Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Map of the Problimatique

Music by Muse and a patchwork of videos lifted from youtube.


The dying days of Labour are upon us

by George Monbiot

A party elected to stamp out collusion has abjectly failed. Now, expect it to be mired in sleaze claims, as the Tories were in 1997

The Guardian, Tuesday 27 January 2009

So the circle is closed. The government that won a landslide in 1997 after Tory MPs were revealed to have taken cash for parliamentary questions now faces far graver allegations: cash for laws. Along the way, almost every policy that distinguished it from John Major's corrupt and pointless regime has been abandoned.

The difference between these two moments is that now there is nowhere to turn. There are the minor parties, but they have been systematically excluded by another broken promise: the failure to reform the electoral system. New Labour has engineered the worst of all worlds; it has sustained a system that ensures only one of two parties has a chance of power, and it has rooted out the policies that made a choice between the two worthwhile. At least when the Tories were in government we could dream of something better.

It is fitting and unsurprising that the scene of the new scandal is the unelected second chamber, whose proper reform Blair and Brown have spent 12 years avoiding. The deregulation of the banks, the love affair with the neocons, the failure to tax the rich, Peter Mandelson ... is there any slithering cop-out that has not now returned to haunt this government?

The premise of Robert Harris's novel The Ghost - that Blair's premiership was the creation of a foreign intelligence service - is correct in spirit if not in substance. For 12 years the British government has acted as an agent of other powers: the US; big business; big money; anything except the electorate. It is hard now to believe that it was elected in a frenzy of hope very much like the excitement surrounding Barack Obama.

Tomorrow, with impeccable timing, the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency launches its campaign in parliament for public scrutiny of the contacts between legislators and professional hustlers. There's a major lobbying scandal about once a month, and no one who is aware of the government's failure to regulate this industry should be surprised. It was elected to stamp out sleaze, but since 1997 has done almost nothing.

So do our noble lords, unmolested by the law, routinely put the interests of business above those of the people who didn't elect them? As SpinWatch records, in 2007 some were selling parliamentary passes to lobbyists for defence, transport, freight and legal companies. That October the Labour peer Lord Hoyle admitted being paid by an arms company rep to introduce him to the minister for defence procurement, Lord Drayson, although Lord Hoyle was subsequently cleared by a House of Lords committee in May 2008. Last year, Lady Harris gave a researcher's pass to Robin Ashby, whose company lobbies ministers on behalf of BAE Systems and other arms manufacturers. Lady Harris is paid by Mr Ashby as an adviser to another company he runs.

But the problem is not confined to the House of Lords. Lobbying undermines democracy throughout the British government. In March last year, for example, we discovered that the government passed data which it had withheld from the public to the airport operator BAA. The data showed that a third runway at Heathrow would immediately breach European noise and pollution limits, ensuring that it could never be built. BAA and the government worked together to re-engineer the figures to fit the limits. Their fake data was then presented to the public in the government's consultation paper. It was used again this month to justify the decision to approve the third runway. This is the kind of wheeze you'd expect in Nigeria.

Like Nigeria, the UK has no effective safeguards against such collusion. As the House of Commons public administration committee points out: "Lobbying activity in the United Kingdom is subject to no specific external regulation." Nor is it subject to anything resembling self-regulation. The sleazebags who suborn our representatives operate in a world without rules.

On the other side of the fence, there are a few feeble constraints on MPs and officials. For example, former ministers and civil servants who want to work for the companies they used to regulate have to apply to the advisory committee on business appointments. Its members are a representative sample of British society: three lords and three knights, all white, all male, all educated at Oxford or Cambridge, all over 70. These young firebrands never stop anyone from taking up a post in business, advising only that former ministers and officials do not become "personally involved in lobbying" for 12 months after they leave the government. This doesn't prevent them from telling their new employers who needs to be lobbied and how, and where the most lucrative opportunities might lie.

The rules have actually slackened over the past few years. The new ministerial code published in 2007 dropped the requirement that meetings between ministers and lobbyists should be recorded. It's not just that contacts between legislators and business lobbyists are virtually unregulated; we're not even allowed to see what's going on.

Earlier this month, the public administration committee proposed a series of anti-corruption rules. They're a reasonable start, which would take us more or less to the position the United States reached in 1946, when the Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act was passed. Since then the US Congress, which admittedly has even graver cases of corruption to contend with, has passed a series of further laws, culminating in the 2007 Honest Leadership and Open Government Act. Anyone can now see, with a quick internet search, who is lobbying whom, how much they are being paid, and whom they represent. Lobbyists who fail to comply with the rules can be imprisoned for five years. Last week Barack Obama signed an executive order banning everyone working for the government from participating in any matter relating to their former employment for two years after leaving office.

But Britain even the public administration committee's timid and dated proposals have been received with horror by ministers. Tom Watson, the Cabinet Office minister, told the committee that "we have a pretty good system in the UK" and demanded that it show him evidence of a systemic problem within the lobbying industry.

Some of us believe a major scandal every few weeks is as much evidence as anyone would need, but Watson's Fork is a cunning device. Without the regulations the committee proposes, whose purpose is to open the system to public scrutiny, it is impossible to accumulate the comprehensive evidence Mr Watson demands. Without this level of evidence, he won't introduce regulations.

