Radical Physics Intro – God’s Thoughts & the Awesome Machinery of Nature (RP1)

Articles , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , 0 Comments


What ho! My name is Tucker Hiatt. I am a physics
teacher with 35 years of experience, and I am also the executive director of Wonderfest,
the San Francisco Bay Area Beacon of Science. Welcome to Radical Physics. What’s radical
— besides our location here in the Gamma Sector of the Milky Way — I’ll explain quite
soon. But first, we’d better understand what physics is, and why it’s worth understanding. Physics is the study of Nature. Physics encompasses
our deepest scientific understanding of the universe and everything in it. The word physics comes from the ancient Greek
root meaning “nature.” But not just nature as trees and bugs, sunsets and spacescapes.
Rather, nature au naturel: naked nature; nature laid bare so that we can see what is really
going on underneath. Albert Einstein famously said, “I want to
know God’s thoughts…” [Einstein poster] Whether we profess to know anything about
God, or not, we can understand what Einstein was after. Einstein was a physicist. He wanted
to know the deepest laws of nature. He wanted to understand the relatively few basic mechanisms
that seem to underlie everything that happens. Astronomer Carl Sagan said it differently.
In his Cosmos video series, Sagan asked us to join him in exploring “the awesome machinery
of nature.” This was the physicist in Sagan talking. Speaking of machinery, let me show you something… This is a Mova Globe. ………………………… This
beautiful piece of art, this lovely machine, turns smoothly and continuously—overcoming
friction—without any obvious source of energy. There really are no wires attached; there’s
no battery included in here anywhere. We will come back to the Mova Globe later. What about this? ………………………………….. This
gorgeous orchid is a biological machine. Calling it a machine needn’t diminish its beauty.
In fact, it may enhance our sense of wonder, and it may urge us to understand how the orchid—for
example—reflects electromagnetic waves, and how it grows upward fighting gravity at
every moment. There is a third machine here in the Gamma
Sector, namely your instructor! What kind of machine am I? In particular up here, … what
are the mechanisms of thought? What is the nature of mind?! It seems incongruous to mention mechanism
in the same breath with the word nature. But that’s because we are unfamiliar with physics,
the deep study of nature. Only one-third of US students ever take a
year-long course in physics. What effect does this have on the American ability… to understand
mechanisms, … and to raise the next generation of scientists and engineers? Consider this “Layers of Scientific Understanding”
poster … Principal subjects of science appear here
as geological strata. Psychology rests atop biology because—as far as we know—psychological
events are a special class of biological events. So, psychology is “grounded” in biology. Biology,
in turn, is grounded in chemistry. And chemistry is grounded in physics. Finally, all these
branches of science rest on the deepest stratum, philosophy. Each major subject reveals three
substrata that describe “structures” of differing scale, large to small. Each such structure
refers laterally to a crucial scientific theory that underlies our understanding of the universe
at that level. Physics is THE fundamental science. It underlies
all the other sciences. In this poster, the substrata of physics are universe, world,
and quantum. And the corresponding scientific theories are general relativity, classical
mechanics, and quantum mechanics. There is that word again, mechanism—in mechanics.
Classical mechanics concerns mechanisms of the everyday world, from planets to people
to protoplasm. Quantum mechanics concerns mechanisms of the micro world. A quantum is
just something very small, perhaps ultimately small: a tiniest piece of reality that behaves
very strangely from our macroscopic point of view. Both classical and quantum mechanics are necessary
to understand how the Mova Globe works. Both kinds of mechanics are necessary to understand
an orchid, too. And, as far as we know, both are necessary for a complete understanding
of a brain. … A complete understanding of mind?! …Well, not yet. But perhaps some
day. The title of this video series is Radical
Physics. The word radical refers to the root of something —to its fundamentals. A political
radical, for example, literally means a person who pays attention to the root principles
of a political movement. In this sense, all physics is radical—fundamental—and the
name Radical Physics is just a reminder of essence. It’s like … Amazing Grace or Damn
Yankees. 😉 Of course, radical has taken on a somewhat
different meaning. More often, today, it means extreme. As physics presentations go, Radical
Physics is extreme. It’s an “outlier” for being novel in format and even in content. Speaking of format, the online structure of
Radical Physics lives up to its rootsy name. By making generous use of YouTube’s annotation
function (something you can turn off if you like), the Radical Physics story grows and
spreads like a root. Physics tendrils extend throughout the soil of knowledge—the Layers
of Scientific Understanding. The taproot of Radical Physics, however, runs
right through the traditional heart of physics. We will investigate matter and motion, force
and energy, sound and light, heat and electricity, waves and particles, entropy and information,
and so on. We will study everything our senses sense,
and how they do it. We will look at physics in popular culture,
particularly poking fun at bad physics in the movies. And we will understand remarkable inventions
that physics has made possible. After all, physics is at the root of virtually all engineering. Radical Physics will encourage you to do simple
experiments. When home equipment is insufficient, Radical Physics will direct you to rich online
demonstrations. And Radical Physics will teach how to solve
problems: you will learn a systematic approach to problem-solving that is helpful in subjects
beyond physics—even improving critical thinking skills necessary in everyday life. I began this introduction by saying that “Physics
is the study of nature.” In fact, a century or so ago, the field of physics was known
as Natural Philosophy. Even today, physicists sometimes say that they study the rules of
existence. If you want to know whether something is real or not, whether it can really exist
in this universe, it could’t hurt to ask a physicist! Physics is full of insight and understanding.
But, maybe even better, physics is full of surprises. Common sense is gloriously wrong
about so many things! Take a look at this electric lamp. I think you can see that this lamp is plugged
into an extension cord that, in turn, is plugged into a nearby wall and power outlet here in
the Gamma Sector of the Milky Way. That this is an energized extension cord you
can tell because—when I turn the desk lamp on—you notice that the bulb does indeed
go on. And when I unplug the desk lamp, (… no tricks here) the extension cord is still energized. We say that it is a “live wire.” Or an electrician
might say that at least one of those two holes in the plug is “hot.” So, if I’m dumb enough
to stick this bent-open paper clip into either one of those two holes, I might be in for
a rude surprise. Now, I am going to do this. But I urge you
not to do it. Don’t do this until you know more about electricity—which you will learn
soon enough here in Radical Physics. But if I take this open paper clip and stick it into
this slot, … I feel nothing! … Let me try the other hole.
… … No. … Nothing. … I feel nothing! And this is good old U.S. of A. 120 volts
AC. There is something here, clearly, that we don’t understand. “We” being most folks
who have a common-sense understanding of electricity. When we see that we our wrong about “simple”
matters, our minds are open to being right about many things that were taken for granted.
We learn to be skeptics who revel in REAL knowledge while appreciating—maybe even
loving—the truly deep mysteries of the world (some of which we’ll get to quite soon). The time is right for my favorite Albert Einstein
quotation. Here is how Big Al, Time magazine’s Person of the Century, described his deepest
insight… One thing I have learned in a long life: that
all our science, measured against reality, is primitive and childlike—and yet it is
the most precious thing we have. “The most precious thing.” Each person gets
to experience the power and delight of introductory physics only once in a lifetime. Whether you’re
young or old, whether you’re exploring on your own or are enrolled in a formal class,
I envy your position at the threshold of physics. Prepare to be stunned by the awesome machinery
of nature.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *