Saturday, October 24, 2009

“Matter” Don’t really matter?

This post is continuation of the previous post on scientific discoveries and insight on the nature of matter that we have gained over past couple of hundred years.

Whenever I discuss these topics with others, most ask me why it really matters. Does knowing what “matter” is, of any significance to the common man? Is an understanding of these phenomena necessary?

Despite having extensive experimental evidence for the classical theories, quantum mechanics and relativity, they are neither widely known and understood nor accepted. This baffles me and I can only speculate on the reasons why. Many people find scientific concepts complex and difficult to understand. Surprisingly this is also true in most developed countries. The difficulty stems from the lack of proper grounding and good teaching methods in early years, which cultivates a lack of interest later in life.

The other reason could be that many are more concerned with day to day life to ponder about these questions. Living in the society of today is all about earning a livelihood or pursuit of happiness which is increasingly becoming the pursuit of money, luxury and comfort. While there is nothing wrong with this it also happens to be a never-ending pursuit. We have lot of more technology, amenities and comfort than compared to a few centuries back but do we really lead happier and fulfilled life? Important thing to note that marginal utility of any desire decreases as it becomes increasingly available.

The third reason could be metal comfort. Sometimes there are ready answers provided to us that we grow up with. It’s much easier accepting them and living within these bounds rather than question the artificial bounds itself. Also, what we learn early in life seems familiar and forms our intuition and as a result what we already know seems intuitively right, regardless of merit or correctness of the belief. That’s why new information doesn’t seem to matter that much.

So, why does it really matter? Well! How do you go about life if you don’t know what you are really living for? I find this important and significant but I am in the minority. Would you play a game without knowing the rules? What if you start playing a game that you don’t know why you are playing and you have to figure out the rules as you go? Someone else who has played the game explains a loose set of rules they figured out when they played. You find they apply in some situations but not in others. Would you continue playing believing the handed down set as true or make an attempt to find and improve your understanding? For YOU to play the GAME, isn’t it important to know the RULES or would you rather play the same way irrespective of the rules?

To add to all this very few of the discoveries of the past century are taught in schools these days. And when we grow up we continue to live our lives based on things we already know and have accepted. Very few seek out new knowledge and still fewer accept it, especially if it challenges the very core of what we have believed. “Surely, I can’t have been mistaken all this while!” “In any case I have done okay living the way that I lived so why should I change what I believe here on?” “It doesn’t really matter” Hence the greatest discoveries of the past couple of centuries are kept but for a few to enjoy and pass on. Others just go on to say “There is so much we don’t know perhaps will never find out” Never for once bothering to look!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

On “Matter”, Knowledge’s great progress to thousands of years back

“Divisibility” The Greeks started with it! They thought all matter was composed of smaller particles down to single unique and indivisible particle called “atom”. They were right that all matter was made up of atoms but wrong in the sense that it was the smallest unique, identical particle that constituted all matter. However, one interesting notion that came out of this idea was the fact that whatever we see around us is all essential made of the same thing.

Almost couple of thousands years later there came J. J Thompson, his experiments and pumpkin model of the atom. We found electrons and later we found Protons and Neutrons. “Oh! There are smaller particles!” This gave birth to particle Physics. Further down the road we realized that protons & neutrons are made up of Quarks and Electrons of Leptons. These were now considered the elementary particles that made up all the matter. So why did we stop there? Surely if atoms could be made of smaller particles and protons & electrons of smaller particles then ever our elementary particles could be made up of smaller particles too? And that’s what happened! More we searched smaller particles we found but this would not go on endlessly.

On a parallel track, Quantum mechanics took up where classical mechanics left off. Experiments and theories such Max Planks’ Quanta, Einstein’s Photo-electric Effect, De Broglie Wave-particle duality, Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle formed the basis of Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics. While quantum mechanics gave us unparallel insight into the small world, Einstein relativity theories finally answered the puzzles of the big world and heavenly bodies.

By 1920 we were begun to understand not only how matter is composed, how it interacts, how forces are created and how macroscopic properties arise. However, we had one major problem. Relativity and quantum mechanics did not agree. It was difficult to account for gravitational forces at subatomic level and quantum effects for large bodies. Both theories within their spheres, however, had plenty of experimental evidence to prove them irrefutably correct and accurate. This was one of physics biggest problem which is still unresolved to this day. Nevertheless, from 60s till now String theory of Universe has come long way in addressing these problems. Essentially what the string theory proposes is that the entire Universe is made up of one thing – tiny strings and all the matter and forces in this Universe are made up of different configuration of these strings. Those you have read books on Quantum mechanics, Relativity or the string theory would understand that in the last 3 paragraphs I have been trying to outline what essentially requires detailed discussion and substantiation. In fact the book “Elegant Universe” does a good job of walking through these theories in fairly simplistic terms.

So now I can finally come to the point that I am trying to make, which would not be possible without this background. The point is that we are beginning to realize or believe that Universe is entirely integrated body which at its very granular level is made up of the same thing. All different forms of energy, forces and matter are created of different configuration of the same unique material. Well some may say why did this take us so long to realize? Ancient Vedanta Philosophy said the exact same thing around 800 – 1000 BC, almost 3000 years back. They also highlighted principles of truth and reality that are now quite consistent with our understanding of quantum mechanics as well as modern philosophies regarding human perception of truth and reality, in particular Kant’s. Question is, have we rediscovered the same knowledge that existed thousands or years prior and interpreted in a different way. How did we fail to build up on something that already existed and make a full circle?

Wednesday, October 07, 2009


There was a time when documentaries were factual and boring. With the advent of Discovery, National Geographic and others they have become more and more interesting and entertaining. On the other hand their neutrality, factual correctness and objectivity have suffered. Lots of them now have a pre-conceived agenda rather than exploring both sides of an issue. Nevertheless, I find myself seeing more documentaries than ever. I have listed down a few I have watched and hope others might find them interesting as well. Generally, I like independent productions but some of my favorite ones have been produced by BBC Horizon series. I have attempted to rate them as well as put indicator on objectivity. I know many are turned off by Documentaries that are totally nonobjective.

+/- Objectivity (+ being more objective)

My top 3
The Trap: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom - 5.0 +

The Ascent of Money: The Financial History of the World - 5.0 ++

Human, All Too Human: Nietzsche 4.5 ++

Rageh inside Iran - 4.0 ++
The Ascent of Money ( - 5.0 ++
Human, All Too Human - Nietzsche - 4.5 ++
The world according to Monsanto - 4.5 +
It felt like a kiss - 3.5 -
The Century of self (4 part series) - 5.0 +

The Story of God - 3.5 -
The God Delusion - 3.5 +
Religulous - 3.5 --

Fahrenheit 9/11 - 4.5 -
Occupation 101 - 3.5 --
Freedom to Facism - 3.5 --
Power of Nightmares(3 part series) - 4.0 +

Sicko - 4.0 -
Super Size me - 3.5 -
Magic Weed - History Of Marijuana - 3.5 +
Ecstasy Rising - 4.0 +

Science & Environment
Journey To The Edge Of The Universe - 3.5 +
A Brief History of Time - Stephen Hawkin’s ideas about the Universe - 4.0 +
The Elegant Universe - 4.5 ++
How Does Your Memory Work - 4.0 +
Uncertainty Principle - 4.0 +
An Inconvenient Truth - 3.5 +

Auschwitz: The Nazis & The Final Solution - 3.5 +
Tryst with destiny (Fall of the British Empire) - 4.0 +

Updated Oct 21 2010

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