Cordial Deconstruction

Observations from our shared single objective reality in a materialistic, naturalistic, & macro-deterministic universe.

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Archive for the ‘Followup’ Category

Reply to a Comment on My Schrödinger’s Cat Post

Posted by Karl Withakay on May 1, 2011

Commenter your wrong left the following comment to my Deconstruction post on Flash Forward’s mishandling of the Schrödinger’s Cat thought experiment:

“Ok, you seem to have completely missed the point here. The point of Schrodinger’s cat is precisely about quantum probability, which you have stated, and you seem to have a knowledge of this thought experiment and what it means. The thing that is really getting to me is the fact that the point is still being made in almost exactly the same way, but you are quibbling over the fact that it is not explained fully and mentioned the radioactive isotopes and the Copenhagen interpretation. Surely a 10 minute conversation about this thought experiment would waste time in the programme and really doesn’t matter. The nitty gritty stuff is for scientists, not for people just watching some action on television. Don’t get me wrong I love reading physics as much as any studious person, but it really doesn’t matter in the slightest that he didn’t go into every single little detail regarding the experiment. Stop wasting your time complaining and read more physics, you’re obviously interested in it. Not only that but you’ve wasted my time having to correct your ignorance.”

What follows is my reply to that comment, which I felt was worthy of it’s own post.

It would appear to be you who has completely missed the point and demonstrated your ignorance on the topic.  By substituting a poisoned sardine for the decay of a radioactive isotope, quantum probability has been eliminated from the thought experiment and has been replaced by a regular non-quantum, deterministic event.

Further, when the physicist states that the observer gets to choose whether the cat is alive or dead, that is not quantum physics and the collapse of the quantum waveform, it’s a philosophy of a post modernist subjective reality, dependant on the perception and will of the observer.  In quantum mechanics, the observation of the cat in the original thought experiment collapses the quantum waveform and solidifies the current state of the cat; it does not choose which state the cat is in, which is what the physicist in the TV show said.

The writers completely misunderstood the thought experiment, and got it wrong on two key points.  They replaced a quantum probability with a deterministic event, and then gave the observer a choice in the end state of the cat rather than the observation only being a choice to create the end state of the cat with no ability to choose what that end state was.

It is acceptable to boil a scientific concept like quantum probability and decoherence down to a form the average TV viewer can understand, but only if it remains relatively accurate in the key points.

I have not wasted my time at all, and if you have wasted you time is not my fault.  It would seem that I have either read more physics than you, or I have at least better understood and appreciated the nuances of what I have read.  It also seems that you either failed to pay attention while reading my post, or you were unable to understand they key points of my post.   If by reading this reply you better understand the key points as to why the writers got the thought experiment wrong, then you have not wasted your time at all either.

And by the way, you’ve spelled your name wrong if your intention was to say “you’re wrong” rather than talk about a wrong that I posses.  I normally don’t quibble about simple spelling mistakes, but I would think if someone takes the time to compose a 181 word statement claiming someone  is wrong on a matter of quantum physics, that they would take time to make sure they haven’t confused “your” with “you’re”.  Such a mistake hardly adds to your credibility.

Your comment has been Cordially Deconstructed.

Posted in Critical Thinking, Criticism, Flash Forward, Followup, Science, Television, This Blog | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Reply to a Comment on Interstellar Travel

Posted by Karl Withakay on August 22, 2010

Someone going by the handle of Speising made a comment on my post Follow-Up: Energy Requirements of Interstellar Travel, and the reply I composed grew so large that I decided to make it into a full post.

The comment was:

“So what about ram-jet like ships? probably quite useless (to vulnerable) as carriers for an invasion force, but they do not have the problem of carrying all that fuel with them.
also, of course, If we assume ET doesn’t want to spend 200 or more years making a round trip to Earth… doesn’t necessarily apply for ET’s with, eg., longer life spans than ours.”

Thanks, for the comment, speising.  Basically, you’re talking about a Bussard Ram Jet.  There’s a few problems associated with that.

You’d be scooping up hydrogen to use as a fusion fuel, but hydrogen’s not a particularly good fuel for fusion, believe it or not.  The proton-proton chain, which is the primary source of energy production in stars less than 1.3 solar masses, is a very slow process (like an average of one billion years per reaction in the first step), which is a good thing otherwise the sun would have burned out after just a few million years.

You could theoretically use the CNO cycle for hydrogen fusion, but the confinement and cooling requirements would likely be insurmountable.  We’re talking about temperatures and densities greater than that of the core of the sun.

Also, the interstellar medium isn’t as dense with hydrogen as Bussard thought it was, and you probably wouldn’t be able to scoop up enough fuel.

