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.

Physics as Behavior

This is a review of a book on Archimedes, the first Physicist.

This may seem like a bit of a stretch for a site about behavior, but, believe it or not, the study of physics is an aspect of behavior.  And, as disciplines go, physics has been extraordinarily successful.  In fact, it would be extremely difficult to find any aspect of our lives that has not been touched by our knowledge of physics.  As students of behavior, we need to understand this discipline as a part of our humanity.  And what better place to start than at the beginning?

Which brings us around to an excellent art exhibit that took place here in Cleveland, ending in January 2014.  The only other exhibition was in the Getty Villa.  Cleveland almost lost the opportunity, an exciting story in itself.

Of the many great treasures, one of which is reputedly the finest example of greek sculpture in the round (if I may say, this is one good looking dude.)  It’s so exemplary that he gets a room all to himself.

Tucked away in the corner of the last room, however, was a non-descript page of vellum oriented the way a lowly monk inked it in the early 13th century.  Prayers, instructions for blessing loaves at Easter, and many other religious details are easy to read.  Underneath, however, are the almost imperceptible letters of a 10th century scribe, who copied an earlier work.  The work he copied was those of Archimedes.

As awesome as it sounds, the page of the palimpsest gets short shrift from the docents.  “Archemides invented the screw” I heard one say.

I highly recommend the book sold in the gift shop.  “Eureka Man – the life and legacy of Archimedes” by Hirshfeld is excellent.  Some of the tidbits include learning about Aristochus, the first inventor of our heliocentric model of the universe, 12 centuries before Copernicus.  We also learn about big numbers.  The greeks only had a “myriad” that meant 10,000.  Archimedes needed something a little bigger in order to fill the universe with sand.  So he invented something quite similar to the exponent system we use today.

This book is extremely well-written and a fast read.  I did my best to savor it, but find it too exciting to go slow.  The fact that anything survived multiple empires, religious uprisings, and still make it to the light of day is quite an exciting story in its own right.  That it records the thoughts and findings of one of the greatest minds of all time makes it all the more remarkable.  Buy this book!  (Here’s a link to it on amazon)