29 JANUARY, 2017
WHAT REMAINS INVARIANT: LIFE LESSONS FROM ABDUS SALAM
To celebrate Abdus Salam's birthday, an expanded version of the talk I delivered last year, at the memorial meeting to commemorate his 90th birth anniversary in Singapore.
JANUARY 5, 2017
even physicists find the multiverse faintly disturbing
"How do you feel about the multiverse?” The question was not out of place in our impromptu dinner-table lecture, yet it caught me completely off-guard. It’s not that I’ve never been asked about the multiverse before, but explaining a theoretical construct is quite different to saying how you feel about it. I can put forth all the standard arguments and list the intellectual knots a multiverse would untangle; I can sail through the facts and technicalities, but I stumble over the implications."
NOVEMBER 21, 2016
THE SHIFTING CONSOLATIONS OF TIME
"Even the most cerebral of us can deal in abstractions only so far. No matter how grand the statement, how magnificent the law, how awe-inspiring the philosophy, there comes a point when, inevitably, we ask: but what does it mean? " An interpretation of the universe remains unsatisfying unless it covers the interior as well as the exterior of things; mind as well as matter," wrote Pierre Teilhard de Chardin."
SEPTEMBER 26, 2016
OF GRAVITATIONAL WAVES AND QUANTUM COOPERATION
"There's no doubt about it: conflict commands attention. Perhaps it made sense as an evolutionary strategy. Historically, the conflicts we would become aware of were those that occurred in our immediate vicinity, and as such, could have life or death consequences. The penalty for ignoring such a scenario in favor of something more pleasant could be fatal. Those of us who attuned their ears to sounds of eminent disaster lived longer."
MARCH 7, 2016
A BLACK HOLE VALENTINE
"It just so happened that when the discovery of gravitational waves sent ripples through the world, Valentine’s Day was right around the corner. News stories about this victorious verification of ‘Einstein’s last remaining prediction’ were as ubiquitous as the pink and red cards, making grandiose claims - or extravagant promises - about an undying love. It was an interesting juxtaposition."
DECEMBER 14, 2015
maxwell, and the mathematics of metaphor
"It is practically a rite of passage for physics majors. We study Maxwells equations - the illuminating set of relationships that reveal the nature of light; we marvel at the power and grace of this compact quartet, and we can’t resist a chuckle when - inevitably - we come across the t-shirt that says “God said [Maxwell’s Equations] And there was light.” Something about that sticks. We remember the t-shirt years later, even if we can’t write down the equations anymore.. "
NOVEMBER 16, 2015
of november thursdays, and monuments to genius
"We are marked in large part by our celebrations: what we celebrate and how we choose to do so says a lot about who we are. As a global society we seem to be increasingly fascinated with genius, and almost sixty years after his death, Einstein continues to be emblematic of this phenomenon. Over time, he has become larger than life - more myth than man. "
APRIL 6, 2015
pygmalion and supersymmetry
"Some myths seep so deep into popular culture, that even those who are not aware of the origins of a legend, know the story. Few ... have read Ovid’s original account of the Cypriot sculptor, Pygmalion, who carved a beautiful woman out of ivory, and proceeded to fall so deeply in love with Galatea, as he called her, that the goddess Aphrodite took pity on him and breathed life into the statue."
MARCH 9, 2015
OF RELATIVITY AND THE 'OTHER MAN'
"Some time in 1919, or so the story goes, Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington was asked whether it was true that only three people in the world understood relativity. Apparently, he thought for a moment and then asked: "Who's the third?" Depending on your mood, that can either sound witty or just plain arrogant, but once you have read his beautiful exposition of the theory, it is difficult to say that reply was unjustified"
FEBRUARY 9, 2015
WHAT A FEW EXTRA DIMENSIONS CAN DO
"When we practice our elevator pitches, we cast around for the catchiest phrases - those that will have the maximum staying power. As a theoretical physicist, I find myself quite at odds with this social phenomenon. When asked to describe the work that obsesses my thoughts, I have often caught myself searching for the mildest words I could possibly use in a given context."
DECEMBER 15, 2014
from plato's cave to the holographic principle
"Remember Plato’s allegory about the cave? Prisoners, chained inside a cave, sit facing a blank wall with a fire lit behind. All they know of the world is through shadows cast on the wall, by whatever it is that moves between them and the fire. The entirety of their knowledge is constructed from their observations of these moving silhouettes. For them, reality consists of flat images, devoid of color and and (three-dimensional) form."
