simulated_universe.jpgLet’s see how deep the rabbit-hole goes. Just a reworded movie quote sure, but the context is perhaps more applicable to real life than we normally assume. Somehow the brief mention of the Cellular Automata (CA) in a previous post sparked an extensive digital expedition on the subject.

I guess it beats watching television, which, as a side-note, I stopped doing about 6 months ago, highly recommended. What inspired me to research further is the apparent elegance of CA systems, the almost instinctive notion that these could be a key element of something bigger. Or maybe just some kind of occupational obsession, that is possible too.

Anyway, first stop on my journey was Konrad Zuse, a German computer science pioneer who built the first computer, the Z3, completed in 1941. I did not know much about him but calling Zuse a genius and visionary is probably apt. Ironically the German government decided further development of the machine, an electronic successor to the Z3, to be “strategically unimportant”…In his book Calculating Space Zuse hypothesized that the Universe itself could be a deterministic computational structure, a CA, its physical laws discrete. These theories were later expanded upon by Edward Fredkin, who in turn introduced the term digital physics, although later he preferred the use the term digital philosophy.

That phrase got me to a paper by philosophy professor Nick Bostrom, called Are you living in a computer simulation? Thought provoking is an understatement, although probably more a mental exercise than anything else. Also in that category and an entertaining read, The Holographic Universe by Michael Talbott (public domain).

So let’s get back to hard science, and the ultimate kicker of the journey. Check out the work of particle physics professor Dr. James Gates Jr., specializing in super-string and super-symmetry theories. Admittedly I definitely hit the boundaries of my understanding here, light reading it is not. So from an interview:

Gates: “How could we discover whether we live inside a Matrix? One answer might be ‘Try to detect the presence of codes in the laws that describe physics.’” And this is precisely what he has done. Specifically, within the equations of super-symmetry he has found, quite unexpectedly, what are called “doubly-even self-dual linear binary error-correcting block codes. “This unsuspected connection suggests that these codes may be ubiquitous in nature, and could even be embedded in the essence of reality. If this is the case, we might have something in common with the Matrix science-fiction films, which depict a world where everything human being’s experience is the product of a virtual-reality-generating computer network.” Lastly, all of this would also imply a Creator. Mind blown.


KIC 8462852

Storm, The Von Neumann-Machine (1993)

KIC 8462852, a star with a name a bookkeeper would come up with, has scientists baffled. Data sent back from the Kepler Space Telescope, specifically launched in 2009 to search for Earth-like planets orbiting other stars, was confusing. The star, nicknamed the WTF-star (“Where’s The Flux”…), exhibited strange light fluctuations, up to the point that even SETI got involved and started looking for radio emissions. They found none thus far by the way.

Several hypothesis have been brought to the table, from comet swarms, interstellar dust to asteroid fields. None were fully satisfactory. Apparently the scientific community had to work up the courage to finally propose a fringe possibility, alien activity. Perhaps a Dyson sphere, a device that encapsulates a star, and harvests most of its energy. Of course this would indicate an alien race so advanced that our best hope is that they never contact us.

When I was reading up on Dyson, I learned he also did some thought experiments on self replicating systems, something I first read about when The Game of Life (Conway) was featured in a school project. While as a concept, the 2-state 2-dimensional cellular automaton was simple enough, as a programming assignment it proved challenging (but fun). The idea of non-biological self replicating machines was first explored by Von Neumann, and the name Von Neumann machines is sometimes used as a general label. So if not a Dyson sphere messing with KICs light, then maybe a Von Neumann machine, activated millennia ago. And to spice things up, these machines can go rogue too (well, at least in science fiction).

Break the Illusion

0000000000000000sY1qzcgluo1_1280They Live is probably not the first movie someone will come up with when discussing the works of John Carpenter. It is certainly not his best or most successful entry but interesting nonetheless. Thematically it shares common ground with acknowledged modern sci-fi classics The Matrix (1999) and Dark City (1998, arguably the better movie).

While humanity is reduced to obedient slaves or expendable resources, one man wakes up and gets a step closer to the truth. Of course brain-dead consumerism was blasted even earlier in Dawn of the Dead (1978), but that movie misses the protagonist who gains sudden insight and understanding.

