Posts Tagged ‘Newton’

Gravity and the Dunning-Krueger Effect

December 10, 2019

Ask someone what they think gravity is and they will remember Sir Isaac Newton and the falling apple. And they will think that gravity is something that keeps us attached to the earth. But it is unlikely that they understand the truly remarkable contribution of Newton. Newton realized that gravity was operating in space and in the interactions of objects in space. He studied the data and over many years of data collection and mathematical developments he described how gravity affected the entire universe. And these descriptions were precise enough so that predictions could be made.

Most people think of gravity as a force of nature, but it is not necessarily a force. Newton thought of gravity less as a force than as something mysterious that acts across space. Einstein also thought of gravity less as a force than as something mysterious that acts across space. Quantum physicists agree with both Newton and Einstein: Gravity is something.

The author of Gravity said we he initiated conversations on the subject of gravity, the conversations tended to fall into one of two categories.

Category One:

Author: Nobody knows what gravity is.
Civilian: (Pause). What do you mean, nobody knows what gravity is?
Author: I mean nobody knows what gravity actually is.
Civilian: (Pause.) Isn’t it a force of nature?
Author: Okay, fine—but what does that even mean?
Civilian: (Silence.)

Category Two:

Author: Nobody know what gravity is.
Scientist: That’s right.

The author concludes, Nobody knows what gravity is, and almost nobody knows that nobody knows what gravity is. The exception is scientists. They know that nobody knows what gravity is, because they know that they don’t know what gravity is.

The author continues. “We know what gravity does, of course. In the heavens, gravity tethers the Moon to Earth, other moons to other planets, moons and planets to the Sun, the Sun to the stars, stars to stars, galaxies to galaxies. On our own planet, we know that gravity is what planes have to overcome. We all know what gravity does.”

The author is Richard Panek and the title of the book is The Trouble with Gravity: Solving the Mystery Beneath Our Feet.

Readers of the healthymemory blog should know that the Dunning-Krueger Effect consists to two components. We humans tend to think we know much more than we know. However, true experts in a field are painfully aware of how much they don’t know.
The understanding of gravitation provides an ideal example of this effect.

Physicists have estimate how much they know. The estimate is that about 4% of the universe is understood. The remaining 96% is referred to as Dark Matter and Dark energy.

Think of this estimate as an accomplishment, not as a shortcoming. It is important in every endeavor to have some grasp of what is known and what still needs to be learned. And consider what has been accomplished with the 4% that is understood. Also consider what will be accomplished as more and more of the Universe is understood. Research continues. Notions and theories are being advanced, and some highly sophisticated experiments are being designed and conducted.

This blog recommends growth mindsets. Lifelong learning encompassing new topics. HM recommends Panek’s book as a vehicle for cognitive growth. Fear not. There is no math in this book. Still it is quite challenging. One might want to skim the earlier chapters and start concentrating when Newton arrives on the scene.

Evolution Evolves: Beyond the Selfish Gene

October 23, 2016

The title of this post is identical to title of a short piece written by Kevin LeLand and and published in the 24 September 2016 issue of the “New Scientist.”   The cover of the issue notes that the theory of life needs an update.  The changes in the theory of evolution have been monumental.  In HM’s humble opinion, they are comparable to the changes between Newton and Einstein in physics.  Kevin Leland has provided a precise summary.

Gone is the radical notion of the selfish gene, which argues the goal of genes is to propagate themselves, and we are merely vehicles for that propagation.  Gone also is the nature vs. nurture issue.  Genes interact with the world.  They provide inputs, but perhaps for some exceptionally rare occasions, they are not deterministic.

Natural selection is not solely in charge as the way that an organism develops can influence the direction and rate of its own evolution and its fit to the environment.

Inheritance goes beyond genes and includes epigenetic, ecological, behavioral, and cultural inheritance.  Similar to, but different from, Lamarkian transmission, acquired characteristics can be passed to offspring and play diverse roles in evolution.

Phenotypic variation is not random.  Individuals develop in response to local conditions such that novel features they possess are typically well suited to their environment.

