Physics and Writing
I haven't been doing this much lately, since I'm keeping
busy doing other things (including physics). However,
I do sit down every now and then and outline my thoughts
on various topics. I also have a fictional autobiography
I have been adding to since 1992. I am still adding
to it, and will probably still be adding to it for a
lifetime, given that it is an autobiography.
Most of the time though, I write about physics. I take
notes on what I read, and try to connect different concepts
together. I must have thousands of pages of notes that
have accumulated over the years, from topics ranging
from electromagnetism, wave dynamics, atomic physics,
relativity, and most recently, fluid mechanics. I sometimes
move on to a different physics topic for a while, but
it's hard for my interest to drift elsewhere. I've been
accused of focusing too much on the details of topics
rather than the bigger picture, but I think what keeps
me going besides fascination is the idea that there
is a bigger picture. Einstein said that time, space,
and gravity were all indistinguishable from matter -
that is the bigger picture, and we've been spending
too much time focused on the details of what we see
are its various parts.
I think about such things a lot each day. Every time
I have to lift something heavy, or see something that
can move faster than me, or watch a bird fly, my thinking
inevitably drifts to wondering what is matter and gravity.
Then I wonder, what is charge? What is momentum actually?
Why do particles have intrinsic angular momentum? What
is an electric or magnetic field? How is light supposed
to be the same as matter? So I go about trying to answer
the questions for myself...
...and now I think I've found a good
start for such answers.
Thoughts on Quantum Gravity
One of the things that drives me to learn more about
nature is curiosity about its underpinnings. Instinctively,
I feel that the fundamentals of nature can't be difficult
to understand, because why would nature be built on
such unparsimoniously complicated a foundation?
My high school and college training in physics, as
well as my more frequent reading of physics journals,
has taught me that there's much more to nature than
what's taught in introductory physics classes, and that
even our best physicists today understand. General/special
relativity and quantum mechanics are two magnificent
theories that each have a long line of experimental
verifications, more than anything else we have been
able to conceive. However, these two theories are mutually
incompatible with each other. Everyone today wants a
theory of quantum gravity, and the math required to
do such a thing is beyond the comprehension of not only
most people, but also most physicists (or else we'd
have such a theory already).
As a biologist, I've been long aware of repeating themes
at different scales. Nature seems to be fractally organized,
with self-similarity (exactness isn't required) existing
at all these different scales. Complex organisms are
made from simpler cells, simpler cells are made from
a limited range of molecules, those are made from a
limited range of atoms, and those are made up of only
so many subatomic particles. Thus, only a few components
are necessary to create the complexity we see in nature.
It eludes me why physics must require such complicated
mathematics to describe such elegant simplicity.
My primary area of interest is what Einstein spent the
last years of his life considering, the interplay between
space, time, and gravity. I'm also interested in the
connection between electromagnetism and gravity, two
forces that follow the same inverse square laws and
at higher energies, are supposed to unify as suggested
by quantum theory. Without knowledge of higher mathematics,
I know I will never be able to go about my work in the
same way theoretical physicists do, so there have to
be other ways, like experiments and computer simulations.
However, I'm interested only in getting a personal sense
of the fundamentals of nature. I don't ever expect to
publish my ideas. The universe is the ultimate bigger
picture, and I'm always saying how important it is for
each of us to focus on and consider the bigger picture
as we live our lives. So that's what I'm doing.
Progress is Always Slow
Sometimes I feel that what I'm trying to do is like
what a person blind from birth would have to do in order
to understand colors and light. It is not something
physically accessible to her because he lacks the physical
means to detect light, and thus cannot understand it.
She can use mathematics to get some sense of how it
works, and in that way understand it. She can perform
experiments that convert this enigmatic light to sound
waves or some other comprehensible form. Likewise, because
of our three-dimensional limitations, we will never
truly be able to embrace a universe of higher dimensions
as suggested by string theory. String theory is currently
unverifiable because of this same limitation, though
it predicts everything that we can currently predict
using relativity and quantum mechanics.
I am doubly blind because I cannot experience multidimensional
structure, and I haven't learned the mathematics required
to describe it. Thus I am only available with the option
of experiment. Some people know I've had a long-standing
physics project, and this is it. I wasn't raised as
a string theorist, engineer, metalworker, or electrician,
so it's been very slow for me to learn what I need to
know to do what I want to do.
Science can be slow like that, so slow that like Einstein,
results might never be seen in a single lifetime. However,
what better way of spending a life can there be than
to try to understand the universe that gave rise to
your life? It is like coming full circle...the universe
has allowed me to exist, and in turn I, through my explorations,
allow the universe to understand itself in some small
way. That is because I recognize I am a part of the
universe, and so are you, and all other people who could
potentially understand that they're each individual
facets of the universe's introspective eye, but instead
keep themselves occupied with mindless jobs, meaningless
wars, and personally inflicted strife.
Thoughts on the Greater Picture
Yes, our species has reached the point of sentience, where
we are aware of our own existence. However, we have
not reached that point that lacks a descriptive word,
where we are aware of our relationship to and interdependence
with the greater universe. Perhaps this is because we
don't understand the greater universe...in fact, we
don't even understand the workings of life on our own
planet. Through our ignorance we are destroying our
planet, and through choice we are relegating the study
of physics to the backburner in our schools in favor
of the more profitable topics of chemistry and biomedical
science. Our youth are roaming the social fabric looking
for meaning in their lives, not able to see that they
are alive and can think and question because they are
supposed to think and question.
It's bordering on religion, but sometimes I feel that
in some way, the universe wants to understand itself
and sentient life is a tool for achieving that. Wherever
it evolves, the universe has another opportunity to
introspect. In the process, we gain by also understanding
ourselves and the purpose of our lives in this greater
whole. Really, why have the ability to understand what
we experience if we're not supposed to do that? Birds
have wings so they can fly; fish have fins so they can
swim. We have minds so we can think and experience.
We have technology so we can explore. We have dreams
so we can imagine all the limitless possibilities of
existence. If only we also had the drive to follow our
dreams, imagine the possibilities. For now, I will follow
my dream. I hope others will join me in following theirs.