Saturday, September 29, 2012

Not maths per se, just a little physics

Foundational Questions is a fun place to hang out.  On their latest essay contest, I look forward to reading a few responses:
Reductionist Doubts, by Julian Barbour.  Because the name of the author - winner of the first contest - excites me.
Revising the Topology of the Earth, by Peter Wamai Wanjohi.  Because it's the only recognizably African (it's Kenyan) author name I found among the hundred-or-so submissions.

The biographies are interesting too.   
This is Barbour's: "After completing a PhD in theoretical physics, I became an independent researcher to avoid the publish-or-perish syndrome. For 45 years I have worked on the nature of time, motion, and the quantum theory of the universe. I am the author of two books: The Discovery of Dynamics and The End of Time, in which I argue that time is an illusion. Details of my research work are given at my website Since 2008 I have been a Visiting Professor at the University of Oxford."

And this is Wanjohi's: "did advanced level physics but is a health professional specializing in community health and development .Works with the government and development partners. As a freelance physicist, he is a published researcher. His wish is top see a public well knowledgeable of their physical, biological and chemical environments." 

The contrast is typical; there isn't a market for "advanced-level physics" in Nigeria.

Drawing by physicist Setthivoine You

In addition to the essays by Barbour and Wanjohi, I'll try to read the top-four essays so ranked by reviewers (the public):
Black holes or anything else? by Christian Corda
Nature has no faithful mathematical representation by Roger Schlafly
On the Foundational Assumptions of Modern Physics by Benjamin F. Dribus
Patterns in the Fabric of Nature by Steven Weinstein

Anyway, here are the past top essays, I've studied all three.  One of them - Stardrives and Spinoza - is so exciting that I may write a short-story inspired by its future-world soon.
2011 - Is Reality Digital or Analog? by Jarmo Makela
2009 - Stardrives and Spinoza by Louis Crane, answering the question: What's Ultimately Possible in Physics?
2008 - The Nature of Time by Julian Barbour

One day, maybe I'll explain the joys and cares of "hyperspecialization and the money to build stuff" in the West, versus "low infrastructure levels, and the freedom to build stuff" out here in the tropics.
Well, it looks like I have already written several research-related posts on my personal blog.  The story starts in 2005 with "The California Institute of Science: I am despondent.  In the past years, I have observed - science, research, and the labours thereof. I have discovered no new science. I have built no new machine. I'm more than two-thirds of the way to my PhD.  However, I can now give an expert report on how scientists do what they do." to this year with "There's no i in research."  I now have a math blog even (you're on it.)  Full circle?


  1. Now reading:
    A few of the essays from FQXi's fourth contest: Which of Our Basic Physical Assumptions Are Wrong?

    I don't know what I'm doing :)

  2. Silly me, the 2012 contest is still on, the winners are yet to be decided, public voting is ongoing too, so the top essays have changed...
    I'll wait to grab the final top essay for my reading, since it seems I only have the capacity to read a very small number of these essays.

  3. Another correction I need to make:
    the distinction isn't between the "West" and the "tropics" per se, since I want to put Grigori Perelman (of Russia) in the second category.

  4. And the winner is:
    The paradigm of kinematics and dynamics must yield to causal structure
    by Robert Spekkens

    The list of first, second, and third prize winners is here


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