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Friday, August 12, 2016

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Today is Erwin Schrödinger's (he of the famous half-dead cat) birthday: explanation, quotes, jokes, video

A brief explanation of Schrödinger's cat (wiki): A cat, a flask of poison, and a radioactive source are placed in a sealed box. If an internal monitor detects radioactivity (i.e. a single atom decaying), the flask is shattered, releasing the poison that kills the cat. The Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics implies that after a while, the cat is simultaneously alive and dead. When one looks in the box, however, he sees the cat either alive or dead, not both alive and dead. This poses the question of when exactly quantum superposition ends and reality collapses into one possibility or the other. The Einstein quotation below refers to an earlier version of the experiment that replaced poison with an explosive charge to kill the cat.



If I am to have an interest in something, others must also have one. My word is seldom the first, but often the second, and may be inspired by a desire to contradict or to correct, but the consequent extension may turn out to be more important than the correction, which served only as a connection.

Erwin Schrödinger (Nobel Prize address, 1933)

I insist upon the view that "all is waves."

~ Schrödinger (letter to John Lighton Synge, 9 November 1959)

If we were bees, ants, or Lacedaemonian warriors, to whom personal fear does not exist, and cowardice is the most shameful thing in the world, warring would go on forever. But luckily we are only men - and cowards.

~ Schrödinger (Mind and Matter, 1958)

You are the only contemporary physicist, besides Laue,* who sees that one cannot get around the assumption of reality - if only one is honest. Most of them simply do not see what sort of risky game they are playing with reality - reality as something independent of what is experimentally established. Their interpretation is, however, refuted most elegantly by your system of radioactive atom + amplifier + charge of gun powder + cat in a box, in which the psi-function of the system contains both the cat alive and blown to bits. Nobody really doubts that the presence or absence of the cat is something independent of the act of observation.

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) (letter to Schrödinger, 1950)

Today is the anniversary of the birth of Austrian physicist Erwin (Rudolf Josef Alexander) Schrödinger (wiki) (1887-1961), one of the most important figures in the development of quantum theory. After early study at the University of Vienna and service in the Austrian fortress artillery during World War I, Schrödinger steadily advanced up the scientific/academic ladder in a series of positions at the universities of Stuttgart, Breslau, and Zurich before becoming a professor at the Friedrich Wilhelm University in Berlin in 1927.

He left Germany with the rise of Nazism in 1933 and taught briefly at Oxford, but then returned to the University of Graz (Austria) in 1936. After Austria was absorbed into the Third Reich, Schrödinger fled to Italy, then to England and Belgium, eventually settling in Ireland for most of the rest of his life. Schrödinger's greatest contribution to quantum theory was in his challenge to the "Copenhagen interpretation" of quantum behavior, which described aspects of fundamental particles only in terms of their probabilities of observation. He dramatized the resulting contradictions with common sense by devising the "thought experiment" known as Schrödinger's cat (wiki) and substituted a quantum interpretation based on the idea of "wave mechanics," in which the position of a particle is described in terms of probability functions, , satisfying the Schrödinger wave equation,



where E is the energy of a particle's state. The philosophical issues raised by Schrödinger's cat are still debated today, and it remains his most enduring legacy in popular science. His wave equation represents his most important finding at a more technical level and has been applied to the understanding of a long series of quantum phenomena and applications.

At an early age, Schrödinger became a student of eastern religions, and in addition to his prolific scientific writings, produced a number of philosophical studies on the relation of science to ethics and religion, as well as theoretical biology. He received the Nobel Prize for physics in 1933 for the derivation of his quantum wave equation. 

* N.B. Max von Laue (1879-1960) was a German physicist who won the Nobel Prize in 1914 for his work on the diffraction of X-rays by crystals.

Anyone remember the Heisenberg joke about being stopped for speeding?

Heisenberg was driving down the Jersey Turnpike when a policeman pulled him over.

