Category Archives: Engineering

Is War a Technological Boon?

People often say that war is a great boon for technological development.

They say that war accelerates the pace of technological development. And that some things might not exist if certain wars had not taken place. But is there any truth to this? Let us take a brief look.

War, or the threat of an upcoming war, is a great incentive to develop military technology.

For instance, during the start of the First World War, aircraft usage in war was relatively limited. The military aircraft that existed was fairly primitive. During the war, there was a rapid development of military aircraft.

Anti-aircraft guns were conceived of before the First World War. However, they underwent significant development in response to the use of aircraft in the war.

There are countless other examples of military technology being developed during times of war. From wire-cutters to code-cracking technology.

So, it is fair to say that wars are a great incentive for the development of military technology.

All sides of a war are frequently trying to develop new technologies. This has the tendency to lead to a technology arms race where the other side is racing to try to develop better still military technology.

So, when it comes to military technology, then war can be a boon to technological development.

Military technology is of course developed in times of peace. We see this all the time. After World War 2, many major powers continued to develop their air forces, develop better artillery forces and to research and develop better tank technology. A great deal of military technological development occurs during peacetime.

War is expensive.

The cost of deploying troops and the like often means less money is available for funding military research. But in peacetime, there is often much more money to spend on military research.

So we cannot say that military technology universally undergoes greater development during times of war. Some forms of military technology do but it is often true that even military technology develops at a faster pace during times of peace.

Yeap, war sure looks expensive to me…

And, what about non-military technology?

Wars tend to impair the development of non-military technologies. Why is this?

War tends to be a very expensive endeavor. It costs a lot of money to deploy troops and military hardware in a timely and effective manner.

Money has to come from somewhere.

Hopefully, the money spent does not exceed a reasonable military budget. However, sometimes war requires more money to be put aside and diverts it from other areas of the economy. We saw this during both World Wars and many wars since then.

During World War II America turned much of its economy over to wartime production. This impacted many industries. They had to tighten their belts so that America could turn a certain amount of its economy over to wartime production. As did many other countries involved in the war.

In some cases, military production takes over a certain amount of production and money.

Wars have to be won. Nobody expects to win wars for free.

This shift in investment means businesses have less money to research technology. It means they have less money to spend producing technology. Some businesses may never have the funds to get their technology off the ground.

Yes, the people making tanks and other military equipment might benefit. But companies like Microsoft lose out. They could have used the money that goes into producing tanks to develop some amazing new software.

Or invested in some genius to create something entirely new.

People tend to look at only the part of the economy that might be benefiting from wartime spending.

They look at the military contractors and industries creating wartime products and see those industries are doing better. They do not consider the fact that for every cent businesses invest in these industries, is one less cent they can invest in other technologies.

We also have to consider that some military technology arose as the result of non-military research. For instance, civilians invented planes which the military then adapted to their own purposes. Likewise, civilians invented automobiles which the military adapted for their purposes.

So then consider that war tends to impede technological development. Then it potentially impedes the development of technology that can be adopted for military purposes.

People like to counter that the computer industry might not exist if not for World War II accelerating the need for computer technology. People argue this about all kinds of technology that creates enormous economic benefit, including nuclear power.

But is it true that without World War II computer technology would not have continued to rapidly progress?

There is no evidence of this. The First World War was a massive incentive to have developed computer technology at a rapid pace.

But there were already massive incentives to do this. There was growing academic interest in computers from mathematicians and many others in academia. Many others were certainly interested in using early computers for scientific purposes.

Businesses had been using computers since the earliest days of computing.

That is not to say computers used for business back then were all that efficient or powerful…

So it seems highly improbable that without the world war, the development of computer technology would have remained stagnant. In fact, it is arguable that it may have developed at a similar or greater pace.

What about nuclear technology? The possibility of nuclear energy was not a foreign concept. It seems reasonable to assume that this would have been sufficient incentive to develop nuclear energy technology.

Wartime led to the research and development of many technologies with non-military applications. But it is highly probable that such research and development would have occurred anyway.

