Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Science

Has the Mythical Unicorn of Materials Science Finally Been Found? 238

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the even-does-the-dishes dept.
gbrumfiel writes "For years, physicists have been on the hunt for a material so weird, it might as well be what unicorn horns are made of. Topological insulators are special types of material that conduct electricity, but only on their outermost surface. If they exist, and that's a real IF, then they would play host to all sorts of bizarre phenomenon: virtual particles that are their own anti-particles, strange quantum effects, dogs and cats living together, that sort of thing. Now three independent teams think they've finally found the stuff that the dreams of theoretical physicists are made of: samarium hexaboride."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Has the Mythical Unicorn of Materials Science Finally Been Found?

Comments Filter:
  • by Baloroth (2370816) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @12:27PM (#42261531)

    Except that argument is rather... well, wrong, since an invisible pink unicorn a) wouldn't be supernatural in the first place (a unicorn isn't supernatural, it's just a horse with a horn, and merely being invisible isn't supernatural either), and b) wouldn't fit the necessary conditions for creation of the universe.

    Physics states certain conditions that are requisite to bring our universe into existence, and God fits the conditions practically by definition. You could hypothesize instead that the universe has the power to bring itself into existence, except now you are talking philosophy, because you are postulating the possibility that something can create itself, which is... impossible (in my opinion). Fundamentally, all explanations for how the universe was brought into existence fall under the realm of philosophy (metaphysics specifically), because although you can show what conditions are necessary to bring about such an event (basically, "the power to bring our universe into existence"), you necessarily cannot treat of them using physics or any of the sciences since those conditions by definition precede (in order of causality, although not of course in time because time doesn't exist before the universe) the existence of physics or any of nature.

  • god is irrelevent (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @12:27PM (#42261537)

    it doesn't matter whether or not god exists

    the real question is do we alter our behavior because of people who claim to know his/her/its will tell us to do so?

    do we allow religion as an excuse for some people to avoid paying taxes that support civilized society?

    do we allow cultists to harm their children by denying the children medical attention because that is their belief system?

    do we allow believers to control the education curriculum, the legal system, the reigns of power?

    do we allow believers to say whether or not I can buy beer or work on sunday, whether or not gambling and prostitution and various sex acts are legal?

    i dont care if you worship zeus yaweh jehovah slaanesh cthulu or exar kun, I do care when you attempt to use the force to law to impose your beliefs on me and the rest of the society in which I live

  • by somersault (912633) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @12:32PM (#42261581) Homepage Journal

    you are postulating the possibility that something can create itself, which is... impossible (in my opinion)

    Then where did your god come from?

    It works both ways. It's far more likely that something simple and relatively unstructured has always existed, and has come to order itself gradually, than some human-like god has always existing. A god could have evolved, but an intelligent god just happening to exist is as likely as that whole watchmaker thingy that theists love to talk about.

  • by Baloroth (2370816) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @12:53PM (#42261943)

    Then where did your god come from?

    It works both ways. It's far more likely that something simple and relatively unstructured has always existed, and has come to order itself gradually, than some human-like god has always existing. A god could have evolved, but an intelligent god just happening to exist is as likely as that whole watchmaker thingy that theists love to talk about.

    The argument there gets a bit more complex, but you can get the basic point by looking at entropy. An unordered system is not likely to become ordered over time, and it cannot do so over an infinite time, which it would need to (it would eventually degenerate into a final stable state, unlike the universe we see around us with non-homogeneous elements). That, however, is an argument that you can (and people have) written books about, so I won't go into it further.

    But, to your first point, God didn't create himself, he simply always was. Eternal uncreated existence is required. You can then argue that that thing has to be what theologians call "god" (which isn't particularly "human-like" except is certain very limited ways), but like I say, that is an argument in philosophy. The problem there is two-fold: first of all, if the atheist and the theist don't hold certain common principles, they're arguments will always assume and be based on completely different things, and since you can't prove principles (especially metaphysical principles, the principles of other fields can be shown but not within their own area of study), only argue over them, you can't reach a definitive conclusion. Secondly, most atheists (most people in general) don't know nearly enough philosophy to understand the actual arguments. That goes for religious and non-religious people: most people rely on the authority of the arguments of others. You need to look at the credentials of the authority figure you are trusting to know if they have a reasonable position or not.

