It begins with a butterfly on a thistle plant along the side of the road as I ride by. I think about a book I am reading and discussion of Edward Lorenz’ Butterfly Effect, as in chaos theory … and things like quantum mechanics and other principles of physics that I will confess I have a miserably inadequate understanding of – quite unlike my son, the soon-to-be-physicist.
We’ve had a brief window of opportunity to do some riding together before he leaves again to continue his summer research in Nashville. I love having the chance to ride along and talk. On quiet roads, we are relatively free from distractions and interruptions (except, of course, when I make him stop so I can take pictures). The conversation unwinds like the curve of the road, rolls along, changes direction, circles back. Sometimes serious, sometimes not. Laughter almost always manages accompany us.
Recently I asked him to help me better understand the different branches/disciplines of physics – kind of a “Physics for Dummies” type of explanation. While I have a very rough understanding of the research he is doing and where his interests lie for grad school – theoretical/computational high energy particle physics – I will confess that I am mostly clueless about the different fields of study within the physics world.
And, of course, he absolutely knows this – as he rolls his eyes, sighs, and tries once again to explain it to me. I listen as he patiently tries to describe and define – and eventually I get lost. Again. So in the simplest of terms (yeah, even a cavewoman like me can understand – kind of… maybe?) this is roughly how he described a few concepts to me (and I hope I am recalling this correctly?) :
Classical/Newtonian Mechanics: big slow things
Relativistic Mechanics: big fast things
Quantum Mechanics: small slow things
Field Theory: small fast things
String Theory/M-Theory: un-testable things
Do I have any better understanding of any of this? Probably not. If nothing else, I may have at least figured out that I am probably not a Quantum Cyclist (small and slow), but more of a Classical/Newtonian Cyclist (big and slow). I hear you laughing, Mason…
I will keep reading, I will continue trying to learn more and understand. In the meantime, I will just take a photo of the butterfly, and let my son figure out the rest.
Random scenes from recent rides – big, small, fast, and slow… all the usual suspects. Happy Memorial Day.