Monday, October 16, 2017

The Oxygen Event

In the beginning...

The earth sat still, and empty, with an ocean and land for about 2.5 billion years. There was an atmosphere, but no oxygen as we breath now. There were no beasts, fish, or fowl. No dinosaurs, no lizards - nothing. There was only land and sea, and anaerobic bacteria. All oxygen was locked up in water molecules or bonded to iron in minerals. Not a sound could be heard, but the wind and the waves.  For 2.5 billion years. Science calls this the pre-GOE ocean. 


But at some point... oxygen began production. This was done by something called Cynobacteria. Cynobactera are photosynthetic and turn sunlight into energy to produce oxygen as a waste product. Suddenly the Anaerob's died off and the Cyno's took over. Then life began as we know it. This turn of events is whats called the Great Oxygenation Event. 


Some believe a meteor was the catalyst that hit Earth to help create this "oxygen" event - because meteors can carry cyanobacteria. At this point, read on, because I'm about to merge science fiction with fiction. But don't take this in a light hearted manner - because I could be right...


Certain scientists have suspicions that life on meteors and the fact that they go around the universe slamming into planets is deliberate. What would you do if you were an advanced civilization facing catastrophic annihilation? What if you were being wiped out by another race of beings who were going to end your kind forever? What would you do to secure and expand life that could become similar to yours throughout in the universe? Well... there is one way, and that would be to use meteors as payloads that carry DNA, proteins, complex mixtures of alkanes, amino acids and other carbonaceous chondrites. Payloads could also include extremophiles for diverse environments and cyanobacteria similar to early microorganisms. This is whats known as the theory of directed panspermia.


This bold speculation was first proposed in 1973 by Nobel prize winner Professor Francis Crick, OM FRA, along with British chemist Leslie Orgel. Crick proposed that small grains containing DNA-the building blocks of life, could be loaded on meteors - on purpose - and fired randomly in all directions.  Crick and Orgel were careful to point out that Directed Panspermia was not a certainty; but rather a plausible alternative that ought to be taken seriously.


This strategy of using of fleets of microbial capsules would be the most cost effective idea for seeding life on compatible planets at some time in the future. Because of their extremely small size, vast numbers of microorganisms can be carried, without any special equipment. Meteor storage is made for very long periods at low temperatures - and go unnoticed. Meteors could have been aimed at us, and at other clusters of new stars in star-forming clouds where they acted as delivery agents once they landed here. Once more, hardy multicellular organize (rotifer cysts) may be included to induce higher evolution.


The discovery that raw components of life are present on meteors that hit Earth have been countless and suggest that life exists elsewhere. Not only does it exist, the speculation is that when it hits this planet, it affects the balance of life here as well.  To surmise that someone else began life here as we know is plausible. Sending out a little raw material of their own via interstellar travel made its way to Earth is certainly not impossible. The 1973 paper focuses on the universality of the genetic code and the role that molybdenum plays in living organisms.


Strangely enough in 2015 astrobiologist Milton Wainwright and a team of researchers found a small minuscule metal globe with a gooey biological material oozing from its center on a high-flying ballon in Earth's stratosphere. A metal globe from origins unknown. It hit the ballon hard and left a tiny impact mark like a crater, and they found it. They still don't know what it is - but they are certainly scratching their heads thinking about what Crick proposed over forty years ago. This thing they found may be proof of alien biological seeds of life.  But its not just this finding, it many others including algae like fossils found in a meteorite fragment from Sri Lanka in 2013. There's been a multitude of meteors that have hit us with alien life, including the Murchison meteorite. That one hit Australia in 1969. The Murchison was part of a class of meteors called the CM group. (carbonaceous chondrites) which means these meteors experienced extensive alterations by water-rich fluids on its parent body before falling to Earth.


It is difficult to prove if life started elsewhere or here ab inito without disturbance from elsewhere. I prefer to maintain that the universe is a starry soup and the idea of contamination or infection is a feeble notion. We ourselves may be the result of certain chemistries found on other planets. We are not infecting Mars, or other planets - we are already from out there and deeply connected. We are alive, one way or the other, headed for a future, coded and set to survive, by origins - unknown.

