Does making pictures help you think? – Art & Physics w/Dr. Nicholas Gross and Aaron Freeman

Does making pictures help you think? – Art & Physics w/Dr. Nicholas Gross and Aaron Freeman


This is physics. This is art. How do you science that? Shalom beloved sibling it is I,
Aaron Freeman, not a scientist but a sciency optimist, and this week on
physics Friday we’ll be chatting with Nick Gross, the world’s greatest living
businesses about the delightful dance of physics and art for example in the mid
20th century the artist Jackson Pollock created some of the most high popping
and now really freaking expensive paintings of the modern era Pollitz work
was designed not to represent anything in particular in nature but to show the
path his paint took as he splashed it across the canvas during that same
period of history physicists were beginning to explore the wonders of gas
chamber photography which was designed not to show a particular particle itself
but the path the pieces of that particle described as it was being smacked into
other part particle physics also uses many of the terms that we normally
associate with art the quarks that our friends at Fermilab in Batavia are so
interested in are described using terms like beauty and charm nick says that he
finds it difficult to talk about even physics with which he is intimately
familiar without drawing pictures so it’s physics and art on physics Friday
here on science today plus speaking of formula and we will bid a fond physical
farewell to one of the other great physicists of our day dr. Lea Letterman
the second director of Fermi National Laboratories we are delighted to welcome
you with love a sibling to science Dave’s physics Friday with the world’s
greatest living physicist dr. Nicholas gross lecturer in physics at Boston
University or Boston University you know you say Boston nah I’d know I don’t have
i haven’t developed in natural I can I can fake a Boston accent but I haven’t
developed in Boston you know I have to do my macaque my kind have a yard thing
and then I can get into it the Red Sox’s knowing how the Sox are doing the pack
something out and 19 is full what’s his name the brothers setting burger thing
so uh where do we have an action-packed air show today because we are here to
talk about something we talked about last weekend and the question we asked
the face book was does drawing help you think and so this is the question we’re
gonna try to address here and we hope you will love is everything we have one
beloved simply viewing thank you very much and we hope that we will hear from
more folks on the interwebs later on as this poor broadcasters we played but if
this started out because you great Nicholas we answer last week that even
things that you know extremely well when you’re trying to teach them you need to
draw on the hello Tina you need to draw but you would to tell
me why do you need to draw things even though you know them extremely well but
why does that help your thinking well so I think there’s there’s two things going
on that that um part of it is I’m trying to model what the students should be
doing when I’m teaching great but at the same time um so I don’t memorize
anything look I don’t like I can’t remember anything like numbers I gotta
take them in three if I have to copy a number from one place to another I have
to take it in three digit fights anything longer than three digits I
can’t I can’t hold that in my brain so I definitely have to hold I have to limit
my cognitive load and the way you limit your cut one of the ways to limit your
cognitive load the sorry I want I cut you off your son one of the
ways you live with your cognitive load is sorry the cognate you’re asking what
the cognitive load is if I cut off your microphone yes oh you did oh so I want
to limit my cognitive load and the cognitive load is the the amount of like
information I have to fold in my brain and then process at the same time right
and so if I’m trying to remember all of the forces that are acting
the object and then at the same time I’m trying to add them all up to set them
equal to Ma because that’s what Newton’s second law tells us to do complet if you
got the force that’s applied then the gravitational force and the normal force
in the friction force and the the force of the string and the force of the the
the spring and and all these other forces it just gets hard great you guys
can’t keep it on your brain so you start writing in on what you could write it
all down and and then you’d be you’d be right
writing all these sentences about where the force is and what direction it’s in
or you can draw a picture and the picture encapsulates all of this
information all in one spot and then I just have to look at the picture and
that just makes it it suddenly becomes easy I look at the picture I write down
the equation so the picture turned into an equation for me so if you would be a
it includes the picture increase the diminishes decreases your cognitive load
sure and then I can handle systems that are more complex so let us so that we
were to talk about saloons when we talk science and drawing I guess we go I
think we have a picture we have a picture here from one of the biggies of
science enjoying I’ve already disappea pictures draw drawings by Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin now what are we and how does presumably on presumably on the
