Some Random Thoughts For The Day

I’ve been concurrently reading five or six different books, and have had a lot on my mind.  The first is the origin of civilization, as told by all these books.  Take one textbook I’ve been reading called ‘Western Civilizations’.   Overall, I really like the book.  For what it covers, it do so very well.  But the section on the first civilization is a bit… well… stretched, for lack of a better word.  I don’t buy into it.

The very first pages of the text begin:

The Dawn of History

No one knows the place of origin of the human species.  There is evidence, however, that it may have been south-central Africa or possibly central or south-central Asia.  Here climatic conditions were such as to favor the evolution of a variety of human types from primate ancestors.  From their place or places of origin members of the human species wandered to southeastern and eastern Asia, northern Africa, Europe, and eventually, to America.  For hundreds of centuries they remained primitive, leading a life which was at first barely more advanced than that of the higher animals.  About 3500 B.C., a few of them, enjoying special advantages of location and climate, slowly developed superior civilizations.  These civilizations, which attained knowledge of writing and considerable advancement in arts and sciences and in social organization, began in that part of the world known as the Near East.  This region extends from modern-day Iran to the Mediterranean Sea and to the farther bank of the Nile.  Here flourished, at different periods between 3000 and 300 B.C., the mighty empires of the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Assyrians, the Chaldeans, and the Persians, together with the smaller states of such peoples as the Hittites, the Phoenicians, and the Hebrews.  The only other very early civilization existed in India in the area of the Indus valley from about 2500 to 1500 B.C.  The earliest signs of civilization in China date from abotu 1800 B.C., and the earliest civilizations in Europe — on the island of Crete and mainland Greece — similar date from aruond that time.”

Prior to these first civilizations, which only came into existence a few thousand years ago, man-like creatures wandered the earth for millions of years, slowly evolving and “upgrading” with each new batch hatched out.  But they never did anything particularly impressive, besides chase animals around, and make some very primitive tools.  The time-line goes something like this…

Two million years ago, known as the “Early Old Stone Age”, we have ‘Homo Habilis”, walking erect, and using various objects he finds around him to hunt with.  Over the course of 1.5 million years, the human brain slowly develops and we get Java and Peking Man.  They have bigger brains.  Another 450,000 years later evolution produced the Neanderthals, who were the first Homo Sapiens.  They could speak, think abstractly, and were the first tool makers.  30,000 years go by, then we get Cro-Magnon man, which is finally starting to seem like a modern man, who just doesn’t know much.  He makes weapons from stone and bone, cooks his food, and paints pictures in caves.  Another 8,000 years go by, and men start to settle down, and go from food gatherers to food raisers.  Thoughout the next 5,000 years they learn to farm, domesticating animals, making pottery, and form the first communities.  Then finally, maybe some 1500 years after that, we get the first civilizations, which were the Egyptians, and those found in the Mesopotamian region.  And that’s where the textbook begins.

To me, those numbers are just so large, and it’s hard to believe we had intelligent life running around the Earth for such a long period of time, and they never did anything worthwhile until just recently.  I’m not saying none of this is true.  It’s just one of those things I read and say, “Well, hmm…” This world is beyond strange.

I recently watched Carl Sagan’s Cosmos.  He says these deep things, like our bodies are these intricate biological machines, and the Cosmos has found a way to know itself, through us.  I sit back in my chair, a bit skeptical.  I picture Cro-Magnon man roaming about the plains with his spear, impaling some animal.   He’s wearing some dead animal’s skin, stinks horribly, teeth rotting out, and has a life expectancy of nothing.  He’s being chased around by lions, with his buddy being caught and eaten alive, screaming in terror.  His wife dies from a snake bite as they sleep out under the open sky, being rained on.  That’s the universe getting to know itself?  If so, this “universe” is a real bastard, and I’d prefer not meet it.  I think he’s applying deep principles, and thinking so modern, he’s almost forgotten that these big particle accelerators, and the Hubble telescope, and everything else which is so neat, only came about very very recently.  It wasn’t but 120 years ago people were being pulled around in horse carriages!  He’s almost mesmerized by science.

I hate to be the harbinger of pessimism.  I’m just as awed at the universe as anyone else.  Quantum mechanics, the big bang, general relativity, and everything else blow my mind.  But as mind blowing as it may be, I don’t think it’s my friend.  I can study science all day, and seem to never get tired of it.  But I’m not going to look at this “nature” and think too much of it.  It’s been rather cruel to me, and my life hasn’t been exactly a picnic.  This history book I’m reading… it’s all terrible.  Man has lived a wretched existence until just recently.  Absolutely wretched.  Even today it’s not great, but it’s getting better.

