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So you thought you were forever alone? Meet Photon, The Loneliest Particle in the Universe. Feel free to click that link if you want to read a short story about this topic.

Some of you might know about time dilation (most of you, hopefully). Basically, as you approach light speed (denoted by the constant c) time slows. If you reach time is frozen (from your perspective). Perspectives are a huge part of science and relate to a lot of really interesting theories, some of which I will make separate posts about. For now, though:

So, let’s introduce our forever alone particle, Mr. Photon. Photons are the particle associated with light (and electromagnetic radiation). Since, for all intents and purposes, a photon is light, they travel at c. That means time never passes for a photon.

From the moment a photon is emitted, it is frozen for all eternity in that very same moment. Time doesn’t pass for it, and from its point of view, it never travels. If that last bit was confusing, remember what I said about perspectives. Travelling implies speed, which implies distance covered over a period of time.

Even if it moves from one side of the universe to the other, the photon will always be entirely alone, frozen in the moment it was born.

And you thought you were lonely.

Reductionists, theists and ignorant people (these don’t necessarily exclude each other) often argue that science is unemotional, destroying of hope and a bleak outlook on life. I’ve always argued the exact opposite. There is very little in the world that can be as poetically melancholy as what I have just described, and photons are really just the tip of the iceberg.

Join science. We have cookies and a cat that is both dead and alive.


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.

“What lies at the heart of every living thing is not a fire, not warm breath, not a ‘spark of life’. It is information, words, instruction.”

– Richard Dawkins, 1986.

Many of you have heard the term “meme” due to the recent popularity of internet memes. However, the word “meme” has existed long before the advent of funny pictures with poorly written English emblazoned on it. Interestingly, it was Richard Dawkins who invented the word in 1976 from Greek influences. He shortened it to “meme” because he wanted the word to be a monosyllable that sounded similar to “gene”. On a related note, that means it’s pronounced “meem” similar to “gene”, not as some people say “me-me” or the French word “meme” meaning same (I can’t do accents on my keyboard, but there’s one over the first “e”).

So what is a meme? This quote from the Smithsonian is pretty good to help build an initial understanding:

Our world is a place where information can behave like human genes and ideas can replicate, mutate and evolve.

Essentially, a meme is an idea or concept that is spread from generation to generation through means that are non-genetic (transmitted via writing, visual representation, speech, gestures or any other imitable phenomena). The importance of the word meme resembling the word gene is that memes are theorised to evolve by natural selection in a manner analogous to biological evolution – basically, a meme is like a gene for information. Here’s one more good quote:

A meme is an idea that behaves like a virus – that moves through a population, taking hold in each person it infects

– Malcolm Gladwell

Memes are powerful language tools because they can convey a vast array of inherent information with very few words (or actions/images depending on the meme). Dawkins defined a meme as a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation and replication. Internet memes are the most commonly known these days, and just think of the amount of information we can get out of a few words or an image.

This badly drawn picture by itself is enough to evoke a wide range of information. It means someone who is always unsuccessful at finding companionship and is used by the victim to demonstrate his/her emotions regarding their situation. There’s a huge list of internet memes; I’m not going to go through every one of them. Internet memes are plentiful though, which dilutes their potency a bit. Here’s a stronger example: Olympics. With that one word alone, I can make you think of competitions, athletes, races, medals and an overarching theme of unity and celebration.

However, remember Gladwell’s definition. Memes mutate over time and can end up misrepresenting something, or becoming impervious to change. Folk etymology is an example of this (I’ve gone into this in my etymology posts), where people start believing that a certain idiom originated one way when in actual fact it was another (such as the “cold shoulder”). Other good examples can be found in urban myths, which persist even when scientifically proven wrong. My girlfriend’s anatomy lecturer told her that your heart stops beating when you sneeze. This has been proven false already, what’s an anatomy lecturer doing not knowing this?

Now that we understand that memes are ideas and information transmitted over time, we have to accept that memes are prone to mutation and cannot be considered fully reliable. Here’s the interesting thing though – religion is also a meme. We can see evidence of religion changing or “mutating” over time as the Church changes its public stance on certain issues (heliocentric solar system, evolution, etc.).

It’s interesting that memes are often subject to “survival of the fittest”. It is for that reason why we don’t practice human sacrifice, because that is a weak idea from an evolutionary point of view (it doesn’t promote growth). There’s a whole scientific side to memes that I didn’t get into (I was focusing more on its power as a language tool). For those of you interested in finding out more, this is a good article:

So, recently scientists reported the discovery of a particle with observable effects likening it to the Higgs Boson. That’s a very complex way of saying “they think they found the Higgs Boson”. Some of you may not think this is a big deal. To those people, I say “I don’t believe you understand the gravity of this matter”. That’s the first of some of the Higgs jokes popping up.

