Sam Harrelson

“Still discovering new things”


On board each Voyager is a golden record — and record player — that is built to last one billion years or more and contains key information about humanity and life on planet Earth, in case of an alien encounter.

The sounds include the calls of humpback whales, the Chuck Berry song “Johnny B. Goode,” Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, a Japanese shakuhachi (a type of flute), a Pygmy girls’ initiation song, and greetings in 55 languages.

via Forty years on, Voyager still hurtles through space

Stephen Hawking is backing a project to send tiny spacecraft to another star system within a generation

The concept is to reduce the size of the spacecraft to about the size of a chip used in electronic devices. The idea is to launch a thousand of these mini-spacecraft into the Earth’s orbit. Each would have a solar sail. This is like a sail on a boat – but it is pushed along by light rather than the wind. A giant laser on Earth would give each one a powerful push, sending them on their way to reaching 20% of the speed of light.

Source: Hawking backs interstellar travel project – BBC News



“Random” prime numbers and human projections

“So just what has got mathematicians spooked? Apart from 2 and 5, all prime numbers end in 1, 3, 7 or 9 – they have to, else they would be divisible by 2 or 5 – and each of the four endings is equally likely. But while searching through the primes, the pair noticed that primes ending in 1 were less likely to be followed by another prime ending in 1. That shouldn’t happen if the primes were truly random –  consecutive primes shouldn’t care about their neighbour’s digits.”

Source: Mathematicians shocked to find pattern in “random” prime numbers | New Scientist

Math, philosophically, is spooky.

Does it “really” exist in the cosmos or is it (like most things we consider to be intrinsic to the universe) a human projection based on our finite nature?

Religion’s smart-people problem

Religion’s smart-people problem: The shaky intellectual foundations of absolute faith – “But we shouldn’t be deceived. Although there are many educated religious believers, including some philosophers and scientists, religious belief declines with educational attainment, particularly with scientific education. Studies also show that religious belief declines among those with higher IQs. Hawking, Dennett and Dawkins are not outliers, and neither is Bill Gates or Warren Buffett.”

This is the perfect opening to a scifi novel…

“With the help of James Jubilee, a former American arms control officer and now a senior science and technology coordinator for health issues in Kazakhstan, Dr. LaPorte tracked down Mr. Dey through the State Department, and his images and documentation quickly convinced them of the earthworks’ authenticity and importance.”

Source: NASA Adds to Evidence of Mysterious Ancient Earthworks

Get to writing, someone. I want to read this book and how humanity is shaken to its roots by startling revelations about our species’ history…

On Invoking Galileo and Columbus in Your Arguments

“If you are arguing against climate change, vaccines, evolution, etc. you do not get to invoke Galileo because in any accurate analogy, you are the religious fanatics (or the astronomers who blindly clung to Aristotle).”

Source: No one thought that Galileo was crazy, and everyone in Columbus’s day knew that the earth was round | The Logic of Science

If only I had a dime for every time I’ve encountered the “Yeah? Well, everyone thought Columbus was nuts too!” or “Yeah? Well, Galileo was right despite what all the scientists of his day said!” in a conversation.

Polynomial Codes Over Certain Finite Fields, or Why Things You Don’t Think Matter Actually Matter

“Whatever new technologies are on the horizon, history has taught us that Reed-Solomon-based coding will probably still be there, behind the scenes, safeguarding our data against errors. Like the genes within an organism, the codes have been passed down to subsequent generations, slightly adjusted and optimized for their new environment. They have a proven track record that starts on Earth and extends ever further into the Milky Way. “There cannot be a code that can correct more errors than Reed-Solomon codes…It’s mathematical proof,” Bossert says. “It’s beautiful.”

Source: The Math That Connects Pluto to DNA — NOVA Next | PBS

From storing information via DNA to communicating with spacecraft near Pluto to enabling your cell phone and beyond…

Don’t let people tell you that your work doesn’t matter. Small minds are the enemy of progress.

“Losing My Religion”


“If people do that and remain or become evangelical, I’m OK with that.  So long as they don’t hurt and exploit others, especially the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized.   If they remain or become Catholic, AOK.  If they remain or become Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, pagan, agnostic, atheist, or anything else, I really don’t care.  I care only that (a) they think about it and (b) they actively love others and do good to others and help others in need. My sense is that this is becoming more of a standard view in this country.   Which is why traditional Christianity is losing people and the non-affiliated are gaining.   Whether it will continue to trend that way or not – heaven knows.”

