Tell me something I don’t know.

Readers, this is your day.

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72 Responses to Tell me something I don’t know.

  1. DisBelief says:

    Radioisotopes aren’t actually decaying at a perfectly constant rate, and the fluctuation may correlate with solar neutrinos.

    • gcochran9 says:

      Differences in electronic structure can sometimes influence decay, usually only slightly.
      I don’t think there is solid evidence of the sort of fluctuations you’re talking about.

  2. Ginny says:

    Citizens of Ouagadougou are given the denonym ouagalais. And Ouagadougou, being a French transliteration, should be pronounced Wagadugu in English. Which takes some of the fun out of life.

  3. Simon says:

    The zonule of Zinn is split into two layers: a thin layer, which lines the hyaloid fossa, and a thicker layer, which is a collection of zonular fibers.

  4. misdreavus says:

    If you abide by sola scriptura, the Westboro Baptist Church is right about a scary number of things. And this offends mainline Protestant Christians to no end.

    Of course, this doesn’t mean they aren’t assholes. Which of course they are. But something tells me that Calvin, Knox, and Bunyan would have made Fred Phelps look like a paragon of self-restraint and moderation if they had ever seen the Folsom Street Fair.

  5. Mike Johnson says:

    (1) A story, via Feynman’s 1965 Nobel speech:
    “As a by-product of this same view, I received a telephone call one day at the graduate college at Princeton from Professor Wheeler, in which he said, “Feynman, I know why all electrons have the same charge and the same mass” “Why?” “Because, they are all the same electron!” And, then he explained on the telephone, “suppose that the world lines which we were ordinarily considering before in time and space – instead of only going up in time were a tremendous knot, and then, when we cut through the knot, by the plane corresponding to a fixed time, we would see many, many world lines and that would represent many electrons, except for one thing. If in one section this is an ordinary electron world line, in the section in which it reversed itself and is coming back from the future we have the wrong sign to the proper time – to the proper four velocities – and that’s equivalent to changing the sign of the charge, and, therefore, that part of a path would act like a positron.” “But, Professor”, I said, “there aren’t as many positrons as electrons.” “Well, maybe they are hidden in the protons or something”, he said. I did not take the idea that all the electrons were the same one from him as seriously as I took the observation that positrons could simply be represented as electrons going from the future to the past in a back section of their world lines. That, I stole!”

    (2) There’s a growing group of people who think strong AI (‘artificial general intelligence’) is going to happen in our lifetimes and will likely kill us all. Surprisingly, they seem to have a not-terrible argument. To manhandle their feelings of impending doom into two sentences: “Moore’s law is the enemy, because it makes the creation of an artificial intelligence easier, without making the creation of a friendly artificial intelligence easier.” And, “strongly recursive intelligences are scary.” I think Nick Bostrom makes the most elegant arguments (book coming out sometime soonish); MIRI has some decent papers.

    (3) is the best place to go for Chemistry Cat puns.

  6. To entertain you, to rise to your challenge and just possibly to gain your approval, your readers are searching for the arcane. This is a compliment to you, and part and parcel of the arts of courtly flattery. They are picking up nuggets from the margins of what “an intelligent reader” (remember those?) might have overlooked, but would be amused by. What you don’t know, dear questioner, is most of what can be known, which is the mundane. It may not interest you, but it is most of what is happening in the human world. You did not know that at this sunny moment I am sitting in a cafe in Yeovil, Somerset, and that in the last half hour I have seen three pedestrians motor by on electric buggies, one in a wheel chair, and one with an aluminium crutch. This is trivia, but I wonder what an un-staged picture of this same High street would have shown in 1913 as regards mobility. Most of the trivial world may not interest us, but twitter-fascination is part of what is happening, and need not bother us, until it bites us.

  7. Gorbachev says:

    I was forced to look up Zonule. I am now educated.

