Dispelling Popular Myths about God Particle

Here is an imaginary conversation between Higgs Field(HF) & Higgs-Boson particle or the  God Particle (GP):

HF: Hi GP. How come I’m doing all the hard work and you are hogging all the limelight?

GP: It’s not my fault after all. I have a mere fleeting existence – perhaps a small fraction of a second. As you know, I decay very fast.

HF: Then who is responsible for all this falsehood ? You have no existence apart from me -you are born out of me and yet you get all the credit for imparting that all important Mass to everything!

GP: Ask that great Nobel Prize winner Leon Lederman, who coined the phrase – God Particle! Then the media readily gobbled it up and every one jumped on the bandwagon. And you know what happens when the media enters the ‘field’. It has ‘amassed’ so much credibility in the universe due to ‘mass’ following that they can make or unmake Gods!

HF: Do you at least understand the true picture?

GP: Of course I do. I know that you and you alone are responsible for imparting mass to all particles in the universe without which existence of life is impossible. I bow down to you with humility. But you know the media, inspired by some physicists, have distorted the  picture to such an extent that many people have even asked an innocent question: ‘ How come a fast decaying particle is able to impart mass?’

HF: You are right indeed.  I regret giving too much ‘mass’ following to the media! Even today, physicists don’t understand me completely. They only know I am just there right from the beginning and no process created me (except God?).

GP: Pray tell, what is the purpose of these physicists doing all these High energy experiments to generate me and then say they have created a unique particle?

HF: They have generated you from me only as a means of understanding me. These High energy collisions are being used to create  ripples in me so that particles like you are generated. The moment they see you and identify you, however fleetingly, they will have taken a small step forward in understanding my nature, which is very Complex indeed.

GP: Then do you think you are God, the Almighty?

HF: No, I’m myself a creation of God because I am not sure whether I existed before the Big Bang.

Published in: on July 14, 2012 at 11:53 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

Is our Universe self created?

We all might have heard the famous line that “there is no such thing as a free lunch”. But what if our universe itself is a free lunch? Read the post below to know more:
In an earlier post dealing with numbers and our universe I talked about how numbers could have been fine tuned to make a perfect setting for the formation of the universe. But consider this:We might have all the physical contants right and nicely fine tuned but of what use is all that if we didn’t have the right matter or elements with the right properties which would make a viable universe and life possible? How did the universe with all its matter start in the first place? This was one of the vexing questions that cosmologists had to grapple with. Is it possible for something to come out of nothing? ‘Yes’- say ‘quantum’ cosmologists. Very interesting! It is often said that there is no such thing as free lunch. It was hypothesized that after all the Universe itself could have been a free lunch!(This is the famous statement by Alan Guth,a famous cosmologist). According to this hypothesis the universe could have started from nothing at all for no reason!
For those of you who are scientifically inclined,this is a consequence of the famous UNCERTAINTY principle which is applicable to submicroscopic domain. This principle allows for events to take place spontaneously. This also allows matter to appear from nowhere if only temporarily.

Talking of matter,what matters the most for life in any planet is Water. Any debate on water is therefore an existential issue. That is why it has been given a pride of place in all religious,spiritual and material pursuits. It is next only to air in importance for creating and sustaining life. Look at some of the bizarre properties of this element.
It is the only liquid on earth which expands on freezing. In other words the density of ice is lower than that of water. An important consequence of this behaviour is that on freezing ice floats on top thereby ensuring that water below remains in liquid state and promote growth of life. otherwise entire ocean water would have turned into ice.
Secondly,this is the only liquid which can dissolve salt as well as sugar and a wide variety of substances in our bio-system. This is important to transport life sustaining materials in and out of our biological systems.
Water also acts as a great purifier by virtue of its ability to dissolve a number of contaminants.
I don’t think anyone can exhaust the number of special qualities of water in the context of life on earth.

Published in: on October 3, 2010 at 10:22 am  Leave a Comment  

Happy Colli(u)sion!!

