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whatonearth


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Posted Sat Feb 9th, 2008 10:59pm Post subject: An embarrassingly limited knowledge of physics
can be overwhelming sometimes. i briefly touched on this in the what are you reading thread in books and articles, but when i think about the very, very little i know about how the universe works i'm both overwhelmed by it and frustrated by the fact that it's totally beyond the scope of my imagination and therefore i'm probably nowhere near as overwhelmed by it as i should be. i probably sound like a teenager who's only just realised that there's a world outside themselves but yeah like most people i expect, every now and again i feel like i'm seeing the world in a completely different light and it's wonderful. and it makes me feel like i absolutely need to find a way to love life as it is, lose my fear of death, not feel bad about the past (whether its nostalgia for good times that have gone forever or bitterness towards things i wish had never happened in the first place), and find a way to pass this on to other people and lose my ego so i don't become some completely self-absorbed nut lost in my imagination when i don't really know anything about what i'm thinking about. by the way i have this urge to read Wittgenstein's tractatus logico-philosophicus and i have no idea why, it probably won't be anything like i'm expecting but i'm just intrigued by the idea of it. what that has to do with anything i've just been talking about i have no idea, but for me it's all part of the same thing.

ok that's one hell a ramble apparently straight out of the blue, i'm going to click 'post reply' now before i go back and read it, realise it's a load of self-indulgent hippy bollocks and change my mind

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Anonymous


Unregistered

Posted Sat Feb 9th, 2008 11:06pm Post subject: An embarrassingly limited knowledge of physics
hey mockingbird!

i read about physics nonstop for a year or so... books for "laypeople". i really enjoyed it and hope to read some more soon.

it started with reading some astronomy books and then i wanted to know about particle physics and other things i didn't even really know existed. i couldn't talk about it back to people very well; i get fuzzy with it. but when i read about the years when scientists first stepped into quantum-theory-territory, i was really interested! then i wanted to learn about other, newer theories... and got some books on that recently that i haven't read yet. i didn't learn any of that in school, and it changed how i look at the world.

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whatonearth


Member

Posted Sat Feb 9th, 2008 11:31pm Post subject: An embarrassingly limited knowledge of physics
hi!

these areas of physics are weird...on the one hand i think 'well this has absolutely no practical bearing on my life, it's just a load of made up stuff that means nothing and that nobody really understands', but then on the other hand just thinking about it is absolutely mind-blowing and it can change your perspective of your immediate surroundings and the universe as a whole so much that it's impossible to ignore just because it doesn't appear to have any practical benefits.

did you read the fabric of the cosmos by brian greene? i have that book but i haven't read it yet, i just wondered if you'd read it and if it was any good.

haha it's funny though, how you can read something and think you understand it but the second you try to explain it to someone - it's gone. i think being able to explain something to someone else is the best measure of whether you truly understand it or not. but if you ask me there's no shame in not understanding physics :p

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Anonymous


Unregistered

Posted Sun Feb 10th, 2008 12:07am Post subject: An embarrassingly limited knowledge of physics
hi!

these areas of physics are weird...on the one hand i think 'well this has absolutely no practical bearing on my life, it's just a load of made up stuff that means nothing and that nobody really understands', but then on the other hand just thinking about it is absolutely mind-blowing and it can change your perspective of your immediate surroundings and the universe as a whole so much that it's impossible to ignore just because it doesn't appear to have any practical benefits.

did you read the fabric of the cosmos by brian greene? i have that book but i haven't read it yet, i just wondered if you'd read it and if it was any good.

haha it's funny though, how you can read something and think you understand it but the second you try to explain it to someone - it's gone. i think being able to explain something to someone else is the best measure of whether you truly understand it or not. but if you ask me there's no shame in not understanding physics :p

no, i wouldn't want to shame anyone for not knowing something...or get down on myself for it. but if I'm curious about something, why not learn more?? no reason not to.

here's what Richard Feynman said to his sister about learning difficult things:

"James Gleick, in his Genius biography of Richard P. Feynman recalls Feynman's sister wishing that she could muster earning a Ph.D. She worried that she did not have what it takes to earn that lofty badge of academic excellence. She told Richard how she had great difficulty understanding materials from difficult textbooks, especially those in physics.

