(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Nature

“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast”*…

Imaginary numbers were long dismissed as mathematical “bookkeeping.” But now, as Karmela Padavic-Callaghan explains, physicists are proving that they describe the hidden shape of nature…

Many science students may imagine a ball rolling down a hill or a car skidding because of friction as prototypical examples of the systems physicists care about. But much of modern physics consists of searching for objects and phenomena that are virtually invisible: the tiny electrons of quantum physics and the particles hidden within strange metals of materials science along with their highly energetic counterparts that only exist briefly within giant particle colliders.

In their quest to grasp these hidden building blocks of reality scientists have looked to mathematical theories and formalism. Ideally, an unexpected experimental observation leads a physicist to a new mathematical theory, and then mathematical work on said theory leads them to new experiments and new observations. Some part of this process inevitably happens in the physicist’s mind, where symbols and numbers help make invisible theoretical ideas visible in the tangible, measurable physical world.

Sometimes, however, as in the case of imaginary numbers – that is, numbers with negative square values – mathematics manages to stay ahead of experiments for a long time. Though imaginary numbers have been integral to quantum theory since its very beginnings in the 1920s, scientists have only recently been able to find their physical signatures in experiments and empirically prove their necessity…

Learn more at “Imaginary numbers are real,” from @Ironmely in @aeonmag.

* The Red Queen, in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass

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As we get real, we might spare a thought for two great mathematicians…

Georg Friedrich Bernhard Riemann died on this date in 1866. A mathematician who made contributions to analysis, number theory, and differential geometry, he is remembered (among other things) for his 1859 paper on the prime-counting function, containing the original statement of the Riemann hypothesis, regarded as one of the most influential papers in analytic number theory.

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Andrey (Andrei) Andreyevich Markov died on this date in 1922.  A Russian mathematician, he helped to develop the theory of stochastic processes, especially those now called Markov chains: sequences of random variables in which the future variable is determined by the present variable but is independent of the way in which the present state arose from its predecessors.  (For example, the probability of winning at the game of Monopoly can be determined using Markov chains.)  His work on the study of the probability of mutually-dependent events has been developed and widely applied to the biological, physical, and social sciences, and is widely used in Monte Carlo simulations and Bayesian analyses.

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“But the landscape of devastation is still a landscape. There is beauty in ruins.”*…

The sparsely populated community of Wonder Valley, California, is a collection of shacks known locally as Jackrabbit Homesteads. Sitting abandoned against a dusty landscape, the worn cabins inspired a series by Berlin-based photographer Helin Bereket

“I knew little about this place but was drawn to it by the sheer aesthetic of abandonment and isolation, alienation and wreckage, uncanniness and history unknown,” says Helin. During a recent visit to the Golden State, she decided to drive around and discover more about these so-called Jackrabbit Homesteads. The renowned cabins lie east of Twentynine Palms, a city in San Bernardino County, California, that serves as one of the entry points to Joshua Tree National Park. “I had no plan, my eyes scanning the desert landscape,” she says. “Shack-leftovers stuck out from the backdrop where sandy desert blended with the sun. I thought of taming this contrast by harmonising the colour palette and kept wondering about the human traces in what seemed to be a reckless wilderness.”

Why the buildings? These shacks are the last witness of the 1938 Small Tract Act that enabled Americans to obtain five sandy acres of land deemed unusable by the state. As the condition for owning the land was to build a small shack on the plot, many prefabricated or handmade structures were installed in the Mojave Desert, especially in the 1950s and the ’60s.

“Among the thousands of dwellers were veterans with lung problems seeking a cure in the hot desert air,” explains Helin. But today, hardly anyone remains…

Back to nature: “Photographs of abandoned shacks in California’s sparse community of Wonder Valley,” from @Helin__Bereket in @creativeboom.

See also: “Abandoned buildings seen reclaimed by nature.”

* Susan Sontag

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As we ruminate on ruins, we might recall that it was on this date in 2009 that Kodak ceded the victory of digital photography and announced that it would discontinue the production and sale of Kodachrome print and slide film, a repository of “precious memories” since 1935.

