, and many obvious ones that unfortunately still need to be said, but this quote particular gave me a good laugh.

In regards to theology not being a real subject, I put this challenge out to all theologians. Name me one piece of knowledge theology has contributed to human society in the last 500 years. When I speak to theologians, they always seem to answer “well, what do you mean by knowledge?”, but when I talk to chemists, physicists and medical doctors, they give me concrete facts straight away.

– Lawrence Krauss.

A friend of mine (Nav) requested that I write about this topic so I decided that I might as well. Anyone who’s tried before knows that I’m a very difficult person to argue with. As far as credentials go, no girl friend has ever won an argument with me (gasp!). I am a little hesitant about giving away some of my “secrets” but heck, I can always tell if someone tries to use these on me so I guess I don’t have that much to lose.

This is actually quite a deep and complex field. You’ve been warned: this will be a long read. But then again, could you take me seriously if I said the secret to an unbeatable argument was only 300 words?

I’m going to go through the gritty truth – not an idealised version of arguments where whoever’s being logical wins. Of course, logical fallacies will come into play, but not quite in the way you might expect. I tried to limit it to 9 tips but in reality it’s not so clear cut. Everything relates to everything else and it depends on the scenario of the argument too. So before we get to the 9 official tips, let’s take a look at some scenarios you’ll have arguments in. In general, I think there are three:

  1. Academic discourse: Including but not limited to debates organised by academic institutions. This can just be an online discussion about an intellectual topic.
  2. Argument with peers: This can also include online discussions, but also with colleagues (both from work or school). The difference here is that there is some sort of recognition here – you know them, though not necessarily well.
  3. Arguments with close friends: This scenario is the tender one because you have some sort of emotional attachment to the person. An extreme scenario of this category would be arguing with a partner. Otherwise it could just be arguments with friends (sometimes in good spirit and sometimes not).

What you need to understand is that you have to treat these three scenarios a bit differently. I won’t go into it too much but it should be common sense. For scenario 3, you should call it quits earlier than you would for scenario 1. At times it’s more important to avoid hurting someone you care about or creating long-lasting dissent than being correct. This might sound funny coming from me because I love being always right.

By contrast, in an academic discourse you can continue arguing a matter until you run out of proper evidence (or if there’s a time limit that expires).

With peers it really depends – you don’t want to offend your boss, for example, but most of the time you can probably push things a little farther (because you won’t know each other well enough to get personal). This is how I have so many religious friends even though I often argue about it – I just try not to take it too far.

My point here? Just be careful. With great knowledge comes great responsibility – don’t go ruining your relationships by being unarguable against.

Now to the main body: 9 Ways to Create an Unbeatable Argument. In reality, each technique is used in combination with others to create a statement/argument. Because of this it’s hard to list them one by one and give examples. After you’re done reading all 9 you can go back and check if you can identify each tip and emboldened word. Also, my apologies if you feel a religious context seeping in – the two things I argue about most are science and religion. This is simply because there are more debates about those two things than anything else that I’m interested in; I mean no offence. Also, for the sake of a control group, I assume all arguments have an objective third party (a two person argument is pointless, it can always just get stuck with both parties disagreeing). The only time a third party isn’t needed to judge the “winner” is when your goal is to convince your opponent (in which case success is determined by your opponent).

1. Call your opponent out on everything. And I mean everything. It takes a lot less effort to attack a position than it does to defend one. Why? Because a scientific/logical method is that you must provide proof of your position before you can formally consider it to be a position at all. A scientist can’t just come out and say “here’s my new theory”. He/she must provide a peer-reviewed academic publication with mathematical and empirical proof. This is where the difference between a hypothesis and a theory comes in: the hypothesis is the idea. After it is proven it becomes a theory. Incidentally, this is also why many science-orientated minds disapprove of the validity of religion. A scientist presents a theory by saying “here’s my proof” whereas a theist presents a theory and says “well, you can’t prove it’s wrong”. Although technically you can prove it’s wrong to a pretty good degree. Oops, I brought up religion already. Sorry guys, it was just for example’s sake.

Anyway, if you don’t get it by now, the gist of it is that if your opponent says something to support his/her argument, by calling it out they are forced to defend their position by providing proof. Proving something is a lot harder than asking someone to prove something. In a way, this can even be used as a red herring. Example time:

Opponent: “We know gravity exists and we know quantum mechanics works, so there must be a way to discover quantum gravity”.

You: “But how do you know gravity exists? It hasn’t ever been observed as either a wave or particle”.

The above is an intentionally ambiguous example. The existence of gravity has been questioned before. Don’t get me wrong, something with gravity-like effects definitely exists, it’s just our understanding of it that’s being questioned. However, this is a problem that has never been solved so by calling them out on it they’re forced to give evidence of gravity. If you put them on the defensive, they can’t continue their argument until they’re done defending. It takes me only two short sentences to call them out on something that most people would consider to be a solid fact, but I guarantee it will take my opponent more than two sentences to provide evidence of gravity.

