You just keep on trying, until you run out of cake.

Yesterday, I wrote:

Well, the power just went out, so it's time for me to pack up my Mac and head out to a cafe with WiFi where I can work on my novel in front of people and get this posted. The weird thing is, while it's likely going to take an hour at least from the time I finish writing this paragraph until it actually posts on the internet, there is no perceived delay from whoever reads this, because as far as you're concerned, the post didn't exist until it was published, though it already existed for me.

Um. Yeah. I'm sure someone who's actually studied physics is going to knock me around for that, but since my knowledge of the field is limited to what I've picked up on my own, it's a fun thought exercise.

Okay, little post, go sit in an eigenstate for the nice people.

Reader Gevmage says:

Your analogy is reasonable. The post existed on your laptop while you drove to the coffee shop, in a state such that it was stable but not portable. Once you got to the coffee shop, by connecting to the internet, you promoted it to an energy state where it could slide easily through the intertubes to our screens.

Since quantum mechanics describes ONLY the behavior of the very small, it has problems when extended directly to the macroscopic (which the idea of Shroedinger's cat is an illustration). You extended the notion as well as it could be.

The eigenvalue then is just a scalar logical value indicating if the post is visible to the world. Every eigenvalue has to have a corresponding operator; the operator is a complicated set of tests of whether or not if you point our browser at wilwheaton.typepad.com, you get a certain character string that's in the post.

Why yes, I am procrastinating, why do you ask? :-D

Even though I don't understand the math behind quantum physics, I have a good enough grasp of the theory behind quantum physics to allow me to follow along when the math is discussed. Put another way: I know enough French and Spanish to put together what someone is telling me, but not enough to actually sit down and compose a letter in that language.

I'm sure I've just oversimplified the whole thing, and insulted a lot of actual scientists and mathematicians, so let me apologize for that before I continue, because I think I'm about to make it even worse.

I was easily bored as a kid. I wasn't athletic, strong or coordinated, but I was smart and I loved to read. I still enjoyed playing tag, hide and seek, and riding bikes, but none of that stuff satisfied me the same way that exploring imagined worlds in my mind did. Those imagined worlds were usually delivered in the form of Science Fiction and Fantasy books, within D&D modules, and occasionally created (or spun off from existing imagined worlds) using action figures. (I guess it's no surprise, then, that I make my living and found my place in life using my imagination.)

I always loved exploring strange new worlds in books and magazines (Dear Asimov's, I never thought it would happen to me, but …) and there was even a time in my late teens when I actively sought out all the weird conspiracy, occult, UFO and supernatural stuff I could find (I truly despise that crap today) because even though I knew it was bullshit, it was yet another weird and fantastic imagined world to explore.

As I wrote in an old Things I Love post, it was the book Hyperspace that fundamentally changed my worldview:

[S]omeone (I think it was my brother) suggested that I read A Brief History of Time. I picked it up, read it in just a couple of days, and realized that my life could be divided into before I read it, and after I read it. On my next trip to the bookstore, I went straight to the science section, and looked for something – anything – to continue my education.

My eyes fell on a book with an interesting cover, and a provocative title: Hyperspace: A scientific odyssey through parallel universes, time warps, and the 10th dimension. It was written by a guy called Michio Kaku. I pulled it off the shelf, and after just a few pages, I was hooked.

There's a story in Hyperspace, right at the beginning, that I'm going to paraphrase. It's the story that grabbed my attention, captured my imagination, and fundamentally altered the way I thought about the nature of existence. I already had "before and after" with A Brief History of Time, and when I got to the end of this story, I had "before and after I read about the fish scientists." The story goes something like this:

In San Francisco, there's this botanical garden, and near the entrance there is a pond that's filled with koi fish. Dr. Kaku describes standing there, looking at the fish one day, and wondering what it would be like if the fish had a society as complex and advanced as our own, but the whole thing was confined to the pond, and they had no idea that there was a whole other world just beyond the surface of the water. In the fish world, there were fish scientists, and if a human were to pluck one of them from the pond, show it our world, and return it to the pond, it would go back to the other fish scientists and say, "Guys! You're never going to believe this. I was just doing my thing, and suddenly, this mysterious force pulled me from our world and showed me another, where the creatures don't need gills to breathe, and walk on two legs!"

