Tuesday, May 16, 2017

“Not a Toy” - New Video about Symmetry Breaking

Here is the third and last of the music videos I produced together with Apostolos Vasilidis and Timo Alho, sponsored by FQXi. The first two are here and here.

In this video, I am be-singing a virtual particle pair that tries to separate, and quite literally reflect on the inevitable imperfection of reality. The lyrics of this song went through an estimated ten thousand iterations until we finally settled on one. After this, none of us was in the mood to fight over a second verse, but I think the first has enough words already.

With that, I have reached the end of what little funding I had. And unfortunately, the Germans haven’t yet figured out that social media benefits science communication. Last month I heard a seminar on public outreach that didn’t so much as mention the internet. I do not kid you. There are foundations here who’d rather spend 100k on an event that reaches 50 people than a tenth of that to reach 100 times as many people. In some regards, Germans are pretty backwards.

This means from here on you’re back to my crappy camcorder and the always same three synthesizers unless I can find other sponsors. So, in your own interest, share the hell out of this!

Also, please let us know which video was your favorite and why because among the three of us, we couldn’t agree.

As previously, the video has captions which you can turn on by clicking on CC in the YouTube bottom bar. For your convenience, here are the lyrics:

Not A Toy

We had the signs for taking off,
The two of us we were on top,
I had never any doubt,
That you’d be there when things got rough.

We had the stuff to do it right,
As long as you were by my side,
We were special, we were whole,
From the GUT down to the TOE.

But all the harmony was wearing off,
It was too much,
We were living in a fiction,
Without any imperfection.

Every symmetry
Has to be broken,
Every harmony
Has to decay.

Leave me alone, I’m
Tired of talking,
I’m not a toy,
I’m not a toy.

Leave alone now,
I’m not a token,
I’m not a toy,
I’m not a toy.

We had the signs for taking off
Harmony was wearing off
We had the signs for taking off
Tired of talking
Harmony was wearing off
I’m tired of talking.

[Repeat Bridge]
[Repeat Chorus]


  1. bee:
    i liked the last video best. the video seemed to me to be theoretical physics-y (so to speak). and regarding the music, i liked it quite a lot. as they used to say on the American Bandstand TV show 'back in the day' (the early 60's) when the audience would grade a song "its got a beat and you can dance to it". congratulations on the trilogy. its motto could be "Physics to the People".

  2. Very nicely done. Thanks. I would be willing to contribute to a crowd funding effort to keep things rolling. Have you have discussed this possibility with your producers?

  3. Very nicely done. Thanks. I would be willing to contribute to the project as part of a crowd funding effort. Have you discussed it as a possibility?

  4. Sabine,

    About 3:07 seconds in, when talking about pairs of virtual particles like electrons and positrons being constantly created out of vacuum fluctuations that immediately destroy each other; can you explain why their destruction doesn’t create observable photons?


  5. Another vote in favor of the last one.

  6. (Sorry, I posted on wrong entry originally.)

    I like song # 2 the best: “Schrödinger’s Cat”. This whole musical-visual method of outreach is a bit foreign to me, an old guy. I thought the Beach Boys song “Good Vibrations” was about Zitterbewegung.

    FYI - A cute video, (Sir Isaac Newton vs Bill Nye. Epic Rap Battles of History Season 3), is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8yis7GzlXNM It is well produced and historically accurate especially regarding bizarre things Newton did to himself. But for Europeans who don’t know who Bill Nye, the science guy, or Neil deGrasse Tyson are, it may fall flat. Einstein versus Hawking is also available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zn7-fVtT16k

    Your struggles team writing the first verse attests to the friction that caused many musical groups to break up. Even the Everly BROTHERS fought bitterly at times.

    Keep up the good work.

  7. Joe,

    I've thought about it but not discussed it. Chances that there's even remotely enough money coming together are slim. Realistically we're talking $9k per video - you can check elsewhere that this a totally normal amount for a high quality video production (length doesn't matter all that much) just that we also have to do the audio (none of that money actually goes to me - I work for free).

    So, well, let me put it this way. I've been looking for sponsors in Germany, got one 'no' one 'we currently don't have any public outreach program' and one 'pending'. These are the only three institutions I've been able to find who found public outreach here at all. If the third turns me down (and they wouldn't fund much even in the best case) I'll apply again in the US. The problem with that is that compared to the USA, Europe is expensive, so it's not a good bang for the buck. And that's not counting that they might not be keen on funding a person in Europe (though I don't really see how it matter where I'm physically located).

