Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Nature of Energy and Spirit

I participate in a question and answer service online called Yedda in which people ask questions and others answer them. Pretty straightforward. Today I got an interesting question:

What is the nature of energy? How does it differ from spirit?

And here is my response:

Energy and Spirit from a Scientific Perspective
Energy in physics is a broad term that can mean a number of different quantities. Among many possible examples: Kinetic energy is the energy of a moving body, potential energy is energy yet to be released (such as gravitational potential - a rock at the top of a mountain if pushed will show a lot of energy as it rolls down the mountain), and light has energy proportional to its frequency.

Perhaps the broadest approach to the nature of energy was Einstein's, who's equations show us that matter and energy are essentially the same substance and can be converted back and forth. This is the meaning of the equation E=mc^2, where E is energy, m mass, and c^2 is the speed of light squared. This equation shows that even a small amount of mass when multiplied by the extremely large c^2 term will yield a lot of energy. This is the process by which nuclear fusion and fission produce energy - a small amount of mass "disappears" and turns into energy. This energy takes the form of heat mostly.

Spirit is not a measured or observed quantity, so therefore science has nothing to say about it. This doesn't mean it doesn't exist, it just means that it is not in the realm of science at this time. There are many things that exist in the world that science can't quantify, such as the beauty of music or love. These things are real, but are very difficult or impossible to measure with a scientific instrument. Don't fall into the trap that just because science can't explain or understand something that that means it doesn't exist.

Energy and Spirit from a (Narrow) Religious Perspective
I am not an expert on world religions, so all I can say is what I believe and hope that people of other faiths will answer this question after me. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – but people often refer to us as Mormons.

I believe that matter, energy, light, spirit, and truth are the same substance – just in different forms. A few quotations from some of the scriptures of my faith will show my point – even if they offer no explanation on the subject:

Doctrine and Covenants 131:7
All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes;
Doctrine and Covenants 84:45
Whatsoever is truth is light, and whatsoever is light is Spirit, even the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
Doctrine and Covenants 93:33
The elements are eternal, and spirit and element, inseparably connected, receive a fulness of joy;
You should read the surrounding verses of those I have cited so that you can understand the little context there is for these somewhat out-of-the-blue statements.

I'll readily admit that I don't understand this as well as I do the science side of it, but nevertheless it is there in my belief system and I gladly accept it. I like to keep in mind that my understanding of both science and religion is always growing, so I am content to temporarily have incomplete understanding of some of these fringe topics of my faith. Nevertheless I look forward to the day when I can learn the true nature of the universe – and therefore energy and spirit – without the lens of my limited understanding, whether that understanding is religious or scientific.

Perhaps a Buddhist with knowledge of this subject can offer an explanation? I seem to remember there's more of this type of discussion in that faith.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

High-speed Pursuit

I can't remember the last time I had this much fun. You definitely want to read this.

Tonight as I was leaving a friend's house just before 1:30 am I was walking across a street and a maroon minivan slowed down and a water balloon came flying my way. I calmly watched as the as-yet unknown object spattered about five feet away from me and then looked both ways to cross the street.

I thought I was being pretty cool by not reacting at all. But as I walked the block or so to my car I got an even awesomer idea. Mwahahahahaha...

I hopped in my little red zoom zoom car (stick shift) and went looking for them. Luckily, they were easy to spot because they pulled a U-y down the road as they trolled for more unsuspecting pedestrians. They took a left in front of me and pulled over to the side of the road - to reload maybe or come up with some not-lame plans. I turned and pulled right up behind them - even sticking out in the intersection a bit. I kept my lights on right in their mirrors but lowered the sun visor to hide my face.

Then I sat there. Mwahahahaha.

They didn't know who I was nor did they have any idea that they had thrown a water balloon at me, but I bet they got nervous real quick. They pulled out into the road and I followed, made a left turn, I followed, and then a right, and I still followed. They then pulled over again. To be safe from errant water balloons, I pulled over a few parked cars behind them and, keeping my lights on, waited again.

This time they sat longer, obviously trying desperately to convince themselves that this was all a strange coincidence. As the possibilities narrowed in their simple little minds I imagine they became more and more panicked.

Suddenly they pulled back into the road and took off like a bat out of hell. Panicking, of course, which is what teenagers do best.

This was the fun part - I'm in my little red zoom zoom stick shift car (which is way fun to drive) and they're a bunch of high school chumps driving mom's maroon minivan.

Let the evil laughing begin! Mwahahahahaha.

We tore through the dark residential streets of south Provo. Many of the intersections in this part of town have yield signs instead of stop signs. This allowed our high-speed chase to be extra exciting! Finally after a series of screeching turns they got far enough in front of me that I lost sight for a moment. When I rounded the corner where I had lost sight of them I didn't see them anywhere - they had vanished.