The other scientists would look at it, and ask it how it got to this new world, but it wouldn't be able to explain it. They'd want the scientist to recreate it, but it wouldn't be able to. The fish scientist would know, however, that the other world was there, and that there was something just as complex as life in the pond on the other side of some mysterious barrier that they couldn't seem to penetrate.

I'm sure I've mangled the story, but that's essentially what I remember from it. I thought, "Well, shit, if there could be a world like that in the pond, maybe we are in something else's pond!" I didn't know if it was possible, I didn't know if it was just science fiction, but I didn't care. It was this incredible possibility, and my world opened up again. I felt like I'd been granted membership in a secret society. I devoured the book, and I began to think about the nature of existence in ways that I'd never even considered before. When I finally read Flatland a few years later, I was blown away that Abbot had written essentially the same story a hundred years earlier, in 1884, and I was thrilled that I could actually understand it.

My elementary school teachers were real good at putting the fear of God into us kids, but they were just horrible at teaching us math. I tried and tried, but I never understood it, and "you have to learn this because you have to learn it" wasn't the type of inspiration that worked for me. Even today, I'm not very good at math, never having found that teacher who could translate it into something I could actually use and appreciate. 

Growing up, I was a creative kid, an imaginative kid, and while I loved reading and learning about scientists and mathematicians, I never had a teacher or tutor who could help teenage me understand their work the way I understood their lives. (NB: My tutor while I was on Star Trek, Marion, who took me through most of high school, did everything she could to help me get excited about math, but to borrow from a parable: that ground in my brain had never been cultivated, and it just wasn't fertile enough to bear fruit.)

My lack of mathematical ability held me back in science, and it prevented me from ever studying physics or astronomy at anything exceeding the "for dummies" level. Here's a sad and embarrassing truth: I still can't sit down and develop equations for things, I struggle to calculate simple problems that my kids can do in their heads (they were taught math in a fundamentally different way than I was) and few things make me feel as stupid and frustrated as a simple algebra problem.

But when I sit down to read books like Hyperspace, articles about the LHC, anything my friend Phil Plait writes, or comments like the one I quoted above, I understand what they're talking about. I get excited, and take a look at a world that seems fantastic and imagined, but is actually real and right here.

I seem to have wandered away from the reason I sat down to write this post, so let me try to bring it all back together: I love exploring fantastic worlds that only exist in books and my imagination. But I also I love exploring the real world, which is so amazing, it just seems imagined.

(I once read a story about this for an audiobook. I forget the title, but it was about a kid who wanted to leave Earth with a dimension-hopping guy to explore the universe, and the dimension-hopping guy tells him that he shouldn't leave Earth for parts unknown until he really explores all the wonderful and incredible things that Earth has to offer, because due to the laws of dimension-hopping, it's a one-way trip. I wonder if that's still in print? I'd love to listen to it.)

I still wish I had a better understanding of the science and math that makes understanding and exploring the most fantastic parts of our real world possible, but until I do, I'm happy I have a pocket phrase book and a tourist map to help me get around a little bit.

88 thoughts on “You just keep on trying, until you run out of cake.”

  1. You took the words right out of my mouth! Just because we are not good at math or whatever it may be, it does not limit our other abilities that we have. Yes, I too am glad Wil’s future took the road of writing because he has really inspired me in that area. Good post:)

  2. Wow. Your reply packs a powerful punch, let me tell you! If you scroll further down the page, I let some of my own angst about not having the best Math teachers while I was in school spew out in a bunch of verbal diarrhea. I was seriously in the throes of feeling sorry for myself until you pointed out the possibility that there’s most likely a reason for why things like this happen. So I drew a crummy Math teacher 20 years ago, big frakking deal. It didn’t stop me from becoming a teacher, myself. In fact, it really kind of motivated me to go into the teaching field in the first place. Not higher education, mind you, but I happen to like four-year-old’s for some reason. They’re funny, honest, and smarter than most adults because society hasn’t taught them how to be stupid yet. You’d be amazed at how many smart people I’ve met that don’t have an iota of common sense. You, sir, have both. Thanks for pointing that out.

