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Chooki
January 18, 2016
Broad Street Comes Alive
January 18, 2016

SpaceGroup

What Is SpaceGroup?

In September, 2006, three men sat in a Chinese restaurant in Chestnut Hill (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA) talking about cosmology and related scientific areas of interest. Two weeks later, Joel Levinson, an architect-turned-author/photographer, with a life-long interest in cosmology, invited the two men to his home to continue the conversation. This started a twice-a-month discussion group that has expanded through the years to include a regular gathering of roughly 6 to 12 men and women who discuss a broad range of subjects that range from the nature of time, space and reality; the illusionistic aspects of perception; developments in astronomy; questions related to infinity, relativity theory, quantum mechanics, organic and inorganic evolution, the nature of consciousness and the validity of the Big Bang theory. The intersection between science and philosophy is often discussed but the conversations are decidedly fact-based even though probing speculation about commonly held beliefs sometimes results in highly impassioned face-to-face exchanges followed by email dialogues. Religion and god are rarely mentioned . . . as most, but not all members, are atheists or agnostics in one form or another.

The meetings begin around 7:30 PM, are held in Levinson’s Mount Airy living room, and usually close down around 11 PM, occasionally they continue to near midnight. Usually an agenda sets forth topics recommended by members. One or two ½ hour lectures from the Teaching Company are watched and discussed. The first lecture series dealt with cosmology presented by Professor Mark Whittle from the University of Virginia. The interest of the group then moved to neuroscience and a lecture series by Professor Sam Wang of Princeton University.  Then followed lectures on Relativity, black holes, Chaos theory, and currently (2015) thermodynamics and the Higgs field. Guest lecturers have been invited for live presentations. These have included Bill Clee, a math professor from Penn, Gino Segre, a professor of cosmology, also at Penn, Eric Lerner, a physicist involved in fusion research and a doubter of the Big Bang model, and most recently, (90 year old) Kenneth Ford who worked on the hydrogen bomb and was hand-picked for the assignment by his professor at Princeton John Wheeler.

Members fall into three groups. There are the hard-core, diehards (about 8) who only miss a meeting because of illness or travel. There are roughly another 8 members who attend irregularly when their busy schedules permit or a particular subject makes attendance irresistible. Meeting notices and ‘dialogues’ between members are sent to 100 email-connected participants (some in other states and a few in other countries).

Members have varied backgrounds that include one or more disciplines; law, fine art, space engineering, music, biology, neurology, medicine, architecture, logistics, anthropology, mathematics, writing, business, and teaching. There is considerable camaraderie…with laughter often erupting even though the conversations are very serious and oftentimes heated.

Levinson, the Group’s founder, has poor math skills and little formal training in science but compensates through reading popular accounts of developments in science and philosophy. His probing questions and pithy speculations usually engender discussions on concepts that Group members sometimes otherwise take for granted. Levinson wrote a well-received entry in an FXQi science-writing contest, sponsored in part by Scientific American. His article, Phantom Instants, Two-faced Time, the Empty Bag of Space, and the Illusionistic Nature of Perception questions some of the foundations of modern science, which was the topic of the contest.

In 2011, Levinson began to add brief quotations and book excerpts to the SpaceGroup Meeting Notices. Some quotations and excerpts were related to an agenda topic, some were humorous, and some he will confess were included to soften the perspectives of SG members to make them more receptive to some of his unorthodox and controversial ideas. For those will to probe the not-so-obvious, there is a Ben Franklin mystery contained within.

Here is a selection of quotations:

“As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain,
and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.”

ALBERT EINSTEIN

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“In modern physics, there is no such thing as “nothing.” Even in a perfect vacuum, pairs of virtual particles are constantly being created and destroyed. The existence of these particles is no mathematical fiction. Though they cannot be directly observed, the effects they create are quite real. The assumption that they exist leads to predictions that have been confirmed by experiment to a high degree of accuracy.”

RICHARD MORRIS
published more than 20 books in his lifetime, many of which were written to “explain the intricacies of science to the general public”. His literary style and narrative talents allowed for easy reading for what was otherwise heady and intellectual topics, bringing sometimes abstract scientific ideas to a level the common person could understand.

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“Civilization is like a thin layer of ice upon a deep ocean of chaos and darkness.”

WERNER HERZOG

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“A man is known by the quotations he keeps.”

Translated from the Russian
L. ANDREI TURGENEV
1951 – ?

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“It has been my experience that folks who have no vices have very few virtues.”

ABRAHAM LINCOLN

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“What was before from earth,
the same in earth sinks back, and what was sent
from shores of ether, that, returning home,
the vaults of sky receive.”

