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Uplifting Thoughts for the Isolated and Depressed in Times of Plague

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Frank Petrexa

Governor
Thanks, a good explanation ... I do remember learning about the 'ultraviolet catastrophe' but long since it dropped from active memory.

For me, explanations that approach things by way of going through the history of ideas and scientific challenges tend to be the easiest to follow.

In comparison for instance the wikipedia page on the fine structure constant isn't massively helpful for a person like me who doesn't have any physics background.
Every time I think about this I get tangled up. That may be because I'm not competent to grasp it (a possibility I definitely do not dismiss). But it could also be that a lot of this comes out of the math (it does) and NOBODY can really see it outside of the equations--we can't just "intuit" it and say "of course". After all, even the religious folk get screwed up. As genesis says, "...the earth was waste and void, and the spirit of God was stirring above the waters." OK, so there was already water before there was anything? What was the waste? Mining slag? Rubble? Is a void solid--you can't see it but can bump into it? Is it just "empty space"--you can run right through it? Both of those things have properties--so they are not "nothing" (which should have no properties).
Maxwell's equations (deduced from real experiments by Faraday and others) describe light as a "force field" traveling in waves through space. Herz in some clever experiments with radio waves--a form of light--actually figured a way to detect them and measure the wavelength (distance between peak and trough, twice the distance from peak to 0). But people wondered how you could have a wave when there was nothing to carry it--certainly space is practically a vacuum, but starlight sails right through. So they invented the idea of "ether" to carry the waves. People tried to find it, figuring the earth was moving through it--both orbiting the sun and rotating on its axis--so sometimes there should be an "ether head wind" and sometimes and "ether tail wind". Nothing (sic) was detected. So it could be that the ether is carried along with the earth. Then what does the sun say (sunlight has to come through the ether too). "Hey, bro, I'm bigger than you--stop messing with my ether!"? (This idea that there are "special places" where physics is different is what Einstein countered in relativity.)
Oxford publishes some cheap paperback books written for "laymen" by "experts"--the "Very Short Introduction" series. There are more than a hundred now I think: Consciousness, Viruses, the Trojan War, Biblical Archeology, The New Testament, The New Testament as Literature, etc. But there is one called "Nothing--A Very Short Introduction". It is fun to read about all the trouble people had accepting that there could be a vacuum where God had not deigned to create, and the chain of experiment leading to theory leading to experiment that lead to the "quantum vacuum"--even if in the end you can't "see why it must be so", but can accept that the evidence for it is pretty strong.
 

malins

Stumbling Seeker
But people wondered how you could have a wave when there was nothing to carry it--certainly space is practically a vacuum, but starlight sails right through. So they invented the idea of "ether" to carry the waves. People tried to find it, figuring the earth was moving through it--both orbiting the sun and rotating on its axis--so sometimes there should be an "ether head wind" and sometimes and "ether tail wind". Nothing (sic) was detected.
Hmmm aether-wind ... that was the Michelson-Morley experiment wasn't it?
 

malins

Stumbling Seeker
That's sort of how I work my way through the subject ... I can get the key experiments which tell us "this previously apparently self-evident assumption isn't actually true" or "this completely crazy prediction of a new theory actually verifies in real life" (such as the early verifications of the effects of relativity) . But the theories themselves are just way out of my league.
 
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Frank Petrexa

Governor
That's sort of how I work my way through the subject ... I can get the key experiments which tell us "this previously apparently self-evident assumption isn't actually true" or "this completely crazy prediction of a new theory actually verifies in real life" (such as the early verifications of the effects of relativity) . But the theories themselves are just way out of my league.
One of the reasons I never got a PhD was because I didn't believe the math. I have this problem that I have to understand ALL the details before I can proceed. It hinders my reading in physics a great deal, although for some reason not so much in biochemistry. Reading something technical and long wears me out--I have to stop because my mind is buzzing so much trying to follow everything, and I can't just focus on the salient points. I don't have that problem so much in history.
I've actually tried reading some of Feynman's stuff--he is very intuitive. (He also hated to write--most of his books are lecture notes that somebody else transcribed from his talks and he edited.) But his philosophy is that he doesn't do a lot of mathematical detail--"you should work through it yourself to see how they thought about it, and maybe doing that you will come across something they didn't think of". He isn't like that with undergraduates, though. There is a several volume work written by "Feynman, Leighton, and Sands"--the latter two being the people who sat in and took notes in his undergraduate lectures--called "The Feynman Lectures on Physics". It's very good for following the physical reasoning--it doesn't emphasize the math. The physics department at my school kept it on reserve in the library so no one could check it out and keep it out of circulation. Leighton's son, Ralph, a high school math teacher in Pasadena, California, hung around with Feynman and collected a lot of autobiographical stories (Feynman liked being the center of attention) which are very honest in the way a child is honest--"why do we do that, it seems dumb"--even when it makes Feynman look bad. "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman" at least is still in print. Most are hilarious. They were wildly popular. Someone (probably his widow Gweneth and Leighton) made a lot of money. Feynman's thesis advisor, John Wheeler, apparently wasn't so happy with Feynman's attitude. Feynman once (affectionately) said, "People think John Wheeler only went crazy in his later years, but in fact he was always crazy." So sometimes he could be hard to take.
 