But wait, there’s more. This is the number 1 tip because it incorporates the most into it. Calling them out on stuff goes beyond red herrings. If they legitimately say something wrong, you call them out on it too. Even if it appears obvious to an onlooker, call them out on it. Do it sarcastically, mockingly or offensively, just do it appropriately (don’t go insulting your boss) and do it with impact.

Opponent: “There is no scientific consensus that climate change is real”.

You: “No consensus? Maybe my opponent here should actually read some scientific publications before we continue this debate.”

Short and sweet. Call them out on it, it makes them look bad. If they use a logical fallacy, call them out on it. Name the fallacy (see: tip number 6), say they used it and mock them (appropriately) for it. Never leave anything unspoken. In one minute you can call someone out on at least 6 things (10 seconds each). That’s at least minus 6 points in the eyes of the onlooker.

2. Know your shit. Sounds bleedingly obvious but I have to stress it. I will not try and argue about something I don’t have enough relevant material for. I’ll argue with a layman about science but I won’t argue with Hawking about black holes. I’ll argue with Christians using their own religion but against any other religion, I’ll argue using only logic and science. The more you know, the harder it is for you to appear wrong. Note, I say appear wrong. I’ve been in plenty of arguments where I realised half way that I was wrong but I always manage to salvage the arguments using tips 3, 4 and 7. A good opponent will call you out on anything wrong you say, so keep tip 4 in mind.

It’s also good to have an understanding of the more common arguments that are used (for example, absolute morality is almost always mentioned in atheist-religious debates) and familiarise yourself with ways to deal with these arguments: such as my Debunking the Absolute Morality Argument (which, by the way, you might realise features a lot of the techniques I mention in this post).

3. Use an evolving argument. What do I mean by this? A lot of things really, but essentially I just mean don’t be pig headed. Being stubborn is bad because it’s often very easy to be called out on. An onlooker can easily see when someone is being stubborn about something. This relates a bit to the next tip (tip 4) but if you feel like you’ve hit a wall with one approach, change approaches. Never dig yourself into a hole. If you get stuck, throw a red herring (tip 1 and tip 8) and change tacks.

This also applies for being on the offensive. First consider your goal: is it to convince somebody or something simply win the argument or just to assume an unassailable position (a logical position that cannot be dismantled, at least not easily). Let’s assume your goal is to convince somebody. Some people do not listen to reason or logic or science. If your goal is to convince someone, you have to play by their rules (this situation doesn’t really require a third party – winning the argument depends on whether or not they’re convinced).

Opponent: “The Earth is 6,000 years old. How do you know your science is right? I’ve heard there are problems with how they date things”.

You: “Ok, let’s forget all the scientific evidence for the age of the Earth and the universe for a second. Why do you think the Earth is only 6,000 years old? Because the bible says so, right? But how do you know the bible is right? Well that’s because a lot of scholars have analysed it and confirmed when it was written and that the dates in the bible match up with other texts and real events that happened. But wait, how do they know when the bible was written and whether or not the dates are correct? Using scientific methods to date them (tip 5). So you can’t say science is wrong when it comes to dating or you’ll be saying that you don’t believe the bible is true (tip 1).

That example is good for tip 5 but for now just take it at face value. You cannot convince them no matter how much science and evidence you present. Don’t get stubborn, change tacks. What’s something that will work? Something that their own beliefs are rooted in. A religious fundamentalist’s entire existence revolves around the bible. Therefore, instead of using science, use the bible against them.

4. Learn when to concede points. Sometimes you’re going to be wrong. It’s unavoidable. Sometimes an argument evolves to the point where you realise you were wrong about something. At times you can use semantics to avoid being called out for being wrong, but remember tip 3! Don’t get stubborn. If you’re obviously wrong and you keep denying it, it becomes even more apparent to everyone that you’re wrong. Cut your losses and make the first move: admit it yourself. But that doesn’t mean throw in the towel. Admit smaller mistakes to push bigger points.

You: “Actually, you were right about the homogeneity of the universe. It’s not actually perfectly even. But that’s not relevant to the purpose of this debate. The fact remains that there are no detectable anti-matter galaxies, and you still haven’t provided any evidence otherwise (tip 1).

In a way, this is also a red herring. You assume the position of “the bigger man” by admitting you’re wrong, but you also redirect the flow of the debate to something else which you have the upper hand in. By focusing on what you’re winning, you can easily be wrong about many things and still win the argument.

5. Predict where the argument is going. Although this is number 5, it’s probably the most advanced and powerful of the techniques. There are two parts to this: cutting your losses and guiding your opponent.

Cutting your losses is pretty straight forward. If you can foresee in the near future that one of the points you were arguing is going to be turned around or proven wrong, steer the discussion away. If it’s unavoidable, correct yourself before your opponent has a chance to call you out on it (tip 4). Cutting your losses also relates to tip 7, which I will go into more later.

Guiding your opponent is the tough one and it’s something you need to do subtly. Remember the example in tip 3? This passage in particular is guiding your opponent:

Why do you think the Earth is only 6,000 years old? Because the bible says so, right? But how do you know the bible is right? Well that’s because a lot of scholars have analysed it and confirmed when it was written and that the dates in the bible match up with other texts and real events that happened. But wait, how do they know when the bible was written and whether or not the dates are correct? Using scientific methods to date them.