NOVEMBER 17, 2014
MORE IS DIFFERENT
"Emergence is a word deep enough to lose oneself in. It alludes to realities appearing, not suddenly or out of nothing, but slowly dissolving in to our consciousness - like a fuzzy picture, coming into focus. It refers to a gradual process, one that is smooth - not jerky - and yet results in an outcome that could not have been predicted, given the origin."
SEPTEMBER 22, 2014
ON OPTIMAL PATHS & MINIMAL ACTION
"It sounds a bit ridiculous when you admit your jealousy of inanimate objects. If you confess that you covet the skill with which these lifeless forms navigate their circumstances, you’re bound to get some strange looks. So, you keep it to yourself - for the most part. But honestly, there are times when - if you know about the least action principle - it takes all your strength to keep from declaring that you would trade places with a subatomic particle, or a ray of light, or a rubber ball, in a heartbeat."
AUGUST 25, 2014
OF DARK MATTER, AND RESONANCE ACROSS SCALES.
"As I look back upon the history of physics, what reaches out and grabs me are the moments of unification when strands long thought separate are suddenly braided together in a whole that is stronger and more beautiful than the sum of its parts. Sometimes we uncover hidden affinities by exploring a motif repeated in apparently unrelated contexts; at other times, we are compelled by circumstance to form alliances with those we may have neglected, to put our heads together and come up with a solution acceptable to all. The conundrum of dark matter falls solidly in the latter category."
MARCH 10, 2014
EMMY NOETHER: POET OF LOGICAL IDEAS
"The first time you encounter a truly dazzling idea, its light seems almost blinding; slowly, your eyes grow more accustomed, and the glare dulls down to a glow which pleasantly illuminates your outlook. But Noether’s Theorem is in a class of its own. I first came across it as a graduate student, about fifteen years ago, and to this day, I am stunned by its unfading brilliance."
FEBRUARY 11, 2014
"One of the hardest parts about being a writer is dealing with the tangled mess of emotions that assaults you when you're reading something you love: there’s a feeling of sheer joy in the lyricism of words well woven; a renewed awareness of the pure power wielded by these spidery ink-forms crawling across paper; a need to speak sentences out loud, just to make their presence tangible; and yet, layered into all these glories is the sinking feeling that your own literary aspirations have obviously been delusional - there's no way you could ever have penned any of the phrases that currently hold you in their thrall, which means, of course that there's no way you could ever really be a writer."
JANUARY 29, 2014
A BELIEF IN UNITY
"The name lay waiting, until he was born and all his life, Abdus Salam wore it as a mantle. Almost nine decades ago, Mohammad Hussain, a school teacher in Jhang, had a dream that his unborn son would go on to do great things and serve God. In gratitude, he decided to name this child Abdus Salam – the servant of peace."
JANUARY 13, 2014
THE ETERNAL RETURN OF THE VACUUM
"There are some questions we just can’t shake; the nature of space and time, or the identity of the building blocks of the universe; they pester us until we answer them, and then, as if on cue, the Universe proceeds to demonstrate the inadequacy of our proposed solutions. One such question, the asking and answering of which has spurred on the progress of science for millennia, is that of the vacuum."
DECEMBER 16, 2013
THE DICTIONARY IS NOT LITERATURE
"Science is beautiful. Or so they say ... the splendor of theories and the elegance of equations has been extolled by generations of scientists. Unfortunately, however, these sentiments aren’t always shared by the general public, most of whom assume that this particular form of beauty lies only in the eye of the (highly educated) beholder - a tragic misconception which precludes many from claiming the profound relationship with the universe that is their birthright."
OCTOBER 28, 2013
SYMMETRY BREAKING, HIGGS BOSON & ABDUS SALAM
"Over the past two years, the Higgs Boson has seeped into the popular consciousness, and with the announcement of this year's Nobel Prize, it is in the limelight once again. Yet, many people are still not quite sure what this particle is, and what, if anything, it has to do with Pakistan's only Laureate, Abdus Salam."
OCTOBER 21, 2013
THE VALUE OF BLUE SKY RESEARCH
"Upon winning the Nobel Prize, Peter Higgs expressed a hope that "this recognition of fundamental science will help raise awareness of the value of blue-sky research". By this, he means curiosity driven research, with no definite goal, no expectation of a practical outcome; research fueled by questions like ‘why is the sky blue?'