Sunday, March 11, 2012


I find somethings in physics insanely provocative. Lets call them majins.
majin(n): A majin is that which gains value proportional to the thought invested in it.

Majins can make me drop game-pads in the middle of an assassination, unplug my earphones while listening to Cream and sometimes even walk out from a game of football.

Physics is full of majins. It is in fact Majin-Central!
Here's a majin: The principle of least action. Nature can transit from state A to state B in an infinite number of ways. But she chooses the path that minimizes her action. The action is a quantity which takes everything physically relevant into account, like mass,speed,etc.. It is also path dependent, which means that no two actions are the same because no two paths are the same. The path nature chooses to tread is that which minimizes her action. It is why throwing a ball makes it traverse a parabolic path. It is why Earth goes around the Sun. It is why light reflects off mirrors and refracts off lenses. It is why we see auroras near the poles and why fire happens.

Please note that when I say "why" something happens, it henceforth implies that I'm addressing the limit of our understanding through observation. So no more "why"s can follow. They are surely very interesting "why"s, but that isn't the subject of this post. Note: Making conclusions about the origins of your majin deprecates its value, often passing it on to a superior majin. This is often a good thing as it leads to exciting discoveries and more robust and versatile majins. But sometimes, to one's disappointment, this receiving majin might not be superior at all but simply an adhoc means to instate one absolute majin, ruler of all majins. Such a majin has not been verified with observation and if you think it does, you're a crazy person.

Here's another majin: The law of increasing entropy. Entropy is simply our net ignorance of the universe. Ignorance here refers to our lack of knowledge of the positions and momenta of the particles that constitute the universe." But we had no idea about the universe to begin with!", you ask? In physics, one often tends to take a word in existing vocabulary and modify it to suit the idea one is attempting to encapsulate. In this case, the word "universe" simply refers to something thermodynamically isolated meaning no information can escape or enter. Then we're still losing information? Yes! Because things get mixed up. Suppose you knew 2 numbers say 3 and 4. We then mix them up to get 7. There is no way we can recover those 2 numbers. The process of addition kills previous information. One can think of nature as constantly adding things up.

And if those majins weren't entertaining enough, try bringing them together. How is it that when we have such a powerful law like the principle of least action, we're confounded by the equally impressive law of increasing entropy? Is there some cosmic disharmony between these 2 majins? Perhaps one majin is more powerful than the other? Maybe both majins are plain wrong and there is a 3rd more superior less ambiguous majin somewhere? I'll leave this to your imajination.


Nikhil Rajagopalan said...

Welcome back!That means I can go off on a creative hiatus.
First off, Dragon Ball Z reference?
Yes, there are some awesome majins out there, but like drinking and driving, some can't be mixed and if done, the results aren't pretty. The laws of the macro and the quantum are suitably separated, but what if the two were to collide? Like gravitational effects at the center of a black hole? Or the concept of time at the event horizon? Sometimes it's mankind's whim to neatly package away the laws of nature into a poetical unity, but Nature can be complex and unyielding and there's nothing we can do about it. Einstein said that God doesn't play dice with the Universe, but look- quantum mechanics with all its complexities are noe accepted as fact. So I guess we should marvel at the wonders of the Universe and revel in our limited understanding of it.

Vyaas said...

I had no idea that majins were a Dragonball Z thing.

Gravitational effects at the center of the black hole and time at the event horizon are perfectly valid majins and can be mixed. Its what physicists do for a living. Mixing majins is the prime reason for the LHC and other billion dollar research projects.

No doubt nature is complex, and I don't deny that packaging her into 'poetical unity' might prove to be a failure. But if that sort of thinking persisted 150 years ago, this- me rambling on the internet, would not have happened. Packaging electricity and magnetism was an essential step in civilization's progress. There is no reason to dismiss the idea that a bigger package exists.

Quantum mechanics is not accepted as fact? I'm sorry, but that sounds at best medieval. Quantum mechanics has withstood the most diligent of observations. I urge you to read Schrodinger's nobel lecture where he points out the paradigm shift that is required in our thinking. We cannot simply plant the flag of ignorance saying our perceptions and intuitions fail to predict nature correctly. We will probe and thank goodness that statistically we've been on the right track. There is so much left to figure out; our plates are full. Infact, as our good friend Suppy once said, "Our eternal quest for information indeed suggests that there is an eternity's worth of information to quest after." I paraphrase of course.

Nikhil Rajagopalan said...

Lol, that was a typo. I meant to type "Now" and I typed 'noe' instead.
I even read the first two chapters on a treatise of quantum mechanics before the maths got too intense.

Vyaas said...

Ah! I should have known. That sentence didn't seem to make much sense otherwise!

I wish there were an easier way to read quantum mechanics, but without the math, there's no way one can appreciate it. Feynman's lectures on quantum electrodynamics are a good starting point. Little to no math at all and very well presented: