The Map of Physics: Animation Shows How All the Different Fields in Physics Fit Together

From Newton’s mechanical calculations to Einstein’s general and special relativity to the baffling indeterminacy of quantum mechanics, the discipline of physics has become increasingly arcane and complex, and less and less governed by orderly laws. This presents a problem for the layperson, who struggles to understand how Newtonian physics, with its predictable observations of physical forces, relates to the parallax and paradox of later discoveries. “If you don’t already know physics,” says physicist Dominic Walliman in the video above, it’s difficult sometimes to see how all of these different subjects are related to each other.” So Walliman has provided a helpful visual aid: an animated video map showing the connections between classical physics, quantum physics, and relativity.

Newton’s laws of motion and gravitation and his invention of calculus best represent the first domain. Here we see the inseparable relationship between physics and math, “the bedrock that the world of physics is built from.” When we come to one of Newton’s less well-known pursuits, optics, we see how his interest in light waves anticipated James Clerk Maxwell’s work on electromagnetic fields. After this initial connection, the proliferation of subdisciplines intensifies: fluid mechanics, chaos theory, thermodynamics... the guiding force of them all is the study of energy in various states. The heuristics of classical physics prevailed, and worked perfectly well, until about 1900, when the clockwork universe of Newtonian mechanics exploded with new problems, both at very large and very small levels of description.




It is here that physics branches into relativity and quantum mechanics, which Walliman explains in brief. While we are likely familiar with the very basics of Einstein’s relativity, quantum physics tends to get a little less coverage in the typical course of a general education, due to its complexity, perhaps, as well as the fact that at their edges, quantum explanations fail. While quantum field theory, says Walliman, is “the best description of the universe we have,” once we come to quantum gravitation, we reach “the giant Chasm of Ignorance" that speculative and controversial ideas like string theory and loop quantum gravity attempt to bridge.

map-of-physics

At the “Chasm of Ignorance,” our journey through the domains of physics ends, and we end up back in the airy realm where it all began, philosophy. Those of us with a typical general education in the sciences may find that we have a much better understanding of the field’s intellectual geography. As a handy reminder, you might even wish to purchase a poster copy of Walliman’s Map of Physics, which you can see en miniature above. (It's also available as a digital download here.) Just below, the charming, laid-back physicist takes the stage in a TEDx talk to demonstrate effective science communication, explaining “quantum physics for 7 year olds,” or, as it were, 37, 57, or 77-year olds. To learn more about physics, please don't miss these essential resources in our archive: Free Online Physics Courses and Free Physics Textbooks

via Kottke

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Physics of Playing a Guitar Visualized: Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” Viewed from Inside the Guitar

Give it a chance, you won’t be disappointed. While the first 30 seconds of the video above may resemble an amateur iPhone prank, it soon becomes something unexpectedly enchanting—a visualization of the physics of music in real-time. The Youtuber places his phone inside an acoustic guitar, then plays Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters" against a backdrop of clouds and blue sky. Due to what Twisted Sifter identifies as the phone camera’s rolling shutter effect, the actual waves of the vibrating guitar strings are as clearly visible as if they were on an oscilloscope.

The comparison is an apt one, since we might use exactly such a device to measure and visualize the acoustic properties of stringed instruments. “A guitar string”---writes physicist and musician Sam Hokin in his short explanation---is a common example of a string fixed at both ends which is elastic and can vibrate.




The vibrations of such a string are called standing waves, and they satisfy the relationship between wavelength and frequency that comes from the definition of waves.”

Those with a physics background might appreciate The Physics Classroom's technical description of guitar string vibration, with several technical diagrams. For others, the video above by Youtube physics teacher Doc Shuster may be a better format. Shuster explains such entities as nodes and antinodes (you’ll have to tell me if you get any of his jokes). And at about 2:25, he digresses from his musings on these phenomena to talk about guitar strings specifically, which “make one note for a given tightness of the string, a given weight of the string, and a given length of the string.”

