Thoughtful, Consistent Diplomacy

By Sean Carroll | June 20, 2007 2:45 pm

This morning’s Chicago Tribune website, via The American Sector:

I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that it is a mistake. But I do wonder how exactly that happened.

Also interesting on the internets: Randy Barnett gives you the inside scoop on being a technical consultant for, and landing a minor role in, a legitmate Hollywood movie; and Ezra Klein talks about the importance of changing areas of specialization throughout one’s career. Both of which I note because it would be very easy to substitute “scientist” for “lawyer” and “pundit” in the respective discussions.

Consider this an open thread in which you are encouraged to mock my co-bloggers for being the slackers they so obviously are. Also, if you have any groundbreaking theories about the fundamental nature of space and time and would like someone to have a look at them because reading up on the literature yourself sounds like too much of a bother and besides which great wisdom only springs forth from a position of ignorance, this is the place!

  • graviton383

    2 of them are SLACers not slackers..

  • Blake Stacey, OM

    That may be even better than the example of headlines gone awry which my father taught me about: “mush from the wimp.”

  • Josh

    I’m thinking the funky headline contains tags that are meant for another op-ed piece that ran today about the Duke rape case. Still, pretty strange.

  • Anonymous

    Dear Sean,

    How about a detailed post on reheating after inflation? A discussion of the models of particle production would be nice as well.

    I am a graduate student in experimental cosmology, so something at a beginning graduate student level would be really nice.

  • Paul

    Wow, talk about selective reading. First time I read it, I assumed the byline was the error — obviously, the “thoughtful, consistent diplomacy” must be referring to someone else. But yes, I guess the headline is a more definite mistake!

  • Carl Brannen

    The standard model is quite complicated. To explain it to a grad student in physics requires a fairly thick textbook. Even if an amateur wrote down a derivation of the standard model from first principles, the derivation would have to be so complicated that no professional would have the time to read it. Professionals don’t have enough time to read each other’s papers; they certainly are not going to read books written by amateurs, LaTex or not.

    The only possible way an amateur can gain the attention of the professionals is by extending the work of the professionals. Furthermore, this has to be done in a way that is so simple that the professional can understand it in only a few seconds of effort. That means it has to be written using high school algebra, or maybe a little calculus, nothing more. It must be completely obvious. If this is done, the professionals will respond.

    If one does obtain a peek into God’s physics notebook, one should have the presence of mind to copy down a few simple equations that can make it into the physics literature despite the sociological barriers. One does this by sending a one-page sheet of algebra to the physicist who is closest to guessing the elegant equations.

    But write it here for a general audience? No, that would be a waste of time.

  • Elliot

    In fact I do have a groundbreaking theory about the fundamental nature of time as well as gravity and information. But I am not going to post it here. Instead I am waiting for a buyout offer from Google. 150 bil market cap??? I think they can share with me for completely revolutionizing our understanding of the uni/multiverse.


  • Domenic Denicola

    I’d like someone knowledgeable to comment on this paper I found on the arXiv:

    I haven’t studied QFT in depth (i.e. I haven’t taken a class or worked through a textbook), but I got a crash course on it here at the PI in the last week and a half to help simulate Bohmian trajectories. And so my limited understanding says that this guy is making sense, despite presenting it in a kinda amateur format (typed up using Microsoft Word 2007’s equation editor, referring mostly to textbooks and not papers, being an individual who gives his work address instead of an academician, calling Dirac sea theories “hole theory,” etc.). It seems like someone who works on QFT on the side and thinks he’s found a good way to address something that’s been bugging him since he first learned it. And, well, if I were in that position, I know I’d like some help.

    So anyone want to clue me in? Is it that he (seems to be as far as I can tell from skimming) using the Pauli equation instead of the Dirac equation? Hey, you said this was an open thread :-D.

  • Dick

    How nice of you to offer! I do have such a theory. I know you’re kidding, but I just couldn’t ignore the invitation.

  • eh?


  • Anshul

    A nice little post about what present physics theory(ies) is(are) about “the fundamental nature of space and time” would be awesome. This time around, aim it at a math graduate.

    Ummm… and, if this is too complicated a thing for a single post then perhaps a list of concepts/theories I should understand to find out what the fundamental nature of space time has been theorized to be!

    The last time I tried to venture in that direction was my undergrad. My physics friends had no idea and the library had offered nothing worthwhile.

  • Matt

    Dick, the very first word of your title has a typo. Unless you’re trying to introduce a new particle, the Inflaton, to the standard model.

  • Matt


    Apologies to Dick in advance.

  • aquariid

    I am a fool. I am not being sarcastic, just wanted to get that out of the way. I could tell you something about Fermat’s Last Thereom, or patterns in prime numbers (including twin primes). I could tell you what time is. I could tell you the complicated tale of how the term “okay” came to be part of everyday language. But instead I’ll tell you about outhouses.

    A perennial subject of public debate has been the question: Why do outhouse doors have a crescent moon cut in the them? I puzzled over this question after reading about it in a “Dear Abbey” column many years ago. I couldn’t get anywhere with it. Then, some years later serendipity stepped in. I was watching a vintage cartoon on the tube. The scene was of soldiers of the WWII era. They were unloading crates of rifles. As I commented to myself on the superiority of the art work as compared to modern cartoons I noticed a detail. The wooden crates had hand holds cut into the end panels. They were crescent shaped! I had an “aha” moment. In a flash one of the secrets of the universe was opened up to me. I could see it so clearly now. The historical interplay of events mixing with human needs and desires. The balancing of aesthetics and utility. Within my mind a sequence of events took the form of a story: During the Great Depression the government sponsored civil works projects that sent many groups of workers out into the countryside. Often they were miles from civilization. They brought along crate loads of tools. When they arrived at a work site they had to pitch tents and build their own “facilities”. How much better to have a real structure with something you can sit in and on rather than just the standard open air latrine trench? So they used the lumber from the wooden tool crates and incorporated the perforated end panels to provide a modicum of light, ventilation, and style. QED- That’s it in a nutshell. A couple of unanswered questions remain. What about the 5 pointed star issue? Could the practice in question predate the Great Depression? Much more work could be done in this area but I will leave that for the younger generation.

  • KundryVolare

    but if the bear sheets in that outhouse, does that make him the pope?

    so sorry!! couldn’t help myself on that…but you know, god’s in the details.

  • twaters

    Daneil Holz- what you doing, hombre, sand surfing?! Time to write another quality post!

  • Speedy Gonzalez

    Sean, since we have come to the conclusion that the “expansion of space” between galaxies is a fact (and that fact also means the space in my bedroom is not expanding during the night, except on Saturday nights!) – wouldn’t it be fun as a brain exercise to speculate what could be outside the Universe, if someone in the future can prove that the universal space is finite.

    We do already have serious science about Parallel Universes, so why not go all the way?

    Please notice that I have not been smoking, and I’m not religious, and I’m not looking for God – I’m just damn curious!

    One “smoking” thought is the resemblance between the structure of the universe and neurons in the brain …?

    Could we all be living inside HOMER SIMPSON’S BRAIN!?


  • Speedy Gonzalez

    Sorry, Homer Simpson didn’t give access to his brain on the link above. Here is HOMER SIMPSON’S BRAIN!



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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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