So what else should the government expect? The sleaze scandals, as they did during the dying days of the last Conservative government, will now emerge thick and fast, as disillusioned officials risk their liberty by leaking documents that should have been freely available, and journalists, scenting blood, close in. Labour will be driven from office with the same howls of execration that saw off the Tories in 1997. But this time there will be no bonfires, no bunting, no dancing in the streets: just the tired shuffling sound of a million more voters turning away from politics.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Universe or Multiverse?

From Astronomy and Geophysics Volume 49, Issue 2, pages 2.29-2.33
Published Online:
19 Mar 2008

By Prof. Bernard Carr and Prof. George Ellis.

Recent developments in cosmology and particle physics suggest there could be many other universes, with different physical constants and possibly even different laws. This proposal could explain the origin of our universe and why it is fine-tuned for the development of life. But are speculations about other universes that can never been seen, based on theories that may never be testable, philosophy or science?

Full Article Text:

Although the word "universe" literally means all that exists, the longer we have studied the world, the larger it appears to have become. It is not surprising therefore that the usage of this term has changed as we have progressed from the geocentric to heliocentric to galactocentric to cosmocentric view.

Nowadays most cosmologists accept the Big Bang theory, in which the universe started in a state of great compression some 14 billion years ago. In this case, one can never see further than the distance light has travelled since the Big Bang (roughly 40 billion light-years – three times the naïve value because of expansion of space) and this might be taken to define the horizon of the observable universe. However, it would be perverse to claim that nothing exists beyond this distance. One would expect there to be other unobservable expanding domains that are still part of our Big Bang.

Recent developments in cosmology and particle physics have led to the much more radical proposal that there could also be other Big Bangs that might be completely disconnected from ours. The ensemble of universes is then sometimes referred to as the "multiverse". As we will see, there are many motivations for invoking a multiverse. For some, it is claimed as the inevitable outcome of the physical process that generated our own universe. For others, it is proposed as an explanation for why our universe appears to be fine-tuned for life and consciousness. For others, it is seen as the result of an underlying philosophical stance that "everything that can happen in physics does happen". The multiverse therefore arises in many different contexts and one needs to distinguish between these in assessing the idea.

It should be stressed at the outset that physicists are polarized about the notion of a multiverse. The title of this article is taken from a recent book (Carr 2007), which is based on three recent conferences on the topic, with contributions from many eminent researchers in the field. The question mark in the title indicates their broad range of attitudes to the multiverse proposal – from strong support through open-minded agnosticism to strong opposition. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the idea has become increasingly popular in recent years. In his contribution to the book, Frank Wilczek (2007) describes the change in attitude between the first meeting in 2001 and the last one in 2005:

"The previous gathering had a defensive air. It prominently featured a number of physicists who subsisted on the fringes, voices in the wilderness who had for many years promoted strange arguments about conspiracies among fundamental constants and alternative universes. Their concerns and approaches seemed totally alien to the vanguard of theoretical physics, which was busy successfully constructing a unique and mathematically perfect universe. Now the vanguard has marched off to join the prophets in the wilderness."

Indeed perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the book is that it testifies to the large number of eminent physicists who now find the subject interesting enough to be worth writing about.

Despite this, there is no doubt that the concept of the multiverse raises deep conceptual issues. The problem is that scientific progress has not only changed our view of the universe, it has also changed our view of the nature of science itself, and physicists are divided in their reactions to this. Indeed the authors of this article are also divided. We both accept that the multiverse has explanatory value but we differ on whether it should be regarded as legitimate science. We have written this first part of the article together, because this merely describes the various multiverse scenarios and there is no essential disagreement here. However, we have written separate sections where our views diverge, focusing on seven specific bones of contention. Readers will need to draw their own conclusions but we hope to convey the nature of the controversy.

Different multiverse proposals

AbstractDifferent multiverse proposalsThe anthropic principleBut is the multiverse scienceThree views on the anthropic principleReferences

Max Tegmark (2003) classifies multiverse scenarios into four different types and we start by describing these. We have mentioned that in the Big Bang theory there should be many expanding domains beyond the horizon distance. Tegmark describes this as the "Level I" multiverse, and it is relatively uncontroversial. If pursued to its logical conclusion, it leads to some bizarre possibilities (like our having identical clones at great distance if space is infinite) and these entail some philosophical problems; but it would be hard to deny its existence if not taken to extremes.

The suggestion that there could be other Big Bangs that are completely disconnected from ours is much more challenging and leads to deeper philosophical difficulties. This sort of multiverse proposal – which Tegmark labels "Level II"– usually arises from attempts to understand how our universe originated. Advocates of the Big Bang theory used to assume that known physics would break down at the BBig Bang itself because it would correspond to a "singularity" of infinite density, so one could never hope to understand what happened there (let alone before it). However, in the last few decades cosmologists have begun to address this question and with remarkable success. So if one has a model for generating our own Big Bang, it is not surprising that it can also produce other Big Bangs. The problem is that physicists have widely different views on how the different universes might arise, so there are competing models for the multiverse. Some of these come from cosmologists and others from particle physicists. Let us first examine the cosmological proposals.

  • Some invoke "oscillatory" models in which a single universe undergoes cycles of expansion and recollapse (Tolman 1934), though without necessarily understanding what causes the bounce. In this case, the different universes are strung out in time.

  • Others invoke the "inflationary" scenario, in which our observable domain is a tiny part of a single bubble that underwent an extra-fast accelerated expansion phase at some early time as a result of the effect of a scalar field (Guth 1981). This explains why the universe is so smooth and why it has almost exactly the critical density that separates ever-expanding from recollapsing models. Inflation not only implies that the observable domain is a tiny patch of a much larger universe – some versions also predict that there could be many other bubbles, corresponding to other universes with different properties spread out in space (figure 1). A variant of this idea is "eternal" inflation, in which the universe is continually self-reproducing, so that there are an infinite number of bubbles extending in both space and time (Vilenkin 1983, Linde 1986).

  • A more radical proposal is to invoke quantum cosmology effects at the Planck time. These occur at around 10−43 s after the Big Bang, when the classical space-time description of general relativity breaks down. In this approach one has a superposition of different histories for the universe and uses what is termed the "path integral" approach to calculate the probability of each of these. This replaces the Big Bang singularity with a bounce – time becoming imaginary there according to Hartle and Hawking (1983)– and leads to a form of the cyclic model. Quantum cosmology is most naturally interpreted in the context of the "many worlds" interpretation of quantum mechanics (Everett 1957), in which the universe branches every time an observation is made (rather than the alternative view in which the wave-function collapses). Tegmark describes this quantum multiverse as "Level III" and it is the oldest scientific form of the idea.

    We now turn to multiverse proposals inspired by particle physics. The holy grail of particle physics is to find a "Theory of Everything" that unifies all the known forces. Models that unify the weak, strong and electromagnetic interactions are commonly described as "grand unified theories" and – although still unverified experimentally – have been around for nearly 30 years. Incorporating gravity into this unification has proved more difficult but there have been exciting strides in recent years, with superstring theory being the currently favoured model. There are various versions of superstring theory but they are amalgamated in what is termed "M-theory". This supposes that the universe has more than the three dimensions of space which we actually observe, with four-dimensional physics emerging from the way in which the extra dimensions are compactified; this is described by what is called a Calabi–Yau manifold.

  • In one version of M-theory our universe could correspond to a four-dimensional "brane" imbedded in a higher dimensional "bulk" (Randall and Sundrum 1999). In this case, there might be many other branes and collisions between the branes might even generate Big Bangs of the kind that initiated the expansion of our own universe. This might take place repeatedly to give a form of the cyclic model (Steinhardt and Turok 2006).

  • It was originally hoped that M-theory would predict all the constants of Nature uniquely. However, recent developments suggest that this is not the case and that the number of compactifications could be enormous (e.g. 10500), each one corresponding to a different vacuum state and a different set of constants (Bousso and Polchinksi 2000). This is sometimes described as the "string landscape" scenario. Each solution is associated with a different minimum of the vacuum energy and corresponds to a different universe, so the values of the physical constants would be contingent on which one we happen to occupy (Susskind 2005). A crucial feature of the string landscape proposal is that the vacuum energy would be manifested as what is termed a cosmological constant. This is an extra term in the field equations of general relativity, originally introduced by Einstein to make the universe static. One of the most exciting recent developments in cosmology has been the discovery from observations of distant supernovae that the expansion of the universe is accelerating. This suggests that the density of the universe is dominated by some form of "dark energy" and this is most naturally interpreted as a cosmological constant. It is this discovery that has attracted so many string theorists to the subject.

  • Finally, what Tegmark describes as the "Level IV" multiverse contains completely disconnected universes, governed by different laws or mathematical structures. The assumption here is that any mathematically possible universe must exist somewhere.

1 : In inflation our universe may be a minuscule part of one of many bubbles. (E Mallove)

[Normal View ]

We thus see how a confluence of developments in cosmology and particle physics has led to the popularity of the multiverse proposal. Indeed, the idea might be regarded as the culmination of scientific attempts to understand the largest and smallest scales. This is encapsulated in the image of the Cosmic Uroborus (figure 2), which shows the link between the macrophysical and microphysical domains of structure provided by the various forces. The significance of the head meeting the tail is that distances close to the horizon correspond to very early times, when today's observable universe was compressed to a tiny size. This is why early universe studies have led to an exciting collaboration between particle physicists and cosmologists. As one approaches the intersect point, one encounters the multiverse on the macroscopic side and M-theory on the microscopic side.

