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Saturday, 25 February 2017

Decay of elementary particle - life predetermined?

Carbon dating is a nice scientific methodology to arrive at dates of fossils, which are found now-and-then across the globe. This depends on the Carbon-14 isotope that accumulates in living things, as well as the later decay, with a half-life of about 5730 years. A neutron in C-14 "spontaneously" decays into a proton, giving out an electron and an electron anti-neutrino (which means it turns into a stable Nitrogen 14 atom).

Let us review the C-14 decay. Statistically, the confidence level, which depends on the type of testing, etc., is pretty good. For beta radiation based testing, it is within 2% of estimate, given about 4 hours of measurement for 10 grams of fossil. This gives ratio of C-14 atoms to the C-12 atoms in the fossil, which then gives estimate of age of the same. A gram of carbon containing 1 atom of carbon-14 per 10E12 atoms will emit 2 beta particles per 5 seconds (refer Wikipedia).

Actually, if we look into Wikipedia and check the life span of various particles, there are specific estimates of lifetime of neutrons, protons and electrons as well.

Here are some figures of "Mean Lifetime" from Wikipedia:
Proton More than 2.1×10E29 years
Electron More than 6.6×10E28 years
Free Neutrons 881.5±1.5 s (more than 14 minutes)
Muon 2.197×10E−6 seconds (2.197 millionth of a second)
Tau particle 2.9×10E−13 seconds (0.29 trillionth of a second)
W and Z Bosons Halflife of 3×10E−25 seconds (0.3 trillionth trillionth of a second)

Given the half-life of C-14 being 5730 years, it is estimated that about 50% of them decay in that time period. In a fossil preserved for 5730 years, which has, say, 1x10E10 atoms of C-14, we can assume that it would have had 2x10E10 atoms 5730 years ago. When we dig deeper into the quantum level, the question then arises on "which" of the atoms decay, while which "live" longer? Of the 2x10E10, there is a regular decay of atoms, which seems to be quite consistent too, as claimed by Carbon dating process.

The rate of decay, being consistent, would also mean that within, say 575 years, some atoms would have decayed, the counts for which must be within the expected range of errors. After 1150 years some more. After 5730 years, we find that 1x10E10 have decayed. Some C-14 may decay after 57,300 years too.

(1) However, which atom(s) get to decay earlier and which atom(s) get to "live" as long as 53,000 years? Is there any coordination? What other factors are involved?

(2) How would the consistency of rate of decay be explained, while at same time the atoms are assumed to have no "intelligence, information, data-exchange", etc. (unless I have read wrong)? How could one atom decay after 575 years, while another lives for 57300 years (or longer) - and on what basis? If it is purely by chance, then consistency cannot be easily explained. If it is not by chance, what is the scientific process?

(3) If a scientific process cannot be attributed, then is there "coordination" of activities? Do atoms have "life" defined within it? Or is that controlled by an "elusive God"?

(4) If these are not acceptable, then is there a collective "consciousness"? Can there be individual consciousness, even at atomic level (which is the smallest level we observe, due to our own limitations and limitations of instruments we have developed)?

Diverging a bit, I would like to recall here a nice view of "dark times", in a speech by a descendant of a Punjabi immigrant in the USA. She said "the darkness may not be the darkness of death, but it could also be the darkness of the womb - before birth, before a new beginning".

(5) In the same line of thinking, should we consider the decay of the Neutron as its death? Or should we think of the birth of the proton and electron by division of the Neutron?

Some experts, with more knowledge on the science of decay, half-life, life of particles, may throw light to us common folks, who are stumped by basic questions when we look at the quantum level.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Refraction - a surface awareness

Refraction is defined as a surface phenomenon. When a ray of light passes at an angle other than normal to a surface, the phase velocity of the light reduces, if entering a denser medium (higher refractive index), and increases if it moves to a rarer medium. Moreover, the direction of the light wave is changed a bit based on the sine rule (Snell's law). Further explanation of conservation of energy is also outlined by Fresnel's equations, where part of the light is reflected and part refracted.