Evolution is much more rapid than previously viewed.  Developmental processes allow individuals to respond to environmental changes and mutations with coordinate changes in suites of traits.  The new view is organism-centered, with broader conceptions of evolutionary processes.  Individuals adjust to their environment as they develop and modify selection processes.  Additional phenomena explain macroevolutionary changes by increasing evolvability,  the ability to generate adaptive diversity.  They include plasticity and niche construction.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Seeing the Flow of Ideas

February 7, 2016

Seeing the Flow of Ideas is the fourth element of effective thinking and the fourth chapter in “The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking,”   The subtitle is “Look Back, Look Forward.”  As was mentioned in an earlier post, this is something that is fairly easy to do with respect to technology in this age of technology.  Centuries before developments were occurring at a snail’s paste and this task was much more difficult.  I attended some very interesting lectures on the development of pre-human species, which was an extremely long process.  This is painstaking research, limited by the scant available evidence, and it needs to be carefully place together.

Looking back and looking forward fits nicely into the concept of memory as a device for time travel.  Perhaps the primary purpose of memory is to look back in terms of personal and collective knowledge (transactive memory), for the purposes of looking forward or trying to predict the future.  Drs. Burger and Starboard chose this to be one of the elements of effective thinking.

All too often people conceive of an idea springing forth from the  mind of a genius.  Actually, it is a matter of an individual building upon previous ideas and producing the future.  It is not surprising that the authors, being mathematicians, chose calculus as one of their examples.  In the popular mind, the calculus was developed independently during the same period by Newton and Leibniz.  As the authors note, Newton and Leibniz each built upon the work of previous mathematicians.  Newton himself noted that if he had seen further than others, it is because he stood on the shoulders of giants.  The authors noted that Leibniz’s initial essay on calculus was just six pages.  They noted that today’s introductory calculus textbook is over 1,300 pages.  And that is just for introductory calculus.  Calculus itself has advanced far beyond that to say nothing of the multitude of applications of calculus in science and engineering.  Moreover, many other areas of mathematics have been developed and refined.  Understanding the  past development of mathematics facilitates not only its understanding, but also provides insights into future developments and applications of mathematics.

One individual who did the most by seeing the flow of ideas was Thomas Edison.  He was extremely successful at inventing product after product, exploiting the maxim that every new idea has utility beyond its original intent.  Edison wrote, “I start where the last man left off.”  He also noted that many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to successes when they gave up.”

One of the exercises to provoke effective thinking is to ask “What Were Thy Thinking.”
In an earlier post I asked the hypothetical question as to what the colonizing powers have done given the morality of today.   So the early colonies in America killed many of the native populations and made their property their own.  They also used slavery.  What were they thinking?  How did they justify what today would be regarded as crimes against humanity?  And consider today, how might some version of colonialism succeeded without stealing and killing native americans, and without slaves.  This should be an interesting, and, I hope, an enlightening exercise.

The authors asked the question, which is an especially relevant question for educators, why are there grades of “F,”  After all, the second element of effective thinking is fail to succeed.  So why are Fs derogatory? What is of interest is what the individual did to correct or remove the F.  It appears that the formal grading procedure is based on a faulty premise.

Of course, there is much more to this chapter, and I urge the reader to read the original chapter itself.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Prescience of Leonardo Da Vinci

July 5, 2014

Leonardo Da Vinci anticipated many great scientific discoveries.

40 years before Copernicus he noted, in large letters to underscore its significance, “IL SOLE NO SI MUOVE,” “The sun does not move.” He further noted that “The earth is not in the center of the circle of the sun, nor in the center of the universe. When he lived, it was not only believed that the sun revolved around the earth by that the earth was the center of all things.

60 years before Galileo he thought that “a large magnifying lens” should be employed to study the surface of the moon and other heavenly bodies.

200 years before Newton he anticipated Newton’s theory of gravitation. He wrote, “Every weight tends to fall towards the center in the shortest possible way.” In another note he added, “every heavy substance presses downward and cannot be upheld perpetually, the whole earth must become spherical.

400 years before Darwin he placed man in the same broad category as monkeys and apes writing, “Man does not vary from the animals except it what is accidental” The accidental part is especially prescient as he is anticipating the basis of evolution, random mutations.

I’m curious as to whether any of these scientists were aware of Da Vinci’s writings and whether he had any influence on their work. Please comment if you have any information regarding these questions.