2 : The Cosmic Uroborus, a summary of the different types of structure in the universe. Near the bottom is Homo sapiens. As we move to the right, we encounter successively larger objects: a mountain, a planet, the solar system, a galaxy and finally the entire observable universe. As we move to the left, we encounter successively smaller objects: a cell, a DNA molecule, an atom, a nucleus, various types of fundamental particles and finally the scale at which quantum gravity effects become important. As one moves anticlockwise from the tail to the head, the scale of structure increases through 60 decades, so the Uroborus provides a "clock" in which each "minute" corresponds to a factor of 10 in scale. The horizontal lines correspond to the forces that link the microphysical and macrophysical domains. The "electric" line connects an atom to a planet because the structure of a solid object is determined by intermolecular forces which are electrical in origin. The "weak/strong" line connects a nucleus to a star because these forces are involved in the nuclear reactions which power a star. The "GUT" line connects the grand unification scale with galaxies because the density fluctuations which lead to galaxies arise when the universe has the GUT temperature.

[Normal View ]

The anthropic principle

AbstractDifferent multiverse proposalsThe anthropic principleBut is the multiverse scienceThree views on the anthropic principleReferences

One of the remarkable features of our universe is that some of the constants of physics seem to be fine-tuned for the emergence of observers (Carter 1974, Carr and Rees 1979, Barrow and Tipler 1986, Hogan 2000, Rees 2001). These fine-tunings – dubbed "anthropic" by Brandon Carter – have been studied for some 30 years and involve both the physical constants and various cosmological parameters. Some of them are summarized in table 1. As far as we know, these anthropic relationships are not predicted by any unified theory and, even if they were, it would be remarkable that the theory should yield exactly the coincidences required. Although anthropos is the Greek for "man", this is a misnomer because the fine-tunings have nothing to do with Homo sapiens in particular. They just seem necessary if an increasing degree of complexity is to develop as the universe expands and cools. This suggests that the anthropic principle should really be interpreted as a complexity principle.

Table 1: Possible anthropic fine-tunings

N= ratio of electric and gravitational force between protons ∼ 1036
E= nuclear binding energy as a fraction of rest mass energy ∼ 0.007
Ω= matter density in universe in units of critical density ∼ 0.3
Λ= cosmological constant in units of critical density ∼ 0.7
Q= amplitude of density fluctuations at horizon epoch ∼ 10−5

Anthropic arguments used to be regarded with disdain by many physicists – and in some quarters still are – because they seem to exclude the more usual type of physical explanation for the values of the constants. The fact that people of a theological disposition interpreted the fine-tunings as evidence for a creator perhaps enhanced that reaction. Three very different views of the anthropic principle are illustrated by the quotations on page 2.32 from Freeman Dyson (1979), Heinz Pagels (1985) and Brandon Carter (1974). However, the multiverse proposal has led to a shift in the status of anthropic arguments because the constants may be different in the other universes. We have seen that this arises explicitly in the string landscape scenario and the constants may also vary in the different bubbles of the inflationary scenario. So although multiverse models have not generally been motivated by an attempt to explain the anthropic fine-tuning, it now seems clear that the two concepts are interlinked. For if there are many universes, the question arises as to why we inhabit this particular one and (at the very least) one would have to concede that our own existence is a relevant selection effect. Many physicists therefore regard the multiverse as providing the most natural explanation of the anthropic fine-tunings. If one wins the lottery, it is natural to infer that one is not the only person to have bought a ticket.

A multiverse with varied physical properties is certainly one possible explanation for fine-tunings: an infinite set of universes allows all possibilities and combinations to occur, so somewhere – just by chance – things will work out right for life. In assessing this view, a key issue is whether some of the physical constants are contingent on accidental features of symmetry breaking and the initial conditions of our universe or whether some fundamental theory will determine all of them uniquely. The two cases essentially correspond to the multiverse and single universe options (figure 3). This relates to a famous question posed by Einstein: "Did God have any choice when he created the universe?" If the answer is no, there would be no room for the anthropic principle. Most physicists would prefer the physical constants to be determined uniquely, but we have seen that this now appears unlikely. What we call "laws of Nature" may be local by-laws, in which case trying to predict the values of the constants may be as forlorn as Kepler's attempts to predict the spacing of the planets in our solar system based on the properties of Platonic solids.

3 : The "decision tree" which determines whether anthropic explanations are irrelevant or the best we can ever hope for. (M Rees)

[Normal View ]

A particularly interesting anthropic argument is associated with the cosmological constant (denoted by Λ). In the string landscape picture one might expect the value of Λ across the different universes to have a uniform distribution ranging from minus to plus the Planck value (which is 120 orders of magnitude larger than observed). The actual value therefore seems implausibly small. There is also the puzzling feature that the observed vacuum density is currently very similar to the mean matter density, a coincidence that would only apply at a particular cosmological epoch. However, as pointed out by Steven Weinberg (1987), the value of Λ is constrained anthropically because galaxies could not form (and hence life could not arise) if it were much larger than observed. So anthropic considerations in a multiverse with a wide spread of values of Λ in different domains mean that the value we observe will be much smaller than in almost any other domain. This is not the only explanation for the smallness of Λ but there is a reluctant acceptance that it may be the most plausible one.