Military research often diverts research funds and personnel away from non-military research. If not for this fact, the same developments might have occurred sooner!

So it seems that overall, war is not such a great boon for non-military technology.

Yes, the pace of military technology frequently accelerates during wartime. But this is far from universally true. It is often easier to afford military research during times of peace, without the immense cost of military deployment to worry about.

And then add the fact that wars tend to direct investment from technological development to war purposes, only some of which will result in the development of technology, largely military technology.

computer model

More on Computer Models

What is a computer model?

It is a process where you program a computer to simulate what you know about reality. Or to simulate how you think something might work.

For instance, you can program a computer to simulate the behaviour of a ball rolling down a ramp. Since you likely understand this quite well, your computer simulation will be extremely accurate and the behaviour of the virtual ball will very closely model the behaviour of a real ball.

This kind of model is usually useful for either educational purposes or for predicting the behaviour of things. That is, predicting behaviour which is very well understood but which the computer can model more efficiently then you would be able to by other means.

Perhaps you could get a pen and paper, calculate what will happen and draw it out. But it is more efficient to program a computer to do this for you and tell you what might happen.

Perhaps you run a computer model of how an expensive jet engine might work. You want to try wrinkle out any huge flaws in your design before you go to the great expense of building a jet engine. This way you might be able to find out if it has any serious problems which might result in immediate and costly failure.

Or perhaps you can model how a building will perform under stresses or how an engine design will work under certain conditions. Things you probably could do by hand, but which are far more efficient to get a computer to do for you.

It might be cheaper than building the wall just to do tests that can be done with some accuracy on your computer.

Is a computer model proof of anything?

No, it is not. A computer model simulates the behaviour of something. But it is still simply a computer program. It will only do what you tell it to do and no more. So, that means that the result of a computer model can only be as good as the programming put into it.

For a computer model to emulate the behaviour of something, the programmer must program in how he thinks that something should behave in various situations. He has to make assumptions or use prior knowledge about how that thing should act in those contexts.

computer model
This thing is not magic, even if it sometimes might seem that way to some people. It just does what you tell it.

This is the first way in which computer models can go wrong. The programmer’s assumptions have to be correct and what they know (or think they know) about the things they are modelling have to be correct.

If the assumptions he programs into the model are wrong, then the results of the model will certainly be less than completely reliable.

But, even if all of their assumptions are correct, the results have to match reality. The program has to be able to produce the correct result. And the programmer must show that this is indeed the right result for it to be of any use.

Meaning that you already know the result. Or can at least check that the results you get are consistent with what you know to be true.

Surely if all the assumptions are correct, the outcome will match reality?

Maybe not. Maybe the model does not account for all of the significant factors in a real-life scenario. This is another way in which computer models can be unreliable; they are prone to over-simplification and to ignoring key factors.

But as we have seen, this is the main issue with computer models; they prove nothing about how the things they model actually work. Yes, they are useful for helping to identify potential areas of research. But their results do not themselves prove anything. They are not replacements for research and experiments to learn about how reality works.

They are nothing more than automated thought experiments and prove no more than would a thought experiment. If you conduct a thought experiment in your mind, it proves nothing about external reality. If you want to learn about how reality works, you have to study nature by performing experiments and collecting data.

computer model
A computer model is little more than a thought experiment, like Schrodinger’s Cat. Just run through a computer …

The computer will probably get more reliable results than your unaided brain will, but it is still just a very detailed thought experiment.

So, does that mean that we should ignore computer models and conclude nothing from them? No.

Computer models can be very useful.

In as far as they indicate potential outcomes that can be shown to closely match real-world results, then they are certainly useful in predicting what might happen under those circumstances. They can help identify unexpected results that perhaps should be accounted for.

For instance, suppose our model of the jet engine does blow up. Well, we should ask ourselves why it did that. Perhaps we look into our model and find out that putting this piece here causes the entire thing to be unstable.

Well, that is something worth looking at. We look into that and we find out that, yes, that piece there would make the whole thing unstable. And therefore we should not put that there.

