Tuesday, November 23, 2010

How the Hippies Saved Physics

In June 2011, W. W. Norton is scheduled to publish a book by MIT historian of science David Kaiser entitled How the Hippies Saved Physics that describes some of the colorful events and characters who researched the foundations of quantum physics in the 60s, 70s and 80s. These out-of-the-mainstream scientists focused their attention mostly on Bell's Theorem (published the same year that the Grateful Dead emerged on the scene) and quantum entanglement--topics which today form the basis for the emerging fields of quantum computing and cryptography.

Frankly speaking, How the Hippies Saved Physics is a book about me and my friends who were not interested in quantum experiments, who were not interested in quantum theory, but instead passionately involved ourselves in the quest to connect with QUANTUM REALITY itself. And we hoped that Bell's Theorem--which is a THEOREM ABOUT REALITY ITSELF--would help us reach our goal to conjugate with Mother Nature at a far deeper level than mere theory or mere experiment can provide. In short, my companions and I fell in love with Bell's Theorem and wholeheartedly took Her Lure. And with loving detail Professor Kaiser tells our tale.

Kaiser's account of our psychedelic drug use, however, is greatly exaggerated. For the most part we "hippies who saved physics" (including the shy, reclusive Jack Sarfatti) used drugs only when necessary to accomplish the task at hand (as well as in primitive courtship rituals).

Kaiser's video may be viewed here.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

77 Arguments

John Duns Scotus (not Giovanni Riccioli)

In a recent paper published in the Physics ArXiv, Christopher Graney presents a translation from the Latin of a section of Jesuit astronomer Giovanni Battista Riccioli's Almagestum Novum (1651) in which Riccioli presents 77 arguments against the motions of the Earth that the new Copernican (1473-1543) system required. Riccioli (1598-1691) was a Jesuit priest who is still remembered for mapping and naming the main features on the Moon's surface (including ironically the giant Copernicus crater) and for being the first to measure the Earth's gravitational acceleration.

In Riccioli's day, questions about the true motions of the Earth and planetary system were as topical and exciting as today's speculations about the results from the Large Hadron Collider with the additional spice (not present in today's frontier physics) that certain answers could get you locked up or burned at the stake as was the case with Galileo (1564-1642) and Bruno (1548-1600).

Graney presents Riccioli's arguments plus the Copernican counter argument which in many cases was non-existent. In particular Riccioli cites many physical effects (the Coriolis force, for instance) which should be observable if the Earth is really rotating. None of Riccioli's effects had been observed in his day so the experimental facts did indeed seem to support a stationary Earth just as the Catholic Church's doctrines required.

One amusing use of Riccioli's arguments is to test your own knowledge of physics. Of course "everybody knows" that the Earth is rotating but can you defend today's common knowledge against the arguments of an educated seventeenth-century Jesuit? Why, for instance, do we not witness powerful winds blowing from East to West as the Earth rotates (at a supersonic equatorial velocity of 1000 miles/hour)? When NASA launches its rockets eastward it utilizes the Earth's eastward rotation as an additional boost. Why does this work in space but not on Earth? Why--if the Earth is really rotating so rapidly--doesn't a ball thrown to the East travel further than a ball thrown to the West? asks Father Riccioli in Argument #20. A very instructive physics course could be designed using Riccioli's arguments as a basis for teaching Newtonian mechanics.

Reading Riccioli is also a excellent exercise in the realization that Today's Obvious Truth is forever in danger of suddenly being demoted to Tomorrow's Naked Absurdity. Pay special attention to areas where acquiring and publishing knowledge has been declared illegal or is being actively suppressed.

Graney points out that the Copernican System was accepted not because its supporters refuted all of Riccioli's arguments--some of his predicted rotational effects remained unobserved well into the 19th century--but because of the persuasive power of Newton's new laws of motion which provided a firm theoretical foundation for the Copernican moving-Earth model against the fixed-Earth picture of Tycho Brahe.

In preparing this post I accidentally discovered that riccioli is a type of pasta. But it was not named after the Italian Jesuit who published these 77 arguments against the Copernican motion of the Earth.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


Sward reading at Bookshop Santa Cruz
Met prolific Santa Cruz poet Robert Sward at Alan Lundell's beach house birthday party a few weeks ago. We exchanged words, books of verse. Sward began as a poet in a North-side Chicago gang of ruffians, published lots of books including a stint as a small-press publisher (Soft Press). He's got a website where you can read his poetry and buy his books which all got fascinating titles: God is in the Cracks, A Much-Married Man, Rosicrucian in the Basement, Thousand-Year-Old Fiancee, Kissing the Dancer and The Jurassic Shales, for example.

What can I say? Carl Sandberg on laughing gas. William Blake on the back of a cereal box. Better to let Sward speak for himself. Here's Robert Sward on 1. How to Market Poetry and 2. an imagined Socratic dialog that Plato failed to write down.

I was impressed by the Beats--their camaraderie and the fun they seemed to be having. Ginsberg came to Iowa City in 1968, I believe, and gave a terrific reading. He drew hundreds of people. The Iowa poets seemed unnerved by him, mocked his work and the "look" and gave parties where one was expected to dress up in blue jeans, etc., and pretend to be "Beat".

I met him briefly when he visited Iowa--was teaching there at the time--toked on a joint with him. Ginsberg always seemed to me to be Beat Mother Hen, the Nurturer in Chief, and also an astute and effective publicist. Did you know that he worked for an ad agency in San Francisco, doing Ipana toothpaste commercials? The experience wasn't wasted on him. In a sense he was the brains behind the Beat movement, ambitious for himself and for his friends. Nothing wrong with that--without Ginsberg's PR skills, I don't think we'd be reading the Beats as we do. It makes you think. If you're gonna write and want attention, some kind of readership, you're probably gonna want a group of like-minded friends, allies working in a similar vein, plus someone who can act for you as Ginsberg did for the Beats.


(Sonnet for Two Voices)

Of Love, my friends (after such sophistry
and praise as yours), may one presume? Well, then,
let me begin by begging Agathon:
Good sir, is not your love a love for me?
And not a love for those who disagree?
Yes, true! And what is it that Love, again,
is the love of? Speak! It is the love again
of "Socrates." Love then, and the Good, are me.

Explain! Is Love the love of something, or
the love of nothing? Something! Very true.
And Love desires the thing it loves. Right.
Is it, then, really me whom you adore?
Or is it nothing? O Socrates, it's you!
Then I am Good, and I am yours. Agreed!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

He Did Not Die

Atomic Reality: Do Bosons hate Fermions?
(requested by Jack Sarfatti)

"Who is closer to you, Sir, " a monk asked Buddha,
"He who loves you or he who hates you?"
"He who hates me," replied the Buddha,
"Because he thinks of me more often."

Mighty King Lucifer
Who was brought low
Who died by his own hand
In a Berlin bunker
Who rose again.

By the power of hate
Is Our Satan kept alive
His Deeds in state museums immortalized.
In our hearts we hold Him closer
Than any Christian holds his Lord.

By the power of our hatred
There are places on Earth
Where Satan's so sacred
That no man dares display His Mark
Except in secret.

So long as there remains
One member of Our Tribe
He will live on.
He is immortal.
Der Führer did not die.

(Nick Herbert)
All Souls Day 2010