Friday, September 19, 2014
Apr 2014 -Dale Alan Bryant
It is April 29, 3012 N. E. (New Era) – exactly 1,000 years to the day later than you had thought. Since that time, just one millennium ago, due to the political uprisings as a result of the Great Final War, which began on the 21st of December 2012, something terribly important has happened; in fact, something frighteningly important...
The Great Final War had caused a separation—a rift in Mankind. Most of its numbers had been unable to reproduce. It was once believed that the three sub-species of humans would eventually intermingle and interbreed to the point of becoming one, homogeneous sub-species or race. But after the war, the races grew slowly and farther apart mentally, spiritually and now physically – a sure sign of the coming speciation. And on this day, one of those races has reached a new dawn - it has become so very different in every way from the others, that it has become a new species in its own right; a new, separate species almost wholly unable to breed with the remainder of its kind...
On another day in pre-history, this world experienced a similar transformation that would forever change its face – the day Australopithecus afarensis (southern ape of the Afar region) became Homo habilis – “Handy Man” – the first true human. That day will forever be remembered as “The Dawn of Man”. But on this day, April 29, 3012 N. E., the speciation of the human race was nearly complete. Man had become a regular traveler to other, nearby worlds, after almost a thousand years of practice in space travel within the solar system.
A new dawn has begun for Homo sapiens sapiens (Man, the wise, the wise) - the dawn of someone else: he is Homo sapiens cosmosis (Man, the wise, the star dweller).
Let the remaining races of men - and their savage ways - come to extinction. Let this new creature – this new inhabitant of planet Earth, prosper and spread to the stars. May he never repeat the mistakes of his ancestors in developing the terrible weaponry of war. Let him be a gentle, reasoning creature who can find peace with his fellows, and for the first time, Peace on Earth – and in the galaxies beyond…
The Dawn of Man
2013 Dale Bryant
If you have not seen the opening, moving, 8-minute scene, titled, "The Dawn of Man", in the movie, "2001: A Space Odyssey", I would implore any thinking person to watch it with thoughtfulness. The scenario is, of course, fictional in that a monolith has been planted at Olduvai Gorge in the Serengeti Plains of Africa, some 3 million years ago, by an extraterrestrial race which somehow enlightens the local inhabitants, Australopithecus afarensis (southern ape of the Afar region) for the first time to tool usage, thereby transforming, at dawn on this particular day, one member of the tribe to Homo habilis - the first Man - Man the toolmaker.
The help from extraterrestrials is, of course, unnecessary; the important thing about this clip is that A. afarensis, at any rate, became H. habilis. I have to admit to both clapping aloud and weeping every time I see it. See it for yourself. Even if you don't subscribe to evolution by means of Natural Selection, it is important for any thoughtful person to watch. The accompanying musical score, "Also Sprach Zarathustra", composed by Richard Strauss, is, by itself, worth the experience.
2013 Dale Alan Bryant
It is felt by many anthropologists, astronomers, chemists, geneticists and zoologists that life on this planet didn't actually originate here; the early Earth wasn't conducive, chemically, to conditions to support life. This thinking has even helped to spawn a relatively new multidisciplinary science (in which I was recently certified), known as Astrobiology, or, the study of the possibilities of life of extraterrestrial origin and how it might relate to Earth-based life forms.
On the early Earth, there wasn't enough oxygen present in the atmosphere to sustain organic compounds or support anything like the multicellular, known-earthly forms of life; also, there was too much water and not enough dry land (today, 75% of the globe is covered by ocean; four-billion years ago, only about 3% of the Earth was terra firma). However, conditions on Mars, our second-nearest planetary neighbor after Venus, were ideal for the necessary organic compounds to have formed. It is now known that large quantities (on the order of ‘oceans’) of liquid water once flowed in ancient Martian rivers. The remaining, now-dried riverbeds have been documented, both photographically by orbital laboratories and chemically by analysis by several roving laboratories. These compounds would have traveled to Earth via the meteoroidal material produced by the ejecta from both asteroid impacts and volcanic eruptions on the Martian surface. Having quickly and easily achieved escape velocity, much of this material would have eventually assumed an orbit around the Earth and eventually impacted the surface. From there, evolutionary processes, e.g., natural selection, would have driven and shaped them to their present, earthly configurations.
Hard as this scenario may be to imagine, the proof that the solar system shares its materials in this way is in the many confirmed fragments of the Martian crust in the form of meteorites that have been found on Earth, particularly lying atop the Antarctic ice-sheet as well as confirmed fragments from the asteroid Vesta and the Moon (I've seen these for myself), that were transported here by the same processes. Accordingly, it shouldn’t be any more difficult to imagine life having emerged elsewhere than it is to imagine it having emerged here on Earth.
This sharing of materials in the solar system is due to repeated bombardment and the overlapping gravitational fields of its many components, e.g., planets, moons, comets, asteroids, etc. In the case of comets, their materials are primordial, or, original, left over from the very formation of the Solar system. Moreover, the chemical composition of early Mars. as mentioned, has been calculated back with great accuracy, thanks mainly to JPL’s Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity) rover. The chemical signature of each body in the solar system is unique to that particular body (as can be determined even by remote analysis by spectroscope) and its presence here on Earth sticks out like a sore thumb.
But Mars and Earth were formed at the same time; why should they be so different? Simply put, Mars is geologically older than Earth. Not in that Earth and Mars have different times of origin, but in that Mars is one-third the mass of the Earth and this is the cause of many geological differences between the two. Lower mass means a more rapidly cooling interior and therefore declining geologic activity (volcanism), essential for life on Earth. Mars would have lost most of its atmosphere earlier due to its weaker gravity, along with its, at one time plentiful, stores of liquid water because a certain atmospheric pressure is necessary to sustain H2O in the liquid state (the average atmospheric pressure on Earth is 15lbs./p.s.i.; on Mars it is 1.5lbs./p.s.i.). However, interestingly, liquid H2O can and does, exist on the red planet for brief periods- In essence, Mars has aged more rapidly than Earth – but that doesn’t mean that it didn’t thrive at one time. Ancient Mars had a robust atmosphere containing more oxygen than Earth currently does. Just like Earth, Mars’ regolith (rocky surface debris) is a record of its past. Mars did have an atmosphere supporting lots of liquid water and these two things are known to support Earth life. In fact, within its first 45-days of operation, the Curiosity rover had already completed its primary mission of determining whether Mars once had all the necessary conditions to support life. Curiosity confirmed this. It would not be too surprising if, one day, Martian fossils are found buried beneath its surface; it is possible that Mars was once home to a civilization of some kind.
Whether Mars is the origin of life here on Earth, or whether it once supported life of its own – or both – seems certain; so, like strangers in a strange land - we may all be Martians! Whether or not we will one day find intelligent life on Earth remains, as yet, to be seen...
Ever wonder why doctors are so notorious for their atrocious handwriting? The reason is two-fold. Firstly, when it comes to anything written out long hand, they’re in a hurry. Secondly, prescriptions are written out partly in English and partly in Latin.
Among probably too many other things, I was a P.A. (physician’s assistant) in the Army and have written out lots of scripts myself. Let’s take a typical doctor’s prescription for pain medicine in pill form and break it down; it reads:
Drug Name 5mg
Sig: T-TT tabs po q 4-6° prn pain
On the first line below the “Rx” (Latin for “Recipe”) symbol, “Drug Name” is the brand or generic name of the drug, “5mg” is the amount of the active ingredient in milligrams.
On the second line, “Sig:” is the abbreviation for “signature”, meaning, “Take as follows”, “T-TT” is the dosage, meaning “one-two”, usually written “tabs” meaning tablets (“caps” for capsules), “po” is Latin for “per os” meaning “by mouth”, “q” is Latin for “every”, “4-6°” means “four to six hours” using the degree symbol for “hours”, “prn” is the Latin “pro re nata”, meaning “as needed” and “pain” of course means “for pain”.
