No Illusions Podcast #47 – I Can Haz Higgs Boson?

My first podcast in several months is a bit of a rant and a bit of science – a basic primer to help you understand yesterday’s announcement of the discovery at CERN of a “Higgs-like particle” and a rant on why it’s important that we all try to understand the basics of physics and the hard sciences. I’m so sick of the MSM dumbing down announcements like this and I was hugely disappointed last night to see even the host of the 7:30 Report asking dumb questions. The internet is supposed to make us SMARTER, not DUMBER, people.

How Old Am I?

Convention says that today is my 41st birthday.

It depends on how you look at it though.

Which part of “what-I-am” is really 41 years old?

My body?

My body is made of cells which are constantly replaced. Between 50 and 70 billion cells die each day due to apoptosis in the average human adult. The whole body is comprised of totally new cells from 7 years ago. So my body isn’t 41 years old.

And by the way, most of the cells in this body aren’t even human.

According to researchers at the 108th General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in Boston, the number of bacteria living within the body of the average healthy adult human are estimated to outnumber human cells 10 to 1. You might think “I am my body” but when only 10% of the cells in the body are actually even human cells…. what does that mean for your identity?

The cells themselves are made of atoms which themselves come and go from my body very rapidly. In fact, studies have shown that 98 percent of the atoms in the body are replaced every year.

The human body is roughly made up of:

• 63% hydrogen;

• 24% oxygen;

• 12% carbon.

How old are these atoms?

Most of the hydrogen in the universe was created between 3 minutes and 20 minutes after the Big Bang, which makes it about 13.7 billion years old.

The oxygen and carbon are around 4.6 or 4.7 billion years old, being the remnants of one or more supernovae that occurred just before our Sun itself formed.

So… how old am I?

If I date my age from when my body was made, I’m about a year old.

But if I date myself from when my components were themselves made, then the atoms that make up my body are somewhere between 4.6 and 13.7 billion years old. Let’s take an average of 9 billion years.

All of a sudden, 41 doesn’t sound that old.

I could argue that I’m the age of my DNA. I was formed about 41 years and 9 months ago. The pattern of my DNA has been passed on from cell to cell for 41 years and 9 months, providing a recipe for creating this particular body. So my “pattern” is 41 years and 9 months old.

But we also need to think about our concept of “time” itself.

We tend to think of time as something that flows or unfolds, moment by moment. It seems to us that the future hasn’t happened yet and that the past is long gone.

Physics, however, tells us something completely different.

Einstein was the first to realise that time and space are actually the same construct – therefore we now refer to it as “spacetime”.  Time is really just another dimension that we add to the three dimensions of space. Spacetime therefore has four dimensions: height, width, length – and time. Essentially Einstein demonstrated (and subsequent experiments have extensively confirmed) that time exists as a dimension of space. As Einstein once wrote to the wife of a recently departed friend, “For we convinced physicists, the distinction between past, present, and future is only an illusion, however persistent.”

Just as all of space exists “now”, all of time also exists “now”. How we experience time is merely a matter of our relative perspective (or “relativity”, as Einstein pointed out).

Here’s how theoretical physicist Brian Greene explains it in his excellent book “The Fabric Of The Cosmos“:

In this way of thinking, events, regardless of when they happen from any particular perspective, just are. They all exist. They eternally occupy their particular point in spacetime. There is no flow. If you were having a great time at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, 1999, you still are, since that is just one immutable location in spacetime. It is tough to accept this description, since our worldview so forcefully distinguishes between past, present, and future. But if we stare intently at this familiar temporal scheme and confront it with the cold hard facts of modern physics, its only place of refuge seems to lie within the human mind.

So let’s summarise.

The cells in my body come and go constantly, totally replaced every seven years.

So too the atoms in my body. And the ones in my body right now are an average of 9 billion years old.

But time doesn’t really exist. All of time exists NOW. Our “path” through time is simply a persistent illusion.

My DNA is about 41 years and 9 months old, but it’s just a pattern, a recipe.

So how old am I?

