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The Top Ten Physics Highlights of 2002 183

Ocelot Wreak writes "Physics Web has a cool summary of The Top Ten Physics Highlights of 2002. These include anti-atoms, neutrino oscillation - a finding that requires new physics beyond the Standard Model, defying the second law of thermodynamics, and using neutrons to measure quantum gravitational effects, amongst others. For some reason, the Slashdot Effect and the latest research on iPod-based Beowulf clusters were not included..."
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The Top Ten Physics Highlights of 2002

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  • Ooo. (Score:5, Funny)

    by slothdog ( 3329 ) < minus language> on Friday January 03, 2003 @02:30PM (#5007742) Homepage
    so when do we get the Top Ten Top Ten Stories of 2002?
    • so when do we get the Top Ten Top Ten Stories of 2002?

      Well, they don't want to bombard you with them, so they're waiting to give you the top entry on the top ten list of top ten lists of top ten stories of 2002. Those editors, always looking to save us time by giving us only the quality stories!

    • Re:Ooo. (Score:4, Funny)

      by anthony_dipierro ( 543308 ) on Friday January 03, 2003 @02:40PM (#5007844) Journal
      As soon as someone resubmits [] them.
      • From the FAQ:

        These are just mistakes on the part of the staff. They happen. We have posted over ten thousand stories in our history. The occasional duplicate is inevitable.

        What they neglect to mention is that of the 10,000 stories posted on Slashdot, 4,000 of them were duplicates and another 1,000 of them were rumors, incorrect, or just plain trolls.
  • by core plexus ( 599119 ) on Friday January 03, 2003 @02:34PM (#5007764) Homepage by far more women getting into physics

    "12. Hope for the future More than 300 physicists from around the world -- most of them women -- met in Paris in March for the first International Conference on Women in Physics."

    In a related story: Sex makes your brain grow []

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 03, 2003 @02:38PM (#5007814) by far more women getting into physics

      There's nothing wrong with that, but I have q question: why is it particularly important for more women to get into physics? Why can't we just leave women alone and let them do what they want? Why do we need to perform "social architecture"?

      My vote would be just to stop worrying about what group does what (and that includes race), and focus on what individuals do or don't do.

      But then, maybe I'm just crazy and believe that society really should be color and sex blind. You may now begin flogging the heretic.

      • That was the most intelligent thing I have heard in a while. Nice way to put it.

        People always talk about striving to eliminate stereotypes & groupings, but always feel the need to keep reminding everyone about it anyway bringing us back to the same problem.

      • By analyzing social trends, it may become apparent *why* those trends exist. It has been the case in the past that groups of people were not able to do what they wanted as easily as others, and we could then modify or create laws to make the system in question more equitable.
        • we could then modify or create laws to make the system in question more equitable.

          Dude, just remember this:

          Equality of Opportunity does not equal Equality of Result.
          • Of course not. I would never argue that it does. Only that equality of opportunity is the ideal. Whatever people do with their opportunities is their own business.
          • by Anonymous Coward
            Remeber this also, however. Conversely, Inequality of Opportunity does equal Inequality of Result. Or, to put it more plainly and verbosely - if the barriers of societal pressures and mindsets are removed, there is no guarantee that the percentage of women who become physicists will equal the percentage of men who become physicists. However, if those barriers remain in place, it is guaranteed that the percentage of women who become physicists will be less than the percentage of men who become physicists.

            Also, as a reply to the original message - yes, references to gender and racial types may at a point reinforce the barriers which the user may be attempting to break down. But on the other hand, ignoring the fact that there is still a great amount of gender bias in the world is also dangerous. How can one address the issue of bias without referring to the group being biased against?
      • by Anonymous Coward
        But you see, if more women get into physics, then more men will. I was a physics major and, trust me, the dating scene was grim.

        We need more physicists. This is an important first step.
      • by michaelggreer ( 612022 ) on Friday January 03, 2003 @03:13PM (#5008135)

        This is a common misconception. Trying to get more groups invloved in science (art, etc) is not just social engineering. It is also an attempt to make science better. The more people lend their talents, the better it will be. This is obviously true in sports, as African-Americans became able to join professional teams. As Jesse Jackson once said, "we never knew how good football could be until everyone could play". The same is true for science: we will never know how good it can be until everyone can participate.

