Tag Archives: theory

A perfect explanation of what science is…and isn’t

From an interview with David Eagleman that perfectly describes the scientific process and how it is most often fictionalized:

Essentially, this is the heart of science. We always come up with hypotheses and we bring evidence in to weigh for or against those hypotheses. And in science, of course, we never even talk about truth or proofs. We talk about where the weight of evidence suggests at the moment, you know, what we think is the best narrative at the moment. And so, you know, there’s this illusion that all of us learn in high school where we look in textbooks and science seems to proceed in a linear lockstep manner where so-and-so discovers this and then the next person and so on. But science never proceeds that way. Every major advance in science has been a creative leap where someone says, well, gosh, what this really strange story were true? And then what you do is you make a lot of these leaps and you look back to see if you can build a bridge back to what we already know in science. And when you can that’s progress. And when you can’t that’s an interesting hypothesis that you just file away and you keep.


The rest of the interview is fascinating as well, discussing topics ranging from how our memory works during a crisis (time doesn’t really slow down) to how keeping secrets increases stress hormones in your body.


His book, Incognito: The Secret Lives Of The Brain.

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Astronomers discover a star-creating galaxy that sheds light on the galactic cooling problem

Massive galaxy cluster spawns more than 700 stars a year

A newly discovered cluster of galaxies, more than 5 billion light years from Earth…is among the most massive clusters of galaxies in the universe, and produces X-rays at a rate faster than any other known cluster.

It also creates new stars at an “unmatched” pace of more than 700 per year, said Michael McDonald. “This extreme rate of star formation was unexpected,” he said during a NASA news conference Wednesday, noting that the Milky Way forms just one or two stars a year.

In addition to being massive, unique, and the biggest star-nursery in the universe, this area, called Phoenix, also helps theorists with something, the galactic cooling problem.


Phoenix Cluster: a combination of the X-ray, Optical, and Ultraviolet images, left; artists concept of the central galaxy, right. (photo: NASA)


For years scientists have been coming up with explanations for how stars are formed. The earliest being a mass of molecules would collapse in on themselves as fusion begins. The mass would then accumulate until its gravity becomes strong enough to spin, turn into a sphere, and pull on everything around it, collecting planets, asteroids, and other debris into its solar system.

But, this doesn’t take into account thermodynamics, specifically why doesn’t the star expand as it heats up. Indeed, several half-stars were observed in the universe stuck in this state of expansion unable to contract into the ultra-compact ball of a star.

That’s where a new theory comes in, the galactic “cooling flow”.

**There appears to be no name for the theory, all references are to a general theory theory of star formation.

This says the creation of stars is a lot like an explosion, with an initial burst of heat which then dissipates bringing cool air back into the explosion zone. In this case, thermonuclear fusion ignites much of the galaxy and begins sucking into the center lots of mass, including the surrounding galaxies.

As the (star) forms, this plasma initially heats up due to the gravitational energy released from the infall of smaller galaxies.

As the gas cools, it should condense and sink inward, a process known as a “cooling flow.” 

In the cluster’s center, this cooling flow can lead to very dense cores of gas, termed “cool cores,” which should fuel bursts of star formation in all clusters that go through this process. Most of these predictions had been confirmed with observations – the X-ray glow, the lower temperatures at the cluster centers – but starbursts accompanying this cooling remain rare. – TG Daily


A step forward in our knowledge of star formation, but something tells me we are not there yet.

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Hubble discovers another moon orbiting Pluto – that’s two in the last year

A team of astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope is reporting the discovery of another moon orbiting the icy dwarf planet Pluto.

The moon is estimated to be irregular in shape and 6 to 15 miles across. It is in a 58,000-mile-diameter circular orbit around Pluto that is assumed to be co-planar with the other satellites in the system.

“The moons form a series of neatly nested orbits, a bit like Russian dolls,” said team lead Mark Showalter of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif.

The discovery increases the number of known moons orbiting Pluto to five.

The Pluto team is intrigued that such a small planet can have such a complex collection of satellites. The new discovery provides additional clues for unraveling how the Pluto system formed and evolved. The favored theory is that all the moons are relics of a collision between Pluto and another large Kuiper belt object billions of years ago.

The new detection will help scientists navigate NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft through the Pluto system in 2015, when it makes an historic and long-awaited high-speed flyby of the distant world.