The above is just a short summary of refraction as we are taught in school. A bit further of explanations are required, to ensure we have covered all aspects. Both medium are considered transparent for these experiments. Translucent materials would absorb part of light and reflect some of the light as well. Moreover, we are considering homogeneous medium for simplicity sake. In heterogeneous / non-uniform medium, there will be more collisions of the photons, absorption, reflection, etc.

The overall concept however does raise some questions at a quantum level. At quantum level, we all are told that there is lot of empty space between the nucleus and electrons. There is lot of empty space between atoms that form a molecule (say glass molecules). There is very higher order of empty space in case of air and we have very highly mobile atoms/molecules. In case of water, even though there is Brownian movement, there is still quite a bit of empty space.

We have usually simplified understanding of refraction into 2-dimensional ray-theories. We are all told of the rays being on the same plane. However, a "surface" / boundary between two medium is usually 3-dimensional. What really happens to the angles of incidence and refraction? 

Other than that, we have many more questions.

(a) As the photon approaches the line of boundary between the two mediums what influences the change in direction of light? Are there different kinds of fields in the two mediums? Does Glass or Water have a different field, that affects the path of light (or path of photon)?

(b) Do the atoms/molecules exert any electro-magnetic field affecting the electro-magnetic waves? Is there a regular field that exists around every atom/molecule? If yes, what is its effect - if not, how does the surface, its angle with respect to the approaching photon, etc., cause the consistent effect?

(c) How is the change of direction different for different angles of approach to the surface separating the two mediums? Does the light sense the alignment of the series of atoms/ molecules of the medium? Or is this also a function of "alignment of the field and its effect"?

(d) At what point does the change in direction happen - as soon as it is within X distance of the field near the boundary? What is value of X that we can reasonably surmise, for a significant effect of change in path?

(e) If there is a very thin film of the medium (hence light emerges back into first medium), then how is the change in path perfectly in opposite direction while going through all that empty space between electrons, nucleus, atoms and molecules? A question similar to (c) above, but now the light diverges from normal (assuming the film has higher refractive index).

(f) So, is refractive index a function of this "field" and is the field same as the electromagnetic field? Or is it a function of the electromagnetic field? Or is it possible that the field is something entirely different? When we think of concept of heat, temperature, etc., along with the refraction concept, and then electromagnetic fields - where do they all fit in, in the quantum level?

Too many questions raised when we dig deeper, and still searching for answers.

Maybe a kind reader will point us to some good information that can set right the simple doubts of a common man.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Observable Universe - two Titanics

We are fascinated at the vastness of the observable universe. If we wish to apply a model of the universe using smaller entities from our regular life, it can give us a simpler perspective to the size of the cosmos we perceive.

Let us take our sun and equate it to the nucleus of a Hydrogen atom - yes, a proton. If we take the diameter of the sun to be the diameter of the nucleus of the atom, then the electron orbiting the sun is actually at 20 times the distance of Pluto! Rather, Pluto is orbiting the nucleus at 1/20th of the distance of the first electron at the highest energy level (1s orbital). Earth is much closer - just 1/1000th of the distance the electron would be held at!

Now, how does the currently perceivable limits of the universe scale when the sun is the size of the proton? With simple, back of the envelope calculations, we can find that the approximate size that humans can observe with current instruments is about twice the length of the Titanic. Yes, that is about it. Approximately 535 metres in each direction - so the entire observable universe from end-to-end would be a bit more than a kilometer.

Where do we fit in, in this model? We are obviously the size of a minute dot in this Hydrogen atom. Each person would be the size of a dot 3 billionths of the size of that nucleus, orbiting at a distance of 215 times the size of the nucleus. The earth is approx 1/100th the size of this nucleus (approximately 109 per Wikipedia article on Sun).

What is the size of the Milky Way in that case? The milky way will fit into a small ball-bearing - yes, approximately 2 mm diameter on the elongated side of the spiral galaxy. That is, it is a spiral between 1.1mm - 2mm in size.