Anyway, this is a huge scientific breakthrough and it pretty much shoots the whole neutrino affair out of the water. Why is that? Well, there was a lot more hype over the neutrino potentially surpassing light speed because geeks and opportunists started an avalanche of ill-informed statements. The most prominent of these was the whole “faster than light” travel fiasco. I wrote an article on the neutrino for a course at uni but I can’t be bothered finding it so I’ll sum up quickly why this is a stupid idea: the neutrino is also known as the “ghost particle” because it can travel through matter with minimal to no interaction. If something with that kind of amazing ability can’t surpass light speed (or was in doubt of surpassing light speed at the time that these faster than light dreams started multiplying) then what hope do humans have? Let’s put this in perspective. Suppose the neutrino did manage to break the light speed barrier. Well, you might say humans will use that technology to develop super-light speed travel. Errrrrrr. Wrong. What are you going to do, make a spaceship out of neutrinos? Let me remind you that neutrinos do not interact with matter. You’ll have a better chance at resolving the atheist-theist war than ever making even a seat out of neutrinos. There’s a lot more to the neutrino than that, and maybe I’ll put the information up here some time, but for now, rest easy knowing that we’ll always be stuck at sub-light speeds.

I sort of went off at a tangent here. The point was that the neutrino buzz was a fad; there was never really any substance to it. This Higgs boson ordeal, however, is mind boggling. I mean that literally. Even with my reasonable grasp of science, it’s a bit hard to wrap my head around. I asked my mom and stepfather (both PhD physicists who were top of their field in Australia before retirement) for a bit of clarification and arrived at the understanding I have now. I’m going to give a brief explanation of the Higgs Boson and Higgs field in the following paragraphs; if these do not interest you, you may skip, but that leaves you with a bigger question – what are you doing reading this if you’re not interested in science?

Ok, so let’s start with the Higgs field. Why? Because the Higgs Boson is a particle associated with the Higgs field in the same way a photon is associated with an electromagnetic field. The difference here is that the Higgs field permeates the universe. This is a bit hard to understand without an analogy. Let’s say that the universe is submerged within a tank of water – that is, all the planets and stars and galaxies are objects within this tank. The water would be the fabric of time and space – as well as the Higgs field. It is everywhere, in more ways than one. For example, you can bend the fabric of space time (with our analogy, that would be a ripple in the water). Whilst this may shorten the “distance” between two points, the ripple does not eliminate the space time in between – it merely distorts it.

So now that we’ve determined that the Higgs field pretty much encompasses the entirety of the universe (Einstein theorised a similar space time fabric, though I forget the exact name), what you need to know is that particles travelling through the Higgs field, and thus interacting with it, are affected by the Higgs  Boson. The Higgs Boson is a class of particle whose category is known as a Boson. It’s special because it transfers mass to certain elementary particles and thus explains why some particles have mass and others do not. Without mass, there would be no gravity and thus no universe – which is why you’ll hear that the Higgs Boson “holds the universe together”. You’ll also hear it called the “god particle” but Higgs dislikes that name – originally he wanted it called the “goddamn particle” but his editor thought it would be more attention grabbing if it was named the “god particle”.

Anyway, if we delve a little deeper (and further outside my comfort zone), we can attempt to explain how this mass is transferred. Most particles have a positive or negative, non-integer spin. This means that at each energy level of the particle, only one type of spin can exist for the orbiting electron. This is known as the Pauli exclusion principle. The difference with the Higgs Boson is that it can have zero spin or integer spins, thus allowing it to exist alongside another spinning electron at any given energy level. This essentially means that it can exist in multiple states (you may have heard of this quantum mechanics term before, especially since the popularisation of Schrodinger’s Cat). Because the Higgs Boson can exist where no other normal particle should, it has the potential to transfer mass (this is actually my own speculation, don’t quote me in any academic papers).

Anyway, that’s about as far into it as I’ll get. The crux of the matter is, the simple model has been completed. Scientists used this model for 50 years with no proof that the Higgs Boson existed, and now, finally, we have that proof. In short, we’ve discovered something that was fundamental to not only our creation, but everything we see around us in the universe.

The title of this post also mentions world powers, but I’ve rambled on a bit now. I’ll just leave with a quick paraphrasing of the well known Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson. “On the day that we Americans like to tell ourselves that we’re the best (July 4), Europe reminds us how far behind we’ve fallen in science (Higgs Boson)”. Dr. Tyson has a deep concern that scientific power will shift away from the US, and wishes to reignite his country’s passion for science. I agree with his forecast; due to the nature of brilliant minds, the next generations of scientists will go to Europe instead of the US for their scientific goals, due to the infrastructure Europe can offer (Large Hadron Collider vs. the now closed Enrico Fermi reactor in the US). A large part of the US’s success is due to the infrastructure and opportunity available within the country, which attracted immigrants and geniuses together. As Dr. Tyson also points out, the greatest scientific achievements made by the US were made by immigrants (a German scientist started the US space program, for instance), and if their infrastructure falls behind, inevitably, their science will too. This will have a widespread effect that will eventually see the US removed as the world superpower (among other factors).

Well, those are my thoughts for the day. Forgive me for any errors in my scientific talk – as I said, the details of quantum physics elude me and I haven’t had the time to research the Higgs Boson as much as I did for the neutrino. Let’s just leave with a picture of the second (and perhaps more prominent) reason why Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson is so famous now.


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