All this completely ignores the shielding requirements, which I never even went into in my earlier posts, mostly because I concluded interstellar travel was already impractical before even getting to the shielding requirements.  Traveling at speeds even at one tenth the speed of light, every particle of dust floating in space is going to impact your space craft with a lot of kinetic energy.

Let’s assume a particle of cosmic dust floating in interstellar space with zero velocity relative to the Earth.  Let’s also assume this particle is medium sized cosmic dust, say 300 micrometers in diameter, and let’s further assume it’s density is average for cosmic dust, 2.0 g/cm^3.  This particle has a mass of only 2.82X10-8 kg or .028mg.   If our vessel is traveling at 1/10th the speed of light relative to Earth, that particle of cosmic dust is going to impact our spacecraft with a kinetic energy of 12 Megajoules.  To put that into perspective, lets assume a typical automobile mass of 1500kg (3300lb); that particle of dust is going to impact our spacecraft with the same kinetic energy as a car traveling at 454km/h (284mph).  How are you going to protect against that kind of collision, and what do you do if you run into a particle that was 10 or 100 time larger?  300 micrometers is pretty small; a strand of human hair is 100 micrometers wide.

In regards to the other part of your comment,

If we assume ET doesn’t want to spend 200 or more years making a round trip to Earth… doesn’t necessarily apply for ET’s with, eg., longer life spans than ours.”

I’ll just add that even if an alien species were to have a significantly longer life span that humans, it wouldn’t necessarily follow that their perception of the passage time or their value of time were different than ours.  If science found a way to extend you lifespan to 1000 years, would you be interested in spending 200 years in a submarine without port if there was an alien planet at the end of the trip?  I think 200+  years is still a long time, no matter how many years you have ahead of you in life.

Posted in Critical Thinking, Followup, Science, Skepticism, Space, This Blog | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Final Follow-Up on the Probability of an Alien Invasion

Posted by Karl Withakay on June 3, 2010

This post is part 3 of my Deconstruction of Stephen Hawking’s comments about contact with alien intelligences being risky.  Part one was a general overview of why alien visitation/invasion is highly unlikely.  Part two involved some rough numbers regarding the energy requirements for interstellar space travel at the near light speed velocities required to get anywhere in a remotely reasonable time frame.

In this post I will address the hypothetical “what if” scenario where some advanced alien intelligence has made a fundamental advance/ breakthrough in physics and engineering that allows interstellar or even intergalactic travel at effective speeds far in excess of the speed of light at a relatively low energy cost.

So, what if it is possible?  What if the laws of physics as we know them need to be rewritten or at least get greatly expanded, and it turns out it is possible to travel interstellar distances in practical time frames instead of decades, centuries, or longer?  Further, what if it is possible to do so with a relatively low energy cost instead of needing energy equivalent to tens of thousands of thermonuclear weapons or the yearly outputs of thousands of nuclear reactors?

Well, in short, in that case we’re probably screwed, and there’s still no reason to worry about it because there’s nothing we can do about it anyway.

Any alien civilization that advanced would probably be so far beyond us technologically that we probably couldn’t hope to resist their invasion or even evade detection by them.  We’ve been making radio transmissions for well over 100 years, and during that time, our transmissions have been leaking into space to worlds more than 100 light years distant.  I think it’s reasonable to speculate that any civilization capable of effectively superluminal travel is likely to have an equally advanced ability to detect and locate other intelligent civilizations or suitable worlds.  If such a super advanced civilization is out there, and they are bent on conquest, they probably already have thousands or even millions of probes scattered throughout the galaxy looking for worlds to plunder in addition to their super advanced observation/ search techniques they will be using from their home world.  Basically, if they are reasonably capable of getting here, they are probably capable of finding us whether we want them to or not.

Certainly, if they are capable of getting here, there can be little question of their ability to conquer us with little difficulty, as long as they’re not to worried about our welfare.  Some might point to US and Soviet difficulties in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq as reasons to think we could have some hope of resisting a technologically superior invader, but I would disagree.  First of all, the difference in technology would be closer to trying to fend off A-10’s with paper airplanes, the Ethiopians fighting off the Italian Army in 1935, or the Aboriginal Americans fighting off European invaders, settlers, or colonists.  The Soviets did pretty well in Afghanistan until we started supplying the other side with modern military equipment.  Our problems in Vietnam have been well documented and much debated, but I think it’s at least safe to say we weren’t engaged in an unrestricted attempt to eliminate North Vietnam’s military capability, and they had some help from the Soviets to boot.  Likewise, we’re not attempting to eliminate the populations of either Afghanistan or Iraq.  I’m pretty sure we could do that if we wanted to and we didn’t care about preserving the infrastructure.  Independence Day may have been a fun movie, but it was delusional in regards to our ability to fight off an alien invasion.  We very probably have little chance against a super advanced alien invasion force unless we can find some equally advanced alien allies or a fifth column to help us.

