Friday, October 19, 2007

Small World

I am back to Canada after a couple of days in New York City at the workshop Origin of Time's Arrow. The workshop was a whirl of interesting talks, though the least of them had much to do with... oohm... what was the topic again? Most speakers talked about their current research, and just added a last slide with the remark: To come back to the arrow of time...

That is to say I still don't understand all the aspects of the problem. In fact, I am even more confused now. There's nothing as great as explaining why a problem is or isn't a problem without explaining the problem. I had been counting on Andreas Albrecht's talk, but he changed the topic and talked about something completely different (I forgot what). I will tell you some details about the talks I kept in good memory maybe next week, e.g. Gia Dvali's talk was really neat, and besides giving a very entertaining presentation Paul Davies made some interesting points.

At the workshop, I further met the inimitable Mike Kavic from Virgina who wants me to mention him "in a favorable light", and doesn't want me to mention he found at least one of the speakers on the panel discussion must have been drunk, so I won't. He reported from a dinner (which I unfortunately missed but couldn't have afforded anyhow) that another workshop speaker had sufficient drinks to underline arguments by throwing with rolls. See, some academics know how to deal with temporary withdrawal from their guilty pleasures, like new texbooks and other illegal substances.

The photo below shows the view from the New York Academy of Sciences where the workshop was held, 7 World Trade Center, 250 Greenwich Street, 40th floor

Since it was my first time in NYC, I stayed a day longer to do some of the tourist stuff etc. In the morning I had received an email from D. who wrote me she went into a bookstore, saw Lee Smolin's book, bought the book, did a Google search, came on my blog, my website, and found the link to my gallery is broken. After we exchanged some emails about this and that, it turned out she lives in Manhattan, and was about to go to the library - while I was in the Museum of Modern Arts just across the street. So I was lucky to have a local tourist guide for the afternoon, and quite an interesting discussion in addition. She also took the photo below, in front of the ice rink at Rockefeller Center

Yesterday I unfortunately missed my flight back to Toronto due to a series of mishappenings caused by my own stupidity and my inability to understand the announcements in the train. Next to me sat a guy who talked to himself all the time, and didn't look like a reliable source of information. Across me sat a black women with a pile of leaflets featuring suspiciously happily smiling people. Upon my question how I get to JFK she said she don't know nothin sista, but if I give her 5 bucks she'd pray for me. Well, maybe I should have done that because the result was I had to sit around at JFK for the rest of the day, where I spent an awful amount of time trying to recall my t-mobile password.

But the most fun was the US border post who checked my documents. He flipped through the expired US visas in my passport: "If you don't mind me asking, miss, what field is it you have your doctorate in?" - "Physics," I said, "Theoretical physics." He made big eyes and said: "Ooooh, theological physics, you must be really smart then."


Uncle Al said...

Time's arrow is angular momentum (Feynman's sprinkler). Entropy is only statistical.

"Ooooh, theological physics... Try a Yukawa potential fit to Summa Theologica. No, wait! A perturbation approach!

Hindus have 30 crores of gods - 300 million deities. Christians, Jews, and Muslims believe in no gods but one, atheists believe in no gods at all. Christians, Jews, Muslims, and atheists are therefore indistinguishable to eight decimal places. All it needs is a tiny nudge.

anonymous snowboarder said...

Was it really necessary to melt the ice at Rockefeller Center? You know I'm waiting for snow and instead you've brought me more tropical air! I'm thinking time's arrow has suffered a discontinuity and is now reloacted at June 1, 2007!

Anonymous said...

Astronomers often get mistaken for astrologers (and it makes them grumble), but this is the first time I've seen "theological" confused with "theoretical"! What a world.

zorba said...

I'd love to know what Gibbons, Horowitz and Wald said!

Christine said...

Once I travelled (directly from Brazil) to Cambridge, UK, to a cosmology conference. When I arrived and was having my passport checked, the officer asked me what was the purpose of my visit. I replied that I was going to attend a cosmology conference. In a very casual tone, he asked me:

- "What is cosmology?"

Although I was surprised with such a question coming from him at that situation, I quickly and emphatically replied:

-"It is the study of the Universe!"

He then starred at me and did not blink for about 3 seconds. Then he let me pass.

I don't have any idea what went through his mind, but it would be funny to know.

BTW, I have an undergraduate bachelor in astronomy. During some time, when asked what my profession was, I used to say I was an astronomer. That usually gave me a lot of trouble. People *always* thought it was *astrologer*. And some of them even went into a discussion, and I often thought it was my duty to educate them on these matters.

Now, when asked about my profession, I simply say I am a "researcher", which does not put me in much trouble.


Anonymous said...

WB Bee,

"Morgen" heisst das Zauberwort der Zeit..



Arun said...

Gosh, so close and yet so far.
-Arun in New Jersey.

Arun said...

