Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Frank Wilczek's New York Times Interview, December 28, 2009

Frank Wilczek gave an interview to the New York Times here. In it he mentions experiments will be run at the LHC regarding Quantum Chromodynamics, for which he co-won the 2004 Nobel Prize in Physics, as the article states.

Well, of course there will be QCD experiments run at the LHC.

QCD is all about the inside of the Atomic Nucleus, about the inside of Protons and Neutrons themselves, about Quarks and the Strong Force and their force bosons: Gluons. You don't smash protons into protons withOUT learning much about QCD. Indeed, proton train wrecks are how we gained the data that provided QCD to be developed in the first place.

As an aside, here's a big shoutout to Ernest Rutherford. One hundred years ago this year he discovered the Atomic Nucleus via experimentation. Awesome work.

Also from the interview, something interesting and of note, is a novel Wilczek is working on his spare time regarding four people who discover something Nobel Prize-winning worthy, but Alfred Nobel's will (I think it was Nobel's will, if not it's just policy) allows for only three individual winners for any one award.

Although the article doesn't mention it, could that reflect on Frank's award? Although he won the 2004 NPP along with David Gross and my Slovak-American cousin Hugh David Politzer, I'm curious if any of you know how close Gerardus 't Hooft and Sid Coleman were considered for the same award. Thanks in advance.

And darn it if that article doesn't make me want to explore the latest work in Axions. How's that going?

Monday, December 28, 2009

How To Teach Physics to Your Dog

It never ceases to amaze me, the things humans come up with. This weblog of mine for example, in the right hand margin under "Physics News", made me aware of a new book titled "How To Teach Physics To Your Dog" by Chad Orzel. Click on the title to learn more.

In the meantime, what follows are 2 interviews, the first with Emmy the Dog, and the second with Chad the Human owner. Enjoy:

Talking to Your Human About Physics

A conversation with Emmy Orzel

Emmy, on a walk So, why do you talk to your human about physics?
Lots of reasons, but mostly because he won't shut up about it. It's always "Blah, blah, Physics, blah blah Quantum blah blah blah."
Sounds like he needs to lighten up a bit.
He definitely needs to get out and chase some more squirrels, if you know what I mean. And bunnies.
It's not too bad, though. Physics is pretty cool.
What's cool about it?
Well, for example, there was this guy named Erwin Schrödinger, who had this idea about a cat. You see, if you take a cat, and you stick it in a box with a thing that will kill it 50% of the time. And before you open the box, the cat is both alive and dead at the same time.
Isn't that brilliant?
That's not a real experiment, is it?
Well, technically, it's a gedankenexperiment, an imaginary experiment used to argue that the "Copenhagen Interpretation" that provides the philosophical framework for understanding quantum mechanics leads to absurd results.
But, I mean, think about it: putting cats in boxes! That's brilliant. You need to be some sort of genius human to come up with a great idea like that.
Um, yeah. OK. I guess.
If I had a research grant, I would definitely do that.
You might have a hard time getting approval for that.
And thumbs. I would also need opposable thumbs.
Maybe I could hire some chimpanzees as post-docs...
Moving along, how did the writing of this book go? What was the process like?
It was mostly the big human, to be honest. I was, like, the inspiration, and provided the dialogue, and he did all the bits with math. And typing. He did all the typing.
Once he finished it, though, we read it over together, and I helped him fix it up. He transcribed my comments, and put them in the final draft. They're the best part, if I do say so myself. Which I do. Because I'm the best.
So, what's your favorite part of the whole experience?
I'd have to say the treats. I got a bunch of treats when we finished the book. I like treats!
What sort of physics things are you thinking about these days?
Well, I've been toying around with trying to learn some relativity. I've also been thinking about quantum information quite a bit. It has some interesting applications.
Such as...?
Well, for exaple, there's this thing called Grover's algorithm, that lets you use a computer to search for things really fast. If you have a million things to look through, a regular computer would need a million operations to find something. A quantum computer using Grover's algorithm could do it in only a thousand steps.
And what is that good for?
Well, I'm thinking, I could make a quantum computer, and use it to find the bunnies in the back yard really quickly. Right now, I can only find them by sniffing everywhere, and that takes a long time. With a quantum computer, I'd know right where to go, and I could catch the bunnies.
Um, actually, Grover's algorithm is for searching a database. It will let you go through computer records more quickly than a classical computer could do. It won't search your back yard for you.
It won't?
Sorry, but no.
Oh. Well, I guess it's back to sniffing, then.
We'll let you get back to it. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us. It's been... interesting.
My pleasure. Say, you wouldn't happen to have any treats, would you?

