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Does the Brain Produce the Mind – and Ethics?

Two contrasting views on the mind/body problem appeared in science journals recently.  In Nature this week,1 Paul Bloom (Yale) reviewed The Ethical Brain (Dana Press, 2005) by Michael S. Gazzaniga, a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics.  Bloom felt the need to clarify the difference between theological and evolutionary views on the source of […]

The Cause of a Teapot: Can Physics Explain Design?

George F. R. Ellis (U. of Cape Town) wrote a Concepts piece in Nature1 this week that asks fundamental questions about ordinary things, particularly, can we get from fundamental physics to complex hierarchical structures through a chain of cause and effect? A simple statement of fact: there is no physics theory that explains the nature […]

Mars Radiation Dosage Makes Life Improbable, Even with Global Flooding

An upcoming (June) paper in Icarus1 states, “ The biologically damaging solar ultraviolet (UV) radiation (quantified by the DNA-weighted dose) reaches the martian surface in extremely high levels.”  Earth has an ozone layer and global magnetic field to shield out the damaging rays, but Mars has no known atmospheric filter.  “Therefore, the existence of life […]

Variable Constants Dept.

Is nothing sacred?  EurekAlert reported that the fine structure constant alpha may have changed from its once-thought invariable value, based on new observations from the Keck telescope.  “Sacred constant might be changing,” it says.     Another study, by contrast, shows no change in the fine structure constant, according to a press release from UC […]

Water Can Get Hotter than the Sun

When vacuum bubbles form in turbulent water, they can collapse violently in a process called cavitation.  Scientists reporting in Nature1,2 March 3 showed that the energy of cavitation can heat the plasma in the bubble to 15,000 degrees Kelvin – hotter than the surface of the brightest stars.  The resulting flash can sometimes be seen […]

Watch for Falling Ants

Did you know some ants are gliders?  When Stephen Yanoviak (U. of Texas) was studying insects in the rain forest canopy in Peru, he was struck by the fact that ants kept landing on his arm.  This launched his team’s investigation into gliding ants.  They took video cameras into the jungle and documented their unique […]

Octopus Arms Have Optimal Design

The tentacles of an octopus are soft and flexible, whereas bony creatures like us have joints that, while good for moving objects around, limit our freedom of movement.  Wouldn’t it be cool to have both?  An international team of neurobiologists, publishing in Nature,1 watched an octopus snare its food, using the flexibility of its tentacles, […]

How Are Radioactive Dates Determined?

To most of us, the practice of radioactive dating seems like a highly-technical, incomprehensible skill that nevertheless (we are told) yields absolute ages of things.  We don’t know exactly how they arrive at the results, but are led to trust them because very smart people get their answers using hard science with extremely accurate equipment.  […]

Solar Wind Erodes Mars’ Atmosphere

Physics Web has a summary of a report that appeared in Science Sept. 24.1  First results from an experiment on ESA’s Mars Express called Analyzer of Space Plasma and Energetic Atoms (ASPERA-3) are in.  They show that the solar wind penetrates deep into Mars’ atmosphere, as far as 270 km above the Martian surface.  Since […]

Editorial

Rodney Stark (Baylor University) has written an article very critical of Charles Darwin, Thomas Huxley and the other early promoters of evolution, and their modern counterparts, in American Enterprise Online.  Stark claims that Darwin never proved his central thesis, the origin of species, and was well aware of the problems in his thesis even while […]

Your Brain Learned Physics and Calculus Before You Did

Tilt your head to the right while moving to the left.  The neurons in your brain just solved Newton’s equations of motion, and performed complex vector calculus equations almost instantaneously.  That’s what four neurologists Washington University of Medicine (St. Louis, MO) essentially claimed in Nature July 29,1 describing how your brain interprets the information coming […]

Modern Cosmology Goes Schizophrenic

According to Charles Seife writing in Science,1 more cosmologists are taking parallel universes seriously.  This is a consequence of the Many Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, one possible mathematical solution to the effects of quantum “weirdness.”  If you think our headline is too harsh, read Seife’s opening in a Rod Serling voice while playing the […]

Is Earth’s Magnetic Field Reversing?

The New York Times and World Net Daily have stories about Earth’s magnetic field.  The strength of the field has declined 10-15% over the past 150 years.  If undergoing a reversal, which some physicists say is overdue, it could have profound effects on migratory animals like birds and turtles, and allow more dangerous radiation to […]

Saturn Runs Rings Around Cassini

“Shocked” was how Carolyn Porco, lead Cassini imaging scientist, described her initial reaction to new pictures of Saturn’s rings.  Precious images began to pour in early July 1 from science observations right after the previous night’s perfect orbit insertion maneuver (see 06/30/2004 headline).  Even though the imaging team had been confident in the capabilities of […]

Cassini to Rewrite Textbooks on Saturn

Hundreds of scientists and engineers are waiting with eager anticipation for SOI: Saturn Orbit Insertion, as the schoolbus-sized Cassini spacecraft races for its closest approach to the ringed planet tonight.  Just before closest approach, Cassini will fire its main engine for 96 minutes to slow down the spacecraft and allow Saturn to capture it in […]
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