In hindsight

•September 5, 2007 • Leave a Comment

Hindsight is positively the greatest perspective one could ever have of the events in one’s life and even, that of collective history – a pinstruck of realization recently, which retrieved a piece of text from my memory bank – that of Tehillim 139. One may think that such verses are like the opiate of the mind and soul, a kind of prop to assuage pain induced by unbearable events. I would tend to think the contrary, for the realization that there is One who knows all, and that all His Ways are goodly, pure, perfect, and that there is only One who is in control, who runs the universe according to perfect rules, perfectly just and infinitely merciful, where one’s actions, each and everyone of them, are weighed with such infinite precision, one that blows away even the most precise atomic measurements achieved by man – midah k’neged midah, is one that forces us to surrender control that we so desperately try to hold on to – to maintain a sense of security in familiar territory.

Hindsight – indeed like a polarizer that aligns our view along that which is essential, blotting out all kinds of aberrations, that which have kept us in stupefied bewilderment, as we were travelling along that dark tunnel, groping about in helplessness, in numbing pain. Yes, in hindsight,

…how glorious are Your thoughts, O God! How very great are their headings!

Tehillim 139:17

S(cienti-tecture)-Files: The appreciation of essence

•August 28, 2007 • Leave a Comment

Hearing an echo of the voice from Minimalist Architecture:

The dissatisfaction and unease generated in all social groups by contemporary consumer society, which sees the possession of material goods and their exaltation, totally unrelated to their necessity or usefulness, as the only support for a perverse logic of self-maintenance and inward growth, can be taken as the social and historical basis for the claims made by minimalist art and, in particular, for those architectural experiences that based the purpose of their existence on reduction, simplicity and a search for the essence.

Mies van der Rohe’s attempt to give an answer to the concerns of the world weighed down with pointless materialistic burdens, with loss of meaning and a consequent loss signalled by the most significant artistic events of the twentieth century is founded on a search for the essence: the essence of the human condition, the essence of place, the essence of materials, the essence of space, the essence of light.

Beauty as a criterion for good physics?

•August 26, 2007 • 1 Comment

Reading Arthur Miller’s article entitled “A Thing of Beauty” posted at Non-Commutative Geometry had me wondering again whether beauty is a justifiable criterion for good physics. Can the case of Feynman and Gell-Mann clinging to the law of conservation of parity in the theory of weak interactions in spite of experimental evidence that it is violated, be reason enough to promote beauty as a criterion to evaluate the quality of a physical theory? Perhaps nature is indeed inherently beautiful, but is  it not true that whether nature is beautiful can only be deduced by experiment, and only from there can beauty be given authority as a criterion for a physical theory that best describes nature? Throughout the development of fundamental physics, the quality of symmetry seems to be the characterizing beauty of nature, but as discussed at Non-Commutative Geometry – we would have to follow through the process of defining that characterizing beauty in the first place. On the other hand, there seems to be an inherent tendency within humans to pursue the sanctuary of order and pattern in his universe. The question then remains as to how far an extent we should go in indulging in this tendency and depending on its efficacy.

“No-way”

•August 25, 2007 • Leave a Comment

An article in the recent July 2007 issue of Physics World by Robert P Crease invokes some nostalgia of the recent work I was involved in the past 2 months – “no-way” physics as embodied by such famous laws as the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, the principles of causality and relativity, the uncertainty principle and the principle of least action, and of course such famous hypotheses as the cosmic censorship hypothesis. Quoting from Sir Edmund Whittaker, Crease writes:

A postulate of impotence (the impossibility of achieving something, even though there may be an infinite number of ways of trying to achieve it) is not the direct result of an experiment, or of any finite number of experiments; it does not mention any measurement, or any numerical relation or analytical equation; it is the assertion of conviction, that all attempts to do a certain thing, however made, are bound to fail.

It’s amazing that some deep fundamentals in physics find their characterization in such postulates of impotence, but it does boggle my mind to be faced with the fact that such postulates are not formulated from measurements and mathematical analysis. It is as if things just are, and the more physicists try to find loopholes in such “no-way” physics, the more we come smack on our faces against the “no-way” sign. The history of physics present many such instances – Pascual Jordan, James Maxwell among them who try to challenge “no-way” physics. However, we have yet to know whether present-day contrarian physicists such as Joao Maguiejo, with his varying-speed-of-light theory, for example, would win over their own science to assert the necessity of giving up dearly held conceptions to move forward in the quest of understanding nature.

Unix, my long-unappreciated partner

•July 31, 2007 • Leave a Comment

Unix…I was introduced to it about 2 or more years ago when I joined my current research group and only now do I realize how amazingly kaleidoscopic it is in its versatility together with its various companions – perl, awk, shell, sed and X11. Since I do a lot of numerical analysis, Unix has indeed been my greatest long-unappreciated partner in research. It’s pathetic of me that I’m only just beginning to fall for it.

Yangtze mementoes: Part 7

•July 27, 2007 • Leave a Comment

Chongqing. June 2nd.

Milling onto the network of wooden planks and metal platforms joining our cruiser and the riverbank, we are greeted by a lion dance. A welcoming back to the town we left almost a week ago, almost too pompous. A tour bus awaits us, together with a scattered group of street vendors selling local arts and crafts – aggressive women in gawdy blouses selling painted fans, a shifty-eyed old man with a pad of Chinese ink horse paintings – parading their goods in our face through the bus windows, and even aboard the bus. Their persistence lasted the entire length of the equally earnest, huffing and puffing yet strong local weight-carriers transporting our weighty luggage with wooden sticks and strands of rope on their shoulders from the cruiser all the way up to the riverbank to our bus.

Our next stop is the former private residence of Song Meiling (the youngest of the illustrious Song sisters, wife of Chiang Kai-shek, who maintained the Chinese capital at Chongqing in the early years of the Republic), now serving as a public park. Thus, we have the uncanny privilege to stand on the footprints of Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong, two sworn enemies one of whose rare meetings took place at the entrance to the pavillion now made into an art gallery and history museum. A commercialized art gallery no less, with price-haggling over dubious historical art exhibits and works by renowned Chinese artists.

Lunch was finally partaken over the sumptuous 火锅 (hot pot) with 2 soup sections – one with the 麻辣 (numbing hot) flavor, and the other plain, after which we were shepherded to yet another tourist-shopping spree – an arts and crafts shop selling local specialties and a shopping mall district. The clothing in the shopping malls are not much cheaper than in my home country, attesting to the rising standard of living among the locals. Dinner was unforgettable, but in a sort of bitter after-taste. We were given the impression by the local chef of a special treat to a storied boat-restaurant by the Jia Ling River (smaller cousin to the Yangtze). It turned out to be on the tour group. Nonetheless, the biggest fish feast I have ever had in my life – I lost count of the number of Yangtze fish dishes cooked in the rich myriad ways of Chinese cuisine.

By the Jia Ling River

The poignancy of momentum

•July 25, 2007 • Leave a Comment

This is by far the best summer I’ve had throughout the past 3 years of graduate school. It has been a whole whirlwind of learning and productivity – close and continuous guidance by my mentors, not the spoon-feeding type, but the stimulating Socratic type, enriching discussions, efficient trouble-shooting and having the poignancy of momentum in problem-solving. Best of all, to know finally that one’s work will be a contribution to the community of knowledge that one is a part of. I definitely do not regret the decision to take up this summer internship. The experience will hopefully be a boost to my own thesis research work when I return to my home institution!