Physics – How I loved it

Back in good old days when I was in 6-9th grade, I used to write letters. Letters to my grand parents, my uncles. I was the officiated guy in the family for my mom, grand mother et al to write letters to other family members – as I was able to write in 3 different languages. Sometimes I used to get creative and write fun letters to my uncles with puzzles like substituting every other word with some other word to understand it. This was plain old pen and paper letter writing – not your digital cousin version of it.

Back in those days too – physics was fascinating to me. When I was in high school – I came across a book called – “Emperor’s new Mind” by Roger Penrose. It was kinda way too much for me to understand  at that time. So I tried my best to understand it. As I was reading it – all I wanted to do was to become a physicist. Delve into dark matter and explore quantum physics. I came across an article in a newspaper by a lead scientist who was running India’s premier physics research lab – ANURAG. You should also know that Hyderabad is place in India all Indian science and defense research happens. Anyhow, as there was no google – all I knew was to write him a letter. That I did. Poured him my heart about how I want to become a scientist too. I think I was 14 years old and I know it’s kinda bonkers to even think about writing to someone like that.

Lo and behold after kinda 2 weeks I got a reply. The lead scientist – was so kind and nice to me. He didn’t agree to see me but he had amazing advice for me. He wrote a full 2 pages about how I can approach a career to become physicist. One of the important thing he asked me to do was to get my basics completely right and suggested me to study – Richard Feynman‘s lectures. Those were frigging expensive to buy. I cajoled my dad to buy them for me when he was on a trip to Delhi. And it did took about 6 months to get hold of them.

As I studied Feynman’s lectures – I was so fascinated. I loved his books. Then I had to move on to my Intermediate (11th grade) where overall scores are more important than just physics and I lost touch with my Feynaman lectures reading. Later, I moved onto my new found love in Mathematics and later Computer Science. Couple of years later I came across a bunch of generic books by Feynman – “Surely you’re joking Mr.Feynman” is a funny read. I always had this inkling that I want to get back to those lectures and finish reading them. I hope some day I will.

Today I came across this video of Feynman’s talk and it stirred all my physics related memories. I don’t think there ever exists anyone like him and the way he could break down complex theories in such simple models was amazing. He is my hero. Here he is talking about beauty and science.

Map and Territory

Couple of months back I was reading an amazing book called “Tao of Physics” which basically talks about how quantum physics and spiritual realm are similar. It talks about what mystics have discovered about 5000 years ago holds true in what a quantum physicist has to say. In there I came across a para which blew me away. Allow me to explain ( I wish I could quote it but I don’t have the book anymore with me)

Most of the people who consider themselves to be spiritually advanced kinda consider themselves to be knowledgeable. Most of these people once they reach the saturation of their knowledge realize that reality that we see around us is nothing but a big mesh of tricks which our senses along with our mind plays on us. So this usually ends up in this knowledgeable person raising to the occasion of enlightenment declaring that the world around us is magical, mystical and an illusion. What is missed in this is though – how cunningly dualistic is our mind. As soon as we realize that this world as we experience is an illusion – the mind plays its best trick, tricking us into thinking that this so called “illusion” is out there. That this perceived illusion that we have called out is out there and the mind is a friend of ours in identifying it.

But the truth is: the illusion is not out there. It’s actually played out in our heads! We tend to think that it’s out there because then it becomes easy for us to label it and shelve it and go back and watch our favorite episode of ‘LOST‘. But in reality (so ironic) that illusion is in our minds. We carry our own illusions in our minds. This has been labeled by many people in many ways. Some people call it – “Map”. We carry a map of reality in our minds. We try to sift through this so called territory with our maps.

Another populist saying in this arena is “Map is not the Territory”. We keep thinking and identifying that what we see out there is reality and we form assumptions, make decisions totally blinded by the fact that we base all of them on the internal map of the territory. What a kicker would be is – that there is no actual territory. Our languages define how we think. Just close your eyes and check what do you see when you hear or read the word ‘Territory’. I bet its some 3 dimensional landscape or some high view of google maps! But for the lack of words what we refer to as territory actually doesn’t exist in reality. Our maps along with our minds make us believe that what we got is a map and there is a huge territory out there to explore.

Check Schroedinger’s cat phenomenon, check wave particle behavior of light, check Heisenberg’s uncertainty theory. It says in gist – the thing that is being observed is totally affected by the observer. Which means that in any given case, observer is part of the play. He/she is not separate. Which makes us wonder about the territory we have been talking about. At some deeper level you can feel that the territory is us and the map is just some contrived way of looking at the blips in territory.

I better stop before I get labeled as crazy. 🙂
Wave Particle