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Lee Smolin expands on Einstein and the Improving Social Dynamics of the Physics Community

Smolin lectures

Lee Smolin is a familiar face associated with the Perimeter Institute, especially with the Theoretical Physics Department that he heads, gave is a very close on the social dynamics of higher Education in the area of Science and Higher Education.  We compared a lot of how the behaviors evolved over a span of an approximate 80-100 years when Smolin gave us the scoop on Einstein’s personality which ended up being backwards from what I had always heard him as being commonly portrayed.  Rather than the geeky shy store patent clerk, Einstein was clever, hate to say it, borderline arrogant, and calculating.  But as we ventured on in the realm of how to professionally survive if you are a minority going into science, we quickly learned you couldn’t really afford to anything short of that.  The environment has softened…?  Ok, they sandpapered the splinters off the corners…OK, I hear they are preparing to!

But in all due time, and considering how long it takes for us to be kind to one another, the playing field between minorities and the old grand crowd of older white haired men, is starting to get some excellent color in its rooms in large part I wonder, if the globalizing of the economy hasn’t had its own influence.

We are more connected today than our grandfathers could’ve imagined, and I only see the walls melting away as we become more and more interdependent as a global and thriving world economy.  Science has its very special role, and now with rapid advancement in technology, neuroscience is finally beginning to bloom from its tiny bud into a much sought after discipline as its progress will and is tightly interrelated with the co-progress in Cognitive Sciences and Artificial Intelligence for Real World Applications.

Here, We talk about more of the touchy social issues that are rampant, or were and are improving, in the Hard Sciences with respect to Higher Education and Post Doctoral Research communities.  As some healthy helpings of side dishes to go with the audio, I wanted to include links of PI, Smolin, and the ARCHIVE of ALL the lectures they held for the public…(like a candy store to me)  for those curious to dive further in:

Here is a talk and panal on Lee Smolin’s new take on time which engages not just the physicist, but there is also a philosopher on board so kudos to expanding to different disciplines, this idea is going to need a village to figure it out.


Quora asks: What’s it like to study at PI?

Perimeter Institute’s General Lecture Series which it makes as available as possible

The Archive of the Lectures for the obsessed Undergrad like myself.

Lee Smolin’s Profile and I believe even a way to reach him

Perimeter Institute’s Outreach Facebook Page – Drop By!

Science By Number Official Facebook Page

Jes Scott’s (the one writing this fresh report) Facebook Page open to the entire Public for anyone curious to check up on developments

My Partner in Crime, Jenny Nielsen’s Facebook Page which has some very interesting oddities too

Kenneth Kosik, Professor of Neuroscience at UCSB, speaks on Alzheimer’s

“The locals of Medellín, Colombia, joke that when God created the world, one of the angels asked him why he was putting so many natural wonders in one place. God replied, “It will even out. Wait till you see the character of the people I’m going to put there.” Self-effacement aside, among the people of Colombia there is a curious mixture of pride and bafflement, sorrow and theatricality, regret and resignation about their unusually bloody history—a history from which the country has not yet emerged. Violence and beauty intertwine in Colombia in complicated ways, just as the folk saying implies; that much I have learned during the many trips I have made there to conduct research and genetic testing on a rare form of Alzheimer’s disease.”


Kenneth Kosik

-Ken Kosik (Kosik’s piece titled “The Fortune Teller”)

Ken started out in the humanities, and migrated to the hard sciences, a story not unlike mine, and in the process of doing so has brought interesting perspective and light in the work he has done with Alzheimer’s disease.  He resides at UCSB as Harriman Professor of Neuroscience and here is a link to all of his adventures because I can’t do it fair justice;

Kosik’s Profile at UCSB

UCSB Tau gene Pathology studies and new technology that helps

I had a fascinating interview with him and completely forgot about introductions because I just like to jump right in, but here is today’s awesome episode as Science By Number continues exploring the brain.