    Genetic engineering has the potential to transform the very nature of life. I predict that the life humans end up creating, perhaps intelligent beings living in the depths of space and tracking electromagnetic energy between the stars, will dwarf the piddling diversity of life on Earth. And that at some point, as a result of our creating new lifeforms and setting life on a new trajectory, a substantial proportion of the mass of our galaxy and perhaps further (eventually) will be, in some sense, alive.

    • Scott Novak says:

      In Arthur C. Clark and Gregory Benford’s “Beyond the Fall of Night”, the Jovian system had become the dominant center of life in the solar system due to this development you described above (ie it was non-human life evolved/engineered from Earth life-forms).

  8. Anon says:

    Did you know that bipedal walking gait stability is not well-understood process and does not have a model that could predict, or even accurately measure increased instability? The best current theory examines gait variability, but it still controversial that with increased variability you have also increased stability.

  9. Jaim Jota says:

    If you are lost and start walking and keep walking, you arrive to the starting point. It’s so foolish that you must have known that.

  10. IC says:

    Is there any thing you do not know?

  11. This is the best ramen restaurant I’ve ever eaten at.

  12. Fernandinande says:

    The future.

  13. Anonymous says:

    The physical effort required to manipulate the yoke on a B-17 in order to perform a level turn is shocking. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to try it some years ago and I was stupefied. I cannot imagine how utterly exhausted those young men must have been some seventy years ago when flying hours long missions while being shot at.

  14. panjoomby says:

    most brains are the way they are b/c that’s the way they were pre-set to be. sadly, psychology has convinced people that environmental effects are far stronger than they really are – & that the cure for a bad environmental effect is… a psychologist/therapy.
    “psychology: we invent a problem & tadah – we have the only treatment!” …wait, you knew all that. dang!

  15. That Guy says:

    The new Y-DNA haplogroup A00 has been widely hailed as the deepest root yet found of extant “human” Y-DNA.

    It was first identified in an African-American in the US, then 8 more samples were found in Cameroon, in one tribal group, called the Mbo:

    Of course to my way of thinking it represents “Archaic Introgression” of Iwo Eleru, a hominin skeleton discovered in a cave in Eastern Nigeria about 2 years ago. This hominin was dated to about 13,000 yo

  16. dave chamberlin says:

    There is one very stong piece of evidence arguing against that our manifest destiny is to go to space and spread the seed of complex and intelligent life. It is by no means proof but it is the overwhelmingly most likely answer to the question that is the Fermi Paradox which asks “Where are they?” in response to his fellow physicists talking about UFO’s way back in the 1950’s. Either we humans are one in umpteen gazillion or intelligent is incredibly rare and where it does exists it either spreads very slowly or not at all. All we know is earth, period. And here on earth extremely slow evolution over 4 billion years points to one conclusion, nothing ever came here and pushed anything along. If humans have the manifest destiny to go to space and continue the 10000 year explosion than it should have already happened here a very long time ago by ambitious and intelligent beings from somewhere else.

    From here there are a lengthy list of excuses as to why earth was left alone but I find that kind of thinking pointless because we are then smack dab in the midst of fuzzy thinking where all guesses can be neither proven or disproven. I repeat myself, all we know is earth, period, and nothing ever came here. We with our egos, our self centered perspective, love to dream it is our manifest destiny to become the gardeners of complex life in a universe that is dead or sprinkled with rare specks of simple life. I dream it too, but god damn it, the odds are against us.

    • gcochran9 says:

      someday I will say more about the Fermi Paradox, but here’s a thought. Maybe intelligent life has already arisen repeatedly on Earth, and was responsible for the great extinctions. flint, bronze, steam, fusion, oops.

      • Cloudswrest says:

        We have a potential life boat and stepping stone away from existential risk. It’s called “The Moon”. Too bad we don’t seem to be making better use of it.

      • Mike Johnson says:

        Just saw Stuart Armstrong talk about this general topic. His thought: with surprisingly little mass and energy (on cosmic scales), we could send out Von Neumann probes to explore/colonize every planet in our light cone.

