Carlo Revelli (2015) Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, translated by Simon Carnell and Erica Segree.


First Lesson. The Most Beautiful of Theories.

I just nipped out at lunchtime to get a bigger brain, but they were all out, the only thing left –on special offer- was a Simon Cowell brain. I said to the lassie behind the counter, ‘Do I look that fuckin’ stupid?’

‘Or a two-for-one, David Cameron and… a black hole,’ she offered.

I didn’t hang about, I’ve got better things to do with my time. Of course I don’t need a bigger brain. After all, quite simply, The Most Beautiful of Theories is Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. Kudos, a kind of mental judo, by owning this book, it makes me instantly brainer. It’s a general thing, some of you might not understand. Albert, like me, didn’t do that well at school. In second year of St Andrew’s school I sat my first exam in Physics. Question 2 had me going. Twenty-seven years later I was still sitting in the old gym hall, pondering.  Rovelli tells the reader Einstein ‘spent a year loafing aimlessly’ and he reminds us, ‘You don’t get anywhere by not wasting time’. I was off to a flier. Einstein didn’t sit any exams and neither did I – you can see where this is going?

I’m now going to explain gravity. And if it sounds like I’ve just made it up, it’s Einstein’s fault. Think back to Isaac Newton and the apple failing. That’s gravity at work, the force that draws all things together and keeps them apart, but on its day off it plays by different rules.  Newton imagined space to be ‘a great big empty container’. Farraday and Maxwell had filled the box with the pulses of an electromagnetic field and a gravitational field. Einstein’s genius was in seeing that the gravitational field is not diffused through space, something added, like a prosthetic nose. The gravitational field is space (and time and motion), the dancer and the dance, the singer and the notes of a song.

‘How can we describe the curvature of space?’ such as planets circling around the sun, asks Rovelli. I stuck my hand up here and shouted, ‘as a curve, sir?’ always a smart alec, although my name wasn’t alec. And, you know, I wasn’t far wrong. Bernhard Riemann had produced a doctoral thesis that was ‘completely useless’ and made no sense. Just the thing for the job. Riemann’s curvature (R) is equivalent to the energy of matter. I’ll not write out the full equation here because I’ve only got one lifetime to understand it, but I guess, you get the drift. Light stops moving in straight lines, space bends around a star and Mars bars become increasingly smaller the closer you come to buying one.

The whole of space can expand and contract, like the exhalation and inhalation of breath. Einstein’s equation predicted ‘The Big Bang’, or at least helped explain it in Homer Simpson bites as a young god slaving over an extremely small and extremely hot universe. Oops. Butter fingers.  Cosmic radiation flowing like waves from that small, fixed point in time and space were a glimpse of Einstein’s reality. I’m going to read a bit more of Riemann’s mathematics before I say more, but next up, Lesson 2, tomorrow, I’ll explain with the help of my old buddy Carlo Ravelli’s primer: Quanta.  Wow that should be big.


How I entered the world of the deepnet to sell a ‘favorited’ by a Noble Prize winner

I’m typing this on an old Underwood typewriter, but I decided to leave black and white typewritten sheets  and enter into the dangerous world of the deepnet to do something a bit shady. The deepnet is the world filled with people that worship at the altar of Jimmy Saville and ping encrypted signals from online server to server in order to remain anonymous. No one that enters comes out quite the same.

    Think of that episode of The Simpsons where Homer is blown by the gods onto the island of Aenea. He doesn’t know it’s an enchanted island. He just knows the nice lady (Circe)  serves a mighty fine leg of pork. Yum. Yum. His men grow into porkers before his eyes, but Homer doesn’t quite catch on. Odysseus protects himself with the herb Moly and forces the enchantress to restore his men to human form. Homer isn’t quite sure. It smells so nice and one little taste won’t hurt. That’s the deepnet for you.  

    I’m going there to sell my book Lily Poole and to get more pledges. For those not in the know it’s a ghost story without a ghost. The kind of thing the deepnet specialises in. Follow this link if you dare.

The currency of the deepnet is the Bitcoin. They don’t really exist, but there are Bitcoin millionaires — usually they’re selling pharmaceutical products.

I’m trying to convert a tweet in which I get ‘favorited’ by one of my favourite writers, Alice Munro. She’s got that old-fashioned Nobel Prize for Literature to her name. I figure if I can convert and sell ‘favorited’ status that doesn’t really exist, into Bitcoins that don’t really exist, into pledges for my book that everybody’s ignoring as if doesn’t exist then I’m onto a winner. Homer did eventually get off that island. The gods were fickle but not too unkind. Yum, porkers. I’d give an arm and leg for pledges.