The Alder Grove

"In my sleep thought that I was standing in an alder grove of the straightest and fairest trees which the heart of man could think of or imagine."

The Year That Science Fights Back

In a previous post, I talked about what brought me to this whole business of atheism, science and reason. It's pretty out in the open now via the power of Twitter! Since then, I have also joined the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science which lately merged with the Center For Inquiry so it will be exciting to see what the next year brings! And I think I picked a great year to start off in a more honest and grounded way because thus far, it's shaping up to be a fantastic year. I have dubbed 2016 as the Year That Science Fights Back.

I have to stop here and talk about something that just happened that is incredibly cool. I have to talk about this because Dr. Krauss has spoken (and tweeted) about this so much and he relays information so beautifully that there is no way you can't be excited about it. His enthusiasm is so contagious that when the press conference was going on just a few days ago, I secreted myself away over in my corner, pretending to do work on the computer while in reality, I had my tablet tucked up right by it so that I could watch and listen. Luckily, it was not a busy day as I was not exactly the most productive member of the team, lol. I excuse this by rationalizing how important science is to my job. Ok, yes I am a retail peon...but I'm a retail peon that sells cool technology like home automation, wearable technology and other things that connect to the Global Positioning System and the Internet of Things. Science! (Feel free to yell that like Bill Nye.) BUT ... Einstein plays a key role in this as well. I'm totally now going to roll out some Lawrence Krauss/Brian Greene knowledge. I do this for your own good....and because I absolutely love talking about it and I mostly get blank stares at work.

So Einstein had two theories that I know you've all heard of - Special Relativity and General Relativity. Special Relativity deals mostly with how time isn't really what you think it is. It's got some really cool and totally crazy ideas in it that I'm not going to delve into right now. I might expound upon them in a later blog post but you really should go over to and take Brian's class on it - amazing. But I'm digressing a tad. General Relativity (which I'm going to be talking about here mostly) is how gravity affects spacetime as mass warps the space around it. And that if space could warp, it could also ripple when disturbed.

At any rate, this is one of my big takeaways that I use at work ALL the time because it's cool and I want to give more people a little science bit that they can take away and think about. Maybe they might actually think about how something that seems like obscure science actually affects their lives. And because...I'm a huge nerd and I'm going to lay some science on you whether you like it or not anyway. So, what you might not know is that you wouldn't be able to use GPS were it not for Einstein. GPS works by triangulating your position from satellites in orbit around the earth. Due to the speed at which light travels, in order to know where you are they have to be accurate to 20-30 billionths of a second. But part of special relativity is that the faster you go, the more that time slows down and the satellites travel about 8000 miles per hour. But general relativity also plays a role because gravitational fields also affect time. So without taking both of those into consideration, the GPS would be off by 38000 nanoseconds per day. It would basically stop working after 2 minutes and it would be off my 10 kilometers after just one day! How freaking amazing is that?!?!?!

So, unless you've been living under a rock, you will have heard the news that 100 years after Einstein predicted them in general relativity, LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (one in Washington and one in Louisiana), picked up gravitational waves coming from 2 colliding black holes in the area of the Magellanic Cloud. It took the waves about 1.3 billion years to reach us and within minutes they released 3x the mass of our sun (converted into energy...e=mc2, yo) and 50x the power of all the stars in the universe.

I'm going to give you a moment to ponder that. And for you to consider that gravity is considered the weakest force in the universe. I know, right? (I'm not going to advise you to prove it by pushing someone off the roof of a building, lol.) Some of you are going to know where that comes from. Anyway, this holds really cool things for the future. Dr. Krauss was cool enough to answer a question that I sent when he did his Einstein panel in his ASU Origins Project (check it out on YouTube because it was amazing). I wanted to know if the detection of gravitational waves might mean that they could potentially prove the multiverse theory. He mentioned that if they could detect the waves coming from the Big Bang they could test the model of inflation and see if it implies the existence of other universes. So that even if we couldn't directly see them, there would be strong indirect evidence of their existence. So cool. But think about all the other stuff we could find out going forward. There's been talk of gravitational astronomy to see things that using light has never before been able to show us, and possibly finding out about dark matter! And maybe...just maybe...there's that whole thing about extra dimensions that are a part of string theory. And that is just the stuff we know about...who knows the things they will find that no one knew to even ask the question let alone derive the answer for. Which likely leads to more questions.

"I've often said the two greatest states to be in if you're a scientist is either wrong or confused, and I'm often both." ~~ Lawrence Krauss

Going forward this year, I am seeing Neil deGrasse Tyson is speak in Toronto in just over a week, which is spectacular because he very, very rarely comes up here. I splurged and bought VIP tickets to perhaps have the opportunity to meet him and perhaps ask him some things. He is our *personal* astrophysicist after all. :) Then, in March I get to see Lawrence Krauss debate a theologian and a creationist which should be *awesome*. He comes back to Canada fairly frequently but I've never had the opportunity to go and see him speak or debate before. The amount of things that I learn from him I couldn't even begin to discuss. He's so active in the public sphere between Twitter, lectures on YouTube, his books, his scientific publications (which I read all the time even if I don't understand *everything*, especially the math part, lol) and the writing he does for The New Yorker. I will have to try very hard not to giggle with delight when he gets on a roll taking down the pseudoscience and religious nonsense at the Toronto debate. Usually I can't help it but I will try and behave in public. Try.

