Physics and English

This site is all about understanding behavior.

Learning is a form of behavior.

And some of the most daunting learning to be done in the “natural” world is staring physicists right in the face.

Physicists.  The same guys who brought you transistors, fractal antennae, MRI and Voyagers 1 and 2.

I saw this excellent video by Brady Haran, with a most excellent professor of physics ranting about someone who PRETENDS to understand physics enough to make outlandish propositions about what it means.

That’s not the point for this post.  The points comes later in his video (3:15 and 6:40) in response to an excellent question from Brady.  Perhaps it’s the language that physicists use to try and communicate the strange phenomena to themselves, and the rest of the world.

Here’s where the behavior comes in.

Physicists talk to each other, and rarely to the public, and even more rarely to academics in other disciplines.  Almost never ever to someone in the English department.

Here’s a list of some of the incredibly weird phenomena they have measured.

  • Entanglement (spooky action at a distance)
  • Spin
  • Momentum
  • Inflation
  • Big Bang
  • CP Violation
  • Dark Matter and Dark Energy
  • Unified Theories containing all the known forces
  • Wave Functions
  • Atomic Orbitals

All of these are extremely strange things that happen in reality, things we use every day without realizing it.

Yet they don’t make sense in our big classical world.

Here’s where the English department comes in.

Physicists need a whole new language that removes all the connections these phenomena make with the classical world.  Using words like orbital, wave, even matter and energy for the quantum world is going to put physicists at a disadvantage.

The person who’s going to figure out how to make sense of the quantum world is going to have to release themselves from the classical world.  When you grow up in a classical world that has orbits and waves, you’re automatically making the job harder.

So, to all you physicists out there who want to confront the greatest natural challenges of our time, take a moment to understand behavior.  Talk to an English major, and change your language.  Shed your classical skin and enter the quantum world.

It’s weird, it’s wacky, it’s beyond classical belief systems.

Yet, it’s all behavior.

Is it a particle, is it a wave?  It's neither.

PS – Who says we can’t have Fun with Fiziks?  By the way, for those who have their own wacky ideas about the quantum world, save them for later.  I have my own, but they will have to wait for the right cocktail party.

PPS – By the way, Math is the proper language of physics, of Nature for that matter.  However, this post is about talking to people who DON’T do math.  Thanks for reading.

Learning Yoga From Dad

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Other than modified tree pose, he’s never done yoga.

So HOW could he teach me?

First off, Dad was born in 1929, and he’s got a long list of maladies, any one of which could kill him.  Tomorrow.

But he’s pushing himself, living as if he’ll make it to 90.

He might.

He also tries new things to improve his body.  This means being able to go to the potty more easily.  But it’s his goal, and who am I to quibble?

He’s probably in this mess because of medical advice from 50 years ago for his bad back: Rest, avoid exercise, wear a brace, and take pills.  He did all that.

Today, doctors would probably recommend continuous exercise, working through pain, and avoiding pills is a better way to live.

However, the most important thing of all that I’ve learnt is incredible.

I was with Dad through all of this latest battle, starting with a broken vertebrae (L2), the ER, Hospice House, then a recovery room, and finally back home.  There were two times when nurses told me, this is it.  If he’d died, they would have said it was his time.

Except it wasn’t.  First off, I was able to be there and help him stave off poor medical practices.  Not malpractice, only poor quality.  Second, I was there as cheerleader, boosting morale, encouraging his WILL TO LIVE.  I gave him traditional football game locker room pep talks.

I could see the young athlete come alive.  He was a two-year all state football player in his day.  He was ripped.

That’s the key.  The will to live.

The greatest yogi of the 20th century was Tirumalai Krishnamacharya.  If you do yoga today, he probably invented it.  If he didn’t, you can bet your bippy he influenced it.

Many times, the guy who invents something doesn’t get to cash in on the great idea.  Same was true for TK.  He was dirt poor most of the time.  As advertising, he’d put on demonstrations of stopping his heart.

What?  Impossible!  How?

That’s what we say, knowing modern medicine.

But modern medicine also said my Dad was finished.  And then Dad applied his willpower.

That’s what TK did with his heart.  Willpower.

Both TK and my Dad have shown me that yoga can help us harness our own willpower as a way to become one with every part of our bodies.  Not only the voluntary nervous system, but even the autonomic nervous system that influences our heart.  All of it.  Our WHOLE body.

And that’s how Dad taught me about my own yoga.

  1. Push yourself.
  2. Set your own, small, goals.
  3. Adhere to it as a better way to live.
  4. Willpower is an integral part of our practice.

Thanks Dad.  Love, your son.

Aum…

 

A Tale of Two Yogas

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My wife and I attend a small studio up the street.  She has deep knowledge of musculature.  The poses are gentle, our progress slow, in a cozy, comfortable environment.

