Site Meter

Tuesday, July 26, 2005


I just watched the movie Ararat.
Its a series of stories of people with the history of the Armenian genocide at the center. The movie is about the creation of a film about the genocide. This has certainly been done before- a film about a film. But it does seem appropriate in this case, because the issue of how to deal with the history is central. And one of the ways to deal with history is through art. So film and painting are both central to the film.

I wasn't sure what to make of the character of Rafi's step-sister. I think that the role she played was part of one of the themes of questioning what someone's death means to you. And when we try to come to grips with such a large number of deaths, we also need to address this question.

The film is complex and seems to work at a number of levels. When I see a complex movie, or read a complex story, I try to figure out if the complexity is useful and required. Some issues just can't be gotten at without the weaving together of many pieces- a sort of pointing in the direction of a truth, or image. But complexity seems to be praised for its own sake- a work without complexity can be deemed unimportant. So we have to watch out for complexity for its own sake. For the most part, it seemed to me that the complexity of Ararat was warranted. But I also admit that maybe its not as complex as I think. I tend to have trouble absorbing lots of different pieces, and so I view something as complex that others may find more simple. This reminds me of my insisting on the complexity of my own family situation, where others wondered what the big deal was. (Sorry, this is getting more personal now, but if I'm going to talk about my response to the film- how else to do it?)
And of course (to those who know me) there is another personal element in this response- my step-mother is Armenian- her parents were survivors of the genocide.

The film within the film focuses on the character of the painter Arshile Gorky. I don't know much about him. Maybe I'll learn more. In the film he is placed in the city of Van, where the Armenians mounted one of the few defenses against the Turks.

I'll leave it there for now... a few skeletal comments. Its not my job to write a book on this, but I was happy to have this story out there. Images from movies can stick with you. Especially when accompanied by emotional music. How does that process work? Something to think about. The filming of conversation is also interesting. The framing and timing give an interpretation what each expression means. I know there is still ambiguity, but there is also often implied meaning. Sometimes it is surprising to see ones intuitive understanding of what a facial expression means, given an explict framing that implies a more direct and articulated understanding by someone else.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

accelerator physics blog

I started reading a few "physics blogs" recently. The problem is that the entertaining ones that also include discussions of culture and philosophy of physics that I've found seem to be oriented around (pro or con) string theory. For example, see here , and here (and references therein...) I guess there are some other particle and accelerator physics blogs, such as those at quantum diaries . But I haven't found many of these that really discuss the state of the field in the same way that the first two I linked to do. The idea of the quantum diaries blogs seems to be to convince people that physicists are a varied and interesting group of people with lives outside their work.
Here's another newly started group blog with string and particle physicists that looks like it could be promising.

I guess I should keep looking. But I'd like to find condensed matter theorists who are using quantum field theory, atomic physicists testing the limits of our understandings of quantum mechanics interpretations, and (!) accelerator physicists discussing the process of model building and what (if anything) fundamental is the distinction between physics and engineering. I suppose this latter blogger could be me.
What attracts me to the field is that it seems to be a fresh place where one can be a mathematical physicist. We had a recent reorganization at SLAC and one of the group leaders described his work as involving exploring new regimes and sometimes finding new physics there. This was met by the comment, "Now by new physics, you don't mean things like supersymmetry- we're still talking Maxwell's equations, right?" and this was responded to by another group leader saying, "No, its new physics in the sense that plasma physics is physics." So it seems that one has to fight for the right to call what one does physics. But I do find that the tool chest one uses is common across many different fields of physics, and maybe this gives a clue to what we mean by physics.

I'll admit that part of this is frustration at not being in the "in-crowd". Not being a part of the next cool thing is hard partly just case there aren't many people doing it and so there's less excitement in the air. Well, hopefully I can make it in this field and be in a position to talk to others who have ideas about this field. I have wanted to be a mathematical physicist for a long time and I still basically feel like this is a good field to do it in. But there does seem to be less room and respect for this role given in this field than in other areas of physics. Maybe accelerator/beam physicists themselves have this ambiguity themselves about the role they are playing. The tension is this: from an outside perspective, the purpose of "accelerator physics" is to build accelerators. These accelerators are useful for smashing together particles at high energies and so testing this realm of the universe, where it is thought that the real interesting stuff is happening. But it turns out that to even get these particles in orbits such that one can do these experiments, one has to do a fair amount of math and have detailed understanding of dynamics and be a good model builder so that the important effects are focused on and the not so important ones don't confuse the situation. This situation gives rise to interesting mathematical questions that use the same tools as arise in other areas of physics. This aspect is required but not really appreciated.

Hmm. Now I'm losing my train of thought and getting depressed about this. I'll have to give this another shot another time.

I guess I'm interested in how physics connects to other subjects. But it is hard to be seriously interested in this and not be suspected of being a second rate physicist (by myself as well). (although perhaps I am! - or maybe just a lazy one...) I've recently been reading "How the Laws of Physics Lie" by Nancy Cartwright. This book feels like its a step in the right direction. I guess what I like is that there is real physics in the book. It gets at some of the most cherished beliefs of real physicists. It doesn't just say: "physicists are arrogant bastards for thinking that nothing else besides physics is interesting- look *this* is interesting, and hey, **this** is also really interesting. What it does is says: "this is what physicists believe, and hey, its interesting, and it has a lot going for it, but hey, it might actually be wrong, here, here, and here." Cartwright's writing injects some healthy doubt into the field, so that in the end, one may feel that the original ideas were still right, but they are less sure they can defend them. And this is probably the more common sense that other disciplines find themselves in.
More on her arguments another time...