tv The Physics of Everyday Things CSPAN July 8, 2017 8:45pm-9:52pm EDT
read david baldacci, i'm about two bucks behind and i read every book that he has ever written and i'm starting with his first one and have never given up on him. he's a great writer and also i'm going to read the introduction book. andrew jackson was the first person to hold my congressional seats. in tennessee, where i live, the district i live in had two presidents and one of them is andrew jackson and andrew johnson. those are folks i like to read about the summer. >> but tv wants to know what you are reading. send us your summer reading list via twitter @booktv or instagram at book -underscore tv or posted to our facebook page facebook page/but tv. but tv on c-span two television for serious readers.
>> hello everyone. welcome, my name is joe garvin and i'm the event fire here at the university bookstore. thank you for coming out and supporting your local independent bookstore. take you. we are very excited to have james with us tonight. just a few notes before we get started, but signing will immediately follow tonight to talk at this table right here, to your right. technically, the store closes at 8:00 p.m. but we will keep a register open and you will be able to exit the building out to the back parking lot here. if you happen to park in the
bookstores parking lot here, again, we be able to validate your parking. onto tonight's guest. james is that distinguished professor in the school of physics and astronomy at the university of minnesota where he has taught since 1988. he is the author of several books including the physics of superheroes and the amazing story of quantum mechanics and has served as the science consultant on movies such as watchmen and the amazing spiderman. james latest book the physics of everyday things was published by crown just last week and with that, please join me in welcoming james carmack. >> thank you very much. joe, thank you to the university bookstore for hosting this event and thank you everyone for coming indoors on a beautiful may day to sit inside and listen to talk about physics. you are my kind of, nerds. [laughter]
we live our lives surrounded by the most amazing technologies such as, usb drives that can store entire libraries, are smart phones which far exceed the capabilities of anything imagined in star trek, in the star trek communicators. our touchscreens that we have everywhere, the security at tsa; magnetic resonance imaging where they can see inside your body without a cut of a knife; microwave ovens that cook our food in fractions of the time a conventional oven does. these devices, how they work, it seems like magic. i felt that it was very important as a physics professor that i explained to the public that it really is magic. [laughter] now, i don't mean magic like
doctor strange from marvel comics with the all seeing eye but rather magic like penn and teller magic show at las vegas. there is the fantastic affects and not breaking the laws of physics, they are exploiting the laws of exit six. using them to create their illusions. these devices use physics to do what they do. magicians don't like to tell their secrets but professors, you can't get them to shut up. so, in the physics of everyday things i describe how everything from your fitment wrist fitness monitor works to high-speed elevators, things as conventional as airplanes to more esoteric like voice untreated noise canceling headphones. as mentioned, i've written
popular science books the physics of superheroes came out about ten years ago and that was followed out by the amazing story of quantum mechanics which i took as the premise that we are in the 21st century and we were promised jet packs and flying cars and we got cell phones and laptop heaters instead. really what happened was the writers of the science-fiction pulp bought that in the future we have a revolution in energy which is what you need in order to let the car up off the ground and keep it off the ground. we got instead was a revolution in information. that information revolution is made possible by semi conductor physics which in turn is made possible by close of mechanics. the physics of superheroes went into a second edition with more heroes, more villains and more science and just last week, as mentioned, the physics of
everyday things came out in front. before i get to that let me give a little background about how did a mild-mannered physics professor become associate with spiderman and superman. in my day job the experimentalist so experiment this means i work in laboratory opposed to doing theory and finance matters of a way of saying solid-state physics. my research actually goes from the nano to the neuro. we do work with semi conductors where we make nano crystals. these are crystal and germanium and they have diameters of a few nanometers. a nanometer is a billionth of a meter effectively the length of three atoms linked to end. you can make a crystal with a diameter of three oh nanometers and that will only have 200 atoms and 140 atoms will be on the service and these crystals are so small that the electrons actually feel there inside a box. the properties of the material change simply by changing the
size of the nano crystal. that's great because frequently if you want to change the properties of the material you had to add other elements and make other compounds. right now if you have another. [inaudible] it frees us from the tyranny of chemistry. [laughter] we make nano crystal light from one semi conductor and we invent them into a matrix of another semi conductor and readiness to try to make superior cells or transistors and then i have another project right collaborate with professors of neuroscience where we use the techniques we developed to study electronic noise and apply them to voltage fluctuations in the brain. that's not why i'm here tonight. here tonight because back in 2001 i created a freshman seminar class in the university
