Quantum Entanglement Demonstrated in a Mechanical System!


My favorite part about science is the fact that so much of it is, in essence, just for fun. The problem for grant writers must be spinning it so that it sounds like there’s a practical “use-value” for research.

One of the first posts for this blog was about a scene from Also Sprach Zarathustra. Specifically, Nietzsche was making a claim about the value of gold. Now, I had not expected the reaction that this claim would elicit from some of my friends. One friend in particular happens to be a stock trader and professional poker player, a guy who makes his living by understanding the value of money. He argued that gold is not useless because it has exchange-value.

I and other friends argued that there was a fundamental difference between use- and exchange-value. I mean, if gold had a use-value, it wouldn’t be used as currency. Of course, it’s often used today in many industries as a conductor, but that’s beside the point. Nietzsche did not write by electric light, so in his time, the analogy holds, and even to this day, only a tiny percentage of all the gold mined is used for industry. The vast majority of it is locked up in jewelry and hoards.

Of course, the comparison that I was trying to draw at the time relates directly to how scientific research is conducted and the reasons for conducting that research. For instance, a recent discovery has been all over the science news circuit as well as the blogosphere, and it’s kind of a big deal. But the take-away lesson of the story is kind of tricky.

Science always has a sort of “cool factor.” You hear about new a new kind of supernova that was discovered or this new quantum entanglement discovery (links above), and you consume that knowledge immediately. You are joyous. It’s a sort of cathartic experience. I mean, quantum entanglement in a mechanical system! That’s pretty rad, right? But then you ask the average reader of Scientific American what it means in practical terms and you might get a vague answer about quantum computers. Based on this discovery, however, that’s a really long way off. This discovery is cool despite its apparent uselessness. We like this kind of knowledge simply because it’s interesting and satisfies a need deep inside ourselves. A need to know something true about the world that we didn’t know before.

This is why scientists do this kind of research. The scientists working on the project are way more concerned with knowing things than making the world a better place. Or rather, they are trying to make the world a better place through expansion of knowledge because knowledge has an intrinsic value that is not easily defined.

“Hey, dudes, we’ve finally demonstrated quantum entanglement in a mechanical system!”
“Oh, dude, you rock!”
“Yeah, I know right? This is totally sweet in and of itself.”
“Yeah, man, the only thing we’re really interested in is continuing our research in this field!”
“Woo!! Bong rips for all!”

Or something like that. They want more grant money for pure research. But somehow they have to convince the people with the checkbooks that there’s a utilitarian reason for doing this sort of research. Again, some vague claim about computers that are orders of exponentially more powerful, couched in very careful rhetoric that doesn’t actually promise results anytime soon.

I mean, the LHC is the perfect example of this. They’re looking for evidence that the Higgs Boson exists. It might not! And whether it does or not, knowing will be way cooler than not knowing.

Science is not about progress. Science defies progress. Science shatters the myth of progress in many ways, which is why in some situations pure knowledge is not without its consequences. For instance, evolutionary theory defies the very concept of progress.

And so, quantum entanglement has been demonstrated in a mechanical system. This is totally sweet. It has no bearing on our lives, but we are overjoyed to know it. Maybe someday down the road, this knowledge will have use-value, but for the time being, research will continue and we will be happy for it. Because we are so damned curious. Like kittens.


Stem Cells Are Sweet


My dad says that he likes Rush Limbaugh. Honestly, I don’t believe him when he says it, but I want it to be perfectly clear that when I poke fun at Rush Limbaugh, it isn’t that I hate him (I don’t; it’s impossible to hate someone so stupid) it’s because it gets a rise out of my dad. I do it because, someday, my dad might take an interest in my blog and read this and we can have one of those political arguments where we both pretend to get angry but really it’s all in good fun. It’s mostly for his benefit. I’m not even sure if the image above is funny. It probably isn’t. But it was a fun photoshop job, nonetheless.

