Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Conspiracy theories and our sense of reality

Real conspiracies do occur, but as Umberto Eco has pointed out, they get discovered very soon because the people involved cannot maintain secrecy long enough, especially in this age of whistle blowing. The Daily Telegraph listed the 10 greatest conspiracy theories of all time.

 Some are fairly innocuous and result from the power of the media to distort reality. See, e.g., these forged photographs of an archaeological dig where the remains of biblical giants were alleged to have been found. Fortunately, this one is easy to dismiss because no location coordinates or details of the archaeologists were given and the pictures themselves suggest tamperings. This was a conspiracy in that it set out to deceive.

Virtual worlds are also distorting the real one by imposing the game designer's model on the players, no matter how violent or warped this may be. The printed word does this to a degree but does not reward the user with a score and it's distribution is more censored by society's institutions. It is estimated that over 70 billion dollars will be spent on video games this year. This is a pity because, as I try to portray in my novel, computer simulations have a tremendous potential to lead the world forward instead of backwards.

Here are a couple of cases where the potential for digital distortion and manipulation have led to many people (still thankfully a minority) completely losing contact with reality.

  • The Flat Earth Society was re-formed a few years ago and its leader interviewed on a BBC radio programme. Asked how he explained the pictures of the earth from space he said they were all digitally doctored. I don’t recall him being asked to explain celestial mechanics which have allowed missiles to be launched into orbit or to other planets with extreme precision, or the movements of the sun, moon and planets calculated, all on the assumption of a spherical earth.

  • A substantial number of people spread over the world still believe that the Apollo moon landings were faked, despite mass media coverage of all six missions, even by the Soviet Union, returned moon rock being distributed to hundreds of labs worldwide and artifices being left on the lunar surface which can be clearly observed by telescope and examined by future manned missions (e.g. by the Chinese).

Such theories may seem harmless they damage our perception of the stage we live on and act as decoys to real plots. Some are  socially and spiritually damaging.

  • The Da Vinci Code is believed to be historical by a substantial proportion of American readers, probably because the publishers presented it as based on fact. Instead the story depends largely on the existence of the Priory of Zion, which was exposed as a French confidence trick in the 1950s. How can so many be so misled? My concern is that such a large number of people can be so gullible – what else might they be hoodwinked into believing or disbelieving?

It is no exaggeration to say that conspiracy theories can have evil consequences. The worst one was in the 19th century and eventually led to anti-Semitic persecution and extermination on an unprecedented scale in World War II in which 50 million soldiers and civilians died.

  • This was largely the result of a forged document by an entirely imaginary Protocols of the Elders of Zion. It was widely used by Nazi leaders to claim that Jews were in a secret conspiracy to destroy and take over Germany and other countries. Coupled with social Darwinism, the anti-Christ philosophy of Nietzsche, pseudoscientific theories of racial superiority and a bit of occultism, they probably convinced even themselves, as well as those offered full employment at a time of economic collapse, that a programme of mechanised slaughter of Jews, Slavs, gays, gypsies, the sick and the disabled was ‘justifiable’ for the purification of the Teutonic master race.  The Nazi Party took over a parliamentary secular democracy (Weimar Republic) in 1931, after polling only 2.8% of the vote in 1928.
The latest conspiracy theory I have come across is one implicating the CIA in planning the downfall of the Soviet Union in a way which would enrich western bankers and Russian oligarchs and asset strip the Russian people. President Putin is portrayed as being in conflict with rich westerners, particularly Jewish financiers, as he tries to reclaim these assets for the people. It is all being hidden from us by the rich who own the media. How one goes about assessing the veracity or the spuriousness of such claims I have no idea.

With difficult times ahead, some ‘intellectuals’ systematically undermining a belief in right and wrong (or trying their best to do so), and others claiming that truth does not exist, it is as well to be on our guard. Progress, be it spiritual, social,  scientific or technological, rests on a foundation of truth and trust.


Monday, 24 August 2015

Weather, biology and nonlocality

Weather forecasting is getting more accurate. In Western Europe the 5-day forecast is more reliable than was the 3-day equivalent 25 years ago. 

Philip Ball in his article ‘No hurricane tonight’ (Prospect, February 2013) argued that although eventually 10 day forecasts may be possible there will always be a limit to the achievable accuracy of the computer models used by meteorologists to predict the weather. (Ball's article was based on a new book 'Invisible in the Storm' by Roulstone and Norbury, which is an account of the mathematics of weather prediction.)

These models work by breaking down atmospheric systems into elements or pixels which obey certain laws of physics

To simulate a game of billiards on a computer you program in Newton’s three equations of motion and a representation of each ball, then compute the action of a cue hitting the ball at a certain angle with a certain force or of a moving ball hitting another ball. This then leads to an easily predictable sequence of movements.

 To simulate a racing car’s movement on a computer you need to enter a model of the race track, the car with its steering wheel, accelerator and brake  and a set of equations describing how the car responds to the controls as it meets the camber, twists and bends of the virtual track, which is also programmed into the computer. 

Meteorological models are something like this in principle except that the systems being simulated are immeasurably more complex. The numerical variables of a weather system – atmospheric pressure, temperature, humidity, wind speed, wind direction, cloud cover, cloud type, precipitation intensity and precipitation type – which are used in computer models are only sample measurements taken  from weather stations at selected places and represent only a simplified view of the real situation. To accurately describe the actual weather in terms of such parameters one would need an almost infinite number of weather stations.  Moreover, such factors as cloud type or precipitation type are over simplifications at best. So the initial data fed into a weather model gives a far from accurate picture of the real situation.