of minnesota that was originally called everything i know about science and learned from reading comic books which my calyx essay explains a great deal. this is a real physics class that covers everything from isaac newton to the transistor but there's not an inkling plane or pulley insight. these examples come from superhero, books and is much as possible when superheroes get their science rights. i illustrate here in action comic that i bought back in the 60s when it first came out with a grand total of 12 cents and i'm very old. [laughter] in the story, superman visits a college campus and as a kid, i was interested in what life in college would be like. perhaps i had some premonition that i would never get out. as a kid, i do this part wasn't
correct but there were things in the comic that did turn out to be accurate portrayals of life at the university. for example, all professors at all times always wear caps and gowns and all professors are 800 -year-old white man. [laughter] now, the class the first time was in first fall 2001 in the spring of 2002 the first spiderman movie, the one directed by sam and toby require was about to open. i thought this would be an good opportunity to get science into the newspaper. i wrote up a story about how a key incident in the spiderman, quark, the death of gwen stacy spiderman's girlfriend in, as you all know, amazing spiderman number 121 turns out to be a textbook illustration of forces and momentum. i wrote up the story and was published in the minneapolis
star tribune on the friday that the spiderman movie open and the university put out a little press release because of this article. well, spiderman is on the big screen but if you want to know about the science of superheroes the person to ask is about professor james teaches a special seminar. the university put out press releases about me before and about my work on semi conductors and electronic noise and the result was zero. you write one story about spiderman, however, so this came out on friday and the movie open on friday in the press release went out on friday by monday there were calls from cnn, bbc, the london times, the associated press came to my office where i just happen to have these lecture demonstrations. [laughter] that was a lucky break. you know, at this stage in my career, i've reconciled myself
to the fact that i could win three nobel prizes and i know what photo they're using and my obituary. [laughter] i say this to my colleagues and they say when three nobel prizes how, in a crap game? this article actually went around the country and this is a clipping actually from the chicago sun-times that my sister-in-law sent me and here's a clipping from turkey where one of the graduate students sent me where i think there i know what they're saying about me then i started showing up in places that physics professors don't usually appear. so, this coming weekend, if you're playing a family game night, say you're playing trivial pursuit and you have volume six, i will tell you right now that if you get card 291 the science question, the answer is correct on. the question is what planet's gravity to science professor james say calculator the force to leap over building in a single bound.
now, i didn't even know about this but one of the graduate students of unit diversity of minnesota brought it to my attention, so i piled the card it went down to the physics department main office and went to my department chairman and showed him the card and said allen, who is the most famous scientist you know mark he looked at the card and he looked at me and he said steven hawking. [laughter] and he's not a genius, well, then it is you. in the physics of superheroes we use details of superheroes -- superpowers themselves are obviously not physically justifiable and i don't see my job as being a doctor and this could never happen and this is impossible and what the deal with the hogs pants anyway, unstable molecules.
i grant each character a one-time miracle invention from the laws of nature and say well, if you were superstrong orchid stretch like rubber band or run at superspeed like the flash, could you run across the ocean or up the side of the building or snatch bullets in midair all things that the characters are shown doing in the comic books and once you make the suspension of disbelief. uses superheroes to show basic principles and i show how the physical principles apply to real life and we start off way we do in a standard physics book with newton's law of motion, conservation of energy and we eventually build up to thermodynamics we build up to more modern topics. that wasn't going to work in the physics of everyday things. very few devices use just newton's law of motion or one bit of physics. rather, the physics of everyday things we have narrative something that my editor coins
narrative physics where you are the superhero and we follow you as you have the amazing pics adventure of an ordinary day. throughout the day, whenever you interact with any technology, any devices, eye-popping and explain how it works. hopefully by the end of the book, you'll start to develop your own physics intuition and will be able to try to guess how things are working. and notice them around you and say i totally knew it was going to be a capacitor or something like that. when you look at the table of contents of the book it's almost like a fun with dick and jane premise. it starts off chapter one, you begin your day. you get up in the alarm on your smart phone goes off and you tap the screen and you make breakfast. you brush your teeth with electric toothbrush then, chapter two, you drive into the city, you get into your hybrid automobile and you navigate
using gps and use that to the towline at the highway using your easy pass and use the self parking picture in your car and explain the physics. you go to the doctor, he takes her temperature with a digital thermometer, x-ray, ultrasound, david talk about magnetic resonance in imaging and explain how that works. then you go to the airport. you picked out your ticket, you go through tsa, you have all the screening done to you and then you take a slight. you're in the airplane, you take a digital photograph of a cloud and you try to upload the cloud and the person next to you is wearing noise canceling headphones and then you get to where you're going and you get a business presentation to use an lcd. injector or laser pointer or microphone and finally, you go to the hotel and you walk down the hall and the motion sensors turn on the light.