From the Brhadaaranyaka Upanishad:

Then Vigadha Saakalya questioned him. "How many gods are there, Yajnavalkya ?"

He answered in accord with the following Nivid (invocatory formula): " As many as are mentioned in the Nivid of the `Hymn to All the Gods', namely three hundred and three, and three thousand and three [=3306]

"Yes",said he, "but just how many gods are there Yajnavaalkya ?"

"Thirty three "

"Yes",said he, "but just how many gods are there Yajnavaalkya ?"


"Yes",said he, "but just how many gods are there Yajnavaalkya ?"


"Yes" said he, "but just how many gods are there, Yajnavaalkya ?"


"Yes" said he, "but just how many gods are there, Yajnavaalkya ?"

"One and a half"

"Yes" said he, "but just how many gods are there, Yajnavaalkya ?"


Hindus have One and a Half gods.

(A Hindu).

Arun said...

She also took the photo below, in front of the ice rink at Rockefeller Center

Photographer's question - why weren't you looking at the camera?

Bee said...

Hey Anonymous Snowboarder,

I promise I'll stay away from Vermont. Though you need not worry about global warming and such, our solar system has several planets farther away from the sun where you can escape. Ever thought of snowboarding on the dark side of the moon?

Hi Christine,

He might have wondered what 'universe' means. No, seriously, I once talked to a women somewhere in LA who thought universe has something to do with the movie industry (well, what else), and then there is the Disneyverse, you know?

Hi Klaus,

Aber gestern war heute noch morgen!


Hi Arun,

Shame on me! Believe it or not, I didn't know where New Jersey is until I was at the airport. I know, it's kind of embarrassing but I just had a map of Manhattan and about the only thing I know about New Jersey is it's somewhere on the US eastcoast. Otherwise I'd have send you an email or such. See, that's why I am married. Because my husband knows all such things, he is the one who finds the car in the parking lot, wouldn't have gotten lost somewhere in Harlem (well, once the sun sets my orientation skills drop dramatically), and he'd have been the one who'd have noticed the A train splits somewhere in Queens or so (and who invented that?).

But I would find India on a world map, I promise :-) I'll let you know next time I am in the vicinity.



Bee said...

Why didn't I look into the camera? Don't know actually. I get distracted easily, so maybe there was just a pig flying around. Doing this kind of me-in-front-of-something-youve-seen-on-a-thousand-postcards-photos always makes me feel like the garden gnome in "The Fabulous Life of Amélie Poulain" ;-) Best,


paul valletta said...

Hi Bee, hope you find "time" to produce another fine blog-post of your conference visit.

Christine:"Once I travelled (directly from Brazil) to Cambridge, UK, to a cosmology conference. When I arrived and was having my passport checked, the officer asked me what was the purpose of my visit. I replied that I was going to attend a cosmology conference. In a very casual tone, he asked me:

- "What is cosmology?"

Although I was surprised with such a question coming from him at that situation, I quickly and emphatically replied:

-"It is the study of the Universe!"

the first question was implicit security, obviously your confirmation of your visit checked out, he actually knew what cosmology was, its his job to make sure you knew! paul.

Arun said...

See, that's why I am married. Because my husband knows all such things, he is the one who finds the car in the parking lot,....

A to-be-envied division of expertise as long as you haven't divvied up the brake pedal and the accelerator pedal between the two of you :) (imagining the two of you pressing your pedals at the same time :) :) :) :) )

CarlBrannen said...

You're being hard on yourself here. Since the WTC attack, JFK is especially confusing. The last time I flew through there, I think I was going from Seattle to JFK and then to Miami and Curacao, I had some difficulty figuring out my connection. And while I was finding my way, a total stranger asked me for advice. No signs.

As far as the arrow of time goes, in QM, a non Hermitian operator implies an arrow of time. I've known this from studying Schwinger's measurement algebra, but I haven't seen much references in the literature. A quick search finds hep-th/0702022 which seems to agree.

The spinor representation of quantum states are inherently time symmetric because a spinor cannot be non Hermitian. To get a non Hermitian quantum state, you have to use density matrices. Recent papers by B. C. Sanctuary on the EPR paradox do just that.

In GR, the usual Schwarzschild coordinate description of a black hole is symmetric in time. People who work in the geometric calculus of David Hestenes end up using Painleve coordinates. Turns out that the Painleve coordinates have an arrow of time. In particle theory language, geometric calculus in GR means using the Dirac differential operator instead of tensors.

Anonymous said...

Hi all,

If you even consider that there is a reason for -a cause of- time's arrow, would that imply that you "believe" in a "reason" for the Bigbang to have happened?

Cause follows upon action..

Asking the question about the reason for times arrow will force you to consider what came before the Bigbang itself, which action caused the BB to happen.

Leaving "theology" out of it all there seems to be 2 options:

a cyclical universe: BB follows upon BigCrunch.

