Roger Eugene Hill
The life, career, scientific and spiritual insights of a physicist plus a few excursions into Complexity Science and Art.
With Louise. Tent Rocks,
New Mexico. Dec 2016.

                       COLOMBE MAGAZINE

A magazine of discovery, fact and opinion relating to current affairs, and explorations into the integration of modern science and non-dualistic spirituality.


*An introduction to the subject of my blog ( the description of a world view that is consistent with the observations of modern science and incorporates a non-dualistic spirituality.-----------A New Darshan.

*A high school level treatise on the nature, presence, detection, dangers and uses of ---------- Radioactivity.

*Reducing greenhouse gas emmissions produced by the 3 billion people yet to be born before 2050; the scale of the problem of providing their energy needs using renewables; is there a role for nuclear power? --------------------The Challenges for Green Electricity.

*How anthropomorphic theologies will have to evolve to accomodate the discovery that "We are not alone". How a Cosmic Spirituality might celebrate -------- Cosmic Christmas

*The dreamer dreams of the Spirit-----A dream.

                               A NEW DARSHAN
Why new?
A darshan is a “vision of the divine”. It is a fundamental step in the development of a complete ontology, the foundation of a “world view” that provides an understanding of the physical and spiritual (transcendent) aspects of human life.

For adherents of scriptural based religions, their “world view” is derived from the authors and interpreters of the sacred texts and their darshan is basically their faith that the sacred texts are the “word of God (or Allah, or Brahma)”.

For those who cling to the “world view” of material realism, there is no place for darshan because of their faith that transcendence does not exist.

Throughout history there have been spiritual movements based on a darshan that is not scriptural based. Prominent among these is Buddhism. In the classical world these darshans were compatible with a “world view” that assumed that the physical Cosmos was static: infinite and eternal. Therefore, in an Old Darshan the “vision of the transcendent” had no need to include the concept of creation or a Creator. The Old Darshan has provided important spiritual insight and guidance to countless people over many centuries.

But now we know from scientific observation that our Cosmos had a beginning: it is not eternal and it is not static - it is, in fact, expanding at an accelerating pace. The purpose of my blog is to develop a New Darshan that is compatible with the observations of modern science and incorporates valuable understanding of the transcendent that the Old Darshan has provided. The spiritual aspect of the New Darshan is its focus on Oneness and the attempt to avoid the dualism that has plagued so much of the world’s religious, social and political history.

What's new?
The scientific roots of the New Darshan emerge from recent studies using Quantum Theory of the smallest objects in spacetime, and studies in Cosmology of the origin and nature of the entire universe (spacetime itself).

  -Quantum entanglement:
Experiments in quantum entanglement made over the last 30 years, or so, have proven beyond a doubt that entangled quantum states exist in a nonlocal reality. “Nonlocal” means that entanglements exist outside of our “local” 3D+1 reality. In our "local" reality, effects follow causes by a finite amount of time because information cannot be transmitted in 3D+1 faster than the speed of light. (The description of our local spacetime as “3D+1” is based on its structure of 3 observable space dimensions plus one dimension of time.) The nature of the nonlocal reality where quantum states are entangled and causality does not apply is not subject to direct observation using local instruments. But the existence of nonlocal quantum entanglement is an established observational fact. The existence of a nonlocal reality is often described as a quantum paradox.

 - Wave/particle duality:
The origins of quantum mechanics go back more than a century. It has proven to be one of the most successful scientific enterprises of all time. Its equations have been used to predict observations of quantum phenomena with incredible accuracy (e.g., to 10 decimal places in the case of some experiments in quantum electrodynamics.) But paradoxes have been part of the theory from the very beginning.

The first was the wave/particle duality of matter and light. Neils Bohr resolved this paradox to his satisfaction, with what is now known as the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, through the advancement of the idea of Complimentarity. This said that either the wave or particle nature would be revealed by the type of quantum observation chosen by the observer, but not both. In this interpretation, the key element to resolving the paradox is “choice”.

Perhaps the most paradoxical of the wave/particle duality experiments is the famous Young’s double slit experiment. In this experiment an opaque screen, in which two slits have been cut, is positioned between a source and a detector of light.  Modern versions of this experiment have passed single photons or material particles like electrons through a double slit arrangement and provided for the detection of single particles on the downstream side of the slits.

After passing many single particles through the arrangement, an interference pattern is observed showing that, at the position of the slits, the single particle was actually at two places at once . That is, though beginning and ending its journey through the apparatus as a point particle, it behaved as a wave at the position of the slits. (For more on this, please see .)

If the observer chooses to determine which slit the particle actually passes through, the wave nature of the particle is not manifested: the interference pattern is destroyed. Here, again, “choice” is the key element in resolving the paradox.

The most recent form of these experiments, known as “delayed choice” experiments, have demonstrated that the timing of the choice (whether to determine the actual “slit” or not) does not affect the outcome of the experiment. This is true even if the choice is made nonlocally: that is, in situations where, in order for the choice to effect the particle at the beginning of its journey would require faster than light communication. In other words, in these experiments, the choice to determine or not the actual path will effect the outcome even if the choice is made after the particle is already inside the apparatus.

