The end of physics has been proclaimed several times.  For instance at the end of the 19th century when statistics and mechanics were figured out, some thought it was going to be merely a matter of calculation.  Between Newton and Maxwell they might have figured it all out right?  Except there were very simple problems that defied calculation.  For instance the “lumineferous ether” didn’t seem to exist and the “ultraviolet catastrophe” led to first relativity and secondly to quantum physics both of which Albert Einstein had a hand in.  After general relativity was fleshed out it took from early in the 1900’s up to somewhere around 1965 to finally figure out quantum field theory and what we now call the standard model.

 

But it’s worth looking back at right around 1960-1965.  Just like for Einstein back in the early 1900’s there were enough clues that anyone who looked long and hard enough at the problem would be able to eventually figure it out.  We had something called the “particle zoo” for instance Muons (which are basically heavy electrons) all kinds of mesons (quark + anti-quark, pions, rhos, phi omega).  This zoo of 40 or so “elementary” particles gave rise to all sorts of wild theories, various incarnations of the s-matrix and yes, string theory was invented to try to explain it, but eventually we found out that the strong force worked the same as the electro-weak force, that is the same equations held “all” that changed were the coupling constants.

Between 1965 and today all that has happened is 1) verification and more verification of both relativity and the standard model (like the discovery of the higgs) and 2) discovery of dark energy and dark matter.

But now we face a real problem in physics.  We don’t have the clues we had at the turn of the century that led Einstein to his miracle year nor do we have the clues that we had back in 1960 with the particle zoo.  All we have are very small hints and the real extent of the problem is clear.  To get to the energy levels required to create our own dark matter it seems likely we will need energy levels approaching 1,000,000,000 times more than the LHC.  10^-23cm is right around where both the weak force and dark matter are hiding and to pry them out in the open we would need a new LHC that is larger than the earth.  Right now the LHC is many orders of magnitudes hotter than any star, it’s pretty close to the big bang, but to get to where we think we need to is going to be a problem.   Astronomical physics is also a problem, as the cosmic background radiation doesn’t actually go back to the big bang it only goes back to a few hundred thousand years afterwards when the universe cooled down enough to create atoms because before that the universe was opaque.

What is next then?  The web telescope is 8.7b, 13b for ligo, huge telescopes like SKA and EELT are about 2b, Super-Kamiokande is relatively cheap for a few million, the Kepler telescope was also a bargain and a half billion.  But anywhere we look it seems like it will be a costly search.  And we don’t have any plan forward.  There are as many theories for the dark matter as you might like, though the WIMP seems most likely and supersymmetry also seems like a reasonable idea.  However it is hubris to think that humans were meant to understand the universe.  Perhaps true understanding is beyond our reach and that we won’t be able to build a detector, or telescope large enough to find out the true nature of the universe.  For the past 200 years we have been picking off the low lying fruit.  Saul Perlmutter got the last of it with the discovery of dark energy by examining type 2 supernovas.  From now on it seems all the projects will get larger and larger and more and more expensive.  I don’t see any particular reason to think that one way is better than another, a telescope, an underground dark matter detector, space telescope or another gravitational detector.  Theorists right now are spinning new theories but the entire edifice of string theory is so big, it contains not only the current standard model but every possible standard model for every possible universe.  My personal feeling is to keep striving and to continue with all the projects, that means yes building the next LHC, with 10 times the power.   It will be expensive but every path forward is expensive now.  Build another LHC, build another space telescope another super K, and what will have to happen is more of the same.  Today an experimental physicist will never do an experiment on his own.  Because of the cost of modern physics he will only share the first page with hundreds of others.  We will have to continue down the same path, more expensive physics projects but less and less actual experiments as the cost continues to rise for each experiment.