        What "women want" is highly influenced by what paths in life seem available or attractive to them. This is hardly something one is born with, but much more likely the product of cultural atmosphere. The fact that there are more American women scientists than Afnagni ones makes this obvious. A restrictive environment of possibilities acts as a real barrier to entry for women, many of whom don't even think of themselves a spossible scientists. And all of that is prior to active prejudice on the part of others.

        My mom is a chemist and she had to fight like hell her whole life just to work, much less to do that work and still be considered a woman. Anything that makes science more viable for all individuals sense of identity is positive, and clearly benefits science.

      • It's not particularly important per se, but the increasing numbers are an indicator that the sciences may be becoming more gender-blind. Unless you believe that there's a gender-inherent reason women don't become physicists, in a truly just world we should see an equal number of male and female physicists; maybe we're (slowly) getting there.
      • My vote would be just to stop worrying about what group does what (and that includes race), and focus on what individuals do or don't do.

        But then, maybe I'm just crazy and believe that society really should be color and sex blind.

        The problem with that theory is this. Sure, you and I might agree to make society color and sex blind. But will the neo-nazis? The gay bashers? The white-supremacists? If some parts of society refuse to be color- or gender-blind, then "society" as a whole is not. Even worse, all the people who are going around being color- or gender-blind might not notice the discrimination being inflicted by these extremists.

        Thus, even if most people were perfect (definitely a stretch!) and could agree to be color/gender-blind all the time, there would still be reason to focus on race and gender: to present positive examples to all of those who still feel negatively towards people of certain races or genders or whatever. I suspect that people aren't perfect and thus that everyone falls into that category on occasion, but if nothing else, remember that we need to keep trying to educate the extremists by presenting positive examples. (Not to mention preventing people from becoming extremists. The KKK isn't going to stop recruiting just because you decided to be color-blind!)

        Besides, who really wants a completely color/sex/religion/sexual orientation/whatever-blind society? I want people to be proud of their heritage! I want people to be proud of who they are and where they came from and what they believe in! I just wish that people didn't attach all these negative associations to people of other races/genders/etc. That is not the same as wanting society to be whatever-blind. Being whatever-blind really means being blind -- you don't see the bad or the good. I'd rather have a society which was actually good (none of those negative associations) than one which is simply blind.
        • First, if nobody cared about race, the neo-nazis would stand out like a sore thumb. With all the the racial policies, some "good", that we have today it's hard to notice subtely exploitive ones. If nobody noticed race except the racists, there'd be a public outcry against any race-based policies, ensuring we caught the bad ones.

          And then, "proud of their heritage"... What's that supposed to mean? The color of your skin is something to be proud of? It sounds suspiciously like the basis of a discriminatory policy. Should I be proud of my blue eyes?

          I'd prefer that nobody treated skin color as anything more different than hair color, people recognize it, dress to suit it, and change it, but you never hear of someone not getting a job because of an old-boys network that refuses to hire brown-haired people.

          I don't support black scholarships either. Sure, as a class, they're poorer, but on an individual basis, any given poor person in the slums needs as much help as anyone else. If you want to help blacks out of the lower classes, help everyone in the lower classes better themselves and their position.
      • We need women involved in physics because we want to be able to let women into physics.


        There is a huge barrier to women who are interested in physics; there aren't any other women. This may sound stupid to some of you, but think about it: how many women do you know that feel perfectly at home sitting completely outnumbered in a group of geeky males. Sure, a few do, but they are in the minority. Having a stronger female presence (at every level: prof, TA, postdoc, grad student, undergrad, high school teacher, etc) will help to alliveiate this.

        Physics is a rather embarassing case. Other hard sciences have recently allowed their influxes of women: chemistry now has reasonable percentages (if not ideal) and maths are gaining too. Physics remains a holdout.. only a certain type of personality is attracted to physics, and only a fraction of those have the intuition and skills neccessary to make it easy. Take off a fraction for social reasons, and you can get it down to zero.

    • "12. Hope for the future More than 300 physicists from around the world -- most of them women -- met in Paris in March for the first International Conference on Women in Physics."
      When does the 'first international Conference on Men in Physics' take place? Is it likely that most of the attendees will be men?

