Friday, February 23rd, 2018

Everything else is opinion


The God Particle – 6

Where do we stand today compared to Greece circa 400 B.C.? Lederman asks. In answer, he suggests that today’s “standard model” is not all that different from Democritus’s speculative atomic theory. There is a historical trail that begins in Miletus, Greece, wends its way through the centuries touching base with Democritus, Ptolemy, Copernicus, et. al., ending up at Fermilab and the Burger King outside of Waxahachie, Texas. That is the outline of this book. There are about 35 scientists visited in Lederman’s version of written time travel. At several points in this survey, he traces the beginning of the disciplines of Mechanical Engineering (following Newton), Electrical Engineering (following Faraday), Atomic Physics (following Bohr), and Nuclear Science (following Lawrence). By any other author, this journey would be deadly, but thanks to foil Democritus I found it quite entertaining.

Of course it helps to have a distorted sense of humor, I suppose.

For the philosophers among us, an age old debate rages on. Is this universe real? If so, can we know it?

Theorists don’t often grapple with this problem. [Lederman draws a sharp distinction between Theorists and Experimentalists and clearly considers himself in the latter’s camp] They simply accept objective reality at face value, like Democritus, and go about their calculations. (A smart choice if you’re going to get anywhere with a pencil and pad.) But an experimenter, tormented by the frailty of his instruments and his senses, can break out in a cold sweat over the task of measuring this reality, which can be a slippery thing when you lay a ruler down on it. Sometimes the numbers that come out of an experiment are so strange and unexpected that they raise the hairs on a physicist’s neck.

Quoting Democritus, Lederman ventures that in the meantime, nothing exists except atoms and empty space; everything else is opinion.

Dave, reliving bits of his own scientific travels.

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