Archive for the ‘cosmos’ tag
Slate’s Phil Plait reflects on this stunning photo and the importance of taking the time to notice the soaring majesty that’s all around us:
This photo was taken by Kevin Ford, an astronaut on board the International Space Station. On Dec. 21, looking out a window, he took this picture of an approaching Russian Soyuz capsule containing three more astronauts: the crew of Expedition 35, which will take over command of the ISS for the next few months.
You can see the capsule almost swallowed by the canvas of black around it. Below, seemingly close in the picture but still hundreds of kilometers away, is the gentle blue curve of our planet’s horizon. And above, more distant by far, the half-lit face of the Moon. In this short exposure no stars can be seen; it’s just our planet, its one natural satellite, and one of many human-created satellites. The Moon above has no one on it; just artifacts left by a short visit decades ago and an uncrewed handful since. The Earth below is teeming with people, all living under that narrow blue arc of air. And in between, three more humans guided by the hand of Newton’s laws, headed for an outpost in space.
If there’s a better metaphor for the end of a year and the beginning of another, I’m not sure I know it. Humans are explorers. We’re a curious bunch, and we love to stick our heads into places unknown, moving from one thing to the next, learning about everything around us.
There’s a lot of everything to know. And we cannot possibly understand it with our eyes closed, our minds narrowed, our heads tilted down.
So look up! Because when we do, even for a moment, our view increases from here to infinity.
If you do one thing this upcoming year, just look up.
Around and around:
Here is an article on the what makes the contemporary church “experience” so attractive to many people, at least the ones who can get past the ugly doctrines of original sin, blood sacrifice and the well, looming separation of the wheat from the chaff.
The pop and/or rock music, combined with sensory stimulation on projectors, uplifted hands and closed eyes all contribute to the impression that something more than just a meeting of like-minded individuals is taking place. To many, of course, the “feelings” or perceptions or thoughts that one gets while participating in these services comes from none other than the Holy Spirit, who, quite conveniently, is much less conspicuous on every other day of the week … ahh … until the believer gets into his car and once again turns on Steven Curtis Chapman, Chris Tomlin or some other contemporary singer. I, of course, was witness to this phenomenon for years and couldn’t grasp as a believer why, whenever I left church, I could never quite capture the same experience on my own until I learned that there was a very good reason for that.
Here is the classic, “Something-exists-rather-than-nothing, so-it-must-be-God” argument:
No wonder comments were disabled.
There is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn. — Albert Camus, “The Myth of Sisyphus”
Thanks to ahimsamaven for the nod back to my site on her post, Dear Camus: Fuck You. Since you don’t find too many bloggers talking about Camus and French existentialism these days, I couldn’t resist adding a couple words in response. In the post, she explores absurdism and the meaning of life. She resisted the urge ascribe for herself utter meaningless with this memorable illustration:
I (and I think most of humanity) have this space inside that I call “the absurdist pit”. It is that space where certainty bleeds into pure WTF’ery and nonsense becomes that thing that life answers to despite ones best intentions. I honestly believe that partnering with another human being is steeped in absurdist philosophy; in fact I have the urge to say that ALL life is steeped in the absurd but to do so would indicate that I believe that there is no inherent value or meaning in life and I simply cannot do that. If I did I would start going all Toilets in Mumbai and end up with a gun and a bottle of whiskey playing roulette on a mountain top cursing Camus and Kierkegaard.
As I briefly said in a reply to her post, what keeps me, personally, from cursing the likes of Camus and Kierkegaard and putting an end to the futility is the fulfillment that I find in giving to charity and learning, in particular. People carve out meaning for themselves in other areas, of course, whether it be in love, the arts, teaching, etc. While Camus begins “The Myth of Sisyphus” with this:
There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.
he ends by leaving Sisyphus at the bottom of the mountain, ever relegated to pushing the rock up the hill, having it roll back down, pushing it back up and repeating the task for the rest of his life. Yet, even in that seeming torment, Camus imagines Sisyphus as happy because, as he surmises the situation, the satisfaction comes in the struggle itself:
I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart (italics mine). One must imagine Sisyphus happy.
So, even in moments of intense stress or burdens, one can carve out meaning in life on a personal level, even though there may be no ultimate meaning (no gods, no Big Brother, etc.). The point that I made in replying to ahimsamaven’s post was that even if life has no ultimate meaning, even if we must forever stare down into the abyss, so what? Just live. As Camus worded it in the above essay:
The preceding merely defines a way of thinking. But the point is to live.
I … stepped out of a supernova. And so did you.
One of the most well done videos on all of YouTube. Stunning.
Via the Daily Mail in the U.K.:
A huge ‘bridge’ of invisible ‘dark matter’ has been detected holding two galaxy clusters, Abell 223 and Abell 222, together.
The filaments are thought to be a ‘glue’ that holds huge galaxy clusters together, but dark matter is extremely difficult to detect, as it does not emit any radiation.
