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Mission Impossible (Or Highly Improbable)
A cautionary note: when it comes to what’s possible or impossible; plausible or implausible; probable or improbable, majority doesn’t rule. This isn’t a democracy. If a billion people believe nonsense, it’s still nonsense. This however is in contrast to what has been proven beyond a reasonable scientific doubt. If a billion people continue to disbelieve something that has been proved, then it’s those billion people who are nonsense, not the idea.
Time and time again the self correcting nature of scientific investigation has invalidated the norm of the day, resulting in a paradigm shift. Often the seemingly impossible has proved to be possible, even inevitable. Sometimes what’s been believed to be obviously plausible as proved to be anything but plausible. So, if today’s science says something’s impossible – well, maybe. If I say something is impossible – the same caveat applies. I tend to argue from common sense logic, which, as any philosopher or historian of science will tell you is no sure pathway to what is, and isn’t.
Firstly, let’s list just a few once-upon-a-time scientific impossibilities that have proved to be anything but.
It used to be quite obvious that the Sun went around the Earth – any other configuration was considered impossible.
Once upon a time, our Universe could not be anything but static – neither expanding nor contracting. Einstein however knew the Universe should be contracting because of the attractive force of gravity. To counter that, and keep the static Universe he and the science of the times believed in, he invented his ‘cosmological constant’, a repulsive force to exactly counter gravity’s pull. He later called that his greatest blunder. However, that ‘cosmological constant’ has recently resurfaced in the form of ‘dark energy’, so Einstein might have been right after all!
Those Black Holes, while existing on paper in relativity theory, could not actually exist in reality – in practice they were quite the impossible object.
No one in their right mind would believe that it was possible that mankind had any actual evolutionary relationship with ‘lower’ life forms.
That matter actually consisted of indivisible bits called atoms – the atomic theory was nonsense.
That ‘island universes’ were actually independent conglomerations of stars and not nebulous entities part and parcel of our own Milky Way Galaxy was deemed impossible by experts.
Catastrophism in geology was considered a no-no for much of the time since it began as a legit part of earth science. All geology (especially landforms) could be explained as a gradual softly-softly, slowly-slowly, process. Violent events need not apply to explain things. Tell that to the dinosaurs! Of course we know better today. Catastrophism has taken its place and role playing in the geologic scheme of things.
Speaking of geology, the idea of continental drift was once considered preposterous pie-in-the-sky stuff. How dare a meteorologist (Alfred Wegener in 1912) tell geologists what should have been bleeding obvious! Geologists of course countered that there was no physical mechanism that could push continents around. Well, there was as it turned out, only we may no longer call it continental drift but rather plate tectonics. So, the meteorologist could the geologists flatfooted after all.
Once upon a time, the concept of nuclear energy was pie in the sky – a subject no scientist would take seriously.
Prior to the initial test, there were ‘experts in explosives’ who said that the A-bomb would never work.
Powered flight was once considered impossible – balloons were the only feasible means of air travel.
Rocket travel was utter bilge as there was nothing in space for the rocket’s exhaust to push against.
It was impossible for the human body to travel faster than the speed of a (fill in the blank) without suffering fatal physiological consequences.
The sound barrier would never be broken.
It was considered impossible for stones to fall from the sky – witnesses to the contrary are damned. Today, we incorrectly call them ‘shooting stars’; more correctly meteors, and when then hit the ground, meteorites.
The Titanic was ‘unsinkable’.
The city of Troy was mythology, pure and simple. There was no such place in reality.
Secondly, let’s look at a few really bona fide actual or statistical impossibilities according to today’s scientific thinking.
It’s impossible to divide any number by zero.
It is impossible to travel at the speed of light if you have mass. That’s because at light speed, mass becomes infinite; time stops; your length contracts to zero. However, travel faster than the speed of light seems to be okay (albeit with weird consequences), if only one could figure out how to get from sub-light to faster-than-light without actually crossing the speed of light threshold. It’s like driving your car from zero to sixty km/hour without actually passing through the 30 km/hour region.
