Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Happy Birthday CERN!

Exactly 56 years ago today, a convention was signed creating the European Organization for Nuclear Research, otherwise known as CERN. In those 56 years, CERN has produced 5 Nobel prizes for its physicists, discovered innumerable particles and effects (including "neutral currents" and the first antihydrogen atoms, to name just a few), nurtured many bright young physicists, and created the World Wide Web -- originally intended to enable easy communication of results among researchers! So happy birthday, CERN, and may you have many more decades of discovery.

(Yes, I know this is a wedding cake, but isn't it amazing? Besides, the only physics-related birthday cake photo I could find was kind of ugly.)

Physics forever,

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Science Has Limitations

As I like to say: "Even if we find a TOE*, where's the rest of the foot?"

As C. S. Lewis put it in Mere Christianity: "Suppos[e] science ever became complete so that it knew every single thing in the whole universe. Is it not plain that the questions, 'Why is there a universe?' 'Why does it go on as it does?' 'Has it any meaning?' would remain just as they were?"

Although Lewis put it better than I can, the thrust of these comments is that science has limitations -- it cannot deal with beauty and ugliness, with good and evil, probably not with thought and consciousness, and it can never, ever explain anything which is not observable in the physical universe, such as the reason for things. Science can never answer the last of the small child's string of "why"s. It can explain why the sky is blue, why the photons behave that way, but it can never explain where its own physical laws come from -- why, for instance, there are exactly three dimensions of space and one of time. (If some future theory should explain this, then the question will simply be: why does this theory apply to the universe?) While this may seem a strange thing to emphasize on a science blog, it is actually the most important thing in all the philosophy of science. Science has limitations, but science's limitations are a good thing. By delineating the boundaries of science, the limitations turn our experimentation to areas where it can produce results, and turn us to the Word of God for those essential questions that science cannot answer: Is there meaning in the universe? Does anything exist beyond matter and energy? What is right and what is wrong? Is there a God? What is God's nature? How can a mere human become accepted by the Creator?

*Theory Of Everything, a scientific theory that (if ever discovered) would explain the actions of every physical object in the universe

Sunday, September 5, 2010

In case you haven't heard about it...

Wolfram|Alpha! It's a "computational knowledge engine", which means that rather than searching the web for relevant links, it translates your question into computer code, then uses its own (enormous) databases to calculate the answer to your question, which it then returns, in comprehensible English! It's a very useful piece of software, and although it's not perfect, it can calculate the answers to questions on topics from math to linguistics -- and, of course, physics.

So why are you still reading my confusing explanation? Go try it out at, or in the search box labeled "Wolfram|Alpha" right here on Strangely Charming!

Physics forever,
P.S. Sorry this isn't exactly physics-related, but I felt the need to explain the W|A search box on the blog. :D

Saturday, September 4, 2010

A bit of physics-related fun

This is "The Particle Physics Song" sung by the CERN Choir. Yes, there is a CERN Choir.
I thought some of y'all might enjoy it!

Explanation: SUSY is supersymmetry, a much-sought-for but never yet found phenomenon that physicists hope to simplify the laws of physics with. "Higgs" is the Higgs boson, another predicted but not found particle that many physicists spend their lives looking for. It's supposed to explain where mass comes from.
Physics forever,

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Tied Up with Strings

Or, Why I Don't Believe in String Theory.

String theory has a large body of ardent fans, both physicists and laypeople. I am not one of them.

"But string theory is so beautiful!"
a) Beauty does not mean truth. I can think of half-a-dozen symmetries at least as beautiful as Gell-Mann's Eightfold Way. So why is he a world-famous physicist and I'm an insignificant blogger? Because his version is not only beautiful, it works. Yes, most good theories are beautiful, but not every beautiful theory is a good theory.
b) Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I actually don't think string theory is that beautiful! People complain about the ugliness of the Standard Model's eighteen adjustable constants; well, I find string theory's six (or seven, in M-theory) extra dimensions just as ugly and wasteful.

"It's going to be a unique theory of nature."
"Going to" is the operative word here. Perhaps someday, if we can ever get M-theory written down (see next point), it will be a unique theory of nature. But then it won't be string theory, it will be some other theory. There are several thousand, possibly several million, different string theories, and our universe could have been any one of those. (Of course, I believe that God could definitely control the string theory our universe is described by; however, I don't think he would have designed our universe so messily.)

"But M-theory is a unique theory of nature!"
And so it may be, but it doesn't do anyone any good. We can't even write down all of M-theory's solutions (string theories), and we can barely prove that M-theory exists! Even regular string theory is pretty useless: the theorists can't calculate with it and the experimentalists can't test it, so what are we to do with it?

"Well, anyway, it's the only game in town for quantum gravity."
No way. Loop quantum gravity! Noncommutative geometry! Doubly special relativity (in which lightspeed depends on the photon's energy)! Maybe none of these are any good. In that case, let's invent some more!

So my words to the string theorists: By all means, keep working on string theory; it's a fascinating structure with interesting symmetries. Just don't call it physics. Call it pure math.

Physics forever,

P.S. If you enjoyed this post, check out Lee Smolin's books The Trouble with Physics and Three Roads to Quantum Gravity. He's a skeptic, but a very refreshing kind: he's as skeptical of established science as he is of religion.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Who am I, anyway?

Hi! I hope you like physics, because you have stumbled into the deep and devious lairs of my physics blog! This blog consists of the ramblings, musings, and rants of a (hopefully) future physicist, with a few quotes thrown in for good measure. You don't have to know physics to read this blog, although some background might help in understanding it. Hope you don't mind putting up with my physics obsession!

Oh, wait. I was supposed to be talking about me, right? I'm a high-school student with - you guessed it - a physics obsession. You can call me CoolCat. I love the Standard Model and I REALLY love Relativity; I think quantum physics is philosophically unsound and will soon be superseded by a theory in which waves/particles/whatever have real, precise properties; I think entanglement/nonlocality is a real phenomenon, though without any mystical implications; I don't believe in string theory (future post topic!). About me outside of physics: I also like learning languages/linguistics, I'm homeschooled, and I am incredibly blessed to be a Christian and a child of God.

Thanks for stopping by, and enjoy the (quantum) weirdness!

~CoolCat, the future physicist

(Oh, and if you don't get the title of the blog: "charm" and "strange" are the second-generation quarks in the Standard Model. You think those are odd names? The third-generation quarks are either "top" and "bottom" or - get this - "truth" and "beauty". Physicists have a bizarre sense of humor.)