That is all? That is it? Yes, that is the limits of our abilities, science and scientific instruments we have constructed till date.

Here is a tid-bit: How many molecules of gaseous Hydrogen will fit into that Milky way galaxy in this comparison? If we would like to compare the number of hydrogen atoms in 1.1mm to 2mm size Milky way, with the number of stars that are estimated to exist in this galaxy, we have about 250,000 hydrogen atoms for each star in the galaxy. This shows how sparsely Milky way is populated by stars, compared to standard 1 atomospheric pressure Hydrogen atoms (solar systems) in similar scale.

Open question that we will discuss later: Is there a possibility that the universe is much larger? Yes, it is very much possible. One has to read up on Cosmic microwave radiation to look for one example of unexplained uniformity from currently observed lumped galaxies and vast empty space.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Outcome of Rigorous Steps - Beautiful Science

Firstly of all, hope you all followed your own individual rigorous scientific steps on evening of Dec 31st, with very measured downing of spirits (where applicable) to uplift the spirits and herald in the New Year in one of the best of yearly rituals. Wish you all a prosperous 2017, when we reach higher towards our goals.
  • We seem to follow never ending repeat steps day-in and day-out, from morning till evening, with a nice end-goal in mind - for 5 days a week (sometimes 6 or even 7). Some strict schedules are followed in these rituals with simple regular expectation of returns - compensation. It does not stop there, as we also expect something more, for having done the processes in meticulous manner - a promotion and / or big increment. However, this is not guaranteed, as that depends on the specific procedures that have been followed in the previous 365 days in direct relationship with boss(es). Unless boss(es)' wishes had been carried out explicitly or subtly, like laughing at their mundane jokes in measured manner, taking up their work & giving them the credit for job well done by us, and some favors done which are not so easily expressed in this civil forum, the efforts at work don't yield the expected bonus fruit. Yet, these are the rituals we repeat week after week, month after month and year after year. In search of something - compensation, status, assets, happiness in future?
    Our Modern Rituals
  • Belief that modern technological steps like checking emails many times a day, being available for conference calls at god forbidden hours (small g) are the super methods provided to us by science for our growth.
  • If we do not follow simple procedures when we start the vehicle and begin driving, then additional steps need to be performed to correct the same. If one has not switched on the blue-tooth, then either pull over to do the same - or check the road, mirrors, etc., before switching them on, on-the-go. Prayaschittham is always there, dictated by science to ensure accident free remedy. If the wires and ear plugs were not put in place before the drive, then shoving the mobile phone inside the helmet can be achieved, by following 1 or 2 different methods as alternative - of course, following strict methodology to avoid accidents. We love to follow these simple logical steps again and again - every day (and alternatives at times), in order to get the benefits of science's donations to our lives. Science however has prescribed all the steps & alternatives. Each one follows a strict procedure for every ride, every day, every week... However, for every missed sub-task, there is a set of operations to set things right (though the fact that these are predefined operating procedures is easily overlooked).
  • Science has enhanced our lives' main ambitions - to gossip, complain, boast, talk (and ignore/ not listen) - by providing new technologies that fast forward the same. We love the rituals and the goals too - in this case... Nothing like complaining (without looking for solutions), sugar-coating of achievements, shoving problems under the rug, etc.
Tracking - CAG
  • The CAG (Comptroller Auditor General a.k.a. ChitrA Gupta) keeps track of your adherence to scientific processes - like hours spent at work, hours spent on social media, official mails processed outside work hours, appropriate social behaviour in presence of bosses & management, etc., in order to allocate appropriate resources to you. Accumulating the necessary resources through-out life is the supreme mantra for our enlightenment. (BTW, after cyclone Vardah, there is more Gayab-tree rather than Gayathri)
