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.
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Have a good weekend.