Or, take models that purport to represent bacterial growth over time. We might look at that model and predict interesting changes in bacteria populations and how they might adapt to their environment. Thus helping us identify real-world patterns and facts.

Or finding planets using computer models of gravitational lensing for the purposes of finding planets (something my wife, Ashna Sharan used in her Masters of Astrophysics thesis).

This is why computer models are far from useless. In as far as they help identify facts of reality, then they are certainly useful. However, they are no replacement for experiments and other forms of analyzing what actually happens in physical reality. As opposed to the thought experiment inside the computer.

Experiments with physical objects can make for great science. Watching the Matrix? Not so much …


Episode Twenty Three – An Interview with Bill Gaede


Today we have an interview with the physicist Bill Gaede. We have not presented the transcript of this in web page form. Instead, you can listen to the audio or download the PDF transcript.

You may have problems with the audio if you hit the play button above after jumping part of the way into the audio. We are not sure what this issue is or how to fix it. You can download the episode or simply play it from the beginning.

Gaede and I discuss the problems in modern physics, some of the many ways in which physics is irrational, the improper conflation of mathematics with physics, his rope model and more.

The problems he mentions are largely centered around the idea that we do not have physicists anymore, we have mathematicians. People that try to describe but not explain how this universe works. But, physics is meant to be about explaining how the universe works!

This is where the rope model comes in. It offers an explanation of light, electromagnetism, gravity and more. Gaede discusses this in some depth in his book “Why God Does Not Exist”.

Please note that the transcript has been edited for grammatical purposes. The contents accurately represent the material, however changes have been made to make it easier to read. So,  it will not exactly match the audio.

However, there may be mistakes in the transcript. Any mistakes in transcription represent our own errors or a transcription error we missed.

Click here to download the PDF transcript.

You can find out more about Bill Gaede’s idea on his YouTube page. You can also check out his Quora profile to see him answering some physics questions.

nuclear power plants

The Incredible Safety of Nuclear Energy Part Three

This is part three of a series covering the incredible safety of nuclear energy. Today we cover the risks of the alternatives, the issue of risk itself and we come to our inevitable conclusion.

You can find part one here and part two here.

Nuclear is the Safest Option

If we look at all the facts, nuclear energy is, in fact, the safest means of viable energy production we have. It causes vastly fewer deaths than coal, oil and hydroelectric means of power generation. It has lower fatality rates than solar and wind energy!

Let us look at some figures. This Forbes article has some good information on this. I have condensed some of the information there to form the following table showing some average mortality rates for various energy sources.

The mortality rate is measured in deaths per trillion kilowatt hours. It basically measures the average mortality rate to produce a certain amount of energy.

From these statistics, we can see that nuclear energy has a far lower mortality rate than any of these other means of power production.  Including wind, the next lowest!

Still, there are some deaths here. Did I think that there were only three major nuclear power plant accidents and other than that, nobody else died?

No, of course not. There are accidents, even at nuclear power plants and people die.

But earlier we were talking about major accidents, especially those involving the release of dangerous radiation. Obviously, that does not mean that there are no other accidents or that people do not die for various reasons at power plants. We will talk about that further when we discuss the issue of risk.

According to Benjamin K. Sovacool, while responsible for less than 1 percent of the total number of energy accidents, hydroelectric facilities claimed 94 percent of reported immediate fatalities.

Results on immediate fatalities are dominated by one disaster in which Typhoon Nina in 1975 washed out the Shimantan Dam (Henan Province, China) and 171,000 people perished.

Uh oh! A hydroelectric dam has burst!

Yet, Chernobyl, by far the worst major nuclear accident in all of history, has by reasonable estimates, claimed only 4,000 lives in the 31 years since it happened!

Nobody has died as a result of the Three Mile Island incident. Virtually nobody, as far as reported, has died from acute radiation exposure from the incident in Fukushima.

So, we have roughly 4,000 deaths we can definitively attribute to major nuclear power generation accidents. Despite decades of nuclear power generation and over 17,000 cumulative reactor-years of power generation in 33 countries.

