## Posts Tagged ‘**Leibniz**’

## “Why should things be easy to understand?”*…

The universe is kind of an impossible object. It has an inside but no outside; it’s a one-sided coin. This Möbius architecture presents a unique challenge for cosmologists, who find themselves in the awkward position of being stuck inside the very system they’re trying to comprehend.

It’s a situation that Lee Smolin has been thinking about for most of his career. A physicist at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Canada, Smolin works at the knotty intersection of quantum mechanics, relativity and cosmology. Don’t let his soft voice and quiet demeanor fool you — he’s known as a rebellious thinker and has always followed his own path. In the 1960s Smolin dropped out of high school, played in a rock band called Ideoplastos, and published an underground newspaper. Wanting to build geodesic domes like R. Buckminster Fuller, Smolin taught himself advanced mathematics — the same kind of math, it turned out, that you need to play with Einstein’s equations of general relativity. The moment he realized this was the moment he became a physicist. He studied at Harvard University and took a position at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, eventually becoming a founding faculty member at the Perimeter Institute.

“Perimeter,” in fact, is the perfect word to describe Smolin’s place near the boundary of mainstream physics. When most physicists dived headfirst into string theory, Smolin played a key role in working out the competing theory of loop quantum gravity. When most physicists said that the laws of physics are immutable, he said they evolve according to a kind of cosmic Darwinism. When most physicists said that time is an illusion, Smolin insisted that it’s real.

Smolin often finds himself inspired by conversations with biologists, economists, sculptors, playwrights, musicians and political theorists. But he finds his biggest inspiration, perhaps, in philosophy — particularly in the work of the German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz, active in the 17th and 18th centuries, who along with Isaac Newton invented calculus. Leibniz argued (against Newton) that there’s no fixed backdrop to the universe, no “stuff” of space; space is just a handy way of describing relationships. This relational framework captured Smolin’s imagination, as did Leibniz’s enigmatic text

The Monadology, in which Leibniz suggests that the world’s fundamental ingredient is the “monad,” a kind of atom of reality, with each monad representing a unique view of the whole universe. It’s a concept that informs Smolin’s latest work as he attempts to build reality out of viewpoints, each one a partial perspective on a dynamically evolving universe. A universe as seen from the inside…

Lee Smolin explains his radical idea for how to understand an object with no exterior–imagine it built bit-by-bit from relationships between events: “How to Understand the Universe When You’re Stuck Inside of It.”

* Thomas Pynchon

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**As we muse on monads,** we might send delightful birthday greetings to Fernando Arrabal Terán; he was born on this date in 1932. A playwright, screenwriter, film director, novelist, and poet, Arrabal co-founded the Panic Movement with Alejandro Jodorowsky and Roland Topor (inspired by the god Pan).

Early in his career, he spent three years as a member of André Breton’s surrealist group and was a friend of Andy Warhol and Tristan Tzara. Later (in 1990), he was elected Transcendent Satrap of the Collège de ‘pataphysique (following such predecessors as Marcel Duchamp, Eugène Ionesco, Man Ray, Boris Vian, Dario Fo, Umberto Eco, and Jean Baudrillard).

And throughout, he was very productive: Arrabal has directed seven full-length feature films and has published over 100 plays; 14 novels; 800 poetry collections, chapbooks, and artists’ books; several essays; and his notorious “Letter to General Franco” during the dictator’s lifetime. His complete plays have been published, in multiple languages, in a two-volume edition totaling over two thousand pages. *The New York Times*‘ theater critic Mel Gussow has called Arrabal the last survivor among the “three avatars of modernism.”

## “The camera is an instrument of detection. We photograph not only what we know, but also what we don’t know”*…

When top chemists and engineers at Harvard and MIT are preparing to reveal new research in the world’s premier journals, they call Felice Frankel. For over two decades, Frankel has had a front-row seat at some of the biggest discoveries emerging from both ends of Cambridge, photographing experiments within the labs that created them.

Read her extraordinary story in “Photographer has front-row seat for big scientific discoveries“; and check out her work– from daisy-colored yeast colonies through rainbow-colored quantum dots to soft. flexible electronics that can be tattooed onto the skin– on her site.

