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    268 | Matt Strassler on Relativity, Fields, and the Language of Reality

    enMarch 04, 2024

    Podcast Summary

    • Streamline Hiring and Personal Finance Processes with Specialized ToolsIndeed simplifies hiring with high-quality matches and efficient tools, saving employers time. Rocket Money helps manage finances by identifying and canceling subscriptions, monitoring spending, and lowering bills, saving users an average of $720 per year.

      When it comes to hiring or managing personal finances, it's not about constantly searching for the best options but rather utilizing effective tools and platforms to streamline the process. For hiring, Indeed is a valuable resource with over 350 million monthly visitors and a matching engine that helps employers find quality candidates quickly. Moreover, it offers features for scheduling, screening, and messaging to connect with candidates faster. Indeed's high-quality matches have been agreed upon by 93% of employers, making it a preferred choice over other job sites. Regarding personal finances, Rocket Money is a helpful app that identifies and cancels unwanted subscriptions, monitors spending, and assists in lowering bills. With over 5 million users and an average savings of $720 per year, Rocket Money is an essential tool for managing expenses effectively. In both cases, it's essential to recognize the value of using specialized tools and platforms to simplify complex processes and make the most of your time and resources.

    • The metaphor of the Higgs field as a substance is misleadingThe Higgs field is a fundamental aspect of the universe, not a substance that slows things down and gives them mass.

      The metaphor of the Higgs field as a substance that slows things down and gives them mass, as in the story of Margaret Thatcher at a party, is misleading and contradicts the principles of relativity. Instead, the Higgs field is a fundamental aspect of the universe that helps explain the existence of mass and the behavior of subatomic particles. The metaphor oversimplifies the concept and can lead to a misunderstanding of the relationship between mass and motion, which is a key principle in modern physics. It's important to approach these complex ideas with care and accuracy, as Matt Strassler does in his upcoming book "Waves in an Impossible Sea," to gain a deeper understanding of the underlying concepts.

    • Galileo's ship thought experiment and the concept of relative motionGalileo's ship thought experiment revealed that our perception of motion is relative, leading to the understanding that there is no absolute motion in the universe, and that we can only describe motion relative to other objects.

      Our perception of motion and its relationship to absolute space is relative, as explained by Galileo's famous thought experiment on a moving ship. This realization revolutionized our understanding of physics and led to the modern concept that there is no absolute motion in the universe. Instead, we can only describe motion relative to other objects. This idea, fundamental to Einstein's theories, challenges our intuition but is crucial for understanding the universe on a cosmic scale. Despite the Earth's actual fast motion around the sun, we don't feel it due to this relative nature of motion. This insight also applies to other phenomena, such as the orbits of planets and moons, which follow specific laws that reveal their gravitational relationships.

    • Earth orbits around the sun, not vice versaGalileo's discovery of inertia led to the understanding that Earth orbits the sun, a fundamental concept in physics

      The Earth orbits around the sun, not the other way around, despite how it might be described in certain linguistic contexts. This fundamental understanding of gravitational motion is a cornerstone of physics, and while scientists may use different perspectives to explain it, they ultimately agree on the underlying mathematics. Galileo's realization that motion continues on its own without the need for an external force was a groundbreaking discovery in the history of science, leading to the concept of inertia and the first law of motion. Though it's unclear which scientist first made the argument that steady motion and no motion are indistinguishable, this idea is closely tied to both Galileo's and Newton's work. The importance of being clear about scientific knowledge and the ways it's communicated is crucial for non-experts to understand the true consensus in the scientific community.

    • Counterintuitive notions in modern physicsModern physics challenges our everyday understanding of motion, mass, and weight. An object's motion continues in a straight line unless acted upon by a force, and mass is a property that determines resistance to change, while weight is the force exerted by gravity.

      Our intuitive understanding of the world, which tells us that motion requires activity and that mass and weight are the same, is not supported by scientific evidence. Instead, we now know that an object will continue in a straight line unless acted upon by a force, and mass is a property that determines how hard it is to change an object's motion. Weight, on the other hand, is the force exerted on an object due to gravity, and it is related to mass but not the same thing. This counterintuitive notion, which was a major breakthrough in modern physics, allowed us to understand the motion of celestial bodies and the fundamental laws of nature. Despite this, our everyday experiences and language can make it difficult to separate mass and weight, leading to ongoing confusion.

