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 It is no longer being updated.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.

Fri, 03 Jun, 2005


Enough whining, back to physics.
I am introducing myself, for the second or third time, to Newton's law of universal gravitation. It took me many tries, with many books, before I realized that the "G" constant of universal gravitation is not the "g" quantity of the acceleration of gravity on Earth. Things don't always fall at 9.8 meters per second2. They only fall that fast near the surface of the Earth. Other places have other strengths of gravity, depending on their mass. I just read in my Barron's book about the experiment, in the nineteenth century, that determined the exact quantity of the constant of universal gravitation. I don't know whether Newton knew how much the constant was. But he knew it was there.

If this were another universe and I were someone embarking on a career in physics, I would almost certainly pick the theorist's path and not the experimentalist's. This is not just because I have not tinkered with enough electronics. I enjoy figuring things out and live to solve problems. I like to work through possibilities in the abstract, whether I set them down on paper or not. I am creative enough to think of things in new and original ways, if I have enough background to make sense of a subject. I suspect that theoretical physicists are a lot like artists; mathematicians even more so. When I read stuff about dark energy and string theory and other theoretical explorations, I sometimes have to laugh, and then I say, "And you scientists think that we artists make things up!"

I make up a picture in my head long before I ever touch a colored pencil or sketch marker. I can even make something up without turning on the computer! I have art ideas in my mind, that I have never put down on paper, and some of them are more than ten years old, maybe even twenty. (When was 1981? A century ago?) Now that I have new resources such as computer graphics programs, I am retrieving those old ideas and putting them into image files, which can be modified without wasting paint or paper. You don't have to clean messy pixels off your palette in the sink.

I have only met one or two theoretical physicists in my journey so far. They are shy, wary, ill-tempered, and hard to contact. The one I remember most was a strange and driven man who worked for private industry, and who seemed overwhelmed by the force and proliferation of his own ideas. After listening to him for an evening, I got the impression that it is possible for a person to be too intelligent, oppressed by the activity of his own fevered, hyper brain.

But theory has a power that fascinates me. For instance, according to the book, once the gravitational constant and one mass under Earth's gravity is known, as well as the radius of the Earth sphere, you can find the quantity of Earth's mass. I had wondered how they knew this quantity; how can you weigh something as big as the Earth? And how can you figure its weight if it's sitting in the center of its own gravity? This is only one example of how even in my simple high-school physics study, I've encountered theory which leads people to real facts. I am amazed that an abstract formula, when manipulated, can point to real data that experiments then go on to confirm. Why should the world be so easily turned by mathematical torque? That's quite an Archimedean lever, that can move the Earth, and perhaps it's no wonder that theoretical physicists sometimes are arrogant. They perceive the power of their equations to crank the mechanism of the universe. This makes some of them cranky, and others, well, just cranks.

Posted at 2:57 am | link

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