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Tried this topic on several fora, mostly to no avail. Got to be worth another shot here.

Which question in science has always bugged you? Hack is in the house.



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I sometimes listen to the Dr Karl science phone-in on Radio 5 at 3am on Thursdays. It bugs me when yet another caller rings in to ask about relativity or quantum mechanics.

I inwardly curse about the callers - both of those subjects are very difficult to understand and the only way to try is to read about them and contemplate for a while - and usually still fail to grasp the idea. :): Wanting a two minute explanation on the radio isn't very sensible.

Lots of things still aren't know about but generally I either know where research is heading or about various theories about things. But none of the problems themselves actually bug me. :)

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Scientific certainty in the existence of a "light speed" bothers me - in particular, the notion of the speed of light being a "universal constant".

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ghostgirl wrote:Scientific certainty in the existence of a "light speed" bothers me - in particular, the notion of the speed of light being a "universal constant".


Well of course time adjusts to make it constant. :) Except near an event horizon though where anomalies have been suspected. :D

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Two things:

Firstly, neither of those is a question.

Secondly, certainty is not a feature of science.

GhostGirl wrote:Scientific certainty in the existence of a "light speed" bothers me - in particular, the notion of the speed of light being a "universal constant".


Well, this isn't certainty, it's a model. Like all models in science, it is provisionally accepted.

The thing is that 'light speed' is a bit of a misnomer. It implies that there is something special about 'light', when this simply isn't the case. Light is a red herring in this respect. It isn't light that is special, it's the speed, and it's a consequence of the structure of spacetime, which is demonstrated.



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hackenslash wrote:Tried this topic on several fora, mostly to no avail. Got to be worth another shot here.

Which question in science has always bugged you? Hack is in the house.



Good question, and here's my perpetual bugbear.....

The question of "infinity"


Not the 'mathematical infinity', because the concept of always being able to add or subtract to or from a number has mever been a problem to get my head around.


My 'bug' with infinity is regarding the concept of it's physical existence.


Take our universe. On the one hand it's almost credible to claim that it 'exploded' from a singularity adn both time and space as we experience it to have started at that point, but logicaly there must have been some event that triggered this. Even if that event was in a different zone to our spacetime. ( that could be anything from a species in a mother inverse creating a computer simulated universe to a a universal black hole from a previosu universe enduring a critical mass where it's singularity repeats a cycle of expansion/collapse )

Or there might be a mother universe that has a system of spawning many sub-universes, perhaps each resulting in different physical constants, so that only a tiny fraction of those universes becomes one similar to ours.

I could go on infinitely ( :) ) about the various permutations, but the common denominator is an event trigger. The only other alternative is spontaneous 'existence' out of absolutely nothing. Anything else would mean a pre-event.


I cannot get my head around "spontaneous 'existence' out of absolutely nothing" but neither can I can my head around the concept of infinity where there's ALWAYS been a pre-event.

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Well yes, but time in our perception is measured by physical movement - of planets and atoms. Before the 'big bang', if that was the start of our universe, then there was no time as nothing was happening.

The infinity of space is another problem, it seems to me that some think that we live in a limited amount of space, and though even if it is a very, unimaginably massive space, still has limits. :confused:

I'd prefer to think that space is infinite. But then again I'd prefer to think that time is infinite as well. But that is impossible as we'd never have got to where we are now. Numbers can be infinitely big but they always start with zero.

We are very restricted, having only our five senses and quite limited reasoning powers. I'm sure there are plenty of things we know nothing about beyond what we can appreciate.

I keep coming back to the idea of a sort of God figure who created the universe. Obviously not the bloke with the white beard sat on a cloud but some type of force. That type of being could create space and time, maybe on an idle whim.

Though I dunno why he bothered unless he/she/it got very bored of living with nothing to watch on TV. :rofl:

Though maybe Hack can enlighten us all with a brand new theory of 'life, the universe and everything'. :)

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diablo wrote:Well yes, but time in our perception is measured by physical movement - of planets and atoms. Before the 'big bang', if that was the start of our universe, then there was no time as nothing was happening.