Talking to Your Dog About Physics

A conversation with Chad Orzel

Chad and Emmy So, why do you talk to your dog about physics?
Lots of reasons, but the main one is that I'm a physics professor. Talking about physics is what I do. Sooner or later I talk to everybody about physics.
I bet that's a big hit at parties.
You might be surprised. I mean, sure, I get a lot of people making faces and saying how much they hated physics when they took it in college. But some of those same people turn right around and start asking interested questions about the subject.
OK, but why the dog?
Talking to the dog about physics is worthwhile because it can help me see how to explain physics to my human students. Humans all come at the subject with the same set of preconceptions about how the world works, and what "should" happen, and it can be very hard to shake those off. That's a big barrier to understanding something like quantum physics.
Dogs look at the world in a very different way. To a dog, the world is a neverending source of wonder and amazement. You can walk your dog past the same rock every morning, and every morning, she'll sniff that rock like she's never sniffed it before. Dogs are surprised by things we take for granted, and they take in stride things that would leave us completely baffled.
Can you give an example?
Well, take the dog's bowl, for example. Every now and then, we put scraps from dinner in the bowl when she's not looking, and she's become convinced that her bowl is magic-- that tasty food just appears in it out of nowhere. She'll wander over a couple of times a day, and look just to see if anything good has turned up, even when we haven't been anywhere near the bowl in hours.
This puts her in a better position to understand quantum electrodynamics than many humans.
It does?
Sure. One of the most surprising features of QED, in Feynman's formulation, is the idea of "virtual particles." You have an electron that's moving along, minding its own business, and every now and then, particle-antiparticle pairs just pop into existence for a very short time. They don't stick around very long, but they have a real and measurable influence on the way electrons interact with each other, and with other particles.
You're making this up, right?
No, not at all. One set of these interactions is described by a number called the "g-factor" of the electron, and this has been measured to something like fifteen decimal places, and the experimental measurement agrees perfectly with the theoretical prediction. If there weren't electrons and positrons popping out of nowhere, there's no way you could get that sort of agreement.
So, what's this have to do with the dog?
Well, like I said, the dog is perfectly comfortable with the idea of stuff popping into existence out of nowhere. If a great big steak were to suddenly appear on your dining room table, you'd probably be a little perturbed. The dog, on the other hand, would feel it was nothing more than her due.
So she's perfectly ok with the idea of virtual particles, unlike most humans, who tend to say things like "You're making this up, right?" She was already convinced that there were bunnies made of cheese popping in and out of the backyard, and just regards QED as a solid theoretical justification for her beliefs.
And this helps humans, how, exactly?
Physics has a reputation as a difficult and unapproachable subject, especially in fields like quantum mechanics, where the predictions of the theory confound our human preconceptions. If you can put aside a few of your usual notions of how the world works, and think about how things look to a dog, some aspects of physics that seem absolutely impossible to accept become a lot more approachable.
Why does this matter, though? Isn't this all stuff that you need a billion-dollar particle accelerator to see?
Actually, no. It's a common misconception, but most of the really cool aspects of quantum mechanics that we talk about in the book are experiments that are done on a table-top scale. One of them, the "quantum eraser," you can even do yourself with a laser pointer and a couple of pairs of polarized sunglasses.
OK, but what is it good for, in a practical sense?
Lots of things. It's not an exaggeration to say that modern life as we know it would be impossible without an understanding of quantum phyiscs. You need to understand quantum ideas to build the lasers we use in modern telecommunications, and the transistors that are the basis of all modern electronics. The computer I'm typing this on wouldn't exist without quantum physics.
And there are a whole host of future technologies that are based on quantum ideas. There are exotic applications like quantum computers that can do calculations that would be impossible with any normal computer, and quantum cryptography systems that allow us to make unbreakable codes. But even relatively mundane "green" technologies like more efficient light bulbs, batteries, and solar panels rely on quantum ideas to work.
Quantum physics is everywhere, and drives a huge amount of modern science and technology.
So that's why people should teach quantum physics to their dogs?
Exactly. Also, it's just about the coolest thing ever.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Avatar: the Movie