  3. Wil there is a saying that I quote here at the great peril of sci-fi geeks around the globe: “science fact is much more interesting than science fiction.”
    Of course, I still long to hop aboard the falcon and make the jump to hyperspace or the Enterprise and engage @ warp 9 but maybe one day science fact will catch up!

  4. When I was in the second grade, I won a prize for writing a story about robot dinosaurs. (Dang! Who knew that would make tons of money a little while later with the Dinobots?) On every standardized test, I blew away the gradient on the reading part. Writing and reading always came easy to me.
    But that’s not what I wanted to do. Ever since I can remember, I wanted to do science. Chemistry, physics, archeology, geology, whatever. If it was science, I wanted it. I devoured science fiction and real science, too. Eventually, medicine came to interest me most, but the hard sciences still appealed.
    My only average skills at math made it difficult to pursue those after a time. However, because medicine is where I was going, I had to take a good deal of them. Physics, chemistry, biology, etc, were all required for admission to vet schools, which is where my medical interest ran.
    And so I took those classes. They challenged me and I loved them. I got good marks, but I worked harder for them than a lot of my classmates. That work resulted in a job in the chemistry lab and then a year of barely paid biochem research at my university. I ended up with a degree in chemistry. Though I could have done biology just as easily schedule-wise, chemistry was harder and I liked that more. Path of most resistance and all that. So that’s what I did: Hard science for years and lots of it.
    Then I went to veterinary school, and hard science fell mostly by the wayside. It was replaced with medicine, which while scientific, is not hard science by a long shot unless you’re a researcher. I am not. I am a general practice vet.
    Still, all this medicine was mostly science and it filled my brain so much that I did little else – until one day a few years after I graduated, when I was watching an older episode of Stargate SG-1 and I got an idea for a missing scene. I got up, went to my computer, and typed that scene. I’ve been doing that ever since.
    My silly little fanfic (which was not very good in my humble opinion, but which started a trend that I think has resulted in improvement) has led to hundreds of others, two just-for-bragging-rights blogging jobs (Kids Need to Read and SFX Magazine), my own volunteer veterinary column in a dog magazine, and even my first paid article just recently. I’ve got short story ideas running around like ferrets here and have even entered a big writing contest.
    Now days, I can’t imagine my life without writing. I have returned to that little girl who won a prize for blathering on about robot dinosaurs.
    I still miss my hard science sometimes, and I pine for those days in the lab occasionally, but medicine pays my bills, and writing fuels my soul.
    So I, like you, watch the real science from the sidelines and am glad to have enough knowledge to follow along in my book.

    I’m glad you found your way, Wil. I enjoyed this post a lot. Thanks for sharing.

  5. I haven’t even read the entire entry yet, but I do have “Still Alive” stuck in my brain now. Just had to share.
    I’ve experiments to run.
    There is research to be done…..
    On the people who are still alive!

  6. It’s interesting to think of that story from Hyperspace from a mathematical perspective, as I have only ever considered it from a philosophical one. If you’ve never read Plato’s Republic, I highly recommend it. In his allegory of The Cave, he explores the exact same things. Paraphrasing as well as I can, if humans were tied down in a cave with a light behind them and could only see shadows on a wall, that would be their reality. If someone was freed from their restraints and able to exit the cave, how could they begin to explain reality to those who are so certain that the shadows on the wall are the real world?
    I read somewhere that The Matrix was loosely based on this allegory of The Cave, and I’m not sure if that is true, but it definitely makes you question how we would deal with revelations which question our very limited understanding of our own existence.

