Cy-eye the Hawk-clone

Let’s hear it for the Iowa State Hawkeyes! Or is it the Iowa Cyclones?

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While the nicknames, Hawkeyes and Cyclones, should be easily distinguished, Iowa State University and the University of Iowa’s mascots are justifiably confused by outsiders: one of them is a bird, and the other… is a bird, too. Here’s Herky, Iowa’s mascot, in stocky, glowering, uppercut form.

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The first image of this post is of Cy the Cardinal. It’s one of the more amiable depictions of Iowa State’s mascot. This was Iowa State’s logo during the Criner-Walden era (1983-1994). Although it may not be apparent to non-Iowans, the “I” towering above Cy looks suspiciously like the “I” on Herky’s jersey. Outlining Cy’s “I” with black was a curious choice considering the primary intrastate rival’s colors are gold and black.

Whether or not Criner picked or even designed this logo is difficult to know. He wasn’t in Ames for long: Iowa State fired Criner at the conclusion of his fourth and only winning season at 6-5. Actually, he was 5-4 because he got fired with two games to go. Chuck Banker took over and split the last two games. Banker is the only Iowa State football head coach to go 0.500 since Earl Bruce.

(Bruce left Iowa State after six seasons for Ohio State in 1978. In Bruce’s first year as a Buckeye, his team was undefeated in the regular season and lost the national championship by a point in the 1980 Rose Bowl. Bruce is the only Iowa State football head coach elected to the College Football Hall of Fame.)

I remember Criner as funny lookin’. 

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Although an unremarkable coach succeeded Criner, his legacy seems largely lost. His tenure ended well before the internet age. The most interesting thing about Criner is the dearth of Iowa State vintage photos on the web; the only one I found is posted above. Wikipedia has more information about his time at Boise State than Iowa State. This article in the LA Times indicates his program might have been on the unethical side.

Iowa State fans endured eight mostly mediocre seasons under Jim Walden; his team failed to win a game in his eighth and final year. Walden resigned before the season’s end and offered the following advice to future Cyclone head coaches: “If you stay, you’re going to lose and you’re going to get fired.”

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High-domed baseball caps and aviators with dainty straps while chewing a hunk of tobacco might have been macho in the wake of Ronald Reagan’s Presidency, but looking back from 2016, it seems pretty dorky.

As the above photo shows, Walden served as head coach when Iowa State paraphernalia entered a fashion crisis. Cardinal, Iowa State’s primary color, temporarily veered toward something bordering on fluorescence; gold, the secondary color, became bright yellow to match the obnoxious red. Cursive must have been en vogue: Not only did the Walden’s hat have a scripted “Iowa State” but a cursive “Cyclones” was embossed via a cheap looking sticker onto yellow–er, I mean gold–helmets.

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Does that say “Jimi Wacker” written with a black Sharpie? Probably not. I’ve never signed a helmet before and I doubt it’s easy. I’m assuming that’s Jim Walden’s signature. I bet that helmet sells for a fortune on eBay.

Although Cy is a cardinal, Iowa State’s nickname is not the Cardinals–sensible as this may seem– it’s the Cyclones. A fierce moniker, for sure, with a history so old it originated when North Americans called tornados, cyclones. (Just as a point of reference, tornados were still called cyclones when The Wizard of Oz hit cinemas in 1939. Are they still called cinemas?)

Evidently, Northwestern’s football team visited Ames–Iowa State’s base–120 years ago and was drubbed by the… Wait for it… CARDINALS! Yup, back in late days of 1895, The Iowa State Cardinals roosted in Ames. The Cardinals beat Northwestern badly (36-0) and the Chicago Tribune reported that the Wildcats had been  “struck by a cyclone”. The nickname stuck. It seems tornados (aka cyclones) ravaged the upper midwest more than usual during that year and this was probably a contributing factor in the adoption of a weather phenomenon as a nickname.

(Glenn “Pop” Warner was Iowa State’s coach when the university dumped a delicate, pretty bird in favor of a more violent nickname. Yes, thee Pop Warner.)

