Scientific horoscopes - Taurus

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Taurus star sign

Taurus, whose brightest star is Aldebaran is one of the constellations of the zodiac, which means it is crossed by the plane of the ecliptic. Its name is a Latin word meaning "bull", and its astrological symbol is a bull's head. Taurus is a large and prominent constellation in the northern hemisphere's winter sky and is best seen around 9pm in January.

Richard Feynman was born on 11th May 1918 and that would make him a Taurus. Feynman became an iconic physicist and his lectures were hugely popular to both physicists and non-physicists alike. The non-physicists however would struggle as much of Feynman's work required the understanding on complex algebra, equations and calculus. However Feynman had such an engaging personality and a gift of making complex things understandable that he remains popular with those of us who can only aspire to being technically competent.

A broken clock is exactly right - twice a day!

Something quite spooky happened to Feynman when his wife died in hospital. Some minutes afterwards he looked up at the clock and it had stopped - exactly at the time of death! Feynman's first wife had died young and he must have been grief-stricken and possibly not thinking clearly. The co-incidence of the clock stopping when it did might have made a lesser man become superstitious. Feynman however was made of tougher stuff. He examined the clock briefly and it re-started. A gentle knock caused it to stop again. He then remembered the nurse had picked up the clock to be able to read it in the darkened room and note the time of death. Feynman realised that there was no need to invoke superstition of mystics. The clock had simply stopped when the nurse put the clock back. Many clocks today are quartz but older clocks are mechanically driven and it was not uncommon for a knock to stop or start a clock. There's another story on this theme in sagittarius concerning Uri Geller. Feynman

Feynman used to describe to budding scientists the rules of science. Feynman's explanation was both simple to understand and amazingly powerful. He described the scientific process thus; "In general we look for a new law by the following process. First we guess it." At this point it was common for his students to laugh at what was obviously a Feynman joke. There's an MP3 audio clip of Richard Feynman here; it takes a few seconds to load but it's worth listening to. "You start with a guess". Feynman continued, "Then we compute the consequences of the guess to see what would be implied if this law that we guessed is right. Then we compare the result of the computation to nature, with experiment or experience, compare it directly with observation, to see if it works. If it disagrees with experiment it is wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. It does not make any difference how beautiful your guess is. It does not make any difference how smart you are, who made the guess, or what his name is - if it disagrees with experiment it is wrong. That is all there is to it."

So a reliable theory isn't reliable because someone has a degree or doctorate - it isn't because someone from a cosmetics advert is wearing a white laboratory coat - it isn't even because Feynman or Einstein say's it is true. It's simply one that has been properly tested and found it agrees with observation. In that simple statement is the crux of science. Feynman's 'guess' (once the implications are established) is what's known as a scientific hypothesis. His brief introduction above omits a few minor nuances. An important one is that a hypothesis needs to be testable (at least in principle). If a hypothesis continues to be found to agree with experiment it will eventually be elevated to a scientific theory. Now the use of the word 'theory' means something very specific in science, far from the more general meaning from common usage. When you or I use the word theory in everyday speech we mean, likely as not, something akin to a guess. A theory in science means something far more certain; in fact when something is elevated to a scientific theory, it's as certain to be true as anything can be.

By way of example (although not directly connected with Feynman) a scientific evaluation was undertaken to test the power of prayer. The church authorities were behind the tests at the time. The evaluation using scientific rules as Feynman might have dictated found there to be no evidence that prayer worked. The church authorities countered that God obviously did not like being tested. Whatever your views on the power of prayer, one thing is certain; prayer could no longer be claimed to be a scientific hypothesis. If it can't be tested it ain't science! Alternative medicine is another interesting topic. Medicine is only 'alternative' before it is tested and found to work in proper clinical trials. Once tested and found to be effective it becomes mainstream medicine. 'Alternative' in the medical context therefore has one of two meanings - it is either untested (so test it!) or it doesn't work (other than as a placebo). Astrology has never been proved to work when tested as a hypothesis. Science is a powerful tool to uncover bunkum of all sorts and as Feynman showed, the basics are very easy to grasp.

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