This is, of course, why changing the length of the string by pressing down on it changes the note the string produces, and it applies to all stringed instruments and the piano. Other factors, says Shuster, like the body of the guitar, use of pickups, etc., have a much smaller effect on the frequency of a guitar string than tightness, weight, and length. We see how the complexity of different standing wave forms relates to harmonics (or overtones). And when we return to the Metallica video at the top, we'll have a better understanding of how the strings vibrate differently as they produce different frequencies at different harmonics.

Shuster’s video quickly lapses into calculus, and you may or may not be lost by his explanations. The Physics Classroom has some excellent, free tutorials on various types of waves, pitch frequency, vibration, and resonance. Perhaps all we need to keep in mind to understand the very basics of the science is this, from their introduction: “As a guitar string vibrates, it sets surrounding air molecules into vibrational motion. The frequency at which these air molecules vibrate is equal to the frequency of vibration of the guitar string.” The action of the string produces an equal and opposite reaction in the air, which then creates “a pressure wave which travels outward from its source.” The pressure waves strike our eardrums, our brains interpret sound, and there you have it.

via Twisted Sifter

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Hear the Voice of Albert Einstein: Vintage Album Features Him Talking About E=MC2, World Peace & More

einstein speaks

We all have a mental image of Albert Einstein. For some of us, that mental image doesn't get much more detailed than the mustache, the unruly hair, and the rumpled dress, all of which, thanks to his achievements in theoretical physics, have become visual signifiers of forbidding intelligence. But when we imagine this image of Einstein actually speaking, what does he sound like? Beyond guessing at a reasonably suitable Germanic accent, many of us will realize that we've never actually heard the man who came up with the Theory of Relativity speak.

By the time Einstein died in 1955, recording technology had proliferated, and so the bits and pieces of his speeches committed to tape add up to over an hour of material in total. Spotify has gathered it all together in the album Albert Einstein in His Own Voice. (If you don't have Spotify's free software, you can download it here.) It includes some of the Einstein audio we've featured here before, such as his 1940 radio broadcast on why he chose to become an American citizen and his reading, from the next year, of his essay "The Common Language of Science."

Einstein left behind plenty of writing in addition to that piece, but often, to really understand how a mind works, you need to hear its owner talk. (And few minds, or in any case brains, have drawn as much attention as Einstein's.) "I speak to everyone in the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university," he once said, presumably including the sorts of audiences he spoke to in these recordings. Having heard Albert Einstein in His Own Voice, you'll understand much more fully the intellectual interest to which Einstein, when not sticking it out in order to become the world's dorm-room icon of wacky genius, could put the use of his tongue.

Albert Einstein in His Own Voice will be added to our collection, 900 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Secret Link Between Jazz and Physics: How Einstein & Coltrane Shared Improvisation and Intuition in Common

Scientists need hobbies. The grueling work of navigating complex theory and the politics of academia can get to a person, even one as laid back as Dartmouth professor and astrophysicist Stephon Alexander. So Alexander plays the saxophone, though at this point it may not be accurate to call his avocation a spare time pursuit, since John Coltrane has become as important to him as Einstein, Kepler, and Newton.




Coltrane, he says in a 7-minute TED talk above, “changed my whole research direction… led to basically a discovery in physics.” Alexander then proceeds to play the familiar opening bars of "Giant Steps." He’s no Coltrane, but he is a very creative thinker whose love of jazz has given him a unique perspective on theoretical physics, one he shares, it turns out, with both Einstein and Coltrane, both of whom saw music and physics as intuitive, improvisatory pursuits.

Alexander describes his jazz epiphany as occasioned by a complex diagram Coltrane gave legendary jazz musician and University of Massachusetts professor Yusef Lateef in 1967. "I thought the diagram was related to another and seemingly unrelated field of study—quantum gravity,” he writes in a Business Insider essay on his discovery, “What I had realized... was that the same geometric principle that motivated Einstein’s theory was reflected in Coltrane’s diagram.”

The theory might “immediately sound like untestable pop-philosophy,” writes the Creators Project, who showcase Alexander’s physics-inspired musical collaboration with experimental producer Rioux (sample below). But his ideas are much more substantive, “a compelling cross-disciplinary investigation,” recently published in a book titled The Jazz of Physics: The Secret Link Between Music and the Structure of the Universe.

