What’ll Happen in Game of Thrones, Season 6…

…is something I honestly don’t know. Humans are well-known to be bad at predictions, whether it’s serious things like stock markets, elections, personal life etc., more light-hearted stuff like movies and so on, or dead-or-alive matters like the plot of the next season of “Game of Thrones”. Nevertheless, I am going to present some speculations here, and act as if I am pretty confident in them. (I would actually be surprised if any of them came true.) Please consider that a) I haven’t read the books, so anything I say might be rendered irrelevant by information contained in them and b) I do not possess extensive knowledge of other people’s fan theories, so it’s possible I will say things many other people have said before me. Also, this is obviously going to contain spoilers for the previous five seasons of the show, which I will assume the reader has seen:

The North: The previous two seasons featured at least four ambiguous deaths that could play a role here – Sandor “The Hound” Clegane, Stannis Baratheon and Theon Greyjoy/Sansa Stark’s jump from the wall of Castle Winterfell. The Hound was left for dead by Arya Stark, yet we never saw his corpse. Moreover, when the Brotherhood without Banners set him free in Season 3, he was told that “the Lord of Light is not yet done with you”, indicating he should be set to play a much bigger role than he has so far. Perhaps the strongest indication that Sandor Clegane is still alive is that Rory McCann, the actor who played him, is suspiciously missing from the “The Fallen” panel for Season 4 of the show. Stannis Baratheon, in the Season 5 finale, was found by Brienne of Tarth after he had lost the battle for Winterfell, and she sentenced him to death for the murder of his brother Renly. We did see her swing her sword towards his head, and we did hear a dull sound, but we never saw her sword connect, and the sound could have been from someone who snuck up on her and struck her down before she could finish the job. If so, that person could be The Hound. The third one, also from the Season 5 finale, is Theon and Sansa’s jump from the battlements of Winterfell, after killing Ramsay Bolton’s lover Myranda before. I think these deaths are actually going to hold up, and they will not miraculously survive the fall. (The only plausible scenario I can imagine for that is Bran Stark taking over the brain of some kind of very large bird and saving them, but it’s questionable if he could yet do that, and this kind of thing is also pretty lame when no dragons are involved.) Taken together, that leads me to the following scenario:

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Regarding the Tim Hunt Controversy

I really wanted not to comment on this, but as I follow a number of scientists and science journalists on Twitter, I still constantly get this topic in my timeline, and I find some of what is written on it troubling to an extremely high degree. This is going to be long, and I might say something to deeply anger or offend any conceivable reader along the way, so read it at your own risk. Here it goes:

As my readership (if it yet existed) may have heard, Nobel Prize winning biochemist Tim Hunt recently came under fire for his remarks in a speech at a luncheon organized by the Korea Federation of Women’s Science and Technology Associations. Citing his apparent reputation as a “chauvinist”, he told his audience about his “trouble with girls”, culminating in the remark that “three things happen when they are in the lab: you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them, they cry”, and a demand to separate scientific laboratories by sex.

Now, I agree that this was a terrible thing to say, particularly given the audience. You don’t have to be a feminist or sympathizer of feminism (I most definitely am not, and it will probably be apparent from this article) to see that there is something wrong with portraying grown-up women as overly sensitive girls who will perpetually cry about criticism. Hunt has defended himself by claiming his statements were intended to be humorous, and I personally believe him, but there is still a little problem with that excuse: They are virtually indistinguishable from what someone who actually believed these things would say. So at the very least, he didn’t think through remarks that he must have known concerned a sensitive topic. Unlike last year’s extremely abstruse “scandal” revolving around a space engineer’s somewhat unprofessional choice of attire, this is a case were I actually can sympathize with sharp reactions to a senior male scientist’s behaviour towards female colleagues.

