Saturday, October 31, 2009

Physics Quote of the Day (October 25 - October 31)

"Sometimes one can improve the theories in the sense of discovering a quicker, more efficient way of doing a given calculation." John Pople, born 31 October 1925.

"Science had better not free the minds of men too much, before it has tamed their instincts." Jean Rostand, born 30 October 1894.

"Science leads to great achievements, which, quite rightly, fill of joy those who seek the truth, but if pursued, teaches us that we must seek other sources of ultimate truth and find answers to existential questions about the meaning of life and the mystery of death." Franco Bassani, born 29 October 1929.

"... the basis of anything is education, so that people not only become qualified, but essentially become able to create new knowledge." José Leite Lopes, born 28 October 1918.

"Mars has global warming, but without a greenhouse and without the participation of Martians. These parallel global warmings -- observed simultaneously on Mars and on Earth -- can only be a straightline consequence of the effect of the one same factor: a long-time change in solar irradiance." Khabibullo Abdusamatov, born 27 October 1940.

"The gravitational force is the oldest force known to man and the least understood." Peter van Nieuwenhuizen, born 26 October 1938.

"... an author never does more damage to his readers than when he hides a difficulty." Évariste Galois, born 25 October 1811.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Physics Quote of the Day (October 18 - October 24)

"The real point of honor [for a scientist] is not to be always right. It is to dare to propose new ideas, and then check them." Pierre-Gilles de Gennes, born 24 October 1932.

"...while I am certainly not asking you to close your eyes to the experiences of earlier generations, I want to advise you not to conform too soon and to resist the pressure of practical necessity. Free imagination is the inestimable prerogative of youth and it must be cherished and guarded as a treasure." Felix Bloch, born 23 October 1905.

"Discoveries in physics are made when the time for making them is ripe, and not before." Clinton Davisson, born 22 October 1881.

"I would like to help dreamers as they find it difficult to get on in life." Alfred Nobel, born 21 October 1833.

"Every great advance in science has issued from a new audacity of imagination." John Dewey, born 20 October 1859.

"It is, indeed an incredible fact that what the human mind, at its deepest and most profound, perceives as beautiful finds its realization in external nature.… What is intelligible is also beautiful." Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, born 19 October 1910.

"In quantum physics, however, each observation implies an intervention in the observed. Because of the quantum physical laws of nature, a change of state of the observed is inevitably coupled to the observation process. So it's not a situation independent from the experiment that is observed, but we ourselves call forth the facts (or compel them to go in a certain direction to a disambiguation), that then become an observation." Pascual Jordan, born 18 October 1902.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Physics Quote of the Day (October 11 - October 17)

"...the ultimate objective of teaching physics is promoting a sound physical thinking and not merely tackling a list of topics." Győző Zemplén, born 17 October 1879.

"Quantum theory also tells us that the world is not simply objective; somehow it's something more subtle than that. In some sense it is veiled from us, but it has a structure that we can understand." John Polkinghorne, born 16 October 1930.

"Two polar groups: at one pole we have the literary intellectuals, at the other scientists, and as the most representative, the physical scientists. Between the two a gulf of mutual incomprehension." C. P. Snow, born 15 October 1905.

"We don't want support for scientific research just to keep scientists busy: we want scientists to be looked upon by the public as people who can do things for them that they can't do themselves." J. C. McLennan, born 14 October 1867.

"Opinions derived from long experience are exceedingly valuable, and outweigh all others, while they are consistent with facts and with each other; but they are worse than useless when they lead, as in this instance, to directly opposite opinions." Peter Barlow, born 13 October 1776.

"It frequently happens that a great discovery supplies the wanting links between a number of obscure facts, and thus adds quite as much to our knowledge by its indirect bearings as by the positive additions it makes to the general stock." Josiah Cooke, born 12 October 1827.

"Should there really be suns in the whole infinite space, they can be at approximately the same distance from one another, or distributed over galaxies, hence would be in infinite quantities, and consequently the whole sky should be as bright as the sun. Clearly, each line which can conceivably be drawn from our eye will necessarily end on one of the stars and each point on the sky would send us starlight, that is, sunlight." Heinrich Olbers, born 11 October 1758.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

FQXi essay contest statistics and quotes

I took profit of last week and weekend to acquaint myself with the other essays handling the question "What's ultimately possible in physics". I read a dozen of them extensively as well as all abstracts and began to organize my evaluations. I voted for two of them but will leave a definite rate for the others after having checked consistency with respect to a broader set of essays. The fact that strikes me, is how low community voters (mainly authors) score each other. The scale runs from 1 to 10, but presently the highest rating is 4.4. That's detrimental for a healthy rating system because we loose in gradation subtleties.