You pose a question then answer it for your opponent. By doing so, you can create an apparently flawless chain of causality. However, keep in mind subtlety. If your opponent knows what you’re doing, they’ll reject it. In the example above, I answer each question with a reasonable answer. For example “a lot of scholars have analysed it and confirmed when it was written …” is not aggressive or disparaging in any way. It almost sounds like I’m complimenting or aiding my opponent’s position.

You can go even subtler still by picking points to discuss that will lead into some of your stronger points. Assuming an academic discourse, if they push 5 points, but one of them leads into a field that you have limited knowledge of, respond to only 4 of their points and guide the argument away. If you use tip 1, most of the time they won’t even realise you haven’t responded to something because they’ll be put on the defensive.

If done correctly, you can create a “logical trap” in which you confine your opponent to a few possible responses and have strong rebuttals to each one.

6. Know your buzz words. Here’s where the logical fallacies come in. To clarify this also includes tip 2; know some good, prepared arguments that you can whip out and adapt to any situation. Logic and science are universal, so any argument based on these can be used in a large variety of situations (though keep in mind science branches off into a lot of things so make sure you know enough of it to argue a point).

For a list of common logical fallacies, you can refer to a post I made earlier with their names and examples: Logical Fallacies. I wanted to shorten that list to ones commonly used in debates but I just ended up re-listing them all, plus some (which I will now add to that post). Just learn a few – some are so obvious you’ll remember them easily. What do you do with your buzz words? Tip 1. Whenever you see one used, call them out on it. Tip 1 combined with buzz words creates the biggest impact because you can use an officially documented fallacy to show your opponent is wrong.

Other buzz words include (just to name a few): logical/illogical, causal relationship, unscientific, academic/intellectual, proof/evidence, and any other relevant terminology to whatever field you are discussing.

Remember, you can out-verbalise your opponent and even win by doing so. People often ask me why proper English is so important. Here’s one of the reasons. I can argue with terrible English until the cows come home but I’ll still look like an idiot who doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

UniVerz can Haz no crEAtEr cuz sciEnce sAy beginNIngs lyke biG BanG is sinGularety and SmaLL lyke PartiLcLE so QuAtum mekanikz alloW smaLL thing aPpeaRZ soMethIng fRom NothInG.

Despite being correct, if you ever saw that quote I wrote up there you would instantly think the guy is an idiot and brush aside anything he has to say as the ramblings of an undereducated simpleton. This is just an extreme end of the spectrum. The point is that with good English and buzz words you can out-verbalise your opponent and create more impact, as well as appear more correct (even if you’re not).

7. Cover all your bases. This relates a bit to tip 5. If you predict that some of your arguments have flaws that will be exploited, prepare your course of action. Hesitation and stumbling will reveal guilt. This is something I’m particularly good at because I always know exactly what’s wrong with what I’m saying.

Think of it this way – it’s much easier to poke holes in an argument than prepare one yourself right? So just think about what you’re saying and poke holes in it yourself. If you find a hole, get ready to patch it up. Just don’t get stuck on the defensive – defend it quickly and concisely with no hesitation and go back on the offensive.

You: “Global warming will cause global increases in temperature that will cause sea levels to rise and food sources to suffer”.

Opponent: “But how do you explain the lower temperatures we’ve been seeing? That’s proof that global warming is a hoax”.

You: “I use the term global warming in it’s original context. Were you unaware they changed the official term to climate change? Because it doesn’t just make hot weather hotter, it makes cold weather colder. You pretty much just proved what I’ve been saying all along, the climate is changing – hence climate change.”

The above example also features a bit of tip 5. You can intentionally leave a “hole” in your argument to lure your opponent into bringing it up. But let’s assume I was actually genuinely mistaken for using the term “global warming” instead of “climate change”. I don’t need to admit it (tip 4) because I can just use semantics to cover it up. My response quickly corrects my mistake, attacks the opponent subtly (almost an ad hominem) and redirects the flow of the argument to the main point.

8. Don’t be afraid to break the rules. “It’s not cheating unless you get caught”. Logical fallacies are wrong to use as a basis for your argument, but you can use them to deliver your argument. Reductio ad absurdum, strawman fallacies, red herrings, ad homniem and appeal to emotion are the ones I commonly use, but I do them subtly in a matter-of-factly way so that they can’t be easily called out. For example, if I ever get called out on a red herring I’ll just say brush it off by implying that I thought the result was obvious but if my opponent needs me to specifically spell it out for them, then I’d be happy to do so. Or the little ad hominem in tip 7 where I say “Were you unaware they changed the official term to climate change?” I can simply pretend to be a genuine question rather than an insult to undermine my opponent’s credibility. It appears to be more like a genuine question because I go on to show a causal relationship, thus explaining it to my opponent as if I genuinely believe he doesn’t know (the climate is changing – hence climate change).

But if any of your core points are based on logical fallacies, you’re going to have a bad time. Only use them to create impact, the foundation of your knowledge should always be solid.