it's broken up into squares like a checkerboard but we want to know on which set of squares you're touching but that's order to click with the mouse how does it know where we are physically making contact with the screen? one way is a resistive touchscreen. you have two sheets that are good conductors of electricity and are separated by an area gap so nothing can go from the top sheet to the bottom she. when you press on the screen you physically smash the top part into contact with the bottom and yes that's a physics word. at that region now a current can flow from the top sheet to the bottom and we know which squares are now able to carry electrical
current. and whenever you write your signature on some sort of touchscreen pad when you pay for your credit card they typically use these resistive touchscreen. one of the drawbacks as you know when you write your signature is they are fairly low resolution which is why your signature looks like a moronic scroll. also because you're physically depressing the top screen it's more susceptible to dings and damage. another way is to break the screen into many squares as before and behind each square have a capacitor which is a way of storing electrical charges. on one metal plate you put an
amount of positive electrical charges and develop negative charges on the other plate, between the two there's an electric field which means there is a voltage. they're all charged up and then you come along and are a good conductor of electricity. you don't notice it because unless it's winter and even dragging your feet on the carpet and grab onto the metal door knob i know that your good conductor of electricity. when you touch the screen uis have a few extra charges on the and that affects the charges on those capacitors which changes the electric field of voltage and then you can record. the advantages are it's not as susceptible to damage, higher resolution. it would not work if you're wearing gloves because then you are blocking the charges your
caring and your body. also if you get water on the screen it will confuse it. because pure water is an electric insulator. tapwater has ions in a and tears her sweat has ions making them a good conductor of electricity. now, i pulled a fast one on you because when i talk about the resistive screen and say you have two conducting sheets or the capacitors, if that were indeed the case then if you had metal seer you would never be able to see anything on the touchscreen. you would not know where you're supposed to be touching. the real innovation that made this possible was the development of transparent conductors such as oxide which
is as transparent as window glass but is conductive like a metal. a unique material science and chemistry that makes that possible. none of the touchscreens would work without materials like indian tin oxide. now you can just drop that conversation is a look at the ito. now you won't have to worry about why you won't be invited to parties. >> so, the next thing i want to do is talk about as you continuing going through the full-body scanner so let me read the narrative part from the book, the person ahead of you in line for the metal detector has thrown a wrench. the tsa pre-check detector should not have been set up by
the rich was a trend wristwatch. levels need to be adjusted to avoid false positives. the tsa agent instruction to the full-body scanner. and senior pockets of everything including paper money you secure from the atm you place it in a plastic dish on the x-ray machine conveyor belt. step into the scanner with your elbows but you raise your arms above your head and then you suck in your belly. you stand still wallet orbits roger. i surrender you say, just don't let me miss my flight so, how does this work? how does the see under your clothing? you're standing here and they orbit around you and quickly they have an image that can tell if you have anything secured under your clothing. there are two ways to emit something you can have the light
passed through the object and look for the differences in how much light is transmitted, call transmission mode where you can look at how much light is reflected. in transmission mode like avonex or a and x-rays are high-energy light and an x-ray will be deflected by the electrons in an atom. border molecules are mostly water. they have ten electrons. the calcium in our bones has 20 electrons. calcium atoms are more effective than scattering x-rays than the soft tissue which is mostly water. so when you have x-rays pass through the body it goes easily through the soft tissue in
larger items like the calcium in your spine her rib cage will deflect x-rays away. the detector sheet will be dark and when there's few x-rays because i got scattered it will be lighter. so we get an image this way. or, we can look at reflections in the light and look for variations in the reflection. the full-body scanner does not use x-rays it uses a part of the electromagnetic spectrum that has a wavelength of 1 millimeter. or more generally, microwaves. if i have an electric charge on arad and i waive it back and forth, and generate a very in electric field which generates a magnetic field and as they propagate out we call that light.