Friday, September 1, 2017

The Antikthyera Mechanism




This story begins as the many great stories do, with a ship, captain and crew in the year 1900 who were simply going about their business as sponge divers. Returning to Greece from an expedition around Africa - the ship had cautiously avoided an approaching storm in the north of Crete and set sail to an outlying island for safety called Antikythera. Being a resourceful man, captain Kondos sent down a diver to see about collecting a few more sponges while they waited for the storm to pass. But something far more astounding awaited Kondos and his crew that day. Beneath the waves and depths of the seas destiny and the powers of time had been ordered to a single purpose and place.

Within minutes, a diver named Stadiatos resurfaced shouting frantically that he had seen hundreds of corpses and horses strewn below. Confounded, Kondo's thought maybe Stadiatos had lost his mind. Kondos quickly pulled on a canvas diving suit and a copper bell helmet and went down to take a look.

It turns out what Stadiatos thought were bodies were actually bronze sculptures from an ancient ship wreck. It seems they had crossed the oceans many times, and now they had crossed the oceans of time. Kondos and his crew took action and retrieved what they could bringing the treasure. For what mysterious circumstances had brought them there but an experienced diving crew, a ship, and specialized equipment to bring up treasure from the sea? But then again there are random things that happen in this universe for which we may never truly understand...

Soon after, the Hellenic Navy explored the wreck and collected more of the valuable marble, coins, and other precious artifacts along with a few curious lumps of stone that that looked like intricate metallic gears. Although interesting, these pieces were largely ignored for almost fifty years until an English physicist named Derek Price took notice. 


Price discovered that they were part of an ancient device, but not just any device - it was something more like an analogue computer. There was an instructive script carved into it that placed it around 200 B.C. period - about 2000 years ago. The device functioned by turning a single input knob, where you could select a date, and the machine would predict with incredible accuracy the positions of the sun, the moon and five planets and the phases of the moon.Dials on the back predicted solar eclipses and the Calyppic cycle.

I wonder if Price yelled out "Eureka" because as it turns out famed Archimedes - the Eureka man himself and the greatest mathematician of all time, was the inventor of this incredible machine. The story goes that Archimedes yelled out "Eureka!" as he ran naked in a street after he watched his own tub water overflow. He calculated that the water that overflowed could be measured equating his mass in the tub. Therefor being able to solve the problem of mass. Eureka!


Archimedes came up with other amazing inventions too, including a mind blowing weapon known as the death ray, where he used gigantic mirrors to aim beams of sunlight at Roman ships to set them on fire.

It's tragic to know, after all of his accomplishments that Archimedes was brutally murdered by a Roman soldier. According to Plutarch, Archimedes was researching a mathematical diagram, when a Roman soldier ordered him to meet General Marcus who was engaged in the siege of Syracuse. But Archimedes declined saying that he had to finish his diagram. Furious, the Roman soldier killed Archimedes.


Despite a his brutal murder,  his inventions and his life were marvelous. Archimedes benevolent influenced rippled, growing from small rings to the rolling waves just beyond our sight.  His life persevered over his death and sent us this serendipity.

Although I am slightly obsessed with this story other people have been too. Hublot's master watchmakers made a replica of the Antikythera mechanism a few years ago scaled down to wristwatch size. The piece was nearly impossible to create and the designers built nonlinear gearings to simulate elliptical patterns in the solar system. It sells online for $233,100.00. Just a little pocket change.

Quite a treasure but the harnessing of time and the original idea was created long ago by a brilliant mathematician, and a brave hero.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tIF9-U9lE9o

https://www.jomashop.com/hublot-watch-908-ox-1010-gr.html

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Dark Side Of Space



Things sometimes come in threes. The Atlantis space shuttle had 85 seconds before insulation hit their shuttle and caused damage. The Columbia had 83 seconds with the same exact problem. The Challenger's went a lot worse, with just 73 seconds during ascent - but all three shuttles had problems within seconds of launch, and all three incidents had to do with the giant external tank system that lifted them into space. But only ONE shuttle survived - The Atlantis. That third thing with space shuttles was narrowly avoided.

