creative

ON QUANTUM PARENTING

By | archive, creative

Many adults experience the same suffering, confusion, and joy that quantum physicists have every day. These are the parents of small children — they go through a hard time trying to understand the young, much like a physicist struggling to understand the tiny quantum mechanical systems.

To start, you never know what children are thinking about. In those tiny brains, there could be the idea of pulling a naughty deed or the thought of entertaining a cute dance. Until you go and interact with them, you simply don’t know whether they will do one or the other. Children are therefore simultaneously lovely angels and evil devils. Trying to figure out what’s going on in their head is just like trying to figure out whether the cat in the box is alive or not in Schrödinger’s thought experiment. Until you open that box, the cat is in a superposition of the two states—both dead and alive.

But kids will become devils for sure if you explicitly “tell” them what to do. For example, you might be making a beef stew for dinner. You get a phone call, and in doing so you leave the pot on the stove. You then tell your kids not to touch the pot because it is hot, but they go and touch it anyways. In effect, if you had not bother to tell them of the pot in the first place, these children might not have even notice its existence. Or put another way, the act of ordering them affects their behavior. This is much like measuring a quantum mechanical system — the act of measuring it will affect the behavior of the system and in turn affects the result a physicist will obtain.

It is also impossible to tell children to sit still. Kids can never sit still; they will start moving around randomly after sitting for only a few seconds. Quantum mechanics can explain this: Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle tells us that tiny things, which apparently includes children, will never have both a definite position and a definite momentum. This uncertainty drives both parents and physicists crazy.

Children go even crazier when you supply them with toys and candies. Transformer robots and Kit-Kats to them are much like energy to electrons. Both kids and electrons will go into an excited state. And similar to an electron’s quantized energy levels, children are either sad or happy, and are never in a mood that is mediocre. When supplied with toys and candies, kids will most likely become over-excited and start causing troubles, be it playing water gun in the living room or sewing your favorite jeans together. In that case, you as parents might want to “ground” them.

But these excited, troublesome children will eventually get tired. They will fall asleep with a big smile on their face, all the while dreaming about the toys and the candies they just had fun with. Much like electrons emitting various colours when they fall back from the excited state, the sleepy children’s big smiles are probably the most beautiful emission spectrum you will ever see in your life.

And that is why parents still love them despite their confusing thoughts and their diabolic pranks. You realize how pure and beautiful your babies are, just like a physicist who loves the beauty that lies at the heart of quantum mechanics.

About Jimmy Lee

Jimmy Lee is a Grade 12 student at Marc Garneau C.I.. He is currently suffering from Senioritis, a common disease found in high school students that are about to graduate. When he is not studying for a test or browsing GIFs on Tumblr, you can find him conducting Molecular Gastronomy experiments in the kitchen while struggling to sing Mariah Carey songs.

FRACTALS

By | archive, creative

As an artist who has always used natural forms as my subject and began my career by painting Rembrandt-like portraits of white roses, my interest in Chaos Theory and fascination with one of its components – fractals – led to a permanent transformation of my artistic vision. To echo William Blake, I see the world in a grain of sand, and heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of my hand, and eternity in an hour. My subject is no longer simply a flower. By stripping away the mask of the exterior form and magnifying the image beyond what is recognizable to the naked eye I have discovered an inexhaustible richness of the internal structure. I have gained a deeper insight into the universal properties of all natural phenomena because, at this depth, I have uncovered dynamical systems whose patterns repeat in other phenomena. This is where my work takes the literal definition of a fractal – the self-similarity of an object of nature that is repeated thousands of times at different magnifications (picture a head of broccoli) – and broadens the scope beyond a single object. It is not my objective to convey every orifice and streak of my subject’s anatomy, but rather to capture my subject’s character and essence with the ultimate objective to celebrate the nature of life.

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Tipping Point (above) reveals, through the exploration into the depths of a lisianthus flower, the defining moment in a series of events at which time momentous and irreversible reactions occur. At its core the chaotic patterns taking place during the unfolding, or the decay, of the petals repeat in the dynamical systems of waves, clouds, and coral reefs to name just a few, and where we know there is no predictable outcome to the future of the system. This painting, when rotated in all four orientations may visually suggest different systems, but with each rotation the system has the same properties – which adhere to the principles of the “Mandelbrot Set” as illustrated by [Benoît] Mandelbrot to support his findings.