Gibbs505

SERVORUM DOMITOR
A little more should be said. The fine structure constant isn't just a figment of someone's imagination.
But first, listen to Feynman. "You can understand relativity, see after a guy proposed it why it must be so. But, nobody understands quantum mechanics."
Second, there is something called a "black body"--a perfect absorber and perfect emitter of radiation (the sun comes close). So, people worked up a theory that would calculate the energy in a black body using what are called "harmonic oscillators"--basically little springs with small masses attached--int the walls. When they did the calculation, the energy went to infinity. This was called the "ultraviolet catastrophe" (physics is dramatic). Max Planck (you certainly know of him in Deutschland) solved the problem. Instead of using an integral (a calculus concept) which allowed each oscillator to have any energy, he assumed that only certain energies were allowed for each "frequency" v (v, 2v, 3v, etc.) and did an infinite sum. That solved the problem. No one understood why it should be so, but the little packets of energy corresponding to integers were called "quanta". This was in 1905 or so.
Meanwhile, people had been shining light on hydrogen to see what would be "absorbed" and would would come out. It turned out that only certain "wavelengths" (colors) were absorbed or emitted--the energy was also "quantized".
Why? A long process followed, spearheaded by Heisenberg and Schoerdinger and an equation was developed (for a single H atom it can be solved, but to this day the meaning of the solution is disputed--the absolute square of the solution at each point in space around the proton is said to be the probability of finding the electron in that place (and it can be 0--no chance at all). This was around 1926. The solutions could also lead to the energy of the electron, and it was found that electrons around the hydrogen's proton (in "orbits") could only have certain energies. Again, they were "quantized". This explained the light spectra--an electron, depending on which orbit it was in, could only absorb a single color of light to move to a higher orbit, and when "tickled" to move to a lower energy orbit could only emit a specific color. (These spectra--the colors a given atom can emit--are so characteristic of the element that they can be used to determine the composition of stars based on the starlight, and were used to identify new elements before the Periodic Table was filled in. There are lots of complications because atoms and stars move and there are so many of them, but nonetheless it all works.)
So, where does the constant come in? Schroedinger's equation wasn't perfect. There were some faint lines close to the bright ones that weren't accounted for, the "fine structure". Your man Pauli proposed that electrons had "spin" (like a little round top). This helped, but it took an equation that was consistent with relativity (Schroedinger's is not--Dirac finally came up with one after others had failed) to explain them. Finally, the "fine structure" was explained, and the constant appeared in the results.
The math for all this is complicated (but there is math that is far more complicated) but the real problem is that one can't really see where the equations come from ("see why it must be so"). People just bumbled into them--it is not clear, at least to me, how they thought them up.
You recall the "Higgs boson"? ("Bosons" and Fermions" come from Pauli's spin--fermions like electrons in the same "state" cannot occupy exactly the same space at the same time because they have "spin"--the spins at least must be different, but "bosons" without spin bunch up: this is called the "Pauli exclusion principle".) The math is getting bad, and Higgs himself was asked about his discovery and the modern explanation of it. "I should have taken more maths in school--I can't really follow what they are doing anymore."
Oh, and there are other things nobody really understands (even though they can be calculated to a good approximation). For instance, Dirac's solution calls for a "quantum vacuum"--particle pairs periodically just pop out from nowhere in empty space and then "annihilate" each other. (This is the basis also of the postulated "Hawking radition" that Hawking proposed is emitted from black holes--which aren't supposed to let anything out. The idea is that if a particle pair "pop out" around a black hole, and the hole eats one of the pair, then it has to emit some energy to compensate so the energy of the universe doesn't change. There is something called the Casimir force based on these phantom pairs which has experimental support, so it's not just a fantastical theory.)
Also there is also what Einstein called "spooky action at a distance" which is analogous to two twins on opposite sides of the world. If one drops dead, then the other must also at the same instant. This was shown by the late John Bell (who like Hawking died before he could get a Nobel Prize because the experiments hadn't been done to confirm it yet).
"Nobody understands quantum mechanics". Feynman also asked whether the universe was like an onion. You peel off one mystery by explaining it, and a new mystery layer is exposed. Well, it gives people something to do.
Not sure I understood it but it sounds good!!
 

fallenmystic

Governor
Getting back to uplifting entertainment. Something totally silly, totally amazing, and totally entertaining"...
Sorry PR... I hated that video but also I liked it! I know I'm not making sense but it's because I had to watch it from the beginning to the end because it reminded me of so many good memories, but I couldn't like how the author decided to replace the original songs to turn them into something totally different.