So, here again, as in the entanglement experiments, quantum behavior is explainable only by the existence of a nonlocal reality and is observed to be determined by nonlocal choices. This, again, is described as a quantum paradox. (See for example )

 -General Relativity:
For the last 50 years, or so, observational Cosmology has focused on the reality and consequences of the Big Bang: a unique event that lies at the very beginning of our expanding 3D+1 spacetime. The time with which we measure change in our Cosmos began in the Big Bang (t=0).

There is no scientific way to observe what went “before” the Big Bang or what exists outside of spacetime. But Einstein’s theory of General Relativity, which has had great success at explaining the observations of modern Cosmology, is based on the idea that the Big Bang emerged from the nonlocal reality of a Singularity. Being outside of spacetime, the Singularity is unobservable and is a subject for metaphysics and mathematical imagination, but not empirical science.

Another aspect of General Relativity is the discovery of what is called the “fine tuning” of the physical Cosmos. The initial conditions of the Big Bang and the physical constants that determine the dynamics of the expansion of the Cosmos had to be “fine tuned” with incredibly improbable values in order for stable matter to exist and for the Cosmos to persist for the last 13.8 billion years.

It’s not possible for me to put an accurate value to the total improbability of my existence, but just the fine tuning of the initial energy densities in the Cosmos that allows the persistence of the Cosmos  alone is of the order of 10-60. And the symmetry-breaking that allowed there to be an excess of matter over anti-matter in the early universe has a probability of the order of 10-9. Then there is the exact balance among the fundamental forces and particle masses that permits stable atoms to exist, and the quantum tunneling processes that permit stars to burn and explode providing the chemical elements that make up the rocky planets. (Recent measurements with the Keppler space telescope indicate that the earth may be one of about 1022 such planets in the Cosmos.)  And then there is the improbability of the emergence of self-aware beings on our planet along with little details, essential to human life, like the fact that solid water is lighter than liquid water. I can’t be sure, but I guess the probability that I am sitting here writing this has got be less than something like 10-100. This is a pretty fair definition of a scientific miracle.

There is no scientific explanation for this miracle. There is only metaphysics and mathematical imagination. Many scientists of the material realist persuasion see the miracle as just a highly improbable accident: a random event among an infinity (or very large number, like 10500) of Big Bangs creating other (3D+1?) universes.

New metaphysics.
The metaphysics of the New Darshan includes the hypothesis that the nonlocal reality of Quantum Mechanics is consciousness itself. It is choice that collapses all quantum wave-functions and resolves all quantum paradoxes. And the essence of consciousness is choice.

This hypothesis is not new with me. I suspect there are many scientists and thinkers who have come to the same conclusion. The great physicist, John Archibald Wheeler, who wrote the book on General Relativity and proposed things like black holes, worm holes, and the “delayed choice” experiments of quantum theory, looked deeply into the quantum nature of things and introduced into physics more than 30 years ago the phrase “It from bit". Wheeler is implying that the most elementary aspect of nature is information (not matter/energy). And the process of creating reality and doing science is the process of creating “its” from “bits”. A “bit” is a yes/no question and the process of creating an “it” is a choice – an act of consciousness. This is what Wheeler meant by his characterization of our Cosmos as a "participatory universe."

This metaphysical hypothesis was explored at great lengths by the quantum physicist, Amit Goswami, Ph.D., in his book,  The Self-Aware Universe (Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, N.Y., 1995). Goswami proposed that consciousness is the ground of all being and defined the essence of life with a Cartesian phrase “Opto ergo sum” - "I choose therefore I am". The subtitle of Goswami’s book is “how consciousness creates the material world”.

I propose to extend the New Darshan with the hypothesis that the first "it" in our Cosmos was the first Planck bubble (a quantum region of unified forces, complete uncertainty, where only probabilities exist, 10-35 m in diameter) This first “it” emerged from the Singularity and began the Big Bang.

The metaphysical principle of “as below, so above”, would imply that this process of the creation of the first "it" of reality was also a conscious choice. This would imply the startling metaphysical hypothesis that the Singularity is alive and is the source of all consciousness and life in the Cosmos.

Plans for future writings.
In the posts on my blog ( that will describe the New Darshan, I will explore the scientific implications of the possibility that the Singularity of the Big Bang and the nonlocal reality of Quantum Mechanics are one and the same. I will attempt to identify teleological aspects of evolution that support the hypothesis that the universe began with a conscious choice. I will explore the spiritual aspects of the New Darshan in terms of the dynamics of consciousness and creation.These dynamics are intimately related to the unitary process of co-inherence. I will address the morality that flows from the New Darshan as emphasizing the equality of all self-aware beings and the value of cooperation in the development of global human society.

February 12, 2014                                 

I wrote the following treatise on radioactivity in response to a request from my granddaughter, Sara. She was seeking a little help in understanding the subject at the level it was being taught in her high school Physics class at St. Julian's School in Carcavelos, Portugal.

I hope reading this will give anyone concerned about the presence of radioactivity in the environment a better understanding of the issues involved. And, perhaps, help alleviate some of the quite understandable xenophobia that stems from the lack of understanding.



