Posts Tagged physics

Einstein to Newton: “We have to talk.”

Posted by on Wednesday, 9 September, 2015
Einstein/Newton: A Meeting of Peers

A Meeting of Peers


 Did Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton have a secret meeting?  I was asked this question (sort of) on Quora.

Since Newton lived in the 1600s it was more of a “what if”.

Even Einstein’s far ranging intellect couldn’t have dragged him back to Newton’s time but what ifs never seem to bother anyone on Quora where the questions range from “What if we could go faster than the speed of light?” to “What if atheists believed in God?”

How would a meeting between and Einstein and Newton have gone?

If the discussion was limited to a single sitting, Newton, the father of modern scientific thinking, wouldn’t have been able to catch up to all the things that his wonderful brain had set in motion. Newton was maybe the greatest scientific and mathematical genius of the millennia but Einstein’s work pushed the envelope, even for the early 1900s. The formal stuff required field equations.

Field equations were the bane of Einstein’s existence. Newton wouldn’t have known anything about field equations or about David Hilbert, the great mathematician who’s work was required by Einstein. Hilbert basically beat Einstein to the finish line with his own paper on General Relativity but graciously stepped aside to allow Einstein to get the credit he deserved for his original ideas.

Another thing.

Much of Einstein’s work was motivated by the work of the great physicist, James Clerk Maxwell . Maxwell’s name wouldn’t have meant anything to Newton either.

Nor would Newton have heard of Michael Faraday who got Maxwell started on electromagnetism.

 That’s a lot of advanced math and physics for anyone – even Isaac Newton.

Okay, for argument’s sake, let’s say that Isaac Newton would have gone along with meeting this Jewish guy for a discussion about “natural philosophy”. He would have been intrigued, right? The “thought experiments” would have had to have kept him awake that night.

If he could accept premises for which he had no basis.

 My feeling? It is unlikely that Newton could have accepted Einstein’s conclusions without years of additional thought and study.

Let me add something.

Isaac Newton is such a deservedly beloved figure that several people on Quora felt compelled to defend him against any implications that he might have avoided a “Jew philosopher”.

There’s nothing that suggests that he had any problem with Jews. His private papers suggest he may have been fascinated by Judaism (though may have never met a Jewish person).

Great minds are a lot less prone to interpersonal stupidity than the rest of us, and yet, anti semitism was so pervasive in his time  that, even if Newton personally had no problem with a Jewish philosopher meeting him in his chambers, his peers might have been scandalized.

Newton’s views on Jews (whatever they may have been) shouldn’t distract us from his incredible contributions. Let’s not overreact to the mere mention of pervasive anti-semitism among his peers. I’m not trying to make anybody uncomfortable nor am I trying to sanitize history.

It is was what it was. I suggest you get over it.

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Illustration? That’s mine based on some available images.

Leading intellectual says time came first.

Posted by on Saturday, 28 June, 2014
TIME explained (cartoon)


MISTER ScienceAintSoBad explains “time”

I am often asked to explain time.

If I can get off the hook with “It’s what the clock says”, we’re done here. Otherwise?.

Here’s the thing. Lots has been written about this. It get pretty deep out there, believe me. We humans figured out how to count time by using something that moves continuously and uniformly such as the moon traveling around the earth as a proxy for time.  Twice as far meant twice as much time had gone by. Distance traveled equaled time. It’s the idea behind  clocks (the old fashioned kind) where the hands rotate around the face of the clock and time is marked off along the edge.

You can see that this doesn’t tell us a thing. What does uniform mean?

It has been suggested that time represents a change in “entropy” (how much is left of the way things were ordered or “wound up” when the universe started). If that’s true, time started when the universe started. But maybe time stretches out beyond the end of the universe and before the beginning. Maybe there was time before “the first second”.

I’m not supposed to say that, am I?

We’re still unraveling that mysterious first fraction of a second of the “Big Bang” when, supposedly, there was infinite density. Few physicists believe that there was any such a thing. Getting smaller than the “Planck length” ( 10 to the minus 35 meters) may not be physically possible. So something else might have happened other than a so-called singularity. Maybe there were events “before”. Before? Doesn’t that mean there was time?

Some say that there is an illusional quality to time. That we perceive something that isn’t there. That the physical world is sliced up into very small “ticks” making the time dimension granular instead of continuous. All that was, and all that will be, is captured in each of these ticks like frames in a movie film.

