The LHC: a victim of sabotoge from the future?

The New York Times recently published an essay about a new theory in physics, according to which the Higgs Boson is so abhorred by the universe that the future is conspiring to prevent the Large Hadron Collider from going online.  The physicists Holger B. Nielsen and Masao Ninomiya argue that what looks like simple bad luck (or the expected complications with such an enormous project) is really evidence of the future arranging itself so as to prevent the experiment from testing for the Higgs particle.

Nielsen and Ninomiya point out that the fundamental laws of physics (at least those of Einstein and Newton) are time-symmetric.  They argue that this symmetry allows for influences from the future as well as the more familiar influences from the past.  We can contrast their view Continue reading “The LHC: a victim of sabotoge from the future?”

FREE syllabus: The Paradox of Confirmation

FREE PDF Teaching & Learning Guide for: The Paradox of Confirmation
By Branden Fitelson, University of California–Berkeley (July 2008)


Section: Philosophy of Science
Philosophy, Philosophy of Science
Quine, Willard
Key Topics:
explanation, probability

(See all Philosophy Compass Teaching & Learning Guides‘)

The Kilogram is not a Kilogram!

Though it may sound paradoxical, physicists have known for decades that a kilogram just isn’t what it used to be. That’s because it’s lighter—or at least lighter than its copies—by fifty micrograms. After all, worldwide agreement on experimental results is only possible because there are standardized (SI) units like the meter, the second, and the kilogram. But when the standard kilogram, a cylinder of metal alloy (platinum and iridium), is compared to manufactured copies (with the same composition and size), the scale tips, very slightly, toward the copy. Thus, the original has lost mass (perhaps to polishing) or the copies have gained mass (perhaps by absorbing air), but of course, there’s no way to tell which; they are the standards by which scientists would make such a judgment.

Philosophers should take note. Does the standard cylinder weigh one kilogram because scientists were careful when they made it or because it was defined that way? According to National Public Radio, Continue reading “The Kilogram is not a Kilogram!”

Are Scientists allowed to have Faith?

The_hand_of_godThe recent debate about Barack Obama’s nominee Dr. Francis Collins as the next director of the National Institutes of Health highlights a problem that is seldom discussed within philosophy of science. One leading opinion within the philosophy of science seems to be that in order for someone to be a good scientist or philosopher of science, one has to be at least an agnostic, if not an atheist. The general idea seems to be that it is absolutely irrational to believe in some higher being whose existence cannot be proven, and to be a good and dedicated scientist at the same time. The deeper reason for that idea seems to be that scientists that do believe have an “easy way out” if they encounter a difficult problem. Continue reading “Are Scientists allowed to have Faith?”

When is a Law of Nature Broken?

“Century-Old Physics Law Violated” declares Steven Mirsky in a recent report for Scientific American. But, as any philosopher of science will tell you, the laws of nature cannot be violated. At least not in the actual world, where the MIT researchers conducted their experiments (as opposed to some merely possible world). They discovered that when two bodies are brought to within ten billionths of a meter, the heat conducted between them is over a thousand times more than Planck’s theory of blackbody radiation predicts. Does this show that there are exceptions to Planck’s law of blackbody radiation? No. In the first place, “Planck was very careful, saying his theory was only valid for large systems,” Continue reading “When is a Law of Nature Broken?”

Swine flu – a new case for Evidence Based Medicine

CDC-11215-swine-fluIt is winter now in Australia and what is feared will be happening in the northern hemisphere when winter arrives, is already the case in the southern hemisphere. Swine flu is becoming more virulent and the necessity to test the vaccines that have been developed since the outbreak of swine flu becomes more urgent. Two pharmaceutical companies in Australia have begun human trials and many volunteers have signed up. Among the volunteers are 400 children, some of them under one year old. It seems logical to test the vaccine on children, since they proved to be one of the most vulnerable groups. The question however is, if it is ethical to involve children in such a trial? Continue reading “Swine flu – a new case for Evidence Based Medicine”