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Vortex (above) puts its fingerprint on the universe; it’s a vision to infinity as seen through the magnification and unfolding of the petals of a rose. This rose ‘by any other name’ is no longer a rose; it is a non-linear dynamical system that repeats through countless natural phenomena including shells, hurricanes, tornadoes, and even galaxies. And as with Tipping Point there is no predictable outcome the future of the system.

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Magnifying my subject even further to the pure abstraction of the form, my work [ the Untitled series] assumes an entirely new choreography, energy, and spirit having been totally freed from the constraints inherent in creating any depiction of representational work though the forms may suggest a natural likeness, reflective of their supple, sensuous and underlying erotic origins. My canvases now explode with a new life-force as I focus on the movement and distribution of space across the surface, while continuing to use color and contrast to draw the viewer in and often back them out.

UNTITLED NO. 26, diptych ,  40 x 60 inches

The inspiration for Untitled No. 26 (above) came from the dying petals of a golden trumpet lily which have a unique asymmetrical way of curling as they decay. It was from the death of one object of nature that gave birth to a new vision and a new energy in my work just as the death of a caterpillar gives life to a butterfly. In Chaos Theory the symbol of a butterfly represents the phenomenon known as “the butterfly effect” – where small differences in initial conditions yield widely diverging outcomes. It was intentional that as a diptych Untitled No. 26 resembles a butterfly; however this was not in my vision when I conceptualized working with these specific forms. Its genesis evolved from duplicating the images and reorganizing them in multiple orientations then subsequently putting them together. It was this serendipitous break-through, my personal “butterfly effect,” that further drives my interest in fractals and challenges my creativity and my vision.

UNTITLED NO. 30, 25 x 72 inches [ horizontal orientation]

UNTITLED NO. 30, diptych,  36 x 50 inches [vertical orientation]

Untitled No. 30 (above) is also an outcome of this break-through. After magnifying this lisianthus to just a fragment of its form, then bi-furcating the image and reorganizing the units in multiple orientations, the result is a dynamical system where each diptych assumes its own powerful properties.

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Although Untitled No.29 (above) is a single unit the outcome is similar to the other discoveries. The inner core of this rose, magnified beyond recognition, reveals another dynamical system that when rotated in multiple directions each orientation not only assumes a unique attraction but also takes on its own life-force. This image also adheres to the principles of the “Mandelbrot Set.”

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Echoing the personal philosophy of Rembrandt who “loved what he painted and only painted what he loved,” I continue to be captivated by natural forms. My inspiration is without boundaries. A portrait painter has a duty to reveal the character of his subject – his mood, inner drama, and mystery – not merely copy a likeness. I apply that same philosophy to my painting practice. Working exclusively with oils and with mediums at different viscosities for glazing, I apply upwards of twenty translucent layers over an under-painting to sculpt the forms and to capture the depth of my subject’s anatomy. As in a Rembrandt painting, there is strong contrast and great depth in my work while the surface is smooth; the focus is on the content: the organization of the space, the fluidity of the brushwork, and the subtle tonal transitions.

Since color has a significant impact on one’s perception, I use a carefully controlled palette forcing the brain to draw upon previous experiences or points of reference when viewing art, thus each viewer has an individual response to a painting. It is not necessary for the viewer have any knowledge of fractals to make a connection to the work. My goal is to initiate a dialogue from both the artistic and scientific points of view; and ultimately to captivate the viewer, and to engage them to question their own bond between human activity and the patterns and cycles of nature.

About Deborah Bigeleisen

Deborah Bigeleisen is a contemporary artist based in South Florida. To see more of her work, please visit deborahbigeleisen.com/

THE BPA DISRUPTOR (A SHORT PLAY)

By | archive, creative, humour

Scene. An empty lecture hall, stage, or an open space. RACHEL, a scientist researching the impact of bisphenol A on Bantam chickens, has entered a science competition requiring her to act out her research topic in pantomime. Enlisting the help of a friend, CARLSON, to help her with the “dance” performance, CARLSON’S reluctance is countered by RACHEL’s enthusiasm for the competition.

RACHEL: (pointing to the script) Just read it.

