Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Optimists

I read in the newspaper that Germans are unusually optimistic about the New Year! A full 49% of them think the New Year will be a good one, that's 11% more than last year. The reason for this might be that 2006 - for the 4th time in a row - Germany was the export world champion. But now that the New Year has actually begun, they are already back to complaining, in this case about the raise of the sales tax from 16% to 19%.

Speaking about optimism, I saw today that The Edge Annual Question — 2007 is

    WHAT ARE YOU OPTIMISTIC ABOUT? WHY?
    "The 160 responses to this year's Edge Question span topics such as string theory, intelligence, population growth, cancer, climate and much much more. Contributing their optimistic visions are a who's who of interesting and important world-class thinkers."

It is definitely worth having a look! You'll find a lot of familiar names on the list.

E.g. Leon Ledermann is optimistic about science education: 'a war we must declare and win: The War on Ignorance.'

Paul Davies is convinced that 'Some time before the end of the century there will be a human colony on Mars.'

David Deutsch tells us that 'failure is opportunity.'

Alexander Vilenkin uses the opportunity to advertise the multiverse: 'In my view, it is science [...]'

Lee Smolin is optimistic that 'new experiments [...] are likely to transform our knowledge of fundamental physics'

Lisa Randall is also 'optimistic that we'll learn something truly new and exciting about the fundamental nature of matter'. I give her the optimist award for the best writing, and the sentence 'I'm anticipating that society will increasingly recognize and understand the value of knowledge. People will want to make their own critical judgments, know more facts, and stop deferring to questionable authorities or visual media for their education. '

John Horgan is optimistic not about The End of Science, but the End of War: 'In fact civilization, far from creating the problem of warfare, is apparently helping us to solve it.' (See also The End of Physics?)

Frank Wilczek thinks that there will be no End of Physics, because he is optimistic 'that physics will not achieve a Theory of Everything'.

Leonard Susskind states that some humans have successfully rewired their brains 'beyond the things that natural selection could have wired it for' and is optimistic 'that we may be able to go beyond our Darwinian roots in other ways.'

Carlo Rovelli is optimistic that 'scientific thinking is growing in depth' and writes 'The number of people that have realized how much nonsensical is there in religion continues to increase, and no doubt this will help decrease belligerency and intolerance.'

And the nicest piece I find that by Brian Greene who writes so well I just can't delete a single syllable:

"As I help raise my two year old son, I witness a basic truth familiar to parents through the ages and across the continents — we begin life as uninhibited explorers with a boundless fascination for the ever-growing world to which we have access. And what I find amazing is that if that fascination is fed, and if it's challenged, and if it's nurtured, it can grow to an intellect capable of grappling with such marvels as the quantum nature of reality, the energy locked inside the atom, the curved spacetime of the cosmos, the elementary constituents of matter, the genetic code underlying life, the neural circuitry responsible for consciousness, and perhaps even the very origin of the universe.
While we evolved to survive, once we have the luxury of taking such survival for granted, the ability of our species to unravel mysteries grand and deep is awe inspiring. I'm optimistic that the world will increasingly value the power of such rational thought and will increasingly rely on its insights in making the most critical decisions."

And I? I am optimistic that we will accept the challenge of the world changing rapidly, and take it into account in political, sociological and scientific decisions to be made. I am optimistic that 'modern' civilizations recall that science is about the understanding of nature, and not in the first line about being internationally competitive. I am optimistic that I will write a couple of good papers this year, that I'll have fun with my blog, and that theoretical physics will see a lot of young optimists who'll learn how to sail despite some past storms in teacups.


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13 comments:

CarlBrannen said...

I learned to sail on a on the calm water of Newport bay, CA while a grad student in physics at

To learn, I took a class, but there was another grad student,
Tracy Usher, now at SLAC, who later allowed me to practice crew on a a lead keeled fore and aft rigged 30' truly beautiful boat. Tracy still sails and is on the World Council for Lasers, and God knows what else. All this is proof that it is possible to have a great time in grad school and still get a job.

Anonymous said...

Theorists like Lee Smolin and Lisa Randall are optimistic about the results of forthcoming experiments such as LHC. I suspect they both hope that the results of these experiments will confirm their theories.

My experiments have already been done and they confirm my theory. What I am pessimistic about is that someone like Lee Smolin will actually take the time to read my paper.
Once someone sees the advantages of my paper's enlightened viewpoint, I believe a lot of new and exciting things will happen in physics, technology and astrophysics.