Or a Multiverse of zilions of possible universes, that just "is and always was" in which at least one the conditions for life came out right.



amaragraps said...

It could be that Bee's abstract problem-solving skills don't work well in parking lots, but they do work well on planes and blackboards and in apartments and in conference rooms. I suspect that the shape of Bee's and Stefan's division of labor has a fractional exponent.

QUASAR9 said...

lol Bee, LA,
Universe and Universal Studios
Theology & Theoretical Physics
Cosmology & "Cosmic" dimensions

But missing the plane back home
There's a mathematical equation there somewhere
And it does explain the >> arrow of Time too.

Ironic even though the arrow of time moves forward, we are all the time looking at the past in Space. And though we may one day travel beyond our solar system one day (in the not too distant future) it will not be to anywhere we can 'see' - but to wherever IT has moved to in the arrow of Time thru SpaceTime.

PS - We don't aim for where the Moon was 1.8 seconds ago, we aim for where the Moon will be 1.8 seconds from now (plus however long the journey will take) - else we could end up like Bee having to wait for the next 'launch' window.

Chris Oakley said...

Hi Bee,

I see that Peter Woit was not invited to speak (if he had, I wonder what the title of his talk would have been - maybe: Why pretty much everything that has been discussed at this workshop is a complete waste of time - something like that), but I can account for him on Wednesday night, at least, as he was dining with another ex-particle physicist - Malcolm Duncan, plus myself at a French restaurant in Manhattan. Had I known that you were in town, I would have invited you along, although you might soon have tired of a bunch of (relative) old timers gossiping about times long past. Still - I enjoyed it.

CapitalistImperialistPig said...


Once, when I was reading Scott Dodelson's Modern Cosmology in a restaurant, the waiter asked which I specialized in, hair or nails.

CapitalistImperialistPig said...


" must be really smart then."

The only correct answer is: "Damn strait!"

Ali said...

The new place of NYAS looks stunning. Did you like it? I am curious to see more pics of it.

Bee said...

Hi Ali:

Well, the look was about the only thing stunning about it. They've put a lot of effort into the wrong things, like the carpet and the wallpaper, but e.g. the acoustic in the seminar room was really bad and the chairs uncomfortable. The coffee was just awful, meals were average, besides this there is nothing really remarkable to say. Oh yes, maybe the elevator is worth mentioning. Our elevator here at PI needs more time to get to the 4th floor than their elevator needs to the 40st floor!

Hi Chris,

Why do you think Peter would have considered it a waste of time? It was really an interesting workshop in my opinion. I would have loved to come to dinner, I've always preferred the old times and - timers over the modern ones ;-) If you give me an email address or so I would send you a note next time I'm around, would be nice if it worked out.

Hi Arun,

Brake and accelerator are both entirely mine. As we figured out at Stefan's last visit, the handle to adjust the driver's seat is broken. Since I am rather short, Stefan just can't drive the stupid car (I am only writing this to remind myself to have it fixed).



Peter Woit said...

Hi Bee,

Despite what Chris thinks, inviting me to speak at this workshop would have been highly inappropriate. I have no interesting thoughts about the arrow of time. Then again, it sounds like many of the speakers didn't really talk about that anyway...

If the workshop had been up here at Columbia I would have come to listen to some of the talks. But the topic wasn't close enough to my interests to justify traveling all the way downtown, and the advertised $150 registration fee seemed to indicate that idle onlookers weren't really welcome or encouraged to attend.

If I had known you were in town, I'd have been glad to show you around, or at least explain how to get to JFK!

Chris Oakley said...


My e-mail is on my web site, but unfortunately I am going to be in New York less frequently now as I have just accepted a job doing derivatives software for Credit Suisse in London starting on October 29. The good thing about the whole thing, though, is that I will have less time to spend leaving comments on physics blogs. As for getting to JFK, it's quite simple & you don't have to say a word. Hail a yellow cab, hold your arms out like an aeroplane, and then point your index finger to your temple, making the sound of a gunshot. The driver will understand even if he doesn't speak English.

Bee said...

*lol*, I will keep that in mind. Though he might understand I'll shot myself if I miss the plane? I actually took a cab when I arrived (not from JFK though), it was much more fun than the subway (and not remotely as expensive as I expected). Speaking of subway: I just pulled my metro card out of the washing machine. There was like > $ 10 left on it, anybody has input on whether it would survive the laundry and is worth keeping?



Arun said...

...anybody has input on whether it would survive the laundry and is worth keeping?

An experiment will be needed, theory cannot settle this. It is a slim and light card, so holding on to it is not inconvenient. The main thing is to remember to have it with you when you next travel to NYC. 'course, now you have this blog reminder :0

Count Iblis said...

You should have taken the Greyhound bus from NYC to Tronno. :)

sickelcelarmenia said...

Next time take a cab to the airport you cheap tight wad Canuck!