It’s Official: The World’s Finances Are In The Hands Of The Few

I wonder how closely the names on this report map to the Bilderberg Group?

A recent analysis of the 2007 financial markets of 48 countries has revealed that the world’s finances are in the hands of just a few mutual funds, banks, and corporations. This is the first clear picture of the global concentration of financial power, and point out the worldwide financial system’s vulnerability as it stood on the brink of the current economic crisis.

A pair of physicists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich did a physics-based analysis of the world economy as it looked in early 2007. Stefano Battiston and James Glattfelder extracted the information from the tangled yarn that links 24,877 stocks and 106,141 shareholding entities in 48 countries, revealing what they called the “backbone” of each country’s financial market. These backbones represented the owners of 80 percent of a country’s market capital, yet consisted of remarkably few shareholders.

The most pared-down backbones exist in Anglo-Saxon countries, including the U.S., Australia, and the U.K. Paradoxically; these same countries are considered by economists to have the most widely-held stocks in the world, with ownership of companies tending to be spread out among many investors. But while each American company may link to many owners, Glattfelder and Battiston’s analysis found that the owners varied little from stock to stock, meaning that comparatively few hands are holding the reins of the entire market.

via Research – ISNS.

Perfect Timing and Inches

I’ve been thinking tonight…. that it’s all about INCHES.

Okay… so I stole that line off of Al Pacino and Oliver Stone, but it’s been in my head tonight, so I’m claiming it.

Life is a lot about timing.

When you meet someone special, if it’s a month too soon, or a month too late, it doesn’t work out.

If you start a business, and you’re a year too soon or a year too late, it can make all the difference.

I don’t know how you know when the timing is right. Maybe people smarter than me know. Or maybe we don’t ever know. Maybe it’s just chance, or the holographic universe frakking with us. Maybe things are either meant to be or not. Maybe it’s all a cosmic joke.

All I know is that timing is a magic ingredient that either makes it work… or not.

I’ve been very lucky in my life. I’ve had good and bad timing with a few things. I started working at an ISP in 1996. That was good timing. I started working at Microsoft in 1998. That was bad timing – the share price that had climbed for 12 years climbed for another two years – then plummeted. I started podcasting in Nov 2004 – that was good timing, too. Maybe sooner than the market was ready for it, but early enough to get an opportunity to study the market from the outset and build a bit of a brand in an industry from the ground floor.

“In any fight, it’s the guy who’s willing to die who’s going to win that inch.”

In my personal life, too, I’ve had good and bad timing. I’ve met people exactly when I needed to and I’ve met people when it was too soon or too late, either in my life or theirs. You can’t predict that. And you can’t do much about it when it happens. It’s just timing.

In retrospect though, perhaps when I thought the timing was bad, it was actually right. The person/business/job that I thought would have been perfect for me, actually wouldn’t have been.

I know people will say “you make your own luck” but that’s VERY unscientific. It might sell self-help seminars, but it doesn’t stand up to examination. There is no free will. There is only physics. Or the hologram making it LOOK like there is physics. Either way, we ain’t in control.

Perhaps it’s like poker. Sometimes you get the right cards in the right hand and if you know what to do with them, it works out profitably. But if you get the right cards in the wrong hand… well, you can lose your wallet.

I don’t know. Too deep for this time of night. I just thought I had to get it out there. Timing. Inches.

G’Day World #358 – Greydon Square is back!

greydon square cpt theorem

Rapper Greydon Square joins me again on the show to talk about his new album The CPT Theorem.

If you haven’t heard of 27 year-old Greydon before (or heard my first interview with him), his story is interesting: he grew up (as Eddie Collins) in a Group Home in Compton, California, got involved with a gang at a young age, was busted for a crime, and given the choice of prison or joining the US Army. He chose the latter and ended up in the US Army in 2001 and Iraq in 2004. During this time he was a committed Christian who studied the Bible. The more he studied the Bible the more questions he had about his religion which lead to his becoming an atheist, with many of the lyrics of his rap songs focus on atheism and the skeptic inquiry. He also is completing a physics major. His fans include Richard Dawkins, Penn Jillette… and yours truly.

