A Scientist Takes On GravityRead More
By DENNIS OVERBYE
(from the NY Times)
It’s hard to imagine a more fundamental and ubiquitous aspect of life on the Earth than gravity, from the moment you first took a step and fell on your diapered bottom to the slow terminal sagging of flesh and dreams.
But what if it’s all an illusion, a sort of cosmic frill, or a side effect of something else going on at deeper levels of reality?
So says Erik Verlinde, 48, a respected string theorist and professor of physics at the University of Amsterdam, whose contention that gravity is indeed an illusion has caused a continuing ruckus among physicists, or at least among those who profess to understand it. Reversing the logic of 300 years of science, he argued in a recent paper, titled “On the Origin of Gravity and the Laws of Newton,” that gravity is a consequence of the venerable laws of thermodynamics, which describe the behavior of heat and gases.
“For me gravity doesn’t exist,” said Dr. Verlinde, who was recently in the United States to explain himself. Not that he can’t fall down, but Dr. Verlinde is among a number of physicists who say that science has been looking at gravity the wrong way and that there is something more basic, from which gravity “emerges,” the way stock markets emerge from the collective behavior of individual investors or that elasticity emerges from the mechanics of atoms.
Looking at gravity from this angle, they say, could shed light on some of the vexing cosmic issues of the day, like the dark energy, a kind of anti-gravity that seems to be speeding up the expansion of the universe, or the dark matter that is supposedly needed to hold galaxies together.
Dr. Verlinde’s argument turns on something you could call the “bad hair day” theory of gravity.
It goes something like this: your hair frizzles in the heat and humidity, because there are more ways for your hair to be curled than to be straight, and nature likes options. So it takes a force to pull hair straight and eliminate nature’s options. Forget curved space or the spooky attraction at a distance described by Isaac Newton’s equations well enough to let us navigate the rings of Saturn, the force we call gravity is simply a byproduct of nature’s propensity to maximize disorder.
Some of the best physicists in the world say they don’t understand Dr. Verlinde’s paper, and many are outright skeptical. But some of those very same physicists say he has provided a fresh perspective on some of the deepest questions in science, namely why space, time and gravity exist at all — even if he has not yet answered them.
“Some people have said it can’t be right, others that it’s right and we already knew it — that it’s right and profound, right and trivial,” Andrew Strominger, a string theorist at Harvard said.
“What you have to say,” he went on, “is that it has inspired a lot of interesting discussions. It’s just a very interesting collection of ideas that touch on things we most profoundly do not understand about our universe. That’s why I liked it.”
Dr. Verlinde is not an obvious candidate to go off the deep end. He and his brother Herman, a Princeton professor, are celebrated twins known more for their mastery of the mathematics of hard-core string theory than for philosophic flights.
Born in Woudenberg, in the Netherlands, in 1962, the brothers got early inspiration from a pair of 1970s television shows about particle physics and black holes. “I was completely captured,” Dr. Verlinde recalled. He and his brother obtained Ph.D’s from the University of Utrecht together in 1988 and then went to Princeton, Erik to the Institute for Advanced Study and Herman to the university. After bouncing back and forth across the ocean, they got tenure at Princeton. And, they married and divorced sisters. Erik left Princeton for Amsterdam to be near his children.
He made his first big splash as a graduate student when he invented Verlinde Algebra and the Verlinde formula, which are important in string theory, the so-called theory of everything, which posits that the world is made of tiny wriggling strings.
You might wonder why a string theorist is interested in Newton’s equations. After all Newton was overturned a century ago by Einstein, who explained gravity as warps in the geometry of space-time, and who some theorists think could be overturned in turn by string theorists.
Over the last 30 years gravity has been “undressed,” in Dr. Verlinde’s words, as a fundamental force.
This disrobing began in the 1970s with the discovery by Jacob Bekenstein of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Stephen Hawking of Cambridge University, among others, of a mysterious connection between black holes and thermodynamics, culminating in Dr. Hawking’s discovery in 1974 that when quantum effects are taken into account black holes would glow and eventually explode.
In a provocative calculation in 1995, Ted Jacobson, a theorist from the University of Maryland, showed that given a few of these holographic ideas, Einstein’s equations of general relativity are just a another way of stating the laws of thermodynamics.
