Monday, July 25, 2005

The "Field" in Physics

A blog friend of mine, Y, wrote in her recent blog post as follows:
When I have contact with a person to study the problems of either the scene and activity of social welfare or various social phenomena, I, as one of the persons being present at the site, feel many things from that person's talk and behavior, and scientifically consider about the movement that makes the "field."
This sentence has made me think that the study of social problems is similar to that of elementary particles, because both the studies concern interactions and the "field." From this thought I now want to write a simple introduction to the concept of the "field" important in physics.

In everyday life we experience magnetic, electric and gravitational forces; these are respectively caused by the magnetic, electric and gravitational field. You may know that the magnetic field can be visualized by sprinkling iron filings near a bar magnet. The electric and magnetic fields were theoretically found to be unified as the electromagnetic field by James Clerk Maxwell in the 19th century. The things that mediate the fields are elementary particles. The electromagnetic field is mediated by the photon; and the gravitational field, by the graviton. (Gravitons have yet to be discovered experimentally.)

Each kind of elementary particle has a definite mass, including the special cases of zero mass for the photon and the gluon (the gluon is the particle that mediates the "strong nuclear field"; the force of this field binds quarks to make protons and neutrons). Theoretical physicists now consider that the masses arise from the interaction of particles with a kind of field termed "Higgs field" and that the origin of Higgs field is a supposed particle called "Higgs boson." (This consideration is based on the Standard Model and Supersymmetric Standard Models of elementary particle physics.) — Now you may remember the question, "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" —

One of the main aims of the present high-energy experimental physics is to find Higgs bosons to confirm the above consideration. For this purpose, they use gigantic machines such as Tevatron Collider at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in USA. and Large Hadron Collider under construction at CERN, European laboratory for particle physics near Geneva. It is one of grand plans to move the frontiers of human knowledge forward. (You can read more about the mass and the Higgs field in a recent issue of Scientific American [1].)

  1. G. Kane, "The Mysteries of mass," Scientific American, Vol. 293, No. 1, p. 31 (2005).

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Difficulty of Persuasion

Last month I read an article in the New York Times written by a columnist, Matt Miller [1]. He writes, "Is persuasion dead? ... The significance of this query goes beyond the feelings of futility I'll suffer if it turns out I've wasted my life on work that is useless."

I think of the same question when I write essays about political problems at my blog site. I seldom get a comment like this: "You have opened my eye." (I got one such from a woman. Later, I heard that she had committed suicide. Amen.) If the probability of arguing other persons into my own belief were quite low, writing my opinions in my blogs would be the waste of my time and labor.

Miller finds the death of persuasion by noting the followings: "Best-selling books reinforce what folks thought when they bought them. Talk radio and opinion journals preach to the converted." The situation seems to be the same in Japan. This trend might have not only a bad side but also a good one; people have strong belief in their own thought. However, it should be questioned if they established their thought after careful comparison of different opinions. I am afraid that the flooding of information in these days might be making such comparison rather difficult.

Miller's article is not completely pessimistic. He writes that reading Ken Pollack's book, "The Threatening Storm" [2], he was persuaded, and concludes by the words, "Like Sisyphus, those who seek a better public life have to keep rolling the rock uphill." Miller, however, does not persuade me in that Pollack's book is persuasive because I learned from the reviews of the book at Amazon Web site that Pollack favored invasion of Iraq by U.S.A. I do not think that war is good for any reason.

However low the probability of success in persuasion might be, we should continue to express our sincere opinion by expecting that the storm of good will should change the world in a better direction slowly but steadily.

  1. M. Miller, "Is Persuasion Dead?" New York Times (June 4, 2005).
  2. K. Pollack, The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq (Random House, 2002).

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Science of Happiness

D. Nettle's book "Happiness" [4].

From the title of this blog you might think that this is a story about a new religion, but it is not. I have learned the followings from Dylan Evans's book review in the latest issue of Nature [1]: Many of the founding fathers of psychology, such as William James (1842-1910) and Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), regarded happiness as their central concern. However, it seemed that psychologists forgot this theme for much of the twentieth century. We have long waited for a book about the scientific study of happiness, and then three [2-4] have come along at once. — Evans compares this happening to our experience in waiting for a bus. —

Reviewing the three books on happiness, Evans first writes several things they have in common. Thus we learn that any one of them is good to get knowledge about a summary of the field at the level of general public, i.e., various different meanings of happiness, the way to measure happiness, main factors of happiness (money, life events, personality, genes, etc.), the relation between happiness and health, contradictions between scientific research and commonsense intuitions about the best method of obtaining happiness, etc.

