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32, let’s begin with Her Majesty’s hat

Sunday, March 31st, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — hat and flag, insecurity clearances, quantum physics and what it tells us about truth and spin, paris, city of lovers, sex, scandal naturellement, and would you believe it, treason? ]

Brexit. Her Majesty’s hat draws a clear parallel, but is it a metaphor?

That was the hat HM wore for the 2017 Queen’s Speech to the joint Houses of Parliament — and we have no reason to suppose her opinion has changed since then. Visual DoubleQuote courtesy of Federica Cocco

And then…

I mean, what a nightmare…


But then, you can’t always trust the facts:

I mean, news these daze:

Spin corresponds to fact, like the hands of a stopped clock, twice a day.. (thanks, Wolfram)

Here’s some detail from the Ars Technical piece:

You, however, are in a box and cannot report your measurements to me. Instead, I have to measure your state to discover the result of your measurement.

So what we have here, if I might say so, is a case of Matryoshka measurements..

That means you are in a superposition state of having measured a vertical or horizontal photon, even after you have made the measurement. I can measure your state, and we end up with two sensible outcomes: you measure horizontal, and I measure you to have measured horizontal; you measure vertical and I measure you to have measured vertical.

But there are two more possibilities: you measure horizontal, but I measure you to have measured vertical, and you measure vertical, but I measure you to have measured horizontal. If the second measurement is governed by quantum mechanics, those two are just as likely to occur as the sensible outcomes. So half the time, the measurement result you obtain contradicts my measurement of your measurement.

Got it?

If not read, the whole article, then read it again. Frown. You’ll get it.

There is nothing wrong with either measurement, and there is no calculation that we can perform to resolve the contradiction.**


Reading an account of the Al Franken affair, focused on the questions of piling on (scapegoating?)nand equal justice for accuser and accused — two sports metaphors:

Fellow Democratic senators quickly entered the scrum as they fought to be next in line to proclaim outrage and demand he should go.

One of the most disturbing aspects of #MeToo is that watching someone get destroyed in real time has become something of a sport.

In the course of reading in and around that article, I ran across this brilliant visual DoubleQuoting of the Christine Blasey Ford / Brett Kavanaugh matter:

On such balance we may project each our suppositions: but to have achieved such balance!

And so to my dialysis viewing:

Hardball, 3/29/2019:

Julia Ainsley:

He [Barr] doesn’t have blinders on, he knows the public criticism here..

David Corn:

It doesn’t look like he’s playing Even Stephen here..

Zerlina Maxwell [on Barr making decisions ahead of release of Mueller report]: I look at this situation almost like the track and field runner that’s running down the hoe stretch, and they put their arms over their head, and then they’re crossed at the finish line..

.. this feels like a premature victory lap

Chris M:Well, David, Zerlina caught me .. with that visual of the President of the United States, this particular one, running a hundred yard dash. I don’t think that would be his event. I think riding a golf cart would be his event.

.. that must be the sound of a bus going over you ..

Chris M [ourob]:

How can a white person [ie Hillary Clinton] bea racist agfainst white people?

[ but cf “self-hating Jews”]

With anyb luck, I’ll get access to a complete Hardball video for 3/29/2019 and be able to find the chyrons “DeVos grilled’ (42); Trump “overriding” (43); and “Trump questioned” (50)

I have a note, “that’s the inverse of what’s true” which is a superb example of reverse (pos-neg) symmetry, cf the spy vs spy image in a recent post).. There was also a ref to David Ignatius, How the mysteries of Khashoggi’s murder have rocked the U.S.-Saudi partnership


Then there was the Green New Deal, with Chris Hayes:

Seb Gorka: They want to take away your hamburgers. This is what Stalin dreamed of and never achieved.

AOC: I expected a little more nuance..

It’s surreal ..

No more disposable people, no more disposable places ..


A Green New Deal Is Technologically Possible. Its Political Prospects Are Another Question.


Rachel Maddow 3/29/3019:

Rachel re Barr:

It was kind of him free-styling, this was him showing off his dance moves ..

Now, tonight, it appears there’s a little bit of panic in the disco, because now William Barr has released yet another unexpected, taken it upon himself, ad lib, figuring it out as he goes along letter ..


Let’s close with this stunning image by Stephane De Sakutin / AFP / Getty:

A mold of the Genie de la Patrie damaged during a “yellow vest” protest at the Arc de Triomphe in December is seen during its renovation by the French restorer Agnes Le Boudec in Paris on March 25, 2019.