Yet, the reaction has been taken to a point where at least two aspects of all this seem objectionable to me:

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Seven Conspiracy Theories, Presented Without a Shred of Evidence

(The following theories are mostly stuff I thought up in my more paranoid moments. Aside from evidence, they also often lack internal logic and consistency, so it should, by all experience, be possible to get a lot of people to passionately believe in them.)

1. The Mayan prophecy was actually correct and the world did end on December 21, 2012. What we are currently living in is purgatory.

2. You don’t know that many people. You may think that you are constantly meeting new folks, but actually, it’s all just a small band of incredibly versatile actors (kind of like the movie “The Truman Show” on steroids). The reason that both that girl you met on vacation and one of your university professors occasionally remind you of your mother is that they are, in fact, all the same person. “What if you got all of them to gather in the same room?”, you may foolishly ask. Well, ever heard of camera tricks?

3. You are never going to die. Instead, there is an infinity of parallel universes, and each of them, for every event that would kill you, splits up into one world where the event happened and some other world where the event is prevented by some crazy coincidence. Normally, when history branches in two like that, each of the new parallel universes would contain a version of you that thinks of herself as continuing your life, but if in one universe, you have ceased to exist, no version of you can have the feeling of living on in the new universe. Thus, your subjective experience is that you always continue your existence in some universe and, hence, never die, even as you eventually watch all people you ever knew die (who, of course, will also subjectively live eternal lives of their own).

(Like all theories on this list, I believe this one is a stupid idea, but if I ever celebrate my 1000st birthday, I will actually start to get suspicious.)

4. “Game of Thrones” is actually set in the prehistoric Marvel comics universe, and the Starks of Winterfell are ancestors of Iron Man. Because he is Tony Stark, remember? Also, Atlantis exists in the Marvel comics and is supposed to have been the size of modern Australia until it sank into the ocean 21,000 years ago, so maybe it’s identical to Westeros. (This of course assumes that there will be any surviving Starks left by whatever time GoT ends.)

5. Procrastinating on important tasks is not what it seems. Actually, you constantly get involved in secret missions to save the world from serious global threats (pandemics, zombies, aliens, or whatever). Afterwards, your memories of all that happened are wiped and replaced by recollections of you wasting time in front of a computer. So if you ever failed an exam, it’s because you put the greater good of humanity above your own selfish desires.

6. People constantly go back in time and repeat some period of their life again. They just don’t usually notice, as these “periods” are extremely short, typically only a few nanoseconds.

7. Earth is a sphere, but we live on the inside. This so-called “hollow earth theory” actually isn’t original to me.

“The Big Bang Theory” References Explained – Part 1

The CBS sitcom “The Big Bang Theory” is, among other things, particularly remarkable for its many references to physics, science, the “geek culture” it portrays, and even subjects like history or philosophy, the first scientific allusion of course already being its very title. So I thought it might be fun to research some of them and explain them here. I tried not to assume too much prior scientific knowledge beyond basic arithmetic, not even simple algebra. Perhaps that also means I will have to ask better-informed readers for their patience. This is intended to be the first of several parts (probably three or four). Here it goes:

1. Free fall and basic classical mechanics

Let’s begin with a scene from “The Gorilla Experiment” (Season 3, Episode 10): Penny, the only non-scientist main character of the show, wants to surprise her physicist boyfriend Leonard by trying to understand what he’s working on. She therefore asks his string theorist roommate Sheldon to tutor her in physics, but is quickly lost:

Sheldon: Now, remember, Newton realized Aristotle was wrong, and that force was not necessary to maintain motion, so let’s plug in our 9.8 meters per second squared as a, and we get force – earth gravity – equals mass times 9.8 meters per second per second. So, we can see that m x a equals m x g, and what do we know from this?

Penny: We know that… Newton was a really smart cookie… Oh! Is that where Fig Newtons come from?

Sheldon: No. Fig Newtons are named after a small town in Massachusetts… No don’t write that down! Now, if m x a equals m x g, what does that imply?

Penny: I don’t know.

Sheldon: How can you not know, I just told you! […]

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