Tag Archives: history of science

flying machines!

albatross-wandering1Solar Impulse HB-SIA prototype airplane attends his first flight over Payerne

Solar Impulse is a plane that uses the power from the sun to power its flight. It has flown round the world, in stages. It’s design is very similar to the albatross, above which can fly for weeks  over the oceans without landing.  Modern solar panels do not allow the capture of enough energy for a manned plane to stay aloft continuously- maybe in the future technology will allow this.  However it is already possible for unmanned planes to fly continuously and rumour has it that the military are already using these silent planes with infinite range as drones for permanent observation of for example suspected terrorists.


Near disaster for NZ 14 09 2013
Near disaster for NZ 14 09 2013


Another area where modern design has transformed what can be achieved is sailing.  Modern catamaran airfoil boats can reach speeds of over 50 mph and are an impressive sight as they race in the America’s Cup in San Francisco this summer.  Very different from the boats used even 20 years ago.  The photograph is of Defender in 1992  America’s Cup (Wikipedia).




voyager reaches deep space: a milestone for humanity


For forty years Voyagers 1 and 2 have been traveling the solar system, visiting the giant gaseous planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune as originally planned. By using the force of gravity to accelerate the craft they  made the Grand Tour of the outer planets and eventually reached a speed allowing escape from the solar system which had not originally been planned.  Powered by its plutonium reactor,  which will continue to provide power for perhaps another 10 years,  Voyager 1 is now 12 billion miles from the earth travelling at 100 000 miles per hour and at this distance radio signals take 34 hours to make the round trip.  Since their launching these spacecraft have been battered by the solar wind;  a stream of charged particles emanating from the sun. These particles dominate space near to the sun, travelling along the lines of magnetic force. Up until now there has been no information on what happens away from the sun in the interstellar space of our galaxy. An important question which was posed at the beginning of modern astronomy and over which there has been much speculation.  Now for the very first time there are  data.


It is the interstellar environment which makes up the vast majority of our galaxy whether measured by volume or mass.  Instrument readings from the craft now show that the environment around Voyager 1 is no longer dominated by the sun.  It has passed the heliopause, as this boundary is termed by astronomers, and is travelling in the relatively calm environment of interstellar space, orbiting the centre of our galaxy as if it were a star.  So for the very first time mankind can examine directly the environment which makes up the majority of our galaxy.  Such measurements  have a direct bearing on basic questions such as the origins of galaxies and the universe.  These observations will help to explain the discrepancies in what galaxies look like and how they move which has been construed by some as evidence for Dark Energy and Dark Matter.

In a step equivalent, for its time, to landing on the moon, man has begun the saga of interstellar travel.





some parts of france carry many links to the past-beaumont de lomange


The huge old market hall at Beaumont de Lomange is going to have the cobblestone floor restored. The details of the project are posted publicly.






Pierre Fermat (1601/7 to 1665) was born here and there is a statue in the town square erected to his memory. It gives some detail of his life and mathematical work.  It is no understatement to say that he founded the development of modern mathematics  and statistics.  Though a lawyer and remaining an ‘amateur’ mathematician throughout his life, he corresponded with the major people active in the field at the time: PascalDescartes, Huygens and  Wallace among others.  Issac Newton said that with  the help of Fermat’s writings  he was able to develop the use of  calculus.  Fermat’s  last  theorem famously  found by chance by his son, pencilled in the margin of a page of  a copy of Diophantus   was not proved until 1994   by Sir Andrew Wiles  .  Fermat did not have space to write his proof apparently but he was always an intuitive worker and never bothered much about the niceties of mathematical proofs.  What would he have thought of the stone statue of him in the square, replacing the earlier bronze taken by the German army during the war to melt down for weapons?


The walls of the buildings around the square retaining the traces of past advertisements: Note that the usage of the buildings has not changed much with time.

we experience only a small portion of the universe

As we go about our everyday lives absorbed by work, family and our own bodily needs we are not aware of the Universe surrounding us and of which we are a part.

We live in a very atypical part of the Universe, less than 0.03% of which is composed of the heavy elements which make up our bodies and which we know so well. It would seem very unlikely that we could readily develop a true understanding of the Universe in its entirety by studying our immediate surroundings.

Yet in the past by intuition and enormous mental effort some gifted individuals have come to an understanding which approaches that which we are beginning to discover.  The Buddha and Spinoza are two examples and unsurprisingly they were not well-understood by their contemporaries, or indeed even nowadays.

