Sacred cows

A fundamental difference between a scientific worldview and a fundamentalist religious worldview is that in science arguments from authority carry no weight. If the King says the Earth is flat all you have to do is sail around the world to prove him wrong. Many religions rely on revelation for much of what they understand to be true. Some revelations can be tested, but some pertain to the afterlife or events for which there is no longer any evidence. In the case of the Bible many appeal to its authority when evidence is lacking. Relying on a prophet is, to me, no different than arguing from authority rather than evidence.

If scientists are not careful they too can cling to scientific ideas for which the evidence is lacking. I think too often scientists wade into waters that are beyond the scope of science. Science cannot prove or disprove Heaven or Hell. How can anyone prove there is no God?

I’ve never heard religious doctrine presented as a theory, but this is standard practice in science. If someone worked out a theory which more accurately reflected reality than the Theory of Relativity, he or she would receive a prize. If someone presented ideas that more accurately reflected reality than a sacred text they would be called a heretic. This unwillingness to change makes me suspicious. Religions have changed over the centuries, but there are always those who call for a return to the old days.

Science has it’s sacred cows, too. These get in the way of scientific progress. Let’s all pursue the truth.


These are things I own which require electricity, gasoline, or kerosene, etc. They are listed in the order in which they came to mind.

Sirius Satellite radio
Magellan GPS
Amazon Kindle
MacBook Pro
OCW 120G external hard drive
500G external hard drive
Clearwire modem
Linksys wireless router
1993 Honda Accord
Western Digital USB hard drive
Panasonic portable DVD player
Offbrand VCR
Offbrand microwave
Sony Television (share with roommate)
Washer (share with roommate)
Dryer (I think they are both Whirlpool)
Mini Maglight LED
Petzl LED headlamp
Radioshack mulimeter (volt, ohm, amp)
Oster Hair clippers
Sony Playststion 2
Sony Playststion 3
Mini Shop Vac
MSR Whisperlite camp stove
Bic cigarette lighter
Screaming Meanie alarm clock
Sony clock radio
Bose Acoustic Wave Music System
Black & Decker electric drill

I’m sure I’m forgetting something.

Millions more

Because I am fascinated by large numbers, I present here a paraphrased version of the story of the rice on the chessboard.

A man who lived in a wealthy kingdom had performed a great deed. When the King learned of this he decided to reward the man and asked him what he would like as his reward. Seeing a chessboard (8 squares on a side) in the King’s chamber he asked for one grain of rice to placed on the first square, 2 on the second square, 4 on the 3rd, 8 on the fourth and so on, to the last and 64th square. The King, not fully understanding the implications of this request, said that he would gladly reward the man as he stipulated and ordered that the rice be brought in. Things began nicely, but the amount of rice required for each square quickly became enormous. The 21st square required more than a million grains rice. The 41st square required more than a trillion grains and the ruler exhausted all the rice in all the land before he reached the 64 square.

I have created 21 images, each with twice as many pixels as the previous one, to demonstrate visually exponential growth. I have assembled them on a separate page because they are too large (2,000 x 2,000 pixels, but only 32 kilobytes) to fit the format of this blog. If I had created all 64 images the largest one would have been over 4 trillion pixels wide. On most computer screens there are 72 pixels in an inch so it would require a screen 941 miles wide to view the image at full resolution.

See my visual representation of geometric or exponential growth here. It is much more dramatic than a simple line on a graph.

One trillion

I’m sure you’ve seen this before, but I liked it so much I thought I’d pass it on:

1,000 (thousand) seconds = 17 minutes ago
1,000,000 (million) seconds ago = December 7, 2008
1,000,000,000 (billion) seconds ago = 1976
1,000,000,000,000 (trillion) = 29,702 B.C.

Feel free to check my numbers.
86,400 seconds = 1 day
31,536,000 seconds = 1 year


I’m still learning 3-letter words. I promise that until 2008 I had never heard the word vet used as a verb, as in, “They failed to vet the candidate before nomination.” Am I crazy or did this usage begin very recently?