Physicists playing Calvinball

Saturday, February 23rd, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — wishing I was fluent in music, and might as well ad mathematics, Hebrew, Arabic, classical Persian, you know the drill, Sanskrit, Tibetan, Japanese.. and their courtly modes and rituals, and could play badminton, chess, dharma combat, go, eh? ]

Here’s a wonderful description of a game in which the rules — in this case, mathematical languages — change from move to move:

It happens again and again that, when there are many possible descriptions of a physical situation—all making equivalent predictions, yet all wildly different in premise—one will turn out to be preferable, because it extends to an underlying reality, seeming to account for more of the universe at once. And yet this new description might, in turn, have multiple formulations—and one of those alternatives may apply even more broadly. It’s as though physicists are playing a modified telephone game in which, with each whisper, the message is translated into a different language. The languages describe different scales or domains of the same reality but aren’t always related etymologically. In this modified game, the objective isn’t—or isn’t only—to seek a bedrock equation governing reality’s smallest bits. The existence of this branching, interconnected web of mathematical languages, each with its own associated picture of the world, is what needs to be understood.

That’s from A Different Kind of Theory of Everything in The New Yorker, an intriguing rerad, though as a non-physicist, seeing an equivalence with Calvinball — a game in which the game in play constantly changes — is about as far as I can go.

When I was talking with Ali Minai, I said that both music and math were languages I didn’t speak, and that cut me off from much by way of discourse with mathematicians (Ali himself) and musicians (my nephew the conductor Daniel Harding), and Ali commented that music is at least an embodied abstraction, whereas math is a pure abstraction with no embodied component. I hope I’ve understood and expressed that well enough. Anyway, it was a striking comment, and not one that had ever crossed my mind, on a topic of considerable interest and real regret.



Richard Feynman would have enjoyed a Calvinball reference, methinks — but for any sober-sided physicists who don’t play bongos, here’s the philsopher Alasdair MacIntyre to much the same effect:

Not one game is being played, but several, and, if the game metaphor may be stretched further, the problem about real life is that moving one’s knight to QB3 may always be replied to by a lob over the net.


I’d hoped to have more intriguing math or game quotes to offer here, but no luck so far, so I’m gonna post anyway.

In honor of the SuperBowl, which I as a Brit know nothing about

Saturday, February 2nd, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — the curious language and precise scientific timing of tomorrow’s game ]

The curious language of the Superbowl:

Memorable Trick Plays of Super Bowls Past

Sometimes trick plays are all about players’ resourcefulness—what they’re willing to do with what they’ve got. Last year, at Super Bowl LII, Nick Foles, the Eagles’ backup quarterback, who has become known for his fighting spirit and mystifyingly magic touch, called and executed perhaps the most famous trick play in recent history, “The Philly Special,” which is actually a combination of three lesser trick plays: a snap to the running back, a pitch to the tight end, and a pass to the quarterback. In 2006, at Super Bowl XL, the Steelers pulled off a similarly discombobulating series of tricks-within-a-trick, a fake double-reverse pass that ended with a forty-three-yard touchdown pass by Antwaan Randle El, the receiver with the golden arm.

Other trick plays come from coaches with no-guts-no-glory attitudes, who approach games as if they are leading the Spartans into battle. In 2010, at Super Bowl XLIV, the Saints’ coach, Sean Payton, successfully called the first ever onside kick to be attempted before the fourth quarter of a Super Bowl game (a play he nicknamed The Ambush).

There’s a video on the New Yorker page those paras are taken from, but I’m not going to steal it — if you’re into [American] football, you should go watch it there, and read the whole piece while you’re at it!


Somewhere else, I saw a reference to “throwing the hook and ladder” — would anyone care to translate? That’s the most troublesome of the phrases I’ve seen, but “snap to the running back, a pitch to the tight end, and a pass to the quarterback” (above) comes close — what’s the difference between a “snap”, a “pitch”, and a “pass”? — and a “double-reverse pass” (above, likewise) — what’s that? Do two reverses make a straightforward? If not, why not?

Oh, and then a friend mentioned “flea flickers” and “quarterback sneaks”. Language is a terrific sport!


The precise scientific timing of the Superbowl:

For nerds who may wonder, turning aside from the upcoming game to my twitter feed, there’s this:

What Time Is the Super Bowl?