Astute readers should have recognized by now that there’s a difference between a nickname and a mascot. Here’s a contrasting example that will help you see the difference, or similarity in most cases: Iowa’s mascot, Herky, is a Hawk. Iowa sports teams aren’t called the Herkies: Iowa’s nickname is the Hawkeyes. Herky, actually being a Hawk, makes the conceptual framework easier to manage. Cy, on the other hand, is not a cyclone. Wait a minute…

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Above is one of Iowa State’s more aggressive logos (notice the uppercut pose and compare to Herky above). Cy became a muscular, meteorlogical abstraction from 1995 until 2006. I would stop short of calling Cy a cyclone, but this image seems to indicate a rather ambitious conceptual leap in reconciling the disconnect between Iowa State’s mascot and nickname.

By the way, 1995-2006 was the McCarney era at Iowa State. It was somewhat of a golden age for collegiate football in Ames. During his tenure, Dan McCarney, Iowa State’s longest serving coach, led the Cyclones to five mediocre bowl berths–he won two. In those five years, blessed with postseason play, Iowa State managed to tie for first, tie for second, and tie for third three times in the Big 12-North. (What are the odds anyone could tie for anything in five out of 12 years?)

The Cy the Cyclone logo will forever remind me of McCarney:

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Not only did McCarney bring winning records to Iowa State, he took Iowa State “cardinal” away from Walden red and into a deeper hue. Note in the photo above the darkened jerseys–compared to Walden’s pimpin’ hat–and the abandonment of yellow helmets.

McCarney was a burly, intimidating man. He chewed gum with peculiar aggression while frequently losing to conference powerhouses like Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas. Also, his era witnessed the rise of new conference forces in Oklahoma State and, gulp, Kansas State. McCarney wore a perpetual scowl while using his headset with photogenic distinction:

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McCarney had the advantage of being an Iowa alumni–he was a Hawkeye team captain in the early 70’s–and assistant of legendary former Iowa head coach, Hayden Fry.

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For some reason, as best I can remember, Fry didn’t wear headsets. He didn’t scowl either. Perhaps he delegated to underlings the nuisance of press box communications and self-defeating emotions like anger.

Although it was never overtly discussed, that I know of, there must have been some hope McCarney would bring to Iowa State, the victories Fry brought to Iowa.

McCarney’s winning rate over 12 seasons was just shy of 40% (0.397). After winning Big 12 coach of the year in 2004, McCarney resigned (wink, wink) two years later and took a job at South Florida coaching the defensive line. He then moved to Florida to serve the same function for a far better program. Eventually, McCarney earned another head coaching position at the University of North Texas. He was fired at the end of 2015 after losing 66-7 to Portland State. McCarney’s winning fraction as head coach of North Texas was 0.407, slightly better than his record at Iowa State.

Gene Chizik stormed into Ames with lofty expectations and a commensurately stratospheric salary. After two seasons, he dumped the last four years of his contract and jetted to Auburn. He won a national championship two seasons later with an undefeated team (14-0).

Apparently, Chizik heeded Walden’s parting words of wisdom. His stay in Ames was too short to accrue any meaningful statistics. BUT I will say at 0.208, Chizik is the biggest loser in Iowa State football coaching history.

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Seriously? Who wears a shirt like that?

Unfortunately, Chizik also moved the cardinal and gold back to the bright region of the spectrum. All Iowa State coaches should take a fashion lesson from Iowa’s head coach, Kirk Ferenz:

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NCAA Football: Outback Bowl-Iowa vs Louisiana State

There’s a reason Ferenz gets paid more than Iowa State football’s head coach and Iowa’s Governor combined: KISS (Keep. It. Simple… Sucka!)

Paul Rhoads, raised in central Iowa, followed Chizik and brought a sense of homegrown optimism. Rhoads put his emotions continuously on display.

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Rhoads often dressed like Ferentz and demonstrated that the right shade of “cardinal” could look better than black. Kind of.

Rhoads’ logo says it all though.

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It’s all about the place, not gimmicky nicknames, or mascots that remind us Iowa is, and always will be, the Hawkeye State.

Truly, this is my favorite Iowa State logo. The “I” is now red and outlined in gold. It’s more distinct from Iowa’s “I”. The form is the same though. What was Iowa State going to do? Use a cursive “I”? (Reread the portion of this post about Jim Walden for an answer.)

There’s no reference to Cyclones. Above all, it would be difficult to mix Iowa State and Iowa because this logo doesn’t have anything resembling Herky. The emphasis is powerfully in favor of the “STATE” portion of the school’s name.