One important question is whether our universe is typical or atypical within the ensemble. Advocates of the anthropic principle usually assume that life forms similar to our own will be possible in only a tiny subset of universes. More general life forms may be possible in a somewhat larger subset but life will not be possible everywhere. On the other hand, by invoking a Copernican perspective, Lee Smolin (1997) has argued that most of the universes should have properties like our own, so that we are typical. His own model proposes that the physical constants have evolved to their present values through a process akin to mutation and natural selection. The assumption is that whenever matter gets sufficiently compressed to undergo gravitational collapse into a black hole, it gives birth to another expanding universe in which the fundamental constants are slightly mutated. Our own universe may itself have been generated in this way (i.e. via gravitational collapse in some parent universe). Cosmological models with constants permitting the formation of black holes will therefore produce progeny (which may each produce further black holes since the constants are nearly the same), whereas those with the wrong constants will be infertile. A Darwinian process can take place, leading preferentially to universes that produce many black holes; in this case, life may be incidental.

But is the multiverse science?

AbstractDifferent multiverse proposalsThe anthropic principleBut is the multiverse scienceThree views on the anthropic principleReferences

Despite the growing popularity of the multiverse proposal, many physicists remain deeply uncomfortable with it. One should note that the proposal being made is that there is a really existing multiverse. Nobody has any problem imagining a hypothetical or potential ensemble of universes – cosmologists do that all the time. The question is whether such an ensemble exists in physical reality. The idea is highly speculative and, from both a cosmological and particle physics perspective, the reality of a multiverse is currently untestable – and it may always remain so. That is to say, astronomers may never be able to observe the other universes with their telescopes and particle physicists may never be able to detect the extra dimensions with their accelerators. So although physicists such as Leonard Susskind favour the multiverse because it does away with the need for a creator, other physicists regard the idea as just as metaphysical.

Martin Rees (2001) defends the notion that the multiverse is part of science by invoking what he calls the "slippery slope" argument (figure 4). Not everyone is convinced – indeed it is one of the bones of contention we discuss later – but it highlights the difficulty of delineating a clear boundary between scientific and non-scientific speculations. For defences of the multiverse idea, see Deutsch (1997), Lewis (2000), Rees (2001), Tegmark (2003), Susskind (2006) and Vilenkin (2006). For criticisms, see Gardner (2003), Ellis et al. (2004) and Smolin (2007).•

4 : This shows the transition between the observable and unobservable as a succession of horizons. There is the limit to how far our present-day telescopes can probe; the limit set by the distance light could have travelled since the Big Bang; there are galaxies which emerged from the same Big Bang as ours but which we will never see in an accelerating universe; finally there are galaxies emerging from separate Big Bangs. (M Rees)

[Normal View ]

Three views on the anthropic principle

AbstractDifferent multiverse proposalsThe anthropic principleBut is the multiverse scienceThree views on the anthropic principleReferences

"I do not feel like an alien in this universe. The more I examine the universe and examine the details of its architecture, the more evidence I find that the universe in some sense must have known we were coming."

Freeman Dyson

"The influence of the anthropic principle on contemporary cosmological models has been sterile. It has explained nothing and it has even had a negative influence. I would opt for rejecting the anthropic principle as needless clutter in the conceptual repertoire of science."

Heinz Pagels

"The anthropic principle is a middle ground between the primitive anthropocentrism of the pre-Copernican age and the equally unjustifiable antithesis that no place or time in the universe can be privileged in any way."

Brandon Carter


AbstractDifferent multiverse proposalsThe anthropic principleBut is the multiverse scienceThree views on the anthropic principleReferences
  • Barrow J D Tipler F 1986 The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (OUP, Oxford ).

  • Bousso R Polchinksi J 2000 JHEP 06 006. Links

  • Carr B J 2007 Universe or Multiverse? (CUP, Cambridge ).

  • Carr B J Rees M J 1979 Nature 278 605. Links

  • Carter B 1974 in Confrontation of Cosmological Models with Observations M S Longair (Reidel, Dordrecht ) 291.

  • Comte A 1842 Cours de Philosophie Positive (Bachelier, Paris ).

  • Davies P 2006 The Goldilocks Enigma: Why is the Universe Just Right for Life? (Allen Lane, London ).

  • Deutsch D 1997 The Fabric of Reality: The Science of Parallel Universes (Allen Lane, London ).

  • Dyson F 1979 Rev. Mod. Phys. 51 447. Links

  • Ellis G F R et al. 2004 MNRAS 347 921. Links

  • Ellis G F R 2006 in Handbook of Philosophy of Physics J Butterfield J Earman (Elsevier).

  • Everett H 1957 Rev. Mod. Phys. 29 454. Links

  • Gardner M 2003 Are Universes Thicker Than Blackberries? (Norton, New York ).

  • Guth A H 1981 Phys.Rev. D. 23 347. Links

  • Hartle J B Hawking S W 1983 Phys. Rev. D 28 2960. Links

  • Hilbert D 1964 in Philosophy of Mathematics P Benacerraf H Putnam 134.

  • Hogan C J 2000 Rev. Mod. Phys 72 1149. Links

  • Lewis D K 2000 On the Plurality of Worlds (Blackwell, Oxford ).

  • Linde A D 1986 Phys. Lett. B 175 395. Links

  • Linde A D 1990 Particle Physics and Inflationary Cosmology (Harwood Academic, Chur, Switzerland ).

  • Manson N A 2003 God and Design (Routledge, London ).