LUCRETIUS

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“It is not so much the critical attitude that individual scientists have taken with respect to their own ideas that has given science the success it has enjoyed…but more the fact that individual scientists have been highly motivated to demonstrate that hypotheses that are held by some other scientist(s) are false.”

RAYMOND NICKERSON
Tufts University

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“Stupidity is an elemental force for which no earthquake is a match.”

KARL KRAUS
Austrian writer, journalist, and satirist. 1874-1936

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OLBER’S PARADOX and EDGAR ALLAN POE

Edgar Allan Poe married his thirteen year old cousin, Virginia Clemm. She died of tuberculosis at 24 in their country cottage in the Bronx in 1847. A year later he gave a lecture, supposedly influenced by her death, titled “On The Cosmography of the Universe.” The lecture later became the basis for his last major work called Eureka, which has been considered prophetically scientific. Though modern critics have dismissed Eureka for having no scientific worth or merit, the work presages modern science with Poe’s own concept of the Big Bang. He postulated that the universe began from a single originating particle, or singularity, willed by a “Divine Volition.” This “primordial particle”, according to Poe, divides into all the particles of the universe. (Sound like Whittle’s last lecture?) These particles seek one another because of their originating unity (gravity) resulting later in the end of the universe as a single particle. Poe also expressed a theory that anticipated black holes and the big crunch as well as the first plausible solution to Olber’s Paradox. Poe worked his theories from intuition and inspiration, not through the scientific method. Although modern critics suggest Eureka is a sign of Poe’s declining mental health at the end of his life, Sir Arthur Eddington rejected this notion. Einstein, also, in a letter written in 1934, noted that Eureka was a very beautiful achievement of an unusually independent mind. Olber’s Paradox (why is the night sky dark?) are presented at Wikipedia.

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SPACE . . . THE ULTIMATE MYSTERY

“Something or nothing, empty or filled, finite or infinite, curved or flat, a medium or not, a perfect vacuum or an energy source, bounded or not, expanding or static, wedded to time or divorced, a mere container . . . or the birth-mother of everything?”

JOEL LEVINSON

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‘Most scientists, including the late Stephen Jay Gould, believe that humans are the product of a contingent history that could only have occurred here on Earth, never to be repeated. Others, like the British paleontologist Simon Conway-Morris, have argued for an inevitability or directionality to evolution.
If the ape line had gone extinct, according to them, Earth may conceivably have become the home planet of a race of brainy, upright-walking dinosaurs that evolved fine use of their hands and fingers and flat-faced stereoscopic vision.
If we do find life elsewhere, will we find worlds with species much like our own that evolved along the same pathways, or completely unique creatures that look and behave in ways we never imagined?’

Excerpt from Avoiding An Ape-pocalypse in SPACE DAILY

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“I took a speed-reading course and read ‘War and Peace’ in twenty minutes. It involves Russia.”

WOODY ALLEN

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“A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial
appearance of being right . . .”

THOMAS PAINE

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“Whether you can observe a thing or not depends on the theory which you use. It is the theory which decides what can be observed.”

ALBERT EINSTEIN

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“Nothing is more interesting to the true theorist than a fact which directly contradicts a theory generally accepted up to that time, for this is his particular work.”

MAX PLANCK

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“No, no, you’re not thinking; you’re just being logical.”

NIELS BOHR

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“The only real valuable thing is intuition.”

ALBERT EINSTEIN

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“ . . . symmetry-breaking is a foundation for configurations that physicists call patterns: This paradox, that symmetry can get lost between cause and effect, is called symmetry-breaking. In recent years scientists and mathematicians have begun to realize that it plays a major role in the formation of patterns. “

STEWART AND GOLUBITSKY

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“One unerring mark of the love of truth is not entertaining any proposition
with greater assurance than the proofs it is built upon will warrant.”

JOHN LOCKE
philosopher (1632-1704)

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“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

ALBERT EINSTEIN

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“If we watch ourselves honestly we shall often find that we have begun to argue against a new idea even before it has been completely stated.”

WILFRED TROTTER
English surgeon and author of Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War (1914)

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“With consciousness, however, we are still in a terrible muddle. Consciousness stands alone today as a topic that often leaves even the most sophisticated thinkers tongue-tied and confused. And, as with all of the earlier mysteries, there are many who insist — and hope — that there will never be a demystification of consciousness.”

DANIEL C. DENNETT
Consciousness Explained

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“The innocent sleep that knits up the ravell’d sleeve of care.”

Macbeth, act 2 scene 1

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

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“Almost all really new ideas have a certain aspect of foolishness when they are first produced.”

