We’ve long understood black holes to be the points at which the universe as we know it comes to an end. Often billions of times more massive than the Sun, they lurk in the inner sanctum of almost every galaxy of stars in the universe. They’re mysterious chasms so destructive and unforgiving that not even light can escape their deadly wrath.
Recent research, however, has led to a cascade of new discoveries that have revealed an entirely different side to black holes. As the astrophysicist Caleb Scharf reveals in Gravity’s Engines, these chasms in space-time don’t just vacuum up everything that comes near them; they also spit out huge beams and clouds of matter. Black holes blow bubbles.
With clarity and keen intellect, Scharf masterfully explains how these bubbles profoundly rearrange the cosmos around them. Engaging with our deepest questions about the universe, he takes us on an intimate journey through the endlessly colorful place we call our galaxy and reminds us that the Milky Way sits in a special place in the cosmic zoo—a “sweet spot” of properties. Is it coincidental that we find ourselves here at this place and time? Could there be a deeper connection between the nature of black holes and their role in the universe and the phenomenon of life? We are, after all, made of the stuff of stars.
Dyson’s account of the origins of modern computing, both historic and prophetic, sheds important new light on how the digital universe exploded in the aftermath of World War II. The proliferation of both codes and machines was paralleled by two historic developments: the decoding of self-replicating sequences in biology and the invention of the hydrogen bomb. It’s no coincidence that the most destructive and the most constructive of human inventions appeared at exactly the same time.
How did code take over the world? In retracing how Alan Turing’s one-dimensional model became John von Neumann’s two-dimensional implementation, Turing’s Cathedral offers a series of provocative suggestions as to where the digital universe, now fully three-dimensional, may be heading next.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE DEEP, ELEGANT, OR BEAUTIFUL EXPLANATION?
Scientists’ greatest pleasure comes from theories that derive the solution to some deep puzzle from a small set of simple principles in a surprising way. These explanations are called “beautiful” or “elegant”. Historical examples are Kepler’s explanation of complex planetary motions as simple ellipses, Bohr’s explanation of the periodic table of the elements in terms of electron shells, and Watson and Crick’s double helix. Einstein famously said that he did not need experimental confirmation of his general theory of relativity because it “was so beautiful it had to be true.”
Since this question is about explanation, answers may embrace scientific thinking in the broadest sense: as the most reliable way of gaining knowledge about anything, including other fields of inquiry such as philosophy, mathematics, economics, history, political theory, literary theory, or the human spirit. The only requirement is that some simple and non-obvious idea explain some diverse and complicated set of phenomena.
The end of the year comes with the customary lists of the best and the worst that has happened over the course of the year. A selection of 2011…
Al Jazeera English: Al Jazeera top 10 2011
Android Police: All Android Police App Roundups From 2011 + Bonus: Tablet Apps
Big Think: 2011, The Year in Ideas
Bing: The Top 2011 Searches from Bing: A Year of Breakthroughs and Heartbreaks
CBC News: YouTube taps Maria Aragon, talking dog as top 2011 videos
Discover: Top 100 Stories of 2011
The Daily Climate: Climate coverage down again in 2011
Forbes: MF Global, American Airlines Top 2011′s Biggest Bankruptcies
Forbes/David DiSalvo: Ten Brain Science Studies from 2011 Worth Talking Abouts
ghacks: The Best Windows Software of 2011
The Globe and Mail: The Globe 100: The very best books of 2011
The Guardian/Charlie Brooker: A guide to the buzzwords of 2011
The Guardian: 2011: the year in data, journalism (and charts)
The Guardian: A dictionary of 2011
The Guardian: Bestselling books of 2011
IMDB: Most Popular Feature Films Released In 2011
Inside Social Games: Facebook Announces “Top” 2011 Games
MetaCritic: 25 Best PC Games
NatGeo: Ten Weirdest Life-forms of 2011: Editors’ Picks
TheNextWeb: Nielsen Reveals Top Digital Brands of 2011
NME: 2011 Reviewed – The Best Of Everything
NPR: Music And The Big Idea: The Top 5 Concept Albums Of 2011
NPR Music: Favorite New Artists Of 2011 with tracks to download
Paste Music: The 20 Best Cover Songs of 2011
Popular Science/MSNBC: 10 top inventions for 2011
Psychology Today/David DiSalvo: Ten Impressive Psychology Studies from 2011
Reuters: Whale sperm, orgasmic feet top 2011 bad science list
SciAm: The Top 10 Science Stories of 2011
SciAm: Duh! 11 Obvious Science Findings of 2011
Space.com: Year in Review: 2011 in Space Exploration
SPIN: SPIN’s 50 Best Albums of 2011
TheStar: The ABCs of 2011’s natural disasters
TheStar: Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga top 2011 Twitter trends
Vancouver Sun: Layton’s death, Stanley cup riot among top 2011 Canadian news stories
Wikipedia: 2011 in film
Wired: Best of 2011: Pop Culture’s Tastiest Bits
More to follow through updates…
“The Theory That Would Not Die: How Bayes’ Rule Cracked the Enigma Code, Hunted Down Russian Submarines, and Emerged Triumphant from Two Centuries of Controversy”
Bayes‘ rule appears to be a straightforward, one-line theorem: by updating our initial beliefs with objective new information, we get a new and improved belief. To its adherents, it is an elegant statement about learning from experience. To its opponents, it is subjectivity run amok.