    • Mass and Gravity: Related but Distinct ConceptsMass measures an object's resistance to motion and role in gravity, while modern physics reveals gravity is an effect of energy and momentum. Rest mass is energy when an object is at rest, and Newton's principle of equivalence hinted at gravity's connection to space-time geometry.

      Mass and gravity are related but distinct concepts. In Newtonian physics, mass is a measure of an object's resistance to motion and its role in the force of gravity between two objects. However, modern physics reveals that gravity is not a direct result of mass, but rather an effect of energy and momentum. Rest mass, which appears in Einstein's famous equation E=mc², is a measure of an object's energy when it's at rest. Newton's observation of the principle of equivalence, which all objects fall at the same rate, led him to the idea that gravity could be related to the geometry of space and time, paving the way for Einstein's theory of general relativity. Despite their connection, the relationship between mass and gravity remains a complex and fascinating aspect of physics.

    • The development of Einstein's theory of general relativityEinstein's theory of general relativity prevailed over competing theories due to his principles and mathematical constraints, but the nature of light and its propagation through the universe remains an intriguing question in physics.

      The development of Einstein's theory of general relativity was not a straightforward process. While Einstein's theory ultimately prevailed, there was a competing theory by Nordstrom that also had mathematical consistency but lacked the properties Einstein wanted. Einstein's success can be attributed to his principles and the mathematical constraints that limited the options for a consistent theory. However, the answer wasn't obvious at the time and depended on experimental evidence. Another key concept discussed was the nature of light. For centuries, there was a debate about whether light was a wave or made of particles. Experimental evidence eventually showed that light is a wave, but this raised a puzzle since waves require a medium to vibrate in. The implication was that there must be a substance, such as the luminiferous ether, that fills the universe and allows light waves to propagate. Despite the name's appeal, the luminiferous ether remains a theoretical construct, and its existence is still a topic of debate in physics. In summary, the development of Einstein's theory of general relativity was influenced by the mathematical constraints of the competing theories, and the nature of light and its propagation through the universe remains an intriguing question in physics.

    • Measuring the Earth's motion through the etherMichelson and Morley's experiment showed no change in the speed of light, contradicting the ether theory and leading to the development of Einstein's special relativity, fundamentally altering our understanding of space, time, and energy.

      Albert Michelson's experiment in the late 1800s aimed to measure the variation in the speed of light depending on the Earth's motion through the luminiferous ether, a substance then believed to fill the universe. However, Michelson and Morley's results showed no difference in the speed of light from different directions, contradicting the idea of a moving Earth through the ether. This experiment challenged Galileo's relativity, which assumed all types of steady motion are the same, and sparked debates for 25 years. Einstein, as a young student, resolved this paradox by suggesting that if we accept Galileo's relativity and abandon our traditional notions of space and time, we can reconcile the constant speed of light for all observers. This groundbreaking insight paved the way for the development of special relativity and the unification of electricity and magnetism, among other advancements. Essentially, Einstein's theory did not invent the concept of relativity but rather revised it, and the experimentally confirmed ideas fundamentally changed our understanding of space, time, and the relationship between mass and energy.

    • The mystery of space and time in modern physicsModern physics views space and time as a fabric with the ability to stretch, warp, and ripple, but measuring our movement through them violates Galileo's principle of relativity, leaving the nature of these concepts deeply mysterious and a source of ongoing research.

      The concepts of space and time, as described by modern physics, remain deeply mysterious and conceptually challenging. While we know that they behave like a fabric that can stretch, warp, and ripple, creating gravity and gravitational waves, we cannot measure our movement through them without violating Galileo's principle of relativity. This fundamental tension between space as a substance-like thing and a seemingly intangible concept is a source of ongoing research and debate in the physics community. Some theories suggest that this tension might be an approximation, and that space could be an emergent concept in a more fundamental understanding of the universe. Ultimately, the nature of space and time continues to puzzle scientists, and the search for a deeper understanding remains an active area of research.

    • The nature of space and fields in the universeThe debate about the substance or relation-based nature of space continues, with fields like electromagnetic adding complexity. Gravity reveals space's curvature, possibly hinting at hidden properties. Understanding space's unique properties may provide insights.