But this is my point, if 'nothing' was happening then there couldn't have been anything to trigger the big bang, so something ( even if it was a supernatural being or a physical entity in a mother universe ) must haev existed to trigger it



The infinity of space is another problem, it seems to me that some think that we live in a limited amount of space, and though even if it is a very, unimaginably massive space, still has limits. :confused:

I'd prefer to think that space is infinite. But then again I'd prefer to think that time is infinite as well. But that is impossible as we'd never have got to where we are now. Numbers can be infinitely big but they always start with zero.


In mathematics numbers start with minus infinity. Where Zero is the just the boundary between negative and positive But then you've got imaginary numbers based upon the square root of -1 which lie on a plane 90 Deg to real numbers.


We are very restricted, having only our five senses and quite limited reasoning powers. I'm sure there are plenty of things we know nothing about beyond what we can appreciate.


I agree. It's all about what we can 'get our head around' -- We were born into 3 dimensions ( 4 with time ) so imagining a 5th dimension is beyond our brain's pay scale.

2 dimensional beings would have a similar problem imagining our 3 dimensions. No wonder your average 1 dimensional being like your typical Jeremy Kyle contestant has 'issues' :D :D


I keep coming back to the idea of a sort of God figure who created the universe. Obviously not the bloke with the white beard sat on a cloud but some type of force. That type of being could create space and time, maybe on an idle whim.


Electromagnetism and gravity are two such obvious forces that simply just exist. And becuase we are so used to them we never give them a second thought. Especially gravity. We are so used to an up and down world that we never think about what's happening when we drop something and it hurtles towards the floor. Or when we pick something up, it's weight is not how much mass it has but rather how big the force of gravity acting on it is pulling it down towards the ground.

I'm actually entertaining myself here picking things up and feeling that force of gravity.

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hackenslash wrote:Two things:

Firstly, neither of those is a question.

Secondly, certainty is not a feature of science.

GhostGirl wrote:Scientific certainty in the existence of a "light speed" bothers me - in particular, the notion of the speed of light being a "universal constant".


Well, this isn't certainty, it's a model. Like all models in science, it is provisionally accepted.

The thing is that 'light speed' is a bit of a misnomer. It implies that there is something special about 'light', when this simply isn't the case. Light is a red herring in this respect. It isn't light that is special, it's the speed, and it's a consequence of the structure of spacetime, which is demonstrated.


Light speed is the speed that light takes to radiate through a vacuum from one point to another. In a true vacuum, it is constant and it exists - light radiates from one point to another therefore a light speed exists, sound radiates from one point to another therefore a speed of sound exists - its not a theory, its observational science. Light has been observed radiating at light speed, thats how we know how fast it is. ;)

However in space the radiation (light is radiation) is affected by gravity, particles etc. which can slow it down.

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What has always bugged me about Science is this...

When the Enterprise comes out of maximum warp, why dosent Captain Picard fall out of his seat?

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Mr Squirrel wrote:What has always bugged me about Science is this...

When the Enterprise comes out of maximum warp, why dosent Captain Picard fall out of his seat?


Inertial dampeners.

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smeggypants wrote:
diablo wrote:Well yes, but time in our perception is measured by physical movement - of planets and atoms. Before the 'big bang', if that was the start of our universe, then there was no time as nothing was happening.


But this is my point, if 'nothing' was happening then there couldn't have been anything to trigger the big bang, so something ( even if it was a supernatural being or a physical entity in a mother universe ) must haev existed to trigger it
Well, my theoretical God 'force' wouldn't exist in time, as there would be no need for it if there is no matter and nothing moving around and changing. The matter we see is dissociated from its corresponding antimatter and if they meet they vanish up each other's arsehole, leaving absolutely nothing behind except some spare energy. So when the universe was in its perfect initial state there was no matter and no time, just a vast amount of energy. (IMHO)
The infinity of space is another problem, it seems to me that some think that we live in a limited amount of space, and though even if it is a very, unimaginably massive space, still has limits. :confused:

I'd prefer to think that space is infinite. But then again I'd prefer to think that time is infinite as well. But that is impossible as we'd never have got to where we are now. Numbers can be infinitely big but they always start with zero.