The STS-27 was the number given to the Atlantis for a substantially dangerous mission that remains a mystery - because they survived. Upon landing, the magnitude of the damage to the shuttle was severe, with seven hundred damaged tiles on the craft. One tile was completely torn off and the ship avoided burning up thanks to a steel and aluminum section underneath. So thanks to a steel plate, they survived. But should we really count on steel? I'm a little more interested in a rumor about a secret (Extravehicular Activity) E.V.A. space walk that isn't fully revealed.

Once into space and in orbit,  is it known Commander Robert Gibson suspected outer wing damage, and he was right. Just eighty-five seconds into flight, ablative insulating material from the right hand solid rocket booster had damaged the ship. But due to a complication involving security, mission control wasn't able to see the images clear enough to agree. Because of this disagreement Gibson became infuriated. Although the supposed space walk remains a question, it's well known that Gibson planned to tell mission control exactly what he thought of thier dubious analysis in the remaining seconds before his death if he didn't make it through re-entry. Maybe at that point he would have revealed exactly what he did know but it never became a necessity. The commander and crew grabbed a hold of destiny, and shook their space gloved fists to the cosmos that they weren't about to become a fatality. 

I've read about the shuttles for many years but never really understood the connections between these missions. The information about the Atlantis struck me as important so I saved the file as a PDF to return to later.  Once I poured through the details, I finally understood the Columbia's tragedy. The heart of the investigation centered on the the fact that the Columbia crew might have been saved. The Atlantis had been on a launching pad ready to go at the time the Columbia was in peril. But the Atlantis never went up to help and no effort was made on behalf of the Columbia before they made their fatal re-entry. Just incase you aren't familiar with re-entry its dangerous business because a wave of extreme heat engulfs the ship for a time upon return.  Investigators found out the Atlantis could have been launched just five days early and gotten the crew off the Columbia —or repaired the wing maybe, just like Gibson did for the Atlantis in 1988. This was the reason the shuttle program was halted and investigated. Why didn't the Columbia realize? If only they had taken heed like Gibson. Soon afterwards improvements were made to help the safety of the program. 

Looking back to the much luckier mission - the STS-27, it's documented that even though the crew faced death in the eye, they also managed to keep a sense of humor during their mishap and played a song on the fourth crucial day of their mission - "Do you want to know a secret." Its a weird parody of a Beatles song by - Mike Cahill. I tried to find the lyrics. Well, they aren't available and remain part of a classified file. 

Theres been a few clues however about how many EVA's have been performed giving us a hint about a space walk during the mission, but my take on the whole incident is, its just good to know this crew managed to survive. I don't like dig it up, but the fact is theres been a large number of accidents and close calls in space. Some have been as bizarre as a small fire to carbon dioxide poisoning and worse. But space is a dangerous place to be, and at times deadly. 

There are ancient definitions of bravery that describe men who are best prepared for life and for whom their welfare alone depends upon themselves, or nearly so, instead of hanging their hopes on other people. If this is true, then this was one of those times when astronauts swayed their future and exemplified courage in the purist sense against the dark side of space. 

Coincidentally three (three comes up again) of our biggest losses in space happened on the same calendar week - The Apollo 1, the Challenger and the Columbia. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

My Space Drama! From Phobos To Mars....




------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Science fiction author K. Van Kramer invited to a Barnes & Noble Spring Author Signing, May 27, 2017


Van Kramer joins local authors in St. Petersburg, Florida, to help promote the second book of her series "From Phobos To Mars",  as part of Silver Leaf Books Publishing's science fiction line.

Book Two "From Phobos To Mars" follows the story a quiet agricultural scientist who winds up center stage in a mission to help a small Martian colony sustain crops for survival. Aided by her boyfriend Xanders, and her prodigy son, it's not easy to survive on Mars or explain the stolen genetic mutant crop seeds that she brought with her - much less handle the politics. Complete with a bar fight on Mars, there's a bit more than punches flying around in this low gravity brawl.

Van Kramer says: 'This is a classic space opera, the good old stuff that includes space warfare, melodramatic adventure, chivalric romance and risk-taking. Set in a technologically advanced underground city on Mars, emotional conflicts and personal interests arise amid state-of-the-art technology, and the small beginnings of this fledgling colony become a classic stage for space piracy, military laws and planetary romance. I have a fondness for courageous, misunderstood risk takers like my main protagonist — Dr. Lirren Lamaar, who finds a way to contribute to the colony through her work, amid the chaos and rigorous uncertainties that surround her.'