The only major drawback to Rhoads’ Logo is that the “I” might be too cryptic for recognition outside of Iowa. The logo does dispel the possibility of non-Iowans mistaking Iowa State for Ohio State–I wish I had a dollar for every time someone asked me “How are the Buckeyes doin’ this year”–but Illinois, Indiana, and, lamentably, Idaho are real possibilities with a large but ambiguous “I”.

Iowa State fired Rhoads before the last game of 2015. The last several games of the Rhoads’ era were surreal, and depressing.

Matt Campbell is on deck for August 2016.

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Add Donnie Duncan, Earl Bruce and Johnny Majors; that makes nine Iowa State football head coaches in my life (ten including interim Coach Banker). Iowa has had five–only two since 1979, the year Bruce left Iowa State and led Ohio State to the title game.

It’s hard to say what the Campbell era will bring, but if history is any guide, I’m sure there will be a new logo to match Campbell’s personality and style. Here is a more obscure logo that’s been in use since Rhoads arrived.

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Campbell looks like Cy in this logo, so maybe he’ll opt to stand pat, or add a tweak or two. As long as he doesn’t take Iowa State back to the bright red and yellow, I’ll be fine.

An Evolving Universe III—The Insurgent

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This may seem unorthodox coming from a seasoned physics teacher with an engineering educational background: Charles Darwin is the greatest scientist!

Unfortunately, scant evidence exists for my claim and I’ve already stated and supported my position that Isaac Newton is The Greatest in the first part of this stream of posts. A link to part one is in the previous sentence and this link will take you to part two.

Before venturing further into my argument for Darwin’s scientific supremacy, let’s clarify the difference between evidence and proof; the discrepancies are subtle but distinct. Scientists never prove anything. Evidence accumulates in support of a hypothesis until it becomes a theory. A theory is as close to proven as it gets, but theories are forever under the assault of young upstarts, and old veterans. Perhaps the greatest scientific accomplishment discovers evidence overturning or compelling a theory’s modification.

To say, “Darwin is the greatest scientist” is not a theory—it’s not even a hypothesis. It’s an opinion. Perhaps we should call it a belief; there’s a rationale for the claim, but I’d fail to assemble scientific evidence to support the claim. Basically, you would have to settle for this is how I see it and so should you. I would call it a hypothesis, but there’s no apparent means of testing it; so we keep circling back to the statement, Charles Darwin is the greatest scientist, being an opinion or belief.

I should have said, “I believe Charles Darwin will one day be seen as the greatest scientist.” While this is still a long shot, it’s far from impossible.

The reach of physics is vast: energy, atomic structure, exotic particles, gravitation, and the study of the entirety of space and time. It’s no surprise that the greatest scientists are almost exclusively physicists: Newton, Bohr, Einstein, Faraday, Maxwell…

It’s rare for biologists to get on the greatest scientist list not because they lack scientific prowess; the biologist’s domain is too tiny to compete with physicists. Although we hope life exists in other parts of the universe, as of now, every biological principle we have is confined to a narrow shell of water, land and air in the crustal region of the third planet from an ordinary star in a large, but common, spiral galaxy. It’s probable that one day aspiring scientists will flock to a burgeoning field most likely to be called exobiology, but currently, all biologists must focus their studies near the surface of Earth.

Lisa Randall’s new book Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs frequently uses the words (and various derivatives) “evolution” and “universe” in the same sentence. She writes things like:

“Improved technology combined with theories rooted in general relativity and particle physics have provided a detailed picture of the Universe’s earlier stages, and of how it evolved into the Universe we currently see.”

and

“…part of the beauty of the Universe’s early evolution is that in many respects it is surprisingly simple.”

While I’m sure Darwin would be thrilled to learn 21st century particle physicists use language that evolved from his work, it’s doubtful he foresaw such an outcome. Quantum mechanics in general and particle physics in specific didn’t hit full stride until over a half century after Darwin passed away (he died in 1882).

Modern cosmology kicked in shortly after Einstein theorized general relativity in 1915. The idea that the universe could change on a macro level was offensive to Einstein: He manufactured a cosmological constant to maintain a static universe contrary to general relativity’s mathematical prediction of an expanding universe. Ironically, and a bit humorously, Einstein eventually called his cosmological constant the “biggest blunder” of his life. We now recognize the cosmological constant as the first clue that our universe is growing. Einstein was so brilliant that even his misunderstandings qualify for good science.

