Paul P. Mealing

Check out my book, ELVENE. Available as e-book and as paperback (print on demand, POD). 2 Reviews: here. Also this promotional Q&A on-line.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Fruits of Corporate Greed

A couple of years ago I wrote a post about global feudalism, but it’s much worse than I thought.

This eye-opening programme is shameful. As Kerry O’Brien says at the end: out of sight, out of mind. This is the so-called level playing field in action. Jobs going overseas because the labour is cheaper. Actually it’s jobs going overseas because it’s virtually slave labour - I’m talking literally not figuratively.

But more revelatory than anything else is that there is no code of ethics for these companies unless it is forced upon them. They really don’t care if the workers, who actually create the products they sell, die or are injured or are abused. When things go wrong they do their best to avoid accountability, and, like all criminals, only own up when incontrovertible evidence is produced.

Algebra - the language of mathematics

I know I’m doing things back-to-front – arse-about - as we say in Oz (and possibly elsewhere) but, considering all the esoteric mathematics I produce on this blog, I thought I should try and explain some basics.

As I mentioned earlier this year in a post on ‘analogy’, mathematics is a cumulative endeavour and you can’t understand calculus, for example, if you don’t know algebra. I’ve come across more than a few highly intelligent people, of both sexes, who struggle with maths (or math as Americans call it) and the sight of an equation stops them in their tracks.

Mathematics is one of those topics where the gap, between what you are expected to know and what you actually learn, can grow as you progress through school, mainly because you were stumped by algebra. You know: the day you were suddenly faced with numbers being replaced by letters; and things like counting, adding, subtracting, dividing, multiplying, fractions and even decimals suddenly seemed irrelevant. In other words, everything you’d learned about mathematics, which was firmly grounded in numbers – something you’d learned almost as soon as you could talk – suddenly seemed useless. Even Carl Jung, according to his autobiography, stopped understanding maths the day he had to deal with ‘x’. In fact, his wife, Emma, had a better understanding of physics than Jung did.

But for those who jump this hurdle, seemingly effortlessly, ‘x’ is a liberator in the same way that the imaginary number i is perceived by those who appreciate its multi-purposefulness. In both cases, we can do a lot more than we could before, and that is why algebra is a stepping-stone to higher mathematics.

Fundamentally, mathematics is not so much about numbers as the relationship between numbers, and algebra allows us to see the relationships without the numbers, and that’s the conceptual hurdle one has to overcome.

I’ll give a very simple example that everyone should know: Pythagoras’s triangle.

I don’t even have to draw it, I only have to state it: a2 + b2 = c2; and you should know what I’m talking about. But a picture is worth innumerable words.

The point is that we can use actual integers, called Pythagorean triples, that obey this relationship; the smallest being 52 = 42 + 32. Do the math as you Americans like to say.

But the truth is that this relationship applies to all Pythagorean triangles, irrespective of their size, length of sides and units of measurement. The only criteria being that the triangle is ‘flat’, or Euclidean (is not on a curved surface) and contains one right angle (90o).

By using letters, we have stated a mathematical truth, a universal law that applies right across the universe. Pythagoras’s triangle was discovered well before Pythagoras (circa 500BC) by the Egyptians, Babylonians and the Chinese, and possibly other cultures as well.

Most of the mathematics, that I do, involves the manipulation of algebraic equations, including a lot of the stuff I describe on this blog. If you know how to manipulate equations, you can do a lot of mathematics, but if you don’t, you can’t do any.

A lot of people are taught BIDMAS, which gives the priority of working out an equation: Brackets, Indices, Division, Multiplication, Addition and Subtraction. To be honest, I’ve never come across a mathematician who uses it.

On the other hand, a lot of maths books talk about the commutative law, the associative law and the distributive law as the fundaments of algebra.

There is a commutative law for addition and a commutative law for multiplication, which are both simple and basic.

A + B = B + A  and  A x B = B x A (that’s it)

Obviously there is no commutative law for subtraction or division.

A – B B – A  and  A/B B/A (pretty obvious)

There are some areas of mathematics where this rule doesn’t apply, like matrices, but we won’t go there.

