How to get to Betelgeuse. Turn right on your way from Monoceros to Alzirr. #Newspudding

Always wondered how to find Betelgeuse?  The picture below will elucidate the location of this gigantic star.

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Betelgeuse is also called α Orionis. Betelgeuse originates of the Arab yad al-ǧauzā, the hand of the giantess, sometimes also referred to as the shoulder star of Orion.

Why is Betelgeuse intriguing?

Betelgeuse is a giant star and is classified as a red super-giant. It has about a thousand times the diameter of our sun and has about ten thousand times as much luminosity, as a result of which Betelgeuse can easily be seen in the night sky, as it is the tenth brightest star. This star is of great astronomical interest. Its radius was the first to be determined by interferometry and it varies by about 15%. As a result, also Betelgeuse’s brightness varies a factor between +0.3 and + 0.6. This is one of the very few stars that are visible from Earth as a surface, not just a point in the sky. Most likely this star is an amazing 500 light years away!

In the opinion of astronomers, Betelgeuze will end up as a supernova (read this Guardian article from 2020). Opinions vary when this event will take place: it could happen within the next thousand or one hundred thousand years. The resulting supernova will be easily visible and will shine over the entire firmament. With a red giant of this type you can expect a 16,000-fold increase in the luminosity. This supernova could reach the brightness of the full moon. Luckily enough, the axis of rotation of the star does not point towards the Earth, and the gamma-ray flash would not be so strong that it would affect the Earth’s biosphere. Now, THAT would be a post-apocalyptic experience ! The remnant of this supernova is expected to be a neutron star with a mass 20-times that of the sun.

More newspudding articles here: https://clemenssuter.com/?s=newspudding

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Bonsais in the national botanical garden of Tokyo

When traveling to foreign countries I always attempt to find a few attractions off the beaten track. Botanical gardens are such a spot; as a biologist by I have visited gardens in places such as Paris, London, New Mexico, Hawaii … and now in Kyoto.

In a corner of the Kyoto Garden is an absolutely impressive collection of bonsais. In fact, it has inspired me to start growing a bonsai myself. I’m still in the information stage, so very little progress to report except that growing a bonsai  doesn’t seem to be trivial. I will keep you posted!

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More photos from our trip to south England

Below the study of Charles Darwin, perhaps the greatest scientist of all time. We visited his family home Downe House, located south of London.

Vacation in England is incomplete without the occasional shower. You can see some of the raindrops on the window of our small caravan. Beautiful sunset though.

We visited Brighton – I have chosen an atypical motif. Or is it? Not so sure as Brighton is a surprising city.

Cream tea is a traditional!

Are we all just part of a magnificent computer simulation?

About a year ago I was the host of a business dinner in New York, half a dozen men and women met at a fine restaurant after a day of intensive meetings. Perfect food, some great wine and a very nice group of people from hard- and software companies, the majority from the USA, some from Europe.

The conversation focused on business, but as the night carried on, turned to other topics. We discussed politics, history… and computing. These people were all computer specialists, many with engineering degrees. At a certain point the discussion turned to the theory that was humans do not exist, but instead are just avatars on a piece of very advanced hardware. This theory is not new: Elon Musk is one its proponents. It is based on the observation that computers are becoming more and more advanced as well as that the distinction between virtual reality (VR) and reality seems to be disappear. Some time in the far future, somebody will be able to create a computer that doesn’t just simulate a human brain (which according to some estimates may be possible in 50 years or so), but the brain of all humans. It is just a matter of scale; throw in some quantum computing, sufficient hardware and real-time analytics with deep machine learning, and it should be possible to do this.

We could thus easily just IMAGINE that we are physically alive, today and here on this planet; whereas in reality we are just characters in a very advanced computer game played by a acne-faced teenager 200 years in the future. Everything that we experience; all pain and war and suffering and all love and rewards and happiness would then only be part of a simulation.

Little speaks against this theory from a technical standpoint: as long as technical progress continues (to accelerate) at the same pace it has for the last 150 years, this is easily imaginable. This is naturally also a weakness of the theory: life on Earth as well as history hardly ever were linear (although this may seem so to us: we only experience a very small fragment of all of history, yet we think it is all encompassing). For instance, about every 1000 years or so, a major volcanic eruption happens, which tend to dramatically alter the progress of humanity’s culture. Nevertheless one could argue that such catastrophes might delay the development of a super VR computer, but delay doesn’t mean that it could never be created.

So why do I still think there is no value in the theory that we are all just part of a very advanced computer simulation? At the Free University of Amsterdam where I studied biology many years ago, one of the highlights of the first year was a course in Philosophy and Methodology  of Natural Sciences. I have forgotten the professor’s name, but the man did a tremendous job at hammering home some basic scientific principles. Thus, the main argument is that although the simulation theory MIGHT be true, there is NO way to prove or disprove it; it is a theory that isn’t falsifiable. By what criteria could anyone prove that we are, or are not part of a simulation? After all, at some timepoint, the simulation would be so perfect that it couldn’t be identified as a simulation anymore. It is similar to stating that we are created by an invisible fairy living at the bottom of our garden – a theory that people may shrug at, or ridicule, but which would be very hard to prove or disprove. And, as my professor taught us, non-falsifiable theories have, from scientific point of view, no value.

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