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 034 - Stephen Barr on Why to Be a Religious (and Catholic) Scientist

Episode 034 - Stephen Barr on Why to Be a Religious (and Catholic) Scientist

November 19, 2018

~0:00 Question: advice for students
1:00 Don't be afraid to be a religious scientist
2:00 Particular issues
3:00 Keep awake to the wonder of the world
4:00 Bill: ignorance of the common man about both science and religion
5:00 Modern Physics and Ancient Faith
6:00 Christopher Baglow: science and faith textbook
7:00 Church beginning (at long last?) to address the need to catechize & educate about this
Phone ringing can't be excised without gutting Bill's question!
8:00 Media's portrayal of religion as boring and science as exciting
9:00 Science explores the world as it is, but there must be issues beyond: "why" issues
10:00 Intellectual freedom necessary for science to make any sense
11:00 No reason for Catholics to fear science uncovering fatal problems for faith
12:00 20th century overturn of 19th century mechanistic, unfree universe
13:00 Advent of the big bang theory, verification through microwave radiation
14:00 Bill: "free will on steroids" in uneasy coexistence with materialism
15:00 Barr: inherent conflict there
16:00 Pernicious recurring feature of intellectual history: excuses not to be free
17:00 Bill: does faith make one a better scientist?
18:00 Wonder: "ears to hear and eyes to see"
19:00 Summation: join Society of Catholic Scientists!
20:00 Sign off

Episode 033 - Stephen Barr on Lemaitre-Hubble Law and the Society of Catholic Scientists

Episode 033 - Stephen Barr on Lemaitre-Hubble Law and the Society of Catholic Scientists

November 12, 2018

Minute Comment

0:00 Paul introduces

1:00 Bill: Lemaitre announcement

2:00 Lemaitre: faith & science not opposed

3:00 Barr: Lemaitre announcement

4:00 Ignorance of Lemaitre

5:00 Ignorance of the Christian, Catholic origin of science & famous Catholic scientists

6:00 Barr: late 19th century critical period for the forging of the myth of Church as anti-science

7:00 Science only professionalized in the late 19th century, looking for influence

8:00 More famous Catholic scientists

9:00 Mission of the Society of Catholic Scientists; religious people looking askance at scientists, 10:00 Scientists timid about showing their faith in the presence of a few loud atheists

11:00 Catholic scientists joining SCS & finding others like themselves

12:00 Witness to the world

13:00 Conferences, past and future: next June at Notre Dame

14:00 2017: origin of universe, life; 2018: mind and matter

15:00 2019 conference: what is it (and has it been) to be human; speakers from outside the faith

16:00 Past non-Catholic conference speakers

17:00 Peter Koellner's talk at 2018 conference

18:00 Koellner and Godel's theorem

19:00 Neaderthals, language, reason

20:00 Godel's beliefs about mind and mathematical truths

21:00 Mathematical truth and religious truth

22:00 Depth & sophistication of the law that governs the universe


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 020 - Bill and Father Spitzer Talk Intellectual Culture and Education

Episode 020 - Bill and Father Spitzer Talk Intellectual Culture and Education

August 13, 2018

Today was just one of those days where I needed a script to get through a three minute intro. I summarize the interview afterward.

Paul: "Welcome to Episode 20 of That's So Second Millennium.

"I'm Paul Giesting, a geologist, researcher, consultant, writer, and your co-host on this journey through the beautiful frontier country between science, philosophy, and religion as they stand here at the beginning of the third millennium. My opposite number is Bill Schmitt, a journalist, radio personality, and dab hand with the accordion.