The other major well-established cause of uncertainty in meteorology is that the weather is apparently chaotic in nature. In a system described by chaos theory only small departures from the initial state can lead to huge differences at some future time, depending on the kind of initial state. For instance, the weather in the Sahara desert will not be so sensitive to initial conditions as the weather over the Atlantic Ocean.


 There appears to be a consensus that for much of the world after 10 days the divergence of actual from predicted weather will be too large for the forecast to be useful even after all possible increases in computer power, modelling and sampling. 

Yet there are two other causes of uncertainty which can upset forecasts, both of daily weather and of future climate (average weather). 

 One is not quantifiable on a global basis but can have big effects on the intensity and distribution of precipitation.  This arises from the way clouds form by the condensation or freezing of water vapour onto microscopic particles in the atmosphere (the way water vapour turns to fog in the air of a bathroom, or as a misty film on a cold mirror). These particles consist not only of all kinds of dust but viruses and bacteria sucked up in storms from plants and soil as well as sea salt and methyl compounds emitted by phytoplankton in the ocean. See and a short RTB Newsflash podcast interview with Hugh Ross (highly recommended).  These processes are impossible to simulate or forecast on a large scale, especially where living organisms play a role.

The other one is controversial at this stage of history. It cannot be accepted without first accepting what has been termed  'nonlocality physics'. This shows that every particle in the universe – past, present and future – interacts instantaneously with every other particle, irrespective of distance. It is a startling concept of reality arising from the findings of quantum physics  (experimentally verified, e.g. quantum entanglement)  and includes the deduction that during biological life human consciousness cannot be separated from nature.

What is remarkable about this merging of mind and matter into one entity is that it fits in precisely with the Gaia hypothesis of James Lovelock, which looks at the unfolding of the biosphere over billions of years and comes to the conclusion that it is interconnected and self regulating. It has thrived even though the sun’s luminosity has increased by around 25% over this period and it now appears human beings are more integral to this system than was previously supposed by mainstream science.


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Saturday, 15 August 2015

Living planet: lightning

Image result for lightning lifeDiscounting humans almost all forest fires are caused by lightning, which strikes the planet 100 times a second, or 3 billion times a year.  The lightning also converts atmospheric nitrogen into  a form which can be used by life. Without these strikes it is questionable whether plants and animals would have appeared, or anything that we would recognize as a thriving biosphere.

Apart from joining with thunder  to create awe and wonder in the consciousness of sentient beings witnessing a thunderstorm lightning has physical effects which are, and for millions of years have been, of critical importance to the biosphere.

First, the heat generated in the air (comprising 78% nitrogen)  breaks down the triple bond which holds together  the 2 nitrogen atoms in each molecule of nitrogen so tightly that they cannot be used by the living organisms which need them. Without this bond being broken down there would be no life.  There also has to be rain to dissolve the nitrogen atoms and take them down to the soil where they can be acted upon by bacteria and taken into the cycle of processes by which plants are made. Animals and humans eat the plants, so they depend on the same nitrogen atoms released from the triple bonds. 

(The whole process by which nitrogen is taken from the atmosphere, used by the living world, and returned to the atmosphere is known as the nitrogen cycle. This feedback mechanism has kept the optimum concentration of nitrogen in the air at 78 % over millions of years.)

There is another way in which the triple bonds holding N (nitrogen) atoms together can be broken. This requires the action of bacteria on the tightly bonded molecules to produce ammonia . Ammonia contains 1 N atom and 4 H (hydrogen) atoms but the N is easy to extract from the ammonia for use by living systems.  This  process does not appear to involve lightning but is this really the case? It requires bacteria to produce the ammonia; yet bacteria are living organisms and all organisms require N freed from its triple bond.

I am not a qualified biologist so please pull me up if I am wrong but it does seem to me that without lightning there would have been no bacteria to extract N from the atmosphere for use by other bacteria in the first step of the protein  building process on which plants and, ultimately, animals depend. If this is right then all living systems, from microbes to mammals, depend on lightning strikes, either taking place now or having done so in the remote past.

Image result for lightning life
Some scientists speculate that electrical discharges in the primeval atmosphere, consisting of water vapour, ammonia and carbon dioxide, somehow sparked off a process which led to living organisms. The odds against this are breathtakingly astronomical unless one invokes the quantum realm and this means bringing in agents outside the natural order of objective, directly empirically testable science.

Returning to the present biosphere lightning is the main cause of wildfires, apart from human beings in the geologically very recent past . This is another way in which electrical discharges are an indirect but important agent in  the living world.  Forest fires remove various growth inhibitors and infuse the soil with water-retaining, mineral –rich charcoal. The fires also facilitate the growth of fungi which help produce more nitrogen in the form which is right for life.

Finally, lightning and rain cooperate  to reduce air pollution. The sparks fuse dust and pollen particles together, making them heavier and able to be washed out of the atmosphere. This is why the air is fresher  following  a thunderstorm than after ordinary rain.

John Sears

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Blogging for Peace on Earth: Supercity for refugees

Blogging for Peace on Earth: Supercity for refugees: (After starting to write a series of posts on supercities I decided that a more coherent approach would be to write just one post and update...