9. Quit while you’re ahead. It’s always better to end with a bang than drawing it out and dying off slowly. If you feel like you’re coming close to running out of points, or that the flow of the argument is going to shift away from you, quit while you’re ahead. But don’t quit quietly. Quit with impact.

You: “Well I’ve provided countless pieces of evidence as well as demonstrated the logical causality (tip 6) for each. My opponent seems hung up on this [one] particular point even though I’ve shown it to be false with [these] arguments (tip 1). I don’t feel any need to indulge his stubbornness (tip 3) any further as I’ve already made it pretty clear that [this] is true. If he still wishes to argue then I’m sure no amount of reason will ever reach him.

End it on your terms. You already have the upper ground so there’s no need for you to continue. Plus, by ending it with the suggestion that any continuance of the argument is indicative of some character or reasoning flaw in your opponent, if they choose to respond with a continuation of the argument, they’ve pretty much just proved your point.

I’ve been meaning to simplify and broaden the health section of this blog and a friend recently asked about nutrition so it seems like a good time to start. I’ll try skip over the finer points and make separate posts about them later on. This will sort of be the parent directory with general info about how nutrition works.

If you break it down, there’s not that much to know. There are two types of nutrients you can consume:

Macronutrients:

These include carbohydrates, protein and fats. Macronutrients are your body’s fuel sources; they are converted to glucose and shuttled to your cells via insulin. More on that mechanism later.

There’s a bit of a misconception that your body burns these separately. You are always burning all three fuel sources, just at different rates. Fat, as you may have guessed, is burned the slowest. Carbs are burned the quickest as they are in a closer chemical state to glucose/sugars. That one fact will be very helpful if you want to watch your weight – glucose is essentially a type of sugar so anything sweet will always have a lot of carbs. Anything bread, pasta or rice based will also contain a lot of carbs.

Carbohydrates themselves are broken down into two different types: simple and complex. Simple carbs have a higher glycemic index and basically release glucose much faster and in spikes. Complex carbs have a lower glycemic index and are thus healthier. More on this later.

Protein is broken down into amino acids which are essential for muscle repair and growth. Unused amino acids can eventually be converted to glycogen (a more complex level of glucose – think of it as a few glucose molecules combined).

Fat is basically an energy store and contains more calories per gram than the others (fat contains 9 calories per gram whereas carbs and protein contain 4). Keep in mind essentially fatty acids like Omega 3 cannot be produced by your body so you must get them through food.

So what are calories then? A lot of people tout calories as the holy grail of weight gain/loss. Honestly, this annoys me. Calories are just a measurement of energy. True, you require a calorie deficit to lose weight and a calorie surplus to gain weight, but that’s a huge oversimplification of the process. Where are these calories from? Saturated fat? Simple carbs? Again, more on this later.

Micronutrients:

These include everything else you might eat besides the macronutrients. Vitamins are a big group. Calcium, iron and fibre are also important for the more serious body builders.

Usually people don’t measure their micronutrient intake – at least not as much as their macros. Micros are more of a long term thing that can boost your gains/losses a bit. Fibre deficiencies in particular are quite common and can help with absorption. For example, the carbs/sugar in fruit are mainly fructose, which is a simple carb, but due to the micronutrient content of fruit (fibre and vitamins), I would still consider fruit to be a healthy food (as would other nutritionists).

The Glucose-Insulin Mechanism:

All the “more on this later” bits were referring to this section. There’s a lot of study in this field so to be brief, basically glucose is the raw form of energy that all foods are broken down into eventually (at different rates). This glucose will be in your system (blood stream). In response to an elevated glucose level, your body produces insulin which causes cells to consume this glucose.

Diabetes suffers at times require insulin shots because their body is incapable of producing enough insulin on its own, meaning the glucose cannot be absorbed. Overconsumption of sugary stuff is often criticised as causing diabetes because sugary stuff is usually simple carbs and thus your glucose levels spike tremendously and your insulin can’t keep up.

Now there are some interesting points to mention. First, your insulin sensitivity is dependent on your health. People familiar with intermittent fasting and cortisol might skip breakfast for this reason. In short, breakfast can cause a glucose spike which will be responded to by an even greater insulin spike (because the person is healthy). This can cause your glucose levels to drop below what it should be (think overshooting the mark). The insulin aims to return your system to balance but it goes too far, causing you to feel hungry again very quickly. This can lead to overeating, or general discomfort.

Next, what happens to excess macronutrients? All macronutrients will eventually be broken down into glucose. What happens to the excess glucose? Well if it stays in your system long enough and isn’t used, then your body will store it. It does this by converting to glycogen and then eventually into fat (fat being the ultimate energy store). And this is why I get annoyed at people who always preach calories but never consider other factors. Yes, calories are the bottom line but they aren’t the only factor involved.

Consider this: a macro target of 2500 calories per day with a maintenance calorie level of 3000. Technically, if the target is reached, the person should lose weight right? Well they will but let’s consider how other factors can affect the weight loss. Say the person eats all 2500 calories in one sitting, and they’re all simple carbs (i.e. he eats two loafs of white bread). First of all, it’s very unhealthy, I know, but let’s take a look at the mechanism.