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“Hierarchy works well in a stable environment”*…

… and often not so well in a dynamic, unstable setting. Simon Roberts reminds us of an alternative concept, one that shifts perspectives by taking into account multiple relationships and interdependencies– heterarchy

Some ideas about how the world works feel so obvious as to be beyond question. They have taken on a sense of appearing to be part of the natural order of things. Hierarchy—an arrangement, ranking or classification of people or things on the basis of their importance or value—is one such idea. Hierarchies are evident at scale in societies when classes or castes of people are ranked on the basis of some factor or other (be that wealth, cultural capital or purity). And secular hierarchies are often supported by hierarchies in the realm of the sacred, symbolics or spiritual.

The idea of hierarchy seems so natural because the criteria by which things are ranked have themselves a tendency to appear innate. Consider, for example, class distinctions. These are often expressed in hierarchical terms (“She married beneath herself”, “He’s a social climber’), but are constructed, communicated and cemented by a bewildering array of cultural distinctions that show up sartorially, linguistically, symbolically and through social practice. The result is that the hierarchical ranking of people takes on a logic of its own that is difficult to see for what it is – an invention.

Ideas and practices informed by hierarchy are common in the world of business too. Hierarchy informs organisational design, decision making and cultural practices. These practices naturalise hierarchy. And hierarchy is a feature of the methodologies and frameworks used by consultants, like “need hierarchies” and the propensity for rankings of things like product features or benefits.

What results from the fact that hierarchy is an unquestioned element of the grammar of human existence? It’s that hierarchy has an outsized impact on how we think about culture, society and organisations. But many social, cultural and natural forms are not organised hierarchically. A different lens—that offered by the concept of heterarchy—provides more than a corrective to our obsession with hierarchy. It helps explain more fundamental processes at play in the natural and social world…

Read on to learn more about an organizing (and organizational) framework, rooted in nature, that’s “built” for the turbulent times that we’re in: “How heterarchy can help us put hierarchy in its place,” from @ideasbazaar and @stripepartners.

See also: “Heterarchy: An Idea Finally Ripe for Its Time,” by (your correspondent’s old friend and partner) Jay Ogilvy (@JayOgilvy), whose wonderful book, Many Dimensional Man, explores heterarchy deeply.

And, also apposite, see Cory Doctorow’s (@doctorow) “A useful, critical taxonomy of decentralization, beyond blockchains“; while the word “heterarchy” never appears, its spirit is present in the description of the approach that intrigues him…

* Mary Douglas

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As we rethink relationships, we might spare a thought for Harry Burnett “H. B.” Reese; he died on this date in 1956. A candy-maker who began his career working in the Hershey’s Chocolate factory, he began to moonlight, creating confections in his basement. In 1923, he started his own company, H.B. Reese Candy Company, manufacturing a selection of sweets. Then, in 1928, he created the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. A huge hit, it came to dominate his line– and ultimately became the best-selling candy in America. Reese is enshrined in the Candy Hall of Fame.

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“It is sad to go to pieces like this but we all have to do it”*…

Still, some species “do it” differently than others…

It is well known that somatic mutations — mutations in our body’s genetic code that accumulate over time — can cause cancer, but their broader role in ageing is less clear.

Now a team of researchers have measured the somatic mutation rates of a range of mammals and discovered a striking correlation between mutation rate and lifespan. Lending evidence to the theory that somatic mutations are a cause of ageing rather than a result of it…

Ageing is linked to accumulated mutations: “The lifespan secret: why giraffes live longer than ferrets,” from @Nature.

* Mark Twain, on aging

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As we grow old gracefully, we might send carefully-deduced birthday greetings to William Ian Beardmore (WIB) Beveridge; he was born on this date in 1908.  A veterinarian who served as  director of the Institute of Animal Pathology at Cambridge, he identified the origin of the Great Influenza (the Spanish Flu pandemic, 1918-19)– a strain of swine flu.

WIB Beveridge

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Happy Shakespeare’s Birthday!

“And I have thrust myself into this maze / Haply to wive and thrive as best I may”*…

Taking the “ich” out of ichthyology…

To attract a female fish, the Japanese Puffer Fish male will work 24 hours a day, for an entire week in a row, to create the most stunning sand art…

* Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew

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As we contemplate courtship, we might recall that it was on this date in 1958 that The Smurfs debuted as a comic strip in Spirou, the longest-running Belgian comics magazine. A colony of small, blue, humanoid creatures who live in mushroom-shaped houses in the forest, The Smurfs was created by the artist Peyo (the pen name of Pierre Culliford). From that humble beginning, the franchise has expanded into advertising, films, TV series, ice capades, music, video games, theme parks, and dolls.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

October 23, 2021 at 1:00 am

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