Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Digging in the Stellar Graveyard

Or: double your black holes!

The LIGO and Virgo collaborations have published their catalog of gravitational-wave detections from the first and second observing runs (2015-17). The news: four more binary-black-hole mergers, and the "LIGO-Virgo Transient" from October 2015, LVT151012, now upgraded to a bona fide detection.

That doubles the number of binary-black-hole mergers observed so far: five had been published already, and now we have ten. Along with the binary-neutron-star observation from August 2017, that fits nicely with my rough prediction a few years ago, that we would likely observe ten black-hole mergers for every binary neutron star. Neutron-star mergers might be the furnace that creates gold in our universe, but the real gold rush of gravitational-wave detectors is a bounty of black holes.

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Losing the Nobel Prize

Review: "Losing the Nobel Prize", by Brian Keating

The obvious question: did Brian Keating really write a book just to complain because he did not win the Nobel Prize?

After all, it is called, “Losing the Nobel Prize”. But that could be merely a hook to snare your salacious attention. The book is really a very personal memoir of his life in science, and a history of cosmology, and a behind-the-scenes account of the BICEP2 botched non-discovery of gravitational waves from the early universe, and a critique of the twisted culture and arcane practices associated with the Nobel Prize. Wow: four books in one! Five, if you still think it all adds up to grumbling.

Lots of people grumble about the Nobel Prize. They complain that it does not reflect how the world of science really works. The Nobel succumbs to the myth of individual heroes; it shows a great lopsided bias towards those most visible, most previously lauded, and most Western, white and male; and it operates under a set of arbitrary arcane rules.

I fail to see the problem. That sounds like an accurate reflection of science to me.

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

The Ashtray

The Ashtray may be the world’s first coffee table book of philosophy. It a glorious soup of styles. There are lavish photographs with often only tangential connections to the text, and no nearby captions — art reproductions, photographs, movie stills, people, places, things, the Minister of Silly Walks, Humpty Dumpty, an Aardvark. There are notes that run down the margins and accumulate a word count that competes with the main text. The topic of the book, a thought-provoking mix of intellectual assault on Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions and personal vendetta against Kuhn himself, flowers into digressions on philosophy, translation, Borges, Wittgenstein, the history of irrational numbers, fantastic animals in the fossil record, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. There are interviews, with philosophers, old friends, Steven Weinberg, Noam Chomsky. There are evocations of a lost age of academic freedom (“You were supposed to be teaching a course on Goedel, but you were using Mao’s Little Red Book”). There are abstract notions rendered in no-nonsense words. It is, in short, a blazing talisman for knowledge, enquiry, originality, uncompromising investigation, and just the sheer all-encompassing mental exuberance that we have to hope will be the cure to our grim times.