Galapagos Islands um studying finches so the idea on the Galapagos was that all
these finches originated from some poor or a few poor lost finches that happen
to make it to the Galapagos very far we have a little fries on a lick but we
will say that I am a freeman and I am a not a scientist but a science the
optimist Nick is gonna mean it right right no II there is again you’re back
I’m sorry maybe I would you say please um so so right these finches got there
some by some freak accident and then start so all from a single arm from a single
species there’s a few individuals they evolved all these different strategies
for getting food and so in order to document that and show people what he’s
what he’s seeing he’s got to be able to draw this and he’s got it right
well shit say explain here this is what this looks like and you notice this beak
versus this beet versus this beak and if you could do that with specimens you
could collect your specimens and and yes and you know kill them and uh and keep
them co safe and like mummify them or dry it out or something and show them
the people but then you can only do that if they have the specimens in your hand
but if you have a drawing you can publish a book right looks they can
publish every what’s interesting about Darwin is I was talking to I you know
I’m forever trying to ask people about their definitions of science how do you
define science and one point my favorite definition was the practice of carefully
quantifying nature mm-hmm which has just I’m sure you like a lot because you
people like that yeah our brain buggy buddy Peggy Mason says I think you need
to revamp that because Charles Darwin didn’t quantified nothing but I think we
all needed that he was a pretty darn good scientist but someone will get back
to you later on is it one of the things that art does or
what visit both art and any science does is provide its stories to explain the
unknowable but none of us can see a Clark when we talk about last week the
murray gell-mann was fuming them out on mathematically long before anybody ever
found any sort of experimental proof for them mm-hmm and so that art
and science try to many cases try to explain to us things that you can’t I
see one of those Nick looks like Aaron you’re off your rocker again what did I
look like this is not right I doesn’t know I’m just trying to was
just I was distracted for a moment I was trying to catch up that’s what it was
okay well like I said I would the goal is always to try to get through one of
these talks with you without saying something embarrassing ly wrong so that
would Darwin drew in order to illustrate to report darn through as a journalist
mm-hmm to report the science that he had okay what that means as a journalist
does it mean as a as a document or as a yeah yeah lelou idea we love you so for
him yester for him drawing was a way of documenting his work as opposed to later
on visual images that explain things that aren’t otherwise unseeable or
visual images as a way to illustrate something that you will never personally
see yourself sure right oh yeah oh yeah so this is um interesting so this is I I
wasn’t able I didn’t have a chance to research this and I think this is
aristotle and plato talking to each other like but documented or or or
presented during the renaissance and sort of during the early part of the
renaissance and they had just sort of painters had just discovered perspective
and you can see that that this has this is fairly deep perspective right so
you’ve got these archways and in in the foreground and in the background and you
have to assume that the archway is at least in the background or at least the
same size as the foreground but of course it’s in perspective so they’re
drawn smaller right but we know from our
experience that objects that are just that objects that are far away appear
smaller but they could be quite large and and you also see the perspective of
the converging walls right the wall seemed in coming to a point in the image
and so the artists of the Renaissance are starting to play with space
they’re starting to explore how do I represent space how do i document space
and this is so I the the video that you sent me a little while ago I understand
everything that he’s saying and I disagree with him on most one point he
has up his he’s sort of like there’s something in the air at these point at
these points in in history there’s something around that everybody
breathing so durable let me just say that I send you a video by Leonard
Schoen slain and he talked about the first thing to talk about was the
zeitgeist and that’s when you say something in the air
they were example around and as soon as somebody starts trying to explain German
to me I’m like yeah whatever no verb so you know what did you say there was
there are times in history when there’s stuff in the air that gets reflected in
both science and in certainly the mid 20th century of Beijing all right in or
in literature you know Shakespeare starts to develop start to show some of
these things he starts to talk about the the the the understanding of that that
people have and he starts to juxtapose like the old school mythology mythos of some of the religious writings
at the time to the rational Oh lighten mint and Bob I mean Bach comes along I
think Bach is a perfect enlightenment figure in terms of just like the
