Population Pessimism

Population is a touchy subject. It certainly divides people. There is no better example of this than James Delingpole’s latest tirade against those who advocate seemingly drastic, sometimes fascistic, methods of population reduction. In this case, the target took the shape of BBC TV naturalist Chris Packham. Delingpole was provoked into his polemic by recent comments Packham reportedly made to the Radio Times:

There’s no point bleating about the future of pandas, polar bears and tigers when we’re not addressing the one single factor that’s putting more pressure on the ecosystem than any other – namely the ever-increasing size of the world’s population. I read the other day that, by 2020, there are going to be 70 million people in Britain. Let’s face it, that’s too many. Continue reading “Population Pessimism”

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Quantum Effects are Getting Observably Bigger

Thought you were big enough to escape quantum superposition?  A recent demonstration by physicist Andrew Cleland and his colleagues at UC Santa Barbara suggests otherwise.  Tiny particles have always been subject to quantum effects, but many physicists were skeptical those effects could be reproduced in larger objects.  In an amazing leap, Cleland and his team succeeded in demonstrating quantum effects in an object with trillions of atoms, beating the previous record (fewer than 100 atoms) by a factor of over a billion!

Quantum mechanical experiments have long revealed that a particle can exist in a state of superposition, a state that seems to allow it to be in two contradictory states at once.  It seems as if a particle can pass simultaneously through two slits, or be in a ground state and an excited state at once, or even take two wildly different paths through an experiment.  There are many different explanations for such odd behavior (see below) but the important thing is that until now, these effects were unimaginably small.

According to a recent article in Nature, Cleland’s experiment Continue reading “Quantum Effects are Getting Observably Bigger”

Is Your Farm In My Network?

400px-Rooster_portrait2 Nostalgia often follows conquest, and our relationship with the natural world is no exception. As human control over nature (or, at least, its illusion of control) has increased, many have responded by racing back to the forests. However, the motivation behind this nostalgia remains unclear – do we return to keep vigil (bearing the knowledge of our mistakes) or simply to purview our spoils?

The American quintessence of this tension is, arguably, Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau took to the woods, hoping that the simplicity offered by nature might allow the distance necessary to understand (or ‘transcend’) industrial society. The irony, or perhaps the gift, of Thoreau is two-fold. For not only does his account of this experience (in Walden, or Life in the Woods) call into question the ‘intellectual’ conquest (as yet another kind of conquest) of nature but it, also, reveals the negligible risk usually taken in these ‘returns.’ Thoreau did build his cabin in the woods. But the area was so close to the edge of town that he could not help but hear the all-too-industrial trains bustling by. Continue reading “Is Your Farm In My Network?”

Evolutionary Psych: Too young to be this sexy?

Wasserläufer_bei_der_Paarung_cropEvolutionary psychology is all the rage nowadays. Researchers from around the globe are looking at the interplay between a species’ behavior and its environment, past and present, in an attempt to crack the mysteries of how we came to be as we now are. The appeal is obvious. Darwin seems to have provided a successful explanation of our biological traits. Why not think our psychological traits are to be explained similarly? After all, psychology just is an expression of biology. If reflection on our hunched-back ancestors and their habitat can explain how we came to walk upright, why can’t such reflection also explain our anger over spousal infidelity, why can’t it explain our own infidelity, our altruistic and egoistic behaviors, etc? Continue reading “Evolutionary Psych: Too young to be this sexy?”