Have you ever heard of a collision between two individuals or objects being happy? Far from it. However,there is a chance that collusion between people could give a happy conclusion at least temporarily. Yet,as this post is going to show there is at least one momentous instance in the history of the universe where a collision was indeed not only fruitful but the very reason for our existence. The happy ending or outcome is so unbelievable that one could as well describe it as a collusion between the objects of collision! Here is a brief account of one of the most accepted theories of how our mother earth(and the moon)was formed:

This happened billions of years ago during the formative years of our earth. During the initial stages of formation of our earth,a large body as big as Mars struck the earth which was then undersized. The glancing blow was amazingly accurate from many points of view. It was tremendously energetic and not quite head-on. As a result of this collision,the two bodies melted into one. Then the dense portion of the molten mass of metal settled down while ejecting out into space rocky crust. The former formed the bigger earth that we live on today while the smaller rocky crust (ejected into space)eventually formed the stable moon. It was this orbiting moon that stabilized our earth’s tilt,which was critically important to ensure that earth did not experience extreme climates,which would have made it unconducive for life formation.(The tilt is the angle between the earth’s axis of rotation and its orbital plane).

Let us relook at the string of events once again:
The formation of moon(and hence our present earth)required a certain body of a certain mass galloping at a certain speed in space to hit another relatively smaller body of a certain mass at a certain critical angle in order that the collision had a happy outcome! What an amazing string of (un)certainties which were needed for the formation of our mother earth that was habitable! What would one call it? Fine tuning are just plain lucky?

Published in: on September 19, 2010 at 10:58 am  Comments (1)  
Tags: , ,

Is it all a mere number game?

I will continue here with my earlier theme on the origin of our universe(see my earlier posts). The mystery of our existence only deepens further if we explore the science behind the origin of our universe. Call it fine tuning or design or creation,cutting edge science ony seems to strengthen our instinctive faith in the existence of the supernatural. If and when the mystery is resolved,we will perhaps witness a great convergence of science and spirituality.

As the title of the post suggests,here I will try to capture some of the salient ideas presented in a brilliant book titled – “JUST SIX NUMBERS” by the Cambridge university cosmology professor Dr Martin Rees(published in 1999).
Dr Martin Rees forcefully argues that there are just six crucial numbers that make a perfect recipe for the creation of our universe. I will illustrate his thesis with just one magic number:
It is the number defining the force which glues together the components of an atom(neutrons & protons)to form a stable atom. This force is given the symbol ‘EPSILON’. Let me try and explain the significance of this number in terms of the creation of the universe:
At the time of BIG BANG,the universe was filled with just hydrogen gas(or atoms). As the universe began to expand,HYDROGEN ATOMS got transformed into heavier and heavier elements like Helium, Carbon,Magnesium,Iron etc etc, in order to form the universe that we know and experience. And this would take place at ultra high temperatures in the STARS (as crucibles) by a process known as FUSION. This is where the significance of the force EPSILON arises. Scientists have measured the value of EPSILON to be precisely 0.007 (I don’t know whether the creation of the famous fictional character ‘James bond 007’ was inspired by this number!) .
Now comes the arguments concerning the so called FINE TUNING of this number. If the value of EPSILON had been slightly lower at 0.006,the universe would have been filled with just bland HYDROGEN and nothing else,implying that there would have been no life.
On the other hand,if EPSILON had been slightly higher at 0.008,hydrogen would have got transformed to Helium readily leaving very little gas to fuel STARS. Therefore, ‘no stars – no life’. Isn’t this unerring ‘fine tuning’ very profound and intriguing?

I will not go into the details of the other five numbers except to say that according to Dr Rees,the formation and stability of our universe is even more sensitive to the values of the other numbers than EPSILON.
Dr Rees refers to these six magic numbers as the COSMIC NUMBERS possessing what he calls PROVIDENTIAL VALUES.

These far reaching scientific findings make one wonder whether it’s all a NUMBER GAME. Everything that we see in the universe may be defined by a set of numbers. From Science to philosophy to humanities,and Arts – numbers define everything. Take for instance Music and dance.There is no music without numbers. The beats,rhthm form the very basis of these two art forms. Similarly painting and sculpture also depend heavily on concepts of Symmetry which are mathematical functions. How about religion? Religious faiths as well as superstitions seem to be heavily inspired by numbers – whether it is chanting of a ‘mantra’ 108 times or belief in unlucky numbers like 13 etc.
There is no need to labour the point further – it is all self evident.