Liz Montizanti Explains the Psychology of Poker

Liz at the table

Here is round Two with Liz the Professional Poker Player.  Here we go more in depth on psychological strategies, betting strategies, risk analysis, fish analogies, sharks, wales, tanks, the works.  Liz explains that the best part of playing is going up against really good players and learning to better her own game.

Here is a quick summery of how psychology plays in from a synopsis of the book “The Psychology of Poker” by Alan Schoonmaker;


“Poker demands many skills and strategies. To be successful, you must be able to master all of them and then apply them at the appropriate times. They include proper hand selection, bluffing, semi-bluffing, understanding tells and telegraphs, and reading hands. These skills do not come easily since they require unnatural actions. You cannot win just by “doing what comes naturally,” Dr. Schoonmaker is concerned “only with the way that psychological factors affect your own and your opponents’ ability to play properly. For example, have you ever wondered why some players seem extremely aggressive while others are passive? Why some are tight and others loose? Furthermore, have you ever wondered why some tactics seem to come naturally to you while others don’t? This text will answer many of these questions. It will explain why you and your opponents play the way you do. The author also suggests strategic adjustments that you should make to improve your results against different types of players, and he suggests personal adjustments that will help you to play better and enjoy the game more.”

The Psychology of Poker from Google Books


Science By Number explores Poker with Elizabeth Montizanti, a Pro Poker Player

Elizabeth in her game zone

Elizabeth in her game zone

Elizabeth is an actual Professional Poker Player and Science By Number had lots of questions about what the game involves. We got a short statistics lesson, and even a book recommendation titled “The Mathematics of Poker”  written by a BlackJack Player.  I’m already lost.

Jen plays poker as an amateur, Jes has never played.  This was a huge learning curve for Jes, and hopefully enough fundamental questions were posed  to call out to the beginning poker players out there.

The dynamics of Poker actually pulls on a very wide range of disciplines.  A lot of it is psychological and involves risk analysis. Does it help to know Math, Game Theory, and Mathematical Economics?   Not really, in fact, the best one can do is to practice and dedicate many many many hours to learning how to read risks, other peoples’ behaviors, and read a sense of the dynamics going on at the table.  Intuition may serve far much better than raw critical analysis.

Elizabeth’s facebook Page

Science By Number Facebook Page

For more questions feel free to drop Science By Number, or Elizabeth a note.

Currently we are hosted by Mercury Broadcasting and here is their page as well for more episodes and other interesting topics.

Mercury Broadcasting

Sabine sheds light on the problems in Physics’ Post Doc Research and funding

Two weeks ago, Science By Number was introduced to an area of research in Quantum Gravity that is rarely mentioned – Quantum Gravity Phenomenology.  It seems ever since the phrase “Non-Empirical Based Evidence” has been coined, those who fear Science with lose to the seductive callings of beautiful math have been speaking up more, expressing genuine (and legitimate) concern for entertaining the idea.(P.S. — This tweet just in.  literally. I couldn’t of planned this any better even if I had an infinite amount of universes to try it in…)

Appropriate Question

Appropriate Question

To start off, I would like to give John Horgan his job back and let him explain the inter-workings of why the idea of no evidence for mathematically consistent models is just simply not enough (don’t get me started too, and I’m just the undergrad watching all of this unfold…mind blown.)

“How to decide which theory is the most promising one is a pressing question in an area starved of data, and it was also the central question at the Munich workshop I attended in December. How can non-empirical arguments increase confidence in a theory?

The use of non-empirical arguments in theory development is nothing new, what is new is that its relevance is much larger now that it takes so long to test theories.

Theorists use non-empirical theory assessment all the time, when they decide what to work on or even what conference to go to. In principle that is reasonable, taking into account all knowledge that has accumulated about a theory, such as how well it’s been shown to be compatible with already confirmed theories or how many alternative explanations there are. But the problem is that this non-empirical assessment can, and almost certainly is, skewed by social and cognitive biases.”  – Sabine Hossenfelder 


But there is something more insidious going that is an actual real challenge to try and fix.  It’s a two punch combination of grad students not going into other areas of research because if you aren’t working on String, you won’t be getting paid for your help.  This REALLY begs the question whenever someone says “String theory is the only game in town!” it because it is correct, or because it was the only one that gained popular traction, and consequently more funding in hope that it would prove itself as it claims itself.   Either way, today, if you want to do work in Quantum Gravity Phenomenology, you may have to work on a more popular trending idea until something somewhere gives.