The associative law also applies to addition and multiplication.

So A + (B + C) = (A + B) + C  and  A x (B x C) = (A x B) x C

It effectively says that it doesn’t matter what order you perform these operations you’ll get the same result, and, obviously, you can extend this to any length of numbers, because any addition or multiplication creates a new number that can then be added or multiplied to any other number or string of numbers.

But the most important rule to understand is the distributive law because it combines addition and multiplication and can be extended to include subtraction and division (if you know what you're doing). The distributive law lies at the heart of algebra.

A(B + C) = AB + AC  and  A(B + C) ≠ AB + C (where AB = A x B)

And this is where brackets come in under BIDMAS. In other words, if you do what’s in the brackets first you’ll be okay. But you can also eliminate the brackets and get the same answer if you follow the distributive rule.

But we can extend this: 1/A(B - C) = B/A - C/A (where B/A = B ÷ A)

And  -A(B – C) = CA – BA  because (-1)2 = 1, so a minus times a minus equals a plus.

If 1/A(B + C) = B/A + C/A then (B + C)/A = B/A + C/A

And  A/C + B/D = (DA + BC)/DC

To appreciate this do the converse:

(DA + BC)/DC = DA/DC + BC/DC = A/C + B/D

But the most important technique one can learn is how to change the subject of an equation. If we go back to Pythagoras’s equation:

a2 + b2 = c2  what’s b = ?

The very simple rule is that whatever you do to one side of an equation you must do to the other side. So if you take something away from one side you must take it away from the other side and if you multiply or divide one side by something you must do the same on the other side.

So, given the above example, the first thing we want to do is isolate b2. Which means we take a2 from the LHS and also the RHS (left hand side and right hand side).

So b2 = c2 – a2

And to get b from b2 we take the square root of b2, which means we take the square root of the RHS.

So b = (c2 – a2)

Note b ca  because (c2 – a2) c2 - a2

In the same way that (a + b)2 a2 + b2

In fact (a + b)2 = (a + b)(a + b)

And applying the distributive law: (a + b)(a + b) = a(a + b) + b(a + b)

Which expands to  a2 + ab + ba + b2 = a2 + 2ab + b2

But (a + b)(a – b) = a2 – b2  (work it out for yourself)

An equation by definition (and by name) means that something equals something. To maintain the equality whatever you do on one side must be done on the other side, and that’s basically the most important rule of all. So if you take the square root or a logarithm or whatever of a single quantity on one side you must take the square root or logarithm or whatever of everything on the other side. Which means you put brackets around everything first and apply the distributive law if possible, and, if not, leave it in brackets like I did with the example of Pythagoras’s equation.

Final Example:  A/B = C + D    What’s B = ?

Invert both sides:  B/A = 1/(C + D)

Multiply both sides by A:   B = A/(C + D)   (Easy)

Note: A/(C + D) A/C + A/D

To understand why, take the inverse:  (C + D)/A = C/A + D/A

And take the inverse again:  A/(C + D) = 1/(C/A + D/A) A/C + A/D

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Time again to talk about time

Last week’s New Scientist’s cover declared SPACE versus TIME; one has to go. But which? (15 June 2013). This served as a rhetorical introduction to physics' most famous conundrum: the irreconcilability of its 2 most successful theories - quantum mechanics and Einstein’s theory of general relativity - both conceived at the dawn of the so-called golden age of physics in the early 20th Century.

The feature article (pp. 35-7) cites a number of theoretical physicists including Joe Polchinski (University of California, Santa Barbara), Sean Carroll (California Institute of Technology, Pasadena), Nathan Seiberg (Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton), Abhay Ashtekar (Pennsylvania University), Juan Malcadena (no institute cited) and Steve Giddings (also University of California).

Most scientists and science commentators seem to be banking on String Theory to resolve the problem, though both its proponents and critics acknowledge there’s no evidence to separate it from alternative theories like loop quantum gravity (LQG), plus it predicts 10 spatial dimensions and 10500 universes. However, physicists are used to theories not gelling with common sense and it’s possible that both the extra dimensions and the multiverse could exist without us knowing about them.

