Science Fiction Series: “Turing de Force,” by Edward M. Lerner

This story is based on the Turing Test, a test developed by Alan Turing to test artificial intelligence. The test is carried out a human judge interacting with humans, and sometimes robots, through text messages, and the judge must decide if they are talking to a robot. This seems like a good idea, but it is thoroughly flawed. One of the main flaws is that humans regularly associate intelligence with things that aren’t actually intelligent. Another flaw is that language is not something that is all pre-programmed at birth, it is also a learned cultural thing. I guess we will end up having to answer all those hard problems about consciousness after all. 

For over thirty years, Edward M. Lerner worked in the aerospace and information technology industries while writing science fiction part-time. He held positions at numerous companies such as Bell Labs, Hughes Aircraft, Honeywell, and Northrop Grumman. In February 2004, after receiving a book deal for Moonstruck, he decided to write science fiction full-time.

Science Fiction Series: “Neural Alchemist,” by Tedd Roberts

“Neural Alchemist” follows a professor who was revived from a stem cell creation. Tedd Roberts, the author, shows us he is an expert on this. He understands that stem cells could potentially replace damaged cells in parts of the body that don’t replace easily. The story shows an understanding of the sources of stem cells used in current research: bone marrow, amniotic fluid, umbilical cord blood, transformed endothelial cells and only very rarely, fetal tissue. “Now we know that certain areas of the brain, such as the dentate gyrus of hippocampus, have the ability to make new brain cells. Most brain areas do not. What if we could replace the neurons damaged by stroke, injury or disease? Like the old time alchemists trying to turn lead into gold, the Neural Alchemist turns stems cells into any brain cells we need.” What is not so accurate about the story is the idea of reviving dead humans. Stem cells are pretty amazing, but we have no research to support the ability for bringing deceased humans back to life.

Tedd Roberts is a neuroscience researcher, educator, and writer. He advises up and coming science fiction authors, TV writers, and game developers. His acknowledged consults include novel brain diseases and the medical nanites to cure them, exotic toxins, and brain effects of a zombie virus. 

Science Fiction Series: “Upside the Head,” by Marissa Lingen

Traumatic brain injury can affect emotions and memory.

Marissa Lingen is a published science fiction writer and is well known in the community of scientist science fiction writers. This story is about a professional hockey team called the Michigan Squids who begin funding research for concussions and the prime investigator treats the patients very well and like actual people, not players.

Linden shows that she has a good understanding of the neuroscience of concussions in this story. The story accurately portrays the way concussions effect the amygdala. It shows how amygdala damage can negatively affect memory, decision making, and the processing of emotions. It also understands how concussions lead to anger issues for the reasons previously mentioned. The medicine in the story is not something that science backs but this still is a very scientific story.

Science Fiction Series: Hidden Variables by Jed Brody

The story centers on a woman who is a trained physicist who is waiting to see her twin sister, Chloe, for the first time in years. She is waiting to show her how she has found the “hidden local variables” of the quantum entanglement of Electrons and Positrons. When she shows this to Chloe, she takes the local variables (seemingly superpowers of acquiring knowledge) and Chloe gives herself up to her and they become one person.

The example of quantum entanglements is based on experiments with light, which is made of photons. Light can be shined on something called a polarizer. Each photon reaching the polarizer will either pass through or be absorbed. The story accurately portrays Pions decaying into Electrons and Positrons. It also accurately portrays ‘spin’, which is basically where a particle goes in the magnetic field it belongs to. The story obviously exaggerates science with the local variables as supernatural abilities of acquiring knowledge and two humans morphing together; these things have no scientific basis.

Jed Brody the author, is the director of undergraduate studies of the physics department at Emory University.

Science Fiction Series: ‘Supernova Rhythm,’ by Andrew Fraknoi

‘Supernova Rhythm’ is a story by Andrew Fraknoi that is about an astronomy student, Even, who is in graduate school and discovers a sort of rhythm to supernovas in the NGC 6946 galaxy. This is a difficult task for her because she needs the help of Professor Yates, who is not too fond of her. She shows him observations she has made and the known facts of the universe, but he clearly doesn’t want to believe her.  Eventually, she convinces him, and he tells her to go on with her research.