Radioactivity refers to the process whereby an energetically unstable atomic nucleus releases energy as it decays (transforms) to states of increasing stability. Some atomic nuclei are naturally unstable and their radioactivity is called natural radioactivity. Instability can be induced in atomic nuclei by injecting energy into the nucleus from a source external to the atom and the resulting radioactivity is called induced radioactivity.

The decay process is an inherently random process governed by the laws of quantum mechanics (particularly, through what is called the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle). The random time of decay of any particular nucleus cannot be predicted but the rate of decay of a large collection of radioactive nuclei follows a simple law (an exponential) so that the rate can be characterized by a single number. The usual convention is to characterize the rate of decay by a half-life which is the average time it takes for 50% of the nuclei in any given collection to undergo radioactive decay.

Atomic Structure

The atom consists of a cloud of negatively charged particles called electrons surrounding a relatively tiny positively charged nucleus. Stable atoms (elements) are electrically neutral with the negative charge of all of its electrons exactly balanced by the positive charge of the nucleus. Atoms where this balance has been altered so that there is a net electrical charge are called ions. The chemical nature and behavior of atoms is determined entirely by the configuration of their electron clouds.

Nuclear Structure

The nucleus is made up of an assembly of positively charged particles called protons and neutral particles called neutrons. They are of approximately the same mass (about 2000 times heavier than an electron) and are known collectively as nucleons. The nucleons are held together in the nucleus by what is called the strong nuclear force that overcomes the mutual electrical repulsion of the positively charged protons.

Nuclei that have the same number of protons but differing number of neutrons are called isotopes. The total number of nucleons in a nucleus is called the atomic mass, usually referred to as A, and the number of protons (positive charges) is called the atomic number, usually referred to as Z.

Nuclei can then be uniquely identified by the symbol  .
For example,  refers to the nucleus of the element carbon (chemical symbol C) having 6 protons and 14 nucleons, meaning this is an isotope of carbon having 8 neutrons (14-6). This famous isotope is usually referred to simply as carbon-14. The stable (non radioactive) isotope of carbon is carbon-12.

Radiated Energy

A radioactive nucleus emits its excess energy as it decays its way to stability (a state of minimum energy) in three different ways in the form of three different types of radiation called alpha particles, beta particles, and gamma rays.

Alpha particles are heavy particles made up of 2 protons and 2 neutrons (essentially a He nucleus) and their emission results in a transformation of nuclear structure with A->A-4 and Z-> Z-2, i.e.,
                    alpha decay -->  + .

Beta particles are simply electrons (or their antiparticles, positrons) so that their emission changes the charge (Z) of the nucleus by ± 1 unit but not the number of nucleons (A). I.e.
                   beta decay-->  + (e±)

In both of these decays the nucleus N has transformed into the nucleus of a different chemical element, N’.

These equations are examples of balanced nuclear equations where the rule is that the total number of nucleons and the total electrical charge are conserved quantities. Therefore the total value of A and Z on the right hand side must equal the values of A and Z on the left side of the equation.

Gamma rays are pure energy (they have no mass) emitted in the form of electromagnetic radiation with very short wavelengths corresponding to energies greater than x-rays. Gamma ray emission usually occurs during the other types of radioactive decay. The emission of a gamma ray alone does not affect the structure of the nucleus.

The energies of all three types of radiation from particular nuclei depend on the amount of excess energy present in the unstable state before the nucleus undergoes radioactive decay.

Radiation Passage Through Matter

All three types of radiation are capable of altering the charge of the electron clouds in the atoms of the materials through which they are passing. For this reason they are all examples of what is called ionizing radiation. Each ionization process reduces the energy of the radiation by a small amount. Once the radiation has lost all its energy in ionizing the material it is passing through, it comes to a stop and can penetrate no further: they have reached the limits of their penetrating power.

The penetrating power of the three different types of radiation are very different (due, primarily, to the great differences in their masses) and this can be used to distinguish among them. Typical alpha particles, for example, can be stopped by a piece of paper while beta particles might require a thin sheet of metal (like a few sheets of aluminum foil) and gamma rays require many centimeters of lead to stop them.

Radiation Detection

The presence of radiation is detected by the sudden appearance of ions (electrically charged atoms) within an electrical device called a radiation detector or the accumulated effect of ions on recording devices like photographic film or emulsions. Radiation detectors are extremely sensitive and can register, for example, the arrival of a single gamma ray (photon).

A simple type of radiation detector is the Geiger-Mϋller detector. Basically, this is a chamber of pressurized gas (easily ionized) existing in a static electric field produced by charged electrodes (one positive and one negative). When an ion appears in the gas, it is accelerated toward one of the electrodes (depending on the sign of its charge) and its arrival at the electrode produces a small pulse of current in the electronics. The pulses are counted and amplified to produce the well known audible clicks signifying the presence of radiation.

Photographic film and emulsions contain light-sensitive materials that are also sensitive to ionizing radiation. In fact, radioactivity was discovered by Henri Becquerel 1896 when an x-ray film he was working with was found to be effected by some uranium salts that had accidently been left in a drawer with the film. The earliest recordings of tracks of cosmic rays were captured in photographic emulsions.

Radioactive Sources

The strength of a radioactive source is called its activity and it is proportional to the number of radioactive nuclei present in the source. The units of source activity are decays (disintegrations) per second. One disintegration/second is known as 1 becquerel (1 Bq).

