Jacob Barnett and Scientific Progress

StumbleUpon, the bringer of all great discoveries, took me to an article last night about a 12 year old savant which really excited me. Jacob Barnett, based on my understanding from this article, appears to be a genius of the highest order. His Mathematics IQ was graded at 170 – the highest score possible. He taught himself all of the maths you are meant to learn in highschool in two weeks, because he was about to start studying at university and wanted to make sure he had the basics down. And he did that while he was 12. As a 12 year old university student, he helps explain things to other students who are struggling.

My favourite story though, was from when he was 3:

they went on a tour of the Holcomb Observatory and Planetarium at Butler University.Kristine Barnett will never forget the day.

“We were in the crowd, just sitting, listening to this guy ask the crowd if anyone knew why the moons going around Mars were potato-shaped and not round,” she recalls. “Jacob raised his hand and said, ‘Excuse me, but what are the sizes of the moons around Mars?’ ”

The lecturer answered, and “Jacob looked at him and said the gravity of the planet . . . is so large that (the moon’s) gravity would not be able to pull it into a round shape.”


“That entire building . . . everyone was just looking at him, like, ‘Who is this 3-year-old?’ “

Anyway, he is about to turn 13 now, and is also about to be given a research position at his university (I don’t think they left him studying undergrad at university for even a whole year).

Jake’s Theories

As an almost 13 year old prodigy, Jake already has a couple of new “change the text books” theories which he is developing. First of all he is developing a “new expanded theory of relativity” which will expand on what Einstein did. Secondly, he thinks the big bang theory is flawed, and so is developing his own theory to account for the creation of time and matter.

The Potential

Jake Barnett is exactly the sort of person that science needs to come through every now and then (I hope anyway) and really put everything on the line. The obvious potential benefits are huge of course. He could improve existing theories, and solve long standing unsolved problems. He might even come up with a better theory than the fringe theories which scientists have been disagreeing over for decades. But all of that is pretty normal. Non-Genius scientists do all of that stuff all the time. That is what Science is about. I see Jake’s potential as much bigger, and playing a much more important role in ‘Scientific Advancement’ at large.

Jake has the intellect, and the speed of information uptake to provide a real critical analysis of what Scientists think they know. Jake is potentially an incredibly strong catalyst for the next scientific revolution…

Scientific Revolutions

The fundamentalists and science deniers who still exist in our amazing society are constantly claiming that science is flawed, and that it is full of errors and/or lies. They believe this because they don’t like the conclusions that scientists reach, and they don’t understand the science itself. It still amuses me when talking to creationists who are absolutely convinced that one day Scientists are going to realise their errors, and like has happened in the past, they will go through a scientific revolution in to the next more correct theory: Creation!

The fact is, Scientific revolutions happen. Old theories have been replaced in the past, or, more commonly, old theories are altered and improved. The non-scientific out there who want to believe certain things always pronounce the science which disagrees with their beliefs to be one of those theories which is due to be changed any day, and as demonstrated by the creationist lot, will do anything (except science) to make it happen.

But as Thomas Kuhn’s theory on Scientific Revolutions basically observes, eventually some new genius, or a new generation in generation will eventually come through and as they learn the facts and theories of their chosen scientific trade, they will be perfectly placed to view this information critically. They will be in the process of learning the tools of their science, while simultaneously not be completely indoctrinated with ‘the truth’ of the conclusions. And if the conclusions are flawed in some way; if there are too many bits which don’t make sense – then that new generation, or that particular genius will typically find themselves stuck on those problems. Rather than just accepting the problems as acceptable difficulties or margins of error, the new generation can focus on finding a better solution because they aren’t attached to the old one.

Jake’s Potential Role

So my interest here, is the role that Jake can play in this long scientific dance of continual improvement and refinement of theories. He has learnt the maths of astrophysics in, I would think, record time. He understands the principles intimitely, and yet certainly hasn’t had time to form emotional attachments to paradigms or frameworks of thinking which will force his brain to accept only one option.

Basically, Jake is exactly what all of the young earth creationists out there are waiting for – someone without a belief-system axe to grind, who understands the science to go through physics, and change it all! If they were right. But of course, so far Jake seems to basically agree with the theories currently accepted. He hasn’t claimed that relativity is wrong (yet), but seems to think that he can improve it. He does think the Big Bang theory is wrong, and I hope he is right (because I never much liked that theory anyway ;).