      The nature of space and fields in the universe is still a mystery, despite our ability to measure and predict their behaviors with remarkable precision. The debate between whether space is a substance or just a collection of relations continues, with the discovery of various fields adding complexity to the question. Fields, such as the electromagnetic field, are properties of the universe that can be measured anywhere, but their fundamental nature remains unknown. An intriguing exception is gravity, which reveals the curvature of space as a property. The possibility exists that fields may be revealing hidden properties of space and time, and the concept of space and time as a substance with many properties may offer a useful perspective. However, the challenge remains that space is unlike anything we've ever encountered, making it difficult to fully comprehend.

    • Understanding the nuances of particles and waves in physicsIn physics, particles and waves have different meanings than in everyday language. Grasping these nuances is essential for understanding quantum mechanics and the universe's nature.

      Fields, as described in the context of weather prediction and quantum mechanics, are a fundamental concept in science. They are present everywhere and have the property that events at one location can influence events at another location. When we talk about particles in physics, such as electrons, they are more wavelike than particle-like. This means that our everyday use of the word "particle" doesn't fully capture the meaning in physics. Similarly, the term "wave" in physics has a different meaning than in everyday language. Understanding these nuances is crucial for grasping the concepts of quantum mechanics and the nature of the universe.

    • From waves to particles: The evolution of our understanding of lightOur understanding of light evolved from a classical view of continuous waves to a quantum mechanical view of discrete, particle-like entities called photons, challenging the classical understanding of the universe.

      Our understanding of the fundamental nature of light has undergone a significant shift, moving from a classical view of continuous waves to a quantum mechanical view of discrete, particle-like entities called photons. This conceptual leap was not immediately obvious before the 20th century due to our intuition about waves and the lack of appropriate technology and experiments. Photons, although wave-like, cannot be divided into smaller pieces and are the fundamental building blocks of more complex waves, much like how individual strands make up a rope. This idea, which was first proposed by Einstein, marked the beginning of quantum physics and challenged the classical understanding of the universe. It's important to note that this is just one aspect of quantum mechanics, and the language used to describe it has evolved over time. While some physicists still use the older language of waves and particles, the more modern understanding is based on the principles of quantum field theory.

    • Electrons as wave-like vibrating objectsElectrons are not point-like objects but wave-like with energy and mass associated with their vibrations. Fermions like electrons cannot occupy same state at same time due to Pauli exclusion principle, while bosons like photons can.

      Electrons, which are fundamental particles that make up matter, cannot be thought of as dots or point-like objects. Instead, they should be understood as wave-like vibrating objects, which have energy and mass associated with their vibrations. This is a crucial concept in quantum field theory, as it helps explain the behavior of electrons and other elementary particles. Additionally, electrons and photons, which are the fundamental particles of matter and light respectively, belong to different classes of fields - fermionic and bosonic fields. Fermions, such as electrons, cannot occupy the same quantum state at the same time due to the Pauli exclusion principle, while bosons, such as photons, can. These differences have significant implications for our understanding of the physical world and the phenomena we observe in it.

    • The identity of electrons as waves in the same electron field leads to the Pauli exclusion principle and the existence of macroscopic objects.Electrons' wave nature in the same field explains the Pauli exclusion principle and the existence of large objects in our world, while the limited set of possible fields reveals the mathematical constraints in combining quantum physics and special relativity.

      The identity of electrons as waves in the same electron field, a key prediction of quantum field theory, allows for the Pauli exclusion principle and the existence of macroscopic objects in our world. This discovery, along with the limited set of possible fields found in nature, reveals the mathematical constraints in combining quantum physics and special relativity. The Higgs field, responsible for the mass of certain elementary particles like electrons, is not the source of mass for protons and neutrons. This misconception can lead to confusion about the relationship between the Higgs field and gravity. Overall, the discoveries in quantum field theory and the experimental findings on particle masses reveal a fascinating and limited set of possibilities in our universe.

    • The Higgs field and gravity are separate conceptsThe Higgs field gives mass to particles, while gravity is a force-like behavior of a field, and their relationship is not directly connected.

      The Higgs field and gravity are independent concepts. The Higgs field is responsible for giving mass to elementary particles by altering the properties of their respective fields, not through a direct connection. Gravity, on the other hand, is not a force but can be understood through the gravitational field, which at the quantum level may behave like a particle called the graviton. The Higgs field's discovery in 2012, which led to the detection of the Higgs boson, was significant because it proved the existence of the Higgs field, which plays a crucial role in shaping the properties of various fundamental fields and particles. Despite the name "God particle," the Higgs boson itself has minimal impact on the universe. The intricacies of understanding gravity at the quantum level continue to be a mystery.