More on thisNASA: Hubble Discovers a Fifth Moon Orbiting Pluto



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Advanced computers push science forward through millions of hours of processing power

Harnessing the power of supercomputers and their million hours of processing power has allowed some very intriguing physics calculations to take place. One of them is the study of matter in the universe on a subatomic level.

The question, how did we arrive at a universe composed almost exclusively of matter with virtually no antimatter?

The calculation took 54 million processor hours on the IBM BlueGene/P supercomputer at the Argonne National Laboratory in the U.S.

The new research, reported in the March 30 issue of Physical Review Letters, represents an important milestone in understanding kaon decays — which are a fundamental process in physics. It is also inspiring the development of a new generation of supercomputers that will allow the next step in this research.

“It has taken several decades of theoretical developments and the arrival of very powerful supercomputers to enable physicists to control the interactions of the quarks and gluons, the constituents of the elementary particles, with sufficient precision to explore the limits of the standard model and to test new theories,” says Chris Sachrajda, Professor of Physics at the University of Southampton, one of the members of the research team publishing the new findings.

The process by which a kaon decays into two lighter particles known as pions was explored in a 1964 Nobel Prize-winning experiment. This revealed the first experimental evidence of a phenomenon known as charge-parity (CP) violation — a lack of symmetry between particles and their corresponding antiparticles that may explain why the Universe is made of matter, and not antimatter.

via Science Daily - continue reading about the next generation of supercomputers, 10-20 times more powerful…

Argonne's Blue Gene/P Supercomputer


// Photo via Argonne National Lab - Article via Lauren Weinstein

Isaac Newton Digital Library – 4,000 pages of his notebooks, drawings, and manuscripts

The largest collection of Isaac Newton’s papers has gone digital, committing to open-access posterity the works of one of history’s greatest scientist.

Among the works shared online by the Cambridge Digital Library are Newton’s own annotated copy of Principia Mathematica and the ‘Waste Book,’ the notebook in which a young Newton worked out the principles of calculus.

“Anyone, wherever they are, can see at the click of a mouse how Newton worked and how he went about developing his theories and experiments,” said Grant Young, the library’s digitization manager, in a press release. “Before today, anyone who wanted to see these things had to come to Cambridge. Now we’re bringing Cambridge University Library to the world.”

Approximately 4,000 pages of material are available now, and thousands more will be uploaded in coming months.

via Wired Science


From the Digital Library:

Cambridge University Library holds the largest and most important collection of the scientific works of Isaac Newton (1642-1727). Newton was closely associated with Cambridge. He came to the University as a student in 1661, graduating in 1665, and from 1669 to 1701 he held the Lucasian Chair of Mathematics. Under the regulations for this Chair, Newton was required to deposit copies of his lectures in the University Library.

A number of videos explaining aspects of Newton’s work and manuscripts are available from the Newton Project’s YouTube site.


One of his myriad accomplishments include a theory of light -- pictured above are notes on optics (prism) -- and his construction of the first reflecting telescope.

A new energy form unknown to science, Dark Energy, is expanding the Universe

The year was 1998 and two highly competitive groups of astronomers were each rushing toward the same goal: they hoped to hunt down the effects of gravitational braking in the universe. Ever since astronomers had accepted the idea of the Big Bang, they had been out hunting for its subsequent cosmic deceleration.

While the Big Bang blows space apart (it literally stretches all points of space-time away from each other), the gravitational pull of matter should, over time, slow down that initial burst of cosmic expansion.

As data was gathered and analyzed, both the Harvard and Berkeley groups were stunned to find no evidence for deceleration. Instead, everything pointed in the opposite direction.

According to observations, the expansion of the universe was speeding up — it was accelerating. Cosmic acceleration became big news.

Which means there exists a Dark Energy pushing the universe outwards:

In 1999, the newly discovered cosmic acceleration made it clear that some form of anti-gravitational energy had to exist. As nothing was known about this energy…it was called Dark Energy

The discovery of cosmic acceleration and Dark Energy upended cosmology almost overnight.

keep reading at Cosmos and Culture


(thx Joseph Armstrong)

The best movie costumes for Halloween (guys edition)

Halloween Series

Fabulous movie costumes for Halloween (Ladies Edition)

The most famous movie couples for Halloween

Now the fellas…


Frank Rossitano (30 Rock)


Ferris Bueller

Ron Burgundy

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The theory on career development: what psychology says about choosing your passion

In college I studied psychology and absolutely loved its theories. The field is so new and unknown that simply being able to describe how people behave is an accomplishment. Freud, the most famous psychologist, was really just a creative writer with a bit of fact.