  7. Hi gang,
    Been lurking a here for a while. It seems like at least a few people suffer from the same thing I have. I am a scientist (geneticist, the physicists might quibble) who struggled with math for most of primary and secondary education. Turns out that if you are pretty smart, mild dyslexia that causes you t flip “noun verb” to “verb noun” allows you to pretty much grok the meaning. But 13+7 and 31+7 are completely different. My dyslexia (dysnumeria?) seems to be worse with numbers; I flip address numbers, phone numbers all the time; notice flipping words and letters much less. This could be observation bias though; I notice the things that affect the outcome, which is more severe with numbers that with letters/words. I didn’t do well at math until geometry (proofs yay!) and then calculus in college. (No calculations, the computer did it).
    Understanding the a) mathematics of quantum mechanics and understanding the b) implications of quantum mechanics are, at least for me, the same beast. I can’t really understand something unless I can understand the math behind it, and I can’t understand the mathematics behind quantum mechanics. I had to take physical chemistry for my biochem degree, and calculating the hamiltonian for hydrogen atom melted my brain. That said, I think there certainly are people who can grok b) but not a). Not me, but other people.
    As an almost complete aside, the three best non-scientist biologist books I have read are:
    Eighth Day of Creation, Horace Judson
    Dinosaur Heresies, Robert Bakker
    Endless Forms Most Beautiful, Sean Carroll

  8. I would love to suggest A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. It’s not a definitive scientific reference work, nor is it in the same league as most of the books posted above, scientifically speaking, but to me it’s one of the most enjoyable science-based books I’ve ever read.
    Bryson is not a science writer, but a non-fiction author who has been interested in finding answers ever since he asked his grade school teacher how old the Earth was, and she couldn’t tell him. He goes through biology, geology, evolution, physics – he runs the gamut.
    His writing is clever, informative, and in my opinion, laugh out loud funny. To make science this entertaining without dumbing it down is a great feat in my books.
    I’m sure it’s probably considered pulp non-fiction compared to most of the hard-core books already mentioned, but I still count it as one of my favourites.

  9. Hello Wil and everyone else,
    Short time reader, long time fan, blah blah blah. Anyway!
    This particular post has inspired me to get off of the mental couch and respond, because it touches on a theory (…or is that hypothesis? I never remember the difference…) that I’ve been toying with for a few years now that I have dubbed “Fractal Conciousness”.
    I am far from a religious person, but I came across an image that simply blew me away, and like your experience, became some sort of epiphany for me. That image was simply two pictures put side by side, with the caption along the lines of, “can you name these images”?
    Well, of course I could, they were obviously pictures of space, duh! But when I clicked on over to the answer, I was stunned at the possibilities that opened before me in that instant. You see, the picture on the right was indeed a picture of space, but the picture on the left was not. It was an image of neurons firing off in the brain!!
    See: http://medgadget.com/archives/2009/05/every_cell_is_precious_every_cell_is_great.html
    And See: http://astroufo5.pe.tripod.com/IC1340.GIF
    (I’m too lazy to put them together for you, but open ‘em up in a few browser windows and compare).
    I get frustrated that I cannot find the exact image and comparison I saw, because I’ve not been able to replicate in a manner that connects with me the exact same way the image did.
    Anyway, I spent the rest of that day and night letting the implications soak into my coffee-addled brain. That led me to Fractals (of which I’m sure you’ve looked at before a time or two being the geek you are). Just like in Cartography, that image of those neurons in that brain firing away was a mini image of the activity photographed in Space.
    Then I got to thinking about how everything is connected, from Space on down to the smallest spec (ala Horton Hears a Who), but we just can’t see it.
    Your story reminded me of that. It was funny that you can categorize your life in such a way, pre and post, because I came to the same type of conclusion in a round about way.
    I keep trying to search for ‘Fractal Conciousness’, but I’ve never found anything that quite ties it together the way I’m looking for. Nothing yet. I kind of felt like the one fish that got sucked out just to be put back in, unable to share what I had learned!
    I still dig Fractals, and the number Phi (but that’s an entirely different story). I was in the Spiritual section of Barnes and Noble the other day with a friend who is into that stuff, and I noticed that Fractals were mentioned in a spiritual context on the cover of some book that failed to grab my total attention.
    Perhaps there are others out there of a scientific persuasion who are getting closer to being able to explain what excites us so much.
    Anyway, thanks for allowing me to ramble on.
    Amber