I could go on and on but I’m afraid I will mislead. This is a lovely and fascinating area for discussion, but I shouldn’t take take up your valuable time for this. The subject goes deeper than my own brain goes.

Here is an article in Wired Magazine  – an interview with Sean Caroll by Erin Biba.

Your ideas are welcome. Maybe you know more than me.

It wouldn’t be hard.

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The drawing is by me.

Faster Than The Speed Of Light?

Posted by on Friday, 19 October, 2012



If this is science, I will eat my shoe.

James Hill and Barry Cox  are mathematicians from the University of Adelaide. They say Einstein’s special theory of relativity can now cover phenomena faster than light speed ( Journal Proceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical and Physical Sciences). Einstein missed this; they fixed it.

They say if you extend the math properly it can describe phenomena at any speed – even infinite speed at which, they say, your mass will shrink to zero.

Pretty good, huh?

But the math breaks down at the speed of light itself. They say that’s not a problem. It’s like breaking the sound barrier, something which was once was “impossible”.  We do it all the time now, right? With some new technology – maybe better spacecraft propulsion- sooner or later, we’ll be wondering why we poked along at a less than 186 thousand miles a second.

Here’s the thing. And where do I begin?

The special theory explains how, as you approach the speed of light, you appear to be gaining mass. The closer you get to the speed of light, the more mass you appear to have gained. (This is all relative to an “observer”.) Although your rocket engine (and your fuel) will get bigger too, you won’t be able to get ahead of the effect of your gain in mass and your speed will remain “subluminal”. Fast, yes. Light speed? Not gonna happen.

Says Einstein.

If you can’t GET to light speed, you can’t PASS light speed. And, if you can’t pass it, you can’t take advantage of the mathematics of Hill and Cox.

The authors admit that they aren’t physicists – just mathematicians having a nice day.

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Credits for the animation: to Heather’s Animations. Please note that donations are gratefully accepted in return for which (or even without a contribution) you can utilize the work you find there in your emails, articles, and what not.

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Fair disclosure: I’m not a physicist either.  And I’m having a nice day too.

How You Make A Universe!

Posted by on Friday, 18 November, 2011


From Nothing

Dr. Christopher Wilson (Chalmers Institute Of Technology) created light. 

He did some complicated things that that sucked up photons out of absolutely nothing (what physicists call the  “quantum vacuum”).

Yes. I know God did this a long time ago. But he didn’t have to do it on a budget.

The thing to keep in mind here is that light is a form of energy and energy is a form of mass (Einstein) . So what Dr Wilson did is he created something from nothing.

Can you do that?

It’s slightly more than a cute trick, actually. It suggests that that Big Bang (which started the universe) actually makes some logical sense. After all, if there wasn’t anything before the universe, how could it ever get started? What would it have been made of?

In other words, is it really possible to make something from nothing?


ScienceAintSoBadRating = 10 . A wonderful piece of science.



Credit for above image to Savillent’s photostream  Creative Commons License
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Posted by on Wednesday, 1 June, 2011


I try to keep my writing reasonably lively so as to keep my readers awake. This time, however, you’re kinda on your own to keep your head off the pillow. Sorry. My blog, my (sometimes deadly dull) topics.


Dr. Brian Greene:

The Elegant Universe is my favorite book. It describes string theory. My copy’s old and I don’t “get” it all. But each time I read it, I learn something.

Readers of my blog should be as lucky.

Here’s what bothers me, Brian Greene. You say strings are one dimensional . Most of them are so tiny (.000000000000000000000000000000000001 meters) that they’re as small as anything can get – the “Planck length”. Nothing physical gets to be smaller than the Planck length.  Not everyone’s on board with the idea that space is “granular” (things have a minimum size) but it’s gaining acceptance.

Anyway, I’m kinda stumped. I’m a three dimensional guy in a multidimensional world. Strings don’t have width. Or depth. They have a volume of zero, right?  Nothing to grab on to. More like thought experiments. Vibrate them in the right modes, and they “real up”, each becoming a particle or a force. One of these strings accounts for each particle in the universe.

But how does a one dimensional string trick itself out with additional dimensions? Is  it the “moving around” thing?  And aren’t strings long in one dimension and skinny in the others? Isn’t that the idea behind calling them strings? Except they don’t HAVE other dimensions. And if they DID have such things, they wouldn’t be any smaller than the Planck length, right? So a “string” would be a cube?

My poor head!

Another thing. Strings, you say, are being pulled apart by a tension force of 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000  tons. As a former structural engineer,  I worry about them breaking.

