Sunday, February 24, 2008
Second, once again, here comes Ralph Nader. Are we really so surprised? Needless to say, as a hopeless liberal, I did waste a vote on him once (Green party, if you must know), but at some point we all come to our senses and realize that a vote for a "non" party is a vote for the major party that you dislike most. Every vote for Nader detracts from the Democratic party candidate.
Of course, if we actually had more than just the two "legitimate" parties, politics might not be half bad. Unfortunately for America, however, everything seems to come down to "us" versus "them."
Saturday, February 23, 2008
One of our favorite professors and his wife were in attendance as well; their seats were down below where we perched in the balcony. They waved up at us at intermission, and we waved back down, then proceeded to invent methods for striking them with projectiles from our beneficially elevated position. I suppose that's what happens when one is forced to listen to a famous pianist pound indiscriminately on a beautiful piano for forty minutes.
I'm just kidding, of course. About hitting the professor with objects from the balcony, anyway.
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Saturday, February 16, 2008
The simple answer, of course, is that science, our methodology for detecting and dissecting the natural world (including, of course, the entire universe and all aspects of it which we can scientifically study), is, by definition, limited to said natural world. God, being supernatural, is thus (also by definition) outside of the realm of science, and thus would not be discovered in the same manner. This leads us, however, to a slight conundrum. Consider Romans 1:20, wherein Paul states that "since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - His eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." To the liberal spiritualist, this is true in the sense that we "feel" God's qualities, as opposed to "seeing" them, and no controversy seems to exist (though this does not provide an adequate solution). To the intelligent design supporter, however, we surely must be able to "see" - in a scientific sense - God's handiwork in the natural world (in the same way we can see man's handiwork in the faces on Mt. Rushmore, one of Dr. Behe's favorite examples).
The thorn in the ID supporter's side arises thus. If more and more of the world can be explained by natural means (and I'm not at all reverting to the argument that people now are more intelligent than any other time, because we're not, but we do have a much broader and deeper knowledge base) and we end up merely "detecting" God in the shadowy psyches of human beings, where does that leave us? Science can't, as we determined, prove or disprove God, but how do we know the "why" of what we are discovering? If we leave science to deal with the natural, it becomes solely an act of philosophical argument to prove God's existence, and we all know that philosophy leads to pointless sophistry, and truths are reduced to opinion (or, conversely, opinions are elevated to truths) - and here is where we are certainly not any more "learned" than in ages past. I am convinced (as a scientist) that intelligent design is not science, but the believer in me asks, shouldn't science, existing as a method for us to experience the natural world (as it has been "created"), convey to us things about God, and if not, are we left with no remaining argument against a scientism-like philosophy? Is God "demoted" to being simply a Force in the realm of the "heart" and "soul," completely segregated from natural existence in the same way that feelings, beliefs, preferences and philosophy are? Is this why the intelligentsia have such a problem "taking it all on faith," since feelings hold no sway in science (nor should they)?
Do we truly lose anything, as the ID supporters fear, by accepting that science and God are, in a sense, eternally and consistently exclusive to completely separate facets of existence?
"See the thorn twist in my side...."
The Language of God (Collins)
The Blind Watchmaker (Dawkins)
The Real Face of Atheism (Zacharias)
What is Life? (Shrodinger)
Flock of Dodos: The Evolution - Intelligent Design Circus (Olson)
virago \vuh-RAH-go; vuh-RAY-go\, noun:
1. A woman of extraordinary stature, strength, and courage.
2. A woman regarded as loud, scolding, ill-tempered, quarrelsome, or overbearing.
The intrepid heroines range from Unn the Deep Minded, the Viking virago who colonized Iceland, to Sue Hendrikson, a school dropout who became one of the great experts on amber, fossils and shipwrecks.
-- Ann Prichard, "Coffee-table: Africa, cathedrals, animals, 'Sue'", USA Today, November 28, 2001
This virago, this madwoman, finally got to me, and I was subjected to the most rude, the most shocking violence I can remember.
-- José Limón, An Unfinished Memoir
Virago comes from Latin virago, "a man-like woman, a female warrior, a heroine" from vir, "a man."
I find it almost aggravatingly amusing that this should be the case; where else but in a male-dominated society would one find such a dichotomous use of a female moniker? The word of the day may as well have been "bitch" (said, of course, with a contented sigh).