In the first-ever account of Bayes’ rule for general readers, Sharon Bertsch McGrayne explores this controversial theorem and the human obsessions surrounding it. She traces its discovery by an amateur mathematician in the 1740s through its development into roughly its modern form by French scientist Pierre Simon Laplace. She reveals why respected statisticians rendered it professionally taboo for 150 years—at the same time that practitioners relied on it to solve crises involving great uncertainty and scanty information, even breaking Germany’s Enigma code during World War II, and explains how the advent of off-the-shelf computer technology in the 1980s proved to be a game-changer. Today, Bayes’ rule is used everywhere from DNA de-coding to Homeland Security.
Sharon Bertsch McGrayne is the author of numerous books, including Nobel Prize Women in Science: Their Lives, Struggles, and Momentous Discoveries and Prometheans in the Lab: Chemistry and the Making of the Modern World. She is a prize-winning former reporter for Scripps-Howard, Gannett, Crain’s, and other newspapers and has spoken at many scientific conferences, national laboratories, and universities in the United States and abroad. She lives in Seattle with her husband, George F. Bertsch, professor of physics at the University of Washington.
Also see John Allen Paulos’ review of the book in The New York Times.
To get a great intro on the Bayes Theorem read Elizier Yudkowsky’s An Intuitive Explanation of Bayes’ Theorem.
Finally, there’s a visual introduction to Bayes’ Theorem by Oscar Bonilla.
Marc Kaufman visits Google’s San Francisco office to present his book “First Contact: Scientific Breakthroughs in the Hunt for Life Beyond Earth“. This event took place on May 27, 2011, as part of the Authors@Google series.
In his riveting, game-changing book First Contact: Scientific Breakthroughs in the Hunt for Life Beyond Earth Marc Kaufman, The Washington Post science and space reporter, tells the incredible true story of science’s search for the beginnings of life on Earth and the likelihood of it existing elsewhere in our universe. He has received amazing praise, a sampling is below, and the book is being embraced by the science community from NASA to the Smithsonian and the Natural History Museum.
For decades, researchers assumed that the genesis of life was too delicate a process to exist anywhere other than Earth. But recent discoveries from microbes living in unimaginably inhospitable environments to new extra-solar planets point towards a day when the existence of extraterrestrial life will be confirmed. Kaufman takes readers around the globe, into space, and miles below Earth’s surface to show how the search for life on other planets is changing the way humans think about their own history, what it means to be human, and what, exactly, life is. It is a complicated quest made simple: First Contact is the first book to bring together cutting-edge developments across the many branches of science, from microbiology to geochemistry, physics, and astronomy, that are racing to verify what was once deemed impossible. Kaufman demystifies the rigorous science and advanced technology that is edging ever closer to the most important scientific discovery of our time.
Also see a related SETI Talk and panel discussion which features Kaufman, as well as Jill Tarter, Seth Shostak and Frank Drake:
Finally, you can check out Kaufman’s website.
Palestinian doctor Izzeldin Abuelaish‘s three daughters were killed by an Israeli rocket yet he vowed not to succumb to bitterness and hate, even as he poured out his grief live on an Israeli television program. He tells his incredible story in his book, “I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor’s Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity
At this Sydney Writers Festival session, he’s speaking with magazine journalist David Leser.
Izzeldin Abuelaish is a Palestinian doctor and infertility expert who was born and raised in the Jabalia refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. He trained in Egypt, London, Israel, Italy, Belgium and the US, and spent most of his working life working in Israel. Abuelaish worked as a researcher at the Gerner Institute at Sheba Hospital in Tel Aviv. He now lives with his remaining family in Toronto.
David Leser has been a journalist for 32 years, working as a feature writer in North America, the Middle East, Asia and Australia. He has been nominated four times for the Walkley Award, winning it in 1999. He has won the Magazine Publishers Association award for feature writing three times. Since 2000 he has been writer-at-large for the ‘Australian Women’s Weekly’. He is the author of four books.
Length: 53 minutes 48 seconds
Mary Catherine Bateson is a cultural anthropologist now 71, the daughter of Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson.
Her famed 1989 book “Composing a Life” showed how women were learning to treat their necessarily fragmented careers as a coherent improvisational art form. Her new book is titled “Composing a Further Life: The Age of Active Wisdom“.
We’re not just living longer, we’re thriving longer, Bateson says, but so far we seem to be thinking shorter. Aging societies the world over can benefit from increased longevity because human lives have added a new stage, what Bateson calls “Adulthood II: the age of active wisdom”. People of grandparent age, finding themselves with more energy and health than obsolete stereotypes had led them to expect, are seeing their lives whole and the world whole and taking on radically new activities in light of that perspective. These older adults have the potential to bring a longer perspective to decision-making that affects the future.
Mary Catherine Bateson is a writer and cultural anthropologist who divides her time between New Hampshire and Massachusetts. She has written and co-authored many books and articles, and lectures across the US and abroad and has taught at Harvard, Northeastern University, Amherst College, Spelman College and abroad in the Philippines and in Iran. In 2004, she retired from her position as Clarence J. Robinson Professor in Anthropology and English at George Mason University, and is now Professor Emerita. Her books in print include “Composing a Life”, “Our Own Metaphor” and “Peripheral Visions”, as well as a memoir, “With a Daughter’s Eye: A Memoir of Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson”.
Stewart Brand is an American writer, best known as editor of the Whole Earth Catalogue. He founded a number of organizations including The WELL, the Global Business Network, and the Long Now Foundation. He is the author of several books, most recently “Whole Earth Discipline: An Eco-Pragmatist Manifesto”.
Length: 88 minutes 31 seconds