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Lilliputians first saw Gulliver's watch,that "wonderful kind of engine...a
globe,half of silver and half of some transparent metal," they identified
it immediately as the god he worshipped.After all,"he seldom did anything
without consulting it: he called it his oracle,and said it pointed out the
time for every action of his life." To Jonathan Swift in 1726 that was worth
a bit of satire.Modernity was under way.We're all Gullivers now.
Or are we Yahoos?
James Gleick "Faster"
strange to talk in these terms about a subject,which after all,is done by
midnight oil.Did physics,in the 1920's,really consist of
argument,seminar,discussion,dispute? Yes it did! Yes it still does! The people
who met here,the people who meet in laboratories still,only end their
work with a mathematical formulation.They begin it by trying to solve the
riddles of the sub-atomic particles,of the electrons and the rest.Think of
the puzzles the electron was setting just at that time.On Mondays Wednesdays
and Fridays,it would behave like a particle.On Tuesdays,Thursdays and Saturdays
it would behave like a wave.How could you match those two aspects,brought
from the large scale world and pushed into a single entity into this
Lilliput,Gulliver's Travels world of the inside of the atom?
That's what it was about,and that requires,not calculation,but insight,imagination,if you like-metaphysics.
I remember a phrase that Max Born used when he came to England many years after,and that still stands in his autobiography,he said "I am now convinced that theoretical physics is actual philosophy".
Jacob Bronowski "The Ascent of Man"
it is said, hired a team of scientists to advise him on improving his dairy
production. After six months' work they prepared their report. The farmer
began to read, only to encounter the opening sentence: 'Consider a spherical
There's an important message behind this hoary tale. The shapes that we see in nature, and the traditional geometric shapes of mathematics, do not always bear much resemblance to one another.
Sometimes they do. In 1610 Galileo said that the language of nature is mathematics, and 'its characters are triangles, circles, and other geometrical figures'. His dramatic successes in dynamics explain his viewpoint. But by 1726 Jonathan Swift was ridiculing such a philosophy in Gulliver's Voyage to Laputa: 'If they would praise the beauty of a woman, or any other animal, they describe it by rhombs, circles, parallelograms, ellipses, and other geometrical terms.'
These quotations find a modern echo in a much-quoted statement of Benoit Mandelbrot in 'The Fractal Geometry of Nature: 'Clouds are not spheres, mountains are not cones, coastlines are not circles, and bark is not smooth, nor does lightning travel in a straight line.'
Ian Stewart "Does God Play Dice?"
was another way of seeing this mysterious constancy, Einstein realized. It
was as if the different tourists' perceptions of space and time changed in
accordance with their individual motions, in such a way that the speed of
light and only the speed of light-always appeared the same. According to
this interpretation, Einstein's universe was based on a cosmic-size optical
illusion whose confounding effects were universal. No matter how fast a person
was moving, his reckoning of an inch and a second always changed so as to
leave unchanged his reckoning of the speed of light! The effect called to
mind Jonathan Swift's most famous traveler. Had Gulliver's own height changed
during his strange journey-had he himself shrunk while in Lilliput and grown
while in Brobdignag,then his impressions about the size of everything and
everyone around him would have remained unchanged.
Michael Guillen "5 Equations that Changed the World"
Swift is reputed to have observed , "You cannot reason a person out of a
position he did not reason himself into in the first place." So, if science
is taught as just a collection of (assumed-to-be) facts, it is nothing but
dogma. Dogma stoutly resists subsequent displacement by reason.
It seems that anything people have learned prior to puberty takes on the status of an immutable truth (this is something well understood by parents, governments, and religions).