Every new scientists that goes through this process is a small testament to the rigours of our scientific progresses. Every new person trained in the skills required to do the maths, and to understand the principles used in predicting and estimating motions, histories and actions is one more person to falsify the theories which are currently accepted. Another person to spot ‘the lies’ about radiometric dating. Another person to spot the mathematical errors in relativity. Another person to simply observe that the entire scientific theoretical basis of everything we know is a giant house of cards about to collapse on itself.

But it continues to not happen. And Jake is a tornado about to blow through that ‘house of cards’. If modern physics is flim flam, he will blow that house of cards away. If not, then he will be able to just get on with the good work.

Either way, we win. Science will function as intended, theories will be revised or improved and the entire human race will benefit from the process.

PS: Not that I am trying to put too much responsibility on Jake’s shoulders. It isn’t his ‘responsibility’ – it is just one of the sorts of consequences that can arise from someone in his position…

also,  The original article that inspired this post is well worth reading:  Genius at work: 12-year-old is studying at IUPUI

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Banana Equivalent Dose – SotD

I just stumbled upon this wikipdeia article, and I really enjoyed it, so here it is again:


A banana equivalent dose is a concept occasionally used by nuclear power proponents[1][2] to place in scale the dangers of radiation by comparing exposures to the radiation generated by a common banana.

Many foods are naturally radioactive, and bananas are particularly so, due to the radioactive potassium-40 they contain. The banana equivalent dose is the radiation exposure received by eating a single banana. Radiation leaks from nuclear plants are often measured in extraordinarily small units (the picocurie, a millionth of a millionth of a curie, is typical). By comparing the exposure from these events to a banana equivalent dose, a more realistic assessment of the actual risk can sometimes be obtained.

The average radiologic profile of bananas is 3520 picocuries per kg, or roughly 520 picocuries per 150g banana.[3] The equivalent dose for 365 bananas (one per day for a year) is 3.6 millirems (36 μSv).


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How to Survive Being Buried Alive – SotD #6

I’ve always been a fan of Worst Cas Scenario sorts of books, and survival handbooks etc. I always imagine myself as one of those people in the movies who actually takes control of the situation and comes out alive, rather than panicing frantically and getting myself killed. So everytime I come across things like this, I can’t help but read it and hope that some of it sinks in to my subconscious memory banks in the incredibly unlikely case that I ever find myself in one of these “worst case scenarios”. 🙂

So here is How to survive if you are buried alive – Worst Case Scenario Extreme.

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Huxley’s Dystopia vs Orwell’s Dystopia – SotD #5

orwells 1984 vs huxleys brave new world comic

I have stumbled upon this comic a couple of times now, and I really do enjoy seeing it every time. I don’t completely agree with the conclusion it draws – that in some way Aldous Huxley is right, and George Orwell wasn’t – I think they both had incredibly insightful and prescient warnings in each of their books. They just have different angles on the same thing…

Without a doubt it is easy to look around our society and see incredibly frightening elements of each novel in plain sight. Whether it be the thousands of surveillance cameras scattered throughout every public area, or the constant distraction of modern ‘entertainment’, it is easy to find plenty of evidence FOR either one of the authors. Students for an Orwellian Society do this very well in favour of Orwell.

Very recently in fact I read this article on Boing Boing:

TSA screeners are learning to recognize set of secret, forbidden facial expressions. If your face slips into one of these during a TSA inspection, you will be taken off and given a thorough, secondary screening

They then made a frightening comparison to Orwell’s description of Facecrime in 1984.

…to wear an improper expression on your face (to look incredulous when a victory was announced, for example) was itself a punishable offence. There was even a word for it in Newspeak: facecrime, it was called. (Nineteen Eighty-Four, Part 1, Chapter 5)

What I really want to point out in this piece though, is that this comic seems to forget, or miss one major point about 1984 – the book was about the members of the ministry. It constantly referred to the ‘proles’, but essentially had no contact with them. I remember when I first read the book as a naive teenager who didn’t understand what ‘Prole’ meant, I thought they were some sort of underclass of people, much the way slaves were once thought of. When I found out the proles were the working class, I had to go back and re-read it!!

1984 is about the Upper Class vs the Ruling Class. Brave New World is about the Working Class. They are describing different classes, different groups of people, and different forms of control. And they are both right.

1984 doesn’t hide this fact at all, and most of the book is spent showing how the Proles are the only chance that the Upper Class have of over throwing the dictatorial Ruling Class that have entrenched themselves…

One scene where Winston is walking amongst the proles will always stick in my mind. He sees a group of proles together, clearly excited – “It was obviously some serious piece of news that they were reading” – Winston got excited, thinking that the Proles were getting worked up over politics, or something which mattered, only to find out that they were a group of people looking at the lottery numbers.