One wonders whether the mother of all numbers(represented as INFINITY) is manifested beautifully through the individual numbers. The unverse is created by unique numbers,sustained by another set of unique numbers and may finally be destroyed also by subtle changes in those numbers. And INFINITY holds the key to all these phenomena.

Published in: on September 11, 2010 at 11:03 am  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , , ,

Do we exist by default or by design?

Can one imagine our universe and our life(as we know it)without the element Carbon? No chance whatsoever. We simply can’t exist without carbon. We as well as plants /animals are predominantly made up of carbon in one form or the other. Not only that – the earth’s crust contains a huge amount of Coal which is another form of carbon. Crude oil ,of course is yet another form of carbon. This means not only are we made up of carbon in various forms(like proteins,amino acids etc),our life too is sustained by it. And yet ask any cosmologist as to how carbon in our universe was created and he will tell you that it was one of those chance events,a random,unlikely event,the probability of which was virtually nil. But still the universe was indeed created and what is more we are part of the same to study the phenomenon! This is where the so called Anthropic coincidence or principle comes into play.(Please read my previous Post for an explanation of Anthropic principle). In the following paragraphs I will make an attempt to present this CARBON RIDDLE in simple layman’s terms.

Creation of our Universe was made possible thanks to favourable disposition of several key factors. In this post I will deal with just one of them,which has to do with carbon. This was one of the biggest and the most complex riddles which the physicists and cosmologists had to answer. One may subscribe to any theory of creation of the Universe but ultimately one has to explain the formation of carbon.
Let me explain this riddle a little bit with an oversimplified picture of what apparently took place at the time of BIG BANG. According to the BIG BANG THEORY as the big bang took place,SPACE-TIME started to roll out(if one may visualize SPACE -TIME as a sort of a stretchable fabric)and it was initially filled with nothing but Hydrogen. The expanding universe obviously started to gradually lose its temperature. It was during this process of cooling that hydrogen gas was expected to transform into all other elements that we see today including the most crucial element carbon.
Just what are these elements that we are talking about? These are basically Hydrogen,Helium,—–Carbon,—–Iron,—-Gold,Platinum—Uranium—Thorium,—-Plutonium to name a few. Before the BIG BANG everything was a mere dense,hot soup. As the BIG BANG took place there was nothing but Hydrogen in the universe as I said earlier. This spread out in the SPACE -TIME ,eventually forming Stars and Galaxies. According to cosmologists, these stars acted as the giant sized crucibles for synthesizing all the elements by a process which is technically known as NUCLEOSYNTHESIS. As per the theory,when a dying Star underwent a process known as SUPERNOEVA EXPLOSION,the debris thrown out consisted of these elements in the Space. The debris could clump up together and form a secong generation Star, where further synthesis of elements would take place.
Today we know from theoretical and experimental physics what sort of energies are needed for these processes to take place. The required energies are so immense that only STARS can provide the right conditions for the NUCLEOSYNTHESIS to take place. For instance HYDROGEN can undergo FUSION reaction to form Helium in the SUN or a STAR . And what does it take to make it happen? A temperature of 4*10 to the power 7 deg.C.(or approx.4 million degC). However,all kinds of problems arose when energy calculations were made for the formation of all-important carbon. 3 helium atoms had to come together to form carbon . As per calculations this would require a huge amount of energy. To give you an idea it required 200 million degrees centigrade over a period of billions of years for billions of Stars to synthesize significant amounts of carbon that we find today in the universe.
In scientific terms this is known as the ‘energy barrier’ to form the element carbon. One has to cross this barrier to make carbon from 3 atoms of the element Helium. This puzzle was eventually solved by the famous physicist by name Fowler who was able to precisely calculate the energy barrier to be crossed for the formation of Carbon. His work provided the evidence to show that Carbon formation is indeed possible although its probability is very very low. He was awarded Nobel prize in 1980s(I can’t remember the exact year)for this monumental work.

