Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Vampires exist!

Yes, people, they do! Or at least they might exist and their existence does not constitute any contradiction to modern science.

Well, there are plenty blood-sucking animals found in nature, and even humans need to drink the blood from their own spices sometimes just to survive. So, why cannot vampires (the creatures from the myths and legends, as we tend to think of them) exist too?

Most scientists use simple math to prove that the existence of vampires is not possible. Their line of argumentation is the following:
Assume that a vampire needs to feed only once a month (we ignore the mortality rate, since it is irrelevant here). When this process occurs, another vampire is created. If the countdown starts in 1600 AD or some other time around that (on the 1st of January 1600 the world’s population was 536 870 911), then by February 1600 there would be two vampires (one who turned a human into vampire to start with and another one who was a human but became a vampire after the encounter with a vampire). In March 1600 there would be four vampires in existence, and in April 1600 – eight vampires. Therefore, some scientists say, each month the number of vampires doubles and after n months there are 2^n vampires which gives us a geometric progression with ratio 2.

As some of you might know, the geometric progression is increases at a very quick pace and if you sit with a pencil and paper and calculate it for our vampires example, you will arrive to the conclusion that after 30 months there would be no humans left – everyone would be turned into a vampire and the humanity would be wiped out by June 1602. Even if human birth rate is included into our calculations, it remains a very small fraction deaths caused by the vampires and would have prolonged the extinction of human race by just one month. Therefore, some scientists conclude, vampires cannot exist, since their existence contradicts the existence of human beings. This logical proof is of a type known as reductio ad absurdum, that is, reduction to the absurd.

However, if one starts digging dipper, everything is not that straightforward. Some fiction authors,
Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight series”, Charlaine Harris’s “Sookie Stockhouse (Southern Vampire) series”, “True Blood” (TV series) and Elizabeth Kostova’s “The Historian” show the world where vampires peacefully co-exist with humans.

In Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight series” vampires can tolerate the sunlight, interact with humans (even fall in love with them) and drink animals’ blood to survive. Of course, they have to live in secrecy and pretend to be human beings. In “True Blood” TV series, however, a world is shown where vampires and humans live side-by-side and are aware of each other. Vampires can buy synthetic blood of different blood types that is sold in bottles and can be bought in every grocery store, bar or gas station. They cannot walk during daytime, so they usually come out at night. Humans also find use of vampires’ essence – vampires’ blood (called “V”) is a powerful hallucinogenic drug that is sought by humans and traded on the black market (sometimes humans capture vampires with the help of silver chains or harnesses and then kill them by draining their blood). Some humans even seek sex with vampires (vampires are stronger and faster than humans and can provide superb erotic experience). There is a possibility to turn a human being into a vampire, but it takes time and effort.
In Elizabeth Kostova’s novel “The Historian”, vampires are rare although real and do not reveal themselves to humans too often (except for the librarians whom for whom they seem to have a strange passion). Their food ratios are limited and they spend lots of time brooding in their well-hidden tombs.

Let us assume that at the time of the events described in the first book of the series, “Dead Until Dark” (2001), the world’s vampire hypothetical population was around five million (the population of the state of Louisiana in 2001 we arbitrarily use in our calculations). The initial conditions of the Harris-Meyer-Kostova model are the following: five million vampires, 6 159 million people, there are organized groups of vampire “drainers”.

Our calculations yield that the human population will be growing until 2046 when it reaches its peak of 9.6 billion people, whereupon it will be declining until 2065 until it reaches its bottom at 6.12 billion people. This process will repeat itself continuously. The vampire population will be declining until 2023 when it reaches its minimum of 289 thousand vampires, whereupon it will be growing until 2055 until it reaches its peak at 397 million vampires. This process will also repeat itself continuously and we will end up with a cyclical system of human-vampire co-existence

There are more interesting implications to our study: consider for example the organized groups of vampire hunters (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) or superhero hunters (“Blade”). The results seem even more interesting and all clues lead to the one simple fact – vampires might co-habitate with humans and modern science cannot refute their existence! Please see our poster for more information and turn to us with your questions and comments!