 

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Why 21?  Because that’s how far I got.  I might add 1 or 2 later on, then it will be 22 or 23.  I was talking with a sibling of mine about how I quit watching movies because they suck, I don’t watch tv because it sucks too.  I still occasionally read books tho and the reason is there are so many authors so many books it is inevitable that eventually you will find a book that you relish.   Unlike movies where if you are lucky there might be one good movie in a given year, every year there are hundreds of amazing books.  So if you think you might have a similar taste to mine, here’s a book list of some of my favorite sci fi & fantasy books.  I know some of these books are really too common, flowers for algernon, lord of rings, if you haven’t read those yet you probably don’t need my recommendation.  But I believe there might be some books in here someone else might be interested in.  My reading tastes range from the shallow to the deep, not sure if there is a consistent theme to what I like.

top sci fi & fantasy books and why, no particular order with one line explaining why

1. Cugel’s Saga, Jack Vance.  D&D style fantasy complete with greedy main characters
2. ubik, philip k dick.  One of the best sci fi writers with perhaps his greatest book.
3. deepness in the sky, vernor vinge.  An omelet of hard sci fi, characters, plot and actual science.
4. lord of the rings tolkien, he started that sword and sorcery thing
5. 1984, orwell.  no longer the future 1984 is now
5. 20,000 leagues under the sea, jules verne.  great old timey stuff.
6. flowers for algernon, keyes, because we are all algernon.
7. day of the triffids, john wyndham, a great 1950’s plant invasion
8. jonathan strange and mr norrell, susanna clarke, wonderfully written
9. a witch shall be born, robert e howard.  scene of conan freeing himself from crucifixation has never been equaled
10. nine princes in amber, zelazny, this is one of the few “just for fun” series that I enjoy re-reading
11. solaris, stanislaw lem, pyschological sci fi
12. varney the vampire, James Malcolm Rymer and Thomas Peckett Prest, dickens era vampire story, when vampires weren’t cool
13. the descent, jeff long, so claustrophobic
14. first book of swords, fred saberhagen, i like this because fred tries not to be too silly even when ridiculous
15. when gravity fails, george alec effinger, a terrific writer that happens to write sci fi
16. nul-a ae van vogt, it’s the golden age, where men were manly men
17. arcane, carl sherrell.  If you don’t see a unicorn on the cover then it’s the wrong “arcane”
18. marrow, robert reed.  wonderful detailed sub light sci fi book, because sub light speed is always better than warp speed
19. the magus, john fowles.  Is he a wizard or a bullshitter?
20. ash: a secret history, mary gentle.  All the  other world builders are just fakers, this is the real deal.
21. ship of fools, richard paul russo, really is there any better hard sci gene than sub light speed space ships?
22. Ursus of Ultima Thule, Avram Davison.  Reading books by Avram always reminds me of my late father for some reason.

 

 

“The reason we don’t see these funny quantum states that they are interacting with things around them we call that decoherence. The question is does this explain schoedinger’s cat paradox? Absolutely. The cat is being bombarded with air molecules all the time. An awful lot of nonsense is said about quantum mechanics. There are mysterious things about it. But all of them have to do with gravity. If the word gravity doesn’t appear and they say there is something mysterious about quantum mechanics they are selling you something. When we do things in the lab it is beautifully described by quantum mechanics. There’s no difficulty whatsoever. Decoherence solves all of the old paradoxes. This was a point appreciated by Bohr and Heisenberg. Bohr was such a horrible writer that it didn’t really penetrate but it was revived in the 1980’s. The process of measurement is not some ur-different thing. It’s part of nature! A measuring device is made out of the same stuff everything else is made of. There’s no “mysterious consciousness” involved in the process of measurement. There’s no such thing as wave function collapse. Everything is just good old fashioned quantum mechanics. There is something important when you have interactions between small systems and very very big systems, then these quantum coherences can be very quickly lost. That’s the reason why classical physics emerges, it’s why measurements yield well defined answers.”
Nima Arkani-Hamed speaking at the Cornell Messanger Lectures June 6, 2016.
I’ll probably save this quote in my blog too, so I can reference it later when I feel the need to talk sense to copenhagen quantum wooers.

last night google’s alpha go beat the second best human go player in the world, Lee Sedol last night the first game of this 5 game match was held in south korea, so it starts at 11pm EST, hard to watch it live without falling asleep.

Go players around the world held this go program in contempt. Go can’t be played by computers. Go is artistic and requires human ideas. Come on go players. Humble yourself. You really thought humans would beat computers forever?

How this program works is ridiculous. there was no way that the programmers could find to beat humans, straight up calculation doesn’t work (like used to beat Kasparov in chess 20 years ago) the calculations get too complicated, while the random walk monte carlo method tends to create weak moves in the middle game.

What did they do? They created a neural network. An artificial human brain. Then they told the computer to play itself millions and millions of times. This computer taught itself how to win at go. Remarkable really.

