Miscellaneous Stuff

Under the gun a bit on a product release, so not as much time to devote to writing as I would prefer, but here’s a couple of cool items that flittered across my desktop.

There’s an interesting posting at Scientific Blogging on why people believe in silly things, such as superstitions. The discussion is mainly around the interplay between the evolutionary concepts of of selection and drift and why it allows some ideas or superstitions (based on a false perception of patterns) to take hold. He seems to be using Dawkin’s concept of a meme. Of course, in his book “The God Delusion”, Dawkins indulges in some interesting speculation on other aspects of our evolution that could have given religion a foothold as a side effect. One of the ideas explored, in addition to a tendency to perceive false patterns, is to perceive intent, or intentional design. This is common in children in answering questions such as “What is a tree for?”. Another possible contributing factor is a possible evolutionary advantage to listen to authority. If I remember correctly (been a while since I read the book), a kid who believes his parents does not need to get devoured by a crocodile in the Nile to accept that swimming among them is a bad thing (and thus gets to eventually reproduce). In any case, it is an interesting speculative exercise to wonder how religion has maintained such a hold on so many societies in humanity’s short stay here so far.

In other news, the hunt for anti-matter continues. As no doubt, some of you know antimatter is just matter with different properties. Specifically, an antiparticle is essentially the same particle but with a different set of quantum properties. The classical example is the electron with its antimatter counterpart the positron which has an opposite electric charge. When a particle meets its anti-counterpart, they annihilate emitting radiation. Every time matter is created, its anti-counterpart is also. The mystery of the matter is why is the universe we see so asymmetrically composed of matter. One hypothesis is that there could still exist clusters or clumps of antimatter. From the article:

The thinking goes that perhaps regions of predominantly matter and regions of predominantly antimatter somehow got cordoned off from each other. These bubble worlds then could have remained hidden from one another as the universe ballooned up big time with inflation, or the theoretical exponential expansion of the universe after the Big Bang.

“If clumps of matter and antimatter existed next to each other before inflation, they may now be separated by more than the scale of the observable universe, so we would never see them meet,” Steigman said. “But they might be separated on smaller scales, such as those of superclusters or clusters, which is a much more interesting possibility.”

When such clusters collide, the smash-up would bring the rivals into contact, resulting in destruction of both and a release of gamma rays.

Using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, they are searching the Bullet Cluster (a collision of 2 clusters of galaxies .. the hope being that one of the clusters might be predominately antimatter) 3.8 billion light-years from Earth, but have not seen the telltale gamma radiation which would result from massive matter anti-matter annihilation. It was a long shot, but even null results tell us something. Plus, I think it is pretty awesome that we are looking at collisions of clusters of galaxies.


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