15 July 2010


Another small reconstruction from Wednesday's Digest, which was instantly (and, I hope, painlessly) evaporated by ScribeFire's death ray.

Three items showing that physics is still really really weird.

Gravity doesn't exist—at least according to a new theory of physicist Erik Verlinde, reported by Dennis Overbye in the NYT. As Overbye describes the theory, Verlinde believes that "the force we call gravity is simply a byproduct of nature’s propensity to maximize disorder."

I don't understand this, but that's okay, because according to Overbye: "Some of the best physicists in the world say they don’t understand Dr. Verlinde’s paper, and many are outright skeptical."

Verlinde's paper, "On the Origin of Gravity and the Laws of Newton," is available at arXiv, for those hardy enough to attempt it.

Was our universe born inside a black hole in another universe? Yes, according to Nikodem Poplawski of Indiana University, whose theory is described by Alasdair Williams at io9.

Poplawski's paper, "Cosmology with torsion—an alternative to cosmic inflation," is likewise available at arXiv.

Those physicists have the right idea about the distribution of their work: put it somewhere where people can download it and read it without paying $35.00 for each article.

Jeremy Axelrod has an entertaining review at The New Atlantis of Jeremy Bernstein's new book Quantum Leaps. Bernstein's book is, in Axelrod's telling, discursive, anecdotal, and disorganized, but still full of interesting bits. Some quotes:
“Princeton is a madhouse,” J. Robert Oppenheimer wrote his brother in 1935, “its solipsistic luminaries shining in separate & helpless desolation. Einstein is completely cuckoo.”


Where did it all begin? Circa 1900, Max Planck theorized that energy was made up of discrete units, or “quanta.” This was an idea Einstein later applied to light, arguing that it travels in what we now call photons — the smallest units into which light divides. (Hence the latest James Bond film, Quantum of Solace, uses the still-hip term to describe the tiniest portion of solace possible — though solace in the form of champagne, fast cars, and fetching European women would in fact involve many quanta. What other new words from the early 1900s can you think of that still sound Bond-worthily modish today?)


Bernstein tells us he once had tea with Schrödinger; one thing he learned during their visit is that Schrödinger was not fond of cats.


Unfortunately, this sort of disarray characterizes too much of Quantum Leaps. A little digressive enthusiasm can liberate a book like this to snatch up tidbits purely for the sake of enjoyment — welcome padding for its point-making. But the names and adventures of quantum physics simply need too much explanation for a book that is laid out like a dinner of tapas.
And there's more: on Heisenberg, the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen paradox and quantum entanglement, Schrödinger, the famous double-slit experiment, George Berkeley, Lenin (who vituperated against the theories of Ernst Mach), the Dalai Lama, and quantum inspired woo.

This post is my first using ecto. It's straightforward to use, has some nice aspects. More as I gain more experience.

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  1. The German "Neue Rechtschreibung" changed the word "Quentchen" into "Quäntchen", mistakenly assuming that it is related to "Quantum". But it is derived from the old weight unit "Quent/Quint" (a fifth).

  2. Well, it's a good thing that the Neue Rechtschreibung didn't make any other errors or dubious decisions... (ahem)

    Of course, out here in the Wild West, it seems quaint and almost touching that a government could think that it can set rules for spelling.