I have a book on quantum mechanics, written by a physicist who has one of those rosy views of the world.  A complex view of us as this mystical consciousness, in control of our lives, navigating parallel universes.  Reading that, I feel like I’m super-man.  Almost like a I should be able to levitate and command atoms to do my bidding.  Then I put the book down, and that’s simply not the world I see.  It’s back to bullshit.  Back to banks robbing my savings.  Back to lying politicians.  Back to wars.  Back to religious superstition.

In my opinion, and I may be wrong, he’s a physicist quite fortunate to make good money, and tinker with neat science equipment his whole life.  Since he’s living such a nice life, he naturally invents a philosophy which explains the world as he experiences.  But it’s very harmful to form such rosy philosophies, asserting that all troubles are due to a person’s own personal decisions, and that if only they would work some mental magic, everything will be fine again.  It’s a view that entirely lacks compassion, and neglects the true causes of prosperity.

It’s been known since Adam Smith that the causes of prosperity are the division of labor, and trade.  There’s really one central idea behind that.  Working together, and our success depends on how well we work together.  We work together to build things, each doing one specific task.  Then we share everything we produce with everyone else in some effective and efficient manner.   The money, price, and profit system, if it’s properly regulated, and everyone is playing fair, should be the indicator for demand, telling us what is needed to be produced, while also allowing a personal freedom to pursue and purchase what we want and need.  We don’t control the atoms with our mind.  We can’t invoke miracles by faith or prayer.  We need to huddle up, make a game plan and decide how we’re going to attack this “universe”, or at least, position ourselves in such a way that it stops beating the hell out of us.

On another note, there was an interesting little blurb I read in my “Psychoanalytic Pioneers” book, which pertains to what we were just talking about actually.   I’ll simply quote the text verbatim:

“In “The Double,” [Otto] Rank after reviewing the writings of E.T. Hoffmann, Goethe, R.L. Stevenson, Oscar Wilde, and Dostoevsky in which the “double” has been dealt with, traces the association that the “double” has with reflection in the mirror; with shadows, ghosts, or guardian spirits; with belief in the soul; and with fear of death.  Rank thinks that since primitive man the “double” has been a narcissistic protection against the destruction of the ego; and “energetic denial of the power of death.”  The “immortal soul” was very likely the first “double” of the body.  The narcissistic omnipotence was challenged by the idea of death and compelled man to attribute some of this omnipotence and wish for immortality to spirits and ultimately to the soul.  The soul having been since earliest time considered a reduplication of the body.  With this solution the thought of death is made tolerable by conceiving of another existence in the “double” form.”

I think psychologically Otto Rank is correct, but I don’t know about factually.  Men probably believe in spirits, and even in their own personal immortality, due to a fear of death, but I still personally believe we’re all immortal, though not for emotional reasons.  In Physics, all matter is simply compressed energy, and energy can never be destroyed.  It only changes forms.  The absolute “Jason”, whatever that may be, cannot be destroyed.  My body, memories, and everything else may be destroyed, but I don’t think “I” get destroyed.  I think at death, I “wake up” as something else.  I have no idea what, or “when”, or “where”.  Somehow energy can mold in such a fashion to connect to my consciousness, and that connection is not eternal.  I think I’m constantly being plugged in, and taken out, of some sort of energy field.

The old philosophical problems of dualism have never been solved.  There’s a difference between the electricity which flows through my brain, and me “seeing”.  What I think survives death is whatever it is that “sees”, “hears”, “tastes”, “smells”, and “feels”.  We all know what those things mean, though they can’t be defined with words.  When I die, I think I may well “see” completely differently.  Might not “smell” anything whatsoever.  I also may gain new “senses” I didn’t have before.  Everything that was “Jason” might die, but I don’t think this aspect of myself dies.  I become something else.

That’s how all life on this planet works.  The plant dies, rots to dirt, then that dirt molds into something else.  We probably do the same.  Just my opinion.  That’s all.  I’ll end my random thoughts on that note.

Space And Geometry – Part 1

Just the other day I was out with my friend Greg, and he was telling me I should write down some of my ideas toward space and time.  After thinking about it for a while, I decided to do so.  This is a subject I’ve been very passionate about for many many years, but rarely talk about it due to the complexity of it all.  When I write blog entries for this site, I tend to write about ideas I can express quickly.   Unfortunately, space and time are very complex ideas, and require a lot of time and effort to explain.

I wrote one entry a while back called “Moving Faster Than Light”, but that was mostly me rambling about the various problems you encounter if a body is allowed to move faster than light.  But in this new series of entries I will take more time and fully explain everything.

Considering the depth of the subject, and my own time constraints, we’ll have to cover our ground step by step.  But if we break this massive subject into enough pieces, it should be manageable – both to read, and for me to write. We’ll start from the very beginning, assuming you know nothing about anything, and move slowly.  My only purpose of this entry today is to explain why we think this world is three dimensional and how we come to that conclusion.   Later we’ll move into things like relativity, quantum mechanics, curved space-time, and more.  For now, we’ll start at the very beginning.

