Articulating the Clouds

In his books The Elegant Universe and Fabric of the Cosmos, theoretical physicist Brian Greene repeatedly sighs about the difficulty of representing the 10 dimensions predicted by string theory. Drawing even four dimensions on a two-dimensional page is challenging to say the least.

To say the most, it's impossible. And even though some believe that it could make experimental contact with reality in the Large Hadron Collider, for now string theory is very much, sadly, an intellectual and somewhat arid abstraction. My high school math just isn't up to the job.

All is not lost, however. One way to experience the unseen is to present it indirectly to the external senses. For example, Ned Kahn, a participant with the 2007 IdeaFestival, shows us the beauty and shape of the wind in the way he can articulate clouds or vortices or whirlpools.

Likewise, we can infer the presence of dark matter because it gravitationally interacts with luminous matter in the universe.

But another method, and the one for which I think Greene longs, would be to reverse these roles. In other words, what if nature observed you?

I dug Jennifer Ouelette's post at Cocktail Party Physics about one artists' stroll among the probability waves, which makes just that point and introduces a new word, linked below.

It's one thing to do the math and see 2-D representations of waves, or even to watch their liquid form breaking on a beach. But being able to actually walk through a field of frozen waves gives an entirely different sense of their form and function, and a graduated sense of their movement as well. It's the same effect walking through a dune field produces, but this is far more calculated and artificial. Rather than being a literal representation of information they become a proprioceptive experience. You can feel the shape of the physics, rather than just take it in intellectually.

"Feeling the shape of physics?" That's cool.