This time, instead of focusing on his atheism, I wanted to talk to Greydon about how he writes his music. He’s a one man band – producer, composer, lyricist, performer, businessman. And, as you’ll here on the tracks I’ve laid into the interview, his shit is excellent.

You can buy his albums through iTunes or from the link on his MySpace.

PM Rudd Is A Creationist

From the “Houston We Have A Problem” department… Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said on radio today:

“For me, it’s ultimately the order of the cosmos or what I describe as the creation.

“You can’t simply have, in my own judgment, creation simply being a random event because it is so inherently ordered, and the fact that the natural environment is being ordered where it can properly coexist over time.

“If you were simply reducing that to mathematically probabilities I’ve got to say it probably wouldn’t have happened.

“So I think there is an intelligent mind at work.”

So basically we have a Prime Minister who doesn’t understand 5th grade science using the term “mathematical probabilities” to defend his belief in God. I would love to know what he thinks the “mathematical probabilities” are for God? Who designed the designer? Even my kids worked that out independently at about age 6. “But Dad, if God made everything, who made God?” I should put my kids (who are now 7) in front of Rudd for ten minutes. They’d sort him out.

So why is having a creationist Prime Minister a problem?

What mostly concerns me is that someone who cannot or does not accept rudimentary science (in this case, Big Bang theory and the laws of physics) is someone with a major intellectual blind spot. This is someone who refuses to accept evidence and rational thinking and instead prefers a primitive mythology. Can someone like that effectively govern a country in the 21st century? If he doesn’t accept evidence and rational thinking in this instance, how do we know in what other subjects he prefers to ignore evidence? Foreign affairs? The budget? Does he sit in meetings with Treasury, here them say “well if we do x and then y will happen to the economy” and reply “well I don’t believe that, I think it’ll just work because God wants it to”? Is his approach to foreign policy based on logic and reason or his interpretation of God’s will?

It’s profoundly disturbing to me to know that our most senior government official believes in superstition and supernatural causes for the world around him.

I’d be interested to see what the reaction would have been had he said “I believe the Rainbow Serpent created the world”. Why is one primitive mythology superior to another?

On Humility

I was talking with some people tonight about humility. Most people probably wouldn’t consider me a humble person. It depends, however, on your definition of humility.

As with most things religion touches, I think it has screwed up our idea of humility. The typical conception of someone who is humble is someone who is self-deprecating, self-effacing, deferential – humiliated before GOD.

Merriam-Webster sez:

1: not proud or haughty : not arrogant or assertive
2: reflecting, expressing, or offered in a spirit of deference or submission
3 a: ranking low in a hierarchy or scale : insignificant, unpretentious b: not costly or luxurious

But I prefer to think of the word based on its etymology:

Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin humilis meaning low, humble, from humus earth; akin to Greek chthōn earth, chamai on the ground.

This is also possibly the root of the word “human“.

You know how much it must irk me to quote from the Christian mythology book but I’ll take poetry where I find it:

Genesis 2:7 And Jehovah God proceeded to form the man out of dust from the ground and to blow into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man came to be a living soul.

Genesis 3:19 In the sweat of your face you will eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken. For dust you are and to dust you will return.

Where am I going with all this?

I explained to some friends tonight that our bodies are made, as the book says, from dirt – which is just a poetic way of saying that the sperm and ovum which came together to create your body were formed out of the nutrients eaten by your parents which came from the ground. Plants literally eat the minerals out of the ground, the animals eat the planets, and the human animals eat both, thereby eating the “dirt” second-hand. This “dirt” – or as I prefer to call it, these “chemicals” – are what you are. Your entire body is made up of chemicals from the ground. We’re made up mostly of hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen (the last three which were all formed in the explosions of stars, which is why Joni Mitchell sang “we’re all stardust”), with some salts and trace elements.

(photo by idan x)

Your brain is also made up of this “dirt”, this humus, and as regular readers know, it is my suggestion that every thought you’ve ever had in your life was 100% the result of a simple electro-chemical event in your brain. Dirt can think! Free will is an illusion. We aren’t in control of chemistry. We’re just along for the ride.

