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Posts Tagged ‘Nobel Prize

“The average scientist unequipped with the powerful lenses of philosophy, is a nearsighted creature, and cheerfully attacks each difficulty in the hope that it may prove to be the last”*…

 

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There are decisive grounds for holding that we need to bring about a revolution in philosophy, a revolution in science, and then put the two together again to create a modern version of natural philosophy.

Once upon a time, it was not just that philosophy was a part of science; rather, science was a branch of philosophy. We need to remember that modern science began as natural philosophy – a development of philosophy, an admixture of philosophy and science. Today, we think of Galileo, Johannes Kepler, William Harvey, Robert Boyle, Christiaan Huygens, Robert Hooke, Edmond Halley and, of course, Isaac Newton as trailblazing scientists, while we think of Francis Bacon, René Descartes, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Baruch Spinoza and Gottfried Leibniz as philosophers. That division is, however, something we impose on the past. It is profoundly anachronistic…

Science broke away from metaphysics, from philosophy, as a result of natural philosophers adopting a profound misconception about the nature of science. As a result, natural philosophy died, the great divide between science and philosophy was born, and the decline of philosophy began.

It was Newton who inadvertently killed off natural philosophy with his claim, in the third edition of his Principia, to have derived his law of gravitation from the phenomena by induction…

Nicholas Maxwell argues that science and philosophy need to be re-joined, lest humanity seek knowledge at the expense of wisdom; only then, he suggests, can we hope to solve the urgent, fundamental problems that we face: “Natural philosophy redux.”

[Image above: source]

* Gilbert N. Lewis

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As we seek ever-higher ground, we might that it was on this date in 1898 that the heirs of Alfred Nobel signed a “reconciliation agreement,” allowing his lawyers and accountants to execute his will.  The lion’s share of his estate was clearly marked for the establishment of the eponymous Prizes that are awarded each year.  But the residue, which was to be divided among descendants was the subject of much contention.

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The first page of Nobel’s will [source]

 

“The world encyclopedia, the universal library, exists, and it is the world itself”*…

 

Inlaid metal basin depicting scenes from the Mamluk court, later known as the Baptismal Bowl of Saint Louis, by Muhammad Ibn al-Zayn, Egypt, circa 1320-1340

Long-time readers will know that your correspondent has a fascination with the impulse to collect the world’s knowledge, from Diderot and his Encyclopédie to Wikipedia (c.f., “Share your knowledge. It is a way to achieve immortality” and “Rest in Pieces“).  But the encyclopedic impulse has much older roots…

Sometime around the year 1314, a retired Egyptian bureaucrat named Shihab al-Din al-Nuwayri began writing a compendium of all knowledge, under the appealingly reckless title The Ultimate Ambition in the Arts of Erudition. It would eventually total more than 9,000 pages in thirty volumes, covering all of human history from Adam onward, all known plants and animals, geography, law, the arts of government and war, poetry, recipes, jokes, and of course, the revelations of Islam…

Browse away at “In the Attic of Early Islam.”

* Alberto Manguel, The Library at Night

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As we collect our thoughts, we might spare a thought for Egyptian author Naguib Mahfouz; he died on this date in 2006.  A prolific creator– he published 34 novels, over 350 short stories, dozens of movie scripts, and five plays over a 70-year career– he was one of the first writers in Arabic to explore Existentialist themes (e.g., the Cairo Trilogy, Adrift on the Nile).  He was awarded the 1988 Nobel Prize for Literature.

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Written by LW

August 30, 2016 at 1:01 am

Step Right Up!…

The rakishly-named Jen Wayne Gacy maintains what has to be one of the most unusual– and fascinating– Pinterest collections online.  Your correspondent’s personal favorite:  “Slideshow/Freakshow.”

Tour the netherworld at “Slideshow/Freakshow.”  (And learn the lingo here.)

[TotH to Richard Kadrey’s Damn Tumbler]

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As we purchase our peek behind the curtain, we might note that it was on this date in 1923 that Albert Eistein demonstrated that time is relative:  he delivered his Nobel Prize lecture… two years late.