Next, Evans writes about differences among the three books. However, it would suffice for many readers to note his words in the final paragraph (it is often useful to read a book review from the last paragraph): "If I had to recommend just one of these books, it would be Nettle's, because it conveys about the same amount of information as the other two books in about half the number of words."

An individual person's feeling of happiness, i.e., subjective happiness, might be a problem in the field of psychology. In this age of frequent terrorism outrages, however, the objective happiness of every person, i.e., the happiness of the human being as a whole, is considered to be an important problem. This should be studied by cooperation of many fields including sociology, political science and anthropology.

  1. D. Evans, "A happy gathering," Nature Vol. 436, p. 26 (2005).
  2. R. Layard, "Happiness: Lessons from a New Science" (Allen Lane/Penguin, 2005).
  3. P. Martin, "Making Happy People: The Nature of Happiness and Its Origin in Childhood" (Fourth Estate, 2005).
  4. D. Nettle, "Happiness: The Science behind Your Smile" (Oxford University Press, 2005).

Monday, July 11, 2005

Classifying 125 Questions in Science

In a previous blog [1] I cited the 25 big questions in science given in the special section of the 125th anniversary issue [2] of the Science magazine. The special section included also 100 smaller questions. I browsed them and wanted to introduce them to the readers of my blogs, but the list is so long to put in a blog post. Thus, I have tried to classify the total 125 questions into different disciplines of science to give here the number of questions in each discipline in place of my initial plan. The result is as follows (the first number for each discipline comes from big questions; and the second, from smaller ones):
Cosmology (1, 6)
Physics (2, 14)
Chemistry (1, 4)
Energy-Source Science (1, 1)
Astronomy & Earth Science (2, 6)
Biology, Medical Science & Physiology (14, 50)
Ecology (1, 4)
Anthropology (1, 5)
Sociology (1, 4)
Mathematics (1, 6)
Total (25, 100)
Many of the questions are interdisciplinary, so that my classification is rather arbitrary. Especially, the boundaries among biology, medical science and physiology are not clear, though some questions definitely belong to medical science and some others to physiology. Thus I made these three disciplines a single category of classification.

However, the numbers of questions in the above three disciplines hold the unquestioned lead against any other combination of three. Therefore, we can guess that these three disciplines should be the busiest ones from present to the near future, only with the following caution: We should not accept the numbers at their face value, because the 125 questions were chosen by the editors and writers of the "Science" magazine, which is especially popular in the fields of biological science.

The introductory article [3] of the special section aptly cites James Clark Maxwell's witty words: "Thoroughly conscious ignorance is the prelude to every real advance in science." In other words, posing a good question is the start of good research.

  1. "25 Big Questions in Science", Femto-Essays (2005).
  2. "What don't we know?" Science Vol. 309, p. 75 (2005).
  3. T. Siegfried, "In praise of hard questions" Science Vol. 309, p. 75 (2005).

Thursday, July 07, 2005

25 Big Questions in Science

Part of the cover of the 125th anniversary issue of the Science magazine.

The Science magazine published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science marked the 125th anniversary on July 1, 2005. The issue to celebrate this occasion includes the special section entitled "What don't we know?" [1]. The section lists and explains 25 big questions facing science over the next quarter-century and 100 smaller ones (the total number of questions equals the number related to the anniversary). For those who are interested in the future of science, I cite the list of the big questions here.
  1. What Is the Universe Made Of?
  2. What is the Biological Basis of Consciousness?
  3. Why Do Humans Have So Few Genes?
  4. To What Extent Are Genetic Variation and Personal Health Linked?
  5. Can the Laws of Physics Be Unified?
  6. How Much Can Human Life Span Be Extended?
  7. What Controls Organ Regeneration?
  8. How Can a Skin Cell Become a Nerve Cell?
  9. How Does a Single Somatic Cell Become a Whole Plant?
  10. How Does Earth's Interior Work?
  11. Are We Alone in the Universe?
  12. How and Where Did Life on Earth Arise?
  13. What Determines Species Diversity?
  14. What Genetic Changes Made Us Uniquely Human?
  15. How Are Memories Stored and Retrieved?
  16. How Did Cooperative Behavior Evolve?
  17. How Will Big Pictures Emerge from a Sea of Biological Data?
  18. How Far Can We Push Chemical Self-Assembly?
  19. What Are the Limits of Conventional Computing?
  20. Can We Selectively Shut Off Immune Responses?
  21. Do Deeper Principles Underlie Quantum Uncertainty and Nonlocality?
  22. Is an Effective HIV Vaccine Feasible?
  23. How Hot Will the Greenhouse World Be?
  24. What Can Replace Cheap Oil -- and When?
  25. Will Malthus Continue to Be Wrong?
Which questions are you most interested in? I am interested in questions 1, 5 and 21 as a physicist; in 2 and 6 as a human being; and in 10, 11, 23 and 25 as a being living on the earth. I would also like to introduce to you the 100 smaller questions in subsequent blogs, if possible.
  1. "What don't we know?" Science Vol. 309, p. 75 (2005).

