It took a while, but I have now read Susskind’s Quantum Mechanics: The Theoretical Minimum. 346 pages of mathematics. But not mathematics you’d recognise (unless you’re a physicist, I suppose). According to Susskind, we don’t have the sensory apparatus to sense quantum mechanical effects (in the way we obviously do have the senses for the classical mechanical world which is all around us), so abstract mathematics takes the place of the senses needed. I get this. The maths presented in the book is a journey to understanding, and the mathematical language that developed for Quantum Mechanics was forged to be fit for purpose; abbreviations and short-hand formulations were constantly being invented to simplify the appearance of the maths, and to make it easier to manipulate. And always, experimental observations impose the constraints on the maths needed to describe the reality. Out of this framework the understanding emerges. But very slowly, for me at any rate.
I feel that I have a better understanding of how the Uncertainty Principle comes about, but I can’t put my finger on it. Generally, my grasp of Quantum Mechanics is improving, and I think this is to do with my developing understanding of what function the maths is serving. But I need to read some more. So, next, Lectures on Quantum Mechanics by Paul Dirac.
Being anonymous means that I can’t write about what has actually happened in my life this year. This isn’t a great loss, to be honest. But, still. I can write about my social media year, though (not a great gain, actually).
Twitter is my main social media medium; although I’ve used it less this year. It’s still the breadth of views, and speed of news that I most value. I’m now following 800 accounts, and try to maintain a variety of points of view on my Time Line. For me, Twitter is really about continuing education; and 2016 has been quite an education. There are various aspects of using Twitter that are interesting; but I won’t write about them here.
My blog has seen different action this year compared to the two previous years. More poems and less about education (in fact, nothing at all about education – which surprised me when I checked back). Six posts cataloging my attempt to understand special and general relativity (Gravity), and three posts on the start of my journey to get to grips with Quantum Theory. I was very pleased with the Gravity posts as they reflected a genuine advance in my understanding of General Relativity; a subject that had always previously laid outside of my grasp. I’m no expert now, but understand the role of mathematics in this – to provide a language to express the issues, rather than provide an exact solution – a framework for thinking. The search for understanding of Quantum Theory goes on (and I have several new books on this which I plan to read this year); I’m not sure what level of understanding is possible, to be honest; this is tricky stuff. Needless to say, the number of views on the blog dropped by half this year.
Two new media for me this year. Firstly, Niume – a blogging platform, where blogposts must include graphical content. I posted all the Gravity and Quantum Theory posts on it. Second platform, Pinterest. My daughter introduced me to this (OK, I already knew it existed) this year. I started collecting Art pins (I also collect Science and other things) and have now amassed 3300 of them. This has been surprisingly mind expanding…..and introduced me to artists such as Pam Carter, Johnson Tang and Elizabeth Price.
Sometimes, only a poem will do.
The CP blogger of the year award is still not one of the big hitters. The awarder (me) is still fickle. Previous winners were Tom Bennett (@tombennett71) and, last year, David Didau (@learningspy). This year’s recipient is a different kind of blogger, one who mostly uses fiction to hit home. This year @whatonomy has stepped up another gear, with his 14 part series featuring Michael Benzine (@MichaelBenzine) and Glynnis Hardacre (@HardacreGlynis), which is riotously hilarious, as well as being satire of a high standard. Entertainment and erudition. Check it out here.
So, congratulations (if that’s the right word) @Whatonomy! May you continue to generate satirical hilarity for many years to come!
In May 2014 I bought Winston Churchill’s six volumes The Second World War, and started reading. I don’t think I had ever attempted reading anything quite as ambitious as this before (except perhaps Alastair Campbell’s diaries) and I have only just finished. I have read many other books alongside, and for some periods of time I stopped reading the Churchills, but came back to them. The first few volumes were hard going – partly because the style was unfamiliar (lots of official telegrams), but also because the early phases of the war were relentlessly bad news for the British and their few allies. It wasn’t until the Germans attacked Russia, and Japan attacked USA (at Pearl Harbour) that Churchill knew that the war was won (given the combined resources of the USA, British Empire and Soviet Russia). The outcome was inevitable, but the route there was not; a lot of really tough decisions were required.
There are several major things that I take away from reading this extended tale: firstly, Churchill’s grasp of the big picture and understanding of the strategic consequences of events was striking. He was also immersed in detail, but always with an eye on the big strategic picture, as far as I can see. The war was huge and wide ranging, and needed a central figure who could see the whole. Secondly, Churchill’s moral purpose was indefatigable and relentless. The result of these two together generated extraordinary resilience and implementation. Thirdly, the war drove an economic and industrial transformation in the main countries. The logistics involved in fighting were huge and complex, with rapid scientific advances also required. This also demonstrates what can be achieved. But, if the Germans had got to the atomic bomb first……
Life, and History, flow; they ebb and flow, sometimes up and sometimes down. The Churchills took me on such a journey, whilst allowing me to step back and see that this was the case. The finish was not all triumphalism and bombast, either. For a start there was the clear development of the Iron Curtain and the start of the great battle between the liberal democracies and Communism (which Churchill spotted early), indeed, the sixth volume is subtitled “Triumph and Tragedy”. And Churchill lost the General Election of 1945 and was suddenly no longer at the top table. Life, and History, can be relentless and ruthless.