Posts Tagged ‘Physics’

Short review on ‘The Big Bang Theory’ episode ‘The Einstein Approximation’

February 3, 2010

Warning: For those who haven’t seen this episode, spoiler alert!

This is the first, and hopefully won’t be the last, of a series of short reviews I’ll try doing each week for ‘The Big Bang Theory’.

This week The Big Bang Theory (TBBT) episode ‘The Einstein Approximation’ came out,  and is the 14th episode of the show’s 3rd season.
Let me just start this quick and short review of the episode by further stating what the guys there and I have in common, apart from the quite obvious facts that we’re all geeks/nerds by heart.
Even before TBBT, I’ve admired and idolized Einstein myself, because of his great mental feats (which were of course, backed up by other physical theories and experiments at his time). Great because by just the power of his mind Einstein was able to revolutionize our lives and the 20th century, paving ways for faster transportation, not to mention telecommunication and computing, which drove and is still driving the information revolution today. And of course, so much more benefits which we more or less take for granted in our daily lives. In fact, Einstein is oftentimes synonymous with the word ‘genius’.
Einstein was also very much interested in philosophy and politics, not just physics. He’s written several books, articles, letters to people outside the scientific community. He also has a quirky sense of humor, as seen from this  picture of him. At first I thought this photo of Einstein was edited. But as it turns out it was really him, tongue hanging out and all. 🙂 It was at the time he was making fun of people taking pictures of him. Great stuff.

Silly Einstein
Of course Einstein is not without criticisms. Great and accomplished a scientist he maybe, history tells us he left much to be desired when it came to being a father or a husband.

Now, back to the episode review of TBBT. At this point I shall establish a partially objective, partially subjective point system of each episode based on the earlier 2 seasons (which I have watched at least 2 times…).
Let me just start off by saying this is a classic Sheldon episode, which is great in itself. Again we expected lots of ‘weird’ humor: Sheldon’s ability to complicate relatively simple things, as well as him belittling his friends, most noticeably Penny. Hilarious stuff once again. Bravo to TBBT production team.
Not a lot of scifi or comic book references were made though. But lines such as:

Howard: How long has he been stuck? (referring to Sheldon)
Leonard: Umm…intellectually about 30 hours, emotionally about 29 years.

And

Howard: Have you tried rebooting him? (referring to Sheldon)
Leonard: No I think it’s a firmware problem.

Are classics. 🙂

The part where Leonard and Sheldon were arguing inside the ‘ball play room’, with Sheldon going ‘bazinga’ everytime, was also hilarious.

Sheldon, and of course the rest of ‘the guys’ are fans of Einstein no doubt. Sheldon of course thinks he’s at the same level with Einstein so he tries to do what Einstein did in order to come at the epiphany that is the special theory of relativity: to work for a menial job so he can occupy his basal ganglia with a routine task so he can apparently free his pre-frontal cortex to solve his physics problem.

Another classic moment in this episode is the guest starring of Yeardley Smith, the not so well known voice actor behind the famous cartoon character Lisa Simpson (yes, in The Simpsons fame). Absolutely entertaining piece of the episode.

Another classic dialog is again with Sheldon and Penny:

Penny: What are you doing here?
Sheldon: A reasonable question. I asked myself, what is the most mind-numbing, pedestrian job conceivable? And 3 answers came to mind: toll booth attendant, an Apple Store “Genius”, and “What Penny does”. Now, since I don’t like touching other people’s coins, and I refuse to contribute to the devaluation of the word “genius”, here I am (meaning at the cheesecake factory).

Lines like these make me think of the real meaning and application of LOL. 🙂

I suppose myself and those guys, as well as the show’s production team, can’t help cracking jokes at Apple. 😀

Overall I’d give this episode the following scores:

* reference to sci-fi, comic books, and other geek/nerd pop culture: 6/10

* reference to physics and other fields of science: 9/10

* dialog humor factor: 9/10

* techie/technology factor: 8/10

which gives an overall score of: 8/10

🙂

Holey Space

November 8, 2009

Nope that’s not a typo and this isn’t technically about religion. This post is about holes in space, namely black holes, wormholes, and the lesser known white holes, and their implications to the physical and metaphysical. The arrangement or flow of exposition of this article, from black to worm to white hole, will become much clearer as you read along the article. So get ready for a quick rundown on holes (cosmic ones of course), thought experiments, sci-fi love, paradoxes, and various possible implications in our lives and the universe we live in.