I just saw the film Avatar last night with my 14-year-old son. Beautiful, and chock full with Science both good and bad. Sheril Kirschenbaum has a Discover Blog up about the Science of Avatar, which you can find: here.

Without spoiling the ending, I hope, I must say the ending was quite Hollywood, that is to say: unrealistic.

In any event, here are some nice pics (click on each for more detail):



Questions for those who have seen the film:

What the heck is "the mineral" the Humans searching for? Some kind of "anti-gravity" stuff? Holy flubber! I guess that's how the mountains float, sheesh.

As I mentioned, I found the ending very Hollywood, i.e. very unrealistic, and without spoiling it doesn't it remind you, for those who have the pleasure of reading the novels, of Harry Harrison's "Deathworld" and Orson Scott Card's "Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus"?

I enjoyed the film, but it also reminded me of The English and The Spanish in the New World in the 1500's and 1600's, and the bulldozer vs  the tree bit reminded me of the animated film "Ferngully."

The artwork of the floating mountains reminds me of the artwork of Roger Dean, whose work graced the album covers of 1970's bands Yes, Asia, and Uriah Heep. The fauna, the creatures, seemed similar to those found in Wayne Douglas Barlowe's sci-fi artbook/"story": "Expedition: Being an Account in Words and Artwork of the 2358 A.D. Voyage to Darwin IV", as well, except on Pandora they have eyes.

But in the end, Avatar is a love story.

A love story yes, just like Cameron's last film: Titanic.

A love story, but I don't know a single guy who saw Titanic for THAT as much as watching the ship get destroyed.

It's a guy thing. Shrug.

Friday, December 25, 2009


So this is Christmas
And what have you done?
Another year over
And a new one just begun ...

... John Lennon (1940-1980), Artist, Poet, Songwriter, Peace Activist, Accidental Physicist (read the lyrics to Glass Onion), and a European of some note.

So this is Christmas
I hope you had fun
The near and the dear ones
The old and the young

And so this is Christmas
For weak and for strong
For rich and for poor ones
The road is so long

And so happy Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let's Hope it's a good one
Without any fear

So this is Christmas
For black and for white
For yellow and red ones
Let's stop all the fight

War is over
If you want it
 War is over

Except war will never be over as long as there are arms merchants who make considerable amounts of money, and who use that money to grease the bank accounts of politicians.

IF AND ONLY IF their money were spent to do something POSITIVE, like establish a Lunar Colony, we'd all be better off and our species would have a fighting chance of survival.


MORTALITY and GREED: Not always a good thing.


Nice dream anyway, John. We still miss you. 


Sunday, December 20, 2009

Bo Obama and the American Snowstorm of December 19-20, 2009

Bo, the Obama family dog, sits in the snow outside of the White House, December 19th, 2009.

Everyone likes dogs. :-)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Anthropic Principle, or "Ships were Invented to House Barnacles"

(under construction ... forever, most likely, because Anthropic is garbage)

William Kingdon Clifford

William Kingdon Clifford (1845-1879)

From Wiki:


"I was not, and was conceived. I loved and did a little work. I am not and grieve not." - epitaph

"It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence." The Ethics of Belief (1879)

"There is no scientific discoverer, no poet, no painter, no musician, who will not tell you that he found ready made his discovery or poem or picture - that it came to him from outside, and that he did not consciously create it from within." (From a lecture to the Royal Institution titled "Some of the conditions of mental development")

"I ... hold that in the physical world nothing else takes place but this variation [of the curvature of space]." Mathematical Papers.