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------



Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Weather Wars


Chapter 1
Washington D.C. - Year 2072


Due to continued global warming, Canada’s northwest passages had begun opening up a new territorial coup with shipping routes that involved the Russians in a region known as the EEZ. The Russians had sometimes jokingly referred to this area as EEZY because they believed a conflict with the Canadians over a few new shipping lanes in their arctic regions had been “easy.” EEZY was a play on an anagram from the exclusive economic zone known as the EEZ where international law states no one owns the North Pole. The United States President soon attended the usual round of urgent meetings asking Canada for a united front in response to Russia who had aggressively reopening military bases in the Arctic. Not long afterwards sanctions were imposed on the Russians. Global warming took on a new meaning when other things besides carbon emissions began to heat up the global atmosphere. After the U.S. continued with simulated attacks on Russian submarines they knew had entered international waters outside of Canada’s arctic regions. Canada claimed this region was theirs but the Russians had been using this route for decades with the help of ice breaker ships. Since twenty-five percent of the worlds untapped oil and gas reserves were located in the Arctic region, the Canadians clashed with U.S. as nations scrambled to lay claim to the riches that lay beneath the ice. 

In the mean time Russian bombers regularly ranged deep into the disputed area. Involving warships and aircraft from Canada, an unfortunate conflict occurred and a few hundred Canadians were killed during their NATO mission in a show down with the USA after the USA decided to lay claim to the region to stop the Russians. Soon after the incident, during a series of investigations, the Canadians uncovered top secret files from a group of Russian scientists who reported something unusual while on a routine oil expedition. Inside the report there was evidence of something that was buried under the ice up there …something…not from Earth. 

The Canadians quickly washed their hands of the file, and turned it over to the U.S. The DoD soon got a hold of it but the Joint Chief of Staff - a man of little patience for such an unlikely ill-defined scenario. After a brief meeting where he was met with a certain lack of enthusiasm with his colleagues in the intelligence community and military, he realized that an investigation could not be put down on paper. Any potential evidence of aliens under the ice triggered a whole set of thorny questions but the Chief still believed it was prudent to have a plan. With an overflowing plate on his hands he quickly handed it off to an experienced colleague by the name of Chris Kyle. A former deputy assistant secretary of defense for intelligence, Chris had muddled through other reports in the past on "issues related to UFO's or extraterrestrials" and worked inside an unofficial department with the DoD. 

Kyle soon began to make phone calls to collect his usual handful of top specialists. Scanning over the report knew he would have to track down a petroluem engineer from Moscow by the name of Mikhailo Kiev, and graduate of the Russian Academy Of Sciences, who originally lead the Russian team and signed the report. He had disappeared soon after the report was made. Complicating matters more for Chris was a "Beach-Comber" German spy who claimed he worked for the Canadian Meteorologist Service but who really informed the allies of the Russian whereabouts. Apparently this Beach-Comber also had information concerning a Nazi U-581 wreck listed in the very same area of question...could the two strange incidences be linked somehow?

to be improved edited, and continued at a later time...!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Art Matters

I recently ran across a great article published by a scientist who argued that the arts are far more important than the sciences. His catch phrase that was titled  "We need science to live, but the humanities make life livable." As I studied his story further he demanded that such famous physics equations like E=mc2 could have been discovered by someone else had not Einstein lived, but no one else could have ever created Beethoven's 9th Symphony had not Beethoven lived. This struck me as a profound argument and grabbed my attention.

There is no universal agreement on this question but its not a new debate. It's a long standing one, that stems back to Aristotle, and  most likely before him too. Plato stood by math naming it once as the "God geometries." He believed only math would discover the "numbers and forms" of the divinely ordered cosmos.

Bu let us also consider the artists and lets not forget Socrates, who was his teacher -  differed from Plato and stated that enshrining math hampered the imagination telling only what should be rather than what is... I politely also consider that it was the writers (however the difference of opinion) who record these important doctrines. We as artists cannot forget this argument as we stand in awe at the Parthenon, or look at a marble sculpture in Athens. Is it not the arts that engages us, and gives us a breath of life?