  • Pagels H R 1985 Perfect Symmetry (Simon & Schuster, New York ) 359.

  • Randall L Sundrum R 1999 Phys. Rev. Lett. 83 4690. Links

  • Rees M 2001 Our Cosmic Habitat (Princeton University Press, Princeton ).

  • Smolin L 1997 The Life of the Cosmos (OUP, Oxford ).

  • Smolin L 2007 The Trouble with Physics (Allen Lane, New York ).

  • Spergel D N et al. 2003 Astrophys. J. Supp. 148 175. Links

  • Steinhardt P J Turok N 2006 Science 312 11801183. Links

  • Susskind L 2005 The Cosmic Landscape (Little Brown and Co, New York ).

  • Tegmark M 2003 Scientific American 288 41. Links

  • Tolman R C 1934 Relativity, Thermodynamics and Cosmology (Clarendon Press, Oxford ).

  • Vilenkin A 1983 Phys. Rev. D. 27 2848. Links

  • Vilenkin A 2006 Many Worlds in One: The Search for Other Universes (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, New York ).

  • Weinberg S W 1987 Phys. Rev. Lett. 59 2607. Links

  • Weinberg S W 2007 in Universe or Multiverse? B J Carr (CUP, Cambridge ) 29.

  • Wilczek F 2007 in Universe or Multiverse? B J Carr (CUP, Cambridge ) 44.

  • Woit P 2006 Not Even Wrong Basic Books, New York .

Friday, 16 January 2009

2009-International Year of Astronomy

2009 marks 400 years since the invention of the telescope. IYA2009 is a global effort initiated by the International Astronomical Union and UNESCO to engage and inspire the people of the world by revealing some of the most recent discoveries and developments in astronomy.

You can watch the live video feed from the opening ceremony and opening talks by leading astrophysicists here.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

The Planet

The Planet is a Scandinavian production (2006) directed by Johan Söderberg which draws on the cinematographic techniques of nonverbal films such as Godfrey Reggio's Koyaanisqatsi, and Ron Fricke's Baraka. Unlike those films, which are purely visual, The Planet is riddled with a plethora of interviews from leading scientists and environmentalists offering their perspectives on the challenges humanity faces in the 21st century.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Understanding comics by Scott McCloud

Scott McCloud talks about his passion with comics.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Hotaru no Haka -Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

This is obligatory viewing for anyone who thinks that cartoons are only for children. Based on a real story, the movie could easily have been shot as a standard feature with real actors but the animations add an extra dimension and depth to the feelings that seep through the movie in a way that would be impossible to capture on camera. It would be like reading the lyrics to a song without listening to the music.

This is the story of the two Japanese children during the period of the Tokyo US-air raids when the allies were on the counter-offensive and it deals with the hardships they face. But there's so much more than that in the film. It is a testament to the horrors of war, to human insanity, fanaticism, cynicism, compassion, hope, spirituality. The last 20 minutes of the film deliver such an emotional punch that it is nearly impossible to hold back the tears. Once the film is finished, go back and watch the first 5 minutes of the introduction again since it is there that the story essentially concludes.

I highly recommend watching it with English subtitles and the original Japanese dialogue as the performances are simply amazing (especially Ayano Shiraishi as Setsuko). The English voiceovers are not bad but they cannot compare with the original - even if you don't speak Japanese.

The internet movie database rates this film 8.1/10 putting it in the top #200 films of all time. I gave it a 10/10.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Frank Herbert on Dune and metaphors (1984)

One of the last interviews of F. Herbert on the BBC. Frank (hardly recognisable without his trademark beard) was interviewed by Frank Bough on BBC1's "Breakfast Time" the week the film was about to open in the UK.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Frank Zappa on CNN's Crossfire 1986

On a different note, here's an amusing short clip of Frank Zappa discussing censorship on CNN.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

History Channel documentary on C. P. Cavafy

Friday, 9 January 2009

UN accuses Israel of war crimes

Israeli strikes continue. Western governments twiddle thumbs in desperation.
In other news, Barbie turns 50. Way to go Barbie!

Killing of 30 people in Gaza when army shelled house full of evacuees 'has all hallmarks of war crime', says high commissioner for human rights.

The body of a girl who was found in the rubble of her destroyed house following an Israeli air strike on a house in Zeitoun Photograph: Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images

Thursday, 8 January 2009


Famous quotes: The life and times of George W. Bush.

On himself

"They misunderestimated me."
Bentonville, Arkansas, 6 November, 2000

''I know what I believe. I will continue to articulate what I believe and what I believe - I believe what I believe is right."

Rome, 22 July, 2001

"There's an old saying in Tennessee - I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee - that says, fool me once, shame on... shame on you. Fool me - you can't get fooled again."
Nashville, Tennessee, 17 September, 2002

"There's no question that the minute I got elected, the storm clouds on the horizon were getting nearly directly overhead."
Washington DC, 11 May, 2001

"I want to thank my friend, Senator Bill Frist, for joining us today. He married a Texas girl, I want you to know. Karyn is with us. A West Texas girl, just like me."
Nashville, Tennessee, 27 May, 2004

Foreigh Affairs

"For a century and a half now, America and Japan have formed one of the great and enduring alliances of modern times."
Tokyo, 18 February, 2002

"The war on terror involves Saddam Hussein because of the nature of Saddam Hussein, the history of Saddam Hussein, and his willingness to terrorise himself."
Grand Rapids, Michigan, 29 January, 2003

"Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we."