Personally, I was intrigued by Ashtekar’s collaboration with Lee Smolin (a strong proponent of LQG) and Carlo Rovelli where ‘Chunks of space [at the Planck scale] appear first in the theory, while time pops up only later…’ In a much earlier publication of New Scientist on ‘Time’ Rovelli is quoted as claiming that time disappears mathematically: “For me, the solution to the problem is that at the fundamental level of nature, there is no time at all.” Which I discussed in a post on this very subject in Oct. 2011.

In a more recent post (May 2013) I quoted Paul Davies from The Goldilocks Enigma: ‘[The] vanishing of time for the entire universe becomes very explicit in quantum cosmology, where the time variable simply drops out of the quantum description.’ And in the very article I’m discussing now, the author, Anil Ananthaswamy, explains how the wave function of Schrodinger’s equation, whilst it evolves in time, ‘…time is itself not part of the Hilbert space where everything else physical sits, but somehow exists outside of it.’ (Hilbert space is the ‘abstract’ space that Schrodinger’s wave function inhabits.) ‘When we measure the evolution of a quantum state, it is to the beat of an external timepiece of unknown provenance.’

Back in May 2011, I wrote my most popular post ever: an exposition on Schrodinger’s equation, where I deconstructed the famous time dependent equation with a bit of sleight-of-hand. The sleight-of-hand was to introduce the quantum expression for momentum (px = -i h d/dx) without explaining where it came from (the truth is I didn’t know at the time). However, I recently found a YouTube video that remedies that, because the anonymous author of the video derives Schrodinger’s equation in 2 stages with the time independent version first (effectively the RHS of the time dependent equation). The fundamental difference is that he derives the expression for px = i h d/dx, which I now demonstrate below.

Basically the wave function, which exploits Euler’s famous equation, using complex algebra (imaginary numbers) is expressed thus:  Ψ = Ae i(kx−ωt)
If one differentiates this equation wrt x we get ik(Ae i(kx−ωt)), which is ikΨ. If we differentiate it again we get d2Ψ/dx2 = (ik)2Ψ.

Now k is related to wavelength (λ) by 2π such that k = 2π/λ.

And from Planck’s equation (E = hf) and the fact that (for light) c = f λ we can get a relationship between momentum (p) and λ. If p = mc and E = mc2, then p = E/c. Therefore p = hf/f λ which gives p = h/λ effectively the momentum version of Planck’s equation. Note that p is related to wavelength (space) and E is related to frequency (time).

This then is the quantum equation for momentum based on h (Planck’s constant) and λ. And, of course, according to Louis de Broglie, particles as well as light can have wavelengths.

And if we substitute 2π/k for λ we get p = hk/2π which can be reformulated as
k = p/h where h = h/2π.

And substituting this in (ik)2 we get –(p/h)2  { i2 = -1}

So Ψ d2/dx2 = -(px/h)2Ψ

Making p the subject of the equation we get px2 = - h2 d2/dx2 (Ψ cancels out on both sides) and I used this expression in my previous post on this topic.

And if I take the square root of px2 I get px = i h d/dx, the quantum term for momentum.

So the quantum version of momentum is a consequence of Schrodinger’s equation and not an input as I previously implied. Note that -1 can be i or –i so px can be negative or positive. It makes no difference when it’s used in Schrodinger’s equation because we use px2.

If you didn’t follow that, don’t worry, I’m just correcting something I wrote a couple of years ago that’s always bothered me. It’s probably easier to follow on the video where I found the solution.

But the relevance to this discussion is that this is probably the way Schrodinger derived it. In other words, he derived the term for momentum first (RHS), then the time dependent factor (LHS), which is the version we always see and is the one inscribed on his grave’s headstone.

This has been a lengthy and esoteric detour but it highlights the complementary roles of space and time (implicit in a wave function) that we find in quantum mechanics.

Going back to the New Scientist article, the author also provides arguments from theorists that support the idea that time is more fundamental than space and others who believe that neither is more fundamental than the other.