Richard explained that she had adequate intellect and motivation to accomplish her goal, and added that she should read difficult texts using his method: read until you do not understand what an author is saying. Back up to where you felt you were on solid ground. Read again. And again. Reread until you understand. Move on. Repeat."

i DID get a couple of brian greene books at a library sale recently, but haven't read them yet. i've read some other books that overlap it a little. I've seen a PBS program on string theory, it was good but just made me more curious...didn't really explain enough to me. from what i saw when i thumbed through, the book explains a lot more.

i'm a visual artist- maybe i get a kick out of all the spatial stuff my brain gets to think about in physics? (my teachers at grad school were frustrated that i didn't talk much art theory... "you need to read more" they said. well...i was reading, i was just reading about physics instead!) i DO think it has practical benefits...one of the things i love about it is that it DOES have bearing on your life, and yet so many parts are unexplainable.

you can probably tell by the length of my post that i loved reading about it

NERD -> :-// =ME

some people feel embarrassed about liking poetry. i love poetry, but i'm more embarrassed about this one time i got worked up over an escaping gravitron.

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whatonearth


Member

Posted Sun Feb 10th, 2008 12:34am Post subject: An embarrassingly limited knowledge of physics
that post made me smile so much!

one thing i will compare to something i can relate to: when i'm trying to learn something hard on the piano, i will practise it over and over again until i just can't do it any more, at all. and hten the next day i'll go back and once i've reminded myself of it a bit i'll be able to play it a bit better, and then so on. i think it does help to lose yourself in something and then go back to it later so you're able to see it from a different perspective but also take into account what you learned in the previous session.

i've heard people being very dismissive of string theory...i will probably never know enough about it to decide for myself (i've never really been intelligent enough to look past the most recent argument i come across - e.g. if i'm reading a debate or something then the most recent response will be the one that is DEFINITELY right (well, within reason), until i read the response, and so on) but i just want to understand how these ideas come about.

you're a visual artist? what do you do? i have to be perfectly honest and say i've never really got into the visual arts - i'm a fan of the obvious stuff like dali and whatever but i've always been far more interested in music and literature. that's just my personal preference of course, i don't mean that in a negative way but just that i don't know much about it

and don't feel embarrassed! i get obsessive over stuff that nobody else seems to care about :-// in terms of music it could be maybe one slight change of tempo in a piece, or well anything really. getting enthusiastic about anything is great just because other people don't share your enthusiasm doesn't mean you're being stupid!

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Anonymous


Unregistered

Posted Sun Feb 10th, 2008 1:51am Post subject: An embarrassingly limited knowledge of physics
haha! thanks mockingbird!

i think your piano analogy is a good one!

string theory is newer, a "proposed theory" NO ONE knows if it's right or not, and when i first starting reading articles about it in journals and magazines, details were always changing. from what i understand, the main problem is there's little in it that can be physically tested.

another reason i got interested in quantum physics is that some ideas in it also come up in 20th century art and literature...i don't know if any of it was a direct influence, but the idea of multiple simultaneous viewpoints, nonlinear narratives...it all seems relevant. although that's a huge generic jump from the little details of it. but it also created ideas for a lot of scifi...like teleportation and parallel universes. so much that, even if you don't know much about it, the way you see the world has been changed by it already.

i do a lot of painting and drawing... sort of memory/autobiography/wierd perspective... i dunno. guess i should write a new artist statement. ugh. i've always drawn since i was a child and think visually more than in words. i like literature...but i have difficulty expressing myself in words. (as you can see when i tried to describe my paintings.)

