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Friday, 21 March 2014

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There's Special Relativity, General Relativity, and The Third Law of Relativity viz that anything that a layman says about the other two is always crap. Sad but true.

On the other hand, why organisms die is a jolly good question. Nothing much to do with the Second Law of Thermodynamics, though. Perhaps it's to do with the evolution of defences against viruses and whatnot? But on such matters I am a layman too.

N.B. Nearly all scientists are laymen on anything outside the purview of their own field. And you can add to that that some scientific fields are largely or entirely bogus. Not just wrong, bogus.

DM, I can understand that a 'system' such as the human body can cease to live because of a catastrophic trauma, like a bullet in the head or, as you suggest, a virulent virus, but what I don't understand is that old lady, perfectly healthy even if aged, just ceasing to live. I'm not sure that the 2nd Law isn't involved in some way even in a weakened form, for example, our cells keep slowing down or just dying off even if we ingest new energy forms. Perhaps there is a mathematical/biological formula somewhere which states that it is impossible to ingest enough energy to keep the cells going, in the same way that a perpetual motion machine is impossible.

I take your point concerning crap-production by laymen on the subject of 'Our Albert's' theories but has it never struck you that a measurement of energy/mass should be specifically attached to the speed of light? I mean, why that number rather than, say, the decay speed of a particular atom?

And there is another thing concerning specific numbers/measurements that intrigues me. I gather from the swots that the speed with which the original matter created at the time of the Big Bang raced away from its starting point was absolutely critical. A tap on the brake here, or a squirt of the accelerator there, would have ruined the whole creation of the universe! And indeed, I am led to believe that the actual speed/energy occurred in an unbelievably tiny segment of the range of possibilities. Don't misunderstand, I'm not suggesting the Big Bang theory is wrong, just that, like so many other beautiful scientific explanations, they always leave you with yet more intricate puzzles.

As a simple retired servant of HM I always had trouble with a specific concept. On one hand we are told that matter can neither be created or destroyed. We can alter it, stuff around with it and maybe do other things with it but neither make it or destroy it. Then along comes some boffin who says that in the beginning there was not THE WORD but sweet bugger all, zilch, zero, nothing and then there is this big bang and all this stuff appears and makes a universe. Well there is a bloody great contradiction to start with. What caused the big bang? Did some non-existent "being" pull the pin out of a non-existent grenade or trip some non-existent Claymore?
All this stuff makes my head hurt. Think I'll go have a beer and watch some of the World Cup of a not to be mentioned game before SWMBO, daughter and younger grand daughter get home from the ballet - an event with the same riveting interest to this little black duck as drying paint.

See? First the courageous teacher with her adhesive tape.
And now is this:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/prince-george/10713026/Norland-nanny-from-Spains-society-pages-for-Prince-George.html

The future king of the UK is in spanish hands. Isn't that reassuring?

Before your time here, 'AussieD', we went through all that with 'Deogolwulf', the, er, patron saint of this blog (see header above). After several weeks which seemed like years we reached absolutely no agreed conclusion and I felt like throwing myself into a black hole!

Whilst in general I sympathise with your views on ballet, as always there is an exception. Watch, 'Romeo & Juliet' by Prokofiev but with MacMillan's chorography: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nRavpx9F8gk

Just what we wanted, Ortega, a future king of England who will re-introduce bullfighting - a real man's sport!

"I can understand that a 'system' such as the human body can cease to live because of a catastrophic trauma, like a bullet in the head or, as you suggest, a virulent virus, but what I don't understand is that old lady, perfectly healthy even if aged, just ceasing to live."

Perhaps you should consult the Selfish Gene picture: the genes do well by sexual multiplication, not by keeping old crones jogging along. Old gents would be more of a puzzle: old girls are past reproductive age though, so it's less surprising for them. And yet they live longer. Odd, ain't it? Mind you, I don't find that suggestion persuasive anyway. I'm stumped.


" I'm not sure that the 2nd Law isn't involved in some way even in a weakened form"

A weakened form of the Second Law? Preposterous! Nah, I can see no sign of a connection.

"has it never struck you that a measurement of energy/mass should be specifically attached to the speed of light? I mean, why that number rather than, say, the decay speed of a particular atom?"

Because the speed you use has to be a universal constant such as the speed of light in vacuo. What you could do is redefine the units of mass or of energy so that you would write e=m, but I don't see much point in that.

Alas, I gave up believing that 'selfish gene' nonsense years ago. And anyway, even if it was true it would be in the interest of the gene to keep us alive forever.

My "connection" is that the cells in the body absorb the material we feed on and produce energy but as time goes on the amount of energy they produce diminishes until in the end they produce none and we die. Alternatively, perhaps, it is just that the rate at which the cells die off gradually increases beyond the body's ability to reproduce more. In any event, it is rather like the impossibility of a perpetual motion machine which cannot exist because heat is lost out side the system.

Well, I can see the sense in e=m where '=' means equivalent. In other words the book on my desk has a mass and were I to remove the desk then the book's inherent energy could be expressed in movement before it hits the floor but I still don't understand why, given all the numbers in the world it is the speed of light - multiplied by itself - that is the constant. Aren't there other universal constants? Sorry, I know how difficult it is to explain to a dummy!

'selfish gene' ... even if it was true it would be in the interest of the gene to keep us alive forever.


No, that completely misses the point. The notion, which is really just a metaphor that might suggest useful lines of thought, distinguishes the gene from the organism that hosts it (if 'hosts' is quite the right verb). So your genes can survive thanks to SoD even after you've shuffled off.

David, I've always wondered about how "c" got into that equation myself. And I can't say anyone has adequately explained it. It's like the statement, "The speed of light is the limiting speed in the universe, nothing can move faster". Why light?

DM's statement, that it is a matter of measuring units -- if I got him right -- doesn't seem right to me. If we had different units then we would not introduce a different constant, just a new constant. For example, "e = m(c-squared)a" where "a" is a new constant to make the equation work.

No, what I meant was that once you've discovered that e = mc^2 when you use the conventional units for e and m, you are at liberty to alter one or both so that you end up with e = m. Of course, what you will have done is sneak the value of c into the redefinition(s): c still matters, but in disguise.

That makes sense. But the question still remains. Why does c matter?

As far as that goes, why is c a constant? if a fly buzzes past me, it goes at a certain speed. If the fly is on a train, it goes past me at a faster speed. That is not true of light, which goes past me at the same speed in both situations. Physics takes that as a given, but someday it needs to be explained.

Dammit! I had just grasped what you wrote, DM, and was on the point of shouting 'Eureka!' when the Memsahib asked me a question about shopping today and - bingo! - it was gone!

Mind you, I do think it was a truly great piece of thinking to equate energy and mass. Even more so for someone to have the imagination to realise that all the different forms of energy are in fact variations of the same thing.

And dammit again, I do wish I 'spoke' mathematics! I blame Mr. Jones, my maths teacher, who spent every lesson with his back to us whilst scribbling equations on the blackboard - whilst I scribbled pictures of Spitfires and footballers! If only he had given me a glimpse of the wonders perhaps I might have done better - but then again, to be fair, I might not!

Blow me down! I finished my comment above and then started my daily drift through the blogosphere beginning, as usual with the Wall Street Journal and came across this story of a documentary film which will be a 'must see' for me:

http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304256404579449640787656798?mod=WSJUK_hpp_MIDDLETopNews&mg=reno64-wsj&url=http%3A%2F%2Fonline.wsj.com%2Farticle%2FSB10001424052702304256404579449640787656798.html%3Fmod%3DWSJUK_hpp_MIDDLETopNews

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