William Kingdon Clifford FRS (4 May 1845 – 3 March 1879) was an English mathematician and philosopher. Along with Hermann Grassmann, he introduced what is now termed geometric algebra, a special case of the Clifford algebra named in his honour, with interesting applications in contemporary mathematical physics and geometry. He was the first to suggest that gravitation might be a manifestation of an underlying geometry. In his philosophical writings he coined the expression "mind-stuff".

Born at Exeter, William Clifford showed great promise at school. He went on to King's College London (at age 15) and Trinity College, Cambridge. At the latter, he was second wrangler in 1867 and second Smith's prizeman. He was elected fellow in 1868.[1] Being second was a fate he shared with others who became famous mathematicians. e.g., William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), James Clerk Maxwell. In 1870, he was part of an expedition to Italy to observe an eclipse, and survived a shipwreck along the Sicilian coast.[2]

In 1871, he was appointed professor of mathematics and mechanics at University College London, and in 1874 became a fellow of the Royal Society. He was also a member of the London Mathematical Society and the Metaphysical Society.

In 1876, Clifford suffered a breakdown, probably brought on by overwork; he taught and administered by day, and wrote by night. A half-year holiday in Algeria and Spain allowed him to resume his duties for 18 months, after which he collapsed again. He went to the island of Madeira to recover, but died there of tuberculosis after a few months. Eleven days later, Albert Einstein was born, who would go on to develop the geometric theory of gravity that Clifford had suggested nine years earlier.

"Clifford was above all and before all a geometer." (H. J. S. Smith). In this he was an innovator against the excessively analytic tendency of Cambridge mathematicians. Influenced by Riemann and Lobachevsky, Clifford studied non-Euclidean geometry. In 1870, he wrote On the Space-Theory of Matter, arguing that energy and matter are simply different types of curvature of space. These ideas later played a fundamental role in Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity.

Yet Clifford is now best remembered for his eponymous Clifford algebras, a type of associative algebra that generalizes the complex numbers and William Rowan Hamilton's quaternions. The latter resulted in the complex quaternions (biquaternions), which he employed to study motion in non-Euclidean spaces and on certain surfaces, now known as Klein-Clifford spaces. He showed that spaces of constant curvature could differ in topological structure. He also proved that a Riemann surface is topologically equivalent to a box with holes in it. On Clifford algebras, quaternions, and their role in contemporary mathematical physics, see Penrose (2004).

His contemporaries considered him a man of extraordinary acuteness and originality, gifted with quickness of thought and speech, a lucid style, wit and poetic fancy, and a social warmth. In his theory of graphs, or geometrical representations of algebraic functions, there are valuable suggestions which have been worked out by others. He was much interested, too, in universal algebra and elliptic functions, his papers "Preliminary Sketch of Biquaternions" (1873) and "On the Canonical Form and Dissection of a Riemann's Surface" (1877) ranking as classics. Another important paper is his "Classification of Loci" (1878). He also published several papers on algebraic forms and projective geometry.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Rethinking John Moffat

In lieu of the the highly disappointing results out of Minnesota on December 17th, 2009, I think it's time we start rethinking of other kinds of explanations for "Dark Matter" other than possibly mythical Supersymmetric (SUSY) particles like the "neutralino" (unicorn?) and start thinking about  Modified Gravity Theory as an alternative explanation, which was started by this guy:

John Moffat (1932-   ) in 2007
Father of Modified Gravity

Moffat met Einstein at age 20, three years before Einstein's death. Einstein was impressed with his work. Einstein introduced him to Niels Bohr who was also impressed.

Works for me.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

WE FOUND ONE ! (Earth-like World)

George Joseph 1214b is Only 40 Light-years Away!

