Go Hypatia!

New York, March 8 & 9, 2014.  Twas a treat to watch today a marathon showing on NatGeo of my favorite childhood TV series – PBS’ “Cosmos” with the timeless Carl Sagan. As well, beyond excited to see this series getting a 2014 reboot to be telecast tonight at 9:00 pm EST hosted by the great Neil Degrasse Tyson.

Episode 13 from the original series. Timeless words of wisdom indeed. Watch it to see the reference to Hypatia – a woman way ahead of her time. Truly inspiring and one of my personal heroines.

This final episode of the series is one of Sagan’s best – beautiful words on philosophy, life, love, evolution, our place in the Universe, the push for peace, the futility of war – and a special appearance 10 years since this was first broadcast. Please take the time to watch it if you haven’t – it is a gift your brain and heart will thank you for.

When we are kids growing up, we often have a favorite teacher – either a mentor, a speaker or a guru – a person we unabashedly look up to. I did adore a couple of my female teachers, in my all-girls strict French Catholic Convent school – but Sundays were the day I looked forward to the most. For that was the day my favorite teacher of all time, my self-appointed guru, the one whose words and wisdom captivated me from a young age, and who – in my opinion, was not just a great man, but a genuinely good man – would speak to me through the television screen – his soulful Ashkenazi eyes beseeching his viewers to think rationally, learn voraciously, and explore with uncompromising curiosity. If I can look back in time and say who the most influential self-chosen teacher had been for me – it was, and still is – this incredible, humble, extraordinarily intelligent astronomer and Cornell University professor – Dr. “Cosmos” Carl Sagan.

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Below, one of Carl’s last interviews before his death in 1996.

How true he was about the impending spread of pseudoscience….as near-extinct diseases  like measles, mumps, whooping cough have resurfaced in the first world in the past few years due to the mass-hysteria caused by attention-whore idiots like Jenny McCarthy (aided by “The Secret” and Tolle-worshiping pseudoscience queen Oprah) and the anti-vaccine brigade, the new stint of hordes of women who are quite lucky and wealthy to suddenly falsely demonize and leave great caring husbands in a quest to “eat, pray, love,” the rise of many more dangerous male writers who promote veiled and jargon-laden hogwash in the name of “intelligent design,” and many more stupid self-centered platitudes and strange movements that have sprouted up.  

As Harvard professor Dan Gilbert, author of Stumbling Upon Happiness  (who I’ve met a few times and he’s a genuinely good person) had once mentioned – the stance of  denial of both climate change and Evolution is to extreme-right wingers what anti-vaccine and anti-GMO and pro-pseudoscience has become to extreme-left wingers. In both cases, hysteria without evidence; paranoia without facts. This is the 2010s and it is easy to see that Sagan had (as always) been correct even back in the ’90s, and was way ahead of the curve in predicting how, despite scientific evidence and facts, both fundamentalist religiosity and pseudoscience would continue to spread in dangerous doses.

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Related Posts:

Billions of stars, billions of sports fans

Carl Sagan, always

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“I told you so,” Einstein would’ve said.

NASA probe confirms Einstein’s prediction

If you wish to know more about this, do go here directly on the NASA site : http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2011/may/HQ_11-134_Gravity_Probe_B.html

Or here on the National Geographic site which explains it with lesser technical jargon but nicer graphics:  http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/05/110505-einstein-theories-confirmed-gravity-probe-nasa-space-science/    

For the layman version, CBC reports:

According to Einstein’s theories of relativity, the mass of Earth dimples space-time like a heavy person sitting in the middle of a trampoline.(NASA)

A NASA probe circling the Earth has found evidence that confirms two key predictions based on Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

The results from the Gravity Probe B mission show that the Earth’s mass does warp space and time, which are interlinked, NASA announced Wednesday.

They also confirm that the Earth does drag space-time with it as it rotates, as predicted.

“Imagine the Earth as if it were immersed in honey. As the planet rotates, the honey around it would swirl, and it’s the same with space and time,” Francis Everitt, the Stanford University physicist who led the mission, said in a statement.

The results are published in the journal Physical Review Letters.

Space-time and relativity

“German-American physicist Albert Einstein’s theories of special relativity and general relativity say that space and time are woven together into four-dimensional “space-time.” The mass of Earth dimples this “fabric” like a heavy person sitting in the middle of a trampoline. Gravity results from the tendency of other masses to follow the curve of space-time and roll into the dimple. The theories predict that as the Earth spins, it should twist the dimple — an effect that should be measurable using precise gyroscopes.

Gravity Probe B was designed to test the predictions by taking measurements from four ultra-precise gyroscopes. Those instruments contain rotors that NASA bills as the “most perfect spheres ever made by humans,” allowing them to spin indefinitely without drifting from the alignment of their rotation.

The gyroscopes were aboard a spacecraft circling the Earth in a polar orbit — that is, it travelled perpendicular to the Earth’s rotation, passing over both poles during each orbit.

The experiment was set up so the gyroscopes’ axes of rotation should always point in the same direction — toward the “guide” star IM Pegasi — provided the Earth’s gravity did not affect space and time.