(more…)

Falling In Love: The Physics Of Attraction

October 12, 2009

This article discusses why the colloquial expressions such as “That’s why I gravitate towards you”, “I’m falling for you”, and “She is attracted to me” can be quite scientifically accurate. The following article muddles up the meanings of casual words like “falling” and “attraction” with the currently accepted theories, studies, and findings of physics on the related matters. I’ve done something like this before , similar in fashion to how the word “God” is poetically and figuratively used in relation to the “religious”  views of Einstein, Stephen Hawking, and other physicists . This time, it’s love. 🙂

First we have Space-Time

Space-time or spacetime is a mathematical model that you get when you combine the 3 dimensions of space with a 4th one,  the dimension of time.  In a nutshell, space-time is similar to a landscape where a point locates an event i.e. a 3 dimensional location + the time when it happened, instead of just a usual, spacial point in space like in maps, even if it’s a 3D map. Since space-time involves 4 dimensions, even most scientists find it very hard to imagine what 4 dimensions would look like, since us humans are accustomed to only 3 dimensions of our space. We always look at time as something that is fixed and unchanging. Newton certainly did when he wrote the laws of motion. One of the most impressive feats of Einstein was that he showed this was not so, and that time is as maleable as space.

To see this graphically, observe the image above. Since scientists are only humans, they have difficulties imagining warped 4 dimensions, and so 2 dimensional analogs are used, which are enough to illustrate the point. The image above shows a distortion in space-time.  These imaginations of space-time were first thought of as what are famously now known in science as thought experiments, with one of the most popular users being Albert Einstein himself.

Then there’s Gravity

General relativity describes gravity as a curvature in space-time and that, again in a nutshell,  gravity is a dent in space. To further picture this, consider again the image above. Ordinary matter, which makes up everything we see in the universe, causes space-time to warp and bend around it. The more matter there is in a given object or point, the more warping, denting,  and bending of space time, and therefore the stronger the gravity. The image shows the Earth, which is relatively quite massive, making a dent in the space-time continuum, thus creating a gravitational effect which pulls us, the moon, and other objects in space towards it, even including the Sun. The Sun of course has the strongest gravity or pull in the Solar system, since it’s the most massive object in it. Again, remember that the image is just a 2D analog of a 4D space-time continuum. The Earth does not immediately plummet towards the Sun since the Earth has its own gravity, which counteracts the Sun’s pull. But nevertheless the Earth is slowly circling down the drain/dent of the Sun in the space-time continuum (Sun’s gravity) and in a few billion years, the Earth and everything less massive than the Sun will quite likely plummet towards it. In other words, gravity is just an illusion since we can’t quite really conceive a 4th dimension in our minds, and that gravity is really just a warping of the space-time continuum.

You can then further imagine or create a thought experiment that other less or more massive bodies than the Earth in the Solar system create their own dents or warps in space-time. These include the other planets, asteroids, and even us humans, albeit in a very minute fraction only.

In fact, one of the suggested ways of mitigating a future asteroid impact on Earth is based on the premise that mass causes denting or warping in space-time. The gravity or gravitational tractor, as it is known, deflects an asteroid many years prior to its impact on Earth, by simply hovering or “parking” beside the asteroid. This form of asteroid mitigation does not really require cutting edge scientific discoveries or engineering feats, it does not need to physically contact the asteroid, and does not necessitate the need for the mechanical and structural composition of the asteroid in advance. Simply put, it works by allowing the relatively massive object, the gravity tractor, to “pull” the asteroid towards a direction which will lead it away from a future Earth impact. The “pull” comes from the fact that, slowly but surely, the tractor’s warping of space imposes a pull, albeit tiny, to the nearby asteroid.

Finally, Falling in Love

So, by now perhaps you’ve already surmised my coy and sly use of the words “falling” and “attraction” with respect to falling in love, as well as how physics currently views gravity and space-time. In other words, geeks and nerds like me often joke about how a girl could “fall” for you if you simply sit near her, since you do have mass, however minute. That mass of yours will eventually make her notice you, or perhaps not, but it will certainly impose a “pull” on her towards you, or vice versa. Of course technically speaking, it will take millions to billions of years before the more massive one between you two finally pulls the other. In this case, it’s better if you just ask her out, and that sometimes physicists, geeks, and nerds like me don’t really give that much good an advice. Still, as I mentioned earlier in this article, phrases such as “I’m falling for you” and “We’re attracted to each other” are quite scientifically accurate. Ah, love in geek or nerd speak. So romantic. 🙂

Which brings to mind the fascination of some men in today’s times to skinny women. Based from what I’ve pointed out here, it’s physically (by this I mean in physics) understandable why some men would prefer heavier or more massive women, but what about skinny women? I suppose the social sciences have more to learn and discuss in these matters. 🙂

Resources, references, and further reading:

