Recreation and interests
My favorite sport, both to play and to watch. I've been involved since I
was six, and I still play a couple of times per week. At Maryland the
game is a lot of fun, because most of the players have other things going
on in their lives and therefore don't need to prove their self-worth on the
court (a problem on many playgrounds). My favorite pro team is the
2004 NBA champion Detroit Pistons, and my favorite college is,
naturally, the University of Michigan. I like other sports too, and
for detailed updates on many sports I highly recommend the
For people who like challenges, here's a doozy: separate the integers from
1 to 16 inclusive into two groups of eight each, such that the sum of the
numbers in group 1 equals the sum of the numbers in group 2, the sum of the
squares of the numbers in group 1 equals the sum of the squares of the numbers
in group 2, and the sum of the cubes of the numbers in group 1 equals the
sum of the cubes of the numbers in group 2.
Another great lifetime activity. I learned the game at the age of six, and
eventually got into tournament play for a few years, until I got into college
and decided that enough was enough. Now I play speed chess a fair amount,
which I find relaxing.
Rndb, wklv lv d vlpsoh Fdhvdu flskhu zkhuh hdfk ohwwhu lv uhsodfhg eb
rqh wkuhh sodfhv ixuwkhu lq wkh doskdehw. Wkhuh duh pruh frpsolfdwhg
prqrdoskdehwlf vbvwhpv, exw wr kdyh d fkdqfh dw zlwkvwdqglqj dqdobvlv
brx qhhg wr jr wr srobdoskdehwlf vbvwhpv, srobjudsklf vbvwhpv,
wudqvsrvlwlrq flskhuv, ru hyhq pruh lqyroyhg phwkrgv olnh sxeolf-nhb
frghv. Prvw lpsruwdqwob, grq'w bdpphu rq olnh wklv; nhhs lw vkruw dqg
brx'oo kdyh ohvv fkdqfh ri ehlqj euhdfkhg. Lw dovr khosv wr zulwh
brxu frgh lq ilyh-ohwwhu eorfnv wr dyrlg lqirupdwlrq rq zrug ohqjwkv,
dqg sxqfwxdwlrq vkrxog eh holplqdwhg.
I think it is important for scientists to reach out to the public and
try to both impart information and convey enthusiasm about their subjects.
I'd love to make a dent in the general perception of
scientists as either unethical lunatics or high priests, so further
participation is indicated. I have given several talks on general relativity
and black hole theory at Adler Planetarium in Chicago to groups of pretty sharp
high school students, and a variety of public lectures in other venues.
It's a lot of fun, particularly when I juggle, set things on fire, or
perform magic tricks!
I went to grad school at Caltech, just south of the San Gabriel mountains,
and spending a day hiking above the smog layer was always great. In 1993
I was in Switzerland for a week and a half, and hung around the Jungfrau
region. VERY impressive, actually overwhelming in its beauty. Of course,
in Illinois the topography was a little less interesting, but now that I'm
near mountains again I can vary my altitude by more than a few meters.
Reading the pontifications of philosophers is always interesting, but
frequently they try to produce an all-encompassing explanation of everything
and look foolish as a result. Still, there are some I like: Roger Bacon
(the first to formulate the scientific method), David Hume (a sharp skeptic
and believer in natural causes), and Bertrand Russell (a libertarian
iconoclast) are a few of my favorites.
I don't believe that deities exist, although I recognize the impossibility
of proving their nonexistence.
Nonetheless, the study of religion is interesting in its own right, and
I have been consistently amazed at the richness of human imagination.
Still, I wish more people could have a humanistic basis for ethical
behavior. In general I can deal with a live and let live attitude, but
unfortunately many of the more fundamentalist sects of most religions
consider it a duty to intrude on other people and convert them to the
True Faith, resulting in all sorts of conflicts and misery.
Pseudoscience and foggy thinking
My study of science has given me so much enjoyment that I am saddened
when so many people choose to put their efforts into things such as
astrology and creationism that have no basis in fact. What I'd like to
convey is that it is tremendously exciting to be in contact with
discoveries about how things really are, and that this gives a sense of
satisfaction and connection with the universe. I also think that
constructive skepticism (rather than an absolute denial of all claims!)
is important for everyday life, to help us avoid being fooled. For this
purpose, a useful guide is "extraordinary claims require extraordinary
proof", as Carl Sagan used to emphasize. For example, if I told you I
saw someone walking down the street you would just believe me, but if I
told you I saw a 100 foot tall cyclops walking down the street, you'd be
justified in demanding pretty airtight evidence that it really happened!
For those who would like to pursue selected topics a bit more thoroughly,
here are some links:
- Evidence for
Science Magazine article on a remarkable set of bacterial
evolution experiments by Richard Lenski and others, thousands
of generations of E. coli.
a wonderful site that points out various scientific inaccuracies in
movies and other forums.
guide to cold reading by Ray Hyman. Many times a performance
by a "psychic" may seem impressive; how could they have possibly
known the things they know? To understand this, it is helpful to
know about "cold reading", by which a "psychic" can pick up cues,
feed back information, and otherwise do apparently amazing things
without actually contacting the spirits!
- Skeptical Inquirer.
This website contains only a few things; the magazine is much more
thorough. The magazine addresses all sorts of paranormal and
supernatural claims. The writing is of varied quality, and sometimes
they are more a priori dismissive that I'd like (it's best to address
claims seriously, although it can be frustrating to see the same
disproved assertions come back time and again). However, this is a
good reference for a skeptical point of view on many subjects.
American website, which has continually updated stories
on exciting scientific developments.
Send me to:
Maryland astro home page