Episode #16: Relativity, Oprah and Rebecca Watson

The sixteenth episode of Consilience is out! You can download the mp3 here (33.7mb) and the file’s page on Archive.org is here.

Teaching Angela to appreciate history

Rebecca Watson (Image credit: Amy Roth)

In this episode we look at Albert Einstein’s Annus Mirabilis, the “miracle year” in which four of Einstein’s papers were published and the scientific understanding of physics was revolutionised. Specifically, on 30 June, 1905, Einstein submitted his paper entitled “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies” to the journal Annalen der Physik. This paper unifies the laws of classical mechanics with electricity and magnetism, and introduces major changes to the laws of mechanics at speeds close to the speed of light. This has become known as the theory of Special Relativity, which states that all uniform motion is relative, there is no absolute state of rest, and the speed of light is the same for all inertial observers regardless of the state of motion of the source.


A study published in the Journal of Human Evolution by Anders Högberg and Lars Larsso of Lund University, Sweden, has demonstrated a possible link between the large-scale production of tools and the development of human cognition and social behaviour. (Michael at one point says “salutationism” instead of saltationism. D’oh).

James Ray, an American motivational speaker has been found guilty of negligent homicide due to actions which led to the deaths of three people on a “spiritual retreat” which he was running.

Angela speaks about a tour of the Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory (HartRAO) which was organised by Jaco de Bruyn of the Gauteng skeptics.

Oprah Winfrey has been awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of the Free State for her life-long dedication to spreading pseudoscience education.

A paper presented by Ratcliff et al, of the University of Minnesota, at the Evolution 2011 conference entitled “Experimental evolution of multicellularity” describes how the researchers coaxed a unicellular yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, into multicellularity by subjecting the yeast to severe external pressure.

SETIStars has been launched to try and raise funds to restart the Allen Telescope Array and they need your help to continue their mission: listening to the universe in search of extraterrestrial life. You can follow the initiative on Twitter @SETIStars.

Feature: Interview with Rebecca Watson

This week we interview Rebecca Watson, the founder and fearless leader of Skepchick.org, co-host of the Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe, writer and self-described ice-cream enthusiast. (We apologize for the abrupt end to the interview, by the way. The goodbyes and thank-yous were cut off by mistake).

Sci-Fi Quote
“I prefer the concrete, the graspable, the proveable.” CMDR Spock, Star Trek (the original series), “The Return of the Archons”.  http://www.archive.org/download/ConsilienceEpisode16/Consilience16.mp3

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7 Responses to Episode #16: Relativity, Oprah and Rebecca Watson

  1. James says:

    Crammed full of great content! I love this episode. Well done. 🙂

  2. benguela says:

    I’m wondering if there is a place for a skeptic presence at ICON http://www.rpg.co.za ala the skeptics at Dragon*Con that Rebecca talked about.

    Last time I went to one was about 15 years ago! I think I’ll pop around this year, 15-17 July, to see how the local community has progressed. Maybe play in a game or two of D&D or CoC. I’ve never seen a LARP before, I’m wondering if there is a spectator’s corner?

  3. Angela says:

    I have also been thinking about that. I think we should definitely look into the possibilities.

    SciBono have offered us (Gauteng Skeptics and Consilience) quite an exciting partnership, so I’m going to sort that out.

    Exciting times!

  4. Anslyn John says:

    I just listened to some of this. Very nice, guys.

    Some minor quibbles: Quantum theory began with Max Planck, not Einstein, in 1900. He solved the problem of the “ultraviolet catastrophe” by quantizing the energy available to a black body. Einstein’s discovery of the photo-electric effect was the next major breakthrough and he played a crucial role in the development of quantum physics over the next 40 years.

    Also, on a purely epistemological level, I contend that quantum theory (and science) in general is discovered rather than invented. Algorithms, devices and so on are created but fundamental theories themselves are uncovered like layers of an onion.

    The relativity of uniform motion is already implicit in Newtonian mechanics. The concept of absolute rest was destroyed by Galileo and one speaks of Galilean transformations between different frames of reference. This may even have come up in QI. However this does lead to inconsistencies when dealing with phenomena close to the speed of light. Special relativity gives us the more accurate Lorentz transformation which allows observers to consistently compare measurements in different reference frames. The fact that the speed of light is the same for all observers is the real breakthrough and special relativity accounts for this quite elegantly.

    • Angela says:

      Thank you Anslyn! I do try to understand the technicalities, and having a pro like you give me more details does help.

  5. Pingback: Episode #18: Monkeys on trail, fish tools and ant bullies | Consilience

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