So let’s begin, shall we?  If I was to ask you, “What is space?”, what would you tell me?  How would you explain it to me?  Can it be explained?

If you’re like most people, you probably envision space as a giant box.  Its edges extend out to infinity in all three dimensions.  If I had a rocketship and shot out into space, and kept going in a straight line, I’d just keep going and going and going.  There is no end to it.  I would get farther and farther and farther away from the Earth.

Secondly, you probably think space is “continuous”.  If I was to say, drop a baseball, and you watch it fall to the ground, that motion was smooth and perfect.  There’s no choppiness.  No jerks.  The baseball has a set size, and is a set sphere like shape.  It moves at an absolute speed through the big “space” box, as it accelerates toward the Earth due to the pull of gravity.   In other words, if I was to watch the ball fall with a high speed camera, no matter how quickly it took pictures, there would always be a “frame” for the camera to take.   Even if the camera could take 100 billion pictures a second, and we view the film reel frame by frame, every one of them would be filled with a picture of the baseball, each in a unique position, very very slowly making its way toward the Earth.

Are these assumptions true?  No, not really.  Space is not a giant box of infinite extent.  Motion is not smooth and continuous.  The baseball doesn’t have an absolute size, shape, or velocity.  Its color isn’t even necessarily white, and its seems are not necessarily red.   The Earth doesn’t necessarily orbit the Sun.  It’s just fine to keep your frame of reference on the Earth, and if you do that, the Sun orbits the Earth.  It really can go either way.  And as for the camera and its film reel, if you took enough pictures, you’d eventually find frames which are blank.  In fact, if you took pictures quickly enough, each frame would have at most one pixel lit up and the rest would be blank.  This is because light moves through “space” in energy packets, which are akin to bullets.  The laws behind how these bullets fly gets us into quantum mechanics, but we’ll have to postpone that discussion to a later time.

So are the common assumptions completely wrong?  No.  They’re approximations, and as long as you don’t move at speeds near that of light, don’t extend your 3D box too far, and don’t focus too hard on following each little light photon bullet, you’d be roughly correct.  You’ll be able to do physics and calculate things, and your answers will be correct enough.  And anyways, everything we do in science is an approximation.  There’s no such thing as absolute precision.

So if these ideas are not correct, then how come they’re so common?  Why do we think the world is a 3D box when it isn’t?  Why do we think the baseball has a set size and shape?  Why do we think the room we’re in has set dimensions?  Is it some sort of defect in the brain?  Is the human brain confined to three dimensions, and forced to struggle to understand anything of higher dimensions, such as four dimensional space-time?

No.  The brain could easily understand a four dimensional world.  The problem is not with our brains.  Our problem is we’ve never experienced moving at high speeds near that of light.  That’s not a common experience for us.  Therefore the consequences we draw from Einstein’s equations are strange and foreign to us.  We’ve never seen the baseball morph into an oval, or the straight walls of our house begin to curve then become straight again.  And since our brain works with the experiences it’s had, telling it that, “Yeah, your bedroom wall right there can curve on you if you move fast enough…”, it naturally replies, “… I’ve never seen the wall curve.  That’s a pretty crazy thing to say.  I don’t believe it.”

So let’s talk about how the brain comes to a notion of “space” to begin with, and what that even means.

Space And Your Brain

Tactile And Motor Space

First we have tactile space.  This is a sense of “space” which comes from touching and feeling things. For example, imagine being on the beach with someone you love.  I’ll do the same.  I find myself in an intimate embrace with this lovely woman.  I caress her, my hands moving up and down her body.  I feel every curve.  Even if my eyes are closed, I’m immersed in a very spacious world.

I could be blind my entire life, but I would still have this sense of space.  I could rub my hands across my bed, a bookshelf, a coffee mug, a kitchen chair, or anything of that nature.  Just by rubbing and feeling the object, and the muscular contractions and sensations of touch, I can form a sense of space and of solid objects.

In a very complex way your brain associates various sensations of touch, as well as the the feelings of muscles contracting and loosening, and links them together.

Now the first thing to note is that these sensations and linkages do not necessarily have to include any notions of space whatsoever.  In our day to day experience, most sensations of “touch” occur when our body comes in contact with another body.  But that need not be the case.  It’s just as logical that touch sensations could arise in different circumstances.  For a weird example, imagine if you felt a pressure come over your body the faster you moved relative to some star in space someplace.  The higher your velocity as calculated from someone watching you from that location, the higher the pressure.  It’s possible.  But that’s not how it works in our reality.  We “feel” when we come in contact with something, or a force is acting on our “body” in some way.   The sensations we experience just happen to correspond in such a way lead to our conception of tactile space.