Alistair B Fraser : http://www.ems.psu.edu/~fraser/BadScience.html
|Murray Gell-Mann||Quantum Theory||Robert Matthews||Interview with the Physicist.|
|Apoptosis:Cell Suicide||Biology||John Newell||Why we are dying from the moment we are born.|
|Carbon 60||Chemistry||The isotope of Carbon that is a solution looking for problems.|
|Escher||Art||Lee Borrell||The links between the artist and mathematics.|
|Richard Feynman||Physics||Info on the Physicist.|
|Fuzzy Logic||Technology||Technology that exploits the mathematical system.|
|Gambling||Psychology||The psychology of gambling.|
|The secret of life's patterns||Mathematics||The mathematics behind patterns in nature.|
|Don't believe your eyes||Psychology||David Singmaster||The mathematics of visual illusion.|
|Symmetry:2 Sides to every story||Chirality||Jonathan Wilson||The mathematics of left and right handedness in nature and the cosmos.|
|Science,art,or superstition?||Paranormal and Mystery||Amanda Cochrane||Royals believe in it,presidents have relied on it: in the Nineties, forecasting by the stars has never been more popular. But surely science disproved it years ago ? Find out what' s in the stars.|
|Science for Art's sake||Science and the arts.||Melvyn Bragg,TV's 'man of letters' says science asks all the really important questions - but we need a technology-appreciation course.|
|Bread and Butter Maths||Mathematics||Why bread likes to land butter side down.|
|Secrets of Numbers||Mathematics||Ian Stewart||For most people, numbers are useful - but no more than a tool. Look closer and you'll find a puzzling and exciting parallel world where the impossible exists and the obvious can't be proved.|
|An adventurer in the big questions of science||Science||Julian Brown||John Taylor, scientist, actor, broadcaster, is a true renaissance man. He has experimented on Uri Geller and criticised the ideas of Stephen Hawking. Now he may be close to solving a great mystery: the workings of our human consciousness.|
|Finding the fractal solution||Science||Robert Matthews||Fractals are the abstract made gloriously visible. And now they're becoming useful shrinking images,diagnosing madness,even finding gold. It turns out that fractals are the very stuff of the universe.|
|Liquid Crystals - The paradoxical problem-solvers||Science||Robert Matthews||They're neither solid nor liquid nor gas - and they don't look like crystals, either. Yet these materials are crucial to our bodies as well as our electronics. And we're only just beginning to make use of them.|
|The Psychic Frauds?||Paranormal and Mystery||Jerome Burne||Do you believe some people can see the future - or read your mind? We reveal why people accept the impossible instead of understanding the subtle tricks used by so-called psychics and clairvoyants .|
|Fractal Crowds||Mathematics||New insight into crowd behaviour - It's fractal.|
|The Secret Life of Crowds||Mathematics||Turning Wembley Stadium into the world's biggest laboratory has uncovered hidden patterns that help to prevent stampedes.|
|Beauty:Making sense of sex appeal||Mathematics||It's not all a matter of taste - and that's official. But we may be no nearer to learning just what beauty really is.|
|Surfing for Salvation||Belief||John Rennie||Once prophets roamed the world recruiting the lost and lonely to spread their tales of redemption. Today, the spiritual world is working its way onto the web.|
|Everything in its place||Belief||Kate Andrew||Much fuss has been made of Feng Shui - but can the oriental study of energy flow really improve your PC environment?|
|Cash in your chips||Technology||J Mark Lytle||The dogs are in their traps, the horses are champing at their bits and the roulette wheel is spinning - but is it spinning out of control? A look at internet gambling.|
|Logical Sea-lion||Animal Intelligence||A sealion demonstrates logical ability.|
|Drugs||Psychology||How everything looks on drugs.|
|Computer Art||Media and Arts||Aaron the computer program makes artistic pictures.|
|Clever Beasts||Animal Intelligence||Windsor Chorlton||From tool-making to language, new research shows that animals share many of the attributes once believed to be uniquely human.|
|Particle Zoo||Physics||Nina Hall||Science is close to solving the biggest mystery of all - how to make sense of the particles that underlie all things.|
|Thinking Machines||Technology||John Browning||Does thought have to be an exclusively human activity?|
|Relativity||Physics||Robert Mattews||When Einstein imagined what it would be like to ride on a light beam, he took us all on a fascinating tour .But how much does his thinking explain the universe now?|
|Rupert Sheldrake||Mystery||Susan Aldridge||Rupert Sheldrake is a scientific heretic who refuses to be burnt at the stake. Not only are his ideas about "morphic fields"popular he also dares to take on the "scientific fundamentalists"|
|Laws of Freak Chance||Probability||Robert Matthews||Do luck and coincidence truly exist,or can everything be explained scientifically buy the laws of probability? Meeting a lost friend on a train could be just a case of mathematics,not fate.|
|What do dreams mean?||Psychology||Sharon Kingman||Throughout history, people have believed that dreams foretell the future and contain potent symbols. Most dreams, when the dreamer is wakened and questioned, are about quite dull and everyday events.|
|DK Fractals and Chaos||Mathematics||Details and links on Fractals and Chaos.|
|DK Cosmology||Cosmology||Details and links on Quantum Physics and Relativity.|
|DK Mathematics||Mathematics||Details and links on Mathematics.|
|DK Sound||Science||Details and links on Sound.|
|DK Energy||Science||Details and links on Energy.|
|DK Evolution||Biology||Details and links on Evolution.|
|DK Chemistry||Chemistry||Details and links on Chemistry.|
|DK Electronics||Electronics||Details and links on Electronics.|
|DK Electromagnetism||Electromagnetism||Details and links on Electromagnetism.|
|Digital Computer||Electronics||Mike Wharton||History of the Digital Computer.|
|Little Ray of Sunshine||Psychology||Jamie Walters||A Therapy for Autism.|
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