Friday, July 12, 2013

Science, Sainthood, and High-Temperature Superconductivity

I had the pleasure of reading about the science angle of Sainthood this week: written by someone who checked the facts.

We may also be discovering a new dimension in quantum physics.
  1. Science and Miracles
  2. Quantum Physics: Waves, Particles, and Maybe More


Depending on who's talking, saints might be:
  1. "King's kids"
  2. An American football team
  3. People who've been dead for centuries
  4. Disciples of remarkable fidelity
I'm Catholic, so "A" doesn't apply. I've written about the prosperity gospel and other bad ideas before. (May 17, 2013)

Spelled with a capital "S," answers B or D are correct: and so is C, sort of. This isn't a 'sports' blog, though, so I'll concentrate on saints (lower case "s") and Saints (capital "S"), Catholic style.

I am, God help me, a saint with a lower case "s." I'm a Christian. I follow Jesus, and am part of my Lord's Church, so I'm a saint. (February 14, 2010)

I don't feel particularly saintly, but I don't need to: and that's another topic. (November 24, 2009)

With a capital "S," a Saint is someone who has lived a holy life, shown heroic virtue, and is currently dead. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 828)

Quite a few Saints lived in the centuries before steam power replaced horses, but we're still finding new ones. 20th century saints include Padre Pio and Maximilian Kolbe. I haven't heard of a 21st century Saint, but we're only an eighth of the way through this century.
"SAINT: The 'holy one' who leads a life in union with God through the grace of Christ and receives the reward of eternal life. The Church is called the communion of saints, of the holy ones (823, 946; cf. 828). See Canonization."
(Catechism, Glossary)

Tools and Documentation

The Catholic Church didn't use science to identify our early saints because it hadn't been invented yet.

Scientific method as we know it is fairly new, although its roots are deep. Folks like Anaxagoras, Pythagoras, Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, and Copernicus had been developing ways to analyze knowledge for about two millennia when Francis Bacon and others jump-started scientific method about five centuries back.

As the Church gets new tools for sorting through facts, old records get reviewed. For example, about 50 years ago, when folks at headquarters discovered that St. Christopher had never been canonized.

Personal devotion to Christopher is still okay, but his feast day isn't on the calendar now. (April 5, 2011)

We'll probably see more adjustments like that, as the Church's archives get converted to machine-readable formats. I have no problem with that, since human beings will still make the decisions. What will change are the tools we use while analyzing facts.

Faith, Science, and Raising Kids

My wife and I home schooled our kids for grades seven through 12: their choice.

Part of our job as parents is teaching them that God and ethics matter. We're also expected to help our children learn the skills and knowledge they'll need as adults. (Catechism, 2221-2226, 2228-2230)

I thought they should get an overview of the size and workings of the universe. Even if they didn't become scientists, knowing basic science will help them be better citizens.

Love and Learning

The Catholic Church says:
Learning about this vast and ancient creation is optional, but valuable. (Catechism, 159, 282-289, 2293)

1. Science and Miracles

"The Science of Miracles: How the Vatican Decides If They're Real"
By Tia Ghose, LiveScience (July 9, 2013)

"When Pope John Paul II died eight years ago, supporters chanted 'Santo subito,' or 'Sainthood now!'

"It looks like his supporters will finally be getting their wish. The former pope's path to sainthood is almost complete, with the Vatican recently confirming that he performed two miracles. Now all that's left is the official canonization ceremony, which has not been scheduled yet. The process of certifying miracles in the Catholic Church goes back centuries and involves an investigation by scientific experts....

"...Though it may seem strange to outsiders, verifying that miracles have occurred can strengthen people's beliefs, said Michael O'Neill, who runs the website"
I believe in miracles. Being a Catholic, I have to. (Catechism, 547-549)

That's not the same as believing television advertisements for 'miraculous' glow-in-the dark Jesus junk.

Here's a quick look at what the Catholic Church says about (real) miracles:
"MIRACLE: A sign or wonder, such as a healing or the control of nature, which can only be attributed to divine power. The miracles of Jesus were messianic signs of the presence of God's kingdom (547)."
(Glossary, Catechism)
More about miracles:

"No Natural or Scientific Explanation"

"... In the Catholic religion, saints are people who are in heaven with God. Though many more people may be in heaven and technically saints, those deemed official saints of the church are ones that the Catholic church knows are in heaven. As such, people can pray to these saints, who sometimes intercede on their behalf with God.

"But determining who is in heaven is a tricky proposition. That's where miracles come in. According to the church, miracles, or divine events that have no natural or scientific explanation, serve as proof that the person is in heaven and can intercede with God to change the ordinary course of events...."
(Tia Ghose, LiveScience)
I think it's likely that we don't know everything about how the universe works. What doesn't have a "natural or scientific" explanation today may be a natural phenomenon that we understand: a thousand years from now.

The Catholic Church doesn't put off decisions about Saints until we have all the answers. I'm okay with that.

Medical Miracles

"...Nearly all, or '99.9 percent of these are medical miracles,' O'Neill said. 'They need to be spontaneous, instantaneous and complete healing. Doctors have to say, "We don't have any natural explanation of what happened," ' O'Neill said.