Source: Losing Religion in America – Christianity in Antiquity (CIA): The Bart Ehrman Blog

I’m not losing my religion (at least I don’t think I am), but that song popped into my head as I read (and agreed with) Prof. Ehrman’s thoughts here.

In the conversations about Pew Research’s report on the erosion of Christianity in the US that I’ve had with friends and family (such as the recorded ones here with Thomas), I’ve encountered a number of different “mansplainings” and explanations for why people in our country are “losing their religion.” As Ehrman points to in his post here, a number of them have to deal with the assumption that those who are leaving mainline or evangelical (which is mainline here in South Carolina) Christianity are doing so because they weren’t necessarily “true” or “real” believers to begin with.

I find that explanation unfair and, quite frankly, disturbing.

On the other side are the explanations from my more progressive or “neo-atheist” friends that point to the foibles of Christianity’s latent and explicit hypocrisy or the Bible’s troublesome ability to interact with modern notions of history or science and declare that “it’s about time” people started waking up to the realization that our fairy tales are bogus and there is no old white man in the sky who is going to either zap us with lightning, hear our prayers, or deliver us from evil.

I find that worldview just as disturbing as the former one.

My faith is weird.

I appreciate science. I love science. Heck, I’ve taught physical science to unruly and amazing 13 and 14 year olds off an on over the last decade of my life. I also love history. Particularly, ancient history and archaeology fascinate me.

Both of those studies, which some would say should degrade or at least invalidate something as quaint and reproachable as faith in fairy tales, challenge my own notion of self and my own well-thought-out beliefs in a way that encourages me to keep on down the path.

Much like Dali, I realize that beings and things are made of energy, not solid mass.

That potential glimpsing of something beyond our own earthly 80 or so years (at least here in 2015 middle class caucasian America) is what draws me to science and what drives my faith.

That extended realization of a split second peek into this universe of energy way beyond what our eyeballs connected to our evolving ape brains via a short cord we call the optic nerve (on mine there is plaque) can ever hope to process is what drives us further out into the cosmic ocean, as Sagan said.

Faith that is based or driven by the need for a moral structure or the need for a guiding hand to be told what to think or do is what is eroding, and will continue to erode, in our country. I have a set of assumptions and guidelines that define my moral and ethical code because of my glimpsings of the universe beyond my diseased optic nerve. That is the basis of my faith. Not the other way around.

We are truly magnificent and amazing creatures, designed by time and weathered by the millennia to survive and thrive on this pale blue dot. But we are also selfish, and capable of great evils. Religion doesn’t save us or secure us from those primal instincts. In many ways, religion is the prime motivator for those evils that we all to easily commit whether intentionally or unintentionally.

We shouldn’t shy away from that reality and speak truth to those who would use religion as a tool to cause oppression of those of different genders, races, sexual persuasions, color spectrum preferences, nationalities, Apple / PC / Android fan-ism, hair color, eye color, allergies, or carbon family basis. Religion is the invitation to participate with the universe in some way that we can never understand. “We know we are approaching the grandest of mysteries,” and that shouldn’t be taken lightly or used as a tool to tell others that they cannot be leaders in our religion or they cannot love another person based on the makeup of sexual anatomy etc.

Our human understandings based on supposedly innerant manuscripts handled countless times by wise and unwise transmitters do not cause us greater communion with the divine if we are seeking to prove our own confused interpretations of the messages being transmitted by the electrochemical computer we call our brains. Otherwise, as Gamaliel warns us across the ages, “if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail.”

Realizing Our Place in the Universe

“This image, captured with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, is the largest and sharpest image ever taken of the Andromeda galaxy — otherwise known as M31.This is a cropped version of the full image and has 1.5 billion pixels. You would need more than 600 HD television screens to display the whole image.”

via Sharpest ever view of the Andromeda Galaxy | ESA/Hubble.

I had to download the 4.3 GB file. For science.

Brian Greene on the State of String Theory 2015

Much as the sonorous tones of a cello arise from the vibrations of the instrument’s strings, the collection of nature’s particles would arise from the vibrations of the tiny filaments described by string theory. The long list of disparate particles that had been revealed over a century of experiments would be recast as harmonious “notes” comprising nature’s score.

via Why String Theory Still Offers Hope We Can Unify Physics | Smithsonian.