Physicists thing that they’re clever as hell.
Just look at that guy; thinks he’s got it all figured out.
(Bonus points for guessing who the physicist is!)
Now, I’m not talking about clever in the sense that they can figure stuff out. Most scientists are pretty good at that. No, what I’m talking about is “clever” in the sense of being funny.
See, physics is actually filled with little in-jokes and references that physicists think are just terribly cute, and all of them have to deal with stuff you can’t even see.
Quarks are tiny, tiny, tiny particles that, as far as we know, make up pretty much everything. Quarks, like electrons, protons, balls, cats, and street signs, have properties. Unfortunately for us, only some of these properties are ones that we’re already familiar with, like charge and mass.
So, to help characterize and classify these things, they’re broken up into types. Now, a normal person might say that there are three types of quark, and he’d be right for the most part (though I have no clue what business a normal person might have knowing things about quarks). But a physicist isn’t a normal person. They can’t have nice, simple, straightforward “types” of quarks. Instead, quarks have “flavors”.
Before you get excited, these aren’t delicious flavors either. There are 6 flavors of quarks. The first two are called “up” and “down”. Simple enough… The next two are “strange” and “charm”. Now, these are slightly weirder names. Strange quarks were named because they were exhibiting strange properties. I can’t fault them yet, but charm? Who calls a flavor of quark charm? There’s not even a reason for it! Anyway, anyway the last two went through a bit of an identity crisis for a while. At first, they were “truth” and “beauty”, because they decided it would be funny to keep with their naming scheme of non-physical concepts. But eventually the names changed to “top” and “bottom”. These names might seem oddly normal compared to strange, charm, truth, and beauty, but fear not. The name change to top and bottom wasn’t for (entirely) sane reasons. You see, occasionally, when talking about quarks in various conditions, the term “bare” comes up. And someone noted, at some point, that “bare bottom” was much funnier than “bare beauty”. Yes, anatomy jokes. That’ll totally show those literary critics that you can be witty!
Ever hear the phrase “You couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn!”? Well, you’ll be happy to know that if that phrase describes you, physicists have made it waaaaaaaaaay easier to explain yourself. Atoms are small. Really really small. Bigger than quarks, but way smaller than anything you can properly imagine. To study these things, nuclear physicists have to shoot stuff at the nuclei of these atoms. Now, a really big nucleus is about 10 femtometers across, which is about 10-14m. So, the area a really big nucleus takes up, is about 10-28m2 in area. If you’re already groaning, you’ve figured out that this area was termed a “barn”. To make it even worse, there’s an extended terminology surrounding it. So, now, thanks to some nonsensical naming conventions, you can explain how hard it would be to hit the broad side of a barn, lodge, or even a tardis.
I’m fairly sure that your eyes work, and if not, I’m glad that you don’t get to hear this in my gravelly-yet-monotone voice. Since your eyes most likely work, I don’t think it will be necessary to direct you to my previous post here, so I shall continue where I left off.
Modern Physicists may be quoted as saying that things may not exist at all times. Let that sink in a bit. Things; you, me, your soda; may not consistently exist, according to some. That is a very fundamental level of “being” upon which they have decided to cast doubt. It is troublesome to me, because these are people that represent not just my field of study, not just my major but to a great many people, they represent science as a whole.
To be clear, there are reasons for thinking this way. All theories must be consistent with reality. What we observe, we have to assume to be true, tacitly. All of our formulations and models must, in the end, agree with all aspects of what we observe. If reality doesn’t work the way that we’ve predicted, we need a damn good reason to keep that prediction around. In physics, the theories are tested with experiments. These experiments are done very very carefully. If an experiment contradicts a theory, the theory is wrong. What is particularly interesting, is that the theories that make people claim these outlandish things do agree with the experiments that have been devised.
***ADVANCED SCIENCE WARNING***
The infamous Double-Slit Experiment illustrates several basic tenets of quantum theory. The experiment goes a little like this:
Scientists set up a laser and shine it at a tiny slit in a screen. On the other side, they set up a backdrop to see the results. As the laser passed through the slit, they found that it diffracted, and the backdrop had a neat little pattern on it.
<= Like this one!
Next, they set up the laser to shine through a double slit, which is nothing more than two slits that are very close to one another. The scientists turned on the laser, and got a different pattern!
<= This one!!!
Now, you may notice that the second pattern is a lot like the first one, but has lots of little bright and dark spots. Well, these are areas of constructive and destructive interference, respectively. This all works because light predominantly acts like a wave.
