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Picture – Beautiful and rhizomatic (let me add) neutrino track events photo taken by LNS at MIT (The Conrad Research Group, link).

We are very much astonished by this result, but a result is never a discovery until other people confirm it. When you get such a result you want to make sure you made no mistakes, that there are no nasty things going on you didn’t think of. We spent months and months doing checks and we have not been able to find any errors. If there is a problem, it must be a tough, nasty effect, because trivial things we are clever enough to rule out.” ~ Antonio Ereditato, coordinator of the Opera project (Oscillation Project with Emulsion-tRacking Apparatus), Guardian (link), UK, 22 Sept. 2011.

It is sometimes said that we should never believe a scientific theory until it is verified by experiment. But a famous astronomer has also stated that we should never believe an observation until it is confirmed by a theory.” ~ João Magueijo, Faster Than the Speed of Light, Penguin books, Feb. 2004 (early published in 2003).

So …, you and me -we all now- can change (e.g.) emails at 299.798,454 meters per second (warning: “suddenly ongoing” number hypotheses by a ‘clever‘ science team coordinator). That’s roughly a fraction of 20 parts per million more than last week (as the standard light speed stands for 299.792,458 m/s); i.e. 6 Km/s more (six, not … let us say nine Km more, still buzzes me for other reasons). Not -by all means-, reaching this amazing speed, I decided to depict (above) two different quotes for their stark contrast (all those underlined parts, made me smile a little, having in mind all the rest in context).

Surprised?! Don’t be. Science, fortunately moves on precisely this way. If a paradigmatic change occurs, that’s a healthy signal, not the contrary. My concern here today is not about change (along with their implications and applications, which could be huge), but rather -instead- when that change happened and to tribute those who have made that paradigm shift possible, creating an entire new research field possible to be exploited, Albert Einstein included. Ironically, the Ereditato OPERA et al. team paper starts on page 1 (image below) with a stream of no less than more than 100 authors, and it ends (conclusions, page 22) with an – at least – “enigmatic” phrase: We deliberately do not attempt any theoretical or phenomenological interpretation of the results (the full 24 pages work could be retrieved from arXiv). Having this in mind, I wonder if this recent paper did not forgot to mention someone.Superluminal theory or commonly know as Faster-than-light (FTL) communications and travel refer to the propagation of information or matter faster than the speed of light, a field with an enormous potential. Under the special theory of relativity (Wikipedia link), a particle (that has mass) with subluminal velocity needs infinite energy to accelerate to the speed of light, although special relativity does not forbid the existence of particles that travel faster than light at all times.

The “world” however seems to forget a paper done in 1998 by João Magueijo (Imperial College, London) on the Varying speed of light (VSL) theory of cosmology, proposing precisely that light speed was much higher in the early universe, by 60 orders of magnitude faster than its present value. João, was in fact the pioneer of VSL (along with John Moffat‘s early works). Their work starts like this (abstract):

We consider the cosmological implications of light traveling faster in the early Universe. We propose a prescription for deriving corrections to the cosmological evolution equations while the speed of light c is changing. We then show how the horizon, flatness, and cosmological constant problems may be solved. We also study cosmological perturbations in this scenario and show how one may solve the homogeneity and isotropy problems. As it stands, our scenario appears to most easily produce extreme homogeneity, requiring structure to be produced in the Standard Big Bang epoch. Producing significant perturbations during the earlier epoch would require a rather careful design of the function c(t). The large entropy inside the horizon nowadays can also be accounted for in this scenario. “, in Andreas Albrecht and João Magueijo; “A time varying speed of light as a solution to cosmological puzzles“, Physical Review D, Phys.Rev.D59:043516,1999 (the full 14 pages work published later in 1999 could be retrieved from arXiv).

João MagueijoPicture – João Magueijo (Imperial College, London).

A major work, onto which all his energies were necessary. Andreas and João fighted for years for their publication to pass the main journals, like Nature and Science. Later on, Magueijo decides to discuss his personal struggles pursuing VSL in his 2003 book, Faster Than The Speed of Light, The Story of a Scientific Speculation. For those who have actually read the book (not many let me say), do know that he spends most of its pages discussing, not VSL, but rather the counter aspect of conservationism and reductionism in Science, Academia and research. He does not spare Portugal also. Born in Évora (Alentejo, southern Portugal) in 1967, he mentions over several passages: I will never return. I now agree with him. Back in 2000 I spoke with several foreign as well as Portuguese physicists. No one knew him, or his work. Or if they did (yes, some did), nobody cared. They still do. For them, it was a sacrilege to open a little variation on Einstein‘s theory.

