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Thursday, July 19, 2007Dare To Think?
William James famously said that "a great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices." It seems that what makes a true thinker is not any one thing, but it certainly means keeping an open mind to new ideas and perspectives. With that in mind, here are some intriguing scientific thought experiments, perplexing cosmological questions and quintessential philosophical dilemmas. In short, here is 'fuel for thought,' if you'll excuse the play on words, from some of the classic thinking disciplines. Hopefully it will have something for each kind of thinker.
Scientific thought experiments are a great way to bring highly complex and specialized questions into the lives of everyday thinkers. By using straightforward analogies experts are able to make truly fascinating problems accessible to the general public. In turn, the visual images these conjure in the mind's eye are compelling on a fundamental level. WIRED has collected some of the most famous of these from history into a simple list, including classics such as Schroedinger's Quantum Cat and Einstein's Light Beam. Respectively, these represent simplified but still very powerful ways of understand scientific issues of significance that are available to all interested thinkers with an imagination.
Cosmological questions are similarly scientific, but deal with big-picture issues regarding the history of time and the nature of the universe. Now, it may not matter to us on a pragmatic level whether the universe is expanding or contracting or precisely how big it is. Still, our psychological understanding of such frequently asked cosmological questions strongly informs our comprehension of reality. Moreover, cosmology rests uniquely at the heart of the other core thinking disciplines, including science, religion and philosophy.
Of course no survey of important thinking issues could be complete without a consideration of philosophy. Many philosophical issues seem timeless, such as the debate over whether we have free will or if our actions are, instead, predetermined. Some even argue that this is a false dichotomy, yet the question is still asked by philosophers and scholars around the world. Likewise issues of truth versus relativism have remained persistent questions for millennia. Wikipedia provides an editable and ever-changing list of classic and contemporary philosophical questions that provides an excellent starting point for people who wish to keep thinking about these and other philosophical questions.
There are, of course, many kinds of thinking beyond those related to scientific, cosmological and philosophical issues. I believe our former president was paraphrasing William James, whether he knew it or not, when John F. Kennedy stated that we "too often enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought."
What about you? Dare to think about science, cosmology or philosophy?
A British explorer has braved sub-zero temperatures to become the first person to swim at the North Pole.
Lewis Gordon Pugh took to the freezing waters on Sunday to highlight the devastating impact of climate change on the natural world.
It took him 18 minutes and 50 seconds to swim 0.6 miles in waters created by melted sea ice at temperatures of 29°F — the coldest a human has swum in.
"I am obviously ecstatic to have succeeded but this swim is a triumph and a tragedy," the 37-year-old British lawyer said after coming out of the water.
"A triumph that I could swim in such ferocious conditions, but a tragedy that it's possible to swim at the North Pole."
Pugh said he hoped that his swim will make world leaders take climate change seriously.
"The decisions which they make over the next few years will determine the biodiversity of our world," he said.
"I want my children, and their children, to know that polar bears are still living in the Arctic — these creatures are on the front line up here."
Swimming has given him a unique perspective on climate change, Pugh says on his Web site.
"I have witnessed retreating glaciers, decreasing sea ice, coral bleaching, severe droughts and the migration of animals to colder climates.
"It's as a result of these experiences that I am determined to do my bit to raise awareness about the fragility of our environment and to encourage everyone to take action."
Calling it the hardest swim of his life, Pugh said Sunday that the water was black when he jumped in.
"It was like jumping into a dark black hole. It was frightening. The pain was immediate and felt like my body was on fire," said Pugh, who's an ambassador for the World Wildlife Fund UK.
"I was in excruciating pain from beginning to end and I nearly quit on a few occasions."
Colin Butfield of WWF UK called the challenge "a bittersweet victory, as this swim has only been possible because of climate change."
It’s us that I am worried about.
It’s true, most of the living things on the planet are going to take a mean beating if things continue to warm up as every credible scientist on earth seems to believe, but the planet itself will be perfectly fine…it will still be here long after we are gone. It’s the humans and all the animals that might not make it, and that is why I have been giving something a lot of thought.
I think we need to change the message of the environmental movement.
See, there are still millions of people that think that global warming and all the problems it could bring is a hoax set upon us by…well, I am not sure who is doing it. People still think that A. it is not happening and B. that the planet will figure out a way to save itself. As for A, I think all they have to do is start reading scientific reports about it to see that it is indeed happening and is not just some cyclical “thing” that happens now and then. As for B, I agree with them 100%…the planet will figure a way to survive global warming and fix it by getting rid of the problem, which is us. We are the problem. We are causing it. The unending assault on the environment by carbon dioxide emissions, our cars, our coal plants, our strip-mining of the earth, our pollution of our oceans and waterways with toxic sludge and wayward plastics, and our disregard for our natural forests and environment is leading us down a very dangerous precipice that everyone should be equally concerned about. But they are not and that is because human beings believe that they are in-fact infallible and could never cause the damage that scientists are telling us that we are causing. So I think we need to change the message to one of a more personal concern.
