My weblog ELECTRON BLUE, which concentrated on science and mathematics, ran from 2004-2008. It is no longer being updated. My current blog, which is more art-related, is here.

Mon, 09 Feb, 2004

The Enchanted World of Max Tegmark

Last year I read a fascinating and fanciful article in SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN called simply PARALLEL UNIVERSES (Scientific American, May 2003). If you've been following this Weblog so far, you'll remember Lee Smolin's ideas about parallel, or multiple, universes emerging from black holes in our own universe. The author of this article takes it even further, and describes how not only could there be an infinite number of parallel universes, but by the laws of logic and probability, there is a universe "somewhere" where there is an exact duplicate of you and me, doing exactly what you and I are doing.

Though the author swears that the physics of this whole setup are possible, the article reads more like science fiction than science. It is at any rate a brilliant piece of creative thinking, something to make us wonder and speculate rather than go searching for ways to prove it. This imaginative author is named Max Tegmark.

The name sounds like it should belong to an action hero — Max Tegmark, master of cosmic rays! But he's a bona fide cosmologist and astrophysicist who teaches at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. He is of Swedish origin, now only in his mid-thirties, already the author or co-author of dozens of professional papers as well as popular science articles.

Naturally, he has a Website. It is one of the least stodgy, most personal scientist's Websites I've ever seen. The homepage is graced not only with a picture of smiling Max but of his two adorable little sons Philip and Alexander. There are links to loads of photos of Max and his family, including his Brazilian wife Angelica, who is also a cosmologist (they tend to marry within the tribe), his relatives, her relatives, his travels, his childhood pictures, important moments in their lives, places they've been, and famous and less-famous scientists they know, including John Wheeler, Martin Rees, and Stephen Hawking.

The first thing I noticed about this website is how dazzlingly beautiful both Max and Angelica are. This is not fair. No one should be this beautiful and brilliant at the same time. But once I got past grumbling at fate, I immersed myself in the exuberant world that Max and his wife have created online. Max's personality shines through everywhere. It's a sunny, outgoing character filled with enthusiasm and optimism and good humor. It seems, in the best way, innocent, untouched by the irony, tragedy, and darkness of the harsh world. Perhaps it's almost improbably innocent, motivated by love of his subject and confidence in himself. He chooses to share pictures of himself and his folk in all sorts of situations, at the beach, hiking in the mountains, pondering and adventuring, as if he were inviting us cold websloggers to be part of his extended family.

Some of this site is hilarious, especially his "bloopers page," his silly poetry and his "bottom 95 percent pointless" web icon. The guy obviously has a great sense of humor. But if you want his serious side, there is plenty of cosmology, starting right on the front page. He invites us to read about his work in gravitational lensing, cosmic background radiation, supernovae, dark matter, dark energy, gamma-ray bursts, and other fascinating cosmic stuff. He's not just a scientist who actually has a life, he's a life which does science.

Now it's your turn to be enchanted by Max. Visit the Max Tegmark Website and see for yourself.

As for me at the Electron, I need to disenchant myself. I need to avoid the distractions of beautiful scientist people and stories of science heroes, as well as exciting cosmology and physics far in advance of what I can currently comprehend. I need to get back to what I am doing today, and tomorrow, and tomorrow: my slow progress through the fundamental simple grammar of mathematics, trigonometry, vectors, forces, and basic mechanics. I need to keep my head down, lest I be too enthralled by the shining stars to do the hard groundwork.

Posted at 1:56 am | link

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