Category Archives: Scientific Method

From the Minds of Babies

From Nobel Prize-winning physicist Frank Wilczek’s book, Fundamentals: Ten Keys to Reality:

[T]o appreciate the physical universe properly, one must be “born again.”

As I was fleshing out the text of this book, my grandson Luke was born. During the drafting, I got to observe the first few months of his life. I saw how he studied his own hands, wide-eyed, and began to realize that he controlled them. I saw the joy with which he learned to reach out and grasp objects in the external world. I watched him experiment with objects, dropping them and searching for them, and repeating himself (and repeating himself…), as if not quite certain of the result, but laughing in joy when he found them.

In these and many other ways, I could see Luke was constructing a model of the world. He approached it with insatiable curiosity and few preconceptions. By interacting with the world, he learned the things that nearly all human adults take for granted, such as that the world divides itself into self and not-self, that thoughts can control movements of self but not of not-self, and that we can look at bodies and not change their properties.

Babies are like little scientists, making experiments and drawing conclusions….

Wilczek is one of those super-brains-on-two-legs guys who, in their day jobs, are probing into the very existence of…, well, existence while they moonlight as authors penning books for the less cerebral among us to try to pretend to understand what they’re writing about. He knows what quantum mechanics is all about. Or, let me put that more accurately: among humans on Earth, he’s one of the very few who can at least know what he doesn’t yet know about the subject. For, as Richard Feynman once famously observed, “I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.”

Feynman, of course was one of those super-human intellectuals who wrote a lot for the lay person. Carl Sagan, too. Among the living, there are Dava Sobel and Neil deGrasse Tyson. In fact, here’s a list of great science writers, living and dead, who can (in most cases almost) be grasped by the likes of you and me:

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Pick any three of the above and delve into one or more of their books and you’ll find your life enriched beyond any monetary figure. A caveat: it won’t be terribly easy getting through any of their books. No matter — the Big Mike philosophy goes: Nothing worth doing is easy.

Anyway, let’s go back to that Wilczek quote. The idea being perhaps the truest and most pure scientists are human babies trying to figure out what those spindly little things on the ends of their hands are for; why things drop; how, if my diaper is full and I howl about it, some big person’ll come along and put a new one on me; and, eventually, what’ll happen when I stick a safety pin point into one of those little holes in the wall.

How beautiful is that idea?

Babies observe. They wonder about what they’re observing. They experiment. Sometimes the result of that experiment hurts. Sometimes the result is they learn something. They file either conclusion away in their memories for future use.

The smartest among us are those who understand they don’t know all that much and are hungry to learn.

The Pencil Today:

TODAY’S QUOTE

“Frisbeetarianism is the belief that when you die your soul goes up on the roof and gets stuck.” — George Carlin

LOOK OUT, KATY PERRY

Bloomington chanteuse Krista Detor’s star is getting bigger by the day. Not only is she the subject of a breathless profile in the current issue of Bloom magazine, but tix to her shows are almost as hot as Indy Super Bowl ducats.

She wandered into the Book Corner yesterday, looking for last minute gifts. She told this nosy bookseller/correspondent that her holiday show last week at the Bloomington Convention Center was the biggest yet.

Krista’s 6th annual benefit blast, “Once Upon a Time,” packed the center’s Great Room a week ago tomorrow.

Better grab your chance to see her soon before she starts filling up those big arenas around the Midwest — or even the entire nation!

Krista! Krista! Krista!

SECRETS, SECRETS, AND MORE SECRETS

Many of my leftie pals have been screaming to high heaven about the US government’s alleged propensity these days to engage in undercover hijinks, manipulation of information, and generally act like the USSR-lite.

The Obama Administration — and the Bush Gang before it — claims it must keep the citizenry safe from all manner of mayhem.

Here’s a development from NPR‘s Nell Greenfieldboyce. The National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity is urging the feds not to release the findings of government-funded research into bird flu mutation to the public. Their rationale — bioterrorists might take the info and create a virulent strain of the virus to unleash on target cities.

Terrorist?

Usually, federally-funded research is promptly released to scientific journals and even to the mainstream media. The normal follow-up to the time-honored scientific method is to publish findings so other scientists can test and, if needed, poke holes in a new theory. This last step, the Board is saying, is a little too risky in this case.

One aspect of the lab work has been to fiddle with the virus’ genes. Scientists already have developed a strain that is far more contagious than the original.

So, it’s the right to know versus a crippling bio-attack.

Don’t know what my suspicious pals are going to say about this one.

WHERE WE ARE TODAY

This is America, some 300 years after the Age of Enlightenment began.

A 17-year-old California boy was sentenced this week to 21 years in prison for assassinating in cold blood a high school classmate who was gay.

Judge, Jury, And Executioner

A young boy in Washington battled a flesh-eating bacterium in 2006. Doctors expected him to die. He didn’t. Relatives had placed a relic of some Mohawk woman at his bedside. Now Pope Benedict XVI says the whole thing was a “miracle” and will declare the woman a saint next year.

Kids: “You Got A Spare Miracle For Us?”

NFL quarterback Tim Tebow is a flamboyant Christian. He kneels and prays every chance he gets on the football field. His team has won a bunch of games. Some fans argue that the creator of the Universe is interceding on his behalf.

God: “Nah. I’m Busy With This Football Game.”

A little baby has been missing in Kansas City since October 4. A Dallas psychic has claimed to have had a vision of where the kid is buried. A party of volunteers actually went searching for her in the area where the psychic said she was. The kid, natch, wasn’t there.

The Renowned Crime Investigator

And, of course, the old standby: 72 percent of Americans believe in angels while only 45 percent believe in the theory of evolution.

Sigh.

I’M A BELIEVER

Yep, the Monkees.

BTW: For all the rage surrounding Davy Jones back in the ’60s, he sure looks dorky trying to keep time to the beat, doesn’t he? And did you notice he’s a monobrow? And his face is shiny?

Oh, alright, I’m still envious of him.

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