Quite Quotable Quotes: The Big Bang Theory

July 29, 2009

The Big Bang Theory (TBBT) is undoubtedly my favorite sitcom so far. I’ve never really been into sitcoms actually. Some of the last few ones I watched were (believe it or not) Seinfeld, Fraser, and Friends, and I didn’t really get into them that much. I just watched a few episodes here and there, usually with my dad or with my sister when we were much younger. TBBT has fervently rekindled my attention towards sitcoms, in such a magnitude I can only describe as the energy needed to accelerate an electron to 0.99% the speed of light 🙂

Needless to say, there are quite a lot of sources on the Internet for what TBBT is all about. Wikipedia or a simple Google search or a quick visit to the official site should do fine for a start. What it is to me however, is a brilliant show that combines geeks, nerds, comic books, sci-fi, technology, physics , science, and jokes together, and still be absolutely entertaining and humorous. In other words, much as what the Gay Liberation has done to reinvigorate gay pride, TBBT has reinvigorated the geek pride in me. The writers and producers are themselves geeks and nerds, watch Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica and read comic books. But they also treat the characters in the show with such respect that even if you’re not one of “them” (or in this case, one of “us”), you’d still find respect for them (or “us”). TBBT has I think, no doubt inspired many reluctant geeks and nerds, not just in America but across the globe where TBBT is being shown, to go out and be really proud to be geeks.

Without further ado, here are some of my favorite quotes from the first season:

From the season 1 Pilot episode:

Leonard: We need to widen our circle.
Sheldon: I have a very wide circle. I have 212 friends on myspace.
Leonard: Yes, and you’ve never met one of them.
Sheldon: That’s the beauty of it!

And yet another from the same episode:

Penny: I’m a Sagittarius, which probably tells you way more than you need to know.
Sheldon: Yes, it tells us that you participate in the mass cultural delusion that the sun’s apparent position relative to arbitrarily defined constellations at the time of your birth somehow affects your personality.
Penny: (puzzled) Participate in the what?

And another:

Sheldon: Okay, look, I think you have as much of a chance of having a sexual relationship with Penny as the Hubble telescope does of discovering that at the center of every black hole is a little man with a flashlight searching for a circuit breaker. Nevertheless, I do feel obligated to point out to you that she did not reject you. You did not ask her out.

another:

Leonard: (talking about him and Penny) Our children will be smart and beautiful.

Sheldon: Not to mention imaginary.

And from the succeeding episodes:

Sheldon: You have to check your messages, Leonard! Leaving a message is one-half of a social contract, which is completed by the checking of the message. If that contract breaks down, then all social contracts break down and we descend into anarchy.
Leonard: It must be hell inside your head.
Sheldon: At times.

Wolowitz: If it’s “creepy” to use the Internet, military satellites, and robot aircraft to find a house full of gorgeous young models so I can drop in on them unexpected, then FINE, I’m “creepy”.

😀

Secularism and Physics on Death and Immortality

September 16, 2008

This post has the following readability test scores:

Flesch Reading Ease: 63.93
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 9.00
Automated Readability Index: 9.00

For more info about readability tests, check out my post about those here.

The premise: a problem

It has been said over and over again, as a defense or even as a backlash, by religious men and women that religion has a curative and comforting utility to humankind like no other. It has also been said over and over again by secular people and rationalists that however comforting some belief or idea is, it nevertheless adds nothing to the truth value of the belief or idea. That secularism offers nothing more than a skinny comfort blanket amidst the cold and pouring rain at best. That may well be true, and indeed it leads me to believe that it all boils down to what we really want: happiness or the truth. Happiness may not necessarily be true or what’s really happening, and having the truth may not necessarily make one happy. This conflict reminds me of the doggedly proverbial “The truth hurts” and The X-Files’ “The truth is out there”. This conflict also reminds me of the struggle in the movie The Matrix, wherein to know the truth, one has to be ‘removed’ from the confines of the complacency brought about by the virtual reality of the machines who have taken over. Once one has learned the truth, which involves living as a fugitive or freedom fighter wearing mostly ragged clothing near the center of the Earth, one is left to wonder if it would have been better to have stayed in the fantasy reality, even though it’s all make-believe. I guess it wouldn’t be so surprising considering the fact that human beings, like almost every other animal, are predisposed to follow what is certain to help in the continuation of its species. After all, speaking in a geological time scale, homo sapiens are but cells that have just fertilized, and are beginning to undergo cell division to form a larger animal.

The question

So then, if you will humor my ponderings, what could secularism possibly offer as an answer to one of the most profound questions we humans have asked since the dawn of our consciousness: What is death or what happens when we die? Do we survive death in some form or is there nothing after it?