Well, scientists weren’t quite done with their experiment yet. So they wheel out their electron gun (which is not quite as badass as it sounds, sadly), and shot electrons, one at a time, at the single slit target. One electron goes through, then another, then another, and soon scientists could see that the same diffraction pattern they saw with the laser was appearing on the backdrop.
Even though they had just demonstrated that electrons can have wave-like properties, the scientists weren’t done yet. They took down their single slit target and put up their double slit target. The fired up their electron gun, and one… at… a… time… fired little electrons at it to see what would happen. Several tense minutes later, they had their results: a backdrop with the double slit diffraction pattern on it! Hooray!
This made someone in the group pause for thought. Think about it from the electron’s perspective. You’re flying along, and suddenly you fly through a slit. Being tiny as you are, this causes you to diffract and fly off in a slightly different direction. What should eventually appear is two distinct single slit diffraction patterns. One for each slit in the screen. With the laser, the light could interfere constructively or destructively to form the bright and dark spots. But electrons can’t do that. It seems that electrons could somehow “sense” the second slit, even though it never interacted with it.
There’s several more parts to this experiment that pretty much sequentially blew the minds of scientists, but for now the bottom line is this. The only way for the electron to act as it did is if it interacted with both slits. Since an electron is primarily particulate, the only way it could interact is by travelling through both slits.
An entire mathematical framework was built up around this idea. At its core is the idea that the electron has a wavefunction, and until the wavefunction is collapsed by a measurement, it is in some murky, ill-defined state where it has somehow traveled through both slits in the screen. What is even more problematic is that in order for that to be the case, the electron cannot have a defined path.
Let me say that again: according to the only explanation these scientists had, THE ELECTRON CANNOT HAVE A DEFINED PATH! This means that the electron cannot be said to exist at any particular point along any particular path. Between start and finish, it may or may not exist in any particular place at all!
***END ADVANCED SCIENCE WARNING***
Welcome back all of you who skipped down! The point of all of this is that standard quantum mechanics is a theory that perfectly agrees with experiment, but doesn’t follow some basic logical tenets. Scientists have been very careful in their experiments and produced very particular results, and standard quantum mechanics can explain each of these results splendidly. But at the end of the day, we’re still left with a theory that casts doubt on the very nature of existence.
The most unfortunate part, in my humble opinion, is that there are other formulations of quantum mechanics that also agree with experiment. They, like the standard, perfectly agree with the observations of scientists and experiments. Unlike the standard, they allow for particles that exist at all times in a specific and well-defined way. They have a few problems, but are as glaring as the contradiction of that most obvious observation: THINGS EXIST!
It’s an odd statement to make. It seems obvious, and it is obvious. Every time you open your eyes, you can see a variety of objects. Not only that, but you can go over and feel the objects too. Even if you leave for a while, you can safely assume that everything you left behind still exists. There are literally more than a billion lifetimes worth of experiences that suggest that things actually exist, but even then, it is ultimately an assumption about the way the world works.
This is a problem that has troubled many minds. At its most basic, we have to take the mere existence of things as an assumption. There is no way around this. The problem is illustrated in Godel’s Incompleteness Theorems. In order for the world to make sense, we must assume a few fundamental properties. There are two that I want to reference specifically:
There is sufficient cause for everything.
These are only assumptions about the nature of the universe, but without them, nothing makes sense. I mean that in a very literal way. Logic itself breaks down if we can’t make these sorts of assumptions. If we can’t assume that things exist, then there is nothing to which we can attach any meaning. If we can’t assume that there is causality, then events happen at random. You couldn’t have any measure of control over what happens, and everything you do lacks meaning.
There are reasons for us to assume these things, which I will get into later. For now, I will simply say that I hope nothing here registers as particularly surprising to anyone. These seem like perfectly ordinary assumptions to me, which is why I am particularly troubled that my very own field of science is reporting its results in such a way that makes it seem like these fundamental tenets of logic aren’t true.
Hello everyone! After much cajoling, I’ve been convinced to start blogging. Gogman has been incredibly gracious and has allowed me to use some of his space to give it a try. Hopefully, some of you will find my ramblings interesting.
To start things off, I give you a few things about me:
<< That guy there, he’s me. Dashing hat aside, I’m a pretty average human. I am currently in grad school studying physics, where I also serve as a teaching assistant. They say to work with what you know, and I am a huge nerd. Most of what I write will be about physics and science in general, but I’ll also be making forays into realism, reason, games, trying to understand the universe, and a selection of other things that happen to pass through my head.
