Cosmic Quote(s) #26

“Don’t know if it’s good or bad that a Google search on “Big Bang Theory” lists the sitcom before the origin of the Universe”–Neil deGrasse Tyson.

“The Big Bang Theory: When geeky scientists can be main characters in a hit prime time series, you know there’s hope for the world.”–Neil deGrasse Tyson

If there are two things I absolutely love, they are Neil deGrasse Tyson and The Big Bang Theory.  They are both witty and intelligent.  When you combine the two, as in the video clip below,  it’s like putting hot fudge on double chocolate ice cream.  Tyson has done more to popularize and promote the scientific world view than any American since Carl Sagan–and with a sense of humor.  Hmmm, kinda like The Big Bang Theory (the show, not the actual theory).  Carry on Dr. Tyson.


Quantum Weirdness 103: How Many Worlds?// Summer Rerun

“He who laughs has not yet heard the bad news.”–Bertold Brecht

The good news is, this is the last of the current series of summer reruns.  The bad news is, that means vacation is over and I have to go back to work.  Grumble.

“There is no question that there is an unseen world. The problem is, how far is it from midtown and how late is it open?” –Woody Allen

For the quantum physics-uninitiated, get ready for the weirdest of the weird: the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics.

In Quantum Weirdness 101, we talked about the wave-particle duality of sub-atomic quanta, and how they appear to be in a superposition of every possible trajectory and location until an observer measures them.

In Quantum Weirdness 102, we discussed The Copenhagen Interpretation, which basically states that reality is just fuzzy on that level.  They are only potential trajectories–probabilities–interfering with each other, and this doesn’t have a measurable effect on our everyday macro world.   But we also visited Schrödinger’s infamous cat–the mind experiment that poked a colossal hole in  Copenhagen.

Image Credit: University of Oregon, 21st Century Science

The Copenhagen interpretation remained the most popular explanation for decades, in spite of Schrödinger.   But in 1957 cosmologist Hugh Everett made an astonishing proposal.  He suggested that the particles themselves–not merely their probabilities–interfere with one-another.  In this interpretation, they actually take every possible trajectory, each in an alternate universe.  Effectively every physically possible history exists in a huge–possibly infinite–number of alternate universes. So when we look in the box containing that possibly dead or alive cat it is actually in two universes: alive in one, dead in the other.   We just see it in the one we are in.   Taken to the extreme, every one of us would exist in a countless number of alternate universes.   Some would be imperceptibly different from ours, in others we might not even recognize ourselves or the the world around us.  And while Everett was mostly ignored or derided in his day, his many worlds interpretation has become a leading explanation of quantum weirdness, rivaling even Copenhagen.

So where do I stand?  Agnostic.  It is a rather optimistic world view.  I hope it’s true; I’m afraid it isn’t.  But many of the world’s top physicists now lean towards many worlds, and David Deutsch, among others, makes some very convincing arguments using deductive reasoning if not direct evidence.  I will leave it at this: it is a strong possibility that greatly influences my millennium conjectures. For more detailed background, check out the Wikipedia articles on The Many Worlds interpretation,  as well as general overview of quantum mechanics interpretations.   Or if you prefer, here is an entertaining video, shamelessly lifted from YouTube.


Cosmic Quote #4//Summer Rerun

“All generalizations are false, including this one.” –Mark Twain

Mark Twain

Droll?  We would expect that from the greatest raconteur of American letters.  But perhaps this is far more subtle and profound than a mere semantic joke.  Kurt Gödel proved with his incompleteness theorems that every self-consistent mathematical system must include statements that cannot be proven–the mathematical equivalent of “this statement is false.”  But Twain takes the classic liar’s paradox and applies it, it would seem, to all of existence itself.  There are things in life and in science we just can’t determine,  and that is the point of The Millennium Conjectures.   I need to ponder explanations for what the cutting edges of physics and cosmology are telling us, whether we can test them right now or not.   But don’t misinterpret this.  One of my readers suggested that if I believe things that cannot be proven scientifically, then it is no better than philosophy or religion.  I don’t know about philosophy, but this is most certainly nothing like religion, and for two good reasons.

  • First, these are, after all, conjectures and interpretations;  things I feel strongly could be true.  I do not believe absolutely that they are true.  As I said in an earlier post, they are what-ifs.
  • Second, I stand ready to alter or drop any of these conjectures if the light of further developments requires that I do so.  By further developments I mean new scientific discoveries or better explanations by individuals I consider to be credible scientists.

