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 It is no longer being updated.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.

Thu, 07 Apr, 2005

A very narrow focus

Lately, physics has been making me dizzy. I think it's the effect of that Taubes book that I'm reading (NOBEL DREAMS) which describes the world of high-energy physics at CERN, Fermilab, and other laboratories in the mid-'80s. He describes the frenetic pace of work there, using what would now be considered "antique" computers. Then he describes the mental and mathematical gyrations that the physicists, all in frantic competition with each other and working 20 hours a day, do to either prove or disprove particle events happening in their enormous machines. It makes me tired just reading about it.

Whenever I look too much at physics sites, or physics blogs, I get that dizzy feeling again. Like, will I ever understand a text such as this one, which I have lifted off a physics blog (which will remain unnamed):

"…. He managed to extend Cartan's classification of simple Lie algebras to superalgebras some years ago. Here instead of 4 (parametrized) series of algebras one gets 10 series, plus only 5 exceptional ones. You can understand these exceptional ones in terms of their maximal subgroups. Two of them have SU(3)xSU(2)xU(1) and one has SU(5). And if you believe in SU(5) unification you are left with a unique choice since only one of the preceding ones can be embedded in the latter. We can name them now: E(3|6) and E(5|10).…"

I think this is mathematical physics. I hope to live long enough to understand what this, and other impenetrable passages, are all about.

As for the wild pace of physics, the notable thing about it, at least for me, is that all that fervor and intensity and mad toil, then and now, has not yet yielded any unmistakable proof for either "supersymmetry" or string theory. Well, there's always the next, bigger accelerator, and there are always more physicists willing to work 20 hours a day for the next few years of their lives trying to find the proof, or the disproof. Even now, they are still at it.

I admire fervor and intensity and mad toil. I am constantly aware that I could do more, work harder, get more done. I don't have the energy of those young graduate students, but I do have the focus. Unfortunately for me, it's a very narrow focus when it comes to physics. I can only do one chapter at a time, one page at a time, in fact, one problem at a time. The dizziness takes over when I look too far ahead in the book, or read too many accounts of professional physicists at work. My mental bandwidth is just too limited.

This Electron will be on a short hiatus while I go to a small classical studies conference, really just a yearly meeting of a few like-minded friends who like to learn and talk about Hellenistic and imperial Roman religions. I'll be back, Deo volente, next week.

Posted at 3:02 am | link

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