Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Talk like you want

I've been notified that Pi day this year (3/14) has been declared the 'Talk like a Physicist Day' (see also). Apparently, the day even got its own dot com, a website which skillfully manages to distract from absence of content by carefully arranged layers of unprofessional design. Except possibly the 37 Scrabble Points which look to me like an IKEA ad, and desperately ask for the association 'Talk like an Ass'.

Since I have been notified of this remarkable upcoming event repeatedly, I herewith want to let you know I am passively boycotting this ingenious idea. I considered actively boycotting it, but this seems to require not talking like a physicist, and would pretty much mean I couldn't talk a whole day. Since it's a Thursday that doesn't sound feasible. Reasons for my boycott

a) I would forget about it anyway.

b) I find so-and-so appreciation, remembrance, or activity days outside public holidays an annoyance that clutters my organizer.

c) I honestly don't know what it's supposed to mean to 'talk like a physicist' except for being a physicist and talking.

d) It seems to suggest physicists have a 'special way of talking' which is basically what this blog tries to disprove.

e) I would forget about it anyway.

That is to say, please spare me announcements like this, especially if they are bulk mails with lines like 'I enjoy reading your blog'.

If you think I am in a particularly foul mood, you are correct. That's because after I had to spend a night in a smelly hotel room, and flights I was booked on were cancelled twice, I finally made it back to Toronto. Unsurprisingly, my-stupid-bag went elsewhere. The American Airlines personnel assured me it would be on one of the cancelled flights. I doubt it, but was too tired to investigate the issue further. The highlight of my conversation with one of the employees was my remark "I am very pleased your country is steering into a major recession, and I hope you will be unemployed before you know how to spell 'bullshit'." Now I am of course sorry about it, but women in uniform are terrible. I am serious, men are usually several orders of magnitude nicer. And that was the last time I flew American.

Humm. Seems I said this already last year.

Either way, should I ever utter a sentence like 'I feel strange attraction. Is this love or is it dark matter', please hit me really hard and increase the Lithium dosage.

I promise, after 24 hours of sleep my mood will improve considerably. So, good night for now.

37 comments:

Pace said...

I'm with you on this one. Pi Day itself provides for plenty of physics-talk without needing to create an additional title. Isn't it considered talking like a physicist to provide your argument in a brief and simple fashion, with minimal additions?

Neil' said...

Let's remember that Pi Day is also Albert Einstein's 129th birthday. He was born in Ulm, Germany, on March 14, 1879. That's another good reason for "Talk Like a Physicist day" (And see the Cosmic Variance post about that too.) I have some suggestions for how to TLAP: Don't refer directly to "zero" and "one", but say "vanishes" and "unity" instead. When referring to your main thesis, say "It is easy to see that ..." That will get you started.

PS, the really appropriate Pi Day was in 1592.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

Personally I hold a greater affinity for Phi then Pi. Einstein’s Birthday I will of course observe with due reverence. I wonder what Dr. Einstein would have thought of ‘talk like a physicist”? I suspect he would have insisted it more important to think like one then sound like one:-) I guess you didn’t make it back in time to catch Prof. Neil Turok’s PI public lecture “What Banged”. It might of complimented your mood:-)

Best,

Phil

Klaus said...

wb Bee,

I googled for my-stupid-bag )with dashes) and your blog came up as first and 2nd hit!

a worlds first! You created a new expression!

Best

Klaus

Lumo said...

Women in uniform are really bad. Even in Auschwitz, they explain the visitors that the female officers in the female section of the alternative hotel were more evil than the male officers in the male section.

a quantum diaries survivor said...

Hi Bee,

fortunately I don't know about Auschwitz (as mentioned by Lubos above), but I would like to remark that I am not sure I agree with your sentence about women in uniform. I think many of them are bitchy, but so are women without uniforms... ;-)

Cheers,
T.

Bee said...

