Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Thirteen Mysteries

If you're into science you might find this article by Michael Brooks at New Scientist interesting. Brooks lists thirteen mysteries that have (mostly) cosmologists and physicists baffled. To give you a sample here's #9:

It's one of the most famous, and most embarrassing, problems in physics. In 1998, astronomers discovered that the universe is expanding at ever faster speeds. It's an effect still searching for a cause - until then, everyone thought the universe's expansion was slowing down after the big bang. "Theorists are still floundering around, looking for a sensible explanation," says cosmologist Katherine Freese of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. "We're all hoping that upcoming observations of supernovae, of clusters of galaxies and so on will give us more clues."

One suggestion is that some property of empty space is responsible - cosmologists call it dark energy. But all attempts to pin it down have fallen woefully short. It's also possible that Einstein's theory of general relativity may need to be tweaked when applied to the very largest scales of the universe. "The field is still wide open," Freese says.

I have to say that I think cosmologists are much more confident that dark energy is the culprit than what this article suggests. I wrote about this phenomenon last December. After discussing what dark energy is believed to be doing to the universe I mentioned that the most fascinating thing about it is this:

Scientists have determined that the amount of dark energy present in the universe cannot vary from the actual value by more than one part in 10(120). That's a one with 120 zeroes after it. If it did deviate from its actual value by more than this amount life would not be able to exist in the universe that would result. That is an unimaginably precise setting. It's the equivalent of the mass of a billionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of the mass of a single electron.

What an amazing thing that this dark energy is calibrated to just the right value to allow life to survive. What an extraordinary amount of blind faith it takes to think that it's just a lucky accident.

The biggest mystery about dark energy, it seems to me, is not what it is but rather how it came to be so exquisitely calibrated. Or maybe that's only a mystery for materialists.


Wouldn't You Know

Okay. I knew it would happen. As soon as I made the comment that I hadn't heard of any conservative making a joke about killing those in the political opposition, or words to that effect, along comes the first instance of it in my memory and puts egg on my face.

A sportscaster told an unfunny and pathetic "joke" and conservative radio talk show host Mark Davis allegedly repeated it with alleged approval. I use the qualifier "alleged" because I didn't hear it myself, but am relying on Camille Paglia's description:

Two days after watching "Seven Days in May," I was utterly horrified to hear Dallas-based talk show host Mark Davis, subbing for Rush Limbaugh, laughingly and approvingly read a passage from a Dallas magazine article by CBS sportscaster David Feherty claiming that "any U.S. soldier," given a gun with two bullets and stuck in an elevator with Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and Osama bin Laden, would use both bullets on Pelosi and strangle the other two. How have we come to this pass in America where the assassination of top government officials is fodder for snide jokes on national radio?

Paglia is right to be upset by this. So am I. This sort of talk should have no place in our public discourse. Wishing or even joking about the suffering and/or death of one's opponents is reprehensible and disgusting whether it's Wanda Sykes telling the sick joke or David Feherty (whoever he is). Moreover, those who laugh at these gibes, whether it's Barack Obama and the Washington press corps, or a conservative talk show host, evince a serious and unpleasant character flaw that should invite our disdain for the flaw and our prayers for the offender.