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Written by LW

July 11, 2013 at 1:01 am

Shakin’ All Over…

 

ASMR, or Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, is used to refer to a self-diagnosed condition in which tingles radiate downward from the top of the head through the neck, spine, and limbs, accompanied by feelings of euphoria, in response to various sensory triggers, from whispered speech to tapping sounds to simply watching a person do something efficiently. Many of the triggers involve somebody playing close attention — to a task, to you, to a task involving you — which gave rise to early stabs at a name for the phenomenon like AIHO (Attention Induced Head Orgasm) or AIE (Attention Induced Euphoria)…

Sean T. Collins explains further in “Why Music Gives You the Chills” (with lots of nifty video examples).  Readers might also consult “ASMR, the Good Feeling No One Can Explain” on Vice and ASMR-Research.org.

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As we drop the needle on some Radiohead, we might send stream of consciousness birthday greetings to William Cuthbert Faulkner; he was born on this date in 1897.  A writer of novels, short stories, poetry, essays, screenplays, and one play, Faulkner is best remembered for his novels (e.g.,  The Sound and the Fury,  As I Lay Dying, and Light in August) and stories set in “Yoknapatawpha County,” a setting largely based on Lafayette County, Mississippi, where Faulkner spent most of his life.  They earned him the 1949 Nobel Prize for Literature.

The past is never dead. It’s not even past.

From Requiem for a Nun, Act I, Scene III, by William Faulkner

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(Not so) Solid Gold…

During World War II, Hitler banned the export of gold from Germany.  But gold, valuable in small amounts and not easily traced, is notoriously difficult to regulate.  (Indeed, that is likely where much of its value derives.) Hitler’s edict was, frustratingly to him, mostly unenforceable.

One exception? Nobel Prize medals.

Before 1980, the medals given by Sweden (that’s to say, all but the Nobel Peace Prize , which is awarded by Norway) were made of 600 grams of 23-karat gold — thus subject to Hitler’s export ban.  And as the recipient’s name was engraved on the back of the medal, its ownership was all-too-clear.  This proved particularly perilous for two German physics laureates, Max von Laue (winner, 1914) and James Franck (1925).  At the outset of World War II, they had entrusted the Bohr Institute, in Copenhagen, Denmark (the research institution of fellow physics laureate Neils Bohr) with the safe keeping of their medals, assuming that Nazi soldiers would otherwise confiscate their prizes.  But when Nazi troops invaded Denmark, they also raided the Institute.  Had von Laue’s and Franck’s medals been discovered, the consequences for the learned duo would most likely have been dire.

Enter Hungarian chemist George de Hevesy, a future Nobel Laureate himself (in Chemistry).  He, Jewish, had gone to the Institute looking for — and temporarily at least, finding — safe haven from the Nazis.   He and Bohr decided that more standard ways of hiding the medals (e.g. burying them) would not suffice, as the risk of harm to von Laue and Franck was too great to chance the medal’s discovery.  The chemist de Hevesy took more drastic action.  He created a solution of aqua regia — a concoction consisting typically one part nitric acid to three parts hydrochloric acid, which is so named because it can dissolve two of the “royal” metals, gold and platinum.  (Wikipedia explains how, for those with a sizable understanding of chemistry.)  He then left the gold-bearing aqua regia solution on his laboratory shelf within the Institute, hidden in plain sight as Nazi stormtroopers ransacked the Institute.

The plan worked, and von Laue and Franck were safe — as were their awards.  The gold remained safely on that shelf, suspended in aqua regia, for the remainder of the war, unnoticed by the German soldiers.  When the war ended, de Hevesy precipitated the gold out of the solution, and the Nobel committee recast the medals.

Bonus fact: Throughout human history (through 2009, at least), mankind has successfully mined roughly 165,000 metric tons of gold.  At gold’s density, that comes out to about 300,000 cubic feet — a relatively tiny-sized amount. For comparison’s sake, all the gold ever mined could be contained by the New York Public Library’s Rose Reading Room (seen here), which has a volume of approximately 1.2 million cubic feet.

From the always-illuminating Now I Know.