  10. Add me to the list of people that are horrible at math. I try to help my daughter with her math, and I just can’t. The numbers just make my head hurt. I make her dad help her with math, while I help her with the reading, writing, social studies and a bit of science (I was also horrible at science.. well, depending on the type of science.. astrology I kicked ass at =p).
    I am not just utterly horrible with the harder stuff, but even simple math. I know it was because I wasn’t taught properly as a child, and to this day I just cannot get my head wrapped around it. I think there’s something in my brain where I just can’t register seeing numbers. Something, I don’t know. All I do know is I HATE math =p

  11. I’ve only found your blog within the past year or so, and I am so glad I did. Every time you write about reading and scifi and fantasy and imagination I feel like I’m reading someone telling me what is inside my head, and I love it. All the glorious nerdiness just out there for the world to see. It makes me feel validated and makes me get excited and want to make things! I ignored all my inner voices when I chose my current career path, but reading what you write makes me want to redirect and follow them. And because of what you share I think I can do it. So thanks for the work you do and for being you and for sharing it all with us. Also, Brian Greene has an awesome book and hosted a really interesting PBS special about string theory.

  12. Wil, I find your post very interesting. I often find myself doing similar thought experiments. Science attempts to make sense of the observable and yet being humans our own physical limitations (life span, sense organs, size, etc.) only let us observe a minor percent of the cosmos. We have as much hope of understanding the universe around us as an amoeba has hope to be a successful plastic surgeon.

  13. You pretty much just described my own relationship with math and science. Math was never one of my strong suits, for years I needed to use a calculator just to add the simplest of numbers (oddly enough, it was gaming that finally helped me get over that. I got tired of my group giving me a hard time every time I used a calculator to figure out how much damage I did. ;). It was a miracle I passed alegbra at all, but I never had as much problem with geometry. Then my mom mentioned this to my cousin-in-law who is a junior high math teacher and she asked my mom how I did in English, which was my best subject. She said that regular math and algebra and all that is done by one side of the brain, but that geometry is handled by the same side of the brain as the arts and English. Made me feel alot better about myself. :)

  14. Well, Gevmage lost me pretty quick there (Quantum Mechanics was never one of my strong suits…I was always took Janeway’s advice on that one and didn’t even try to figure it out) but I liked the rest of your post. I have a similar situation…to me the worlds I create in my mind are darn well more interesting than the real world…but at the same time the real world is just as fascinating as my mind, in it’s own way.

  15. My fiance also feels like he has a lot of trouble with math, mostly because his teachers couldn’t help him wrap his brain around it in a way that mattered. He hated the class.
    But then one day his gaming hobby took over and he was able to floor his teacher. They were doing vector geometry and plotting locations in a 3D space along the X/Y/Z axis. She called Mike to the board and asked him to solve the problem…and he did. He was able to instantly and accurately pinpoint the location of the dot.
    When the teacher asked him to prove his math, he couldn’t do that however. She asked how he got it, and he simply answered “I have to do this when we’re playing Traveler and trying to figure out what quadrant the ship is in. Its from the gaming I do.”
    Then he sat back down. *grin*

  16. This post really spoke to me because I am the same way! I find the ideas in physics fascinating and I wish like crazy I wasn’t so crap at math, but I’ve been cursed with especially crappy teachers in my life.
    This is why I adore the UC Berkeley webcasts of the Descriptive Introduction to Physics class. It’s a physics class designed for non-physics and math majors. It emphasizes ideas rather than math and it relates them to current events. You can watch, listen to, or download the entire course for free from anywhere in the world. And they’ve got a lot of other interesting classes up on their webcast page, too. It’s AWESOME.

