Below is an entertaining video where Dianna Cowern (Physics Girl) talks about perpetual motion machines. For hundreds of years inventors have been trying to build these devices which, if they worked, could provide us with infinite energy for nothing. However, when the laws of physics were elucidated by modern science, scientists were able to deduce that these types of machines are impossible to build.
If someone builds one of these contraptions that seems to work, the worst thing we can do is give them the benefit of the doubt and keep an “open mind”. The question we should ask is, “What is the source of energy?”, and more importantly, “How are they fooling us?” Because, even though perpetual motion machines are impossible, it is quite possible to build a machine that acts like one. The video below showcases one of the perpetual motion machines built by the late Dr. David Jones who described himself as a "court jester in the palace of science". Dr. Jones admitted that his machines are fakes, but he has challenged scientists to explain to him how they work. Hundreds have tried and failed while his machines have kept moving for decades.
However, I believe that the more pressing issue to ponder is not how these machines work, but rather, what would have happened if Dr. Jones had been a dishonest individual and tried to sell the equivalent of "snake oil"? What if he had claimed that his machines were real? What if he had gone viral on social media and amassed a following of millions of people? What if he had responded to criticisms from scientists by vilifying them, and saying they were out to get him because they had sold out to energy companies concerned about competition from his perpetual motion machines? What if he had requested monetary contributions from his followers to defend himself from “attacks by the establishment” and to fund his "research”?
Do you see any parallels to some present day individuals or organizations?
Science has discovered that we don’t perceive reality passively, but rather our brain employs certain assumptions that it uses to filter the information it obtains from our senses in order to construct a representation of the world around us. This fact can be exploited to create some amazing illusions as shown in the videos below.
The first is by psychologist, author, and magician Richard Wiseman who has a YouTube channel named, Quirkology. This illusion exploits the assumptions we make regarding the positioning of objects based on their size and location with respect to other objects.
The second video from the YouTube channel brusspup is based on the so called anamorphic illusions. These illusions are based on our sense of perspective and depend on the way you are looking at an object.
The above is, of course, just fun and games, but the important thing to realize is that we also filter the information relayed to our senses and employ assumptions to construct a representation of the world around us when engaging in complex behaviors such as befriending or loving people, defining our morality, following a religion, judging others, purchasing a product, or voting for a political candidate. And there is a wealth of information about this process that allows many people to create the equivalent of the illusions depicted in the videos above to influence and/or exploit these behaviors. The difference is that these people never reveal that they have created an illusion.
Scary isn’t it?
The video below presents the number of scientific articles published per year on several topics of scientific research from 1947 to 2017. The graphic shows those areas that were object of the most intense research efforts, and reveals how the focus of scientific research has changed during this interval of time. For example, in 1947 peptic ulcer, pulmonary tuberculosis, mental disorders, cancer, malaria, and polio were the top 6 areas of research, whereas by 2017 breast cancer, obesity, lung cancer, HIV infections, type 2 diabetes, and heart failure were the top areas of research.
The changes that take place overtime are complex and are dependent on many factors ranging from changes in public policy to the prevalence of some medical conditions. In some of these areas such as polio or tuberculosis the intensity of research decreased as successful treatments were developed. Research in other areas increased as a result of the emergence of some diseases. For example, research on Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) broke into the top 15 areas of most intense research in 1985 and shot to the top within 3 years only to fade below number 15 by 1999. Obesity broke into the top 15 areas in 1999 and made its way to the number 2 position by 2013.
The graph also shows that in 1947 the total number of scientific articles in the top 15 areas was less than 5,000, whereas by 2017 the very top area of research alone, breast cancer, accumulated 10,548 articles per year. This shows how scientific research has exploded in the past 70 decades.
The concept of the center of mass is a notion that is very useful in physics, but it can also be applied in disciplines ranging from sports to art to achieve stunning performances and effects. In the popular realm, an often used application of the center of mass principle is the balancing of objects at sites of their geometry where this would seem impossible. In the video below I demonstrate how you can use the center of mass principle to balance a soda can on its edge!