Sabine is currently expressing this to be, in part, a mess that cognitive bias is aiding in causing, and that scientists, are people too.  And this idea? I like.  I fear the day we are not susceptible to the deeper underlying currents of human nature.  But that also means, there are methods we can adopt  to change this.  We don’t have to keep perpetuating the current status quo.  I will be very curious to watch what happens and as always,

For those who want a youtube accompainied slide to a snippet of the previous interview, you will never guess what I found on accident! And again, thank you, Sabine, for keeping me on my toes!


Science On.

Jes and Jen

Science By Number continues with Mikhail Shifman on Quantum Field Theory and Empirical Evidence

Jenny and I had an  hour and a half talk with Mikhail Shifman,  on the history of Quantum Field Theory, which I asked him to summarize in 10 seconds or less, and he did a great job! He also does a debriefing on
Grassman numbers and their unique characteristics, and then he expresses his concern on Richard Dawid’s Non-Empirical Evidence based theory….bottom line, the theory says math is enough if nothing better shows up. Aside from above mentioned there is some more beautiful gems in here.

Misha Shifman

To give a short run down, Shifman’s work would not have come to fruit had it not been for the mathematical development that String theory went through.  Sure, we can argue about the word, “theory” but in QED where Feynman was able to compute a numerical analysis on the experimental values by developing his famous Feynman diagrams, failed miserably for Quantum Chromodynamics, they failed embarrassingly so, if I recall Shifman’s words.  Early advancements in String Theory allowed Shifman to find methods in this problem and he came up with, no joke, the penguin method.

To grab a quote on his work directly from the University of Minneota Site:

About My Work

“I do research in all branches of theoretical high energy physics: from Quantum Chromodynamics (QCD) as the theory of hadrons to extra dimensional (brane world) models of fundamental interactions, to supersymmetric field theories at strong coupling. Due to a mysterious property of color confinement, these are the most intriguing dynamical theories we have ever had. Crucial non-pertubative phenomena in these theories are very rich. Currently the focus of my research is the study of extended objects (topological defects) in Yang-Mills theories with or without supersymmetry. In the former case the power of supersymmetry allows one to obtain exact results. Some of them have numerous applications.”   (


Shifman along with two  other Dirac Medal Recipients

Here are some useful links!

University of Minesota – Mikhail Shifman’s Page

Shifman’s Google Site

Theories build on each other, that is physics, so it is unfair to throw away the entirety of string theory (you are welcome to discuss whether the term theory is appropriate) and typically, those who do, do not investigate its incredible power of prediction and AID in Quantum Chromodynamics, which is a whole new world from Quantum Electrodynamics.

So, the bottom line? Not everything about an accepted proposed theory is dead wrong and not everything is dead right. It is a continuous exploration, and in such, we hope to keep exploring, keep testing, and to keep checking our notes.  They all have holes, welcome to physics, enjoy your stay 🙂 If you want definitive answers, I recommend a religion!

Sabine Hossenfelder Talks about Phenomenology with Science By Number

11705507_10153570477819574_2413192033013411831_oSabine Hossenfelder takes Science By Number on the tour of Quantum Gravity Phenomenology – in other words – there are theorists who just do math, then there are theorists who specifically apply the math  – or extend these theories to something we could actually observe in a lab.  This is where an interesting realm that is rarely talked about exists…I call it the theoretical experimentalists.