well-tempered clavier and us and the fumes how the fumes come together in
this pursuit that is just that is mathematical and has a pattern to it in
a pack I mean it has patterns you patterns and patterns that nd then
devolve in and so it’s it’s taboc is a great figure for it to show the
Enlightenment well I’m not quite sure what it’s trying to be a little more
about how that is in the fuse in it but I don’t quite understand how you how for
you that’s a appropriate metaphor for the Enlightenment for the European
enlightenment so big – late 18th century you’re I mean he’s he’s extraordinarily
creative but the creativity is inside of a structure that is and it’s it’s it’s a
rational structure it’s a structure about harmony and and and about and
rhythm and so it’s it’s um and he’s exploring that all these ideas
okay inside this structure what can I make that’s creative and you know how
can I think I mean the eye I don’t know it was but there’s one piece where you
take the music and you flip it upside down and you place back towards it what
they call when you say a word that you can say it backwards and forwards and so
what are you saying about about the Bach and the Enlightenment is that so the
Enlightenment is characterized by a rejection of the divine power of Kingdom
there are a lot of things he like me did but one of the things that they did was
rejected by power King and elevate the power of reason
yeah you know there who’ve been a fairly romantic way reason as the ultimate
pursuit of humans right right and so you know that now is the
a little bit before that a little bit essentially before the Enlightenment we
could talk about our brother our brother galileo galilei who ran so used he did
largely what Darwin did which was used observation and actually drew what he
saw so as to persuade the rest of us that it was real these are his dreamy
mood that he thought through his telescope graduate well in in so just
going back to what you what you your sir trying to define science I would say I
would say to get a more of a broader definition it’s your documenting your
your arm systematically documenting what you observe in nature and you do it in a
way that other people can follow your steps I can’t believe a physicist would
say this if you think that the rest of us can follow you we’re going to show
you here’s the Fineman diagram if you think this the physicists document
nature in the way that the rest of us can follow I got a bridge for you mob
brother I buy that they said someone can follow someone who’s of course had you
know yeah I mean you have to go through certain certain experiences to be able
to be able to work it’s turn right or be able to you know but at the same time I
mean going back to like Darwin or Galileo right I can get a three-inch
refractor telescope and look at the moon and draw what I see but okay and now my
drawings are gonna be pretty poor so one of the things I would have I would have
to learn how to do in order to do that is draw right so you might have to learn
a little quantum field theory and I would have to learn how to draw we want
well if we wanted I think I would have to learn a lot Lord as well theory I can
barely pronounce the term but now I’m period here you is another drawing you
it’s it was indicative of something
substantial and tell me what this means to you so this is a this DaVinci right
so DaVinci is I think this is from two Vinci’s notebooks that’s where I was
like and it’s just another way another way of like he’s he’s got a vision for
how this thing’s gonna work but you know with any any of these visions whatever
these mechanical device is and this is some sort of a shaft that’s being run by
a wheel um and and whatever these this device is he’s got to show you how to
take it apart and put it back together again so he’s got all so on the right
hand side is the I it I believe is the completed device and it’s got a little
rock that’s falling here driving this wheel which then drives the bigger wheel
right and that’s on the right-hand side on the left-hand side it’s the it’s the
exploded version of this it’s the exploded diagram right so this is sort
of one of the one of the early mechanical drawing exercises think about
this this begins to get at what we were talking about about art and science
showing us things that we could not see because the exploded drawing is a and so
the other thing with the what this does that we didn’t see in Darwin or in
Galileo was that this was not necessarily this is not precisely what
anybody ever saw mm-hmm he imagined it would work so this was art to expand
that which could be seen sure right because anybody with the
Galileo’s telescope they’ve seen his version of the moon and anybody would go
into the Galapagos could have seen what Darwin saw but an exploded version of a
mechanical device is not something that you could just access by looking at no
that’s a great point I absolutely agree yeah you can’t you can’t access that you
can’t see how to take it apart and put it back together again can’t see how to
build it right so now you’ve got to build thing and you only and without
being slaughtered for and I wouldn’t quite know what to do
yeah yeah yeah so this is again this is the show the show that’s showing the
things that are invisible great shit which is also which is also what well