Then I have The World Science Festival coming up at the beginning of June in New York City where I will also endeavor to take in the American Museum of Natural History and the Hayden Planetarium this time. Then I'm heading down to Washington, DC for that weekend to attend The Reason Rally where Lawrence Krauss, Carolyn Porco and Richard Dawkins will be among the speakers. Yes, totally taking a selfie in front of the White House. I'm pretty stoked as I've never been to DC before and I can't wait to see it! Plus being in a crowd full of like-minded people is going to kind of refreshing for a change.

I'm going to stop there but I do have a diatribe coming up for the next post potentially. Peace, out. ~ L.

An open letter to Richard Dawkins


How could I even begin to put into words what a huge part of my life you have been. There are people who enter your life in ways that you don't even realize it until you are confronted with a moment in time. A moment when you have to conceive of them no longer being there. Your recent health scare was one of those moments for me.

I did a blog post a few weeks ago about my rather long road to finally being able to admit...out being an atheist. While the majority of Canada may be on its way to being more secular, in smaller cities, especially those with an older population, there is definitely still a strong religious presence that is not open to other viewpoints. I've been in the odd verbal scuffle with more than one young earth creationist on my way home on transit about science vs religion. It is not a comfortable place to admit to atheism but with the courage that you and Dr. Krauss have shown over the last few years, I finally decided to start off 2016 on a more positive and honest note. And to "hell" with anyone who doesn't like it. :)

Although we've never met, I feel as though we have. With all the times I've heard you speak and all of the writings of yours that I've read, it seems like there are very few areas of my life where there is not a piece of advice lurking in my mind that you have given to me. You have taught me so much over the years about so many things and touched the core of my life so much that I doubt I would be who I am today, if you had not been a part of my life. And whilst we do not *always* agree, that doesn't matter. There is no one on earth that you can agree with all of the time, that does not lessen the effect they have upon you and should not change the feelings that you have for another. You are still my most valued teacher for whom I have the highest respect. Even on those nights when I have issues falling asleep, I turn out the lights, pull out one of your audio books and listen to your wonderfully calm yet animated voice telling me the best kind of bedtime story - one that's real.

The highlights of my morning, for ages now, has been to read your Twitter feed. There is always some gem of wisdom on evolution, current events, politics with a smattering of physics and genetics in there as well. Plus the occasional argument with someone who has made an ignorant comment is quite a fun sort of entertainment from time to time. You are the one that opened up this huge world of science to me. You made evolution and biology make sense through your writing. I had never had any interest in science when I was in school but if I had at any point had a teacher as passionate, concise and interesting as you I think I would have been interested in it much earlier in my life. Looking back, if there had been someone who had influenced that side of my education, I think I might have gone into geology or botany of some kind. I've always had a strange affinity for rocks ever since I was little. I used to think, if that rock could speak to you, what marvelous stories it could tell you about the world. After all, it might have been deposited in this spot from thousands of kilometers away by a glacier way back in the past! But my geology currently stops at collecting interesting rocks and my botany, at my gardening.

But I digress. Nothing unusual for me. You are not just the one that taught me about evolution in way that made it interesting and accessible. You introduced me to how enjoyable it could be to learn about something new. And every time I read your words, or hear you speak I always learn something new. Plus you introduced me to this whole wonderful world of scientific knowledge. I found Neil deGrasse Tyson through you who opened up the universe to me. I also found Lawrence Krauss through you who has become another of my favourite authors and speakers. His passion and breadth of knowledge in his field has actually made *physics* exciting to me! Never in my life did I think someone would get me to a stage in my life where I'd be excited that a group of physicists were holding a press conference to confirm detecting something that's been worked on for the last 100 years. But there I was, tucked into a corner at work with my tablet, listening to the scientists at LIGO talking about gravitational waves. And the fact that the two of you are friends and made that delightful movie together makes me incredibly happy. But I doubt any of that would have resonated with me the way that it did, without you.

Something I regret, is to never having written a letter like this to Christopher Hitchens. It just never seemed possible that we would lose his voice so soon and it's easy to live in that state of denial (religious people do it all the time after all). And frankly, it doesn't seem like he could possibly be gone, after all this time. When you vanished from Twitter a few days back, I had a bad feeling. As the silent days grew longer I knew that something was wrong. There were a couple of infrequent posts so I knew that the worst had not happened...but I still knew something was wrong. Then I woke up at 3am the other morning, checked online and heard the news. I was not at all prepared to be confronted with a moment like this and lay awake most of the remainder of the morning. It was so reassuring to hear your voice today, to know that you are reasonably well under the circumstances and on the mend. Though I don't imagine it is an easy one by the sounds of it. Once again your words touch me right to the core as you can make me laugh and cry all in a matter of moments. From talking about the evolution that led to the creation of the human hand, to your current struggles and then hearing your doctor tell YOU to stay away from controversy. To say that I was moved by your words is an understatement.

In the end, I suppose what I want to say is...thank you. Thank you for being a voice of reason and of wisdom in a slightly irrational world. Thank you for being a pillar of light, strength and inspiration in an occasionally bleak and oppressive world. Thank you for being a passionate advocate for science literacy...thank you for everything that you have taught me throughout my life.

Please, be well Professor Dawkins. No matter what people say, you have an impact - a positive one. Never forget that you have changed lives and we need you around as long as we possibly can.

All of my love,

Leanne in Ontario, Canada