In mathematics numbers start with minus infinity. Where Zero is the just the boundary between negative and positive But then you've got imaginary numbers based upon the square root of -1 which lie on a plane 90 Deg to real numbers.

Negative and imaginary numbers are very useful mathematical tools, but you cannot have a negative number of oranges in the real world. Time is measured by movement and has to start from the first millisecond. :)


We are very restricted, having only our five senses and quite limited reasoning powers. I'm sure there are plenty of things we know nothing about beyond what we can appreciate.


I agree. It's all about what we can 'get our head around' -- We were born into 3 dimensions ( 4 with time ) so imagining a 5th dimension is beyond our brain's pay scale.

2 dimensional beings would have a similar problem imagining our 3 dimensions. No wonder your average 1 dimensional being like your typical Jeremy Kyle contestant has 'issues' :D :D


I keep coming back to the idea of a sort of God figure who created the universe. Obviously not the bloke with the white beard sat on a cloud but some type of force. That type of being could create space and time, maybe on an idle whim.


Electromagnetism and gravity are two such obvious forces that simply just exist. And becuase we are so used to them we never give them a second thought. Especially gravity. We are so used to an up and down world that we never think about what's happening when we drop something and it hurtles towards the floor. Or when we pick something up, it's weight is not how much mass it has but rather how big the force of gravity acting on it is pulling it down towards the ground.

I'm actually entertaining myself here picking things up and feeling that force of gravity.


Gravity wouldn't have existed at the start of the universe either, I cannot imagine what my supposed God force is really like - in the same way as a microbe cannot grasp the idea of a horse - or even a horseburger when it was actually living in one.

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hackenslash wrote:Two things:

Firstly, neither of those is a question.


Sorry, I don't understand why you made this statement, - as far as I know, you didn't state that I must pose a question.

Secondly, certainty is not a feature of science.

GhostGirl wrote:Scientific certainty in the existence of a "light speed" bothers me - in particular, the notion of the speed of light being a "universal constant".


Well, this isn't certainty, it's a model. Like all models in science, it is provisionally accepted.

The thing is that 'light speed' is a bit of a misnomer. It implies that there is something special about 'light', when this simply isn't the case. Light is a red herring in this respect. It isn't light that is special, it's the speed, and it's a consequence of the structure of spacetime, which is demonstrated.


Alright, I'll be more careful with my wording in future.

Firstly, I absolutely agree that certainty is not a feature of science, since Heisenberg's uncertainty principle forbids such a notion. There again, I suppose the title of this thread doesn't really suit me either, in the sense that nothing about science "bugs" me, exactly. That's not the word I would use to describe my feelings about the general term... 'science'. As an aside, tho, I am immensely curious about whether, and if so how, the challenge of the unification of Relativity with Quantum Mechanics might resolve itself.

Secondly, I did not mean to imply anything at all, least of all that there was something 'special' about light speed. I'm aware that the maximum speed at which light can travel is considered to be as a consequence of the structure of space-time.

But ok, let's get to the point about 'light speed' I didn't really have time to properly put words to last evening...

Take my eyes (or possibly my mind, if we want to more accurately describe the point at which "I" become aware of the phenomena) as being the receptacle of an incoming beam of light, travelling towards me from an external source - so that my eyes/mind becomes the destination, as it were, - and let's say that this beam of light takes 5 minutes to each me from it's source. Now let's imagine another beam of light reaching me from a source that's a much greater distance away, and coming from the opposite direction. And then let's add yet more beams of light, all coming from every direction imaginable, and all reaching Me from some random distance away, but of course all reach me simultaneously. Does this scenario imply that my eyes/mind - the destination - is 'the present', and that any physical distance outwards from my eyes/mind, is to be considered to be at least some time in the past, effectively making Me the centre of the Universe, or, rather, I should say, the most recent point the Universe?

