Monday, December 12, 2011

Scientific understanding

As a school going kid, I did understand my elementary physics quite well. But during my time, in school, physics barely touched upon particle physics. With the recent invasion of The Big Bang Theory and the Large Hadron Collider, I felt woefully inadequate with my understanding of particle physics in general, and the Higgs Boson particles and Theory of relativity in particular.

The Big Bang Theory

While browsing through books at a bookstore, I chanced upon a book titled – “Why does E=mc2?”. Now, I generally don’t do any book reviews, but to set context I would like to say that it is a perfect book for a guy like me who wishes to know a bit about particle physics without getting into the gory details of the mathematics behind it.

With my complete disconnect from physics lately, it took me quite a while and effort to get through this book. Though the authors have gone to a great extent to simplify things, my peanut sized brain still had issues with understanding the concepts. I literally had to read each and everything over and over again, many a times highlighting stuff and looking for it on the internet to really understand what each theory stands for. After 4 long months of arduous study, I kinda got what the book says, mostly about – space-time, theory of relativity, nuclear fusion and fission, standard model of particle physics, properties of fundamental particles, Feynman diagrams etc . (Well, before I go any further, I think I need to clarify my degree of understanding. If you are a particle physicist reading this blog, then I understand nothing, nada, zilch. I am a complete noob. I can just shake my head and say “I have heard those terms”. If you are my grandma reading my blog, then well, I can actually sit and talk about those terms for hours together and try to confuse you while I get confused at the same time.)

Most of the book (and if I mistake not – the theory of relativity as well) however is based on the assumption that no particle can travel faster than the cosmic speed limit, which incidentally also happens to be the speed of light. So finally, when I reached the last page of the book, I was ecstatic to have figured out at least a bit of particle physics. However the day I finished reading the book I read in our newspapers that scientists have discovered that neutrinos can travel faster than light.

Now, I know its still open for scientific scrutiny and the results of the experiment might be proven to be wrong later someday. But imagine if its not. Imagine – 4 months of efforts wasted trying to understand a theory which was going to be disproved the day I finished reading it. I am already dejected, not because a huge discovery of far reaching implications has been made, but because the lazy me had to spend so much time to read something which was ultimately going to be cast in a shadow of doubt! I should have waited till the experiments at the LHC were all done and we came up with a final theory which explains everything for lazy bums like me. Sigh!


  1. Dude... your brain is not peanut-sized... and most of the readers do not go to this extent to try understanding concepts they would like to understand.
    Welcome to the world of science where complex theories are built and changed with the great advance of our constantly evolving knowledge. You did not waste your time though, I see it more like a fertile ground on which will certainly flourish some other understandings of the world we live in.
    Our life is made of trial and errors, just like those great theories waiting to be replace by yet a more exact one. Does that mean you waste your time with 10 miss before success? Maybe you would never have reached the success without those 10 miss in the first place. Maybe you would.
    Better enjoy the journey to your destination at least as much as reaching the destination itself... it often takes much more of your time.
    Anyway... you can have pretty cool nerdy discussion topics during gathering now.

  2. Thanks Julien! I indeed enjoyed reading the book and particle physics is really interesting. I was trying to be unsuccessfully funny in the blog above :) !! I am sure we can have some really interesting discussions the next time around when we meet!

  3. you ve got to be kidding do you explain the stuff Rajni does then ??

  4. Rajni doesn't obey the laws of physics. The laws of physics obey Rajni. Period.