So, dividing 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 tons of force by the non existent cross section of a string, I arrive at something more-or-less like an infinite tensile stress.

This is bad.

In The Elegant Universe, you emphasize the superior nature of string theory over the prevailing “Standard Model” of physics which,  you say, suffers from too many infinities (like when the denominator of a fraction is zero?) I realize that strings, which are saved from being infinitely small by the Planck length, are also saved from “midriff bulge” (thickness across the middle) by their one dimensional nature. Maybe this vaccinates them against having to worry about internal stresses. But there’s still a big-force, small-object thing going on here that’s a little confusing, okay?

Elegant Universe

I do think I’ve answered one of my own questions which is how this tension force manages to maintain itself. After all, why doesn’t the string just  shrink till it doesn’t HAVE to shrink anymore, relieving its own internal tension?  It’s not like it’s tied to anything.  However, the string seems to be “Plancked out”. It can’t get smaller than that stupid Planck limit.

What a world!

Strings are distinguished from one another (I gather) by their modes of vibration and the way they wrap (open or closed). Except that 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 tons isn’t a small  force. It’s what  a rock  with mass equivalent to  hundreds of billions of stars  would weigh here on earth. Those pictures in your book of strings wrapped around things? Or vibrating, away in different “modes”? How do they stay so curvy with that kind of tension trying to snap them straight?

All I’ve got. And thanks for your patience,

MISTER ScienceAintSoBad


Credit, once again, to xkcd, it’s fine and funny drawings (top).
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Lasers: Leaving Light Behind

Posted by on Thursday, 25 February, 2010

One NOISY Laser

Optics: The Phonon Laser


I guess you’re not impressed by lasers.

You’ve got an $8.95 laser pointer from Job Lot. You had some hair removed by a laser. There’s one in your CD player. And they’re inside of things that’re all over your house. You even use one to drive the cat WACKY. And I wish you wouldn’t.


I’ll take a minute here to explain the difference between a laser and, say, an electric light.

Until 1958, when the laser was invented at Bell Labs, all forms of artificial light were “incoherent”. Incoherent light consists of light waves that don’t “line up” particularly well. The crests and the valleys of the waves are “all over the place” as opposed to coherent light where all the crests and valleys DO line up with each other.

What’s the difference? When light is coherent, it behaves itself. Instead of spreading (converging), it remains packed into a tight beam.

Not much of  a difference, I admit. But it makes the light kinda “pure” and “monochromatic” (one and only one frequency)  as opposed to a flashlight which is a great big MESS of frequencies. And a laser light doesn’t spread out the way we’re used to a light beam behaving; instead it just stays in a tight beam.  The science behind it is NICELY described in an article in HOW STUFF WORKS. Which I appreciate because MISTER ScienceAintSoBad is in NO mood to go through all the details, this morning.

The fact that monochromatic laser light DOESN’T  dissipate its energy by spreading out like its more ordinary cousins means it can transmit great power over a long distance or offer real  accuracy for measuring stuff. Its nice tight beam is even useful for communications since it can illuminate light fibers or bounce off of distant targets and still hold onto its properties.

Who would a thought that a laser, which is, after all, just a humble beam of light, would turn out to be so important?


The length of a light wave is short.  It’s measured in billionths of a meter. Wanna see how the wavelength varies with color? (Probably not, but just in case, this is fun. )

Frequency, for frequency, the wavelengths of sound are even shorter.  Much, much shorter.  So sound  could be used for WAY more accurate measurements in medicine and other applications.  And a sound-based laser (phonon laser) would, no doubt, have other startling tricks it could do besides measurement, if we really had one.


Phonon lasers still aren’t available at Job Lot but the work’s movin’ along VERY nicely.  It’s described in Physical Review Letters (who NAMES these publications?)  and in Physics.

Mister ScienceAintSoBad thinks the emergence of the phonon laser is now likely.  Whole new industries will follow.

ScienceAintSoBad Rating= 10

Einstein’s Musical Career and The Clever Octopus

Posted by on Sunday, 27 December, 2009


Physics: Notes.

Albert Einstein.

I realize he didn’t exactly invent the Universe. But SUCH a scientist! They don’t make ’em like that anymore.

Just walking around in his own mind (“thought experiments”) he could see the way things MUST work. What others thought were the rules, were only a special case. He took a few inches off of the height of Isaac Newton, his only real rival for the Great-God-Of-Science prize, showing that Newton’s achievements, amazing as they were, were only a door to the true mysteries of the universe.