"A woman whose breast cancer was cured wouldn't qualify, for instance, if she was given a 10 percent chance of survival - she would need to be told there was no chance of survival before any divine intervention, said the Rev. Stephan Bevans, a theology professor at the Catholic Theological Union...."
(Tia Ghose, LiveScience)
These aren't 'medical miracles' like aspirin or neural interfaces. When terminal cancer disappears suddenly, completely, for no natural reason: that's a miracle.

"Recent:" by Catholic Standards

"... In 2010, former Pope Benedict XVI confirmed that John Paul II had posthumously healed a French nun suffering from Parkinson's disease. The church recently confirmed a second miracle, when a Costa Rican woman's brain injury spontaneously healed after praying to John Paul II.

"Miracles can be confirmed only if the healed person prayed solely to one person, such as John Paul II, during their ordeal. That way, there can be no mix-up when determining which person in heaven interceded on their behalf, O'Neill said.

"Recent tradition

"The process of using miracles to determine saints has a relatively short history in the Catholic Church. Prior to 1531, when a Spanish peasant reportedly saw an image of the Virgin Mary in the slopes surrounding Mexico City, miracles weren't required and saints were agreed upon mostly through tradition or martyrdom, O'Neill told LiveScience...."
(Tia Ghose, LiveScience)
I like being part of an outfit where a process that's more than four centuries old has a "relatively short history."

By the way, that "Spanish" peasant is Juan Diego, a Native American with a Spanish name. He's famous for being involved in the apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Tepeyac Hill.

2. Quantum Physics: Waves, Particles, and Maybe More

(Robert Goddard at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, Tallahassee, Florida, via Simons Foundations, used w/o permission)
"The strange properties of superconducting materials called 'cuprates' (bismuth strontium calcium copper oxide is shown in this microscopy image), which cannot be described by known quantum mechanical methods, may correspond to properties of black holes in higher dimensions....."
"Signs of a Stranger, Deeper Side to Nature's Building Blocks"
Natalie Wolchover, Simons Foundation (July 1, 2013)

"According to modern quantum theory, energy fields permeate the universe, and flurries of energy in these fields, called 'particles' when they are pointlike and 'waves' when they are diffuse, serve as the building blocks of matter and forces. But new findings suggest this wave-particle picture offers only a superficial view of nature's constituents.

"If each energy field pervading space is thought of as the surface of a pond, and waves and particles are the turbulence on that surface, then the new evidence strengthens the argument that a vibrant, hidden world lies beneath.

"For decades, the surface-level description of the subatomic world has been sufficient to make accurate calculations about most physical phenomena. But recently, a strange class of matter that defies description by known quantum mechanical methods has drawn physicists into the depths below.

" 'I've grown up as a physicist just living on that flatland, that 2-D space,' said Subir Sachdev, a physics professor at Harvard University who studies these strange forms of matter. Now, there is a whole new dimension to explore, he said, and 'you can think of the particles as just ending on that surface.'..."
It's nice when new data confirms that explanations we've found for natural phenomena are correct.

It's exciting when we find facts that don't fit established theories, particularly when it looks like we've found "a whole new dimension to explore."

"A New Way of Looking at Nature's Building Blocks"

"...Of all the strange forms of matter, cuprates - copper-containing metals that exhibit a property called high-temperature superconductivity - may be the strangest. In new research published online June 24 in the Journal of High Energy Physics, physicists at the University of California-Santa Barbara have explored the deeper phenomena that they claim are connected to the perplexing 'surface-level' behavior of cuprates. By focusing their calculations on that underlying environment, the researchers derived a formula for the conductivity of cuprates that was previously known only from experiments.

" 'The amazing thing is you start with this theory and out you get the conductivity of these strange superconductors,' said Sachdev, who was not involved with the work.

"The results bolster the evidence that this new way of looking at nature's building blocks is real and that it is 'strikingly literal,' said Jan Zaanen, a theoretical physicist at Leiden University in the Netherlands.

"What's more, the results could be seen as an unusual, indirect kind of evidence for string theory - a 40-year-old framework that weaves together quantum mechanics and gravity and is as mathematically elegant and profoundly explanatory as it is unproven.

"With looming questions about the nature of dark matter, the mysterious substance thought to constitute 84 percent of the mass in the universe, and the search for a 'theory of everything' that mathematically describes all of nature, researchers say the findings could have sweeping implications...."
(Natalie Wolchover, Simons Foundation)
Having an elegant set of equations is nice, at least for mathematicians. Discovering that the elegant math is 'real,' that it reflects how part of the universe works, is good news for scientists.

I'm impressed at what looks like another example of recursion. We see forms like circles, spheres, and spirals in a vast range of scales: from microscopic creatures and sunflower heads to whirlpools and galaxies.

(Brandon Weeks (August 7, 2004), via Wikimedia Commons)

Finally, "high temperature" superconductors aren't what I'd call warm. 'Ordinary' superconducting metals become superconductors at around 243 degrees below zero centigrade. The high temperature variety change at a comparatively high temperature of minus 135 centigrade, or 211 below zero Fahrenheit.

Even by Minnesota standards, that's cold.

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Marian Apparition: Champion, Wisconsin

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.