Friday, July 29, 2011

Thanks Again, Carol!

Carol Herman wrote in the comments here:

I guess chemists mistake the fact that you can line elements up in a row ... with the same sort of detail you could do with human beings.

I don't see it as a mistake--just being very analytical with the world. No more harm than taking the letters of a sentence and reordering them. For example, the letters of "SEE SPOT RUN" become E2NOPRS2TU

The converse of analysis in chemistry is synthesis, but reverse engineering "E2NOPRS2TU" back into SEE SPOT RUN requires creativity, insight (and the use of spaces).

A novel's story is defined by a very long sequence of characters set down neatly on a series of pages. A chemist could chop that novel up into a "formula" having just 24 unique characters. Each novel would have a unique formula.

Humans are analytically defined by their DNA, which also is a sequence of encoded information, like a series of characters in a book. But humans are much, much more than just their sequence of base pairs, don't you think?

Ironically, it is a very "Jurassic" question.

Added: Jason, in the comments, pointed out that I neglected the "T" in my formula, so I fixed it.


  1. Trinity!

    Relax. I'm going to read to you. I have in my hands QUANTUM MAN, by Lawrence M. Krauss. I'm up to page 86. And, even though I'm not mathematically inclined, I get WOWED by this stuff! So, I'm glad we find each other "entertaining."

    "The catalog of activities Feynman accomplished while working under Bethe at Los Alamos was remarkable, not least for their diversity. He began by quickly developing a method to numerically integrate (or sum) so-called third-order differential equations, which had derivatives of derivatives of derivatives in them. His method turned out to be more accurate than what one could do with simpler second-order equations. With a month later, Feynman and Bethe had worked out their formula for calculating the efficiency of a nuclear weapon.

    He then moved on to the more theoretically challenging problem of calculating the diffusion of fast neutrons that triggered fissions in the uranium 235 atomic bomb. For this problem he developed an approach that was very similar mathematically to the formulation he would eventually create for dealing with QED.

    During the final phases of building the bomb, Feynman was put in charge of computing, ultimately supervising all computational aspects of assembling a successful plutonium bomb, which John von Neumann had suggested could be triggered by a massive implosion, increasing the density of material and making an otherwise stable mass go critical. The first human-induced nuclear explosion, above the desert floor just before sunrise on July 16, 1945, code-named Trinity, was successful in no small part because of Feynman's calculational leadership in those crucial last months." (End of quote.)

    Nu? Good enough that you want to read this book, now, too? It just got published in 2011.

  2. Oh I'm a big Feynman fan too. Somewhere out there is an account of his time at Los Alamos wherein he recounts the "John Henry" challenge of John von Neumann computing formulae in his head versus Feynman using a machine.
    Von Neumann taught Feynman how to do calculations in his head.

    Let me know if that rings a bell with you or if it is in that book.

  3. At least, for the scientist, once you have an "element" you're in business. You know what you need to know.

    Alas, with human beings (and snowflakes), every single one of them is different. To one degree. Or another. And, you just don't know what someone else is thinking.

    Even when you're trying to figure this out.

    THERE IS NO HOPE! BUT DON'T GET DISCOURAGED. No one is asking us to play God.

  4. Every handful of dirt is different too just like a snowflake is! Even a bottle of pure water has "diversity" amongst like molecules because of (a) naturally present isotopes, and (b) different energies.

    Things are never what they seem.

  5. QUANTUM MAN sounds like a good read, but I wonder if it could beat Richard Rhodes' "The Making Of The Atomic Bomb"? That book is an absolute masterpiece and I've read it a couple times over.

  6. The converse of analysis in chemistry is synthesis, but reverse engineering "E2NOPRS2U" back into SEE SPOT RUN requires creativity, insight (and the use of spaces).

    You're missing a "T"; that's the formula for "one's purse"!

  7. Jason's ability to locate what was missing and see a different formula reflects analysis and synthesis along with creativity, insight and the use of spaces.

    It's easy for me to visually see E2NOPRS2U as "one's purse" now that he has pointed it out, but I didn't before.

    A while back I enjoyed some pictures Jason took and posted on his old blog, where he focused on natural objects like snakes and insects and they appeared as magnified parts of the greater whole. Distinct and apart from, yet part of. As if something inanimate like a stick had been animated to become a snake, or a section of backdrop or roadway had been cut out and given life. Testimony for adaptation to be sure, but for me there was something beautifully strange revealed. They were a visual representation of synthesis and analysis. I couldn't find the link, but hold the pictures in memory as unique.

  8. Hey you have "chemistry" with Carol_Herman!

    Just a couple of chicks sitting around talking!

    Youse guys are in your elements!

  9. @MamaM: Jason tends towards genius. I salute him.