The gift of pain

A 39-year-old woman was born with the inability to feel pain.  But this rare syndrome is no super power.  A new treatment enabled her to feel pain for the first time.  And she was glad. [Read more…]

Prosecute global warming skeptics?

A group of 20 scientists is urging the president to prosecute scientists and organizations  that question global warming. Now a Rasmussen survey has found that 27% of Democrats agree with that approach.  So do 11% of Republicans and 12% of Independents. [Read more…]

Let’s declare Pluto a planet again

Pluto lost its status as a planet in 2006, but the New Horizon space probe has found that it is no little frozen space rock, as had been assumed.  Rather, it is one of the most complex, varied, geologically-active, and mysterious entities in the Solar System.  It has water, glaciers, ice mountains, and blue skies.  It is even colorful.  I say let’s call it planet again!

[Read more…]

Math discrepancy in astrophysics

There is energy even in a vacuum.  But the amount predicted by quantum physics and the actual measurements are off by a factor of 1 followed by 120 zeroes.  This discrepancy is described as “one of the most confounding (and embarrassing) problems in modern astrophysics.”  It would suggest that there is something wrong with the mathematical models behind quantum physics, something scientists are reluctant to admit.  So they are looking for other explanations, including the final all-purpose answer when scientists don’t know something:  the invocation of multiple universes.

After the jump is an excerpt from an account of a panel discussing this problem, which develops into a discussion of multiverses.  That solution is simply that if there are an infinite number of universes, we would have every possibility, including this unusual math fact, as well as the evolution of life, which they also get into.  (But that isn’t right, is it?   According to the mathematics of probability, random events continued on into infinity will not result in every possible action, much less result in a particular event.  Monkeys at typewriters will not eventually give us the works of Shakespeare, even in an infinite number of universes.)

Anyway, read the account.  Notice how the scientists say that the advantage of positing multiverses is that this avoids the necessity of agency!  They end by saying that all possible answers to the “anthropic principle” must be considered, but I don’t think they mean it. [Read more…]

How cells repair their own DNA

Here I am in Oslo, Norway, so I should take the occasion to post about one of the new Nobel Prizes, which are a joint project of Norway and Sweden and which are being announced this week.  Three scientists won the prize for chemistry by making a remarkable discovery.

They found that DNA, though determining everything about a cell, is actually very unstable and will soon decay.  But cells actually repair their own DNA, making it resilient enough to pass genetic information along to the next generation.  These scientists then determined how the cells are able to do that. [Read more…]

Quantum teleportation

Scientists have teleported photons to a distance of 63 miles, a new record.  This “quantum teleportation” is not quite what happens on Star Trek, but it is another example of the strangeness of the universe as disclosed by quantum physics.  [Read more…]