Additionally, Stephen Hawking seems to be implying that if we just stay silent, ET may not find us.  This super advanced ET probably doesn’t need our help to find us.  Irrespective of all the radio transmissions we’ve been leaking into space for over a hundred years, ET would probably be able to detect our rich blue and green world on their own without our help.  We are already are able to detect planets only a few times more massive than the Earth orbiting other stars and detect elemental composition of stars with what would be extremely primitive techniques and technologies compare to what any superluminal civilization would have at its disposal.  It seems likely that ET would be able to find our rich, garden world whether we were here to transmit to them or not.

In summary:  If extraterrestrial aliens have the ability to get here in a reasonably short period of time without bankrupting their planetary economy, then they can probably find us, come here, and kick our butts if they want to.

Frankly, the fact that we haven’t yet been conquered by ET is a hint that maybe either ET isn’t interested in or capable of coming here and conquering us.

Posted in Critical Thinking, Criticism, Followup, Science, Skepticism, Space, Stephen Hawking | 3 Comments »

Follow-Up: Energy Requirements of Interstellar Travel

Posted by Karl Withakay on May 2, 2010

This is a follow-up to my recent post, Cordial Deconstruction of Stephen Hawking? (Am I So Bold?) where I discussed the likelihood that an alien intelligence would bother crossing the universe or galaxy to plunder the resources of the planter Earth.

In this post, I will discuss the energy requirements of interstellar travel.  Before I begin, I want to explain that I’m not going to show the math involved in the numbers, both because many people won’t be interested in the equations, and because this post is going to be long enough without showing all the calculations and equations involved.  I’ve also ignored the time dilation factor which would reduce the relative travel time of the journey for the passengers of a spacecraft traveling close to the speed of light, but it only makes a significant difference at speeds that are energetically prohibitive anyway.

First, a discussion of the distances involved when discussing interstellar travel.  To quote Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe,

“Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the drug store, but that’s just peanuts to space.”

A typical galaxy is about 30,000 light years in diameter, the Milky Way being about 100,000 light years across.  The distances between galaxies is even more mind bogglingly huge; the typical distance between galaxies is about 3 million light years.  The visible universe is about 93 billion light years in diameter.  (This is the current, commoving distance, not the distance at the time the light from the furthest visible stars was emitted.)  So, to start, lets rule out intergalactic travel and focus on interstellar travel from within the Milky Way galaxy to see how practical that would be.

The nearest star to the sun is Proxima Centauri at a distance of about 4.2 light years, but Proxima Centauri is not a great candidate for habitual planets, for several reason.  It’s a red dwarf, and that could pose numerous problems.  It’s also variable, which almost closes the door on Proxima Centauri as a candidate for our hostile ET to come from.  Moving on, there are 64 known stars within about 16 light years of the Earth, so let’s just say ET is coming from our back yard, say 10 light years away, though the aliens probably wouldn’t be so local unless life is very common in the universe.

So let’s look at how much energy it would take ET to get here from an unspecified plant 10 light years away.  If we assume ET doesn’t want to spend 200 or more years making a round trip to Earth, they’re going to need to travel fast, really fast.  Even 10% of the speed of light isn’t going to cut it.  Let’s shoot for 90% of the speed of light (c).  At .90 c, it’s going to take about 11 years to make the trip from ET world to earth, if ET can accelerate and decelerate nearly instantaneously.

So now we have our target speed, but we need to know the mass of ET’s vehicle.  An object the size of the space shuttle (~110,000 kg for the orbiter by itself or around 2,000,000 kg for the whole system with boosters and fuel) seems a little physically small for an 11 year journey, so let’s try something a little bigger.  A Virginia class submarine is about 8,000,000 kg and is a craft designed for long term endurance travel; let’s assume ET’s craft is the same mass.

The amount of energy needed to accelerate an object of a mass of 8,000,000kg to.90 c is 7.45 9.32 * 10^23 Joules, which is about 180 million megatons of energy.  This is the equivalent of 3.6 ~4.5 million Tsar Bombas, the most powerful nuclear weapon ever detonated.  It would take more than four five million kg of antimatter annihilating with the same amount of matter to produce this much energy.  It’s worse than it looks, because the ETs need to slow down to a relative stop when  they get here, which will take the same amount of energy as the acceleration, so we’re talking about 360 ~450 million megatons of energy just  for a one way trip.  But it’s even worse than that.  We are ignoring the mass of the energy source and any propellant used in for ET’s spacecraft, and we are assuming 100% efficiency in the conversion of the energy source into vehicle velocity, which isn’t going to happen in the real universe.  All things considered, without going into the increasingly complicated math (which would require us to start using calculus since the mass of the vehicle now decreases as we consume reactant & propellant), we probably need to increase our estimate of the energy requirements by an order of magnitude or so.