(CNN) December 16, 2009 -- Astronomers announced this week they found a water-rich and relatively nearby planet that's similar in size to Earth.

While the planet probably has too thick of an atmosphere and is too hot to support life similar to that found on Earth, the discovery is being heralded as a major breakthrough in humanity's search for life on other planets.

"The big excitement is that we have found a watery world orbiting a very nearby and very small star," said David Charbonneau, a Harvard professor of astronomy and lead author of an article on the discovery, which appeared this week in the journal Nature.

The planet, named GJ 1214b, is 2.7 times as large as Earth and orbits a star much smaller and less luminous than our sun. That's significant, Charbonneau said, because for many years, astronomers assumed that planets only would be found orbiting stars that are similar in size to the sun.

Because of that assumption, researchers didn't spend much time looking for planets circling small stars, he said. The discovery of this "watery world" helps debunk the notion that Earth-like planets could form only in conditions similar to those in our solar system.

"Nature is just far more inventive in making planets than we were imagining," he said.
In a way, the newly discovered planet was sitting right in front of astronomers' faces, just waiting for them to look. Instead of using high-powered telescopes attached to satellites, they spotted the planet using an amateur-sized, 16-inch telescope on the ground.

There were no technological reasons the discovery couldn't have happened long ago, Charbonneau said.
The planet is also rather near to our solar system -- only about 40 light-years away.
Planet GJ 1214b is classified as a "super-Earth" because it is between one and 10 times as large as Earth. Scientists have known about the existence of super-Earths for only a couple of years. Most planets discovered by astronomers have been gassy giants that are much more similar to Jupiter than to Earth.

Charbonneau said it's unlikely that any life on the newly discovered planet would be similar to life on Earth, but he didn't discount the idea entirely.

"This planet probably does have liquid water," he said.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Teaching Yourself Quantum Field Theory (QFT)

QFT is nothing less than the single greatest intellectual achievement of the 20th Century if not in the entire History of  Humanity to date other than the discovery that Sex leads to Pregnancy, approximately 7000 years ago.

The two most important QFT's are Quantum Electrodynamics (QED) and Quantum Chromodynamics (QCD).

Other than enrolling in an accredited Graduate Program in Physics, there are printed resources out there that can help you understand the nuts and bolts of this great intellectual achievement.

First, master the Mathematics of Quantum Mechanics, and Special Relativity.

UPDATE: Then read the middle so-called "Hard parts" of Peter Woit's book: Not Even Wrong. In brilliant expository style, he explains (in prose form alone) how QFT came to be, beginning with the mathematics involved, notably Herman Weyl's Group Representation Theory.

Then, read “Quantum Field Theory Demystified, a Self-Teaching Book”, by David McMahon, available in bookstores and targeted to the very intelligent layperson.

UPDATE: Pursuant to Peeter Joot's first comment to this blarticle, QFT Demystified is held in rather low regard by Professional Mathematical Physicists. Peeter suggests playing a "find the Errors" game with it. Sounds like fun Peeter! I'm up to it! One can get a considerable start by reading the comments to the book at it's Amazon page. To Peeter, I agree with your comments re McMahan's QM Demystified, I never bought it.

As early as page 3 McMahon makes mention of the Klein-Gordon equation with its obvious flaws, and moves quickly into the Dirac Equation, which unified Quantum Mechanics and Special Relativity and gave birth to QFT.

On page 4 he explains that while position “x-carat” is considered an operator and time “t” a parameter in QM, and one would expect the promotion of “t” to operator status in QFT, that instead “x-carat” is considered a parameter as well, and McMahon goes on from there through its slim but lovely 261 pages.

A most popular book is "Quantum Field Theory in a Nutshell,"  by String Theorist Anthony Zee. I would not attempt this book without first mastering Mahon's work. I also own “Nutshell” as Zee refers to his book, and find it as others do a book than likely began in intent as a non-technical popular overview of QFT, then morphed somewhere along the way into a “near”-textbook without quite achieving true textbook status. Nevertheless Zee's humor is infectious, and I enjoyed it, but it is not as important as the following:

For a more Mathematical and better treatment as a textbook, Peter Woit recommends textbooks by Pierre Ramond, Peskin-Schroeder, and V.P. Nair. D.R. Lunsford recommends Michele Magiore and "Advanced QM" by Schwabi.