  • Oh, how did we miss the rigorous process we start at age 3 (or earlier) and continue till we are 21, 22, 24, 25 or 28? Yes, that nice Basic Scientific process called "education" - we so amazingly devote so much of time in getting many things close to perfection during the short couple of decades. Every person wants their ward(s) to follow this ritual without fail with different goals in mind (their goals and/or ward's goals). Some plan for first year result, medium term expectations or long-term life goals. Some have 2-year expectation, 5-year plan or 10-year vision of future. We work through science-prescribed rigorous steps of waking up early in morning and rushing through, packed like sardines with similar aged folks, returning home after lot of studies, bit of play and some general learning - all towards the end-goals. Is there any guarantee that a person skilled in Mathematics will not end up a clinical assistant (where counting the pulse is maximum Maths one may do - or may compare the lab result numbers to the range of numbers given in the guideline charts), or a person interested in healing & human body does not end up as a teller in a bank counting notes? No - but we still follow the scientific process outlined by generations (oh sorry, only past 6 to 15 generations) in search of our varied goals. Is that better - or some other rituals (oh, I thought those were scientific too) prescribed for many millenia will be the best to take us through the travails of our insignificant life in this enormous cosmos?
  • Only 2 or 3 or 4 people need to follow procedures in order to perform a complex task of transporting hundreds / thousands of people in one go. The pilot / driver, the co-pilot / conductor / guard, the ATC / station masters - if they follow their scientific rituals can ensure people reaching their goals. However, the same concept cannot be and should not be applied to any processes/ procedures followed over millenia, because there is no proof that they are for "Yogak-shemam vahamyaham". So, I guess scientific methods are really important - but...
  • Oil made in India is bad, but those made based on recent science are so great that we are being delivered from near extinction. No, it is not economics - it is pure scientific research without any ulterior motives. Really? Coconut oil, Sesame oil & Groundnut oil are bad for us in India? Come on...
    Modern Science???
  • Social media is an excellent scientific tool to spread 9% lies and 90% exaggerations. That is so awesome that we come together and live closer together (in 'apart'ments), but behave like zombies in front of our neighbours, not knowing from which planet they have landed.
  • We should not reduce salt intake when you have high-BP, because it is not proven scientifically with recorded statistics (up to end of 20th century)... and now that it has been proven scientifically, it is the science community that must be awarded encomiums to having amazingly introduced this great concept to humanity. Something which has been followed for some generations in India, without any other prescription of diet or medicines.
  • We get super-excited watching shouting wars in the middle of our living rooms, staged miles away, through a rectangular portal, thinking the methodical feed of data will somehow enhance our life - either towards our goals, or just destressing from our other exciting daily rituals.
  • No imports of your stuff without DDT treatment... then, after you destroy your lands - DDT is bad for food and hence we will not import your food stuff. That is top-class scientific research of the 20th century.
  • Ghee is the evil invented in Bharatha kanda, in order to subjugate all humans. Thank God science has come to deliver us. Tamarind, Neem, Turmeric, anti-bacterial treatment of homes, streets, self, - all are evil - per research, until it is given up - and then re-introduced from the scientific community as outstanding findings of the entire 14 billion years. Oh, I love my cow produce like milk, butter, ghee, etc. (oops, I should not discriminate on sex - bull produce too)
  • ENJOY - Still we all should enjoy our own individual methodologies, procedures & processes developed carefully since the age of 1 upto age of 18 (or whichever age is attributed to Albert Einstein's quotes), and then polished - so that we excel & succeed in our lives. We should leave behind the mundane rituals developed over millenia, because the end-goals are not guaranteed - while our scientific tools & technologies guarantee the greatest of achievements in our lives, time & time again, in such a repeatable fashion that in last 200 years humans have never ever been sooooo happy.

PS: This is what a cyclone, followed by eager folks who want to saw off cut trees to smaller pieces, at 1:30 AM using a chain-saw, does to people. Especially when it was supposed to be a "Silent Night, Holy night" (night of 24th December).

PPS: I retain the right to rescind some or all of above statements, as and when I get enlightened & move from my small sandbox, to reach out towards TBS (not Turner Broadcasting system, but Totally Bureaucratic Sanity).