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whatonearth


Member

Posted Sun Feb 10th, 2008 11:54am Post subject: An embarrassingly limited knowledge of physics
that's funny because i know there's this joint biography of einstein and picasso which apparently sets out to demonstrate the connections between relativity (as opposite to quantum mechanics) and 20th century art and culture. and also 'literary' sci fi is often political, i suppose the different disciplines must come together somehow.

well i'm not too good at expressing myself in words either which is odd because you'd think i would be!

speaking of the visual arts though, is it just me or do people generally find it less accessible than most other areas of art? which is kind of strange because unless i'm mistaken then it's the kind of art that's easier to trace the history of (early literature would have been spoken, music has only very recently been recorded so although we might have scores and so on we will never heard the original performances, and not all music is written down anyway). or do you think that visual art is treated in the same way as everything else i.e. most people take a casual interest - have a few 'nice' paintings up on their wall, read popular bestsellers and listen to the radio - ok that's a pretty generic, probably inaccurate description of an average person and not very complimentary either but hopefully you get the idea! er not sure where i'm going with this actually so i'll just stop now :-//

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wildfire


Member

Posted Sun Feb 10th, 2008 1:10pm Post subject: An embarrassingly limited knowledge of physics
Feynmans biographies and books are interesting. The story of the hydrogen atom is fascinating too. the theories of quantum mechanics started out from trying to predict (accurately) the wavelengths of light from fluorescing hydrogen atoms. Bethe and Salpeter is a good read.

"Godel, Escher Bach" by Douglas Hofstadter is another must-read, I think, since it explains a proof that every formal system is incomplete... there are things which you'll never be able to prove or disprove to be compatible with your existing theories. You have to either assume they're true or false and see what that lets you determine.

another thing that is (I think) pretty mind blowing is the set of engravings on the pioneer 10 and 11 spaceships - suppose you had to explain how long one second was to an alien.

if you found that engraving and you knew the science of hydrogen atoms, you could figure out from those inscriptions what a human looked like, how tall it was, how long it lived, even if you never visited earth or spoke to a human. -- assuming their hydrogen atoms are the same as ours.

people think of science as being diametrically opposed to religion, but perversely, I think those inscriptions (which are going to fly through space forever) are a statement of belief in their own way - a way of saying "at least we figured some of it out while we were here."

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Anonymous


Unregistered

Posted Mon Feb 11th, 2008 8:05pm Post subject: An embarrassingly limited knowledge of physics
i love those engravings! there's something so sincere in trying to put the best of what human kind figured out on a piece of metal and sending it into space!

mockingbird, i don't know why visual arts are so left out these days. it seems to be left out of education. and then most adults approach any painting with "i don't know anything about this". usually if i get someone to say more than this they start making really great observations.

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whatonearth


Member

Posted Mon Feb 11th, 2008 9:24pm Post subject: An embarrassingly limited knowledge of physics
Feynmans biographies and books are interesting. The story of the hydrogen atom is fascinating too. the theories of quantum mechanics started out from trying to predict (accurately) the wavelengths of light from fluorescing hydrogen atoms. Bethe and Salpeter is a good read.

"Godel, Escher Bach" by Douglas Hofstadter is another must-read, I think, since it explains a proof that every formal system is incomplete... there are things which you'll never be able to prove or disprove to be compatible with your existing theories. You have to either assume they're true or false and see what that lets you determine.

another thing that is (I think) pretty mind blowing is the set of engravings on the pioneer 10 and 11 spaceships - suppose you had to explain how long one second was to an alien.

if you found that engraving and you knew the science of hydrogen atoms, you could figure out from those inscriptions what a human looked like, how tall it was, how long it lived, even if you never visited earth or spoke to a human. -- assuming their hydrogen atoms are the same as ours.

people think of science as being diametrically opposed to religion, but perversely, I think those inscriptions (which are going to fly through space forever) are a statement of belief in their own way - a way of saying "at least we figured some of it out while we were here."

wow those engravings sound pretty fascinating, i'll have to make a mental note to look into that at some point. i had no idea. thanks for the tips!

banjo: i think modern art can seem so abstract that people have no point of reference...the same applies to music, literature etc i suppose but those forms of music and literature seem to be so much more on the 'fringe', whereas most people's awareness of the visual arts (myself included, i must admit) more or less boils down to what the hell is going to win the turner prize this year? now there's an even that doesn't exactly present itself well to the general public. it's strange, and quite sad really. looking at things from a very, very simplified point of view, it would probably be easier for most people to mess around with different media (e.g. paints, clay, whatever) than to write a short story or write/play a piece of music. not to say that they would create anything good :p but it's easier to 'get stuck in' if you see what i mean. i make this stuff up as i go along.

also, on a pretty unrelated note, how depressing is this post from another board i post on?