    • True, but I can't believe that it took this long for us to "allow" women to contribute!?!? Why is it that society believes that women are any less capable of contributing in the field of physics than men?

    • .is by far more women getting into physics

      You tell that to all the starving men wondering how to operate a stove or run the washing machine.
      • That won't be a problem. Most of the men I seen around here would not starve for 2 months or more without eating, and they don't know how to run a washing machine, or at least find clean clothes.
    • As a horny unattached male physicist, let me tell you this :


  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 03, 2003 @02:35PM (#5007782)
    Homer: "Lisa, in this house we obey the laws of thermodynamics!"
  • Amazing (Score:4, Funny)

    by TimeReliesOnLadyLuck ( 634991 ) on Friday January 03, 2003 @02:36PM (#5007790) Journal
    "For some reason, the Slashdot Effect and the latest research on iPod-based Beowulf clusters were not included..."

    Amazing, now the editors are trolling US! You know where.
  • by robbyjo ( 315601 ) on Friday January 03, 2003 @02:36PM (#5007792) Homepage

    But the last two points are just "Low points of the year" and "Hope for the future".

    The lowpoints... you guess it, the great sham by Victor Ninov on Ununoctium.

    The hope is... more women in physics! Oh the joy! You guys in Physics should be happier now... :-) If only this happens as well in Computer Science...

  • by sboyko ( 537649 ) on Friday January 03, 2003 @02:36PM (#5007793) Homepage

    In April, physicists at the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO) in Canada presented conclusive new evidence that electron neutrinos oscillate -- or change 'flavour' -- on their way from the Sun to the Earth.

    So they don't taste like chicken anymore?

    • This is a prelude to a new take-over attempt by Baskin-Robbins and KFC. First they are going to buy all the electron neutrino flavours, then they are going to sell them back to us. The all new Electron Neutrino 31 Flavours! Then, KFC will be taking over all the chicken flavoured electron neutrinos. Of course, some years down the road, people will claim that the Neutrinos are being called CFNs instead of Chicken Flavoured Neutrinos because KFC decided to not use real chicken flavouring.
    • The Standard Model of physics doesn't allow for the Chicken Neutrino, only the Electron, Muon and Tau neutrinos. This is why I consider the Standard Model flawed, and I've proposed a new model, dubbed the Craptastic Model.

      Among other innovations, the Craptastic Model does allow for the existence of Chicken Neutrino. What's more, the CM allows for an indefinite number of types of neutrinos, potentially thousands of them. It is my intent to auction off the name rights to these new fabulous types of particles. For instance, by paying the proper fees, there could be a Tropicana Neutrino*, or the General Motors Neutrino*. What could be more prestigious than having an elementary particle named after your company? The marketing potential is incredible! Get in now before they're all gone!

      * Experimental evidence of these neutrinos withheld pending receipt of standard fees.
    • A neutrino changing its flavor means that the neutrino experiences time. Of course I don't mean "experiences" subjectively, with a consciousness- I mean in the sense that a neutrino can in theory be used as a sort of clock. This effectively rules out the possibility that neutrinos are massless particles.

      In relativity, "proper time" in a moving or stationary frame of reference refers to the time as measured by a clock that is stationary relative to that frame. Your watch always gives you the proper time for your frame of reference- and one of the implicit rules is that proper time always proceeds normally. You will never look down at your watch and see the hands spinning around or standing completely still because that would be silly.
      Massless particles like the photon travel at the speed of light- and in fact a massless particle can ONLY travel at the speed of light. (With exceptions for travel through water, glass, etc.) It makes no sense to talk about the proper time experienced by a photon, because when v=c the denominator in the time dilation equation vanishes. A photon can spend a billion years traveling from a remote galaxy to a telescope here, but from the photon's own "point of view" the travel time was zero. A photon does not experience proper time.

      Now that we've caught neutrinos changing their flavor during their travel, we know that they do experience the passage of proper time, which means they have mass, albeit a very small one. This has some implications for the Standard Model (although I don't know what they are).

      Neutrinos have also been shown to be impervious to humor of all kinds, as has been proven here time and again.

  • Obviously (Score:1, Redundant)

    Slashdot Effect and the latest research on iPod-based Beowulf clusters were not included..."