Monday, February 11, 2008
The weekend is over now, and my mind must make the shift from opera to physics, as now I find before me a mound of data awaiting a scientific analysis. I came in this morning, sat down at my desk, and wondered aloud what on earth to do next. My brain is still so fried from the weeks of insomnia and experimental hocus-pocus that I'm finding it difficult to recall the next order of business, but given a few days to reestablish the correct order of the universe (or my small portion of it, at least), I'll make some progress.
Friday, February 8, 2008
This last run dragged on for four complete weeks. That's four weeks of constant work, 24/7, chasing electronics noise, pumping and venting and opening and closing valves, babysitting the data acquisition system, troubleshooting the flaky power supplies of the bending magnets and velocity filters, and relearning the multitude of various run/stop commands. In the last 48 hours, I've spent a mere 7 sleeping. Not my record (which, to date, has yet to be bested by anyone in the division - 41 straight hours of work), but still unpleasant.
But now, the experiment has ended, the power supplies are shut down and the data acquisition killed, the pumps off and the beam gone and the answers sitting in files saved to the hard drive, and the full wave of exhaustion I know is coming has still not reached its overbearing crest. So I sit here, complete with the knowledge that within these myriad data somewhere exists my dissertation, and I can't even move for the numbness of it all. Just like with physical shock, my body and my brain haven't yet communicated with one another that this really is it, finally, at long last, after years of waiting and working and hoping, this is emphatically it. I suppose I could start by eating lunch.
Thursday, February 7, 2008
The best way to begin, I suppose, is to describe life at a national lab. People seem to have this image burned into their brains of a bearded and bespectacled scientist, donned in a white lab coat with clipboard in hand, shuffling about his myriad of expensive and complicated looking instruments and test tubes filled with various colors of liquids boiling away. This is precisely how a national lab is not. If it was at all possible to describe the actual interior of the typical building on a national lab campus, I think the following anecdote would help give an idea.
The tandem accelerator at the Holifield Radioactive Ion Beam Facility (HRIBF) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory is a 25 megavolt (25 million volt), 6-story tall metal tower inside of a similarly giant tank of sulfur hexafluoride. This enormous Van de Graff generator is used to accelerate beams of ionized particles to energies around those found inside of stars and supernovae. The US Department of Energy puts a quota on a large, money-grubbing piece of equipment such as this, requiring that it run a certain number of hours each calendar year as a user's facility. So how does one keep the tandem clean and running well? By enticing a group of a half-dozen foolish young graduate students and post docs with the promise of donuts to climb inside the tank, ride the elevator to the top of the tower, and slowly work their way back down while wiping the sides of the tower with 409 and paper towels. Exactly my point.
The lab in which I spend most of my time is one of the beamlines coming off of this tandem. The Daresbury Recoil Separator (DRS) is my home away from home, so to speak. In a back room which can only be reached via a rather long, narrow, poorly insulated and oft flooded hallway, tons of metal in the form of vacuum pumps, beamlines and giant electromagnets sit on a bare concrete floor. Black cables run from one side of the room to the other like a giant spider's web across the ceiling. Every flat or useful workspace is covered to within an inch of its life by spare parts, boxes of bolts, computers, extra cables, a multitude of tools, and of course the ubiquitous blue surgeon's gloves used for work with radioactive materials. The DRS can be attached to the output of the tandem, such that the accelerated radioactive beams can be sent into a pre-chosen target, and the resulting spray of protons, deuterons, tritons, alpha particles and heavy recoils can be detected, measured and analyzed. It is, in a sense, a laboratory simulation of what takes place every day in stars like the Sun or supernovae like the one which exploded in 1987. Along with a full-time support staff of operators, computer geeks, machinists, electricians, bureaucrats and health physicists, the research staff, post docs and graduate students who use the DRS facility, like myself, spend most of our time here experimenting. I have been coming and going from the lab here, for a week or two at a time, since the summer of 2005, and finally moved here full time to complete my PhD research in January of 2007. Before that, I completed my undergraduate BSc degree in engineering physics, left for a semester to pursue astronomy, then returned, bored out of my mind, to the applied physics PhD program at my undergraduate institution. Since, as a small university, we have limited resources to run our own experiments, we collaborate with places like TRIUMF in Vancouver, Los Alamos, Argonne, and ORNL. Which is why I'm here.
But there is something else that goes on here as well. Something much more fundamental even than the science which surrounds us daily. It is basic human dynamics. I'm learning, finally, to truly appreciate those dynamics, and my place in them.
And that is what I hope to elucidate.