1984’s warning  is not in competition with Brave New Worlds warning – it is in TANDEM. The proles – the working class – the people who are happy with an average life and who don’t really care about politics, don’t really care about why we go to war, or what motivates people in power – they are easily ‘controlled’ – that is, you give them enough to do, enough pleasure, enough hope, and they will be happy. They will stay in their place. Both books make the same point.

Brave New World is all about the proles and how easily people are kept slaves to their own desires. 1984 is all about the elite – the thinkers, the activists…the people who UNDERSTAND the problem – and how these people are controlled. Thinkers and activists don’t watch television. They don’t play the lottery. They don’t read Horoscopes. But they do fear being singled out when travelling and detained for long periods, with threat of being put in prison. They do fear being declared a terrorist. They fear losing the ability to be informed.

I think Huxley was absolutely right with his warning, and his vision of society is definitely very close to how we live, and where we are going. The average person really doesn’t care, and is happy with their life. I’m glad we have something closer to Brave New World for the working class than what was pictured in 1984 for the Proles.


I think Orwell was absolutely right with his warning, and his vision of how the top 0.1% power brokers on earth control the next 10-20% of power is incredibly insightful. Most of the population may not care about government censorship, increasing surveillance, forfeit of freedoms etc because it won’t impact on their day to day inane lifestyles – but the people who fear for the ongoing freedoms, the people who understand what one loss of freedom at a time may mean – they are being kept in perpetual fear of what our governments are getting away with.

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Smart Contact Lenses – SotD#4

The idea of smart contact lenses is something I have stumbled across in the past, and something which I can’t wait to see brought to comercial availability. The idea of being able to have a real HUD (Heads up Display) is just too awesome. The fact that they have the basics of the technology already down is incredible. I hope they can bring the entire concept into fruition.

Read more about these contact lenses  here : http://www.fastcompany.com/1623012/smart-contact-lens-bluetooth-future

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Humanist Poster in Belfast – SotD #3

From: http://freethinker.co.uk/2009/11/19/row-erupts-over-humanist-poster-in-belfast/

Please Don't Label Me - Humanist Poster

From the article on Freethinker:

THE war of words between atheists and religious believers has entered a new chapter with the launch of Northern Ireland’s first ever humanist advertising campaign.

The British Humanist Association (BHA) yesterday unveiled a billboard with the slogan:

Please Don’t Label Me. Let Me Grow Up And Choose For Myself.

Located on one Belfast’s busiest routes, the poster is a follow-up to its atheist buses campaign that ran earlier this year in parts of the UK.

Read more over at freethinker.co.uk: http://freethinker.co.uk/2009/11/19/row-erupts-over-humanist-poster-in-belfast/

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Drunkey Monkey – SotD#2

Stumble of the Day # 2 is a BBC video clip I found on the Nature is Awesome website.

It is a documentary about monkeys in the Caribean and how they like to drink alcohol left unattended by human tourists…

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Planting Tomatoes… – Favourite Stumble of the Day #1

I’m going to try to start a new goal of adding something everyday which I find through Stumble Upon. I rave about Stumble Upon all the time – it educates me, it keeps me up to date with the news, it makes me laugh…stumble upon really is a great tool for discovering everything and anything. So since so many people seem to still not use it, I might as well use my experience of it as a means for bringing together the stuff that I like.

So welcome to my first “Favourite Stumble of the Day”

Found at: http://www.dailyacid.com/2010/07/old-man-and-his-garden.html

An old Italian man lived alone in New Jersey. He wanted to plant his annual tomato garden; but it was very difficult work as the ground was hard.
His only son, Vincent, who used to help him, was in prison. The old man wrote a letter to his son and described his predicament:
Dear Vincent,
I am feeling pretty sad, because it looks like I won’t be able to plant my tomato garden this year. I’m just getting too old to be digging up a garden plot. I know if you were here my troubles would be over. I know you would be happy to dig the plot for me, like in the old days.

                                               Love, Papa

A few days later he received this letter from his son:
Dear Pop, Don’t dig up that garden. That’s where the bodies are buried.

                                               Love, Vinnie

At 6 am the next morning, FBI agents and local police arrived and dug up the entire area without finding any bodies. They apologized to the old man and left. That same day the old man received another letter from his son.
Dear Pop, Go ahead and plant the tomatoes now. That’s the best I could do under the circumstances.

                                               Love, Vinnie
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