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.

Benign religions of the world

Vigyan (the common hindi translation for Science) and Science have two different histories, you cannot translate one with the other. There is nothing Indian about the Indian Institute of technology or Science or management. There isn’t a word for entropy in Hindi, or in any Indian language. I do not know what the Hindu fanatics seek out by trying to remove Mughal history from their syllabuses, when there is nothing left of “India”, because modern India is a contradiction in terms. Even if we have the best institutes of Science, they won’t be Indian in the strict sense, or Hindu, because they will not be a product of Hind civilisation, but a sign of its complete decline.

No Hindu sage had the faintest desire to send a mission to mars, he contented himself with contemplating his Gods, he would watch perplexed as Delhiites kill themselves in sef inflicted pollution.

The western civilisation may one day fall in Europe but it is on the rise everywhere else in the world, including India. If the Hindu fanatics really want to protect their culture they should destroy modernity, instead of foolishly pretending that cosmetic surgery happened in India. Hindus were given their name by the persians and the greeks, and have had their civilisation replaced with the embers of the west. What is Hindu anyway?

If the Canadian prime minister talks proudly about how different cultures interact in classrooms in Canada, it is because his multiculturalism is a farce, because the civilisations represented by the hindu boy, the chinese boy, the girl from the middle east, are all being dissoved in that classroom on a smart phone and in swirling Star bucks coffee. That is no real exchange of cultures, let us not be fooled. Let us all accept that the Canadian prime minister wants all of us to be modern, where the past religions are benign irrelevant nuances to a religion left purposefully unnamed – modernity.

Modernity is a religion

Modernity is a religion and should be treated as such. The way Islam or Christianity or Hinduism historically took over so many countries, on the might of military power, giving people from widely different cultural and geographical contexts common ground, so does modernity with science provide common ground today to all countries of the world, compels people to follow one mould (everybody needs an army otherwise it’ll be taken over, with an army comes science, industry, and the works). It doesn’t matter what it believes in, one believes in Allah, the other in the conservation of energy, it makes its people believe in an unquestionable truth, and the idea of not being modern is as silly today as not being christian would have been 500 years back to Europe. Modernity came out of Chrsitianity – the way jainism and buddhism came out of hinduism. The hindus didn’t know they would be classified as “Hindus” later on, we too shall be classified and judged in the future.

The Water Boiler

The Water boiler

Growing up in a Hindu-Indian household, it is difficult to not know what a havan is- a prayer where everybody gathers with a fire burning at a centre, with a priest pouring oil and sweet-strange smelling mixtures into the fire at regular intervals, chanting incantations in sanskirt, and involving everbody by asking them to say “svaha!” at the end. Fire must have been a subject of ancient indian texts, its nature must have discussed by the ancient hindus, the greeks, the aztecs – they must have contemplated and weighed in on what they thought was its “true nature”.

In the middle of the 17th century (a.d.) Denis Papin, a french physicist, too contemplated the nature of fire, or rather its indirect effect on the lid placed on the casserole filled with boiling water. It was he that decided to wonder if this fire could not be put to “use”, and by the end of the century many like him were working on heat powered boats. Since then the idea has remained the same, the industrial world has exploited the “motive power of fire”, a nuclear power plant is after all but a giant water boiler being ferociously boiled with nuclear energy.

So it may be said that the modern world began, in a sense, when a boy was enamoured by the rattling caused by boiling water.

Indeed the “Reflections on the motive power of fire” is precisely the name given by Sadi Carnot, another brilliant french physicist, to a little book he wrote as a young man in the beginning of the 19th century, that would be the basis on which the laws of thermodynamics would be established. Indeed at the time, as his title suggests, the nature of “heat” itself was not clear. Lavoisier (again french) in the seventeenth century had laboured to deconstruct the phlogiston theory, and he developed the caloric theory, which was finally dismantled by Clausius, who took up and refined the work of Carnot to develop the concept of thermodynamic entropy. It seems that with him the “nature of heat” was finally understood in physics, well atleast at a macroscopic level.

But for thousands of years these sages had contemplated fire? What did they find out? What was their “understanding” of fire, can it be compared to the mathematised one we have today? And why weren’t they interested in pulling out motive power out of the fire before them?

Punjabi farmer

There is literally no way, no way I can realistically convince a simple Punjabi farmer of Avogadro’s number, and therefore I am not convinced of it myself. The good thing about a simple farmer is that he literally knows nothing on such matters, or more precisely he hasn’t started to tell himself he understands things like temperature or entropy or kinetic energy or energy, his ignorance is so pure, so complete on such matters, that it is only if I am able to explain it to him that I know I have understood it myself. But this will never happen, and therefore I shall keep telling myself I know things, when I don’t.

Time won’t look back

All this world started when God let time fall from his hands, she hasn’t returned to him since and God let out a great cry at this moment, the physicists call big bang. At her departure, God tried to woo her back, and in her wake he created the Universe, the skies, humanity, consciousness but all to no avail, unimpressed, she wouldn’t so much as turn to look back, and she continues ceaselessly her cruel feminine march forward, and God continues to make things happen in his despair at his foolish error of letting time go.

A lovely Western-European Dialect

On coming to Europe I learnt a western-european dialect known as “French”. In fact it could even be argued that it is a separate language in itself, although the writing system closely resembles adjoining parts of Western Europe. Much to my surprise I learned that French, has a long history of literature, and writers from about 500 years back can be understood even today! Western Europe, as I read more and more of its history, has always struggled to find unity, and most unfortunately dragged itself into war after war, with the English ( a region to the north of the French speaking part of Europe, across the so-called “English Channel”, a waterbody separating it from “Continental Europe”) often pitting the Germans (another part of western europe to the east of the French speaking side) against the French. The continent now hopes that they will someday find unity and peace, but it remains a difficult task, because the English take their “physical separation” a little too much to heart. If you are interested in the history of this region, I suggest a local author called Jacques Bainville, who writes about its history from the antinquity to modern times.