Simple carbs means huge glucose spike. Excess glucose will be converted to fat. If all the glucose is converted, then his body will have no more carbs. If his body has no more carbs, he has to break down protein (in a process known as catabolism) and fat for fuel. Good news right? He’ll still lose weight because he’ll burn more calories (3000) than he supplied (2500). Yes, but, fat burns the slowest. So he’ll lose weight but most of it will be loss of muscle. It’s entirely possible that he could actually gain fat while losing weight.

If that makes sense to you, you should realise that while calories are still the bottom line for weight loss, there’s much more to it than just that. This is just a general overview of how nutrition works but hopefully this understanding will help you make more informed decisions.

With the Mayan doomsday myth over, I’m sure there are at least a few people around the world blankly wondering what happened. The fact that anyone believed in this at all points to a deeper problem, so let’s take a quick look into the sociological reason that this became a thing at all.

After trawling the internet (unfortunately none of my peers were believers so I had to pull examples from online), I consider there to be two categories.

Category 1: People who genuinely believed it was going to happen.

This ranges from those who were so sure they blew their family funds and strained their relationships to “prepare” to those who were outwardly sceptical but inwardly nervous when the day came. Let me assure you, I literally felt nothing at all. I almost forgot it was the 21st/22nd because it was so obvious that nothing was going to happen. This particular category points to a lack of education and information transmission.

Depending on the severity of this “condition”, people in this category were either absolutely scientifically illiterate or never even bothered to double check. Although I campaign for the elimination of the former (scientific illiteracy), I would say the latter is the worse option. It just means you’re flat out dumb. If you’re scientifically illiterate, you could have done badly in science and never developed an interest in it. If you start making life decisions based on rumours without even double checking the validity of these rumours you’re just dumb.

The other factor influencing people of this category relates to information transmission. It’s not just a problem of correct information not reaching peoples’ ears, it’s a problem of incorrect information being transmitted more frequently than correct information. People might wonder why I prattle on about things like this in a “preachy” manner, but think about it. If the majority of society talks about incorrect things, then being wrong becomes a standard. People like Dawkins, Tyson and Sagan spend (and spent) their lives talking about truth. Without them, there would be at least millions less people interested in science and truth. I’m just here adding to the noise, contributing however limitedly I can. Take Christmas for example. People are so used to thinking Jesus was born on Christmas that it has become a standard. I see it even in media that specialises in mocking beliefs (South Park, Family Guy, etc.), but it’s wrong. Jesus has nothing to do with Christmas. So what’s the problem here? At some point, even the more rational (those that outwardly didn’t believe in the apocalypse but inwardly felt nervous) can question their thought processes and logic when enough people start transmitting incorrect information.

To fix scientific illiteracy and education is a big problem that includes an increase in funding. It’s not something that can be quickly done, nor something that many people will willingly embrace. I consider these people too far to reach, at least for the moment. But those of you on the border, who were pretty sure it wouldn’t happen but couldn’t help questioning your reasons when the day approached, I think I can reach you. I encourage you to keep reading academic analyses of everything. It can be my blog or anything else – though if you read a news article make sure you find the original source and read that instead; the news tends to sensationalise stuff, which can lead to wrong impressions. The deeper you get into science and logic, the more certain of yourself you’ll become. You’ll discover the universe around you is both more mystifying and less confusing at the same time. You will have become an intellectual.

Category 2: People who believed in it because they wanted it to be true.

This is the sadder category, though not something I usually talk about. Unfortunately, it’s undeniable that a noticeable portion of the internet falls into this category. There’s not much to say – if you want an apocalyptic event to happen it means your life is very unfulfilling. However, you are also vain enough not to want to die alone, so the best solution is if everyone is destroyed together. To these people I can only say: get your shit together. Find a hobby, get a job, do something that will make you see life as an opportunity not a burden. If we are all born to die then what is life? It is a period of time given to you where you can do things to make yourself happy. Some people choose to capitalise on their happiness early on, and live harder lives in the future. Others invest their early years well and reap the benefits later on. Gamers should understand this concept easily – you macro first, get your economy going, and then you do the fun stuff. Regardless, the fact that people like this exist means that you really need to find something that interests you – and you’re not going to do that by sitting in front of an internet hoping for an apocalypse. Try getting into science. I kid you not, it’s interesting stuff. Learning about science on your own is much different from learning it in class. Otherwise, find something else.

I’m always super excited when science makes a breakthrough. The last major one was the Higg’s Boson. This time it’s the existence of Quantum Spin Liquids (QSL), which has been theorised since 1987 but never discovered. This is reminiscent of the Higg’s Boson, which was predicted by the Standard Model but not found until recently, hence my excitement. It’s just very satisfying to see even more “gaps” filled in by science.

So, what is QSL? I have some knowledge of the quantum mechanics field but I can only really give you guys a basic overview of this discovery. QSL confirms the discovery of a third fundamental state of magnetism. Originally, magnetism was described in two states:

Ferromagnetism:

This type of magnetism has been known and used for centuries. It is the force behind a compass’s needle and your typical bar magnet. A ferromagnet’s spin (charge) of every electron is aligned in the same direction, causing two distinct poles.

