@astrodaily1 - Astro-Daily

Learn about your place in space. Discussions on astronomy, general science, and the philosophy of everyday life.
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The event horizon represents the gravitational point of no return.  Once past the event horizon, the gravitational pull of a black hole reaches a strength that is inescapable, and not even light can reemerge from the prison of the singularity.  Another way of thinking about the event horizon is as the finite point in space where the escape velocity is exactly equal to the speed of light.  Some very interesting geometrical properties arise from this point in space.  To an outside observer, the horizon is believed to appear as a static, unmoving spherical surface (as portrayed in these images). In reality, the event horizon is actually moving outward at the speed of light, and it is this outward movement that does not allow light to escape.  Since the horizon is moving away from the singularity at the speed of light, it would be necessary to exceed light-speed to escape, which as far as we know is impossible.  The motion of the event horizon may not make sense, and that is because it doesn’t in our normal understanding of how things move through space.  The movement of the horizon is similar to Alice having to run as fast as she can just to remain stationary in “Through the Looking-Glass”.
Once past the event horizon, all matter is doomed to fall towards the singularity (center of the black hole). The extreme distortion of spacetime near the center of a black hole has interesting mathematical consequences regarding general relativistic time.  As the radial distance (r) from the singularity decreases, Einstein’s mathematics tell us that the time coordinate (t) grows larger and larger (as r↓, t↑). Eventually, all matter inevitably reaches the singularity (r=0), theoretically sending time to infinity.  Time stops.
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The stoppage of time is a phenomenon that does not seem possible.  The intuitively backwards and seemingly impossible conclusions that are derived from general relativity, combined with more recent philosophical and mathematical work, are exposing possible flaws in our understanding of space and time.  I want to dedicate the next few posts to exploring these potential flaws and hopefully spark discussion on our perceptions of the cosmos vs. its reality.
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The event horizon represents the gravitational point of no return. Once past the event horizon, the gravitational pull of a black hole reaches a strength that is inescapable, and not even light can reemerge from the prison of the singularity. Anoth

Do you remember what it was like to live before computers, cell phones, and/or the internet? Doesn’t it fascinate you that our overlapping generations will be some of the last ones to ever know what it was like? 
I, like many of you, spent my childhood in a world that did not contain the internet and ubiquitous mobile phones.  And perhaps sadly, I only have vague, fading memories of life before it was inundated by technology.  Last night, I had a conversation with some family about their experience living through the inflection point of an exponential change in technology.  We reminisced on the times before search engines when it was necessary for one to access and search through the Encyclopedia Britannica to get an answer to nagging questions. My dad told me in a story that I found absolutely hilarious about the first laptop he bought in 1986—an IBM PC Convertible with a 16MB hard drive and 256kB RAM for $2,000.  It was entertaining and reassuring that people with deeper experience than I still had vivid memories of the times before screens.  I was mostly curious if the people who had reached full adulthood before the technological explosion had had their memories jaded by it—it seems not.
The technological changes that we have experienced and are currently going through are staggering.  I don’t know if it is a common feeling among each successive generation, but I truly feel that ours is an exceptional one (the one or two that lived through the nose of the flood). With all modesty, I think that the technological change we have seen in the last 20 years and will see in the next 20 could be the single biggest and most consequential development in the history of human evolution.  What we do with our tech and where we go from here is up to us.  I think an important first step would be to make sure that in our race towards the future, we are all relatively close to the same starting line, with an understanding of the course and where it should take us.  Our species is depending on us.
Do you have vivid memories from before the internet? Please share them.
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Do you remember what it was like to live before computers, cell phones, and/or the internet? Doesn’t it fascinate you that our overlapping generations will be some of the last ones to ever know what it was like? I, like many of you, spent my childho