    • Understanding Electric and Gravitational Forces through their Respective FieldsElectric and gravitational forces are generated by their respective fields, with the true nature of these fields and their relationship to space-time still a subject of ongoing research.

      Electric and gravitational forces can be understood as being generated by their respective fields. The electric field produces electric forces, while the gravitational field produces gravity. This concept is still valid even with the existence of quantum mechanics. The idea of photons or gravitons as the fundamental carriers of these forces is an analogy and a helpful mathematical tool, but the true nature of these fields and their relationship to space-time is still a subject of ongoing research and debate in the physics community. The challenges in understanding quantum properties of gravity arise not from this analogy, but from the more complex and as-yet-unresolved aspects of quantum mechanics and space-time itself. Despite the uncertainties, it is widely believed that there will be a quantum equivalent to the gravitational field, even if its nature is not yet fully understood. Ultimately, different ways of describing gravity, such as as a force or a curvature of space-time, are all valid and complementary perspectives on the same underlying phenomenon.

    • Different conceptual languages in physics lead to identical predictionsProfessionals use various languages for convenience, math predicts physical phenomena, and multiple valid ways exist to describe the same phenomena

      In the field of physics, there exist multiple conceptual languages or ways of expressing the same mathematical concepts, such as Lagrangians, Hamiltonians, and Hamilton-Jacobi theory, which all lead to identical predictions. These different languages are not mutually exclusive, and a professional physicist may use any or all of them depending on convenience. This demonstrates that there is no need to be overly attached to a specific conceptual viewpoint, as long as the mathematical predictions remain the same. It's like describing a table using different languages, it doesn't change the table itself. Matt Strassler, a physicist, emphasized this idea during his discussion on The Windscape Podcast, stating that the math is what we use to make predictions, and the language or version of the math we use is simply a matter of convenience. This lesson encourages an open-minded approach to understanding complex concepts and recognizes that there may be multiple valid ways to describe the same physical phenomena.

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    The Earth's climate keeps changing, largely due to the effects of human activity, and we haven't been doing enough to slow things down. Indeed, over the past year, global temperatures have been higher than ever, and higher than most climate models have predicted. Many of you have probably seen plots like this. Today's guest, Gavin Schmidt, has been a leader in measuring the variations in Earth's climate, modeling its likely future trajectory, and working to get the word out. We talk about the current state of the art, and what to expect for the future.

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    Related Episodes

    Bonus | AIP Oral History Interview

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    It’s well worth checking out the AIP Oral History Project website, which has over 1000 fascinating interviews with physicists from different decades. The transcript of this particular interview can be found there. Thanks to David and the AIP for letting us include this as a bonus podcast episode.

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    200 | Solo: The Philosophy of the Multiverse

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    References:


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    222 | Andrew Strominger on Quantum Gravity and the Real World

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    18 | Clifford Johnson on What's So Great About Superstring Theory

    18 | Clifford Johnson on What's So Great About Superstring Theory
    String theory is a speculative and highly technical proposal for uniting the known forces of nature, including gravity, under a single quantum-mechanical framework. This doesn't seem like a recipe for creating a lightning rod of controversy, but somehow string theory has become just that. To get to the bottom of why anyone (indeed, a substantial majority of experts in the field) would think that replacing particles with little loops of string was a promising way forward for theoretical physics, I spoke with expert string theorist Clifford Johnson. We talk about the road string theory has taken from a tentative proposal dealing with the strong interactions, through a number of revolutions, to the point it's at today. Also, where all those extra dimensions might have gone. At the end we touch on Clifford's latest project, a graphic novel that he wrote and illustrated about how science is done. Clifford Johnson is a Professor of Physics at the University of Southern California. He received his Ph.D. in mathematics and physics from the University of Southampton. His research area is theoretical physics, focusing on string theory and quantum field theory. He was awarded the Maxwell Medal from the Institute of Physics. Johnson is the author of the technical monograph D-Branes, as well as the graphic novel The Dialogues. Home page Wikipedia page Publications A talk on The Dialogues Asymptotia blog Twitter See Privacy Policy at https://art19.com/privacy and California Privacy Notice at https://art19.com/privacy#do-not-sell-my-info.