Antiferromagnets:

The electrons in these have an opposite spin to their neighbouring electrons, leading to a net effect of zero magnetism. Generally, these exist only at certain low temperatures and are used in giant magnetoresistors. You might be wondering what the point of having zero net magnetism is – well think of it as a control or a switch. Sometimes you want the magnet to switch off.

The existence of QSL posits a new, third type of magnetism that is described as liquid in that the magnetic orientations of the electrons fluctuate, and thus the object’s magnetic state is constantly in flux. Most magnetic solids trend towards a stable magnetic state at low temperatures, but in a QSL, the electron spin will remain in flux even at temperatures close to absolute zero.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) just published (literally just then – like today) news of their discovery of QSL in a mineral known as Herbertsmithite. The crystalline structure of this mineral is called a kagome lattice, a weaving pattern of overlaid triangles forming a hexagon at its centre. Here’s a picture to clarify what I’m saying: (the arrows represent electron spin direction)

Kagome

To get a bit more technical, the reason why the kagome lattice is so important to QSL is because of the triangle. It has three points with a copper atom at each. The electrons on two of the corners can align but the third one cannot align with both, thus causing magnetic frustration (fluctuating magnetism).

Implications:

Because a combination of ferromagnets and antiferromagnets are used to create hard drives, the main proposed usage of this discovery is in the field of information processing.

However, the existence of frustrated magnetism has been proposed to lead to other interesting phenomena such as magnetic monopoles, which would support M-Theory, among other things.

All in all though, the most exciting thing is the discovery of something fundamentally new. Adding on top of what we already know is great but when you discover a new fundamental state, it points to an even greater science that we’ve never seen before – something to perhaps replace the Standard Model, as they are trying to do at CERN, or perhaps conclude the theory of everything, as M-Theory and Quantum Loop Gravity are trying to do.

I … I’m alive. It was horrible. Is anyone else out there? Did anybody else survive the terrible apocalypse?

Hah. I did mention in my previous post about everything wrong with the doomsday predictions that I would come make a post saying “told you so”. Well, here it is. Told you so.

It is currently 12:07AM 21/12/12. I also mentioned the Mayans didn’t know about timezones, but since I come from the “future”, I can safely tell you guys that the world did not end.

And if you’re one of those people who spent their kids’ college fund and destroyed your family to prepare for this hoax … well I feel bad for you because you’re going to feel like an idiot. Or maybe you won’t. After all, ignorance is bliss.

To be honest, I was surprised when I found out that people were still taking this seriously. I’m not even kidding. This isn’t my sarcastic, mocking, borderline cynical humour. I really did have no idea that there were people out there who are so … under-informed, to put it nicely. Although, in hindsight, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. Humans have a capacity for ignorance that seems boundless.

But let’s push away the nonplussed disbelief for a moment and look at this academically. Let’s pretend you’re not a scammer making money off the foolish; let’s just say you really do believe in the doomsday predictions. Here’s why you’d be wrong.

Stone of the Sun

 

Presenting the Mayan Calendar. Wait, no. That’s the Aztec Stone of the Sun! Hmm, so much for credibility. 

The Mayans never predicted a doomsday. So what is 2012 then? Well the Mayans used a few different calendars to mark different things; the “Calendar Round” was a 52 year calendar used to document the approximate lifetime of an individual, while the “Long Count” was a calendar for recording historical events over a long period of time. The Long Count has 5,126 years in it, and began in 3114 B.C. That makes 2012 the end of the first cycle of this particular calendar.

Cue unfounded doomsday predictions.

But what’s the end of a cycle? Think of it this way: our modern calendar consists of 12 months. At the end of our calendar, the 31st of December, we simply go back to January of the next cycle (the next year). Using the Long Count calendar to predict the end of the world is the equivalent of expecting Armageddon every 31st of December.

In fact, the Mayans continue to predict events far beyond 2012. They recorded time in cycles known as “baktuns”; new calendars were discovered recording a cycle of 17 baktuns, the equivalent of about 7,000 years (where 2012 is the end of the 13th baktun).

If that’s not enough to assuage your fears, let’s take a look at what exactly people think is going to happen.

Nibiru:

This doomsday hypothesis (and I say hypothesis instead of theory because there’s a big difference between the two) stipulates that a “Planet X” will collide with Earth. First of all, that’s just ridiculous because there’s no way a planet would be flying through space free of all gravitational pulls. Why do you think the Earth hasn’t floated out of our solar system and crashed into another planet? Because that’s not how gravity works.

Plus there are thousands of astronomers all over the world constantly watching the sky. At least one of them would have noticed a gigantic thing speeding towards us. The gravitational distortions of such a thing would have been sending warning signals for thousands of years.

Finally, what the hell are you doing believing in crap like this anyway? What possible reason could you have to believe something like this would happen? Let’s get something clear: the Nibiru  idea was first raised by Nancy Lieder, who describes herself as someone with the ability to receive messages from aliens via an implant in her brain. Does that sound like a reliable source? No. But there’s more; she predicted Nibiru would sweep through our solar system in 2003. Wrong. So why is it that people are bringing up this old garbage again?