Alongside the nature of consciousness, human sensory limitation has been one of my favorite topics of consideration this summer.  The more I have delved into each of these topics, the more aware I have become that they are inseparable and belong in the same conversation.  Last month, we pondered the probability of conscious experience being a simple manifestation of evolution by natural selection.  Last week, we discussed the possibility that we may have gaps in our human senses that disable us from seeing true reality.  Today, let us bring these concepts together.
In my leisurely studies on sensory limitation, I came across the thought-provoking and consequential work of Donald Hoffman.  Dr. Hoffman is cognitive psychologist and computer scientist who is known most prominently for his work developing a theory of human perception.  He is essentially interested in figuring out how and why we have conscious experience, and what role consciousness plays in our perception of the world around us.  Exactly what I’ve been looking for!
The hypothesis that he is actively testing and in support of can be explained no better than by he himself: “...perceptual experiences do not match or approximate properties of the objective world, but instead provide a simplified, species-specific, user interface to that world.” If you need to read that again, please do so.  At its most fundamental level, Hoffman’s claim is an anti-physicalist one that consciousness creates physical objects and their properties.  Everything in the cosmos, spacetime included, is a manifestation of our consciousness.  In support of this idea, he makes the case that evolution by natural selection does not necessarily pass on traits that allow the descending species to see reality as it is.  Perhaps having a distorted view of reality may increase evolutionary fitness.
Are we radically deluded in what we consider true reality? Could it be possible that the way in which we experience fundamental matter is subjective and varies from species to species?  The answer to both questions could very well be yes. I have a growing feeling that “reality” is far, far stranger than we can comprehend.
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Alongside the nature of consciousness, human sensory limitation has been one of my favorite topics of consideration this summer. The more I have delved into each of these topics, the more aware I have become that they are inseparable and belong in t

Are we alone!?
There is an apparent incompatibility between the high probability estimates for the existence of life outside Earth and the absence of evidence for it.  This contradiction is known in astronomy as the “Fermi paradox”, and follows the line of reasoning below:
1.  There are ~100 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy, many of which are similar in size and stage of evolution to our sun.
2.  Hundreds of millions of these stars likely host Earth-like planets, and if life evolves similar on these planets, some may have evolved intelligent life.
3.  With civilizations that are perhaps millions of years more advanced than us, it is likely that they have developed some form of interstellar travel.
The famous 'Drake Equation' is closely tied to the Fermi paradox.  It calculates the approximate number of extraterrestrial (ET) civilizations in our galaxy and can pump out some huge numbers (due to the vast number of potentially habitable planets in the galaxy). When used by optimists, the Drake equation produces numbers between 1,000 and 100,000,000 civilizations within our galaxy alone.
So where are the visitors?  We have seen no sign of extraterrestrial life, we have not heard from them, and they have not visited.
One of my intellectual heroes Nick Bostrom (Oxford) claims that our lack of evidence for ET intelligence supports the idea of a Great Filter, which essentially serves as a probability barrier for evolving species.  He claims that since statistically we should have been contacted by ET life but haven't been suggests that it is either very, very improbable that evolution begins, or the Great Filter lies ahead of us in the future (possibly in the form of superintelligent AI, nuclear destruction, etc...). Other hypothetical explanations for the lack of alien visitation range from ET life deliberately avoiding us (haha) to extraterrestrial intelligence being entirely different from ours (i.e. they are “too alien”). Some theorists even entertain the idea that they are here already, unacknowledged, living amongst us…
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Are we alone!? There is an apparent incompatibility between the high probability estimates for the existence of life outside Earth and the absence of evidence for it. This contradiction is known in astronomy as the “Fermi paradox”, and follows the l

