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  • feedwordpress 08:01:14 on 2018/07/09 Permalink
    Tags: , , , Kepler, Mysterium cosmographicum, , , ,   

    “The truth is not always beautiful, nor beautiful words the truth.”*… 


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    Does anyone who follows physics doubt it is in trouble? When I say physics, I don’t mean applied physics, material science or what Murray-Gell-Mann called “squalid-state physics.” I mean physics at its grandest, the effort to figure out reality. Where did the universe come from? What is it made of? What laws govern its behavior? And how probable is the universe? Are we here through sheer luck, or was our existence somehow inevitable?

    In the 1980s Stephen Hawking and other big shots claimed that physics was on the verge of a “final theory,” or “theory of everything,” that could answer these big questions and solve the riddle of reality. I became a science writer in part because I believed their claims, but by the early 1990s I had become a skeptic. The leading contender for a theory of everything held that all of nature’s particles and forces, including gravity, stem from infinitesimal, stringy particles wriggling in nine or more dimensions.

    The problem is that no conceivable experiment can detect the strings or extra dimensions…

    John Horgan examines physicist Sabine Hossenfelder‘s claim that desire for beauty and other subjective biases have led physicists astray: “How Physics Lost Its Way.”

    * Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

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    As we contemplate certainty, we might recall that it was on this date in 1595 that Johann Kepler (and here) published Mysterium cosmographicum (Mystery of the Cosmos), in which he described an invisible underlying structure determining the six known planets in their orbits.  Kepler thought as a mathematician, devising a structure based on only five convex regular solids; the path of each planet lay on a sphere separated from its neighbors by touching an inscribed polyhedron.

    It was a beautiful, an elegant model– and one that fit the orbital data available at the time.  It was, nonetheless, wrong.

    Detailed view of Kepler’s inner sphere

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:26 on 2017/07/09 Permalink
    Tags: , , history of maps, Kepler, , , planets, ,   

    “The map is not the territory”*… 


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    With the advent of GPS systems and cell-phone-based mapping guidance…

    …many of us have stopped paying attention to the world around us because we are too intent on following directions. Some observers worry that this represents a new and dangerous shift in our style of navigation. Scientists since the 1940s have argued we normally possess an internal compass, “a map-like representation within the ‘black box’ of the nervous system,” as geographer Rob Kitchin puts it. It’s how we know where we are in our neighborhoods, our cities, the world.

    Is it possible that today’s global positioning systems and smartphones are affecting our basic ability to navigate? Will technology alter forever how we get around?

    Most certainly—because it already has. Three thousand years ago, our ancestors began a long experiment in figuring out how they fit into the world, by inventing a bold new tool: the map…

    Get your bearings at: “From Ptolemy to GPS, the Brief History of Maps

    * Alfred Korzybski

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    As we follow the directions, we might recall that it was on this date in 1595 that Johann Kepler (and here) published Mysterium cosmographicum (Mystery of the Cosmos), in which he described an invisible underlying structure determining the six known planets in their orbits.  Kepler thought as a mathematician, devising a structure based on only five convex regular solids; the path of each planet lay on a sphere separated from its neighbors by touching an inscribed polyhedron.

    It was an elegant model– and one that fit the orbital data available at the time.  It was, nonetheless, wrong.

    Detailed view of Kepler’s inner sphere

    source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:45 on 2016/08/18 Permalink
    Tags: Dyrenforth, , , Kepler, , , rainmaking, , snowflakes,   

    “The endless repetition of an ordinary miracle”*… 


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    Snowflakes under a microscope

    In 1611 Johannes Kepler wrote a scientific essay entitled De Nive Sexangula; commonly translated as “On the Six-Cornered Snowflake.” It was the first investigation into the nature of snowflakes and what we’d now call crystallography. Since he was a gentleman and a scholar back when you could be such a thing without being ironic or a hipster, Kepler gave the essay as a New Year’s gift. As Kepler wrote on the title page:

    To the honorable Counselor at the Court of his Imperial Majesty, Lord Matthaus Wacker von Wackenfels, a Decorated Knight and Patron of Writers and Philosophers, my Lord and Benefactor.

    As the title suggests, Kepler’s main concern was the question of why snowflakes are almost always six-pointed…

    Follow the train of thought from the stacking of spheres to the intricacies of tiling at “Snowflakes and Cannonball Stacks.”

    * Orhan Pamuk, Snow

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    As we pause to ponder patterns, we might recall that it was on this date in 1891, about 20 miles outside of Midland, Texas, that the first rainmaking experiment in the U.S. was conducted. Robert St. George Dyrenforth, a Washington patent attorney and retired Army officer, led a team that used “mortars, casks, barometers, electrical conductors, seven tons of cast-iron borings, six kegs of blasting powder, eight tons of sulfuric acid, one ton of potash, 500 pounds of manganese oxide, an apparatus for making oxygen and another for hydrogen, 10- and 20-foot-tall muslin balloons and supplies for building enormous kites” to create enormous explosions meant to help clouds form.  Their efforts– which were based more on Dyrenforth’s instinct than on anything resembling scientific evidence– were entirely unsuccessful.  Still, at a time of extreme drought, it’s likely that almost anything seemed worth trying.  (The full– and very entertaining– story, here.)

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