Hi Tommaso,

Well, this is for sure not an objective perception, but the amount of bitchiness I've encountered from women with a logo on their jacket exceeds the normal level by far. Maybe it just provides a pass to outlive it, or possibly it's just me. My theory is that women give more importance to the clothes they are wearing.

Hi Neil,

Well, thanks for reminding us that Pi day is Einstein's birthday. Since Einstein was born in Germany, I'd like to mention that Germans have the (imho completely nonsensical) habit of writing the month before the day. So he'd have written his birthday 14.3. Coincidentally, 14.3 was exactly the distance of the Earth to the Moon in some units on 24/12/-1, which proves the existence of God.

Hi Pace,

Isn't it considered talking like a physicist to provide your argument in a brief and simple fashion, with minimal additions?

You should come to one of our seminars and remind the audience of that.

Hi Phil,

Don't know. Seems his sense of humor was pretty well. No, I completely forgot about the public lecture, but I couldn't have made it anyway. Did you go?

Best,

B.

Bee said...

Oops, obviously I meant to say Germans have the nonsensical habit of writing the day before the months. Sorry, jetlag.

Bee said...

Hi Klaus,

Yeah, I should make 'my-stupid-bag' a registered trademark. It seems though I have created a couple of 'new expressions' on this blog, most of which are typos. E.g. I noticed recently that this blog is the only hit for 'putting something on solid feet' which apparently means this expression does not translate into English (etwas auf feste Fuesse stellen). I guess this blog has more of these Germenglish confusions.

Regarding the bag: AA called a quarter to seven in the morning (with jetlag that's a quarter to four) to announce they found the bag and would deliver it - sometime today. They called again two hours later to inform me the bag they have has my bag claim number, but isn't my bag, now they don't know what to do.

Best,

B.

Kris Krogh said...

Hi Bee,

Your analysis omits a confounding variable. Guys in uniform are sometimes nicer to attractive women.

Kris

stefan said...

Dear Bee,

Germans have the nonsensical habit of writing the day before the months.

hmm.. day/month/year makes much more sense to me than month/day/year...

BTW, by self-promotion, this was discussed in last year's PI day/Einstein's birthday post. Maybe we can just recycle it? Moreover, the silly argument that special relativity is not transcendental because the L = mV² paper goes without any π surely qualifies as "talk like a physicist" ;-)

Best, Stefan

stefan said...

oh, sorry - I should have checked the first link you have provided, the one for PI day ;-)

Christine said...

The pi day is a special day for me anyway; I cannot avoid it. It's my birthday... :)

Best,
Christine
PS- Just to let you know; I've sent you an email.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

“I completely forgot about the public lecture, but I couldn't have made it anyway. Did you go?”

I’m not surprised it slipped your mind with you being on the down side as of late. However, he was supposed to show up at PI today to attend and participate in Eiichiro Komatsu's talk where he is to unveil the WMAP data. Something I might have a look at on PIRSA. Yes I was at the lecture last evening and I must say it was one of the better ones presented there in some time. Turok has an easy going manner and also tried to not dumb down the content as much as many presenters do. His tribute to his (female British) math high school teacher in the context of why he called his lecture “What Banged” was both touching and heart felt.

In the end we discover he is basically proposing that the universe is resultant of not so much of a “big bang” yet rather a “little bounce”; that from a pair of three dimensional branes colliding and passing through one another. It’s basically an attempt to explain how the bang acquired the potential that at present is missing from the description; that is outside of it being a huge, unlikely quantum fluctuation. I don’t know why I’m relating all this as you are probably already familiar with it. Besides you most likely have the access to pick his brains personally while he’s there over the next few days.

Best,

Phil

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

Just as a postscript to the last note I hope you got your bag back. Is it not ironic that in the post 911 era they misplace and lose track of baggage at levels that don’t appear to be any less. Now you just walk away from your bag at any airport for only few moments and you will be held and questioned for hours after of course they have blown up your bag :-)

Best,

Phil

Anonymous said...