Happy Halloween and be careful not to bump into a vampire on your way to the costume party tonight! :)

WS and EL

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Maxwell's demon

It often happens that scientists need to use metaphors for explaining their point to other scientists and the general public. This is how many mysterious fantastic creatures are born. Many of these creatures were fabricated during the debates on the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Undoubtedly,  the most popular of all those creatures was Maxwell demon – a product of a thought experiment created by the physicist James Clerk Maxwell, the author of the famous Maxwell's equations that accurately describe the electromagnetic field.

Since 1871, Maxwell's demon had occupied the great minds of science. Scientists still look for processes which would allow heat to pass from less hot bodies to hotter bodies. Of course, all of us (or at least those of us who still remember our physics classes) know that heat can be passed from hot to cold bodies. The paradigm called the Second Law of Thermodynamics seemed irrefutable until it was challenged by the existence of Maxwell’s demon.

The idea of Maxwell’s demon is very simple: imagine a sealed container, divided into two gas-tight parts with by the wall with door that would allow just one gas atom to pass through it. At the beginning of the experiment, the upper part of the vessel contains gas, and at the bottom part is filled with vacuum. The door in the middle of the wall dividing both parts is guarded by an imaginary microscopic janitor who is vigilantly watching over molecules. The janitor would allow fast molecules to go through the door to the bottom of the container, while the slow molecules are left in the top half. Clearly, if such a watchman is on duty at the door for a long time, the gas will be divided into two parts: in the upper part of the container there would be cold gas contained of slow molecules, and in the bottom part of the container there would be hot gas consisting of fast molecules. This mythical janitor opening and closing the door was nicknamed “Maxwell's demon”.

Maxwell's demon has such special powers that he can monitor every single molecule in its movements and recognize its speed. He opens the door only to fast or slow molecules, forcing them to move to different parts of the container. Thus, in one part of the container the temperature and pressure are getting higher than in the other which yields the unlimited supply of energy at no costs. In case Maxwell's demon remains on duty forever (or several Maxwell’s demons do shifts), the container can be turned into full-functioning “perpetuum mobile”.
Many prominent scientists argue that Maxwell's demon was merely a joke of the great physicist. Indeed, Maxwell's demon is not effective in a container with two molecules. In that case, all molecules might end up in just one part of the container to begin with. However, if the number of molecules is high, the probability of such a case is extremely small.
Maxwell’s demon keeps occupying many scientists’ minds. Not long ago, there was an article published on that issue in one scientific journal that explains the existence of Maxwell's demon in a form of a quantum oscillator, a laser which separates the molecules with high energy from the low-energy molecules.

Recently, the debate on the existence or non-existence of Maxwell's demon was enforced by the quantum entanglement theory that aims at developing supercomputers, instant Internet and even teleporting devices. In their recent paper Japanese physicists showed that quantum effects make information translation into energy to be more efficient than previously thought. Although their paper was not yet accepted for publication, its pre-print is available at Cornell University’s archive and can be downloaded here:

The Japanese scientists’ major innovation is the introduction of quantum entanglement into Maxwell’s experiment. In their extension of Maxwell’s experiment, there were two vessels with quantum entangled particles. By measuring the rate of only one of these particles, one can obtain information about the other. If all the particles in the experiment are entangled in pairs, this means that the demon will need only half of the time to recognize the nature of the particle than in the case of classical particles. The authors performed statistical calculations that take this into account and showed quantum entanglement would effectively increase the performance of Maxwell’s demon.

So far, no one has proved whether Maxwell’s demon exists or whether it is just a myth. But one thing is certain - Maxwell's demon might help scientists to heat up the interest in further research in natural sciences!

Happy Halloween everyone!

EL and WS

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Something wicked this way comes...