The policeman asked Heisenberg, "Do you know how fast you were going?"

And Heisenberg said, "No, but I can tell you exactly where I was."

So there's a variation where Schrödinger is the driver, and the cop searches his car: 
 
The cop insists on searching the car (4th amendment doesn't apply in New Jersey) and then asks Schrödinger, "Do you know you have a dead cat in the trunk?",

Schrödinger replies, "Well, now I do."

And my personal favorite:

Schrödinger's cat walks into a bar... and doesn't.

Here's a brief (less than 2 minutes) explanation:



And here's a Big Bang Theory discussion of the concept:



Here are a couple of Dr. Seuss-esque explanations - the first is from Straight Dope, one of my favorite websites:

Schroedinger, Erwin! Professor of physics!
Wrote daring equations! Confounded his critics!
(Not bad, eh? Don't worry. This part of the verse
Starts off pretty good, but it gets a lot worse.)
Win saw that the theory that Newton'd invented
By Einstein's discov'ries had been badly dented.
What now? wailed his colleagues. Said Erwin, "Don't panic,
No grease monkey I, but a quantum mechanic.
Consider electrons. Now, these teeny articles
Are sometimes like waves, and then sometimes like particles.
If that's not confusing, the nuclear dance
Of electrons and suchlike is governed by chance!
No sweat, though — my theory permits us to judge
Where some of 'em is and the rest of 'em was."
Not everyone bought this. It threatened to wreck
The comforting linkage of cause and effect.
E'en Einstein had doubts, and so Schroedinger tried
To tell him what quantum mechanics implied.
Said Win to Al, "Brother, suppose we've a cat,
And inside a tube we have put that cat at —
Along with a solitaire deck and some Fritos,
A bottle of Night Train, a couple mosquitoes
(Or something else rhyming) and, oh, if you got 'em,
One vial prussic acid, one decaying ottom
Or atom — whatever — but when it emits,
A trigger device blasts the vial into bits
Which snuffs our poor kitty. The odds of this crime
Are 50 to 50 per hour each time.
The cylinder's sealed. The hour's passed away. Is
Our pussy still purring — or pushing up daisies?
Now, you'd say the cat either lives or it don't
But quantum mechanics is stubborn and won't.
Statistically speaking, the cat (goes the joke),
Is half a cat breathing and half a cat croaked.
To some this may seem a ridiculous split,
But quantum mechanics must answer, "Tough shit.
We may not know much, but one thing's fo' sho':
There's things in the cosmos that we cannot know.
Shine light on electrons — you'll cause them to swerve.
The act of observing disturbs the observed —
Which ruins your test. But then if there's no testing
To see if a particle's moving or resting
Why try to conjecture? Pure useless endeavor!
We know probability — certainty, never.'
The effect of this notion? I very much fear
'Twill make doubtful all things that were formerly clear.
Till soon the cat doctors will say in reports,
"We've just flipped a coin and we've learned he's a corpse."'
So saith Herr Erwin. Quoth Albert, "You're nuts.
God doesn't play dice with the universe, putz.
I'll prove it!" he said, and the Lord knows he tried —
In vain — until fin'ly he more or less died.
Win spoke at the funeral: "Listen, dear friends,
Sweet Al was my buddy. I must make amends.
Though he doubted my theory, I'll say of this saint:
Ten-to-one he's in heaven — but five bucks says he ain't."

Cecil Adams

This was sent by a friend, and the description and book cover design are by Nathan W. Pyle

I do not see him here or there.
I do not see him anywhere.
I think he may be in that box,
introducing me to paradox.

I think that cat,
he may be dead,
lying in his cardboard bed.
In the box he would not thrive,
but chances are he’s still alive.

There's lots of Schrödinger's cat merchandise out there - try Amazon and/or Cafepress.

The above was based on Ed's Quotation of the Day, available only via email. If interested in being added to his list, leave your information in the comments.