What it really is, is the natural and recently less mentioned right hand of physics – experiment…how do we devise a method to test these theories. This is what Sabine is after in terms of Quantum Gravity.  We have heard about Quantum Mechanics phenomenology but we hear very little about Quantum Gravity phenomenology.  Science By Number discusses what the word Backreaction actually  means (I had to ask), What Quantum Gravity phenomenology is, and what Sabine means when she says she researching this.

Sabine’s Blog on Quantum Gravity Phenomenology

Sabine’s Facebook Page

Science By Number introduces Mikhail Shifman

We are really lucky and happy to – well, Shifman has a squeaky chair and we couldn’t afford to edit it out without sacrificing valuable knowledge so, excusing the squeak, there is a huge amount of information Shifman covers on the history of Quantum Chromodynamics, the details of the history of its experiment, and the problems of the gluons.

Misha Shifman

Misha Shifman

We also covered an unplanned range – this was really, a conversation in the making and I couldn’t decide what to keep, what to leave out, I loved all of it, but, it spans from Quantum Chromodynamics to traveling, to freedom of publication, to the luxury of not appreciating liberties, and it is really a journey of comparing two different worlds at two different times- the U.S.A and Soviet Union during the 70’s and 80’s and how they handled mobility and learning and publications as students of physics and science moved up higher and higher in their learning.
Thank you again, Mr. Shifman, and also a huge congratulations to winning the Dirac Medal for specific work in QCD!

Here are some links to his university website for more information

Here is his initiating contribution:

The penguin mechanism of flavor changing hadron (quark) transitions introduced. (JETP Lett. 22 (1975) 55; Nucl. Phys. B120 (1977) 316; JETP 45 (1977) 670).

Lee Smolin on Real Time with Science By Number

Lee Smolin at Blackboard

Lee Smolin at Blackboard

“The theoretical physicist Lee Smolin is interested in the problem of quantum gravity of reconciling quantum theory with Einstein’s gravitational theory, the theory of general relativity, to produce a correct picture of space-time.  He also thinks about creating what he calls a theory of the whole universe, which would explain its evolution, and he has invented a method by which natural selection might operate on the cosmic scale.” – Lee Smolin, Stuart A. Kauffman ; The full article with Smolin on

Science By Number has Smolin walk us through the problem with Time, to Evolving Universes, to issues with the multiverse approach, to Space Dynamics…and this is just the first 10 minutes.

Smolin heads Perimeter Institute and is often noted as being the kind of hippie rebel of theoretical Physics.  This Time, Smolin has really gone out of the norm in his approach to fix time by considering a fundamental real evolving thing.  (I don’t even know if I got that right. I’ll have to listen to these things some day!)

We have some links that may help and this is a 2 part deal, though not consecutively, because we would like to mix things up a bit slightly.  I suppose in that sense we’ve already been influenced by Smolin after such a brief encounter.  We really enjoyed listening to Smolin lead us through is thinking trails as he described HOW he went about trying to resolve Time, The Landscape Problem, and his continuous work at Perimeter Institute.

Please visit Science By Number Facebook Page for more info, if you have questions about the science, or time, or to see who our next guest is, I encourage you to swing by and see what trouble were up to.

Jes and Jen



Sean Carroll Addresses Emerging Spacetime with Science by Number

Recently Sean Carroll has been discussing his work in what he presents as an emerging space-time in Quantum Mechanics.

The Big Picture by Sean Carroll

The Big Picture by Sean Carroll

Along with answering Reddit’s physics threads about this work, Quanta Magazine has also posted and explanation and construction of emerging Space-time.  Jen was especially excited since she actually did extensive studies from textbooks he’s written, so the range Carroll has addressed in his works and publications, and academia as well as leading journals, is really fun to observe and read!

Science By Number also asks Sean not only about articles and textbooks, and a recent book for a more general audience called The Big Picture, but we also want to know what Sean finds to be the most exciting thing happening right now in physics as well as what he thinks physics can address and what it should avoid trying to say it has answers for.

It was an exhilarating, eclectic adventure and we are really happy to welcome Sean Carroll for this morning’s Science By Number with Jes and Jen!

Dr. Bunny

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