Tag Archives: brian greene

Homework Takeaway: There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza…

I finished reading The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene, a week or so ago, and meant to post about that with some summary thoughts. Instead, I reached the end the week of the discovery of the Higgs-Boson, and suddenly the last few pages were no longer conjecture, they were likely fact.

It’s amazing how easy it is to take something seriously once it’s been proven.

At the beginning of the year, I joked on Twitter that if The Elegant Universe was my homework, well, I was an Honors Student and I’d be doing some extra credit, as well. So I’ve started reading The Fabric of the Cosmos.

Already, I’m struck by the change in Greene’s tone – or the change in the tone of the tenor of my reading of it, perhaps? The writing has a deep narrative quality. Greene wrote this before the discovery of the Higgs-Boson, so maybe the tone is due to the increasingly advanced matter of its subject? Past a point, science and art follow many of the same intuitions.

I’m glad to have read The Elegant Universe, as frustrating as I found some of its metaphors, because I’m now confident with how Greene may intend to lay out this new story. Having ended The Elegant Universe with discussion of of temperature transference theory at the time of the Big Bang, Greene is now talking about basic physics experiments again.

Issac Newton’s bucket. Concave and convex surfaces.

Which has brought the song behind the lyrics of this post’s title to mind.

There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza,
There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza; a hole. 

Homework Takeaway #5: We’re Pretty Sure There Was A Big Bang

After several months – was it really back in January that I posted my most recent update in this series? – I picked up “The Elegant Universe” again and kept reading. On page 349 (in my edition), Green talks about how there was a moment where the universe from being opaque to being transparent.

He then goes on to describe the moment of the birth of the universe in terms that make me think about how he talks about black holes in the previous chapter (p 342-344?). I’m not a hundred percent sure why, but this part of the book reminded me a little of those four-axis graphs, with space on one axis and time on the other, and black holes sucking in all information. It brought to mind the image of a God’s Eye, or one of those cool graphic design things everybody used to doodle in high school (the nearest I can find via Google Images is the first graph used on this total stranger’s blog entry, but imagine four quadrants of that facing one another).

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I say “re,” you say “search”

Have set up a paper.li for Climate Change, so if you want to see what Twitter is saying about that in  advance of Hot Mess‘s March release, click here.

Read a fascinating paper last night called “Can language restructure cognition? The case for space,” which is about how different frames of reference carry through both verbal and non-verbal tasks. It’s not a long paper, and once you get through the initial terminology it’s very readable. Check it out if you have an interest in these things. It’s from 2004, so if there’s been more work in that area and anybody wants to pass on a link, that’d be great.

You’ll notice I haven’t posted any Homework Takeaways recently. This is not because I finished my homework. I still have about half of “The Elegant Universe” to go, plus the extra credit. The science got a little daunting but after last night’s success with the above I’m feeling ready to take on the world, so to speak, so I’ll probably get back to that shortly.

Homework Takeaway #4: Uncertainties in Time, Space and Relationships

I’m still chipping away at Elegant Universe, and have just finished watching Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen – the version starring Daniel Craig as Werner Heisenberg and Stephen Rea as Neils Bohr. So now there are a few threads going though my mind. Copenhagen is an illustration of how the uncertainty principle and physics can map themselves onto individual relationships; this is illustrated well in the moment where Frayn writes Bohr and Heisenberg and Bohr’s wife Margrethe, as they race around a room demonstrating the difficulties of observing an racing beam of light.

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Homework Takeaway #3: Calabi-Yau Dimensions: You Are Where You Are Cuz You’re There

I’m entering the second half of Brian Greene’s The Elegant Universe, and last night read a beautiful, resonant section about Calabi-Yau dimensions. (That page is in French, though Google translate seems to be handling it OK; the image above is taken from that page’s reproduction of the image in the book.)

“If you sweep your hand in a large arc,” Green writes, “you are moving not only through the three extended dimensions, but also through these curled-up dimensions. Of course, because the curled-up dimensions are so small, as you move your hand you circumnavigate them an enormous number of times, repeatedly returning to your starting point.”

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Homework Takeaway #2: Weak Force Expansion & Limited Elasticity

Another good point brought up in Brian Greene’s “The Elegant Universe.” After overturning Newtonian physics, Einstein ran into a situation that suggested the universe might be expanding. This was, according to Greene, too much for the genius to handle; he came up with some kind of way of negating the reality as he knew it.

Some years later, Edward Hubble was able to demonstrate that the universe was indeed expanding.

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Homework Takeaway (#1): Light Ain’t Old

I’m reading Brian Greene’s “The Elegant Universe”. I decided to start organizing some of the thoughts I’m having as I read this book.

The most interesting line I read so far today was about the age of light. Greene is discussing how objects use up their motion either in time or in space, with most objects expending most of their energy via movement through time – that’s why nothing can achieve light speed, except for light.

Therefore, this means that light expends all its motion by moving through space, and the inverse meaning is that light doesn’t age.

As he puts it in his book, “Thus light does not get old; a photon that emerged from the big bang is the same age today as it was then. There is no passage of time at light speed.”

Kind of makes me want to go back and watch the end of SUNSHINE again.