Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Would no Einstein yesterday mean no nuclear proliferation today?

Einstein's deep insight into energy and matter was sufficient to get us where we are today in terms of nuclear proliferation, but his insight wasn't necessary to our nuclear/political worries. Without him, not much would be different now.

Suppose that Einstein had not been born in 1879; indeed, suppose that he never was. Then the equation E=MC2 would not have been discovered when it was, which happened to be during WW2. WW2 was won quicker than otherwise by the allies, because they dropped A-bombs on two Japanese cities. These two bombs were dropped only to minimize allied causalities, i.e. for a political reason, not for necessary strategic reasons.

It is certain that E=MC2 would have been discovered fairly quickly, since there are several different routes in physics which point to the energy-matter equivalence so deftly captured by the equation. Maybe it would have been a year or so, maybe a decade, but it would not have taken too long, given the cumulative theoretical and technological powers of science.

Now, under the post WW2 peace-time conditions, someone probably would have suggested that one could use such a formula in making a really powerful atomic, even hydrogen bomb. As now, it would strike many as a horrible weapon to make, and many would opposed it. Still, would the most advanced industrial nations begin to make such a bomb? I think they would.

Iran is proceeding with such plans, apparently, in order to get what every nuclear armed nation gets when it engineers a bomb: instant regard from its neighbors. You have to take such a nation seriously. Iran, as have others, obtains a kind of insurance against conventional bullying by threat of military take-over. One does not waltz a military into a nation with nuclear weapons, since the cost to the invading nation is too high, indeed the cost seems to have a high probability of mutually assured destruction, a cold war axiom of political engagement used with great precision in dealing with the old Soviet Union, and an axiom still politically operant among nuclear capable nation states even today.

Since nations seek to guarantee their sovereignty against hostile military invaders, and since nuclear weapons are the most technologically efficient way of so doing, even if Einstein had not discovered the E=MC2 equation when he did, I do not believe the current problem with nuclear proliferation would be significantly different than it is today.

I think this has an interesting (hypothetical) implication. If, per horror, there would be a nuclear war, human doom would not have been sealed by Einstein, the Manhattan Project, or even by nuclear weaponry. It would really have been by entering into the process of understanding and manipulating the natural world which sealed our doom. (Consider the philosopher Aristotle's view on Hamartia) In a word, what may kill humans in the end is their propensity for Physics.


[ * ] Some argue that industrialization is what will get us, which is just a slower doom.

[ * ] Others argue that nano-technology will off us, and sooner rather than later.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Making the grade with Provigil

From Reuters:
In December, Volkow said recent surveys on college campuses suggest drugs such as Novartis' Ritalin (NOVN.VX), or methylphenidate, and Provigil are being used by students, professors and others as a brain-boosting drug.[1]
Turns out there's a high chance it's addictive. Athletes are well known for having their pharmacological sins, but apparently academics have a few secrets as well. Not me. The military has also had successful use with it, though not so much for cognitive enhancement as for minimizing the necessity of sleep during combat operations:
The French government indicated that the Foreign Legion used modafinil [generic for Provigil] during certain covert operations. The UK's Ministry of Defence has admitted conducting on-going research into Modafinil. While it has has reportedly been investigated by the United States military for use by its soldiers to replace the current amphetamine derivatives. One study on helicopter pilots suggested that 600 mg of modafinil given in three doses can be used to keep pilots alert with only 8 hours of sleep in an 88 hour period. Another study on fighter pilots showed that 300 mg modafinil given in three divided 100-mg doses sustained the flight control accuracy of sleep-deprived F-117 pilots to within about 27 percent of baseline levels. It's unclear what the long-term effects on the brain would be from this sort of sleep deprivation, especially for people in as high-stress an environment as combat.[2]
Of course if one is in low stress levels, maybe it is just merely addicting. It does offer up an interesting thought experiment. Suppose you knew that some illegal drug was addicting, but it would raise your IQ to 140, putting you right up with leading math and physics professors in mental ability (approx. 1 in 100 people).[3] Would you do it? Still, if you got caught, you'd be forceably taken off it, so you'd float back down to where you are now, something known in fiction as the Algernon-Gordon Effect.



[image] Comic Vine Website

[1] "Cephalon's Provigil may be addictive-US study" Reuters (Accessed March 17, 2009)

[2] "Modiodal, What is Modiodal? About it's science chemistry and structure." Chemistry, Structure, and 3D Molecules (Accessed March 17, 2009)

[3] "Definition of IQ" Geocities personal website of R.N. Seitz.

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