I find something powerful in these theories. They allow me to make sense of a life that is often confusing and complex. For example, I recently fulfilled a dream by going from corporate blogger to personal blogger (this site).

It’s a great time for me but can be tough, and when I tell this to friends and family I receive a whole range of reactions, from support to disdain.

It becomes hard, at times, to find people to relate with. Most in my corporate network have trouble sympathizing with my new lifestyle, and I with them.

Complaining about your boss is no longer relevant to me, and hearing about annoying people at Starbucks seems petty to most.

It got me thinking about why this happens and I found an interesting psychology theory. One that applies to more than mid-career changes, but also to parents, teachers, and counselors.

Social Cognitive Career Theory

Social cognitive career theory (SCCT) represents an effort to extend Bandura’s social cognitive theory to the context of career development.

It is part of a revolution in psychology that believes people are an active agents in, and shapers of, their career development. This element of self-direction can be just as important as genetic and environmental factors, and puts an emphasis on self-exploration as a model for strong career decisions.

The theory draws on three basic constructs self-efficacy beliefs, outcome expectations, and goals.


Self-efficacy refers to personal beliefs about an individual’s capabilities to perform . They are context-specific, meaning they change depending on the topic (e.g. I can be a writer, but not an engineer).

It is surprising how many of us have strong beliefs about careers “we know we cannot do,” but where do these thoughts come from?

They are thought to develop from four sources:

  1. Personal accomplishments
  2. Vicarious experiences
  3. Social persuasion
  4. Physical and emotional states

Remember that these are beliefs not actual actions and results. Many of us will not try something, that we could be great at, simply because at some point in our life we developed a limiting belief.

Outcome Expectations

Outcome expectations are acquired through learning experiences with a strong focus on the consequences of a behavior (e.g. what will happen if I do this?).

The difference between self-efficacy and outcome expectations relates to beliefs about performance and consequences.

Self-efficacy is the belief that one can execute the behavior needed to produce the desired outcome (performance).

Outcome expectation is a person’s estimate that a certain behavior will produce a resulting outcome (consequence).

These expectations are thought to develop from:

  • Performing that action in the past
  • Observation of the outcomes produced by others
  • Attention to self-generated outcomes (e.g. self-approval)
  • Reaction of others to outcomes
  • Sensitivity to physical cues during task performance (emotional disturbance, sense of well-being)


Goal-setting has been defined as deciding on specific outcomes of learning or performance. By setting personal goals, people help to organize, guide, and sustain their own behavior, even through overly long intervals, without external reinforcement.

Thus goals constitute a critical mechanism through which people exercise personal agency or self-empowerment.

The interplay between self-efficacy and outcome expectations is constant. The achievement of a goal increases self-efficacy and improve outcome expectations for the next time. Often creating a positive reinforcement loop, or, through failure to achieve a goal, a lack of new goals in a negative reinforcement loop.

One factor that seems to strongly effect goal-setting is specificity. One study found that those with high self-efficacy tended to set specific goals, whereas those with low self-efficacy tended to set vague ones.

Those with specific goals tended to achieve more, set more challenging goals, progress more, and evaluate personal progress more effectively.


Thinking about your own, or your children’s, self-efficacy is important. Do you think you can do it?

If not, what is stopping you, are you thinking about something that prevents you from trying it?

Do you set goals, specific ones, and do you feel comfortable doing so?

In my situation, I find myself living and dying by goals. I have to self-start my day and continue pushing through distractions.

Having a specific but challenging goal has defined my work. Even more, it guides me through tough times and when questions of self-doubt arise.

But, then again, I think I have a high self-efficacy and a strange lack of fear for the outcomes of my behavior. How about you, is there one area you excel in or have trouble with?

Sources: Career Choice and DevelopmentSelf-Efficacy Beliefs of Adolescents, & Self-Efficacy, Motivation, and Outcome Expectation Correlates.

Photos: Cobalt123 (swimmer), Woodley Wonderworks (children’s table), Angie Torres (goal setting), & JJPacres (writing).