  17. So the folks at LifeHacker just posted about an application that walks you through math problems of various complexities step by step. The LifeHacker page is here: http://tiny.cc/NUwof.
    Anyways, thanks for the good bloggage both here and at MemotF, you’re a really inspirational guy, Wil. Thanks for sharing.

  18. I thought your analogies were great (and I am a practicing physicist who has taught university quantum mechanics). I just wanted to add a recommendation for a book. It’s getting a little old, but the attitude and insights on perspective are unchanged: Isaac Asimov’s “A View from a Height.”

  19. I’ll join the “I can read well but I can’t do math for anything” club as well. I love booked, I loved books as a child. I would get so engrossed in a book that people would have to shake me because I didn’t realize they were talking to me whilst I was reading.
    I usually got C’s or low B’s in school. Once I had a good teacher and I got a high B or a low A. (though some of that was an A for effort.)
    Along with a lot of the other people here I got the concept but working with the numbers were just like trying to solve a riddle that was not solvable. Elementary school and it’s memorization tables of sums and products was a nightmare. There were tears and panic and counting on my fingers and being reprimanded for counting on my fingers, etc. etc. etc. I just don’t get that 5+7=12 automatically. I need to visualize or count it out. Multiplication is better and so is division because I can view the numbers as smashing together or being torn apart from each other. They just ‘magically’ do it not like addition or subtraction where I just can’t make them magically go together or come apart. Taking chemistry, physics or high level math in high school was just not a do-able task for me.
    It was not until I got in college, despite being tested for various things like ADD and dyslexia, I discovered while doing long form in my accounting class that I transposed my number regularly. Then my whole life started making sense. I have a problem with numbers! It was like a light bulb went off. I looked up what is called dyscalculia and I felt instantly like I knew what was different about me. Now that I am aware of this I can be more careful about dealing with numbers and math problems in daily life.
    Ironically, when I was playing D&D in college I finally was able to grasp SOME of the concepts of adding two digit numbers to each other. This was mainly as result of trying not to look stupid in front of a room of all of my male friends (who love me even if I look stupid.) Even now I have ‘on’ and ‘off’ days for doing math. I tried to play Brain Age once and all of the panic and anxiety of elementary school came flooding back when I had to play the math/number portion of the game. I had to put it down and walk away and explain to my husband why a Nintendo game was giving me a low grade anxiety attack.

  20. Oh my god. I don’t usually say that, but seriously, oh my god. I thank you so much for this post. I am EXACTLY the same way. I have always been terrible at math, no matter how hard I’ve tried. Even when I get the concepts, and it totally makes sense to me how to do it, for some reason when I actually get down to doing a problem, it all goes wonky in my head and on paper. Despite my inability to do even simple Algebra, I have always been fascinated by science and quantum physics. Even though I don’t understand the math behind it all, I am drawn into the quantum world and I read whatever I can understand about it. It changed my life and my entire way of thinking about life years ago. It opened my mind to so many possibilities and different ways of thinking. It freed my mind. It frustrates the hell out of me that I can’t get the math though. I would love to be a physicist and get how to do all of these things and how they work. Damn math. Once again, I thank you so much for this post. This brings out the main reason that I became and love being a writer. Everyone takes something different from everything that you write. Reading this post, it felt like reading my own thoughts and feelings, like I wrote it. It’s comforting to know that I’m not the only person that feels so strongly about these things. My ineptitude at math is one of my biggest annoyances for the reasons you have mentioned. Thank you for putting a smile on my face and making me feel a little less strange. ^_^ You’re awesome.