if i shake it back and forth at one time per second that's the frequency of the light. it would have the wavelength of about 300 millimeters. if i shake it couple hundred millions times per second i would generate radio wave. shake it back and forth a billion times i generate microwave. faster still, you would actually start to see this is visible light. faster still you get ultraviolet then x-rays and gamma ray. they're all the same phenomena. still alternating electromagnetic waves. the only difference is the wavelength and frequency. these microwaves that have a wavelength of about a millimeter. because the wavelength of those electromagnetic waves is large
compared to the fibers that make up your clothing. just as in large ocean wave is not scattered by one swimmer in the water but would be scattered by a large ocean liner or the show, the millimeter waves pass through your clothing but are reflected by your skin. there's anything underneath your clothing that has a different reflection that scatters late differently than your skin that will show up as a changing contrast. that would be a way of seeing underneath the close the scene what you have. in this way it would indicate there's something more that another test needs to be done. that's why have to completely into your pocket of any paper or
anything else because that would scatter the millimeter waves differently. by the way, no matter how long a student phone booth you're not going to get baked like a baked potato. the power is thousands of times weaker than a microwave oven or cell phone. is it the same part of the spectrum that yourself one uses. the slower power and you would get the same amount of radiation in the first two minutes of your airplane flight. we evolve in a sea of electromagnetic radiation. so, that part is not too hazardous. the next and to go on your luck seems to have run out.
your bag has caught the attention of the tsa agent operating a scanner. as you return the contents of your pocket back to where they belong you hear the full word you never want to hear at an airport security checkpoint. is this your bag? you not in the agent tells you he wants to test it further. he takes you back to a stainless steel table behind the checkpoint invites wipes outside of the bag. he places the disc into a large device which you know is labeled the next also traced detector. less than a minute later it gives the all clear in the tsa agent thinks you for your cooperation. you're free to go and not a moment too soon. you'll have to hurry to get your gate on time. spoiler alert, you make it so, how does the device work? we've all had at some point where they wipe around your
luggage with this piece of paper and put it inside a box i was suspect that they just burn the paper and wait a minute and say your fine. they do burn the paper, but there's other interesting physics. if you handle many explosives, powders there will be traces of it embedded in the grease of your fingertips. when you touch something else some of those molecules will be transferred to the things you are touching. even if you started with a milligram of -- there still an anagram that can be measured. what they're looking for is tnt. actually that's not true. they're looking for a tracer molecule that has to be placed in all explosives. that way you're not sensitive to a particular type. if they find it they know that
something is amiss. tnt is a big organic molecule has carbon atoms and nitrogen atoms, hydrogens and large configurations. i want to be able to tell and distinguish this and say the other adams run the atmosphere such as to nitrogen or to oxygen. these are smaller and have a reduced profile than at&t molecule. this is trying to figure out the difference between a mack truck and a mini cooper. it's obvious that i could look at them and tell which is which but what if you couldn't look at them, what if they were so small that you could not visually inspect them?
how would you tell the difference between the mack truck in the mini cooper? one would be to have them run a race. will make it a fair race and will put the same engine in both vehicles. the have the same power but the heavier truck which has a larger surface area so more air drag will take longer to run the race than the lighter and aerodynamic cooper. so you look at which vehicle crosses the finish line first so is the mini cooper in the truck and then we can tell the difference. this is what is done in the explosive traced detector. one of the techniques that is use. the first step is to burn the paper and drive the molecules up into the vapor. then one electron is removed from each molecule.
if i take away one which has the charge of minus one now they each have the charge of plus one. at the other end of the two i put a negative voltage. that attracts the positively charged molecules. the only thing that measures that it's like put in the same engine and all the vehicles. fill the tube with a certain pressure of gas so they experience the same drag i would like to see how long it takes for the molecules to make it to the end and the lighter ones get their first in the heavier ones take a longer time period from calibrations we know how long it would take and if we see any molecules crossing the finish line at that point we know the person dealing with the bag was
in contact with explosives and it warrants additional investigation. so that's how these devices work. it seems like magic but once again simple physics you can see how they do it. some of these are rather clever, the scientists and engineers were extremely clever. one of the things that struck me in writing the book was the universality of physics. i kind of knew this but it was striking. there's at least 42 devices i talk about in the book and to understand them you only need to know handful. once you have them then you see
the same physics get used again and again. for example magnetic induction electric currents create magnetic field. we know because there's electromagnet on the larger the currents is the greater the magnetic field. an electrical current is a moving charge and generates a moving field. beautiful symmetry of physics is moving magnetic field can induce electrical current. this gets exploited in the senior credit card. that has your account information is presented on the front is a series of numbers but also on the back of your card in this black stripe which is actually a region of magnetized
material and you either have a north pole up or down and so on. this is a one, zero one and zero. but now how do i read it, how do i get this information that is where you use magnetic information. i don't have the demo here but i don't need it because of the internet that i found from the university of colorado a great demonstration. here's a coil not connected to a battery there's a lightbulb and a voltmeter hooked up i will take the magnet and move it through the coil. i will change the amount of magnetic field in the coil.