It is tempting to think that we live in a time where said insight is perhaps not only already gained by some but also slowly gathering critical mass. Without venturing to far into the Fringe, there is an increasing amount of healthy skepticism towards the mass-media. Up to the point where everything they pump out is seen as nothing more than a greedy time devouring distraction, aimed at nothing other than control. “Bread and Circuses”, to appease and manipulate the voters. I do not know if we are getting closer to gaining real insight and understanding. But an almost unlimited access to independent information sources allows us to investigate, think for ourselves and possibly break the illusion. If there is one.

Byrd’s 2nd Antarctic Expedition (1933 – 1935)

KnipselBlogMy interest in Antarctica was originally ignited by the flat earth debate where it plays a critical role in most of the theories. The topic experienced quite a revival on the internet since May 2015. And a few days ago even main stream media (in the UK) reported about the phenomenon (Flat-Earthers are Back).

Leaving the fringe, I found an interesting video on YouTube, about Byrd’s second Antarctic expedition. What makes this video special compared to regular stock footage is the introduction and narration by Dr. Harold Borns, Professor Emeritus at the University of Maine Climate Change Institute.

Fringe: Moon Missions

fd72b6953ba0As suggested in the previous post, do we really get better at spotting fakes? With mainstream mass media slowly but surely losing its monopoly on information distribution (and subsequent opinion forming), the availability of quality independent news sources and more generally the unprecedented accessibility of information to any person on Earth (with an internet connection…), maybe we are becoming less gullible and more inclined to research and think for ourselves. As stated in the Welcome post, keeping an open mind is one of the leading ideas behind this blog. Even if that leads to the fringes of the internet.

When the Apollo 11 crew landed on the moon I was alive but too young to remember anything about it. I am sure though we watched the incredible images of Armstrong and Aldrin walking on the moon and to this day I am still fascinated with space-travel and the possibilities it may offer. Watching the footage again proved to be an interesting experience.

Strangely, the feat seemed even more impressive, almost to the point that suspension of disbelief was required, considering the technology used back then and the fact that man never went higher than about 300 miles after 1972 (the International Space Station is between 205 and 270 miles).

Let’s not get into the whole conspiracy thing or the technical minutiae of the matter, let’s look at the human factor. If you watch videos of the moon walks the astronauts give the distinct impression of being rather relaxed, sometimes joking or goofing around, jumping, stumbling and in later missions practically joyriding the buggy. Think about this for a moment.

You are in a hostile environment where only your suit protects you from extreme heat, cold, radiation and of course the vacuum of space. Or summarized, certain death. Any damage to your suit can be fatal. Will you fool around and have a good time? Sure, the astronauts were very courageous guys, they had the right stuff, but still.

With that in mind, view the Apollo 11 press conference. A successful heroic mission into uncharted territory, perhaps the most astounding human achievement in the history of mankind, possibly resembling a religious experience when looking upon the fragile blue planet, alone in the vast black void of space. And now, fortunately, safe and back on Earth!

You expect boundless enthusiasm, pride and joy. Instead Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins appear very nervous and tense, almost fearful, tightly on script and not happy at all. To the present day observer, the behavior shown in both instances (moonwalk and press conference) does not seem to match the occasion, in fact, amazingly, when switched it makes more sense. Remarkable, and one can (at least somewhat) understand how this feeds into all kinds of (conspiracy) theories.


imageTrust no one. Once exclusively the motto of a diagnosed paranoid, at present possibly a little bit more accepted as a legitimate worldview. The internet has facilitated not only the rise of independent news sources but also their fringe spin offs where conspiracy theories run rampant. And to spice things up, sometimes these theories actually have some truth in them. People love it and for the curious and open minded among them it is a treasure trove. Very valuable as well if you are Chris Carter and looking for material, so perhaps the time is right for an X-Files reboot. After watching the first episode some 23 years ago (doesn’t that make you feel ancient…) I was hooked. The subject matter and of course the chemistry between Mulder and Scully made the show top notch. Well at least until they lost the plot and it finally all fell apart. The new mini series (6 episodes) will premiere on January 24. The first reviews are already in and not promising, but I Want To Believe.