    I would argue that most of the scientists you hear arguing for atheism have absolutely no clue what they are talking about, because they assume that if it exists in any way, it can be reached scientifically, and that anything that cannot be reached scientifically, cannot exist (that combined with their reluctance to trust the authority of anyone or anything they can't understand tends to lead them to atheism). That doesn't follow. Mind you, anything that occurs in the natural world does (so magic is right out), but you cannot rule out the possibility of supernatural beings existing. You can put conditions on them: for example, they cannot have mass or speed or heat or be visible (otherwise they would fall under physics... part of the reason people attempting magic are foolish), but none of those things are required to actually exist. You can't prove they do (except God, or at least some "supernatural" thing that follows the conditions required to create our universe) but that would be where the whole "faith" thing comes into play.

  • by somersault (912633) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @01:05PM (#42262141) Homepage Journal

    But, to your first point, God didn't create himself, he simply always was

    Okay, then to your point: the big bang wasn't the start of reality, reality simply always was, and there happened to be a big bang.

    An unordered system is not likely to become ordered over time

    That may not be true on a global scale (ie our Universe will likely eventually succumb to heat death), but simple molecules can aggregate, and become self replicating, and thus create order. We have observed these molecules forming in gas clouds in space. There is evidence supporting order arising from "disorder", but absolutely none for a god that is anything like a human (ie the bible says we were made in god's image). All religions are man made.

  • by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @01:36PM (#42262645) Homepage Journal

    I would argue that most of the scientists you hear arguing for atheism have absolutely no clue what they are talking about, because they assume that if it exists in any way, it can be reached scientifically, and that anything that cannot be reached scientifically, cannot exist (that combined with their reluctance to trust the authority of anyone or anything they can't understand tends to lead them to atheism).

    I would argue that you have absolutely no interest in how actual scientists and/or atheists view religion, and prefer beating up on elaborately constructed straw men.

  • by slippyblade (962288) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @01:54PM (#42262855) Homepage

    How about this, tell me why you don't believe in Thor, Osiris, or Marduk. I will then apply those exact same reasons to your "god" and they will be equally valid. Considering the several thousand gods known to have been worshipped over the years the difference between us is negligable. I simply believe in one fewer gods than you.

  • by danbert8 (1024253) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @02:35PM (#42263347)

    Actually most animals that are going to extinction aren't allowed to be hunted or raised for food. If we allowed people to hunt or eat pandas maybe they wouldn't be endangered... I mean bison haven't been endangered since they have started being raised on farms. Deer sure aren't hurting either.

  • by Thakandar2 (260848) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @02:36PM (#42263351)
    Sorry to be pedantic, but the molecules aren't self replicating as part of their nature, but they're reacting to processes that they are subject to from an outside force which swung the whole thing into motion somewhere prior to that molecule being subject to other forces like gravity/energy/etc..

    There's no transformation in a second molecule based on the first molecule sitting in some space nearby without some kind of impetus or outwards force creating that change. That change is caused by the system of physics/chemistry/relationships between matter, and so if reality (matter, stuff, etc) simply always was, then it still, philosophically, had a point where it was either always in stasis (outside of time) or some input mechanism starting the process. Unless there is a completely enclosed reality between each "moment" or interactive space that doesn't bear any influence or relation to the next "moment of time or space", there really does have to be some event/force that changed matter either INTO the dense clump of stuff that was the big bang, or started it with the big bang.

    I understand I keep using language like "event", "start" and "process" but there is some real limitation on linguistics when talking about some of this stuff.

    Just trying to say that those molecules in space wouldn't react to the force of gravity and therefore create the clouds without some kind of order or system being put into place ahead of their interaction that then dictates what is going on in a somewhat intelligible way.

    I'm a law student and obviously not a scientist... much more interested in the theological and logical implications of the argument.
  • by Hatta (162192) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @02:38PM (#42263375) Journal

    You've got to be kidding me.

    you can get the basic point by looking at entropy. An unordered system is not likely to become ordered over time

    Entropy can globally increase while decreasing locally without any violation of the 2nd law of thermodynamics. You don't need to write a book about it, it's that simple.

    Eternal uncreated existence is required.

    This is solved equally by presuming the existence of a "void" just as well as presuming an all powerful creator. Occam's razor prefers the void.

    Secondly, most atheists (most people in general) don't know nearly enough philosophy to understand the actual arguments

    Atheists know more about religion than religious people do. The real problem is that theologians don't know enough about science to understand that they're spouting nonsense.

    You need to look at the credentials of the authority figure you are trusting to know if they have a reasonable position or not.

    Seriously? What sort of credentials are valid? Is the pope credentialed enough? What about the Dalai Lama? What happens when they disagree? Do you have anything to offer other than a fallacious argument from authority?