As for the tactile space of everyday experience, it has one interesting property which is worth noting.  Unlike the objects we see with our eyes, those we feel never change size.  To feel something you have to be touching it.  If I embrace this lovely woman I’m with, caress her, then let go, and she takes a few steps away from me out of reach, my sense of touch goes away.  I extend my arms but she’s not there.  As she’s walking away her size may shrink smaller and smaller, but my sense of touch has no parallel to that.  Touch always feels the same in everyday experience and never “shrinks”.

Space Based Upon Sight

Imagine staring at a computer screen which shows random colors.  Kind of like the black and white fuzz on an old television set.  Just random colors appearing all over the screen.

Is there any sense of space there?  No.  But there is a sensation of sight.  You do see colors.  Those colors don’t seem to tie together to make a spacial reality of any sort, but you are seeing something.

So our first point to make is that seeing doesn’t necessarily mean there’s space, or even any “objects” to see.  Objects only come into play when the images change in such a way that there seems to be an order of some sort.  But what do I mean by “order”?

Your first thought may be to think of light waves radiating from the sun, or a light bulb, which then come in contact with the surface of objects, causing their surface atoms to vibrate, which then creates electromagnetic waves of their own, which then radiate back through space, eventually coming in contact with the eyes of various observers, giving rise to a personal idea of space and order.  You further imagine “order” to mean complex laws of physics, which can be patterened with mathematics and logic.   But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  That may be how the reality we live in right now works, but that’s not to say we couldn’t have a reality with space which works on entirely different principles.

So instead of talking about how alternate realities could work, and give rise to space, let’s discuss how the brain comes to the notions of solid objects, and from those and their various perspectives, gives rise to the 3D geometrical “box” of space that we are all so familiar with.  That’d probably be the most practical, and beneficial concept to understand.

So you’ve just been born.  You’re in your mothers arms and your father is standing at the bedside saying, “You did well”, and “Hey there little guy.”    How did baby Jason come to his first notions of space?  It required three separate concepts.  My visual senses.  Tactile senses.  And Motor senses.

Visual is my ability to see.  Tactile is my ability to feel.  Motor is my ability to move based on my own volition.

I’m not too keen on babies and their early eyesight, but if I recall correctly, babies take a bit of time before they can see well.  Images are initially blurry.  So let’s skip ahead and move on to baby Jason being able to crawl, and capable of seeing clearly.

Mom lays me down on the living room floor, and I begin to squirm around.  What’s going on here?  This is me establishing tactile space.  I feel the hard ground beneath me, I feel my body coming in contact with it, and I also begin to sense how my own volition controls these appendages of mine.  I kick my legs.  Swing my arms.  Clasp various things with my hands.  Stick things in my mouth.  Bite down on everything I can.  And so on.

Eventually I get a feel for my own body, and how it relates with the immediate environment I’m in.  I also notice that as I’m squirming about, the images I see with my eyes keep rotating and spinning.  Eventually though I start to correlate it.

For example, when I move my head, I watch the environment “turn”.  This movement brought about a muscular sensation.  Then I move my head a different way, and I watch the picture I was seeing return back to its initial state.  When I turned my head one way, the picture changed.  But once I moved my head back, the image returned back to how I first saw it.  This is the very beginning of the 3D box space we all know.

Eventually we start to see space using our eyes.  This is because we link our tactile sensations and our visual sensations together, based on our motor movements.  Say there’s a flat screen television mounted on the wall of this living room.  We “aim” our head at the television, then crawl toward it.  We watch the visual sensations change.  But then we crawl backwards, and it returns to the same image from before.  We begin to link our movements with what we see.  Various movements bring us the same images, and tactile sensations, and we correlate those together.  We have formed our first concepts of “location”.

We start to give “objects” a “location”.  An “object” is a set of visual images and tactile feelings, and “location” is us remembering motor movements and subsequent tactile and visual impressions we’ll experience “getting” to that location.  We link everything together in this web of chains of experiences.

So how the images and other sensations change based on our motor volitions, determines space.

To summarize, we see that we could have no concept of space without our sense of touch and our ability to achieve mobility.  We have to be able to move in order to experience different locations.  If we were confined to a single location, and could only see a series of changing visual images, we could never form any conception of space or objects at all.   It would be no different than a slide show of random colors, which would never make any sense to us whatsoever.

Taking in isolation, none of our individual sensations, whether tactile, or visual, could lead us to an idea of “space”.  We only come to think of “space” when we begin to study how these sensations change based on our own motor volition.  We watch their succession, and begin to get a “feel” for space before too long.

Changes Of State and Changes Of Position

So far, the world we’ve described does not allow for things to move, or change state.  In the real world, things move all the time, and objects change in all sorts of ways.  How does our brain come to understand these things?

