Weekly Shtuff 11-16-12

I wish I was smart.

It’s not that I don’t think I’m intelligent; I do. But when reading books like Brian Greene’s The Hidden Reality and The Fabric of the Cosmos, or John Griibin’s Schrodinger’s Kittens, I realize just how thick I really am. I struggle with the concepts they illustrate, shaking my head over this being the LAYMAN’S version, the POPULAR version. Oh, I get the big picture, but there are examples that, no matter how many times I read them, I just don’t understand. And how the heck you can discern all these things with math, well, that’s another mystery.

So why read them? I love ‘em. I like stretching my brain. I do wish I understood enough math and basic physics to comprehend some of the more sophisticated stuff. I don’t want to be a physicist, but I’d sure like to be able to talk with one.

For those of you who haven’t read the books, they all deal with basically the same stuff: quantum mechanics, string theory, and the history leading up to both. And they deal with the weird, counter-intuitive predictions and results that come from those theories. For instance, Greene’s latest book, The Hidden Reality, gives ten examples of modern quantum and cosmological theories that, if you follow the math, lead to the idea of infinite multiple universes. He admits that doesn’t mean they actually exist…but they might. Each theory examined posits a slightly different kind of multiverse: one is seen as a large quilt, with each universe being isolated within its own patch, unable to reach beyond its cosmic horizon. Another looks at a Swiss cheese model, with bubble universes popping up within some kind of….uh, stuff. All are equally inaccessible. Then there’s the brane multiverse, where giant sheets of matter and energy collide or intersect, depending on the particular math, thus creating infinite big bangs. And the one where one universe bubble expands within another universe bubble. And the one where the universe as we know it is merely a reflection of an alternate reality on an outer surface.

The Fabric of the Cosmos, which I am currently reading, gives an explanation of relativity that I’ve never heard before, that actually did broaden my meagre understanding of that mighty concept. Without quoting directly, the idea is that in spacetime, we are constantly moving through the three spatial dimensions and time. When we are sitting absolutely still, we are moving through time; as we begin to move through space, that energy is diverted from our movement through time, but the two speeds will always add up to the speed of light. Ok, maybe old news to YOU, but an exciting little brain tickle for me.

I still don’t understand why an electron fired at a shield with two slits in it only seems to make a wave in two dimensions. The simile commonly used is a pebble falling into a pond, but I can’t get past the idea that the pebble must also cause ripples going down and out from its impact. And though I’m sure this is all settled stuff in the world Greene inhabits, I am curious to know how that experiment would play out with multiple shields at multiple angles. My guess is that all the slits would produce the same effect, but I’m really curious, and it’s not like a question I can ask my wife or my neighbor. Nor do I think the question is in any way profound. But working with 3D animation, I tend to think in those terms, so 2D explanations sometimes confuse me. Like I said, I’m thick.

I wonder how HPL would have taken to all this stuff? Quantum mechanics and cosmology were just building up steam by the time he died, and I have no idea how much press these esoteric fields were getting in those days. They certainly would fit in with his materialistic world view, though they would still stretch it out quite a bit. I think he would have loved it, and found a whole host of new stories in them, something far advanced from The Dream in the Witch House.

Vote for LIM at Top Web Comics, please. And like us on Facebook if you get the chance.

Have a good weekend.


  1. Dumb post


  2. John Ashmead

    As to multiple shields, the easiest way to visualize what will happen is to see the progress of an electron as like the progression of water waves thru a like set of shields.

    There will be a fairly complex pattern of crests & throughs on the far side, the more shields, the greater the complexity. But the essential principle is that the waves from all the gates add up. Where they reinforce you get crests, where they cancel each other out you get troughs. The case for three or more slits is not conceptually distinct from the case for two, just harder to calculate.

    I did a talk on quantum mechanics, touching on the double slit experiment, Schroedinger’s cat, & so on, just last Saturday. It’s up on slideshare: http://www.slideshare.net/akmed13/quantum-mechanics-reality-you

  3. John Ashmead

    And now that we’re trapped with Pickman in a sinister cave, I should mention I was moderating a panel on H. P. Lovecraft at last week’s Philcon (Lovecraft’s Successors was the panel topic). This was with Darryl Schweitzer, A. C. Wise., Marvin Kaye (who is the new editor of Weird Tales, in its latest incarnation) & Neal Levin. I am pleased to report that I found occasion to mention Lovecraft is Missing as a good example of Lovecraft on the web.

    Next year Darryl & I will be editing a collection Tales of the Miskatonic University Library, short fiction set in, around, about, or an in nearby parallel dimension to the MU Library. If there is something appropriate from Lovecraft is Missing, we would be very pleased to see it.

  4. Martin

    I have to admit the twin slit experiment still gets me. Seems that each electron needs to know what all the other electrons in the past and the FUTURE are going to do.

  5. Elwin

    Electron beams diffract when they pass through narrow openings. If a beam goes through a vertical slit, it will diffract horizontally, because of the slit’s narrow width. The slit’s height is much larger, so there is very little vertical diffraction. The effect is usually too small to notice.

    But if the beam goes through a circular hole, it will produce “three-dimensional waves”- the pattern looks like concentric rings. That’s how electron diffraction was first observed.

    I had thought HPL name-dropped a few quantum physicists in one story, but I can’t find where now.

  6. Me.

    “I like stretching my brain”. That’s the reason I enjoy reading Greene’s books…even if I am still muddling my way through The Hidden Reality. :-)

  7. lovecraf

    Thanks much. And the story, I think, is The Dream in the Witch House,though I haven’t got it handy at the moment.

  8. lovecraf

    Thanks for the mention. Free publicity is always great. And I’d love to work with you to find something fro LIM that could work with your anthology, even to the point of doing something original for it. Let me know what your needs are.

  9. Dumb post

    “when one mixes them with folklore, and tries to trace a strange background of multi-dimensional reality behind the ghoulish hints of the Gothic tales and the wild whispers of the chimney-corner, one can hardly expect to be wholly free from mental tension.”

  10. captkiddeo

    This discussion somehow reminds me of “First and Second Law” by Flanders and Swann, where they mock attempts to explain scientific concepts in terms the general public can understand by turning thermodynamics into a “pop” song. I’m not ridiculing our attempts at stretching our brains, just saying there’s a funny side to it.

  11. lovecraf

    I get that. Not exactly similar, but I want saw a vaudeville-style act, with songs and catchy patter, about secular humanism. “I’m Sanders! He’s Dale! I’m Dale! He’s Sanders! We’re Secular Humaniiiiiiiiists!”

  12. John Ashmead

    I check with my partner in crime about LIM in our anthology. He is much more expert on the mechanics than I (I’m the fellow who came up with the idea hence the partnership). I would think anything would have to be something a person could read as a self-contained story. I don’t know what kind of cost factor color adds, perhaps not that much nowadays.

  13. missallen

    Don’t forget Higgs and Boson in your adventures into QuantumLand!!