Setting the mood

Quite a mouthful of questions, and ones that have plagued thinkers or philosophers for centuries upon centuries. But I think before I even begin to give my answer to those questions, a little ‘mood setter’ is in need. Some questions are too frank or too blunt in manner, which sometimes has the effect on the listener or the questioner of making one lose focus on the more relevant and apparent details. The mood setting quote is from the book Unweaving The Rainbow by prof. Richard Dawkins. It’s his reply to people who keep on ranting or complaining or fussing about their deaths. Everytime I read it, especially when I watched and heard prof. Dawkins read it with emotions in a talk at UC Berkeley, I cannot help but be moved by it’s message, wrapped around in romantic scientific prose:

We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people
are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The
potential people who could have been here in my place but who will
in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of
Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than
Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set
of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set
of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I,
in our ordinariness, that are here.

And continuing this passage in his talk:

We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state, from which the vast majority have never stirred.

Makes one (or at least myself) wonder if we even have the right to feel anger or guilt or even sadness by our undeniable demise.

Physics on death

An episode of The X-Files has agent Mulder talking to agent Scully about starlight. He says that starlight as we see it here on Earth is already billions of years old, and has traveled unimaginable distances (light-years). Stars that are now long dead, but whose light is still traveling through time. Mulder continues that perhaps that’s where souls (our souls, after we die) reside. Today, we know from physicists that the premise is correct (that starlight is very old and still keeps on traveling), but we can’t be certain (or perhaps not at all) about the succeeding statement of Mulder (about souls). Scully, Mulder’s partner, continues Mulder’s statements by saying that the light doesn’t die, and that maybe that’s the only thing that never does. Speaking in a purely Einsteinian fashion when dealing with spirituality and such, perhaps our ‘souls’ do reside in starlight, and in that sense our ‘souls’ do continue on forever.

Mulder’s statement

Taking the first statement into consideration, that ‘souls’ do reside in starlight, to be technical about it, we can probably say that it’s actually not starlight in our case but ‘planetlight’. We know that in order to see an object we have to shine light on it, after which the light bounces back, illuminating the object, back to our eyes. In the same sense, the Sun illuminates Earth at daytime, and at nighttime the Moon or our electrical/electronic devices light us up and our surroundings. In that sense light is shined on us, and so it is reflected back, which eventually reaches outer space and into the vast cosmos. In this way our ‘souls’ which in this case means our whole lifetime under some source of light, is ‘framed’ in a ‘wave’ of light cruising the universe. If there are intelligent lifeforms out there in the universe and they can’t come here due to technological constraints (same as our case), once they try viewing our part of the universe, what they’ll be seeing is planetlight (which is reflected starlight, the star being our Sun or light from some other source) containing us, our lifetimes, and our history. What they’ll be seeing of course depends on many factors such as how far they are from us, how sensitive their viewing instruments are, what time they tried viewing us, among other things.

Scully’s statement

As for Scully’s statement, that starlight doesn’t die, technically speaking that can be true, since as long as photons don’t get smashed or absorbed, they keep on travelling in space, most likely till the edge of the universe and (our) time itself. However there is a limit to how long light can travel for one to be able to ‘reconstruct’ the data (in this case our ‘souls’) it carries with it. This is because as light travels, similar to a wave, it spreads across time and space. As the light spreads, at some point in the universe very distant from the light source, it will be nearly to absolutely impossible to know what information that light brought with it. In a word, the light will be too ‘stretched’ to make any sense out of it. This is similar to research being done on the Big bang. We are in an epoch of the universe where we can still study ‘cosmic background radiation’ (electromagnetic radiation, same as light) leading back to the Big bang. If we were a few millions of years late, we might not be able to analyze the data that comes along with the cosmic background radiation. And so Scully is partially correct since light can possibly not die, but the information in the light may become lost to us or someone viewing us.

Finally, physics on immortality

In essence, our ‘souls’, most of our memories, achievements, feats, and other things in our light-stricken lives continue to propagate into inter-stellar space. The propagation duration many orders of magnitude longer than any of our lifetimes combined, which could be treated as practically infinity, and in some ways, immortality.

Stephen Hawking, Theory of Everything, and Goedel’s Incompleteness theorem

April 13, 2008

This post has the following readability test scores:

Flesch Reading Ease: 63.63
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 8.00
Automated Readability Index: 9.00

For more info about readability tests, check out my post about those here.

Whew, it’s been a while since my last post. Work and a project (during and continuing till after the end of a semester) kept me really busy.

Anyway, this post is about the webpage containing prof. Stephen Hawking’s talk about his latest (AFAIK) stand on the search for the theory of everything, how Kurt Goedel’s incompleteness theorem/s influenced his opinion/view.

The speech in text format (1st reference link below), as you may immediately notice, is quite messy and seems to be unedited. I think that the speech laid out in the web page was just a speech-to-text conversion of prof. Hawking’s speech, which by the way you can download, so you can listen to his very iconic “electronic” voice. This speech-to-text conversion is quite evident I think since the starting letter of each sentence is not capitalized, and difficult words (at least for an American English speech-to-text program) such as Laplace (for the French mathematician) turn out to be spelled as Le-plass, which is what you would most probably get if you spoke into a speech-to-text synthesizer just like prof. Hawking’s.

