Tag: Quantum Mechanics

The Emperor’s New Mind


Mathematical truth is not a horrendously complicated dogma whose validity is beyond our comprehension. -Sir Rodger Penrose

The Emperor’s New Mind is Sir Roger Penrose’s argument that you can’t get a true AI by merely piling silicon atop silicon. To explain why he needs a whole book in which he summarizes most math and all physics. Even for a geek like me, someone who’s got the time on his hands and a fascination with these things it gets a bit thick. While delving into the vagaries of light cones or the formalism of Hilbert space in quantum mechanics it’s easy to wonder “wait, what does this have to do with your main argument?” Penrose has to posit new physics in order to support his ideas, and he can’t explain those ideas unless you the reader have a sufficient grasp of how the old physics works. Makes for a frustrating read though.

Einstein, Ether Strings, and Millikan on the Electron


In the early years of the last century, R.A. Millikan measured the charge of the electron. He was one of the greatest experimentalists to ever live, not only isolating and measuring something so incredibly small but doing other important work with things like cosmic rays. As such, when I saw he had a book, named The Electron, I figured he ought to know a thing or two about the subject. He did; it’s a complete, informative, and up-to-date book, so long as that date occurs within World War I.

The book has been eye-opening, not because of the new physics, but because of all the outmoded and discarded theories that he mentions and dismisses on the way. What if electrons didn’t have a fixed charge, but a statistical distribution that averaged out to what we think of as a fixed charge? This was a viable theory until Millikan disproved it looking at his oil droplets. What really got me though was when he spent his last chapter describing wave-particle duality. Only there was no such thing when he wrote the book. At that point all modern physics had was a real head-scratcher of a problem. Sample quote:

Fun with Vectors and the Zombie Apocalypse


No, not vector in the epidemiological sense. The other, mathy kind of vector. Which, trust me, are fun. At least stick around for the zombies.

This dates back to my college days, when I took Differential Equations. Twice. I’ve always been good with math. Sure, I struggled with plenty of things along the way (percentages, trig identities, multivariable integration. Oooh, and concentrations in chemistry), but DiffEq is where I hit the wall like a coyote hits his own painted-on tunnel. Vector spaces were part of that; an abtruse concept used to justify an abstract concept used to solve some difficult equations that might, in turn, have something to do with the real world. But once I got my head wrapped around them, vector spaces turned out to be a fun and useful bit of math. Hey, it could happen.

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Listen, I’m going to be straight with you. This one is mostly for my fun. I mean, they’re all up largely because I like to hear the sound of my own voice. But this one, this one is a bit superfluous. This is the quantum mechanical explanation for how semiconductors work. I’ve already described the […]

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How to Build a Computer 5: Fundamental Chemistry


I know I promised simple transistor uses last time. Thinking about it though, I’d rather go into a bit more detail about the electron golfing I described earlier. It’s a neat analogy, but it doesn’t cover some things you can do with diodes. Interesting things. Therefore we’re gonna dive in for a deeper understanding of chemistry, atoms, and cartoons. Let’s look at a model of an atom using common household objects:

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Those Wonderful German Compounds


Those Wonderful German Compounds, wherein your winning Scrabble words for the next six months can be found.

It’s been a long time since the fascination with German took hold and nearly as long since that language’s legendary and oft-mocked propensity to generate staggering numbers of compound words of nearly unlimited length became one of the great pleasures of my life. I love compounds and I love German compounds especially because they are so lexically transparent, so often poetic and sometimes even linguistically efficient. Let’s take some simple examples, like the ones that got me started:

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I am an amateur philosopher. That means that no matter how much effort I put in nobody pays me, or even thinks of paying me for it. I must also admit that this is an enormous topic with many facets, about most of which I am completely unqualified to speak. Of course, I am probably […]

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My Interview With Einstein


I was working in my astrophysics lab at home yesterday, flipping the space-time continuum on its side and tying quarks and Higgs boson particles to it with the sub-atomic vibrating strings which some claim to be the building blocks of all matter. I cobbled together a miniature particle accelerator/collider out of an old bicycle tire and cap pistol in between episodes of Property Brothers on HGTV. It has since produced a steady stream of God particles, which I keep cool in an old Yeti ice chest out back. If you ever need any, just holler.

In an incredible coincidence, after I closed my lab for the night, I got a call from an old friend, Momo, with whom I had done a nickel in Alcatraz. He died unexpectedly last year from injuries received in a limbo challenge in St. Barts. He heard I had been trying to break into the posthumous interview racket. Turns out he’s been spending a lot of time lately with Albert Einstein. With little warning, Momo put the Mensa Mensch on the phone. I asked the late genius if I could record our conversation. He said “ja wohl,” and off we went. Here are excerpts.