In the actual game, Lee Sedol who is a very aggressive player, he likes to battle early in the game took the game out of book early with a play close to the edge on the 3rd move, he seemed to be testing alphago. Alpha go then responded by fighting for the center and Sedol definitely looked to have an advantage pursuing the upper right corner. Quickly the game turned into a huge battle with both players fighting, you know how in go you can play tactically or strategically, right away Sedol took the game into a tactical battle and alpha go obliged. The game become terribly complicated and in retrospect both the human and the computer began making some small errors. Sedol then in the middle game made 2 or 3 more errors than the computer did. When the game wound down to the ending, it wasn’t clear until just before the final ending play that alpha go was ahead and Sedol resigned immediately instead of playing it out.

Sedol never thought that the computer would be this strong. That it would play “like a human” instead of like a computer. What Sedol never counted on is that 5 months after the last time alphago played a human it had played itself millions more times and had become much stronger.

Two conclusions: Good for you computers! Chess is my game, not go, and I am glad that the computers came for you. I have had to suffer the intolerable airs of humans proclaiming go is better than chess because only humans can win at go. So good for you alpha go. Humble those go players.

Second conclusion. This is going to be really good for go. You would think that when computers beat humans it means that humans will just give up. That’s not what happened for chess when kasparov lost. paradoxically it helped chess. Something about not having to worry about computers any more gave chess a huge surge. Now people only play people. And people turn to computers to help them train. So all around losing to computers will in the long run only help go become more popular.

I’ll be rooting for the computers for the rest of this match. Hail computers. Beat the human!

You might think I have some sympathy for Lee Sedol not a chance. Before the match he said he would crush alpha go 5-0. So I love seeing him get humbled.

This book tricked me.  I have a degree in physics so I am always incredibly excited to see a book that seems to be a hard science book you know one actually about the science or if not that at least religiously adheres to the standard model.  This book has titles like The Zeroeth Law of Thermodynamics, Degeneracy, you know stuff relating to the laws of physics, black holes, information and such.  But really this is a book about terrorists, a shady Mallt-y-Nos, the entire solar system hunting them down, guns in space, maintenance hatch, a sort of mix of John le Carre, the locked room mystery of Agatha Christie and a bit of Star Trek.   There is plenty of excitement fights, interrogations, a good solid plot.  But like I said I got distracted reading this book, it’s like you bite into an orange and it’s made of meat.   Just not what I expected.   It’s very tightly written good characters, but I can’t get over how mislead I felt when I read this book.    I might re-read this again but next time I would put my mindset into that of a spy thriller murder mystery, and not get ready to have my thirst of science slacked.

A lot of 1977 references, deep throat, towering inferno, several commercials that were running in 1977, the feel o vision was a reference to the dolby sound system that first came out in 1975, then the blasploitation reference, the enter the dragon parody.

You have to be on your toes to catch the references and from the vantage of 2015 these parodies of pop culture in 1977 are just not very funny, the main reason is that when you make fun of something that is trivial it’s hard to see why there is a parody in the first place. In 1977 tho a lot of these things were big but from 2015 it’s hard to see what the fuss was.

The best parts of this movie are the really shocking bits, frying a cat, keep a dead child around to play with that sort of stuff. That can still be shocking even if it’s not tremendously funny and the movie gets props for being outrageous there. The nude scenes are tame by today’s standards, so for instance the newscasters looking in on a sex scene and getting excited, it seems weird why would you care about it.

The best thing about this movie is that it led to the Zuckers eventually making some of the greatest comedy films of the past 50 years with airplane and the naked gun franchise.

It’s really impossible for me to put myself back in 1977 but I wonder if I would find it funny back then. It isn’t funny now.

Failure by Stuart Firestein Oxford University press, due out Oct 1, 2015

Unfortunately I couldn’t finish this book. Got through about 4 chapters before I gave up. There’s a quote by Enrico Fermi, to paraphrase, success means you confirm a theory failure means a discovery. That’s basically the book, make it through a few chapters but it was too repetitive for me to finish the book. I love science, but there was nothing new here for me. I had high expectations due to the subject matter and his previous book “Ignorance: How It Drives Science” but it’s clear now I should have started with book with lowered expectations. That’s about all I can say.