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The Unbearable Weirdness of Modern Physics - workshop

Tuesdays, Thursdays, March 13-22, 1pm-4pm
Instituto Allende, Ancha de San Antonio 22

The Unbearable Weirdness of Modern Physics - workshop

The physics that has been developed over the past century and a quarter departs radically from earlier, “classical” physics. The old physics generally explains phenomena that are familiar, intuitive, or at least understandable to humans, based on common experiences we all have had. The most difficult aspect of the new physics, on the other hand, is to understand and accept narratives that are manifestly contrary to all of human experience. For example:

• How can two simultaneous events be not at all simultaneous to observers, who may be zipping past us at high speed? What then is the meaning of simultaneity and, more broadly, of time itself?

• How can tiny objects act both as though they are bits of matter and also bits of wave-like energy? And this, at the same time and within the same experiment? How is it that we cannot know (and the universe cannot know either) both the exact position and the motion of a tiny object at the same time? Does this even matter (no pun intended)?

• How can subatomic particles come into existence and then vanish without apparent cause, provided they do this extremely quickly? And how do we know they do this? Do these particles really exist anyway, and if so, why? Why are subatomic forces so strong and gravitational forces so weak?

• What does all this have to do with the size, structure, and history of the universe? What can humans know about it all? Can we be sure we really do know?
This course will try to explain over four lectures designed for non-scientists the basic ideas of relativity, quantum mechanics, and particle physics, including their implications for our developing knowledge of the universe. Most of the concepts are accessible without recourse to mathematics. The goal is for the student to obtain a basic understanding and appreciation of the complexity and structure of the universe in which we find ourselves, along with an understanding of some of the most salient, outstanding questions that are being researched today.

Tony Fainberg started his career in physics with a doctorate in particle physics from UC Berkeley, and conducted basic research for 15 years at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva, at Syracuse University, and at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York. He has worked at the U.S. Congressional Office of Technology Assessment on the impact of science and technology on society, and in the Executive Branch, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Homeland Security. He is a Fellow of the American Physical Society and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He has previously taught introductory physics courses to non-scientists.


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