The ‘energy barrier’ for the formation of carbon may be likened to a guy attempting a long jump across a big creek to get out of ,say,an island. He has to do it in one shot or be doomed. However,once he crosses the barrier,there is no looking back – the rest of the world is his.
Likewise,formation of carbon was also considered a very very unlikely ,chance event. And yet it did happen. For if it didn’t we would not be existing today to study this phenomenon!! This is the essence of the Anthropic principle.

It is important to point out here that Carbon formation was the major hitch and once it formed somehow,our laws of physics and chemistry could explain the formation of the rest of the heavy elements(metals etc).

That is the fascinating story of how Carbon was created against heavy odds. Doesn’t it give us an idea of how lucky we are to exist today considering the odds against our (or universe) creation?

I just touched on only one of the key factors which accounted for the creation of the universe. There are several others and I will attempt to talk about some of them in the succeeding posts.

The purpose of taking so much pain to explain the science behind creation of universe is that as we keep exploring various factors of creation of our universe,some of us are bound to feel there is a FINE TUNER(read GOD?) out there directing the whole show.

Published in: on August 21, 2010 at 5:18 pm  Comments (1)  

‘Anthropic Coincidences’ in a Success Story

The other day I was musing over a couple of success stories at my work place related to introduction of two critical products in the market.
To put it in a nutshell,the markets cried for the product,specified the target cost,R&D responded with a very cost effective and viable product with the right quality attributes,customers accepted the same after thorough trials,Manufacturing plant developed the infrastructure to produce the right quality consistently etc etc.
Although the whole story could be captured in one sentence,it struck me suddenly that so many things had to fall in place for the story to be successful! I could list out readily some of the factors below:
– R&D has to have the right kind of expertise to crack the problem
– The plant has to have the right kind of hardware to manufacture
– Quality Control should understand and implement the right quality parameters
-Customer should have the right temperament,patience and faith in the company to take up trials in preference to an imported product
– The product should have the right market size and business volume to be of sufficient interest to the company intending to manufacture.
– the business should fit into the corporate philosophy of the company.

The list is indeed endless. Each one of these factors is critical, as failure of any one of them could potentially turn it into a story of failure.
And just as the above list is endless,there are endless success stories too in the world. And each story is sure to leave us wondering as to how some of those highly unlikely events had taken place at all in the first place.
This is explained by an interesting concept called ‘Anthropic principle’,which states that occurrence of several events leading up to to a unique result is proof enough that all those events have indeed taken place,however low their probability of occurrence may be. Occurrence of those events is often referred to as ‘Anthropic coincidences’.

The reason why I am talking about ‘Anthropic principle’ here is that this interesting concept is widely used in explaining scientific theories. Quite interestingly,this principle is used by cosmologists to explain the ‘Big Bang theory’ of creation of the universe. I will explain this principle(in laymen’s terms) in relation to Big Bang theory in the next post.

Published in: on August 8, 2010 at 5:27 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,

Unsung heroes of astronomy

Star gazing has always been a romantic pastime of poets and philosophers. But what about Star gazing as a science of astronomy? It has produced its own compelling stories about passionate and spirited contributors during the 18th &19th centuries. These are the stories of contributors who dared their physical limitations in quest of knowledge. In this post, I thought I will share with you interesting examples of three significant contributors who belong to this genre.

