Sunday, July 1, 2012

Seattle Science Festival thingy at the Paramount

I've been doing a lot of things, partly in preparation for The Amazing Meeting, but thought I'd dig up this post, from back on June 16 when I went to the Seattle Science Festival thingy at the Paramount, with this guy as the headliner:

 june 2091

Although books are generally much more informative, lectures can be more fun to actually see, which is why I bother going to them at all.

The topic was supposed to be on evolution, but for whatever reason, Stephen Hawking was lecturing about things like multiple universes. And as he was the last speaker, I really ought to take a step back and check out the rest of picture before going into that:

june 2033

Although I got there at the door-opening time at seven, I tried to pull into a parking lot and found that the only way to get back out was to wait for the person behind me to back out, and then back out myself. Eventually, I found the nearby convention center's garage, which was almost empty, and then ran over to the line, which had still not been let through the doors:

 june 2034 Waiting to get into the Paramount

There was a fair chunk of waiting for us over by the quite loud highway overpass, but that was alright, since my shirt smelled a little mildewy and badly needed to be aired out:

 june 2036

After a half hour of airing, I became bored and began to use my camera's zoom function to spy on people on the other side of the overpass -- there wasn't much to see, though.

june 2042 Close up of the thing

As the doors were still not opening, the line wound up extending across the overpass and over toward that very area -- see?

 june 2043 The really long line

At last, the press (or whoever) had left the building, and we were finally let in... quite a few people had to use the bathroom -- and what a bathroom they had!

 june 2044 Bathroom at the Paramount

It's very fitting for a fine theatah such as this:

 june 2045 Inside the Paramount

The first act was Baba Brinkman, who apparently wrote the very first peer-reviewed rap, all about evolution! In this part, he was talking about how both genetic and archaeological evidence shows the same migration pattern of humans out of Africa.

 june 2053 Brinkman -- we ARE from Africa

Technically, when you go back far enough time, we're all Africans!

 june 2054 Everyone shout!

And yes, I was one of the white audience members who was shouting, "I'm a African!" This is not to deny people of more recent African origins a more unique right to their heritage, because that is from a different chapter of history, after the concept of countries was invented -- but yeah, I'm a African. So are you.

Similarly, although different populations of people have unique genetic markers, these are just a few genes, and the rest of human genetic variations are very common. There are more genetic differences among individual human beings in a group as opposed to differences between groups -- therefore the idea of there being separate 'races' is not really accurate.
` This is also not to undermine the differences and cultures of various groups of humans around the world, but it is a useful thing to keep in mind when you have brightly-colored animations with the lyrics flashing by on a giant screen. Or something.

 june 2055 Baba Brinkman I'm A African!

After the rappin' guy was paleontologist Jack Horner, who still tells us he found dinosaur flesh, even though most other paleontologists seem to think it was a buildup of bacteria, similar to other finds. In any case, he was not able to get dino DNA from anything, thus making this a very difficult project:

 june 2057 Jack Horner

He went into how evolution works a little, using various examples of proof -- as I recall he used the word 'proof' instead of 'evidence' just because it is so certain. For example, bizarre monstrosities known as 'dogs' came from wolves.

 june 2058 Jack Horner, selection

The small theropod ancestors of birds had characteristics which are still genetically expressed in birds today, such as three-fingered hands and sharp, pointy teeth. Although humans are sometimes born with fully-fledged tails, I don't recall him mentioning any birds that had been, but that would also be interesting!
` The idea, of course, is to purposely activate those genes in birds -- chickens would be the easiest to work with -- and see how ancestor-like they can get!

 june 2059 Horner talks about reverse-engineering a dromaeosaur-like thing

I think that's a worthy goal, considering the amazing things you can learn about how genes work by doing this -- and since we share most of our genes with chickens, this would apply to us as well!

After that, the announcer guy of the evening, Jack Faris, introduced this Spectrum dance troupe thingy, which I thought was both hard to look at, yet hard to look away from.

 june 2060 Jack Faris, Master of Ceremonies

It was basically some sort of geometry-ballet-thing that I didn't get, but kept watching, despite the fact that I was sooooo hungry. (Even my camera couldn't focus, but that was because the room was too dark....)

 june 2063 Spectrum Dance Theater

I should have gone out to the snack bar, where the vendors were making grilled cheese sandwiches, but I didn't bother until the intermission, and so wound up standing in line until it was time to go back into the theatah.
` I did get a shot of the interior of the very front of the building as I waited, so it wasn't a complete waste. At least, that's what I tell myself. I was soooo hungry, despite eating just beforehand -- although at least my shirt wasn't smelling so mildewy at this point.

 june 2064 Waiting in line for grilled cheese -- didn't get it

Up next was this biologist named Leroy Hood, who was talking about the revolutions in biology and medicine, and what the next big one should be! These are his past projects, so to speak:

 june 2068

With P4 medicine, he says, not only will we be able to target diseases more accurately, but the genetic data from everyone's profiles will provide us with the data points we need for further research, so it's self-perpetuating that way!

 june 2072

There are many diseases that have a number of subtypes because they have different causes -- why not be able to treat the thing that's specifically causing your type, rather than an umbrella treatment?
` Because of the predictive and preventative powers of this approach, it will be far cheaper and more effective than doing medicine the way it has been done. Sure, I can buy that!

 june 2075

Amazingly, I stayed awake through all this, although some of the people behind me seemed to be asleep -- including those two you can see!

 june 2079 Longer exposure

Of course, all this genetic stuff is important to our health, but it's also essential to our understanding of ourselves in the big, crazy world we live in.

june 2080

Finally, as people began to wake from their Dr. Hood-induced stupor, out rolled physicist/semi-cyborg Stephen Hawking, to give his lecture called 'Brane New World'.
` His assistant, whose hair I wanted to put my hands into so badly, had to be called out for some kind of technical thing, and finally, we heard Steve's synth voice ask, "Can you hear me?"
At last!