In the defense of science, great art is not so "frilly -nilly". Good art depends on skill, concentration, focus, experience and knowledge- including numbers. Drawing a human figure is all about biology, and what makes a good composition has everything to do with math - in a sense. Knowing and understanding proportions like that the head is exactly 1/16 the height of a body, vanishing points, distance, composition, planes of distance, perspective and foreshortening is all about equations. These equations brought us out of the baroque, into the renaissance. Some of these secrets are very basic - for instance - that you should never divide a landscape exactly in half as it will bore the viewer, or that three points in a painting hidden as a triangle will create a significant balance. In addition large frescoes in the past - commonly used mathematical grids for accuracy. These seemingly opposing disciplines are more harmonious than we think. I haven't even gotten into the Golden Ratio...


I do agree that for instance had I not lived that no one else could write my stories which makes my accomplishments unique. I can stamp my name on them as indeed one of a kind. Although my purpose is to make life enjoyable, I can't really help us live. On the other hand, anyone who argues the point against art suggests that love and compassion are not a necessity. Art is not necessary to live, but without it we lose our humanity. In ancient times lived the greatest of philosophers who aligned themselves with the arts as much as the sciences, while they simply ate bread. 


What art simply means is that we have bodies, but we also have minds that yearn to know and go beyond our capacity to simply live. Arts are a sign of a human existence and economy which can afford to go beyond daily necessities. Art is a sign that we have the ability to stop and reflect ourselves which is gravely important.  

Creative forces are a drive inside any disciplines, and the make-up of the human mind.

Science will find the stars and the artists will continue to dream of ways to get there. It can be deeply engaging, innovative and a high velocity experience when these two sides take notice and willfully respect one another. 





Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Origin Of Life - Cosmic Ancestry


In 1969, near the town of Murchison, Australia, a bright fireball slammed into the earth and created a tremor felt for miles around. Leaving a cloud of smoke, it was soon discovered that the object was a meteorite - spewing fragments in a thirteen mile radius. Upon impact, the space rock remained intact, but several small fragments broke off and fell through a barn roof onto a pile of hay. This strange and distant flight through space, couldn't have been better directed as a sci-fi thriller, except that it really happened and was found smoldering on a haystack. But this is only the beginning of the story...

Known as the Murchison meteorite it belonged to a group of meteorites rich in organic compounds.
The meteorite belonged to something called a CM group (carbonaceous chondrites) which meant it experienced extensive alterations by water-rich fluids on its parent body before falling to Earth. Parent body. Are you hearing this? Water rich fluids.....parent body. This means it came from a planet like ours. Shocked? I was. But wait, it gets even better.

Like certain other meteors it contained the basic components of life building chemicals known as amino acids. A complex mixture of alkanes was isolated as well. In 2010, we studied the meteorite again, and used spectroscopy this time,  identifying 70 amino acids, for a potential of over 50,000 more unique molecular compositions. This leaves the possibilities that millions of distinct organic compounds exist just in this one fragment from space. But don't get bored yet. It all means something very profound.

Later into the study the report found that these amino acids, were racemic and therefore formed in a natural manner because it's terrestrial proteins were all of the L-configurations.  The L or (left) configuration - also known as chirality, is a mystifying biological event, where amino acids, the little building blocks of life tend to build in a left hand way and not right. The mirror-image asymmetry of life is one of the biggest mysteries in biology, but it also happens to be how life is built here on Earth. And all of these little proteins and amino acids are what creates DNA and essentially what we are made of as well. It is not clear why nature elects a particular chirality, yet there are some organisms here that are symmetrical like flowers or the fivefold symmetry of a jellyfish. We are a part of this chemical make-up as well. Think about it. Humans beings are built with symmetry - for instance, our right hand to our left hand, and our right leg to our left.