Stefan said: "hmm.. day/month/year makes much more sense to me than month/day/year..."

Exactly. Furthermore, the illogical month/day/year nonsense is only used in North America; it is due to their irritating habit of saying "March 14" instead of "the 14th of March."

So pi day is actually the 31st of April, and therefore cannot be celebrated; a good thing.

Bee said...

Hi Stefan, Hi Anonymous,

Sorry for being so confused. I guess I have filled out too many customs forms lately, these usually ask for year/month/day. This I find the most plausible arrangement (that is also the one used on my checks). The German versions seems to be entirely the other way round, whereas the common US version shifts the year to the end. However, this isn't a standard version either. E.g. to my annoyance most of the DS forms want day/month/year, and if you don't read really carefully you'll have to fill out the whole thing again.

Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Phil,

Thanks for the report! I only just learned that there is some workshop on Cosmology going on this week. I totally didn't follow any of these announcement I've received (they send way too much stuff over the email listing, information overflow and all). Maybe I will go to one or the other talk on the weekend.

Regarding the bag: yeah, they eventually found it, and delivered it this evening. Sadly, two of the zippers are broken, so this was the last trip my-stupid-bag has made.

Best,

B.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

“Maybe I will go to one or the other talk on the weekend.”

Now you make me feel envious:-) I hope that you might report anything of significance to the physicist wish-they-bees who read this blog.

“Regarding the bag: yeah, they eventually found it, and delivered it this evening. Sadly, two of the zippers are broken, so this was the last trip my-stupid-bag has made.”

Perhaps they did try to blow it up and it for the most part survived :-) So you are going to retire it. What’s a few zippers; doesn’t it deserve another chance to redeem itself out of respect of the many years of service it has rendered? :-)

Best,

Phil

Sunny Kalara said...

I beg to differ on whether physicists talk differently or not.

You are a physicist, and perhaps most of your friends are physicists. It is unlikely that you will notice it if you talked in a special way. I have been there - I spent full time doing physics for more than 10 years, wrote 30+ papers, edited a book on blackholes and wormholes, and I am married to a physicist.

I didn't think I talked differently, although I always knew that I "thought" differently. Different thinking process was what made me a physicist.

Since then I have had numerous opportunities to do varied things, mingle with people whose passion is in different arena. I have been an attorney, a business person, a VC and I have even *owned* a satellite!

I find myself saying things and muttering thing that only physicists would do. The limited success that I have had has been purely because I think and yes, because I still “talk” like a physicist.

Now, when a business plan is presented to me for funding, I still do order of magnitude calculations and I continue to refute arguments based on my own back of the envelope calculations, I routinely tear apart excel sheets using nothing else but the first order approximations to the problems and I ask a lot more “why” questions.

The purpose of the Talk like a Physicists day is to revive the art of "being a physicist"; asking a lot more "why" questions, when everybody is obsessed with "how" question.

I also believe that we do not honor the scientists nearly enough. There are more streets named after local politicians then there are after renowned scientists.

As for how much content there is on the site; this is the first year and the first attempt at getting something together in a short time. It will grow, Jennifer of Cocktail Party Physics originally suggested the idea and in a year or two after enough physicists have been polled, the new dictionary will emerge.

I also guarantee you that you will not forget about this tomorrow. Next time when you are talking to a non-physicist, you will use words that only physicists use, words like “canonical variables” and words like “non-trivial” instead of saying difficult. You will know that you too Talk Like a Physicist; and thank god for that, we love you precisely because you talk like a physicist!

We have started an FAQ on how to talk like a physicists with non-zero entries and hopefully readers of your blog will contribute too.

chimpanzee said...

If you think I am in a particularly foul mood, you are correct.... The highlight of my conversation with one of the employees was my remark "I am very pleased your country is steering into a major recession, and I hope you will be unemployed before you know how to spell 'bullshit'."

"The Curse of Bureacracy results in..well, cursing!"

