The movie What the bleep do we know is a pseudo-scientific exploration of using quantum mechanics to justify a human potential-like pseudo-religious concept. I have an undergraduate degree in physics from MIT, and so I recognized a lot of the arguments as absurd immediately, but I reached the limits of my depth, particularly on the history of QM in this argument. Most, but not all of the concepts could be easily refuted from an undergraduate understanding such as mine, some seem to require more depth. But the practicing physicists I reviewed my answers with seemed to think they had nothing useful to add to the discussion, in part I suspect out of the still-somewhat-in-vogue idea that the best way to confront anti-scientific ideas is to ignore them, viz the debate over intelligent design (which I think, personally, the flying spaghetti monster settled.)
New Scientist had a good article in the 10 April 08 issue about the formative books of the youth of 17 leading scientists. I found the most compelling Sean Carroll’s recommendation of One, Two, Three… Infinity.
It reminded me of a book that I remember reading in 4th grade that had a huge influence on my development: The Curve of Binding Energy.
I was already interested in nuclear physics and was motivated to read it. I think the book either inspired or reinforced many things that have become central parts of me; in particular an appreciation that understanding how things actually work gives one the ability to manipulate reality in a way that people who are less aware of how things work expect. Understanding things is lifetime power and (ever more importantly as I get older) a source of amusement. It illustrated how much fun being able to solve problems could be; the subversive (not merely empirical) value of knowledge.
I also learned how to make a mediocre nuclear weapon. Something that has made me a bit of smart ass ever since: if you know how to make the most fearsome weapon on earth it’s hard to be too intimidated. I wrote a paper in 9th grade describing how to build a weapon based on what I remembered from the book. About that time a student at Princeton got a lot of press for making a model nuclear bomb but using toothpaste instead of U-235, coincidently reinforcing my sense of significance.
After high school and after working as a programmer at a health physics company for a summer (and spending some formative time at a nuclear physics lab at U-Penn in grade school) I was one of a small number of nuclear engineering students on the fusion track at MIT. The Curve of Binding Energy inspired a love and appreciation of Nuclear Physics (and a sense of knowing something special) that only an act of congress could crush. When I was a freshman congress canceled funding for TARA, the tandem mirror experiment at MIT that about half the grad students I had just met were working on. While I dropped my FORTRAN efforts in support of FULIB and turned to robotics and eventually computers, I still ended up getting a degree in physics, course 8, not too far in practice or theory from course 20. And in no small part thanks to John McPhee and Ted Taylor.
This is a really cool post about some vestiges of a highway that was almost built through Boston and Cambridge. When I was in school I heard a rumor of this 695 project and that MIT, for obvious reasons opposed to having a freeway run through the middle of campus, did a few things along the way to deter construction:
- Building 20 was declared a national historic landmark (where radar was invented during world war II) though it was originally intended as a temporary structure and in the time it took MIT to undo that declaration it became increasingly rickety. It is now the site of the new Stata center.
- Parking structures (W45) were built along the path (it was said for the difficulty in demolishing them, thought that makes less sense now than it did as an undergrad)
- The MIT nuclear reactor was built right in the path. My favorite lab experiment ever was testing neutron wave/particle duality in 8.13
- A couple of fusion reactors were built along the same path, though these came later I think. I remember that test firings, especially of the tandem mirror confinement, caused some cool effects even in the control rooms.
Excellent food, good drink and the grill is open until midnight.