CARLSON: (in disbelief) Why did I let you talk me into this?

RACHEL: (insisting) Read it.

CARLSON: I’m not even sure I understand what it means.

RACHEL: (confidently) It resonates. It’s the perfect preamble to the dance and my research.

CARLSON: And that’s another story—the dance?! I really think you should go solo with this.

RACHEL: (unmoved) No. It has to be a “Step for Two,” those are the rules. Now, read it.

CARLSON: Okay. Here it goes: (he reads) “Life cannot wait until the sciences have explained the universe scientifically….Life is fired at us point blank.”–Jose Ortega y Gasset

RACHEL: Perfect. Now in Spanish.

CARLSON: What?

RACHEL: One of the judges is a Spanish biologist. It might improve my score.

CARLSON: (again, he reads) “La vida no puede esperar a que las ciencias expliquen científicamente el Universo….  La vida nos es disparada a quemarropa.”

RACHEL: (instructive) Bien. Now, the dance.

CARLSON: You know, we can’t put off living, but no one is making us dance.

RACHEL: Quit complaining. So, this is the way it goes. You’ll step out on the stage and deliver the Gasset quote. Afterwards, I’ll walk out dressed like a chicken, and stand on your right side, like this. (She moves to his right side.) Once I’m in place, you announce my research title.

CARLSON: Why can’t you announce it? It’s your project.

RACHEL: I’m not supposed to speak. It’s one of the rules.

CARLSON: So, there you are, standing on my right, a chicken.

RACHEL: Yes.

CARLSON: (unconvinced) And, I’m your dance partner.

RACHEL: Right.

CARLSON: Representing a….molecule?

RACHEL: An endocrine disruptor.

CARLSON: Okay, a disruptor.

RACHEL: Yep.

CARLSON: (skeptically) What am I wearing?

RACHEL: (without reservation) Well, I thought, maybe, nothing.

CARLSON: (also, without reservation) Think again.

RACHEL: A loin cloth?

CARLSON: (offers an alternative) How about a sheet?

RACHEL: Okay. A sheet. Or, better yet, maybe a large plastic bottle.

CARLSON: (not amused) You want me to wear a large plastic bottle?

RACHEL: That would be great.

CARLSON: This is what happens to people when they stay locked in a science lab all day. I’ll wear a sheet.

RACHEL: Fine. (instructing) State the title.

CARLSON: Here we go.

RACHEL: Speak loudly.

CARLSON: Okay. (He steps forward to deliver the title.) “Endocrine Disruptor in the Masculinization of the Non-Migratory Female Bearded, Booted Bantam.”

RACHEL: Good.

CARLSON: Why don’t you just say chicken?

RACHEL: A like the alliteration. Now, the dance. Let’s rehearse. (But first, she sets the stage.) I’m in a garden, calm, serene, a female bantam, stepping lightly, but deliberately, soaking in the sunshine, pecking at a spread of fresh shelled corn and roasted soybeans, garnished with a splash of oats and alfalfa, and a hint of fish meal.

CARLSON: Yum, yum.

RACHEL: I’m thinking I might need to lay an egg any minute now, but then you arrive.

CARLSON: The endocrine disruptor.

RACHEL: Right. Bisphenol A or BPA.

CARLSON: And how does BPA move?

RACHEL: Well, you have to think like a molecule.

CARLSON: A molecule?

&RACHEL: Right. You’ve got to think like a nasty little monomer, a molecule, found in polycarbonates.

CARLSON: That doesn’t help. Polycarbonates?

RACHEL: Or plastic bottles.

CARLSON: Forget it. So, I’m thinking… (taking matters into his own hands) I’m kind of gangling, loose, and bloated like.

RACHEL: (supportive) Right, that might work.

CARLSON: Kind of like an alien creature.

RACHEL: Sure.

CARLSON: With a bobble head and octopus-like tentacles.

RACHEL: You’ve got it. Let’s do the dance. I’m in the garden pecking away at food. You enter.

[The dance begins. The Bantam pecks and steps with a decidedly feminine movements. The BPA surrounds her a time or two and then finally engulfs her in his arms. When the Bantam is released, she pecks and steps with decidedly masculine movements—the endocrine disruptor has altered the hormonal makeup of the Bantam—the dance ends with the disruptor floating away leaving the Bantam crowing like a rooster.]