First let’s discuss position, and an object moving through space.  Let’s go back to the beach, with my beautiful lover.  She kisses me, smiles, then takes a few steps back from me.  Then she takes a few more steps back, and stops.  I’m well aware of her movement.  But what does that mean?  What does it mean for her to “move”, and how did I know about it?

I understand movement in terms of my own movement.  When we kissed, her face was next to my own.  Then she took a few steps back.  In order for me to restore that same visual image of her face, I take a few steps toward her.  I once again have restored the same picture from before.  I see her face up close once again.

Now how do I know whether she moved, or whether I moved?  How do I judge this?  If I see the images change, but feel no accompanying muscular contractions in my own body, I assume that she moved.  I myself have not moved.  If, on the other hand, I feel the muscular contractions, I know that I was the one who brought the change.

So we have a few two scenarios when we’re experiencing a change in sensory impressions:

1.  If I attempted no motor “movement”, and felt no muscular sensations, yet the images and sensations are changing, the object I’m seeing is “moving”.

2. If I attempted motor movement, and feel the muscular sensations, this happens when the object is not moving.  Its stationary and I’m the one bringing about the “movement”.

Now let’s give another example, then discuss what it means for an object to change its state.

My lover is several yards away from me staring me in the eyes.  She apparently likes this little game we’re playing.  She smiles, then she “turns”.  How did my brain recognize this as a turn?  This is because I can “correct” her turn, by walking in a counter circle, relative to how she turned.  I take a few steps in this circle, then once again we’re making eye contact again.

But what about changes in state?  Say a strong breeze blows in, and her long hair is blown into the air.  How did I recognize this as a state change in this lovely woman?  This is due to the fact that I cannot “correct” this change by any motor movements of my own.  I can continue to walk around her in circles, but her hair, which was once hanging down, is now blowing in the wind.  There’s no movement I can do to change that, without going right up to her, and pressing her hair down with my hands.

Watching these state changes is how we come to think of things in “pieces”.  When I saw my lover’s hair blow in the wind, I noticed that her facial position stayed in the same “location” as before.  Her arms, body, and legs, are all in the same “location” as before.  (Remember “location” is motor movements I would have to bring forth to experience those things in a certain way)  Thing is, her hair no longer is in the same location.  It changed location, and I didn’t feel any muscular sensations, so therefore I was not behind the change I’m seeing.

We Finally Define Space!

So what is “space”, then?  Space is our ability to change our impressions through volition, then reestablish those same experiences, and have them once again in relatively the same manner.  Location is a series of motions we can perform which leads to a particular experience we remember, or have been told about, or have possibly imagined.

For example, the flat-panel TV mounted on the wall in the living room.  We’re in the kitchen.  We get out of the chair, walk down the hallway, through the doorway, to the center of the room, turn, and there is the television on the wall, just as we remembered it.  Every time we look at that wall, there the TV is, on the same wall.  We have nearly the same experience each time we walk down the hallway, walk into the living room, turn, and look in that direction.  And if something has changed, because we have a memory, we can say, “Hey, what is this box in the middle of the walkway?  Who left this here?”

This definition of “space” works not just for our own world, but for other “worlds” as well.  Say you’re playing Super Mario on the Nintendo, telling your nerdy girlfriend about a secret passage.  She says, “Where is it?  How do I get there?”  So you both sit down in the living room.  You take the controller into your hands and hit the Nintendo’s power button.  You begin to push buttons on the controller, which brings about certain changes on the TV screen, which you remember.  You move the little Mario on the screen to the pipe, you tell him to go down the pipe, you watch the little Mario guy fall, then land on the ground.  Then you move him some more, and then to the secret passage.  You recognize the graphics which display on the screen and say, “Here it is!”  She then says, “Oh my God I love you!”  Then passionately makes love to you on the living room floor.   Nerdy girls are the best!

Another example is knowing the “location” of a website on the internet.  Location is the perfect word really.  You type in an address into the bar on the web browser and a series of familiar images displays on the screen.  Same thing.  This web address is just as spatial as the “real” location “Paris, France”.  It’s an experience you can bring about if you perform certain actions.   And just as you can get to the same website from multiple computers, you can get to the same location in “actual” space by multiple paths.  It seems almost unconsciously that the people who used the word “location” for a web “address” understood this conception of space.

Controlling Mario on the Nintendo is no different than controlling your real body.  Through a series of voluntary movements you bring about changes in your experiences.  That’s all that space is, in its most general sense.  You’re just as alive playing a video game as you are walking around in the “real” world.  I’m not sure what someone means when they say gamers have “no life.”  When do you stop living?  Life’s just a series of experiences strung together by the twine of our memory.  You can never leave reality.  You’re always there.  You just choose one experience over another.