In 1927, catholic priest and physicist, Georges Lemaitre, hypothesized the universe arose from a primeval atom. After several decades of accumulating evidence, Lemaitre’s educated guess would eventually become the Big Bang Theory. The theory of an expanding universe appears to have cleared the way for an evolving universe. If the universe can expand, might it also go through changes that are life-like?

I do realize it’s a huge leap from The Theory of Natural Selection to an evolving universe, but it’s not impossible that Darwin stumbled onto something more universal than he thought. Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859. Perhaps a 157-year-old scientific insurgency may be about to discover a higher gear?

Go back to Part I or Part II.

If you enjoyed The Evolving Universe try these too:  An Electron StoryHunter Gatherers in the Quantum AgeDe-frag BrainBinary FraudLinear, Circular Politics.

 

 

Poles Apart

USA Politics are more polarized than usual these days. What does polarized actually mean? The pole is a fundamental concept that gives rise to a vast swath of physical science. Poles are discussed early in the study of electromagnetism—essentially the second half of classical physics.

Earth spins on an axis—an imaginary line that passes through the north and south poles.

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Actually, the axis doesn’t pass through the magnetic poles.

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Earth has a magnetic field. Magnetism arises from charges in motion. Molten iron churns in Earth’s core.

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Metals, like iron, often have an abundance of delocalized electrons. Electrons have negative charges. It’s the motion of these charges that most likely creates Earth’s magnetic field.

The north magnetic pole is a bit off from the axis.

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The same is true for the south magnetic pole.

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Here’s the confusing part: Earth’s geographic north pole is actually a magnetic south pole, and the geographic south pole is a magnetic north pole.

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Why do we call Earth’s magnetic south pole, the north pole? Because an independent magnet’s north pole, points north on Earth. (A compass is just a magnet that rotates about a central point–an axis–with minimal friction.) The north pole of a magnet is attracted to the south pole of other magnets. The arrow of a compass points at Earth’s south pole. That arrow is on the north pole of the independent magnet; hence, we call that direction north.

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I guess we could say the south pole is on the tail of the arrow, but there is a better, simpler way to describe whats happening. It doesn’t matter what point you specify on a magnet. The field passing through the magnet points in one direction.

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Notice that the arrows leave the north pole and enter the south pole. This is what’s called a convention. Conventions are arbitrary things. We could just as easily assume field lines leave south pole and enter north poles. It doesn’t matter. We do need to agree on one or the other so we can communicate about magnetic fields without needless confusion.

Magnetic fields exist inside of magnets too. Remember: magnetic fields come from charges in motion. Most magnets are made of metals. Metals have more mobile charges than other types of materials. The magnetic fields arise from small regions called domains that sometimes align. When the domains point in the same direction, the material is magnetized.

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North and south poles are a false binary reference systems to help us explain magnetic fields. The only crucial characteristic of a magnetic field is direction. (Actually, magnetic field strength is important too, but not necessary in this post.)

USA has a two-party system. Each party serves as a pole of sorts: the Republicans are at one, and the Democrats occupy the other. Partisans at each extreme believe they have philosophies that clearly distinguish themselves from the opposition. We could say the Republicans stand over the south pole while Democrats reside at the northern extreme. It could be the other way, too. Political poles suffer from some of the similar confusing conventions that we see with magnetic poles.

Political poles are similar to magnetic poles in that they don’t really exist other than a means to explain–and complicate in some ways–a more simple phenomenon. For magnetism, poles help us understand magnetic fields. Political poles help us understand historical progress in the distribution and dispensation of power–this is commonly known as governance.

Republicans are typically classified as conservative, while Democrat are pegged as liberals. Conservatives are leery of change while liberals are more eager to make progress–liberals are sometimes called progressive too. Political progress is similar to a magnetic field line in that  it points in one direction. Conservatives and liberals both advocate progress; truly, they differ only in the preferred rate of change. Conservatives like the way things have been done in the past: they know what works and they think it’s best to stick to the tried and true as we move forward in history. Liberals advocate for a quicker pace and they are keen to experiment with new ideas on how to govern.

If you liked this post, you might like A republic if you can keep it and/or Hunter Gatherers in the Quantum Age.

 

An Evolving Universe II–Energy Spreading

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This post is a continuation of An Evolving Universe I—The Greatest. Part II stands alone, but it will be difficult to appreciate and fully understand III without reading I and II first.

