Friday, February 5, 2016

Reader Feedback on Cosmology, Acrobatic Primates and the Future of Planet of the Apes

Reader say the primate acrobat is a white cheeked gibbon. There's still mystery in the universe and Planet of the Apes will go on.

Reader Feedback on Cosmology, Acrobatic Primates and the Future of Planet of the Apes


An observant reader has identified the species of ape who performed acrobatics in the youtube video here. It’s a white-cheeked gibbon. Gibbons are “lesser” apes, though they may not agree with this classification. They’re smaller than humans and our fellow “great” apes, but according to Wikipedia they have some superior talents:

Gibbons are masters of their primary mode of locomotion, brachiation, swinging from branch to branch for distances of up to 15 m (50 ft), at speeds as high as 56 km/h (35 mph).[citation needed] They can also make leaps of up to 8 m (26 ft), and walk bipedally with their arms raised for balance. They are the fastest and most agile of all tree-dwelling, non-flying mammals.[4]

Another reader noted in two emails that there’s still some mystery to cosmology, despite efforts by Lawrence Krauss to explain it all in his new book, “A Universe from Nothing.” There, Krauss makes a case that our universe is just a bubble in a much larger "multiverse", in which different universes might run by different physical laws. Even the laws of physics themselves could be a cosmic accident, according to this view.

....That still leaves the multiverse itself uncaused, and it relies on the laws of our universe to infer a multiverse – so our laws, quantum uncertainty in particular, are a premise of the multiverse which then supposedly includes universes without quantum uncertainty? Doesn’t hang together.

And again here, referring to Krauss's quotes in this story, which appeared yesterday in the New York Times.

Apropos my complaint below re the purported something from nothing Krauss argued: he apparently conceded the point, according to a NY Times article today by Dennis Overbye, in an email if not already at the end of his new book [which I haven’t read]. We cannot escape all cause, all law: we need at least quantum randomness [an anti-regularity law] to derive the multiverse [which also introduces a chicken-egg issue re the multiverse and the laws that require/permit it: which came first? Did they come together?]. There has to be more to the puzzle than that....

Cosmologist Alex Vilenkin expressed the same sentiment about the origin of the laws of physics when I interviewed him for this column. However, this is simply a gap in science, and suggests there’s more science to be done. There’s no reason to insert supernatural entities into that or any other gap in our understanding of the natural world.

Finally, a number of readers expressed concern when the column did not appear Monday. It was just a coincidence that I took my first a week off during a period of some turmoil here at the Inquirer. It’s terrible that some of my colleagues will be laid off, but so far I’ve had no indication the column will be cancelled. As far as I know now, Planet of the Apes will go on.  

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About this blog
Faye Flam - writer
In pursuit of her stories, writer Faye Flam has weathered storms in Greenland, gotten frost nip at the South Pole, and floated weightless aboard NASA’s zero-g plane. She has a degree in geophysics from the California Institute of Technology and started her writing career with the Economist. She later took on the particle physics and cosmology beat at Science Magazine before coming to the Inquirer in 1995. Her previous science column, “Carnal Knowledge,” ran from 2005 to 2008. Her new column and blog, Planet of the Apes, explores the topic of evolution and runs here and in the Inquirer’s health section each Monday. Email Faye at Reach Planet of the at

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