        So, of course, it’s odd that some alien race hasn’t beat us to it.

        The three thoughts that come to mind are
        (1) Flavors of intelligence capable of recursive improvement (e.g., like us) are Vanishingly rare (this was Stuart’s thought);
        (2) Smart planets tend to kill themselves off. I.e., intelligence is cheap; intelligence that won’t tinker with forces beyond its control and sterilize its planet is Vanishingly rare. IIRC Nick Bostrom advanced this hypothesis.
        (3) If Bostrom is right and we’re living in a giant simulation, perhaps the reason why the Fermi Paradox exists is because we don’t live in a statistically average universe. Who knows. But I think the simulation argument and Fermi Paradox aren’t orthogonal.

      • mindswarm says:

        I really never have understood why so many people find the Fermi paradox perplexing. Is it such a surprise if spacefaring intelligences aren’t beaming radio transmissions, sending meatbags in flying saucers, resolving the Israel/Palestine conflict, etc? No one wonders why aliens aren’t bombing us with paper envelopes filled with wads of alien space-money, though that’s imho a similarly silly class of “why aren’t they doing this dumb thing?” question to ask.

      • dave chamberlin says:

        Different times generate different most popular answers to the Fermi Paradox. Carl Sagan and others thought Mike Johnsons’ reason #2 was the most likely answer. That was a time when doomsday clocks had us five minutes from midnight and other such nonsense. Personally I think Sagan smoked too much dope and listened to too many grim people. The latest flavor coming into vogue to explain the Fermi Paradox is we are approaching the singularity when artificial intelligence will surpase human intelligence and we , or more accurately what we will create, shall spread out into the universe to all kinds of places instead of just those with the very strict criteria of an earth like planet. This would at least solve the problem of complex life surviving beyond the protection of earths magnetic field and ozone layer. But who knows, we are stuck here and we don’t know diddily about the big bad universe.

    • jb says:

      Either we humans are one in umpteen gazillion or intelligent is incredibly rare and where it does exists it either spreads very slowly or not at all.

      What about the possibility that intelligent life is incredibly rare, but that on those rare occasions when it does arise it is in fact capable of spreading quite quickly?

      This takes care of the Fermi paradox nicely! The reason we don’t observe anyone else is simply because we happen to be the first intelligent life form in this galaxy (or maybe even the observable universe!) Or maybe there have been a small handful of others, who could have made themselves apparent by now, but for one reason or another have failed to do so. (Note that this possibility doesn’t change the basic argument).

      If this is so then our manifest destiny is still there for the taking… provided of course that we don’t blow it, for example by using up all our resources before we have a chance to get into space, or by ignoring biology and breeding ourselves into idiocracy, or some other, equally embarrassing possibility. One good reason to worry about human stupidity is that in the long run it really could mean the difference between the stars or the mud!

  17. JS says:

    The indicative mood of language would die out if the hearers didn’t form true beliefs from it; the imperative mood would die out if the hearers didn’t benefit by following the imperatives.

  18. Spike says:

    The effects of eating durian are like the effects of eating asparagus, only much much more pungent… to those with the genetic ability to smell it, of course.

  19. That Guy says:

    At the 2011 Singularity Summit in New York, I heard a lecture given MIT Physicist Max Tegmark:

    In it he talked about Aliens and the near impossibility of their existence, and made fun of the fact that people often thought of Aliens in anthropoid form, as if that were even remotely likely.

    So I asked him a simple, seemingly tangential question: “Did he think that Time Travel was possible?” His answer was that Time Travel to the future was almost certainly impossible, but there was some chance that time travel to the past might be possible. So then I said, “But if time travel to the past is achieved in the future, then ‘future humans’ who travel back in time would probably have an anthropoid form, and be perceived as Aliens!” He stopped talking for almost a minute and blinked a few times, before saying, “Correct… but…”

    What’s your take on this Greg?

    • gcochran9 says:

      It has been argued that most experienced universes are simulations, likely including this one. If so, aliens are bound to exist if they move the plot along. There are a number of other obvious implications of living in a sim – funny how no-one seems to have noticed any of them.