One current theoretical approach to this is the following:

There is only quantum foam at very small dimensions approaching the Planck limit. Particles appearing and disappearing apparently randomly creating our experience and our world and all that we are.



darkenergy_future (1)



Spinoza would have been fascinated by advances in astronomy, he made his living as a lens grinder after all.

Life and work of Spinoza in French.

The life and work of Spinoza in English.

At the centre of Spinoza’s ideas:

God is the only ultimate cause and infinitely many things flow from god in an infinite variety of ways. The entire Universe inexorably emanates from the immutable core of infinite substance….

The infinite substance and each of its infinitely many distinct attributes (of which only thought and extension are available to us) are eternal expressions of the immutable essence of god…..

In the natural world (god’s body), the attribute of extension, modified by varying degrees of motion and rest, produces the face of the universe, which includes all the physical events which are the modes of extension. (This is almost exactly the same as Descartes account of the natural world).

Descartes view;

earth viewed from saturn by the cassini probe


What a beautiful new picture of our planet Earth viewed from near Saturn by the Cassini probe. Taken during the few minutes the probe was in the shadow of Saturn and it rings on July 19 2013 protecting the sensitive instruments from radiation damage while looking towards the sun.


Raw unprocessed picture of the Earth and its Moon taken with the narrow angle camera.

photos nasa

Carl Sagan and the Human Presence on Earth

What a magnficent contribution to our understanding of ourselves and our part in the Universe Carl Sagan made. Transformational!

the concept of ‘entropy’ is very slippery


‘Entropy’ by alexiuss

Entropy was first used in thermodynamics as a measure of the degree of order present in a system.

Difficulties in teaching it have led to the concept of “energy dispersal’ at a specific temperature.


A classical example has been of a river;

Since ancient times the power of a river has been recognized by people living along its banks and who are dependent on it for their survival. The river becomes venerated as a God.

When a dam is built, the energy of the river can be collected via a turbine as electricity and used in a variety of ways:


Our modern society is totally dependent on electricity for survival as it is used as a flexible provider of energy at points of need. All forms of energy are inconvertible if appropriate technology is used.  Energy being taken out of the system results in an increase of the entropy of that system.

A deck of cards on the floor


I lay the deck out in 4 rows following the sequence of the stack. It is a Tarot deck and ordered in a non-random way, presumably by the person or people playing before as I had not shuffled the deck. What were these rules? Difficult to know. There is no simple rule to describe the sequence. By taking the photograph I have produced a record. Alternatively I could make a record in a different way by listing the cards as follows: row 1 Card 1 Queen of Diamonds (Dame de Carreau strictly speaking as it happens to be a french deck).
row 1 card 2 etc

This is a very laborious process!

What has happened to the entropy of the system (me and the cards)?  Using my muscles I have laid the cards out so they are all at the level of  the lowest of the cards originally in the deck. By doing this I have exposed all the cards and the information  held in the sequence.  How could the sequence have been predicted?  To answer this question leads to the history of codebreaking and mathematical analysis of sequences of events using a Bayesian logic approach.  Turing and Good used these approaches at the beginning of the Second World War to decipher the German Naval Code Enigma.   These events were highly classified and remained secret long after the war ended.  Good contends that Turing developed the idea of using entropy as a measure of information during this work.
http://www.web-e.stat.vt.edu/holtzman/IJGood/A_Conversation_with_IJGood_Davild_L_Banks_1992.pdf page 10

The use of entropy as a measure of information was published by Claude Shannon in a classified report to Bell Laboratories in 1945 and later published as ‘Communication Theory of Secrecy Systems’ in Bell Systems Technical Journal 1948. It is a moot point how much communication there had been between Shannon and Turing  on this topic during their wartime meetings.

continuous creation : minds in theory only?

A game to play. Think about my statements. Look at the pictures and diagrams then read David Yerle’s post, including the discussion!




Dunhuang cave ceiling.


Russian dolls.

……………So qualia are real?

………………………Of course they are!

……………………………………But the universe is interconnected!

………………………………………….So each of us is a mini-universe

…………………………………………………..(And that goes for other living things as well)

……………………………………………………………………..Is it all a stack of Russian dolls?

…………………………………………………………………………………With God creating Adam all the time!


Sistine chapel ceiling.