Friday, May 13, 2022

From geology to quantum science to a healthy planet...

For your weekend... as I traditionallly do, here's a round-up of recent science news...

First, here's the latest CARTA conference - the Center for Anthropogeny (human origins) at UCSD. This one with talks having to do with the theme of "The Planet Altering Apes."

== Physical Science ==

The observation of the Higgs boson  at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has validated the last missing piece of the standard model (SM) of elementary particle physics.  The mass of the W boson, a mediator of the weak force between elementary particles, should be tightly constrained by the symmetries of the standard model of particle physics.  So… do recent results mean we have a problem here?

Wireless Sensors: Tiny Battery-Free Devices Float In The Wind Like Dandelion Seeds…” or a lot like the ‘localizer nanochips in Vernor Vinge’s great novel  A Deepness in the Sky.  

A new form of ice discovered, which forms at high-pressures: Shades of Kurt Vonnegut! Here’s ‘ice-ten’ or Ice-X!  Scientists speculate that it could be common on distant, water-rich exoplanets.

Asking the Ultimate Questions, Robert Laurence Kuhn’s recent presentation at the Institute of Art and ideas (IAI-UK), is posted on the Closer To Truth YouTube channel.

== The biologic world ==

States and cities have also begun to decriminalize psilocybin – the core of magic mushrooms - in general or for medicinal purposes, especially treatment of depression. 

The disturbing rise of bird flu; already more than 27 million birds have died or been slaughtered. Will we see a poultry vaccine?

Apparently fish can calculate....stingrays can perform simple addition and subtraction in the low digit range.

Forty to fifty percent of all animal species are actually parasites, including 300,000 different types of worms that parasitize vertebrates.

Interesting question: Why didn't our primitive ancestors get cavities?

== Insights into our planet ==

In Earth’s past, two gargantuan 'super-mountain' ranges may have fueled two of the biggest evolutionary boom times in our planet's history — the first appearance of complex cells roughly 2 billion years ago, and the Cambrian explosion of marine life 541 million years ago.  

Is Earth’s ‘solid’ inner core something like my fictional-hypothetical descriptions in Earth? If the material is ‘superionic,’ then the majority iron atoms might be 'solid' in the crystalline lattice structure, whereas the carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen molecules would diffuse through the medium, creating the liquid-like element.  

And in related matters, the top mineral form of the mantle is perovskites… which are still (since I wrote Earth) among the best high pressure/high temperature superconductors. So… is she alive? Way too soon to tell. But the traits (or potentialities) keep piling up!

Moving a bit outward toward Earth's mantle… “Earth is layered like an onion, with a thin outer crust, a thick viscous mantle, a fluid outer core, and a solid inner core. Within the mantle, there are two massive blob-like structures, roughly on opposite sides of the planet. The blobs, more formally referred to as Large Low-Shear-Velocity Provinces (LLSVPs), are each the size of a continent and 100 times taller than Mt. Everest. One is under the African continent, while the other is under the Pacific Ocean.”  Might this explain the unusual solidity of the African continent?

Meanwhile, fast melting Alpine permafrost may contribute to rising global temperatures.

There have been wonderful paleontologic finds at the Tanis site, in the Dakotas, which show many creatures exceptionally well-preserved who seem to have died suddenly the very day that asteroid ended the era of the dinosaurs. I look forward to the show - Dinosaurs: The Final Day with Sir David Attenborough, which was broadcast on BBC One. A version for the U.S. science series Nova on the PBS network will be broadcast later in the year. allegory of uncertainty

Four quantum physicists are in a car. Heisenberg is driving like he is in The Matrix. Schrödinger is in the front seat waving at the other cars. Einstein and Bohr are in the back arguing when they get pulled over. The officer asks Heisenberg, “do you know how fast you were going?”

“No, but we know exactly where we are,” Heisenberg replies.

The officer looks confused and says, “you were going 120 km/h!”

Heisenberg throws his arms up and cries, “Great! Now we’re lost!”

The officer looks over the car and asks Schrödinger if they have anything in the trunk.

“A cat,” Schrödinger replies.

The officer opens the trunk and yells, “This cat is dead!”

Schrödinger angrily replies, “Well it is now.”

Bohr says, “on the bright side, a moment ago we didn’t have a position, speed, or a cat. Now we have all three!”

Fed up, the officer says, “I just want to know how many of you I need to bring back to the station!”

“Roll dice for it?” Einstein asks.


Now back to your regularly scheduled 21st Century crises...


Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin in the main post:

Four quantum physicists are in a car. ...

Heh. That reminds me of the Star Trek TNG episode in which Data plays poker on the holodeck with re-enactments of Einstein, Sir Isaac Newton, and Stephen Hawking (who actually appears playing himself). Someone raises the bet by three (or so), and Einstein doesn't know how much that would be, to which Newton berates him, "Can't you do simple arithmetic?"

At the end, Einstein insists that Hawking is bluffing, and he confidently rants something along the lines of "Not all of your quantum fluctuations can alter the cards in your hand," to which Hawking shows a winning hand and goes, "Wrong again, Albert."

scidata said...

