That’s So Second Millennium
Episode 036 - Anne Hofmeister on Galactic Rotation, Math, and Glass

Episode 036 - Anne Hofmeister on Galactic Rotation, Math, and Glass

December 3, 2018

The times below are continuations from the last episode. My opening is about 1:30, and then we start with galaxy motions at "26:00".

26:00 Galaxy motions

27:00 Galaxy rotation curves: do not match Keplerian orbits

28:00 Galaxies spin more like records (laggy soft records); mass distribution is nothing like the Solar System

29:00 Hurricanes as a better analogy for galaxies

30:00 Stars in a galaxy move in local organization

32:00 Nebulas

34:00 The opposite extreme: rigid body rotation

35:00 Gravitational attraction between stars creating coherence

36:00 Curiosity that gravity and electrical forces are both inverse square laws

37:00 Poisson's equation

38:00 Summing densities in Poisson's inhomogeneous term is physically meaningless; intensive quantities can't be summed that way

40:00 Gauss' theorem: flux through a surface and quantity within a volume

41:00 Summing is for extensive variables

42:00 Pressure an ambiguous variable

43:00 Future work

44:00 Thermal expansivity: Giauque

45:00 Problems with the glass transition measurements done in the past: need to completely drive out water from the experimental charges

48:00 Wrapup

Episode 035 - Anne Hofmeister Shakes Up Earth Science

Episode 035 - Anne Hofmeister Shakes Up Earth Science

November 26, 2018

TSSM goes heavy: hard-hitting journalism from one of science's great controversialists, Anne Hofmeister. Intrigued? Disagree? Write me an email ( or look her up at Washington University in St. Louis' EPS department website.

The times below are keyed to the start of the interview and ignore my opening (just over 2 min).

0:00 Introduction

1:00 Anne's background (sorry, this part Anne was talking so quietly that I can't seem to fix it with Audacity, but bear with us; we moved the microphone and figured some things out and it gets better)

2:00 Spectroscopy and heat transfer

3:00 Thermal conductivity experiments and their pitfalls

5:00 Criticism of the history of thermodynamics and heat transfer; identification of light and heat

6:00 Problems with equilibrium and elastic collisions in theories of thermodynamics

8:00 Criticism of phonon theory

10:00 Electron and vibrational transfer of heat decoupled; metals and heat transfer

13:00 Garnet

14:00 Earth's interior: convection, the Rayleigh number

15:00 Viscosity

16:00 The Earth's mantle: nearly all solid

17:00 Plate tectonics without mantle convection

18:00 An even more radical idea: heat is being trapped inside the solid Earth

19:00 [there was a distortion I had to cut]

20:00 Implications: heat generation is in the crust (this part is widely known!)

21:00 Implications: the core is melting, not solidifying?

22:00 The geodynamo and magnetic field

23:00 The core: buffered at the temperature of melting high pressure iron

24:00 Magnetic modes diagram for the planets: spin and magnetic field


Episode 032 - Science and Saints

Episode 032 - Science and Saints

November 5, 2018

Intro: Nobel Prize announcements

Donna Strickland

Nadia Murad

Segue: Lemaitre press release

Transition: the early 20th century golden age from Chesterton to Fulton Sheen

Theme: All Saints Day



Albert the Great

Roger Bacon

Nicolaus Steno

Gregor Mendel

Georges Lemaitre

Please leave us feedback here by hitting the "Email Paul" link or using the "Facebook" link and commenting or messaging us there.

Image: Braulio of Saragossa and Isidore of Seville, writing his Origins (Etymologies)

Episode 029 - Geological Awe

Episode 029 - Geological Awe

October 15, 2018

For a change of pace, we discuss emotions and aesthetics and the sense of awe at the scale of the universe and the planet that we inhabit. Paul discusses the "billion year contacts" at his old stomping grounds in the St Francois Mountains of southeast Missouri and the lost world of the earliest visible life in the Burgess Shale. Paul and Bill close with a reflection on how the awe that we feel at comtemplating the enormous scale of space and time of the created world ought to make us better appreciate the audacity of the Christian claim that the Being who set all of this in motion...emptied Itself and became man.

