Archive for the ‘Science and Art’ Category

Blending philosophy, science, and a rare medical condition is a tricky proposition. Doing it in a way that is both engaging and hilarious takes extraordinary skill. Luckily for the rest of us, Emily Levine has that skill. She’s currently running a one woman show in New York, “Emily at the Edge of Chaos”, which unfortunately closes this weekend. (There’s a review at Talking Science, so you can see what you missed.)

The point of all this, though, is that her TED talk from 2002 is now online, and it’s just as incredible (if a bit shorter).

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Read Full Post »

Number 18

Not actually the Mona Lisa

What do the phrases: “Jackson Pollock painted the Mona Lisa”, “The homing pigeon luxuriated in the hot bath”, and “That man has a city for a head turkey archeologist” have in common?

As David at Shores of the Dirac Sea explains, they’re all encoded in the digits of pi:

This result states that any message that you want is written in the digits of a normal number an infinite number of times. Every single message.

Or, to put it in the words of my college probability professor:

Randomness is not the absence of order; it is the presence of every possible type of order.

This is, quite possibly, the single most important sentence to know when thinking about conspiracy theories or the hidden-message variety mysticism. Never be surprised at people’s ability to find messages, or even fragments of messges, in apparently randose3m;’%hkl;##%15kmg.

Read Full Post »

An off-hand comment of Neil Gaiman’s has shattered of my notions about the difference between science and literature. But first, a short pontification:

Science is, as any active researcher will tell you at great length, a very creative endeavor. There is a constant stream of problems — ranging from “Why do particles have mass?” to “How do I wire these three instruments together without blowing up the lab?” to “Can I word this paper to maximally piss of my rivals without having the referee make me change it?”. The solutions generally require agile and unconventional thinking. Far from the image of mindless button-pushing and number-crunching, a sizable part of even the day-to-day life is about constructing thoughts that no one has had before.

However, this creativity is also highly constrained. The question, “What is the universe made of?” has a huge range of possible answers. On the other hand, almost all of those are wrong. I could advance the theory that at the fundamental level everything is made of unicorn tears. While that may be an interesting (or possibly horrific) world, it’s not the one we live in. Scientific creativity is much more akin to that of a haiku writer than, say, a novelist.


Read Full Post »

Today I ran across two incredible sets of images. The first is a set of “solargraphs” from a New Scientist story (via The Bad Astronomer). The photographer, Justin Quinnell, exposed a pinhole camera for 6 months. The resulting image tracks the sun as it moves across the sky. Each track is the motion of the sun over the course of a day, and the different tracks show how it moves through the seasons. The trick, of course, is finding a place where a camera can sit undisturbed for 6 months. If you have that, then the article tells you how to take your own. I smell science project.

The second, which I found linked at Swans on Tea, is a set of pictures of Fire Rainbows, a phenomena I’d never even heard about before. These are incredibly rare, requiring cirrus clouds with ice crystals aligned just so while the sun is at a particular angle, but the result is beyond spectacular. If you painted this for a class you’d be flunked for making something so unrealistic.

Take a look at the full sets; both are breathtaking.

Read Full Post »