Tuesday, 19 April 2011

X. Interlude II

While studying Electronics Engineering at Instituto Superior Técnico, in Lisbon, I had a wonderful teacher, a Catholic priest that branched out as a Relativity expert, also known as The Priest of the Quantum Mechanics, Padre João Resina Rodrigues (1930—2010). 

We used to joke that there were only two people that understood Relativity… God and Padre Resina, and we had the suspicion that they could be one and the same. He taught me two subjects: History of Science (mostly Relativity) and Electromagnetism. Relativity was quite a straight forward affair, however I had to smile every time a problem would appear on an exam. They were always on these terms... a train travels at 240,000 Kms-1. Its length is 600 Km!!!???... so far so good I can deal with these numbers, I used to think. The smile would start opening more when the words “The conductor... “ trying to give a bit of humanity to the problem with such absurd premises. I never got it... if Relativity is all present, why could we not use normal situation problems with a normal 200 metres train travelling at 300 Kmh-1 and calculate that time/space would expand/contract by a couple of zeptoseconds or zeptometres?

He had some other gems...his Electromagnetism lectures always started in the same way. When we entered the classroom one of the blackboards had already been chalk written with the Maxwell Equations in differential form and other “delicacies”, with a sort of menacing subtext to their impenetrability. I used to listen in awe and write as fast as I could, all the mathematical “hieroglyphs“ that were surging all over the end of his incredibly fast writing. Invariably, after the lecture had overrun for at least 20 minutes, all blackboards filled top to bottom, and in more than one occasion with the door working as a blackboard overflow, Padre Resina would stop (as if) out of a trance and exclaim “This last equation that I wrote (on the door!!!...) confronts us with a profound philosophical problem!” and smile at us begging for a reply... which was invariably stupefied silence!

Padre Resina was totally right. The fundamental “bits” of science are begging for a philosophical discussion but the most important question is always this:

Is Science a good description of the world or does it only describe Man himself?

And how scientific is Science? The development of Science and its weaving within the modern world is in total harmony with the tools the world is using today. However there is an inherent fallacy in how Science is perceived and how Science perceives itself. The more accurate the measurement tools are, the stranger the world becomes. Incredibly, instead of blaming the slippery floor, like the old ballet dancer, scientists tend to apportion blame to the music score and/or choreography. In the end, they confound the measuring achievements with the most incredible tools, with the new world found with the same tools. The fact is that there is no New World whatsoever, in the same manner that the debris of a car crash or plane crash can never explain neither the car or the plane... only the crash. In the end scientists are looking for a “black box” that could surface as if by miracle if the ultimate tool was made and available.

Science has given up observing the world, measured nature has become more and more like a bad PlayStation game played exclusively by some initiates, that squeak in awe every time they go to the “next level” or get an “extra life”.

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