The Physics of Jazz and “Here Comes Now”

August 20, 2014 § Leave a comment

By day, Dr. Stephon Alexander, Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Dartmouth College, is a theoretical physicist specializing in the interface between cosmology, particle physics and quantum gravity.  By night, he “blows sax”.  Born in Trinidad and raised in Bronx, NY,  Alexander draws music heritage from Jazz,  Caribbean Reggae and Hip Hop.   His ambition in science is big – to unify quantum theory, Einstein’s theory of relativity, and string theory, which have fascinated him since childhood, into a theory of quantum gravity!  When he gets stuck, he turns to music like Einstein used to do, except his instrument for relaxation and subconscious realization is the tenor saxophone, instead of violin and piano.

“Exploring a physics problem is like jazz improvisation—understanding the basic rules and themes lets you take off in spontaneous new directions. Music allows me to understand physics on a simpler, yet deeper level.”

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Science Is Not About Certainty

July 16, 2014 § 1 Comment

The separation of science and the humanities is relatively new—and detrimental to both

By .  Excerpted from The Universe: Leading Scientists Explore the Origin, Mysteries, and Future of the Cosmos. Copyright © 2014 by Edge Foundation, Inc. Published by Harper Perennial.

We teach our students: We say that we have some theories about science. Science is about hypothetico-deductive methods; we have observations, we have data, data require organizing into theories. So then we have theories. These theories are suggested or produced from the data somehow, then checked in terms of the data. Then time passes, we have more data, theories evolve, we throw away a theory, and we find another theory that’s better, a better understanding of the data, and so on and so forth.

This is the standard idea of how science works, which implies that science is about empirical content; the true, interesting, relevant content of science is its empirical content. Since theories change, the empirical content is the solid part of what science is.

Now, there’s something disturbing, for me, as a theoretical scientist, in all this. I feel that something is missing. Something of the story is missing. I’ve been asking myself, “What is this thing missing?” I’m not sure I have the answer, but I want to present some ideas on something else that science is. « Read the rest of this entry »

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