Friday, October 06, 2006

On the couch

Since some weeks I live on the couch. Not only do I sleep on the couch, in the absence of any other furniture, I eat on the couch, I work on the couch, I do literally everything on the couch.

Last weekend, I went for some coffee with a friend, S. Unfortunately, the cafe was pretty crowded so we were offered the last free table in the corner they call 'the living room'. Where I ended up sitting, you get it, on the couch. The waitress was slow, but told us everything we ordered was 'Terrific!'. We spent the afternoon discussing this and that, and at some point the question was raised whether people are more nuts in Canada or California. To make a point for California I told S. a story from my last visit in LA:

I went for a walk in Venice Beach. Yes, it looks like in the movies with all the muscles and bikinis being shown off there, that's already nuts enough if you ask me. But what's much more interesting is the amount of weirdos you meet on the walkway. Like, people offering psychic healing within 2 minutes (guaranteed, only $20, special offer), play Beatles songs backwards (so they say, not that I could tell), or sell incredibly bad 'art' that allegedly their gifted dog painted.

So, I was walking there on the weirdway and came by this white haired guy, who looked like he had never heard of sun protection. He was wearing nothing but a pink mini skirt, standing on an upside-down turned skateboard with one missing wheel, beating with a spoon on the back of a bowl. He asked me how I am, and distractedly I said I'm fine, staring at the amount of white hair and beard falling over clearly visible rips. He asked for my name, and I choose to be Kate, not in the mood to explain the origin of my first name.

"I am Jesus.", he said, stopped beating his bowl to shake my hand, and grinned at me, displaying evidence for a missing dental plan. Okay, well, I mean I've learned that Jesus is quite a common name in Mexico, so I just nodded. Then he added "I died for your sins."

Being a polite person, I said "Thanks.", he definitely looked like recently crucified. I asked how his mother is doing. "Busy, busy" he said. Yeah, I guess, tough job being holy and all. Anyway. Unfortunately Jesus recognized my German accent and began asking me things about the pope. In case you wonder: no, I have never met the pope in person, despite growing up in Germany, but hey, there are roughly 80 Millions of us. And by the way, I am not catholic.

I was trying to get rid of Jesus, who began quoting things from the bible that I didn't understand for one reason or the other, when he suddenly leaned towards me scaringly close and asked:

"If God would answer one question for you, what would you ask?"

Hah! What a question!

Okay, now back on the couch in the cafe with my friend S.

Pretending to be intellectual, I should come up with a sensible answer to that question, shouldn't I? What about: How do we achieve world peace in 3 easy steps? But then, what would all the newspapers write about? I really don't want to be responsible for millions of unemployed journalists. But I thought about the question for quite some while. Eventually, I recalled that this is supposed to be a science blog, so maybe I should ask for the theory of everything or so.

But what if I'd just not understand the answer? What if nobody of us would? What if the human brain is just not capable of grasping the theory of everything, assumed there is one? If it's like your baby cries, and all you do is hand over the car keys. It doesn't help either if you add a map with a clearly visible red X on the closest mall, but car keys taste quite interesting, don't they?

So, what I would really like to know: If there's a theory of everything, are we able to understand it?

If we are, I am sure, sooner or later we will find it. I hope, rather sooner than later, but as always I am quite optimistic there. What really keeps me up at night is the question whether we would realize what we have found, should we stumble across it.

My friend S. began to look concerned as a result of my couch talk, so I felt like I had to explain myself. Yes, I do think that the capacity of the human brain at it's present state of evolution is most likely not able to finally explain everything there is in the universe. I mean, everyone who ever had to fill out a tax income return form, knows that there are things you just can't understand.

To prevent any misinterpretation at this point, I am not advocating intelligent design, instead I like to call it the principle of finite imagination. But like most scientists I know, I don't see any fundamental incompatibility between science and religion (though there is undoubtly some incompatibility between followers of each). I strongly believe that there is a theory of everything, but I also think nature is still way ahead of us. Let me put it this way:

There are more things between strings and loops than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

(Okay, that was the story about my intellectual answer to Jesus' question what I'd ask God. What I actually said was "I'd really like to know is why his son is wearing a pink skirt." )

What would you ask?





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19 comments:

Faust said...

Hi Bee,

I am writing to request your generous attendance at the launch of my new blog: 'Space - Time - Matter'

URL: http://faustscorner.blogspot.com

We hope to gather more students (primarily undergraduates, but others are welcome as well) to discuss various topics in physics and mathematics. Please drop by and make this blog your 'lounge room'.

Thanks
Faust

Uncle Al said...

http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/curtain.htm
Southern California, explained.