However, the researchers detected tiny, measurable changes in the direction of the gyroscopes’ spins, confirming that the Earth’s gravity does:

  • Warp space and time around it, which is called the geodetic effect.
  • Pull space and time with it as it rotates, an effect called frame dragging.”

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Somewhere in the late 1980s a little girl was obsessively reading through her dad’s old Life Nature Library encyclopedia collection and a particular book she loved the most: “The Universe”. There on page 178 and 179 was the picture of a famous white-haired scientist and a chapter next to it with fascinating self-explanatory diagrams and a write-up: “Is the Cosmos Curved? And if so, how curved?” The essence of Einstein’s theory was that the presence of matter distorts space and makes it curve. The concept  of space curvature stemmed from many-dimensional, non-straight-line geometry created abstractly though equations. Just as a surface can curve in ordinary three-dimensional space, so in non-Euclidian geometry a three-dimensional space can itself curve in four-dimensional space. It is difficult to visualize such a curved space because man is not four-dimensional, but from a purely logical perspective it is a clear possibility. The chapter went on to elaborate much more of course about General Relativity.

Well, it’s wonderful to find out that NASA proves that he was right, after all. What had fascinated this girl years ago in a big book were in fact words of proven wisdom.

So, a perfect occasion to place Tim Minchin’s hilarious animated poem, Storm. (Not for everyone, alas – watch at your own risk but don’t complain about getting ‘offended’. Only for those with a good sense of humour.) I love it though. Absolutely. This video is so true on so many different levels in our PC-world. And though yoga of course has unmistakable absolute proven physical benefits, as well as turmeric and curcumum used in Ayurveda, as has been proven through scientific research and tests for prostate cancer, (and mind you, the video doesn’t talk of those), the apt take on homeopathy and other pseudo-science and psychic mumbo-jumbo that the video takes the masks away from is spot-on. A f****ng brilliant piece of work, as Minchin would say.  Feel free to quell any Storm-types (and idiotic Secret-types or nagging EatPrayLove-types) around to down their vociferous ignorance-laced-with-remarkable-certainty lines with this lovely clarity of reality, logic and facts . Enjoy:

(to turn off the captions, simply click on the ‘cc’ button on the youtube task bar.)

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An excerpt from the National Geographic article:

Doing What Einstein Thought 

To conduct these tests, Gravity Probe B used a device called a star tracker to keep one end pointed at a single star, IM Pegasi, while in a polar orbit 400 miles (644 kilometers) above Earth.

If we lived in a universe that behaved as envisioned by Isaac Newton—in which the geodetic effect and frame dragging don’t occur—then the gyroscopes would stay aligned with the star forever.

In Einstein’s universe, however, the direction of the spin axis of Gravity Probe B’s gyroscopes should gradually change due to the mass and rotation of Earth.

“Imagine the Earth is immersed in honey, and you can imagine the honey would be dragged around and [an object in the honey] would also be dragged around,” Everitt said. “That’s what happens in the gyroscope.”

Sifting through the data, the team found evidence of an angular change in the gyroscopes’ orientation of about 6,600 milliarcseconds over the course of a year.

A milliarcsecond, Everitt explained, “is the width of a human hair seen at the distance of 10 miles [16 kilometers]. It really is a rather small angle, and this is the accuracy which Gravity Probe B had to achieve.”

The change is so small, in fact, that Einstein didn’t think measuring it was even possible.

In his 1953 book The Meaning of Relativity, Einstein wrote that frame-dragging effects “are actually present according to our theory, although their magnitude is so small that confirmation of them by laboratory experiments is not to be thought of.”

But now, “thanks to NASA,” Everitt said, “we’ve done more than think about them. We’ve actually measured them.”

Gravity Findings to Unravel Distant Mysteries?

Although the results are only now being released, the Gravity Probe B satellite has completed its work, and it was decommissioned in December 2010.

Funded since 1963, Gravity Probe B is one of the longest running projects in NASA history. Scientists had the idea for the experiment before the required technology—such as the star tracker and gyroscopes—even existed…….

For the rest, click here.

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Related posts:

https://gipsygeek.wordpress.com/2010/03/27/nasa-landsat-images/

https://gipsygeek.wordpress.com/2010/07/14/billions-and-billions-carl-sagan/

https://gipsygeek.wordpress.com/2011/03/01/nasa-landsat-chopin-rubinstein/

Documentary Heaven

This is one of the coolest websites I have come across : Documentary Heaven

http://documentaryheaven.com

For those who are more inclined towards gaining information, insights, facts and the ‘film’ version of non-fiction books. It covers various diverse categories from Archaeology, Economics, Environment, Human Rights, Physics, Psychology,  Space Science,  Sport & Adventure and a whole lot more.

Talking of the last category a big congratulations to a friend of mine for  many years Nethra Raghuraman (pronounced Netra) who is hosting a new documentary series on adventure sports and aircraft for the National Geographic channel. Nethra is not only an adventure-sports participant herself, but is an Industrial Psychology magna-cum-laude graduate who on a lark had entered an international L’oreal modeling contest years back and not only became its winner but later she chose to leave the catwalks of Paris (based on her own observations of  the industry) and participated in art and independent films instead.

