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Posts Tagged ‘history

“Physics is like sex: sure, it may give some practical results, but that’s not why we do it”*…

 

Feynman and Dirac

Two of Marek Holzman’s photographs of Feynman and Dirac together in Warsaw in 1962

 

Beloved late physicist Richard P. Feynman (1918–1988) first met his hero Paul Dirac (1902–1984) during Princeton University’s Bicentennial Celebration in 1946 and then again at least twice, in 1948 and 1962. Most notably, the two came to heads during the so-called Pocono Conference when Feynman gave a lecture on a nascent “Alternative Formulation of Quantum Electrodynamics”, reformulating the theory which had earned Dirac the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1933. A star-studded audience of 28 of the world’s leading physicists attended the conference, including J. Robert Oppenheimer, Niels Bohr, Eugene Wigner, John von Neumann, Enrico Fermi, Hans Bethe and of course, the inventor of the theory himself, Paul Dirac.

Feynman’s reformulation of Dirac’s theory was not well received at Pocono, as Bohr, Teller and Dirac all raised objections. Feynman’s disappointment from the audience’s reaction motivated him to write up his work for publication instead. He did so, and in the next three years went on to publish four major papers describing his now well-developed theory and its implications…

Feynman and Dirac [met for the last] time, at the International Conference on Relativistic Theories of Gravitation in Warsaw, Poland in 1962… Their conversation, as overheard by a nearby physicist, was so remarkable that he jotted it down:

F: I am Feynman.
D: I am Dirac.
(Silence)
F: It must be wonderful to be the discoverer of that equation.
D: That was a long time ago.
(Pause)
D: What are you working on?
F: Mesons.
D: Are you trying to discover an equation for them?
F: It is very hard.
D: One must try.

feydirac270

Another of Holzman’s photographs from Warsaw

Feynman’s work earned him a share of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965.

Paul Dirac died in 1984 at the age of 82 years old. Two years later, Feynman was invited to give one of three Dirac Memorial Lectures. He did so, with a lecture entitled “Elementary Particles and the Laws of Physics”, which he opened as follows:

When I was a young man, Dirac was my hero. He made a new breakthrough, a new method of doing physics. He had the courage to simply guess at the form of an equation, the equation we now call the Dirac equation, and to try to interpret it afterwards.

 

How Paul Dirac, Richard Feynman’s hero-turned-opponent, motivated a life’s work which not only altered the trajectory of modern physics, but also erected Feynman’s legend as one history’s finest scientist: “When Feynman met Dirac.”

* Richard Feynman

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As we chase after clarity, we might send very tiny birthday greetings to Wolfgang Paul; he was born on this date in 1913.  A physicist, he developed the non-magnetic quadrupole mass filter which laid the foundation for what is now called an ion trap— a device (also known as a Paul trap) that captures ions and holds them long enough for study and precise measurement of their properties.  During the 1950s he developed the so-called Paul trap as a means of confining and studying electrons.  He shared the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1989 for his work.

He humorously referred to Wolfgang Pauli as his imaginary part.

220px-Wolfgang_Paul source

 

“The speed of communications is wondrous to behold. It is also true that speed can multiply the distribution of information that we know to be untrue”*…

 

Nytimes_hq-2

 

Paywalls are justified, even though they are annoying. It costs money to produce good writing, to run a website, to license photographs. A lot of money, if you want quality. Asking people for a fee to access content is therefore very reasonable. You don’t expect to get a print subscription  to the newspaper gratis, why would a website be different? I try not to grumble about having to pay for online content, because I run a magazine and I know how difficult it is to pay writers what they deserve.

But let us also notice something: the New York Times, the New Yorker, the Washington Post, the New Republic, New York, Harper’s, the New York Review of Books, the Financial Times, and the London Times all have paywalls. Breitbart, Fox News, the Daily Wire, the Federalist, the Washington Examiner, InfoWars: free! You want “Portland Protesters Burn Bibles, American Flags In The Streets,” “The Moral Case Against Mask Mandates And Other COVID Restrictions,” or an article suggesting the National Institutes of Health has admitted 5G phones cause coronavirus—they’re yours. You want the detailed Times reports on neo-Nazis infiltrating German institutions, the reasons contact tracing is failing in U.S. states, or the Trump administration’s undercutting of the USPS’s effectiveness—well, if you’ve clicked around the website a bit you’ll run straight into the paywall. This doesn’t mean the paywall shouldn’t be there. But it does mean that it costs time and money to access a lot of true and important information, while a lot of bullshit is completely free…

The political economy of bullshit– and thoughts on a remedy: “The Truth is Paywalled But the Lies are Free.”

On a related (and somewhat complicating) note, see also “It is possible to compete with the New York Times. Here’s how,” the source of the image above.

* Edward R. Murrow

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As we do like Diogenes, we might recall that it was on this date in 1974 that President Richard M. Nixon resigned, as a result of the Watergate scandal— which was itself, of course, in large measure the result of (expensive) investigatory journalism of the highest quality.

 

Nixon departing the White House after his resignation (source)

 

“Here we are now, entertain us / I feel stupid and contagious”*…

 

Teen Spirit

 

Bardcore: “Smells Like Teen Spirit Cover In Classical Latin (75 BC to 3rd Century AD)

 

[TotH to Jonah Goldberg]

* Kurt Cobain/Nirvana, “Smells Like Teen Spirit”

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As we scale the top of the pops, we might that it was on this date in 1969 that photographer Iain MacMillan shot the cover for what would be The Beatles’ last studio album, Abbey Road, just outside the studio of the same name, where the band recorded many of its classic songs.  Macmillan, who worked quickly while a policeman held up traffic, used a Hasselblad camera with a 50mm wide-angle lens, aperture f22, at 1/500 of a second; he produced six shots, from which Paul picked the cover.