It is considered impossible for a macro object to escape from a Black Hole. To escape from a Black Hole would require passing through that speed of light threshold.
Perpetual motion machines are a big no-no. There’s no such thing as a free lunch! No country’s patent office will even remotely consider proposals for devices that operate on perpetual motion ideals.
It’s apparently impossible to get around the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle part and parcel of quantum physics. Einstein tried for decades to do so and failed each and every time.
It’s impossible to ever reach a temperature of absolute zero (zero on the Kelvin temperature scale) where all molecular, atomic and subatomic activity ceases and all is motionless. It’s impossible because it violates the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and also because of the vacuum energy, also known as quantum fluctuations. At the extreme micro level, virtual particle pairs pop into and out of existence borrowing from the, and returning energy to, that energy reserve that pervades the cosmos – quantum foam. Finally, energy is spread across the Universe, and can not be created nor destroyed. Although the Universe is expanding, that just means that available energy is being spread thinner and thinner – the energy density of the Universe is therefore decreasing*. But, as long as our Universe retains a finite volume, that density can never reach zero. [*There’s one caveat to that. If ‘dark energy’ is a property of space, and if space is expanding, then the amount of ‘dark energy’ is not thinning, but increasing. More space means more ‘dark energy’.]
No matter what the merits of reincarnation are (and there are none IMHO), it is impossible to recall past lives. The egg and the sperm from which you were conceived had no past memory of your alleged past lives since they came from individuals not so related to your past existences. So, you started out from the get-go with no memory. Any and all memories you now have started from day of conception onwards – full stop***.
On a lighter note, films often give you impossibilities. You know they are impossible, but you accept them anyway, at least while the film is running. Superman’s flying comes to mind, or for that matter the original premise behind the various attributes of all our celluloid superheroes. It’s impossible to have any such of a thing as an invisible person. That person would be functionally blind as light would pass right through their eyeballs. A standard of sci-fi are insects the size of houses – impossible as they would quickly die of suffocation. A fifty foot human is also impossible because their scaled up legs get scaled up far less than the increase in body mass, and so the individual couldn’t stand up. Similar physiological problems arise if you shrink humans to standard insect size. The standard impossibility is hearing the noise and sounds a spaceship or space battles make while in the vacuum of space. I’m sure any readers could think up dozens of other examples. Most films never get the science right, but of course it’s just entertainment not to be taken as accurate representation of reality.
Lastly, there’s one impossible thing you just can’t think of and believe before breakfast, or any other time. It’s impossible to think that you don’t exist (either as an actual or simulated being) for who’s doing the thinking if not you? Therefore, the famous observation and quote, “I think therefore I am”.
Thirdly, let’s look at commonly accepted scientific beliefs that are IMHO ultimately flawed concepts – flawed to the point where I suggest they are either flat out impossible or at best wildly improbable. [This is the section where scientists wish there really were a Hell they could send me to!]
There are those cosmologists who believe (or so they say) that our Universe was created from nothing – absolute nothing. First there was nothing; then there was something, so they say, but without bothering to explain in acceptable layman’s language the ‘how’ of that. If fact, they just take that as given and then just deal with, and devote their time and energy to, the subsequent expansion and understanding of that something. That something can be created out of nothing somehow violates one of the most cherished and fundamental of all scientific principles, one which even elementary school students are taught. It’s a violation of the ultimate conservation of matter and energy. Matter and energy can neither be created or destroyed, only changed in form, from one kind of matter to another; one kind of energy to another; or matter to energy and vice versa.
That the Big Bang somehow created time and space. I propose instead that the Big Bang happened in previously existing time and space.
That the Big Bang somehow created both matter and energy – matter and energy being two sides of the same coin as per Einstein’s famous equation. I propose instead that the matter/energy that we observe in our Universe was actually matter/energy that was recycled from a previous universe.
You will sometimes find in the literature statements by scientists (who should know better) that at the moment of the Big Bang event, the temperature of our ‘Universe’ – such as it was in the beginning – was infinite. As the Universe expanded, and expanded some more, expanding ever outwards, it cooled and continued cooling to reach what we note as today’s cosmic microwave background radiation (CMBR) temperature, just several degrees above the theoretical absolute zero. This is absolute nonsense. It is rubbish. It is impossible (the infinite temperature in the beginning, not today’s measured CMBR temperature). Scientists sometimes play extremely loosely with the word ‘infinity’, when they actually mean ‘extremely’ high (or dense or vast, etc.). So, why can’t the Big Bang event have had infinite temperature? Simplicity itself! If you add, subtract, multiply or divide any finite number into infinity, you get – infinity! In the case of the Universe expanding, if you double her dimensions, you have a reduction in her density (mass or energy) by a factor of eight. That’s fine if you start with a finite value, but infinity divided by eight is still infinity. Our Universe would never cool below an infinite temperature no matter how much it expanded! That’s clearly not what we observe (and if that weren’t the case we wouldn’t be here to contemplate the matter since life couldn’t arise in an environment of infinite temperature), so clearly the origin of our Universe had a finite (even if extremely high) temperature from the get-go.
Then there are cosmologists would have you believe that space itself is expanding; that ‘dark energy’ is a property of space that pushes apart space itself, creating more space, which comes equipped with its own quota of ‘dark energy’, which further expands or pushes apart space, creating thus even more space and more ‘dark energy’ – it’s a vicious circle and the ultimate ‘free lunch’ if true. However, I maintain that’s impossible. There may well be a repulsive force, a sort of antigravity called ‘dark energy’, and it may be a property of space itself, but it repels or pushes matter further apart, not space. Translated, the Universe’s matter is expanding, with the assistance of ‘dark energy’, through existing space. That matter is not being carried along by space itself, space expanding due to the repulsive nature of its ‘dark energy’. [As an aside, if one prefers, one can think of ‘dark energy’ as a pull force that pulls things apart, and thus gravity as a push force that pushes things together, instead of associating ‘dark energy’ with push, and gravity with pull. A rose by any other name is still a rose. The bottom line is that ‘dark energy’ is repulsive; gravity is attractive, which has nothing to do with one being prettier than the other!]
That one can squeeze the contents of the entire observable universe into a volume less than that of a pinhead – much less in actual fact. Okay, pull the other one!
Item one in the ‘impossible physics’ category is that the elementary or fundamental particles are only ‘point* particles’ existing as dimensionless objects with no volume. That might simplify particle physics maths, but is nonsense. That idea, if correct, would render impotent particle accelerators like the Large Hadron Collider. How could two particles collide if they don’t have any volume? [*A point is zero dimensional; a line or curve is one dimensional; a square or circle is two dimensional; a cube or sphere is three dimensional.]
A second item in the ‘impossible physics’ category is that particles also behave as waves (the wave-particle duality). The wave aspect, despite experimental evidence, is an illusion IMHO. Particles are particles – tiny billiard balls if you will. If you have mass you do not wave (although under the right circumstances you might vibrate). Photons don’t have mass and so you do have light (photons) behaving as waves, which is also why photons travel at the speed of light. That’s unlike mass particles, for example like electrons that do have mass. They can’t travel at the speed of light. Look at it this way, or at least through the philosophy of Occam’s (or Ockham’s) Razor that simpler is better; the fewer the assumptions required to explain things, the better. Say you have an electron emitted from a specific point ‘A’ in space and time – say from the electron-gun in your TV set. That electron impacts your TV screen at a specific point ‘B’ in time and space. What happens to the electron in-between ‘A’ and ‘B’? Does it wave all over the place on the journey so that its location between ‘A’ and ‘B’ is just probability, or does it travel like a little billiard ball in a straight line from ‘A’ to ‘B’? If all the electrons emitted by your TV set’s electron-gun waved all over the place, each could take varying intervals of time to reach your TV screen. Your TV picture would be a mess!
Thirdly, Black Holes have singularities at their centre with zero volume and infinite density. The problem with that is that if you chuck matter into a Black Hole (ending up ultimately in the singularity), the Black Hole’s event horizon grows in size. If that is so, that is if the Black Hole grows in size, then the singularity must have finite volume that increases as you throw more and more stuff into it.
Now, it has been speculated that matter that gets sucked into a Black Hole undergoes a phase change into a new form of matter, sort of like ice to water to steam, or steam to water to ice. What exactly the nature of that inside-the-Black-Hole phase change is – well, your guess is as good as mine. However, I have come up with an idea. The matter sucked inside a Black Hole has been transformed into ‘dark matter’! Now ‘dark matter’ has mass and gravity, but doesn’t interact with any electromagnetic forces. We know that because ‘dark matter’ exists within our Universe; not of necessity hidden exclusively within Black Holes. So, how does ‘dark matter’ get out of a Black Hole and into our Universe at large? It doesn’t, at least not as ‘dark matter’ but maybe a Hawking radiation. Well, that doesn’t explain the ‘dark matter’ all around us. So there has to be an exception, and I suggest that exception was the transformation of a previous universe’s Big Crunch – forming the Mother of all Black Holes – so warping space-time that it turned itself inside out and emerged as a While Hole, spilling out its contents and forming our Universe in the process. The Mother of all Black Holes transformed much of that universe’s ordinary matter into ‘dark matter’, but the process of Black to While Hole transformation happened so rapidly that not all matter got so converted before the spewing. So, what was vomited out as our Universe was a lot of ‘dark energy’, but not quite 100%, keeping in line with what we observe, or detect but don’t observe directly, today.
A fourth item has to do with the Holy Grail of physics, the TOE (Theory of Everything). It is commonly accepted that there are four fundamental forces in the cosmos – electromagnetism (quantum physics), the strong nuclear force (quantum physics), the weak nuclear force (quantum physics), and gravity (classical physics). A TOE would somehow relate all four forces; they would be unified into just one overall grand physics concept. But, the fly in the ointment has been gravity. Perhaps gravity isn’t a force but a property of space itself (as is its counterpart, ‘dark energy’). If that’s so, then it might prove to be impossible to come up with a TOE that unifies the three quantum forces with classical gravity. Put another way, gravity in the form of general relativity (the macro) and quantum physics (the micro) are forever bound to be un-bonded – it’s like there are two totally separate types of incompatible software governing the cosmos.
Another concept that has actually mastered the TOE is known as string theory, superstring theory, or M-theory. It’s one of these wildly improbably ideas that’s the ‘in thing’ in modern physics – and has been for decades. And therein lays one of the problems. While it is ascetically beautiful and explains much about life the universe and everything from Hawking radiation to the unification of quantum and classical physics, it has three flaws. Firstly, it’s pure abstract mathematical theory. Secondly, variations on string theory is now over 30+ years strong without having one shred of experimental evidence to back up the basic idea that elementary particles are tiny vibrating strings and not little billiard balls. Thirdly, string theory requires the total existence of ten or eleven dimensions. These extra six or seven unobserved and undetected dimensions (additional to the four we commonly interact with) are unobserved and undetected because they are curled up so tightly that they’re down to ultra micro size, way below the threshold of observation and detection – how convenient. If you accept that premise, well there’s this bridge in Sydney I have going for sale real cheap!
Particle/nuclear physicists would have you accept that unstable (radioactive) nucleus decays into more stable nucleus without any reason; without any cause. First it is unstable; then all of a sudden, at a time undeterminable, ‘poof’, it is stable, or at least on the pathway to eventual stability, with alpha, beta and/or gamma radiation given off in the process. Firstly, things don’t happen without a cause. That’s impossible IMHO. Maybe the unstable nucleus got hit with a cosmic ray or a neutrino (there’s lots of them around) which triggered the ‘poof’ event. But something was the trigger. Secondly, how could radioactive decay happen to individual nuclei without cause, yet collectively all the nuclei decay over time by following a neat and precise and predictable (half-life) mathematical relationship?
I believe there is a prim and proper causality explanation to radioactive decay. I suggest above the impact between an unstable nucleus and either a cosmic ray or a neutrino. Of the two, cosmic rays can’t penetrate very far into the ground, but neutrinos can and do, in fact nearly all neutrinos pass right through the Earth itself without the slightest fuss and bother. However, a few neutrinos do run smack into something. Most of the times it’s a stable nucleus and nothing happens. Occasionally, it’s an unstable nucleus and that impact is enough to trigger the instability cascade down the slope to stability. So, unstable nuclei, deep inside the Earth, get whacked too and thus decay too, generating a lot of Earth’s interior heat in the process. Now, I suggest my idea is subject to experimental research and verification – or not. All one needs to do is artificially increase the normal background neutrino rate and see if the half-life of a radioactive element changes! These external influences like neutrinos (maybe cosmic rays), are uniform enough (everyday normal constant background rates) so that given impact events, if 1000 unstable nuclei go ‘poof’ after one time unit; the next time unit sees 500 nuclei go ‘poof’ and so on. So, my neutrino (or cosmic ray) impact idea explains the half-life phenomena.
By analogy, picture a roomful of inflated toy balloons. Standing outside the room, toss dart after dart into the room. At first, you hit lots of balloons; say half of them in one hour’s worth of dart tossing. But, as the number of inflated balloons decrease, so in the next hour worth of dart tossing, you’re not going to hit as many inflated balloons, maybe only half of the half that’s left, and in the hour after that even less (another half of the half), until there’s one balloon left standing – until a stray dart find that and the room is now stable and free of inflated balloons. It’s a half-life relationship. Now substitute a collection of unstable nuclei for the balloons and neutrinos (or maybe cosmic rays) for the darts and there you have it. Causality rules, okay?
Either that or maybe you have to assume intelligent, communicating, all-knowing unstable nuclei. Imagine this conversation as an explanation. Jane: “Hi Clive” Clive: “Hi Jane” Jane: “Look Clive, one of us must go ‘poof’ now in order to keep this half-life relationship in sync” Clive: That’s okay Jane, I’ll go ‘poof’ – see ya”. Jane: “Thanks a bunch!” Of course the above conversation is hardly one that anyone could take seriously!
So if an unstable nucleus goes ‘poof’ without any cause, then the collective of all such nuclei bound together each participant going individually ‘poof’, each without cause, would be have to end up being collectively a totally random and variable result, not a half-life predictable result. That’s not what we observe.
I doubt that there is such a thing as ‘free will’. If, in the beginning, one defines a set of initial conditions, a finite number of particles having deterministic laws and relationships governing them, and hence starts the clock running, then, crunching the numbers by cranking the handle, one can predict an absolute outcome for those particles based on those laws and relationships X number of time units in the future. If that is acceptable, then there is no independent ‘free will’ variable. It’s a clockwork universe. 1 + 1 = 2, the first time, the last time; all times in-between. No variations allowed.
I also doubt that you have an invisible friend who art in heaven. Sorry, but there’s no evidence supporting the existence of any supernatural creator God or gods.
Fourthly, let’s look at the reverse, some commonly accepted notions by scientists that they consider impossible or wildly improbable, but which, in IMHO are ultimately flawed concepts they have – flawed to the point where I suggest these scientist’s ‘impossibilities or implausibility’s’ range from an actual near certainty to only somewhat implausible.
One category that immediately comes to mind is ‘sea serpents’. We know from the fossil record that large marine reptiles like plesiosaurus and the mosasaur once existed. There’s no obvious reason why these creatures went extinct as their marine environment is fairly resilient against environmental change such as salinity, temperature, etc.
There’s the eye witness evidence of sightings of creatures very similar to these apparently extinct beasties both from ship, and from shore.
There are examples of other thought-to-have-been-extinct animals, and I mean extinct for many, many, many millions of years, that have turned up alive and well (such as the coelacanth), thank you very much!
