Archive for the 'physics' Category

Squares, too

June 27, 2014

I went back upstairs to my study to finish something up, and also did some more admiring of the circles of light on the walls (previous post).  I also looked to see whether the mirror mosaics are squares or just rectangles, and while I was noticing that they are squares, I also noticed that on the window screen, the projections of light are indeed squares, too.  Still don’t get it, but I’m enjoying it.

Squares into circles

June 27, 2014

Some years ago I bought a (used) mirrored ball for about five bucks.  I think of it fondly as my disco ball.  I did type my senior essay in college while listening to Donna Summer, so a little disco nostalgia is not misplaced, I don’t think.

The other day I was getting something down from the attic and putting something else away and the rearranging produced the question of where to put the mirror ball.

It ended up, at least temporarily, on a windowsill (facing east) in my study in the attic, with a hanging ribbon streaming from it — a veritable comet.

This morning I went up there to get something I need to run an errand.  I re-opened the windows I had closed on account of a chilly night, and when I put the ball back and stepped back from the window, I went, “Wow!”  Because there were round dots of light projected all over the eave walls and ceiling from the mirror ball.

The mirrors on the ball are small rectangles, the light bouncing off of them comes out as round.  I don’t understand it, I assume it has something to do with the roundness of the mirror ball itself.

Willy would have been able to explain it to me.

It’s beautiful, whatever the explanation.  A veritable private light show, holes of light against a background, reminiscent of seeing stars against the sky at night, only in my attic the background is white, not darkness.


The physics of postal delivery

March 12, 2014

I sent some documents by Express Mail the other day, and the day after, I went on line after 12 p.m. to look at the tracking information and to confirm that the documents had arrived at their destination.

The tracking did not show delivery.  The last entry was a departure from a sort facility, and did not include a time stamp.

Later in the afternoon, the tracking information was updated to show the item was “Out for Delivery” at 10:08 a.m.

Still later in the afternoon, the tracking showed the item had been delivered at 9:57 a.m.

Go figure.

Maybe a subsection of a theory of relativity can explain this.

(Shamanism can, but I feel that I’ve already overfilled my quota of not well-accepted ideas for the day on this blog in my comments, so I won’t go on to develop that thought.)

I know that the easiest interpretation is a lesson not to take tracking so seriously — but one of my reasons for paying for Express Mail is the ability to track the item while it’s en route and to know that it’s gotten there by 12 p.m.


December 10, 2013

I was happy and relieved to read a highlighted comment to Stanley Fish’s recent post about Noam Chomsky lectures at Columbia.  The comment made the point about concepts beyond what we translate easily into verbal language.  For the commenter, the concepts were in physics, and he made the point that even the language of math does not always provide a complete mode of communicating them.  He gave his name as hammond, from San Francisco.

Hooray for people who perceive that what we can articulate through the intellect is not the sum total of what exists, and that what part of that we can understand is not the same as the part we can communicate through language (mathematical, verbal, etc.) to others.

Similes and metaphors

February 2, 2012

I sometimes wonder whether we have taken too literally what was meant as an analogy in our monotheism: the idea of loving God as if he were a parent.  I think God, the universe, forces we can’t see, need our positive regard as much as we want theirs.  I don’t think God is grudging and I do think our attitude towards God matters.  So, I’m inclined to believe that the notion of God that portrays him as a parent could be a development out of an attempt to get people to love God with more effective focus.  As I see it, a problem arises, in terms of making spiritual progress, if we get stuck in the analogy and can’t move on to faith in and a relationship with a more impersonal “God.”  Just as we need to get our own egos out of the way, we need to stop insisting that God have one, too, at a certain point in our spiritual development.  In this regard, I think physicists and mathematicians have a leg up, with their ease with abstract thinking.  I suspect that relating to the universe involves both an earthy component of loving from the heart (as we would a parent, spouse, or child) and a more diffuse component of perceiving without our usual limits of material consensus reality (a sort of abstract mental process).  To me, combining the two in one person, integrating the two components in ourselves, is the great mystery.


Einstein, math, and Gilson brothers

January 4, 2012

Well, this is fun.  Having posted a few weeks ago a picture of me in Einstein’s lap, or at his knee, or whatever, that sat on Willy’s windowsill in his office at Lincoln Lab, and then, more recently having posted about how my brother-in-law and I were in the same number theory class years before his brother and I met and married, I received today from Michael for my birthday the book Einstein: His Life and Universe, by Walter Isaacson.  And it’s not as if Michael and his family usually give me science biographies for my birthday — last year I got some beautiful bookends, other years tea paraphernalia or soaps or note cards.

Renconciling with science

December 21, 2011

I think a lot about how to resolve what many people experience as a divide between viewing the world through science and viewing it through a spiritual lens.  I’ve had people in my life terrified I would succumb to the family pressure to become a scientist, and others who campaigned to dissuade me from the liberal arts, or at least from my teachers there who clearly wanted my participation in their magisterium, if not their lives.