In England, wind turbine related accidents in 2013 alone killed 14 people.  In the US alone, over 100 people a year die in such accidents. So, if we assume 14 people is a representative average for wind energy related deaths per year in England and add that to the US total, we have 114 deaths per year. These two countries alone would catch up to nuclear power in a few decades.

Also, mining the materials required to build wind turbines unleashes vastly toxic chemicals into the environment! Which can be very hard to contain and which can be extremely toxic. So much for wind energy being so very green!

Yes, we still have other deaths from less than major nuclear power plant incidents to account for. But, even if we consider these, it is clear that nuclear is far safer than the alternatives.

Remember the safety medal we gave nuclear in the last part of this series?

Of course, we have discussed some of the safest forms of energy production. Coal and gas production is far more dangerous, causing many deaths per year related to air pollution and the like. Even the often hailed bio-fuel industry is apparently much more dangerous than the nuclear energy industry!

How do people die from solar energy, you wonder? Mostly from rooftop accidents during the installation or maintenance of solar panels. With some deaths being attributable to faulty installation or wiring.

In any case, these figures should make it quite clear that the mortality rate for nuclear energy production is in fact extremely low. This makes nuclear energy incredibly safe, even more than the other methods which people assume are extremely safe!

One of the reasons the number for nuclear is so low is because it is very efficient. It produces a lot of energy at once, more than these other forms of energy.

In addition, nuclear power production risk profiles are typically fairly constant. One does not usually have to worry about flash floods presenting a serious risk of nuclear power plant incidents.

Unlike with hydroelectric stations. One does not have to worry about strong winds knocking a power plant down. Unlike with a wind turbine. And so forth.

nuclear power plants securiuty

The Incredible Safety of Nuclear Energy Part Two

This is part two of a series covering the incredible safety of nuclear energy. Today we cover the design and safety features of nuclear power plants. You can find part one here.

In this article, we cover some of the amazing design and safety features used in modern nuclear power plants. Then we will see why we cannot use nuclear power plants to make nuclear weapons.

We cannot hope to cover all the security procedures and design features that go into making nuclear power plants as safe as they are. But we will cover some of the most important ones. This should be enough to show just how safe these facilities in fact are.

Before we get into some of the design and safety features, let us look at the death tolls. After all, this is what a lot of the hysteria hovers over.

The Death Tolls

There have been three major nuclear reactor incidents. Let us go over all three of them and their death tolls.

Three Mile Island.

This occurred in the USA in 1979. This incident severely damaged the reactor, but the power plant contained the radiation. There have been no adverse health or environmental consequences.

The reactor was shut down by the automatic fail-safe systems installed on nuclear power plants and there was very little release of any radioactive material.

Yes, some radioactive gas was released, but at doses below normal background levels.

You can read more here.


This occurred in Ukraine in 1986. There was a steam explosion which destroyed the reactor. The resulting fire killed two people and a further 28 people died from radiation poisoning within three months.

The United Nations links 4,000 cancer-related deaths to this incident. The WHO estimates 5,000. Ever the alarmists, Greenpeace International claim 90,000. But experts say that the actual number is far less than this.

We know that at least 31 people died as a direct result of exposure to radiation at the time of the incident. With many more dying as a result of the evacuation procedures and for other reasons.

We may never know how many deaths can be laid at the feet of the accident. It could be that the United Nations estimate of 4,000 is accurate or over-stated. Or it could be a higher death toll than this. But it is unlikely to be the 90,000-200,000 or so claimed by Greenpeace!

It was reported that the incidence of thyroid cancer skyrocketed after the incident. If this is true then some of these deaths likely can be blamed on the radiation released during the incident.

Here is part of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. It is not a radioactive wasteland.

Chernobyl’s unusually high death toll does not accurately reflect the design of modern power plants.

The designers of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant did not design it with modern safety features. In fact, the designers and operators ignored known nuclear safety at the time.

Chernobyl nuclear power plant cut corners and employed improper facilities such as insufficient containment in order to cut costs. The USSR lacked the production facilities to create sufficiently thick steel containment vessels and the like.

