UNIVERSE

THE PHYSICS THAT WE KNOW

[6.27.09]

We have decided, as a scientific endeavor, to extrapolate as much as we can from our knowledge of the individual processes that we can measure: evaporation from the ocean, the formation of a cloud, rainfall coming from a cloud, changes in wind patterns as a function of the pressure field, changes in the jet stream. What we have tried to do is encapsulate those small-scale processes, put them together, and see if we can predict the emerging properties of that fundamental complex system.

THE PHYSICS THAT WE KNOW 
A Conversation with Gavin Schmidt

gavin schmidt

Introduction

There is a simple way to produce a perfect model of our climate that will predict the weather with 100% accuracy. First, start with a universe that is exactly like ours; then wait 13 billion years.

But if you want something useful right now, if you want to construct a means of taking the knowledge that we have and use it to predict future climate, you build computer simulations. Your models are messy, complicated, in constant need of fine tuning, exacting and inexact at the same time. You're using the past to predict the future, extrapolating the very complicated from the very simple, and relying on an ever-changing data stream to inform the outcome.

Climatologist Gavin Schmidt explains:

How do you ask questions about expectations in the future? Obviously, you have to have things that are based on the physics that we know. You have to have things that are based on processes we can go and measure, that has to be based on our ability to understand the climate that we have now. Why do you get seasonal cycles? Why do you get storms? What controls the frequency of these events over a winter, over a longer period? What controls the frequency of, say, El Nino events in the tropical Pacific that have impacts on rainfall in California or in Peru or in Indonesia? How do you understand all of those things?

We approach this is in a very ambitious way.

What we have decided, as a scientific endeavor, is to extrapolate as much as we can from our knowledge of the individual processes that we can measure: evaporation from the ocean, the formation of a cloud, rainfall coming from a cloud, changes in the wind patterns as a function of the pressure field, changes in the jet stream. What we have tried to do is encapsulate those small-scale processes, put them altogether, and see if we can predict the emerging properties of that fundamental complex system.

— Russell Weinberger

GAVIN SCHMIDT is a climatologist with NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, where he models past, present, and future climate. His essay "Why Hasn't Specialization Led To The Balkanization Of Science?" in included in What's Next? Dispatches on the Future of Science, edited By Max Brockman.

Gavin Schmidt's Edge Bio Page

THE PHYSICS THAT WE KNOW

Topic: 

  • UNIVERSE
http://vimeo.com/105884032

"We have decided, as a scientific endeavor, to extrapolate as much as we can from our knowledge of the individual processes that we can measure: evaporation from the ocean, the formation of a cloud, rainfall coming from a cloud, changes in wind patterns as a function of the pressure field, changes in the jet stream. What we have tried to do is encapsulate those small-scale processes, put them together, and see if we can predict the emerging properties of that fundamental complex system."

WILL WE DECAMP FOR THE NORTHERN RIM?

[5.25.09]

 

Already the impacts are obvious in the extreme north, where melting Arctic sea ice, drowning polar bears, and forlorn Inuit hunters are by now iconic images of global warming. The rapidity and severity of Arctic warming is truly dramatic. However, the Arctic, a relatively small, thinly populated region, will always be marginal in terms of its raw social and economic impact on the rest of us. The greater story lies to the south, penetrating deeply into the "Northern Rim," a vast zone of economically significant territory and adjacent ocean owned by the United States, Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Russia. As in the Arctic, climate change there has already begun. This zone — which constitutes almost 30 percent of the Earth’s land area and is home to its largest remaining forests, its greatest untouched mineral, water, and energy reserves, and a (growing) population of almost 100 million people — will undergo one of the most profound biophysical and social expansions of this century.

LAURENCE C. SMITH is Professor and vice chairman of geography and professor of earth and space sciences at UCLA. He studies likely impacts of northern climate change including the economic effects in the Northern Rim.

Laurence C. Smith's Edge Bio Page

REALITY CLUB: Stewart Brand, Alun Anderson, Laurence Smith


From WHAT'S NEXT?
Dispatches on the Future of Science
Edited By Max Brockman 

PRESSING QUESTIONS FOR OUR CENTURY

[4.14.09]

Science is the greatest achievement of human history so far. I say that as a huge admirer of the Renaissance and Renaissance art, music and literature, but the world-transforming power of science and the tremendous insights that we've gained show that this is an enterprise, a wonderful collective enterprise, that is a great achievement of humanity. How are we going to make more people party to that? That's a pressing question for our century.

[21 minutes]

AC GRAYLING is Professor of Philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London, and a Supernumerary Fellow of St Anne's College, Oxford. His most recent book is Ideas That Matter.