Episode 028 - Absolute Geologic Dating

Episode 028 - Absolute Geologic Dating

October 8, 2018

In this episode we continue into the next logical topic, absolute dating, which is done via measurement of radioactive parent and daughter isotopes. Thus we move from the 19th century and classical physics into yet another way in which 20th century physics has revolutionized science.


Paul gives a rundown, with many apologies for the exact data of isotope numbers and half-life lengths he has managed to forget, of the theory of radioactive decay. Bill, our proxy for the man on the street, starts us off with a common notion of half-life. From there we cover some of the basics and most commonly used isotopic systems: uranium-lead, thorium-lead, a discussion of why carbon 14 is so seldom used in geology, potassium-argon, and a note that more systems are always being brought into use. We discuss the distinct types of rocks that are best used for radiometric dating and how the relative dating methods have to be used in an interwoven system with radiometric dating in order to assemble the whole system of geochronology that we use today.


We end the podcast with a discussion of how science is the very opposite of a conspiracy theory or a political campaign. The geologic dating systems need interlocking data, and they also benefit from it. In such a system, contradictions do spring up--one study doing biostratigraphy might conflict with another using zircons. What science does is not to sweep that under the rug...instead we throw resources and graduate students at it until we get a resolution to the conflict.


(Zircon photo credit Harald Schillhammer via Note the pink and brown coloration...brown zircon is commonly that color due to radiation damage from the uranium and thorium it contains.)

Episode 027 - Relative Geologic Dating

Episode 027 - Relative Geologic Dating

October 1, 2018

In this episode Paul lays out in a more systematic way the methods used in geology since the late 18th century to erect the detailed stratigraphic history of the Earth. Lithostratigraphy, which works via Steno's Laws, can be used on all the rocks in any outcrop. Its shortcoming is that it cannot be extended beyond a regional scale, at best--say, the state of Wyoming, or Wales and Corwall, etc. Biostratigraphy, the use of fossils, which includes the selection of specially suitable index fossils, allows correlation of strata across continental, oceanic, and worldwide scales. However, not every rock--not even every sedimentary rock--is a good home for fossils. It is only by the use of both methods in tandem that a complete relative geologic timescale has been assembled and erected.


You will note that in passing I mentioned that the idea of extinct organisms was difficult for European scholars, specifically, in the 17th century to accept, and then I go on to give you a tell by speaking of Renaissance "gurus"...of course, I mean to contrast European thought with Indian thought, in which the idea of extinct organisms is not so hard to fit in to an idea of long, cyclical histories of periodic destruction and remaking of the Earth and universe.


Two specific points: One, the word evolution contains a lot of conceptual components. What we are discussing in this episode, what is almost beyond realistic controversy at this point, is what I would term "succession of species." Matching sequences of fossils, in their relative age relationships as indicated by Steno's laws, recur in innumerable outcrops across the Earth. (I note in passing that an all-knowing Creator building this out of nothing in instantaneous creation must assuredly have known that this would deceive human beings eventually into thinking that there was a succession, and then you have to deal with the intellectual baggage of God deliberately lying to us.) That is different than the mechanism by which this succession of species was made to occur: inheritance, survival of the fit and extinction of others as environment and competition varied with time, mutations, viral transport of DNA, and whatever else actually caused this succession of species. That is less clear.


Two, the early workers in stratigraphy (especially the British ones) by and large wanted the Biblical narrative, and even the Biblical minimalist narrative to work out. The evidence forced them out of this interpretation. To reiterate the point from last episode, there was never a conspiracy to submerge the Bible story of creation and Noah's flood: the cycle of observation, reflection, and criticism of ideas killed theories depending on excessively broad interpretations of the Genesis text.

Episode 026 - The Rejection of Young Earth Creationism in the 19th Century

Episode 026 - The Rejection of Young Earth Creationism in the 19th Century

September 24, 2018

- Decay and refutation of the Genesis minimalist paradigm for interpreting geology.
    - What do contemporary young Earth creationists think happened during this epoch of human history (c. 1700-1830)?
    - Do they think about it at all?
    - Do they think that it was a conspiracy or open rebellion, a force of will to reject the Bible?