If you accept that this is all you are – that every action you’ve ever done and every thought you’ve ever had was the result of a simple electro-chemical event in the brain – then you realize you are just dirt. That everyone else is just dirt. Just chemical reactions. Hitler. Gandhi. Buddha. Not Jesus, because we know he was probably a fictional character. Napoleon. Jack The Ripper. George Bush. Saddam Hussein. All just dirt. Everything they ever did in their lives, everything you’ll ever do in your life, is governed by the laws of chemistry and physics which all sprung from the Big Bang, 14-point-something billion years ago.

Even that thought you’re having right now – “Reilly is so full of shit, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about” – that, too, is 100% based on the laws of chemistry. “You”, the dirt, had no “control” over it. It’s just chemistry. Don’t feel guilty about it – it’s just chemistry. You have no control over the laws of chemistry (unless, of course, you are a student of Professor Charles Xavier, in which case I grant you special compensation and you can leave class early).

So – that’s my definition of HUMILITY – knowing that you are just humus, just dirt. That everything you do in your life (or don’t do as the case may be) is 100% the result of chemical reactions which started with the Big Bang all that time ago. You can’t take credit for it. You weren’t even there. In fact, most of the atoms making up your body didn’t even exist. They came later.

If I’m right – and if you don’t think I am, come prepared in the comments section below with rational arguments – then you can neither justify feeling guilty or proud or angry or love. Can you love dirt? Can you be angry with dirt? Should dirt feel guilty for being dirt? Should it feel proud for being dirt?

Do you think perhaps this is what the writer/s of the Talmud or Genesis were trying to convey when they spoke of people being made out of animated clay or of the earth? Were they trying to explain that we are all just chemistry? And that TRUE humility comes from that knowledge?

The person who says “I’m not just a chemical reaction – I have FREE WILL! I am in control of my actions!”: is what they meant by a person with pride?

Instead, I quote Popeye: “I yam what I yam”. The dirt that made me is configured in a particular way, thanks to the laws of chemistry, and it is going to do what it has to do. “I” (whatever “I” am) is just along for the ride.

Is this the fundamental model of everything?

E8 fabric of the universe?

WarWraith sent me this link. Even if it doesn’t prove to be the basis of a Theory of Everything, this E8 is an amazing thing to look at. I’ve printed it out and put it up on my wall. Read the below article for an explanation on the new theory that it could be a mathematical representation of the fabric of the universe.

Surfer dude stuns physicists with theory of everything – Telegraph

Read more on Lisi’s “Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything“.

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The 13.7 billion year old man

Have you ever stopped to think about how old you REALLY are? I don’t mean this arbitrary thing we call your date of birth – I mean how old you REALLY are.

Every atom in your body is old – REALLY old. Many of them, such as oxygen and carbon, are only produced via stellar nucleosynthesis – inside giant stars. The nuclei of these atoms is produced by whacking helium nuclei together under extreme heat, therefore the nuclei themselves, which hold most of our mass, are actually much older than those reaction. They were created in the Big Bang. Your current body just represents a different proximity and alignment of those nuclei. They’ve been around, in one form or another, for 13.7 billion years. That’s what we call the Law of Conservation of Mass-Energy – the total amount of mass and energy in the universe is constant.

The current estimate we have for the age of the universe is about 13.7 billion years. Therefore, it seems to me that my body is really about 13.7 billion years old. No wonder I’m feeling tired lately.

What is even more profound for me is the realization that I *had* to exist. Not only that, but I *had* to be who I am right now. It couldn’t have been any different. Yes, I’m a determinist.

When I’m having a debate with creationists about evolution, I usually hear, among their various standard arguments, something about evolution meaning we are all here through some random series of accidents. That strikes me as the complete opposite of the truth.