  20. Gorbachev says:

    I’ve invented a time machine.
    It allows me to travel into the future.

    I lie down on it, and when I wake up, it’s the future.

    And it’s very comfy.

    • Karl Narveson says:

      # given a subroutine that prints the current date,
      # write a subroutine that prints tomorrow’s date
      sub print_tomorrows_date {
      sleep 60*60*24;

  21. Jim says:

    What is the definition of time travel?

  22. Portlander says:

    The surest store of wealth presently available to American residents is the lowly nickle.

  23. Jim says:

    Speaking of knowing math I remember someone in graduate school a long time ago telling me that one could teach 5 courses per year for 200 years on algebraic geometry and never repeat anything.

    I don’t know if anybody has ever read the three volumes of Weber’s “Lehrbuch der Algebra” but I am sure nobody has ever understood it.

  24. gcochran9 says:

    Everyone says that. What’s your mother’s maiden name?

    • gcochran9 says:

      You would have to have been in high school for an awfully long time. I’m thinking you’re mistaken. Although, with rapidly advancing genetic technology, I see no reason why you couldn’t become my illegitimate son someday.

  25. Greying Wanderer says:

    Compulsive altruistic urges (up to a certain maximum level) are attractive in a prospective mate.

  26. Deckin says:

    Never, ever, put Parmesan cheese on anything with seafood in it. If you do that in Italy, the chef will come out and slap you.

  27. Giant Antimatter Space Buzzard says:

    The ideal female face is the face of a 14 year old girl.

  28. Peter says:

    What is your opinion of “psi” phenomena? The stuff people have seriously tried to experiment with – people like Dean Radin, the experimenters at SRI, John Walker (founder of Autodesk) and his online experimental results from his Retropsychokinesis Project (, etc.

  29. Portlander says:

    So you’re allowing “ask me anything” now? Or do we have to play along Jeopardy-style and put it in the form of a statement you can answer that you either already knew (ie. true) or is silly bunk of superstitious fools (ie. false). 😉

    Hmmm, Jeopardy-style certainly sounds more entertaining. Here goes…

    Liquid Thorium Breeder Reactors will save modern civilization when and only when OPEC production drops to so low a level that it’s no longer possible to use oil as a football for playing The Great Game.

    Fusion research is a CIA front.

  30. SVK says:

    Parmesan cheese is lovely on salmon, just pop it under the gorilla for 2 minutes at the end…

  31. Stephan Johnson says:

    In women, the shorter the legs, the greater the pigeon toedness, the better the sex.

  32. rob says:

    “Great fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite ’em, And little fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum”
    -De Morgan

    But it ain’t true. There are no retrotransposons in the P Falciparum genome. No (known) viruses infect ’em either.

  33. Trevor Dolan has deceased. And who was that, one may ask? Well, a phD candidate in education who used to travel around in Swedish high schools and lecture about epigenetics, which he obviously was very fascinated of. He even said that third way immigrants for some unfathomable reason – but somehow probably linked to epigenetics – have more educational potential than ethnic Swedes if they are just able to come to a stimulating environment.

  34. I know something you don’t know. Question is whether you care about the subject. Read about it and you can shrug your shoulders or be amazed: your call. Through an accident of personal history, I addressed an interpretational puzzle, on and off, for many decades. I finally figured out the puzzle. You can weigh the results at It is unsigned as I have submitted it for publication. Referees generally prefer anonymized submissions to avoid prejudice.

  35. Master Beta says:

    Men and Women are actually different in a variety of ways

  36. Mark says:

    Are you familiar with the Chimera Hypothesis as an explanation for homosexuality? It first appeared in back in 2008. Here’s a more recent piece supporting the same view.

  37. James James says: is a unicellular descendant of a dog.

    Humans could devolve too.

  38. Pingback: On Gregory Cochran and his “gay germs” | Miller & His MUSINGS

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