Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Wednesday - a visit to Madison Square Park

 I went to see, listen to and walk through Ghost Forest, the Maya Lin installation in Madison Square Park in NYC. In fact, I went twice. I went to the park because I wanted to see/hear/walk through the Ghost Forest, even though I don't need an excuse to go to Madison Square Park. It's always been one of my favorite green spots in Manhattan, not too big, not too pretentious, laid out in a way that is both formal and casual, with just a few heroic statues of historic figures, President Chester Alan Arthur, Senator Roscoe Conklin - both of these lived in the neighborhood - and the very impressive Admiral David Glasgow Farragut Memorial, which was designed by August Saint-Gaudens and Stanford White. Farragut might have lived in the neighborhood as well; there is a memorial plaque in his honor in the Episcopalian Church of the Incarnation a few blocks uptown on Madison Avenue. The Conklin statue is in a shrubbery surrounded niche at the corner of Broadway and E. 23rd St. The Chester Alan Arthur statue is on a plinth just inside the northeast corner of the park near Madison Ave. and E. 26th St. It is fitting that they both be in this park, since they were both residents of the area, and fitting they be placed about as far apart as possible since they became political enemies.

I read only a very little about the Maya Lin work before going to see it. I did not want to predispose myself to have an opinion before I had a chance to experience it, and this for me is the best way to approach new things. After I've had the experience, I go and learn about it, not before.

So as to not bias a reader who hasn't been to it yet, I will only say a little. It stands out on the largest lawn in the park and blends in as well. It is a grouping of leafless trees arranged in a 7x7grouping.

It is possible to sit within the grove without thinking about it, but difficult to approach it without noticing the dead cedars - forty-nine of them - stark and tall, their branches bare, the Flatiron Building clearly visible behind them. She chose these already dead trees from the New Jersey Pine Barrens. They had died prematurely from effects of climate change.

Walking though it, a person should open themselves up to their presence and the way they impose their silence, even in the middle of a noisy midtown Manhattan. 

Here are a few photos.


Saturday, June 5, 2021

Saturday - No symmetry for you

 Don't look for symmetry because it isn't there. If there was symmetry in the universe we wouldn't be here. What do I mean, you ask? Simple: in the beginning, at the moment when the big bang began to bang, there was matter and anti-matter and every time a matter particle met an anti-matter particle - kabang - they annihilated each other. What's that got to do with symmetry and us being here, you ask? Well, in the beginning when the big nothing - we really don't know what was or wasn't there at that precise pre-Planck moment - so when the big nothing banged big, there should have been equal amounts of matter and anti-matter and all of it should have eventually met - and I mean by eventually, a very short time because there was only a small volume of universe - and been kaboomed. In a symmetrical universe, no matter left, no anti-matter, no nothing except the occasional pair of virtual antithetical particles and little kabooming out of existence. And all there would be, I think, is a massless, high-energy photon soup with nobody around to slurp it up.

But in our universe, at the beginning when the Big whatever Banged, or whatever happened, there was a slight asymmetry - not much, probably one part in  a zillion kajillion or so, but enough so that when matter met anti-matter - you might say the match made in heaven - there were enough unpartnered particles, nerdy particles, ones just slightly less desired by an anti-particle somewhere, hanging around the snack table, pouring themselves another glass of punch, looking over their lonely particle shoulders at the explosive rave on the dance floor, they still unmatched and un-kaboomed, but  those wallflower particles mattered, as it were, so that a universe full of matter could expand, and then inflate and expand some more, and 14+ billion years later, I am here telling you that there is no symmetry in our universe, at least not true symmetry, only something that looks like an attempt at seeming symmetrical. Let's call it quasi-symmetry and that this is how it is.

Not that we had much choice.

A few asymmetrical photos.

Monday, May 31, 2021

Monday - I do like diners: the Remedy Diner on E. Houston St., NYC

 There are bad diners, good diners and a few that are very good, indeed. The local diner I go to, Thornwood Coach Diner, on most visits is very good and never, ever less than good. There is a diner in Millerton, NY, the Oakhurst Diner, which I've visited once and expect I will again, should I find myself in northern Dutchess County. The one visit, early last fall, left a very good impression.

This week I'm posting a few pictures I took in the Remedy Diner. It's on East Houston St. in Manhattan, at the corner of Norfolk St. 

Last summer, during a lull in the intensity of the pandemic, I met a couple of times with friends for an out-of-doors lunch and conversation. The umbrella shaded tables were on the Norfolk St. side, across from a school playground, and the impression was more cafe than diner, though the menu was definitely diner.

Last week, with NYC beginning to reopen, and my friends and I fully vaccinated against Covid-19, we met inside. 

The hallmarks of a good diner include a clean, chrome and formica interior, a counter, friendly staff and a generally relaxed atmosphere, along with a menu that has something for just about everyone and well made food at reasonable prices. The Remedy checks off all of these boxes.