when i do that i get an electrical current induce. notice it's only a changing magnetic field. i can leave the magnet in the coil and nothing happens. currents create magnetic fields. currents are moving charges the faster the magnetic field changes the greater the currents it induces. if i move it out or in slow i get very little current induce. i yank it out fast -- to ever take a credit card and swipe it and it doesn't read and you have to pull it faster because the faster you pull the larger the
current in the easier it is for the reader to detect the information encoded. >> that physics also gets used when you recharge your electric toothbrush. you have the electric toothbrush and you know that is? you have a battery in here it's powering either crystal or motor that makes the bristles move back and forth. eventually the battery moves out and we want to recharge it is not something that will be a groundwater so i plugged the recharger into the wall outlet
and when i place the toothbrush on the recharger it charges up in a few minutes time. if i look at three charger comments plastic. the bottom of the toothbrush is plastic. plastic is not a good conductor of electricity. it's a horrible conductor of electricity. so how does it charge up? when you plugged into the wall the current coming from the wall is what's called alternating currents. -- often outlaw, but we keep on going. the current from the wall is an alternating current changing direction 50 times a second. so that current goes to a coil the base of the charger.
it creates a magnetic field that points the north pole up or down, 60 times per second. the constantly changing magnetic field. we have another coil in the base of the toothbrush handle. the magnetic field passing through the toothbrush's north pole up or down, it changes 50 times per second see induce a current in the coils of the toothbrush. then we do a bit of shenanigans and we convert that to a direct current that recharges the battery. in this system you have a coil that's not make an electrical contact with another coil but nevertheless the electrical power in the first is transferred to the second coil, this is called a transformer. seems like a simple device but there's more than what meets the
eye. that's a transformers joke. i know. i fought with my editors for months over it. i said how can i write this and not have an optimist prime book and she said jim, it's not that funny so anyway, the same physics that's used in your credit card reader is used when you recharge your electric toothbrush. they look like very different devices. the same physics shows up in your metro card or your card for your hotel. you have a metro card and it knows that you have money and it deducts a certain amount from the card or you go from your hotel and it unlocks the door for you and how does this work, again missing physics inside the card is a coil and the reader
generates a changing magnetic field that induces a current in the coil. that energizes a chip embedded in the card and now that it has power it sends out a signal to the reader which is also listening and says how much money is in the account or identification number that indicates this is your hotel room and to allow you entry. at the same physics seven electric toothbrush charger for the credit card reader in this way. also the same physics when he walked through tsa. you have an alternating magnetic field and if there's anything metallic it will induce a current and then the metal detector turns off unless since
to see if there is any decaying field generated by an electrical current and if it detects that it says there must have been metal nearby unless you bury -- which we now know about because were supersmart sumac so all of this is the same physics used again and again. want to finish up and talk about the sociology of physics. the attitudes of society towards science and scientists reflected the popular culture any see it more strikingly in the comic
books. this is tales from novembe november 1961. marvel comics before they are publishing the fantastic four they put out, quickset and science-fiction adventures. every month the earth was being attacked by giant monster is trying to conquer the planet. inevitably local law enforcement cannot stop them the military was helpless and the earth would be doomed if not for the efforts of one lone scientist. who inevitably would figure out the achilles' heel of the one weakness for the monster in order to defeat them. so here is tales to astonish number 13, this is actually the same route that shows up and guardians of the galaxies. but when he first appeared he was a monster. yes had marvel vocabulary. there's the last panel from the
story you see the sheriff and when he hears the scientists plan he says i never even thought about that in the town person says that's why evans is a scientist in your only a sheriff. and it evans wife says so darling forgive me i been a fool. never complained about you again, never personally i can't tell you how often i hear that in my own house. [laughter] i can't tell you because it involves imaginary numbers. but, it's a good thing the scientists from the case. if it wasn't that we'd have to handle -- [inaudible] . .