not to show the thing with the with the imagining of things you can’t see now
here is where we humble old Aaron I know what it is I don’t know what it means
please tell us what the heck is this so these are referred to as phiman diagrams
and these are some pretty complex Fineman diagrams we hope finally I mean
by Phroso Richard they’re named after Richard Fineman so a Nobel laureate in
physics in the xx mid 20th century solved the electrode electrodynamics
basically solved the he was able to show complete the theory of quantum
electrical what the quantum field theory for electricity right so and sort of
wrap that all up and put a nice neat bow on it say it okay we’re done with this
now we don’t have to touch it anymore we’ve explained everything we’ve we’ve
developed all the theory that explains all the phenomena that involves this
piece of physics so this end we oh this is a real serious example of a draw of
drawing that gives us a glimpse of something we are not going to see well
and these drawings don’t aren’t supposed to be aren’t supposed to represent the
what’s actually going on they’re models that that you use then too they might
represent some idealized version of what’s going on but they’re really
models that you help you as I said help you do calculations so each one of these
drawings can be turned into an equation and um oftentimes what you have to do is
arm Pease the drawings together so that you
have to add Mia add the the terms that each drawing represents together and in
the equation and then you get your ultimately the probability that you’re
going to get some two electrons are going to come in and bang into each
other and and you’re going to get a photon out so what is the utility of a
drawing like this as over an equation which I would know it’s again it’s a
matter of bookkeeping I I would say right so it’s a matter of saying okay
I’ve got outcomes and and have accounted for all all the permutations of the way
I can draw this so there’s different there’s different variations on the
drawing that you’ll you’ll have to do it’s been a long time since I’ve thought
about this but it was but you know what you have to do is you have to like in
each in each drawing you add a little bit to or you either change something
you do a permutation or you add a little bit to it and so each drawing in fact
each drawing here you see the left-hand side of the drawing has two electrons
coming and I think it’s not very big so I can’t see it all but two electrons
coming in and then on the right-hand side you got two electrons going out
whoops I see it I see that yes you used to love
ya know I just I’m trying to zoom in and I can’t get get it any bigger so I’m on
the left two electrons going in those two figures on the left are electrons
and on the two figures on the right side of the screen electrons going out well
on each each of those diagrams so there’s no two – okay so you’ve got
electrons coming you know in each diagram you’ve got electrons coming in
on one side I can’t do it and electrons coming in on one side the electrons
coming in on the other side and the arm and so in in between
different things that can happen to those those electron electrons um and so
and you want to document all the different possibilities of things that
can happen to those electrons in between those in between in between seeing one
coming in and one one coming in this way and one coming in this way and so so I
am Eric Raymond and I’m not a scientist but he signs the optimism you here with
on physics Friday with businesses Nick gross every deadly Friday afternoon
whatever next is the permits but yes I would just well you frozen over a little
bit I was filling in to remind our wonderful viewers and thanks so much
hoping they will come back to join us this Friday now we have talked we talked
last time about something that we have some art to represent the fluidity of
space-time this time this is the one of the most famous paintings by a Salvador
Dali and painters were you as a physicist well would you look at your
blood well I’m sure I want to go look up I don’t know when the so this is the
persistence of memory it’s a memory I want to get a date on this so am I so
this is not until 31 which is interesting okay um so I was in the same
time frame that that Pollock was working and they were doing the those glasses
those gas chamber photos in cloud chamber photos mugs
yes it was a whole different thing I don’t yeah they wouldn’t have been doing
them in 31 I don’t think not well being in the 50s they saying to me give a
site-geist in the same general time so what is a physicist so a 1931 was saying
so what does this meet you what how does this relate to our many discussions
about babies I don’t know for sure I do my art history is a little weak on on
this but I’ve always thought that this is rel this is related to relativity
this is related to special and general relativity where you know time it’s just
a metaphor for time and space being warped and twisted and turned and that
you can take these watches and just let them sort of drape as they will in
different in different ways and and fold that space and time and and and turn it
on itself and and it’s it just was interesting to me to realize that it’s a
little bit late later than then Einstein but it’s not that much later than
Einstein it’s it’s you know in the theories when they’re really starting to