As for the statistics: 114 essays were submitted by 1 woman and 113 man. There is much to do in order to establish gender parity in physics! From the information I gathered, the great majority have US citizenship (43 authors), Germany (10) and India (9) are also strongly represented, as well as Canada (5), Romania (5), Italy (5) and the Netherlands (5, including mine). Russia and UK have each 4 submissions. The rest comes from Australia (2), New Zealand (2), Spain (2), Croatia (2), Slovenia (2), Austria (1), Belgium (1), Brasil (1), Chili (1), Greece (1), Iraq (1), Korea (1), Moldova (1), Mexico (1), South Africa (1), Sweden (1), Serbia (1) and 2 which I couldn't deduce from the information they gave. These numbers should be taken with a grain of salt because I assumed US citizenship for US residents if not mentioned otherwise. There are no submissions from my country of residence. What am I doing here in Paris if there is nobody to discuss foundational questions with ;-) !

Some authors gave me agreement for quoting them, so here are some interesting quotes:

From “Ultimately anything is possible” by Hrvoje Nikolic, the shortest essay (if you have little time, read it).
“we can never be sure that the laws of physics we know are the final ones, so we always must admit that anything is ultimately possible”.

From “Mechanics of a Self-Creating Universe” by Anton W. M. Biermans, a “cursory overview of the first insights to come out of an investigation into the question whether a universe can create itself out of nothing”.
“If an electron cannot express its charge if there is no other charge in the universe, then it couldn't be charged itself.”

From “ant among giants. . .a fable” by Richard P. Dolan, an enjoyable and entertaining essay, with the message that physicists should listen to people outside of their tribe.
“The ant found its chilly reception perfectly proper and understandable, but always experienced a feeling of frustration when some giant publicly expressed ignorance on a question to which the ant thought it had the answer.”
“the physicists were ensnared in a dense thicket of mathematics, desperately trying to get out by going deeper into the thicket. Only the string theorists thought they had hacked their way out of the thicket, but what they found was a vast landscape of universes that had no predictive power and couldn’t be tested—the end of science.”

From “Ignoramus et Ignorabimus” by Alfred Tang, making the point that physics and theology could benefit one from the other.
“Very often scientific discoveries are made when physics interacts with other disciplines (such as biology). In cross-discipline research, physicists are forced to think outside of the box.”
“precision is only possible if and only if we know exactly what we want to say in closed form. As we approach the limit of physics, we often do not even know what to think. Therefore the exactness of the mathematical language may easily lead to highly specialized rabbit trails down into theoretical blind alleys. When we do not know what we are talking about, it is helpful to take a step back to look at the forest instead of the leaves by thinking in more general terms with common language to develop the proper attitudes. Loquaciousness is perhaps the proper technique for developing attitudes. Proper attitudes constrain the theory space so that theoreticians do not waste time populating the theoretical landscape as in the case of superstring theory.”

From “To be or not to be strictly deterministic?” by Stefan Weckbach, stating that physical laws and consciousness belong to different realms.
“truths can evolve out of beliefs”
“there is no direct path from our abstract knowledge to ultimate reality”

From “On the Impossibility of Time Travel” by JCN Smith, demonstrating that a particular time is defined by the configuration of the universe.
“the changes we observe (as well as those we donʼt observe) are the flow of time. If the configuration of the universe did not change, there would be no flow of time.”

From “Quantum mechanics from a stochastic least action principle” by Joakim Munkhammar, giving a unified vision of classical and quantum least action principle.
“the ultimate possibilities in physics could more clearly be visualized with a better foundation for quantum mechanics.”

From “At the Frontier of Knowledge” by Sabine Hossenfelder, giving good reasons to say that it is impossible to say what's ultimately possible.
“Physicists have a love-hate relationship with no-go theorems”
“Despite long efforts, no progress has been made. This situation is one that seems to bother physicists today more than ever due to the lack of breakthroughs in fundamental physics that has lasted several decades now. This is even more frustrating since meanwhile the world around us seems to change in a faster pace every day.”
“proofs are only about the mathematical properties of certain objects in their assumptions. A physical theory that describes the real world necessarily also needs a connection between these mathematical objects and the corresponding objects of the real world.”
“What we can thus state with certainty at any time is merely “To our best current knowledge...””

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Physics Quote of the Day (October 4 - October 10)

"Young people must break machines to learn how to use them; get another made!" Henry Cavendish, born 10 October 1731.

"In the beginning was mechanics." Max von Laue, born 9 October 1879.