Space Travel and the Van Allen Radiation Belt

The Van Allen Radiation Belts are often mentioned in space-travel related discussions on the internet. Two doughnut shaped rings of pure death surround the earth and make space travel impractical or impossible. The inner belt is situated from 400 to 6.000 miles above the earth, the outer one extends from 8.000 to 36.000 miles. The belts contain charged particles that loop around the Earth at high speeds. The deadliness varies but on the top end of the scale the particles have enough energy to penetrate 14mm of lead. It was actually Greek physicist Nicholas Constantine Christofilos who was one of the first to explore the possibility of trapping charged particles. He later was one of the driving forces behind Operation Argus (1958).

Operation ARGUS was the designation given to the three high-altitude nuclear test shots conducted by the United States in the South Atlantic Ocean from August 27 to September 10, 1958. The ARGUS shots were conducted to test the Christofilos theory, which argued that high-altitude nuclear detonations would create a radiation belt in the upper regions of the Earth’s atmosphere. It was theorized that the radiation belt would have military implications, including degradation of radio and radar transmissions, damage or destruction of the arming and fuzing mechanisms of ICBM warheads, and endangering the crews of orbiting space vehicles that might enter the belt.

So back then shooting nukes in the sky and trying to create a radiation or electron belt in the upper parts of the atmosphere was thought to be a pretty good idea, of tactical value in case of war, for example to disable enemy satellites. Of special interest is the location chosen for Argus, about a 1.000 miles southwest of Cape Town.article-0-1E3B10F600000578-257_634x208This is an area in range of the so called South Atlantic Anomaly, where the inner Van Allen belt is closest to Earth, as low as 125 miles from the surface. The borders and shape of this Bermuda Triangle of Space are not static, the anomaly is actually moving and expanding slowly. It is speculated that the weakening of the Earths geomagnetic field may be a contributing factor. Interesting to note: the ISS required extra shielding to be able to safely pass through the anomaly. About 200 satellites (2010) face the problem of passing through the Anomaly, some programmed to shut down sensitive equipment for the duration of the passage.

Nasa Engineer talks about the Van Allen Belts

Our understanding of the belts and their function is still developing. Recently it was discovered that the belts, interacting with the Earths plasma-sphere, function as a barrier to high speed electrons. So all things considered, it is probably something we do not want to mess with too much. Van Allen himself  responded to questions about the belt and the consequences for space-travel, and more specifically a FOX TV show that posed the NASA Moon Missions were a hoax:

“The radiation belts of the Earth do, indeed, pose important constraints on the safety of human space flight. The very energetic (tens to hundreds of MeV) protons in the inner radiation belt are the most dangerous and most difficult to shield against. Specifically, prolonged flights (i.e., ones of many months’ duration) of humans or other animals in orbits about the Earth must be conducted at altitudes less than about 250 miles in order to avoid significant radiation exposure.

A person in the cabin of a space shuttle in a circular equatorial orbit in the most intense region of the inner radiation belt, at an altitude of about 1000 miles, would be subjected to a fatal dosage of radiation in about one week.  However, the outbound and inbound trajectories of the Apollo spacecraft cut through the outer portions of the inner belt and because of their high speed spent only about 15 minutes in traversing the region and less than 2 hours in traversing the much less penetrating radiation in the outer radiation belt.

The resulting radiation exposure for the round trip was less than 1% of a fatal dosage – a very minor risk among the far greater other risks of such flights. I made such estimates in the early 1960s and so informed NASA engineers who were planning the Apollo flights. These estimates are still reliable. The recent Fox TV show, which I saw, is an ingenious and entertaining assemblage of nonsense. The claim that radiation exposure during the Apollo missions would have been fatal to the astronauts is only one example of such nonsense.”

So not fully understood and dangerous but also possibly instrumental in keeping Earth safe from deadly cosmic influences. Not recommended in case of a prolonged visit but also not a barrier that can not be passed. Otherwise we could not have gone to the Moon, right? And with 60´s technology to boot! But that is another topic, which I will leave for a later post.