Category Archives: Brain Bubble

BB #81: Animal Gods

I’ve lived with a Beagle, a Keeshond, a Belgian Shepard, a Great Dane, and a Black Labrador. I’ve dog-sat a German Shepard, two Black Labs, and the delightful Bentley, an American Bully.

I’m not bragging or claiming expertise (many have much more and far broader experience living with dogs). Just saying I’ve spent some solid hours with dogs pondering what the world looks like to them, how they perceive things.

It’s often struck me that, while humans may imagine and believe in gods (or not), animals live in a world where apparent gods walk among them. Dogs, and some other animals, live with their god(s) — depend on them and are subject to their every whim.

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BB #80: Gravity Waves

Being retired, along with doing all my TV watching via streaming services, has the consequence of almost completely disconnecting me from the weekly rhythm. Weekends mean nothing when every day is Saturday. To create some structure, I follow a simple schedule. For instance, Mondays I do laundry and Thursdays I buy groceries.

More to the point here, Monday (and sometimes Tuesday) evenings are for YouTube videos, many of which are science related. Last night I watched Jim Baggott give two talks at the Royal Institution, one about mass, the other about loop quantum gravity (LQG).

In the latter, Baggott mentioned gravity waves and that generated a Brain Bubble.

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BB #79: Near Zero

If you know me, or if you’ve followed this blog a while, you know I honor Solar holidays more than human ones. The former are directly linked with the seasons, obviously (and who doesn’t love seasons), but to me they’re about how much (or how little) sunlight we get.

If you know me, or if you’ve followed this blog a while, you know sunlight really matters to me. The skylight in my living room was a key buying point for my condo, and enough south-facing windows was always a requirement.

I may love the night and the lights, but I thrive on sunlight.

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BB #78: Relational Theories

I read Three Roads to Quantum Gravity (2001), by Lee Smolin, a theoretical physicist whose thoughtful style I’ve always appreciated. I don’t always agree with his ideas, though. This book is about Loop Quantum Gravity, in which Smolin has invested considerable effort, and that idea I’m utterly neutral on. It does seem to make more sense than string theory.

One notion I have a lot of trouble swallowing (like a cup of coffee with eight lumps of sugar) is the relational view. (As a philosophy, relationism. Al stayed home.) It’s a fundamental aspect of LQG.

But I (and apparently Kant agrees) think Leibniz was wrong.

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BB #77: Smooth Spacetime

I read Three Roads to Quantum Gravity (2001), by Lee Smolin, a theoretical physicist whose thinking I’ve appreciated since I read his 2006 book, The Trouble with Physics: The Rise of String Theory, the Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next.

Three Roads, as the title suggests, is about the efforts to reconcile quantum mechanics and General Relativity, our two best physical theories. String theory is one road, Loop Quantum Gravity (Smolin’s preferred approach) is another. The third road is complete theory reconstruction (such as discussed by Philip Ball in his book Beyond Weird).

None of that is the subject of this post.

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BB #76: The Holographic Theory

I finished reading Three Roads to Quantum Gravity (2001), by Lee Smolin, a theoretical physicist whose general sensibility I’ve always appreciated. I don’t always agree with his ideas, but I like the thoughtful way he expresses them. Smolin brings some philosophical thinking to his physics.

While he added a lengthy Postscript to the 2017 edition, the book is outdated both by time and by Smolin. In 2006 he published The Trouble with Physics: The Rise of String Theory, the Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next, which explored issues in the practice of theoretical physics. But in 2001 he still thought string theory was (at least part of) The Answer.

Almost none of which is the subject of this post.

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BB #75: Gloves and Shoes

Speaking of Bell tests, I’ve noticed that science writers often struggle to find a good metaphor that illustrates just what’s so weird about the correlation between entangled particles. Bell tests are complex, and because they squat in the middle of quantum weirdness, they’re hard to explain in any classical terms.

I thought I had the beginnings of a good metaphor, at least the classical part. But the quantum part is definitely a challenge. (All the more so because I’m still not entirely clear on the deep details of Bell’s theorem myself.)

Worse, I think my metaphor fails the ping-pong ball test.

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BB #74: Which MWI?

I finished The Quantum Labyrinth: How Richard Feynman and John Wheeler Revolutionized Time and Reality (2017), by Paul Halpern. As the title implies, the book revolves around the careers and lives of John A. Wheeler (1911–2008) and Richard Feynman (1918–1988). After Feynman graduated from MIT he became Wheeler’s teaching assistant at Princeton. The two men, despite very different personalities, became life-long friends and collaborators.

One of Wheeler’s many claims to fame is his promotion of Hugh Everett’s PhD thesis, The Theory of the Universal Wave Function. That paper, of course, is the seed from which grew the Many Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics.

The thing is, there are two major versions of the MWI.

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BB #73: Wavefunction Collapse

I’m two-thirds through my second Paul Halpern book this month. Earlier I read his book about cosmology, Edge of the Universe: A Voyage to the Cosmic Horizon and Beyond (2012), which was okay. Now I’m reading The Quantum Labyrinth: How Richard Feynman and John Wheeler Revolutionized Time and Reality (2017), which I’m enjoying a bit more. In part because cosmology has changed more since 2012 than quantum physics has since 2017. (Arguably, the latter hasn’t changed much since the 1960s.)

I wrote about Halpern’s book, Einstein’s Dice and Schrödinger’s Cat (2015), last year. As the title implies, it focuses on two great names from physics. Quantum Labyrinth (as its title also implies) also focuses on two great physics names.

But today’s Brain Bubble (as the title implies) is about wavefunction collapse.

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BB #72: Perception of Time

As people age, especially later in life, most report that time seems to pass faster. That is certainly true in my case — Mondays I often find myself surprised that it’s already laundry day again. Friends my age report the same thing; the weeks, months, and years, seem to pass at an ever faster rate.

My theory was it’s mainly due to percentages. At ten years old a year is 10% of a lifetime, but at 60 years old it’s just 1.666%.

Recently, a friend of mine floated an interesting alternate theory.

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