A magazine of discovery, fact and opinion relating to current affairs, and
explorations into the integration of modern science and non-dualistic
*An introduction to the subject of my blog
(newdarshan.com): 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.
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
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
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.
The scientific roots of the New Darshan emerge from recent studies using
the smallest objects in spacetime, and studies in Cosmology
of the origin and nature of the
entire universe (spacetime itself).
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” means that entanglements exist outside of our “local” 3D+1 reality.
In our "local" reality, effects follow causes by a finite amount of time
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
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
. This said that either the wave
particle nature would be
revealed by the type of quantum observation chosen by the observer, but
. 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
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
at the position of the slits. (For more on this, please
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
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
: 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
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
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
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
. This is a pretty fair definition of a scientific
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.
The metaphysics of the New Darshan
includes the hypothesis that the
nonlocal reality of Quantum Mechanics is consciousness itself
. It is
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
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
hypothesis that the first "it" in our Cosmos was the first Planck bubble (a quantum
region of unified forces, complete uncertainty, where only probabilities
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 (newdarshan.com)
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
. 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
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
. 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.
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
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
that overcomes the mutual electrical repulsion of the positively
Nuclei that have the same number of protons but differing number of neutrons are
. The total number of nucleons in a nucleus is called the
, 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
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.
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.
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
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
. 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
The presence of radiation is detected by the sudden appearance of ions (electrically
charged atoms) within an electrical device called a radiation detecto
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.
The strength of a radioactive source is called its
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
to the number of radioactive nuclei present
in the source means that radioactive decay is an
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
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
From the definition
of logarithms and the exponential (e), this means that:
So we can now write our simple law in terms of t1/2
A= ln(2)/ t1/2
Take, as a practical example, the calculation of the activity of 40
in the human body. 40
K 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 40
is about 1/40 of a mole
and a mole of any material contains 6.022x1023
atoms (Avogadro’s number).
So, a 73 kg human body contains about:
/40 = 2.942 x1020
Therefore, the radioactivity due to the decay of potassium-40 in a 73 kg human body
A = ln(2)/3.938x1016
= 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 40
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
. 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
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
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
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.
THE CHALLENGES FOR GREEN ELECTRICITY
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
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
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.)
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
Examples of next generation nuclear technology are the small
modular power plants, such as the
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.
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
, 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
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
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
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,
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
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
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.)
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?;
 or ?
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.