When Science Veers toward Elements of Belief and Disbelief

The following article is about the Theory of Everything (TOE) and more specifically about String Theory and where it stands today.  I do not expect anybody to understand the “science” of the article, but I hope that you get a sense of the tone.  We have entered a realm of scientific investigation where the mathematics far exceeds what can be experimentally shown.  It will probably remain that way for a long time because the energies required to create the conditions under when the theories can be proved or disproved are not practical.  For example, what if a certain phenomenon can only be observed under conditions that exist related to the energies involved in the presence of a black hole?

I used to think that science needs to keep digging deeper and deeper into the fundamentals of existence, but I am beginning to wonder if there is a useful purpose to this endeavor beyond a certain point.  Does any of this really help us understand more about ourselves or have the potential to help us in some way in the future?  Even if the experiments to prove something about the TOE were to become practical some time in the very distant future, what if the energies required to set up the experiment to prove it are of an order of magnitude that would change the conditions under which the experiment has been conducted in some irreparable way?  Would there ever be a reason to conduct such an experiment?  It would be like eating the apple in the Garden of Eden.

The comments related to this article below (seen at the end of the article) may be more enlightening than the article itself.  You get to a point where the conversation can seem to have overtones that are similar to those when talking about religion.  Does science as defined today become pointless beyond some point?

https://www.quantamagazine.org/why-is-m-theory-the-leading-candidate-for-theory-of-everything-20171218/

Return to Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania

The last time I came to Ohiopyle was in 2016, during the epic KVIITM75 bike ride from Pittsburgh to the Washington DC area.  We had arrived at Ohiopyle on the second day of the ride, just in time for a late lunch stop and a detour to visit Fallingwater, the famous Frank Lloyd Wright built home.  We had arrived in town with little time to spare, and somewhat tired from the ride from Perryopolis earlier in the day.  We had picked up lunch from a restaurant near the place where we were to catch the shuttle to Fallingwater, and had decided to ride our bikes to the Ohiopyle waterfall to consume the food.  Alas, we never found the waterfall, having misunderstood directions provided to us, and having taken a path into the woods instead of into town.

But I was determined to return to Ohiopyle some day, not necessarily to look for the waterfall, but to explore the beautiful state park nearby.  The attraction of Fallingwater was actually what eventually led us to make the trip back to Ohiopyle last week.  We entered the town on a road that actually went past a busy part of town (nowhere near the trail we had biked on), and there on our left, beside the parking lot, were the waterfalls!  We spent some time walking through town before and after lunch.  Here are some pictures.

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Ohiopyle Waterfall on the Youghioheny river
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Ohiopyle Waterfall
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The Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) bike trail bridge in the distance
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Walking through town
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The GAP bridge over the Youghiogheny
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View of bridge from town

The B&O and the Western Maryland railroad lines used to run through Ohiopyle on the two sides of the Youghiogheny river.  The Western Maryland line has been converted to the Great Allegheny Passage.  The old B&O line is now a CSX mainline connecting the eastern seaboard to the rest of the country.  Ohiopyle is now a holiday spot with a focus on watersports and place for bike riders on the GAP to rest.  The Ohiopyle State Park is on the other side of the bridge!

The Flooding at the Monocacy Aqueduct

These pictures were taken during one of our Sunday walks towards the end of May.  The aqueduct carries the C&O canal across the Monocacy river.

This kind of flooding happens every once in a while, and most often during the spring season when we get a lot of rain.  The accumulation of the debris is somewhat unusual.  The last time it happened they had to bring in heavy equipment to remove the tree branches that were caught on the structure of the aqueduct and putting pressure on it.

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Upstream side of the aqueduct
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Downstream of the aqueduct
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Debris stuck at the aqueduct, including significant amounts of trash
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The extent of the flooding

The following picture was taken during the same walk at a different location on the trail.  This is upstream on the Potomac river.

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Noland Ferry

We are Very Hungry

I was doing at task at Manna that I usually do not.  I had been avoiding it for a while.  Because none of the other “regulars” had shown up, I was the only volunteer left to do it.  Basically, the task involved greeting the customers when they came in to pick up their food, checking their identification, ticking their names off a list, and getting signatures.  It sounds simple, but it was the small variations in the type of folks who come to pick up food that I was not used to.  People can pick up food for others if they have their IDs, case workers can pick up food for their clients with their own IDs, organizations can pick up food for a larger number of clients, etc..  I was simply being lazy and trying to avoid having to remember what needed to be done in each case.

In any case, it was time for me to bite the bullet and learn the process a little better since there was nobody else there to step in. Things went nicely, and it was actually nice to talk to some of the clients, beyond the conversations that one might have with them when actually delivering food to their vehicles.

