Most of us think that we have the capacity to act freely. Our sense of morality, our legal system, our whole culture is based on the idea that there is such a thing as free will. It's embarrassing then that classical physics seems to tell a different story. And what does quantum theory have to say about free will?
"Astronomers are used to large numbers, but few are as large as the odds I'd have given this celebration today," is how Astronomer Royal Martin Rees started his presentation at Stephen Hawking's birthday symposium yesterday. He was talking about the 1960s when he first met Hawking who was then already suffering motor neurone disease. But Rees' prediction has been proved wrong. Hawking turned 70
yesterday and since the time of their first meeting he has made enormous contributions to cosmology and physics.
Human reasoning is biased and illogical. At least that's what a huge body of psychological research seems to show. But now a psychological scientist from the University of Toulouse in France has come up with a new theory: that logical and probabilistic thinking is an intuitive part of decision making, only its conclusions often lose out to heuristic considerations.
Researchers in Germany have created a rare example
of a weird phenomenon predicted by quantum mechanics:
quantum entanglement, or as Einstein called it, "spooky action at a
distance". The idea, loosely speaking, is that particles which have
once interacted physically remain linked to each other even when they're
moved apart and seem to affect each other instantaneously.
Whenever you smell the lovely smell of fresh coffee or drop a tea bag into hot water you're benefiting from diffusion: the fact that particles moving at random under the influence of thermal energy spread themselves around. It's this process that wafts coffee particles towards your nose and allows the tea to spread around the water. Diffusion underlies a huge number of processes and it has been studied intensively for over 150 years. Yet it wasn't until very recently that one of the most important assumptions of the underlying theory was confirmed in an experiment.
The only good thing about a wash-out summer is that you get to see lots of rainbows. Keats complained that a mathematical explanation of these marvels of nature robs them of their magic, conquering "all mysteries by rule and line". But rainbow geometry is just as elegant as the rainbows themselves.
It's 21st of October and for puzzle lovers this can only mean one thing: the G4G Celebration of mind. This annual party celebrates the legacy of Martin Gardner, magician, writer and father of recreational maths, with mathemagical events in his honour happening all over the world.
Everyone knows what time is. We can practically feel it ticking away,
marching on in the same direction with horrifying regularity. Time has
enslaved the Western world and become our most precious commodity. Turn it
over to the physicists however, and it begins to
morph, twist and even crumble away. So what is