I had a plain hamburger covered with sauted onions and a side of fries. The burger was very tasty, made perfectly to order and the fries were crisp but not crunchy. The only negative was the tomato which was bland.

Here's a few photos of the interior with customer, one of the waitstaff and manager.


Sunday, May 30, 2021

Sunday - Thoughts on Quantum Loop Gravity and commuting into Grand Central Terminal

I tried to step away from the esoteric parts of quantum physics but found myself taking a short course on Quantum Loop Gravity from the World Science University. It was interesting, I learned some things and came away not convinced that QLG is the solution to the problem of quantum gravity. The professor, Dr. Carlo Rovelli is simultaneously convincing and unconvincing. He makes a strong case for the need for a theory of quantum gravity and for the quantum nature of spacetime at the smallest scale - Planck sized, but he does not convince me that QLG is the answer. 

He discusses how quantum gravity is needed to understand the structure of a black hole and that which is called a singularity since General Relativity breaks down in trying to explain it, and his description of how something that, for an external observer takes 10 billion years to happen, the creation of a white hole, is almost instantaneous inside the black hole, where gravity approaches infinity and time slows, relative to the outside viewer, almost to zero. He describes the white hole as a time reversed black hole. And he even posits an astronomical phenomena as possible evidence for the actual existence of white holes, Fast radio bursts, whose sources are still not understood.

Ok, I admit it, I was fascinated and momentarily even seduced by the ideas. And then I got down to selecting some photos.

These were taken on two days about 5 weeks apart. Both times I detrained at about the same time, same track, and descended into the E. 47th St. Cross Passage of Grand Central Terminal North.

I will let you guess which were from mid-April and which from late May this year. I think the difference in the number of people is a big clue.


Friday, May 28, 2021

Friday - Not much to say: is no theme a theme?

I don't know which is more difficult: deciding what photos to post or what to write. Sometimes it's one, sometimes the other.  Tonight it's the writing. So here's a few not at all randomly selected but not necessarily thematically linked photos. Unless of course not being thematically linked is another theme.


Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Wednesday - Taking a break from deep thoughts on cosmology - not

I'm giving my brain a brief break from all that cogitation. It's been keeping me up at night and distracting me from looking deep into some of my photos, and understanding which ones I really like and which I will pass on for now.

I watched a video that was a lecture at Stanford University. The lecturer, Dr. Alan Weinstein is a professor of Physics at CalTech and is a part of the LIGO team. The talk was on gravity, gravity waves and implications of Einstein's theory of gravity. During the Q&A Professor Weinstein was asked a question he deferred answering by telling the questioner that he is an experimentalist. I liked that answer because it told me something about him, about some of the World Science Festival panels I've watched and about some other physicists I know.

I recently spoke with a software engineer friend who has his PhD in physics from an Ivy League university. I'd heard Prof. Steven Weinberg say, "you're either a theorist or an experimentalist. At least in the kind physics I'm interested in, no no one is both." (from a Nobel Prize interview) of I asked my friend to tell me what he felt the difference between an experimental and theoretical physicist is. He saud Experimentalists can spend a lot of time thinking about the theoretical stuff but they want to figure out how to test it. He said he personally loved to tinker. This made me wonder whether theoretical physicists think about ways to test their ideas.

When I spoke with my cousin's husband, an experimentalist in Physics, about string theory and specifically, fuzzballs, I felt he took umbrage that I might take them as a serious solution to black holes and information loss. He pointed out that they are speculative, at the moment unprovable, and as such, not really scientific (or science). He didn't say it, but I will: just because the math is pretty and makes sense, unless you can create an experiment to test it, you have to decide if it's science or what the late Stephen Jay Gould once described as, "hot stove" conversations. 

Here are three quotes from the first part of Brian Greene's PBS Nova program, The Elegant Universe (2003):

JOSEPH LYKKEN (FermiLab): String theory and string theorists do have a real problem. How do you actually test string theory? If you can't test it in the way that we test normal theories, it's not science, it's philosophy, and that's a real problem.

S. JAMES GATES, JR. (University of Maryland, ret.) : If string theory fails to provide a testable prediction, then nobody should believe it.

SHELDON LEE GLASHOW (Boston University and Harvard University) : Is that a theory of physics, or a philosophy?

It's 2021 and there are conjectures for proving string theory, but nothing firm. So as of this date, it seems to still be an open question.

The first two of these photos are of something that no longer exists. They were what was in the frames for ad posters in the 47th Street Passage, Grand Central Terminal North. I noticed they'd been removed and replaced with nothing. That's the third photo. Perhaps, as a sign of life returning, some new ad will soon show up there.

And then, the escalator. I love escalators and I love the word. It's a thing, but when it's a conflict it becomes a verb. We don't say a person escalates when they ride one, but a conflict can. I think I'm deescalating when I ride down.



Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Tuesday - Back from a brief break

 I took a couple of days off. That's obvious because there were no posts on those days. I needed to wrap my brain around the things I'm learning. A lot of what I'm learning is an expansion and deepening of things I'd learned before. Some involves unlearning things I thought I knew. It is a strenuous activity and it is also fun.

An example of this relates to the brief post of Sunday morning. I've previously come to grips with the relativistic nature of time, and also the granularity of time. My time and your time can be synchronized but as soon as we start moving apart from each other, my time is not the same as yours. I've got this and I understand why. And though time may pass more quickly or more slowly, it takes an external observer to see this. For me, time moves at my local rate. A year for me, takes a year and for a person traveling on a very fast moving vessel away from and then back to earth, that person would perceive their time at the same personal rate, but when we compare our watches, we discover that they are younger. 

The same effect is seen if the other person has spent time close to a very massive object, such as just outside the event horizon of a black hole. 

The granularity of time seems a counterintuitive. The world and things in it may seem infinitely divisible, but this is not the case. Zeno's paradox breaks down at the smallest scales. Max Planck discovered that energy comes in little packets we now call quanta. It's more complicated than this, but as a result, he worked out what we now call Planck's constant and from this is derived the smallest unit of time. - no surprise that we call it Planck time. It's of a very short duration.

Among the things I find fascinating about this is that it may define the shortest amount of time after the big bang that we can know anything about. I say may because we haven't gotten that close to knowing what happened that soon after T-0, yet.

Okay, enough. If I keep going on you'll think I have too much time on my hands.

A few midtown east photos from about a month ago.


Sunday, May 23, 2021

Saturday (posted Sunday morning) - Time is only local

 In a talk at the Royal Institute 3 years ago, Carlo Rovelli said the following, in this order though not as a sequence: 

1. There is no meaning of now.

2. Now is only local.

3 Nothing distinguishes the future from the past except for entropy.

I have to think about these and other things he said.

Meanwhile, a few pictures taken last month from the outside of the JPMorgan construction site between  Madison and Park Avenues, E. 47th to E. 48th Streets in Manhattan


Friday, May 21, 2021

Friday - The things you can learn if you pay attention: geometrodynamics

 I listened to and watched a two year old lecture by Kip Thorne on geometrodynamics: the nonlinerar dynamics of curved spacetime. I was fascinating. I surprised myself by understanding about 80% of what he was explaining. I sort of lost it at first when he got into Riemamm Tensors but then when he described with some excellent graphics the violence of two types of black hole mergers, one head on and the other of two rotating black holes, it started to make sense. To say that I knew about the stretching and squeezing of space by gravity waves but had not realized that the collision also created twisting, torsional effects as well, puts it directly. But thinking about it, I wasn't surprised.

One a much smaller scale, the waves of the ocean stretch and squeeze but also visibly twist. So why shouldn't gravity waves do this, too? 

Professor Thorne is easy on the ears. He takes his time working through the material, lets the listener know when he's about to take a deep dive into a more technical aspect and then when surfacing, gently explains the import of the parts people like myself have not yet learned. I appreciate that in a teacher.

There was much snow in Westchester this past winter and I had a new camera. These were taken during and just after a February storm. I was still learning.


Thursday (posted Friday) - Fuzzballs and singularities

 Professor Samir Mathur, a theoretical physicist at Ohio State University, has proposed that a black hole is not a singularity but rather a sphere made of the strings of string theory. In his speculation, there is no singularity at the center of a black hole. If I understood what he said in the lecture I listened to, the strings make a volumeless sphere which is all surface and no inside, that spacetime does not exist inside a fuzzball. 

I've been thinking about this and again, I do not have the expertise to either agree or disagree with this supposition, but I certainly have the expertise to ponder it. It is an example of the wonderful ability of scientists to imagine solutions to a problem that might not exist. The problem Professor Mathur seemed to want to solve is the problem of infinite spacetime curvature and zero volume at the singularity, and the information paradox. 

I don't know what happens inside the event horizon of a black hole. I don't know what happens at the event horizon. I have been told that time seems to stop for an object entering the horizon, to an outside observer but the object itself may not notice it has crossed the point of no return until it is torn apart by increasing tidal forces - what Kip Thorne called spaghettification - or destroyed by the energy released by the disentanglement of the particles that make up Hawking radiation - the one falling in giving off this energy, or perhaps something else. It is all speculation and depending on the theorists stand on various aspects of quantum theory, general relativity, the views have yet to be reconciled. 

Fuzzballs is an attempt to resolve these differences. The problem is, there is no way to test this, nor, at this time, any of the other things I've mentioned. So I've decided to listen to the lectures, read the books and take pleasure in the mind-bending possibilities of our universe at its most extreme.

Maybe one day I'll write something on my take on the anthropic principle.

Some people need to leave a mark. These photos are of some graffiti and stickers posted on a viaduct across the railroad tracks that run through Hudson Highlands State Park.