Rock And Roll


Portrait of Galileo Galilei by Justus Susterma...
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“And yet, it moves.”

Legend has it that the Italian mathematician, physicist and philosopher Galileo Galilei muttered this phrase after being forced by the Inquisition in 1633, to recant his belief that the Earth moved around the Sun.

In other words, “You can force me to say what you want, but that doesn’t mean that it’s true.”

At this point, for the sake or dramatic narrative, let us contrast Galileo’s stance with the philosophy of perception as  proposed by George Berkeley.

George Berkeley was an Irish philosopher who created and promoted a theory he called “immaterialism” later referred to as “subjective idealism”. His dictum was “Esse est percipi” – “To be is to be perceived”.

If a tree falls in the forest

George, of course, did not have the benefit of the discovery of Quantum Theory, where, in the uncertain, fuzzy world of quantum mechanics, particles do not have fixed properties until they are observed.

Instead, objects that obey quantum rules exist in a “superposition” of all their possible states simultaneously. This would enable him ,as an observer, to perceive something, while at the same time, not perceiving it, choosing what woiuld be the results of his observations (who needs the scientific method?), or going to lie down in a darkened room with a cold compress.

Mildly interesting, then , to speculate what he would have made of Karen.

Karen is, or, more precisely, was one of the larger sailing stones, also known as sliding rocks and moving rocks, which are a geological phenomenon where rocks move in long tracks along a smooth valley floor without human or animal intervention.

They have been recorded and studied in a number of places around Racetrack Playa,Death Valley, where the number and length of travel grooves are notable. The force behind their movement was not observed until recently and has been the subject of on-going research.

Karen -designated as stone J, rather than stone K, for reasons best known to Bob Sharp and Dwight Carey, who researched the stones in 1972, – is a block of dolomite weighing an estimated 320 kg.

Perhaps not surprisingly Karen didn’t move during the monitoring period.

However, Karen disappeared sometime before May 1994, when a fresh bout of scientific monitorings was conducted by Professor John Reid of the University of Massachusetts.

Disappeared, eh?. Well perhaps she learned a trick or two from her Colombian cousins.

The rocks of the highest coastal mountain on earth, Columbia’s Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta have achieved the geological equivalent of Michael Palin’s Around The World In Eighty Days.

In the course of its 170 million year history, the mountain has travelled a total of 2,200 kilometers. In fact, according to a report in the Journal Of South American Earth Sciences, “The mountain travels from Peru to northern Colombia and finally rotates in a clockwise direction .

Rock on, Karen.


So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish

douglas adams inspired "Hitch hikers guid...
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As Douglas Adams told us , dolphins are a lot smarter than we think.

Here’s proof in an article from Anuschka de Rohan writing in

At the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Mississippi, Kelly the dolphin has built up quite a reputation. All the dolphins at the institute are trained to hold onto any litter that falls into their pools until they see a trainer, when they can trade the litter for fish. In this way, the dolphins help to keep their pools clean.


Photograph: Stephen Frink/Getty Images


Kelly has taken this task one step further. When people drop paper into the water she hides it under a rock at the bottom of the pool. The next time a trainer passes, she goes down to the rock and tears off a piece of paper to give to the trainer. After a fish reward, she goes back down, tears off another piece of paper, gets another fish, and so on.

This behaviour is interesting because it shows that Kelly has a sense of the future and delays gratification. She has realised that a big piece of paper gets the same reward as a small piece and so delivers only small pieces to keep the extra food coming. She has, in effect, trained the humans.

Her cunning has not stopped there. One day, when a gull flew into her pool, she grabbed it, waited for the trainers and then gave it to them. It was a large bird and so the trainers gave her lots of fish. This seemed to give Kelly a new idea.

The next time she was fed, instead of eating the last fish, she took it to the bottom of the pool and hid it under the rock where she had been hiding the paper. When no trainers were present, she brought the fish to the surface and used it to lure the gulls, which she would catch to get even more fish.

After mastering this lucrative strategy, she taught her calf, who taught other calves, and so gull-baiting has become a hot game among the dolphins.

OK, I grant you this is not exactly breaking news, as it first appeared in July 2003. Nevertheless, it’s a lovely story.

Thanks to Tyler Cowen, who brought it to my attention in Marginal Revolution.