Entropy is a central scientific concept; it seems to have more importance in chemistry, and even more so in physics. Entropy is a measure of disorder in a closed system. Closed, in this context, means energy cannot move—maybe flow is a better word—across arbitrary barriers: the system is closed because it’s insulated, so to speak, from whatever is outside the system. The stuff and the space residing outside the barriers may as well not exist because the energy we care about can’t go there.

Energy doesn’t really move or flow. Energy exists in different arrangements; as the number of possible energy holders increases, the more complicated the system. Energy distributes itself according to strict, but simple, laws of probability. Our universe appears to contain a fixed amount of energy. That energy is allocated to a large number of particles—photons, electrons, protons, neutrons, atoms, etc. According to probability alone, energy is more likely dispersed widely across numerous particles as opposed to concentrated on a few, or just one. The level of energy concentration is the measure of order in a system; more dispersed energy makes a more disordered system.

Here’s a good example that might allow you to see the connection between order and energy distribution within a system: Imagine a series of twenty A4 papers, typed on in succession to create a short story. Stack the pages one on top of the other, chronologically. Now, take the stack of papers and throw them into the air. We know what happens: The papers fall back to the ground in a disordered way. It’s impossible to predict how or where they will fall. Reorder the papers in a stack, and then throw them into the air again. The papers fall back in a disordered, but different way than before. Each time we do this, the papers will land in a unique pattern; they will always be disordered compared to the original arrangement. There are an, essentially, infinite number of disordered arrangements of these pages and only one ordered state. Probability tells us the papers are destined to become disordered. Mathematically speaking, it’s unlikely the papers should ever be ordered in a stack that when read, top to bottom, creates a coherent story. The chronological stack is only one of a nearly infinite number of possible arrangement of the papers, and therefore, improbable.

Orderly, concentrated energy eventually becomes disordered, dispersed. Actually, the idea of energy being ordered guarantees misunderstandings. Let’s go back the stack of papers. Not only is it unlikely that the papers will ever exist in chronological order, the papers should rarely be in the same proximity. There are just too many scenarios where the papers are scattered. If the papers are concentrated initially; eventually, they spread out. Our intuition should tell us this is true but we blame it on influences like a person intentionally throwing them into the air. The stack of papers was always doomed to scatter, not because of malicious design or lack of maintenance; the papers will scatter because there’s so many more ways for the paper to scatter than to be stacked chronologically.

Energy prefers to be spread out, dispersed, in much the same way our stack of papers. It’s not that energy strives for disorder; energy tends to spread out on more particles in a system, not because it’s herded along to that end by some shepherd. There’s just so many more ways for energy to spread itself over many particles than to be concentrated on a few, or one.

When energy is concentrated, it’s more probable that it will spread out. Energy’s tendency to move from concentrated to dispersed gives rise to something we are all painfully familiar with: the one-way flow of time. We tend to see time as the master. Time makes our stack of papers scatter. Time disperses energy concentrations. It might be more correct to say the perception of time is created by the overwhelming probability that energy should be spread out, as opposed to concentrated. Time might be the way a conscious being processes the myriad of possibilities present continuously in the now—whatever “now” means. In other words, time is simply a vessel to explore an infinite universe.

Click here to go back to Part I. Here’s Part III.

An Evolving Universe I—The Greatest

Isaac Newton was the greatest, most influential scientist.

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This is a fact but not a really scientific fact. There aren’t really any facts—even in science—because the scientific method (question, hypothesis, experiment, analysis, conclusion, evaluation) dictates all ideas must carry some degree of uncertainty. The scientific method never rests. It does get tired after many iterations. If exhaustive repetitions fail to uncover evidence against—scientists attempt to falsify, not support their predictions—a hypothesis becomes a theory: a scientific fact is born. Keep in mind all facts—theory is probably a better moniker; a fact and a theory are essentially the same—are subject to ongoing review.

Any evidence against a theory compels at least a modification, or even abandonment of that theory. The idea that facts don’t exist confuses the general public; it often confounds people with advanced degrees. Most realize the universe is continuously changing, evolving. Facts are part of the universe. Assuming ideas are manifestations of the physical universe, facts should be subject to evolution too.

Why was Newton the greatest scientist? His influential accomplishments were many. In order of estimated decreasing importance, here is what Newton revealed: the nature of light (he even hypothesized light came in particles called corpuscles, a precursor of photons, but he conducted no experiments regarding this belief), the universal nature of gravitation and the laws of motion. He invented (should we say discovered?) calculus too.