For what I have seen these days on newspapers and TV, the same conservationism keeps ruling, even if the media keeps inviting the most prominent commentators on the field, … the same as usual. Independently from the variation, they keep saying the same, or being skeptic. But I keep wondering if what they have is really a pure genuine scientific skepticism. Not surprised at all, let me add. Over my life, I have met mathematicians that do not know what a Voronoi tessellation is. Increasingly, the same goes on for a Johnson-Mehl. Or Portuguese physicists who have never heard about Per Bak‘s selforganized criticality. A massive mass-media delivered oblivion. Now gone worldwide, it seems.

Being skeptic is crucial (at some point). It’s one of the key ingredients in Science. Not however, when much before this present 2011 buzz OPERA paper, a small team on the other side of the planet,  in Australia, verified experimentally that Magueijo was right, a few months after his 1999 work (funny, … Einstein‘s theory was experimentally proved on São Tomé and Príncipe, also abroad, near the Equator). I do remember the news back then, but … hey, after one decade now, I do not have the link anymore – sorry, I’m not a physicist. Neither a mathematician. With patience, one of these days I will google it out. My memory is not what it was.

Fortunately, Magueijo‘s memory is not like ours. He knows where the right guys are. Or if he – by one good reason- misses them (as it was the case here), he goes after them. Not happy with Faster than Light,  in 2009, he decided to publish a second book: A Brilliant Darkness, an impressive account of the life and science of the vanished Italian physicist Ettore Majorana. For that, he random-walks the entire Italy, from one point to another, during months, even taking boats back and forth, grasping Majorana memoirs and the “fatal” accident and disappearance, still unsolved. Now that, I absolutely recommend as a good reading  for some Italian science team coordinators.

Back in 2001, living in a cheap hotel, for several weeks, in Kensington Road, while working daily at the Imperial College for a project aiming for new types of Neural Networks for Pollution control and forecasting, while the cold rain shuffled the windows outside, several times my thoughts went on what are the 10 key features present in a good scientist. I will spare you what I consider to be my 10 list (mail me one day if you feel curiosity about them) – anyway here are my first three: (3) honesty, (2) imagination and (1) courage. João, as I believe, had it all, namely the first one in tremendous proportions. 30 meters away from the Queen’s tower, daily on a cave, at the Imperial College main pub by 5 P.M, I had a couple of pints. Everyday I wished he was there, joining me: he do loves a good beer too. But he was definitively elsewhere on the campus, probably over another nearby pub at that hour. Never saw him. Never thought of climbing from my lab to his, in order to say hello. After one month, I left London.

For his amazing work and courage, as I said earlier last week over Twitter (link): “João Magueijo rocks! Neutrinos too. Both can travel faster than light. :-)“. Above all, those erratic neutrinos should be smiling now. Probably, by 60 orders of magnitude faster than its present value.

Book – Erwin Schrödinger (1944), “What Is Life?” Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, (my edition is from 2002 – book cover above).

…living matter, while not eluding the “laws of physics” as established up to date, is likely to involve “other laws of physics” hitherto unknown, which however, once they have been revealed, will form just as integral a part of science as the former.“, Erwin Schrödinger (1944), Chapter VI, [1].

[…] The structure of DNA and the genetic code may have alluded us for some time more if Crick had not read Erwin Schrödinger‘s What Is Life? [1,2]. The research lead that Crick got by doing so was how a small set of repeating elements could give rise to a large number of combinatorial products, a mathematical relationship that Schrödinger illustrated using the Morse Code, based on an idea that he had actually got from the visionary work of Max Delbrück. Delbrück, Schrödinger and Crick were physicists with an enthusiasm for tackling the unknown for the natural world. Crick‘s own motivation came directly from reading What Is Life? [3]. It seemed reasonable to make the cross-over as the infant field of biochemistry was bound to be governed by the same chemical and physical laws revealed in other, non-biological, disciplines. This was especially true given the progressive focus of biology on the increasingly small, until an effective convergence of scales in the studies of the biologically relevant on the biologically irrelevant. Hence the justification for Schrödinger‘s unspecific book title. Although some of the notions in the book have been superseded by modern science, this remains a classic, written with great insight and modesty (Schrödinger downplays his potential as a biologist), and is worth the read if only as a portal in to the minds of those luminary workers. By the time Watson and Crick were piecing together the jigsaw that would lead to their grand discovery, the far-reaching potential of Schrödinger‘s code script had been aligned with Chargaff‘s finding of a variable sequence of nucleotide bases, and the stage was set for that immortal terminal sentence, “It has not escaped our notice that the specific pairing we have postulated immediately suggests a possible copying mechanism for the genetic material.” […], Derry, J. F. (2004). Review of What Is Life? By Erwin Schrödinger. Human Nature Review. 4: 124-125.