Those exploding black holes (at least in theory — none has ever been observed) lit up a new strangeness of nature. Black holes, in effect, are holograms — like the 3-D images you see on bank cards. All the information about what has been lost inside them is encoded on their surfaces. Physicists have been wondering ever since how this “holographic principle” — that we are all maybe just shadows on a distant wall — applies to the universe and where it came from.
In one striking example of a holographic universe, Juan Maldacena of the Institute for Advanced Study constructed a mathematical model of a “soup can” universe, where what happened inside the can, including gravity, is encoded in the label on the outside of the can, where there was no gravity, as well as one less spatial dimension. If dimensions don’t matter and gravity doesn’t matter, how real can they be?
Lee Smolin, a quantum gravity theorist at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, called Dr. Jacobson’s paper “one of the most important papers of the last 20 years.”
But it received little attention at first, said Thanu Padmanabhan of the Inter-University Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics in Pune, India, who has taken up the subject of “emergent gravity” in several papers over the last few years. Dr. Padmanabhan said that the connection to thermodynamics went deeper that just Einstein’s equations to other theories of gravity. “Gravity,” he said recently in a talk at the Perimeter Institute, “is the thermodynamic limit of the statistical mechanics of “atoms of space-time.”
Dr. Verlinde said he had read Dr. Jacobson’s paper many times over the years but that nobody seemed to have gotten the message. People were still talking about gravity as a fundamental force. “Clearly we have to take these analogies seriously, but somehow no one does,” he complained.
His paper, posted to the physics archive in January, resembles Dr. Jacobson’s in many ways, but Dr. Verlinde bristles when people say he has added nothing new to Dr. Jacobson’s analysis. What is new, he said, is the idea that differences in entropy can be the driving mechanism behind gravity, that gravity is, as he puts it an “entropic force.”
That inspiration came to him courtesy of a thief.
As he was about to go home from a vacation in the south of France last summer, a thief broke into his room and stole his laptop, his keys, his passport, everything. “I had to stay a week longer,” he said, “I got this idea.”
Up the beach, his brother got a series of e-mail messages first saying that he had to stay longer, then that he had a new idea and finally, on the third day, that he knew how to derive Newton’s laws from first principles, at which point Herman recalled thinking, “What’s going on here? What has he been drinking?”
When they talked the next day it all made more sense, at least to Herman. “It’s interesting,” Herman said, “how having to change plans can lead to different thoughts.”
Think of the universe as a box of scrabble letters. There is only one way to have the letters arranged to spell out the Gettysburg Address, but an astronomical number of ways to have them spell nonsense. Shake the box and it will tend toward nonsense, disorder will increase and information will be lost as the letters shuffle toward their most probable configurations. Could this be gravity?
As a metaphor for how this would work, Dr. Verlinde used the example of a polymer — a strand of DNA, say, a noodle or a hair — curling up.
“It took me two months to understand polymers,” he said.
The resulting paper, as Dr. Verlinde himself admits, is a little vague.
“This is not the basis of a theory,” Dr. Verlinde explained. “I don’t pretend this to be a theory. People should read the words I am saying opposed to the details of equations.”
Dr. Padmanabhan said that he could see little difference between Dr. Verlinde’s and Dr. Jacobson’s papers and that the new element of an entropic force lacked mathematical rigor. “I doubt whether these ideas will stand the test of time,” he wrote in an e-mail message from India. Dr. Jacobson said he couldn’t make sense of it.
John Schwarz of the California Institute of Technology, one of the fathers of string theory, said the paper was “very provocative.” Dr. Smolin called it, “very interesting and also very incomplete.”
At a workshop in Texas in the spring, Raphael Bousso of the University of California, Berkeley, was asked to lead a discussion on the paper.
“The end result was that everyone else didn’t understand it either, including people who initially thought that did make some sense to them,” he said in an e-mail message.
“In any case, Erik’s paper has drawn attention to what is genuinely a deep and important question, and that’s a good thing,” Dr. Bousso went on, “I just don’t think we know any better how this actually works after Erik’s paper. There are a lot of follow-up papers, but unlike Erik, they don’t even understand the problem.”
The Verlinde brothers are now trying to recast these ideas in more technical terms of string theory, and Erik has been on the road a bit, traveling in May to the Perimeter Institute and Stony Brook University on Long Island, stumping for the end of gravity. Michael Douglas, a professor at Stony Brook, described Dr. Verlinde’s work as “a set of ideas that resonates with the community, adding, “everyone is waiting to see if this can be made more precise.”
