Part of A Herd

The dihydrogen oxide sorta falleth. More a heavy mist than an actual rain. Enough to soak rather a bit after a full constitutional, happily uninterrupted by boscos and haggis brains. 

In my youth walking in rain was uplifting, exhilarating. Now it is only distracting. Sometimes the weight of existence is enough to crush life. But I did manage to exert a bit of attention direction to consider an article [Link] by Brian Greene entitled “The Theory of Relativity, Then and Now”. It’s basically a bog article with the physics almost missing. But sometimes making contact with colleagues is a useful thing even if all we talk about are stomach aches.

The article is about Einstein’s closing difficulties with the theory of relativity. This is a useful thing. We get taught how to work on problems and research but we don’t always get told about the problems – other than monetary and bogs – that crop up. Sometimes it’s a mental block of sorts; sometimes it’s an attack of delusional fidgets. And we think that others don’t have these so we don’t mention them. We don’t discuss them. And we all have them.

It doesn’t seem to matter what we are working on, and certainly most of us don’t work on things as complicated or big as gravity. It’s more a matter of how we work. And that is pretty common. 

So let’s review some of what Greene had to say about the specific:

“Leveraging results from the mid-1800s that provided the geometrical language for describing curved shapes, Einstein created a wholly novel yet fully rigorous reformulation of gravity in terms of the geometry of space and time. .. But then it all seemed to collapse. While investigating his new equations Einstein committed a fateful technical error, leading him to think that his proposal failed to correctly describe all sorts of commonplace motion. For two long, frustrating years Einstein desperately tried to patch the problem, but nothing worked.”

In statistics (or sadistics as some call it behind their hands,) we are taught that errors are both positive and negative. Fluctuations in research and thinks are the same. Sometimes they are constructive and sometimes destructive. And we all get them. The problem is that it takes a long time to get them wrestled into submission. We have all had brilliant epiphanies (well, all nerds, at least) that seem instantaneous but built over unappreciated time and then take agonizing time to apply. We also have what seems a brilliant epiphany that turns out to be a false worry but we still have to worry it into submission. Over too long a period of time.

“His estranged wife, Mileva Maric, finally accepted that her life with Einstein was over, and had moved back to Zurich with their two sons.”

Marriage is an intriguing process. It struggles to exist, usually successfully, in spite of all the things we do to destroy it. I am quite in favor of it but I do have to admit that I seem to get more done when FD SCP is absent.

“By November, this freedom bore fruit. Einstein corrected his earlier error and set out on the final climb toward the general theory of relativity. But as he worked intensely on the fine mathematical details, conditions turned unexpectedly treacherous. A few months earlier, Einstein had met with the renowned German mathematician David Hilbert, and had shared all his thinking about his new gravitational theory. Apparently, Einstein learned to his dismay, the meeting had so stoked Hilbert’s interest that he was now racing Einstein to the finish line.”
 
I have difficulty understanding how theoretical folks can work in coveys (or whatever a collective of theoretical physicists is called?) I can understand it for experimentalists since they have to borrow tools and get help bailing or whatever, but theorists works best alone IMHO. That is not to say that discussions are not useful. Sometimes until you utter something you don’t realize how whacked it is. But you run the risk of sparking ideas in your colleagues and losing your stuff. It happens. And the etiquette of it is difficult. Especially since nerds are so contra-social. I know there have been several times I got ideas from colleagues that let me beat on a problem of common interest. I try to make sure they don’t lose their chance and give them credit but it is still a difficult thing. 
 
“To his friend Heinrich Zangger, Einstein confided, “In my personal experience I have not learnt any better the wretchedness of the human species as on occasion of this theory….””
 
Even when it turns out right – whatever right is, it is unpleasant. This is one of the reasons theoreticians need to work alone. It hurts too much otherwise. And we lose our smarts in the pain.
 
“Of course, the credit would only be worth having if the general theory of relativity were confirmed through observations. Remarkably, Einstein could see how that might be done.”
 
This incidentally is the nutmeat of physics, its duality of theory and experiment. This is why neither mathematicians nor engineers are physicists. The one never gets beyond “the maths say so” to “observed reality says so” and the other never worries about why, just how. We need both but neither can do physics. 
 
Which is rather like marriage.
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