Today is Erwin Schrödinger's (he of the famous half-dead cat) birthday: explanation, quotes, jokes, video

A brief explanation of Schrödinger's cat (wiki): A cat, a flask of poison, and a radioactive source are placed in a sealed box. If an internal monitor detects radioactivity (i.e. a single atom decaying), the flask is shattered, releasing the poison that kills the cat. The Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics implies that after a while, the cat is simultaneously alive and dead. When one looks in the box, however, he sees the cat either alive or dead, not both alive and dead. This poses the question of when exactly quantum superposition ends and reality collapses into one possibility or the other. The Einstein quotation below refers to an earlier version of the experiment that replaced poison with an explosive charge to kill the cat.



If I am to have an interest in something, others must also have one. My word is seldom the first, but often the second, and may be inspired by a desire to contradict or to correct, but the consequent extension may turn out to be more important than the correction, which served only as a connection.

Erwin Schrödinger (Nobel Prize address, 1933)

I insist upon the view that "all is waves."

~ Schrödinger (letter to John Lighton Synge, 9 November 1959)

If we were bees, ants, or Lacedaemonian warriors, to whom personal fear does not exist, and cowardice is the most shameful thing in the world, warring would go on forever. But luckily we are only men - and cowards.

~ Schrödinger (Mind and Matter, 1958)

You are the only contemporary physicist, besides Laue,* who sees that one cannot get around the assumption of reality - if only one is honest. Most of them simply do not see what sort of risky game they are playing with reality - reality as something independent of what is experimentally established. Their interpretation is, however, refuted most elegantly by your system of radioactive atom + amplifier + charge of gun powder + cat in a box, in which the psi-function of the system contains both the cat alive and blown to bits. Nobody really doubts that the presence or absence of the cat is something independent of the act of observation.

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) (letter to Schrödinger, 1950)

Today is the anniversary of the birth of Austrian physicist Erwin (Rudolf Josef Alexander) Schrödinger (wiki) (1887-1961), one of the most important figures in the development of quantum theory. After early study at the University of Vienna and service in the Austrian fortress artillery during World War I, Schrödinger steadily advanced up the scientific/academic ladder in a series of positions at the universities of Stuttgart, Breslau, and Zurich before becoming a professor at the Friedrich Wilhelm University in Berlin in 1927.

He left Germany with the rise of Nazism in 1933 and taught briefly at Oxford, but then returned to the University of Graz (Austria) in 1936. After Austria was absorbed into the Third Reich, Schrödinger fled to Italy, then to England and Belgium, eventually settling in Ireland for most of the rest of his life. Schrödinger's greatest contribution to quantum theory was in his challenge to the "Copenhagen interpretation" of quantum behavior, which described aspects of fundamental particles only in terms of their probabilities of observation. He dramatized the resulting contradictions with common sense by devising the "thought experiment" known as Schrödinger's cat (wiki) and substituted a quantum interpretation based on the idea of "wave mechanics," in which the position of a particle is described in terms of probability functions, , satisfying the Schrödinger wave equation,



where E is the energy of a particle's state. The philosophical issues raised by Schrödinger's cat are still debated today, and it remains his most enduring legacy in popular science. His wave equation represents his most important finding at a more technical level and has been applied to the understanding of a long series of quantum phenomena and applications.

At an early age, Schrödinger became a student of eastern religions, and in addition to his prolific scientific writings, produced a number of philosophical studies on the relation of science to ethics and religion, as well as theoretical biology. He received the Nobel Prize for physics in 1933 for the derivation of his quantum wave equation. 

* N.B. Max von Laue (1879-1960) was a German physicist who won the Nobel Prize in 1914 for his work on the diffraction of X-rays by crystals.

Anyone remember the Heisenberg joke about being stopped for speeding?

Heisenberg was driving down the Jersey Turnpike when a policeman pulled him over.

The policeman asked Heisenberg, "Do you know how fast you were going?"