Calculus would be a more significant achievment but another bright chap, Gottfried Leibniz, created the same branch of mathematics about the same time as Newton. Had Newton died in the plague—he fled London when the pandemic ravaged the British Isles—calculus would have been Leibniz’s baby, so to speak.

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It’s unlikely another scientist would have discovered (should we say invented?) the other three ideas within a few decades. Newton’s color theory of light might have taken a century or more before another scientist discovered it.

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If Newton were alive today, he wouldn’t claim to be history’s first scientist; Newton would most likely defer to Galileo. Galileo seems to be the first person we know of to test his ideas. Newton didn’t really do anything distinctly different from Galileo. Newton just took Galileo’s practices to another level.

I’ve never heard an argument that any scientist surpasses Newton’s greatness. Albert Einstein is often considered as Newton’s competition. Einstein was the first scientist to compel a modification to Newton’s gravitation law; it was a cosmetic adjustment really, and it only modified it in extreme conditions. But Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity did do something Newton couldn’t do: Einstein explained the true nature of gravity—a distortion of space-time caused by the presence of matter.

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It’s appropriate that we distinguish between laws and theories. It’s likely most people believe laws are superior to theories. Unfortunately, the word theory is often mistakenly applied when the word hypothesis should be employed. A hypothesis is an educated guess; a theory is system of ideas backed up by a vast and complicated reservoir of experiments. In short, and once again, a theory is what we commonly call a scientific fact.

A law is a mathematical system which allows us to make predictions. Laws are powerful scientific tools. Laws have a profound weakness: they don’t explain what’s actually happening, physically. We just know that, as long as we realize the necessary constraints, laws yield reliable predictions.

Niels Bohr is a dark horse candidate to compete with Newton for greatest scientist. What did he do? Bohr was a father of quantum theory. Why not the father of quantum theory? There are many fathers of quantum theory: Max Planck and Einstein to name two more—there are others we should consider too—but neither really accepted the fundamental weirdness that goes with quantum theory.

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Bohr was the first scientist to embrace the weirdness, the probabilistic nature of the universe, at the root of quantum theory. Once Bohr convinced the scientific community—not all scientists we on board with Bohr, Einstein was stubborn and never accepted the dicey nature of quantum theory—a vast array of successive quantum theorists continued to build the most explicative theoretical system in the history of science: quantum mechanics.

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Bohr is not the father of quantum theory, but he’s the first on the list of potential fathers. Since quantum theory is the most successful scientific system of ideas, it makes sense that the first on the list of fathers is one of the greatest scientists.

It will be nearly impossible to knock Newton of his lofty perch. He had the advantage of getting in at the start of the game. Science didn’t really exist in an organized way when he was born.

The whole discipline rests on a foundation he constructed. Thanks to Newton, the base of science is strong. The only way to supersede Newton may be to discover a new characteristic of the foundation, or something we had not thought about how the foundation rests on whatever is supporting it. In my opinion, there is one possibility for another scientist to take the title of greatest scientist from Isaac Newton.

Click here to go to Part II. Here’s Part III.

An Electron Story

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We humans are victims of common sense. If something is common to me then it must be common to all of us. Unfortunately, vast–and also tiny–sectors of the universe are uncommon to our senses.

The first step to develop a working knowledge of quantum physics is to abandon your belief that anything valuble should fall within the bounds of common sense. Do not worry that I will burden you with an explanation of Schrodinger’s Cat. You probably would not understand me. Honestly, I do not think I understand it. No one really understands Schrodinger’s Cat.

Quantum means small, subatomic small. The word subatomic is a self contradiction. Atom means smallest. According to its most basic definition an atom cannot be broken into smaller parts. Essentially, subatomic means smaller than the smallest.

The word atom represents an influential philosophical breakthrough. Atom arose from the Ancient Greek word, atomos. In the 21st century, we know atoms are not smallest. But just the idea that all matter is made of tiny, indivisible things was a tremendous realization.

Fundamental is probably the best word to represent these tiny, indivisible things.

We continue to search for fundamental entities. These fundamental entities are often called particles in modern physics. The study of particles is the essence of quantum physics. Unfortunately, when we observe the smallest things, classical physics breaks down.

