Category Archives: science

Spontaneous Treats

“Dogs come to quantum physics in a better position than most humans. They approach the world with fewer preconceptions than humans, and always expect the unexpected…If dog treats appeared out of empty space in the middle of a kitchen, a human would freak out, but a dog would take it in stride. indeed, for most dogs, the spontaneous generation of treats would be vindication — they always expect treats to appear at any moment for no obvious reason.”

— “How to Teach Physics to Your Dog” by Chad Orzel

Well, of course — if dogs ruled the world, bones would rain from the sky! And the world might be a better place..

Rock and Roll!

A major earthquake occurred at 3:40:40 PM (PDT) on Sunday, April 4, 2010.

The magnitude 7.2 event occurred 26 km (16 miles) SW of Guadalupe Victoria, Baja California, Mexico.

via Recent Earthquakes – Info for event ci14607652.

Nothing to get you living in the moment and aware of nature like an earthquake!

And sadly, the day only got worse and weirder from there — this happened on the next street over from our house… there were sheriffs’ cars all over and two helicopters overhead for hours. Our family was not affected, but we’re very sad for our neighborhood tonight.

Deputies kills Poway gunman suspected in 2 slayings

A Poway man thought to have killed two of his neighbors was shot to death by sheriff’s deputies Sunday night, authorities said.

The identities of the three, who lived on Olive Grove Drive west of Community Road, were not released.

Sheriff’s Lt. Dennis Brugos said two sheriff’s deputies responded within 2 minutes to a 6 p.m. call that shots had been fired. They confronted a man with a rifle or a shotgun, and he was fatally wounded at the scene, Brugos said.

Deputies later discovered that the man also was carrying a handgun, Brugos said.

A search of a house in the neighborhood revealed the bodies of a dead man and woman, Brugos said.

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Tutulemma: Solar Eclipse Analemma

Credit & Copyright: Cenk E. Tezel and Tunç Tezel (TWAN)

Explanation: If you went outside at exactly the same time every day and took a picture that included the Sun, how would the Sun appear to move? With great planning and effort, such a series of images can be taken. The figure-8 path the Sun follows over the course of a year is called an analemma. This coming Tuesday, the Winter Solstice day in Earth's northern hemisphere, the Sun will be at the bottom of the analemma. Analemmas created from different latitudes would appear at least slightly different, as well as analemmas created at a different time each day. With even greater planning and effort, the series can include a total eclipse of the Sun as one of the images. Pictured is such a total solar eclipse analemma or Tutulemma – a term coined by the photographers based on the Turkish word for eclipse. The composite image sequence was recorded from Turkey starting in 2005. The base image for the sequence is from the total phase of a solar eclipse as viewed from Side, Turkey on 2006 March 29. Venus was also visible during totality, toward the lower right.

via Astronomy Picture of the Day.

We live on such an amazing planet! And such a beautiful one… and in such a beautiful universe!

Spiraling Up

DNA, Robert Finkbeiner

Three subtle energy currents:
Twin helixes around a jade pillar.
This glowing presence
Is the force of life itself.

Deep in meditation, it is possible to become aware of the life-force itself. You can see it if you learn how to look within. To describe it as electricity, or power, or light, or consciousness is all somewhat correct. But such descriptions are inadequate. You have to see it for yourself. You have to feel it for yourself. You have to know it for yourself.

To be in its presence is like being in front of something primeval, basic, mysterious, shamanistic, and profound. To be in its presence makes all references mute and all senses slack, leaving only deep awe. One is drawn to it in utter fascination. It is the mighty flame to our moth-like consciousness.

This column of energy that coils around itself holds all the stages of our growth. It is our soul; it is the force that animates us and gives us awareness. If you want to engage your life completely, it is essential for you to come to terms with this inner power. Once you harmonize with it you can blend with the dynamics of being human.

Deng Ming Tao, 365 Tao

“Oh soul,
you worry too much.
You have seen your own strength.
You have seen your own beauty.
You have seen your golden wings.
Of anything less,
why do you worry?
You are in truth
the soul, of the soul, of the soul.”

Jalal ad-Din Rumi

A helix, sometimes also called a coil, is a curve for which the tangent makes a constant angle with a fixed line. The shortest path between two points on a cylinder (one not directly above the other) is a fractional turn of a helix, as can be seen by cutting the cylinder along one of its sides, flattening it out, and noting that a straight line connecting the points becomes helical upon re-wrapping (Steinhaus 1999, p. 229). It is for this reason that squirrels chasing one another up and around tree trunks follow helical paths. — Eric Weisstein, Mathworld

I think the extraordinary success of the double helix sprang largely from the fact that it’s such a simple geometric shape. The helix struck a responsive chord in so many people because it suggested that the secret of life is something you can look at. Looking at it, you see properties which otherwise would have been totally incoherent if you didn’t have a geometric shape to hang it on. –Benoit Mandlebrot

“What is art,
But life upon the larger scale, the higher,
When, graduating up in a spiral line
Of still expanding and ascending gyres,
It pushes toward the intense significance
Of all things, hungry for the Infinite?
Art’s life, — and where we live, we suffer and toil.”
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

People often talk about their spiritual growth as a spiral. Karen Armstrong’s recent autobiography is called “The Spiral Staircase“. Very few people find their spirituality is a straightforward process, if they are determined to really find something more than what western society gives us as religion, or what Eastern mysticism gives us as chants and mantras.

