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Showing posts from July, 2015

Thought for the Day: Science Answers How, Not Why; Explains Measurements, Not Intent

In case my current suave and debonair persona makes it hard for you to imagine me as a science nerd, this story should remedy that misconception.  Long before I was married -- in fact, long before I had any thought that marriage and dating had anything to do with each other (I was in college...) -- I asked a girl on a date.  I arrived at the appointed time and she informed me that she had forgotten about that she had homework due the next day. (That's possible, right?  I mean, just because we are all in college and taking a full-time load, that doesn't mean we'll always have homework, right?  I mean, it's not like she said she had to wash her hair, right?)  Anyway, apparently felt a little badly (big step up from anyone else -- both of them -- that I had asked before), so she asked if I'd like to have some popcorn and visit at little bit.  I didn't have to be asked twice!  She asked me, "Why are you a physics major?  That sounds so boring!"  I should …

Thought for the Day: Tisha b'Av Just Became Personal for Me -- Remembering Bubbie Rochel

I struggle every year with trying to make the fast of Tisha b'Av more meaningful than just dreading yet another 25 hour fast.  I learn about the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash (may it be rebuilt soon and in our lifetime) and the story of Kamtz and Bar Kamtza.  Those make an intellectual impression on me.  I read about/listen to/watch first person accounts of holocaust victims; see documentary on Leah Kaufman on the Aish site.  Those make me inspired by what a human being (even an 8 year old girl) can become, horrified by how low a human being can sink, and a bit embarrassed about my own complaining (gee whiz... it's been 23 hours since my last good meal... I guess I'll just have to nap more before ma'ariv).  But none of them strikes a chord of personal or even communal tragedy.

Till yesterday, 10 Av 5775/July 26 2015; when I was wakened by the buzz of an incoming text message telling me that the funeral for Bubbie Rochel would be at 11:00AM.  Then I cried.  I cried …

Thought for the Day: It Is Possible to Act With Altruism, and I Am Betting My Entire Life On It

I can remember when we got our first color TV.  There we still plenty of shows that were still in black and white, though.  (Some people used to turn the color adjustment knob just to force green or magenta tinging of the picture -- "I paid for color; I am going to see color, darn it!")  Besides the shows being broadcast in black and white, they also mostly addressed issues in black and white; that is, either avoid it completely or say something that had unanimous approval of the viewing public as understood by the corporate sponsors.

One show that was a little different (to my young, impressionable mind) was Father Knows Best.  One show made particularly strong impression on me, was when Bud came home spouting that no one does anything except for selfish motives.  Father was horrified and set out to prove him wrong by directing their old-time house painter to use cheap paint; it only needed to look good enough to fool prospective buyers, father told the painter.  The painte…

Thought for the Day: Will Vs. Free Will

Consider the following thought experiment: have your friend throw/roll a bowling ball down a lane in which you have set up sensor to determine the precise speed, angle, and rotation of the ball just after he releases.  You can then predict, with whatever accuracy you want (just get better sensors for better results), precisely what pins he will knock down  (which, by the way, is precisely how the Wii Sports bowling game works).  Alternatively, I could set up sensors to measure the direction and speed of each pin in the set and then use that to tell him precisely what the speed, angle, and rotation of the ball was just after he released.  I assume you are not shocked.

You are not shocked because everyone knows that's the way the physical world works.  Given the complete state of a system now, I can (in principle) tell you what its state will be at any moment in the future and what it must have been at an moment in the past.  That is, of course, unless someone got in there and mixed…

Thought for the Day: Evolution Vs Torah Creation Boils Down to: Does the Creator Care About His Creation?

Newton's Laws of Motion begin with:  Unless acted upon by an outside force, an object in motion at rest will remain at rest and an object in motion will remain in motion.  Newton's second law states that the change in motion of an object is directly proportional to the net applied force.  Please note that the first law seems to be nothing more than the special case where there is no externally applied force.  We are not the first to notice that (sorry to burst your bubble); Newton knew that very well when he codified his laws of motion.  So why did he include a special case of the 2nd law as the 1st law?  He was making a point.  He was asserting a major break with the then reigning Aristotelian view of the world, which stated: an object at rest will remain at rest, while an object in motion will tend to come to rest.  The Aristotelian world view was that everything in the universe has a preferred place; motion is the response or an object to being displaced from its preferred …

Thought for the Day: Two Wrongs Don't Make A Right, But Two Doubts Make it Permissible

I thought I'd let the whole brew-ha-ha (brouhaha; get it?  I slay me...) about my post-pesach beer trials and tribulations before bringing up a side point.  I said there that the beer was permitted because we have a ספק ספיקא/doubly inconclusive. Namely: (1) Maybe the malted barley was all bought after pesach; (2) even if it wasn't we can rely on ברירה/choice (since it is d'rabanan).  On that point, some cried, "Nay! 'Tis but a single doubt, though with two dependent parts."