As you may well know, a theory of everything (ToE) in physics aims to unify the four basic forces in the known universe, and which can, in theory, be used to predict anything that ever happened or will happen in the universe. My previous weblog post further clarifies this theory, or the search for it. I found the 1st reference link below when I Googled for “Stephen Hawking Theory of Everything”, hoping that I would be further enlightened about how the man labelled as “the brightest theoretical physicist since Albert Einstein” is going about searching for the ToE. I never expected that he would give up, in a sense, which for a while made me feel uncomfortable, though the feeling eventually disappeared. What made me feel uncomfortable was not because the universe is full of uncertainty and randomness we can’t explain (or at least not yet for some). What made me feel uncomfortable was that the man who so passionately sought for the ToE from his books and studies in the 70s and 80s (an example is the 2nd reference link below) has given up the search for the ToE.

But as I re-read the speech, Goedel’s incompleteness theorem hits the point in between the eyes. The great professor starts out (as he usually does) by discussing briefly the ideas that will prove to be necessary for his lecture’s whole point, including Quantum Chromodynamics (QCD), scientific determinism, Newton’s gravitational law, wave functions, etc. This is a style which I think he is famous for, and which is why his lectures are very popular and well sought after. His funny and comical inserts pop out once in a while to stir things a little bit.

Essentially, the gist of his lecture (as it would seem to me) is that there cannot be a single ToE, one which, as I’ve mentioned previously, will let us know what exactly happened at a specific point in our universe’s history, or what will happen to its future. The ToE should be able to tell you what you were thinking last night, or what you will think tomorrow night. Yes, the ToE is the theory of all theories. The problem however is that the human brain, as prof. Hawking puts it, is composed of so many parts made up of so many particles that we couldn’t possible compute what you’ll be thinking the next minute, even with the most powerful computers in the world today.

Prof. Hawking admits that until he realized the implication of Goedel’s incompleteness theorem, he implicitly assumed that a ToE will be found, probably relying on what can be referred to as “scientific intuition”. According to prof. Hawking, the positivist philosophy of science is that every good physical theory is a mathematical model, which he probably gets from Karl Popper and other positivist thinkers. And since, according to Goedel’s incompleteness theorems, there are mathematical results that cannot be proven, then so must there be physical theories that cannot be proven as well, including the ToE. Goedel’s incompleteness theorems essentially say that, as mentioned by prof. Hawkings himself, math is either inconsistent or incomplete. The professor bets his money (as he did in a previous debate with Kip Thorne decades ago) on the incomplete part of mathematics. Goedel’s theorems are proved using self-referring statements such as

“This sentence is false”

If the statement is true, then (the idea it implies) it is thus false. If the statement is false, then it is the opposite, meaning the idea the statement implies is true. Another would be to apply Bertrand Russell’s paradox on the barber paradox:

In a town which has a rule that the (only) barber shaves only all men that do not shave themselves, and doesn’t shave those who shave themselves. One can then ask, does the barber shave himself? If he does, according to the rule, he shouldn’t. If he doesn’t shave, according to the rule, he must shave himself.

Lastly, prof. Hawkings apologizes if anybody got/gets disappointed on his current view about the ToE. As I’ve said, I was initially disappointed, but considering his rationale about the search for the ToE, I turn out to be fine, though I still think he still leaves room in himself in case he makes a wrong prediction (just as he did in the 2nd reference link) that we might find the ToE in this decade. In his lecture in the 1980s regarding the discovery of the ToE, he said that we may find the ToE, and he’ll give another lecture about the ToE and where we stand 20 years later (which is now). Well, he did tell us where we stand, or at least what his view of where we stand in the search for the ToE. He also said then that once the ToE is found, physicists will lose their jobs, and physics will end. But according to his latest lecture, thanks to Goedel, mathematicians he said will always have a job, and most probably physicists too.

References:

Prof. Fidel’s take on my ‘Nobel laureate’ weblog post

March 9, 2008

Readability test scores for this post are as follows:

Flesch Reading Ease: 76.24
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 5.00
Automated Readability Index: 4.00

For more info about readability tests, check out my post about those here.

This post is just actually a copy-and-paste of my e-mail to Dr. (of science in mathematics) Fidel, and his reply, when I sent him the link to my post about my attendance to a Noble prize laureate presentation. I just wanted it to be placed here in my weblog before it gets buried in my inbox. Also, I just want to share our conversation to people out there who just might be interested in such things. Thanks to Dr. Fidel for allowing me to post this here in my weblog (^)___(^).