Water on water on water.  Of the many things that we humans take for granted, it is my humble opinion that none are as underappreciated as water.  It goes without saying that the very existence of carbon-based life hinges on the ubiquitous presence of H₂O.  However, I have been thinking more lately about the sheer power, force, and mass of Earth’s oceans, lakes, and waterways.
Last week, I was driving along the Yarlung-Tsangpo River of southern Tibet, the river that eventually becomes the Brahmaputra and flows into the Bay of Bengal.  With an average discharge of over 500,000 cubic ft/sec, it is a truly enormous river that is incising itself into the southern plateau with authority.  Massive lateral waves project themselves across the thalweg and huge hydraulics boil out of the depths and then disappear in a suction-like fashion.  Constriction rapids curl and smash the water upstream.  As I drove along this spectacle, my thoughts landed on how much pure mass must be moving through it.  I considered how interesting and easy it would be to calculate the mass of the discharge, then subsequently scale it to something more relatable than just a number.  So, let’s do that.
Many back-of-the-envelope calculations eventually brought me to calculating the approximate total mass of all Earth’s water, oceans included.  The most consistent estimate I found for the total volume of water on Earth was 333 million cubic miles (please excuse the incoming abuse of the imperial system). I began by determining how many gallons were in a cubic mile, simply because I am familiar with the mass of one gallon.  1 cubic mile is equal to 1.1 trillion gallons, and at 8.34lbs/gal, has a mass of ~9.2 trillion pounds.  Multiplying this value by the estimated 333 million cubic miles of water on Earth gives one a value 3.0636e21.  That is ~3.1 sextillion pounds (1.4 sextillion kg) of water on Earth! Fantastic!
(Caption continued in comments…)
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Water on water on water. Of the many things that we humans take for granted, it is my humble opinion that none are as underappreciated as water. It goes without saying that the very existence of carbon-based life hinges on the ubiquitous presence o

Are you impressed or depressed by the minuscule amount of cosmic space that we occupy? Or perhaps it evokes other feelings? I have reformulated my own approach to this question and am actively developing a new perspective. 
In the past, I have maintained optimism regarding the beyond tiny rock that we inhabit. “How fortunate we are to occupy such an unlikely position in the cosmos!”, I have said. My optimism has been countered by people who think that our immense smallness serves as justification for nihilism. “How insignificant and limited we are! Our goals and accomplishments will ultimately be enveloped by the vastness of space and forgotten forever”, one may say. You must admit that both sides have a case to make. Indeed, both sides are probably right! I have been thinking about this argument recently but have been trying to do it without considering the Earth (and its inhabitants) as entities separate from the rest of the universe.  What the fu*& does that even mean?!
Alan Watts writes extensively in support of the argument that the universe essentially doesn’t exist without us in it.  He and many others emphasize that without an entity to consciously experience it, the universe does not exist (at least how we know it). In other words, we require the universe and the universe requires us.  One may argue further that we do not rely on one another, but that we ARE one another (i.e. we are the universe expressing itself). So, let us revisit the question: should we interpret our infinitesimally small place in space as saddening or enlightening?  If you buy the idea that we are not separate from the universe, this isn’t even an answerable question.  It is analogous to asking, “Is the size of one water molecule in the ocean depressing?”. Of course, the answer is no, because we know that the water molecule is one of a seemingly infinite number of molecules that contribute to create the restless and powerful ocean.  A recognition that we are not separate from the universe blows the slats out of the foundational structure of the original question. At the very least, there is nothing depressing about contributing to something far greater than ourselves.
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Are you impressed or depressed by the minuscule amount of cosmic space that we occupy? Or perhaps it evokes other feelings? I have reformulated my own approach to this question and am actively developing a new perspective. In the past, I have mainta

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If you are reading this, it is highly likely that you had access to (at least) a free and formal education. It is also highly likely that you did absolutely nothing to deserve it. Your being born into the specific place and time you did was entirely out of your control. You did not choose your parents, and by default, any faint glimmer of free will regarding your existential manifestation was swiftly blown dark. If you were born on the central Tibetan plateau into a nomadic lifestyle, formal education is not an option. Why isn’t that your case? Pure chance is why.
It seems to me that once you admit that you have no control of your cosmic placement, you must admit that you ultimately have no control over the actions you make during the span of your life. Every future decision hinges on ones initial placement in space and time, so how could you logically be in control of future decisions if you don’t even have a choice on which plethora to choose from? Sure, once you are placed into your arbitrary place, it may feel like you then become the conscious operator of your will. Although I think this feeling too is illusory, does it really matter if you can make choices after being randomly placed in the cosmos?
I am actively thinking of ways I could possibly disagree with my own statements above. I understand that the topic of free will is somewhat controversial and complex, but I would love to hear your thoughts.
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If you are reading this, it is highly likely that you had access to (at least) a free and formal education. It is also highly likely that you did absolutely nothing to deserve it. Your being born into the specific place and time you did was entirely