RACHEL: What do you think?

CARLSON: Could I be more humiliated? Is that possible?

RACHEL: So, it’s not a production of Swan Lake, but it gets the point across.

CARLSON: It seems so…so.

RACHEL: Scientists need to relieve pressure, you know; we need a little escape.

CARLSON: Some people go to the movies.

End of Scene

About Dwight E. Watson

Watson’s writing appears in several anthologies and journals. A professor of theater, “Science and the Stage” is one of his favorite seminar topics. He currently holds the title of the LaFollette Distinguished Professor in the Humanities at Wabash College.

HOW TO MANAGE A HOTEL WITH AN INFINITE NUMBER OF ROOMS

By | archive, creative, math

It will help to know a little math. We don’t mean fancy math like differential calculus, the Mandelbrot set and Fermat’s Last Theorem. We mean the ability to juggle lists with an infinite number of items in your head without getting dizzy. An appreciation for very large numbers will also be beneficial. Most people have a concept of infinity that is far too small. You must disabuse them of their petty notions and expand their idea of infinity at every opportunity.

You can prime your guests in this direction by keeping a few large numbers at your disposal. For example, you should know that if you wanted to rebuild the Empire State Building so that it is completely filled with pennies, you would need about 1.8 trillion (written as 1.8 x 1012 in scientific notation). While that’s about three hundred times greater than the present world population, and an awful lot of pennies, it’s easy to find larger numbers. The largest number most of your guests will have met in their education is Avogadro’s number (named after the only scientist in history whose name rhymes with avocado), which is the number of atoms in twelve grams of carbon, 6.02 x 1023. This formidable number is comparable to the number of grains of sand in the all the beaches and deserts of the Earth, or to the number of stars in the universe, take your pick. And you’re barely warming up.

Larger still is a googol, which is 10100 (“ten raised to the power 100” or ten multiplied by itself one hundred times). If you wanted to fill the observable universe with a googol of pennies, you would have enough left over to fill another thousand billion universes. Evidently, a googol is starting to get up there, size-wise, but it’s a mere drop of water in the ocean of the largest number so far used in a mathematical proof, known as Graham’s number. Graham himself wondered if we’d spent too much time thinking about small numbers and maybe all the exciting stuff happens at really big numbers. Graham’s number is almost unimaginably large. It is built in sixty-four stages as a tower of exponents and exponents of exponents. The third stage alone is a tower of 3’s (3 to the power 3 to the power 3 to the power 3 to the power 3…) seven trillion levels high. And that’s only the third stage – sixty-one more number-building stages follow. Converting a googol’s worth of atoms (more than are present in the visible universe) to pencil lead would allow you to write out only the first few digits of Graham’s number. In the interests of educating your guests about infinity, which is still larger than Graham’s number, we suggest making an announcement on a sandwich board outside your restaurant, below the daily special. By the way, you can say, have you pondered Graham’s number lately?

An infinite number of rooms, then, is clearly a lot. Never mind what goes on in these rooms (if your hotel is full, everything that can happen in a hotel room is happening), your task is to make sure your guests are happy. Due to the size of your hotel (by far the largest in the universe), you will have some particular challenges to ensure your guests want to return for another stay.

Your first task will be to hire more bell hops. However many you may have at the moment, we can assure you it won’t be enough. Consider the following scenario. A guest registers for a room and because of the enormously popular Amateur Mathematician’s convention, you assign him a room in the corridor whose room numbers are all in the billions. You dispatch a bell hop with your guest to help him find his room. Another guest shows up with two suitcases and you assign her a room in the same corridor. But due to the length of the corridor, the first bell hop isn’t due back for hours, if not days. You dispatch another bell hop with this guest and tend to the next who is now registering. Meanwhile, a guest whose room number is in the quadrillions calls the front desk and asks if it’s possible to send up an infinite number of rolls of typewriter tape, so you dispatch a bell hop to fetch some. Then a guest named Zeno calls to ask how he can ever hope to leave his room if each step he takes toward the door is half the size of his previous step. Again, you dispatch a bell hop to assist him. And just when you’re ready to take a break, a guest calls to complain about what sounds to be a very large number of monkeys banging away on typewriters next door. You should remind the complaining guest that this is the Hotel Infinity, after all, where everything can happen, and attempt to appease him or her by dispatching a couple of bell hops and a security guard to check out the situation. Clearly, in a hotel like this, you can never have too many bell hops. (We also suggest making a connection with a reliable banana supplier. If you really do have an infinite number of monkeys banging out the complete works of Shakespeare in one of your rooms, you can bet that when it’s time for their banana break they are going to be very hungry.)

