The World of Social / Scientific Imponderables 2

The World of Social / Scientific Imponderables 2

Why Don’t People in Old Photographs Ever Seem to Smile? and Why Did Men Thrust Their Right Hands into Their Jackets in Old Photographs? From How Does Aspirin Find a Headache? David Feldman

 Sometimes, the more you delve into an Imponderable, the murkier it becomes. But whether we like it or not, we are confronted daily with Imponderables, and what we do with them varies from person to person. Take, for instance, the clocks in hospitals. It doesn’t matter what hospital; all hospital clocks are slower than any other clock. Why? Ponder on the Why?


Stare into the distance and squint your eyes, and you will notice faint tiny circles floating around in your field of vision. To do this experiment, it helps if the background is uniform, and a dull-grey cloudy sky works as a great background to stare at. You might think these tiny circles were little dust particles floating around on the fluid film of the eye that comes into focus as you squint. However, most have rejected that hypothesis because the circles don’t move with Brownian motion, and their paths are very regular. So, where from do these circles come?


A monochromatic red light appears red to the human eye. However, if we chop the beam with a mechanical shutter, we get a square wave. Fourier’s theorem predicts that this beam will no longer be monochromatic as a square wave contains infinite frequencies. So why does chopped red light still appear red? What happens as the frequency of chopping increases?


When you have a sandwich of three layers of differing refractive indices, you can eliminate reflections at the incident surface by tuning the refractive index of the middle layer. However, how does an incident photon know what the refractive index of the middle layer is, so it knows not to be reflected when it is incident on the first layer?


Many paradoxes arise because the law is black & white and real life is a continuum of grey. Law takes continuous variables and sets a threshold or boundary. Either side of the boundary is 1 or 0, i.e., right or wrong. Is this for convenience because we have no better way, or is there a deeper reason? If it is convenient, can we someday use technology to evaluate all the main variables and produce continuum-based laws? Could we trust machines? Would it be fairer than binary laws? 

Law and Sociology: 

It could be argued that when we lock someone in jail for a crime, we cut them off from society and inevitably interfere with any possibility of normal social development of that person and therefore perpetuate their condition. If the person is a danger to society, is there an alternative?

Ethics and Law: 

Imagine you have been sentenced to jail for 50 years for murder. But you are innocent (someone set you up). You serve your sentence, and when the 50 years is up, you are so angry that you kill the person who set you up. Should you go to jail for 50 years, or have you already served your sentence in the last 50 years? – an Imponderable!


Why do clocks go clockwise? Why is the English alphabet in the order it is? Why is Z on end and not O, for example? Whose idea was it to choose the order for the alphabet?


In the Judaeo-Christian tradition, body & soul are holistically one. The notion that the body is a vessel for the soul is a hangover from Plato’s dualistic philosophy and Gnosticism. The Biblical texts, in contrast, support an inseparable unity between body & soul, which theologians call a hypostasis. However, as your present body rots in the ground, you get a new or transfigured body in heaven. But how can you get a new one if your soul is inseparably connected to your present body in a hypostasis? Is there a singularity or discontinuity at the swap-over point between the old and new body? How can we elucidate the present theological framework to resolve this paradox? For me, the soul is separable from the body at death. The soul of humankind is eternal.


Is the phenomenon of falling in love with someone a trick of biology to get you to mate, or is it more profound than that? Is it just a biochemical rush of hormones? If deeper, why does the feeling wear off after a while? If it is a trick of biology, what are the consequences (if any) of pairing and procreating with someone you do not love? Would that affect the efficiency with which our genes are propagated? Would it affect our social happiness, given that the initial feeling would have worn off anyhow?


As quantum mechanics runs counter to the rationality of the classical world, does this mean that Nature or even God is ultimately irrational? Could it be that our concept of what we think is rational is not the whole story? Are we the irrational instead?

What is Truth?

If there were no evil in the world, would good cease to have meaning?