They did not follow proper safety procedures, thus greatly increasing the chance of any major incident releasing significant quantities of radioactive material in the environment.

Had the plant been properly designed and proper safety procedures employed, it is likely that very little radiation would have escaped into the environment. And any that might have escaped would have been significantly less harmful.

So, while it might seem that Chernobyl demonstrates the vast danger of nuclear power plants, it does not accurately represent the minimal dangers of properly managed nuclear power plants.

It simply highlights the importance of proper design and maintenance of proper safety systems. And the importance of following proper safety procedures.

In the next part, we shall see that even this death toll of thousands of people over decades is a tiny death toll compared to many other means of energy production. One incident in a hydroelectric dam can kill several thousands of people!


Four deaths have since been linked to radiation exposure from the Fukushima incident. But this is still less than the 40 or so people killed during the evacuation procedures alone! Or the 18,000 people killed by the tsunami itself.

Maybe Greenpeace should protest the existence of tsunamis!

Fukushima is a more realistic indication of the expected death toll from a major nuclear accident than Chernobyl. Yes, people have died and it is likely that several more deaths may be linked to radiation exposure from this incident. But the death toll will be vastly less than Chernobyl.

But even in this incident, the Fukushima nuclear power plant used old designs and did not properly follow modern safety procedures.

On top of this, while they designed the plant to withstand tsunamis, it is impossible to make a power plant completely immune to being compromised by a tsunami. Except by building it in a location too far inland for this to be an issue. Not all power plants are in coastal regions, so tsunamis are not an issue.

So, Fukushima may be a realistic indication of the expected death toll from a major nuclear power plant accident, but it is not necessarily indicative of what one can expect from the average major incident.

Which is likely to be more like the Three Mile Island, which involves a death toll of zero and no major environmental impact.

The world has seen over 17,000 reactor-years of nuclear power plant operation time in 33 countries. That is, if you add up all the hours of operation from all these plants, they have been running for over 17,000 reactor-years.

With only three major accidents and several small accidents of no great consequence.

Yes, there have been deaths, but in all these reactor-years, the only incident of great consequence has been one in which proper safety procedures have not been followed. Since proper safety features have been employed in other cases, the statistics indicate that nuclear power plants are very safe!

But let us look at some of the design features and safety procedures that help explain why this is the case.


The Incredible Safety of Nuclear Energy Part One

This is part one of a three-part series on the amazing safety of nuclear energy. We will show that the hysteria over this form of energy production is unfounded.

It is incredibly safe and environmentally friendly. It is more so than all the other major forms of energy production.

We will start by looking at the issue and the hysterical paranoia over nuclear energy. Then we will show why this is largely unfounded.

Furthermore, we shall show why nuclear energy is often safer than the alternatives.

The Issue: Nuclear Hysteria

People widely believe that radiation of any kind is highly dangerous. Therefore, many members of the public have an irrational fear of anything to do with radiation. This assumption that radiation is dangerous leads people to assume that nuclear energy cannot possibly be safe.

Is this based on scientific data? No! The scientific data makes it clear that radiation is an inescapable part of life. It is an unavoidable product of biology and the natural world. There is no escaping some degree of exposure to radiation.

Most people believe that it is something only the smartest people can understand. But that does not stop most people believing that it is inherently highly dangerous.

Should we fear nuclear energy? If people handled nuclear energy without any restraint or concern for safety, then certainly we should be concerned.

But in real life, people manage nuclear energy in a very safe way, as we shall see later in this series.  The people designing and running these systems understand the dangers very well. They know how to manage these dangers to greatly minimize the chances of any critical failure.

Even when such failures occur, they know how to manage them to greatly reduce the probability of injury or death.

Exposure to radiation is not inherently harmful. We can easily endure small doses of radiation without any long-term or serious harm. Nuclear power plants typically expose workers to much smaller doses of radiation than required to create any serious risk of harm.