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Align to a path - Highway to heaven

We all want to set best goals, or super destinations for life.  How we reach there could be through variety of routes. The journey also adds to the experience.  We do change it over time, based on progress as well as situations - but let us look at the big picture with simple case first.  It does help if we follow a path already taken by others for the same goal / destination.  Such an idea does not preclude the preference of a few to blaze new trails, which could be better / faster to the goal at times - or not.
Blaze a new trail, if you wish

One can choose a very smooth path - this would be the highways.  The roads that have been travelled by many, repeatedly, and so much, that the generations have taken effort to build highways on that path.  This is for the benefit of the next generations, which can be utilized.  One can choose a fresh path, which may have lots of trials and tribulations - but could be a new short path to the goal.

So, which path should we choose?  If we want to utilize the knowledge and paths of the ancestors, then we could use their methods, processes and guidelines. This will take us on the highway to heaven.  How are we to ensure we reach the goal/ destination?  We need to definitely align our vehicle as per the behaviour of people around us, and also follow the rules of the highway.  If we do not align ourselves, then we could get into trouble - delays, jams or even accidents.

Well laid paths to help our journey
Similarly, for the goal / destination of 'life', we have to align ourselves to the rules of the universe, while also keeping in mind the behaviour of people around us (family, friends and society).  We can align by using the experience passed on to us through the generations - the methods, processes and procedures. A driver need not understand how each and every part of the vehicle contributes towards the journey.  However, by using the important aspects that the driver needs to control & follow repeatedly, vigilantly, the driver can reach the destination/ goal.

There are hundreds of things that we do not understand about the Universe.  The arms of the galaxies do not seem to follow the same gravitational rules as the outer planets of a star system.  The presence of different atoms near the central atom seems to affect the behaviour of the group, which is not really explained by the elementary particles that make up these atoms.  Ether, dark matter, Awareness, consciousness, etc., are all throwing up lot of questions.

Even a bulb or fan can be made to work by a 2 year old child, by flipping on the switch, at the instructions of the elders.  The child need not know how electricity flows into the home, the mechanics of power generation, the filament of the bulb or the condenser & motor in the fan.  However the benefits of the action of flipping the switch is available to the child.  Hence, if we align ourselves along the right path, on the right highway - using the wisdom passed on to us by our ancestors, we can reach the heaven we covet.  We only need to use the simple methods given us by our ancestors to reap benefits and reach the goal/ destination... or in other words, a simple highway to heaven.

Within the rules & a highway to your destination

Monday, 8 August 2016

Pillar of fire - a simpler description of the universe?

Exploring the limits of the universe is something many scientists are very much interested in. On one end, we have so far reached deep down up to quarks and other similar particles, though early western scientists had thought 'atom' was the limit (something indivisible). On the other end, the scientists are pushing the 13-14 billion light-year extent of observable universe limit with better equipment and methods to look farther.

Let us switch to a story we learnt when young.  Many of you would have heard the story of the competition between Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma, on who was superior. Lord Shiva appeared as an infinite pillar of fire and asked them to find the beginning or end of the pillar. Neither could do it, but Lord Brahma told a lie that he saw the top (beginning) of the pillar, while Lord Vishnu accepted that he could not see the bottom (end).

This story has triggered thoughts along scientific lines.  Most stories are not necessarily literal, and hence, is there a scientific view to this story? Representation of a view in fewer dimensions to make things simpler has been one of the methods to make people understand complex things.  At least it will not drive them away with the first paragraph.  Moreover, why will an 'infinite' consciousness have to display the 'self' as a 1 dimension pillar of fire?  Is this to simplify the concept to people who cannot comprehend the dimensions of the complex Brahman?

If we assume so, then what is the implied extent of the 'beginning' and 'end' of Lord Shiva?  At least in the 3-dimensional view, can we think of the miniscule 'end' of the 'consciousness' is to be explored in the smaller-and-smaller objects? Matter, made up of molecules which are made of atoms, in turn made up of electrons-protons-neutrons (and other particles), leading to finer particles called quarks... where does that end? It cannot end arbitrarily, isn't it? It is our own limitations with respect to what we can observe, or the tools we have so far - which makes us incapable of delving deeper than quarks as of now. However, if one were to think through, quarks would have to be some energy clouds, which themselves may have pockets of particles/ energies and so on, ad-infinitum.