But I knew they weren't far enough in front of me to get around the next corner without at least catching their tail lights. So I pulled my car over on the side of the road and turned it off.

I sat in my car laughing for about 5 minutes when a high school kid with scrubby hair walked out of a parking lot immediately behind me. I watched him through my rear-view mirror as he passed behind my car and across the street pretending to be just a dude walking home. I almost believed him - until I caught a tiny glance over his shoulder - then he pulled out his cell phone.


As he nonchalantly walked away and talked on his cell phone he clearly become confident that I hadn't noticed him and that he was getting out of sight in the darkness. I then caught three direct glances as he relayed the information to his friends parked in the dark parking lot behind me.

I turned my car on and drove away.

As soon as I was out of sight I gunned it - burning rubber to come around the block and catch their getaway. Just as I rounded the corner, I saw the same maroon minivan trucking it the opposite direction from where I had left.

Perfect! Mwahahahahaha!

They drove past me not realizing I had them and the pursuit started anew as they crapped their pants in fear.

If you've ever driven a stick shift, you'll know how much fun it is to go fast. Especially when said vehicle is small with moderately good suspension. I can't remember the last time I had so much fun!

This high-speed pursuit lasted longer and was much faster, taking us into neighborhoods that I didn't know as well. Eventually we came around to the main road that it all began on and they really took off. The speed limit was 45 mph and they were going about 70. Not willing to go much faster than 60 mph (law abiding citizen, right?) they gained a lot of ground - weaving in between cars to get ahead. Their winning maneuver, however, was to catch a perfect yellow light, leaving me stuck behind unsuspecting civilians at the intersection.

As I sat at the red light watching them disappear around the corner I flashed my lights at them to signal a game well played.

Ah, stupid high schoolers. You're so fun and predictable.

Although I do hope they wore their brown pants today, for their sakes.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Ender in Exile

Last night I finished reading Ender in Exile, a new book by Orson Scott Card in the Ender's Game series. Ender in Exile takes place between the end of Ender's Game and the beginning of Speaker for the Dead and draws heavily on the content of the shadow series of books.

I quite enjoyed the read, mostly because it was good to get back in Ender's head and watch him run mental circles around bad people! There's something very gratifying about seeing a good character who's much smarter than everyone else going to town on bad guys.

The book fills in a lot of holes, and not just temporal ones. It explains how Ender lives so long through the rest of the series (because normal relativistic travel couldn't account for the time), why Valentine joins him for the rest of his life, and why he never returns to Earth.

My favorite parts, of course, were the descriptions of the ships and how they work. Definitely a sci-fi nerd! But of course all the mental circles were fun too - seeing Ender tricking people. etc.

Overall, if you are a fan of Ender's Game then I imagine you'll enjoy Ender in Exile, even if you didn't enjoy Speaker for the Dead.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

What Does Nick Do When He Has Time on His Hands?

Prepare for rambling!

This is a pretty easy semester for me - I'm taking nine research credits! (Plus a few other little classes.) So I've had a lot of extra time on my hands - you know, I come home at 5 or 6 pm like a regular person. I'm reading three books right now:

Ender in Exile, by Orson Scott Card
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson

Ender in Exile is all kinds of cool. It is the direct sequel to Ender's Game that ties it into Speaker for the Dead. So far I'm enjoying it muchly.
Hitchhiker's Guide is gigglishly enjoyable. What else is there to say?
Treasure Island is an oh-so-typical pirate tale. Actually, I imagine the definition of pirate tales came from Treasure Island! How neat.

I've also been playing a few computer games (discovered Mass Effect. AWESOME. The physics is rocking my world.), organizing my life, and playing with electronics.

Yup, you heard me. Yours truly has a new hobby - electronics. Now I don't mean using electronics like everyone does, I mean building them. Sooo much cooler.

Right now I'm finishing up my first project - a high-voltage plasma Jacob's Ladder. It's all kinds of neat. A 20,000 volt plasma arc forms between two steel rods and travels upward on air currents expanding and getting louder and brighter until it dissipates (see example picture). Then it does it again and again. So cool! I'll surely post pictures/movies of mine when I get it done, which should be this week.

After this project I plan to build a high-energy pulser device that stores ~3000 Joules and discharges almost instantly. This can be used for all kinds of neat stuff like electromagnetic mass accelerators, aluminum can crushers, and killing rodents (not really, but I bet I could...). The problem is that the capacitors for the pulser cost around $600. :( So I'll be saving my pennies and trying to find deals on ebay. Then you can come over to my house and I'll crush your cans with my super magnet. Whoa.