Yes, radioactive exposure can damage biological material and mutate cells. But this typically requires radiation exposure far beyond any realistic scenario or repeated exposure to smaller doses of radiation.

This might be why cancer rates in the nuclear industry are not, despite what the public might think, significantly higher than in other industries. And may not be higher on average than the average for other industries.

international pictogram for mutagenic
The international pictogram for chemicals that are sensitising, mutagenic, carcinogenic or toxic to reproduction.

People often believe that nuclear energy production is about as dangerous as nuclear weapons. But this could not be more false. It is not possible to use the nuclear material used by the nuclear energy industry to easily make a bomb. That requires time and resource intensive enrichment processes.

It is not difficult to grasp that radiation is not always dangerous. Especially when you consider that our bodies are not defenseless against it. Our bodies have developed all kinds of mechanisms to compensate for it and mitigate its potentially harmful effects.

Most people consider nuclear physics too hard for them to grasp. And so, they do not make any real effort to understand it. But it is not difficult to grasp the most crucial essentials as to what it is. Nor is it difficult to understand how we may immensely mitigate the risks of nuclear energy.

Later in this series, we shall see that the industry has a great understanding of such risks. We shall see that it is already acting on these so that the risks of nuclear energy are very low.’

Let us look at some of the reality of nuclear energy and why it is in fact incredibly safe. And why we should happily accept the statistically minuscule risk presented by properly managed nuclear energy plants.

The Exposure is Safe

It would be foolish to deny that nuclear power plants expose its employees to some radiation. Or that there is no trace of radioactivity in the immediately surrounding areas. The real question is, are the levels of radiation in question significant enough to be an issue?

It should be noted that not all radiation is inherently dangerous. Very small quantities of low-level radiation are perfectly safe. The environment around us, the concrete in our buildings and our own bodies constantly expose us to radiation.

And as mentioned before, our own bodies have protections against low levels of radiation.

Quantifying Radiation Exposure

What kind of radiation exposure can we expect living near nuclear energy production facilities? What kind of exposure would one expect if they worked in one of these power plants? Let us find out and compare this exposure to other forms of readily accepted radiation exposure.

We first need a way to quantify radiation exposure.  We will use the SI unit known as the sievert, usually abbreviated by the symbol Sv. This is named after Rolf Maximilian Sievert, the Swedish medical physicist.

He is well known for his work on radiation dose measurement. He is also known for his research on the biological effects of radiation.

Rolf Maximilian Sievert
Rolf Maximilian Sievert

The sievert represents the health risk of a given dose of radiation in terms of the probability of radiation-induced cancer. Such that one sievert represents a 5.5% chance of eventually developing cancer.

Radiation can cause other potential problems. But unless one is exposed to very high doses of radiation, cancer is what most people worry about.

Other complications can arise but are either less likely or highly circumstantial. Hence, we shall focus mostly on cancer.

Life 3.0 Cover

Episode Fourteen – Life 3.0: A Slow Death


Today we start our review of the book “Life 3.0” by Max Tegmark. This book claims that greater than human level intelligence is inevitable and then discusses what can be done to keep it safe. Part One introduces the book and discusses the prelude and the first chapter.

Click here to download the PDF transcript with illustrations. This episodes transcript has no illustrations.

Episode Transcript

[Please note that this may not exactly match the audio. However, there should be no significant differences.]


Metaphysics of Physics is the much needed and crucial voice of reason in the philosophy of science, rarely found anywhere else in the world today. We are equipped with the fundamental principles of a rational philosophy that gives us the edge, may make us misfits in the mainstream sciences but also attracts rational minds to our community.

With this show, we are fighting for a more rational world, mostly by looking through the lens of the philosophy of science. We raise awareness of issues within the philosophy of science and present alternative and rational approaches.

You can find all the episodes, transcripts, subscription options and more on the website at

Hi everyone! This is episode fourteen of the Metaphysics of Physics podcast. I am Ashna, your host and guide through the hallowed halls of the philosophy of science. Thanks for tuning in!

Today we are going to start our review of “Life 3.0” by Max Tegmark. This will be the first part of a series where we go many of the central ideas presented in this terrible book.