Now, let's say that my eyes are currently observing a photograph of a lit candle framed against a distant star-filled night sky, - a photograph is generally assumed to capture a single instant in time, - but what is it a single instant of? The picture captures light entering the lens of the camera, but the light entering the lens from the lit candle arrives from a very short distance away, whereas the light from the distant stars behind the candle has travelled a much greater, not to mention very varied, - distance. What does this say about the developed 'image', - has it indeed 'captured an instant in time'? Or is that notion inherently inaccurate, - a lie, in fact, - since the stars I can clearly see in the picture are no longer in the same position relative to the lit candle that the image implies?

My question, then, becomes, "What is 'an instant' in time?" Is there is even such a thing as an instant in time? Is a stationary photon, which unfortunately blinks out of existence the very 'instant' it becomes still, nevertheless the best description of an instant that we have? If we cannot explain an instant, then what is the sum of 1 instant + 1 instant? Can we add instants together at all? Is 'motion' considered to be the sum of many discrete instants linearly strung together? Is a beam of light really 'in motion' at all? Does it have a speed? Or is it a stream of discrete instants reaching out through space-time, not moving at all, yet removed from Me by ever greater distances? What is the difference between 'distance' and 'time'?

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[url]Article Source[/url]DNA some weird fuckers! Out their :eek:

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I think you forgot the actual link, Dolls :)

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smeggypants wrote:Take our universe. On the one hand it's almost credible to claim that it 'exploded' from a singularity adn both time and space as we experience it to have started at that point, but logicaly there must have been some event that triggered this.


It's a tricky one, to be sure. There are several issues here, though. The first is that the singularity has never actually been established, and is somewhat problematic. It's a feature of a theorem devised by Hawking and Penrose, yet neither man actually supports the notion any longer, nor have they done for some considerable time. The problem with the theorem is that it relies on a purely relativistic treatment of the the Big Bang theory, but that runs into massive issues as the scale of the cosmos gets to quantum scales. Quantum Mechanics actually has the singularity as asymptotic, which means that it can be approached but never actually reached. Either way, a proper treatment of the cosmos when it reaches the smallest scales, and certainly by the time we get to Planck scales, requires a quantum theory of gravity, and we don't have one of those yet.

There are several extant models dealing with what came before the Big Bang, and not all of them feature a singularity.

Thing is, if you remove the singularity, there's no reason to conclude that time began at the Big Bang. In fact, even with the singularity, there's no reason for such a conclusion, one would only conclude that the singularity didn't experience time. We have entities within our cosmos that don't experience time, namely photons (and any other particles with a zero rest mass, because particles with a zero rest mass must travel at c, meaning that all their motion is through space, and none of it through time), yet time still runs in the cosmos.

Even if that event was in a different zone to our spacetime. ( that could be anything from a species in a mother inverse creating a computer simulated universe to a a universal black hole from a previosu universe enduring a critical mass where it's singularity repeats a cycle of expansion/collapse )


The notion of collapse has been pretty much ruled out with the discovery that the expansion is accelerating. The current paradigm is that the universe will continue to expand until all matter is ripped apart and all that's left is a sea of photons. There are models that have another cycle after that, most notably the non-singular 'brane-worlds' hypothesis, which involves the collision of two poly-dimensional membranes as the energy input for the big bang.

Or there might be a mother universe that has a system of spawning many sub-universes, perhaps each resulting in different physical constants, so that only a tiny fraction of those universes becomes one similar to ours.


Well, the currently accepted iteration of Big Bang theory is just such a theory. It's called 'inflationary theory', and it solves some long-standing problems of cosmology, most notably the 'horizon' problem and the 'flatness' problem.

[I could go on infinitely ( :) ) about the various permutations, but the common denominator is an event trigger. The only other alternative is spontaneous 'existence' out of absolutely nothing. Anything else would mean a pre-event.

I cannot get my head around "spontaneous 'existence' out of absolutely nothing" but neither can I can my head around the concept of infinity where there's ALWAYS been a pre-event.