Andrew Fraknoi clearly has a good understanding of supernovas and star death. Supernovas and star death are explained clearly in the story so the reader can understand it. He is the professor of astronomy at Foothill Community College in California. He was named the 2007 California Professor of the Year awarded by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The International Astronomical Union named Asteroid 4859, ‘Asteroid Fraknoi,’ to commemorate Fraknoi’s contributions to science education and to the public understanding of astronomy. This story is great for science enthusiasts everywhere.

Science Fiction Series: “The Tree of Life,” by Jennifer Rohn

The Tree of Life is a science fiction story by Jennifer Rohn about a virologist sent back in time to study evolution. She  goes back with a stranger named Paul. She does not like Paul at first, but they get closer as the story progresses. He sporadically visits her while she is trying to develop a seed that could be beneficial to the planet and could survive. They have conversations about science that helps her gain respect for him. Her project fails in the end, but they become friends and he comforts her in her disappointment.

The science of cloning in this story is very accurate as Jennifer Robins PhD project was about cloning. Jennifer Robin has a clear understanding of evolution. She clearly outlines how evolution works in the afterword. The story very accurately displays what the earth was like at its inception.

Jennifer Rohn is a cell biologist at the University of London. She earned a PhD in Biology at Oberlin College. In 2011, Rohn won the inaugural Researcher Fortnight “Achiever of the Year” award. No doubt, Rohn is very qualified to write this story.

Science Fiction Series: Down & Out by Ken Wharton

These are chromatophores.

Each week, Ryan Harvey will be posting about science fiction stories and highlighting the science behind the storylines. This week’s feature is Down & Out, by Ken Wharton. 

Down & Out is a Science Fiction Story by Ken Wharton. It tells the story of a woman named Ogby doing scientific research on the ocean, competing with someone named Roov. Ogby in several ways. First, she discovers that “outside” is real. Second, she correctly determines the structure of her world (she literally turns their understanding upside down). And finally, she communicates this back to her people before she dies. Her struggle to get a message back to her team adds a lot of tension to the final scene.

Her character is very well developed, by the end of the story, we know that she would consider this knowledge well worth dying for. Even though she dies, it’s a story of her victory, not her defeat.

The science in the story is wonderful, and when you realize their world is upside down, though there have already been countless hints in that direction. This especially reveals itself in the scene where Ogby works inside the bubble tells us that she’s used to pretending the world is upside down, so when she’s confronted by the reality of it, she’s ready. The story also touches up upon chromatophores, which are a pigment in the skin of squids, cuttlefish, and Octopuses that allows them to camouflage. The skin can do this on its own. When researchers at Stanford snipped a nerve that connects the brain to the chromatophores, they were still blinking.

Ken Wharton is a writer professor of Physics at UCLA, so he absolutely has the credentials and experience needed to write a story like this. He also does research on physics and experiments on his own time. Down & Out is a great scientifically accurate story that should be read by anyone.

My Favorite Movies of All Time

Vivre sa Vie: One of the great existential films of all time. After all, the title translates to “My Life to Live.” It’s my personal favorite from filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard. Godard brings a lot of his typical Vivre Sa Vie / It's My Life (1962) | Pers: Anna Karina | Dir: Jean-Luc Godard | Ref: VIV012AG | Photo Credit: [ The Kobal Collection / Films De La Pleiade ] | Editorial use only related to cinema, television and personalities. Not for cover use, advertising or fictional works without specific prior agreementsixties- style to this film. He brings the same Brechtian distancing to the film through the use of intertitles describing what the “chapter” of the film is about, and  jump cuts.  Characters are shot from behind when they are talking, are strongly backlit, and talk into the camera sometimes. Anna Karina gives one of her best performances in this film and it has one of my favorite film scenes of all time in it– the “shootout scene.”  Don’t miss it!

Tokyo Story: When it comes to family-drama, can you think of one film even close to this? From the master of the family-drama, Yasujirô Ozu, we get a tour de force Japanese masterpiece that never leaves us. Ozu IMG_0566shows us the depth of simplicity through both story and style. He breaks our hearts with the simple plot of parents who come to visit their kids and end up connecting with their daughter in-law instead. With the frequent breaking of the 180 degree rule and the camera only moving once the whole movie, we are totally sucked into such a simple plot.