AC Grayling's Edge Bio Page

PRESSING QUESTIONS FOR OUR CENTURY

Topic: 

  • UNIVERSE
http://vimeo.com/80906318

"Science is the greatest achievement of human history so far. I say that as a huge admirer of the Renaissance and Renaissance art, music and literature, but the world-transforming power of science and the tremendous insights that we've gained show that this is an enterprise, a wonderful collective enterprise, that is a great achievement of humanity. How are we going to make more people party to that? That's a pressing question for our century."

IS THERE A HIGGS?

[3.4.09]

In a very pure sense you build the accelerator you need when you know what the question is.

INTRODUCTION

As an astronomer I'm lucky to work in a subject where there is already public interest, and where it's not too difficult to convey the key ideas and new discoveries in a non-technical and accessible way. It's far harder to make particle physics accessible and interesting. Brian Cox is one of the few scientists who succeed in doing this, and I much admire him for it. It's fortunate that he's been willing to devote so much time and effort to 'outreach'—and especially to seize the opportunity to publicise the LHC launch so effectively. Scientists—not just particle physicists—should be grateful to him for raising the profile of 'blue skies' research so engagingly and effective.

—Martin Rees

Martin Rees, President, The Royal Society; Professor of Cosmology & Astrophysics; Master, Trinity College, University of Cambridge; Author, Our Final Century: The 50/50 Threat to Humanity's Survival.

BRIAN COX is a Royal Society University Research Fellow based in the Particle Physics group at the University of Manchester, where he holds a chair in Particle Physics. He works on the ATLAS experiment at CERN in Geneva. A former rock star, he has become a well-known public communicator of science to the public through highly-regarded television and radio presentations on the BBC and other networks.

Brian Cox's Edge Bio Page

ENGINEERS' DREAMS

[7.13.08]

Only one third of a search engine is devoted to fulfilling search requests. The other two thirds are divided between crawling (sending a host of single-minded digital organisms out to gather information) and indexing (building data structures from the results). Ed's job was to balance the resulting loads.

When Ed examined the traffic, he realized that Google was doing more than mapping the digital universe. Google doesn't merely link or point to data. It moves data around. Data that are associated frequently by search requests are locally replicated—establishing physical proximity, in the real universe, that is manifested computationally as proximity in time. Google was more than a map. Google was becoming something else. ...

Introduction by Stewart Brand

How does one come to a new understanding? The standard essay or paper makes a discursive argument, decorated with analogies, to persuade the reader to arrive at the new insight.

The same thing can be accomplished—perhaps more agreeably, perhaps more persuasively—with a piece of fiction that shows what would drive a character to come to the new understanding. Tell us a story!

This George Dyson gem couldn't find a publisher in a fiction venue because it's too technical, and technical publications (including Wired) won't run it because it's fiction. Shame on them. Edge to the rescue.

—SBB

GEORGE DYSON, a historian among futurists, is the author Baidarka; Project Orion; and Darwin Among the Machines.

George Dyson's Edge Bio Page


BREAKING THE GALILEAN SPELL

[4.11.08]

Even deeper than emergence and its challenge to reductionism in this new scienti?c worldview is what I call breaking the Galilean spell. Galileo rolled balls down incline planes and showed that the distance traveled varied as the square of the time elapsed. From this he obtained a universal law of motion. Newton followed with his Principia, setting the stage for all of modern science. With these triumphs, the Western world came to the view that all that happens in the universe is governed by natural law. Indeed, this is the heart of reductionism. Another Nobel laureate physicist, Murray Gell-Mann, has de?ned a natural law as a compressed description, available beforehand, of the regularities of a phenomenon. The Galilean spell that has driven so much science is the faith that all aspects of the natural world can be described by such laws. Perhaps my most radical scienti?c claim is that we can and must break the Galilean spell. Evolution of the biosphere, human economic life, and human history are partially indescribable by natural law. This claim ?ies in the face of our settled convictions since Galileo, Newton, and the Enlightenment.

STUART A. KAUFFMAN is a professor at the University of Calgary with a shared appointment between biological sciences and physics and astronomy. He is also the leader of the Institute for Biocomplexity and Informatics (IBI) which conducts leading-edge interdisciplinary research in systems biology.

Dr. Kauffman is also an emeritus professor of biochemistry at the University of Pennsylvania, a MacArthur Fellow and an external professor at the Santa Fe Institute. He is the author of The Origins of Order, At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization, Investigations and Reinventing the Sacred: A New View of Science, Reason, and Religion (Basic Books, forthcoming, May 5th).

Stuart A. Kauffman's Edge Bio Page

MODELING THE FUTURE

Topic: 

  • UNIVERSE
http://vimeo.com/80904106

"Warming is unequivocal, that's true. But that's not a sophisticated question. A much more sophisticated question is how much of the climate Ma Earth, a perverse lady, gives us is from her, and how much is caused by us. That's a much more sophisticated, and much more difficult question."

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