Friday, June 24, 2016

Critical Thinking

Its not easy to solve complex situations. One of the subjects I researched while I wrote my books was critical thinking, what it is, where it originated, and how people use it to resolve unforeseen problems.  Not that I've had to face anything as serious as what I imagined for my characters in my stories - but certainly I've had a few smaller experiences that enlisted a series of critical thinking practices. An example that comes to mind was a few years ago when I was traveling to New York on my way to catch another flight across the Atlantic ocean when everything was in perfect order. My flight time was impeccable, my layover was short and I had checked in one bag, busy exploring the airport. Watching the time, everything was going smoothly — perhaps too smoothly— so I had started to get edgy but what could go wrong? Whenever things are good I worry about what could go wrong - but maybe it's how who human brain is works after 200,000 years of avoiding predators. I shrugged off the feeling and complacently explored a book store looking forward to my trip, and then something went wrong — an unforeseen problem.

On the other end of my phone now, is my brother-in-law explaining that he can't move his car because I've blocked it with mine, ( my car is in Florida in his driveway) and he is unable to find my car key anywhere to move it - so he can get to work. I grip the phone. How could such a simple thing go awry?  I had left my car in their driveway, to save on airport parking fees - the usual plan.  My sister drove me to the airport. Nothing to think of really. She thought she had a copy of my car key – she thought – but as it turns out, she didn't. They are in Florida and I am certainly not – ready to leave the country for two weeks. He calmly asks, but yet I sense a panicked tone in his voice - if can overnight my car key? A simple situation, and certainly not the worst, but a critical problem none the less. Due to time and circumstances, I navigate my way through the airport looking for one thing. A post office! But don't ever waste your time looking for one from inside JFK, you won't find it much less a a padded envelope or a postage stamp.

It seems limitations are going to frustrate me as I go around in circles but time is at hand. Sighing I return to security where moments ago I removed my shoes, my belt, all electronics and so on, and underwent scanning. I am annoyed but realize I need to find a way. Frustrated, but thinking of my brother in law who takes matters into his own hands, if you don't —  well just then a friendly security guard told me there is a system there to mail things out. A UPS mailbox does exist at a checkpoint for passengers to mail themselves items that airport security can't let through. Yes there is a solution :)

A little creativity was needed to pull it off, so I purchase the thickest card and envelope I could find, slipped the car key inside with a note, and addressed it to my MIB. Inconvenient as it was,  I sent the key. I think the postage stamp was inside a coin machine. Maybe things have changed for mailing something at JFK since then, but navigating the most unlikely and somewhat humorous of problems like this can also be a hassle. I made my flight by the way with a few seconds to spare.After all that, when I arrived in Europe and called them be sure my key arrived intact, they did in fact find their original copy of my car key...

(The term critical thinking, is believed to be western in origination (Grk. κριτικός = kritikos = "critic") derives from the word critic is the intellectual capacity and the means "of judging", "of judgement", "for judging", and of being "able to discern)

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Nasa Kepler-452b

We are on the verge of finding life on other planets in our starry sea. Under the warmth of our sun, with hydrogen, helium, oxygen, and water, life arose here. But yet this universal equation, this model of life, of suns, and planets and goldilocks orbits, is not finite in the surrounding regions of space. The evidence is faint, but abundant and unmistakable, and at the center of this cosmic tale, is a Nasa telescope, called Kepler, that sends us evidence and pictures of literally thousands, if not million of other planets, similar to our own Earth. Kepler orbits the sun trailing earth, pointing to the northern constellations of Cygnus, Lyra and Draco.

Known as exoplanets, Kepler 425b was one of these highlighted discoveries, carefully presented by Nasa because it met the cosmic life equation, in an orbit around a G2 class sun just like ours, in an orbit distance almost exactly of Earth, spinning around its sun in just 385 days, so similar to Earth that it creates a perplexing and troubling idea that this discovery could the beginning of the answer - are we alone?

Although the 452b star system is much older, emitting more heat than ours, the planet that orbits this sun is almost two times bigger than Earth offsetting the temperatures, striking the delicate balance of a life supporting ratio also coined as the Goldilocks zone. Not too cold, not too hot, but just right - for the primordial porridge of life.

Despite the growing collection of planets, the archives of Kepler seem to be telling us a tale that we may be as radiant and unique as the stars, and so far we have not found an Earth twin. It seems fair to say, this universe may not dominated by a delicate circumstellar range - yet - with time the "Rare Earth" debate might be challenged, and theres no way to refute the growing evidence of Kepler's observations. The answers are not entirely satisfying and the distance is still too vast to know for sure so the truth will have to rest entirely on scientific models and the evidence to lead the way. Perplexing and troubling as this may be, we need to prepare ourselves when we find out, at some point in the future. The next telescope Nasa is sending up called the James Webb Telescope (JWST) will collect and broaden even more information for exoplanets, epoch reionization, and galaxy debris. 

Its an imposing question in an endless universe but like the stars, we are born, live for a time and expand. At first we might struggle for an explanation, but the sense of urgency and dealing with existing beliefs is at hand. The key to information is enormously important, but in the face of scientific truth and controversy, what Kepler doesn't hand us is the subtle time to prepare, deliberate and reason. 

Scientific discoveries will deeply challenge our beliefs but what happens next is just another chapter in our cosmos. Earth is a rocky planet orbiting a G2 star in a quiet suburb of barred spiral galaxy. Kepler 425b and other planets may prove be more like cousins rather than twins but there still quite a few G2's out there, with an estimated 5% in our galaxy alone equaling billions. In all this thermal noise, gas and dust - hitch yourself to a star, but fasten your seatbelt and hang on. Ready or not, here it comes.