This blur is the assistant walking away:

june 2082 Assistant walks away

Although he had little to say on evolution, I recall that Hawking was going on about other dimensions and possibly multiple bubble universes and such.
` Despite my brain not having had enough cheese for the day, I managed to remember various things, such as the fact that the word 'brane' was coined by Stephen's colleague, Paul Townsend.
` And what is a brane?
` It's something like a "membrane" made of spacetime. It's kind of like in the book Flatland, where everything is two-dimensional, except one day, the protagonist A. Square encounters a three-dimensional being, which he can see only one slice of at a time as it passes through his two-dimensional world!
` Since the three-dimensional being is a sphere, it starts out looking like a small circle, then grows into a larger circle, and then back into a small circle before disappearing, and thus bewildering poor A. Square. Although everyone in Flatland is confined to a 2-D slice, so to speak, there is more beyond that, which its inhabitants have trouble imagining just as we have trouble imagining more than three dimensions.

Take this picture of what appears to be Seattle on drugs:

 june 2086 Seattlebrane

That's kind of what Seattle would look like if it was confined to a brane on the surface of a bubble universe.
` He describes a bubble universe arising from the quantum fluctuations as being a bit like the way the random motion of boiling water molecules creates bubbles. Most of the bubbles are very small and are filled back in, but some of them reach a critical size past which they will continue to expand.

Our universe and its electromagneticnuclearwhatever forces may exist in only one brane, on the surface of one bubble universe, but gravity might span the gap between our brane and whatever else is out there. In other words, it's possible to detect gravity from beyond our brane.

For example, what we think of as dark matter -- which we know exists only because of its gravity, and which keeps the galaxies from flying apart -- may actually be matter from outside our brane.
` Another piece of evidence would be a low-mass black hole -- a black hole which appears to be weaker than it actually is because its gravity waves travel off our brane. If one were discovered, Hawking would win a Nobel Prize for predicting such a thing.

However, there's still much we have to learn before this can be sorted out...

june 2087 Gravity Lessons

He says that the possible signs of extra dimensions existing may not seem the strongest, but to ignore them would be like the idea of God putting fossils in the rocks in order to trick Darwin. I'm with him -- a scientist's curiosity must be fulfilled!

 june 2088

Figuring out if this were true is possible, because the surface and the innards of this bubble universe would interact: The matter on the brane would determine the gravitational fields within the bubble, and similarly, the gravitational fields in the bubble would determine the matter on the brane.
` He likened this idea to a hologram, which is an image of a 3-D object that is projected from a 2-D surface -- our four-dimensional spacetime may be a hologram of what goes on in the five-dimensional interior of the bubble.
` Holograms, of course, are something Stephen knows about very intimately, having been one on Star Trek TNG! -- does anyone remember that scene?

june 2092 Stephen was a hologram on Star Trek

If anything, the brane-world models of the universe would explain why gravity seems to be so weak. Don't you think it's odd that a tiny refrigerator magnet can easily resist the pull of gravity by sticking to the side of your fridge?
` And, while a child may find it easy to jump or pick up objects from the ground, it's quite another thing to pull apart an atom!

If gravity is stronger in other dimensions, it would be easier for high-energy particle collisions to create microscopic black holes, which would quickly evaporate in Hawking radiation... and he would get this shiny Nobel doohickey for predicting this discovery!

 june 2093 Not quite

After the "shameless plug" of his new book, Hawking moved off stage, and I was amused to see how many people got up and left just because he did!

 june 2095 People getting up after him

Maybe they didn't want to see Baba again, rapping about our ancestors and whatnot.

 june 2097

And several jabs at creationism...

 june 2098 Baba Brinkman, awesome

As his show went on, even more people got up -- which I got this really cool long-exposure of. Oh well, their loss!

 june 2099 More people getting up

What was his final rap about? It was a simple formula -- performance, feedback, revision! The idea is, he improves his raps each time by making up new stuff and discarding what doesn't get much reaction, which he likened to the refinement process of natural selection.

 june 2100 The evolution of rap

Then, he went into freestyle, which included commenting on how the interpreter was having to work really hard to keep up, since she didn't even have lyrics to work with beforehand! Ha!

 june 2105 Interpreter keeping up with his improv!

He went on about performing, getting feedback, revising... when all of a sudden, it was over, and we audience members were let loose on the world once again -- I stopped under the sign momentarily to get a picture.

june 2108 Paramount

The way back to my car was surprisingly well-lit for being pitch black outside!

june 2110 Walking to my car

As I have a camping trip to prepare for [Edit: or not, since it's next weekend!], I'd best wrap it up pretty soon -- yes, because judgments on the amount of time one has to devote on something is the best way to determine when you're finished with it.

If you'd like to learn more about what the hell Stephen Hawking was going on about, I found an earlier 2003 version of the same lecture in this video.

Also, here, to close out my blog post, here's Baba Brinkman, so you can see him for yourself! This of course has nothing to do with what Stephen Hawking was talking about, but it's a useful rhyme to get caught in your head next time you're frustrated with the way things are going...

Peace out!


  1. Thanks for sharing, Spoony, and allowing me to tag along vicariously!

  2. Wait until you see my Amazing Meeting posts!


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