The "Research Game" (broken) is like Basketball (notorious for inconsistent/awful "peer review" by officials)

Shaq curses on TV
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k-BoeBedZ3k

Steve Francis Cusses on ESPN
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VJtVEStfxSg

reporter:
Steve, what happened there at the end?

Steve Francis:
They call some BULLSH*T, that's all I'm saying.
We play hard, if the refs [ peer reviewers ] keep acting like that, we ain't gonna keep playing [ do physics research ] like this!

"dats what im talkin bout big homie [ physicists are "homeboys" & "homegirls" ]. keep it raw [ "colorful lanuage" ] on them muthaf*ckas [ bureacrats ]"
-- prettyricky46

"Fu*k Yeah! FU*K YEAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
-- oafbeans

"He [ Bee ] was talking about the refs [ bad "peer reviewers" ] taking over the game and calling stupid fouls [ bad papers accepted, good papers rejected ] instead of just letting the players play it out. [ let Physics research take its course ]"
-- janors

Bee said...

Hi Sunny,

The purpose of the Talk like a Physicists day is to revive the art of "being a physicist"; asking a lot more "why" questions, when everybody is obsessed with "how" question.

Interesting. Did you ever read Popper? I believe he argues science is supposed to answer the 'how' not the 'why', the latter is left to philosophy.

Either way, look, I don't mind if you do whatever you like, I am just not interested in that kind of thing. I believe what you refer to as 'talking like a physicist' is mostly the habit of using professional slang in colloquial context. This is an easy source for jokes, you find plenty of examples on this and other blogs, and I think that kind of humor even has a name (forgot). It is nothing that is specific to physics though, you can do that with other professions as well.

One other aspect that you mention is using professional expressions in colloquial context even if not meant to be a joke. I admit on being guilty of this, but it's not something I voluntarily do. A large fraction of this bad habit is lacking vocabulary which I replace with words I frequently use. It doesn't work very well though, and the outcome is that many people don't understand me which can be very frustrating.

(E.g. I was recently looking for an English version of 'Gelb wie grün' or 'Gehippt wie gedippt', the outcome was I said
"it's isomorph". Needless to say, that didn't help in any regard. I still don't know whether there is an equivalent English expression.)

I certainly agree that a clean argumentation is something that can be practiced, and that deserves to be practiced, but I am not actually sure whether physicists would be the best example. Just look at this list of logical fallacies. I will quote you some

"Argumentum ad hominem (argument directed at the person).

This is the error of attacking the character or motives of a person who has stated an idea, rather than the idea itself. [...]

Argumentum ad ignorantiam (argument to ignorance).

This is the fallacy of assuming something is true simply because it hasn't been proven false.

Argumentum ad nauseam (argument to the point of disgust; i.e., by repitition).

This is the fallacy of trying to prove something by saying it again and again.

Argumentum ad numerum (argument or appeal to numbers).

This fallacy is the attempt to prove something by showing how many people think that it's true.

Argumentum ad verecundiam (argument or appeal to authority).

This fallacy occurs when someone tries to demonstrate the truth of a proposition by citing some person who agrees [...]"

And so on and so forth. You find an abundance of all of these mistakes in 'physics talk' (listen to seminars/read papers/blogs - TRF for example is a very rich source for all of the above mentioned fallacies). Another nice example of this confused reasoning, especially regarding the question of 'how' and 'why' you find in my post The Mathematical Universe (scroll down to read Tegmark's comment, you shouldn't miss it).

To be fair, I have to say that when it comes to a clean argumentation, philosophers are way ahead of physicists. In certain regards, I am afraid, physicists are most often 'blinded by science' (I include myself in that, as I believe my argumentation is rarely as clean as it should be).

Best,

B.

Neil' said...

Phil (or anyone) what is the nature of the "space" in which these branes etc. "float"? I mean, a brane is like a contiguous space-time continuum of some number of dimensions, but then what properties (and why) of the superspace in which they "float around"? Really, how to get a handle on that?