ALFRED NORTH WHITEHEAD

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“The almost-perfect word is to the perfect word as a lightening bug is to a lightening bolt.”

MARK TWAIN

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“Pictures, propagated by motion along the fibers of the optic nerves in the brain, are the cause of vision.”

ISAAC NEWTON

(the problem lies in the wording JL)

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Deep within the soul of the lonely caged bird / Beats the rhythm of a distant forest
Etched upon its broken heart / The faded memory of flight.

GINNI BLY
poet (b. 1945)

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“The supreme task of the physicist is the discovery of the most general elementary laws from which the world-picture can be deduced logically. But there is no logical way to the discovery of these elemental laws. There is only the way of intuition, which is helped by a feeling for the order lying behind the appearance, and this Einfühlung [literally, empathy or ‘feeling one’s way in’] is developed by experience.”

ALBERT EINSTEIN

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“If we worked on the assumption that what is accepted as true really is true, there would be little hope of advance.”

ORVILLE WRIGHT

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“My dull brain was wrought with things forgotten.”

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

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“The most dangerous of all falsehoods is a slightly distorted truth.”

GEORG CHRISTOPH LICHTENBERG
scientist and philosopher (1742-1799)

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“The most general law in nature is equity-the principle of balance and symmetry, which guides the growth of forms along the lines of the greatest structural efficiency.”

HERBERT READ

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“Nothing is more interesting to the true theorist than a fact which directly contradicts a theory generally accepted up to that time, for this is his particular work.”

MAX PLANCK

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“I am proud of my body – just not in this light.”

In the New Yorker: A caption to a cartoon that doesn’t require the drawing.

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“. . . it was so utterly typical of this young man [Darwin] to gush his feelings, venting his pleasure, awe and amazement in intuitive, artistic terms—before settling down and coolly analyzing what the natural patterns he saw actually meant. For Darwin was right when he wrote of himself (years later, as an older man, in his Autobiography) that he operated as much on inductive, intuitive principles as he did on deductive, analytic principles.”

NILES ELDRIDGE
Evolutionist

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“When theory and experiment agree, that is the time to be especially suspicious.”

NIELS BOHR

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“Philosophy deals with inquiries
into the significance and deeper truths
associated with what science regards (at any point in time) as facts.”

JOEL LEVINSON

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“Courage is not the absence of fear;
it is the triumph over fear for a purpose.”

NELSON MANDELA

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“What is man in nature? Nothing in relation to the infinite, all in relation to nothing, a mean between nothing and everything.”

BLAISE PASCAL
1623-1662

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“The human mind treats a new idea the way the body treats a strange protein — it rejects it.”

PETER MEDAWAR
British-born Brazilian biologist 1915-1987

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“Whilst part of what we perceive comes through our senses from the object before us, another part (and it may be the larger part) always comes out of our own mind.”

WILLIAM JAMES

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“Anyone who conducts an argument by appealing to authority is not using his intelligence; he is just using his memory.”

LEONARDO DA VINCI

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‘I would have written less if I had had more time.’

MARK TWAIN

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“A black cat crossing your path signifies that the animal is going somewhere.”

GROUCHO MARX

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If a married Jewish man is walking alone in a park and expresses an opinion without anybody hearing him, is he still wrong?

From the book of ancient Jewish Wisdom

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“Whoever named it necking was a poor judge of anatomy.”

GROUCHO MARX

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“Absolute, true, and mathematical time, of itself, and from its own nature, flows equably without relation to anything external, and by another name is called duration:
relative, apparent, and common time, is some sensible and external measure of duration by the means of motion, which is commonly used instead of true time; such as an hour, a day, a month, a year.”

SIR ISAAC NEWTON

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“Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth.”

ALBERT EINSTEIN

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“Getting older is no problem. You just have to live long enough.”

GROUCHO MARX

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“Infinities and indivisibles transcend our finite understanding, the former on account of their magnitude, the latter because of their smallness; Imagine what they are when combined.”

GALILEO GALILEI
Two New Sciences 1638)

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A philosopher once said, “It is necessary for the very existence of science that the same conditions always produce the same results.” Well they don’t!

RICHARD FEYNMAN

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“I never knew I had an inventive talent until Phrenology told me so.
I was a stranger to myself until then!”

THOMAS ALVA EDISON

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“In contemplating the infinite, distinguish between what is set forth as mathematically infinite from that which is physically infinite, from that which is spatially or temporally infinite, from that which is conceptually infinite, because although their conceptual paths might rightfully and usefully cross at times, in the final analysis they are different and distinct.”
Translated from the Russian
L. ANDREI TURGENEV
1951 – ?

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