Friday, November 23, 2007

Blunders in our Modern Age?

Conceptual metaphors and analogies are wonderful tools for understanding the world. And same as with visual pattern detection, we are able to predict or draw conclusions by mapping statistical data and discovering a resulting pattern.
But because there is such a thing as optical illusion, could there be also such a thing as conceptual illusion? Could it be possible that a wrong analogies and metaphors applied to certain cases could produce wrong conclusions? Indeed! This has happened and been happening throughout the centuries. We used to think that the earth is the center of the universe because we "see" that the sun revolves around the earth. Now even in our modern age, the mistake in applying our mental models of analogies or similarities to observations can still occur. Today, even with the most sophisticated telescopes that see light-years in the past, or even when armed with the best compilation of statistical data ever, and even with highly advanced theories we could still commit conceptual blunders.
Only in the past 2 weeks I have come across two possible blunders that seem all too similar to declaring that the "earth is the center of the universe". The first could be about the possible error in the seed theory (see previous post) and the other is the alleged hastening of the universe's demise because of astronomers and cosmologists having observed dark matter. The error I can see in the latter is that perhaps, a theory that holds true in the realm of the very small, such as Quantum Mechanics (Schroedinger's Cat), may not hold true for the large scale macrocosm.
Lets hope the conceptual errors in history doesn't repeat itself in our time.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Smudges on the Glass for Clouds in the Sky

One of the most important theories in Astronomy developed in the past 15 years -- one that won a Nobel Prize -- could be toppled by just a simple analogy: Like Smudges on the Glass.
A recent article on Wired tells about how a lone Astronomer named Gerrit Verschuur, challenges a theory of how galaxies grew from packets or "seeds" of hydrogen in the very early universe. NASA scientists led by George Smoot announced in 1992 that their CoBE satellite had imaged the ultimate baby pictures of the universe, revealing the seeds. Like acorns growing into oak trees, they theorized, those seeds grew into galaxies like the Milky Way.
However, Verschuur's research asserts that the seeds are not located on the edge of the universe at all. Rather, he says, the so-called seeds are just previously unmapped clouds of "neutral hydrogen" gas located inside the Milky Way. In other words, astronomers who mistook the "seeds" for objects on the edge of the universe are like someone who looks outdoors through a window and mistakes smudges on the glass for clouds in the sky.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Am I A Strange Loop?

I ran to my local library to borrow "I Am A Strange Loop" by one of my favorite thinkers, Douglas Hofstadter. Its been a while since I read his last book "Godel, Escher, Bach" many years ago, and this new book will be a great feast. I've gone through the first hundred pages and this looks to be a very relevant book to be featured on by way of Hofstadter's constant reference to metaphors, analogies, symbols and patterns, revolving around the central idea that consciousness is a self-referential system, a Strange Loop.