Germany recently scored the Pope and the governor of California, both of whom have ties to the local 1940s version of the Boy Scouts. No complaints here in California.

Theodore von Kármán died and entered heaven. Upon arrival he looked through the orientation packet and discovered he could ask god one question, up front and personal. He pulled his chit, got in the queue, and waited, and waited, and waited... The throne finally appeared on the horizon , grew closer... and Theodore von Kármán had his chance to ask god one question.

Theodore von Kármán, "God, please explain turbulence."

Theodore von Kármán spent the rest of eternity burning in Hell.

human genome said...

What I'd really like to know is what the 98% of our DNA are good for that don't seem to have any purpose.

stefan said...

Sorry that I have nothing sensible to contribute right now, but this occasion to mention this wonderful Pauli joke can't be left unused:

So Pauli has died and gone to heaven, where he is granted a direct audience with God. Like Karman, he is given the opportunity to ask one question. Pauli asks why the fine structure constant has its special value of 1/137 something. God begins a detailed explanation, and covers a blackboard with equations. Pauli first looks with pleasue, then starts shaking his head, and finally can't stop objecting: “Das ist alles falsch!”

Bee said...

may I suggest it's not even wrong?

Garrett said...

Yah, I'd ask the TOE question. Not whether it exists and is comprehensible, but what it is -- in detail. I think there's plenty of clues pointing to its existence. The biggest one being that GR exists as a deeply simple, comprehensible and elegant geometric theory that describes part of the universe extraordinarily well. But think about how hard it was to come up with GR. I think it's going to be that way with a TOE: hard to come up with, but beautifully simple once we know it.

Of course, my world view would be so turned upside-down by getting the answer handed to me by a god I didn't believe in that I'd have to go out and buy a pink skirt. (At least I already have the skateboard.)

Uncle Al said...

Spin-orbit coupling measurably exists. GR specifically forbids it. The patch creates a chiral pseudosclar vacuum background. That falsifies Lorentz invariance, isotropic space, conservation of angular momentum, the Equivalence Principle; general relativity, quantum field theory, and string theory all at the founding postulate level.

Are we having fun yet? Yahweh's little joke.

nitin said...

I mean, everyone who ever had to fill out a tax income return form, knows that there are things you just can't understand.
?
This is plain laziness of your mind to understand how the income tax system works.

The one question I would be inclined to ask, if given the opportunity, is:
"Are you having fun with your game-universe?" I mean, he's God, so he's the so-called "theory of everything", but physicists do not care about the ideas of a God per se.. right? Why should we care about the TOE itself then?

Of course, this is all philosophical blah blah..
maybe you need a real bed soon dear Bee :P

QUASAR9 said...

Hi Bee, you should have asked God what he used in his collider to create the Universe
You should have asked God where he put strings in the universe, I mean we know wjere man puts strings
You should have asked God if a soul is born thru a microstate blackhole, and whether upon death the soul migrates thru a microstate blackhole to another dimension or to a daughter universe

You know as in, is the souls journey resurrection in a heavenly dimension, or reincarnation in one of Smolin's parallel universes.

But if souls don't exist, then God might have asked Bee why would Bee want to know such a thing.

Bee imagine if the universe was created from the collision of two apple seeds --- is that TOE, and a toe is something at the end of your foot it doesn't tell you much about the person.

Can DNA tell you which books someone read or wrote
Can DNA tell you which films
someone made or saw.

And do thoughts come into the four dimensional hole thru a microstate blackhole?
Do thoughts disappear from your mind before you can grasp them thru evaporating blackholes?

Hope You are having fun.
Enjoy the journey, enjoy the ride!

JESUS said...

My mum picks my clothes and her taste is impeccable.

-- Jesus

PS: Bee! Please capitalize His son (last sentence), or I'll tell daddy!

QUASAR9 said...

Hi Bee, further to your comment at the Reference frame
For example, extra dimensions may cause neutrinos to create microscopic black holes, which instantly evaporate and create spectacular showers of particles in the Earth's atmosphere and in the Antarctic ice cap.

These are caused naturally in Nature
Intelligent life is trying to recreate these events in colliders.
But they evaporate instantly
Effectively if they are the transition state in particle division and separation from one state to the next, they are also the transition state in cell division.

There is a universe under the microscope, but it is not the universe we see thru the telescope. The universe we see thru the telescope contains the universe we see thru the microscope, not viceversa. And note, yes 'we' are the observers, humans or the intelligent life which builds telescopes, microscopes & colliders

Bee said...

