Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Happy New Decade !!

Has anyone seen

Schrödinger's Cat ?

Were you a weenie like me on December 31, 1999 screaming from the rafters that the new century/millennium was NOT going to begin the next day but rather a year later on January 1, 2001 ? After all, there was no such thing as a Year Zero.* December 31st 1 B.C. (B.C.E. for you Atheists and Chinese, same difference) turned into January 1st, 1 A.D. (C.E.= Common Era), by our reckoning.

Well, I was 43 on that day so I only screamed that in my head, not to others.

Were I 23 though .... I would have been QUITE vocal, and probably lost friends in the process. Young people! Youth is a temporary affliction, but fortunately, Father Time has the cure. :-)

But what does it matter, anyway? Every day is but one day later than the day before. A man who turns 30 should look on the bright side, for example, that he's tied with few others as the youngest man in his 30's on the planet, rather than the depressing thought that the single most exciting decade of his life is behind him. You are after all, just one day older. Attitude is Everything.

On Jan. 1, 2001 I was 44 with a svelte 43 year-old-wife and 4 kids ages 11, 10, 7, and 5. Good times. Now add 10 to those numbers, and a few pounds all around. Still good times, just a bit crazier, as Science has proven that the raising/expense of teenagers is the source of gray hair. :-)

So, what has happened since Jan. 1, 2001, the dawn of a new day/month/year/decade/century/millennium?

Two new American Presidents, and 2 new wars, still ongoing. Terrorism of the worst sort. A once balanced budget that isn't anymore (thanks to Dumbya and his fellow "Legal Thieves" of the U.S. Treasury, World's largest piggy bank), and probably won't be for the foreseeable future, and the rise of The People's Republic of China, which slowly but surely recognized that Communism is a dead end. Its rise is ongoing, and I don't see the economic inertia changing direction anytime soon.

What happened in  Mathematical Physics?

Again, mostly War (what the Hell is WRONG with our Species?!), especially between SuperString Theory and Loop Quantum Gravity. Lee Smolin and Peter Woit published books that had the people questioning the direction of Theoretical Physics to the point that not only were funds to ST reduced, but funds to very badly needed research in the Quantum Field Theories of Quantum Electrodynamics and Quantum Chromodynamics were reduced as well.

ALSO, String Theorists engaged in an ongoing Civil War amongst themselves over "The Anthropic Landscape" and the number 10 raised to the power of 500, large but finite, with Leonard Susskind of Stanford and Joseph Polchinski of Kavli taking the pro-Anthropic view, Nobel laureate and Kavli Director David Gross championing the anti-Anthropic view, and Edward Witten of IAS-Princeton taking the diplomatic moderate stance. And Lubos Motl got his PhD and unleashed his webblog upon the world, for good or for ... ill. But whatever he was and is, you can't say he's not entertaining ... in a Howard Stern kind of way.

Nature abhors a vacuum, so into the fray stepped the highly speculative field of Cosmology, to the point that Dark Matter Phenomenology has replaced Strings as the primary choice of specialization amongst the grad students and post-docs at top physics research institutions in the USA, at least.

But The Standard Model of Particle Physics still rules, and for this the first decade of the 21st century will likely best be known for the start-up of the LHC at CERN in Switzerland/France. Great expectations, wonderful results and thus good times are around the corner, with Nobels awarded on the one hand and careers crushed on the other, as  results both expected and unexpected are forthcoming soon from the greatest machine built by Humanity to-date.

Of course, NOTHING advanced in the last decade as much as Biology, Astronomy, and the too often forgotten fields of Social Anthropology (sometimes called Cultural Anthropology) and Psychology.

Well, Astronomy's advancement was almost pre-ordained, given the great results born of the great astronomical observatories, both in space and on Earth, planned in decades past and now up and doing their jobs. More yet to come.

Biology has taken off like a bat out of Hell, so much so that 60% of ALL Science blogs are Biology/Medicine-based.

But remember: we don't have Biology without Chemistry, and we don't have Modern Chemistry without Physics, thanks mostly to Wolfgang Pauli and Erwin Schrodinger.

Cultural Anthropology and Psychology are very broad and open fields of study, but mostly they are very young, so sure there is much work to be done, and good news, it's being done.

Overseeing ALL of this and most important all is the great tool that is Computers.

Computer Science is ... everywhere, in every field. I can't believe that it was only 1995 when the milestone of half of American households became internet-wired, and then through the ONLY significant portal of the time that was AOL. That would make this past decade the FIRST of the full decades when we became more wired than ... not.

And now, one last look at the LHC, specifically the CERN/LHC scientists celebrating the startup of same:

Geez, are there ANY non-White people working at CERN and the LHC ??
If you enjoyed those pics, there are many more available from the source material that you can find by clicking here.

* - ADDENDUM: "Year zero" does not exist in the widely used Gregorian calendar or in its predecessor, the Julian calendar. Under those systems, the year 1 BC is followed by AD 1. However, there is a year zero in astronomical year numbering (where it coincides with the Julian year 1 BC) and in ISO 8601:2004 (where it coincides with the Gregorian year 1 BC) as well as in all Buddhist and Hindu calendars. (from Wikipedia) Yes, more useless yet mildly interesting information to help you impress others with "the size of your intellectual penis" at your local Mensa gathering or at your Math Department's Pizza Friday seminar.


Phil Warnell said...

Hi Steven,

The photo caption said: ”Geez, are there ANY non-White people working at CERN and the LHC ??”

I would ask what makes you think those shown work there, rather than being just the audience shipped in for the event:-) As for wondering if anyone has seen Schrödinger's Cat, the whole point is there is nothing to worry about unless someone looks. So in this case it is the observer’s curiosity that can kill the cat; or themselves as demonstrated in the photo:-) What a minute perhaps Sir William Scott just got things confused when he wrote:

”Oh what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practise to deceive!”

-Sir Walter Scott, Marmion, Canto vi. Stanza 17.

That is instead he meant to say:

”Oh what an entangled web we unweave,
When first we practise to perceive!”

-Phil Warnell, Quantum Quote Corrections (2010)- all rights conserved

Happy New Year,


Steven Colyer said...

The photo caption said: ”Geez, are there ANY non-White people working at CERN and the LHC ??”

C'mon, Phil, even the cat is white!


Happy New Year, old sport.