Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Deep Links: God, Strings & how BIG is your h-index?

I concluded my last post (regarding the internet) with a reference to the Deep linking sessions you can have when you get yourself going on a good link hopping session. It amazes (& amuses) me what dark alleys of the net you'll find yourself in ... spending hours reading some crazy shit totally tangential to why you hit the net in the first place. This happens to me all the time, go online to pay some bills and end up reading some True Hollywood story on the cast from Different Strokes. I decided to track occasional linking sessions and publish it under a Deep Link series of blog postings (remember where u heard it first). I'm going to write this in a stream of consciousness style -- summarizing what I read and providing my thoughts (or reasons) for jumping links and some thoughts that cross my mind as I read the passages.

God, Strings and my h-index is bigger than yours ....

I've been on this physics mania lately, consuming as much as I can read regarding topics such as relativity and quantum mechanics. Don't get too impressed ... I usually realize that I probably don't get beyond a layman's understanding of the more granular concepts of the theories, especially since my math is so weak these days ... but I do comfort myself with the little lie that I have a "strong grasp" of the higher level abstractions of the shit I read .... (sigh).

It started with my daily visit to ScienceDaily. Linking to the article about NASA announcement of Direct Proof of Dark Matter. Immediately I thought to myself that these Dark Matter knuckleheads are just running around like chickens with their heads cut off .... their theories are wrong and they keep blaming the shit on some mystical Dark Matter. Once I completed reading the article I wondered what was the issue tripping up all the scientists on this dark matter? maybe its time to read up on it and those strings that my astronomy professor from Rutgers used to get all excited about - Dr. Blood. Damn I love that name. Time for Wikipedia.

Looked up string theory and starting reading and quickly hopped to a link named the Holographic Principle. Which If I understood correctly; stated that the only information needed to know about the events of a given volume of space is the boundary of that region of space. In other words ... if you want to model the events in a given room, then all the information is available on the walls of that room. OK, that was good brain candy and it went on about information density and entropy.

In a given volume, there is an upper limit to the density of information about the whereabouts of all the particles which compose matter in that volume, suggesting that matter itself cannot be subdivided infinitely many times; rather there must be an ultimate level of fundamental particles, i.e. were a particle composed of sub-particles, then the degrees of freedom of the particle would be the product of all the degrees of freedom of its sub-particles; were these sub-particles themselves also divided into sub-sub-particles, and so on indefinitely, then the degrees of freedom of the original particle must be infinite, violating the maximal limit of entropy density. The holographic principle thus implies that the subdivisions must stop at some level, and that the fundamental particle is a bit (1 or 0) of information

more good brain candy, gotta spend some more time researching this holographic principle and entropy stuff but I'm heading back to string theory for now so I linked back to the string theory but I didn't get past the History section of the page when I saw a picture I recognized of Dr. Ed Witten. I havent really heard about him for awhile but I did remember that he was some math genius ... so I clicked on his link. Started reading about his life; born in 1951 in Baltimore, primarily works in Princeton at the Institute of Advanced Study, his brother works in hollywood. The passage went on to describe how mathematically "endowed" he is and how respected he is by his peers. It mentioned all the progress he's made in mathematics & physics including his proof of the postive energy theorem in general relativity -- ooooh -- dont know what the hell it is but it must be impressive. Then it mentioned M-Theory, this theory just sounds cool ... so it was time to hop links and learn about M-Theory.

In a horribly oversimplified nutshell ... there were 5 complementary theories regarding superstrings [ Type I string, Type IIA string theory, Type IIB string theory, heterotic SO(32) and the heterotic E8×E8]. Some smart guys realized that Type IIA & Type IIB were really just different aspects of the same underlying theory so they got merged. Also, the heterotic SO(32) and the E8xE8 were just different aspects of the same theory so they merged those two. And this left 3 but they also found that Type I theory and the merged SO(32) theories were related so they merged those but in 1995 Mr. Witten pretty much told everybody to sit down and let the master show them that they're ALL RELATED in a theory he dubbed M-Theory. He stated that M-Theory gives rise (at low energies) to eleven-dimensional supergravity and is related to ten-dimensional string theory by dimensional reduction.... dimensional reduction to a circle yields the Type IIA string theory, and dimensional reduction to a line segment yields the heterotic SO(32) string theory.... duh !! -- its so fucking obvious.

Goes on to describe a notion of membranes and how the big bang is just a couple of branes "doing the wild thing" -- these physicists are pervs -- after reading all this stuff on M-Theory I back-linked to Ed Witten's page and the following sentence caught my eye.

Witten has the highest h-index of any living physicist ...

So of course .. I hopped the link to h-index and found out that size really does matter ... (sigh again). Seems that h-index is a measurement used (invented in 2005) to assess how prolific a particluar expert or scientist is in his area of expertise. The definition given is

A scientist has index h if h of his/her Np papers have at least h citations each, and the other (Np – h) papers have fewer than h citations each.

In essence this means that the bigger your h-index is ... the more respect (or most influence) you have amongst your peers in your subject area. And it seems that Mr. Witten is enormously endowed with h-index ... he slaughters everybody on the list. But to my surprise Stephen Hawking wasn't on the top 5 of this list. The top 5 guys for Physics were:

Edward Witten: h = 110 (132 as of December 2005)
Steven Weinberg: h = 88
Dimitri Nanopoulos: h = 86
Cumrun Vafa: h = 85
Nati Seiberg: h = 84

I first hopped to Dimitri Nanopoulus because his last name started with the nano- prefix and one of my best friends in college was Greek .... hey, we all hop links for different reasons, nobody said that they had to be rational reasons...

Dimitri's page spoke about his work on the Grand Unified Theory and then it presented this interesting passage :

Flipped SU(5) is the only successful unification of superstring theory with the Standard Model of particle physics. He is the first to successfully merge quantum mechanics with gravity through his theory of spacetime foam

Spacetime foam? cool beans ... that was enough to pique my interest so I went to check out the Flipped SU(5) page.

WHOA!! -- WTF was that ?!!? This page looked like somebody was on a serious LSD trip -- this cannot possibly be english -- just follow this link and read the description of a superpotential.

So as I cursed my greek buddy's name under my breath as I hopped back a couple of steps to the h-index page and looked up the #2 guy on the list --- Steven Weinberg. Now this page was interesting; first of all this guy just looks pissed off but then it was confirmed when I read this passage - a quote from the honorable Mr. Weinberg.

Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.

OUCH !!! -- damn ... that hurts .... but the truth usually does :).

This guy may not be a happy camper but his physics credentials are DEEP. He won the Nobel Price for Physics in 1979 for combining the Electromagnetic force with the weak force - merging the two into the electroweak force. He authored "the First Three Minutes". I remember reading that book when I was around 18 years old -- around 1990. It always left an imprint on my psyche, whenever I thought about the big bang, I would always envision the first 3 minutes being this ocean of chaos, an orgy of energy - spreading in all directions -bouncing off the edges and like gas molecules exerting a pressure - it pushed the boundaries of the universe ever larger .... but I digress.

Anyway the Weinberg Wikipedia page had an interesting link to a lecture titled "A Designer Universe" - the name of a talk that Mr. Weinberg gave in 1999. Another link hop --- I read the summary where he speaks about the Anthropic principle and intelligent design of the universe. He sounds pissed off in this lecture too -- but its pretty good.

Well - after I finished the Weinberg lecture I asked myself what the hell was I doing initially before I went on this Deep Link rampage -- and thats when I laughed and realized that I did it again. Went online for a particular reason and ended up reading about a dozen different physics theories and some pissed off scientist (with a HUGE h-index). Till the next Deep Links Session.

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