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As we remark that sometimes even things that don’t shine are gold, we might send elemental birthday greetings to Morris William Travers; he was born on this date in 1872.  As the laboratory partner of Sir William Ramsay (who later won a Nobel Prize for the work), Travers participated in the discovery of the “noble gases”– Neon, Xenon… and Krypton.

Bohr model of a Krypton atom

Not, as Wired reminds us, to be confused with the planet Krypton…

When Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created Superman in Action Comics No. 1 (published June 1938), they named their superhero’s home planet after the chemical element discovered 40 years earlier. Retellings of Superman’s origins place his arrival on Earth around the time of World War I, a mere 20 years after Ramsay’s and Travers’ discovery of krypton.

Siegel and Shuster may have been inspired by the element’s cryptic name [from the Greek kryptos for hidden], its ghastly glow, or perhaps just its sound– like George Eastman favoring the strength of the letter K.

Travers went on to be the founding director of the Indian Institute of Science in the course of a long and productive career as a chemist in both academe and industry…  still he was, from his days with Ramsey, known in scientific circles as “Rare Gas Travers.”

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Written by LW

August 25, 2012 at 1:01 am

What not to do…

In 1699,  satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer , poet, and cleric Jonathan Swift — author, most notably, of Gulliver’s Travels — penned this list of resolutions, titled, “When I come to be old.”  At the time of writing, he was 32 years of age… and it must have worked, at least up to a point: Swift became Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.

Transcript:

When I come to be old. 1699.

Not to marry a young Woman.
Not to keep young Company unless they reely desire it.
Not to be peevish or morose, or suspicious.
Not to scorn present Ways, or Wits, or Fashions, or Men, or War, &c.
Not to be fond of Children, or let them come near me hardly.
Not to tell the same story over and over to the same People.
Not to be covetous.
Not to neglect decency, or cleenlyness, for fear of falling into Nastyness.
Not to be over severe with young People, but give Allowances for their youthfull follyes and weaknesses.
Not to be influenced by, or give ear to knavish tatling servants, or others.
Not to be too free of advise, nor trouble any but those that desire it.
To desire some good Friends to inform me wch of these Resolutions I break, or neglect, and wherein; and reform accordingly.
Not to talk much, nor of my self.
Not to boast of my former beauty, or strength, or favor with Ladyes, &c.
Not to hearken to Flatteryes, nor conceive I can be beloved by a young woman, et eos qui hereditatem captant, odisse ac vitare.
Not to be positive or opiniative.
Not to sett up for observing all these Rules; for fear I should observe none.

[TotH to our old friend Lists of Note]

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As we reconsider our own resolutions, we might send wry birthday greetings to Saul Bellow; he was born (Solomon Bellow) on this date in 1915.  Bellow’s fiction earned him the Nobel Prize for Literature, the Pulitzer Prize, the National Medal of Arts, and the National Book Award for Fiction (he’s the only three-time winner)–and the affection of countless fans.

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Written by LW

June 10, 2012 at 1:01 am

UFOs (Unusual Feynman Objects)…

 

Richard Feynman was a once-in-a-generation intellectual. He had no shortage of brains. (In 1965, he won the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on quantum electrodynamics.) He had charisma. (Witness this outtake from his 1964 Cornell physics lectures [available in full here].) He knew how to make science and academic thought available, even entertaining, to a broader public. (We’ve highlighted two public TV programs hosted by Feynman here and here.) And he knew how to have fun. The clip above brings it all together.

From Open Culture (where one can also find Feynman’s elegant and accessible 1.5 minute explanation of “The Key to Science.”)

 

As we marvel at method, we might recall that it was on this date in 1864 that Giovanni Batista Donati made the first spectroscopic observations of a comet tail (from the small comet, Tempel, 1864 b).  At a distance from the Sun, the spectrum of a comet is identical to that of the Sun, and its visibility is due only to reflected sunlight.  Donati was able to show that a comet tail formed close to the Sun contains luminous gas, correctly deducing that the comet is itself partially gaseous.  In the spectrum of light from the comet tail, Donati saw the three absorption lines now known as the “Swan bands” superimposed on a continuous spectrum.

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