Well, the idea of 'absolutely nothing' is not an idea that's taken seriously by physicists and cosmologists, not least because the persistence of 'nothing' is prohibited by Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. That said, Hawking tells us that the net energy of the universe may actually be zero. The positive energy of all the matter and dark matter, balanced against the negative energy of gravity, and the equation runs to zero. The real question here is precisely what do we mean by 'energy'?

In physics, energy is simply defined as 'the ability to perform work'. So what's work? Well, it's essentially the equalisation of differentials. So, in the context of the Big Bang 'coming from nothing', we actually have something that doesn't even require a cause, and experimentally validated, to boot.

Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle has some interesting consequences, one of which is that particles can spontaneously pop into and out of existence. This is experimentally validated through the Casimir force. So, we have a scenario in which quantum fluctuations can lead to a nugget of mass, which subsequently undergoes expansion through inflation, and gives us the cosmos we see.

Other models also rest on experimentally validated principles, such as a quantum tunnelling event, which rests on exactly the same principle of tunnelling that your computer chips rely on for their operation.

As for an infinity of time, there isn't actually any problem with this, contrary to the wibblings of some religious apologists.



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diablo wrote:Well yes, but time in our perception is measured by physical movement - of planets and atoms.


That's how we measure it, but that doesn't actually have any bearing on what it is.

Before the 'big bang', if that was the start of our universe, then there was no time as nothing was happening.


Not a conclusion that stands up to scrutiny, in reality. There is no good reason to suppose that, even in a changeless universe, there is no time. Here's Alan Guth, formulator of inflationary theory, which is the current Big Bang paradigm:

Alan Guth wrote:So far, it's been made to sound, I think for the purposes of simplifying things, that until the cyclic model, all scientists had believed that the big bang was the origin of time itself. That idea is certainly part of the classic theory of the big bang, but it's an idea which I think most cosmologists have not taken seriously in quite a while. That is, the idea that there's something that happened before what we call the big bang has been around for quite a number of years... In what I would regard as the conventional version of the inflationary theory, the Big Bang was also not in that theory the origin of everything but rather one had a very long period of this exponential expansion of the universe, which is what inflation means, and, at different points, different pieces of this inflating universe had stopped inflating and become what I sometimes call pocket universes.


He goes on to say:

Alan Guth wrote:What we call the Big Bang was almost certainly not the actual origin of time in either of the theories that we’re talking about. … The main difference I think [between the inflationary theory and Neil and Paul's theory] is the answer to the question of what is it that made the universe large and smooth everything out. … The inflationary version of cosmology is not cyclic. … It goes on literally forever with new universes being created in other places. The inflationary prediction is that our region of the universe would become ultimately empty and void but meanwhile other universes would sprout out in other places in this multiverse.


Source, an interesting radio interview with Alan Guth and Neil Turok.

The infinity of space is another problem, it seems to me that some think that we live in a limited amount of space, and though even if it is a very, unimaginably massive space, still has limits. :confused:


Well, the problem here is that you seem to think that 'infinite' means 'without limits', which simply isn't the case. What it actually means is 'unquantifiably large', although in physics it mostly just means 'a really, really big number; no, bigger than that'.

I'd prefer to think that space is infinite. But then again I'd prefer to think that time is infinite as well. But that is impossible as we'd never have got to where we are now.


Absolutely not true. This is precisely the same as suggesting that there are no points on a line, which is clearly silly.

Numbers can be infinitely big but they always start with zero.


Several things wrong with this. Firstly, zero is a relatively recent concept, although that's a bit of a digression. The real problem is that number don't start with zero. If anything, they start with 1, but in reality, they don't start at all, becayse the negative integers are also infinite.

Cantor dealt with most of this a century ago. Ultimately, all problems in this region stem from thinking of infinity as a number. It isn't. It's more like a group of quantities that specifically aren't numbers, because there is more than 1 value for infinity. For example, there are infinitely many primes, yet not all integers are prime, which must mean that there are some infinities larger than others.

An interesting paper on infinity HERE (pdf), dealing specifically with whether or not an actual infinite can exist.