John Goodricke,Annie jump Cannon,Henrietta Leavitt – one might not have heard these names,but these were the unsung heroes who made significant contributions in the development of science of astronomy during the late 18th,19th and early 20th centuries. What did they have in common? Physical handicap – one was a deaf-mute while the other two were completely deaf. Needless to stay,lots of passion,hard work and simplicity in life accounted for their excellence. They never bothered to show off or talk much about their contributions and preferred to let the work speak for itself!. In fact one of them(Leavitt) was being considered for the Nobel prize in the year 1924. But as the committee was searching for her research interests (apart from her contributions),they learnt that she passed away 3 year before due to cancer.
Let me briefly mention here about their contributions:
John Goodricke(a very good mathematician),at the age of 18,came up with very impressive observations,analysis and explanation of binary variable stars. Very briefly,a binary star is a system of two stars orbiting mutually around each other. One of them is bright and the other is dim. They are called variable stars because their brightness varies periodically – going from very high brightness to very low with time. Goodricke explained this saying that the dim star,while orbiting around the bright star would eclipse(block) the same at some point in its orbit and hence show dimness. He was awarded the prestigious Copley medal by the Royal Society for the year’s most significant discovery in science. Goodricke died at the young age of 53 due to pneumonia which he contracted during long freezing nights spent gazing at stars.
The good work of Goodricke led to further study at Harvard Observatory in the USA by Edward Pickering(its director)and his team in late 1800s.
Two important members of his team were two female astronomers – Annie Jump Cannon and Leavitt. Both became deaf due to scarlet fever and meningitis respectively. Around the time they started their work,the technology of photography was already developed and ready for exploitation. Their job was to analyze thousands of photographs of stars every month for their location,brightness and variation of brightness over a period of time. Cannon immortalized herself by stellar classification of dividing stars into seven classes(O,B,A,F,G,K,M). Even today,undergraduate students of astronomy learn this through the funny mnemonic ‘Oh,Be a Fine Guy Kiss Me’.
Not surprisingly,she was voted one of the twelve greatest American women in 1931 and was awarded the prestigious Draper Gold medal by American National Academy of Sciences.

The other female astronomer in the team of Harvard Observatory was Leavitt (who graduated from one of the colleges of the Harvard university). She made even more significant contributions. She studied almost 2500 Cephid variable stars. (These are another type of variable star exhibiting variation in brightness). The observations and analyses were so complex that any other astronomer would have given up. But Leavitt,through patience,determination and concentration, analyzed the periodicity of their variabilty of brightness and came up with findings which laid the foundation for measuring stellar distances from Earth. Her discovery enabled the well known astronomer Hubble to come up with discoveries on the theory of expanding universe,which,in turn led to the Big Bang theory of the universe. Because of this profound significance,she was considered for Nobel prize in the year 1924.

I am sure there are several such inspirational stories in all fields of human endeavour.

Note: These stories are picked from a book I read recently – “BIG BANG-THE ORIGIN OF THE UNIVERSE”, By Simon Singh.
It’s a very well written book and I would recommend it to anyone interested in reading books on popular science.

Published in: on June 27, 2010 at 2:41 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,

Hubble Telescope and the Big Bang theory of Universe

The science of Cosmology has always been fascinating especially when it touches on the origins of the universe. It amazes scientists as well as philosophers. The Big Bang theory of the universe had been one of the most controversial areas of cosmology,which occupied the minds of several brilliant scientists for almost one full century. Finally the momentous discovery was made by Hubble(Hubble telescope is named after him)who was credited with providing stunning evidences for the theory during 1920s. Interestingly though,Hubble never made such claims based on his discovery. He never bothered to draw obvious conclusions of his findings in terms of the ‘origin of the universe’. Rather,he left it entirely to others to interpret the significant implications of his experiments.
The Big Bang Theory of the origin of the universe was proposed earlier by a Belgian scientist by name Lemaitre. However,his theory simply languished and in fact severely criticized by several including Einstein for want of experimental evidence. In fact in those days Einstein held so much sway over the scientific community that every one looked up to his views before accepting or rejecting a theory. Einstein of course had his own axe to grind in rejecting Lemaitre’s theory. Einstein had earlier proposed a rival theory stating that the universe is eternal and static meaning that it was never created. Therefore,he had to reject the Belgian’s theory in order to promote his own. In fact,he went to the extent of telling the Belgian in a conference that his physics was ‘abominable’. It is a different story that he had to finally eat a humble pie and accept the Big Bang theory once the powerful experimental evidence was provided by Hubble. It is one of the ironies of the history of science that the man who hated authority, himself became an authority and succumbed to human weaknesses associated with such an enviable position.