So, bottom line, at the end of our rudimentary estimate of the energy requirements to travel at .90 c, we’re talking about an energy requirement in the order of a billion megatons or so.

OK, what if ET is a little more patient and is willing to endure a 200 year round trip at .10 c?  The energy requirements drop to ~17,000 ~870,000 Megatons of energy (or 17,000 Tsar Bombas) for a one way trip. (It’s not a linear decrease because we’re talking relativistic mechanics here.)

(For reference, doing a little math, I calculate the Callaway Nuclear Generating Station in Missouri generates about 8 megatons of energy a year.)

So, in summary, the energy requirements are massive for velocities even 10% of the speed of light, and absurdly huge for speeds 90% of c, and even at those speeds, we are limited to about 10 light years of distance for any reasonable length journey.  Why would any ET, no matter how conquest driven they were, bother expending such energy resources to plunder the resources of another world, assuming they could even find a suitable planet to plunder in their local stellar neighborhood?

I think we can sleep soundly at night, never having to worry about Stephen Hawking’s ETs ever attacking the Earth ID4 style.

In regards to the energy requirements of some mythological faster than light propulsion system, who can really say what those would be?  I can speculate that they would be much greater than those of traveling at velocities at “significant” percentages of the speed of light, and someone else can say that as long as we are speculating about faster than light travel, why can’t we speculate about some relatively low energy process to achieve those speeds?  It’s all wild speculation if not outright fantasy at that point, so there’s really no numbers to talk about.

Posted in Critical Thinking, Criticism, Followup, Science, Skepticism, Space, Stephen Hawking | 12 Comments »

Cordial Deconstruction of a Comment Left by natalie898

Posted by Karl Withakay on April 24, 2010

In my recent Deconstruction Review of an Episode of Fringe, I made several spelling mistakes, ignorantly using the word loose in multiple places when I meant the word lose.  Natalie898 was “kind” enough to leave a comment “politely” pointing out my mistakes, and I have now corrected the mistakes.  I am embarrassed to have made the mistakes, somehow reversing the two words in my mind.  I am not, however, embarrassed to have the errors pointed out to me.  (I am embarrassed that someone noticed the mistakes before I did.)  I strive for perfection, and appreciate any assistance in achieving that perfection.  If the error is mine, then the frustration is with myself, not the person who points out the error with the intention of providing constructive criticism.

I can accept that some people have very strong feelings about proper spelling, punctuation, and grammar, but you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.  My Friend Orac would be a lot less respectful than I am being to the type of pedantry natalie898 has presented.

Here is natalie898’s comment followed by my Cordial Deconstruction of that comment:

“If you are going to complain about how the car battery thing doesn’t make sense you should learn to spell first. Loose is not the same as lose no matter the few times it is spelled incorrectly in various places on this page. Loose…really? really?”

Spelling mistakes…really?  really?

Are you disputing my position on the car batteries or simply choosing to be rude in the way you point out my spelling errors for some reason?

I don’t mind if people point out typos and spelling mistakes, but why the hostility?

First of all if you’re going to complain about spelling mistakes rather than make substantive comments or observations, you should be sure to use proper punctuation when you do so.  You are missing a comma between “sense” and “you”.  (If x, then y)  Let him among us who has a clean hand cast the first stone.

Second, how does my incorrect spelling of lose disqualify me from being able to comment on the car battery thing or in any way invalidate my position?  It is a non sequitur to claim that my point is invalid or unworthy of consideration simply because I misspelled the word lose for whatever reason.  It is also effectively an ad hominem attack, in that you are attacking me rather than my position.

If you want to point out a spelling error or my part, please feel free to do so with out the hostility.  If you would like to dispute, correct, or discuss a point in my review in a civilized and constructive manner, I welcome the discussion.

Thanks for reading my blog.

Posted in Critical Thinking, Criticism, Followup, Fringe, Television | Leave a Comment »

Followup Deconstruction on Fringe, Episode 13, Season 2, The Bishop Revival

Posted by Karl Withakay on February 2, 2010

Every time I see the title to last week’s episode of Fringe, something comes to mind I just can’t stop thinking of, even though I forgot to mention it in my original Deconstruction review.

So, without further adieu, I present: The Bishop!

Posted in Followup, Fringe, Monty Python, Television | 2 Comments »

Scientific Support for Increased Risk of Iocaine Poisoning

Posted by Karl Withakay on December 2, 2009

The science is in: I have just learned from PalMD, that there is a possible mechanism for Zicam causing anosmia.

Seeing as there is now scientific support for an increased risk of Iocaine poisoning for users of Zicam, the sale and use of this product should be stopped immediately, especially in Australia or for people going up against Sicilians when death is on the line.

Posted in Deadpan, Followup, Humor, Medicine / Health | Leave a Comment »

 
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