25 Comments

Glad you highlighted Maurer's substack. I read a few entires and was positively delighted. Like I said, I've fallen out of love with Last Week Tonight over the past year-plus. His show got captured by the same woke elite smugness as every other outlet, sadly.

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Consider the possibility that all those shows are simply hallelujah choruses for the confirmation biases of a market demographic handed down from corporate, and always were, even when they pointedly pretended not to be.

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Possibility considered....and more or less accepted.

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Aug 21, 2021Liked by Freddie deBoer

Have a good weekend! Are you too counting the days until fall? If being Mr. Autumn Man is wrong, I don't want to be right:

https://www.theonion.com/mr-autumn-man-walking-down-street-with-cup-of-coffee-1819574012

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The Maurer recommendation was mine and I'm happy his substack is getting attention from it. Feels like being into a band that you know is gonna hit it big. (If we pretend we're still in an era where bands could hit it big.)

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I love Maurer, too. If you’re into soccer, he also covers US National play.

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I'm trying to figure out your attitude towards the Beinart quote, in particular "liberals must be anti-utopian". Is that something you agree with? If so, does it apply to everybody on the left, or just the narrow subclass that you (pejoratively) call "liberals"?

Physics without math is like a rainbow without color.

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author

I agree with Beinart in the context of what he's saying and in the broader sense of left of center opinions regarding foreign policy and military adventurism.

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Aug 21, 2021Liked by Freddie deBoer

I'm sure you're going to get a lot of comments to this effect, but your friend is correct about physics. Mathematics is the language of physics - trying to learn it without the mathematics is like only being able to read a poor translation. You may still find something insightful or interesting in this translation, though, despite it lacking the elegance of the original. Depending on what level of mathematical sophistication you're looking to wade into, my personal opinion is that Susskind's The Theoretical Minimum is the best introduction to physics for the seriously interested amateur. They're available as lectures, but the first three courses are also available as books now, and they're what I recommend to everyone who is interested in physics on more than a cursory level.

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How do you feel about Hawking’s A Brief History of Time? I’m slowly reading it. Mostly because we’re chugging along beautifully and then suddenly Hawking makes an “and therefore…” kind of statement and I just cannot follow the “therefore.”

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I may have been the one physics major who never actually read Hawking. Partially because cosmology wasn't my main area of interest, and partially because the man seemed pretty full of himself, haha. So I actually can't comment on how that fares, though I'm not surprised there are gaps in the explanations. I will say though, that contemporary theoretical physicists, the sort who write most of the books for laymen (Greene, Kaku, Carroll, Wilczek, Rovelli, etc.) have a tendency to dazzle you with the strangeness of it all without spending enough time impressing upon you *why* these things work how they do, or what makes these our best current theories. Maybe these books succeed at engendering some sense of wonder about the world, but what they don't really do (IMO) is tell you much about physics as a discipline or as a body of knowledge. The paucity of physics media out there between The Elegant Universe on the one hand and textbooks on the other is something I find kind of disappointing, and the courses I recommended above are one of the few things attempting to occupy that area that I know of.

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I thought it was pretty good – I've always been interested in physics and I am a 'math person', tho I've never studied the math (i.e the particular equations) used in particle physics in any detail.

What's a "and therefore ..." statement that you couldn't follow?

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Here’s one: I’m thinking I’m getting it, but then the parenthetical sentence makes my brain malfunction.

“The discovery of the positron in 1932 confirmed Dirac’s theory and led to his being awarded the Nobel Prize for physics in 1933. We now know that every particle has an antiparticle, with which it can annihilate. (In the case of the force-carrying particles, the antiparticles are the same as the particles themselves.)”

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That's a good example! I'm pretty familiar with this stuff, but I had to look up some of the details again anyways :)

You're probably familiar with the 'basic subatomic particles', i.e. protons, electrons, and neutrons – the constituents of most 'normal' (to us) stuff.

The tricky bit is that the current best theory/theories indicate that only one of those – the electron – is an 'elementary' or 'fundamental' particle. Those theories indicate/predict that protons and neutrons are both made up of other elementary particles – quarks. A 'positron' is the historical name for an anti-electron – and neither they nor electrons are made of quarks.