"I don't think you 'can' have scientific policy. I think science is something like weeds, it just grows of its own accord, and if you've got the right atmosphere, ... then it grows and develops of its own accord. And I believe that science is best left to scientists, that you cannot have managers or directors of science, it's got to be carried out and done by people with ideas, people with concepts, people who feel in their bones that they want to go ahead and develop this, that, or the other concept which occurs to them." Mark Oliphant, born 8 October 1901.

"Every valuable human being must be a radical and a rebel, for what he must aim at is to make things better than they are." Niels Bohr, born 7 October 1885.

"For every good idea, ten thousand idiotic ones must first be posed, sifted, tried out, and discarded. A mind that's afraid to toy with the ridiculous will never come up with the brilliantly original." David Brin, born 6 October 1950.

"All a quantum state ever does is move in circles." Sean Carroll, born 5 October 1966.

"In the past century, and even nowadays, one could encounter the opinion that in physics nearly everything had been done. There allegedly are only dim 'cloudlets' in the sky or theory, which will soon be eliminated to give rise to the 'theory of everything'. I consider these views as some kind of blindness. The entire history of physics, as well as the state of present-day physics and, in particular, astrophysics, testifies to the opposite. In my view we are facing a boundless sea of unresolved problems." Vitaly Ginzburg, born 4 October 1916.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

What's ultimately possible in physics?

I recently applied for the FQXi essay contest on the topic “What is ultimately possible in physics?” FQXi stands for Foundational Questions Institute. It “catalyzes, supports, and disseminates research on questions at the foundations of physics and cosmology, particularly new frontiers and innovative ideas integral to a deep understanding of reality, but unlikely to be supported by conventional funding sources.” It is directed and advised by a wide of array of renown professors and scientists. In fact, like the Perimeter Institute, it is exactly the institution that is concerned about questions which I am involved with for almost twenty years: understanding reality in a deeper way. So, it was not difficult to engage myself in writing an essay. I almost have the topic in my bones. So here's the result: “Ordinary Analogues for Quantum Mechanics”.

There's an evaluation process detailed on the FQXI Essay contest introduction page. The good news is that you may take part in that process as public voters. If you also applied with an essay, you may vote with a different profile: “community voter”. The essays should be “topical”, “foundational”, “original and creative”, “technically correct and rigorously argued”, “well and clearly written” and “accessible to a diverse, highly-educated but non-specialist audience, aiming in the range between the level of Scientific American and a review article in Science or Nature.” So if you feel you can evaluate on these criteria, I encourage you to vote for the different essays and participate in the discussion. Don't let yourself be impressed by some current low ratings. As all authors may vote as community members, there may be some nonconstructive voting from author competitors. Many essays, were rated 1 or 2 on a scale of 10, only a few hours after being posted, while they met the above evaluation criteria (in my view). It is more important to support and discuss good and innovative ideas. So, in order to end up with correctly balanced votes, join us at the essays main page!

For myself, I thought a good way to contribute with balanced votes is to communicate on what I perceive to be the core ideas of each essay I'll read. I intend to read as much as I can. There are currently about 100 essays and there may add some that were posted on the last day October 2nd. I've already read 4 of them and selected some inspiring quotes which I'll post on my twitter profile with hashtag #fqxiquote and here on this blog, apart from the physics quotes of the day.

Physics Quote of the Day (September 27 - October 3)

"Every discovery takes place in more than a scientific context." Charles Pedersen, born 3 October 1904.

"But I am leaving the regions of fact, which are difficult to penetrate, but which bring in their train rich rewards, and entering the regions of speculation, where many roads lie open, but where a few lead to a definite goal." William Ramsay, born 2 October 1852.

"There is no concept in the whole field of physics which is more difficult to understand than is the concept of entropy, nor is there one which is more fundamental." Francis Sears, born 1 October 1898.

"Lastly, and doubtless always, but particularly at the end of the last century, certain scholars considered that since the appearances on our scale were finally the only important ones for us, there was no point in seeking what might exist in an inaccessible domain. I find it very difficult to understand this point of view since what is inaccessible today may become accessible tomorrow (as has happened by the invention of the microscope), and also because coherent assumptions on what is still invisible may increase our understanding of the visible." Jean Baptiste Perrin, born 30 September 1870.

"Where is everybody?" Enrico Fermi, born 29 September 1901.

"Origami helps in the study of mathematics and science in many ways. Using origami anyone can become a scientific experimenter with no fuss." Martin Kruskal, born 28 September 1925.

"We devise heart transplants, but do little for the 15 million who die annually of malnutrition and related diseases. Our cleverness has grown prodigiously - but not our wisdom." Martin Ryle, born 27 September 1918.