I have some hope that by blogging and commenting on on other's blog sites that my paper will somehow be read. But as I have said I am not too optimistic.

Do you think anyone wants to realize that mass is a poor choice of how the gravitational force is mediated and that infrared luminosity makes a far better choice? Even if my experiments repeatedly confirm that the radial spreading of infrared luminosity is attractive?

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure what I'm optimistic about for 2007. Maybe this is just a temporary lapse of optimism.

Anonymous said...

"Theorists like Lee Smolin and Lisa Randall are optimistic about the results of forthcoming experiments such as LHC. "

That's all great and interesting. But even more interesting would be to hear the opinion of those who actually planned, now build and will work with the LHC. But being not in the US, those people effectively do not exist.

Let's see whom the Edge is going to ask for opinions in five years. They may need to expand their scope a bit, though.

Bee said...

Dear Anonymous,

coincidentally, I just discussed a related question with a fried. It seems to me the vast majority of the people on the list from Edge are from North America?

Best,

B.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me the vast majority of the people on the list from Edge are from North America?

Hm, but since The Edge is mor or less (as far as I know) a brainchild of John Brockman, the "literary agent" specialized in scientific and popular science titles, it is natural that there are predominantly people involved who have English as their native language.

However, I have spotted a name of a German I know, Thomas Metzinger, a philosopher who is Adjunct Fellow at the Frankfurt Institute for Advancved Studies. His optimism may be quite European ;-), since he says that he's optimistic that he will be dead wrong again.

Best, stefan

Bee said...

it is natural that there are predominantly people involved who have English as their native language.

Sure. I just meant to point out who or what is represented on that site. E.g. take the question itself! 'What are you optimistic about?', there's no question whether you're optimistic at all ;-)

Best,

B.

Anonymous said...

The anonymous above has a good point.

Edge reflects the fact that most of US high-energy physics is exciting theory of new physics: extra-dimensional black holes, warped extra dimensions, supersymmetry, quantum gravity, etc etc etc. But since decades US fails in building good colliders that would allow to really do new physics. EU high-energy physics is more boring, but closer to reality.

Bee said...

EU high-energy physics is more boring, but closer to reality.

Now that's a weird comment! Physics is about nature, what can be more exciting? You make it sound as if physics is more interesting the less contact it has to reality?

But since decades US fails in building good colliders

I wouldn't focus too much on the colliders. The fact that colliders have been THE tool to find new physics in the last decades doesn't mean it has to stay so. If the US government is hesitating to support projects in that prize range, there are other options. To start with, they could take .1% of it and relieve the severe shortness in sensible positions for physicists, not necessarily teaching positions.

Best,

B.

Bee said...

Regarding the funding issue, see also

A Letter From the Fermilab Director at CV

Anonymous said...

dear Bee, my weird comment means that discussing black hole production at LHC is more fun and rewarding than writing a MC for QCD at NLO or computing 4-loop anomalous dimensions for b->s gamma. It's great that somebody still has fun with real physics, but Edge-like magazines have black holes on the cover and black holes inside. This is worse than the EU editorial format: naked girls on the cover and serious stuff inside.

Bee said...

Dear Anonymous,

discussing black hole production at LHC is more fun and rewarding than writing a MC for QCD at NLO or computing 4-loop anomalous dimensions for b->s gamma.

This is definitely true, but you're thinking black and white, whereas I'm thinking in all colors of the spectrum. I am certainly not a fan of computing NNNNNN-LO contributions to whatever processes (yawn), that you can be sure of. But having worked on BH productions for the LHC - to stick with your example - the 'fun' has its limitations. E.g. I never had the impression that it does actually help me to understand something. On the contrary: There are so many fundamentally unresolved issues in production and evaporation of Planck-size black holes, that the whole topic imho is utterly frustrating. It has been very professionally sold though.

But there's more to physics than going next-to-next-to-next-to or retreating into wild speculations. E.g. right now I am very excited about many things in Cosmology, where the data is getting more and more precise, and the theory side is very lively. Instead of reporting from the Edge of desperation (quantum gravity still not found!), I'd find it more exciting to have people report from from the Edge of reality.

Best,

B.

PS: What's wrong with the naked girls on the cover? Maybe Physics Today should try ;-)

Anonymous said...

it doesn't seem appropriate for the US market.

Sorry for having used BH@LHC as an example (telling that I forgot your works on that would be another gaffe).