Washington DC, 5 August, 2004

"I think war is a dangerous place."
Washington DC, 7 May, 2003

"The ambassador and the general were briefing me on the - the vast majority of Iraqis want to live in a peaceful, free world. And we will find these people and we will bring them to justice."
Washington DC, 27 October, 2003

"Free societies are hopeful societies. And free societies will be allies against these hateful few who have no conscience, who kill at the whim of a hat."
Washington DC, 17 September, 2004

"You know, one of the hardest parts of my job is to connect Iraq to the war on terror."
CBS News, Washington DC, 6 September, 2006


"Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?"
Florence, South Carolina, 11 January, 2000

"Reading is the basics for all learning."
Reston, Virginia, 28 March, 2000

"As governor of Texas, I have set high standards for our public schools, and I have met those standards."
CNN, 30 August, 2000

"You teach a child to read, and he or her will be able to pass a literacy test.''
Townsend, Tennessee, 21 February, 2001


"I understand small business growth. I was one."
New York Daily News, 19 February, 2000

"It's clearly a budget. It's got a lot of numbers in it."
Reuters, 5 May, 2000

"I do remain confident in Linda. She'll make a fine Labour Secretary. From what I've read in the press accounts, she's perfectly qualified."
Austin, Texas, 8 January, 2001

"First, let me make it very clear, poor people aren't necessarily killers. Just because you happen to be not rich doesn't mean you're willing to kill."
Washington DC, 19 May, 2003


"Will the highways on the internet become more few?"
Concord, New Hampshire, 29 January, 2000

"It would be a mistake for the United States Senate to allow any kind of human cloning to come out of that chamber."
Washington DC, 10 April, 2002

"Information is moving. You know, nightly news is one way, of course, but it's also moving through the blogosphere and through the Internets."
Washington DC, 2 May, 2007

On government

"I have a different vision of leadership. A leadership is someone who brings people together."
Bartlett, Tennessee, 18 August, 2000

"I'm the decider, and I decide what is best."
Washington DC, 18 April, 2006

"And truth of the matter is, a lot of reports in Washington are never read by anybody. To show you how important this one is, I read it, and [Tony Blair] read it."
On the publication of the Baker-Hamilton Report, Washington DC, 7 December, 2006

"All I can tell you is when the governor calls, I answer his phone."
San Diego, California, 25 October, 2007

"I'll be long gone before some smart person ever figures out what happened inside this Oval Office."
Washington DC, 12 May, 2008

And he got voted for. Twice.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Time lapse photography

túrána hott kurdís by hasta la otra méxico! from Till Credner on Vimeo.

Monday, 5 January 2009

New Eyes, New Skies

The next 40 years will see telescopes that far outstrip any ever seen before. Jeff Kanipe profiles two of them. (from Nature Vol 457 Jan 2009)

The armillary and astrolabe are now seldom seen outside museums and antique shops; but the telescope, which joined them in the observatories of early modern Europe 400 years ago, is still at the centre of the astronomical world. In optical precision, in the wavelengths that are used and in their sheer size, they have changed almost beyond recognition.

After two centuries in which they left no records other than the users’ sketches, and a century in which their visions were recordedon photographic plates, they have in the past decades become entirely electronic. And they are now stationed everywhere — oceans, deserts, mountain tops and all kinds of orbit. But the job is still the same: collecting and focusing whatever information the Universe sends our way.

Yet for all its glorious 400-year history, the astronomical telescope’s best days may still be to come. Telescopes currently in development show an unprecedented degree of technical ambition as they seek to provide near-definitive answers to questions that, a generation or two ago, it was hard to even imagine investigating.

To answer these questions, the telescopes profiled here will often work in complementary ways. The infrared capabilities of the James Webb Space Telescope and the radio acuity of the Square Kilometre Array will both be used to probe the Universe at the time of its own ‘first light’ — the birth of the first stars and galaxies. The radio array will map the large-scale structure of the Universe, elucidating the role in that structure of ‘dark matter’ and ‘dark energy’, as will studies of the faintest galaxies by the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope and European Extremely Large Telescope. That behemoth and the orbiting Webb will, in turn, complement each other in their attempts to characterize planets around other stars with unprecedented detail.

This quartet, for all its ambition and expense, does not exhaust the possibilities being explored and wished for. The Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array will soon revolutionize astronomy at its chosen wavelengths. Other projects are planned throughout the electromagnetic spectrum and beyond into the new realms of gravitational waves and neutrinos. These instruments are all being designed with specific scientific challenges in mind. But at the same time, all concerned hope devoutly to discover something as strange and unlooked for as Galileo’s mountains on the Moon — or spots on the face of the Sun.

