Speed versus Accuracy? It All Depends on the Game

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Quantum physics is weird. Despite studying it for four intense years under the tutelage of some of the most elite professors in the field, I didn’t really get it until I read The Cosmic Code shortly after I earned my degree. Written by Heinz Pagels, a physicist and frequent contributor to The New York Times on topics like cosmology and other fun science subjects, the book explained the complex concepts of physics to the lowly layman. Now, my curriculum vitae might have suggested I wasn’t a lowly layman. While this may have been true for most areas of astrophysics, when it came to quantum physics I was as lowly as lowly could get.

In Pagels’ words, I was a “determinist.” A determinist is a classical physicist who sees the Continue Reading “Speed versus Accuracy? It All Depends on the Game”

Creative Chaos

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[This Commentary originally appeared in the March 8, 1990 issue of The Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel.]

 

CarosaCommentaryNewLogo_259There used to be a car repair commercial about the Second Law of Thermodynamics: The Law of Entropy. Here’s something you might not know: Entropy actually lists as the third law of thermodynamics. For a while, physicists viewed entropy as the second most important idea in thermodynamics. Then, they discovered what they now consider the utmost concept in the field. Unfortunately, by the time of the discovery, everyone used the Second Law of Thermodynamics and the Law of Entropy interchangeably. The scientists could not very well shift everything down one. It would cause too much confusion.

Physicists, however, can often act as astute problem solvers. Since the nomenclature had already included the terms First and Second, they needed to invent a higher order Continue Reading “Creative Chaos”

The Secret of How to Overcome a Sore Throat When Speaking on Solar Neutrinos (or Anything Else)

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Sometimes physics advances too fast. Haste often creates problems. For example, when physicists developed the idea of the neutrino – a theoretically massless waste product from the thermonuclear furnaces powering stars – they calmly set up several underground experiments to detect these little critters as the sun spit them out. Trouble was, scientists couldn’t see enough of them to satisfy their hypothesis. “The data didn’t fit the theory,” claimed the academic elite, “so there must be something wrong with the data.” For forty years, our leading brains winced at the dilemma of the under counted neutrinos – an apparently unsolvable problem.

Your throat's getting worse. You've got to speak in two hours. How can you do it?

Your throat's getting worse. You've got to speak to the Rotary in just two hours. How can you do it?

But, I’m sure not many of you have visited here to learn how to solve the unsolvable problem of missing solar neutrinos. Here’s a more practical quandary: You’re scheduled to speak in a few hours and you’ve just come down with a cold. Your manager says you can take some over-the-counter thingamajig to solve the runny nose and fever, but that sore throat has you on the edge of laryngitis. What’s a great speaker to do?

Continue Reading “The Secret of How to Overcome a Sore Throat When Speaking on Solar Neutrinos (or Anything Else)”