So, it amused me to remember this picture, which Willy kept in his office:

I was visiting my sister, who was working in Washington, D.C. at the time, and my cousin Gail was visiting at the same time, as I recall.  I’m pretty sure Gail took the picture.  I’m not entirely sure what the picture meant to Willy, who hadn’t come with me on that trip.  I think he seemed to get a kick out of it as something I had done when I had gone off “on a frolic and a detour” without him.

The way I would like to interpret the picture is as illustrating part of the on-going “ping-pong match,” or mirroring back and forth, between spiritual partners:  I am reading someone else’s understanding of the universe, in their own, scientific language, and I will sing back that understanding as accurately as possible in my own language.  How I have been able to understand what I am “reading” in that language I suspect has something to do with Willy as some sort of interpreter, whose understanding I could absorb through some other means; he certainly had the physics and math for the scientific understanding, and I suspect, in retrospect, he had other kinds of understandings in other languages, as well.


“The deepest layer of reality”

December 16, 2011

I was happy to read in Brian Greene’s op-ed piece in the NYTimes, about the search for evidence of a particle that will support the conceptualization in the Higgs Field theory, that “[t]he legions of physicists, engineers and computer scientists, whose collective efforts created the Large Hadron Collider, will have revealed the deepest layer of reality our species has ever probed,” if current findings are confirmed by future data.  From my point of view, another “blind person” will have felt a part of the elephant and reported back their understanding, and while I would call this “deepest layer of reality” by a more traditional name, there is also the tradition that this “deepest layer” is unnameable.  I wonder whether others, who have made it up the mountainside to the top of the mountain already, through other means, such as art (including music and poetry) and mysticism, might say,”Welcome!  Glad you to see you, glad you made it,” and maybe tease them with, “What took you so long?  Where’ve you been?”  Just as some people are more visual or more aural or more kinesthetic, I think our ways of grokking the universe vary.  And just as I believe different religions are describing the same “deepest layer of reality” in slightly different ways, I believe different disciplines, of which religion is one, are describing the same “deepest layer of reality” in slightly different ways.

“Nones” and approaching a religious life through reason

December 12, 2011

I am grappling with how to respond helpfully to the piece in the NYTimes by Eric Weiner on rationalists who want to lead a religious life.

I might try starting by looking deep in my heart for some issue I really care about that does not benefit me personally but involves immediate concrete activity that benefits someone or something else (and doesn’t involve much of an audience).   I would engage in that activity and I would thank the universe for giving me the opportunity to engage in it.  I would take my emotional temperature after this and think about whether the world looked different to me. If this process seemed to have a positive effect, I would try repeating it.

More generally I would try to become more aware of what allows my heart to be open and what interferes with that.  I would try to increase the former and decrease the latter.  I would try to keep track, also, of what I’m doing when I feel more than my usual self.  The idea I’m getting at here is to expose that part of yourself that’s already engaged in a religious sensibility or orientation or attitude, and become more aware of what that feels like and what seems to support it, and then develop that further.  One key thing to remember is to keep track of the role your ego is playing and to guard against mistaking your ego for your heart.

I think that’s where I would start.  I am not going to try, at least for now, to list particular habits of thought, behaviors, or activities that might be helpful for leading a religious life, or where to look for God.  (I will say, though, that I think looking for God is kind of like detecting planets from perturbations in measurements of known objects in the universe, seeing the other way of looking at a picture that includes an optical illusion, and using an telescope or camera that sees parts of the light spectrum that our eyes alone don’t perceive.  I hope I haven’t mangled the physics too badly; what I’m trying to say is that I think we’re looking for traces of something that basically exists in ways we don’t perceive with our usual ways of perceiving the world around us, maybe something that resides in other dimensions than the ones we use in the material world.)  I’m not sure such a detailed list is what was being sought, there’s a lot of that published out there already, and I don’t want to overwhelm people at the outset.  It’s all inside you already, anyway, it just takes some practice identifying it and developing that part of you.  External guidance at the outset is probably a good thing and somewhat necessary, but eventually the goal is to develop your own internal listening through which to receive guidance.  And then at some point, you can decide what you think is, and has been, the “God” part.

And please take this whence it comes  — I don’t have any particular credentials for this.  Please also realize it’s not meant to be definitive —  it’s basically my casual attempt to suggest from my vantage point what part of our mental anatomy is involved in living a “religious life.”

Physicists and shamans

November 10, 2011

I watched the Brian Greene program about time on Nova last night and wondered why he was acting as if he’d never heard of a shaman or what one does.  Even if he personally doesn’t “believe” in what shamans do, he could learn from the parallel concepts.  But it’s like someone who doesn’t want to ask for directions, he and his friends are going to find this stuff out for themselves.  Which is probably as it should be, but if in the interim they destroy the planet, and for personal profit, it’ll be a pretty hollow moment of understanding, for all of us.