royal institution

The science behind an illusion

Fran Scott from the Royal Institution in England looks at the science behind an illusory Jeff Koons “sculpture”. In it, three basketballs sit motionless in a tank of water half way down with no visible means of suspension. This is what it looks like:

Jeff Koon - Three Ball Total Equilibrium Tank

Jeff Koon - Three Ball Total Equilibrium Tank

Now an inflated basketball would be full of air (um… by definition) so the fact that they’re underwater at all is unusual. And they couldn’t be filled with rocks because they would sink to the bottom. It’s also not a case of having some strategically positioned supports hiding behind the basketballs; you could walk all the way around the tank.

If you would prefer not to know, don’t watch this:

Life, The Universe and Everything (Scientific)

Physicist Sean Carroll is one of my favourite living humans. He currently teaches at CalTech where he has the desk which belonged to (the legendary) Richard Feynman, one of my favourite dead humans. He gave a talk at The Royal Institution in the UK about his latest book, The Big Picture

One of the greatest things to happen in the past ten years was YouTube's removal of the 10-minute time limit on videos. Now entire talks like this one are available to view world-wide for free in quality comparable to your television. The amount of learning that's now possible for people who don't want to spend weeks sitting through courses that aren't connected with their jobs is unbelievable.

I think that's important because the progress of science has been so fast. Many things that are now well-established facts were, a generation ago, unanswerable mysteries. So those subjects needed to be treated with polite agnosticism. I love Sean's ability to gently but firmly articulate what we do and don't know about those deep once-mysterious questions. It turns out we do know how our species got here, what happens when we die and whether or not you can bend spoons with your mind or talk to the dead.  

Enjoy The BIg Picture:


There's also a short Q&A which follows his talk which was posted separately.

And this is not the first time I've shared a talk from The Royal Institution. A pair of free tickets to the first person who can identify the historical significance of that oddly shaped desk Sean is standing behind in the video in the comments.

How Not To Be Wrong - Update

A few months ago, I posted a short review of Jordan Eilenberg's How Not To Be Wrong: A Guide to Mathematical Thinking. TL/DR - I liked it. The Royal Institution in the UK just posted a video of the author discussing the book, so if you want a shorter version, enjoy:

And just for fun, first person to explain [via twitter; @james_alan] what the deal is with that funny-shaped desk in the middle of the stage is, gets a pair of free tickets to our weekly show.