I was taking care of stuff when I heard voices emanating from the window where clients go to talk to the Manna staff when needed.  In the background I could hear somebody talking about not having food, and about her child not having gone to school that day because she was being bullied, and about travails related a job situation.  The staff member (a person who must have a good heart, and who will remain anonymous for this blog) was asking questions.  Usually, the people who receive food on a particular day are on a printed list that is prepared from information collected ahead of time.   But an exception was made based on information provided.  The staff member went through the required process as an urgent matter.

The lady who had been talking to the staff member was now a client and was being allowed to pick up food the same day.  She walked up to me with her daughter and presented me with a tiny piece of paper.  On it was the information that I would normally have found on the printed sheets for the clients.  I improvised and wrote the name at the bottom of the printed list, checked ID, and got the required signature.  While this was happening, the lady mentioned that they had no food at home and that they were very hungry.  I was struck by a sense of urgency by the statement even though the lady was speaking in a calm manner.

We were giving out one piece of pastry to the customers that day, but I said that they could take two if they wanted.  The daughter addressed me politely – “Sir, can I take this one”.  I said “sure’, but then noticed that mom had already taken two pastries.  I pointed this out and the mother and daughter decided on which pastry that was already in their hands they were going to put back.  It was an “Oliver Twist” moment.  Meanwhile, I began to feel like a jerk.  Why should I be limiting food to hungry people?  Anyway, the clients were being allowed unlimited amounts of bread that day (because we had a lot of bread, and bread goes bad quickly) and I made sure to emphasize that fact while they were picking through the bread available on the rack.  The mother and daughter left with their food (which also included a closed box of dry food, some meat, and an open box of perishables, including fruits, vegetables and prepared foods). I was left thinking about how they would feel once they got some food in their stomachs.

While volunteering, there are occasional incidents that challenge me mentally and take me outside my comfort zone.  Some of them are good for me, and that is perhaps one of the points of the exercise.

Dandelion Tales

Spring is the time of year for the dandelions to emerge and go through their visible annual life-cycle in our part of the world.  I like dandelions even though they are considered a nuisance and battled in the lawns of our homes.

Dandelions tend to take over other untreated open spaces once they find a foothold.  You can experience the life cycle of the dandelions while walking along the towpath.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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New
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Mature
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After the flower and before the seed head emerges
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Wet seed head
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Drying out
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Almost Gone

Dandelions are supposed to be edible, including the flowers, leaves and roots.

The Standard Model of Particle Physics: The Absolutely Amazing Theory of Almost Everything: The Conversation

The Standard Model provides a theory that, so far, has been able to accurately describe how all the physical forces in nature known to man, except for gravity, are related to each other.  Over the years, the Standard Model has been successful in predicting many physical phenomenon that we are finding in the Universe, most recently, the presence of the Higgs Boson.  The article below describes all of this in relatively simple terms.

https://theconversation.com/the-standard-model-of-particle-physics-the-absolutely-amazing-theory-of-almost-everything-94700

Cleaning up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

A socially active friend of mine had told me about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch a while back.  He is the type of person who is likely to latch on to out-of-the-mainstream causes, some of which require a lot of work to verify.  I only followed the story in the background of my mind for several years, not certain if there was any exaggeration in the statement of the problem.  The subject seems to have moved into the mainstream in more recent times.

We human beings do not realize the extent of the damage that we are doing to the planet just because we do not see a lot of it with our own eyes. We will also willingly deny the role that we play in the process of its destruction.

What is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?  From Wikipedia:
“The patch is characterized by exceptionally high relative pelagic concentrations of plastic, chemical sludge, and other debris that have been trapped by the currents of the North Pacific Gyre.  Its low density (4 particles per cubic meter) prevents detection by satellite imagery, or even by casual boaters or divers in the area. It consists primarily of an increase in suspended, often microscopic, particles in the upper water column.”

How big is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?  From Wikipedia:
“The findings from the two expeditions, show that the patch is 1.6 million square kilometers and has a concentration of 10-100 kg per square kilometers. They estimate there to be 80.000 metric tonnes in the patch, with 1.8 trillion plastic pieces, out of which 92% of the mass is to be found in objects larger than 0.5 centimeters.”

The reason for my posting of this blog was a mainstream news item that I saw on CNN regarding attempts to try to address the issue.  The project is called The Ocean Cleanup.  They think they are capable of cleaning up 50% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in five years.  Part of the solution is trying to figure how the best way to recycle the garbage that is captured. Hope it all works, and that we can clean up the mess that we have all made!