So, 'fundamentally', there are quarks – six 'regular' ones and their antiparticle counterparts, and leptons – of which the electron is one of six 'regular' ones, all six of which have their own antiparticle counterparts – and then a third group of "force-carrying particles" called the bosons. You probably know of one of them – photons. Unlike quarks and leptons, bosons are 'their own antiparticles' – 'because' they all have a 'neutral charge' and anti-particles all have the same mass as their 'regular' particle counterparts, but with opposite 'charges' (and there's more than one 'charge').

I don't think bosons can 'annihilate' themselves like, e.g. electrons and positrons do, but I couldn't find a clear answer about how they interact with themselves (for, e.g. two of the same type of bosons).

I found this link, but it hasn't loaded for me (after several minutes): https://cms.cern/news/how-does-higgs-boson-interact-itself#:~:text=In%20the%20standard%20model%20it,of%20the%20LHC%20physics%20program.

Google's summary didn't include anything about the Higgs boson 'annihilating itself'.

It _seems_ like antiparticles could make antimatter, e.g. 'anti-hydrogen', that would behave just like the 'regular' version – there could be an 'anti-Earth' made up of anti-matter instead of 'regular' matter. We effectively 'singled out' the 'regular' particles as being 'regular' because, for obvious historical reasons, that's the kind of matter, and particles, that we almost always observe (in relatively mundane circumstances).

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Yes that's what threw me: if they are their own anti particles, then why do they exist, since they don't annihilate? But what you're saying about charge makes sense.

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Funny enough, one of my mathematics professors memorably (to me) told my class that physicists don't really respect the mathematics they use!

I also liked this video about how the 'best' and 'worst' predictions in physics are both based on the same (mathematical) theory: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g20JZ2HNZaw

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You should write the SFW post because I'm not gonna listen to the podcast.

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It was a great podcast though. Just listened to it. They went over everything from Mad Max Fury Road to Parasite to the failure of Ghostbusters 2016 to Quentin Tarantino. Freddie is damn good at this. In another life he'd be a movie critic.

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Aug 21, 2021Liked by Freddie deBoer

Just wanted to say I love these digest posts--I don't know how much work it is to dig up songs and substacks and books, but I love the recommendations!

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founding

Is your Facebook page gone for good?

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author

I deactivate for a few months once or twice a year. I'm sure I'll be back eventually.

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Aug 23, 2021Liked by Freddie deBoer

Great to see High on Fire get some love!

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"One of the things great writing reveals to us is just how little those demographic factors actually do to define us"

So true, and this made me nostalgic for the type of conversations that used to be more common, where you talk about how weird a book is, and then briefly take a break to talk about the author's personal life and go "oh, interesting, I never would have guessed the author was West Indian," and so on.

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Conversely, I also remember how, with certain books, the author's identity was more important. Those books stood out in an interesting way. It's all flattened now and I often feel, when talking to my friends, that we're afraid to talk about books too long for fear of demonstrating that we're (gasp) not the type of person who does book reports on the author's life.

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Speaking as a physicist, your friend was wrong about physics. Adding math makes it more precise and verifiable, but I think it was Schrödinger who stated that, if you couldn't explain what you were doing to a child, you didn't understand it yourself.

Susskind is too much, if you don't already have familiarity with the topics covered on a non-mathematical level. Learning about physics means going over the same areas again and again, each time at a deeper level, starting in grade school. Algebra gets added in high school, calculus in college, and it goes on from there - group theory, differential geometry... Professional physics is a long course. Don't worry about the gaps, we all have them.

The history of physics is fascinating. Try Bruce J. Hunt, The Maxwellians.

If you haven't read Carlo Rovelli, Seven Brief Lessons On Physics, start there.

Nobody understands quantum mechanics yet. Most authors describe entanglement incorrectly - they oversimplify. An accurate description is pretty tedious, unfortunately. If you want the straight skinny, find a copy of J. S. Bell's Speakable and Unspeakable in Quantum Mechanics: Collected Papers on Quantum Philosophy and browse it to see if you can handle it. It's ok to skim over the math and go for the philosophy. He has a chapter on special relativity, with an entertaining section about how a group of physicists at CERN couldn't agree on the solution to a seemingly simple problem.

The YouTube series from PBS Space Time is both accurate and entertaining.

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