  21. Funny, I used to feel the way you do. I really was quite horrible at math until I got to algebra. I always found it strange that algebra is when it all clicked for me, but I had a really great teacher and you know… that makes all the difference. It turns out I wasn’t so bad at math after all; I just needed someone who could make it make sense. I used to not want anything to do with it, and now I make a living off of it. Awesome.
    By the way, on a totally unrelated note: something I wanted to share. I was visiting my family (grandparents, aunt, uncle, cousins, and immediate family) and we were all out at a restaurant. Somehow, The Big Bang Theory came up. My mom said, “raise your hand if you watch The Big Bang Theory.” Just about everyone at the table raised their hand. I’d seen a few episodes, and while I like it, I don’t actively watch it (I recently got rid of my TV service), so I kept my hand down. Then my mom said, “Raise your hand if you think Jessica (that’s me) would like it.” Everyone raised their hands and started telling me how much I would love that show. My cousin’s eyes got wide and from across the table he shouted very seriously, “Do you know who Wil Wheaton is?” I was about to say that yes, of course I know who Wil Wheaton is, when I thought of an even better answer. I grinned back and said in my most matter-of-fact voice, “I read his blog.” This got the reaction I was looking for as my mom gasped and said, “She could be on the show.” I’m not usually so witty, but I would like to thank you for providing me with the opportunity to score witty points and be the funny one for once. :)

  22. Mewonders if this comment board should have a word limit. Gawd knows half of us will abuse it if not.
    Wait, wait… just catching up on wwdnNexile after much time away from computer lands (someone’s gotta write that damn book), and also just was watching STTNG dvd’s. Including “Homeward”.
    Oh so appropriate.
    So, I got it. I know what the fish said, the fish scientist. Like, perhaps the next time the hand came into the pool:
    “It’s the Sign of LaForge!!”
    “Homeward” of course, is the lovely episode where Worf’s loose cannon Russian brother sneaks a village into the holodeck to relocate them to a planet that’s not dying. Not at all like ST:Insurrection, of course. Pay no attention to that writer behind the curtain/Nothing to see here.
    Mr Wheaton, as always, thank you for this delicious website. Your writing seems to be ramping up. A definite quality upsurge. Not that you were on any downswing, but rather you appear bored with the plateau you’d grown cocky about, and ready to climb up fearless, ice in beard and all, to the next set of supposedly insurmountable heights. Fearless like a twenty year old with his feet in a Pacific Ocean storm, perhaps.
    Good hunting. Keep the twits and txts and such at arms length and the virtual Underwood under your hands: I’m impatient to read the hot new stuff I can sense bumbling under your mental caldera.
    Many inspirations I owe to your work and your example. Keep Calm / Carry On.

  23. As a science instructor at a community college, I’m sad that despite your enthusiasm for it, you never quite got the math/science education you wanted…..but I LOVE (can’t emphasize that enough) that you’re still excited about it! It gives me hope for general-public science knowledge :-)

  24. I’m a bit late to this party, but as PhD physicist wanted to add my 2c to the mix. Quantum Physics is difficult and there’s so much pop culture garbage on it that it can be difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff.
    Elizier Yudkowsky’s Quantum Physics sequence has been mentioned a couple of times here, and is something that I hadn’t seen before. Taking a look I see that it’s rife with interpretation that falls well into what the physics community at large would call – if I can get technical – the ‘raving nutbar camp’.
    Sadly there are very few good resources out there, but Michio Kaku, John Gribbin and Brian Greene’s books on are to be recommended for the lay audience. The inherent trouble is that Quantum Physics is an inherently mathematical theory, and as such is very difficult to grok unless you can understand the math.
    Niels Bohr said: “If quantum mechanics hasn’t profoundly shocked you, you haven’t understood it yet.” Those who say it *is* easy to understand as a layman are just wrong. It’s damn weird and it’s damn hard to understand.
    However, I think that a good general science book can give you an excellent flavor of the concepts, but just don’t go kidding yourself that you really understand it. Unless you can solve the Schrodinger equation you can’t really claim that ability, and even then there’s a ways to go.

  25. If/when ever in Seattle again, there’s also a lovely “toy” store in PA’s /Jerry & Mike’s old neighborhood called “Math n’Stuff” that is full of 100′s of ways to “get” math and science. Hands-down the best way to re-inject oneself into orbit around science and math learning.

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