- Late 18th / early 19th century debate over the age of the Earth
    - Change in status of fossils of extinct species from a doubted claim to a means of dating strata
        - In Steno's time, the fact that shells of many extinct species clearly do not belong to living animals was considered a telling argument in favor of their abiotic origin.
        - By the early 19th century, enough work had been done on systematic stratigraphy across Europe that geologists recognized a number of extinct fossil groupings that could be found in a variety of places, and the conviction grew that these assemblages were the remains of living communities that existed at specific intervals in Earth's past.
        - In turn, using fossil assemblages to cross-correlate rocks across Europe and eventually across the rest of the planet allowed the erection and refinement of the geological timescale that we still use today.
    - Hutton: "we can see no vestige of a beginning, no prospect of an end"
        - Criticized as bringing back Aristotelian eternalism, but Hutton defends his statement as a comment on the limitations of what we can observe
- Final burst of "diluvialist" theory in the 1820s
    - "Drift", including "erratic" boulders, gravels, and sands in places contemporary streams and gravity could not have left them (e.g. on hillsides)
    - Some such deposits of gravel and sand in Europe and a few other places scattered across the world, particularly in caves, held recent fossils; these were bundled up together and held to be products of either Noah's Flood or a similar flood at a different, somewhat earlier date.
    - No human remains found in these deposits (at the time the debate was being resolved, at any rate).
- Lyell begins publishing "Principles of Geology" in 1830
    - Pushes the Huttonian theme of uniformitarianism to its extreme.
    - Lumps Genesis minimalists, diluvialists, catastrophists, and even directionalists together
    - Lyell's uniformitarianism was never accepted in absolute completeness
        - Even before the advent of thermodynamics in the 19th century, it was still common sense that the Earth is cooling down with time.
- What happened to the evidence once taken as proof of diluvialism?
    - The gradual, halting acceptance of ice ages as the source of "drift"
- Where did the debate go from there?
    - Direct reference to Genesis as a historical reference for geological events died out of the living stream of geological debate.
    - Physicists, and devotees of the new discipline of geophysics, began to look for ways to constrain the Earth's age with the means available to late 19th century physics. The name of William Thomson, later Lord Kelvin, is most remembered today for essentially issuing ultimata to stratigraphers and paleontologists based on his cooling histories of the Sun and the Earth. A tug of war ensued between geologists in these old subdisciplines, whose estimates of the required time for the deposition, uplift, and erosion of strata ran into the hundreds of millions of years, and the physicists, who thought that 100 million years was roughly the longest conceivable time allowable.
    - Of course, the physicists were wrong; their estimates of the age of the Earth were yet another area where the advent of 20th century physics (radioactivity, which ultimately is a quantum physics effect) overturned previous thought:
        - First, radioactivity heats the interior of the Earth--and nuclear fusion drives the Sun--meaning that the old estimates of cooling lifetimes were meaningless.
        - Second, radioactivity gives us many ways of actually calculating numeric ages of minerals and rocks.
-The upshot for the debate between young Earth creationists and geologists.
    - It pays to keep in mind that the radiometric dating line of evidence for the long age of the Earth came very, very late in the history of geology. It's not a primary argument, certainly not historically, and perhaps not even scientifically, for an age of the Earth that radically transcends 6,000 years.
    - Geology, like physics, chemistry, and biology, was born in the 17th century, in an intellectual climate steeped in Biblical minimalism. There was no shortage of geologists who *wanted* a global Genesis flood to have existed and left evidence of its passing. They were argued, or even argued themselves out of this belief, very reluctantly.
    - It's also worth taking some time to think:
        - Does the text of Genesis demand a global flood? Really? We are that sure of the definitions of the words and the history of the text?
        - Is a God that presided over the ad hoc instantaneous creation of a complex planet any greater in concept than the God that created a whole universe and the laws that govern its growth and change over 13 billion years?