Think about it – 13.7 billion years ago, the Big Bang occurred. Everything that has happened since that point in time (which I guess was zero time, as time was created WITH the Big Bang) happened according to the laws of physics and chemistry, or let’s just bundle them up together and call them “Laws Of The Universe” (LOTU). Every single atomic reaction that has occurred since time started, happened as a result of LOTU. To suggest otherwise would be saying that sometimes LOTU can be broken which wouldn’t make them LAWS. From all of our investigation of the universe over the last few thousand years, we have come to understand that it does seem to operate according to certain laws. We don’t understand all of them yet and perhaps we never will. It does seem true, though, that laws are present everywhere we look.

What about quantum mechanics? Even QM, as mind-bending as it seems to be, appears to operate according to certain laws and, according to some, is probably also deterministic, even though we currently don’t understand all of the hidden variables and therefore it appears probabilistic. We’ve only been aware of the nature of sub-atomic mechanics for 100 years, it’s early days, but already we understand enough that much of our engineering is based upon the laws of QM as we currently understand them.

If we had absolute knowledge of every atomic and sub-atomic event that was happening one second after the Big Bang, and we completely understood LOTU, I’m certain we could predict everything – the entire course of our lives, the time and place of our death, and the end of the universe itself. Of course, we don’t have that information, and we probably never will, but it’s profound enough for me to sit here and contemplate that my very existence was determined by the Big Bang… that 13.7 billion years ago, the nuclei of the atoms that now form my body were created and a series of event began which lead, not only to my birth, but to the entire course of my life. Every thought and every action I’ve ever had or ever will have, are also the result of LOTU. Nothing could have been different. My life will play out the way it plays out. Every event which happens is the only possible event which COULD have happened. Nothing is wasted, nothing is in excess, nothing is superfluous. There is no reason to feel regret, or guilt, or worry. I am who I am, the only possible me I could be, and this is the only possible life I could live.

I could take it one step further and think about this particular combination of atoms that make up “Cameron”. Are they the same atoms that made up “Cameron” 37 years ago? Absolutely not. So which particular combination of atoms am I? Yesterday’s? Today’s? What makes me “me”? Is it a particular series of memories about events which happened to “me”? What if I had an accident and lost all of my memories? Would I still, then, be “me”? And, if so, why?

Perhaps this whole identity thing is just a fabrication, an illusion, a mental construct. Perhaps there is no such thing as a definitive “me”. Perhaps I shouldn’t limit the definition of “me” to this particular collection of atoms. Perhaps I should consider all of the atoms that have ever made up my body to still be “me”. But then… billions of those atoms are no longer part of my body. They came and went. Where did they go? Into the air, the soil, the water around me. They were, perhaps, absorbed by a nearby plant, which was eaten by an animal sometime later, which was then eaten by… another human. Is that other human, therefore, since they contain some of my previous atoms, also me?

This whole discussion of atoms gets weirder. Just imagine that you had eyes as powerful as an electron microscope. Now look at your skin. Which particles on there are you and which aren’t you? How go you decide which bacteria in and on your body are part of you and which aren’t you? Remove all of the bacteria in your body and you DIE. So surely they are you too. And we all know that atoms don’t have a hard shell. The electrons which are in orbit around the nucleus don’t form a hard shell, which is why physicists like Brian Greene like to say that we are mostly made up of space.

So… you are a 13.7 billion year old roving collection of atoms which are mostly made up of space and everything you have ever done, or ever will do, is 100% determined by the Laws Of The Universe.

Now tell me that isn’t at LEAST as profound and mind-boggling as anything you get from religion.

Speed of Light broken?

Cait pointed to this on Twitter. There is some debate in the article about the interpretation of the data, and it isn’t the first time I’ve seen researchers claim to have broken the speed of light (I remember having an email conversation with Aussie physicist Paul Davies about the teleportation of an electron about 7 years ago) but just the very idea that the speed of light isn’t a fundamental barrier in physics could open up a lot of possibilities, especially for intergalactic travel… one day.
clipped from

The two scientists say they have now tunneled photons “instantaneously” across a distance of up to one meter. Their conclusion, stated in a recent paper, is that the speed limit of special relativity has been violated. Dr. Nimtz claims quantum tunneling is a little understood process that is “the most important” aspect of quantum physics, one that may be responsible for the computational efficiency of the human brain.
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