Life 3.0 cover
Here is the book we are reviewing.

Today we will cover the prelude and the first chapter. Later parts will cover further chapters at about two or three chapters per part. Meaning that the entire series will be about three or four parts long.

But, without further ado, let us start with a quick introduction to the book itself.

The book is called “Life 3.0” and it is subtitled: “Being human in the age of artificial intelligence”. Which, to be fair, does give you a fair idea of what you should expect.

Here is the end of the blurb provided on the inside jacket of the copy I have before me:

“What sort of future do you want? This book empowers you to join what may be the most important conversation of our time. It doesn’t shy away from the full range of viewpoints or from the most controversial issues – from super-intelligence to meaning, consciousness and the ultimate physical limits on life in the cosmos”.

Basically, it argues that artificial intelligence in the form of greater than human level intelligence is all but inevitable. And that we should start thinking about what this implies for us. Now, rather than in the future when Max Tegmark believes it will be too late.

The book starts by making the case that the issue of how to handle the possible rise of artificial intelligence is the most important issue of our time.

It then goes on to show the possible benefits and dangers of AI and how it might drastically alter our lives and civilizations. And what we should do to make sure AI does not prove to be dangerous enough to wipe us out.

Our Mathemtical Universe Tegmark
Tegmark’s other book “Our Mathematical Universe”. Another terrible book we might cover one day …

Before, we go any further, when I say “AI”, it should be assumed that I mean “strong AI” or “human-level intelligence” unless otherwise stated. Alright, now we have that noted, let us continue.

What do we think of all of this? Well, the main issue we have is that it makes a huge, huge leap: That AI is possible in the first place. We have argued that in fact, it is not.

You can see our argument for this presented way back in episode four:

If we were to assume that such AI is indeed possible, then we would probably leave the book alone. Since if AI was indeed possible, then some of it would certainly follow.

We disagree with this premise, so we are not going to leave his book alone. Instead, we are going to deal with his arguments for AI and whatever other philosophically dubious ideas we encounter.

This being Max Tegmark, we should not have a lot of trouble finding quite a few philosophically dubious ideas.

Now that you have some idea of what the book is all about, let us start our criticism of the book. Starting with the prelude and working our way through chapter by chapter. We will only deal with the philosophically interesting parts of the book and leave the others alone.

Leonardo da Vinci

Episode Thirteen – Some Inventions and Discoveries of Leonardo da Vinci


Today we look at some of the wonderful inventions and discoveries of Leonardo da Vinci! We cover his work on anatomy, geology, his design of a robotic knight, his design for a practical parachute and more.

Click here to download the PDF transcript with illustrations.

If you would like a version of the transcript click here with no illustrations. It might be easier to read on certain devices, such as your eReader.

Episode Transcript

Also, note that the audio may of poorer quality than previous episodes, so you might want to keep this in mind.]


Metaphysics of Physics is the much needed and crucial voice of reason in the philosophy of science, rarely found anywhere else in the world today. We are equipped with the fundamental principles of a rational philosophy that gives us the edge, may make us misfits in the mainstream sciences but also attracts rational minds to our community.

With this show, we are fighting for a more rational world, mostly by looking through the lens of the philosophy of science. We raise awareness of issues within the philosophy of science and present alternative and rational approaches.

You can find all the episodes, transcripts, subscription options and more on the website at

Hi everyone! This is episode thirteen of the Metaphysics of Physics podcast. I am Ashna, your host and guide through the hallowed halls of the philosophy of science. Thanks for tuning in!

Today we are going to go over some of the inventions and discoveries of possibly the greatest Renaissance Man, Leonardo da Vinci!

Florence statue of Leonardo da Vinci
The great Leonardo, caught in stone in Florence, Italy.

We cannot hope to cover all his inventions and discoveries. We will simply go over some of the ones we find the most interesting.

As this is simply an overview of some of his inventions and discoveries, we will almost certainly return to the topic of Leonardo da Vinci and cover his history, some of his influences and what influence he had on those that came after him. However, we will see a little bit of the influence he had on others in this episode.