A wonderful discussion on QFT texts based on Zee's announcement that "Nutshell" will be re-released in 2010 with a new introduction can be found at Peter Woit's blog "Not Even Wrong" here

UPDATE (Dec. 25, 2009): I typed in  "Quantum Field Theory" at Amazon and the following books came up in the following order. I would appreciate a Professional commenting on the better ones (in addition to those already mentioned), with thanks in advance.

They are (as of today):

Quantum Field Theory by Mark Srednicki (Hardcover - Feb 5, 2007)

Quantum Field Theory in a Nutshell by A. Zee (Hardcover - Mar 10, 2003)

Quantum Field Theory Demystified by David McMahon (Paperback - Feb 29, 2008)

Quantum Field Theory by Claude Itzykson and Jean-Bernard Zuber (Paperback - Feb 24, 2006)

An Introduction To Quantum Field Theory (Frontiers in Physics) by Michael E. Peskin and Dan V. Schroeder (Hardcover - Oct 1, 1995)

Quantum Field Theory by Lewis H. Ryder (Paperback - Jun 13, 1996)

The Quantum Theory of Fields, Volume 1: Foundations by Steven Weinberg (Paperback - May 9, 2005)

A Modern Introduction to Quantum Field Theory (Oxford Master Series in Statistical, Computational, and Theoretical Physics) by Michele Maggiore (Paperback - Feb 10, 2005)

Modern Quantum Field Theory: A Concise Introduction by Tom Banks (Hardcover - Oct 27, 2008)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The God of Atheism

As a blonde man married to a brunette wife, I find the following cartoon completely offensive:


Like the World's established Religions, Atheism is also a faith, the belief in no higher power, without proof.

I'm a faithless Agnostic, because I'm Scientifically minded. I "believe" in the Scientific Method (Observe, Hypothesize, Test, Conclude), because it's the only logical system I know of to answer questions.

There is NO "proof" in any established Religion ... OR Atheism.

Therefore I am skeptical of all of them.

I understand the anger of Atheists regarding the established Religions, though. I believe it should be aimed at the Politicians who USE Religion as a means to an end, that end more often than not benefiting the greed of their sponsors.

To better understand how the world we live in got into the mess we find ourselves in today with the Religion bits, I can suggest no better book than The Great Transformation by Karen Armstrong. In an enlightened school, it should be required reading, for everyone.

"Agnostics are Atheists without balls."
... Stephen Colbert, author of "I Am America ... And So Can You"


I should point out that Colbert (pronounced: "cole-BEAR" in the great French tradition of sounding their words differently than how than spell) is an American Comedian, like this guy:

"Theoretical Physicists are fucking nuts."
... George Carlin

Not quite. Mathematicians are nuts. Physicists are adorable. We love Mathematicians anyway, though.

Mathemeticians like Paul Erdos, the way he chose to live his life, are greater sources of comedy than professional comedians.

Will the laughter ever end?

Now, now. See Alan Guth and Inflation theory, notably: Quantum Fluctuations. There's your Speculative Proof !

He should know, look at how organized his office is:

I'm not joking! That IS impressive! I bet he knows where everything in his office is located. If any "secretary" or "administrative assistant" or "grad student"/"post-doc" cleaned that mess up, he'd be lost.

Friday, December 11, 2009

ALIEN SPACESHIP SPOTTED OVER NORWAY ! (Proceeds to Launch Photon Torpedoes at Inuit Igloos as Seen in the Photograph Below!)

OK, fine, there is no Spaceship according to the official press release under the image. However, can someone please explain the odd spiral nature of the light?