I'm a casual fan of the classic film musicals, so I could recognize quite a few numbers from the video. And I'm glad that the creator chose not to make it all about Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, as many such videos do when it comes to tap dancing. It's great to see such faces like Eleanor Powell, Donald O'Connor, Bill Robinson, and so on.

(And of course, Judy Garland, who's my absolute favourite among them, although she can't really dance as well as she can sing.)

Here's a few of the sequences I like that weren't featured in the video:

Bill Robinson and Shirley Temple's famous stair dance scene:


Maybe I've missed it but I don't remember seeing Ginger Rogers in that video which I feel a bit unfair to her, considering how many times Fred Astaire appeared there. So here's my favourite scene from the couple:


I'm not sure if I posted it here before, but I've never seen this colourised version before. I really love how graceful she looks here and it's amazing how she can match Fred Astaire's moves in high heels.

Even though Cyd Charisse appeared a few times in the above video, I'd like to post yet another video of her. She was a dance specialist among the MGM crew, so this was one of the few films in which she talked more than danced. By the way, she had insured her legs and I suppose you'll understand why, if you watch this one:

 
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Yupar

Regina Iudaeorum

I would like to share this back as this song is very related with my earlier crux fantasy. I didnt know why, i felt like i was on the cross when I was listening at my university's life. I felt like I became a mother. My strange teenage feelings more than a decade ago. :D
This song still make me feel I'm a dying mother on the cross when I listen again. Naked in shame and pain but still full of loves :)
 

Praefectus Praetorio

Brother of the Quill
Fairport Convention's interesting take on one of Leonard Cohen's best songs. While it seems to be discussing problems and worries, the message is ultimately very uplifting as expressed in the opening lines:
Like a bird on the wire
Like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free
Full Lyrics
Like a bird on the wire
Like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free
Like a worm on a hook
Like a knight from some old-fashioned book
I have saved all my ribbons for thee
If I, if I have been unkind
I hope that you can just let it go by
If I, if I have been untrue
I hope you know it was never to you
For like a baby, stillborn
Like a beast with his horn
I have torn everyone who reached out to me
But I swear by this song
And by all that I have done wrong
I will make it all up to thee
I saw a beggar leaning on his wooden crutch
He said to me, "you must not ask for so much"
And a pretty woman leaning in her darkened door
She cried to me, "hey, why not ask for more?"
Oh, like a bird on the wire
Like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free


We should all try, in our way, to be free!
 
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poem21045

Tribune
Fairport Convention's interesting take on one of Leonard Cohen's best songs. While it seems to be discussing problems and worries, the message is ultimately very uplifting as expressed in the opening lines:
Like a bird on the wire
Like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free
Full Lyrics
Like a bird on the wire
Like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free
Like a worm on a hook
Like a knight from some old-fashioned book
I have saved all my ribbons for thee
If I, if I have been unkind
I hope that you can just let it go by
If I, if I have been untrue
I hope you know it was never to you
For like a baby, stillborn
Like a beast with his horn
I have torn everyone who reached out to me
But I swear by this song
And by all that I have done wrong
I will make it all up to thee
I saw a beggar leaning on his wooden crutch
He said to me, "you must not ask for so much"
And a pretty woman leaning in her darkened door
She cried to me, "hey, why not ask for more?"
Oh, like a bird on the wire
Like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free


We should all try, in our way, to be free!
One of my favorite songs to play!

Cohen once said that Bird was to him what My Way was to Sinatra, kind of a life statement.

He liked to open or close concerts with it.

:guitar:
 

Silent_Water

Governor
This is the most modern German version of "Die Gedanken sind frei":

This song is "Alles nur in meinem Kopf" by Andreas Bourani, one of the most talented German pop music makers, who does not know anything about his probably North-African-Arabian family or parents who left him for adoption in Germany.
This song was an instant commercial success which made him famous in Germany, Austria and Switzerland at once and it is really beautiful in its tune and its text, which you can find under the video and translate into English via Google:


 
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