FUN Science time

Did you know science could be fun?  Yes, science.

Fun for everyone!

Archimedes did it.  Einstein did it.  Now we can do it, too.

I’m talking about doing a thought experiment.

In fact, not only a thought experiment, but a thought present for YOU.

Let’s make you rich.  Really really rich.

No, not as rich as Gates, or Buffet.  Richer.

Not as rich as Bezos or Zuckerberg.  Richer.

Not even as rich as the entire USA.  Richer.

This is a thought experiment.  We can go where it’s impossible to go.  We can go to the very extremes of possibilities.

YOU

OWN

EVERYTHING.

As of this moment, there is no income, no particle of wealth, absolutely nothing of value that you don’t own.  The queen’s jewels?  Yours.  The queens toilet and toilet paper?  Yours.

That donkey raised from a pup by that Himalayan monk no one has seen for several decades?

Yours.

The question for us behavioral scientists is this.  What happens next?

If economists were any good at what they did, they could answer this.  But they can’t.

In reality, you’re going to spread the wealth.  After all, you’re going to want to eat.  You might even want a companion.  All of that costs something.

People who have “your stuff” might feel that you are far enough away that they don’t have to pay you for it.  That Himalayan monk?  Chances are you’re never going to meet him.  Good luck getting that donkey back.

Of course, the incentive for anyone else to work will be diminished.  But they have to eat as well, so there’s a chance that a shadow economy will emerge, based on bartering and some other items considered valuable.  Your items of course, but how will you know?

Slowly, surely, your own wealth will be spread around, so that some kind of work will begin again.  But how quickly?

The problem is that you also own everyone’s assets.  So even if someone works in a restaurant to feed you and others, you will receive the profits.  Which means, ultimately, you get even richer.

Enough fun.  How about comparing our experiment to today?

Today’s world does have a Gates, Buffet, Bezos and Zuckerberg.  These people do have incredible levels of wealth and income compared to select individuals of the past.

How does this impact the rest of society?  Is it a good thing?

There are those who tell me that rich people are good for the rest of us.  But in the beginning there were no “rich” people.  What does that mean?

It means we need to think about this, more, better, and deeper.  And it means we need to do more thought experiments.

Careful though.  They can be too much fun!

 

Waves and Particles

Ever hear the story about the blind naturalists and the elephant?

If you haven’t, check it out.  Nice lesson in how only seeing a part of the picture is nowhere near as interesting as seeing the whole picture.  Makes sense.

Fast forward to this century.  Physicists have a problem.  A big problem.  It all starts with  phenomena like lightning or superconductors.  In order to understand these things, physicists like to think of the charges making lightning work as “particles.”

Meanwhile, there are other phenomena like sticky molecules (van der Waals forces) and tunneling.  And in order to understand THESE things physicists think of the charges as “waves.”

Making it even more complicated are some experiments that show the same charges can be BOTH things at the same time.  In a double-slit demonstration, these charges can act like waves, until the very instant YOU try to measure something.  At which point the charges act like particles.

That’s not even the weirdest part.  The weirdest part is the fact that these charges KNOW you are measuring them.

What does this have to do with our blind naturalists?

They had names for each part they measured, but not the whole thing.  They couldn’t.  But in their discussions, they could only focus on what they knew.  “It’s a rope!” “Nope, it’s a trunk!” “Bunk, it’s a flappy leaf!”

If they came up with a new name, it would start them on the process of realizing their new “thing” consisted of all those elements.

The same is true with our physicists.  The electron, the photon, perhaps even quarks are not particles, they are not waves.  We could call them, fordims.

A new word, a new understanding.  Fordims are something new, something very different.  They can act particle-like, but are not particles.  They can act wave-like, but are not waves.  They can occupy the same (3 dimensional) space, but not the same higher dimensions.

This may sound trite, even silly, but sometimes it takes a silly step in a new direction to find the correct path.  Many many smart people have been working on this problem for over a century, without luck.  Perhaps, just perhaps, it’s time to call this “rope-trunk-leaf-bone-tongue-wall” but a new name.

