Specular Reflections
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Thoughts on Life, Science, Writing and the Universe at Large

Saturday, June 17, 2006
Recently I read an article in New Scientist that got me rather excited.

To take a deep breath and back up a bit: we subscribe to this UK science news magazine, which comes to us weekly. Generally there are many articles and news items of interest, but the issue usually contains one lead article that is cutting edge/ wildly speculative in nature. These are fun to read and often inspire my imagination.

This current article talks about in idea proposed by two theoretical physicists, that space-time is actually some kind of superfluid. Sounds wild, doesn't it? The link to the intro to the article is here:
http://www.newscientist.com/channel/fundamentals/mg19025551.000-is-spacetime-actually-a-superfluid.html. There are some major issues with the idea, including the fact that it would imply a preferred direction in space, and as far as we know, space is the same everywhere we look. But what struck me about this article is that it serves as yet another example of how particle physicists and cosmologists borrow from condensed matter physics --- that is, the physics of materials that are liquid or solid, to build their models of natural phenomena. My own thesis, all those centuries ago, had to do with drawing an analogy between a peculiar property of quarks called quark confinement, and the idea of superconductors from condensed matter physics.

So the question is: is there something deep going on here? Are all the models we need for exotic and mundane natural phenomena to be found in the way molecules interact with each other? Could we reverse that --- archive all the ways that molecules interact and there you have a lexicon of all possible phenomena? (Remembering that a scientific model is nothing less than a metaphor of varying complexity).

Or is it that all we know how to do is to extrapolate from the familiar (if molecular interactions can be considered familiar) so that our models, our metaphors, are incomplete and flawed?

I dunno.

But it sets the mind moving in interesting directions...

posted by Vandana 5:49 PM
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