Extending the thought experiment outwards (to the beginning) to the extent of the known universe, just because our ability to view only to about 13/14 billion light years in distance, does not mean that the universe has this limit. How big is the universe - can't it be infinite?  Why will there be an arbitrary limit - and on what basis?  Is it just because we have one or two theories, like the big-bang, (which 'seems to' explain (and predict some) events and behaviour of various observable items in the universe), which we want to hold on to (for sanity sake)?

In essence, can it mean that Lord Vishnu dived deep down inwards and searched for the smallest possible particle that makes up the universe and did not succeed?  Similarly, it may be implied that Lord Brahma tried to look at the extent of the universe and explored outwards, but may not have succeeded in finding the limit.  This is the thought process in trying to extrapolate this story to explain the limits of the known (and unknown) universe.

Such thinking does throw up a lot of questions.
A. How does the Big bang cycle get explained / fit into the infinite?
B. What happens to the concepts of time - both in the western Big-bang based concepts as well as the ancient Indian scientific concepts?
C. Can other seemingly conflicting concepts of 'Aham-brahmaasmi' and 'Time of Brahma' be explained and understood?
D. The relativity of time, the observer, the dimension, etc. - can they fit into the concepts and be understood?

These will be addressed in subsequent articles with the plausible explanations, views, thought experiments, etc.

Please continue to send links to related articles, feedback, etc., so that the shared learning can continue.

Monday, 25 July 2016

From First Principles - with Logic

Let us Start
Recently a friend remarked "We can start from first principles in science, and prove all the laws that have been derived, logically." The immediate reaction was "Isn't it true that we start from an 'assumption' or an 'axiom' as a first principle? There is no first principle, isn't it?" The next thought is that "To be able to prove everything logically, 'logic' itself must be above everything. On one hand rejecting other lines of thought of a supreme power or consciousness, while on the other, 'logic' being placed above all other axioms, derivations, etc., is absurd, isn't it? So, is science assuming that 'logic' is God?"

These kindle deep thinking on the basis for Science and whether it can provide all answers to us. If logic is not supreme (is there a 'logical' reason why it should have supreme status) and science starts with assumptions / axioms or other premises, then what method, tool or process can we employ to explore, understand and live in this world? We will have to still use 'logic' to help us, but with a different approach. We may have to restrict the 'logic' we use to not use arbitrary starting points.

How do we proceed? When we turn to the Vedas and Upanishads, we find an interesting 'logic' applied to describe the eternal consciousness. The Mandukya Upanishad describes it, using the 'neti, neti' method ('na iti' - not this), to eliminate hypotheses which are not true. At the end of such analysis and application of logic over variety of hypotheses, whatever is left has to be the truth. This, however, needs to be a very thorough application - not a superficial analysis of a few possible explanations, equations, descriptions, etc.

For day-to-day activities, survival, etc., 'formal logic' may be sufficient. We will have a starting point with assumptions and we want to come to a conclusion using 'logical' steps. This helps us deal with the everyday scenarios.  However, for deeper thinking, all-encompassing exploration, etc., this 'logic' is insufficient to help us.

Which came first?
Just like Godel's incompleteness theorem talks of any set of logical statements being insufficient to describe a complete system, 'logic' is also incapable of covering everything we want to know about the universe. It does not seem to lend itself to answer a simple question of "which came first" - the chicken or the egg.

Even Arthur Conan Doyle seems to have hinted at 'neti, neti' method in deduction of the truth by elimination of possibilities. "When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." says he, in "The Case-book of Sherlock Holmes".

Hence, 'neti, neti' is the logic that can be applied for learning and understanding the universe in which we have manifested, with inputs from the faculties we have. We should not hesitate to use the results from scientific observations of the modern era in analysis and understanding. However it must be tempered with the knowledge that all 'impossible' possibilities must still be eliminated before arriving at conclusions.