    That is because neither of those have anything to do with physics. Hate to state the obvious.

  • by Sargent1 ( 124354 ) on Friday January 03, 2003 @02:39PM (#5007829)

    This list is great if for no other reason than it gives me a chance to say "Superkamiokande!" in a superhero-like voice.

    Say it with me. It'll make you feel better. "Superkamiokande!"

    Of course, having research I worked on [] mentioned in passing ("Researchers also reported on the unusual expansion characteristics in an ultra-cold Fermi gas this month") was cool too.

  • by tps12 ( 105590 )
    No Segway?
  • "PhysicsWeb selects its top ten stories of 2002 -- a year that will also be remembered for two high-profile cases of scientific misconduct.

    1. Anti-atoms at CERN
    2. Cosmic microwaves reveal polarization
    3. New results confirm neutrino oscillation
    4. Defying the second law
    5. Advances in Superconductivity
    6. Ultra-cold atoms research continues to make advances
    7. Magnets in nanoscale logic devices
    8. Neutrons used to measure quantum gravitational effects
    9. First evidence for 'tetra-neutrons'
    10. Bright times in optics
    11. Low points of the year
    12. Hope for the future

    hmmmm, someone didn't learn their numbers

  • #13 : Nearly age 50, Ron Jeremy [] can still get it up.
  • Why do writers insist on making Top Ten list that start at #1. It ruins the suspense in an otherwise great article. And that's what Physics is all about ... suspense.
    • I think when a 10 ten list of physics needs to provide suspense to somebody, they've clearly already got all the suspense they need. I mean, whats more suspenseful than not knowing and wondering what lies outside one's front door?

    • Why do writers insist on making Top Ten list that start at #1. It ruins the suspense in an otherwise great article. And that's what Physics is all about ... suspense.

      Do what I do- as I read down the list, I dynamically reassign the numbers to suspenseful ones by use of a special algorithm:

      suspenseful(X) = 11 - X

      Hellooo, suspense! It's back!

  • Top ten this, top ten that. Just let me know when someone finds out what the ??? is in that whole "Step 3:???, Step 4: Profit" thing....
  • The Slashdot effect wasn't eligible because it came in #1 last year. Look it up.
  • ...defying the second law of thermodynamics,...

    How many times does it have to be said? Evolution does not violate the second law of thermodynamics!


  • "7. Magnets in nanoscale logic devices

    Physicists in the UK built a nano-metre scale logic gate made entirely from metal that works at room temperature. ... If such devices could be built, they would be ideal for mobile applications such as phones and smart cards because the data could be stored without a power source."

    Isn't that essentially core memory on a smaller scale? Everything old is new again...

    • It's called a logic gate. Look it up in a book on basic logic theory. Duh.
    • Magnetical RAM (MRAM). Storage with access times and density like SRAM, but non-volatile.
      In essence, this would allow a computer to resume its work after powered on in an instant from where it left before.

      So, yes it essentially the same thing in a smaller scale. Like transitors are tubes in a smaller scale and the HDs are just smaller versions of floppy discs.

  • Wow, I think this is a contendor for "Top Ten Most Boring Story Submissions of 2002 on Slashdot". I mean even the Picture of Albert Einstein next to the article looks like he is sleeping. Now everyone go wake up your Sys Admin because if the poor sap read this he will be happily dreaming of Beowolf Clusters and napping on his keyboard.
  • Photons outpaced the market in what experts are referring to as a light trading day. Neutrino shares remain unchanged, while Top and Bottom Partners is still realing from the loss of their Quark building to a sudden fireball. Fire officals now place the source of the explosion to the inadvertant storage of the recently acquired anti-hydrogen bonds in the same vault as companies hydrogen bonds.

    More updates at 3 minutes and 14 seconds past the hour.

  • Sci-Fi Today []ran something I wrote on this story [] a week ago. FYI, you can get daily Sci-Fi Today news headlines on your Slashdot Home Page []...
    • Physics Web has announced the Top 12 physics stories of 2002, a number stretched beyond the usual Top 10 to include human-interest stories like the shortage of women in physics and fabrication-of-data misconduct. Advances in optics were lumped together as one achievement for work as diverse as sub-diffraction limit microscopy and quantum photon cloning. Neutrons were big news, providing insight on quantum gravity and atomic nuclei with neutrons but no protons. Some research was COOL, like Bose-Einstein condensates made from cesium and superconductors made from plutonium. One discovery was HOT, namely nanoscale magnetic logic gates that operate at room temperature. The top discoveries were totally sublime: solar neutrinos change identities on their trip from Sun to Earth, the Second Law of Thermodynamics may be broken (can perpetual motion be far behind?) and microwave radiation from the Big Bang is polarized just like a pair of Neo's sunglasses. The number one physics story, however, was straight out of Star Trek: creation of "cold" anti-hydrogen gas that could be stored indefinitely as long as it didn't touch anything while being held in a magnetic field. Maybe the top physics story for 2003 will be the development of a dilithium chamber to put the anti-hydrogen gas into...
  • From the article:

    "The researchers state that the discovery could be important in the design of micromachines, and argue that the probability of thermodynamic systems running 'in reverse' will increase as they become smaller."

    So does this mean that there is the possibility of creating perpetual motion machines at the microscopic level? What are the possible consequences of this?
    • From the same paragraph:

      In July, however, Australian researchers showed that entropy can decrease over short time periods for small [isolated] systems

      So, for a limited time, yes. Not forever. And the news is, in isolated systems. In unisolated systems, this already known.

      I think there are no consequences, since nano-machines are seldom isolated systems.
    • From my very limited understanding of the work (I've studied in the Research School where the work was done, and have been to a couple of talks on it) it should reduce the effectiveness of nanotechnology. If a machine does process, then as it gets smaller the probability of it doing the reverse process increases. If one could make it infinitly small, it would do the reverse process at excaltly the same rate as it did the forward process.
  • It's in there. Just try to load the page. Pseudo-honerable mention I guess.
  • Ultimately polarization experiments may be able to investigate the Universe in the very first fractions of a second after the Big Bang -- when it underwent a period of extremely rapid expansion known as 'inflation'.

    So, the Universe started a few fractions of a second before Carter was elected? Fascinating.
  • by davebo ( 11873 ) on Friday January 03, 2003 @04:01PM (#5008607) Journal
    The reason is even mentioned in the article:
    This law only applies to large systems over significant periods of time.

    Basically, entropy boils down to probabilities - if you flip a fair coin a gazillion times, you'd expect 50% heads and 50% tails. These folks, in effect, were working at a level where they could detect some of the runs of 100 heads in a row. It's an impressive series of measurements, but won't require a rethink of thermodynamics at all.
    • Depends on how you interpret the second law. In the macroscopic, statistical sense, sorry, but you will never live long enough to see the second law violated, although the laws of probability dictate that it will probably happen some time.

      This simply points out the statistical nature of Thermodynamics. Small systems can be expected to violate the laws of Thermo sometimes because they are small, and the laws of Thermo assume that you are dealing with a system with a large number of components. Rigorous derivations of the laws use the Law of Large Numbers, which of course only applies to large numbers for some strange reason.

      It's still pretty cool, because dispite the theoretical possiblility of observing violations on the small scale, it's never actually been seen before.

      You can't use this to build a perpetual motion machine, because the effects are only of limited duration. It's kind of like in particle physics, where you can violate conservation of energy if you do it fast enough that the rest of the Universe doesn't catch you at it.

  • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

    by rmohr02 ( 208447 )
    defying the second law of thermodynamics
    "And can you believe this perpetual motion machine she built? It just keeps going faster and faster! ... Lisa, in this house, we obey the laws of THERMODYNAMICS!" - Homer Simpson, as he destroys Lisa's perpetual motion machine
  • These are actually real things, not a conglomeration of imaginations by science fiction should-be's.

    I just heard somebody on NPR taking a look back, and she sounded more like a science fiction author than a scientist. Extra dimensional this, multiple universe that, wormhole here, yadda yadda yadda. It's nice to see that the theoretical "physicists" of the make-believe imagination type haven't completely taken over 20th/21st century phsyics.
  • Highlight? Isn't this completely trivial and obvious? Next someone will roll a die, get the number 1, and then claim that this violates the law of large numbers [].