After all, it is the elephant in the room.

 

FUN Science, Art Gallery Time Machine

Did you know science could be fun?  Yes, science.

Seems a bit spotty, doesn't it?

Archimedes did it.  Einstein did it.  Now it’s our turn.  Lets do a thought experiment.

In this experiment, we’re going to transport one of the best paintings from the impressionist era back a hundred years (give or take) so that it lands smack dab in the middle of one of the best art galleries of the romantic era.

 

See what we’re doing there?  We’re sticking a little bit of the future into the past, and then figuring out what would happen.

What do YOU think will happen?  Go ahead, write down your answer.  I’ll wait.

(Insert girl from Ipanema here.)

Finished?  Great.  Now, here’s my take.

It won’t sell.  No one’s going to buy it.  Everyone will think a deranged teenager did it, and will tell the dealer to throw it away.  Since it appeared mysteriously from the future, he won’t know who to give it to.  Being a profit-minded guy, he’ll probably paint it over with gesso and sell the canvas to some poor artist who will put a proper painting over it.

Crazy?  Not really.  Consider going to an art gallery today.  What do you see?  Are there crazy pieces in there that drive you bonkers?  Could it be that one of those will sell for millions of dollars in a hundred years?

How can we know?

Right now, we can’t.  There’s this whole thing about fads and fashions that seems to be beyond anything reason will fathom, ever.  Why do women prefer certain hairstyles through the ages.  What about men and their beards, or hats?  What about architecture, writing styles, music, and just about anything else you can imagine.

Until the day comes when we can at least start to describe a fashion and do it in an organized, scientific manner, there will be no hope of understanding, let alone predicting.

Until the day comes when we have a theory of behavior that contains fads and fashions within it, then even with the best descriptions in the world, we still aren’t going to make any progress.

Until then, hang onto that ridiculous object of art your Aunt Sally got you from that yard sale.  It could be worth something.  Someday.

 

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.

Reality check

Reality this, reality that.  Who reality cares?

We have to care, if we are trying to understand ourselves.

Over the last few weeks we talked about the reality that never changes, matter and energy.  There’s the reality that is shared by all life, things that are born, and then die.  There’s the reality of people, brought to you by the same people who like to make love, and war.  And there’s the reality of yourself, the stuff that only you can know, like your inner thoughts.

Is there a handy or easy way to keep these straight so that I don’t have to go muddling about trying to remember what belongs where?  Let’s try this exercise.

Pretend we are studying your dreams.  And someone asks you, are your dreams real?  Of course they are, to you.  Are your dreams real to all people?  Here’s the test; make yourself disappear.  It’s only a thought experiment, so you can disappear to a luxury island where there’s beautiful servants waiting upon your every whim.  What happens to YOUR dreams though, relative to everyone else?  Of course you don’t care, because you’re getting your feet rubbed on that pristine beach.  But for the rest of us, your dreams are gone, long gone.  They aren’t real to us, because they disappeared when you disappeared.

What about dreams in general, are they real?  Since we’re talking about general dreams, what we’re saying is this; do dreams only exist in people?  Let’s find out and send all people to that same luxury island (it’s a big island) so that all other life is now devoid of people.  Now some of the animals may have dream-like stages, but since they can’t talk we won’t ever know if they are dreaming.  So dreams are only “real” in the sense that people are real.  Dreams in general represent a reality that is only common to people.

What about life and death?  Is it real?  It’s real as long as we are looking at things that live.  Take away all life, and you have something that looks like the moon.  There is no life on the moon, and there is no death.  Life and death, then, are only as real as the living things they represent.

And this is how to determine the degree of “realness” of anything we study.  Take yourself away, if it still exists, it’s more real than you.  Take people away, and if it still exists, it’s even “realer.”  Take all life away, and if it still exists, it’s as real as it gets.

Thanks for coming along.  Now let’s get real.  Let’s only study things that are real.