This is the first time any synthetic DNA has been in complete control of a cell“, Craig Venter, May 2010 (video below).

In 1953, when the structure of DNA was determined, there were 53 kilobytes of high-speed electronic storage on planet earth. Two entirely separate forms of code were set on a collision course. Primitive as it may be, we now have one of the long-awaited results.”, George Dyson, May 2010.

On April 9, 2010, 41 days ago, Science Journal receives a manuscript for revision signed by no least than 24 scientists. Then, 7 days ago it was accepted for publication. It was released today, May 20, 2010. And what we are now assisting today, is no less than a pivotal moment in Human history, in fact, a turning-point for the entire planet and it’s life. Entitled “Creation of a Bacterial Cell controlled by a Chemical Synthesized Genome” [4], the paper describes how these 24 scientists have succeeded in developing the first synthetic living cell. Being the ability to design and create new forms of life so extraordinary, that a truly scientific landmark was indeed today realized.  That’s  -indeed- one small step for synthetic biology, one giant leap for mankind.

The new cell, is in some-ways a code within a code. As science historian George Dyson points out, “from the point of view of technology, a code generated within a digital computer is now self-replicating as the genome of a line of living cells. From the point of view of biology, a code generated by a living organism has been translated into a digital representation for replication, editing, and transmission to other cells.”

First step was to previously made a synthetic bacterial genome, and transplanted the genome of one bacterium into another. Then, both methods were put together in order to create the present synthetic cell, even if only its genome is truly synthetic. By sequencing its genetic code and then using synthesis machines to chemically construct a copy, a different organism could then be form, taking the synthetic chromosome, and transplant it into a recipient cell. As Venter and his team point out, “As soon as this new software goes into the cell, that cell reads that software and converts the new cell into the species specified in that genetic code.”

We code it, and the new cell reads it. It’s anyhow of full interest to follow with caution their final words on the paper [4] (the entire work could be accessed here from where both pictures were depicted):

[…] If the methods described here can be generalized, design, synthesis, assembly, and transplantation of synthetic chromosomes will no longer be a barrier to the progress of synthetic biology. We expect that the cost of DNA synthesis will follow what has happened with DNA sequencing and continue to exponentially decrease. Lower synthesis costs combined with automation will enable broad applications for synthetic genomics. We have been driving the ethical discussion concerning synthetic life from the earliest stages of this work. Assynthetic genomic applications expand, we anticipate that this work will continue to raise philosophical issues that have broad societal and ethical implications. We encourage the continued discourse . […]

Watermarked on the new synthetic cell DNA (embedded) there is a quote from Richard Feynman:What I can not build I can not understand“. No matter what, from this point on, we should really re-question what Life is?

TED in the field video – Craig Venter unveils synthetic life, May 2010.

Ref. notes: [1] Erwin Schrödinger (1944), “What Is Life?” Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, (novel edition 2002). | [2] Francis Crick (1989) What Mad Pursuit. Penguin. | [3] James Watson (1981) The Double Helix. Weidenfeld and Nicholson. | [4] Daniel G. Gibson, John I. Glass, … Craig Venter et al., (2010), “Creation of a Bacterial Cell Controlled by a Chemically Synthesized Genome“, Science Journal, released and visited on-line on May 20, 2010.

Picture – Albert Einstein standing on a rock stepping-stone, enjoying grabbing some sun at the sea shore (1945). Oh! … the sea shore. By the way, Mr. Einstein, what lovely sexy shoes you have!