6:30 p.m. is the time the Super Bowl will start in Atlanta. Most of us are not in Atlanta. So for us, the game will start later than that. You need the time for the images to be captured by the cameras, be broadcasted to air or cable, be captured by my TV screen, leave my TV screen, get to my eyes (not to mention the time my brain needs to process and decode the images). You may say this is fast — of course this is fast. But it takes some time nevertheless, and I am a physicist, I need precision. For most of us, the game will actually start some time later than the kickoff in Atlanta.



Arts & Sciences, models & illustrations, Buddhas within mandalas

Friday, June 29th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — on the illustration, visualization and modeling of supposed reality — note: I am no scientist, no artist, in fact an aphantasic ]

A telling caption to an image in New Scientist gave rather more of the game away than was maybe intended.

The image:

The caption:

We have no pictures of the real thing, so enjoy this one instead. Oliver Burston/Alamy


It’s a nice image, and could be used to represent Lise Meitner‘s discovery of nuclear fission, or some new feature of Kepler’s Supernova, or even, Lord knows, to sell collectible gold coin or diamonds.. And it brings up in acute form an issue I’ve long had with science — in the context of education and the last century’s growing indifference to the arts and humanities.

How much of what passes for science in the pop science press is in fact art, and specifically photography? And as a sub-question, how much of the impact a particular piece of scientific work receives is dependent on the various qualities of the illustrations used to accompany and promote it — which all too often fit the description in the caption above:

We have no pictures of the real thing, so enjoy this one instead.

Or alternatively, shooting for something a little more frank, but not too terribly impolite:

We have no pictures of the real thing, so enjoy this bullshit instead.


We hardly ever have a picture of the real thing — which occurs at nano-scale, or outside the visible spectrum, or —

Well, some while back, we discussed (ignorantly, rest assured, De Docta Ignorantia, qv) a mathematical object of interest to physicists known as The Amplituhedron:

The Amplituhedron can alternatively be illustrated thus:

There’s a donut for anyone who can imagine what can possibly merit both illustrations!


On our way to an understanding of the Amplituhedron, we pass by diagrams such as this:

— immediately followed by these words:

Although it is hard to draw the complete four-dimensional polytope, its four three-dimensional faces each define square-pyramidal regions of G(2, 4)

— as, for instance, this:


Oh, c’mon, it’s not that hard, just visualize it!

Tibetan monks can visualize things like this 3-D palace replete with Vases, Wish-granting Trees, Bodhisattvas, Tathagatas and Shaktis, all surrounding the deity Kalachakra and his Consort, Vishvamata

And the vajrayanist Tibetan practitioners, yes, manage this just by PhD and postdoc level visualization practice, with diagrammatic assists like this:

— and a blueprint like this:

— always bearing in mind that, eh, “Kalachakra is a black skinned, four-faced god with twelve arms and twenty-four hands, in passionate embrace with his consort”:

Kalachakra and Vishvamata, from the Rubin Museum of Art


Ah, but that’s arts and humanities > comparative religion > Tibetan meditation, not sciences > physics > mathematical physics, eh?

In all this, I intend to defend both science, properly so understood, as practiced bt qualified practitioners within its various subdisciplines, and arts and humanities, properly so understood, as practiced bt qualified practitioners within their various subdisciplines — while making clear the overwhelmingly important distinction that illustrations are all too often not science but STEM-propaganda, glossy / shiny objects passing for science while in fact falling under the categories of illustration or photography.


This isn’t, for instance, in any scientific sense, the Horseshoe Nebula

It’s, as its title suggests, a reproduction of a compositie color image of the Horseshoe Nebula

— and to be honest, it may bear as much resemblance to a horse’s head as this reoroductionf of a color image of a seahorse does:


Just let’s keep the arts’ contribution to science illustration filed under arts (illustration), and math diagrams filed under math (diagrams) — I’ve included some of both above — and maybe the arts and humanities will get to siphon off some of the excitement and funding currently pouring into the coffers of (poor little) science.

Tibetan Buddhists FTW!



Art or science?

Gravitational lens RX J1131-1231 galaxy with the lens galaxy at the center and four lensed background quasars

That, at least, is what they tell me..

Time In all his tuneful turning (ii)

Thursday, March 15th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — Dylan Thomas’ vision of time to set beside Stephen Hawking’s ]


I’m arguing here that Dylan Thomas is at least as great a thinker about time as Stephen Hawking, and his masterpiece, Fern Hill is my proof text to that effect.

I’ll borrow here from a piece I wrote called That HyperText is Linear: it’s the Northrop Frye applied to Dylan Thomas bit that’s of relevance here:


I get much of my thinking in this area from the literary critic, Northrop Frye, who says somewhere that you can (and should) read a poem through from beginning to end, and that this will give you what he calls the “diachronic” meaning — the sequential meaning “through time”: but when you have done this, you should also perceive what he calls the “synchronic” meaning — the meaning that comes from the poem as a whole, with all its parts simultaneously present and influencing one another, in a way that is impossible in a first sequential reading, but is possible in a meditative way afterwards…

Take Dylan Thomas’ poem, “Fern Hill”, for example. It’s an incredible tour-de-force, moving from the poet’s sense of wonder and praise at the natural world around him in childhood, to the moment when time takes him

Up to the swallow-thronged loft by the shadow of my hand

and he wakes

to the farm forever fled from the childless land…

— his “lamb white days” are over, and he realizes finally that

as I was young and tender in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying…

That is, so to speak, the throughline, the sense of the poem from start to finish — as I child I was young and easy under the apple boughs, I was green and carefree: and yet, all the while, my childhood was slipping away from me, for Time itself held me green and dying…

That’s the “diachronic” reading…

But the “synchronic” reading is quite different. It doesn’t depend in the same way on a process through time. Instead, it works by the piling up of similar phrases:

the sun that is young once only…
All the sun long…
the sun grew round that very day…
the sun born over and over…

These phrases, scattered throughout the poem, seem to build on one another, almost imperceptibly, in a very remarkable way. Suppose that it was life, rather than the sun, that was at issue here:

A phrase like “life that is young once only” would clearly emphasize the freshness of youth and the decay that age brings — and thus be very much in line with the diachronic meaning of the poem. But a phrase like “life long” would emphasize the enduring quality in life, maybe even its eternal quality (“eternal life” even), while “life born over and over” would capture the cyclical feeling that’s present in the rotation of the seasons (and in the idea of reincarnation) — and “the sun grew round that very day”, while it doesn’t make sense to read it as “life grew round that very day”, clearly means that each moment is itself the moment of sunlight, in a way that’s akin to the zen sense of living in the moment…

So it’s as though the poem moves from beginning to end along a track that emphasizes initial innocence and its eventual loss: but read in the wholistic, “synchronous” sense, it quietly suggests that time can be viewed as a slowly entropic and degenerative process, as an endless and unbroken wholeness, as always and only the instant, and as a cyclical recurrence…

To me, that’s mind-blowing. Thomas isn’t presenting one of these as “the truth” — to the extent that there’s a “main” way to view time in the poem, it’s certainly in terms of a slow and not so slow process of the loss of innocence — but as four complementary ways in which we can see it. Four major philosophies of time in one poem, phrased in terms of the sun, and thus slipping almost unnoticed into our consciousness while we’re busy following the “throughline” or “plain sense” of the poem… four major philosophies, not contradicting one another, but spoken together, as in a polyphony.

There are some similar phrases relating to the moon, too, and they need to be similarly weighed and considered if you want to go deeper into “Fern Hill” — but that’s another part of the story, for another day…


That’s from That HyperText is Linear, not currently available on the web.

Four major philosophies of time, each seen from a human perspectove, voiced together as a polyphony, and presented “subcutaneously” — beneath the surface of the poem, and of the reader’s conscious awareness.

That’s what I admire in Thomas’ poem, and what I would compare with Stephen Hawking’s analog of another great scientist’s “Single vision & Newton’s sleep!” — for the juxtaposition of Dylan Thomas vs Stephen Hawking is indeed an age-old one, finding its classic instantiation in William Blake‘s antipathy towards Isaac Newton.

William Blake, Isaac Newton, The Tate Gallery

I’ll let Alan Moore, he of the comics [Watchmen, eg], explain:

For Blake, the boundaries of Newton’s thought were the cold, stone parameters of an internal dungeon to which all humanity had been condemned without its comprehension or its knowledge. Despite the invigorating consequences Newton’s influence would have for a then-nascent industry, Blake would elsewhere describe this rigid and reductive pall as ‘Newton’s Sleep’, a drowse insensible to vision or to ethical restraint beneath which it appeared the world had fallen. Goya to the contrary, here the monstrosity was birthed not by the sleep of reason, but instead born from that sleep which reason represented. From our own industrially despoiled and bankrupted contemporary perspective, Blake’s view surely seems a product of extraordinary prescience rather than of the angel-addled madness which some of his less insightful critics have attributed.


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