When I was a kid (10 years old), I would snorkel Molasses and Carysfort reefs off of Key Largo. I remember the colorful brain coral heads, longhorn corals, soft corals, sea fans, and plethora of bright hues of fish. Now roughly 17 years later, those same reefs are all bleached out and dead. The runoff from the roads and pesticides from agriculture cause algae blooms, which in turn kill the reefs. the reefs of the keys in the third largest coral system in the world. It is almost about to die. Sadly, if I ever have kids I will have tell them about the way the reefs used to be...

it refers to this: http://www.infoshop.org/inews/article.php?story=20080205155921408 (the person who posted the link is a great believer in anarchism which is why it's an anarchist website)

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Anonymous


Unregistered

Posted Wed Feb 13th, 2008 10:32pm Post subject: An embarrassingly limited knowledge of physics
i'd say...that's pretty depressing.



and makes me sad.

as far as modern art goes, i always get confused that everyone thinks all contemporary art is abstract. a lot of the past couple of decades' art (not all of course) has been very figurative and narrative.

i did go to school with lots of folks who were very "art for art's sake" oriented... the thoughts behind it are ok, (that the color, surface, and other formal aspects of the painting are the content and the meaning) but my personal take is that the EXTREME version of this can be detrimental. at some point modern (as in... i dunno... mid/late twentieth century) became so self-referential that it became very difficult for people who aren't painters or sculptors to get into it.

i don't have anything against abstract art, i like a lot of it. but the shutting out of other subjects, the making of art that only speaks to questions of art theory, seems boring to me. i'd rather learn about everything and keep painting at the same time... like the renaissance, i guess.

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whatonearth


Member

Posted Sat Feb 23rd, 2008 1:23am Post subject: An embarrassingly limited knowledge of physics
elitism and obscurity is a weird thing. most of the music i listen to is pretty obscure i suppose, and while i don't deliberately listen to things because they're obscure, i suppose i have this semi-conscious idea that music which will never enter the mainstream is somehow more 'pure', it's genuinely what the artist wants and has little to do with money or success or just being signed to a label even (although i'm sure that's a factor for everyone). this is probably a very inaccurate view but it seems to work for me because i keep stumbling across things that i never thought i'd find and being more in love with music than ever before. and i'm pretty ignorant really.

however i just feel that visual art (if you don't mind me calling it that? is there a better phrase?) suffers from this the most for some reason. perhaps just because for most people to look at a piece of art is such a brief thing...it's there, ok, what's next? whereas music tends to last several minutes at least, you can sing along, listen to it in different contexts etc. and books can last for weeks. or maybe that's more a personal thing, i don't know.

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Anonymous


Unregistered

Posted Sat Feb 23rd, 2008 2:41am Post subject: An embarrassingly limited knowledge of physics
you're totally right mockingbird. when i last posted i went for a walk afterwards and thought about some of the things you said, and i do think time is very important. music, theatre, books, film, all require that you stay put until they finish saying what they have to say. (that is...unless you really hate it and leave the theatre, i guess!)

there have been times when i've produced good work and then times where it was not so good...when i was in school, and had a critique, i knew i succeeded if it took a long time for everyone to finish looking at all the paintings and sit down to talk. if they sat down immediately, then i failed.

to be honest though, i have a hard time getting into new music that's unfamiliar. if it's a performance, i have to... but if it's a cd i'm so tempted to start hitting the skip button... :-// i have to get used to it.

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