Anyway, there is this Futurama episode where all the characters get a tax rebate, and Professor Farnsworth spends his rebate on a vat of stem cells which cause him to look cosmetically younger. The image is of the old man dumping a whole jar of it on his head and instantaneously growing younger. Later, he learns that the true path to happiness is not in physical appearance, but in sex. It’s a great episode.

And this is what reminded me of it. Holy crap. Here’s the rundown: three patients had suffered extreme corneal damage and had lost their vision. What did the doctors do? Harvest some stem cells from the patients’ eyes, grow them in a culture, and then smear them on the damaged cornea. Almost exactly like the Futurama episode.

I mean… that’s what they did! Okay, sure, it’s a little bit more complicated than that, but essentially, that’s the basic gist. Here’s a quote from the surgeon: “The procedure is totally simple and cheap.” Since when to surgeons talk that way? Since stem cells got totally sweet, that’s when.

I can see it now. The future. Where all you have to do to live forever is let them scrape some skin cells, grow what amounts to a sort of jelly-like sludge out of your own living tissue, and then either use it as lotion or maybe even eat it. Does that amount to cannibalism if you’re eating your own cells? I don’t know if it even matters.

Here’s my big question: How did this get so easy? What happened to angioplasty? What happened to neurosurgery? The doctors of the future are going to be glorified appliers of lotion. All they’ll need is the patience of sourdough baker! Because that’s basically what they’re doing. They’re making the cellular equivalent of a sourdough culture and then smearing it on you.

It’s awesome and absurd at the same time to think that a solution so simple and so obvious too this freaking long to discover.

I was going to write about my take on Buddhism today. Maybe it’ll have to wait till Monday.

I am too stunned for words.

A Proof of Pan-Dimensional Travel


I’m getting married in a couple of months that entails a honeymoon that me and the future missus are planning on spending on the north shore of Lake Superior. A lovely town called Grand Marais. There are bike trails in the area, so, rather than rent bicycles there, we decided to bring our own bikes. This made a bike rack for the old Buick a necessity.

As luck would have it, we received one as a gift recently. While trying to decide whether to install it immediately–the only upside being the pleasure of being seen as the type of people who have a bike rack on the car–or wait till later, I noticed the above label which so intrigued me that I snapped the picture you are now glancing up at with my cellphone.

In case you’re not up on your French or Spanish (or English), the three sentences are informing you of where the rack itself was manufactured. Presumably, if you speak English, it was manufactured in the good old US of A. If you speak Spanish, however, then you be under the impression that it was manufactured in Mexico. But the French could only assume that it was manufactured in China.

To imagine that this exact bike rack’s place of manufacture is wholly dependent on the language that you speak is absurd. So there must be another explanation. I see two possibilities.

On the one hand, perhaps someone screwed up. It’s entirely possible that the person who designed the label got mixed up and the copy-editor didn’t catch the error. Or, what seems more likely, is that the factory that built this bike rack actually exists in some sort of pocket dimension, outside of our objective reality, that happens to have openings into our reality in the US, Mexico, and China. I just find it so unlikely that someone missed this obvious error on the packaging, that this is the only logical conclusion.

The question is, if this company has independently developed the technology to build factories in pocket dimensions, why aren’t they marketing that instead of just building bike racks. The question almost answers itself. They did not, in fact, build the factory. They happened to stumble upon the open rifts to another dimension accidentally and there was already a bike-rack factory there. Perhaps left there by an ancient civilization that had developed dimensional travel technology and presumably enjoyed taking their bicycles with them when they went on road trips.

So all at once, this label is proof of the existence of pocket dimensions, the possibility of accessing them, and the past existence of a great and mighty civilization capable of dimensional travel that, for one reason or another, has long since disappeared without so much as a trace.

Take that, causality.

Scientia Pro Publica #5


Just a quick word. My favorite science blog carnival is back with another edition, featuring yours truly. There’s a pretty fantastic lineup of articles this month, so you might want to browse through and see if anything strikes your fancy.

This month it was hosted over at Pro Science, by Kris Wager.

If you would like to submit to this carnival, the next issue is being hosted by Mauka to Makai, and you can submit by writing something amazing and clicking right here.