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Relationships between Arts and Science

These days we often find the topics on the relation between arts and science in newspapers. (Here I mean arts and humanities by "arts," and natural sciences by "science.") An example is the news that the Faculty of Culture and Information Science was opened in April 2005 at Kyotanabe Campus of Doshisha University, Kyoto, Japan [1].

At the Web site of the Doshisha University [2] they write the characteristics of this faculty as follows: "The educational programs are designed for students to understand the significance of cultures by analyzing them with the concept of data science. The curriculum promotes the interdisciplinary methods which connect the traditional studies in the field of humanities with information science."

This is a trend to be welcomed in education and research at universities. However, the analysis of the products of humanities by the method of science is only one of many possible aspects of interaction between arts and science. I write here a few examples of other aspects I have learned from the book-review pages of the science journal "Nature" (It is to be noted that the book review pages in this journal have been entitled "Books & Arts" since 2003, and includes introductions to exhibitions and stage arts related to science or the "Science in Culture" column.)

In the book "Madam Bovary's Ovaries" [3], David Barash and Nanelle Barash attempted to interpret fiction in terms of biology. The reviewer of the book, Michel Raymond writes [4] that the classical boundaries between biology and the social sciences are fading away and that the above authors explore various aspects of human mating strategies, rooting human behaviors within the animal repertoire and using novels instead of scholarly publications. Raymond also gives a useful suggestion that an evolutionary book could provide some welcome insights on the historical origin of the novel in various human cultures and its relationship with other kinds of literature such as myths or fairly tales.

The neuroscientist Steven Rose published the book "The 21st-Century Brain" [5]. The reviewer John Marshall of this book writes as follows [6]: Rose stresses the observation that individual life stories are shaped by culture, society and technology and is even prepared to believe that science is perhaps intrinsically incomplete and must be complemented by the kind of knowledge we gain from arts. Marshall warns that Rose's observation, however true, does little to bridge the gap between brain and mind. At this point it does not seem that Marshall looks at the future.

The above examples are related to the usefulness of arts to complement research in science. The next example shows an aspect different from these.

Paul Davies reviewed [7] the book "Warped Passages" written by Lisa Randall [8]. This is a book for general readers on hidden dimensions being studied at the frontier of theoretical physics. Davis writes, "Perhaps readers don't really intend to follow [popular-science books] studiously, but wade through the expositions as a cultural experience, rather like reflecting on a Jackson Pollock painting -- you know it's very clever and you assume it means something profound to the creator." [Pollock (1912-1956) is an American painter famous for drip painting.] Davies's words may be a little extreme, but suggest that artists and scientists can learn each other about their methods of expressions.

  1. Asahi-Shimbun (April 8, 2005).
  2. Web site, Doshisha University.
  3. D. P. Barash and N. R. Barash, "Madam Bovary's Ovaries: A Darwinian Look at Literature" (Delacorte Press, 2005).
  4. M. Raymond, Nature Vol. 435, p. 28 (2005).
  5. S. Rose, "The 21st-Century Brain: Explaining, Mending and Manipulating the Mind" (Jonathan Cape, 2005); Published in the US as "The Future of the Brain" (Oxford University Press, 2005).
  6. J. C. Marshall, Nature Vol. 435, p. 27 (2005).
  7. P. Davies, Nature Vol. 435, p. 1161 (2005).
  8. L. Randall, "Warped Passages: Unravelling the Universe's Hidden Dimensions" (Allen Lane, 2005); To be published in the US in September by Ecco (HarperCollins).