Now,coming to the main topic of the post which is about Hubble’s evidence,the observations made by Hubble were so simple and yet stunning that it almost sealed the debate on the issue. The arguments are so simple that even a school going could appreciate it. Let me try and capture the essence of Hubble’s evidence for the readers:
Observing through his powerful telescope,he found that all the galaxies including the ones which are far off are receding very fast continuously. And quite interestingly,according to Hubble’s law,the speed at which a galaxy is receding is directly proportional to the distance. In simple terms,this meant that the galaxies which are farther from us are receding at a faster pace and vice versa.
The above observations have obvious profound implications:
1.The universe is expanding continuously ever since its creation and speed of expansion is picking up continuously.
2. The Hubble’s law implies that at some time in the distant past(about 13 billion years ago)entire mass(or energy) of universe must have been concentrated at one point.
3.There was a momentous event (Big Bang),which must have created the universe and initiated the process of expansion.

Of course,Hubble’s discovery did not set at rest the debate as yet. Further clinching evidence came from the famous Russian scientist George Gamow(who turned American later)who explained the formation of gases Hydrogen,Helium and most importantly the element Carbon which was the basis of all life forms.
To complete the evidence provided by Hubble,scientists at Bell labs also provided another crucial evidence for Big Bang theory. They predicted that as an after effect of Big Bang,there should be Cosmic Microwave Background radiation,(CMB radiation)and in fact confirmed its existence through very precise measurements in space.

Published in: on May 16, 2010 at 7:58 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

Throwing light on ‘Light’

We can do lots of things with light – it can be absorbed partially or fully,it can be simply transmitted,it can be reflected or totally scattered. But can one bend it also? The answer ,of course,is yes. The phenomenon of refraction is well known to us. But when it comes to celestial light,this phenomenon of bending of light carries a totally different significance. Let me elaborate a little bit.

Albert Einstein theorized that one of the important consequences of his famous theory of relativity is that light would bend in the space under certain conditions. The theory is quite complex,but I will try to convey the theory and its significance in simple terms,using a metaphor to convey the complex thoughts.
Einstein coined the expression ‘SPACE-TIME’ to describe the matrix which pervades entire universe. The simplest and well known metaphor for SPACE-TIME is a stretchy,flexible fabric. To begin with,when there is nothing placed on the fabric,the fabric is rather flat and wrinkle-free . On the other hand,the flexible fabric will develop depression or dent when some object is placed on it. This is also described as ‘warping'(Or curvature) of SPACE-TIME. The heavier the object,the deeper the depression because it is a flexible and elastic fabric. Let us now consider the Sun,the earth and the moon in the SPACE-TIME. Obviously,the most massive Sun will generate the biggest dent followed by a relatively smaller dent made by the less massive earth while the smallest dent is caused by the least massive moon. Einstein related the size of the depression with the strength of gravity pull exercized by the massive body. Obviously then,Sun will exercise the highest gravity followed by the earth and then the moon. The rotation of earth around the Sun is essentially due to the pull or attraction exercised by the ‘bigger dent’ or ‘hollow’ of the Sun .

This brings us to question of the bending of light mentioned earlier. Einstein predicted that this big ‘depression’ created by the Sun can bend light slightly if any light(say,from a distant Star) happens to pass by It. Or rather,the star light will bend when it experiences a massive curvature(or depression)generated due to Sun in SPACE TIME. In fact the final proof of Einstein’s theory critically depended on the actual measurement of the angle by which a Star light bends. This piece of vital data was provided by a British cosmologist Arthur Eddington,who made precise measurements on bending of light from a distant star. Eddington made this historic measurement in the year 1919 during a solar eclipse. The significance of conducting the experiment during a solar eclipse is that during a solar eclipse,the star light can be viewed clearly without being obscured by the brilliance of the Sun.
It turned out that the angle of deflection measured by Eddington matched very closely(within experimental error) with the value predicted by Einstein’s theory of relativity.That was the moment of truth which fundamentally changed the way we perceived gravity and the universe. I will explain in a subsequent post how this led to a number of theories on the creation of the universe including the famous Big Bang theory.

The theory of relativity led to very precise understanding of the effects of gravity. This enables us to predict whether an asteroid will collide with the earth or go past harmlessly. It also could explain the phenomenon of ‘black holes’.
In fact even GPS(global positioning systems)satellites,which help in Map-making, surveying lands,tracking and surveillance,synchronization source for cellular network protocols etc,use calculations based on relativistic corrections for precise time measurements.

