Premiere of The Atom Smashers

By John Conway | September 26, 2008 4:21 pm

The documentary film The Atom Smashers, which I posted about earlier, premiered at the Museum of Science and Industry last week, followed by a panel discussion and Q&A with Mark Oreglia from Chicago, Ben Kilminster and Marcela Carena from Fermilab, Robin and me from UC Davis, and the two filmmakers, Clayton Brown and Monica Ross. We took individual questions from a moderator, Sylvia Ewing, and then from the audience. I have to say that my favorite question came from a student who asked if our quest to understand nature at the particle level was never-ending, due to Godel’s Theorem or something like that. That question is worth a post all by itself, and I want to apologize to than young man for not answering it more fully. Bottom line answer: it probably is never-ending, but more like an infinite series is never ending, rather than the truth being out there, never accessible to experiment.

Ben Lillie, a theorist from Argonne/Chicago who attended the premiere, wrote a very thoughtful review and captures a lot about what folks have been saying. Julia Keller wrote an article about it two days before hte show for the Chciago Tribune. The film was shown at Fermilab yesterday, and overall we’ve gotten a lot of great positive feedback on it.

Robin and I only saw the movie the night before the premiere for the first time, and had only 24 hours to get over the weird feeling of seeing yourself in a movie. But Clayton and Monica did a great job of picking out some of the more interesting and intelligent things we had to say, and they fit well into the overall story line of the film.

This is a truly new approach to making a science documentary, rarely if at all pedagogical about the science itself, but rather digging a level deeper into what it’s like to do what we do, what motivates us, and the never ending struggle to maintain funding. There is kind of a bittersweet feeling at the end – no Higgs, no funding – but the fact that we all still hope that we will break through some day soon to the next level of understanding about our universe is palpably present at the end.

The film will be shown on PBS’s Independent Lens on Nov. 25. Bravo, Clayton and Monica and all the rest at 137 Films!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Media, Science, Science and the Media
  • A Student

    The answer to the student is…



    Cynicism (Greek: K???????) originally comprised the various philosophies of a group of ancient Greeks called the Cynics, founded by Antisthenes in about the 4th century BC.[1] The Cynics rejected all conventions, whether of religion, manners, housing, dress, or decency, advocating the pursuit of virtue in a simple and unmaterialistic lifestyle.[1].

    In pop culture, the word cynicism generally describes the opinions of those who see self-interest as the primary motive of human behaviour, and who disincline to rely upon sincerity, human virtue, or altruism as motivations.[2]

    On the other hand, the Oxford English Dictionary suggests as the usual modern definition (per cynic): showing “a disposition to disbelieve in the sincerity or goodness of human motives and actions” and a tendency “to express this by sneers and sarcasms”.

  • Lawrence B. Crowell

    Whether Godel’s theorem enters into physics is uncertain. Chaitan’s thesis is that mathematics amounts to various “accidents” which exist in a vast set of self-referential propositions. By extension we might ponder that physical principles exist by a similar process as accidental islands of order which emerge from a set or vacuum of quantum propositions which reference themselves. Maybe the Planck scale is the ultimate cut-off where on a smaller scale physical principles or “laws” do not exist. John Wheeler talked often about “law without law.”

    The lack of a universal Turing machine (UTM) operates for quantum computers. To model universe as a quantum computer, or network of quantum computers, this machine can’t be a UTM and so the cosmic quantum computer is incapable of computing all states about itself according to a single algorithm. That algorithm is any set of logico-algebraic system (gauge theory, particle theory, etc), and maybe the universe can never be computed completely according to such.

    This might have some bearing on physics beneath the string length scale, or close to or at the Planck scale. It is of course hoped that before physics reaches this “end of physics” that some rational system of unification is possible. Of course the greater challenge physics faces has less to do with an axiomatic incompleteness and with our ability to experimentally probe these extreme scales.

    Lawrence B. Crowell

  • Pingback: The Atom Smashers on PBS Nov. 25 | Cosmic Variance | Discover Magazine()


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