Solar Flares:

This doomsday scenario claims that solar flares will erupt from the sun. Well, that’s true. But guess what? That’s completely normal and happens all the time. A solar storm hit on March 8th this year. Did you know that? Probably not because it doesn’t wipe out planets. It just messed with electronics on Earth.

Planetary Alignment:

So this scenario is the alignment of planets with the sun, causing catastrophic tidal effects. Well, unfortunately there is no alignment scheduled for December, and even if there were, there’d be practically no effect (Don Yeomans, 2012). The only two bodies in the solar system that can affect Earth’s tides are the moon (due to close proximity) and the sun (due to size and proximity). Incidentally, the moon and sun align quite frequently, yet we’re still here.

Magnetic Pole Shifts:

Again, a natural occurrence, though it takes around half a million years to happen and the process of actually shifting takes thousands of years. But even then, there’d be no problem if it happened, except that we’d have to recalibrate compasses and perhaps more beached whales, which would be sad. That’d be more a doomsday prediction that whales are worried about rather than humans though.

Conclusion:

If you’re one of the gullible that are fixated on the end of the world, don’t quit your jobs (if you have them) and definitely don’t start sending money to people that claim they’ll save you. You’ll just be falling prey to scammers. 21st Dec 2012 is just the end of one Mayan calendar. It’s their 31st of December. They predicted things far into the future and never made doomsday predictions.

All of the doomsday predictions put forth are false. They have absolutely no basis for existence.

That brings up an interesting point though; it’s probably the most disappointing one for me. Never mind the happy coincidence that the Mayan Long Count ends its first cycle this year, or that scammers are picking on those that don’t know any better. What really disappoints me is that this still demonstrates that people can’t grasp the concept that humans thousands of years ago did not know as much as we do today. You could apply this to a lot of things, including religion, but seriously, do you think the human race has been stagnant for two thousand years? That we’ve learned nothing during the transition from carving symbols into stone and having rockets that can send rovers to Mars?

The absolute scientific ignorance of society is shockingly highlighted every time some pseudoscience or garbage like this becomes widespread. I completely sympathise with people like Neil deGrasse Tyson whose life goals are to rekindle an interest in science, because without it, we just resemble a bunch of babbling idiots.

P.S. The Mayans didn’t know about timezones. Since I live in Australia, the 21st will come where I live before it gets to most of the rest of the world. I’ll be waiting at midnight to say “hah, told you so”.

“Aliens can’t exist because we haven’t found them yet”. I never really believed that people were stupid enough to base an entire “logical” thought process on this “evidence” but apparently many people do. Well, here’s a pretty famous quote (paraphrased) that’s been used to refute this poorly thought out argument against extraterrestrial life:

It’s like taking a scoop out of the ocean with a cup and saying there are no such things as whales because there are none in my cup.

Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Humans have been leaking radio waves for 70 years now so our radio bubble is approximately 70 light years. Our galaxy has a diameter of around 110,000 light years. There are around 170 billion galaxies in the universe.

The top three elements in the human body are oxygen, carbon and hydrogen. The most abundant elements in the universe are hydrogen, helium, oxygen, neon, nitrogen and carbon. And that is assuming that alien life must be identical to human life, which is highly unlikely.

But wait, what about the Goldilocks zone? Well, I’ve heard this term tossed around quite a lot and it always ends up being misconstrued somehow. The “Goldilocks” loosely describes inhabitable planets/regions. The Goldilocks zone specifically denotes a distance from a star that is the perfect distance for liquid water to exist on a planet (not too far to be frozen and not too close to be evaporated). In our solar system, Earth and Mars are the only two planets within this zone.

What’s the significance? Well as far as we know, water is really the only thing necessary for life to exist. There are bacteria that can survive in 400,000 times our gravity, in ridiculously high and low temperatures, and can feed of poisonous elements like sulfur. Honestly, it wouldn’t surprise me if there’s life out there that doesn’t need water.

When they (Deguchi et. al.) spun E. coli up to the equivalent of 7,500 G’s (7,500 times the force of Earth gravity), however, they found that the microbe didn’t miss a beat. It grew and reproduced just fine.

But wait, let’s just assume water is a necessity. The Goldilocks zone isn’t even exclusive as the only place with liquid water. For example, it’s been theorised that Europa (the ice moon of Jupiter) could be hiding a vast ocean under its icy crust. How? The moon is outside the Goldilocks zone but its orbit around Jupiter is elliptical. This means that the gravitational pull on the moon is uneven. Essentially, it is being constantly contracted and expanded. This gives it the potential to heat up the ice at its core enough to form water. There could be an alien species living in that ocean, oblivious to the rest of the universe as it is unable to penetrate the icy shell of Europa.

There’s more. Let’s limit our search even further and only look at Goldilocks candidates. Those of you that have kept an eye on the news might recall a few Goldilocks planets being found. Here’s a fun picture showing their similarities to Earth:

Goldilocks Planets

 

If you think that’s impressive, wait ’til you hear this. The Kepler telescope and the NASA team behind it predict as many as 500 million planets in our galaxy fall into the habitable zone. And yes, that’s just our one, lonesome galaxy.