So this one little piece of rock from space, definitely made an impact. Lets just say a ripple, in how we understand the origins of life.  Chirality in nature, and evidence struck upon us in 1969, leaves a few questions open, and envisages life on Earth as an extraterrestrial origin. This crack in our biological mirror suggests there is a potential relationship between life from outer-space and life on Earth.  Could extraterrestrial meteors have brought a program with them, to make us, when they hit our planet long ago? The evidence to support the idea continues to beg the question. Also known as cosmic ancestry this is a alluring theory and one that continues to be debated alongside evolution based research. Evolution, gene regulation and how we became what we are is deeply connected to the idea that we are the result of materials sent from an unknown maker outside of our galaxy. Many scientists remain skeptical of this idea, while others look to the heavens to explain how this planet's biological bias first arose.  The only way we can know for sure, is to set up our very own lab capable of evolution on its own which has never been accomplished so far.

Maybe this information is familiar to you, but the idea of cosmic ancestry is being investigated heavily and with great interest around the world.  The debate continues but countless scientific papers and biological research are published that helps support the theory. I hope I didn't lose you in the science but interstellar life and panspermia hypothesis gets pretty darn interesting when experts consistently publish research supporting evidence that our genes were programed before they were deployed on Earth, leaving no opportunity for standard darwinian trail-and-error. As it turns out, the latest research seems to point out that gene conversion keeps silent and protected over long periods of time. The stuff we used to call "junk" lies uncorrupted and protected over many generations confirming fundamental predictions of cosmic ancestry that explains life is older than Earth. 

I recently came across an article that said science studies life like a book, looking at the ink and the paper the book is made upon, but sometimes misses the study of the author who wrote it. As a writer I was drawn to that analogy. But as far as cosmic origin, I tend to think we will eventually conclude we are indeed connected to the universe in ways we never imagined.

Where do new genes come from? Geneticists in China and Canada offer an answer in a recentreport, "De Novo Origin of Human Protein-Coding Genes)(19 November 2011 )

What's NEW in Cosmic Ancestry, Apr-Jun 2013. by Brig Klyce

The industrial melanism mutation in British peppered moths is atransposable element
Published online 01 June 2016

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Day After Tomorrow

The Day After Tomorrow is a disaster film epic when a paleoclimatologist must make a daring trek across America to reach his son, after being trapped in the middle of a sudden global warming storm that triggers the Earth into a new Ice Age. 

In the doomsday scenario, the action adventure begins with series of behind the scenes scientists who keep track of the AMOC or The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation. Over a short time, a small group of specialists, become aware of sudden changes in the ocean temperature, which causes the Earth to enter into a ice age collapse. They try to convince Washington and warn everyone, but no one believes them, and it's too late. The second ice age hits. I like the scene where the son and his friends remain alive in the NYC Library burning books in a giant fireplace within an inch of their lives. It's also intriguing to see an old pay phone used in an early scene, to make a last ditch call, after cell phones become useless. A little known fact these days is that pay phones use old fashion but stable underground wiring, which can survive almost anything. 

The funny thing about science fiction however, is this little thing called science fact, and certain aspects of these stories are not as outlandish as you may think. Tomorrow is, to a certain degree, based on solid scientific fact. Everyone these days seems so focused on "warming" but lets not forget the camp of people concerned about "freezing." And what exactly are they talking about? Well, Yale University scientist Wei Liu has calculated this movie scenario could be true. According to his recent research at UW Madison, our precious beautiful planet, could collapse within 300 years. Climate change could become so extreme that it could trigger a cataclysmic collapse of a vital Atlantic Ocean current just as Tomorrow predicts. Note he says - extreme. Not warming or freezing in particular but both, and to the extreme. Parts of the Northern Hemisphere could turn into a frigid ice age. Published in Science Advances, his study shows that once atmospheric carbon dioxide increases to 710 parts per million, the AMOC will break down and trigger a major sea ice expansion. Last weeks levels are already at 405 parts per million. Are you reading the numbers here? The prominent cooling of the norther North Atlantic could begin to disrupt the normal rain belt areas beginning a significant push southward over the tropical Atlantic. 

Without cold water moving south again, this scenario would create a stronger warming pattern south of the equator, and more rain would fall for places like Brazil and less rain for Central America.The model also predicts a reduction in the Antartic sea ice.

Wei warns us that this fragile life-sustaining AMOC has been overlooked in climate change models. "The significance of our study is to point out a systematic bias in current climate models that hinders a correct climate projection," he said in a statement. 