Nethra Raghuraman – psychologist, model, actress, animal rights activist

One of India’s topmost supermodels (where she feels you have more control over your appearances and choices than in agency-based modeling) and a regular on the runways both there and in New York and Paris, she chose to select film projects which had more independent directors instead of  the hackneyed Bollywood song-and-dance routines. This limited her choices, but she still chose her personal principles and ethics over giving in to more marketable strategies. Her most significant role was in the critically-acclaimed Bhopal Express (A David Lynch presentation which premiered at the Berlin Film Festival) which went on to snag 7 awards in the festival circuits including a best-actress award for her  and was based on the true story of one of the largest industrial catastrophes caused by human callousness of the Union Carbide plant resulting to a death toll of upto 15,000 people (both immediate and the aftermath of the  leaked poisonous gases.) When I went to watch the movie in a Montreal Art Film Festival in 2000, the line-up for the tickets was 6 blocks long (I’m not kidding.) And while I had known her even before her modeling days, it was wonderful to see that that young, shy, intelligent teenager I knew who was still coming to terms with her growing height at 5′-10″ and fluffy lips had years later transitioned into this elegant, sensitive artist. Unlike most other women in this field of work, she does not enter into self-promoting campaigns and does not even bother to maintain a home page. And even after featuring on the cover of Vogue Asia (she’s the one  kneeling on the left) still remains as  grounded as she has always been. I particularly liked an observation she once made : “I’d read somewhere that things are to be used, and people loved. But strangely and sadly you find in this world that so often things are loved and people used. What a reverse world we live in!” Congratulations, Nethra on hosting your new gig. And for waiting  and turning down other numerous offers till it was for a channel as informative as National Geographic. Thank you for being a woman of strength, beauty (in and out) and intellect (and I wish more interviewers would ask you about your education, insights and philosophical musings, rather than the usual cliched questions.)

Netra hosting the series for the National Geographic channel.

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A documentary on Nietzsche : Human all too human and Beyond Good and Evil.

And now, moving on to something else, particularly to one of my (and my mother’s) favourite philosophers – Friedrich Nietzsche. (And much to my embarrassment, my paternal great-grandfather, an archaeologist who adored his work used to copy his style of moustache.) While writing on Nietzsche would deserve a separate post altogether, since documentaries-are-the-topic-du-jour here, I am enclosing one taken from the link mentioned above. For more on his philosophy here is a wiki article : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophy_of_Friedrich_Nietzsche although the best way is to read his books, of course. One of the best aspects of Nietzsche is  that unlike some other proponents of individualistic independent thinking, he never seeked any followers nor believed in cult-tactics (in fact he abhorred it) to impose his ideas upon others. He wrote for himself and for the personal joy of his ideas , reflections and observations. And no, he was NOT anti-Semitic, quite the reverse. The above mentioned moustachioed grandpa was Jewish so I do know what I’m talking of. Even the wiki article clearly states the facts. I do like the works of the mathematician-philosopher Bertrand Russell, but the introverted, introspective Nietzsche was definitely a man who was a true individualist of his time, for which he paid a lonely price. There are many insightful and powerful quotes of Nietzsche but one of my favourites both for its brevity and wisdom is :“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”

I will soon be starting a series about people termed as rationalists and secular humanists and thinkers (and the first post lined to be up soon is on Richard Dawkins) but in many ways, in the school of philosophy and rational thinking, Friedrich Nietzsche was one of the pioneers of asking this line of  rhetoric,  as well as questioning widely -followed-irrational-mass-belief-systems.  And he knew quite well back then that he would be in a minority.

This particular documentary shows more of Nietzsche’s human side and weaknesses, a ‘truth’ that I have often been in conflict with about many creative artists and writers and even leaders I have liked. I found (a truth my mother had told me long back but I would find too hard to digest) that often the creative/artistic output of a man/woman (painter, musician, writer etc. who is not engaging in any moral-code-preaching but purely creating works for his/her own indulgence) should not be judged by but rather be viewed independently of his/her human fallacies (i.e.’weaknesses’ that did not include any violent tendencies, of course, but rather the softer limitations and follies of human nature.) It was one of the hardest truths I have had to accept over time and life; and in some ways to learn from my own fallacy of overt optimism in  the logic or kindness of humanity or rather lack thereof; and perhaps the reason why in my own life I still adhere to following a measure of personalised integrity and ethics as honestly and as steadfastly as I can. As Nietzsche says : “You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.” Now that’s an objective observation I can live with. And in today’s world, where the patterns of consumption, production and existence are too intricately tied and criss-crossed to be untangled, this thought of his, though impossible if one wishes to maintain both the practice of practicality and humility, still remains a liberating dream-reality: “The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.The first part of the statement is the observation. The second is the process or the price. And the third is the prize, if only for one’s own sense of self, but truly one of the best gifts  you can give yourself. Should you choose to, of course.

http://documentaryheaven.com/nietzsche-beyond-good-and-evil/

http://documentaryheaven.com

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