On the third line, “Disp.” means “dispense” and “#15” means fifteen tablets.
The pharmacist filling the prescription is familiar with which terms and symbols should appear where and in what sequence and doesn’t really need them to be perfectly legible. Hmmm...now if we could only improve the doc’s bedside manner…
2012 -Dale Bryant
Apr 2008 by Dale Bryant
Whenever I visit an anthropology exhibit in a museum - chills run up and down my spine, standing there - frightened to the core - face to face with the upright skeletal remains of Homo erectus or a Neanderthal man, a man who occupied his days hunting great animals and building shelters out of some available natural material - a man who had not yet heard of metal; a father who loved his children; who would have sent them to college, had there been such a place; a man who would have enjoyed watching reruns of "The Honeymooners" or "Star Trek" - a man, in fact who still thought that the stars in the sky were his dead ancestors...
or, "The 'Ever-so-Cocksure' (but incomplete and very short) List of Impossible Things"
Nov 2013 -Dale Alan Bryant
Writing science can be fun (honest!)--but there are times when it can be a royal pain in the neck. At any rate, I only write about topics I don't have to research--things I am already familiar with. There are two reasons for this; the first, is that I'm inherently lazy so I don't want to bother with all the fuss of fact--checking. The second is that, I don't feel it would be fair to the reader if the author he or she is reading really doesn't know what he's talking about. I would like things to be this way, always.
In reality, I end up checking dates anyway and at least some facts. This is especially true for astronomy - and its related sciences: astrophysics, astrobiology, radio astronomy, etc. Those sciences are moving ahead so fast that things are subject to change daily as refinements are made.
Moreover, there is one aspect of writing that I won't give myself a break on and that's proper punctuation. There is almost no good reason for punctuation that is misleading--and no excuse whatsoever for poor punctuation. A sentence is a thought. Thoughts are "ideas" with very specific meaning and feeling; here's a really good example: "A woman without her man is nothing." Now read it again: "A woman, without her man, is nothing." Now one more time: "A woman: without her, man is nothing." See the difference just a colon, comma and some italics can make? Three entirely different meanings. The first and last examples are 180 degrees from each other.
Now, I did mention that there was almost no good reason for improper punctuation, meaning that there are times when my sentences are seemingly unnecessarily too long or that I could have been more efficient by cutting a word or two here or there or by at least adding a few commas so that the reader can catch her breath now and then... whew!... see what I mean?... ahh, but I have even other reasons for doing this (you might not like 'em, but I have 'em!)
Like times when I want the reader to spend a little longer assimilating a point, so I'll not end the sentence, just yet, with a period, but, rather extend it with commas, semi--colons or dashes instead. Other times, I need the reader to only briefly link two or three ideas so that she can see a relationship before continuing any further. Yet even other times, a scientific idea can be a real challenge to try to explain in plain English. It can be very satisfying to break some idea down until it can't be reduced any further, but the sentence that explains it might run on a bit. This can't be helped; it's either that or start throwing in some rather obscure or vague math expressions, that may - or may not - get the point across faster, or more thoroughly. Consequently, many of my sentences become, perhaps, a bit complex--but, hopefully, not too tedious.
So, I've got all kinds of excuses for my writing but, mainly, I'd like to see the reader to get some enjoyment out of it and, maybe, at the same time, learn something previously unfamiliar along the way -- and with that, I offer you the following...
