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.