"This week Bill managed to snag an interview with Father Robert Spitzer, who runs the Magis Center out on the West Coast and is the host of Father Spitzer's Universe on EWTN. He's published a number of books, which tend to have provocative titles; the one that I've read is called New Proofs for the Existence of God. That's an exciting read for anyone interested in the subject matter of this podcast, and travels through scientific and philsophical and mathematical arguments like the debate over fine tuning--whether Someone had to deliberately create the universe as it is, given how tightly constrained many physical constants seem to have had to be in order for any of the complex structures of atoms, planets, and stars to form and allow the appearance of life--and the question of whether it really makes any sense to speak of a "reverse infinity" and a universe that has always existed. Indian thinkers, Plato and Aristotle, and even Thomas Aquinas either thought that the universe has always existed or at the very least that there is no logical contradiction in saying that it could have always existed in time, even while Aristotle and Thomas asserted that the universe could not have an infinite chain of causes and needed a Prime Mover. Spitzer, in New Proofs, brings forward arguments from the philosophy of mathematics that perhaps this idea of a reverse infinity is not really logically coherent at all...a topic for one or more future podcasts.

"For today, Bill talked to Father Spitzer about the state of culture and the demographics of young people leaving the practice and even the identification of faith and citing as one reason the perceived contradiction between science and faith, initiatives to fight that, and the real absurdity of this perceived contradiction. With that I'll let Bill take it away."

Bill: Introduces our podcast and the motivations: value to filling holes in the culture, addressing the young.

Spitzer: Most recent Pew survey in 2016 comments on the high fraction of young people not just leaving the Church for a while, not just leaving a Church, but leaving faith altogether and becoming agnostic or atheistic. 49% of those leaving cite the perceived contradiction between science and religion as a key reason.

Bill: Proposes two reasons why that might be: was this gap "percolating" for a long time and just not being addressed, or is there a recent development pushing this.

Spitzer: It's both. The gap has been there for a long time [below the surface]. There are a lot of internet resources, social media outlets devoted to pushing an atheistic worldview. This feeds back into schools. Science teachers and professors that publicly espouse atheism meet audiences that are already primed that direction and certainly have no answers to contradict what they're being told.

One of his initiatives is, where there is a bundle of resource modules presenting core arguments for the consistency of the Catholic faith and science and even arguments that discoveries in science point toward faith, not unbelief, in a Creator as the more sensible interpretation of reality. Pushing to get this curriculum into every diocese and every confirmation class and Catholic school curriculum.

Example topics: the Shroud of Turin, evidence for an intelligent Creator, near death experiences, evidence for a transphysical soul, 20th and 21st century accounts of miracles that have been thoroughly investigated with scientific methods.

Bill: The New Atheism is almost built on being shallow, on an attitude of mockery rather than on a serious analysis of evidence. This approach is the opposite: really multi-faceted.

Spitzer: Cardinal Newman talked about the "informal inference" to faith. It's not one argument; it's about twenty lines of reasoning. In our day we have if anything more of these, all the way from philosophical to scientific arguments to faith on the large scale to countless examples of miracles that have withstood thorough scrutiny by skeptical researchers. This is what the Credible Catholic approach is trying to convey.

We've tested the curriculum on beta groups of students in Austin, New York, Los Angeles and gotten remarkably high marks from these groups (97% positive / very positive, rated anonymously).

Bill: Pope Benedict foundation awards for "expanded reason" and the problems with positivism, scientism.

Spitzer: The logical contradiction at the very foundation of Vienna Circle positivism: it makes the self-contradictory claim that "the only valid knowledge is scientifically verifiable knowledge"...good luck checking that statement by scientific methods. That's a school of thought from the turn of the 20th century; we in the Church have been wrestling with it for a long time.

Reminiscence about a debate on Larry King Live with Stephen Hawking (et al.) and the claim that science had replaced philosophy...this is likewise straightforwardly impossible; science and philosophy do fundamentally different things. For that matter, so do science and mathematics.

Bill: A contradiction that I see more than ever: our culture and educational system is arguing for atheism and at the same time dumbing down our understanding of basically everything, while there is a growing s(S)ociety of Catholic Scientists...[a quick back and forth]

Spitzer: Artificial intelligence's potential is overrated when it is claimed that it can become creative in anything like a human fashion. It can't find new truths; they don't love [or will] or have any of the transcendentals. Computers are marvellous tools that, *in tandem with us*, can take us to new places we could not get without this kind of effort multiplier...