Co-author Zhengyu Liu of the University of Wisconsin- Madison said his earlier views of the AMOC being stable has completely changed since publishing the results of the test.

A shutdown they call it, where "prominant cooling" of the northern North Atlantic begins with a remarkable sea ice expansion turning North America into a frigid wasteland in a matter of weeks. 



Saturday, January 7, 2017

The Science Of Coincidence

Are certain events connected? Is there some universal force at play showing us that everything is linked or do things only happen because of chance? The doctrine that everything happens for a reason has intellectual variants stemming all the way back to Greek philosophers. Aristotle believed that learning brings about the coincidence of the knowable by nature with the knowable to us. Since synchronicity cannot be explained by classical means, scientists have recently looked to Quantum physics for an explanation. The theory called Quantum entanglement could explain connections which happen between mind and matter and between the minds of multiple people. Quantum physics sees the unconscious mind as similar to an electron, in various potential states. This brings us full circle back to Aristotle and points us right back to evidence that actions extend beyond the individual mind and that our bonds are more than chance. 

Coincidences are also described in physics as function f(X) of a random variable X which obeys an arbitrary probability distribution P(X). What this math equation boils down to, is for instance if your friend lives at house F, while you set out from house A. Unbeknownst to you, your friend also sets out to meet you at house A. If all the possible paths you and your friend could take are both equally likely, what is the probability that the two of you will meet? Mathematicians with say that all coincidences are constrained by the nature of the underlying random probability distribution. However if it happens more than once, it is not considered a coincidence. In the language of statistics the hypothesis claims that the underlying distribution is random,whereas the alternative hypothesis is the claim that it isn't. The Z-test calculates that if a random chance is more or less than 5% - if not the null hypothesis is considered highly unlikely.


Well, its hard for me to fall into the camp of "Z". My experiences just don't seem to fit inside the math of "X, Y and Z". For instance recently after hiking to a large waterfall called Veil falls with my sister on a hot summer day we headed back down a long trail to her car parked a few miles away. Alongside of to our left was an expansive cold river that swept along rocks, that became still or rushed fast and deep depending on the area. Suddenly we heard a woman cry out for help in the river to our left.  My sister stopped and called out to lend a hand, pushing through the tall reeds along the bank. The woman grabbed her hand and as my sister helped pull her from the river to the embankment the woman recognized my sister, and said dubiously, "Kris?" Latched behind her were her two daughters also in tubes. She had panicked because they couldn't control their floats to get to the landing area on the other side of the river, and were headed into a rapids. As I helped pull the three of them out, this did strike me as odd. That the one week I was there, and the one day we had escaped to see the falls, and at that the very second we were close to the rivers edge - that she had called out for help, and that we would hear it. Just a minute before or after and we wouldn't have been in the same section of the trail or the river. But wait, theres more. It also just so happened that this colleague was from a job my sister had at one time, and my sister was due to interview and possibly return to this same job the following Monday. Well if you are curious, she was hired.


Coincidences like this to me seem to fly in the face of reason and even suggest the mysterious. Believer or not, the study of coincidence puts people into three camps, although coincidences are not predicted by age, gender or occupation. Skeptics - the first group, believe a coincidence is just a statistic. "Believers", are those inclined to understand that such occurrences are evidence of something more mysterious and hidden than beyond the end of your nose. And then there is also someone called the "Rational" which argues that coincidences are the product or rational cognitive processes, and are an unavoidable result of our mind searching for causality in reality. 


A study by Robert Brotherton at Goldsmiths University of London and Christopher French at Goldsmiths University of London shows that people who hold strong beliefs in conspiracy theories tend to make more errors in understanding statistical concepts. Susan Jane Blackmore at the University of Plymouth and her colleagues have shown that people who tend to hold strong beliefs in the paranormal also tend not to be good at tests of probabilistic reasoning, or generating and spotting randomness in series of numbers. 


I tend to believe that if a mathematician or a researcher puts numbers into this equation, and even to say, that certain people are short on reasoning because they believe there is something more than the eye perceives, maybe they are in fact, just a bit too cynical. If you want to describe everything in numbers and equations, you may just by coincidence, resolve the meaning of the universe or connect the dots to quantum entanglement.