Wednesday, 7 June 2017

XIV. A Sample of 1

Statistics: the mathematical Theory of Ignorance


Monday, 9am Corporate meeting at MustBe Inc.
Chairman: Good morning everyone, this meeting is now open for new ideas, who's going first?
Little John: Me!Me! I have this brilliant idea that is going to create a revolution for mankind and bring enormous revenue for this Corporation.
Chairman: Go on then.
Little John: I do not have all the details, but I though about this in my bedroom and it is this machine that is going to make life so easy for humans, no energy at all.
Chairman: Do you have any costs for it?
Little John: Oh yes. It is going to cost at least $100 billion on R & D, but the profits are going to be ginourmous.
Chairman: Have you tested or discussed this with anyone?
Little John: No! I have not tested this with anyone but I have discussed it with my mum and she loved it.
Chairman: Your mum loved it? Let's do it then!


You may think that the above is quite ridiculous but that sums up the current mindset of Science including Physics, Astronomy and Astrophysics. The reality is that we have a sample of 1, our little planet, a few formulae and we built up this Universe and universe of conjectures by an inane process of extrapolation, mostly by starting any phrase with the words "There must be..."

That leads me to the Drake "Equation" which has caused a lot of damage in the scientific milieu. Because it was shown as an "equation", after a while it became an Equation, as it is disguised in a mathematical format with that insidious "=" symbol and to be honest, today's scientists are not that smart. Its value is mostly 0 (zero) and there are baking recipes that are so much more accurate than this one. Here it is in all its glory:

N = R* . fp . ne . f1 . fi . fc . L

and dissecting it we have:

N - the number of civilisations (hilarious)
R* - the average of our galaxy star formation (unknown)
fp - the fraction of formed stars that have planets (unknown)
ne - on the above the fraction of planets that can support life (unknown)
f1 - the fraction of planets that can actually develop life (unknown)
fi - the fraction of above planets that could develop civilised life (unknown)
fc - the fraction of above civilisations able to communicate (unknown)
L - the length of time those communications could be detectable (unknown)

All the unknowns above are such because they are all extrapolated and based on a sample of 1. This means that most of the science programs you watch are hardly any different from the science fiction ones, as there is no back up for it. We humans know very little outside our planet and like god, tend to built everything at our own image. To my knowledge, we are desperately alone in this universe and until anyone lands on our planet (on Independence Day or not), we should avoid any extrapolation and speculation. 

I end up with the following questions and subsequent answers:

Is there out there a place with a T-Rex eating a brontosaurus eating some fern?... No.
Is there out there a Neanderthal group trapping a mammoth for food?... No.
Is there out there DNA based life?... No.
Is there out there Mathematics?... No.

I could carry on... Based on the Drake "equation" the answers above will always be no too. Why? Not because it is totally impossible, but because our scientific "racism" does not allow anything like us or like our history to exist out there... something similar? Oh yes... an alien with 3 eyes and 10 legs can exist but humans, dogs, sharks, no! Surely if you tweak the Drake equation above with the relevant factors, like Ao (agent orange), you will have a N of at least 5, which means that there are for sure 5 Donald J. Trumps living in the Universe (not 5 deluded parallel ones) somewhere, as scary as this thought may be. But scientists will tell you that is impossible (sarcasm and statement at the same time). 

What is the point of proofing that Planet Earth is not in the centre of the Universe, just a speck of dust on the suburbs of our galaxy, mocking the centrist views of Papal Rome pre-Galileo, when all our scientific thoughts are?

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

XIII. Lonely

Two possibilities exist: Either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.
Arthur C. Clarke

Pierre Curie woke up in the morning of 19 April 1906 as he did every single day. He didn't know that a few hours later, on his way to work, he would slip and fall on the wet cobbled surface of Paris's Rue Dauphine.  His skull would be fractured by a fast passing heavy horse drawn cart, and he would die instantly at 46 years of age. And so, three years after winning the 1903 Physics Nobel Prize, the discoverer of piezo-electricity and crystal oscillation, which are used in every electronic appliance today, from a smart phone to an Airbus A380, not forgetting the small "matter" of radioactivity (with his wife Marie), stopped thinking forever in a brutal way. No one knew what he was thinking that morning, no one will ever know what his special mind could have kept on thinking, what curtailed new perspectives of the world he would have found on his laboratory, or over a coffee in a bistrot in Boulevard St. Germain. The loss to mankind is at the same time infinite and null, because from that moment onwards a different time path was opened (or closed).

Albert Einstein died in 1955, in hospital, aged 76 in the United States. He had pretty much thought about everything he could and discovered everything he could. He was still not conformed with the way the new world he had found was working. There were a few pieces missing. 52 years before, he lived and worked for a while in Bern, Switzerland. If one morning, on his way to work, sometime in 1904, he had slipped, and fallen and his skull got crushed by a fast passing heavy horse drawn cart, we can surely know that the world we are living in today would be completely different. We know the world without Pierre Curie; a world without Einstein is literally incomprehensible. It is also terrifying.

We can argue that someone else would have discovered what he did, sooner or later. The answer is... no! and that leads to the way we are progressing today on our investigations. There are theories of multiple worlds, multiple flows of time, a planet Earth with Pierre Curie alive after 19 April 1906 and Einstein dead in 1904. Because the word "science" permeates our entire minds these entire scenarios are sold to us as "Science Fiction". They aren't... they are just Fiction! They have no application whatsoever to our life and universe, in the same way an iPhone5 is a useless gadget for a tribe in the Amazon forest (you need at least 2 to start with!). Recently on a meeting, with around 15 people a question was asked "If you were landed on a desert island which object would you bring with you?"... the answer of 14 people... "My iPhone!!" without even realising that they could not call anyone and after 24 hours, after the battery went flat, it would be of less use than any stone or piece of wood you could find on the shore. I would definitely bring... a Swiss Army Knife!

Arthur C. Clarke's quote at the top of this page sums up how we should think. If we are alone it means that we have no one to answer to, but we also have to sort ourselves on our own, to think for ourselves and explain everything ourselves. If we are not, it means that somewhere else, someone is doing an equivalent job and sooner or later will find us and help us or annihilate us. This is pure psychological transference, the hope that something, somewhere, will sort our shortcomings, very human and very flawed. We are even arrogant to the point of imposing to that alien scenario, the same laws and the same thoughts, as if on Planet Solution, they had their Einsteins and Curies and are just a few more "brains" ahead of us, when they finally visit on Independence Day (which they are not, as in the film, Will Smith always him, beats them in the end, how clever are we?). Wherever they are they will have different mathematics, physics, chemistries... something similar (or very different) to thoughts. Thinking is purely human and I am afraid to tell you, on that front, we are terrifyingly alone. Any other perspective is as flawed as an iPhone on a desert island. We are alone, and regardless of that, we have been doing so well!

There are currently worlds made of almost anything, gas, ice, water, even recently a planet made of diamond and the possibilities are infinite, we would be led to think. Now imagine a world made of Chunky Monkey... nothing could be more human but that is an impossibility, tasty as it looks, and brings to perspective how many different ways a world can be made of, after all the scientific hype is stripped off.

Astronomers, scientists, physicists tend to build machines to find and replicate the most astounding (or absurd theories) mostly with the thought that "the answer is out there in the stars". I bring bad news to you... it isn't! It is not even "blowin' in the wind", my friend. The answer is inside you as it always have been, as it always will be. Live with it! and if you have a good one, avoid having your skull fractured by a fast passing heavy horse drawn cart.
© Copyright Paulo Ferreira 2010 — 2018