Instead, the ‘bridge’ was detected by the gravitational ripples it caused in space, distorting the light from nearby stars as it arrived on Earth.
‘Dark matter’ is a theoretical – and controversial – substance which is undetectable by telescopes on earth, but thought by some scientists to account for up to 98% of the mass of the whole universe.
Dark matter is believed to act as a glue that binds galaxies together. Without it, the universe would not exist in its present form.
‘This is the first time a dark matter filament has been convincingly detected from its gravitational lensing effect,’ said astronomer Jörg Dietrich of the University Observatory Munich, in Germany in an interview with Space.com.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2169163/Cosmic-web-mysterious-dark-matter-detected-holding-galaxy-clusters-together.html#ixzz20B8vwNNv
[Photo caption: The filament is made of dark matter, a mysterious substance thought to make up up to 98% of the universe, but which is extremely difficult to detect.]
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2169163/Cosmic-web-mysterious-dark-matter-detected-holding-galaxy-clusters-together.html#ixzz20BB4YObU]
Listening to 12 minutes of Neil deGrasse Tyson on a Sunday morning is at once more enlightening and more inspiring than anything I ever heard under the steeple:
Here’s how our composition breaks down compared with the rest of the universe:
Top five most populous elements in human beings (helium inert):
Top five most populous elements in the cosmos:
A clever yet wholly fallacious bit of ignorant rubbish has been making the rounds in pro-life circles lately about the definition of “life,” and it goes like this:
If a single living cell was found on a distant planet, scientists would exclaim that we have found life elsewhere in the universe. So why is a single living cell found in the womb of a pregnant woman not considered life?
The answer is simple, and I’ve addressed this before. The two types of “life” here are not comparable in any way, and frankly, to attempt such rhetorical acrobatics is just silly.
The zygote, or the single cell that eventually develops into a human is not yet a human being. One step further into the developmental process, the zygote forms into a slightly more complex morula, which then develops into a clump of undifferentiated cells called a blastocyst.
The blastocyst does not contain any of the genetic information that later develops into a fetus; it is merely a group of about 70-100 undifferentiated cells, no more no less. So, not even the blastocyst, which obviously contains more cells than the zygote, can properly be called “human” because it contains none of the molecular information that later defines our physical and genetic makeup. The single-celled zygote, then, while it is “living” in the sense that all single-celled organisms are alive, is too premature to be called human in any sense whatsoever.
This is why argument against stem cell research are so contemptible that it does grave injustice to the millions of actual human beings living and suffering with diseases that could potentially be cured from research using blastocysts.
Here is a good explanation:
Yes, once upon a time we were blastocysts, too. Nothing more than a little clump of cells, each of them a snippet of DNA surrounded by cytoplasm. But that DNA was later transcribed into RNA, and that RNA was translated into proteins. And some of those proteins were transcription factors that told other cells in the blastocyst what to do, when to divide, where to migrate. Transcription factors regulated the expression of still other transcription factors. Genes were turned on and off with clockwork precision. Some genes were methylated, so they could never be turned on again.
In other words, the genome and the proteome of the blastocyst were changed as the embryo accumulated molecular information that the blastocyst did not have.
The embryo became a fetus, with complex orientations of tissues–loaded with spatial, genetic, biochemical and mechanical information that simply did not exist in the embryo.
The fetus became a child with a nervous system, and that nervous system sucked up information about the world, hard-wiring pathways for vision and movement, learning to make subtle distinctions between this and that, accumulating information that simply did not exist in the fetus.
In other words, the blastocyst launched a genetic program that both extracted and acquired information. It didn’t start out as a human being. It became a human being, with a personality, feelings, attitudes and memories, by accumulating information that was not there before.
Equating a blastocyst with a human being is like equating a brand new copy of an inexpensive spreadsheet program with the priceless databases that you’ll eventually build up with that program. It’s no less ridiculous than saying that a blueprint has the same value as a skyscraper–that it is the skycraper (sic).
So yes, scientists would exclaim that “life” has been found on another planet if they turned up a single-celled organism somewhere in the cosmos, but it can not be equated with human life because human life by definition begins at the point in which we receive the genetic and molecular information that makes us us.
Scientists recently witnessed the explosion of a Type 1a supernova that was born about 9 billion years ago. Type 1a supernovae are a specific kind of white dwarf star that occur only in binary system, in which two bodies are close enough to one another that they display gravitational interaction around the same center. Here’s a snippet from the article and a photo:
The team used the Wide Field Camera 3 instrument on NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope to observe the supernova in near-infrared wavelengths over eight months.
“In our search for supernovae, we had gone as far as we could go in optical light,” said principal investigator Adam Riess, of the Space Telescope Science Institute and Johns Hopkins University, in a statement. “But it’s only the beginning of what we can do in infrared light.”