Given that the atoms in your body get replaced every seven years, and your mind develops and forgets old data, how can you define identity? Are you the same person you were yesterday?

Urban legend: 

Can the Great Wall of China be observed with the naked eye from the moon? Although the wall is very long, the width is undoubtedly more minor than the resolution of your vision from that distance.

Ethics and Information Technology: 

Would you feel offended if your partner engaged in telesex with a live movie star across the internet? What are the ethics here? Would there be any difference if the movie star wasn’t at the other end, but it was a prerecorded session that was copied out to thousands of other people? What if it was a virtual session created by a machine?


Why does the man on the moon still appear to be the same way up, no matter whether you are in Sydney, Australia, or New York, USA, for example?

Game theory: 

If a country can fire a nuclear missile at New York City, then conventional game theory seems to tell us that New York should point a nuclear missile at the other country. It creates a stalemate so that no actions are taken, and we are all safe. However, straight game theory needs to be expanded to include error analysis. The question is, what if a nuclear missile was fired at New York and was said to be by mistake? What is the best strategy for New York now? From a game theory point of view, should New York still strike back? Also, there are two possibilities: the declared mistake could have been genuine or a bluff. Also, another related question is that if the missile is intercepted while in the air, will the resulting explosion create more deaths than if the bomb was allowed to hit the ground?

Probability theory:

If I say to you, “give me any amount of money you like, and I will toss a fair coin; if it is headed, you win, and I will double your money, but if it is tails, you lose, and I will give you only half your money back,” do you play the game? The answer is yes because if the amount you bet is X, you can win either 2X or X/2, giving the expected value of winnings as 1.25X. But now I have changed the game slightly and present you with two envelopes; say one envelope contains 2X and the other contains X/2; pick an envelope. Then when you’ve picked an envelope, I say do you want to keep that envelope or swap it for the other one? Now it doesn’t seem that swapping makes sense because you could have just as quickly picked the other envelope in the first place, but yet again, it seems at first sight that the expected value of the other envelope is 1.25X, just as in the previous coin-tossing game. Something has to be wrong with the above statement, which has created this dilemma. So the question for you is this: what is the fundamental difference between the two games described above? Also consider two cases:

  1. When you don’t bother looking inside the first envelope and
  2. When you see the amount in the first envelope.

So another related question is: Does observing the amount change the probabilities in question?


Look up at the stars at night. You infer the existence of stars because the light you see comes from many tiny little points. If the night sky were uniformly lit, you wouldn’t think there were any stars. Now, look at the sky in the microwave or gamma ray parts of the spectrum. What do you see? The sky is virtually uniformly lit with microwaves and gamma rays. So if visible light emanated from points (that we call stars), where did the microwaves and gamma rays come from?

There are no satisfactory theories about gamma rays. Some think it is a vacuum fluctuation effect, but where is the energy coming from? With microwaves, it is believed that it is the blackbody thermal background radiation of the universe and that any tiny ripples you see in them are from the time of the universe’s birth. However, where are the microwave photons coming from to appear uniform across the whole sky over time? If one could magically transport to any part of the universe, would microwave & gamma rays always appear uniform in the background? Is there a part of the universe where one would get different behavior?


Is a fig a flower or a fruit? Why does it have a hole at the base if it is a fruit? It looks like a flower turned in on itself. How many times a year does a fig tree fruit? Is it true that there are male & female figs? Is it true that the female ones are edible and the male ones that are dry & not very sweet? If so, why? Explain why figs are so mysterious. Are there any other ” fruits ” examples with holes in them?

Credits: Prof. Derek Abbott, EEE Dept University of Adelaide, SA 5005, AUSTRALIA. You can contact him at

My Conclusion:

The above outlines are scientific Imponderables. Ponder on them as you Thank God for His Creations. The United States of America dedicates the Week of Monday, November 21st, to Friday, November 25th, as “Thanksgiving.” Thursday, November 24th, is Thanksgiving Day. Give Thanks to the LORD.








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