Sunday, 28 December 2008

A joke or not a joke?

The equations of medieval cosmology
Roberto Buonanno and Claudia Quercellini from Universita di Roma Tor Vergata have published on arXiv a paper titled
The equations of medieval cosmology
The abstract claims:

In Dantean cosmography the Universe is described as a series of concentric spheres with all the known planets embedded in their rotation motion, the Earth located at the centre and Lucifer at the centre of the Earth. Beyond these "celestial spheres", Dante represents the "angelic choirs" as other nine spheres surrounding God. The rotation velocity increases with decreasing distance from God, that is with increasing Power (Virtu'). We show that, adding Power as an additional fourth dimension to space, the modern equations governing the expansion of a closed Universe (i. e. with the density parameter \Omega_0>1) in the space-time, can be applied to the medieval Universe as imaged by Dante in his Divine Comedy. In this representation the Cosmos acquires a unique description and Lucifer is not located at the centre of the hyperspheres.

Indeed, the paper combines the Dantean images with astrophysical equations.
To what end? Does it tell us anything about Dante? Or perhaps it tells us something about us, modern scientists? Don't we have more important subjects to study?

Friday, 5 December 2008

Science may be a pleasure

It was with great pleasure that I have read of recent choice of prizes of Polish Science Foundation (sometimes dubbed "Polish Nobels").

The reason was actually quite far from my usual turf. One of the prizes went to prof. Stanisław Mossakowski for the monography od Sigismundus Chapel at the Wawel Castle in Cracow. Interviewed he has said that he has been working alone, without special grants:
Thanks to this I was happy to work for the sheer pleasure that may come out only from selfless scientific research. If I had signed a contract the results would be probably worse. As it was, I had no schedules to meet and I had the pleasure of work.

What could be more optimistic than such account?

A Science Fiction challenge

I was a great fan of hard SF: the stories of dauntless exploration of the Cosmos, of spaceships, new planets, new galaxies... But my realist psyche has decreasingly reduced the fun I was getting from these lectures. I simply stopped believing that it is possible for the human race to make the effort necessary to go anywhere in the Universe. Even to Mars, not mentioning successful colonization of other star systems or galaxies. The more I look at the way we act, at out limitations (which are to a large part built in our evolutionary heritage) the more I doubt of any concerted action that would put us on a way to stars. I am not alone. Norman Augustine, Chairman of Lockheed AMrtin corporation has written a short essay What We Don't Know Does Hurt Us. How Scientific Illiteracy Hobbles Society Science, 1998, 279, p. 1640.
He states:
Could we send men and women to Mars? Technologically speaking, I believe we could. But politically there is no will to do so.
Augustine should know - after all LM holds quite a lot of the technology necessary to make the trip. But I agree - there is no will and no chance of making it, unless...

And this is the first topic of the challenge:
Try to describe what should have happen in the future (I fear my knowledge of English tenses runs short here) that would change the attitude and ways of significant part of our societies to launch us on the way to Cosmos? What social, psychological, technical, maybe biological changes, what wars/new religions/single events might do the job?

The second challenge is less ambitious and more scientific: what kind of alien evolution would produce beings that would be capable of intermixing the cooperative spirit and curiosity that would lead them and allow the effort necessary for space exploration?

Answers more than welcome!
One avenue is, however, excluded, as I already have thought of it (of course, with due humility, not being the first to do so). The beings that might have the necessary capacities would be the ones that do not have the evolutionary heritage, being programmed to explore the Universe. Machines. Possibly self replicating, possibly intelligent. As they would be conceived with the very idea in mind and without the evolutionary baggage, they might just be the thing. So, the challenge is a biological one: think of a sequence of events and constraints that would produce species cooperative like bees, intelligent and technical as humans and peaceful as orcas. Or, to be working, something much, much stranger.

Anyone out there?