    Also, let us face the facts, the turnout hasn't been great, especially compared to the videos I do myself - the value added didn't make all that much of a difference. And it's not because people don't notice these videos are of better quality (you can see from the comments) it's that they don't share them.

    I am facing a major hurdle here because the vast majority of people who follow me and regularly read my blog aren't the ones to share music videos. They watch it, but would never pass it on - that's pretty clear from the view counts. If I spend 30 minutes writing my average blogpost it easily gets ten times as many visitors in a tenth of the time. Why is that? Because they're pretty sure it will be interesting for *their* followers, which is not the case for the videos. Hence, compared to the several months work that went into the videos it's clearly not a good investment of my time. So, in a sense that comes on top too, I need a motivation too because my day also has only 24 hours.

    Which brings me back to the crowd-funding. I looked at this some while ago and the way it works on most sites is that you have to promise some kind of product to people who donate more-than-something and so on, and I can't see to make this work without spending even more of my time on it.

    Having said that, I see myself more than a pioneer for the concept. You know the a capella guy who does cover versions with sciency lyrics? Fun stuff, yes. You've probably seen it. But if you look at what it is, it's a guy who uses other's people's creative works and replaces their lyrics and then films himself standing in front of a camera. It's interesting, psychologically, that the I-love-science crowd is much more likely to share songs that they know their peers will mostly approve of because they've been high in the charts, isn't it?

    In any case, time will come when other people recognize that music is a missing element in science communication. Meanwhile, anyone who wants to sponsor a video is welcome to contact me.

  8. Maybe a different strategy: become really famous as a musician first, then you have many people who listen to you. The symphonic-metal band Nightwish has a whole album based on Darwin's The Origin of Species.

  9. I'm not a "techno" fan, but this is pretty good. Voice is very good, composition and orchestration are good. "I'm not a toy" is (IMHO) best for both music and lyrics. "Schrodinger's cat" is the most interesting video. But my favorite part is from "Capturing Light", where you're sitting at a desk working. It's the only time you appear to care about what you're doing!

    If it's meant to be deadly serious, it's a great success. But to motivate interest, it often helps to throw in some emotional color. Things like love, hate, humor, pathos, etc, are often found in popular music videos. I'd advise you to behave more like Madonna, or Prince, or similar, but you probably wouldn't want to do that.

    So here's a suggestion. Don't change anything about the music or performance. Keep it deadly serious. But, wear a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles costume! In fact, wear all four of them - Donnie, Leo, Mikey and Ralph - one after the other. I know, it sounds crazy, but I really think it would work. You have to admit, it would get people's attention.

  10. George,

    Thanks for the feedback. One thing though, since you are the second person saying this - In the "Catching Light" video it's not me sitting at the desk, it's Timo. (Yeah, he's got long hair.)

  11. Strangely enough, the word "Virtual" derives form the latin "Virtue" which is a synonym to the ancient Greek meaning of the word "Arete" for exellence and ethos. Quite the opposite of the nowadays interpretation of virtuality as a mirage and a ghost. Perhaps the breaking apart particle was the last ethical one!

  12. Bee, do you think a parallel universe made up exclusively of anti-matter could have been created at the same time our universe was created? It might be invisible for the same reason that the contents of a black hole are invisible. Does this make sense?

  13. DocG,

    You can think up anything and call it 'possible' if it doesn't have observable consequences. I know people who live from that.

  14. This is great. If I had to choose, this would be my favourite of the three "funded" videos- I like the drama in the music; the lyrics work on several levels of more-and-less-metapohrical; and the cool, collected "main character" of the video has a lot of style, especially in contrast with the great big, thumpy beats.

    I look forward to the return of the crappy camcorder and the three synthesizers, too, though. "The Laws of Nature" is a great song and will become part of my 80s-themed dance party playlist. Please keep pioneering!

  15. Bee,
    I watched the video.

    The text could be read as a lover’s lament.

    That said, I missed the part where you explained the larger significance of symmetry breaking. In general it seems that one thing rests upon another or at least in relationship to another. If you un-stack things and get down to the fundamental causes, wouldn’t symmetry breaking be there right at the root of it? Is the universe a geometrical rabbit from the hat trick?


  16. The women in this video seems so unhappy, so sad.


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