Monday, September 28, 2015


(Click to enlarge)

Some brief off-the-top-of-my-head thoughts on this image of Pluto.

After all the talk about Pluto's surface having a surprising dearth of cratering I realized on looking at the above image that scientists were talking in relative terms; the picture actually shows Pluto to be quite pock marked with craters - however, a lot less so than that of the Moon and other planets, but probably much more so than the Earth. Ergo, Pluto's surface is older than that of the Earth which, of course, is subject to high levels of largely atmospheric based erosion and change. In fact the crater density of Pluto may be comparable to that of the Lunar Mare.  (See the hi-res picture of Pluto on the web site below)

 Pluto has a thin atmosphere as this picture shows:

Pluto's size, along with its inclined and eccentric orbit may be evidence that it is a captured Kuiper belt object; perhaps an outcome of the long term gravitational chaos of the Solar System. If the once very frozen Pluto was relatively recently captured into its current orbit then its solar constant would change. Such orbital change could conceivably result in the low boiling point of some of Pluto's surface compounds just being passed, consequently creating an atmosphere and in turn starting off a slow erosion cycle. This may explain Pluto's relatively "young" surface. But remember; in Solar System terms half a billion years is "young"!

Anyway, be all that as it may, we had better wait and see what the experts say. One thing is clear: Given the number of unknowns there is plenty of theoretical scope to explain the appearance of Pluto!

For more pictures of Pluto see:

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Thinknet Project Part 2: Theoretical Underpinnings

The second paper on my Thinknet project is now available here. Below I reproduce the introduction.

1.      Introduction
In part 1 of this series I described the general idea of an association network as based on some of the ideas of Edward de Bono’s book The Mechanism of Mind. In this part I develop the theme a little further by giving it some mathematical backbone.

By August 91 I had written up an association network program on an Amiga 500. I had some vague notion about the tokens of the network being linked by some kind of probability weighting. Up until that time the Thinknet project was very software driven: I wanted to get out a system that did something regardless of whether or not I really understood what it was doing; much of it was an accumulation of several seat-of-the-pants decisions.  I had guessed that the tokens of the network were linked by some probability but I didn’t really have any clear idea as to the theoretical underpinning of this probability. Initially all I did was to code in a universal linking probability factor that represented the fact that although token A would lead to or imply token B it wouldn’t do so with absolute certainty. But it was obvious that using a one size fits all probability was far from satisfactory. During one of our many family beach chalet holidays (10 August to 17 August 1991. Hemsby, Norfolk) I sat on the sand looking out to sea pondering what the underlying theoretical model should be and by early September I had the model up and running.

The model was based on a very simple idea;  in fact the idea was essentially that of a literal interpretation of the Venn diagram. In this model the points on the Venn diagram are thought of as concrete items which can be collected together in various classes according to the properties those items have:  In the Venn notation we draw a circle round a set of points on the diagram to represent a class of items, each of which have some selected property. If we draw two circles based on two classes each defined by their particular property then we can then represent the relationship between these two classes by the extent of the overlap, if any,  between the two classes; an idea familiar to anyone who has seen a Venn diagram

This very literal interpretation of the Venn diagram using items and their respective properties to form classes of items gives us a very concrete model of set theory which immediately circumvents Russell’s paradox. It does this by distinguishing sharply between classes and the items of which they are composed in a similar way that Von Neumann’s version of axiomatic set theory makes a distinction between classes which are not elements and classes which are elements (where my items = elements). 


Relevant Links.
The Thinknet project is really part of my Melencolia I series. The links relating to this series are below:
Also relevant are these links:

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

How to Build a Seaworthy Wooden Vessel

The Gotherborg at  Gt. Yarmouth quay

The Gotheborg, the world's largest operational wooden ship, was berthed Great Yarmouth quay at the weekend for the maritime festival and I went to see her. The Gotheborg is in fact a Swedish built replica of a ship of the same name which sailed in the mid eighteenth century. Visitors were charged a reasonable fee to look round her.... and fascinating it was too. Because the vessel is a working boat it conveys that authentic, grimy and untidy ambiance of a going concern; in contrast to the prim scrubbed clean museum piece that HMS Victory has become. The Gotheborg has very much the touch and feel of the real thing and brings the visitor a bit closer to just what it was like to live and work on one of these wooden sailing ships. So, congratulations to the Swedes on their excellent work.

I took some photos of the interior and two of them can be seen below. The first picture is a general view of the gun deck.

This second picture shows us one of the gun portals. with wooden walls around 18 inch thick:

.....So that's how you make an authentic sea going wooden ship! But you don't make it like this:

I doubt this would last five minutes on the high sea, let alone a year

OK, OK, I know that Answers in Genesis's Ark mock up is all about facade, because the real deal would be far too expensive. But for AiG "facade" is very much the name of their game: From their tame academics who produce no young earthist papers for mainstream academia, through the liberal use of the omphalus hypothesis in their cosmology,  to the thin walls of this so-called “Ark”; if it's a choice of style over content, style wins out every-time. The whole AiG outfit revolves round the maintenance of a PR charade; Verdict? Must try harder to bring greater authenticity to the ministry!

Relevant Links:

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Kent Hovind Defends Science Against Flat Earther Infestation (Yes, really!)

"The Cultural Logic of Late Fundamentalism"
i.e Fundamentalism is sick, sick, sick!

And now for some light relief.

Disclaimer: Caution, you are now entering Poe's Law zone.

Here's an ostensibly pro-flat earth video by an ostensibly Christian fundamentalist attacking Kent Hovind's defense of established science's heliocentric/spherical Earth solar system. Knock me over with a feather; I found myself rooting for poor old Kent even though he himself is a quite extreme fundie!  But don't ask me whether or not Kent was being spoofed or whether the video is a parody! To  be frank I can't be absolutely sure! However, if people are to be believed there seems to be a fairly recent resurgence of Flat Earth beliefs among Christian Fundamentalists; hence my above recycling of a phrase by Jameson!

Fundamentalist Kent Hovind gets a pasting from fundamentalists even more extreme than himself! But for a change Kent comes up  smelling of roses! (Just! *2)

Here are some other videos on the Flat Earth Conspiracy:

Clearly, we are in Poe's law territory here! However, it is true that genuine flat earthers and geocentrics have existed and still exist today. See for example the following two comments below as they appear in the comment thread of the video and which as far as I can tell don't look like spoofs.... although don't quote me!

A Geocentric Commenter:
Some may argue that it not important for salvation if the earth is round or flat and that may be so. for me personally i feel as king David did who says at
  Psalm 8:3-5 New International Version (NIV)
3 When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, 4 what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? 5 You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor.

That the creation of the sun and moon and stars reveals gods love for humans in that they were created for us and this gives us dignity and honor as gods children. we have been robbed of our dignity and honor and birthright as children of our God by the false teaching that the sun is the center and everything exists by chance. we have a conscience that draws us to our heavenly father they take this away and they gave us CONscience. the heavens is our crown of dignity and honor from our creator and father Jehovah.

A Flat Earth Commenter:
Kent I must say, until you do the research and you do the science, You have no more claim to it being a sphere than those same scientist have for claiming the earth is millions of years old. No Kent you have not been in space to see for yourself. All you have is NASA (*But see footnote), and your Ship Sail explanation has been "proven wrong" long ago. But the science being brought today by a preponderance of Science Evidences prove the Earth is Exactly as God said. It's Flat, It's fixed within outer-space "not moving" and all the other stuff moves around earth. Kent You have to use the same "dogmatic" stance that you throw at Dinosaurs and the Planet being Billions of years old. If you want to "Believe it's a Sphere that's your own Religion" Just like you tell all those who say they want to believe in Billions of years and Dinosaurs... I wish to believe as God said it was. FLAT... But It seems strange to me that today you seem to be so worried what others will think. Kent you said you believe God, but it seems more clear you only believe in some of the things God says... hmm strange

The implications for Christian fundamentalism in general are grave: As the above suggests Christian fundamentalists, whether they are flat earthers, geocentricists, young earthers, blood mooners, failed prognosticators or promulgators of conspiracy theorism, all have a distinctive and recognisable commonality in as much as they use a Biblical literalist epistemic. As the video shows the fundamentalist epistemic can be turned against itself in an ironic twist; the video exposes not only the inconsistencies between different fundamentalist groups but also within a ministry like that of Kent Hovind. One thing is clear; there are many shades of fundies out there who are firmly and (over) confidently asserting all sorts of mutually contradictory things and yet they all claim their opinions have divine authority based either on the Bible or the gnostic touch of God; quite often both!

One's first impressions may be that flat earthism and young earthism are scientific questions, but such bizarre claims have more to do with group psychology and sociology than they do science: One can study flat earth theory and young earthism from the point of view of science gone astray, but that is less than half the story; the other and probably more important half is to do with the sociology of belief and group identification. There does, however, seem to be a logical progression here: In fundamentalism's alienation and marginalization from the academic mainstream and from culture in general, it is an easy emotional step to reject modern cosmological science in its entirety; from its inception with Copernicus, through Galileo, Kepler, Newton, and so on to the enlightenment etc, to the fundamentalist it all feels like a conspiracy to defraud them of the faith. Since modern science also owes much to prototypical Greek thinking a further logical step for fundamentalists is the rejection of the (pagan) Ptolemaic cosmos.