The photo, which simply shows the band crossing the street while walking away from the studio, has become iconic in its own right and provides “Paul Is Dead” enthusiasts with several erroneous “clues” to his “death,” including the fact that Paul is barefoot (supposedly representing a corpse, though McCartney has averred that it was simply a hot day).

220px-Beatles_-_Abbey_Road source

 

“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven”*…

 

cult

The Easter ‘Passion of the Christ’ procession in Comayagua, a small town in Honduras

 

Cults, generally speaking, are a lot like pornography: you know them when you see them. It would be hard to avoid the label on encountering (as I did, carrying out field work last year) 20 people toiling unpaid on a Christian farming compound in rural Wisconsin – people who venerated their leader as the closest thing to God’s representative on Earth. Of course, they argued vehemently that they were not a cult. Ditto for the 2,000-member church I visited outside Nashville, whose parishioners had been convinced by an ostensibly Christian diet programme to sell their houses and move to the ‘one square mile’ of the New Jerusalem promised by their charismatic church leader. Here they could eat – and live – in accordance with God and their leader’s commands. It’s easy enough, as an outsider, to say, instinctively: yes, this is a cult.

Less easy, though, is identifying why. Knee-jerk reactions make for poor sociology, and delineating what, exactly, makes a cult (as opposed to a ‘proper’ religious movement) often comes down to judgment calls based on perceived legitimacy. Prod that perception of legitimacy, however, and you find value judgments based on age, tradition or ‘respectability’ (that nice middle-class couple down the street, say, as opposed to Tom Cruise jumping up and down on a couch). At the same time, the markers of cultism as applied more theoretically – a single charismatic leader, an insular structure, seeming religious ecstasy, a financial burden on members – can also be applied to any number of new or burgeoning religious movements that we don’t call cults.

Often (just as with pornography), what we choose to see as a cult tells us as much about ourselves as about what we’re looking at…

Cults are exploitative, weird groups with strange beliefs and practices, right? So what about regular religions then?  “What is a Cult?

To get a sense of terrain in question, visit Wikipedia’s page “New Religious Movement” and consult their “List of new religious movements.”

For a sense of how time can convert a “new religious movement” into an established faith, consult the “Timeline of religion.”

And for (one) opinion of where all of this might be leading, see “Tomorrow’s Gods: What is the future of religion?

* John Milton, Paradise Lost

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As we ponder piety, we might recall that today is the concluding day of International Clown Week.

Screen Shot 2020-08-03 at 2.46.55 PM source

 

 

“Strong minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, weak minds discuss people”*…

 

the_news_junkies_of_the_eighteenth_century_1050x700

Interior of a London Coffee-house, 17th century

 

Picture someone who spends hours each day debating politics, indiscriminately consuming serious news and dubiously sourced gossip, yet takes no part in actual political action. That might describe many twenty-first-century Twitter users. As philosopher Uriel Heyd writes, it’s also how satirists depicted obsessed news consumers in eighteenth-century Britain.

The turn of the century brought a flourishing of print media, Heyd writes. By the 1710s, artisans and shopkeepers filled coffeehouses, discussing and debating the events in political and foreign affairs that they had read about in the day’s papers.

Soon, satires appeared in theaters, depicting regular citizens absurdly focused on the political sphere, to the detriment of their personal lives. In the 1711 play The Generous Husband, a woman dismisses a news-obsessed man as “a walking News-paper: his Head is the very Emblem of the dirty Houses he frequents, full of foul Pipes, News, and Coffee—Foh, methinks I smell him hither; he stinks of Tabacco like an old Gazette.” In the 1769 comedy The School for Rakes, a female character asks to have newspapers and magazines sent to her: “My mental faculties are quite at a stand—I have not had the least political information, these four days.”…

Hooked on viral news (or is it gossip?), today’s Twitter hordes owe a lot to history’s coffeehouses: “The News Junkies of the Eighteenth Century.”

* Socrates

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As we watch what went around come around, we might send insinuating birthday greetings to Louella Parsons; she was born on this date in 1881.  In the movie business from its earliest days (she supplied a script to the Eassanay Company before they discovered Charlie Chaplin), she became a film columnist in 1914– and a few years later, became the lead gossip columnist for the Hearst papers.

There was persistent speculation that Parsons was elevated to her position as the Hearst chain’s lead gossip columnist because of a scandal she did not write about. In 1924, director Thomas Ince died after being carried off Hearst’s yacht, allegedly to be hospitalized for indigestion. Many Hearst newspapers falsely claimed that Ince had not been aboard the boat at all and had fallen ill at the newspaper mogul’s home. Charlie Chaplin‘s secretary reported seeing a bullet hole in Ince’s head when he was removed from the yacht. Rumors proliferated that Chaplin was having an affair with Hearst’s mistress Marion Davies, and that an attempt to shoot Chaplin may have caused Ince’s death. Allegedly, Parsons was also aboard the yacht that night but she ignored the story in her columns. The official cause of death was listed as heart failure…   – source

In any event, Parsons became an influential figure in Hollywood; at her peak, her columns were read by 20 million people in 400 newspapers worldwide.  She was the unchallenged “Queen of Hollywood gossip”… until the arrival of the flamboyant Hedda Hopper, with whom she feuded for years.

LouellaParsons source

 

 

 

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