Until then the jury of Dr. Verlinde’s peers will still be out.
Over lunch in New York, Dr. Verlinde ruminated over his experiences of the last six months. He said he had simply surrendered to his intuition. “When this idea came to me, I was really excited and euphoric even,” Dr. Verlinde said. “It’s not often you get a chance to say something new about Newton’s laws. I don’t see immediately that I am wrong. That’s enough to go ahead.”
He said friends had encouraged him to stick his neck out and that he had no regrets. “If I am proven wrong, something has been learned anyway. Ignoring it would have been the worst thing.”
The next day Dr. Verlinde gave a more technical talk to a bunch of physicists in the city. He recalled that someone had told him the other day that the unfolding story of gravity was like the emperor’s new clothes.
“We’ve known for a long time gravity doesn’t exist,” Dr. Verlinde said, “It’s time to yell it.”
Tuli Kupferberg, Bohemian and Fug, Dies at 86
By BEN SISARIO
(from the NY Times)
Tuli Kupferberg, a poet and singer who went from being a noted Beat to becoming, in his words, “the world’s oldest rock star” when he helped found the Fugs, the bawdy and politically pugnacious rock group, died on Monday in Manhattan. He was 86 and lived in Manhattan.
He had been in poor health since suffering two strokes last year, said Ed Sanders, his friend and fellow Fug.
The Fugs were, in the view of the longtime Village Voice critic Robert Christgau, “the Lower East Side’s first true underground band.” They were also perhaps the most puerile and yet the most literary rock group of the 1960s, with songs suitable for the locker room as well as the graduate seminar (“Ah, Sunflower, Weary of Time,” based on a poem by William Blake); all were played with a ramshackle glee that anticipated punk rock.
With songs like “Kill for Peace,” the Fugs also established themselves as aggressively antiwar, with a touch of absurdist theater. The band became “the U.S.O. of the left,” Mr. Kupferberg once said, and it played innumerable peace rallies, including the “exorcism” of the Pentagon in 1967 that Norman Mailer chronicled in his book “The Armies of the Night.” (The band took its name from a usage in Mailer’s “Naked and the Dead.”)
The Fugs was formed in 1964 in Mr. Sanders’s Peace Eye Bookstore, a former kosher meat store on East 10th Street in Manhattan. By then Mr. Kupferberg, already in his 40s, was something of a Beatnik celebrity. He was an anthologized poet and had published underground literary magazines with titles like Birth and Yeah.
He had also found notoriety as the inspiration for a character in Allen Ginsberg’s poem “Howl.” As Ginsberg and Mr. Kupferberg acknowledged, he was the one who “jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge this actually happened and walked away unknown and forgotten,” a reference to a 1945 suicide attempt (off the Manhattan Bridge, not Brooklyn) that had been preciptated by what he called a nervous breakdown.
The fame that episode earned him caused Mr. Kupferberg a lifetime of chagrin and embarrassment. “Throughout the years,” he later said, “I have been annoyed many times by, ‘Oh, did you really jump off the Brooklyn Bridge?,’ as if it was a great accomplishment.”
The Fugs’ first album, “The Village Fugs Sing Ballads of Contemporary Protest, Points of View and General Dissatisfaction,” was released in 1965. The band became a staple of underground galleries and theaters, as well as antiwar rallies. In concert Mr. Kupferberg was often the group’s mascot or harlequin, acting out satirical pantomimes — an American soldier who turns into a Nazi, for example — or sometimes not singing at all.
On subsequent albums the band changed its lineup many times and acquired a more professional sound, though its scatological themes got it kicked off at least one major record label.
With his bushy beard and wild hair, Mr. Kupferberg embodied the hippie aesthetic. But the term he preferred was bohemian, which to him signified a commitment to art as well as a rejection of restrictive bourgeois values, and as a scholar of the counterculture he traced the term back to an early use by students at the University of Paris. Among his books were “1,001 Ways to Live Without Working” — and for decades he was a frequent sight in Lower Manhattan, selling his cartoons on the street and serving as a grandfather figure for generations of nonconformists.
Beneath Mr. Kupferberg’s antics, however, was a keen poetic and musical intelligence that drew on his Jewish and Eastern European roots. He specialized in what he called “parasongs,” which adapted and sometimes satirized old songs with new words. And some of his Fugs songs, like the gentle “Morning, Morning,” had their origins in Jewish religious melodies.