Is everyone looking forward to the forthcoming Halloween? The 'All Hallows Evening' is at our doorstep and everyone is preparing for trick-or-treating, brushing off their scary costumes, renting horror movies, carving pumpkins and generally intending to have fun.

We were told that the apple harvest this year was enormous. Apart from making plenty of traditional apple pies and cider (ah, we all love that, don't we?), one can do the traditional Halloween thing - the apple bobbing. Apple bobbing is a very old tradition that dates back to the Roman conquest of Britain, when the old Celtic customs of worshiping the pentagram (yeah, this is right: many nations worshiped the five-pointed star, with the Soviets being the latest addition to that tribe) was fused with the new Roman tradition of fruit goddess Pomona (it is rumored that the Romans were actually the ones who introduced the apple tries to Britain after all). You see, when the apple is cut, a pentagram-shaped form is revealed. Thence, apples gained respect and popularity among the Celts and have been consumed in a pie or as a cider ever since. This is quite interesting, since the Romans preferred their wine and never learned to fiddle with their apples so much. 
Anyways, apple bobbing is a game when the large tub is filled with water and several apples are left floating on the surface. The players try to catch the apples with their teeth (which makes this game not very hygienic and thence not very attractive to some people), while they also try not to fall into the tub (unfortunately, this happens sometimes, as for example in Agatha Christie's 'Hallowe'en Party', in which poor Joyce Reynolds drowned in the tub). 

Well, as the Halloween approaches, we are glad to announce that we also have a Halloween gift for you. Hereby, we are glad to present the recent fruit of our supernatural economics activities: in November a journal called 'Modern Economy' will publish our article (co-authored by Dr. Welkins). The article that is a study investigating the possibility of peaceful co-habitation of humans and vampires, can be downloaded here. Read and enjoy! There is more to come, of course, and we will be posting some other interesting and scary things right before Halloween! Stay tuned, stay away from the tubs and follow 'Supernatural Economics'!

WS and EL

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Karl Marx: Vampire Hunter?

Karl Marx: Vampire Hunter?

Did you know that the works of Karl Marx and his followers are full of mentioning of vampires? It has been calculated that Marx used the vampire metaphor at least three times in Capital. For example, in one of the cases Marx describes British industry as “vampire-like” which “could but live by sucking blood, and children’s blood too”. Here is another quote: "“Capital is dead labour which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks".

Marx’s colleague and long-time sponsor Frederick Engels also used the vampire metaphor in his works and public addresses. In one of his works entitled The Condition of the Working Class in England, Engels identifies and blames the “vampire property-holding class” as the source of "all the social troubles".

Marx’s and Engel’s perception of vampires corresponds very much to the recent Hollywood film Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter directed by Timur Bekmambetov. In the film, based on the eponymous book by Seth Grahame-Smith, the 16th president of the United States leads a secret life of a vampire hunter searching and destroying vampires. Vampires in the film supported slave trade and intended to start the Civil War to conquer the North and enslave all American population. In his secret diary, Abraham Lincoln writes that those vampires are “virtually everywhere” - layers, bankers, shop owners, in short the bourgeoisie accused by Marx and Engels of blood thirst.

Marx described vampires’ habits, their greediness and their lounging for blood in such a detail that in many cases it crossed the boundaries of the mere metaphor. Although many researchers perceive Marx’s vampires as metaphoric abstract bourgeois bloodsuckers feeding on working people, his knowledge of vampires is very peculiar. In one particular case, when describing Wallachian peasants performing forced labour for their boyars, Marx refers to one specific “boyar” who was “drunk with victory” and who might have been no one but Wallachian prince Vlad (called “The Impaler”) – or Count Dracula himself!

All this is very interesting because the best-known novel of vampiric genre, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, did not see the daylight until 1897, the whole 14 years after Marx’s death. Surely, one can place the Marx’s metaphor in the wider context of nineteenth-century gothic and horror stories which were abundant these days, and of which Marx was a huge fan. On the other hand, one might assume that some of the vampire legends were true and Marx and his contemporaries were aware of that.