Studies on religious and non-religious affiliated groups, with the latter having much higher rates of maladaptions: suicide, substance abuse, impulsivity, depression, etc. Augustine's comment about our hearts being restless until we rest in God seems to be empirically corroborated.

Closing:, Notre Dame initiatives to educate high school science teachers on the interrelations between faith and science.

"So there we have it. I also want to thank Father Spitzer for taking the time to give this interview. We hope to present many more interviews as That's So Second Millennium matures and gets going. The point of the podcast has always been to get conversations started about these core issues, whether and how to be a logically coherent believer in the modern age. It's started with these conversations between Bill and I, but the point is to move outward and engage with more of you. The time is rapidly coming to expand this outreach another step or two, through social media and ordinary human interactions. Right now you can check out the Facebook page for That's So Second Millennium, and you can leave ratings and reviews on one or more of our podcast servers, Apple, Google Play, Stitcher, or Podbean."

Episode 019 - Conclusion: SCS Conference

Episode 019 - Conclusion: SCS Conference

August 6, 2018

We pick up from last week's episode with the next speaker. Kara Lamb followed Andrew Sicree; her research is about the atmosphere and climate. She mostly talked about climate, and got a ways into specifics about her research on black carbon soot in the atmosphere. She did stop to draw a parallel between Laudato Si and Pacem in Terris, that in both cases the Popes stopped to address humanity at large and not just the Church.

Juan Martin Maldacena was after her, and was presented the St. Albert Award. You don't schedule Juan Maldacena and not have him talk about his own physics research; he is famous for research on workable forms of string theory in anti-de Sitter space and some results on the shape and nature of black holes. His talk was very technical and rather hard to summarize, but an intriguing aspect of it was the recurring notion that black hole singularities and the original singularity of the Big Bang might have a lot in common.

Sunday morning after Mass Michael Dennin led off with a talk structured around a book called "The Big Picture" by somebody I think I've heard of but don't know why named Sean Carroll. In this book Carroll apparently divides reality into "poetic naturalism", where "poetic" means "stories we tell ourselves about large complicated objects" and "naturalism" means "quantum physics, which is actually reality". Dennin made four points:

  1. Emergence. Reality does not appear to be just quantum physics (or, I would elaborate, not even just a unified theory that somehow gets gravity and relativity united with quantum physics). There are really new laws that emerge as you go to larger, composite, varied objects...the laws of thermodynamics, entropy in particular, are an example.
  2. Physical reality. It's a little much to talk about "reality" so cavlierly; it ignores basically metric tons of philosophical questions people have spent centuries debating. Is physical reality basically sense data? Is it the particles we theorize to be out there to explain, ultimately, our sense data in the context of the experiments we do and the natural objects we observe? Isn't there nonphysical reality: mathematics, wavefunctions (they can't be completely physical), conscious reality / qualia? How can we be sure there aren't nonphysical "forces" acting on physical objects? In some way, don't they have to? (mathematics and logic in some way constrain reality, that's a rumination of mine while writing this)
  3. Free will...the Comptonesque observation that quantum physics leave room for this nonphysical soul or mind to affect the physical body
  4. MIracles. Dennin actually led off the talk with an exercise, asking us to define miracles, and then he went on a fairly vigorous campaign against the idea that miracles ever incorporate the violation of physical law, or at least that they require it, that that should be in the definition. I noted "Contrasting focus on God's will/purpose..." but I cannot really reconstruct what he seemed to be driving at.

Craig Lent, a professor at Notre Dame, went next and gave an interesting talk that interfaced with others. He actually seemed to conflict with Barr in that he commented early on that the "state vector," which had be be the wavefunction since it had the same Greek letter psi for its symbol, contained all the information possible to have about a system and not just one observer's (the concept Barr used). He also addresses the measurement problem, but my note broke off mid-sentence. He went on to summarize the content of Scarani's talk, that Bell inequality experiments all show that the universe is not deterministic. He then addresses the claim that while atom-scale particles show quantum indeterminism, larger stuff does not, and nerves are enough larger that the human brain must be deterministic. That's probably not true; even 10,000 atomic mass unit molecules like neural transmitters show quantum behavior in experiments. We are left again with the Arthur Compton point that while obviously physics constrains us, our brains are not deterministic machines; if our souls are not affecting them, then at the very least some of their functionality is random.