Alexander describes the links between jazz and physics in his TED talk, as well as in the brief Wired video further up. “One connection,” he says, is “the mysterious way that quantum particles move.... According to the rules of quantum mechanics," they "will actually traverse all possible paths.” This, Alexander says, parallels the way jazz musicians improvise, playing with all possible notes in a scale. His own improvisational playing, he says, is greatly enhanced by thinking about physics. And in this, he’s only following in the giant steps of both of his idols.

It turns out that Coltrane himself used Einstein’s theoretical physics to inform his understanding of jazz composition. As Ben Ratliff reports in Coltrane: The Story of a Sound, the brilliant saxophonist once delivered to French horn player David Amram an “incredible discourse about the symmetry of the solar system, talking about black holes in space, and constellations, and the whole structure of the solar system, and how Einstein was able to reduce all of that complexity into something very simple.” Says Amram:

Then he explained to me that he was trying to do something like that in music, something that came from natural sources, the traditions of the blues and jazz. But there was a whole different way of looking at what was natural in music.

This may all sound rather vague and mysterious, but Alexander assures us Coltrane’s method is very much like Einstein’s in a way: “Einstein is famous for what is perhaps his greatest gift: the ability to transcend mathematical limitations with physical intuition. He would improvise using what he called gedankenexperiments (German for thought experiments), which provided him with a mental picture of the outcome of experiments no one could perform.”

Einstein was also a musician—as we’ve noted before—who played the violin and piano and whose admiration for Mozart inspired his theoretical work. “Einstein used mathematical rigor,” writes Alexander, as much as he used “creativity and intuition. He was an improviser at heart, just like his hero, Mozart.” Alexander has followed suit, seeing in the 1967 “Coltrane Mandala” the idea that “improvisation is a characteristic of both music and physics.” Coltrane “was a musical innovator, with physics at his fingertips,” and “Einstein was an innovator in physics, with music at his fingertips.”

Alexander gets into a few more specifics in his longer TEDx talk above, beginning with some personal background on how he first came to understand physics as an intuitive discipline closely linked with music. For the real meat of his argument, you'll likely want to read his book, highly praised by Nobel-winning physicist Leon Cooper, futuristic composer Brian Eno, and many more brilliant minds in both music and science.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Physics & Caffeine: Stop Motion Film Uses a Cup of Coffee to Explain Key Concepts in Physics

Want to teach me physics? Make it interesting. Better yet, use a cup of coffee as a prop. Now you've got my attention.

Created by Charlotte Arene while interning at the University of Paris-Sud’s Laboratory of Solid State PhysicsPhysics & Caffeine uses a shot of espresso to explain key concepts in physics. Why does coffee cool off so quickly when you blow on it? It comes down to understanding heat and thermodynamics. Why does coffee stay in a cup at all? That seemingly simple question is explained by quantum mechanics and even Newtonian physics and special relativity. You might want to watch that section twice.

Shot image by image, this stop motion film took three long months to create. Pretty impressive when you consider that 5,000 images went into making the film.

Get more information on the film, and even download it, from this page. And find more physics primers below.

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via Aeon

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The Books on Young Alan Turing’s Reading List: From Lewis Carroll to Modern Chromatics

turing book list

Image via Wikimedia Commons

We now regard Alan Turing, the troubled and ultimately persecuted cryptanalyst (and, intellectually, much more besides)---who cracked the code of the German Enigma machine in World War II---as one of the great minds of history. His life and work have drawn a good deal of serious examination since his early death in 1954, and recently his legacy has even given rise to popular portrayals such as that by Benedict Cumberbatch in the film The Imitation Game. So what, more and more of us have started to wonder, forms a mind like Turing's in the first place?




