The Royal Society has made its archives available for free online and it’s an incredible trove. Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle introduced me to the early days of the organization and those like Isaac Newton and Christopher Wren who were there in the very beginning. The release of these 60,000 documents got me thinking again about that time period of free discovery and how exciting it must have been – an entirely uncharted world of science, begging for exploration.
Still, no one says it has to stop now that we’ve made such huge strides during the centuries since it was founded. I can’t imagine we’ll ever understand everything or conquer every troubling problem. To some, that might be troubling – but I can’t help but feel a bit of the same excitement that they probably felt. There is a sense of empowerment stemming from the notion that there’s so much to learn and so much that we can still accomplish.
That craving drive to explore and expand knowledge is the real legacy of the Royal Society.
I’m reminded over and over again how maddeningly unproductive arguments become when the participants throw around unsubstantiated claims and figures. It seems like this is happening more and more in a fast-paced society where no one has the time to dig into the details of an issue. I’m as guilty as the next person of forcefully defending a position that feels right but which I can’t back up with any hard facts.
David McCandless took the time to do a broad study of Global Warming arguments/counter-arguments and did the background-work to back up the components of each side. It’s shocking how deeply buried some of this information ended up being.
Perhaps now we can get down to the reality of the matter and move on from there into an argument worth having.
Boston College: Illustration shows light propogating around the East Coast of the US according to instructions from the metamaterial device
Looking for an invisibility cloak or a car that blends right into its surroundings? Researchers at Boston College have managed to use what they call ‘metamaterials’ to instruct a beam of light to follow particular pathways.
The researchers accomplished their feat by developing a much more precise set of instructions, which create a grid-like roadmap capable of twisting and turning a beam of light around objects or space. Their discovery is an extension of earlier metamaterial “cloaking” techniques, which have conjured up images of the Harry Potter character disappearing beneath his invisibility cloak.
“Our method combines the novel effects of transformational optics with the practicality of dielectric construction,” Padilla and Landy report. “We show that our structures are capable of guiding light in an almost arbitrary fashion over an unprecedented range of frequencies.”
The process is definitely still in its early stages but the mere thought that such a thing is possible is quite incredible.
In an effort to create a model of evolutionary processes researchers at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland have turned to robots. The robots were placed in an “environment” with a “food” and a “poison” station. Robots were given two minutes to find the food resource while successfully avoiding the poison. Robots that failed this task were removed from the population while robots that succeeded had their programming merged with other successful robots to create new programming routines.
In under 500 generations the robots evolved a method of communication using lights. Lights often signaled that the food resource had been found, but in trials where the robots were set to compete with each other (where only the top performers of a subset of the population were allowed to mate their programming with another robot and continue into the next generation) some of the robots developed an ability to trick the others by using the light signals to tell the others that the poison was food instead. Even more surprising, the robots were less likely to practice deception when communicating with robots that had programming more similar to their own, effectively contributing to the survival of kin.
A friend of mine pointed out the above article about testing left-brain/right-brain dominance. The idea is that judgments can be made about hemispherical dominance according to which way someone perceives the spinning of the dancer. Those who see it as a clockwise rotation are right-brain dominant (feeling and big picture oriented) and those who see it as counter-clockwise are left-brain dominant (logical and detail oriented).
The thing I wonder about is the fact that throughout the course of reading the article, I found myself seeing it both ways, clockwise and counterclockwise. I really wish this article would provide more evidence for the claims it makes about the relationship between this image and right/left-brain dominance. If it’s true, it’s a pretty cool way to see how your mind works. Either way, though, it’s an interesting exercise to try switching back and forth between directions. (Hint: Cover most of the image and focus on her spinning leg)