One of the coolest applications for citizen science is the design of small, fully autonomous robots to search for bio-signatures, up to and including fossils. I can't find the links right now, but I'll grab them if I see them again. This is a scaled-down, DIY form of NASA's BRAILLE (Biologic and Resource Analog Investigations in Low Light Environments) project (cave exploration on other worlds). Such machines could be sent throughout the Solar System for a very tiny fraction of manned missions, both in terms of cost and time. We've discussed ETI lurker probes before too, but this is very doable now.

Alfred Differ said...


When it comes to a sniff test, I admit I'm in the pop science theory territory. However, I wasn't imagining it for sexual partners the same way. A possible mate has to smell way off before guys loose motivation. Where smell might matter a little more is if he has choices.

I was thinking more about trade partners. Think about those shifty eyed people who live over the hill. Do you risk bringing your pig to trade for their hens? They might just beat you and take your pig.


For everyone else offering up anthropology examples of a lack of xenophobia, please note your examples are all relatively recent. Humans changed about 3000 generations ago. You have to look more to archeology than anthropology to see it because of the time involved.

Recent HG nomadic groups aren't really nomadic in the sense our ancestors were. Up until the ice melted, there weren't that many of us. 5 to 10 million tops. Those folks were nomadic in a way recent bands simply can't be. Those nomads didn't have to deal with farmers carving out land and defending water supplies. Everyone still had hunting turf, but that's not the same and farm and grazing turf.

Xenophobia in our original form dominated human existence for a VERY long time. We did NOT trade between kin groups back then in a volume large enough to be seen in the archeological record. Then… suddenly we did. Something changed how we thought about non-kin related risks.

gerold said...

Alfred: a lot of things changed around 50,000 years ago; John Pfeiffer called it "The Creative Explosion" and it coincided with the sudden expansion of modern humans all around the globe, going from Africa to Australia, Europe and all points in between. You mentioned a change in human mating patterns 3000 generations ago; 3000*20 years/generation = 60,000 years ago. Prior to that time humans were very different; we are looking at a sudden change in cognition probably associated with a new level of complexity in language. We see this in the sudden appearance of art, personal adornment and technology. I do wonder why you say that HG bands didn't exchange females before that however; what is the basis for that claim?

One of the reasons I've always assumed that hominids were patrilocal is because chimps are too. For me traits held in common by humans and chimps probably go way back in our evolutionary history.

Here's a paper on patterns of chimp and human distribution of mitochondrial and Y-chromosome DNA:

Chimps also engage in warfare between bands, which is one of the selectors for patrilocality. It doesn't prevent them from exchanging females however. They don't trade anything else, but they make an exception for females.

Laurence said...

Four quantum physicists are in a car

I've got one:

Three Buddhists walk into a bar. The first one says "This bar sucks!" The second one consoles him "It's alright, we're not going to be here very long". The third pipes up "As a matter of fact, the bar doesn't really exist."

scidata said...

A really old one from Christopher Hitchens:

A Buddhist monk orders a hot dog from a stand.
He pays for the $2 dog with a $5.
The vendor says Thanks and moves on to the next customer.
The monk says, "What about my change?"
The vendor says, "Don't you know? Change comes from within."

Alfred Differ said...


I'm sure humans traded mates between bands to avoid inbreeding. Whether they thought of it that way or not, I'm sure that's been going on a long, long time.

I mean trading stuff. My shiny shells for your colored pigments.

The reason I go on and on about trade (of stuff) between kin groups is it may be the thing that really distinguishes us from our cousins. We do it. They didn't. Other things distinguishes hominids from cousin apes earlier, but within hominids... we trade stuff and go to quite a bit of trouble to make it happen.

When comparing us to chimps, don't forget bonobos. I suspect we all split down the middle some time ago. Find any of our ancestors where males were disproportionately large and they're closer to the chimp line. Without huge differences and males have to use their minds to dominate... just like females can.

scidata said...

Re: Trade

Trade/coinage, language/writing, and science/technology form one big interconnected positive feedback loop. I suspect that if you can model it with enough vastness (billions of agents) and fine granularity (Forthlike compute:connect ratio*), then the big stuff will emerge (on a quantum not geological timescale). The real trick is to not introduce human bias. A totally different process than raising children or striving towards a more perfect union.

* that is, concatenative computation in the style of the ribosome. Creation on a universal scale, but from mindless molecular machinery. No master control program.

Tony Fisk said...

How annoying to create a list like this just prior to yesterday's announcement that the accretion disc of Sag a had been imaged, confirming it to be a black hole (a much smaller one than M87. The feat was compared to imaging a donut on the Moon. Which gives one to wonder what else the Apollo astronauts left up there)

Also some significant news on the medical front: a possible cause for SIDS has been determined.

As to the other thing...

A priest, an imam, and a rabbit go into a blood bank. The nurse asks them what their grouping is.
"I am a type A" answers the priest
"Type B" adds the imam.
"And what are *you*!?" says the nurse to the rabbit.
The rabbit looks sheepish.
"I- I think I'm a typo"

Unknown said...