Now, I’m not quite the authority that I’d like to be on some of these subjects, and I have been known to make mistakes. The best I can do is be honest and tell you the things I think I know. Luckily, every mistake is an opportunity to do better, and you can expect that I will take every opportunity I can get.
Once again, Bill Whittle nails it.
Take a look around, how much of this do you see going on?
This November, it’s time to return to a successful America, not a failed America.
How much is your phone worth?
It’s a rare day – once every 4 years – so I figured I should at least post something.
Been hugely busy with a new project, so I got nothin’.
Anyway, Happy leap-day!
There's a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive.
Miracle Max – The Princess Bride (1987)
So we have lots of people and publications declaring SOPA and PIPA dead.
I have news for you: Cancel the parades, parties, and dancing. SOPA and PIPA are NOT dead. I repeat, SOPA AND PIPA ARE NOT DEAD.
What has happened to SOAP and PIPA, is that they are simply in a procedural hold in both houses of Congress. In plain English, the bills have been moved from the stack of crap coming up for votes to a filing cabinet drawer. At any time these bills can be pulled out of the filling cabinet and put back in the stack of crap. As a matter of fact, I suspect these bills will be pulled out at a later date when nobody is looking because SOPA and PIPA are not about stopping piracy, they are about control.
You hear supporters of SOPA and PIPA, such as the detestable hagfish that is Bill Maher – and oh yes, he supports SOPA - claiming it will have no effect on domestic Internet sites as it only targets foreign sites. This is not true. It is a bold faced lie. As a matter of fact, both bills have a disproportionate effect on domestic sites versus foreign ones.
Here’s a great video in plain English from the well known and well respected Khan Academy explaining exactly how SOPA and PIPA work and will destroy the Internet as we know it.
Khan Academy explaining exactly how SOPA and PIPA work and will destroy the Internet as we know it.
You see the picture and quote by Miracle Max from the Princess Bride up there? Under SOPA and PIPA this site could be taken offline WITHOUT my being able to defend myself or know who my accuser is, EVEN THOUGH I am using those items within US Copyright Law Fair Use Standards 17 U.S.C. § 107 (listed below).
Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 17 U.S.C. § 106 and 17 U.S.C. § 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include:
The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.
- the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
- the nature of the copyrighted work;
- the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
- the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
So let’s look at my use versus fair use:
- Well, this blog is non commercial and this post is definitely intended to be educational. We pass there.
- It is a movie that was released world wide and is well known. We pass there.
- It is a cropped image of a single character and a single line of text spoken by that character. All in all, a tiny fraction of the original work. We pass there.
- I would argue that it increases the value of the original work by keeping it in the public eye. It certainly does not detract value from the original work. Again, we pass.
So I am legal in under the current copyright laws, yet under SOPA and PIPA, I could – mind you, could – be taken offline by a single complaint. I stress the word could because this is a small site and would most like slip under peoples radar, but you never know. But for large sites like, um, oh I don’t know, YouTube for example, they are going to be gone very quickly after SOAP or PIPA passes.
OMGWTFBBQ! I wake up with a bad hangover and here we are TWO WEEKS into 2012. I DID NOT GET THE MEMO!
In the theme of not getting the memo, it seems Hulu , SOPA, and PIPA are still alive. AMAZING. Not only is Hulu not dead, it seems to be growing. As for SOPA and PIPA, WTF why are we even talking about these bills, they should have been dead LONG AGO!!!
The wife and I were early subscribers to Hulu Plus, however we put our account on hold last summer before we sailed from Hawaii to Santa Barbara because we were going to be gone for a month sailing across the Pacific. Once we got back however, we KEPT IT CANCELD.
WE DO NOT WANT TO PAY TO HAVE ADS PUSHED AT US AND WAIT WEEKS FOR NEW EPISODES TO BE POSTED. Especially the lame “what ad do you want to see now” crap style ads from the late 90’s. Stuff like this is why people like <cough>bittorrent</cough>. Content is ad free and they can get in *hours* versus days or weeks. Why pay money for shit service when you can stick it to man and get better product AND service…
Hulu, et al, your only hope is to open the floodgate. The consumers have WON. It is all over. Just give up, fuck SOPA and PIPA. Just let us pay for the shit we want, when we want it. And stop the bloody interstitial ads. Have you not learned anything from history?