Thursday, October 23, 2008

More Dead Stuff

I'm a little fixated on death at the moment. Wonder what that's all about. When it comes to data collection, people aren't allowed to die of old age. Nope. There has to be a reason. It's so typical of our culture that official data collection treats death as something that went wrong rather than a natural outcome of being alive.
Neither should "infirmity" or "senescence" appear as a cause of death, according to the CDC handbook on how properly to fill out a death certificate. Why? These words "have little value for public health or medical research," the agency says. Plus, "Age is recorded elsewhere on the [death] certificate."


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

And Then You Die

For a long time I was sure that there was more than this. Now I tend to think being dead is going to be exactly like before I was born. And back then I don't recall longing to be alive.

And yet people in every culture believe in an afterlife of some kind or, at the very least, are unsure about what happens to the mind at death. My psychological research has led me to believe that these irrational beliefs, rather than resulting from religion or serving to protect us from the terror of inexistence, are an inevitable by-product of self-consciousness. Because we have never experienced a lack of consciousness, we cannot imagine what it will feel like to be dead. In fact, it won’t feel like anything—and therein lies the problem.

The comments are good too:
Part of the problem is that for those who are dead, being dead represents the total antithesis for/what the term 'experience' means, the total lack of/ incapacity to experience. and therein lies the problem. How do you experience what can not be experienced? You can't.
Via Scientific American

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Moving the Earth to Survive

Pardon me if I'm not optimistic.
The Sun is slowly getting warmer as it burns the hydrogen in its core. In about 5 billion years, the Sun will begin evolving into a bloated red giant. Its outer gas shell will swell up, engulfing the Earth by the time it reaches its peak size and brightness 7 billion years from now.
* * *
Elementary physics tells us that we actually can move the planets. Launching a rocket into space pushes the Earth a bit in the opposite direction, like the recoil from a gun.

Via New Scientist

Guess I'm Never Going to the Sundarban Islands

Did I ever mention my irrational fear of being eaten alive by an animal?
The number of tiger attacks on people is growing in India's Sundarban islands as habitat loss and dwindling prey caused by climate change drives them to prowl into villages for food, conservation experts say.

Wildlife experts say endangered tigers in the world's largest reserve are turning on humans because rising sea levels and coastal erosion are steadily shrinking the tigers' natural habitat.

Via New Scientist

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Randomness Rules the World

I've read this article at least three times and find it fascinating. But I don't get it.
Imagine that you are a contestant on the classic television game show Let’s Make a Deal. Behind one of three doors is a brand-new automobile. Behind the other two are goats. You choose door number one. Host Monty Hall, who knows what is behind all three doors, shows you that a goat is behind number two, then inquires: Would you like to keep the door you chose or switch? Our folk numeracy—our natural tendency to think anecdotally and to focus on small-number runs—tells us that it is 50–50, so it doesn’t matter, right?

Wrong. You had a one in three chance to start, but now that Monty has shown you one of the losing doors, you have a two-thirds chance of winning by switching. Here is why. There are three possible three-doors configurations: (1) good, bad, bad; (2) bad, good, bad; (3) bad, bad, good. In (1) you lose by switching, but in (2) and (3) you can win by switching. If your folk numeracy is still overriding your rational brain, let’s say that there are 10 doors: you choose door number one, and Monty shows you door numbers two through nine, all goats. Now do you switch? Of course, because your chances of win??ning increase from one in 10 to nine in 10. This type of counterintuitive problem drives people to innumeracy, including mathematicians and statisticians, who famously upbraided Marilyn vos Savant when she first presented this puzzle in her Parade magazine column in 1990.

Via Scientific American

Exploitation of the Ignorant

How do politicians get away with [bending the truth]? Ignorance is part of the answer. Many voters will never read the newspaper article or watch the news broadcasts that reveal the true situation. But psychology is also at work. The short cuts that we use to make sense of the world shape our perception of it. When it comes to politics, this can lead voters to reach the wrong conclusions about candidates, even when they have been exposed to the truth. Could it be that politicians and their strategists are harnessing this phenomenon?

Via New Scientist

Avoiding Turbulence.

As a nervous flier, this is technology I can embrace.
IT STRIKES without warning and can jangle the nerves of even seasoned air travellers - but maybe not for much longer. Clear air turbulence just got a lot easier to predict and avoid.

Two types of turbulence affect aircraft. The first, caused by storms, high winds or the flow of air over mountains, is fairly predictable. Clear air turbulence (CAT) is a different matter: "The skies are clear and blue, everything looks fine, but there is invisible turbulence there and pilots fly through it," says Paul Williams at the University of Reading, UK. As a result, CAT causes hundreds of injuries a year to airline passengers.

via New Scientist