I don’t know of any religion that says either of those two things–let me know if you do.

Keep the above in mind as I present further conjectures.  Quantum Weirdness 103 will precede the next one, coming soon to a computer near you.


Quantum Weirdness 102: Equal Time for the Cat// Summer Rerun

“I don’t like it, and I’m sorry I ever had anything to do with it.”
Erwin Schrödinger  (referring to Quantum Mechanics).

What better follow up to The Equation of Canine Chaos, then the infamous tale of Schrodinger’s Cat?

In Quantum Weirdness 101, we saw that the double-slit experiment revealed the wave-particle duality of sub-atomic quanta, and the fact that these troublesome little bits behave as if they are everywhere they could possibly be at once until an observer looks for them.  While the experimental proof that this happens is rock-solid, the explanation for what causes it is anything but.  For decades after its original discovery in the 1920’s, the predominant interpretation—essentially, in fact, the only one—was the so-called Copenhagen Interpretation.  It essentially states that the universe is just fuzzy on the sub-atomic level, it doesn’t affect our everyday macro-world, and we mortals should not worry about it otherwise.  Critics have said it is really no interpretation, and some facetiously call it the “shut-up-and-calculate” interpretation.   In 1935, Erwin Schrodinger posed perhaps the most famous mind experiment in all of physics to show that theoretically the Copenhagen Interpretation makes no sense.  More recently, physicists have been able to succeed in creating this quantum superposition with larger and larger bits of matter, which tends to shoot empirical holes in Copenhagen.

Anyway, this witty video does a good job of explaining the concept behind Schrodinger’s Cat.  And I’m pretty sure that no cats were harmed in its making—much to the chagrin of my dogs.

In the next installment: the many worlds interpretation of quantum weirdness.


Cosmic Quote(s) #16// Summer Rerun

“I don’t want to achieve immortality through my works. I want to achieve it through not dying.”–Woody Allen

“I’m very pleased to be here.  Lets face it, at my age, I’m very pleased to be anywhere.”–George Burns

I’ve had enough of it for now.  I’m calling a moratorium on in memoriam memeranda, momentarily.   (Try saying that five times fast.)  So if you are planning on dying, please have the courtesy to hold off for at least a few weeks.  My attention now turns back to the living, at least while I’m still breathing.


Quantum Weirdness 101: Observer Created Reality//Summer Rerun

“It gets boring at home.  How many reruns of Abbott and Costello movies can a guy watch on TV?”–Bud Abbott

It’s summer vacation time, and that means reruns.  For the next couple of weeks I’ll be reprising some oldies but goodies.  I’ll intersperse the sublime and ridiculous, as always.  Let’s start with a Quantum Weirdness review in preparation for my next blockbuster conjecture, which might actually be published before the fall.

Quantum Weirdness 101:  The Double-Slit Experiment

“Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it.”–

Neils Bohr

With apologies to Douglas Adams–don’t panic!  Although an understanding of a few basic concepts of quantum mechanics will be helpful in following some of the Millennium Conjectures, it’s actually not that hard to grasp.  No math is needed.  The following video gives a clear and entertaining description of the wave-particle duality of the sub-atomic world.   If you weren’t already familiar with the concept, this should give you what you need to “get it.”   What it won’t allow you to do is come to grips with it, or even believe it.  But you’d better believe it.  Quantum theory is one of the most rock solid, experimentally verified fields in all of science.   And whether you believe it or not, don’t even think of explaining it.  The world’s most brilliant physicists have been debating the implications for decades and are nowhere near a consensus.   If you’d like a little more after the video, including a description of some of the leading explanations, here is a text primer.


The Sackler Laws #4: The Law of Political Activism

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, things are not going to get better.  They’re not.”–Dr. Seuss, The Lorax

“If god had not intended us to eat sugar, he wouldn’t have invented dentists.”–Ralph Nader

Note:  In general, I have avoided the controversies of religion and politics in this blog, though there have been hints at my views on both.  This post tiptoes dangerously towards the precipice of both, though it clearly points no finger at any specific political or religious viewpoint.  I’m bound to get flamed, anyway.