My cursory search of teh internetz suggests that research of Neanderthal artifacts does not show evidence of long-distance trading, and that this MAY be a contributing factor in their demise in the face of changing climate - and us, whose ancestors DO leave evidence of trading networks.

Moving way forwards in history, Prof Deveraux recently marshalled evidence that the Roman Empire suffered an actual decline in population as it fell, and that this was related not so much to "Barbarians killed everyone" as "Agriculture became predominantly subsistence as loss of predictably safe trade routes curtailed regional specialization", particularly in the West.

I suspect that if ravens were a little bit smarter, we would be finding evidence of a Shiny Thing trade network between flocks as birds swapped for stuff that was new and rare to their local prospective mates. There's already anecdotal evidence of ravens giving Shinies to people who feed them.


Unknown said...

Sort of a Quid Pro Quork


David Brin said...

Neolithic trade in baltic amber and miditerranean shells suggest at least some very long distance networks and likely shared language. Which I speculate in Uplift War etc as explaining the extreme SHannon coding embedded in highly inflected languages like German and Russian.

Alfred Differ said...


My impression from what I've read is our version of homo sapien spread and replaced a previous version almost completely. What we were before wasn't all that dissimilar to our cousins in most ways. What we became wasn't either... except for a tiny thing which turned out to be a huge reproductive advantage.

I've seen the collapse of trade argument a few times now and I am inclined to accept it as a way to terminate civilizations. I suspect it is also what gives birth to them. Necessary, but not sufficient.

I try to explain some of this to my space friends, though, and they don't listen long. They like to imagine space colonization will involve heroic and hardy people able to live in a self-sufficient state.

Hogwash. Isolation is the main ingredient poverty. Those would be colonists will not have time to teach their children more than subsistence living within two generations. What would subsistence look like on a planet where you can't breathe the air? In my not so humble opinion, it looks like a skull and crossbones. Dead colonists.


If ravens are seen to trade shiny things widely with each other to secure better mates, we'd best set a place for them at the adult's table.

scidata said...

Crows trading with humans takes it to another level. Here the crows are training the human to buy peanuts and the human is training the crows to progress from coins to bank notes.

Larry Hart said...

Big Data reveals the obvious:

Big data tells us there are very simple things that do make people happy, things that have been around for thousands of years. After reading all the studies on happiness, I concluded that modern happiness research could be summed up in one sentence, a sentence we might jokingly call the data-driven answer to life.

The data-driven answer to life is as follows: Be with your love, on an 80-degree and sunny day, overlooking a beautiful body of water, having sex.

It’s a lot easier than owning an auto dealership.

Larry Hart said...

In the spirit of treating mass shootings as acts of God--random inexplicable tragedies completely outside human control--and naming them the way we do hurricanes, I propose the Replacement Theory-inspired shooting in Buffalo NY be referred to as "Massacre Carlson".

Paradoctor said...

Replacement Theory”? Is that the worst the Republican Party can do? You call that lame-o whinge paranoia? Listen up, and I’ll show you how existential dread is really done.

For you see, in a mere 2 centuries - a measly 200 years, a blink of history’s eye - every man, woman, child, infant, fetus, and freshly conceived zygote, every one without exception will have completed their life cycles, and be dead and gone. All without exception! And not only everyone now alive, but their children too. There will still be people, but they will all be someone else’s kids.

And not only will everyone alive be replaced, their culture will not be ours either. They will speak different words, with different meanings, pronunciations, spelling, and grammar. Their technology will be radically different, and their economics, and politics, and culture. They will have heard of our culture, but they will misunderstand it. To them we’ll be quaint.

100% demographic turnover, plus major cultural turnover: how’s that for a great replacement? And here’s the cream of the jest: that’s normal! 100% replacement is how the biosphere works! Whoever has a problem with that has bigger problems than immigration policy. Their problem is with something called the human condition.

Wait, the incels are worried about skin tint? Listen up: no-one has white skin; everyone has white bones.

“Great Replacement”? SMH. What a bunch of losers!

Larry Hart said...


I can't argue against anything you just said, but they won't care.

In the novel Out of the Silent Planet, the protagonist, Ransom, speaking for author C.S. Lewis, rhetorically jibes with the antagonist, Weston, pointing out that a future human race adapted for space travel and extraterrestrial living will so little resemble human beings as to be aliens themselves. Therefore, what is the point of Weston's work to overrun other planets and replace native lifeforms with those "humans"? Ransom, and Lewis himself, finally concludes that the only characteristic that Weston cares about is the seed--that those future inhabitants of other worlds be descended from the loins of humans.

The modern day white supremacists are similar. They don't care whether their descendants will resemble them ideologically or culturally. As long as the future masters of earth are descended from the sperm of white men.

Paradoctor said...

Larry Hart:
They'll care about looking mockable.
So it isn't even skin-tint politics, it's sperm politics? That's even funnier. How incel!

Larry Hart said...


So it isn't even skin-tint politics, it's sperm politics? That's even funnier.

And every man has white semen.