The ספק ספיקא I presented was:  First, we have a ספק if the barley is from before Pesach at all, and since it is d'rabanan we apply the general rule of ספק דרבנן לקולא/in case of doubt on a Rabbinic prohibition, the halacha is to rule leniently.  Second, even if the barley is from before Pesach, we can rely on ברירה/choice and we can assume that the barley used to make my batch of beer came entirely after Pesach.  The nay-sayers claimed that I had really only one ספק; namely, was the…

Thought for the Day: Torah Creationism Or Evolution? Principle Issues on Each Side

Just to set the stage, here is a quote from Lord Kelvin, one of the seminal scientists who shaped modern physics:
The more thoroughly I conduct scientific research, the more I believe that science excludes atheism. I don't need to bring proof that some scientists are atheists and/or believe in evolution; however, I want to be clear that the idea of creation is not, in and of itself, an unscientific concept.  This is not, of course, a proof that atheism is unscientific; I just want a level playing field.

In order to decide how to live my life effectively, I must understand the intended purpose (if any) of my existence.  There are many (many, many, sigh...) proposed candidates; lots of religions, lots of philosophies; a veritable plethora of -isms.  To winnow the playing field to only the reasonable candidates for Truth, I only accept those that satisfy the following criteria.
A logical system.  That knocks out religions that just willy-nilly add yet another god whenever they need to…

Thought for the Day: Proving Intelligent Design Is A Retreat Back to the Dark Ages; Concluding Intelligent Design Is Good Science

Just so everyone is on the same page:  For those of you who believe that evolution is easily disproved by looking at the amazing order, synergistic form with function, and cooperating system apparent in the universe; I say, "nuh-uh"; or, less succinctly, "Very complex systems can come into being by random processes; given a typing pool of monkeys randomly banging on typewriters, they will eventually produce the entire works of William Shakespeare."  For those of you who believe that belief in a supernatural creator is entirely a matter of blind faith and outside the pale of logical investigation; I say, "nuh-uh"; or, less succinctly, "Given the available data (both historical and physical measurements) and current understanding, the most rational conclusion is that the universe is the beautiful production of an intelligent and wise Creator, tailor made to accomplish His purposes.  Now that everyone is mad at me and thinks I am on the "the other …

Thought for the Day: Resurrection and World to Come (After Life) are Integral Jewish Beliefs

I have started a new series of taped shiurim (I know those recordings wouldn't know  tape from Adam, but I am old enough to think of all recordings as "taped") by Rabbi Ahron Lopiansky on Da Ma Shetashiv/know how to answer an apikoros (I had no idea that word only applied to Jewish apostates; cool!).  I like this genre of shiur.  First, you cover a lot of ground vis a vis Jewish thought.  Second, I know this apikoros (a very irritating one, actually, who always stars at me while I brushing my teeth) that is a real tough customer and he always needs to hear the same answers said a new way; over and over again.

R' Lopiansky started with a nice introduction of some necessary conditions before you even think to begin a discussion.  He presented an interesting thought experiment.  Suppose you had the opportunity to meet an aborigine who was very intelligent, but had never before seen a computer.  (To get an idea of how he feels, try asking your teenager about his iPhone..…

Thought for the Day: Tolerance Does Not Mean Agreement

I am a physicist by training and predilection and a programmer by necessity.  One thing that means is that when I am confronted with a conflict between truth and beauty, I embark on a mission to accomplish two things:
Accept the truth.Alter my perception to beauty to correspond to what is true. For example, there were those who feel that irrational numbers (number that cannot be expressed as the ratio of two integers) are ugly.  This group includes the Pythagoreans of the ancient world, who are said to have drowned  Hippasus for having used their theorem to prove their existence.  It also certain members of the Indiana state legislature who introduced bill #246 into the 1897 Indiana General Assembly to legislate that π should equal exactly 3. Those folks, and others of their ilk, are bound and determined to alter truth until it matches their perception of beauty.
I find that us truth seekers are by and large a pretty tolerant group.  That is, my attitude toward those those who seek bea…