The James Webb Space Telescope

Like the Hubble Space Telescope, to which it is in some ways the successor, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will be the orbital flagship of its generation. But whereas the Hubble sees mainly in the visible and ultraviolet, JWST is optimized for the infrared. That means it can see things hidden from the Hubble and ts like by dust, and peer into the high-redshift epoch just after the Big Bang at objects indiscernible at visible wavelengths — such as the first stars.

Astronomers at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, started their first plans for a follow-on instrument in 1989 — a year before the Hubble itself was launched. It should finally make it to the launch pad 24 years later. Although its design and cost have changed a few times over the past two decades (see Nature 440, 140–143; 2006), its main mission remains simple and visionary — to study unseen aspects of every phase of the history of the Universe. To do so, the telescope will make use of several innovative technologies, such as ultra-lightweight optical systems made from beryllium, extremely sensitive infrared detectors and a cryocooler that can maintain the mid-infrared detectors at a frosty 7 kelvin indefinitely.

The most striking of the new technologies, though, affects the very heart of the telescope.
JWST’s designers wanted a mirror that would have been too large to fit into the payload fairing of any rocket available. So they designed one in segments, a mirror that could be launched folded up and then deployed to its full 6.5-metre diameter once the telescope settles
into its final orbit, 1.5 million kilometres from Earth. That distance gives the telescope
much more sky to look at than the Hubble gets, and keeps it cooler, too. But it has its downside: as yet there is no way to get there to ix any problems so, unlike, the Hubble, JWST has to work perfectly from the start.

At the moment, says John Mather, Nobel laureate and senior project scientist for JWST, the telescope is designed to last for at least five years, but longer may be possible. It will carry ten years’ worth of fuel, and the presence of the cryocooler means that, unlike earlier infrared missions, its lifetime is not limited by a fixed supply of coolant. “If we are lucky and clever we hope to conserve fuel and perhaps run much longer,” says Mather. “But we can’t promise that.” What Mather thinks he can promise is discovery. “We do not know which came first, black holes or galaxies, and we do not know how it happens that there is a massive black hole at the centre of almost every massive galaxy. If there are any surprises about the early Universe, I am guessing that they will be in these areas.”

JWST is not just about deep space and distant epochs, though; it will also scrutinize the shrouded origins of objects closer to home — such as nascent solar systems, coalescing stars and star clusters amassing within dusty nebulae, says Matt Mountain, director of the Space Telescope Science Institute. But where the telescope will really stand out will be its ability to probe the very early Universe. “JWST is so sensitive,” says Mountain, “that we can take actual spectra of the very earliest objects you can just barely detect with Hubble.”

The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope

Sometimes telescopes see double not because of aberration, but because that is the way the Universe works. The bending of light by intervening masses — called gravitational lensing — means that some galaxies are seen by Earthly observers in more than one place. By adding together survey image after survey image, and so measuring things that no individual image would show, the designers of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) hope to find a significant fraction of the 10,000 or so such images in every square degree of sky. They also hope to open up a neglected dimension in astronomy: time. As well as adding together images of the same part of space taken again and again to reveal new depth, they will compare those images to spot any differences, turning up a wealth of supernovae, asteroids and Kuiper belt objects on the fringe of the Solar System that would otherwise be missed. The telescope’s proponents call it celestial cinematography.

The telescope will suck in celestial data by the terabyte every night, surveying almost
all of the sky visible from Cerro Pachón, Chile, every week. Such coverage is made possible by an 8.4-metre primary mirror, which will be ground so as to provide a field of view of 10 square degrees. That’s 49 times the size of the full Moon, and more than 300 times the field of view of the Gemini telescopes, which have mirrors of similar size optimized for staring in a single spot.

Over ten years, says Željko Ivezič, of the University of Washington in Seattle, the LSST system will look at everything in its field of view about 1,000 times. A massive amount of computing power will be used to correlate, compare and catalogue the torrent of data — and to make them all available on the Internet. Anyone with a computer — students, and amateur and professional astronomers — will be able to participate in the process of scientific discovery. Studies of objects that have been gravitationally lensed should reveal huge amounts about the structure of the Universe in general, and the distribution of dark matter and the effects of dark energy in particular. At the same time, though, LSST will mount a virtual space patrol, looking for potentially hazardous near-Earth asteroids. Astronomers already know where most of the big, killing-off-species-wholesale asteroids are.

LSST will be one of the tools that catalogues the vast majority of lesser asteroids still capable of smashing a city. But with a sensitivity to faint, transient events 1,000 times greater than ever previously achieved, the telescope will not restrict itself to the ‘vermin of the skies’ in Earth’s backyard. It will observe vast distant cataclysms, such as collisions between neutron stars, and is all but sure of discovering whole new categories of transient events.

The project is overseen by the LSST Corporation, comprising more than 100 scientists and two dozen laboratories, universities and institutes based mainly in the United States. Although the project’s design is still being worked out, the main mirror has already been cast. Astronomers with the corporation are hopeful that construction will begin as planned in 2011 and that first light will occur in 2015. In the subsequent ten-year survey, LSST will take stock of every object in the Universe, known, unknown and newly discovered. “For the first time in history,” says Ivezič, “we will catalogue and study more celestial objects than there are people on Earth.”