the proximity fuse we see in self-driving cars and self-parking. i talk about that in the book. in the '60s, you had the space race going on. neal armstrong touches on the moon and there was a radical transformation made possible by skiens and engineering. everything spring and summer you see students laying out on the quadrant talking and soaking up
the sun. but, unlike when i first got to minnesota, now tay are also on their phone watching movies that are being streamed. this is just happening recently and it seems impossible. it seems like a miracle. that is what i try to explain in the book. most of the people who read my book will never become scientists or engineers but they all, i hope, will be citizens and voters. as citizens and voters, we are all being called upon more and more to have opinions about scientific and technological issues whether it is climate change or nano technology or genet genetically modified foods. the more educated we are the
more sound decisions we can make. we have a lot of problems. and the idea of the physics being the physics and universal should help inform us in how we address the scientific spaces as a society. like loud speakers. for example, quantum mechanics explains how molecules interact with light and we know that certain materials will let visible light pass but absorb infra red. we can make a dye that emitted
infra red and we can have a detector and you put those two things together and you have a tv remote control. what our understanding of how molecules interact with the infra red light you would not have a tv remote. this explains why putting trouble or triple pains of glass in the window help trap the heat inside because of the visible light passing through the grassley but absorbs the infra red and reemits it back in the room. window glass is mostly silicone dioxide. right above silicone is carbon in the periodicic table. they are very similar in the way they absorb infra red light. by saying the physics is the physics means if you put double
or triple pain carbon dioxide in the atmosphere it will interact with the infra red light the same way the silicone dioxide would in the window. and the physics we like in a tv remote control doesn't magically stop working when we put it in the atmosphere. we have to accept that. as i said, the ingenuity can solve our most pressing problems but only if we accept the science. to quote richard thiman has he wrote in the final line of his report when he was a part of the team that investigated the challenger space shuttle accident. reality must take precedent over public relation where nature cannot be fooled. thank you all for your attention. thank you all very much. [applause]
>> i would be happy to take questions. any pressing, superhero questions. who is faster, superman or the flash. yes, sir? [inaudible question] >> sure. it is a few slides back. let me get this out of the way. and you mean like here? yup. >> what you said before was your finger has a little bit of an electric charge. >> your body has a certain capacity so you can store a certain amount of charge. >> if you store too much charge, can you shock your screen? >> absolutely. absolutely. you could do the same thing. if you store too much charge that is exactly right.
this is why -- if you were to open up the hood of a computer and started playing around with the mother board one of the first steps you to take is ground yourself to make sure you don't have any access charge because those devices can easily get shocked and then the current path is so high that it locally melts the silicone chips and now they are fried and the ting is useless. you can absolutely shock your screen that way. that would be burned out then. that is correct. if you were to do that; yes. >> can you go to the last slide? >> i actually forgot to show the
>> they are invited to speak on television. why are we kind of affiliated actually to allow the scientists to speak a language that is not politically correct and confirms with the official story? >> that is an interesting point. to just summarize, if i may, the issue is who determines/who decides what are legitimate scientific questions and what are not. there is a scientific community and there are certain -- i mean, on the one hand most of us work and work kind of like craftsman
that are putting our bricks of knowledge in a large wall and we are not changing the walls direction, we are not changing its geomeetry but we are adding and building on to it. we build on, we follow what was done before and the people who come after us. every now and then there are truly brilliant people who figure out an entirely new way of buildling a wall or an entirely new direction of knowledge. those people are revolutionary and consequently they tend to be ignored by the older, more established sciences. one of the founders of quantum mechanics says revolutions in science don't win out by superior reasoning but they win out when the older scientists die off and they are no longer
there to object. he was being somewhat facetious but not completely. to some extent, what determines whether someone is a visionary or, you know, not is dependent on whether they succeed or not. i know a guy who spent like seven years in his attic trying to solve a 300 year old mathematics problem. eventually he solved it and this was andrew wilds who solved the theorem. he is not considered a crank because he succeeded. if he had spent all that time and never got anywhere you would say, oh, he wasted all this hiem. that is why he was afraid of being labelled as such so he didn't tell anyone. he was working for seven years on this problem.
so to suddenly -- it is an interesting point. we only have a certain amount of time. sometimes we get things in the mail or thanks to the internet people have completely new theories to prove how einstein is wrong. for the most part, most scientists don't spend a lot of time trying to trace through and find out where the errors are, we have such a large body of evidence to support einstein's theory that we start with the prejudice that it is correct and we work from there. but if someone were to come up with compelling evidence eventually that would win out. yes, sir? >> there is a book called the man who knew infinity.
