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bio website nathanielvirgo.com
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visits member for 2 years, 9 months
seen 5 hours ago

I'm a post-doctoral researcher with a wide range of interests. My career is in complex systems science (or maybe cybernetics) and the origins of life, but I also have research interests in

  • the foundations of statistical mechanics and its relationship to information theory
  • Earth systems science
  • non-equilibrium thermodynamics in general

I'm also generally interested in the foundations of quantum mechanics and in black holes, though I wouldn't say I'm an expert on those things.

It's probably worth noting that despite the fact that my research is in physics-related areas, all my degrees are in other subjects. If I occasionally seem to start talking in an alien language, this is probably why.


Jun
2
comment Is it possible to tell whether the space ship is moving or not?
"If the ship was at absolute rest, the fly, even though there was an force applied in the backward direction, the fly will not crash with the backside of the space ship" - can you explain how you came to that conclusion?
May
31
comment The speed limit is with respect to what?
The thing is, you can find it explained in the first chapter or two of virtually any introductory text book on relativity. The explanation found in such a book will be much more comprehensive and better written than anything I could write, with much better diagrams.
May
31
comment The speed limit is with respect to what?
Einstein was faced with exactly the same question. The answer wasn't obvious, and it took Einstein to see it. The answer he gave caused a revolution in science, and as a result can be found in any introductory text book on the subject.
May
30
comment Do magnets redshift light?
I think this is quite a good question, but I found it very hard to understand at first, so I've edited it quite heavily, and fixed a couple of mistakes. user43495, If you don't like the new version, please feel free to roll back my edit.
May
30
revised Do magnets redshift light?
re-wrote it quite heavily in an attempt to make it clear
May
30
comment How much power would it take to stop a bullet with a magnet?
I'm not sure that power is the best figure for determining that, though. Power is energy per unit time, and there's no obvious reason why physics would limit the rate at which Magneto can expend energy using his power. (I mean, it's all made up anyway, but if the total energy was too big then there would be a much better argument to be made.)
May
30
comment How much power would it take to stop a bullet with a magnet?
Do you really mean to ask about power (a technical term meaning energy expended per unit time), or did you intend to ask about the size of the magnet that would be needed?
May
27
awarded  Notable Question
May
27
comment Is there physics behind the layout of a piano keyboard?
... Thus, a good answer can explain the physics that leads to the perception of consonant intervals, and the compromises that led to just intonation and ultimately the modern piano layout. Clearly there is a lot of history involved in that. It's very far from being just physics, but there clearly is a strong connection to physics, and a good answer can emphasise that.
May
27
comment Is there physics behind the layout of a piano keyboard?
@Raskolnikov but that's actually a good example of why there is physics behind a piano's layout. Human sound perception (which is largely due to physical properties of the cochlea) means that you can stretch the fifth slightly to make an even tempered scale, at the expense of making other intervals (especially minor thirds) sound quite different. The specific pattern of black and white keys on a modern piano is a holdover from the days of enharmonic keyboards. ...
May
27
comment Is there physics behind the layout of a piano keyboard?
Musical perception largely is physics. But then this just turns into another stupid debate about the definition of physics. Personally, I think that Pythagoras' musical experiments were physics, and I think that Helmholtz' work on sound perception was an important text in physics as well. If someone wants to define the subject to exclude those things then fair enough I guess, but it's pretty moronic to close questions based on such a fine distinction IMHO.
May
27
comment Is there physics behind the layout of a piano keyboard?
@KyleKanos ease of playing is but one of many factors that determine the piano's layout. The specific reason for the wbwbwwbwbwbw pattern has origins that go back to the first quantitative experiment ever performed in physics. (Pythagoras' measurements of the lengths of vibrating strings.) If this question gets a good answer you might learn something, but if it gets closed because you mistakenly assume there's no physics involved then you will not.
May
27
comment Is there physics behind the layout of a piano keyboard?
This question is definitely on topic. It is a question about physics, and in fact the answer contains rather a lot of physics, although admittedly it also contains a fair helping of psychology and history. I can understand people feeling it's off topic, but I think this is largely due to their ignorance about the subject.
May
26
awarded  Nice Answer
May
26
comment Why do turbine engines work?
The exhaust gases don't have to reach the turbine in irder to push against it. To put it another way, your argument would appear to apply just as well to an engine consisting only of a uniform hollow tube with fuel injection taking place in the middle, as long as the vehicle is already in motion. I'm pretty sure that wouldn't work, so the answer must be in the design of the engine.
May
26
comment Time travel outside of light cone without causality violation
@WillMcLeod I do understand that, and I covered it in the answer. If you have a theory where there can only ever be one such wormhole then you are right, it would not violate causality. But it is very difficult to have such a theory without violating Einstein's postulate. You can do it, for example by inventing a special preferred reference frame that breaks Lorentz invariance (this is how it's supposed to work in Star Trek, where the special frame is called "subspace"), but it tends to result in something inelegant for which there is no empirical evidence.
May
26
revised Which planet in the solar system is it?
edited tags
May
26
answered Time travel outside of light cone without causality violation
May
26
comment Why do turbine engines work?
(Note that a pressure gradient will still cause a torque on the compressor, even if it opposes the flow.)
May
26
comment Why do turbine engines work?
"cause a greater amount of torque (in terms of absolute value)."