The simple fact that the rate of nuclei decaying in a source is proportional to the number of radioactive nuclei present in the source means that radioactive decay is an exponential process. If we say the activity is A and the number of nuclei present is N, then we can express the proportionality as:
                          A = λN ; where, λ is the constant of proportionality called the decay constant. So, the activity A decreases as N decreases with time.

We can find the relationship between the half-life (t1/2) and the decay constant (λ) by realizing that at t= t1/2 there are ½ as many nuclei as we started with (N0) so that, according to the law of exponential decay:
                   1/2 N0 = N0e(-λt1/2).
From the definition of logarithms and the exponential (e), this means that:
                        λ=ln(2)/ t1/2.
So we can now write our simple law in terms of t1/2 as:
                       A= ln(2)/ t1/2N.

Take, as a practical example, the calculation of the activity of 40K in the human body. 40K is a naturally occurring radioactive isotope of potassium. It occurs as a 117 parts per million fraction of natural potassium and it has a half-life of 1.25 billion years (3.938x1016 seconds). A 73 kg (160 lb) human body contains about 167 g of natural potassium. 1g of 40K is about 1/40 of a mole of 40K and a mole of any material contains 6.022x1023 atoms (Avogadro’s number). So, a 73 kg human body contains about:
N =167x6.022x1023x117x10-6/40 = 2.942 x1020 40K nuclei.

Therefore, the radioactivity due to the decay of potassium-40 in a 73 kg human body is about:
        A = ln(2)/3.938x1016x2.942x1020 = 5,178 Bq.

The conclusion is that there is a background radiation source built into a 160 lb human body of about 5,200 disintegrations/second occurring throughout the body every second of human life due to the radioactivity of 40K.

Sources of Natural Background Radiation

The background radiation in which all life has evolved and humans live their entire lives comes from both terrestrial and cosmic sources.

Terrestrial sources are the naturally occurring radioactive isotopes on earth and principle among these are isotopes of the elements potassium, thorium and uranium.

Potassium is a mineral that is crucial for human life. It is present in all human bodies and many of the foods we eat. So, our own bodies, the food we eat and other human bodies are all sources of background radiation.

Thorium and uranium exist in many of the rocks on earth. Human exposure to these sources is usually due to contact with the radioactive gas radon that is produced during the decay of thorium and uranium. This gas makes its way up from underground through cracks and fissures in the earth’s crust.

There are other naturally occurring radioactive isotopes such as Carbon-14 and Argon-40 that have proven useful to science (as will be explained below) but they do not represent a significant source of background radiation in the biosphere.

The cosmic source of natural background radiation is due to what are called cosmic rays. These are streams of charged particles and gamma rays (photons) produced by the nuclear reactions in our own sun and galaxy and even from galaxies far far away that continually bombard the earth’s atmosphere. Many of these cosmic rays are deflected away from the earth by the magnetic field (the magnetosphere) surrounding the earth. Humans on the surface of the earth are shielded to some degree from this radiation by the thickness of our atmosphere. But the radiation making its way to the surface is and always has been a significant source of background radiation to life on earth (the biosphere.) People who live at higher altitudes or spend a lot of time in airplanes are exposed to more of this radiation than those living at lower elevations.

Incidentally, it’s interesting to note that it is the radioactivity in the earth’s rocks that is responsible for the heat that produces the earth’s molten core. And it is the molten core of the rotating earth that produces the magnetosphere protecting the biosphere from the worst of the cosmic radiation. In essence, it’s the radioactivity in the earth that is responsible for creating the atmospheric and oceanic conditions that permit the existence of life as we know it.

Artificial Sources of Background Radiation

Sources of induced radioactivity have been introduced into the biosphere through the creation of radioactive isotopes in nuclear reactors, particle accelerators and nuclear explosions.

The radioactivity induced in materials by the injection of charged particles in particle accelerators usually has a very short half-life and is therefore not a persistent source of radiation. The isotopes produced by the injection of neutrons into materials (especially, heavy materials) in the process of nuclear fission in reactors and explosions can have very long half-lives. The materials containing induced radioactivity produced through fission in nuclear reactors is sometimes referred to as nuclear waste and those produced in explosions as nuclear fallout. These represent a potential danger to life.

Some radioactive isotopes that have properties making them useful in medicine, industry and agriculture are deliberately created in reactors or accelerators. These isotopes are assembled into radioactive sources that are surrounded by a shielding assembly of materials sufficient to confine (stop) the radiation inside and control its release into the biosphere. As long as the shielding is not breached, these sources are not a significant source of background radiation to the general public.

Other potential sources of artificial radiation are medical, dental and industrial x-rays.

Dangers of Ionizing Radiation

As we have seen, ionization involves changes to the chemical behavior of the atom being ionized. Some of these changes to a living cell could damage or kill the cell and a sufficient amount of such damage could lead to the death of the organism. It’s all a question of dose.

Just like salt, for example. Salt is a highly valued substance that enhances the flavor of our food and is a source of a vital component of life – sodium. But eating too much salt can cause high blood pressure and other health problems and, taken in very large doses, is poisonous and can cause death. Because we clearly understand the dosage effects, we don’t think of salt as a poison and happily put salt shakers on our dining tables. But for radiation, most people don’t understand the dosage effects and therefore look upon all radiation with great concern or even fear.