My interest in the illusion of self has been reignited. This illusion is best understood through a discussion of what it “feels like” to be a human. That is, we spend a majority of our lives feeling that we are looking out at the world, as if we exist behind the eyes. As a consequence, we feel that we are separate from our body—that our actual self is simply hosted within our body. Part of the reason we feel this way, I think, is how we refer to our human components. We refer to our body parts as if they belong to a separate entity. We say, “my legs hurt...”, or “my lungs are not getting enough oxygen”, rather than “the legs...” or “these lungs...”. Also worth discussing is the fact that we use “I” or “my” when referring to things in the body, but not of the body. For example, we do not say “I beat my heart” or “I grow my hair” (shoutout Alan Watts).
The most fundamental Buddhist teachings and many highly respected modern-day scientists recognize that this feeling of separation is entirely illusory. Nothing suggests that there is someone behind experience to whom it is all happening.
Joesph Goldstein (one of my favorite authors on meditation) makes an analogy to a great summer storm. There is wind and rain, thunder and lightning; but there is no storm apart from these elements. In the same way that “storm” is representative of this mix of phenomena, the word “self” is representative of the constantly changing elements of human existence. 
We, like the rest of the constituents of the universe, are not separate from it. We are it. I think this recognition makes life simpler, richer, and more enjoyable. 
I am just beginning my investigation of these concepts, but I already know that they are of great value. As scientists and humans, we must acknowledge the true nature of our existence, and we must not separate ourselves from the universe we study.
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My interest in the illusion of self has been reignited. This illusion is best understood through a discussion of what it “feels like” to be a human. That is, we spend a majority of our lives feeling that we are looking out at the world, as if we exis

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“What guarantee is there that the five senses, taken together, do cover the whole of possible experience?” —Idris Parry, 1965.
This is a question that I have been pondering extensively over the past few months, and I think it is an excellent one. The answer, as far as I can tell, is that there is absolutely no guarantee that we are not severely limited by our evolutionarily-gifted senses. In fact, we are probably far more likely living in a constant state of delusion that what we perceive is reality.
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Pause a moment to take a look at your open hand. Partially as a result of my intentionally tricky wording, but mostly due to a preconditioned tendency to view objects rather than their surroundings, you were likely not thinking about the space surrounding your hand. It is interesting, but for a different conversation, that we narrow our focus on the much smaller of the two phenomena. The hand is infinitely small compared to the space around it, yet it seems almost more real in some sense. I think the idea (or delusion) that our five senses are adequate for understanding the cosmos may be semi-analogous to our sense that the hand is the real object of interest in our observation of it. 
Perhaps there are gaps between our senses analogous to the gaps between our fingers. It may not look like there is anything between the fingers, but indeed there is. Atmospheric gas, dust particles, heat, light, space. In a sense, the rest of the universe exists between your fingers. In this analogy, if the fingers represent the senses, imagine what we could be missing in the gaps between. 
In my opinion, we need to reduce our confidence in the scientific interpretations that we are making, as even the most elegant and well-established theories were developed in the limited arena of our human senses. Progress can and will continue, but ideally will be fueled by a more humble and open-minded thought process.
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“What guarantee is there that the five senses, taken together, do cover the whole of possible experience?” —Idris Parry, 1965. This is a question that I have been pondering extensively over the past few months, and I think it is an excellent one. The