Also, the branes are macroscopic manifolds and to some extent those theories compete against the traditional (heh) compact dimensions scenarios. With branes, we still have the compact dimensions too? Anyone, clarification is helpful. (I did read some of the latest SciAm etc. articles but they don't always cover critical bases on cleaning up loose ends, as it were ...)

Bee said...

Hi Neil',

Yes, you still have the compact dimensions too, no way around it. I am not sure what you mean with 'the nature' of a space. It's just a space. The branes are specific lower-dimensional objects in that higher dimensional space in the sense that 'particles sit' on them, resp. open strings begin/end on them (i.e. some boundary condition). Does that help?

Best,

B.

Neil' said...

Thanks Bee, that helps. My question is getting at, what is the nature of the space in which the n-branes reside? Does it have a speed of light but no "light", what dynamics, what laws if it holds other universes with many different laws, etc. (To Max Tegmark it doesn't matter since it's "literally" just a math model anyway, but I can't accept that view.) We already know a lot about our own space, but this other space has to hold other spaces inside it (I mean, they are like rubber skins floating in our space - I can understand being confined to a physical surface inside our space, but in what way does the space of a brane maintain separate identity (to hold things within itself) while being held in another space? How can it be like a "skin" IOW when its emptiness within emptiness, so to speak.

Sure, you can draw graphs of a space inside another by defining the points (like how to make surfaces in a CADD program, I've done that) but what makes the physical demarcation - tx.

Bee said...

Hi Neil',

My question is getting at, what is the nature of the space in which the n-branes reside? Does it have a speed of light but no "light", what dynamics, what laws if it holds other universes with many different laws, etc.

The higher dimensional space usually has a Lorentz-symmetry, that implies a maximum velocity. This is the velocity that massless particles have. If there is a massless U(1) gauge field (photon), then this is its velocity. In this sense, the space does have a speed of light in the usual meaning.

This is also the reason why Kaluza-Klein excitations appear to have a tower of masses on the submanifold: you could say they move with the speed of light in the full higher dimensional space, meaning on the submanifold they move 'slower', i.e. appear to have masses. If the additional dimension is compactified, the speed in this direction comes in discrete steps, which results in a discrete 'tower' of masses.

Regarding the laws, I think you confuse the issue of branes in a higher-dimensional space with the question of the multiverse. The multiverse is not the higher dimensional space in which the branes are universes. The 'universe' (e.g. ours) is the full higher dimensional space with the branes in it (though we don't seem to observe the additional dimensions). The multiverse contains all kinds of versions for these higher-dimensional spaces, possibly with different laws, different initial conditions, different branches of the wavefunction, parallel universes, different mathematical structures... Whatever.

How can it be like a "skin" IOW when its emptiness within emptiness, so to speak.

Define 'emptiness'. The brane is a distinguished sub-manifold (the skin) in the higher-dimensional space. It's where particle interactions (with exception of the graviton) take place if you want to put it this way.

Best,

B.

Arun said...

Dear Bee,

yyyy/mm/dd is best for sorting.

I'd be laughing if it wasn't that your post was 'coz you were feeling terrible.

Best,

andy.s said...

You're all nuts!
3/14/2008 is little-endian, 14/3/2008 is what, middle endian?

The Dutch are middle endian with respect to dates, too, but I just figured it was because they were middle-endian with numbers: 122 is hondred twee en twentig, or something like that. Do the Germans do the same?

The date should be in the format
YYYYMMDD. With month's and days 0-padded. This allows an alphabetic order sort to also sort dates properly.

(Sorry. It must be Talk Like A Computer Scientist Day)

Bee said...

Hi Andy.s,

Yes, the year/month/day format is convenient also because it can easily and plausibly be continued to hours/minutes/seconds/...

Dear Arun,

I always feel better if I can make somebody laugh, so feel free to :-) As long as I manage to get annoyed it's not all that terrible.

A nice weekend to all of you,

B.

Bee said...