play with some of these you’re breaking all of the old conventions so that I
assume that the the the space-time implications of the picture like this
with time melting and stretching would have been lost on all but the most
cutting edge physicists know I know well certainly not in 1931 by that point in
time many of them were fully aware of relativity and its implications and I
think it got into had gotten into the again it’s in the air right it’s in the
ether it’s in you just start sniffing around me Einstein’s at that point in
time Einstein is a celebrity in in in a way
that that you might or might not want to be um and he is and so people were at
least trying to wrap their heads around some popularized version of his of his
work I have a I have a book from 1915 uh that he wrote that was an attempt to
popularize it I don’t recommend it but but I have oh I have it and so it was
the who’s somebody so many ones asked I’m
Stein how radio works and said well you know how when you pull on a cat’s tail
at Meow’s but that’s how radio works except without the cat okay now in that
same period of time speaking of the zeitgeist once again in the mid 20th
century we have the work of Jackson Pollock yes and what was so interesting
about this is that Pollock’s word oh I read somewhere that Pollock was the
Pollock working he was he was his working process is among the most ever
most displayed of any artists there are more pictures of him doing what he did
and what his works were were were a record of the motion of his paints and
brushes across the canvas which plays interestingly into our physics brothers
and sisters Mary get there because we later visions this cloud chamber
photography which is this which also work as a record of the motion right we
could not see like we couldn’t see Jackson Pollock working but his
paintings were a record of what did happen on his canvas and we can’t see
imagine what this this one is but this is a very familiar doesn’t look like
follow these ten things it’s a record of the motion of particles as they smack
into one another right and so this is uh this is it’s the record of motion of
usually of the particles that are left after that after something’s done the
snacking right so I just believe leftover particles are promotional piece
particle pieces well that and that’s exactly what you had to do i you had to
have a lot of I trained a help usually women looking
at these pictures to try and pee so you’ll figure out identify all the
individual tracks in the in the photograph so these are particles that
were passing through a what’s called a cloud chamber so you it would pass
through a of a vapor or or not of exactly really not of a per just very
moist air usually didn’t use water use alcohol but it was it was super
saturated air that was very cold and as the particle would pass through it would
leave a trail behind it that the of of of the vapor would collect on a near
that near where the particle passed and it would condense right and then you get
a little clock you get a quote-unquote little cloud web that would follow the
trail and so you and if you’ve this nobody does this anymore because people
kind of brown on having like open radioactive sources around but it’s what
I’m bunch of wimps OSHA but you can you’ve done this and in the past you
take some dry ice usually and you moisten with some rubbing alcohol you
moisten the bottom of a petri dish that’s covered in in like paper and so
you and you’ll let the let the the battery and then you cool it pretty
quickly and then you put a little a radioactive source and you’ll see coming
off of the source just little clouds will suddenly appear out of nowhere it’s
kind of it’s kind of magical in a little scary ah what not the speaker medical
and little scary loja dimensions the starry night yeah and what’s interesting
about that is of course when most of us look at stars we see dots of light
mm-hmm did not he saw swirls of lights with around
I mean his view is what he saw in the way he drew things who stars was I was a
closer to what science is with what the actual astronomy was then because
they’re not merely little dots there’s all kinds of stuff going on around
celestial bodies they have like Sun stars have atmospheres right right in
rain and swirls of radiation and they move in spirals through space much
closer much closer cos for us they look like fixed points in the sky that’s what
told him he thought no I’m here yeah I thought I was yeah but yeah so that starry night yeah right yeah the really
you know very different about a very different view of stars and much closer
to the astronomical realities then we pour non-artists yet to have yeah and I
don’t know what he was trying to depict there whether that was um whether he
that was intentional or he have some form of that what’s the thing some cases
the where you see a clairvoyance no you see colors it’s all music yeah you’re
right right right where there is something going on there I don’t I don’t
know but it was a weird guy was indefinitely I mean you and I are a
little strange but visit was acutely odd yeah reason that when I can get which
yeah it’s bad to say that we’re pretty much pretty normal people compared to
this so as we tell me what do you get from you obviously a pretty little art
literary kind of guy does your the art that you have watched influence
