Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Simulation Hypothesis: a Story

Here's the short story, "Copernican Principle," that I wrote after encountering Nick Bostrom's treatment of the simulation hypothesis. It appeared in the March, 2005, issue of Analog.The title comes from my own interpretation of Bostrom's argument -- I think of it as a version of the Copernican Principle, since it relies on the idea that we do not occupy a special place in the universe. And you'll see in the story how that idea gets taken to its logical conclusion...

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Simulation Hypothesis

Are we actually living in a computer simulation? I'm not. But you might be. This idea was explored most famously in the films The Matrix and The Thirteenth Floor. (I actually thought the second of these was a better treatment of the topic). But surprisingly, philosophers and scientists have also taken this idea seriously.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Do Most Scientists Like to Read Science Fiction?

Folklore has it that many scientists got started on their scientific careers through a childhood interest in science fiction. I am not sure how accurate this is -- in my case, the reverse is true. I began reading science fiction because of a childhood interest in science.

But are most scientists also fans of science fiction? My experience from talking to my colleagues in physics and astronomy over the years suggests that they divide into three roughly-equal groups (this is admittedly an unscientific poll of scientists!) About one-third of my colleagues seem to be avid science fiction fans. This is certainly higher than in the general population, but far from an overwhelming majority. About one-third have never been interested in science fiction. And what of the remaining third? They were science fiction fans as children or teenagers but lost interest as they grew to adulthood. As the famous saying goes, the Golden Age of science fiction is 12.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Robert Heinlein and the Generation Ship

Among the American Golden Age science fiction writers, the most golden of all was Robert Heinlein. So how did Heinlein go about evading Einstein's cosmic speed limit?  He didn't. And that led to one of the most influential stories in all of science fiction.

Dark Energy

I have an article about dark energy over at The Conversation website. I'll be discussing cosmology in science fiction sometime in the future.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Computer Nostalgia

My kids still can't believe that when I went to college (late 70s - early 80s), the campus was served by The Computer, and when The Computer crashed (which it did with alarming frequency), everyone was out of luck.

I had a roommate who worked at the computer center, so naturally he had access to all of the users' passwords. (Hey, it was a more innocent time.  Besides, what could you do if you had access to someone else's password?  Steal all of their Fortran programs?) My roommate told us one night that all of the users thought they were so clever in choosing obscure passwords, but one single password accounted for nearly half the users on the system. Can you guess this password? (Hint: Most computer users back then were also SF fans).

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Wormholes: a Galactic Subway System

Suppose that you could step out of your front door -- and right onto the surface of Mars. That would be possible with a wormhole -- a shortcut through space. But what would a galactic society linked together by wormholes look like?

Monday, April 20, 2015

Nobel Prize Trivia

Here's a trivia question related to faster-than-light travel:  which winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics appeared (as a character) in a 1960s TV Western?

Friday, April 17, 2015

Warp Factor What?

Faced with the impossibility of travelling faster than the speed of light, what's a science fiction writer to do? The easiest solution is to ignore the problem entirely.  The world of science fiction is full of "warp drives," "hyperdrives," travel through "subspace," and their relatives -- the writer simply assumes that someone, sometime, will figure out a way to circumvent the cosmic speed limit.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Science Fiction and the Cosmic Speed Limit

One of the enduring themes of science fiction is the galactic empire:  thousands of star systems tied together by gleaming spaceships hurtling through the cosmos.  And why not?  Civilization on Earth progressed from hunter-gatherers eking out a bare existence to planet-spanning empires over the course of a few thousand years.  Surely our next step will be to colonize the Galaxy.  Unfortunately, a galactic empire of this sort would be doomed, not by alien adversaries, nor by internal dissension, but by the discoveries of a German physicist more than a century ago.  Albert Einstein may have been one of the greatest physicists of all time, but he did more to crush the childhood dreams of aspiring interstellar explorers than anyone who ever lived.  Einstein posted a cosmic speed limit back in 1905, and it’s still in force.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Cosmic Yarns: Science and Science Fiction

Does the world really need another physics blog? Probably not. Or at least not from me. I want to try something a bit different here. I work as a cosmologist, mainly in the areas of dark matter and dark energy. But I also write science fiction sporadically, and I have always been intrigued by the interplay between science and science fiction -- that's what I want to explore in this blog. Of course, I will also reserve the right to pontificate on extraneous topics that I know nothing about.

You can read some of my science fiction here or here or listen to a podcast of one of my stories here. If you would like to read my scientific papers, I suggest you start with this one.