PS:

Andy.s: "You're all nuts!"

I think this is the most accurate comment that was ever made on this blog.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Neil,

I’m glad that Bee chose to answer your query rather then myself. Don’t forget I’m just one of the physicist wish-they-bees that hang around here. The only thing I would offer in addition to what Bee has said so well is to remind that any string related theory is background dependant. That is the space or the scaffolding is taken as a given and not explained. To get a better grip on this aspect or what some would call a weakness of string theory, I would recommend Lee Smolin’s book called “Three Roads to Quantum Gravity” where much of the book is centered on this matter.

Regards,

Phil

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

After having a look at the PIRSA recording of the recent presentation of the five year WMAP data report I came across two words I dare any physicist to attempt to mix in with regular conversation without looking like their from another planet; those being Adiabaticity and Gaussianity. I challenge any of your peers to use these words in the course of normal conversation with a member of the general public and not look like a space cadet. Let’s see the Talk-Like-a-Physicist advocates work this one into the program :-)

Best,

Phil

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

As to the subject of this post as it relates to the “talk like a physicist day” I would like to lend the insight of one that I refer to as a physicist “wish-to-bees”. That is to point out this as being in contrast to what I would call the physicist “wanna bees”. What I mean by this is from the experience I came away with after the PI public lecture a few days past. First after the end of the lecture which is normal at such events those in attendance are offered the opportunity to pose a question to the presenter. The first person to be given the mike then took advantage of the situation to dispute something that Turok had said which is not of his own invention yet rather what is considered as a given within the field. Also of course he then goes on to propose his own “crack pot” theory. This of course happens so often at such events that it is almost to be expected. Then when all is over I am hanging around the lobby looking at the book table and am confronted by a couple of fellows that also attend these things and have attended some of the former “Black Hole Sessions” that had been formerly offered at PI for the public at large. These two fellows also pose questions to me that are in the same spirit and nature of the “crack pot” I mentioned which are even less coherent in the nature of their logic. I would say if you took a straw poll at such events that although this type would not form the majority they do comprise to be a large number that are in attendance.

The point I’m making here is that many who attend these sessions are under the impression that since physics admits that there is much that is not known, that therefore all must be a bunch of bunk. Of course this is complete rubbish and is totally resultant of their lack of understanding and of course coupled with their own unperceived ignorance. My point being, is how will initiatives such as “speak like a physicist” serve to address this real and increasing obstacle to science in it’s wish in being understood and to be of value by the public at large. I would say the challenge for science is to find a way to be better understood what they confront and the first step is to recognize the reality of what I’ve just pointed out.

Regards,

Phil

Bee said...

Dear Christine,

I received your email. But since it deserves a longer reply I didn't yet come around to answer. Given that here an seemingly endless amount of snow is falling, I guess I will have some time this weekend... Thanks,

B.

Christine said...

Dear Bee,

Please don't worry about answering. I didn't write it in the best way I intended anyway. I'm not sure whether I passed the right message. But in any case, all I wish you is the best, this is the essential of my email.

Cheers

Christine

Bee said...

oohm, I just noticed it's actually a Friday, not a Thursday, sorry about that.

Neil' said...

Well, today is the day, so here goes a late but timely post. It's Talk Like a Physicist day, Pi day, Bee writes about the PI gym, and Albert Einstein's 129th birthday. So here's my weird little story about someone who got in trouble for talking like a physicist, and was one as well (assuming it really happened ...):

If you run a red light today (more like, go to court over it today), beware of trying the apocryphal (?) tack of claiming that Doppler blue shift made the red light look green (or yellow.) Supposedly the physicist who posed that excuse some years ago faced a scientifically literate judge, to his dismay. The judge calculated that the driver had to be going around 100,000,000 mph, and fined him accordingly! At a steep rate of say $100/mile/hour over limit, that would fund the Iraq war for about a month! It’s not always wise or clever to talk like a physicist, even if you are one.
(Does anyone remember when/where they head that one?)