And the truth is, life is not as elusive as it’s often made out to be. If you remember my post on Panspermia you’ll recall that bacteria and amino acids are commonly found in the tails of comets.

Now I did mention the Curiosity rover, but in all honesty, there’s not much I can say right now. For those of you that missed it, Curiosity found evidence of organic compounds on Mars, including water. However, there’s still a possibility the data was contaminated by Earth compounds, so I’ll refrain from drawing any conclusions (as the NASA team hasn’t drawn any conclusions yet either). All I can say is that I look forward to great findings over the entire expedition by Curiosity, just as many in the science world are. And I wouldn’t be surprised by any positive results.

But I want to leave you all with something mind-boggling to think about. I’ll try my best, though the more informed of you may scoff.

You may be asking: Why haven’t we seen any signs of aliens? or Why haven’t any aliens contacted us? Well, think about the vastness of the universe. We aren’t even capable of staying in contact with any probes to leave our solar system, and those few probes presumably to have left our solar system haven taken almost half a century to get that far. Our technology is so limited that contacting alien life would be close to impossible. In fact, if you consider that our galaxy is 110,000 light years in diameter, you’ll quickly realise our limitations. If you abide by classic physics and take light speed as the maximum possible speed (and there’s no evidence to the contrary right now), that means that even the most infinitely advanced alien life would still take 110,000 years to cross our galaxy. It could be that life in the universe is not destined to ever meet, and that light speed is the great limiter placed on the entire universe. At the very least, NASA recognises a problem in fuel based propulsions – something I’ll do a post about later. Basically, we have no possible technology that could ever be sufficient to let us explore into our own galaxy, let alone the rest of the universe.

And finally, a thought inspired by another Neil deGrasse Tyson quote, as well as predictions by Stephen Hawking. Most likely, we are either infinitely more advanced than alien life and overlook its existence or do not recognise it as life (such as bacteria), or we are infinitely inferior to alien life, so they see us as nothing more than insects and ignore us. After all, when was the last time you stopped and had a conversation with a worm?

I just want to do a quick post here so I won’t go into too much detail or include all arguments.

There seems to be some sort of wired-in expectation that things should be more or less symmetrical. Let’s not get too into supersymmetry here – though I should point out that the supersymmetry theory (SUSY) took a hit recently from results at the LHC. BSmeson decay was set to one in every 300 million Bsmesons, close to what the standard model predicts. Those of you that are more science savvy will probably understand why this is a hit to SUSY but basically it’s like god of gaps argument. It is an ever-receding range of likelihood; if BSmeson decay ends up being the rate predicted by the standard model, there’s no space for SUSY any more. As I said above, one in 300 million is getting pretty close, so the possibility of SUSY being successful just got smaller.

Anyway, back on topic. We seem to think things should be basically symmetrical. You can see this on a spiritual scale, with the concept of karma. There’s even that sort of mentality where if you’ve done something wrong, you can assuage your guilt through good deeds (altruism). On a more scientific note, people have an expectation that the universe is perfectly balanced. Everything was “perfect” because if it wasn’t, the universe wouldn’t have formed the way it did. Everything was “perfect” for the conditions of life. We can get a little more technical and even claim the universe is perfectly “even”, as shown by the cosmological principle which suggests homogeneity.

Let’s take a look at this assumption of “perfect balance”. Well, first of all, people often quote homogeneity wrong. The universe is not completely even, nor symmetrical. That much would be obvious if you actually put some thought into it yourself instead of quoting homogeneity. The average density (as well as other factors) of the universe is the same no matter where you look, but it’s not completely uniform.

Next up, the matter-antimatter imbalance. People are often asking “if antimatter exists, where is it all?” or “how come we live on planets made of matter instead of antimatter?”. Well, let me put to rest any doubts you have about the existence of antimatter. It is real, and created on a daily basis at facilities such as the LHC. As for the imbalance? The leading theory is CP violation. Again, I don’t want to get too deep into another theory but basically CP symmetry postulates that all negative equivalents of particles should have the exact same properties (but reversed) as their positive counterparts. CP violation (or CP symmetry violation) is basically the violation of that rule. There’s quite a lot of evidence for CP violation and it can be reproduced in experiments to show that antiparticles do not, in fact, replicate their positive counterparts. Specific to the matter-antimatter imbalance is the fact that antimatter has a much shorter decay rate. Basically, it disappears faster than matter does, which is why we’re left with a predominantly matter filled universe (though I do have some evidence that could suggest antimatter clusters; I’ll save that for another post).

Finally, let’s go to the very beginning. After the Big Bang spread a cloud of cosmic gas, gravity acted to cause these to cluster and form stellar bodies. But think about it for a second. If this matter were spread perfectly evenly throughout the universe, then gravity would act on each individual particle with the exact same force in every direction. There could be no formation of anything unless there was an imbalance, an imperfection in this uniformity.

The reality? Our universe was born imperfect, and that’s why we exist today.

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