* Lisette Model

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**As we find focus,** we might remark that today is the birthday of not one but two extraordinary mathematicians: Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646; variants on his date of birth are due to calendar changes), the German philosopher, scientist, mathematician, diplomat, librarian, lawyer, co-inventor, with Newton, of The Calculus, and “hero” (well, one hero) of Neal Stephenson’s *Baroque Trilogy*… and Alan Turing (1912), British mathematician, computer science pioneer (inventor of the Turing Machine, creator of “the Turing Test” and inspiration for “The Turing Prize”), and cryptographer (leading member of the team that cracked the Enigma code during WWII).

Go figure…

## Adventures in the Counterintuitive…

Your correspondent is headed away for a week or so, ranging more then ten times zones from home– the current limit to continuous timely posting of (R)D… So, while regular service will resume on-or-around the 20th, a little something to keep one occupied:

Readers will recall that, on the occasion of an earlier hiatus, your correspondent wheeled out “the Monty Hall Problem” (c.f., “**Riddle Me This**” and “**Birdbrains**“). This time, with thanks to **Prof. Stan Wagon** at Macalester College:

Alice and Bob face three doors marked 1, 2, 3. Behind the doors are placed, randomly, a car, a key, and a goat. The couple wins the car if Bob finds the car and Alice finds the key.

First Bob (with Alice removed from the scene) will open a door; if the car is not behind it he can open a second door. If he fails to find the car, they lose. If he does find the car, then all doors are closed and Alice gets to open a door in the hope of finding the key and, if not, trying again with a second door.

Alice and Bob do not communicate except to make a plan beforehand. What is their best strategy?

Source: A. S. Landsberg (Physics, Claremont Colleges, California), Letters, Spring 2009 issue of

The Mathematical Intelligencer.

The answer is **here**— and more nifty puzzles, **here**.

**As we craft our own strategies,** we might solve a memorial problem for Gabrielle-Émilie Le Tonnelier de Breteuil, Marquise du Châtelet, the French mathematician and physicist who is probably better known as Voltaire’s mistress; she died on this date in 1749. Fascinated by the work of Newton and Leibniz, she dressed as a man to frequent the cafes where the scientific discussions of the time were held. Her major work was a translation of Newton’s *Principia*, for which Voltaire wrote the preface. The work was published a decade after her death, and was for many years the only translation of the *Principia* into French.

Judge me for my own merits, or lack of them, but do not look upon me as a mere appendage to this great general or that great scholar, this star that shines at the court of France or that famed author. I am in my own right a whole person, responsible to myself alone for all that I am, all that I say, all that I do. it may be that there are metaphysicians and philosophers whose learning is greater than mine, although I have not met them. Yet, they are but frail humans, too, and have their faults; so, when I add the sum total of my graces, I confess I am inferior to no one.

– Mme du Châtelet to Frederick the Great of Prussia

## Waldo, found…

©2009 ~**sfumato21**

(via **Daily What**)

**As we call off the dogs**, we might recall that it was reputedly on this date in 1675 that Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz first used the “long s” as the integral symbol in calculus:

It was understood to be Leibnitz’s co-option of the Latin “summa.”

When Newton and Leibniz first published their versions of calculus (in the late 1680s), there was tremendous controversy over which mathematician (and therefore which country, England or Germany) deserved credit. Newton derived his results first, but Leibniz published first. The prickly Newton claimed Leibniz had stolen ideas from Newton’s unpublished notes, which Newton had shared with a few members of the Royal Society; a bitter argument ensued, dividing English-speaking mathematicians from continental mathematicians for many years– much to the detriment of English mathematics. A careful examination of the papers of Leibniz and Newton has convinced scholars that the two arrived at their results independently, with Leibniz starting with integration; and Newton, with differentiation. It was the symbolically-gifted Leibniz, however, who gave this new branch of mathematics its name. Newton called his version of calculus the “the science of fluxions”… One shudders to imagine that on one’s textbook (or in the mouths of schoolchildren…)