So, I’m sitting in the Denver airport, on my way to Massachusetts, on a longer layover. I went to some crappy sports bar, and they had some very unpleasant food, and so I found a cantina upstairs that I thought might be able to wash away the sports bar. Corn Poblano soup, and a reasonable local wheat beer, and I was feeling better. Reading my book at the bar, as the soup arrives, and I pull the soup in, so I don’t dribble, and the book goes in front, and I lift it up a bit, so I can see, and the bar tender (younger guy) promptly says "So, what is the trouble with physics?" The book I’m reading just now is "The Trouble With Physics", by Lee Smolin.
Mind you I don’t always read stuff like this. My reading range is pretty broad, and included in there are murder mysteries, and Terry Pratchett books, and other non-fiction, and just kind of all over the place. So I’m not always carrying around a book on theoretical physics.
Now, that question he asked is potentially kind of a stock question, so I shrugged, and said I wasn’t so sure yet, and he asked if I hadn’t got far enough in the book to know yet (halfway), and I opened up a bit more, and told him that basically the theme was that the author felt that nothing had really been figured out in a while. Just so y’all know, the book, at least so far, goes through some of the history of physics, on through quantum mechanics, and then into post-modern physics (if you will). This includes string theory, and super string theory, and could possibly be about to get into philosophy. Not sure yet. The starting theme of the book is that we’ve not made revolutionary discoveries in the last generation or so, and it’s frustrating a lot of people, including the author, and he’d like to tell people about everything that’s happened lately.
Getting back to the bartender, who, I will swear on whatever icon you require, responds to my extremely brief summary with "You mean, string theory doesn’t work, or M-theory or whatever they call it now-a-days?" Now, I had not heard about M-theory until an hour or so before because that’s what the book had got up to an hour before. Blink…blink. "Yes," I said, "you are exactly right." From there, we got into a discussion about the LHC (Large Hadron Collider), and the Higgs boson, and the standard model, and it should be an interesting couple of years, because everyone is waiting for the Higgs boson. I said if they did find the Higgs, they were still stuck, because of all the existing questions about string theory, and he said, yes, but if they didn’t find the Higgs, then that kind of tosses the entire standard model. He asked for the publishing date and the author, because he said that all the stuff he’s reading now is saying pretty much the same stuff over and over again.
Yes, I know, operating under the presumption that the barkeep doesn’t know theoretical physics is a sort of prejudice, and I do feel a little bad about that. I have to say that I was really pleased to be having the conversation with him. The only other fellow who asked me about the book was a professor of physics on the plane out, and when I tried to engage him in conversation, I got a lot less out of it than I got out of the bartender.
Anyway, I had to share.Posted by Eli Boling on October 23rd, 2010 under Uncategorized |