[…] Einstein always appeared to have a clear view of the problems of physics and the determination to solve them. He had a strategy of his own and was able to visualize the main stages on the way to his goal. He regarded his major achievements as mere stepping-stones for the next advance. […] In his early days in Berlin, Einstein postulated that the correct interpretation of the special theory of relativity must also furnish a theory of gravitation and in 1916 he published his paper on the general theory of relativity. During this time he also contributed to the problems of the theory of radiation and statistical mechanics. […] After his retirement he continued to work towards the unification of the basic concepts of physics, taking the opposite approach, geometrisation, to the majority of physicists. […] (source Nobel prize org.)

Einstein on the Beach : Philip Glass / Robert Wilson, 1976.

[…] Einstein on the Beach (1976) is a pivotal work in the oeuvre of Philip Glass. It is the first, longest, and most famous of the composer’s operas, yet it is in almost every way unrepresentative of them. Einstein was, by design, a glorious “one-shot” – a work that invented its context, form and language, and then explored them so exhaustively that further development would have been redundant. But, by its own radical example, Einstein prepared the way – it gave permission – for much of what has happened in music theater since its premiere. Einstein broke all the rules of opera. It was in four interconnected acts and five hours long, with no intermissions (the audience was invited to wander in and out at liberty during performances). The acts were intersticed by what Glass and Wilson called “knee plays” – brief interludes that also provided time for scenery changes. The text consisted of numbers, solfege syllables and some cryptic poems by Christopher Knowles, a young, neurologically-impaired man with whom Wilson had worked as an instructor of disturbed children for the New York public schools. To this were added short texts by choreographer Lucinda Childs and Samuel M. Johnson, an actor who played the Judge in the “Trial” scenes and the bus driver in the finale. There were references to the trial of Patricia Hearst (which was underway during the creation of the opera); to the mid-’70s radio lineup on New York’s WABC; to the popular song “Mr. Bojangles”; to the Beatles and to teen idol David Cassidy. Einstein sometimes seemed a study in sensory overload, meaning everything and nothing…  […] (continues) [source ]

KNEE 5 | KNEE PLAY CHARACTER 1 : Numbers and Mr Bojangles /  KNEE PLAY CHARACTER 2 : Text from Knee Play 1 / BUS DRIVER : Lovers on a Park Bench

1,2,3,4… 1,2,3,4,5,6, …,1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,… 1,2,3,4… 1,2,3,4,5,6, …,1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,… 1,2,3,4… 1,2,3,4,5,6, … 2,3,4, … 1,2,3,4, … 1,6 …

Two lovers sat on a park bench with their bodies touching each other, holding hands in the moonlight. There was silence between them. So profound was their love for each other, they needed no words to express it. And so they sat in silence, on a park bench, with their bodies touching, holding hands in the moonlight. Finally she spoke. “Do you love me, John ?” she asked. “You know I love you. darling,” he replied. “I love you more than tongue can tell. You are the light of my life. my sun. moon and stars. You are my everything. Without you I have no reason for being.” Again there was silence as the two lovers sat on a park bench, their bodies touching, holding hands in the moonlight. Once more she spoke. “How much do you love me, John ?” she asked. He answered : “How’ much do I love you ? Count the stars in the sky. Measure the waters of the oceans with a teaspoon. Number the grains of sand on the sea shore. Impossible, you say? “, (text by Samuel Johnson).

“Chaos theory has a bad name, conjuring up images of unpredictable weather, economic crashes and science gone wrong. But there is a fascinating and hidden side to Chaos, one that scientists are only now beginning to understand. It turns out that chaos theory answers a question that mankind has asked for millennia – how did we get here?

Over this 2010 BBC 4 documentary “The Secret Life of Chaos“, Professor Jim Al-Khalili sets out to uncover one of the great mysteries of science – how does a universe that starts off as dust end up with intelligent life? How does order emerge from disorder? It’s a mind bending, counter-intuitive and for many people a deeply troubling idea. But Professor Al-Khalili reveals the science behind much of beauty and structure in the natural world and discovers that far from it being magic or an act of God, it is in fact an intrinsic part of the laws of physics. Amazingly, it turns out that the mathematics of chaos can explain how and why the universe creates exquisite order and pattern. The natural world is full of awe-inspiring examples of the way nature transforms simplicity into complexity. From trees to clouds to humans – after watching this film you’ll never be able to look at the world in the same way again.” (description at YouTube).

[1 hour documentary in 6 parts: Part I (above), Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V and Part VI. Even if you have no time, do not miss part 6. I mean, do really not miss it. Enjoy!]

[...] People should learn how to play Lego with their minds. Concepts are building bricks [...] V. Ramos, 2002.

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