Naphtali Kupferberg was born in New York on Sept. 28, 1923. He grew up on the Lower East Side and became a jazz fan and leftist activist while still a teenager. He graduated from Brooklyn College in 1944 and got a job as a medical librarian.
“I had intended to be a doctor at one point, like any good Jewish boy,” he recalled to Mr. Sanders in an audio interview in 2003. Instead he began to write topical poems and humor pieces, contributing to The Village Voice and other publications.
After the Fugs broke up, in 1969, Mr. Kupferberg performed with two groups, the Revolting Theater and the Fuxxons, and continued writing. The Fugs reunited periodically, first in 1984. Recently, Mr. Sanders said, Mr. Kupferberg had completed his parts for a new album, “Be Free: The Fugs Final CD (Part Two),” and had also been posting ribald “perverbs” — brief videos punning on well-known aphorisms — on YouTube.
Mr. Kupferberg is survived by his wife, Sylvia Topp; three children, Joseph Sacks, Noah Kupferberg and Samara Kupferberg; and three grandchildren.
Previously: mclarenRead More
Book Review: 33 1/3: Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality by John Darnielle
[Continuum Books; 2008]
by Marishimo • July 2008
[taken from Tiny Mix Tapes]
“FUCK YOU ALL GO TO HELL” is the first line of John Darnielle’s critical text about Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality, released this spring as part of the 33 1/3 series by Continuum Books. This is a book about Black Sabbath, and it is also a book about a kid stuck in a mental institution for behavioral problems. Ultimately though, this book by The Mountain Goats songwriter says “fuck you” to the sterility of music criticism.
The book is a collection of fictional journal entries written from a mental hospital, where Darnielle’s teenage narrator Roger Painter languishes. You never find out what this kid did to get locked up, but you do get the message that he has anger issues. His journals are written from Roger to his psychiatrist Gary, keeper of his Black Sabbath tapes.
Roger is trying to show Gary the genius behind Black Sabbath so that he will get his tapes back. He tells Gary that “I thought if I could really show you how it felt to be listening to that music by myself in the dark, totally illegal, you would know what it is like in my heart.”
I am 25 and have mostly forgotten what it is like to be young and angry. It amazes me that Darnielle can still channel that feeling and make me feel it, too, especially considering that he is in his late-30s. But having seen The Mountain Goats perform “The Best Metal Band To Come Out Of Denton,” “This Year,” and “Dance Music,” I can tell you that he has not forgotten.
Most musicians I see are shy about their skeletons, instead obscuring their insecurities with a general attitude of whatever-ness. Some of the kids out West don’t even finish their whatevers, giving up two syllables in so that you’re left with whatev. Not Darnielle; he puts cheap ugly lipstick on his skeletons, shoots their feet, and tells them to dance. John Darnielle would never say whatev.
This book is covered in seeming whatever-ness: formality is abandoned for the true passion of a teenage boy who loves Black Sabbath as much as he hates his life. There is, however, craft hidden behind the book’s simple structure. Consider again the first line of the book:
“FUCK YOU ALL GO TO HELL”
This artfully opposes the last line of the book:
“Fuck you all. Go to Hell.”
In the course of the narrative, Roger has matured from a deliriously angry teenager to an adult whose rage has simmered to allow for such things as punctuation and lower-case letters.
I, the reader, conversely, go from not caring about Black Sabbath to understanding why someone would. Ozzy is an Everyman for anyone who feels crude or inadequate. Roger writes to Gary that “some of the hardest things in the world are also very simple like for example a sword or even a big rock. [...] This is really why Black Sabbath is my favorite band. They are not trying to show off all the stuff they can do even though I am pretty sure they could be as complicated as they want to be. They just put all of their energy into this one riff and let it loose like an avalanche. Dunn-dunn, duh-duh-DUNN DUNN, dunn dunn-dunn.”
Darnielle could use words like “affecting” and “powerful” and well-placed semicolons and could reference influences and all these other tricks I am still trying to learn, but he instead decides to describe Sabbath with the unhinged passion of a teenage fan.