The damaging effects of radiation are complicated to understand because they depend not only on the total dose received but also on the rate at which the dose is received. Professionals called health physicists have been studying the dosage effects of radiation for decades. The potentially damaging effects to living beings can include: changes to the DNA in reproductive material producing genetic changes (mutations) in offspring; cancer; suppression of the immune system; and, death.

The situation regarding high doses of radiation in humans is reasonably well understood. Radiation doses absorbed by the human body are quantified in units called sieverts (Sv). It’s known that doses above 1 Sv received in a short time can cause death. It was once believed that an accumulated dose of radiation that will lead to death in 50% of people is about 5 Sv. These are huge amounts of radiation and very few people have ever died from radiation poisoning so the data are scarce.

At intermediate doses it’s known that radiation can cause cancer. Studies of people who have developed radiation induced cancer, such as some of the Hiroshima bomb survivors, have lead to recommended dose limits for various segments of the human population. In the US The recommended limit from man-made sources of radiation for a member of the general public is 0.001 Sv per year (1 mSv/y). For comparison, the typical background radiation from all sources for a person living at sea level is about 3.2 mSv/y.

The situation for very low doses or small doses received very slowly is not very well understood because very small effects can only show up in a very large sample of people. There is controversy about this.

Given that we all live with the small potassium-40 doses in our bodies and that cosmic rays have been present throughout the evolution of the biosphere, there is some argument that doses below some small threshold are not dangerous (and may even be beneficial). Others argue that there may not be a threshold and that all doses should be considered dangerous.

The policy that is given to all professionals in the US working with radiation is that all radiation doses must be kept “As Low As Reasonably Achievable”: a policy know by its acronym - ALRA.

Mitigation of Radiation Dangers

The realization of ALRA is achieved by: the use of shielding materials around radiation sources sufficient to confine and contain the radiation; limiting the amount of time of human exposure to sources; and, keeping distance between people and exposed sources (doses fall off as the square of the distance from an exposed source.)

The application of ALRA to nuclear waste is not so clear because the waste will remain radioactive much longer than any policy, country or even civilization might exist. One proposal in the US is to dispose of the waste in deep geological structures sufficiently removed from the biosphere that the waste can simply be abandoned. Another proposal is to re-process the waste in order to remove the long half-life components that can then be used as fuel in a type of a reactor called a breeder reactor. There are a number of other technical possibilities for dealing with nuclear waste. But all of them require political decisions and the political will to solve the problem.

In the meantime, the US waste is being contained in shielding structures (pools of water or concrete casks) located near the reactors producing the waste. This has been feasible up to now because the volume of nuclear waste produced annually by a typical reactor is really quite small. The amount of high level waste from a large (1000 MW) light water power reactor produced in a year can fit in a small truck (about 20 m3).

Beneficial use of Radiation and Radioactivity
Radioactive sources are used in medicine to image, diagnose and treat a variety of diseases as well as assist in medical research. Most major hospitals now include a department of Nuclear Medicine. For imaging and diagnosis, radioisotopes can be ingested or injected into the circulatory system and radiation detectors (cameras) can then be used to follow the path of the isotope in the body to locate obstructions, abnormal accumulations, or to render an internal organ, like the thyroid, visible from outside the body. In radiotherapy, sources with appropriate energies and activities are introduced into malignant tumors to kill the cancer cells. Half of all people with cancer undergo radiotherapy. There are tens of thousands of people who have been cured of various types of cancer and are alive today as a result of radiotherapy.

 Radioactive sources are used to measure and control the thickness in the manufacture of sheet materials like paper, plastic and sheet metal. They can be used in the imaging and quality control of welds. They are used to help bind chemicals to surfaces in the manufacture of things like wrinkle free fabrics and non-stick cookware. In the drilling for oil and gas, radioactive sources are lowered into the wellbore together with detectors to help identify the types of geological materials being encountered. A tiny radioactive source is the working heart of each of the smoke detectors protecting us in our homes and other buildings. Glow-in-the-dark watch and clock faces as well as phosphorescent signs contain small amounts of tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen. Radioactivity is also used in the sterilization of manufactured products like medical supplies. This is only a partial list. There are many ingenious uses of radioactivity in modern industrial practices.

Many of our agricultural products are exposed to radioactivity in order to kill or sterilize potentially dangerous micro-organisms or insects (through the ionization process) before they are released for export or consumption. The elimination of micro-organisms that can cause spoilage or disease by irradiation has the same end result as the pasteurization process but without requiring the food to be heated to high temperatures. Radiation is also used in the control of insects and the preservation of seeds.

Scientific Research:
The movement of chemicals through soils, plants, animal bodies, mechanical structures or anything else can be observed by “tagging” some of the chemicals with radioisotopes of the same chemical. These are called radioactive tracers. The movement of tracers through the environment under study is followed using radiation detectors. Tracer studies have wide application in many different fields allowing the observation of dynamic processes that would be impossible to otherwise observe. Radioactive sources are used to calibrate radiation detectors used in particle and nuclear research. Heat from radioactive sources provides the power for some satellites and spacecraft. Electrical power for the Voyager-1, for example, that has recently left the solar system and is still transmitting data to earth, is derived from the heat of radioactive plutonium sources.