The following is my e-mail to Dr. Fidel about my weblog post I wanted him to read through/scan:

Hi sir,
I wrote a post on my weblog, and I was thinking you could consider reading
it as a reaction paper of sort (^)__(^) or even asking some of your students
or friends to check it out.
Anyway, any comment/feedback will be appreciated, that is, if you have the
time to spare (^)___(^) :
https://f241vc15.wordpress.com/2008/01/09/my-attendance-to-a-presentation-by-a-nobel-prize-laureate-in-physics/

And the next one is his reply (with my reply interspersed in between his paragraphs):

Thanks for this! Good to know that there were students in the audience
who appreciated and savored Gross’ talk. I enjoyed reading your post
and will email you my thoughts on the ideas he put forward one of
these days. Or we can discuss over coffee. It’s too bad — I
unfortunately dozed off a couple of times, and no matter how valiantly
I tried to keep awake, I couldn’t keep my eyes open. (Bad case of jet
lag and lack of sleep these last three nights.) But I enjoyed the
talk immensely. I wish I could invite him to talk in STS!

Savour would be a good term to describe it I guess (^)__(^)
It was really too bad Doc. It was too bad you weren’t awake the whole time sir. It was really cold at my seat but I endured it for the hour long or so presentation. I had little sleep too the night before, but my eyes were agape the whole time!

Just a few points, before I go to bed-

Gross is a true believer, convinced that physics is the stuff of life,
and that everything is comprehensible. But how different is this from
religion? His work rests on faith, not in some god, but on the
platonist idea that the world is orderly, governed by transcendent
laws that exists out there, independent of us. And how can it be
otherwise? Scientists like Gross cannot function without that faith.

Yes I agree. But we also need to create some distinction between religious faith and scientific faith. The main difference I would think is that the former is not based on fact or logical reasoning, unlike the latter. Would it seem then that we’re just entangled in a semantic web?

At best, the science community is a communit based on collegiality and
respect; Gross is right, the methods of science and the peer-review
system do provide some model of how democracy can work. At worst, it
is a brew of competing ideas and viewpoints; with each idea creating
tribes of adherents, renegades and heretics. The world is not as
orderly as Gross would want it to be.

which reminds me usually of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle…and how scientists like Einstein felt repugnant that no order can seemingly be found in the quantum mechanical world.

Einstein can be excused for dreaming about a world government. After
all, the WW2 had just ended and everyone was (or appeared to be) in
the business of putting the world together again. But alas, societies
don’t follow the laws of physics, and the UN, that prototype for world
government, has failed miserably in preventing war, famine and
inequality.

Yes I agree. Perhaps I should add that to my post, about how Einstein suggested (and to which prof. Gross agreed) a supranational government for the world to solve most of our problems.

I think intelligent design is creationism in cloaked in a lab gown.
The real source of the controversy over ID is that its proponents want
it taught in the classroom as science.

Yes as what has been happening in the United States, as recent as last year (and probably still continuing till today). Different states are trying to abolish the theory of evolution in favor of ID as early as primary education, which has caused significant personalities in the academe such as prof. Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris to put out books combating this ( i.e. The God Delusion by prof. Dawkins and A Letter to a Christian Nation by prof. Harris, both New York Times best sellers).

There! Again, thanks to Dr. Fidel. I feel much relieved now (^)___(^)

My attendance to a presentation by a Nobel prize laureate in Physics

January 9, 2008

Readability test scores for this post are as follows:

Flesch Reading Ease: 68.30
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 7.00
Automated Readability Index: 7.00

For more info about readability tests, check out my post about those here.

the first few paragraphs basically describe the place where the event happened, as well as the events that took place before the Nobel laureate presentation as well as how I express how geeky/nerdy I can be. The real meat of the weblog post starts after the title The Nobel laureate presentation

This post is about my recent attendance (just a few hours ago actually, before noon and before I had lunch) on a talk/presentation from a Nobel laureate for Physics. I must say that the feeling of being there, as well as the atmosphere of the event, felt better (and queerer) than any movie premiere I’ve ever been in. It was, in a word…cool.

I happened to be among the audience seated with professionals, students, and distinguished guests (local and foreign) in the academe for the conferment of the degree of Doctor of Science (Honoris Causa) to professor David Jonathan Gross, 2004 Nobel Laureate for Physics. The conferment was bestowed upon prof. Gross by the University of the Philippines (UP) in Diliman, in line with UP’s centennial celebration and the year long centennial lecture series. I consider myself very lucky to have witnessed the talk, and to have been a part of the ceremony itself.

The event started with the walk of the UP’s officials and a number of its brightest minds. After that was the singing of the country’s national anthem, followed by the performance of the world renowned UP Singing Ambassadors (UPSA). It was not the first time that I watched the performance of the UPSA, but unfortunately their performance then wasn’t the best I’ve seen/heard.