3D Geometric “Box” Space

Finally we come to the three dimensional conception of space we’re all so familiar with.  It arises as we come to form approximate conceptions of what we’ll call a “solid body”.  In general, a solid body is one where displacements it undergoes can be corrected by our own subsequent movements.

Solid bodies have a tendency to hold their form for long periods time –  long enough for us to unite them together in memory, and form conceptions of space.   If that consistency was not there, we could never form a concept of space.

If everything was like a liquid, constantly flowing this way and that, and never holding to any particular shape or pattern, we could not form a conception of space.  Things have to remain constant.  Laws and patterns must exist.  Geometry and space rely on matter holding to various forms long enough for us to relate them together.

The 3D space we’re acquainted with is formed in our minds due to these solid bodies which exist in our world.  My computer desk is a solid body.  My Playstation 2.  My history book here on the desk.  My computer monitor.  They hold their form and continue to exist for a long period of time.   Throughout my typing of this entire entry, they’ve stayed here on the desk, in their same relative positions, appearing in exactly the same way.

When I form a concept of them, my mind wants to represent them in a three dimensional geometry.   Like my desk for example.  It’s rectangular.  Is its absolute shape rectangular?  No.  On a microscopic level its surface is rough and bumpy.  It’s also mostly empty space, even though to me it appears solid. And as we mentioned earlier, its edges would curve and bend, if I was to approach near light speeds.

But I never move anywhere near light speed.  As I move toward it and away from it at very slow speeds (relative to the speed of light), I see it in a perspective, and all its edges remain straight edged.  It gets smaller as I go far away, and gets larger as I approach it.  The desk’s edges shift at angles based on how I rotate my head, and where I’m standing relative to the desk.

The reason I “see” the desk is because of light coming from the bulb on my ceiling.  Electromagnetic radiation emits from the light on my ceiling, approaches the desk, excites the atoms of the desk’s surface, they radiate light waves back to my eyes, and I see the desk.

I can also feel the desk with my hands, and form a conception of space based on my tactile senses.  With that there is a complex dynamic of forces and atoms, as my hand approaches the desk and comes into contact with it.  I push on the desk, and it pushes back on me with equal and opposite force.  We’ll discuss more of the physics of this phenomenon later.

So by now you should have an idea what space is, and how we form our first ideas of it.  This brings us near the end of this first “lecture” on Space and 3D Geometry.  But there’s much much more to discuss, as we will soon see.  For now, let’s briefly highlight what to expect in our next lecture.

Relativity and Space-Time!

In our next lecture we will discuss how light works, and some of the strange dynamics involved with it.  In particular, we’ll be covering the famous Michelson and Morley experiment.   We’ll see that light is very strange indeed!   Light doesn’t work how you think it does.   Since one of our primary conceptions of space comes from sight, which is based on light, we’ll start to learn some strange things about our world when we look into Einstein’s research.  Also, in later lectures, we’ll discuss the quantum mechanical nature of matter, and attempt to discuss what tactile sensation would be like when moving at near light speeds.  Eventually we’ll find ourselves talking about the big-bang, curved space-time, and the universe.  So look forward to it!

Minor Update

Hey everyone.  I know I haven’t updated on here in quite a while.  I’ve been meaning too, but have been too carried away in my studies.  Recently I ordered a large shipment of books on quantum mechanics, general relativity, cosmology, biological anthropology, history, and economic history.  So I’ve been busy reading them.

I also recently acquired an encyclopedia’ish set called “The World Of Physics”, which is a collection of papers, and excerpts written by the “founding fathers” of various topics in Physics.   The first volume starts off with myths and early legends about the world.  Various excerpts are taken from religious texts and other myths and legends, explaining how early cultures viewed the world.

Next we get to the early astronomers, such as Copernicus and Kepler and their journey of charting the heavens.  We move to Galileo and Newton, and early thought on mechanics.  Next we come to early theories on atoms and energy.  Authors like Robert Hooke, Daniel Bernoulli, John Dalton, Amedeo Avogadro, Michael Faraday, and others.   Next we find thermodynamics, heat, and entropy.  Then later, electromagnetism.

It’s so neat hearing how they discovered these things and what they were thinking.  A lot of them had various details wrong, but had the general idea correct.  It’s neat.  It’s a lot more detailed than what you find in any textbook on physics or chemistry or even what you find online.   There’s nothing like hearing Leibniz debate Descartes in various aspects of motion, such as which quantity is more important, Descartes’ mass * velocity (momentum), or Leibniz’s mass * velocity^2, which he labeled vis viva, or “life force”.

They were debating what kept the universe from “running down” and wondering if the motion of various things was conserved or not.