Credit to the website Leonardo da Vinci Inventions which was used to check and reference much of the information in this podcast. You can check the site out here.

But, without further ado, let us see how many we can cover, in alphabetical order.


Leonardo was extremely interested in the human body and dissected many, many bodies. More than 30 according to his own claims.

Leonardo, being the great artist he was, drew many very detailed and remarkably accurate sketches of various parts of the human body. |

In 1510-1511 alone he compiled a series of 18 largely double-sided sheets containing over 240 drawings and 13,000 words of notes.

This is known as the Anatomical Manuscript A and is housed in the Royal Collection.

As we can see here, Leonardo was very interested in human musculature.

He made many major discoveries as a result of all this work.

For instance, he produced the first accurate depiction of the human spine. As well as the first accurate description of cirrhosis of the liver.

The heart surgeon Francis Wells, working at Papworth Hospital in Cambridge, has examined many of Leonardo’s sketches. He has commented that they were far better than anything he had seen in modern textbooks of anatomy.

In his words: “They were beautiful, accurate, absorbing – and there was a liveliness to them that you just don’t find in any modern anatomical drawings.”

He is not the only medical expert to express such opinions. Several other experts have expressed the view that his works are better than most or all other modern works they have seen.

In his time and well after, it was believed that the heart had a two-chambered structure. However, Leonardo discovered that it had four.

As well as this, he discovered that the atria or filling chambers contract together while the pumping chambers or ventricles relax and vice versa.

But, more impressive even than this, are his observations about the aortic valve which he made while experimenting with an ox’s heart.

He was interested in the way the aortic valve opens and closes to ensure that blood flows in one direction.

So, he constructed a model by filling a bovine heart with wax. Once the wax hardened, he recreated the structure in glass and them pumped water mixed with grass seeds through it.

This allowed him to observe tiny vortices as the seeds swirled around in the widened root of the aorta. This allowed him to correctly posit that these vortices helped to close the aortic valve.

Since he never published his journals, this was not understood until the 20th century. In 1968, two engineers in Oxford demonstrated it. The only reference in the paper was to Leonardo.

His studies of anatomy may have proved useful in helping him develop some of his inventions.

For instance, by studying how muscles worked, he may have gained insight into how to approximate human motion using mechanical means.

33-Barreled Organ

This is often referred to as a machine gun, however, it is not the same kind of “machine gun” we know today. It was composed of 33 small-caliber guns, likely hand muskets.

These 33 guns were divided into three rows of 11 guns each. They were connected to a revolving platform and attached to this platform were large wheels.

All 33 guns would be loaded and then all 11 guns from the first row would be fired. The platform was then rotated so that the next row of guns could be aimed. The first row of guns could then cool down and the third row could be loaded and ready to fire.

But why is it referred to as an organ? It is because the rows of guns resemble the pipes of an organ.

33-barralled organ
The 33-Baralled Organ

As far as we know, one of these has not been built in modern times, unlike some of his other inventions. However, we can imagine it would have made an effective and deadly weapon of war.


This huge bronze horse was commissioned in 1482 by the Duke of Milan and was to be 24-feet tall.

The construction of this mammoth horse required making it out of a solid piece of bronze coming in at 80 tons.

Leonardo used his experience of building bronze cannons to help plan how to build the bronze horse. It required him to invent new mold-making techniques and an innovative oven to reach the high temperatures required to melt so much bronze.

Leonard da Vinci horse sketch
Leonardo knew a great deal about horses and how they moved.

Leonardo had finally solved all the problems required to create the huge horse when tragedy struck. In 1494, King Charles invaded France. In order to delay King Charles,  the Duke offered King Charles a bribe of the bronze set aside for the creation of the horse.

Which was less than helpful, as the French simply used the bronze to make cannons.

In 1977, a retired airline pilot and artist, one Charles Dent decided to create the horse. He spent 17 years working on it before he died in 1994.

However, in 1999, the horse was completed and gifted to the people of Milan in Italy.