MOSCOW (AFP) – Russia's new nuclear-capable missile suffered another failed test launch, the defence ministry said Thursday, solving the mystery of a spectacular plume of white light that appeared over Norway.

The Bulava missile was test-fired from the submarine Dmitry Donskoi in the White Sea early Wednesday but failed at the third stage, the defence ministry said in a statement.

The pre-dawn morning launch coincided with the appearance of an extraordinary light over northern Norway that captivated observers.

Images of the light that appeared in the sky above the Norwegian city of Tromso and elsewhere prompted explanations ranging from a meteor, northern lights, a failed missile or even a UFO.

Describing the latest failure of the Bulava as a major embarrassment for the military, leading Russian defence analyst Pavel Felgenhauer said the images were consistent with a missile failure.

"Such lights and clouds appear from time to time when a missile fails in the upper layers of the atmosphere and have been reported before," he told AFP.

"At least this failed test made some nice fireworks for the Norwegians," he joked.

"Take THAT, Eskimos! Bwa-ha-HA!" said the Aliens. " We need your Ice for the front of our near-light-speed interstellar craft! Please don't take it personally."

Monday, December 7, 2009

Philoctetes Roundtable on "Time"

I attended my first Roundtable Discussion at Philoctetes in New York City last Saturday on the subject of “Time.” My impressions follow.

Go to http://philoctetes.org/Home/ to see the home page of Philoctetes, full name: The Philoctetes Center for The Multidisciplinary Study of Imagination

The Center is a bit controversial in Mathematical Physicist circles as one of the Disciplines it allows to be “in play” is Theology. This is partly because it seems to be at least partially funded by The Templeton Foundation, itself a controversial organization as Templeton’s mission appears to be to unify Religion and Science, i.e., God and Humanity, via Physics and Mathematics, and Theology.

There was no Theology brought up at the Roundtable discussion Saturday afternoon, at least none that I noticed (I was 20 minutes late in arriving thanks to New York City traffic and the first snowfall of the season).

I first became aware of this interesting place from a blarticle at Peter Woit’s  “Not Even Wrong” blog. Both Woit and his regular posters are critical of Theology, definitely critical of Templeton, and of a previous Roundtable Discussion held at Philoctetes on the subject of “Mathematics and Religion” which included Max Tegmark and Brian Greene on the panel.

My primary reason to attend was to meet Scientific American Senior Editor George Musser, which I did, and as a wonderful unexpected bonus, met my first Scientist in the flesh: Dr. Michael Shara of The American Museum of Natural history.

Shara dominated the discussion for the most part, and wonderfully so. I enjoyed his lucid explanation of Indeterminacy, aka Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, without mentioning either word or expression. Instead he remarked on the delta-E delta-T greater than or equal to Planck’s Constant aspect regarding virtual particles coming into being; and Entropy as well.

George Musser also weighed in quite a bit, explaining fundamental Physics in a nice and non-technical way.

Mark Norell, moderator and the panel's Paleontologist, weighed in on how differently other cultures measure time compared to the way we do in the West.

Olga Ast, the Artist on the panel,  was difficult for me to understand because she had a strong Russian accent. She did have something to say about mirror symmetry, however, as she showed a painting of a man looking in a mirror and seeing his back, not his front, meaning I suppose we experience time in a certain way, and no other.

The discussion lasted on the order of 50 minutes, with a 45 minute question-and-answer session following. All was interesting.

One of the most interesting questions was regarding the paradox that length and time can be thought of as being infinite, in the sense that if one divided time in half (say, a second into a half-second, then into a quarter second, etc.) then one would never reach the end of the road or the last moment of one's life. Shara politely shot that down by mentioning the graininess of space and time, meaning you eventually reach an atomic time-span that is fundamental and cannot be further divided, such that one "Planck-time" or "Planck-length" later, you do in fact reach the end of your road, or your life.

Overall it was an enjoyable experience. I have no idea if Philoctetes plans to issue an on-line video of the discussion as I do not know Philoctetes’ policies at the moment regarding same.

Edward Johnston, Looking at Clouds -Variation 2