What a time to be alive, my friends!  We are fortunate to be living through the inflection point of an exponential change in society and technology.  However, with great change comes great challenge.
The rapid technological advances that have occurred in the last few decades present us with an especially difficult challenge.  We are the first people ever who need to learn to find a balance between the positives and negatives of our new tools.  Computers, cellphones, and televisions can certainly all be used productively, but it seems to me far easier to let them serve as distractions from what is truly important.  People are what is important.  Not people online or on television—actual people.  Although it may not always be the case into the future, we are still separate from our technology.  Almost all of us have the wonderful opportunity every day to go outside, to listen to a friend, or to read a book.  These are the types of experiences that the human experience is rooted in and I believe that they are invaluable towards meaningful progression into the future.  The meaning we derive from the experiences we share with nature, friends, family, and lovers far exceeds that derived from elsewhere.
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My mom has always told me that moderation is best in all things.  I will be travelling for the next month or so and figured it would be a good time to take a hiatus from this platform.  I find great value and pure enjoyment in the curation of this page, largely due to the high-level, thought-provoking conversations that you all have in the comment section.  Thank you to everyone who contributes.  I truly hope AstroDaily serves as a distraction that some of you can benefit from. 
Keep thinking and stay mindful.
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What a time to be alive, my friends! We are fortunate to be living through the inflection point of an exponential change in society and technology. However, with great change comes great challenge. The rapid technological advances that have occurre

We, Homo sapiens, do not fill our overly-fortunate cosmic position in a humble fashion.
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I have always been fascinated by the biological and ecological sciences, I think largely because of their grandeur and complexity.  Similar to Earth’s towering mountains and formidable waterways, the three staggeringly complex domains of life serve as humbling reminders that we share this planet with things much greater than ourselves (or at least they should). Yesterday evening, while pondering the mighty tree, I reacknowledged the fact that we exist alongside other species that have been around far longer than us.  In fact, our species is a relative newcomer on the stage of life.  A clarifying example: our ~200,000-year existence represents 0.0363% of the amount of time that jelly fish have occupied the oceans. Even more impressive is the cyanobacterial stromatolite that is still thriving in modern waters.  Existing in more or less the same form for ~3.0 billion years, the stromatolite has been around 15,000 times longer than Homo sapiens.  These kinds of examples could continue indefinitely.
Our complex brains and recent advances as a species have deluded us into thinking that we are the most impressive occupant of planet Earth.  Indeed, we are not.  From a biological perspective, longevity can serve as a proxy for fitness, and the kinds of examples above make clear that we have not yet earned any bragging rights.  The recognition that we are sharing the planet with all other species is not only magical, but essential for the future protection of biodiversity. 
So, go outside and pay your respects to nature.  Approach a tree for what it is—something that is taller, stronger, older, more beautiful, and possibly even smarter than you are.
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We, Homo sapiens, do not fill our overly-fortunate cosmic position in a humble fashion. ### I have always been fascinated by the biological and ecological sciences, I think largely because of their grandeur and complexity. Similar to Earth’s towerin

Why is time influenced by gravity? Oh Sh%*, here we go again!
The relationship between gravity and time is a difficult one to grasp.  However, once you get the basic idea it is one of the most amazing and thought-provoking relationships in the universe.
Simply put, Einstein’s general and special theories of relativity state that an object of mass within the universe creates a warping in the fabric of ‘spacetime’ and that the speed of light is constant throughout the universe, respectively.  Both theories must be applied to gain a basic understanding of the relationship between gravity and time. 
Since spacetime around a black hole is warped so severely (lots of mass), the distance that a beam of light needs to travel is greater near a black hole than it is around objects with lesser mass that do not distort spacetime as much.  Here, special relativity become important.  Since the speed of light is a universal constant, an observer in any given gravitational field must see it moving at its normal speed of 300,000 km/sec.  The time/distance relationship of speed tells us that time is equal to the distance divided by the speed.  Since here the speed remains constant, the time must increase proportional to the increase in distance (warpage of spacetime). Therefore, the larger the gravitational field you are in, the slower time moves.  Time is relative. 
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My friends, let us rejoice at the realization that time is not fixed!  The seemingly most concrete and limiting aspect of our existence is not what it seems!  Einstein determined that time is something relative to your position in the universe—something that should truly shatter the way that you perceive reality.  We do not know exactly what implications this has for our long-term existence, but it exposes the fact that our worries and angst rooted in time may be unjustified.  Regardless of what it all means, I think that it emphasizes the importance and magic of living in the present moment—the only moment that we know truly exists.
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Why is time influenced by gravity? Oh Sh%*, here we go again! The relationship between gravity and time is a difficult one to grasp. However, once you get the basic idea it is one of the most amazing and thought-provoking relationships in the univer