But reading the article, I couldn’t help but think that gravity plays a pivotal role regarding time and we already know that time is affected by gravity. The article keeps returning to black holes because that’s where the 2 theories (quantum mechanics and general relativity) collide. From the outside, at the event horizon, time becomes frozen but from the inside time would become infinite (everything would happen at once) (refer Addendum below). Few people seem to consider the possibility that going from quantum mechanics to classical physics is like a phase change in the same way that we have phase changes from ice to water. And in that phase change time itself may be altered.
Referring to one of the quotes I cited earlier, it occurs to me that the ‘external timepiece of unknown provenance’ could be a direct consequence of gravity, which determines the rate of time for all objects in free fall.

Addendum: Many accounts of the event horizon, including descriptions in a recent special issue of Scientific American; Extreme Physics (Summer 2013), claim that one can cross an event horizon without even knowing it. However, if time is stopped for 'you' according to observers outside the event horizon, then their time must surely appear infinite to ‘you’, to be consistent. Kiwi, Roy Kerr, who solved Einstein's field equations for a rotating black hole (the most likely scenario), claims that there are 2 event horizons, and after crossing the first one, time becomes space-like and space becomes time-like. This infers, to me, that time becomes static and infinite and space becomes dynamic. Of course, no one really knows, and no one is ever going to cross an event horizon and come back to tell us.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Judi Moylan – a very rare and endangered species of politician

Judi Moylan is that very rare entity: a politician who puts principles before ego and ambition. It’s worth listening to the short audio imbedded in this link.

To me, this is very sad, because Moylan is too empathetic and not ruthless enough to make it to the front bench – she is one of the last of her kind in her party – yet Federal politics needs more people like her and less like our leaders and leaders-in-waiting.

No one in a position of power or influence in Australian politics has the guts to stand up to the paranoid element in our society. In fact, they do the exact opposite, knowing that by pandering to xenophobia and insecurity they can win the next election. Australian electioneering is governed by the politics of fear, when we have the most buoyant economy in the Western world. What does that say about us as a people?

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Why there should be more science in politics

This programme aired on ABC's Catalyst last Thursday illustrates this very well. Not only are scientists best equipped to see the future on global terms, they are best equipped to find solutions. I think there is a complacency amongst both politicians and the public-at-large that science will automatically rescue us from the problems inherent in our global species' domination. But it seems to me that our economic policies and our scientific future-seeing are at odds. Infinite economic growth dependent on infinite population growth is not sustainable. As the programme intimates, the 21st Century will be a crunch point, and whilst everyone just assumes that science and technology will see us through, it's only the scientists who actually acknowledge the problem.

Addendum: One of the interesting points that is raised in this programme is the fact that we could feed the world now - it's a case of redistribution and waste management, not production. No clearer example exists where our economic paradigms are in conflict with our global needs. The wealth gap simply forbids it.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Sequel to ELVENE

People who have read ELVENE invariably ask: where’s the next one? Considering Elvene was first published in 2006, it’s been a long time coming. Firstly, I was aware that I couldn’t possibly live up to expectations – sequels rarely do – and I also knew that I would probably never write a book as good as Elvene again.

There are many tensions inherent in storytelling but none are more challenging than the contradictory goals of realising readers’ expectations and providing surprises. Both are necessary for a satisfactory rendition of a story and often have to be achieved simultaneously.

So the sequel to ELVENE both opens and closes with surprises, yet the journey’s end is rarely in doubt. I was often tempted to abandon this exercise and let people imagine their own outcome from the previous novel. That would have been the safe thing to do. But as I progressed, especially in the second half, I was motivated by the opposite desire: to write a sequel so that no one else would write it.

For most writers, the feeling is that the story already exists, like the statue trapped in the marble, and, as the writer, I’m simply the first person to read it. For much of the exercise I wrote it as a serial to myself, not knowing what was going to happen next. This is an approach many writers take – it provides the spontaneity that makes our art come alive – even if I already knew how it was going to end (actually I didn't).

Footnote: I should point out that you don't need to have read ELVENE to read the sequel - it works as a standalone story. All the backstory you need is incorporated into the opening scenes.