John Cunningham

Belfast, Ireland

About John

I'm passionate about

Astronomy, Science education, Humanism, Secularism, Music, Culture, Technology, Exploration, Comedy, Cosmology, Earth Science, Planetary Science, Physics, Talking Fun Nonsense

Comments & conversations

104284
John Cunningham
Posted almost 4 years ago
Are we living in the best time of human history or the worst time
I genuinely think that the global attitude to violence and loss of human life has improved over the last few centuries, at least in most societies. I think this should be regarded as a good thing, however the world is facing some challenges that are almost certain to become increasingly difficult to deal with as time goes on (climate change, extinctions, nuclear proliferation, etc). For most people in the world it's better to be around now than even a few hundred years ago. For the most part we have reasonably accountable civilian government and peaceful projects such as the LHC, ISS etc. This doesn't mean much to the huge number of people on our planet who have no access to the technological benefits of modern life including medical care and adequate nutirition and education. The West should be making a concerted effort to promote democracy in places such as Africa. The only way forward is to stabilise those countries and their economies (through protectionism if neccessary in my opinion) and provide the education necessary for social mobility. Sadly current efforts are obviously inadequate, and the free trade doctrine penalises countries with under-developed economies. So in general I think the world is a better place than it used to be albeit a more dangerous one (disease has more change of being global now we have jet liners, nuclear war). I genuinely think that technology can solve a lot of the world's problems (for example genetic engineering of staple crops has already resulted in order-of-magnitude increases in food production though it's apparent that access to food is a separate problem).
104284
John Cunningham
Posted almost 4 years ago
Lucianne Walkowicz: Finding planets around other stars
The trouble with a Mars mission is that there are a lot of non-trivial technological problems that we don't really have a good economical answer to right now. Radiation in particular is problematic with a manned Mars mission. From a mission strategy point of view, I've seen a compelling argument somewhere that Phobos or Deimos would be a better initial target, as these asteroids are both of the 'gravel ball' type where a great deal of their volume is empty space. This would make them ideal ready made space stations for Mars, and the tens or hundreds of metres of rock around the 'base' would be ideal radiation shielding for long term missions. This could then serve as a staging area and forward base for a manned surface mission in the Mars system. On that note, from what I've seen it seems likely the next manned endeavour to be undertaken will be a mission to an asteroid.
104284
John Cunningham
Posted over 4 years ago
What are the reasons that created the two forces in the nucleus of an atom? Why are there two forces in the nucleus of an atom?
You state as a fact that we need to change the methodology of present physics - what exactly do you propose? What is wrong with the way physics is done at present? Sorry to try to answer a question with a question. :) I'm not a physicist, but my layperson's understanding is that many believe the weak force joins with the electromagnetic force at high energies to become the electroweak force. At even higher energies, (Grand Unification Energy - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_unification_energy) the electroweak and strong forces combine into a superforce (i.e. all their interactions become the same). So if that's correct, then the apparent two forces in the atom are a result of symmetry breaking, i.e. that the symmetry in the early universe 'broke' as the Universe cooled. I'm sure a physicist could give a much better answer but I'd be curious to know why you are so dismissive of current physics. What you're saying about light isn't clear to me, sorry.
104284
John Cunningham
Posted over 4 years ago
Patricia Burchat: Shedding light on dark matter
@ Peter Surely there is a difference though, between something being infinite, and something having no boundary. We all know that the surface of the Earth, in two dimensions, is without a boundary, but it is certainly not infinite. I understand that the Universe can be regarded as a four dimensional sphere that is finite in extent, but without any boundaries. i.e. if you travel in a straight line long enough (or fast enough) you can come back to where you started. To me however this is quite distinct from infinity. Even if we are to say that the Universe is currently expanding and will last for ever, then it will continue to increase in size over time, say, it will tend to infinity, but at no particular point is it ever infinite. The beauty of infinity is that no matter how large a value gets, it's still infinitely far away from infinity. Even some genuinely freaky numbers that have been described (Graham's number comes to mind), numbers that make a googolplex look like a baker's dozen, dwindle to nothing next to infinity. I personally think that when the Universe finally becomes so dilute that is has reached maximum entropy, the arrow of time will go weird and create paradoxes. Nothing can really 'happen' at that point. Perhaps the big bang itself came from a state such as this. Hopefully someone will work it out and make their hypothesis testable ;)
104284
John Cunningham
Posted over 4 years ago
Lee Smolin: Science and democracy
Your major unstated premise is that human religion/theology has got genuinely useful information about god. I for one don't know if god exists or not, but one thing that is for certain is that there is definitely not a shred of compelling evidence that god exists. Now that does indeed leave room for a creator that can create a world that looks very much as if it needs no creator (a do-nothing god if you will, other than the mysterious early epoch where all physical laws break down) - however if this is the case, then it seems very unlikely that this creator has ever communicated with humans. No miracle or other supernatural event has ever been substantiated. So while you're welcome to a distant, abstract form of creator deity, you should acknowledge some important points. One is that this entity is very remote from human understanding and may well not share values with humanity. Another is that you cannot state its goals or intentions as facts and necessarily expect people to accept your view. Theology in the West, couched as it is in predominantly Christian thinking, is deeply unpersuasive to me personally and nothing in any bronze-age text is going to persuade me otherwise, especially given how internally inconsistent it is. Atheism really is not a belief of any kind, it's a rejection of a specific hypothesis (that there is a god), and all the evidence currently suggests that it's perfectly reasonable to reject this hypothesis. It is no more a specific rejection of belief in Yahweh or Ambrahamic faiths than it is a rejection of Zeus or Thor.
104284
John Cunningham
Posted over 4 years ago
Juan Enriquez: The next species of human
I imagine it's got less to do with the behaviour of the universities themselves than the simple observation that, as individuals learn more about the world and how it works, they find less reason to accept magical books as holding all the important truths of the world. To be honest, religion has been considered exempt from criticism for much too long. Would you have been so annoyed at the repression of rationalism by religion for thousands of years? Non-believers, at least, are not burning religious people at the stake.
104284
John Cunningham
Posted over 4 years ago
Susan Blackmore: Memes and "temes"
Not only is memetics 'new' as compared with genetics, it's a completely different paradigm. Memes are intangible as they are composed of information that can only be understood by humans. They are substrate-independent, i.e. a meme can be in someone's head, in a book, on the internet, or in any of a vast variety of forms. Genes are physical and composed of complex molecules. Memes are 'selected' by poorly understood mechanisms in human culture and thinking, and genes are selected for by nature. To me this is a fairly new idea and it's a very interesting one as it shows that humans are now existing with two sets of replictors with differing agendas.