    No, short of actual being an acutal first hand witness to the big bang, the only sorts of credentials that matter are scientific. If philosophy actually worked in order to figure out how the world works, we would have invented quantum physics in ancient greece. No, we had to wait until the scientific method was invented, because it's the ONLY method that can actually tell us whether something is true or not.

    they assume that if it exists in any way, it can be reached scientifically, and that anything that cannot be reached scientifically, cannot exist

    That's not an assumption. That's practically the definition of existence. If if affects this universe, it must be detectable by science. If it doesn't affect this universe, then whether it exists or not is entirely moot.

    You can't prove they do (except God, or at least some "supernatural" thing that follows the conditions required to create our universe) but that would be where the whole "faith" thing comes into play.

    Which is exactly why "faith" is a really bad idea. There are infinitely many things that cannot be proven to exist, and cannot be proven not to exist. If you're intellectually honest, you have to either believe in all of them or none of them.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @03:02PM (#42263665)

    You're not playing fair.

    You assert that any possible mundane explanation would break all the existing rules, despite that something as fantastic as the starting point of reality probably doesn't follow the rules anyway. Meanwhile, you get to defend your own premise by basically making up whatever rules you want in defiance of the same principles you use against other explanations: God just always was (is time infinitely old? how does that make sense? why did God wait infinitely long to create the universe?), God can do anything (with what energy source? does God run out of juice? is God immune to entropy?), etc. And let's not even get into why this god would have to be your god in particular, and not some malevolent jerk who made a universe just to screw with its inhabitants. ;)

    I freely admit that I have no idea how the universe came to be, but it is clearly here, and that's satisfying enough for the time being. The lack of an explanation doesn't automatically lend credence to a supernatural one, any more than the Romans' inability to explain lightning somehow made Zeus more legitimate. Our cluelessness has no bearing on reality.

  • by Creedo (548980) on Wednesday December 12, 2012 @03:21PM (#42263919) Journal

    The argument there gets a bit more complex, but you can get the basic point by looking at entropy. An unordered system is not likely to become ordered over time, and it cannot do so over an infinite time, which it would need to (it would eventually degenerate into a final stable state, unlike the universe we see around us with non-homogeneous elements).

    You've already noted the primary problem with this argument: over time. Outside of this particular time-space bubble, please explain what entropy would even mean.

    But, to your first point, God didn't create himself, he simply always was. Eternal uncreated existence is required.

    Non sequitur. You haven't demonstrated that "eternal uncreated existence is required." Before you can make the claim "X always was," you first have to establish that "X is," or at the very least that "X was." Moreover, you are applying a loaded term("god") to a state about which you can generate no useful inference. I'll go into this more in the next section.

    You can then argue that that thing has to be what theologians call "god" (which isn't particularly "human-like" except is certain very limited ways), but like I say, that is an argument in philosophy.

    And this is where the cosmological proofs fail. It is simply a bad attempt at a bit of rhetorical slight of hand. There is no data to support the idea that anything which exists outside of our universe is in any way linked to the human concepts of "god." To attempt to link the two(or more, depending on intent) concepts is another non sequitur, when it is not downright deceptive

    I would argue that most of the scientists you hear arguing for atheism have absolutely no clue what they are talking about, because they assume that if it exists in any way, it can be reached scientifically, and that anything that cannot be reached scientifically, cannot exist (that combined with their reluctance to trust the authority of anyone or anything they can't understand tends to lead them to atheism).

    Anything that has no measurable effect on the universe is irrelevant to any discussion about the universe. None of the "supernatural" entities postulated by various human cultures have been demonstrated to have a measurable effect on the universe. If you can demonstrate such interference, you will gain the allegience of every honest skeptic. Until then, if you press your case sans evidence, then do no be surprised when you are relegated to the same bin as every other crank.

    Furthermore, the general claims presented these days are not against some lofty "philosopher's god," but rather the very real organizations which are working towards their own social goals. And these organizations are virtually uniform in making concrete claims which are easily refutable. The moment the claim "god wants/will do X" is made, you have now stepped away from the shelter of ultimate ignorance and you'd better be able to support your claims.

    You can't prove they do (except God, or at least some "supernatural" thing that follows the conditions required to create our universe) but that would be where the whole "faith" thing comes into play.

    See above about your "god" comment. As for faith(in the religious sense; don't bother trying to conflate it with trust), I consider it to be odious and one of the worst afflictions of mankind. All too often, it is used to engender suffering and fear.

Good salesmen and good repairmen will never go hungry. -- R.E. Schenk

Working...