Saturday, June 13, 2009

Emergent paradoxes

A book I really like and strongly recommend is A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down by Bob Laughlin. He received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1998 for the theoretical description of the fractional quantum Hall effect, and was a co-founder of I2CAM. Laughlin has highly original ways of looking at science and is a very gifted writer.

Laughlin is passionate advocate for emergent phenomena being the most interesting and challenging aspect of science.

Just to illustrate some of the insights.... Laughlin points out
that emergent phenomena can present significant paradoxes. Laughlin considers two paradoxes associated with the Integer Quantum Hall effect. First, there is “perfection due to imperfection”: the precision of the quantisation of the Hall resistance improves as the sample quality decreases, i.e., the number of impurities that scatter the electrons increases. Second, the Quantum Hall effect provides a very precise means to determine properties of elementary particles from measurements on macroscopic samples. It measures the fine structure constant, which is defined in terms of the properties of single electrons: the electronic charge, Planck’s constant, and the speed of light.

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