And Heisenberg said, "No, but I can tell you exactly where I was."

So there's a variation where Schrödinger is the driver, and the cop searches his car: 
 
The cop insists on searching the car (4th amendment doesn't apply in New Jersey) and then asks Schrödinger, "Do you know you have a dead cat in the trunk?",

Schrödinger replies, "Well, now I do."

And my personal favorite:

Schrödinger's cat walks into a bar... and doesn't.

Here's a brief (less than 2 minutes) explanation:



And here's a Big Bang Theory discussion of the concept:



Here are a couple of Dr. Seuss-esque explanations - the first is from Straight Dope, one of my favorite websites:

Schroedinger, Erwin! Professor of physics!
Wrote daring equations! Confounded his critics!
(Not bad, eh? Don't worry. This part of the verse
Starts off pretty good, but it gets a lot worse.)
Win saw that the theory that Newton'd invented
By Einstein's discov'ries had been badly dented.
What now? wailed his colleagues. Said Erwin, "Don't panic,
No grease monkey I, but a quantum mechanic.
Consider electrons. Now, these teeny articles
Are sometimes like waves, and then sometimes like particles.
If that's not confusing, the nuclear dance
Of electrons and suchlike is governed by chance!
No sweat, though — my theory permits us to judge
Where some of 'em is and the rest of 'em was."
Not everyone bought this. It threatened to wreck
The comforting linkage of cause and effect.
E'en Einstein had doubts, and so Schroedinger tried
To tell him what quantum mechanics implied.
Said Win to Al, "Brother, suppose we've a cat,
And inside a tube we have put that cat at —
Along with a solitaire deck and some Fritos,
A bottle of Night Train, a couple mosquitoes
(Or something else rhyming) and, oh, if you got 'em,
One vial prussic acid, one decaying ottom
Or atom — whatever — but when it emits,
A trigger device blasts the vial into bits
Which snuffs our poor kitty. The odds of this crime
Are 50 to 50 per hour each time.
The cylinder's sealed. The hour's passed away. Is
Our pussy still purring — or pushing up daisies?
Now, you'd say the cat either lives or it don't
But quantum mechanics is stubborn and won't.
Statistically speaking, the cat (goes the joke),
Is half a cat breathing and half a cat croaked.
To some this may seem a ridiculous split,
But quantum mechanics must answer, "Tough shit.
We may not know much, but one thing's fo' sho':
There's things in the cosmos that we cannot know.
Shine light on electrons — you'll cause them to swerve.
The act of observing disturbs the observed —
Which ruins your test. But then if there's no testing
To see if a particle's moving or resting
Why try to conjecture? Pure useless endeavor!
We know probability — certainty, never.'
The effect of this notion? I very much fear
'Twill make doubtful all things that were formerly clear.
Till soon the cat doctors will say in reports,
"We've just flipped a coin and we've learned he's a corpse."'
So saith Herr Erwin. Quoth Albert, "You're nuts.
God doesn't play dice with the universe, putz.
I'll prove it!" he said, and the Lord knows he tried —
In vain — until fin'ly he more or less died.
Win spoke at the funeral: "Listen, dear friends,
Sweet Al was my buddy. I must make amends.
Though he doubted my theory, I'll say of this saint:
Ten-to-one he's in heaven — but five bucks says he ain't."

Cecil Adams

This was sent by a friend, and the description and book cover design are by Nathan W. Pyle

I do not see him here or there.
I do not see him anywhere.
I think he may be in that box,
introducing me to paradox.

I think that cat,
he may be dead,
lying in his cardboard bed.
In the box he would not thrive,
but chances are he’s still alive.

There's lots of Schrödinger's cat merchandise out there - try Amazon and/or Cafepress.