Hey Uncle,

yeah, I'm having fun :-)

Hi Garrett,

I think it's going to be that way with a TOE: hard to come up with, but beautifully simple once we know it.

It seems to me that the concepts of simplicity and beauty have been severely stretched. What would you say if someone tells you the beauty is not so simply to see? Maybe we should just take our GUT feelings more seriously.

Hi Nitin,

yeah, this is philosophical blahblah, correct. Better to write it in my blog than in my papers.

This is plain laziness of your mind to understand how the income tax system works.

Well, the next time I'll put a clearly visible marker in the text saying 'sarcasm'. But to clarify the problem with the tax income: it's not about how to fill out the forms and to figure out what which state/government demands of me. Just that this system (in its present form) doesn't make any sense (in neither state I know). If I start to explain you why the income tax system doesn't make any sense it would take me hours, so I'll not even start it.

I mean, he's God, so he's the so-called "theory of everything", but physicists do not care about the ideas of a God per se.. right? Why should we care about the TOE itself then?

That's essentially the same question as mine, isn't it? If Jesus told you the only reason for the parameters of the standard model is that mother Mary picked them and her taste is impeccable, then I'd say we are not able to understand the TOE. However, given the fact that we have been able to understand quite a lot of the universe so far, there is certainly hope that we are also able to solve the remaining mysteries (with the possible exception of why men wear pink skirts that is).

Best,

B.

QUASAR9 said...

Bee, are you saying TOE might be able to explain everything about the Universe, except the unpredictable irrationality of biological life, especially man (or woman).

Is biological life (and mind) not a predictable product or result of the physical Universe.
Then TOE is not and cannot be the Theory of Everything

PS - What about "White Couches"

Kris Krogh said...

Hi Bee,

Your blog always makes me smile or laugh. Thanks!

As an expert on general relativity (who maybe is not dogmatic about it?) what's your take on Yaweh's joke from Uncle Al:

"Spin-orbit coupling measurably exists. GR specifically forbids it. The patch creates a chiral pseudosclar vacuum background. That falsifies Lorentz invariance, isotropic space, conservation of angular momentum, the Equivalence Principle; general relativity, quantum field theory, and string theory all at the founding postulate level."

Seems an important joke to me!

Kris Krogh

Kris Krogh said...

I can confirm pink dresses are not unpopular among men at Venice Beach. There I once crossed paths with a very tall African-American on roller skates (which made him that much taller) in a pink Chiffon dress. As he skated, he played a guitar and sang about space aliens. (His singing was good, so I made a small contribution to the cause.)

Bee said...

Hi Human,

I quite like the idea that aliens stored some secret code in these 98% of our DNA. Imagine that: maybe the TOE is encoded there, and it won't be found by physicists twisting their head about Zing-Zong theory, but by some biologists.

Best, B.

Bee said...

Hi Quasar,

Bee, are you saying TOE might be able to explain everything about the Universe, except the unpredictable irrationality of biological life, especially man (or woman).

Is biological life (and mind) not a predictable product or result of the physical Universe.
Then TOE is not and cannot be the Theory of Everything


That depends on what you mean with Theory of Everything, but if you mean it literally, then of course you are right. I find it possible however, that a theory that unifies the standard model of particle physics with General Relativity (often referred to as the yet to be found TOE) will not be able to explain indeed every mystery of conscious life, and the whys of the universe.

When you speak of 'predictable', keep in mind that we have a quantum-universe...

Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Uncle Kris,

Spin-orbit coupling measurably exists. GR specifically forbids it [...] That falsifies Lorentz invariance, isotropic space, conservation of angular momentum, the Equivalence Principle; general relativity, quantum field theory, and string theory all at the founding postulate level."


I think we've had that discussion before. I am still not sure what exactly you mean with spin, but apparently not what I mean with spin.

Your above statement is incorrect. The geodesic equation is the curve for a free falling, spinless point particle. In case the particle is not pointlike, has any kind of angular momentum, or any other charges, its curve of motion is modified. This is not a violation of the equivalence principle, and not in contradiction to GR. The motion of the particle will be modified by each property that contributes to the stress-energy tensor of the particle.

Best,

B.

Kris Krogh said...

Hi Bee,

This is my first time posting here. I was quoting Uncle Al!

I hadn't heard of this spin issue and followed his link to a Wikipedia page on Einstein-Cartan theory describing it. The page also says: "This article or section is in need of attention from an expert on the subject." So I wanted another viewpoint.

For my part, I have concerns about the way general relativity treats quantum-mechanical spin, but it seems Uncle Al has the classical spin of an orbiting body in mind.

Cheers,
Kris