Last night, I was thinking about the significance of cosmic distances and the time it can take to cross them (alright, alright, so my social life is a bit dull!) Anyway, it is one thing to know that the distance to the nearest star - other than the sun - (yes, it is a star--a type 'G2 yellow dwarf'), is 4.2 light-years, and with the name Proxima Centauri, one of three stars in the triple-star system Alpha Centauri--by the way, our sun's proper name is Sol (pronounced "soul"). It is quite another thing to realize that, at 26,000mph, the fastest speed yet attained by man, via a Saturn-V booster just before trans-lunar insertion, it would take 116,000 years to get there. That equates to 1,560 lifetimes--LIFETIMES--(assuming a lifetime to be that of the average American male, at 76 years). That is an absurdly long time, considering that you and I haven't even experienced one lifetime yet (nothing implied here). And 26,000mph is no stroll in the park either; that breaks down to 433 miles per minute, or, 7 miles per second--roughly the distance from here to the geographic center of Martha's Vineyard--in the time it takes you to count from one to two!
You might wonder how man can possibly tolerate traveling at such speeds. Well, speed may be "of the essence", as the saying goes (or does it?) but it is of no consequence, whatsoever. You see, the concept of "speed" is relative--it only exists comparatively; in the case of the traveler(s) in the Saturn-V booster, the traveler's measured speed of 26,000mph is that speed as determined by--and relative to--a stationary observer on Earth. But, to two astronauts seated side-by-side, traveling on the same rocket, each one sees the other as being perfectly stationary. Can both cases be true? Indeed, BOTH are true. This is what Albert Einstein showed (and had the proof to back it up) in his theories of Relativity (there were two: Special Relativity (1905) and General Relativity (1915). There is no, one, absolute or privileged reference point anywhere in the physical universe. During an event, taking place anywhere, its properties can only be determined by - and again are relative to - some other event in some other place (an event is defined as any given incident or experience where a given interval (time) and its given position in space (location) intersect). Law--enforcement agencies are very much aware of the inconsistencies in the reported times and locations of incidents by different persons as witnessed from different positions. Only in rare cases do any two witnesses agree on all aspects of an event witnessed by both. Though the reasons for any disagreement are as much psychological, as they are physical, it is still Relativity at work--differing opinions caused by differing perspectives, values, etc., real or imagined.
To a statistician here on Earth, that Saturn-V booster and its two passengers is traveling very, very fast. But to a photon (a particle of light that can only travel at the speed of light - never faster or slower - or 186,282.3976 miles per second, in vacuum), that same rocket and its passengers is traveling at a dreadfully slow 0.000037% of the speed of light--crawling along! Well, that's the reason human beings can tolerate such a velocity--or any other velocity, for that matter. The problem for any being built of flesh and bones is 'acceleration'. The average man can only withstand 8 or 9 g's of acceleration (one 'g' is the force of one Earth gravity) for periods of just a few seconds, before losing consciousness. Acceleration is different from velocity. An acceleration is a change--whether an increase or decrease--in speed, whereas, velocity is a measure of constant and unvarying speed. For these same reasons, nothing can ever be measured as being absolutely stationary (Stationary?--compared to what?) One thing is stationary only as can be compared to some other thing - that believes it is moving. When you walk down the sidewalk, is it you or is it the Earth rolling from under your feet that is doing the "moving"? Believe it or not--and this is what gives Relativity its notoriety for being "counter-intuitive"--there is no way of determining that one is moving and the other is not and, in reality, it isn't one way or the other. Try to prove otherwise--it cannot be done (Einstein went on to prove this via some pretty heavy-duty equations you'd rather not mess with, take my word for it.)
And the quaint, little notion that "all things are possible" is just that--a quaint, little notion; it is impossible to square the circle--and always will be. No matter how hard anyone tries to do it, it will never be done. Interestingly, there are things that, while inherently impossible, are still able to be imagined, even visualized--while still others cannot be. Here are a few examples that include both (don't bother trying to 'prove' these situations otherwise; it's already been tried. If, however, you should succeed in doing just that--NOTIFY ME IMMEDIATELY!!!):
*Achieving temperatures colder than 'absolute zero'
*Going slower than 'stop'
*Trying to imagine a 'new' primary color
*Imagining a time longer ago than '15 billion years'
and just to break up the monotony –
*Folding any piece of paper in half more than seven times (go ahead and try it!)