Across the street is a bustling studio with 4 large rooms, the coolest one being 30 degrees centigrade (85F).  Some classes go up as high as 40C (105F).  That’s hot.

When I say bustling, I mean bustling.  Not like wearing a bustle, but like being super busy.  Which is pretty good for our small town.  There’s over 15 classes a day!  And the classes have all the latest trends, bikram, barre, and whatever.

Not only that, but the classes are an hour long.  Perfect for scheduling into your busy day.

Meanwhile, in our little space, you spend the first half hour getting warmed up, the next getting into the practice, and another one figuring it all out and cooling down.

Cooling down.  That’s important.  You can’t do that in heat.  In order to listen to your body properly, you have to let it speak to you.  That’s not going to happen in an extreme environment.  Your body is working to keep you cool, and that throws all your inner workings out of wack.  Sure, you feel better, for the moment, but what did you learn?

A good yoga class is a true class.  You will come away with a nugget of knowledge, a new insight into yourself.

The trend towards fast, hot, trendy yoga is surely a money maker for the studio.  But what does it lead towards?

Students who want hotter, faster, trendier solutions to their problems.

The ultimate?

I see a drive-thru studio that offers a quick yoga drink and a semi-mystic experience while you sit in your car.  Perhaps like the drive-in diners of the 1950s.  Scantily clad roller skating yogis will bring everything to you and your friends as you sit in the comfort of your SUV.

Or you could slow down, and get to know yourself.  Not trendy, not hot, not even hard.  Just right.  Just perfect.

But if you’re planning to make it to 70, 80, or 90, you’ll appreciate it.

Otherwise, you’ll be taking plenty of pills.

Ommm.

 

Dream a Little Dream

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Dreams.  I can’t get them out of my head.

Dad’s dying.  Did I mention that?  Sure, everyone dies, but he’s taking his time.  He’s smart, tough, tenacious, and still has the capacity to dream.

His dreams are a bit modest nowadays.  Going to the potty.  Getting back to his old apartment.

The size of the dreams aren’t important.  It’s the fact that he has them.

He fights to make them real.  If I’ve learned nothing from Dad during the last few months, it’s how to keep fighting.  And hanging onto those dreams is critical.

I used to dream, back in my day.  All us kids dreamt of superfast trains and living on the moon.  There would be hotels under the ocean and everyone would live to be 150.

So much for those dreams.

Here’s the problem today.  I had those dreams way back when.  I wasn’t the only one.

Today, I don’t hear anyone’s dreams of the future.  The term I hear most often is “dystopia.”  People are depressed about the future.  They don’t have dreams.

They have nightmares.

If someone does dream, it’s for something next month, or next year.  A new phone.  A better snowboard.

Have you tried dreaming?  Really dreaming, long term?

I have this super smart cousin, and I asked him what he thought humanity will look like in 100 years.  His first reaction?

He’ll be dead.

Yes, but your daughters might be around.  It’s more likely that their daughters will be alive then.  What kind of world will they live in?

He didn’t like my question.  He’s been having nightmares about humanity.

I encouraged him to dream.

By the way, dreaming does not mean wishing for free money from the government.  That’s another story.

The best dreams are big dreams that you have to work for.

Don’t believe me?  You don’t have to.

Ask my Dad.

 

Humanity versus Gaia

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There was this guy , see, and he said this crazy thing.  It was crazy because he said Mother Nature was real.  Really real.  He gave her a name.  And old name.  Gaia.

Here’s where I’m coming from.  If this Gaia gal is real, and she really is Mother Nature, she ought to be, like, the toughest chick ever invented.  Like, she’s got it all.  Earthquakes, clouds, tidal waves, volcanoes, right?

She’s also got close to forever to do her stuff.  She’s not in a hurry, right?

So, here’s my what if.

What if Gaia wanted to off someone?

Not just anyone, like, any ONE, but us.

All of us.  Man us.

It’s not like she’s gonna get out a tidal wave and wash us all away.  Or get a massive volcano going.  Or maybe order out for an asteroid.  Maybe she will.  Maybe she did already.  I dunno.

I was thinkin.  Maybe she might do something sneaky and slow.  Like figure out a way to get us all to stop having babies.

Or have us passing a disease that’s so evil it turns our own weapons into its weapons.

I dunno.  I was just thinkin.

What I was really really thinkin was that, if I was gonna get into a fight, the LAST person I’d wanna fight would be this Gaia chick.

I know she’d fight tough.  I know she’d fight dirty.

I’d be outnumbered.  And she can’t die.

There’s one more problem.

She always wins.

 

Love by the Numbers

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The power of youtube and individual producers means that we are flooded with lots of meaningless catfalls.  This is a shoutout to an Aussie, Brady Haran, who’s done a fantastic job bringing so many academics into the spotlight.