I must admit that the event appealed to me in a very geeky(slash)nerdy kind of way. The feeling that you get when you learn of the Emperor’s plans on the planet Tatooine, the feeling you get when youl learn of Saruman’s cunning plans and how he’s been duped as well, the feeling that you get when you finish prof. Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time and you understand most (if not all) the concepts, the feeling you get when you understand the profound implications Albert Einstein brought with him in his theory of relativity, freeing time from its prison and redefining how we look at the physical world, that’s how it felt. At least, to me. Whew.

Anyway, the main point of this weblog post is about the talk given by prof. Gross and the questions afterwards, so I’ll get onto it now.

 

The Nobel laureate presentation

The talk (on the list of events) was supposed to be on The Coming Revolutions on Fundamental Physics, but prof. Gross changed it, saying that he used up 1.5 hours on that presentation when he presented it in Thailand. He changed it to (sorry I forgot the exact title) a more general presentation regarding science in the 21st century, how far we’ve come, as well as the highlights on biology, medicine, etc. most notably of course, Physics. One of his jokes is about the fact that everything (social sciences, biology, chemistry, economics) basically boils down into Physics, then the audience bursts into laughter. His slides about global warming reminded me of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth.

Prof. Gross’ Nobel prize award together with 2 other colleagues, was for their contribution to the knowledge of the quantumly small. They introduced the theory of Quantum Chromodynamics (QCD), which is a major contribution to the Standard Model of particle physics. The Standard Model (SM) essentially describes (and has been experimentally verified a number of times over) the 3 out of the 4 fundamental interactions between elementary particles which makes all matter, including ourselves. These 3 are the strong nuclear force (the force that binds the particles in the atomic nucleus), the weak nuclear force (related to radioactive decay), and electromagnetism. So far only the interactions between those three have been understood and experimentally verified, while the fourth and seemingly elusive one (though probably not to us since we consciously/unconsciously interact with it in our scale of living) is gravity. So far those 4 have not been successfully unified in a single theory of everything. One of the highlights of prof. Gross and his colleagues’ work on QCD is the discovery that quarks (one of the 2 basic constituents of matter, the other one is the lepton) attract each other less when they’re drawn closer together, and attract (or pull if you will) all the more when moved apart from each other. That’s why no quark has been found floating by itself anywhere in the known universe, an aha! moment if you like. And yes it sounds weird and counterintuitive, but believe me it’s nothing compared to the other more weird interactions and predictions in the quantum mechanical world.

Overall, the presentation was as good as I expected it: it was humorous at times, touching not only on Physics but on poverty as well, global warming, what his country (the U.S.) and us in the scientific community and human beings as a whole can do to help our planet.

Another part of the lecture which really got my attention and interest was the part where the audience could ask questions. The questions came from students and professionals from different disciplines, and I must confess however that I think not all of them where well thought of. Or rather, their intentions for asking the question were good and well meant. It was just that they couldn’t formulate their questions in a better way, probably because of the time constraint and the pressure (after all, the respondent is a Nobel laureate nonetheless). It was also obvious that some of the questions were really prepared for well before the presentation, since they were quoting from famous books and ideas. I had also prepared a question and a back-up question, the night before the event. The following are the questions that were asked which excited, intrigued, and perhaps mesmerized me the most.

 

First question

The first question that sparked my interest was the question on intelligent design (ID). The question was from (I think) a student and was either a skeptic theist, an agnostic, or an atheist (yey!). I actually didn’t think of asking such a question to prof. Gross since it was not directly related to his talk and his field of work, but I’m glad somebody did. Prof. Gross answered by saying that ID can mean a lot of things, but he defined ID as the presumption that the universe and everything in it (including life) seem to have been crafted and guided by an external (supernatural) agent to become as it is today. He further answered the question that if we look and somehow understand (or at least try to do so) the intricacies, results and descriptions of different bodies of sciences, and how far they’ve gone in terms of removing the mist/shroud of mystery in our world, an external agent would be superfluous. Another thing he pointed out that if we were to sort of blame or hold responsible for the magnificence of our reality, an external agent, it would even be tantamount to even more unanswerable and absurd questions such as where did the external agent come from, etc etc. He ended his answer by saying that he finds it hard to believe in something that cannot be verified by logic, by science, by experimental data and that which is not reproducible (even in the mind, at the least).

My thoughts were: My goodness! Finally, somebody who openly talks about what I’ve been thinking about for a long time now. But I would also think that, as is my personal opinion, being someone who understands real academic science, if anything comes up in the support of ID (which I doubt), he still leaves a bit of skepticism for that. After all, similar to what he said, science is all about skepticism.