Describing Bill Ward’s drumming: “It’s like he is the secret underdog weapon of the band carrying everybody around on his back. I was so into those drums in the dark. Dark dark dark. The clink-clink-clink sounds in the part where there’s no singing, and then when he goes apeshit on the cymbals during the guitar solo.”
Just like Black Sabbath throws big rocks at subtlety and Roger’s manifesto-journal channels anger towards the mental health establishment, Darnielle’s book obliterates the sterility of music criticism. I imagine him reading reviews of his work and building up all of this disdain, deciding finally that he’s going to do it better. Ultimately, Master of Reality critiques criticism itself, an institution that encourages us to thrash apart the art of others — without offering any blood of our own.
Previously: always crashing in the same car.Read More
Charred Remains Of Slain Pig Continue To Speak From Beyond The GraveRead More
By Josh Frankfort – Sr. Farm Animal Murder Correspondent
(stolen from the NY Times)
In yet another bizarre twist in the ongoing investigation of slain pig, Mr. Wiggles, suspected killer, Joran van der Sloot confessed early Wednesday morning that he was, in fact, hired to assassinate the pig by the very forensics expert that helped crack the case earlier this week. Van der Sloot confessed to Peruvian police that he had hoped burning the remains of the animal would destroy all evidence of his crime, however Orange County forensics expert Melinda Munroe managed to find definitive evidence of stabbing amongst the charred remains of the sow.
In her now famous press conference at the Orange County Coroner’s office Munroe explained that the stab wounds were consistent with the pattern of a male attacker and corroborated other evidence pointing towards lead suspect Joran van der Sloot.
Van der Sloot’s original motive was assumed to be frustration by the change of tone in the mysterious writings found in the spider webs above the pig’s sty. The brief messages once drew tourists from miles around by the pig affirming messages such as “fantastic pig”. Recently, however, relations between pig and spider seem to have deteriorated as evidenced by an increasingly negative tone in overhanging web. Pig pilgrim Danny Gabai described a recent “web posting” as labeling Mr. Wiggles as a “Fat F*%k”. Recent descent into outright profanity has been cited as the key cause of fewer children visiting the miracle pig. The unwavering pride shown by the pig, as messages turned increasingly hateful seemed to further evidence the pig’s own disappointing illiteracy. As foot traffic declined, van der Sloot’s souvenir business teetered on the brink of bankruptcy and its proprietor became increasingly volatile.
Today’s revelation however flies in the face of van der Sloot’s assumed motive. According to the suspect, he played the role of hit man because he “needed the money, man. After the whole Aruba thing Dad kind of cut me off. He was super bummed. Melinda approached me with the offer to off that pig and I told her that I was down for whatever. I told her I knew how to make a body disappear”. When asked what Munroe’s motive in the killing was van der Sloot told police, “some school project. That girl is insane. I’m kind of into her”.
Ms. Munroe did not report to work this morning and police have found her apartment vacated and vehicle missing. It is assumed that she has fled to Mexico where she has already developed a cult following which might be willing to hide her. Amongst her fans, she has become known as La Bandita Carnita and is the subject of spontaneous rallies throughout Central America.
While little is known about the forensics expert turned killer, her neighbors describe her as “ice cold”. One neighbor, who spoke under the condition of anonymity for fear for his life, described her as solitary. “I would knock on her door in the middle of the night, but she would just pretend to not be home. I just wanted to ask if she was parked in my space, but she insisted on pretending that her apartment was empty. Who knows; maybe she was plotting my death as well. It makes me sick just to think about”. Another neighbor says that he knew very little about her except that she hated the color of his walls. “Why was she looking in my window anyway? It keeps me up at night just wondering if I was next on her list. I can’t even barbeque for the fourth this year because of my posttraumatic stress over this whole thing”.
Though there were no eyewitnesses to the killing, many locals reported that they could smell the fiery disposal of Mr. Wiggles. Neighboring farmer Craig T. Nelson reported the incineration to smell, “delicious”. While local merchant James Woods described the odor to be, “breakfast-like”.
Police have offered a reward for any information leading to the capture of Melinda Munroe. Police Chief Tex Watson has issued the following statement, “While we appreciate any help in apprehending Ms. Munroe, we remind the public that she is considered extremely dangerous and unpredictable. Please consider your own safety and inform local law enforcement should you identify the suspect. Do not, I repeat, do not attempt to engage the suspect yourself”.
A candle light vigil for Mr. Wiggles is planned for Wednesday night.