We are very restricted, having only our five senses and quite limited reasoning powers. I'm sure there are plenty of things we know nothing about beyond what we can appreciate.


Well, we have a good deal more than our five senses, not least in the technology that supplements those senses. More importantly, we don;'t actually know how limited our reasoning powers are, but they can't be that limited, not least because they have managed to elucidate Relativity and Quantum Mechanics, both of which are horribly counter-intuitive.

I keep coming back to the idea of a sort of God figure who created the universe. Obviously not the bloke with the white beard sat on a cloud but some type of force. That type of being could create space and time, maybe on an idle whim.

Though I dunno why he bothered unless he/she/it got very bored of living with nothing to watch on TV. :rofl:


Not really an idea that has any merit, IMO. It certainly doesn't have any epistemological value, or any explanatory power. It's an easy get out if you positively have to have an answer (or a non-answer, to be more accurate), but it isn't actually worth anything in knowledge terms.

Though maybe Hack can enlighten us all with a brand new theory of 'life, the universe and everything'. :)

:breaking:


Not I. No new theories from me. Just what the valid science tells us.



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Morgan le Fay wrote:Light speed is the speed that light takes to radiate through a vacuum from one point to another. In a true vacuum, it is constant and it exists - light radiates from one point to another therefore a light speed exists, sound radiates from one point to another therefore a speed of sound exists - its not a theory, its observational science. Light has been observed radiating at light speed, thats how we know how fast it is. ;)

However in space the radiation (light is radiation) is affected by gravity, particles etc. which can slow it down.


Not sure what the point of this post is, or how it answers the post you quoted, but none of this has any bearing on what I said. The point is that there is nothing particularly special about light, it's the speed that's special. Light is merely the thing we can point to that travels at that speed, though it isn't the only thing. Light travels at that speed because photons have zero rest mass, and all particles with zero rest mas must travel at c.

Incidentally, saying that 'it's not a theory, it's observational science' is horribly wrong. In science, a theory is not a guess, or a feeling, it's an explanatory framework encompassing all the facts, laws and hypotheses of a particular area of interest. Theory is pretty much the highest status achievable in science.



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More later.



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hackenslash wrote:
Morgan le Fay wrote:Light speed is the speed that light takes to radiate through a vacuum from one point to another. In a true vacuum, it is constant and it exists - light radiates from one point to another therefore a light speed exists, sound radiates from one point to another therefore a speed of sound exists - its not a theory, its observational science. Light has been observed radiating at light speed, thats how we know how fast it is. ;)

However in space the radiation (light is radiation) is affected by gravity, particles etc. which can slow it down.


Not sure what the point of this post is, or how it answers the post you quoted, but none of this has any bearing on what I said. The point is that there is nothing particularly special about light, it's the speed that's special. Light is merely the thing we can point to that travels at that speed, though it isn't the only thing. Light travels at that speed because photons have zero rest mass, and all particles with zero rest mas must travel at c.

Incidentally, saying that 'it's not a theory, it's observational science' is horribly wrong. In science, a theory is not a guess, or a feeling, it's an explanatory framework encompassing all the facts, laws and hypotheses of a particular area of interest. Theory is pretty much the highest status achievable in science.


My point was in response to Ghostie and yourself. You may notice that Ghostie (in the bit you just removed when you quoted ;) ) said she had a problem with the constantness of light speed, and you didn't address it, so I replied to your post.

Theory is not the highest status in science - a proven theory is. What I was saying was that light speed as a constant is proven and it is observable, and has been observed for the last 4 hundred years. I heartily apologise for not using language appropriate for you.

Whether long range weapon or suicide bomber a wicked mind is a weapon of mass destruction whether you're soar away sun or BBC 1 misinformation is a weapon of mass destruc you could a Caucasian or a poor Asian racism is a weapon of mass destruction whether inflation or globalization fear is a weapon of mass destruction whether Halliburton or Enron or anyone greed is a weapon of mass destruction we need to find courage, overcome inaction is a weapon of mass destruction

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