Of these three interesting--but impossible--scenarios, the first two are closely related. The temperature of an object is determined by its molecular motion. All parts of a molecule vibrate (atoms and their constituent parts, e.g., electrons, neutrons, protons, etc.) All molecules exhibit this atomic motion, known as "Brownian" motion. What is Brownian motion? You just had to ask...
Refusing to open a new can of worms here, I'll just give you the universally accepted answer--Brownian motion is the residual kinetic energy (heat), or, shock left over from the Big Bang event and the reason that the entire observable, measurable universe stands at 3.5 degrees Kelvin above 'absolute zero'. O.K. - back to the temperature-vibration relationship. Temperature is an artifact and measure of this Brownian motion--though it might make more sense to think of it as being the other way around, temperature affecting speed (go ahead, I'll let you off the hook for the moment.) Anyway, the faster the motion or vibration of a molecule--from whatever has caused a change--let's not go there--the higher the temperature of the molecule; the slower the motion, the lower the temperature. At the temperature known as absolute zero, all molecular motion has ceased and the object has reached -459F (-273K Kelvin). You couldn't get that temperature one little degree colder--even if you packed freezers inside of freezers inside of other, still bigger freezers. Even if you used 'smoke and mirror' technology, it just wouldn't work (although, I have a friend whom I believe could pull it off if he really wanted to!) In other words, there is no such thing as "-460F"--because there is no such thing as going slower than 'stop'. Our first and second impossible scenarios are, very neatly, mutually exclusive.
Interestingly enough, there doesn't seem to be a similar rule that "officially" applies at the other end of the thermometer. At least, I'm not aware of there ever having been any kind of discussion on a condition that would prohibit further increase in temperature from some "universal maximum". But, it seems to me that a sensible place to start would be the "speed of light limitation" as it applies to the speed of vibration of elementary particles as just discussed. Absolute zero is the point where maximum entropy in a system is reached; i.e., all order in the system concerned has disintegrated and only chaos exists in the system. I guess the question from here would be, "What is the point of "minimum" entropy called and what goes on there?..." Well, I haven't got the foggiest notion; this in an area I am totally unfamiliar with so I don't know the first thing about it and could only speculate--time to crack a few books!...
The solution to the third scenario is simple enough; the reason you can't imagine a 'new' primary color is because there isn't one! All colors are some combination of red, yellow and blue. Black and white aren't colors per se; white is the presence of all colors and black is the absence of all colors. In between is gray, which is a measure of 'luminance'. Color is a measure of 'hue'.
The next to last entry on our "ever-so-cock-sure" (but incomplete and very short) list of impossible things: 'A time longer ago than 15 billion years'. Put another way, there is no such thing as something being older than 14.5 billion years old. There is excellent evidence to support this but it has yet to be proven. The reason for the statement however, is because everything, it is believed--including 'time' itself--came into being 14.5 billion years ago. Before that--which there is no such thing as, remember--no dimensions whatsoever existed, including the fourth dimension, 'time' (the other three being, of course, height, width and depth.)
Last, but not least (perhaps even foremost), no piece of paper – however long or thin (try it, even with toilet paper!) can be folded in half more than seven times.
Some things (like our universe – and the toilet paper) must be allowed to be unintelligible--and probably best left that way. Is truth really stranger than fiction?--you bet!
MAR 2014 -Dale Alan Bryant
Once you set out to prove something, you must stay within the known laws of physics. Science is the self-correcting tool of observation and experimentation. If you make allowances for anything beyond known physical laws, you are in the realm of speculation; any product of this realm, can be neither observed for evidence of existence (observation), used for comparison with some known object (experimentation), nor demonstrated, nor proven - especially since you won’t even be able to prove the science behind it. And here's someth, would