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Inspirations: Riding the bomb to Saturn

The nuclear pulse drive would power a spacecraft with a series of nuclear explosions. Project Orion, led by Freeman Dyson, planned a four-year round trip to the moons of Saturn. After Orion was abandoned, pulse drive has led to several

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Posted in Inspirations, Wednesday Pontification

Greater Minds: Richard Feynman on the value of doubt

Richard Feynman’s essay, The Value of Science, described a philosophy of ignorance. The scientific mindset is excited by ignorance as an opportunity for discovery. The opposing demagogic mindset denies the existence of ignorance and claims certainty. We all use the

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Posted in Greater minds, Wednesday Pontification

Inspirations: Bringing the science of fear up to date with PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder often affects people after traumatic experiences. Assault, sexual or nonsexual, is the trauma most likely to cause PTSD. Men are more likely to have traumatic experiences but more women have PTSD. High oestrogen levels or injections of

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Posted in Inspirations, Wednesday Pontification

Inspirations: Can we bomb our readers into euphoria?

We use horror and suspense in fiction because people love to be afraid. JT MacCurdy described psychological responses to being bombed during World War Two. ‘Near misses’ were emotionally devastating, but ‘remote misses’ made people feel invincible. Does reading or

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Posted in Inspirations, Wednesday Pontification, Writing

Non-fiction Review: Headhunters by Ben Shepherd

In April 1898, Alfred Haddon led his expedition off the Duke of Westminster steamer on to Thursday Island, in the Torres Straits archipelago between Australia and New Guinea. They carried the latest tools for assessing psychology and perception, and the

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Posted in Book review: non-fiction, Wednesday Pontification

Inspirations: The psychology of a city under fire

9/11 and the Blitz both showed the fortitude of civilian populations under attack. Both contradicted assumptions that attacks would lead to mass panic. Behaviourist Solly Zuckerman documented civilian resilience during the Hull Blitz. Zuckerman’s work gives a more realistic picture

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Posted in Inspirations, Wednesday Pontification

Inspirations: To sail upon a star

Project Breakthrough Starshot plans to send probes to Proxima Centauri powered by lightsails. The lightsail was conceived decades ago, but the IKAROS probe is the only spacecraft to use it. IKAROS is powered by the sun, but Breakthrough Starshot will

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Posted in Inspirations, Wednesday Pontification

Inspirations: Are We Facing the Great Filter?

The Fermi Paradox asks why we appear to be the only technological species in a galaxy of hundreds of billions of stars. Robin Hanson proposed a ‘great filter’ that prevents life from developing further than we have. If it involves

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Posted in Inspirations, Wednesday Pontification

Greater Minds: Richard Dawkins on the 40th birthday of The Selfish Gene

The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins was published 40 years ago. It argued that life, with all its beauty and its flaws, is a product of gene selection. It is an object lesson in explaining complex and controversial subjects in

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Posted in Greater minds, Wednesday Pontification

Greater Minds: Stephen Hawking on black holes

Stephen Hawking gave this year’s Reith Lectures on the subject of black holes. Hawking combined quantum mechanics and relativity to show black holes emit ‘Hawking radiation’. Hawking radiation shows that unpredictability is inherent to the structure of the universe. Hawking

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Posted in Greater minds, Wednesday Pontification
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