One thing you should expect is that many guests will ask to check into the room with the highest number. Here they will think they have fooled you because if your hotel has a room with the highest number then how can it have an infinite number of rooms? They may drum their fingers on the counter, stand with arms akimbo or otherwise look askance at you while awaiting your reply. You could smile politely, inform your guest that the room is already occupied and offer them a room numbered for the largest known prime number, or you might remind your guest that infinity is a concept not a number (it may help to point out that there are an infinite number of real numbers between zero and one). Or you could simply frown and say, “Yes, it is available, but it’s a long, long, long way down an infinite corridor and you are liable to starve on your way there.”

In fact, starvation might be a problem for any guest trying to reach a room whose number is suitably large. Encourage your guests to stop at the all-you-can-eat buffet before trudging the ghastly lengths of your corridors to find their rooms. Tell them they can even get a plate to go – they will need it.

Another problem will be guests forgetting their room numbers. While there are hints to remember certain numbers (for example, 65536 is the sixteenth power of two and 65537 is a prime number) some of these tricks will become much more cumbersome as the room numbers get dozens or hundreds, not to mention billions of digits long. For this reason, we recommend that you tell your guests to use room service whenever possible and, except in the case of an emergency, to never leave their rooms.

Be sure to keep the housekeeping inventory up to date. It will be far easier to order new items on a regular basis than to wait until you run out – delivery of an infinite number of little bottles of shampoo could take forever.

Knowing a little bit about infinity will be useful on the occasions when all your rooms are full. Turning away a guest who has a reservation would be bad for business. As soon as people hear that the hotel is full they will sue you for false advertising and you will be ruined. One of the unique features of your hotel is that even when there is no vacancy, you can still accommodate more guests.

In this situation, rather than putting up the No Vacancy sign, which would also be bad for future business, kindly ask all your guests to shift to a room whose number is one higher than their present room. This will free up room number 1 and you can happily accommodate your just-arrived guest.

But suppose all your rooms are occupied and an infinite number of buses pulls up with an infinite number of passengers, each with a reservation. What to do, what to do? Don’t fret and by no means turn them away. Instead, invite your many arrivals to a drink at the bar while you arrange for your present guests to shift to a room twice as great – an act that will free up all the odd-numbered rooms, of which there are an infinite number. To avoid a real-time experiment in chaos theory, you will need your entire fleet of bell hops not just to assist with the Great Room Shift but also to assist with the math because not everyone can mentally multiply thousand-digit numbers by two.

The main thing in running a hotel like this is to be responsive – anything can happen and, as unpredictable situations arise, you will need to think creatively so solve them. You want to be known as the place where guests are truly taken care of – if that means chocolate baskets on the pillow upon arrival, two-for-one cosmo specials in the atrium and having bell hops who can recite epic poetry to entertain guests, so be it. Don’t forget rate cuts (with so many rooms, you probably don’t need to charge much more than a dollar per room in the first place) during the low season and promotions to draw tourists at particular times of year. Run a tight ship, keep costs down and who knows? Perhaps one day you can expand your operation and open up another, larger hotel across the street.

About Daniel Hudon

Daniel Hudon, originally from Canada, teaches writing, math, physics and astronomy in Boston. He has published a chapbook, Evidence for Rainfall (Pen and Anvil Press), a popular nonfiction book, The Bluffer’s Guide to the Cosmos (Oval Books) and has a travel manuscript, Traveling into Now, that is looking for a home. He has work coming up or appearing in The Chatttahoochee Review, {Ex}tinguished and {Ex}tinct: An Anthology of Things that No Longer {Ex}ist, Written River and The Little Patuxent Review. He blogs about environmental topics at econowblog.blogspot.com and some of his writing links can be found at people.bu.edu/hudon.