Needless to say that the theory,though highly complex,is not merely of academic interest but of great practical significance too. Due to its complexity, it is not easy to grasp its full significance even for specialists, not to talk of the laymen.

There is an interesting anecdote to illustrate how complex the theory is. Eddington,who made the historic experiments to measure the angle of deflection of a Star light as it passes the Sun,was a man of great credentials. He had graduated from Cambridge university and had written a famous paper entitled Mathematical theory of relativity,which was acknowledged as a master piece,even by Einstein. A physicist by name Ludwig Silberstein who considered himself an authority on Einstein’s theory was believed to have remarked to Eddington that he(Eddington)must be one of the three guys in the world to understand general theory of relativity. As Eddington stared in silence,Silberstein told him no to be so modest. Eddington was believed to have quipped: ‘On the contrary,I wonder who is the third person’.
Contrast this with what Einstein himself had to say during an interview with the media. On being praised by the media for his phenomenal achievements which virtually changed the way we looked at the universe,he remarked: “I have no special talents – I am merely passionately curious”. This was,of course,the modest side of Einstein during the hey days of his celebrity status. In a subsequent post I will present a slightly uglier side of his personality.

Note: The comparison of SPACE-TIME with a stretchy fabric is rather crude. SPACE-TIME has 4 dimensions(3 of space and one of Time), while fabric is just 2 dimensional. But a metaphor is only a metaphor,serving a limited purpose of conveying a complex idea.

Published in: on March 14, 2010 at 9:56 am  Comments (1)  

The power of Simplicity!

I asked a friend of mine recently ‘what is the height of simplicity?’ He looked blank and so I provided the answer. I said – ‘It’s just a meter at the most!’ He looked even more puzzled and probably thought it was one of those irritating PJs!(poor jokes). I felt I must quickly clarify that I had something profound to say before he got mad. Here is a brief explanation of the answer I gave:
Recently I read a fascinating book titled “Big Bang” by a well known author -Simon Singh,who is a professor of particle physics at Cambridge university. It is a great book which tells the story of our universe in quite an interesting and entertaining manner. It is meant for the layman and does not assume any prior knowledge of cosmology. Even so,the book covered all important theories of the universe as it evolved including the works of scientists like Einstein,Lamaitre, Hoyle and Narlikar to name a few. Several discussions, while being scientific, bordered on philosophy and spirituality as well.
I must congratulate the author for presenting such a difficult subject in a very simple manner – at once understandable to laymen.
Now let me turn to my cheeky answer to the question with regard to the height of simplicity. My reference to one meter as the height of simplicity has to do with some wonderful work done by a Greek mathematician by name Eratosthenes. Way back in 250BC,when virtually no gadgets were available,this guy uses just a stick and his mathematical brain to calculate the circumference of our earth. Can anyone imagine using a stick to measure the earth’s circumference! Yet that is what the guy did.
He carried out a simple experiment on the day of summer solstice(21st June),when the earth is at its maximum tilt and the towns lying along the tropic of Cancer are closest to the sun. The rays of the sun then would fall vertically making an angle of 90deg. Syene is one such town. At the same time Alexandria which is several hundred kilometres north of Syene,would not experience the rays of the sun at the same right angle. This is a consequence of earth’s curvature. Eratosthenes then stuck a stick of about one meter length on the ground at Alexandria at noon and measured the angle between the sun’s rays and the stick(from its shadow)which was around 7.2deg. From simple trigonometry,one can see this angle is same as the angle between radial lines drawn from Syene and Alexandria to the centre of the earth. Using this angle and the actual distance between Alexandria and Syene,one can make a calculation of the circumference of the earth from simple trigonometry. And Erastothene calculated it as 46250km,which is only 15% higher than the actual value of 39250km.
Simply amazing!
I believe that nature reveals her secrets to simple minds if only one is open,passionate and curious.

Published in: on February 23, 2010 at 6:54 pm  Comments (3)