Telling people that the environment is hurting does not seem to change any minds. Telling them that their water supply is in danger does not seem to bother them. That is why we need to start admitting that the planet will be fine even with global warming, it’s just that we won’t be here anymore. Maybe then people will start to care enough to do their small part to clean up their act. Maybe if we stop harping on the animals and the rain forest and the polar bears and begin concentrating on people’s own families, their children, their grandparents, their future generations, we can get their attention.
You can leave out the part about peak oil as people just say that technology will save us. You can leave out the part about flood waters invading Manhattan, as technology will save us. You can even leave out the part about buying a hybrid vehicle, as people just say they cannot afford one. None of this matters to the naysayers, as none of it is any concern to them. They just think that some magic pill will come along to save humanity, just as we all fall for every pharmaceutical ad on the TV telling us we need medicine for this, that and the other thing. Someone will save us, so why worry?
Begin by asking them what will happen if no one does save us. Ask them if they care if any future generations of their family will get to live on planet earth the way we all got to, or will they be punished for the inaction by us, the current residents. Ask them why it is a bad thing for us to care about the only planet we have been given. Ask them just how painful it is to put a soda can in a blue container out back rather than a black one. Make it more personal. Make it so they can be more involved. From an abstract point of view, the average human sees the earth as much bigger than themselves, and thus much more powerful…and as such can fix itself without our help. And it fact it will…by getting rid of us.
So when you have a chance, change the message. I think that is the only way we can start to get through to all the people who don’t seem to give a damn that global warming is happening, because no one sees it as an imposition on their own personal life. This needs to change, and it needs to change quickly before the earth finally does fix the problem.
For two years, I thought I was going nuts. I had constant feelings of arousal that wouldn't go away. My whole vagina felt like a pressure cooker about to go off any minute -- but it wouldn't. No matter how much sex I have, or how many times I masturbate in a day -- five, six, seven -- there's never any release. Imagine a constant case of blue balls. You'd think having a constantly excited woman would be a guy's dream, but since they can't really satisfy you, men end up feeling like crap.
Part of the problem is where my "spot" is located. It's about the size of my fist, and it's deep in my vagina, so it can't just be itched. It needs to be filled. One of my friends from the support group has it in her clitoral area, so she can use one of those clip-on toys when she's at work. But none of that stuff works for me. I can't just run into the bathroom. I have to use an internal toy. I know some people with PSAS -- persistent sexual arousal syndrome* -- who numb themselves with drugs or ice. But that doesn't work for me. Sometimes I'll leave work for a nooner or grind away a bit on a stool. That doesn't relieve the pressure, but it helps. And there's always the car. Sometimes when I'm driving, the vibration will set off these little spontaneous miniorgasms. Beyond that, it's just become a way of life.
*After years of skepticism from gynecologists and insensitive men, PSAS has begun to be taken seriously by doctors, as seriously as it is by the women who suffer through the burning desire to masturbate every hour on the hour.
When a hunk of metal crashed to the floor of a home Tuesday, it set off a mystery that has NASA, NJ Transit and scientists scratching their heads.
The hunk of gray metal fell with a bang into a multifamily home around lunchtime. It was 3 inches by 5 inches with two hexagonal holes. The man who lives in the home was watching television in the next room when he heard the crash and saw a cloud of dust.
Experts who have seen it say it's manmade. But nobody can say where it might have come from.
Dan Stessel, a spokesman for NJ Transit, said it isn't something that would have flown off the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail tracks just about 100 feet from the home.
Federal Aviation Administration officials who went to the home to check it out said it was not a part that would have fallen from a plane headed into or out of Newark Liberty International Airport.
"It doesn't look very 'space-y,''' Henry Kline, a spokesman for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., told the Star-Ledger of Newark. "It's obviously made for something ... But we wouldn't know what to do with it.''
U.S. Air Force Major Costas Leonidou at the Pentagon, told the newspaper that he couldn't identify the fallen object either. "It could be Air Force, Navy, Marines, commercial. It could be anything,'' he said.
Police in China received a report that a 9 year-old boy had crashed into an agricultural vehicle. What they found out was shocking.
“A small boy got out of the car with his hands shaking and said: “Some people stole my mom’s car, and I drove it away when they weren’t paying attention”.”
The boy and his mother had been riding in the vehicle earlier that day when robbers pulled the mother from her car and stole the car with the boy in it.
Passing vehicles said they did not stop to help because they thought it was a domestic disturbance.
We would have loved to see the conversation that those robbers had when they noticed the car and the boy where just gone.