Christian Long

Murray Gell-Mann: Beauty and Truth in Physics

In TED Talks on April 18, 2010 at 8:12 am

Reflection by ALEX D.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Murray Gell-Mann:  Beauty and Truth in Physics

I do not know what particle physics are.

Actually, I have no clue about anything said in this Talk. Even after watching for several times, I could not find any deep, intellectual concept. But there has to be one, there simply has to!

I am not going to reveal that later on I did discover something. That does not matter… and when I say matter I mean in a way of importance or significance, not on a physicist’s standpoint.

What I did learn is that people want to feel accomplished, and that we like things to be told to us clearly.

Mr. Gell-Mann spoke of the French physicist Coulomb that discovered that Newton’s Law of Gravity could also fit other aspects of nature, in this case, electric charges. To me, it seems as though Coulomb noticed a scientific law that could fit multiple functions, and was able to “market” his shortened version of Newton’s Law as his own. He understood that people like things to be handed to them. He realized that he could make variables that could stand for multiple words, and sell his own version of Newton’s Law, only shortened. People see a long, handwritten equation and think, “what genius!,” but they cannot understand it.

A simplified equation is a good equation. Mathematicians look for shortcuts. Most don’t care for the work, so long as they get to the solution.

Why is E = Mc² such a famous equation? Because it is short and simple.

The energy in matter is equal to (the mass of the matter times the speed of light) times itself. Well, it sounds simple. But it’s marketable. I’m pretty confident you have never heard of the finite continued fraction formula:

a_0\, , \, a_0 + \cfrac{1}{a_1}\, , \, a_0 + \cfrac{1}{a_1 + \cfrac{1}{a_2}}\, , \, a_0 + \cfrac{1}{a_1 + \cfrac{1}{a_2 + \cfrac{1}{a_3}}}\, , \, a_0 + \cfrac{1}{a_1 + \cfrac{1}{a_2 + \cfrac{1}{a_3 + \cfrac{1}{a_4}}}}\,,

But all said, the human mind has advanced tremendously in the past few hundred years. There will always be a few intellectuals who will stand out in their time: Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Stephen Hawking, etc., but overall there has been an increase in knowledge. Some of the ideas and theories that were life changing hundreds of years ago are now common knowledge. Copernicus would have been condemned in his time for his heliocentric ideas, but today he would have been given the noble peace prize. (Which I suppose isn’t as difficult to get as in the past.) Advancement is a part of human life. We all wish to improve. We all wish to learn more.

I only wish I understood what Mr. Gell-Mann was talking about.

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