 

Second Question

The second question that caught my attention was the question from a professor about the so called theory of everything (ToE). Such a theory, in contrast to the Standard model of particle physics, aims to unify the 4 interactions mentioned previously. So far, nobody has been successful, since gravity has still remained un-unifiable with the rest of the 3 forces. The question was if we’ll ever find the theory, and which among the 3 predictions of prof. Stephen Hawking in one of his lectures (back in the 80s) prof. Gross agrees more. The 3 predictions of prof. Hawking on the discovery of the ToE are as follows :

 

1) There is a complete unified theory.

 

2) There is no ultimate theory, but there is an infinite series of theories which are such that any particular class of observations can be predicted by taking a theory sufficiently far down the chain.

 

3) There is no theory. Observations cannot be described or predicted beyond a certain point but are just arbitrary.

 

The professor who asked the question must’ve really prepared, since if I recall correctly, he asked his question with the exact words I used above (which I got from my book Stephen Hawking’s Universe: An introduction to the most remarkable scientist of our time by John Boslough which has as an appendix the lecture of prof. Hawking). Prof. Gross’ reply was that he’s an agnostic (at this point I wasn’t sure if he was agnostic in prof. Hawking’s predictions, or agnostic as a whole especially in terms of the belief in a supernatural deity, but I’m thinking it’s the former). He continued (wonderfully in my opinion) by first talking about explorers of the planet. At first he said that everybody thought the world was flat, and went on and on infinitely far (hmm…but some thought that we would fall of the edge if we get too far, anyway). Then people found out that when they explored further and further, they just came back to their starting point (you get the idea), and so the theory of geography that the Earth was spherical was finally laid into its firm place. People simply ran out of places in the planet to explore (in a sense), besides the fact that we can have measurements of the spheroidal shape of the planet, not to mention view it from space. His point was that we’ll know if we’re close to the ToE if we ourselves (or physicists at the least) run out of questions to ask. He continued by saying that nowadays, there is still a large space for questions to pop out of. So I would think that he’s implying we’re still not that close yet to the ToE. In the end, I don’t remember him saying he believes there really is a ToE, but I would think, given his optimism on the power of science, if there is one, we will find it.

Denouement

At this point, I was feeling ambivalent: I was a bit sad that I didn’t get to ask a question (because of time constraints and the number of people asking questions, damn) but I’m far happier since the questions I was supposed to ask got asked by other people anyway. My backup question was supposed to be this:

could you please share your thoughts on the profound implications on physics, and science in general, as well as humanity as a whole, once the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is hopefully completed this year?

Although there was one slide in prof. Gross’ presentation showing the LHC, it was only briefly mentioned. Too bad nobody inquired more about it. I really wanted to hear an expert’s thoughts on the LHC, especially since it’s inline with prof. Gross’ expertise.

One of the most memorable quotes he said/presented was that the best (if not one of the best) gifts of knowledge (which is the by-product of science he says) is ignorance. Counter-intuitive? You bet. Cool? indeed. What he was trying to mean was that the more we know and learn about our reality, the more we see that we still have a lot to know. Ignorance, as stated by him, in this case is academic ignorance; knowing the limits of one’s knowledge and accepting it. He is a firm believer of the power of science, and even made predictions at first, 50-100 years from now, then 100-1000 years from now. He said that he usually doesn’t like to make predictions, but since it’s the business of science, he might as well try.

50-100 years from now, he predicts that human lifespan will not only double, but even be 10 times longer. Better medicine, better health care. Of course, he said that longer lifespans will mean newer obstacles to face in human culture, demand and supply, etc. He made a few more predictions here, but you’ll have to forgive me if I wasn’t able to list them all down, nor to store them all in my memory data banks.

100-1000 years from now, he said, is a bit harder to predict. But he said that we would probably conquer galaxies. He said that we probably won’t be sending humans in other galaxies (probably because of the hazards of space travel on humans, I’m thinking, though he didn’t say more on that), but we will be sending mini-robots and possibly transform some planets into habitable ones (i.e. terraforming).

Prof. Gross also mentioned his prediction about speciation. I forgot which among the 2 groups (50-100 or 100-1000) he mentioned speciation, but what he means by that is that since we’ll be able to manipulate our genes, we’ll be creating new species of homo sapiens, faster than evolution would have wanted it. Probably similar to homo superior i.e. mutants. Cool.

Lastly, the presentation was a dream come true for a science-student/fan, science fiction-student/fan, and probably for a nerd/geek as well, though I may be alone on this last one. Only downside was that the open forum for questions was too short (around an hour or even less). If I get a copy of the video, I’ll upload it asap. Otherwise, if anybody finds it first, please please please tell me!

Comments, suggestions, reactions, corrections, clarifications and questions are always welcome!