Monday, November 20, 2017

The Stars Overhead

I love stargazing. Using telescopes and binocs to look at the stars is great, but something about looking at the stars at night with your own eyes is just magical. It reconnects us with ancient people, who knew the heavens above so very well, even if we have more knowledge now about what those stars really are.

As a communicator of science, I've been slowly building up my set of tools to use to share science in various ways. One things I've been wanting to do for a long time, but just haven't accomplished is producing videos of my field work, videos about science, and videos about the awe and wonder I feel in the presence of thinking about the universe and that I know many others likely share as well. So I've decided to start doing it! I'm going to be producing videos (hopefully one each week or two) to share these things.

The first one to get started with is a video about the stars you can see overhead at night. I'm still finding my voice and my style, but, if you have a moment, give it a watch and, please, let me know what you think. 

Friday, November 17, 2017

Humanity, Technology, and an "Einstein Quote" that Einstein Never Said.

I was recently thinking about the film Powder. Released in 1995 and starring Sean Patrick Flannery, Mary Steenburgen, Jeff Goldblum, and Lance Henriksen, Powder was about a young albino man, nicknamed Powder, with unique capabilities of intellect, telepathy, and paranormal ability. The man is an outcast due to his differences, and the film explores some of his interactions with others. The tagline for the film was "An extraordinary encounter with another human being!". Here's the trailer for the film:

It's definitely worth a watch. I remember being quite moved by it when I was a kid (I was 12 when the film came out). There's one scene in particular that stuck with me and comes up in my thoughts from time-to-time. Jeff Goldblum's character, Donald Ripley, is supportive of Powder and awed by Powder's abilities. In the scene that I still remember so well, the following exchange is had between the two of them:

Donald Ripley: “It’s become appallingly clear that our technology has surpassed our humanity.”

Powder: “Albert Einstein.”

Donald Ripley: “I look at you, and I think that someday our humanity might actually surpass our technology.”

Beautiful, right?! I loved that scene as a kid, and I still love it now. However, something very interesting that I just learned is that the first part of the quote ("It's become appallingly clear...") isn't actually a quote from Albert Einstein!

Folks at Quote Investigator and Snopes have tried to track down this claimed Einstein quote and have found that the first instance of the quote in known history actually is the movie Powder! The quote was written into the script as being from Einstein even though it wasn't actually an Einstein quote. Later, due to the film, others began using the quote and misattributing it to Einstein (such as DeAnna Emerson’s "Mars/Earth Enigma: A Sacred Message to Mankind" in 1996 and Nina L. Diamond's "Voices of Truth: Conversations with Scientists, Thinkers, and Healers" in 2000).

It's still a great quote and a moving sentiment. It reminds me of what I found to be the most powerful line in Martin Luther King Jr.'s essay "The World House":

"When scientific power outruns moral power, we end up with guided missiles and misguided men."

Of course, the quote from Powder sounds like something that Albert Einstein would have said. And, even though I think it's good to be aware of things like misattribution, there's also something interesting about how we often will begin building legends around famous people from our past (and even present) and can slowly attribute talents, spoken words, and acts to those legends that may not have been true of the actual people the legends are based on. 
Maybe it doesn't matter that Einstein never actually said that. Maybe part of the legend of Einstein, the myth of the man, is that we build him up and attribute sayings and deeds to him that weren't really his. Even though I prefer knowing the truth in this instance, it might just be part of our human nature that we build our legends up in such ways. It's definitely something to ponder.

I'll leave you here with a quote that is pretty surely actually from Einstein:

"The value of an education in a liberal arts college is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think something that cannot be learned from textbooks."

(Of course, many have shortened the quote to say "The value of an education is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think". Oh well.)

Monday, November 13, 2017

Und Here Ve See zee Illusive Anglerfish!

Anglerfish are some of the most bizarre creatures on our planet. They sport the well-known fleshy lures, dangling from the front of their bodies to entice prey organisms to come in close for a better look (and, then, only to get chomped on). Their bodies tend to be compressed, making them weirdly blobby or weirdly elongated (depending on the species). Some of them also have some of the strangest sexual dimorphism, where the male of a given species may be incredibly small compared to the females. 

I just stumbled upon the video below on the Facebook page for the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI). They captured a video of an anglerfish 600 m (1968.5 ft) down in the ocean using the Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) Doc Ricketts. Take a look at the bizarre creature as it swims among the marine snow, sporting its "luminous lure at the tip" (as it was described by MBARI's Bruce Robison).

Here's the description offered by MBARI for the video:

"Deep-sea anglerfish are strange and elusive creatures that are very rarely observed in their natural habitat. Fewer than half a dozen have ever been captured on film or video by deep diving research vehicles. This little angler, about 9 cm long, is named Melanocetus. It is also known as the Black Seadevil and it lives in the deep dark waters of the Monterey Canyon. MBARI's ROV Doc Ricketts observed this anglerfish for the first time at 600 m on a midwater research expedition in November 2014. We believe that this is the first video footage ever made of this species alive and at depth."

Still haven't had enough? Check out a longer, narrated version of the video from MBARI here: