Ceres



In my list of interesting events in 2015 I forgot to mention that Dawn will meet Ceres on March 6th.
It seems that xkcd has already figured out what the white spot is about.

why?

It is not too surprising that our brains are smart enough to understand the world around us; evolution provides a reasonable explanation.
But it is surprising that we are also able to a large extent to understand the world far away from our everyday experience; from atoms down to particle physics and on the other hand astrophysics and cosmology.
There is no good explanation why we have this capability, or in other words, why the laws of physics are simple enough for us to understand them (mostly). Of course, we have to admit that some mysteries remain, we struggle somewhat with the interpretation of quantum physics, we cannot really imagine the size of the multiverse and we even struggle to understand our own consciousness.
But we do know enough math to describe the world to an extent that has no immediate (evolutionary) benefit to us humans. Why is that?
And why is it that what we find far away from our day to day experience is actually beautiful? I am not only talking about e.g. the colorful images of galaxies, but the symmetries we find in particle physics, the elegance of general relativity etc.
There is no explanation for that and there was no reason Galileo's project went as far as it did and worked so well beyond our Earth and the solar system he tried to understand (*).
Cardinal Barberini actually made the argument at the time that the physics of Galileo cannot be trusted, because why would God have created the world so that we can understand its mysteries? Yes, why indeed - I think this is a very good question.

(*) Btw I think that people who fantasize about the promises or dangers of artificial intelligence underestimate our own natural intelligence - which made the miracle of science possible.

Lucy in the Sky ...

We are already back in Nassau, but a few days ago we saw something rare during a whale watching tour in Tromsø: stratospheric clouds (supposedly of type 2, i.e. water/ice clouds).
They are quite easy to recognize due to their rainbow colors, which brings me to this question: Why are clouds in the stratosphere so colorful but the usual clouds in the troposphere just black and white?
I think I have an answer, but I would prefer to hear an opinion from readers first ...

global group therapy

You are probably already aware that Scott Aaronson wrote a comment to his blog post about Walter Lewin which got a lot of attention on twitter and the internet in general.
Now we know why his blog is called shtetl-optimized and I think we understand better some of his earlier blog posts about biting vaginas and rape (meanwhile he deleted this blog post #260).

I find his story (which included his wish to be chemically castrated) quite disturbing and the environment he grew up in must have been very unhealthy.
His confessional triggered not only criticism from professional feminists but all kinds of comments, including similar confessionals from other young men and also women; overall the whole debate is among the weirdest ones I have ever seen in our global shtetl.
Wow. Just wow.