One of my favorite areas is mathematics.  In the area of math (NOT maths, sorry Brits) there are many insights and puzzles to be found.  One of my very favorite things is the Mandelbrot set.  Please check it out.

Through Brady’s work, I’ve seen that many of these talented young academics are unattached.  Now, I’m not trying to play cupid, but I am going to make this observation.

We’re living in an exciting age.  The #MeToo movement is long overdue.  Women’s Lib of the 1960s followed Women’s Suffrage of the 1920s.  So perhaps #MeToo is also a “flash” in the pan of time.  I hope not.  But one thing is that there are a lot of wonderful young women complaining about creepy men.

Ladies, and Gents, consider this.  The kind of person who goes into studying math, or any of the natural sciences, can’t be your average slimeball.  Granted, there are always exceptions to the rule, but if someone wants to study arcane areas of knowledge for its own sake, how many other creepy thoughts can they have?

Wouldn’t it be cool if the people who were studying things like physics, or philosophy, and of course, math, were the “hot” dates?  Wouldn’t it be cool if everyone else, who was looking for a life partner who was a true romantic at heart, suddenly realized that only crazy romantics study crazy things like black holes, self-referential systems, and the microbiome?

So, if you’ve had a bad experience with a romantic relationship, consider this as part of your next selection process.  Don’t go for someone in sales, finance, or marketing.  Try an accountant, or mathematician, or librarian.  Those are the people who have hearts that believe in things that are good.  And if you can get one of them to believe in you …

… you might multiply together.

 

Measuring a Teacher

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Have you ever argued for your best teacher?  “Mr. A was the best!”  and your friend says “Oh yeah!  And in college I remember Ms. B teaching me the most.”

Perhaps you may have debated who was greatest among classic philosophers: Socrates, Plato, or Aristotle?

It’s a fun debate, and I’ve revealed my choice earlier.  But here, I can provide us with an objective measure that we should all be able to accept.  It has some shortcomings, but every measure has benefits and drawbacks.

The greatness of a teacher should be measured by how many subsequent teachers they create.

You see, it’s not necessarily important that they teach something totally awesome, although it doesn’t hurt.  It’s not even important that we be able to understand what it is they did.

With respect to philosophy, Socrates taught Plato.

Plato taught Aristotle.

Aristotle taught, hmmm, who did Aristotle teach?  I heard that he taught Alexander the great, but Alex wasn’t exactly known for being a good teacher.  He was more of a doer.

There we have it for philosophy.  So Socrates is the greatest teacher among them.  We can debate which of them had the “best” philosophy [1] but that’s for another day.

How about something like physics?  Archimedes is easily the first in this category, both theoretical and experimental, but we don’t know if he left any teachers behind.  Tycho Brahe was a polymath that included physics, he taught Kepler, and Kepler taught Newton.  Who did Newton teach?  No one directly, as far as I know.  He did teach many indirectly, but I’m not counting that.

Einstein is one of those people who learned from Newton, Faraday, and many others.  But did he teach anyone?  Not sure.

So, are Archimedes, Newton, and Einstein still great scientists?  Of course.  But were they great teachers?

My measure says no.  Is that worth anything?

Now that is something we should discuss another day.

[1] Socrates, with Plato being a close second.  Archie was a hack who sold out for celebrity.

 

Short Story Time: Talking Heads

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Studying behavior can be fun!  We can do thought experiments, like hard-assed physicists when they bend the universe to fit the speed of light, or put their heads inside a proton in order to get to know quarks and gluons better.

Our thought experiments take the form of short stories, generally known as science fiction.  Enjoy!

 

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Walter looked upon two graceful women in shimmering, semi-transparent robes.  They revealed enough to excite.

“He’s reacting well, like an alpha male of his time,” the older one said.  “Welcome to the future, Walter.  Not many heads made it from your era.  Yvette will be your guide for now.  I’ll be going.”  She gave instructions to the young woman and left.

Walter winced in pain.  The young lady stroked his temple and neck so gently he immediately felt at peace.

“Walter, go slowly.”  She continued stroking, and he looked her over.  She was twenty, curvaceous, and perfectly formed.  She was tall, and nothing about her calmed him.

He had a body!  He had signed up for freezing his head for centuries, until the future could cure his disease.  Now here he was!  Could he talk?

Talk he did.  As he warmed up, he asked Yvette many questions, and she answered him patiently, lovingly.

The body was built of his own cells.  They made improvements, and he would live a normal life.  His former profession was making “movies,” but there was still a need for storytellers.  He would have to learn new techniques.

He could walk now.  There were no cities, no tall building, no monorails.  These had all been deemed dangerous to the environment, Yvette explained.  Terrans lived in harmony with nature.  Machines were only found on Luna and Mars.

We colonized space? Walter asked.

