Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Catching Light – New Video!

I have many shortcomings, like leaving people uncertain whether they’re supposed to laugh or not. But you can’t blame me for lack of vision. I see a future in which science has become a cultural good, like sports, music, and movies. We’re not quite there yet, but thanks to the Foundational Questions Institute (FQXi) we’re a step closer today.

This is the first music video in a series of three, sponsored by FQXi, for which I’ve teamed up with Timo Alho and Apostolos Vasileiadis. And, believe it or not, all three music videos are about physics!

You’ve met Apostolos before on this blog. He’s the one who, incredibly enough, used his spare time as an undergraduate to make a short film about gauge symmetry. I know him from my stay in Stockholm, where he completed a masters degree in physics. Apostolos then, however, decided that research wasn’t for him. He has since founded a company – Third Panda  – and works as freelance videographer.

Timo Alho is one of the serendipitous encounters I’ve made on this blog. After he left some comments on my songs (mostly to point out they’re crappy) it turned out not only is he a theoretical physicist too, but we were both attending the same conference a few weeks later. Besides working on what passes as string theory these days, Timo also plays the keyboard in two bands and knows more than I about literally everything to do with songwriting and audio processing and, yes, about string theory too.

Then I got a mini-grant from FQXi that allowed me to coax the two young men into putting up with me, and five months later I stood in the hail, in a sleeveless white dress, on a beach in Crete, trying to impersonate electromagnetic radiation.

This first music video is about Einstein’s famous thought experiment in which he imagined trying to catch light. It takes on the question how much can be learned by introspection. You see me in the role of light (I am part of the master plan), standing in for nature more generally, and Timo as the theorist trying to understand nature’s working while barely taking notice of it (I can hear her talk to me at night).

The two other videos will follow early May and mid of May, so stay tuned for more!

Update April 21: 

Since several people asked, here are the lyrics. The YouTube video has captions - to see them, click on the CC icon in the bottom bar.

I am part of the master plan
Every woman, every man
I have seen them come and go
Go with the flow

I have seen that we all are one
I know all and every one
I was here when the sun was born
Ages ago

In my mind
I have tried
Catching light
Catching light

In my mind
I have left the world behind

Every time I close my eyes
All of nature's open wide
I can hear her
Talk to me at night

In my mind I have been trying
Catching light outside of time
I collect it in a box
Collect it in a box

Every time I close my eyes
All of nature's open wide
I can hear her
Talk to me at night

[Repeat Chorus]

[Interlude, Einstein recording]
The scientific method itself
would not have led anywhere,
it would not even have been formed
Without a passionate striving for a clear understanding.
Perfection of means
and confusion of goals
seem in my opinion
to characterize our age.

[Repeat Chorus]


  1. Very Interesting!
    Nice production!

    Will you be marching for science on Saturday?

  2. Ya gotta smile!, certainly toward the end. The Accountant speaks to us. "Do you like puzzles?" Cherish the last piece.
    ..."Prodigious" is really a verb.

    A 1920s' Thiele tube measured melting points. It also grows flawless cm single crystals from solvent, in two different geometries. It's a matter of perspective.

  3. Physics (taken very broadly) expressed through art for centuries. Turning that around and expressing art through physics a natural creative outlet for you!

  4. Love the scarf by the way. Very European!

  5. It reminds me a lot of a German band called "Alphawezen" that I loved a while back!

  6. Brian Greene (Light Falls), Lisa Randall (projective opera: Hypermusic), Brian May (no, wait. He compartmentalized his work with Queen and astrophysics) and now you are jumping off the rails into the artistic side of life. Great! Hope it works to communicate the message.

    What I love is when I grasp (the brain clicks) a concept or buzzword for the first time because of some math or clever diagram. Example, M.Y. Han's little book on QFT "A Story of Light" (and 2nd edition) explains gauge symmetry clearly.

    P.S. The music sounds like ABBA. Is that a play on commuting operators?

  7. John,

    I've been doing this for several years, not like it's news.

    Not sure why that is, but whatever I do someone will either say "Kraftwerk" or "ABBA" or both. A-ha (see below) is a new one.

  8. I'll say Claudia Brücken, then.

    Your first videos were more Gale Boetticher. This one is so much better :)

  9. Absolutely awesome! Had a nice cadence to it. I was wondering where in the world it was performed, having watched the video before reading the text. At first I thought it was somewhere along the Oregon, or Northern California, coasts. But the brief glimpses of a village didn't seem to fit the American town layout pattern. Reading the text I saw that it was the shoreline of the island of Crete - which was quite beautiful.

  10. Enlightening. But hey, 80s style music for a Cretan shore? Nobody recalls Matala any more. Here's a half a century old gem.

  11. I've always admired people who are not afraid to make something completely amateurish and think that is the best thing since chocolate milk and show it to everyone and expect applause.

  12. @Theophanes Raptis Beauty is where you find it, in the dark, where it is not,
    ...bagpipes (!)
    ...original artists. Meh.

    Physical theory will likely not break through by properly looking under bright lights. Instead, play the bagpipes like no other.

  13. stor,

    You're misunderstanding my intention. I'm sure there are people who *can* do it better. If they indeed *do* it better, I've reached my goal. Right now, I'm the only person in this business.

    (I also hate chocolate milk.)

  14. Sabine, Can you post the lyrics please. I rewinded a number of times but with all the voice effects I have trouble making out some of the words.

  15. Stor, you're an idiot.

    I thought it was totally professional.

  16. I might be very amateurish too, but I think this video is quite cool.

  17. I can't wait for the renormalization song!ala Elvis Presley - Jailhouse Rock

  18. "Not sure why that is, but whatever I do someone will either say "Kraftwerk" or "ABBA" or both. A-ha (see below) is a new one."

    ABBA? Not at all. Kraftwerk or A-ha? Yes, a bit, especially the synthesized bass is reminiscent of A-ha's "Take On Me".

    Remember 1980s German synthesizer heroes Alphaville (still playing the clubs today)? Traces of that as well. (Their new album is called Strange Attractor, by the way.)

  19. stor, Sabine,
    My "ouch" reaction is expressed well in 21 seconds by Rodney Dangerfield.

    Uncle Al,
    I never understand your posts, even though they look fascinating, but what do you think of this teenage, French musician, Tina S, playing Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata?

  20. Louis,

    The video has captions. Click on 'cc' on the bottom. But, yes, will also post the lyrics.

  21. Sabine said,

    The video has captions. Click on 'cc' on the bottom.

    I appreciate you posted the lyrics despite my incompetence, thank you.

  22. I like it and indeed it was made in a professional way.

    I particularly like the apanthropinization of the concept of light which seems to be deliberate.

  23. Sorry, I was a bit too harsh.

  24. Wow, this is the best one so far after "You Talk Too Much". I love the beat which reminds me a bit of New Order from the 80s. There is a cool contrast between two locations. I'm very impressed. It's quite refreshing to see a scholar who is also creative in unexpected ways. Oh and I like that you don't smile. Bravo!!!

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