The above was based on Ed's Quotation of the Day, available only via email. If interested in being added to his list, leave your information in the comments

Friday links


10 Travel Tips From the Age of Napoleon.

ICYMI, Tuesday's links are here, and include the history of French fries, the anniversary of the battle of Thermopylae, a supercut of "We don’t negotiate with terrorists", and a roundup of wooden skyscrapers.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Tuesday links

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori? Today is the anniversary of the 480 BC battle of Thermopylae.


Man fought off armed would-be carjackers with high-pressure car wash sprayer.

Some people seem to need reminding: "We don’t negotiate with terrorists": the supercut.

Norway Considers Giving Finland a Mountain to Celebrate Its 100th Birthday.

Wooden skyscrapers: a roundup of tall timber buildings.

ICYMI, Friday's links are here, and include a compilation of dancing in ‘80s movies, the habits of highly mathematical people, the opening ceremony of the 1936 Nazi Olympic Games, and, from 1944, head shots of all of the ways US intelligence thought Hitler might try to disguise himself.

Monday, August 8, 2016

August 9th is the anniversary of the battle of Thermopylae

If you want a quick and dirty understanding of the battle of Thermopylae (wiki), the movie The 300 (or the comic version on which the movie was based) will do in a pinch, and the History Channel videos posted below do a pretty good job.

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori,
mors et fugacem persequitur virum.
nec parcit imbellis iuventae
poplitibus timidove tergo.

~ Quintus Horatius Flaccus (Horace, 65-27 B.C.) (Carmina, III, ii, 13)

(To die for the fatherland is a sweet and admirable thing.*
Death is at the heels even of the runaway, nor spares the haunches and back of the coward and malingerer.)

Go tell the Spartans, thou, that passeth by, that here, according to their laws, we lie.

~ Simonides of Ceos (556-458 B.C.) (epitaph for the Spartan dead at Thermopylae)

Leonidas at Thermopylae, by Jacques-Louis David, 1814.
Today is the anniversary of the battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. Thermopylae is a pass in east central Greece between the cliffs of Mount Oeta and the Malic Gulf, and in ancient times, it was a principal entrance into southern Greece from the north.

It was there that the Greeks confronted the third Persian expedition of the Persian Wars - an army of as many as a half-million men under Xerxes. When they found that their position had been turned, however, the Greeks retreated precipitously - all except for a 300-strong Spartan contingent under their king, Leonidas, and 700 Theban allies. (The latter are often overlooked in references to the battle.)

The pass of Thermopylae today - the road to 
the far right is built on land reclaimed from the sea
Leonidas and his men fought a delaying action in the narrowest part of the pass until they were overcome by the Persians and slaughtered to a man. In book VII of his The Persian Wars, the Greek historian Herodotus (484? - 425? B.C.) wrote,
"...they defended themselves to the last, such as still had swords using them, and the others resisting with their hands and teeth; until the barbarians, who had in part pulled down the wall and attacked them in front, also had gone round and now encircled them on every side, overwhelmed and buried the remnant left beneath showers of missile weapons."
Thermopylae has ever since been celebrated in song and story as one of the legendary battles of western history, although George William Curtis (1824-1892) places it in a larger context:
"Every great crisis of human history is a pass of Thermopylae, and there is always a Leonidas and his three hundred to die in it, if they cannot conquer."
Here's a rather well-done History Channel documentary, broken into 3 pieces:







* N.B. Two contrary views:

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Wilfred Owen (1893-1918) ("Dulce et Decorum Est")

I was the first fruits of the battle of Missionary Ridge.
When I felt the bullet enter my heart
I wished I'd stayed home and gone to jail
For stealing the hogs of Curl Trenary,
Instead of running away and joining the army.
Rather a thousand times the county jail
Than to lie under this marble figure with wings,
And this granite pedestal
Bearing the words, "Pro Patria."
What do they mean, anyway?

~ Edgar Lee Masters (1868-1950) (Spoon River Anthology, "Knowlt Hoheimer")

This whole discussion reminds me of the Patton quote, “The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his.”