The next volume contains famous physicists’ perspectives on Radioactivity, Special Relativity, General Relativity, Quanta, Space-Time Symmetry, and Particle physics.  Some of the featured authors include Pierre and Marie Curie, Ernest Rutherford, Enrico Fermi, Otto Hahn, Henri Poincare, Albert Einstein, Hermann Minkowski, Ernst Mach, Max Planck, Erwin Schrodinger, Werner Heisenberg, Wolfgang Pauli, Paul Dirac, Richard Feynman, and others.

The last volume pertains entirely to the cosmos and the limits of science.  It has papers written by Einstein, Steven Weinberg, George Gamow, Arthur Eddington, Stephen Hawking, and more, talking about the origin of matter, stars, black holes, and more.

To say the least I’ve never been more thrilled in my life.  I can’t think of anything which could be better than sitting here reading these guys works.  It’s all absolutely amazing.  Most of the excerpts are from the authors nontechnical writings, so it’s not mathematically intense.  It’s them trying to help you grasp the big picture.  It’s like having the best of the best sit there personally in your bedroom and explain everything to you.

Just to give you guys a taste of the quality of this material, I’m going to take a little time and type out an excerpt written by Percy Williams Bridgman on statistical mechanics and the second law of thermodynamics.   The article talks about a lot of things, including entropy, the heat death of the universe, and the arrow of time.   Unfortunately I’m too lazy to type out the entire article, but I will take 30 minutes or so and type out a section of the article.

I should probably give a brief primer to what you’re about to read, considering you won’t be able to read the entire article.

We all know that if you place a pot of water on a stove’s hot burner, the vibrations of the atoms in the burner start to cause vibrations in the pot, which then transfer to the water, and the water begins to heat up, and eventually boil.  But wouldn’t it be strange to put a pot of water on a red hot burner, then watch the water freeze to a solid block of ice?  According to some that’s actually possible as temperature is simply random vibrations of atoms, and the random vibrations could well transfer the energy from the cold body to the hot body instead of the other way around, if everything was situated just right.   That heat tends to transfer from a hot body to a cold body, until they balance out to an equilibrium temperature, is only the most probable outcome.

Physicists model all the little molecules and atoms mathematically, and assume they exist in some random configuration, and move in random ways, and use statistics and probability to guess the most probable outcome based on the laws of physics.  But when we look into this issue closely there’s a lot of questions to be asked, and who better to walk us through the issues than a Nobel laureate whose research specialized in these areas!  This is probably the most fascinating thing I’ve read in a long time.  Here it is.  The bolded emphases are my own.  Please pardon any typos you encounter.  It’s 1 AM and I’m tired:

