Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Dancing in the Rain

Jack Dikian
November 2010

After a long day at one of our clinics – I realized I’d left my phone in the car and found myself running back to the car in order to retrieve. After all, how would I cope without my phone, what if that special person was to call me…Ignoring that the rain was also cold, in that instant – it occurred to me that running to the car may not necessarily mean I’ll keep dryer.

That is, does running from one point to another help reduce the amount of rain we are likely to collect.

At first blush, I’m guessing that like others, intuition tells us that the longer we remain in falling rain the wetter we are going to get. But what of the logic that by running we will be covering more of an area in a unit of time than if walking, therefore we will be hitting more rain as we run.

Like all things, the devil really is in the detail. Thinking about this a little more it seems there are numerous variables that can affect this question. The presence of wind, is rain falling at a constant speed, whether we walk and/or run with our shoulders straight and our backs upright, etc.

The problem can be divided into two parts:

1. The rain that hits the front of us while we are moving forward. This will be the same amount of rain, but occurring at a faster rate. The amount of rain can therefore be determined by rain per cubic meter multiplied by square of the surface area of our front multiplied by the distance traveled.

2. Wetness as a variable of rain falling from above is entirely a function of time. This amount is determined by how much rain per cubic meter per second multiplied by square of the surface area of our top multiplied by time.

So, when traveling from point A to point B, we should expect to get less wet the quicker we move. However, if wetness is measured by time, and if we are waiting (standing) in the rain - we would become less wet if we are to stand still rather than move around.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Tintin And The Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy

Jack Dikian
November 2010

In "Destination Moon", the sixteenth of "The Adventures of Tintin", a series of classic comic-strip albums, written and illustrated by Hergé, Tintin, Snowy and Captain Haddock are suddenly called by Professor Calculus to the Sprodj Atomic Research Centre in Syldavia a fictional country.

The guests are amazed to find the Professor planning to build a “space rocket”; and Tintin and his friends are unaware of the dangers that await them – for Calculus intends to fly to the Moon with the company of Tintin, Haddock, and Snowy, Tintin’s loyal fox terrier.

Despite the mishaps, the adventure sets off on the most hazardous journey ever undertaken by man.

What is of great insight is the author’s (Hergé) level of insight, imagination, and desire to be as consistent with scientific accuracy as perhaps available to an illustrator in the mid 1950’s, Destination Moon was written in 1954, well over a decade before the 1969 Apollo 11 Moon landing and several years before manned space flight. For example, Calculus describes how the deadly radioactivity produced by the engine would pollute the launch and landing area, hence the rocket is also equipped with a conventional chemical rocket engine.

The Use Of Uranium Because They Have Lots Of It..

The key element I wanted to reflect upon however, as well as the character’s feats of space exploration – the idea that Uranium can be used for peaceful use. More so, according to Prof. Calculus, the “Syldavian government invited nuclear physicists from other countries to work at the Centre, which was created four years earlier when large uranium deposits were discovered in the area”.

The Centre is entirely dedicated to peaceful uses of nuclear energy,…..
Are we, Australians, able to be as visionary and foresighted as Hergé in our search for environmentally friendly energy, and non-existent debate over nuclear energy.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Black Swan - The Impact of the Highly Improbable

Jack Dikian
November 2010

The Black Swan The Impact of the Highly Improbable
Nassim Nicholas Taleb

A brief review

Extreme events are more likely than we think - Taleb calls these "Black Swans" after the one-time European certainty, based on northern hemisphere experience, that all swans were white. Before we had an inkling of the global financial crises starting in 2007, Taleb, with almost impeccable timing, discusses the risks inherent in the big banks, and goes on to say, “Likewise the government sponsored institution Fanny Mae, when I look at their risks, seems to be sitting on a barrel of dynamite,..”. I should say, he wrote the book in 2006 and published in 2007.

I, like many others, would ask, why isn’t this required reading for those thinking of wanting a life in politics, economics and/or finance.

The Black Swan challenges our desire and ability to acknowledge the impact of unknown, highly improbable events that can and will occur over our life-times looking at some of the features of human psychology that make us poor at evaluating uncertainties and risks, instead, amongst other things relying on narrative explanations and blinkered views.

In “The Black Swan,” Taleb proclaims that the unexpected is the key to understanding not just financial markets but history itself. History, he writes, proceeds by “jumps,” controlled by “the tyranny of the singular, the accidental, the unseen and the unpredicted.

Whilst the book contains numerous insights evidenced by examples such as: “We attribute our successes to our skills, and our failures to external events outside our control.” Like all things, there are shortcomings. The bulk of this book is underpinned by criticizing others for failing to see the future — though who exactly can see the future? And on this Taleb generalizes, for instance scoffing that the collapse of the Soviet Union was an unfathomably unlikely event that “no social scientist saw coming.” The historian John Mueller’s brilliant 1989 book, “Retreat From Doomsday,” published just before the Berlin Wall fell, did see it coming.

The Black Swan is brilliant, thought-provoking and challenging in the most constructive and valuable ways.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Adaptive value and causal role of consciousness

Jack Dikian
November 2010

A week or two ago I was flicking through an Anatomy text when my boss walked past me and causally asked if I was reading about the Human body. My answer was more telling of what I was thinking (been thinking about for many years) rather than what I could have said – that I was simply captivated by the colour plates.

What was I thinking?

How could something so immensely complex have developed through random mutations and natural selection, even with sufficient time. And the real irony, I was flicking through the pages illustrating the eye - Something even Darwin acknowledged from the start that, that would be a difficult case for his new theory to explain.

As she was walked away from me, it was almost like she read my mind. We talked about complexity, brain wiring, and the question of consciousness. We both asked – does consciousness have a causal role in survival.

We learned at school that the two main processes that cause variants to become more or less in a population is through. One is natural selection and genetic drift. We learned, for example, that traits that aid survival and reproduction become more common, while traits that hinder survival and reproduction become rarer. Over many generations, heritable variation in traits is filtered by natural selection and the beneficial changes are successively retained through differential survival and reproduction.

Traits that become better suited to an organism's environment such as our eyes, for example, is said to have an adaptive function (adaptations).

Theories of the genies of life itself is well documented in the works of Harvard biochemist George Wald, Nobel laureate Christian de Duve, the materialist Richard Dawkins, to name just a few.

But what of the question of the adaptive value and causal role of consciousness in human (and nonhuman organisms). Is evolution blind to the difference between a conscious organism and a functionally equivalent non-conscious organism.