>> yes! >> at the very end of it, it said all of this brilliance has a practical consequence because his brilliance pertained to black holes. if i recall that right, my question is, how does all that brilliance as a practical matter have that beneficial effect with respect to black holes? >> like i say, i am a humble but lovable experimentists. i am not an expert on black holes but i think the larger point you are asking is how does abstract mathematics show up and describe the physical world that is developed independently. and i tell you, if i knew, i would tell you because it is
spooky how often this happens that mathematicians develop tools, they develop things just because they find them intellectually interesting. it is like as if you had tools and you say i am going to invent a screw driver and all different types. one with a flat head, phillips screw driver, look at these amazing tools. and you say well that is great. and then a hundred years later people discover that the world is full of screws that need to be turned and who knew and oh, instead of having to intent it a hundred years earlier, someone intented the screw driver. and now we can use this tool to turn the screw. this happens again and again and again in physics.
and not every bit of mathematics finds an application in describing the physical world. but all of our descriptions of the physical world do employ mathematics. so, why that works, how he could look at things basically in number theory and many, many years later after he is long dead, other scientists say hey, i don't have to invent the solution to the problem. this solution already exists. that is one of the spooky things about the world. there is something to it, though. it was either poly or vigner wrote an essay, the unreasonable affectiveness of mathematics in describing the world. it works much better than you think it should. -- effectiveness.
>> i can add, if i may. math regionally was a language and it is still a language invented to shorten the amount of writing. for example, you can think x plus y equals a hundred. originally, someone wanted to see it is equal to a hundred dollars. but the fellow writing that said it was too long and they invented the x and then the y. math originated by physics. you can go back later on and it fits the physical phenomenon. if you look at the books of history in mathematics it would work.
>> i am still mystified by it. it still works. yes, sir? >> all right. so, you have been talking recently and you said he this can -- he thinks we are living in a simulation. >> that we are living in a simulation. man, i wish it was a better one. there is all sorts of ideas and hypotheses but you have to come up with something that is a test of them. people have suggested various ways they might be able to test such a proposal. it has to do with subtle issues of quantum mechanics and i am not very up on it myself i have to say. i tend to think that, you know, there is some things that might be a simulation like my paycheck
but for the most part, i think the simplest explanation is usually the right one. >> or the multi verse? >> there is always the multi verse. i have proof of the multi verse because i have shown up in a marvel comic explaining why only those who are worried can live forward. there are two jim's running around. one who writes the poplar science books and works on nano crystal and silicone and the other who lives in the marvel research and does research. >> that is simple and i am not sure what the numbering of this one is. >> if there is no other questions -- well one more. >> you mentioned in the advances of skiens over the last few years i have received that and i am one of the people who do that.
but are we sometimes doing things too fast without considering -- like a perfect example. an environmental disaster. it was very good when we were rushing to get it before the europeans get it but now it is kind of a big problem. so are we supposed to constrain science a little bit and make sure it is not damaging us? >> i hesitate to agree with that simply because two reasons. one is who gets to make that call? who determines what the rate should be? what the correct proper weight of scientific distribution. since i doubt they will put me in charge we would rather hesitate especially with colleagues. nobody complains we are solving and curing diseases too quickly.
no one ever complains we are finding too many treatments for illnesses too fast. it is the same type of investigation and in some cases those investigations are enabled by studies in other fields. when the developments in physics have to take place in order for there to be advances in medicine. the magnetic resonance imaging is basically on application of nuclear magnetic residence which is quantum phenomenon. the scientifics who developed quantum mechanics were just trying to understand how atoms interact with each other and interact with life. that understanding a generation later made the transition and laser possible and then you get smart phones and laptop computers and dvd and everything without which my kids would say life is not worth living.
if you went to the foundation of quantum mechanics founder erwin and you said nice equation what is it good for you? i doubt he would say if you want to store music in compact format but the world we live in would be profoundly different. thank you all very much for your attention. thank you all for coming out. >> here is a look at the current best selling books according to "the new york times."