“Now it is a consequence of the fundamental assumptions which have gone into the usual statistical model, namely that all elementary configurations are entirely independent of each other, so that the probability of any configuration is to be calculated by purely combinatorial methods from the relative number of ways in which the configuration can be realized, that there is some chance of the occurrence of any configuration, no matter how unusual its properties.  This would mean that in the corresponding physical system any configuration whatever, compatible with the fixed conditions, would occur occasionally, as for example, the gas in a box will occasionally automatically all collect itself into one end.   This conclusion is indeed taken literally by many experts in statistical mechanics, and in the literature statements are not uncommon, such, for example, as that of Bertrand Russell in a recent magazine article that if we put a pail of water on the fire and watch it for an indefinite time, we shall eventually be rewarded by seeing it freeze.  It seems to be that there are a couple of objections that can be made to the conventional treatment of rare occurrences, which I shall now examine.
The first difficulty is with the technical method of calculating the chances of observing a rare configuration, and is concerned only with the model itself, and not with the physical application of the results of the calculations.  In computing the chance of any configuration, it is always assumed that the elements of the statistical model are without influence on each other, so that the chance of a given configuration is given merely by enumerating the number of complexions corresponding to the given configuration.  For example, in the kinetic theory of gases it is assumed that the location of any molecule and its velocity is, except for the restriction on the total energy and the total volume, independent of the location or the velocity of any or all the other molecules.  It may be proper enough to postulate this for the model, but we know that it cannot rigorously correspond to the physical system, for the molecules of gas do interact with each other, as shown by the mere fact that they conserve their total energy, and the transmission of energy from one molecule to another takes place only at a finite rate, so that if, for example, at one instant all the velocity were in a single molecule, we would find that immediately afterward only molecules in the immediate vicinity had any velocity.  This means that the assumption of complete independence must be recognized to be only an approximation, and some way of handling this approximation must be devised.  The method usually adopted is to cast the problem in the form of inquiring how many observations must be made in order that the chance of observing the desired rare configuration may be one-half, for example, choosing the time between observations so long that each observation all appreciable trace of the previous configuration shall have been obliterated, so that the assumption of independence may apply.  The point now is this:  the time that one has to wait for the probable obliteration of all traces of a previous configuration becomes longer the rarer the previous configuration; obviously it takes longer for a gas to efface all trace of having been all concentrated in one-half of its available volume than to efface the traces of a small local concentration. The situation is, therefore, that not only must we make an increasingly large number of observations in order to hope to witness a rare configuration, but the interval between our observations must also get longer.  It is merely the first factor which is usually considered; when both factors are considered it is not at all obvious that the process is even convergent.  This point should be subjected to further examination.
There is another difficulty connected with the mere calculation of the probability of rare occurrences presented by the quantum theory.  All classical calculations assume that the molecules have identity.  But the uncertainty principle sets a limit to the physical meaning of identity.  It is not possible to observe the position and velocity of any molecule with unlimited precision, but there is a mutual restriction.  After an observation has been made, the domain of uncertainty in which the molecule is located expands as time goes on.  If the domain of uncertainty of two molecules overlap, then the identity of the molecules is lost, and a subsequent observation will not be competent to decide which molecule is which.  The only way of maintaining the identity of the molecules is by making observations at intervals  so frequent that the domains of uncertainty have not had time to overlap.  But this time is obviously much shorter than the time between observations demanded by the requirement that all trace of the previous configuration shall have been wiped out.  Futhermore, the act of observation, by which the concept of identity acquires meaning, alters in an uncontrollable and unpredictable manner the motion of the molecules, whereas the statistical treatment requires that the molecules be undisturbed between successive observations.  It seems, therefore, that the physical properties of actual molecules as suggested by quantum theory are different from those of the molecules of the model, and this would seem to demand at least designing new models of calculation the chances of rare occurrences.
Apart from these objections, which may be met by the discovery of new theoretical methods of attack, it seems to me that the most serious difficulty with this question of rare states is met in the process of transferring to any actual physical system conclusions based on a study of the corresponding model. Suppose, for example, that we are discussing the problem of the tossing of some particular coin.  If the coin is a fair coin, that is, if the chances of heads and tails are even, then our statistical model consists merely of a sequence of one or the other of two events, each of which is as likely to occur at any time as the other, absolutely independently of what may have happened elsewhere in the sequence.  The theoretical discussion of this model is very easy, and we are convinced that conclusions drawn from a discussion of the model will apply to the tossing of the coin, always provided that the coin is a fair coin.  As a particular problem we may consider the chance of throwing heads ten consecutive times.  The chance of this is (1/2)^10 or 1/1024, which means that in every 1,000 consecutive throws the chances will be roughly even that there will be somewhere a sequence of 10 heads.  But 1,000 throws are a good many, and it may be that we have never made so many throws, and ar econtent merely to make the prediction that if some one else should make so many throws it would be found to be as we say.  But suppose that some one questions the fairness of the coin, and says that he has reason to think that ther eis a bias of 10% in favor of throwing tails, so that the chance of a head at a single throw is only 0.45 instead of 0.50.  We find now on making the calculation that we shall have to make roughly 10,000 throws in order to have an event chance of getting a sequence of 10 heads; and, in general, that slight imperfections in the fairness of the coin make very large differences in the chance of rare occurrences.  In view of this, we feel that it behooves us to make some objective test of the fairness of the coin before we venture to publish our prediction that we are likely to get a sequence of 10 heads in 1,000 throws.  We make the most direct test possible by appealing to the fundamental definition of fairness, which is that in a large number of throws the ration of the number of heads to tails tends to equality.  But how many throws are necessary to establish such an equality with satisfactory assurance!  There is another theorem here, namely that in n throws the chances are even that we shall have an excess either of heads over tails or of tails over heads of 0.6745n^(1/2).  Neglecting the numerical factor for our rough purposes, this means that if we make a hundred throws the chances are nearly even that the number of heads is somewhere between 46 and 54.  To establish the fairness of the coin we would have to make a considerable number of 100 throws at a time and observe whether or not the number of heads clusters between 46 and 54.  If, on the other hand, there is a 10% bias in favor of tails, the number of heads will cluster between 40 and 50.  The precise number of sequences of 100 throws at a time necessary to convince us that there is no 10% bias in favor of tails obeys no definite criterion, but it is certainly of the order of ten or more, which makes 1,000 or more throws altogether.  But this was the number of throws necessary to obtain one of the rare sequences of ten heads.
The conclusion from all this is plain;  in order to establish with sufficient probability that the actual physical system has those properties which are assumed in estimating the frequency of rare occurrences it is necessary to make a number of observations so great that the probability is good that the rare occurrence has already been observed. In other words, purely logical statistical considerations never can justify us in predicting events so rare that they have never yet been observed.  A pail of water has never been observed to freeze on the fire; statistical considerations give us no warrant whatever for expecting that it ever will.”

Impressed?  I was.  Imagine this same guy discussing the heat death of the universe, and much more!   And no, you can’t have my set.  Get your own!