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Sunday, December 24, 2006

dirac on poetry

Paul Dirac's comment on the difference between science and poetry is

In science one tries to tell people, in such a way as to be understood by everyone, something that no one ever knew before. But in poetry, it's the exact opposite.

With a slightly different emphasis this doesn't need to be seen as such an insult to poetry. Maybe poetry shows something known in a new light, or perhaps connects the known to the unknown, mysterious.
From the small amount I know about Dirac, I would think he might admit to the value of this sense of poetry in physics, the connecting of something small, well-delineated and clear, to a larger, richer, more amorphous body of material. He's been refered to as a magician, and perhaps this is a key to that magic.

Saturday, December 23, 2006


Via Metafilter, a neat essay by Bruno Latour on the current state of criticism.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

adiabatic invariants

Research, research, research. Trying to find the right definition of action.

So, what's an adiabatic invariant?
Its something that stays constant as the environment changes.
For my undergrad thesis, I tried to figure out what happens to simple systems as they are transported from here to there. So this research provided an answer to the question: which part of Boaz is unchanged by his weekly transitions from A to B, from mom to dad. Adiabatic invariants. Just find them and I will know what to count on.

Ok, still working on these metaphors. Does it say something about isolation and self-containment that I focus on the single particle case? Does it take away the fun to give away the punchline... that I'm trying to find my own adiabatic invariants? When does one transcend the personal and create something of interest to others? Perhaps this dynamic is healthy? Continually reinterpretting in terms of trenchant metaphors?

Let me give a concrete example of an adiabatic invariant: the classic example is a pendulum which has a string the length of which is slowly shortening. As the environment changes so does the motion. The frequency of the pendulum increases as the length decreases (f~sqrt(g/l)). But the energy of the pendulum divided by the frequency stays constant. This is an adiabatic invariant.

Are there fluid dynamicists out there that think of themselves as scale models of the world and wonder what their true Reynolds number is? Are there quantum field theorists who renormalize away their existential concerns, find that the infinite difference between self and God can be swept under the rug if one cares only about practical solutions? What about economists who see all interactions as a game and try to make the market of human kindness as free as possible?

But I will be an adiabatic invariant. I will search for that which remains the same in me and allows for equilibrium. I can only be so many things at the same time. A 2n dimensional integrable Hamiltonian system has only n adiabatic invariants.
Right. right.

Friday, December 15, 2006

death of my computer

My poor Powerbook. Its hard drive is making terrible noises. I think its just about dead. So I've been using my work PC laptop. Microsoft!!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


Since I've been throwing out pebbles related to the pieces of my life I've been working on/thinking about, (although maybe in an overly academic way) I might as well say something about divorce...
I have this picture of life like jumping around on rocks in a creek. When parents can't live together, they leave the kid with two big rocks that are uncomfortably far apart. The kid can either choose one of them to use as a base and build from that, or not choose. In that case, you are stuck with a large world with no center. I didn't choose, and so I've been trying to become a broad enough person that stability extends from one rock to the other. And when I fall I just have to trust that there will be a rock somewhere to land on. Its not that finding a path from one parent to the other, or one part of myself to the other is really so hard. The thing is that because the parents decide that they can't live together, this sets up a model that certain things are incompatible. Even with a marriage where the two people are very different, the kids see an example of those differences coexisting.
I'm not into judging and saying that I (and other such non-choosing kids of divorce) have it so hard. Its more just that I have it different in particular sometimes hard to articulate ways. I say this because I've found it hard to talk about this with my parents without them feeling attacked. Its really like saying that there is a part of my experience that has not been understood. I find this experience interesting. But one needs to be able to take the good with the bad in order to see the whole. And its probably a hard thing as a parent to take things in such an objective way.

Friday, December 08, 2006

comparing tragedies

I'm watching the movie version of the play "Rent".

I've also been trying to get back to reading Balakian's
The Burning Tigris
about the Armenian Genocide. As I watch these people cry and sing about their friends dying from AIDS, a voice rises up in me saying that at least they aren't victims of genocide. Disrespecting their tears, this voice says "you're lucky".
I know that this voice is the voice of my step-mother who's parents lost most of their family to the Turks. But the voice has been internalized; I find it in me hidden under many guises. At this point, all I can do is pose it as a problem.

I think the problem is the unknown enormous scope of something like a genocide. And this problem is seriously compounded by the Turkish attempt to deny its significance and face up to its magnitude. As a result, you can never put it in front of you and say "there it is"; "there is the tragedy of the genocide". There is always the worry that lurking in the unknown elements are tragedies much worse than what one is currently encountering and so how can one take the present seriously? Is this the purpose of art? To tell a story that doesn't at the same time take meaning away from life?
I'm having trouble finding this art in Balakian's book, though I don't doubt its waiting to be found. It just takes work on my part. I can only read a little bit at a time. I can read a line like (p. 195) "In the end between a half and two-thirds of the more than two million Armenians living on their historic homeland in Ottoman Empire were annihilated." but still imagine that there is some even larger tragedy looming than the sheer number of deaths. One can learn about Armenian culture and track its destruction, or look at specific cases and try to fathom the extremes of individual suffering. And until this has been done, one imagines that there is still something so much worse, so completely awful, that no current tragedies are worthy.
The fear of the unknown. It is paralyzing.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

new age

I'm finally reaching the end of "Heaven on Earth". Speaking of the writing of Ananda leader J. Donald Walters in the concluding chapter of the book, D'Antonio writes

This way of thinking does not point to the creation of a "new" age. Rather, it implies a return to an idealized version of an old New England village, a community of believers striving to live in relative simplicity, with God not far from their minds. Ananda suggests self-sufficiency, modesty, plainness, and rectitude--the bedrock Protestant values of early America. It may be difficult for those who regard the New Age as flaky, avant garde, or irresponsible to consider, but after my experience at Ananda, I became intrigued by the notion that the New Age is as much a revival of old American values as it is an embrace of the counterculture. Indeed, the villagers seem to reflect perfectly the Protestant ethic described by the great historian and sociologist Max Weber. They were industrious, Godly, communal, and ascetic--all qualities Weber identified in his analysis of the utilitarian successes of Protestant societies. Ananda has survived, and thrived, because of its old-fashioned work ethic, and a piety that discourages materialism, competitiveness, and jealousies.

I see a similar element in TM. My step-dad reads Emerson and has said that Maharishi admires the American founders. He and my mom read a lot of biographies of early American presidents. Anyway, there is at least an attempt to connect to what tradition we do have in this country, which perhaps is in some sense necessary for a transplant to thrive.