The final talk was by (Padre) Javier Sanchez-Canizares on "Mind, Decoherence, and the Copenhagen Interpretation." This again comments on many of the topics in previous talks. Unfortunately the talk seemed to paw about problems already discussed without coming to any new realizations. I cannot tell from my notes whether I learned anything about decoherence, which I was really hoping to do; I think I had to look it up afterward, and even then the answers I've found so far are not satisfying. He asked the "Wigner's friend" question that Barr mentioned about the "cut" between the observer and the system in a quantum physics observation. He also made some intriguing comments on the nature of classical physics: if quantum physics is reality, why is it so hard to get rid of classical physics terminology? We still describe things that way. A recent physicist, Zurek, comments that classical physics entities somehow embody a "survival of the fittest" (the sort of comment I start questioning for influence of the divine name of evolution). Heisenberg apparently said that classical physics terms are just unavoidably part of how humans interact with the world.

Episode 018 - SCS Conference: Peter Koellner, Andrew Sicree

Episode 018 - SCS Conference: Peter Koellner, Andrew Sicree

July 30, 2018

As I've mentioned, we batch recorded the last four episodes about a month ago, and so we opened with a retrospective on the conference as a whole and its significance.

We moved on to discuss Peter Koellner. Koellner was the next talk and probably deserves his own podcast. I have gotten his lecture slides from him but won't have time to analyze them for a few weeks. The short version for now is that he gave us some perspective on Godel's theorem, a result in mathematical logic that many (including many agnostics like the physicist and mathematician Roger Penrose) have taken to imply that human thought must transcend any finite logical system that could be, say, programmed into a computer: in other words, the human mind is not a computer. Koellner argued, in large part from Godel's own writings, that what he actually proved is probably that EITHER human thought transcends the mechanical OR that there are mathematical truths that transcend mind. This is potentially a blow to a number of people who rely on the argument to prove our superiority to our own machines, but I myself find either conclusion to be exciting.

Andrew Sicree was next. He gave this tremendously gung-ho talk about Father Nick Steno, the 17th century member of the founder's club of geology (I think that's fair; Sicree basically called him the founder, singular). It was mostly fairly familiar stuff to me, some of which I have lectured on myself in classes in passing. He is still known today for Steno's Laws of stratigraphy (i.e., the relative ages of rocks):

Principle of Superposition

Principle of Original Horizontality

Principle of Inclusions

and in mineralogy he is remembered for the Law of Constant Interfacial Angles, basically the very dimmest beginning of crystallography. However, Sicree gave some time to other aspects of Nicolaus Steno's thought and also to his career as a layman and cleric. I only thought I was a Nick Steno fan before this talk. Andrew Sicree is the real deal.

Episode 016 - Valerio Scarani at the Society of Catholic Scientists Conference 2018

Episode 016 - Valerio Scarani at the Society of Catholic Scientists Conference 2018

July 16, 2018

Dr. Scarani opened the talk by noting a paper he placed on about Aquinas and the sense that the universe would not be perfect without randomness.

He moved on to discuss randomness in two senses: Process Randomness, which implies that there is an observer unable to predict the output of the process; and Product Randomness, the lack of structure of a product, which turns out to equate with the need for a very long algorithm to replicate the product. Products are tested for randomness by a battery of statistical tests. He gave an equation embodying a mathematical definition of [product] randomness. Not being an information theorist, I had not seen it before.

He went on to note the difference between the randomness of classical physics, which is always about a lack of complete information about a system. If one had that information, the system under the classical assumption would be perfectly defined, and as we have noted a number of times, Einstein among others desperately wanted to get back to that deterministic paradigm. "The Old One doesn't throw dice."

