The Tyranny of simple shapes and number-ables

It is not without reason that the physicist or the engineer prefers his industries and his laboratories, to a walk in the forest or the beach, as his workplace. These environments afford him a crucial advantage – simple shapes. If you were to take a walk with a physicist or engineer in the forest, and ask him to talk about his laws there, or indeed leave him with a canvas on which to paint his feelings or learnings, He will draw the tree as a cylinder, light as straight lines, the air would become a homogenous block. He will then introduce “numberable concepts” like “Pressure”, “Temperature”, “Number of moles” to describe the air around him, a few numberable concepts for vast stretches around. Suddenly this air, flowing and mysterious, has become two or three numbers, perhaps he will write a big “P” and put an “=” sign next to it. Ah “=” signs! Ah mathematics!
Then you will ask him to talk about the tree, and he will talk about the rate in inches per second with which some fluid, which has concentration of something or the other in parts per million…The final “painting” so to speak will be a caricature of the forest before you, because fundamentally they are caricature makers, or model makers if you will be more kind.
And it seems that high energy physics, or making cars particularly suits this simple-shape way of doing things.
But we haven’t yet heard the physicist’s laws! Let us remember 7 of them to begin with, 7 is a nice number, to get a rough idea. If the physicist was a sage, or an apprentice to a sage, he would repeat the three laws of Newton and the four laws of thermodynamics, uncritically and dutifully as physics students do all over the world. Lets hear one of each, to not put too much pressure on ourselves. “A body continues in its state of rest of uniform motion until acted upon by a force” from Newton, and the “Entropy of an isolated system always increases”. Now that the sage has said two of the laws, he opens his eyes, and you see a bird flying. As Feynman explains, Newton doesn’t actually bother telling us what the force is supposed to be, but the physicist-sage shall say of this bird: “Consider the bird to be a point, consider the earth to be a sphere”, then he will spill out his “numberable concepts” that go round and round like a tautology (or perhaps not, I am not clever enough to know) and you shall the the surrounded by numberables like pressure, gravity, force, acceleration and other caricaturing concepts like point-mass and perfect sphere. Moreover the “actual” number of bodies in the bird, in order to “predict the motion of every “pixel” of nature, is fantastically large, and the physicist, ever the caricaturiser, has no intention of getting into the details.
Similarly one could now treat the above thermodynamics law, consider a (again simple shaped preferably!) box surrounding this bird, and the box being totally impervious to interaction (again a terribly tautological concept), then the “Entropy” of this bird and its immediate box-included surroundings’ entropy is going to rise. Ofcourse, the physicist hasn’t the faintest desire to getting into caculatin the entropy of the bird, he would giggle at the very thought, he just knows for certain (this is the almost mystical part) that it is true even for the true bird. You will then see him converting the bird into some sort of a vibrating ball or something so that our sage-caricaturer can get some result. Entropy change, heat transfer is much better suited to simple shaped engines in simple shaped cars, and capitalism goes gaga too. But entropy is too far a concept, even energy doesn’t have a meter to it. There is no such thing as an energy meter for a bird.
In all of this it is clear that Nature operates at a level of complexity, and a scale of conception, that man simply cannot fathom. As Mandelbrot says “Clouds are not spheres, mountains are not cones, coastlines are not circles, and bark is not smooth, nor does lightning travel in a straight line.” There isn’t even such a thing as yet as a “fractal shaped” engine, and the mathematics of even slightly complicated Brownian motions (not so simple shaped motions) is terribly messy. But Man knows how to make his cylinders move fast (rockets, trains, aeroplanes ), keep his straight lines straight (bridges, roads) because then his numberables become calculable. It is like a child learning a few chords, playing alongside Bach. The trouble ofcourse is that this child has started playing his chords rather loudly! Earth, and (oh shudder) the Universe is but one canvas, where till now nature has been expressing itself. But more and more on earth Man, who always claims himself to be a lover of Nature, has been terrorizing the earth with his simple shapes, like a child drawing long straight black lines on a Mona Lisa. This Child is also rather full of himself, but he knows fully well (as I learnt doing an internship on glassy materials) that there is an awful lot he doesn’t know. He doesn’t match the subtlety and complexity of nature in what he creates. Modern Science’s solutions are always caricatural, and Climate change is proof of it. We need to choose who is going to be the architect on the planet, perhaps we need to shut up physicists who think no end of themselves because they have found a Higg’s boson in their simple shaped accelerators.
Tell a physicist near you, that he doesn’t have a working model for out-of-equilibrium glassy dynamics, and tell him to stop pretending he can read the mind of God. It will do all of us a world of good. I would hate to live in a world of only simple shapes.

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