Biblical texts written prior to the sixth century BC are likely to have come out of a culture that had no conception of a spherical Earth and this is evidenced by the Bible in as much as there is no mention of a spherical Earth in pre-sixth century Biblical texts; if anything, as the Christian flat earthers point out, the Biblical metaphors hint at a belief in a flat earth. As fundamentalist marginalization and subsequent detachment from social identification continues apace, social fetters suppressing fundamentalist contrariness against the marginalizers are loosed. It is no surprise, then, as disaffected fundies immerse themselves in what they wrongly think to be the self-contained and self-interpreting universe of the Bible they regress to a pre-sixth century BC cosmology in an act of protest and cultural vandalism.

That flat earthism is able get a social purchase even today is not only evidence of certain kinds of social trend but also a sign that the perverse assumptions and special pleading of dogmatic  "presuppositionalism" will always find an intellectual loop hole: This is because in the final analysis very little is directly observable. Our "direct observations" are embedded in a huge mountain of theoretical narrative by which they are synthesized into a comprehensible whole; a perverse and contrary person is always able to eventually find some other bizarre narrative which joins at least some of the dots of observation. A fine example of this is young earthism's omphalos hypothesis whereby any observed state of affairs can simply be explained as the way God made it. Fundamentalism's omphalos tradition has been given new impetus by Jason Lisle's ASC cosmological model. See also John Byl.

It's worrying that a nation such as the USA, on whose prosperity, strength and wisdom the West as a whole very much depends, should be the epicenter of these daft goings on; perhaps it's something to do with that great American independent-can-do spirit which, it seems, has a downside as well as an upside, just as the great German aptitude for collective discipline once showed us its downside. As for the British they tend to lazily maintain the status quo until there's either a threat to their business interests or a threat of an alien evasion. All very stereotypical no doubt, but when you're writing a paragraph of one-liners that attempt to sum up the situation what else can you say?

See also these links:

* ....and the Russian, Chinese, European and Japanese space agencies....and you'd better add numerous private aerospace companies who must be in on the conspiracy as well!
*2  ..although Kent does get himself into a twist over whether the Earth is at the centre of the Universe.

Appendix I : High Structure Tilt
In the Kent Hovind video an argument for a flat earth was offered which I haven't seen before: The argument is that structures over the horizon and yet whose height means they nevertheless stand above the horizon should appear to tilt away from the observer if the Earth is round. But no quantification of this effect was advanced and no proof of whether it would actually be apparent was offered. Take the example they showed of sky scrapers viewed across what they said was 20 miles of sea. The angle these objects would tilt away from the local zenith is given by the equation:

360 x 20/24901 = 0.289 degrees.

Where 24901 = circumference of the Earth.

Now try looking at a tall object in front of you tilted at about 1/3 of a  degree away from you and see if you can see the tilt.

The flat earth clown (I'm not at all sure this man is serious!) who advanced this fallacious argument can be seen in the video below. Many criticisms can be made of his "science", a "science" which involves no quantification and measurement. But to spend too much time on this rubbish is time ill spent as far as I'm concerned. However, this video is evidence of the (recent) link between Christian fundamentalism and flat earth conspiracy theorism.

Flat earthers: Making a mockery of Christianity

Appendix II : Depressed Horizon
Some fundamentalists maintain that the horizon isn't depressed as it should be if the earth was round. In contrast I maintain that it is quite easy to see this depression.

In 2004 whilst holidaying on the Isle of Wight in the UK I stood about 500 feet up on Tennyson Down with my son Stuart looking across to St Catherine's Point  which stands at nearly 800 feet. One would expect, then, that a flat earth horizon at infinity would intersect St Catherine;s Point at well over half it's height, i.e. at the 500 foot mark. We remarked at the time that this was very noticeably not the case - the horizon, as demarcated by the sea, was much lower than this, and I took this to be evidence of the Earth's curvature. What we actually saw was this (A sketch I made shortly afterwards):

View from Tennyson Down looking across to St Catherine's point. In this view the nautical horizon is visibly depressed below the horizontal

Later on I scribbled down some pencil calculations on file paper and these can be seen here. It was these calculations that enabled me to arrive at the figure of 150 feet for the actual height the nautical horizon intersected the land of St Catherine's Point. Although I didn't have any equipment to take measurements, the visual impression was consistent with the theory.