humor, mundane miracle, philosophy, photography, science

Partially Reflected Light

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As the natural light outdoors fades, a mundane miracle occurs.  Tho I have no supernatural powers, I create light and see that it is good.  There is much to celebrate in the simple act of flipping a switch, and the resulting light provides many other mundane miracles to ponder.

Light ~ Pic and a Word Challenge #133

Before I close the curtains, a pine tree across the lawn is still visible thru the window.  Conversely, a bird roosting in the pine could see the light fixture I have just turned on.  Most of the light that my fixture throws toward the window goes right thru the glass, harmless and unharmed.  My fist could not do that.

It gets better.

Some of the light that hits the window is reflected back.  I see my fixture as a ghostly sphere, apparently hovering between me and the pine.  Hmmm.  Consider a single photon among the zillions that whiz from my fixture toward the window.  How does it decide whether to continue on toward the pine or bounce back toward me?

globe-pine-1_840x840

I know.  Photons are mindless particles that do not decide anything.  They just do whatever a divinely perfect knowledge of physics would say they do, and a humanly possible imperfect knowledge of physics is rather good at saying what big groups of them do.

By far the best current human knowledge says that what a single photon does is unpredictable.  Not just unpredictable because we do not know all the details about the laws of nature or how the photon is moving or what is in the glass where the photon hits it.  Not just unpredictable because exact calculations are not feasible. Intrinsically unpredictable!  On a photon-by-photon basis, even divinely perfect knowledge of the rules and the current situation does not determine what will happen in the next picosecond.  Even God must wait and see.

Dunno whether I will succeed in posting more about intrinsic unpredictability and its consequences.  (Don’t hold your breath.)  Without wrangling equations, a great deal can be still be said about the quantum physics behind partially reflected light and its wider implications.  See pages 173-176 of the excellent book Dice World by Brian Clegg (or web pages like the one U can visit by clicking here, if U do not have the book handy).

 

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haiku, humor, math, philosophy, photography, science

They Are Beyond Space & Time

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Taught myself a crash course in digital photo manipulation to respond to

Numbers ~ Pic and a Word Challenge #106

by posting how Plato bounced back from an encounter with intellectual ancestors of Karl Popper.  Hope I did not flunk.

Plato woke up with a nasty hangover after a symposium that had gone badly for him.  Some new sophists who called themselves “natural philosophers” had come to Athens, and the kind of philosophizing they advocated was anything but natural to Plato.

The new sophists spoke about “observations” and “conjectures” and “predictions” rather than abstract reasoning about perfect ideal forms.  Plato could tolerate his student Aristotle’s interest in easy casual observations and simple inferences from them, but the new sophists were different.  They wanted to measure minute details of how the shadows on the walls of Plato’s metaphorical cave flickered.  They would consider anything imaginable as a candidate for “explaining” their observations, even things so fanciful that Homer would never have dared to sing of Odysseus encountering them on his way back to Ithaca.

Instead of trying to establish a conjecture by reasoning to it from first principles, the new sophists wanted to reason from it to a prediction about what they would observe.  Conjectures that led to many diverse predictions matching what was actually observed were to be accepted as true, but only until somebody came up with “better” conjectures that yielded more accurate predictions by more elegant reasoning.  As one of the brasher “natural philosophers” said,

All knowledge is provisional,
never more than the best we have at the moment.

Flummoxed by such craziness, Plato had been hitting the wine harder than usual.  He had passed out just as another “natural philosopher” began replying to the brash one:

Well, that is a little over the top.  For example, …

All that was last night, when stars had carpeted an inky black sky.  Now the sky was light blue, the sun was shining, and Plato’s head was aching.  He winced when he remembered a new sophist’s remark that each star might be something much like the sun but almost inconceivably farther away.  That example of a loony conjecture had prompted a nightmare with Athens (and its circling sun) lost in a humongous whirling vortex of innumerable stars (rather than stationary near the center of the universe, as Athens so obviously was).

The cash bar at the symposium had been pricey, and Plato wondered if he still had enough money to buy some willow bark to ease his headache.  He put his coins on the nearest flat surface and counted them.  Five should be plenty.  Then he noticed that three coins had the side with the face of a leader facing upwards, while two coins had the side with the leader’s mansion facing upwards.  Suddenly, Plato felt much better.  He even felt ready for another encounter with that brash sophist.

Athens_724x505

Plato’s Challenge
|Three plus two was five
|before any mind could know.
|Where do numbers live?

haiku, humor, photography, science

Tho I know no Noh …

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I think I see serene contemplation in this face:

Noh-Mask_gold_800x838

Hmmm.  The face is a mask that nobody is wearing.  Who could be contemplating?  And yet

There is no nothingness.
|Quantum physics finds
|tumult in vacuum behind
|contemplative mask.

If the allusion in my haiku responding to
« Contemplation ~ Pic and a Word Challenge #103 »is too cryptic, I recommend A Universe from Nothing by L.M. Krauss.

While the form is conventional, the content of the haiku may be the farthest outside the box that I have gone.  As of now, anyway.  So the haiku is also a response to
« Carpe Diem Writing and Enjoying Haiku #6 new ways »

humor, photography, science, serendipity

Serendipity with Squid

HeronSquid_581x684Hmmm?  A ghostly translucent squid seems to hover in midair between the viewer and nesting herons.  Did I superimpose 2 images to create a (clumsy) visual metaphor about the interconnectedness of life? Nope.

The story begins millions of miles away, where the sun emits photons even more copiously than the pols emit factoids.  Minutes later, a tiny fraction of the photons bounce off a neighbor’s window, pass thru my window, and hit me in the eye.  There are many ways I would love to emulate people like Bach or Galileo; going blind is not one of them.

Yes, I could pull the drapes. But only a small portion of my window needs to be obscured.  Would rather not waste winter sunshine.  Yes, I could buy a window decal.  Most of the decals I have seen are cutesy. The rest make a statement:

I am as ugly as a barfing warthog,
but the jerk who owns this dump
bought me as a decoration. Ha!

Of course, I am dissing only the decals I have seen, not any other decal U may have and like.

The Dec/Jan 2016 issue of National Wildlife magazine has photos from the annual NWF photo contest, including a photo of nesting herons by Mario Labado and a photo of a squid by Jackie Reid.  I read the magazine on paper (yes, I am that old), and it so happens that the photos are on opposite sides of the same thin sheet, w/o much else to clutter what is seen when bright light passes thru.  The fraction of duplex printed sheets that look at all good when both sides are seen at once is like the fraction of photons emitted by the sun that bounce off my neighbor’s window:  tiny.

So I cut out the sheet and taped it to my window.  The image of the squid is actually on the far side; the illusion of being closer than the herons is the same in my house as in my photo.

The composite image is indeed clumsy as a visual metaphor for the interconnectedness of life, but it does tone down the excess sunlight.  It cost nothing beyond what I already spent to help support the NWF, and it looks better than a barfing warthog.