Einstein guided us through that door.

I have to recyle my “Newton Spinning In His Grave” drawing here (below).

Still Spinning

Still Spinning

Einstein came to realize that light has special properties. For some crazy reason, when you measure its speed, it is always the same. No matter how fast or slow you are going.

So he thought about it.

And the ramifications.

When he worked it all out, he saw that the sizes and masses of things follow unexpected rules, depending on how fast you’re going (Special Relativity). He looked at time differently too. And he found an explanation for how gravity works (General Relativity). And he described atoms. And photons (the photoelectric effect) and helped kick off Quantum Mechanics, a bastard child which he had some second thoughts about later in life.

I’ll stop. You can read the Wikipedia article. But what’s funny about this funny guy is that he liked things or he didn’t like them based on some inner aesthetic. If it was beautiful it had to be right.


So that’s interesting, isn’t it? Our greatest modern scientist was an aesthete. He played the violin. And the piano.

He loved Mozart; he loved Bach.

Indifferent to Brahms.

He began playing the violin as a little child. Real serious.

Once, he was supposed to give a physics lecture to his students (Geneva University). Instead he decided to play his violin for them. He figured they would like it better than a physics lecture.

And understand it a LOT better.

No doubt.

So would he have become a musician if he hadn’t become the greatest physicist of modern times?


He already had a job in the patent office. Maybe he LOOKED like a dreamer with his long flowing hair, but Einstein wasn’t THAT dumb!

After all. He was Einstein.

BehavioralEcology: Tool Use By Octopuses

What has eight legs and.. eight hammers?

Used to be that we had a franchise on intelligence. We were the smart guys. Apes and monkeys chattered mindlessly in trees. Elephants munched at the bottom of them. And octopuses were too dumb to grow a proper set of arms and legs.

Used to be.

We used tools. We had language. We wore clothes. We did karaoke.

The creatures we ate didn’t do any of those things.

But observation by observation, study by study, our distinctions over other species have shrunk.

We still out gun our nearest biological competitors when it comes to dumping carbon into the atmosphere, but we now know that chimpanzees can sign and understand extensive human language as can various apes, dolphins, and parrots. Even walruses.

And the use of tools is definitely out there. We’ve seen it in chimps and other primates as well as birds and even elephants (which have very large brains, as you might expect, with very large “thinking surfaces” as you might not expect).

Now a paper in Current Biology describes the use of tools by Octopuses.

Octopuses are Cephalopods which means non hat wearing ink squirters. If you follow their comings and goings, you know already that their dopey looks are deceptive. They have good memories and are good learners. They routinely solve their way out of mazes and Dr. Maury Schlaffer (University of Teheran) claims he has observed them scavenging old electronic components on the ocean floor and reassembling them into devices such as OPhones and OPods for their own uses.

We would LIKE to believe Schlaffer’s work but, unfortunately, the evidence is kinda weak and we have to give it a ScienceAintSoBadRating of less than 2. The Current Biology paper, however is good. It’s got the “pusses” dragging around shells which they use for protection (“tents”).

That’s thinking ahead.

If I ever DO become a vegetarian, it’ll be because of a scientific study – one like this.

Unconservation of UnEnergy

Posted by on Monday, 9 November, 2009



Lying Sack Of Pseudoscience

Isaac Newton’s law of conservation of energy was lovable.

So simple.

So perfect.

Energy can neither be created or destroyed.

Till Einstein muddied it up some.  “It’s not ENERGY, you doofus! It’s mass-energy. ”

Ok, ok.

But, for those of us who aren’t traveling at light speed,  Newton’s idea worked pretty good for over 400 years.

Till Magniworks .

Its zero point magnetic power generator creates LOTS more energy than it consumes and the World Wide Web is BOILING with testimonials to its effectiveness.

Feel free to Google it. You’ll see what I mean.

The company hasn’t had time to complete and publish its peer reviewed studies in the traditional scientific journals but I can wait.

In advance, ScienceAintSoBadRating = 0 (sorry Magniworks. No offense.  But poop on you for trying to deceive the gullible amongst us.)

And, thanks Danny, for mentioning it.



Because I have received several comments/emails suggesting that I need to be stronger and clearer to counteract the very powerful impression made by Magniworks, allow me to be VERY precise here.


There’s no evidence at all that the product can do what it claims and the many “testimonials” sound – shall we say? – suspicious.  You can’t violate the fundamental laws of physics.

Even if you’re Australian.