A Clockwork Orange: Who hasn’t seen this Stanley Kubrick classic? It is Kubrick’s finest, in my opinion. Every time I watch this film, I think about it for IMG_0562days afterwards. It’s the best critique of utilitarian philosophy to date. Kubrick creates a science fiction world like no other, and it is arguably the most well directed film of all time. Malcolm McDowell brings one of the greatest film characters of all time to life in an unforgettable way. My favorite film narration ever. A must see!

Taxi Driver: The best character study of all time. Martin Scorsese makeIMG_0563s us see the world through the lens of Travis Bickle. He forces us to relate with this crazy man until the very end when we are deceived by his actions. Robert De Niro brings this character to life with his best performance to date and one of the best acting performances ever, in general. Between the brilliant character study, Robert De Niro’s performance, Bernard Herrmann’s brilliant score, and Martin Scorsese’s brilliant directing, this film is a classic that is surely never to be forgotten.

The 400 Blows: Without hesitation the best coming of age film of all time. This is really the film that launched the FrenchIMG_0557 New Wave. François Truffaut changed the face of cinema over the corse of his career but this is really the one that changed it the most. Perhaps the most amazing thing about the movie is that it predicted the May 1968 student riots in France. In the beginning of the film the teacher explodes at the kids because of all the graffiti on the walls, their disruptive behavior, etc.  He yells, “What will France be like in 10 years!?” It is a largely autobiographical account of Truffaut’s childhood. From the masterful camerawork inspired by Jean Renoir, to the location shooting inspired by Italian Neorealism, to Jean-Pierre Leaud’s magnificent performance, this film is absolutely beautiful and unforgettable. A universally relatable classic that should be seen by everyone.

8 ½: The film that solidified Federico Fellini’s break from the Italian neorealist movement. The film the began Fellini’s surrealist phase. This phase notoriously began because Fellini had done LSD, which completely changed his life, wIMG_0560hile shooting La Dolce Vita. Fellini develops the main character through showing us his dreams. This is one of Fellini’s most autobiographical films, and it is his masterpiece. My second favorite Nina Rota score after The Godfather and my favorite film from my favorite director!

La Dolce Vita: Fellini’s critique of celebrity life and the press. The word “paparazzi” actually comes from this movie. The title translates to “The Sweet Life.” It also is a IMG_0559commentary on the seven deadly sins. The movie takes place over seven days in the seven hills of Rome. It is the first collaboration between Fellini and Marcello Mastroianni, one of the great actor-director partnerships of all time. It has one of the best film scenes of all time in it: the “Trevi Fountain scene”. Yet another timeless score from Nina Rota, one of the best performances ever from one of the best actors ever; Marcello Mastroianni, and one of the most well directed films ever from Federico Fellini.

The Seventh Seal: One of the masterpieces of foreign cineIMG_0565ma. From one of my favorite directors of all time: Ingmar Bergman. The best existential film of all time in my opinion. The best words to describe this film would be slow, monochrome, and mystical. Legendary actor Max von Sydow brings one of the best movie characters ever alive in his best performance to date. Ingmar Bergman is the best director to ever deal with existential themes.

There Will Be Blood: My favorite film of the 21st century. Daniel Day-Lewis gives the best acting performance of all time in this film, and it stands as Paul Thomas Anderson’s best film. You can tell that he is aging from watching this and his older films. He keeps some stylistic trademarks such as the constantly moving camera, the extremely loud music, and exploring themes of family. What changes is that rather than the very fast camera, the camera rather moves much slower and the shots are IMG_0564very carefully composed, and the pacing is slower and is much more detailed. The film is an examination of capitalism and greed that came out at the perfect time- the beginning of the Great Recession. Surely to be a classic in the future.

 

Apocalypse Now: Francis Ford Coppolas best film, even better than The Godfather. He shows us the horrors of war in a way that no film has before and no film ever will again. My favorite film opening of all time. The film features some of the best editing I have ever seen. It isIMG_0561 edited so that it will show our main character and what he is looking at, at the same time. Shots will open with what he is looking at and half of the screen will dim and we will see our lead character’s reaction. Starring Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Laurence Fishburne, Dennis Hopper, Harrison Ford and more, it has one of the greatest casts of all time.