Episode 025 - Geology after Steno: Catastrophism, Uniformitarianism, and Fideism

Episode 025 - Geology after Steno: Catastrophism, Uniformitarianism, and Fideism

September 17, 2018

- Competitor paradigms in early geology, their conceptual and thematic relationships to Noah's Flood.
    - Catastrophism and its inverse, uniformitarianism

Hutton, in some circles (especially Anglo-American ones) considered the father of geology, was a curious hybrid (from our point of view, anyway) of philosophical convictions. On the one hand, and what makes him famous and venerated among geologists today, is his methodology and core assumption that processes happening on the contemporary Earth are the same processes that have shaped it throughout its history. This idea was worked up and spread broadly by Lyell.
    On the other hand, he expressed a thoroughgoing sense of teleology...that the world was set up in such a way so as to maintain its surface condition fit for animal life.

Controversy between "catastrophists" and "uniformitarians / actualists"
Cowper, "The Task": "[God] was mistaken in the date he gave to Moses" (Cowper himself is castigating these scholars)
    The putative tension that people like Cowper, Steno, Pascal, even arguably Aquinas felt between science,
        mathematics, philosophy and their faith
    How has this played into the widespread notion that faith and reason are opposed?
    Cf. the tension between being Christian and being a soldier
"Deists" like Werner and Hutton discard the rigid post-Reformation sola scriptura straitjacket, yet they become just as dogmatic about their own theories.

Episode 024 - Geology after Steno: Diluvialism, Neptunism, and Vulcanism

Episode 024 - Geology after Steno: Diluvialism, Neptunism, and Vulcanism

September 10, 2018

With acknowledgments to A. Hallam and his Great Geological Controversies

18th century: it becomes more and more possible and even fashionable to discard the minimalist Scriptural timescale
Nevertheless, Western thought is so thoroughly steeped in Christianity that every major development is either an extension (subconscious or not) of a Christian theme or a deliberate rejection of one.

- Decay and refutation of the Genesis minimalist paradigm for interpreting geology.
    - "Diluvialism", the theory that either Noah's Flood as a global phenomenon c. 3000 BC or a similar worldwide flood at a more loosely defined point in Earth's history
- Competitor paradigms in early geology, their conceptual and thematic relationships to Noah's Flood.
    - Neptunism, vulcanism, plutonism

The difficulty of even finding good outcrops to come to solid conclusions about geological questions

Controversy between the "neptunists", "vulcanists", and "plutonists" revolves around a very limited number of observations at key field localities in west-central Europe:
    Flat-lying basalts in Saxony sandwiched into a sedimentary sequence
    Volcanoes in Italy, especially Vesuvius (the most accessible and famous)
    Extinct but still recognizable volcanoes in Auvergne, in France, where basalt cones and flows overlie huge thicknesses of granite

Episode 022 - Nicolaus Steno (Niels Stensen) - The Protogeologist

Episode 022 - Nicolaus Steno (Niels Stensen) - The Protogeologist

August 27, 2018

In this episode we discuss the life and times of one Blessed Niels Stensen (Latinized as Nicolaus Steno), a Dane who laid down the basic principles that undergird the whole science of geology, from paleontology to stratigraphy to mineralogy and crystallography. Our discussion in the podcast is indebted to The Seashell on the Mountaintop by Alan Cutler.

To better understand the impact of Steno's times on his thought and vice versa, we have to discuss extensively the intellectual world of the seventeenth century. If the thirteenth century saw a grand synthesis of Christian teachings with the best that ancient Greek philosophy had to offer, the seventeeth century was a time of vicious bickering over the Bible and between people just beginning the arduous task of observing the natural world and coming up with theories to interpret how it worked that were actually consistent with the observations. It was a time where we see the very beginnings of ideas that now are bedrock (pardon the pun) parts of our understanding of the world adrift in a sea of other ideas that now sound outright insane.

Steno bequeathed several principles of interpretation. Three (or so...depending on how one names and numbers them) have to do with rocks and fossils (at that time, "fossil" could mean almost any notable object embedded in a rock, whether the remnant of a living thing or a crystal or what we would now call a sedimentary structure, such as a raindrop cast or a ripple mark) and the order in which they formed; the fourth has to do with crystals, and allows one to distinguish crystals of different minerals. They are the laws of superposition, inclusion and/or cross-cutting relationships, original horizontality, and constant interfacial angles.

If you're interested in hearing another take on this brilliant and enigmatic man, you can now watch Andrew Sicree's talk from the Society of Catholic Scientists conference (discussed in last month's episode).

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