Sex and physics!

By Sean Carroll | March 1, 2006 1:24 pm

I just like using these titles, little excuse is necessary. But I do have one: this article in Seed about philandering physicists. The point being that famous physicists of yore were often secret Casanovas, scribbling equations in their downtime between romantic trysts. I’m not sure this thesis would hold up to further scrutiny; it shouldn’t be too hard to come up with numerous counterexamples. It’s true that Einstein was more the raconteur than you might think, but I just can’t imagine, say, Julian Schwinger seducing young women with his patter about source theory. (Sir Isaac Newton reputedly died a virgin.) But there was an interesting question raised at the end of the article, about whether the apparent lack of dashing Don Juans on the current scene was emblematic of some change in the culture of modern physics. Or maybe we just haven’t heard about it yet. Besides, these days physicists are too busy blogging.

The article quoted science writer Jennifer Ouellette, and the enlightened folks at Seed were clever enough to link to her web page. From there I found that Jennifer has recently started a blog, Cocktail Party Physics, which is definitely worth checking out — it’s good to have people talking about science who really know how to write. An excerpt:

Surely there’s room for everyone at the physics table, provided everyone adheres to the rules of engagement (the scientific method) and, like Newton, doesn’t let their personal faith (or adherence to dogma) interfere with the data/evidence. I was always impressed with Richard Feynman’s take on the quantum revolution. Many early physicists, including Einstein, Niels Bohr, and Schroedinger himself, were deeply troubled by the implications of quantum physics. It seemed to defy not just common sense, but everything known thus far about how Nature worked at the macroscale. And yet the evidence kept mounting until they were forced to accept that Nature does indeed seem to work in such an irrational way at the subatomic level. Feynman said we didn’t have to like it, but as scientists (or, in my case, as a science writer), we must accept what the evidence tells us. Dogma — whether it comes in the form of organized religion, political correctness, or overly-zealous apoplectic physicists — has no place at the table, because by its very nature, it interferes with the process of scientific advancement. Ancora imparo: we are still learning. That’s part of the excitement of physics.

Jennifer’s blog reminds me a bit of inkycircus — having fun with the ideas of science, relating them to the wider world in which we all live. Room for everyone at the table.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Internet, Science and Society, Words

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About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] .


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