In archeological research, the age of once living (organic) material can be determined by measuring the ratio of the amount of the radioisotope carbon-14 in a sample of the material to the amount of the stable element carbon-12 in the same sample. During life, this ratio is fixed by the naturally occurring ratio in the earth’s atmosphere. After death, no new carbon-12 is accumulated, the carbon-14 begins to decay and the ratio begins to decrease by an amount that depends on the known half life of carbon-14. The ratio of carbon-14 to carbon-12 then gives a direct measurement of the time since death.

The age of rocks can be similarly determined by measuring the ratio in a sample of rock of argon-40 to potassium-40. Argon-40 is produced by the radioactive decay of potassium-40. Before the crystallization of molten material (lava) into rock, the argon-40, a gas, can easily escape from the lava. After crystallization, the argon-40 becomes trapped and begins to accumulate in the rock by an amount that depends on the known half-life of potassium- 40. Measurement of the ratio of argon-40 to potassium-40 then provides a measure of the time elapsed since the rock was once lava. This is, again, a partial list. There are many ingenious ways that radioactivity has been used to learn more about the nature and evolution of the solar system, the earth, and the life that inhabits it.

A Closing Thought:
It’s important to realize that radioactivity is not just a man-made phenomenon that represents a new and unknown threat to life. All the energy on the earth is ultimately derived from nuclear processes that involve radiation. The earth is a radioactive planet and we are radioactive beings.


Clouds. Snow is on the way. Soon the branches of the piñions and junipers surrounding the house will be bent low under a burden of heavy wet snow. I am looking forward to this beautiful sight from within the warm safety of Casa Colombe in drought stricken New Mexico.

One day the snows will stop coming here and we will all be praying for rain to save our trees. The experts at Los Alamos say that given the current trends it is highly likely that New Mexico will lose the vast majority of its forests by 2050.

There are so many humans now that our activities are causing important changes in the planet's energy dynamics. This is happening because the greenhouse gases being injected into the atmosphere by human activity are changing the way the sun's energy is affecting the earth.

We humans are going to have to either alter our activities or adapt to living on a very different planet than our ancestors.

If we want to conserve the Earth roughly as it is now, we must be conservative in our greenhouse gas emissions.

At the very least, we can try to insure that the increase in human population, expected to peak at about 10 billion people around 2050 (a 40% increase), does not make the climate situation we have already created any worse. An important element in achieving this goal would be to create electrical power and transportation infrastructures for the 3 billion people yet to be born that don't result in significant new greenhouse gas emissions.

Extrapolating data from the International Energy Outlook 2013 report (IEO2013), published by the US Energy Information Administration, shows that the global energy consumption is expected to increase by about 70% from 2010 to 2050. This is larger than the 40% population increase because of the increase in per capita energy consumption required for global economic development. (There are large parts of the developing world that don't yet have access to adequate and dependable electricity.)

IEO2013 reports that in 2010 the global generation of electricity produced 21 trillion kilowatt-hours of energy. In that same year, the report shows that global transportation consumed 28 trillion kilowatt-hours of energy (electrical equivalent). A 70% increase in electrical generation corresponds to 15 trillion kilowatt-hours and a 40% increase in transportation means another 11 trillion kilowatt-hours. If we were to work toward an obvious goal of electrifying the additional transportation, then the generation of a total of 26 trillion kilowatt-hours of electricity must be anticipated by 2050 for the population yet to be born. (The UN has predicted that the global population will stabilize at roughly 2050 levels, i.e., at about 10 billion people.)

So, if we want to conserve the planet roughly as it is now, we have to prepare to generate 26 trillion kilowatt-hours of electricity annually without new greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050. To understand the scale of this undertaking, like Bill Clinton said, you have to do the math.

What does the capacity to generate 26 trillion kilowatt-hours in a year look like?
It's about 10 times the 2010 global nuclear power capacity, 76 times the global wind power capacity and 13,000 times the solar photo-voltaic capacity in 2010.

The largest wind farm in the world is the Alta wind farm near Tehachapi, CA.  Scaling up the design and performance of this farm, the generation of 26 trillion kilowatt-hours annually would require 5.5 million turbines occupying 562,000 square miles of land as windy as Tehachapi. These are huge turbines with wing spans of about 250 feet. And the windy land requirement is about 15% of the size of the US or a third of the size of the European Union.

The largest photo-voltaic (PV) solar power plant in the world is the Aqua Caliente plant in Yuma, AZ. Scaling up from this facility would imply that 216 billion PV modules arrayed across 156,000 square miles of land as sunny as Yuma, AZ, would be required to generate 26 trillion kilowatt-hours in a year. (156,000 square miles is about the size of the land area of CA, 73% of the size of France and more than 20 times the surface area of all the rooftops in the US.)

Both the solar and wind options would also require extending the existing electricity grids into the sunny and windy areas where these plants could be located.

At the present time there is about 370 GWE (giga-watts of electricity) being generated by 434 commercial nuclear power plants worldwide. The additional energy generating capacity of 26 trillion kilowatt-hours annually needed by 2050 corresponds to about 3,000 GWE - 8 times the present nuclear capacity. This would mean the addition of about 2,700 new power reactors by 2050 of the type currently being considered for construction (based, mostly, on 1960's designs.) Most of these could be sited near the existing electricity grids.