The core of the talk was what Scarani called a "high school level" presentation of Bell's theorem. I would like to meet the high school student who could follow it at the speed at which he gave the talk, but probably could have unpacked it given a couple of hours to do so even at that age. Bell's theorem is one of those cunning little mathematical gems that seems to prove the unprovable, namely, to make a prediction about something going on in a process one by definition cannot see into. Bell sets up a statistic that, if there are hidden rules governing physics below the scale at which the uncertainty principle lets us see, must nevertheless in real experiments end up being less than 2. Since the 1980s a series of ever more careful experiments have been done, and the answers in the papers Scarani reviewed had answers between 2.4 and 2.7; the answer is never below 2. According to Bell's theorem, this means that there is a really random process going on down there, and not just random products.

At the end, as we discuss in the audio, Scarani ran down the list of remaining possibilities for understanding the quantum foundations of the universe:
- There is real randomness.
- "Superdeterminism." This depends on breaking an assumption of the Bell theorem, which is that the quantum process is being fed input that itself is not really random from the perspective of that process, which would seem to imply some sort of physics puppet master controlling the experimenter.
- The many worlds hypothesis, again something we have mentioned a number of times. I am still not buying that stock.
- The only allowable sort of hidden variables (the name Bohm is attached to the most commonly discussed of these) would require particles communicating with each other at infinite speed, "deliberately" trying to wreck the experiment, and with the interaction hidden in a way workers in the field have called "conspiratorially hidden." I.e., we would be living in a universe run by a sort of Cartesian evil deity.

On that theme, note that I blundered off into talking in a sort of Cartesian dualist fashion about the relationship between soul and body there after the 14 or 15 minute mark.

Episode 015 - Stephen Barr at the Society of Catholic Scientists Conference 2018

Episode 015 - Stephen Barr at the Society of Catholic Scientists Conference 2018

July 9, 2018

In today's episode we discuss Stephen Barr's talk at the SCS conference on June 9. His topic was the observer question in quantum mechanics. The observer problem is closely tied to the issue of probability and wavefunctions. We spend quite a while discussing what this problem is and how the question arises in the context of experiments like the famous two-slit experiment. The example of "Schrodinger's Cat" is an attempt to make this problem more understandable to the non-quantum mechanic. The cat is in some uncertain state, neither alive nor dead, until the observer opens the box and "collapses the wavefunction" to either a live cat or a dead one. In a two-slit experiment, a particle exists in some distribution of possible positions until an observer collapses the wavefunction and "forces" it to one tight range of locations (and for that matter momenta...).

This is very weird. Barr cited a long list of quantum theorists (von Neumann, London, Bauer, Wigner, Peierls, and others) who considered the problem and whether mind as such is crucial to whatever it is that does the measuring and observing to collapse quantum systems. Wavefunctions, with their consequent probability distributions, evolve according to Schrodinger's [or Dirac's?...a question I've had in the back of my mind many times...] equation with no internal mechanism to cause this collapse. Clearly two very unlike things interact to form quantum mechanics as we know it, as von Neumann stated explicitly (calling the observer / collapse phenomenon "process 1" and the wavefunction evolution "process 2").

It is clear that we can shift our mathematical formalism to incorporate any physical measurment device into the "system" and thus recognize it to be in the realm of wavefunction behavior. There is the "Wigner's friend" thought problem where even a human observer of an experimental setup can be placed in the "box" from the point of view of another human observer.

When we consider the observer problem from the point of view of a descriptive science (geology, astronomy, zoology, etc.) there is the immediate and rather alarming philosophical question: What was happening to, say, this star or tectonic plate or ancestral population of invertebrates before there was an observer to collapse the wavefunctions? Someone raised this question with Dr. Barr in the question and answer session after the talk. There is a phenomenon called "decoherence" (warning: that link is informative in places but far from the clearest read) which occurs for systems that are very open, interacting with their surroundings. Broadly speaking, the observable in question can trade uncertainty with its surrounding and settles down into a tighter range of possible states, simulating to some extent the effect of an observer collapsing the wavefunction. However, the two phenomena are not the same.