POST 20 – 11-11-2014


Geese – take care!





In a recent article by Brian Toohey there is a definition of education that I recommend.

While few Australians want a school system that is exclusively devoted to serving the economy, the review’s concept of a good education is so rarefied as to be meaningless for parents, students and policymakers. It endorses the 20th-century British philosopher Michael Oakeshott’s definition of education as an extension of a  “conversation [that] began in the primal forests”. Oakeshott went on to say,” It is the ability to participate in this conversation, and not the ability to reason cogently, … or to contrive a better world, which distinguishes the human being from the animal and the civilized man from the barbarian.”

This fits well with my concept that we must all take part in the civilising process which will happen whether or not we participate. As I have said in my last blog post in a quote “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” (Edmund Burke).

The quote from Oakeshott accepts that the process needs to be affected by our active participation. The process of change in the human culture goes on even if we do not participate in it and it does not necessarily have a positive direction. We humans affect the process by our active intervention in two ways. Our interventions may have unintended or intended effects, both of which may be either beneficial or harmful. If we do nothing things will change willy-nilly. Our actions have the potential to change things for the better but there are no guarantees. We need to further hone our collective skills and I hope my Grandchildren will be able to see that their particular talents are needed.


In a book by Stephen Greenblatt, “The Swerve: How the World Became Modern” there is a description of the rediscovery by Poggio Bracciolini, a 15th-century papal emissary and obsessive book hunter, of the last copy of the Roman poet Lucretius’s book On the Nature of Things. Lucretius lived in Rome from about 99 to 55 BC and was a proponent of Epicurean philosophy.


“The Swerve” refers to a key conception in the ancient atomistic theories according to which atoms moving through the void are subject to clinamen (or swerve): while falling straight through the void, they are sometimes subject to a slight, unpredictable swerve.


In an earlier POST I referred to “the theory that there was variation – quantum fluctuation – from the beginning of the universe and that variation is intrinsic to everything that followed. Then variation led to opportunity for change (variation) in things that replicate and those changes could survive or fail in competition with other things.

The nature of sub-atomic particles is such that, in the beginning, at the Big Bang, there were only these particles which were then subjected to enormous heat and were forced into a configuration that resulted in atoms, the first of which were hydrogen atoms. As the universe of sub-atomic particles and hydrogen atoms expanded there was a conflict between the force of gravity and the expanding forces resulting from the Big Bang.

It is conceivable that some balance between the pull of gravity and the expanding force could have led to a perfectly balanced relationship with the universe being a uniform mass of particles or matter spread equally throughout space/time. This is obviously not the case so it seems that there were early variations that allowed some particles to be attracted to others by gravity leading to the formation of galaxies held in place by gravity while separated from one another by the force of expansion.


As Lucretius proposed, there must have been a built-in variation to explain so much that has followed. The Swerve spends a lot of time explaining how, in 1417 the papal secretary Poggio Bracciolini discovered Lucretius book and I found that section hard to focus on, but when he discusses the things Lucretius had written I was fascinated that a pre-Christian writer could have deduced so much that we have now confirmed in modern physics.



There are a number of possible approaches to supplying renewable energy but I have thought for some time that artificial photosynthesis – copying what plants do with sunlight and carbon dioxide – is a promising way to solve the renewable energy problem. There is new research reported that shows a possible way to this end.

Once exposed to sunlight the catalyst steadily absorbs and converts CO2. The product of this process is methanol — an extremely useful liquid fuel that could be used to run cars, heat homes, or generate electricity.

Carbon capture — the capture of CO2 from power station flues — could accelerate the development of artificial photosynthesis technology. At the moment, there is no application for this CO2 and so it must be “sequestered” in geological formations, at significant economic cost.

Since artificial photosynthesis could make direct use of this concentrated CO2, it will make carbon capture technology more economic. This CO2 would be the perfect feed-stock for the high efficiency artificial photosynthesis process.

That article cross-references to another report by the researchers with a comment on the catalyst involved. They are not there yet but it certainly looks promising.

“We have created a photo-catalyst based on copper oxide, the surface of which is decorated with tiny carbon dots of about 2 nano-metres in size. This nano-composite material can directly convert carbon dioxide dissolved in water to methanol using only sunlight as the energy source,” he said. 

“Methanol is directly useful as a fuel and can also be the building-block for many complex carbon compounds such as plastics and pharmaceuticals.”



We should have vision of the landing on Comet Phiilae on this Thursday morning.

The comet lander Philae will be in for a rough ride when it tries to touchdown on Comet 67P later this week

“Touchdown should be confirmed by 0300 AEDT on Thursday morning,” says Holmes.

“It will take another two hours for us to take a series of panoramic 360 degree images of the comet’s surface and transmit those back to Earth, so those first images should arrive by about 0530 or 0600.”


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