Addressing this increment of 26 trillion kilowatt-hours is only a modest first step (as daunting as it may be.) The IEO2013 projection is that the total global energy consumption in 2050 will be about 10 times this amount. Some of this is likely to generate greenhouse gases. So the long term solution to conserving the health of the planet will require additional electrification, perhaps through nuclear fusion or some new technology yet to be invented.

That's the math of the situation. I hope I didn't lose you, but it's critically important to understand the scale of the problem. The task is to provide 5.5 million huge wind turbines on 562,000 square windy miles, or, 216 billion PV solar modules on 156,000 square sunny miles, or, 2,700 large nuclear power reactors, or, some combination of the three by 2050 and that's only 10% of the energy we will be using at that time. There is a huge task before us and we need to get started right away.

Personally, I believe that the best and most realistic hope for conserving the planet roughly as it is now lies with the deployment of the next generation of safe, clean and dependable nuclear power. In the meantime, those of us already here can help by energy conservation and conversion to renewable energy sources whenever and wherever feasible.

Examples of next generation nuclear technology are the small modular power plants, such as the Gen4 reactor developed at Los Alamos (2007), or the Integral Fast Reactor demonstrated at the Argonne National Laboratory in the 1980's. All US Navy aircraft carriers and submarines are now powered by modular nuclear reactors. Such reactors have provided the US Navy with over 6,200 reactor-years of accident-free nuclear power - not a single radiological incident in over 50 years of experience.(see.)

I know there is a lot of popular opposition to nuclear power. But I think it likely that much of the fear mongering and misinformation that has plagued nuclear power development since the 1960's has been fostered and supported by fossil-fuel special interests: perhaps some of the same interests who are now promoting climate change denial.

It is difficult to open your mind to the idea of changing a long held belief. But if you are serious about conserving our planet and minimizing climate change, I challenge you to look at the website Pandora's Promise with an open mind. You may be surprised to learn how many prominent environmentalists, climate scientists and opinion makers have come to support the use of nuclear power.

Pandora's Promise
is a documentary film made by Robert Stone in 2013 that tries to set the record of nuclear power straight. The film dramatizes the scale of the problem of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mirrors much of what I have said in this article. The trailer for the film (presented below) ends with Stewart Brand, the publisher of the 1960's counterculture icon, Whole Earth Catalog, asking "How can you (today) be an environmentalist and not be pro nuclear?" If you get a chance, I hope you will take a look at this important film.


The alternative to altering our relationship with fossil fuels is to go about "business as usual" believing we can adapt to the planet's changes. We can build 20 foot seawalls around our coastal cities. We can abandon low lying islands and turn deltas like Bangladesh into water worlds. We can try to harden global infrastructure against what we now call "extreme weather events". We can plan to move our agricultural and fishing areas into new territories. We will just have to accept the increased acidification of the oceans and kiss the coral reefs and our favorite shellfish goodbye. We can dutifully document for future generations the species of wildlife that couldn't adapt and were forced into extinction. We will find ways (hopefully, peaceful) to contend with social chaos and conflict during the transition to new environmental conditions.

Our greenhouse gas emissions are pushing the Earth into new environmental territory. Therefore, I think blind faith in adaptation is unwarranted, irresponsible and, possibly, dangerous.  For example, we know that rapid acidification of the oceans in the past has preceded mass extinctions of life. The oceans are now acidifying (due to the creation of carbonic acid by dissolved CO2) at ten times any rate ever seen in the past. No one knows how massive the pending extinctions could become. In more poetic terms, the ocean is the Mother of all life on earth: I believe there is grave danger in making our Mother hostile to life as we know it.

Personally, I want to conserve as much of the Earth's present environment as possible. I want my great-grandchildren to know the beauty of the forested mountains of New Mexico and breathe the clean sweet air that filters through them. I hope they can experience the awe of snorkeling through coral reefs vibrant with life and to taste oysters freshly plucked from the sea. I want them to live in a beautiful peaceful world of abundant energy that they can use for the betterment of humanity and the conservation of the planet.

I pledge my support to politicians and polices reflecting a realistic and quantitative understanding of the technologies required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and advocating international cooperation in the effort to achieve this reduction.

For all my children.


The snows did arrive, this time.


December 16, 2013                      

                        COSMIC CHRISTMAS

Human religions tend to portray God, the Creator, in anthropomorphic terms: using names like Father, Goddess, Lord, King of Kings, and countless others. Human prayers to the divine often assume a "personality" on the receiving end that reflects the culture of the individual religion and the one who is praying.

In spite of the obvious fact that there could only be one Creator of a Cosmos that is observed to follow universal laws of physics, the individual religions insist on the "truth" of the efficacy of their unique way of praying and their own understanding of the divine "personality".

This dualistic divisiveness has brought and continues to bring great troubles to the world. (I find it ironic that the "original sin" of the Abrahamic religions can be seen as the introduction of dualism into the "garden of Eden".) The violence and destruction wrought by this divisiveness has been an impediment to the evolution of human institutions capable of resolving important societal challenges through intelligent cooperation. But, fortunately, such institutions do exist.