the physics that you understand like when you see Dolly’s depiction of time
stretched and dripping does that help you to design metaphors for space-time
that is useful in explaining it to non physicists like me and your students
maybe I’m not sure um I think I’m more I I see when I see art particularly when I
listen to music and I understand I mean I both understand music and I understand
the physics of sound and I understand the physics of musical sound right and
we can get into pitch and intonation and pitch and timbre and the frequency
spectrum and harmonics and an understanding this is where Bach comes
back understanding the the relationship between pitch and frequency harmonics
and and harmony and and chords right that the that chords that are that sound
good together all have the same harmonic let’s have a have share of that not the
same but they share harmonics right so the notes in a chord all share harmonics
um and that just that just like makes me Oh getting inside well what I think are
you saying is really what one of the things that I really deeply profoundly
believe which is that some under the some understanding of the physics of the
world of the time the various Sciences of the world can make that world your
appreciation of the world more richer I say more science I’m happy and because
you understand how sound waves work and how pitch works and how frequency works
that makes your musical experience richer deeper it gives you more cool
stuff to appreciate about me is right didn’t I think I think there’s a there’s
like a stereotype of a scientist who just dismisses you know like somebody
they see a rainbow and they dismiss it as oh that’s just refraction it’s like
no that’s that’s really cool reflection and it’s all of these
droplets working all the same time and if I look in the right spot I mean we’ve
talked about this before that there’s this deeper I my sense of the world is
it I feel like it has a deeper appreciation of the world of the
physical world because of my understanding of science and I can go
around and that’s true about not only physics but my understanding biology I
can go to a beach on in Hawaii who has black sand on one side white sand on the
other and a mixture of black and white sand in the middle and the crabs on one
side are black and the crabs on one side are white and the crabs in the middle
are speckled so I mean so that really that again your understanding of this is
similar to the business about ballet and his melting clocks that your
understanding about space-time gives you a whole new way to look at and
appreciate Dolly’s art yeah I have no idea what he meant but that’s what I get
out of that yeah well you did two different way to look at it’s not that’s
even you haven’t got the ultimate answer to it but it’s right the oh and I know I
know you have the ultimate answer even beyond 42 but why would you share with
us you want to save it for the tuition paying students and Boston University
but so and this is well we’re a little over our normal time here but I do want
to take one quick second to a dimension that we this week the physics world lost
one of its Greece Nobel Prize winning physicist dr. Leon Lederman and who I
not only met and interviewed several times but there’s somewhere I couldn’t
find is even a picture of him with my kids was a very very well
like so many physicists he was a very funny guy very entertaining and he was a
second he was instrumental in founding of Fermilab and was its second
director and letterman family we used to say good job you guys great genome you
got and you know at the same time that we lost Leon Lederman we gained another
Nobel Prize winner from because the new Nobel Prizes among the three who were
who were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their work in lasers was the
honor Strickland from University of Waterloo in Canada so have not been a
whole lot of nobel prizes in physics that have gone to women three okay okay
and so this year down Strickland we are we send our three yeah yes it’s the yes
well that’s really that’s really fabulous so we are a path our time but
it is so wonderful to spend time with you my dear the time went fast it’s yes
it did oh we saw it with you Aaron you make time Hey Jude it’s you must be
moving faster than than well of course it’s all relatively it’s all relative folks don’t forget that steak Lonnie and
Thank You Lonnie and then Trish Tina Tina yeah you know
we thank you so much thank you I beg you roll it’s been fun to have you here Tina
oh great yeah fluid dynamics yes mood there there’s a whole art in
fluid dynamics and the depiction of water in paintings and Monet another
wonderful that we can we could go on and on but right there is my dear brother
might not merely lot my physics coach and then in worst nightmares since he
knows all this stuff I’m popping up incorrectly about what my fellow
improviser yesterday girls lecture in physics at the University of Boston and
Murdoch University the University Boston Boston your fasting University and he
met and we love you guys very much and so we’ll see you next week and we’ll
have an even more fast move faster moving more fun time with our physics
okay yes great I’ll look forward to seeing everybody on Friday
all right see you soon and thank you guys the best weekend of your lives!

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