For me, the spiritual growth has come in strange ways and from strange places, and I think that is how authentic spiritual growth progresses, from within, as we turn through the limits of our own being and try to become more. We find ourselves turning again and again within the limited space of ourselves, and finally realize that there is an enormous amount of space outside of ourselves. We then create mobius strips and Klein bottles, trying to bring this outside space within ourselves, an impossible task at first. We see the beautiful poetry of Rumi as he struggles with spirituality, the magnificent stories and tales of mythology, religion, and literature, all trying to move in these same paths.

And then one day, a small hummingbird sits in front of your nose, flapping its wings, and looks at you curiously, or you gaze into a flower and finally really see it, or someone says something that catches your ear and your mind at just the right moment, or a quiet meditation brings you to the place within yourself that just knows, simply knows, and you smile. You get it. You get that Mona Lisa smile on your face and just — become yourself.

And it happens over and over. We find ourselves, we lose ourselves, we find ourselves again, at another place on the spiral. The helixes divide, and come back together. And life goes on.

Part-time crusader

“Sentiment without action…is the ruin of the soul” — Edward Abbey

“Do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am — a reluctant enthusiast, a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here.

So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, encounter the grizz, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for awhile and contemplate the precious stillness, that lovely, mysterious and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies — You will outlive the bastards.” — Edward Abbey

“Nature is self-organizing and resilient but, like any problem solver, needs options — lots and lots of players, from microbes to whales. The more potential options are available, the more likely new relationships can emerge to succeed or men those that have been disrupted and broken, and the more resilient a stressed ecosystem is likely to be.”

“Aldo Leopold…observed that the key to healing broken habitats was to save as many of the parts as possible. The processes that create and shape diversity — fires and floods, for example — are also important. An ecosystem that is shaped by occasional fires must be big enough to replace species that are lost to fires where they occur, or its diversity is vulnerable and temporary, perched on the edge of inevitable decline.” –Chip Ward, “Hope’s Horizon”

It's Darwin's 200th Birthday!


No, not my Darwin, but the one he is named for, Charles Darwin:

MY fellow primates, 200 years ago today, Charles Darwin was born. Please join me in wishing him happy birthday!

He practiced a kind of ideal, dream-like science. He examined the minutiae of nature — shells of barnacles, pistils of flowers — but worked on grand themes. He corresponded with lofty men of learning, but also with farmers and pigeon breeders. He observed, questioned, experimented, constantly testing his ideas.

Could plants from the mainland colonize a newly formed island? If so, they would need a way to get there. Could they survive in the ocean? To find out, he immersed seeds in salt water for weeks, then planted them to see how many could sprout. He reported, for example, that “an asparagus plant with ripe berries floated for 23 days, when dried it floated for 85 days, and the seeds afterwards germinated.” The Atlantic current moved at 33 nautical miles a day; he figured that would take a seed more than 1,300 miles in 42 days. Yes, seeds could travel by sea.

He published important work on subjects as diverse as the biology of carnivorous plants, barnacles, earthworms and the formation of coral reefs. He wrote a travelogue, “The Voyage of the Beagle,” that was an immediate best seller and remains a classic of its kind. And as if that was not enough, he discovered two major forces in evolution — natural selection and sexual selection — and wrote three radical scientific masterpieces, “On the Origin of Species” (1859), “The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex” (1871) and “The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals” (1872).

The “Origin,” of course, is what he is best known for. This volume, colossal in scope yet minutely detailed, laid the foundations of modern biology. Here, Darwin presented extensive and compelling evidence that all living beings — including humans — have evolved from a common ancestor, and that natural selection is the chief force driving evolutionary change. Sexual selection, he argued, was an additional force, responsible for spectacular features like the tail feathers of peacocks that are useless for (or even detrimental to) survival but essential for seduction.

Before the “Origin,” similarities and differences between species were mere curiosities; questions as to why a certain plant is succulent like a cactus or deciduous like a maple could be answered only, “Because.” Biology itself was nothing more than a vast exercise in catalog and description. After the “Origin,” all organisms became connected, part of the same, profoundly ancient, family tree. Similarities and differences became comprehensible and explicable. In short, Darwin gave us a framework for asking questions about the natural world, and about ourselves.


You can find out more about Darwin Day here or here. Or do a google blog search on Darwin Day for lots of posts! The google logo today celebrates Darwin too, if you go to the main page.

My Darwin is named after Charles Darwin because the first couple of weeks he was here, he ate most of the plants in my yard. I figured he had to be a botanist. He’s also done pet education work with all kinds of animals, and was always just calmly and quietly fascinated with rats, mice, lizards, chicks, turtles, and all the other animals we worked with. So he’s just a naturalist at heart.