As an experimental particle physicist I have had the great privilege of working on several experiments at CERN, the European Center for Nuclear Research, in Geneva. At CERN, you find scientists from religiously divided cultures, like Israel and Iran or Pakistan and India, working side-by-side in an intelligent and cooperative pursuit of knowledge. I find it very satisfying that such cooperative efforts in Astronomical research may soon bring forth knowledge that will make religious divisiveness even more illogical and untenable.

Scientific analysis of the data from the Kepler spacecraft and other astronomical observations tell us that there could be as many as ten billion trillion of habitable planets in our observable Cosmos. ("Habitable" means where conditions permit the existence of liquid water on the planet's surface.) I believe, therefore, there is an extremely high probability that other self-aware life exists in the Cosmos.

The basic characteristic of all living beings on Earth, even the simplest single cell bacterium, is awareness: awareness of their environment and of each other. It seems only logical that life on other planets would be similarly characterized by the quality of awareness.

I believe that the evolution of life on Earth has demonstrated a purpose - the evolution of self-aware beings, human beings aware that they are aware, that they are aware, etc. On Earth, awareness has evolved from the bacterium's awareness of the presence of electromagnetic radiation and certain molecules in its watery environment to the human's awareness of the size, age and mass of the entire observable universe - evolution from an awareness of other near-by beings to the global human networks of knowledge, technology, art, music, societies and, above all, Love.

With the evolution of self-awareness has come the human ability to form a nexus of relationships with other sentient beings and with the Creator. This network of connections is what the Christian theologian Nancey Murphy identifies as the individual human soul. (For more on this idea of the soul, please see here.)

It seems only logical that the evolution of life on other habitable planets would be similarly directed toward the evolution of self-aware beings. If awareness is a universal aspect of all life it would follow that there is a universal aspect to the souls of all self-aware beings in the Cosmos.

What is the universal aspect of the human soul - the human relationship with the Creator? This universal aspect would be in the form of a basic spirituality that underlies the scriptures, doctrines and rituals of religion as well as our human relationships.

In examining our human religions for their universal aspects, I believe you can find a set of beliefs about the Creator that unites most religions and could form the basis of a universal spirituality - perhaps, even a cosmic spirituality. This spirituality could (or, should) also form the basis of the laws and morality that govern the relationships of all self-aware beings.

In terms of the nature of the Creator, I believe a universal spirituality could be based on the beliefs that:
    * God is Oneness, the Creator of our Cosmos, linking us
       with all that exists;
    * God is Love;
    * God is Truth, and the corollary;
    * God is Awareness, the essential quality of all living
       beings and the source of self-awareness.

And, just as in Christian religious terms, the
   _    Holy Spirit, co-inhere as one -
In universal spiritual terms,
         Love, co-inhere as one universal process -

In as much as Spirit exists outside of our 3D+1 spacetime it can only be perceived (by religion) from within spacetime as an unobservable, eternal, and, omnipresent being. But I believe Spirit can also act within spacetime through the consciousness of self-aware beings. Acting within spacetime, Spirit can be perceived (by a universal spirituality) as a singular co-inherent process. Thus, depending on the frame of reference, Spirit, the Creator, can be perceived as both Being and Process.

I am a simple man and I find it difficult to relate in Love with abstractions like Awareness and Truth/Beauty. That is because my human soul is built from relations in Love with other human beings. For me, the story of Christmas celebrates, in simple human terms, our relationship with the Creator.

But I bet there is a similar story on all planets where self-awareness has evolved, which celebrates the most important fact of their self-aware lives. And that that story is a cosmic generalization of our human story:

         "The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us --";

(The image of the Dove - courtesy of the Lama Foundation.)

                               A DREAM

In the other room I just put up a picture of Baba-ji and turned on the music of Krishna Das chanting the Hanuman Chalisa. I thought Baba-ji might enjoy that, though I know the Spirit needs no ears.

In this room, where Hanuman's altar is illuminated with golden light from the setting New Mexico sun, the music of the divine Snatam Kaur fills my ears. This is the music of my Spirit. It is with her voice I hear inspiration and open my heart to the beauty all around me. My awareness of this moment - this now - invokes the aching of Love.

I am a simple man- I need ears to hear the music. I am separated from the Spirit by the knowledge of time. My mortality as a living being sets a clock whose ticking is sometimes deafening.

I am a simple man - whose fundamental duality seems to be:
Dead or Alive?;
[0] or [1]?

I think an enlightened man might erase this duality and walk with the Spirit in Oneness. I imagine that he might erase this duality by experiencing it as a single co-inherent process- a oneness:
           Spirit, co-inhering as one

But I am a simple man experiencing only the process of becoming self-aware and dreaming a simple dream of enlightenment:
                       Love, co-inhering as one process

I know I should try to better manifest the Spirit in our world, but I cling to my dualities. I still ache with Love, am distracted by the ticking of my clock, and fear being forgotten.

I must be kind when I think of this weakness.
It is human to ache, to fear.
And I am only human.

But it is also human to dream.
And I dream of the Earth populated by evolved humans
enlightened by the Spirit to cooperate and to
Love One Another.

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