Times We’ve Came Close to a Two-State Solution

Recently when Trump was in Israel, he referred to a Palestinian deal as “crucial.” The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been going on since the 1940s and is one of the most discussed political conflicts to this day. The movement for a two-state solution has picked up much speed in recent years from people who are sick of all the fighting. There have been a few times where a two-state solution was almost reached.

In 1937 Britain proposed the first two-state solution. It became known as the British Mandate of Palestine. The Palestinian nation they proposed covered a small part of Jerusalem, so it was rejected by the Arab community of Palestine but was accepted by most of the Jewish leadership.

In 1947 the UN proposed a partition plan that proposed a three-way division. It put Jerusalem under international control. This was accepted by Jewish leadership but rejected by Palestinian leadership as they did not want any independent Jewish presence in the area.

The 1948 Arab-Israeli War was over control of the disputed land. The war resulted in the fleeing or expulsion of 711,000 Palestinians, known as Nakba from Palestinians, from the state of Israel and the 1949 Armistice Agreements. The Agreement divided the land between Israeli and Arab states. Palestine was not one of these Arab states. These lines were around until 1967.

In the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, also known as the “Six Days War,” the UN unanimously passed resolution 242. Resolution 242 called for Israeli withdrawal of the territories they occupied during the war. The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) was strongly opposed to resolution 242 because they said it did nothing to reduce the Palestinian refugee problem. This was an important moment in the peace process because it marked the beginning of Palestinian rights.

In 1974, 56 member states in the UN General Assembly proposed adding the “question of Palestine” to the Assembly’s agenda. In November of that year in a resolution the Assembly affirmed Palestinian rights including “right to self-determination without external interference”, “the right to national independence and sovereignty”, and the “right to return to their homes and property”.

The PLO began supporting a two-state solution on an interim basis in the late 1970s with Said Hammami. In the mid 1970s the UN Security Council called for a two-state solution based on the pre-1967 lines. This was rejected by the US because they think the borders should be negotiated directly by both parties.
In 1988 the Palestinians were finally given a state. The state still exists today, but it is very small and does not include a lot of the territories where many Palestinians live. Their declaration of independence directly mentioned the UN Partition Plan of 1947 and was endorsed by Israel. This has been interpreted as an Israeli endorsement of a two-state solution. A two-state solution seems to be coming closer and closer and could happen soon.

Alabama Church Pushes to Arm Churches

The Alabama Senate recently passed a bill that would allow a church to have a police force to protect itself. This bill will be going to the house who has said that they would be fine with allowing the church to run an actual police force. The bill passed the Senate in April and should be going to the house soon, which has said they would like to pass it.

This bill has garnered a lot of controversy. It has left a lot of people scared that they will be losing their religious liberty. “What if you are Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, etc., but you have a Christian church in charge of your local police force?” many have asked. Many people have criticized it for the unconstitutionality of the bill,  “Congress shall pass no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. – First Amendment of the Constitution of The United States of America.

America was founded on religious freedom. The founding fathers were strong secularists: “Christianity is nor ever was a part of the common law” – Thomas Jefferson; “The government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion” -John Adams. Some people have tried to claim otherwise but that claim is simply incompatible with facts. Jefferson also told us to “Question with boldness even the existence of a God”.

Some people defending the bill have said that “The constitution does not explicitly say ‘Separation of Church and State’ in it”. Some opponents of the bill have responded to this with citing the first amendment. It is very hard to refute that this bill does respect a religious establishment.

Some defenders of this bill have tried arguing that the bill only gives the church this power at certain times. Some defenders of it have also said that the police officers appointed by the church have to be approved by the Alabama Peace Officers Standards and Training Commision. People have also argued that they would only be getting a small area to police so it is not that big of a deal.

The House read this bill, is currently rewriting it, and should be voting on it sometime in June. The bill has not gotten much attention from the media because it has not passed yet, but it will get a lot of attention if it goes through. You will likely see some sharp division over the bill if it passes, which could be soon.