Lisa Randall talks with Charlie Rose

December 29, 2006

The first half of this Charlie Rose Video (hat tip Edge) is devoted to an interesting, if introductory, interview with Lisa Randall where she talks about physics and higher dimensions. Entertaining.

(I guess Rose is famous in some part of the world, but i’d never heard of him before. He is a good interviewer, and i like the minimalist stage with its zen-like black background, and the use of full-screen slides every now and then.)

Taking issue with String Theory

October 7, 2006

With the recent publication of Lee Smolin’s and Peter Woit’s books on the troubles of our theories of everything, every blogger in town seems to be talking about the crisis of modern fundamental physics (a.k.a. string theory and, so to speak, friends). Christine has just posted a list of recent posts on the subject. Like her, i’m reading Smolin’s book, courtesy of the publisher, and a review will eventually follow (once i find something to say about it that has not already been said!). In the meantime, i just wanted to add a few links to articles that i like on this pesky matter:

  • Jim’s Stab at String Theory is a very interesting discussion by Jim Weatherall on why it doesn’t really matters whether string theory is right. There you’ll find also a video interview with Peter Woit, by John Horgan (who is not specially happy with ST, either).
  • Among the free contents of the latest Physics Today issue, Burton Richter takes no prisoners when it comes to describe what’s wrong with all this super stuff.

I find Richter’s stabs, er, criticisms particularly compelling: his writing is clear and to the point, and his arguments are all but crisp and pungent. It’s curious that, by contrast, Smolin’s delicacy has actually augmented my curiosity on string theory (but i’m just halfway reading his book, so let’s better wait until i’m done).

On the other hand, i’m starting to be more and more in agreement with Weatherall’s arguments on the irrelevance of this whole business. At the very least, i’m trying to keep in mind that there’s arguably much more to fundamental physics than this debate. Maybe it’s time for some fresh air.

David Deutsch

October 1, 2006

DeutschI’ve just spent twenty minutes watching David Deutsch on TED Talks, a funny speech on our place in the universe (and what to do about that), by the author of The Fabric of Reality. I’ve not read his book, but, if his writing is as fresh as his speaking, i definitely should. Enjoy!

(A mostly unrelated but curious piece of trivia about David Deutsch: he’s also a Mac developer!)

Quantum Theory at the Crossroads  Conference

September 29, 2006

Guido Bacciagaluppi (from Berkeley’s Philosophy Department) and Antony Valentini (from the Imperial College of London) are about to publish a 500 pages long book entitled Quantum Theory at the Crossroads: Reconsidering the 1927 Solvay Conference, and they’ve been kind enough to make a draft copy publicly available: just follow the link. Not that i’ve had time to read it yet, but its abstract looks all but promising:

We reconsider the crucial 1927 Solvay conference in the context of current research in the foundations of quantum theory. Contrary to folklore, the interpretation question was not settled at this conference and no consensus was reached […] [W]e provide a complete English translation of the original proceedings (lectures and discussions), and give background essays on the three main interpretations presented: de Broglie’s pilot-wave theory, Born and Heisenberg’s quantum mechanics, and Schroedinger’s wave mechanics. We provide an extensive analysis of the lectures and discussions that took place, in the light of current debates about the meaning of quantum theory. The proceedings contain much unexpected material, including extensive discussions of de Broglie’s pilot-wave theory (which de Broglie presented for a many-body system), and a “quantum mechanics” apparently lacking in wave function collapse or fundamental time evolution.

Chances are this book will make its way into any recommendation on required QM readings in no time!

Copernicus who?

September 29, 2006

This guy is being asked which one of four objects gravitates around the Earth. The price is three thousand euros and, just in case, he has the option to ask the public’s opinion…

Would be funny, if it weren’t so sad. Reminds me of those people that justify their inability to write correctly saying that they are scientists . I had a colleague that always retorted to them: no, you’re not a scientist, you’re just silly!.


September 25, 2006

Thanks to this recent post over at Not Even Wrong, i’ve rediscovered a piece, written a few years ago by the prestigious Professor Allen that has, in a way, ameliorated my prejudices against string theory. The essay is called Strung Out, and will make for an excellent introduction to this fascinating metatheory. Enjoy!

A gift from the Royal Society

September 19, 2006

From SciGuy comes a very interesting piece of news: for the next two months, The Royal Society will make available the complete archive of its scientific journals online. The archives, fully searchable, are available here. Over 340 years of research are awaiting for you!


September 8, 2006

Scientists are also sexy, let's not forget that

From xkcd, a webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math and language.

Blogs of a feather

August 13, 2006

The baker’s dozen links on my blogroll provide, in my opinion, a good snapshot of the physics blogging landscape where these musings live. I bet you already knew most of them before stumbling upon this site. You know the drill. Most of us have university degrees, discuss fundamental physics with an eye to laymen, are passionate about science, take sides in the never-ending Peter vs. Lubos debate, link regularly to each other and so on and so forth. There’s of course ample room for variance and everyone has her pet areas, strengths and weaknesses, but i think there’s an underlying spirit that encompasses us all.

After all, it is probably because of that common spirit that we like them. I for one would have a (relatively) hard time singling out just one or two blogs from this, so to speak, mainstream physics blogsphere. But, opening the scope a bit, there are a few blogs over there that i find, in some way or another, different.

My first two blogs of a feather are, for sure, hardly a discovery. The absolutely delicious musings of Jennifer Ouellette’s Cocktail Party Physics need no presentation; i’m hooked to her witty and informative posts, and enjoy Jennifer’s writing skills and sense of humour. She is also a good example of someone seeing us from outside, in a very refreshing way. Almost in a draw comes John Horgan (who thinks that science is ending, with a twist) and his Scientific Curmudgeon: his sharp-edged skepticism is always a good antidote against the flights of fancy so common in theoretical physics, or any other scientific branch, for that matter.

John’s readers will probably know about Jim Weatherall‘s blog, which has what’s easily the most original title i’ve ever heard: Wanderings of the Errant Digeratus. Jim wrote a quite interesting thesis (PDF) on the philosophical aspects of effective field theories and their interpretation, but his “interests are a little difficult to describe, but they all (both analytic and creative) revolve around complimentary ways to understand and criticize the scientific world-view and its ramifications”. That shows in his blog, which is very eclectic: philosophy, computers, art, physics… Although he’s not as prolific as one would like and science posts are a bit scarce, i usually enjoy his writings, which give yet another outsider’s view of the world of science, this time that of a philosopher. As an example, Jim’s take on emergence in physics (and live) is the most beautiful essay i’ve read in the last two months. Oh, and the Wanderings also get the prize to the nicest web design.

The list goes on, but let me close (for now) with the last addition to my newsreader collection, also coming from a philosopher and with a funny name too. According to its author, Stop That Crow is “an attempt to totally ground and understand design, purpose and values in a completely naturalistic worldview”. In his endeavour, Jeff touches many areas in an entertaining, very well thought of way, including a series of essays in the epistemology of science which will make as a nice introduction to the subject. As you will see, Jeff is a quite prolific author and so a good option to fill these slow august days. If you haven’t read Dennet’s Freedom evolves and are curious about the funny name, its rationale is detailed here.

These are some of my blogs of a feather: what are yours?

Portraits galore

August 8, 2006

Wondering how some famous physicist looks like? Chances are you’ll find her picture in this great gallery (collected by Carlos A Bertulani), featuring more that 160 portraits. There are also some group photos, like the one below: how many of these (very famous) guys can you recognise?

Who are these guys?