Another item that comes to mind is one of the great mysteries of ancient history – what happened to the Minoan civilization 3,500 years ago on the island of Crete? They just vanished as a unique culture. Was it invaders or natural disaster? Modern archaeological and geological evidence all point to a massive order of magnitude greater volcanic eruption than happened at Krakatoa on the island Thera immediately to the north of Crete, yet still too far away to totally account for the mystery. By now, you’ve probably guessed the answer. The eruption generated a massive series of tsunamis some 30 meters high which destroyed the villages and towns, all of which were on the coast. The one-two punch, a mega-volcano plus mega-tsunamis and you had the total destruction of the Minoan civilization. That, in turn gave rise to the origin of the Atlantis tale. The legend and mythology surrounding Atlantis has long been consigned to the pseudoscience dust bin. Yet while there’s no proof positive and probably never will be, it is quite plausible that legends and mythology derived from the above Thera (or Santorini) eruption plus associated tsunami wiping out the Minoan civilization on Crete, did indeed, form the foundation for the legend of Atlantis.
Fifthly, there are those other apparent impossibilities that involve contradictions between solid theory and solid observation. For example, astrophysicists predict that in-the-beginning (the Big Bang event) equal amounts of matter and antimatter should have been created. Observation says otherwise – it’s a matter dominated Universe. Physicists predict a certain value for the vacuum energy. Experiment shows the vacuum energy to be some 120 orders of magnitude less that what theory mandates – the biggest discrepancy between theory and observation ever in the history of science. Theory suggests that the physical laws, principles and relationships that govern the Universe should be able to be unified into a Theory of Everything (TOE) – an ultimate equation that can fit on the front of a tee-shirt. The most brilliant minds on the planet have struggled decade after decade after decade to find one that works in practice. Absolute failure has resulted – at least to date. Something’s screwy somewhere!
Finally there is a resolution to all of this that will make nobody happy! That resolution is that life, the Universe and everything is a work of fiction – an illusion. For example, there are art works that can depict 2-D images of objects that are impossible to construct in 3-D. You can believe hundreds of impossible things before breakfast, lunch and dinner if you take films, TV shows, holograms and video games at face value. The list of impossibilities that you’ll find written in novels, short stories, plays, fine literature or the pulps, comic books galore – well, fiction full-stop – would itself fill a goodly sized book, perhaps several volumes worth.
So, our Universe, filled with many paradoxes, contradictions, impossibilities, implausibility’s, or improbabilities reads more like sci-fi or looks more like a video game or computer simulation. If so, then we’re part of a simulation by powers or people (aliens?) unknown and probably unknowable, just like a character in a video game can’t be aware of the identity of either who created the game, or the player.
Our Universe isn’t real; Planet Earth isn’t real; you’re not real; I’m not real. However the Universe is virtually real; Planet Earth is virtually real; you are virtually real; as am I. We’re all the creation of someone, or something, else that is real. Or maybe that entity in itself is the creation of an even more remote – one step further removed – something. It’s like a character in a film making a film; a character in a video game creating a video game; a character in a novel writing a novel; a person depicted in a painting who is making a painting.
Now if you imagine yourself as god (or a good computer programmer or creator of video games) creating a universe from scratch, well, being not quite Mr. or Mrs. or Ms. Perfection, might you not for one reason or another cut corners or accidentally stuff things up and end up creating in your virtual world impossibilities, implausibility’s or improbabilities?
In this scenario, as the song lyrics state, ‘heavens knows, anything goes’!
What would it take to swing one around to the simulation point of view? Well, you’d need a set of observations that could not be refuted, ideally experimental ones that are repeatable and repeated, that science, not even in it’s wildest theoretical best, can adequately and naturally explain, and which at the same time shatters some ultra well established and most fundamental of scientific principles – say gravity. What if all tennis balls, and only tennis balls, started floating upwards? Either that would demonstrate a simulated Universe, or else you’d better be prepared to think supernatural. Of the two, at least the former is still scientific and rational!
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