Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Responding to Science Questions I - From Facebook

The following are a list of some questions that I have responded to on various scientific issues.

Question: When a baby is within the womb, if something happens that it doesn't like (tickling of mother's stomach, etc.) it will kick to assert itself. So if a newborn being can acknowledge that it is discomforted, why can't a neuron, proton, etc; make conscious decisions?

My response: The baby is responding to a type of stimuli (tactile). This does not require conscious thought. As is the case of a plant. On a reductionist level it is merely the interplay of a number of inputs with consequences driven by the Laws of Physics. Why questions aren't really scientific. Essentially metaphysical and can always be answered by the retort 'Why not?' Science at its core is largely concerned with the 'How' which may approximate the 'Why' if the evidence is there.

Question: Plants move themselves towards light sources for nutrients. I believe that plants can think as well as any being. Matter makes up everything; we know this. So what proof has been discovered that matter needs to fully form into something BEFORE it can gain the ability to think? Look at white blood cells: They sense dangerous matter within the bloodstream, and they attack. They also just exist when there is no danger. Is there an argument that cells cannot think as well?

My response: We have no evidence that regular matter acts with conscious intent. We can't prove it but then again science does not deal with proof. It is an inductive rather than a deductive process. Yes we should open ourselves to the possibility that this is true but the lack of evidence seems to indicate that this is highly unlikely. It is also important not to confuse a response to stimuli with conscious intent. Plants growing towards the light are demonstrating a response to stimuli known as phototropism. It can be explained by chemical recourse only.

Question: Matter within the wave function, has the ability to think and make conscious decisions, as we can see from it's actions once an observer is entered into the equation (Double Slit Experiment). I am curious to know if anyone else believes that it is possible that matter can ultimately choose what the observer perceives it to be, BEFORE it is being observed, and the wave function has collapsed.

My Response: Human beings can think and make conscious decisions but this is not a property of matter itself. It is an emergent functionality that has developed within our species as a result of evolutionary selection pressure. You have reversed the Copenhagen explanation. It is the action of the observer that impacts the result, not the matter itself under observation, acting with conscious intent.

Question: Would light change form if you could slow it? And when does heat energy become light energy?

My response: The speed of light changes depending on the optical medium that it is traveling through. It only travels at c in a vacuum. When moving from one medium to another it's frequency remains constant but it's wavelength changes. Visible light is a very small part of a family of waves that define what is known as the electromagnetic spectrum. These include gamma rays, x rays, microwaves, Infra red, ultraviolet, radio waves etc. All travel at c in a vacuum but have different frequencies and wavelengths. They all have associated magnetic and electric field vectors and propagate perpendicular to the direction of each of those two vector fields. Electromagnetic waves do not need a medium to propagate. They are very different to sound waves which are essentially pressure waves, Heat is a term that is used in thermodynamics to describe a general transfer of energy. It occurs via conduction, convection and radiation with the latter facilitated by the action of Electromagnetic waves.

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