For the fourth and final** installment of the Sackler Laws, I bring you Law #4: The Law of Political Activism.  This is not to be mistaken for Law #1, The Law of Bumper Sticker Activism.  On the other hand, maybe it should be.  Both have to do with taking a good thing too far.  It is simply stated:

First class activists remain forever activists.  Second class activists run for office.

The greatest first class activists of all time, if you look at it carefully, rarely if ever ran for office.  Think Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Susan B. Anthony.  Yes, it’s true that great activists for freedom such as Nelson Mandela and Lech Walesa ultimately became president of the entities their activism wrought; but they were effectively drafted by popular acclaim that arose from the ultimate success of their leadership, they did not attempt to become politicians.

As a primary example of the type of second class activist I present to validate this law, I give you two words.

Ralph Nader.

Here is a guy who pissed off half the country–mostly the corporate world and the Republican right–with decades of pain-in-their-asses activism and left-wing proselytizing.  Then he ran for president on a 3rd party line and pissed off most of the other half of the country.  His siphoning of votes from the left in 2000 almost certainly enabled the election of the candidate most diametrically opposed to his beliefs.  Not satisfied with having made the world, as he saw it, worse, he ran again in 2004 just to thumb his nose at those that might have otherwise been his ally.

That’s about all there is to that.  The only one thankful to him, other than a few diehard loyalists, is me, if only because he gave me the best real world validation I’ve ever had for this aphorism.

But the question then arises.  If we know what a second class activist looks like, what does a third class activist look like. That one’s even easier.





And you were wondering how I would manage to piss off the religious nuts as well?  If you want inspiration for political activism, the Dr. Seuss quote above is a good place to start.  If you want religious inspiration–you’ve come to the wrong place.


**Nothing is final except death and…well, except death.  This will only be the final installment of the Sackler laws if I die before thinking up another one.

Signature       @MarkSackler


Photo Op #5: Scotland!?

“Scotland is the Canada of England!”–Rainn Wilson

“There are two seasons in Scotland,  June and winter.”–Billy Connolly

So what else would I fete on the 4th of July?  Scotland, of course!  Three years ago this month we fulfilled one of the premiere items on my bucket list, by visiting Scotland for the Open Championship at the Old Course at St. Andrews.  That would be winter based on the second quote above.  Here are just a few of the memorable photographic moments.

Do you have a clue? We sure didn't and had to ask at least three locals before one could explain it.  What do you think it means?  (UK natives please hush up)

What do you think this is?  We had to ask three locals before we finally got an answer.


A Scottish Loch. A typical “soft” day.

I bet it's cold under those  kilts.

I bet it was cold under those kilts.

A dramatic view from one of two farms we stayed at  in St. Andrews.

A dramatic view from one of two farms we stayed at in St. Andrews.

The Old Course's famed Swilcan Bridge.  Eat your heart out, Tom Watson

The Old Course’s famed Swilcan Bridge. Eat your heart out, Tom Watson

This July we are headed to Alaska.  I’ll be curious to see how the seasonal temperature and long daylight hours compare.  At least it should be drier.  I would call Alaska the Canada of the U.S., but I think that name is already taken.   Cheers, and happy 4th.

All photographs in this post ©2010, Mark Sackler

Signature   @MarkSackler on twitter


Wonderful Terrific Monds III and Moniker Madness

Another guest post on The Blog of Funny Names.

The Blog of Funny Names

Can’t anyone here play this game?”–Casey Stengel

Question:  What do Roughned Odor, Zealous Wheeler, Caleb Bushyhead, Michael Goodnight and Tuffy Gosewisch have in common?

Answer:  They are just five of the 63 also-rans in the 2012 Minor League Baseball Moniker Madness, behind the eventual winner, Rock Shoulders.   Shoulders joined previous winners Seth Schwindenhammer, Rowdy Hardy, Dusty Napoleon, Will Startup and Houston Summers in winning the annual Wonderful Terrific Monds III award for the most awesome name in all of organized minor league baseball.

Wonderful Terrific Monds III??!!  Yes, that’s a real name, of a real baseball player, who spent the years 1993-1999 in the minor leagues, mostly in the Atlanta Braves organization.   It seems his great grandfather had a slew of girls, and when he finally had a son, he thought it was Wonderful and Terrific and named him such.   Like the Outerbridge Horsey legacy, the name has been…

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