    In fact if entropy did always increase you could use that to build a perpetual motion machine. If it did always increase you could make predictions about particles that could be exploited by a Maxwell type demon. But the fact that it usually increases, but might sometimes decrease, means that information isn't available to you. (Similarly if there really were such a things as a "law of averages" people could use it to win at roulette. That hasn't stopped people trying though.)

    • Similarly if there really were such a things as a "law of averages" people could use it to win at roulette.

      There are people who win at roulette by "law of averages". They're called casino owners. Having deep pockets helps too, of course.
    • No it's not completely obvious.

      There is a massive body of work behind Fluctuation Theorem. Try reading the scientific lit. before dismissing it.
      • It is completely obvious and it has been at least since Boltzmann. Computing just how much 'violation' of the 2nd law we expect to see can be a pretty hairy problem but that small systems defy the second law is totally trivial. I won't bother reading the literature unless you point me to a publication that expresses surprise that a small system can do this. And then I'll read it for entertainment value only.
  • by budalite ( 454527 ) on Friday January 03, 2003 @04:19PM (#5008783)
    If we only see ~5% of the Universe (and probably only understand about 0.00000001% of that), could it be that we really cannot see most of what is right in front of us? Has anyone postulated that the rest of it is all around us, not just "out there somewhere"? Well, that's my excuse and I'm sticking with it.
    • If we only see ~5% of the Universe (and probably only understand about 0.00000001% of that), could it be that we really cannot see most of what is right in front of us?
      My belief is that the 95% of the universe that we cannot see is actually countless stars enveloped by Dyson [] spheres [] by an advanced alien civilization.

      Once we achieve the technology, that's my plan -- to "save" as much of the energy that's pouring out into space, so we can make the universe last longer. I'm sure advanced civilizations have similar thoughts.

      The cool part is, if it's true, then it's a lot like realizing that you're already within the event horizon of a black hole. They've "eaten" 95% of the stars; they'll get to ours sooner or later. Will we be able to keep it?

  • The article reports CERN has manufactured 220,000 antihydrogen atoms. How much damage could that do if they all annihilated at once?
    • None. I think the total mass energy is less than a thousandth of a Joule.
    • Antihydrogen and hydrogen both have the same mass (assuming CPT symmetry is not violated), so a total of 440000 * 1.00794 / 6.022e23 * 9e18 = 6.6 J would be released if the antihydrogen totally annihilated with hydrogen.

      1.00794 is atomic mass of hydrogen in AMU, 6.022e23 is Avogadro's number, 9e18 is the speed of light squared. The constants are off the top of my head so I may be slightly off on the hydrogen atomic mass.

      6.6 joules is a quite noticeable amount of energy, equivalent to a 5 gram bullet travelling around 50 meters per second.

  • Element 118 has not been proven (as mentioned in the list), but has Element 116? It was apparantly seen by the same group that saw 118, but from what I could find, it was also seen by some Russians..

    Does anyone have any more information on Element 116?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I find it interesting that all but one of these highlights occured outside of the USA -- and that one being a joint effort with Japan. Where the USA does feature however, is the deplorable episodes at Berkely and Bell Labs. To my mind, this is evidence that the self-destruction of the USA empire has begun -- don't worry it happens to all empires -- and that the world at large would be well advised to start ignoring the American scientific community now lest they pollute the world of science further; until they come to their senses that is, no need for irrational xenophobia.
  • by bcrowell ( 177657 ) on Friday January 03, 2003 @07:02PM (#5010346) Homepage
    I talked to someone I know who's an expert on neutron detection, and he's pretty skeptical about the tetraneutron.

    One big problem is that a random coincidence between four neutrons from unrelated events could masquerade as a tetraneutron. The paper [] says they have the random-coincidence rate all figured out, but it's the kind of thing that is notoriously hard to be sure about.

    With any other exotic nuclear species, you can catch it in a metal foil, and then find out stuff about it, e.g., what particles it emits when it decays. The tetraneutron, if it exists, can only be detected by destroying it, which makes it hard to measure any of its properties. If you can't measure any of its properties, it's pretty hard to be sure it's real.

  • 4 neutrons in a clump - HAH! I've had that beat for ages:

    Behold the wonder that is Administratium []

    And the wonderful (uhhh, awful???) thing is that most of you can see this element in operation yourselves.

Doubt isn't the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith. - Paul Tillich, German theologian and historian