physics


Three cheers for Radio 4!

This is another archival repost from the old blog, originally from september 2008.

It’s a right good science fest on Radio 4 at the moment. If you missed it, you must listen to Physics Rocks (available until 17/9). It’s Brian Cox talking to comedians about their enthusiasm for science. It’s a great antidote to some of the neurocidal drivel written by proudly illiterate twats (Brian Cox’s word, not mine) in the less reputable members of our gutter press.

They managed to get several of our favourite themes in the programme, and seemed to be channeling the spirit of Carl Sagan. In a conversation with Alan Alda, the question “what’s the point of the LHC?” was addressed—if the beauty of the universe isn’t enough for you:

We can drive a car without knowing how to take it apart and put it together again. But somebody better know how to put a car together, otherwise we’ll all be back on foot again. Every time we have figured out something basic about nature—discovering the electron, figuring out how radio waves work — we got an advance that has improved life on the planet immeasurably.

In a conversation with Eddie Izzard, the fascinating topic of multiverses came up. Cox suggested that there is a good chance that, while it may not be multiverses, the results of the LHC’s experiments will cast light on something revolutionary—of Copernican proportions. I can see the next chapter in the shrinking-pains of the God-of-the-gaps on the horizon…

In a conversation with Dara O’Brien, the topic somehow turned to CAM:

O’Brien: … cos unlike Deepak Chopra, I know what “quantum” means… it does actually mean something. It doesn’t mean like … ‘I’m not sure where my life is going’.

Cox: Ancient wisdom! It would help me build a better mobile phone!

O’Brien: Oooh. Ancient wisdom, my arse. Stop it, it’s awful… Ancient herbal medicines: we tested them! The ones that worked became just “medicine”. The rest is just a nice bowl of soup and some potpourri… CERN isn’t going to help that either. It’s not like you’re going to find some neat way that it [homeopathy] will — there’s no bow that goes on top of 120 particles to make it all just, you know…

There were two more quotes I just had to share:

  • Cox: The LHC will be a candle in the dark, lighting the way to a new and more profound understanding of the universe.
  • O’Brien: Physics does not rock. Physics does not have to rock. Physics underpins the very nature of the universe and our understanding of where we are. Just tiny bits of flotsam floating in a much bigger picture

But, really, listen to the whole thing.