Thursday, 9 September 2010

day 6: Rainy Reflections (three of them)

[caption id="attachment_297" align="alignnone" width="216" caption="I {heart} Noëlla"]I {heart} Noëlla[/caption]

Rainy weather is always good for reflection

(i) I think “heavy downpour” is now my favourite English collocation. It easily surpasses the much acclaimed “cellar door” in phonaesthetics and I am certain everyone agrees it beats “beautiful phonaesthetics” in spellaesthetics. As far as I know the word or concept of spellaesthetics does not exist. For me it is really strange there is no antonym to the “the claim or study of the inherent pleasantness or beauty (euphony) or unpleasantness (cacophony) of the sound of certain words and sentences.” Apparently there is eugraphy and cacography. They refer however to aesthetics of handwriting or funny misspellings or to semantics or images, since eugraphy may be used as an antonym to pornography. NOT to the aesthetics of the arrangement of the letters. The form, or “picture” of the letter string. To call it a painting would be too much I agree and conjures up images of calligraphy which is not what I mean: No matter what font, or which handwriting, there is a certain beauty in some letter sequences. Not just in digraphs (like ae, eu, ou,ei) and tripgraphs (like eau, sch,ieu). Beyond that. The beauty of “heavy downpour” for me lies in the following:
(a) The sequence “wnp”, which is not a trigraph, but a trigram with a low frequency of occurrence

(b) The fact that the second and the second-to-last sound are represented by a digraph: “ea” and “ou”

(c) Two letters protrude above the baseline, two below: “h-d”, “y-p”

(d) These letters are in fact each others diagonal reflection: “h-y” and “d-p”. There is a third: “u-n”

(e) o = o

(f) vy ≈ w

(g) I don’t like the r, except that “h____ _____our” is probably the reason I associate a long period of time with the downpour

(h) It’s a kind of feeling of symmetry that, if you look very carefully, still isn’t really there.

(ii) I think Feynman has swapped places with Bohr and Einstein as my favourite awe-inspiring physicist. I’m reading QED - the strange theory of light and matter. In which he explains the most successful theory about the workings of the universe ever to be produced by human minds, by talking about the reflection of light. In just 152 pages, no equations, your mum would understand it too. In Quantum Electro Dynamics (now Quantum Field Theory) the predictions of the theory and the results of measurements are in accordance down to the 8th decimal place! That’s why 20 countries invested 6 billion euros to build the Large Hadron Collider in eight years. That’s how certain they are in all the uncertainty. Apparently Feynman was also a proponent of spelling reform of English, a sensible man in all areas.

But that’s not why I think he’s awe-inspiring. Also not because he: “... was regarded as an eccentric and free spirit. He studied Maya hieroglyphs, was a prankster, juggler, safecracker, bongo drum player, painter, and even developed his own pickup artist method he tested in bars.” Nope. That’s standard for awe-inspiring people. 

This is why: He explained and understood the universe through pictures. He brought back a visual form or conceptualisation of the constituents of the world around us: The Feynman Diagram. In this case a conceptualisation of gluon radiation. I think its beautiful too. I won’t bother you with the details, because... I don’t know the details. If you can make a picture of it, it does not necessarily mean it is has become easier.

What I do know and understand is that some of the things he helped discover are so universal that they will need to be introduced into psychology at some point in time. One is he path integral and another (and more important one) the least action principle on which it is based and, of course (gauge) symmetries. I will come back to that at some point later this year.

(iii) I think I do not have a favourite awe-inspiring mathematician yet. Not that one needs to. The obvious candidate, Benoît Mandelbrot is actually much more. I am (also) reading Gaussian Self-Affinity and Fractals: Globality, The Earth, 1/f Noise and R/S. It is not like anything I have ever read before. The first line reads: “This books subject matter is nontraditional and its style and organisation are unconventional” It is a collection of papers and new texts and comments and observations, exploring the concept of self-affinity, another very important notion for psychology.

There is a pattern here. Mandelbrot is also someone who likes to represent and conceptualise things with pictures. In fact, he claims that all mathematics stem from geometry. This picture here is the ‘fundamental phase diagram’ for a symmetric three-interval generator. Of course he generalized this to a grid free functions (i.e. all-intervals). This time I do know the details, but I still won’t bother you with them. Just that I think he deserves the Nobel prize for this.

What actually struck me in the book are the passages on being an outsider and maverick in science. About maniacs, who will take an idea and proclaim it ubiquitous and universal. About deniers of whom there are many and about bashers who will do anything to keep things as they are. He calls himself a ferocious moderate and gives a very striking example of what happens to me almost daily (3.3 and 3.4): 

He also calls himself a philosopher. Something which has been held against me several times last year by empirically oriented colleagues. Interestingly my view of philosophy is the same as his: “I'm certainly a philosopher—how do you say?—entranced with unifying ideas. However, I don't only study books; I study nature. Also art of the past, for the purpose of finding artifacts that I could embrace.

Reflect on that!