A few years ago, mathematics writer Alex Bellos received, from "an old friend who teaches at Sherborne, the school Turing attended between 1928 and 1930," some "new information about the computer pioneer and codebreaker’s school years" in the form of "the list of books Turing took out from the school library while he was a pupil." Bellos lists them as follows:

"As you can see, and as you might expect," writes Bellos, "heavy on the sciences. The AJ Evans, a memoir about the author’s escape from imprisonment in the First World War, is the only non-scientific book." He also notes that "the physics books he took out all look very serious, but the maths ones are lighthearted: the Lewis Carroll and the Rouse Ball, which for decades was the classic text in recreational maths problems." Sherborne archivist Rachel Hassall, who provided Bellos with the list, also told him that "the book chosen by Turing for his school prize was a copy of the Rouse Ball. Even teenage geniuses like to have fun."

If you, too, would like to do a bit of the reading of a genius — or, depending on how quantitatively your own mind works, just have some fun — you can download for free most of these books the young Turing checked out of the school library. Programmer and writer John Graham-Cumming originally found and organized all the links to the texts on his blog; you can follow them there or from the list in this post. And if you know any youngsters in whom you see the potential to achieve history's next Turing-level accomplishment, send a few e-books their way. Why read Harry Potter, after all, when you can read A Selection of Photographs of Stars, Star-Clusters & Nebulae, together with information concerning the instruments & the methods employed in the pursuit of celestial photography?

via Alex Bellos

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

170 Renowned Academics Talk About Why They Disbelieve, or Believe, in God

Whether we choose to affiliate with any sort of atheist movement or not, many people raised in theistic religions came over time to see God as a literary character in ancient mythologies and historical fictions, as a placeholder for human ignorance, or as a personification of humanity’s greatest fears and desires. The notion that such a personal super-being actually exists has become for many of us, in William James’ terms, a “dead hypothesis.” As physicist Lawrence Krauss puts it in the video above, “there’s absolutely no evidence that we need the supernatural hand of God” to explain the universe. Religions give us fanciful stories, illustrate ethical (and unethical) principles, and enforce tribal loyalties, but they do not describe reality as it is.

We all come to hold our beliefs, or lack thereof, about religious claims for an irreducibly complex variety of reasons that are intellectual as well as moral, political, and emotional. Can we demonstrate, however, that “the more scientifically literate, intellectually honest and objectively sceptical a person is, the more likely they are to disbelieve in anything supernatural, including god”? Such is the thesis of Dr. Jonathan Pararajasignham’s documentary 50 Renowned Academics Speaking About God, which consists of edited clips from interviews with “elite academics and professors at top institutions, many of whom are also Nobel Laureates.” The claim appears on the screen in each of the three videos above and below, framing the interview clips as mounting evidence for the convincing case that disbelief is strongly correlated with, if not necessarily caused by, scientific literacy, intellectual honesty, and skepticism.

Since his first video, Pararajasingham has expanded his series to include 100 more “Renowned Academics Speaking About God.” (See Parts Two and Three of the series above.) On the videos’ Youtube pages, he anticipates a ready objection, writing, “I do not claim that this video demonstrates there is no God. It is not an argument against God in itself, so there is no argument from popularity and authority.” If you’ve already arrived at the conclusion, you’ll find it confirmed many times over by a cast that includes physicists like Krauss, Richard Feynman, and Steven Weinberg, philosophers like A.C. Graying, Bertrand Russell, and John Searle, and far too many more illustrious thinkers to name. (See a complete list on the Youtube pages of each video.) In addition to well-known atheist writers like Daniel Dennett, the series also features academics like anthropologist Pascal Boyer, whose book Religion Explained makes a novel and very persuasive naturalistic argument for why humans have believed in the supernatural for thousands of years.

Believers may counter with their own list of smart people who do believe in God, and who also work in the hard sciences and academic philosophy, including renowned figures like Human Genome Project director Francis Collins and physicist Freeman Dyson. Whether or not they’d wish to claim failed presidential candidate Ben Carson or religious apologists Dinesh D’Souza and Ravi Zacharias as examples of “intellectual honesty and scientific literacy” I couldn’t say, but all of those people and more are included in the video above, 20 Christian Academics Speaking About God, which Pararajasingham produced as a counterpoint to his 50 Academics series. Find the complete list of names for this video, along with links to complete interviews, on Youtube.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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