“Of course.  We have also perfected our bodies and our society.  We learned how to alter DNA directly, no need for random pairings.  Every child is carefully engineered, and improved.”

No falling in love, no husband and wife?

“Wife?” she laughed.  “A concept males used to subjugate females for a million years.  No, the husband is history.”

I’m a man, I have deep feelings.  You are someone that I could easily fall in love with.

“You will find that we are all, as you would say, desirable.  Humanity is all female.  How old am I?” she demanded.  Walter shared his thoughts.  “I’m 50, my mentor over 90.”

I’m surrounded by millions of beautiful women?

“Yes, you are.  And according to history, you were quite randy, weren’t you?”

Walter confessed the truth.  But he remembered the 1960’s well, and hoped this future was as sexually enlightened.  He was looking forward to making many new friends.  Yvette laughed.

“I’m sure you are.  But the only way you can experience sexual stimulation will be through a deep brain stimulator we have implanted.  Here is your special button that only you can access,” pointing to his groin.  “We also removed your sex organs.”

Walter held onto a tree, looking at his lap.  The world spun, even as Yvette continued.  “Now, let me show you where you’ll be living for the rest of your life.”

 

Time to Think

Caught this great movie the other day, mostly because I couldn’t remember how H G Wells had treated the underground beings in terms of their society.  The morlocks harvested the eloi for food.  They were also sensitive to light, and that’s how our protagonist saves his friend.

(Skip the next paragraph if you know the movie already.)

The protagonist escaped morlocks by returning from the far future back to his own present.  He meets his friends for dinner, tells them his story, and they leave thinking he’s a bit crazy.  When one of them turns back having forgotten something, he and the housekeeper find that the protagonist and his machine have disappeared.

The housekeeper finds there are three books missing from the pro’s library, and doesn’t know their names.  Of course, our pro has gone back to his future friend and has taken the books necessary to restart civilization.

Here’s the fun part.

Which three books would YOU take?

My picks?  Plato’s works would be in one massive volume, so I count that as one even though they represent many books.

A dictionary might be nice.  If only the Oxford English came in one volume.

Finally, a book containing all the works of Shakespeare could come in handy when we’re bored.  But there are so many other good stories that should be saved.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.  And keep thinking of the future!

 

 

How About Coffee?

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Quoting another source semi-verbatim isn’t my style, but with the proper citation and it being only a little bit of quoting, we should be able to swing this by the legal department.  If there’s a problem, please ask nicely and this post can be modified.

But there’s a reason it’s worth quoting, it’s great writing and speaking.  The text is from Piers Bizony‘s book on the making of 2001 A Space Odyssey.  I highly recommend this book to anyone who has any interest in aviation, space, movies, science fiction, science, anything technical, or anything having to do with behavior.  I fall into 5 of those categories.  You’ll want to buy it because it’s too good to share.

First, paraphrasing only slightly, we have Marvin Minsky, the expert from MIT advising Kubrick who had no problem understanding that the emptiness of 2001’s dialogue was intentional

” … And after the momentous statement that the monolith must have been deliberately buried, one of the astronauts says, “Well, how about a little coffee?”  Kubrick’s idea is that the universe is too majestic for short sighted people.”

Now, here’s the good part where I’m trying to be as faithful to Bizony as I can;  Kubrick’s wife, Christiane, speaking about her husband’s intentions.

“Stanley thought we are always falling behind our scientific and technical achievements.  We are very good at making more and more things – but to do what with?  We haven’t kept up, psychologically and philosophically.  We are not profound.  We are still getting away with the most boring entertainments.  We are shallow, and we know it.  We suffer from it.  The choices we make are not satisfying.  Our sins are all of omission – of not doing the more interesting things that we could do.  There is a lethargy, a lack of energy and concentration that prevents us from reaching the key point where we are as creative and perceptive as we would really wish to be.  We are in the terrible position of being smart enough to know that we are not smart enough.  For instance, we still can’t imagine, “What is God?”  So in 2001 we see fantastic tools of communication.  People can speak over zillions of miles, but nobody has anything to say.  So we pretend.  We live in a little world of nonsense and send each other funny photos and cute stories, with this enormous technology.  “Happy Birthday,” and so on, when nobody seems to care, or react.  It’s very melancholy – although two things we really can do.  War and pornography we’re good at.”

Bizony then distills much of Kubrick’s angst.

 “2001, so optimistic on the surface, is in fact a morally complex movie.  Either we will bore ourselves to death while our machines sneak in through the back door and take over; or else we will blow ourselves to hell, our modern minds still compromised by an instinctive taste for aggression.  It seems we have to keep fighting to survive.  And we have to stop fighting to survive.”

page 421, Piers Bizony, The Making of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey, published by Taschen, 2015

PS – For goodness sake, if you haven’t seen the movie or read the book, please do both of those first, and as soon as possible.