(Classical physics is precisely predictable and mostly algebra-based. Isaac Newton revealed the foundations of classical physics about three centuries ago. Calculus applies marvellously to classical physics too, but algebra is enough to communicate the principal ideas of the subject. By the way, Isaac Newton invented calculus. Classical physics is pretty much all that is taught at the high school level. It is a bit boring after you learn modern physics, so let us get back to the more exciting stuff.)

The most likely candidates for particles of matter appear to be quarks and electrons. There are other particles of matter, but quarks and electrons will serve as excellent representatives for all matter particles during this post.

Our common sense often informs us that nature is fluid and infinitely divisible; continuous may be the best word for this apparent fluidity of the universe. Water running from a hose seems to be a continuous flow of stuff that we can keep dividing forever.

A water stream is effectively modeled using a basic mathematical concept: the number line. According to basic geometric definitions a line can be divided into an infinite number of segments. We could also say a line has an infinite number of points or positions.

A number line is an abstraction. The abstraction only applies under ideal conditions. Experimental evidence indicates that a water stream can be divided into a finite number of discrete particles called water molecules.

Those molecules are made of atoms. Atoms are made of protons, neutrons electrons.

Electrons are the smallest of the three. It would take nearly 2000 electrons to equal the mass as a proton or neutron. Electrons have a mass of 0.00000000000000000000000000000091 kg. Although there are about a billion billion billion electrons in a human, there is nothing common to our senses about an individual electron.

An electron is so small that looking at one would change its nature. We see objects when photons reflect off those objects: the photons deliver information to our brain via our eyes.

Photons are light-energy particles.

An electron is so small that when a photon bounces off an electron, the electron’s nature is changed: the reflected photon delivers outdated information about the electron to our eyes.

Classically speaking, an electron is not observable. But when not observing an electron it is not really there. An Electron is everywhere in space-time when not observed. It is more likely to be in some places and times compared to others but we can never know for certain. Once observed, the electron becomes what the observation compels!

If you enjoyed this post you might also like: Binary Fraud or De-frag Brain.

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Hunter Gatherers in the Quantum Age

Fifteen thousand years ago it’s probable that all humans banded together in hunter-gatherer clans of 50 to 100. That’s the way we survived for thousands of generations. Subsistence in permanent settlements is relatively novel for our species. Although we have spread world wide on the waves of an agricultural revolution, we thrive on the heart of a fundamentally nomadic species.

Most human brains can’t maintain more than 100 concurrent relationships. Apparently, this is the number when alpha male rivalry drove apart prehistoric nomadic clans. (Try a little test: write down all the people you interact with, face to face, in an average month. I bet you’ll struggle on your pass 50.)

Social media may be a development on par with the printing press because it allows us to engage in hundreds (thousands?) of concurrent relationships, and get past evolutionary cognitive barriers. Ultimately, this new connectedness could generate a hyper-level of creativity. Add this connectivity to the advent of quantum computers—they should be  available in about 30 years—and we might become a completely interconnected species.

What is a quantum computer? Ordinary computers communicate via binary mathematics: All instructions are coded as ones and zeroes, value and no value.

For an obvious reason, humans prefer to use a numerical base of ten symbols: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. We start repeating these symbols in different positions and arrangements to represent any quantity on the number line.

All the familiar mathematical operations are possible using only 0 and 1. For example, a base ten 7 is equivalent to 111 in binary. Seventeen is 10001 in base two. I won’t explain how to translate from base two to base ten or visa versa. Just take my word for it.

Computers only have two fingers or I guess you could say the computer alphabet only has two letters. Computers make up for this weakness by processing the 0’s and 1’s rapidly. For example, my computer can do 2,660,000,000 actions every second.

Each 0 or 1 represents a bit that is or is not. Quantum computers have qubits. A qubit is allowed to occupy both value and no value simultaneously. Don’t feel bad if you don’t completely understand; no one really understands quantum physics. Here’s a good example to help you understand the power of quantum computers: If you wanted to find your way out of a complicated maze and, try all options until you discover a correct path. That’s what ordinary computers do, but they do it faster than humans.

I’m sure you can imagine a maze so complicated that my 2.66 GHz processor will get bogged down and take a long time to find a solution. The perfect solution to escape the maze is to try all paths simultaneously. That’s what a quantum computer would do; I guess you could say exponential technological growth becomes essentially vertical.

exponential_growth2

If you enjoyed this post, try Binary Fraud or De-frag Brain.