Monday, February 12, 2007

130)"If you think of this Universe, He is above this Universe; if you think of a thousand other Universes, He is above a thousand other Universes...."

For Torontonians(and other Canadians), the Zion Heights Junior School mentioned in this piece will ring a bell: it has been the location of the weekend Bayview Jamat Khana since the late 1980s.:

Physicist's guiding star put universe at his feet
Globe and Mail

Young as he still is at 34, Professor Nima Arkani-Hamed was far younger when he walked into a high-school classroom and found proof that the universe was, indeed, expanding.

He was in Grade 8 at Zion Heights Junior High School in northern Toronto, and the classroom belonged to Charles Ledger, a teacher who had developed his own brand of supercharged math instruction for high-performing students ready to go beyond their textbooks.

Of course, Dr. Arkani-Hamed could not have predicted the precise sequence that would land him where he is today: at the utter limit of humanity's understanding of the universe, as one of the world's top particle theorists, with a fully tenured teaching post at Harvard to boot.

Instead, he focused on what was in front of him -- interesting problems and drills, drills, drills -- and suddenly, his world got bigger.

"It was an amazing atmosphere that wasn't replicated for me until well into my college years," Dr. Arkani-Hamed said this week, seated beside his former teacher, now 74, after they reunited in a high-school classroom in Waterloo, Ont.

"At a very truly fundamental level, it started me off in the sort of frame of mind that I keep and carry with me today.

"Moments later, that frame of mind opened up for a crowd in the Waterloo Collegiate auditorium when the long-haired physicist, in his black pants and black untucked shirt, took the stage to deliver a mind-bending public lecture called The Future of Fundamental Physics.

"I realize this is a rather modest title," Dr. Arkani-Hamed said to laughs from an audience dotted with scientists from Waterloo's Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, which played host to the event and arranged to bring Mr. Ledger and his family to it from the Toronto area.

While the former teacher beamed from the front row -- reflecting, perhaps, on the math competitions Dr. Arkani-Hamed helped his school to win, or the dense Russian math book he and a classmate excitedly brought in to school after finding it at the Canadian National Exhibition --the professor explained how the scientific community is on the brink of "a real revolution in the understanding of physics.

"The catalyst for that potential revolution lies in what will be the largest experiment in human history, in a vast cavern built beneath the French-Swiss border, where a mammoth contraption called the Large Hadron Collider is expected to power up this fall.

Through a circular tunnel with a 27-kilometre circumference, scientists will send protons (smaller than atoms, invisible to the eye) hurtling in opposite directions at insanely high speeds, because "when they smash into each other, something interesting happens," Dr. Arkani-Hamed said.

From that "something," experts hope to divine answers to questions that have lingered since the last major step forward in physics, in the 1970s, when the so-called Standard Model was developed to explain how particles of matter interact.

The Standard Model explains all the physical forces except gravity, which is by far weaker than all the others. The new collider, the most powerful ever built, could help researchers find out why.

More specifically tantalizing to Dr. Arkani-Hamed is the potential for it to reveal what he and a group of like-minded mavericks have come to suppose: that our vast universe might be but one of billions, each governed by its own physical laws.

"Our entire universe could be this tiny, minuscule speck of nothing in this giant multiverse," he said, underscoring both the insignificance and the wonder of human reality, given the delicacy of the balance of forces that underpin it.

"Everywhere else in the multiverse is lethal; a few places allow us to exist," he said, adding that a "big crunch," or collision, could one day spell our doom.

"Fortunately, we won't know what hit us," he said, prompting another among several bursts of laughter earned by the amiable genius through the evening. Others came courtesy of periodic fumbling with the overhead projector, from which an audiovisual technician finally rescued him, and from his endearingly crude, out-of-scale illustrations on the slides.

Added to the fact that he still has trouble calling Mr. Ledger anything other than Mr. Ledger, it all hinted at the value of maintaining a subtly childlike outlook when working in a field based, in essence, on learning what no one else knows.

For his part, Mr. Ledger could relate.

"We were very much standing alone on what was happening in the classroom," he said after Dr. Arkani-Hamed's speech, "but I had other teachers standing behind me.

"Mr. Ledger began to develop his unique teaching method in the mid-1970s in response to difficulties students at Zion Heights were having with algebra.

He came up with a series of drills, and then backed them up with a process of teaching to support them. All of it was more complex than what was contained in the math textbooks of the day.

As he fine-tuned his methods, "we started to work away from the texts," Mr. Ledger said, and "eventually we were teaching without using the texts at all.

"Before long, Zion Heights teams were cleaning up at regional, provincial and national math competitions, and Mr. Ledger's program, eventually dubbed Spirit of Math, began to attract notice. Still, education officials deemed it impractical to adapt for widespread use, mainly because of the retraining teachers would require to deliver it.

So, after he left teaching at the school in 1993, Mr. Ledger took the program private. His daughter, Kim Langen, now oversees Spirit of Math, in which parents can enroll children who are already adept at math for weekly, 90-minute classes to hone their creative problem-solving skills.

The approach aims to equip students (900 are enrolled in Greater Toronto and Winnipeg) to discover answers on their own, rather than by rote. Ms. Langen said teachers are also encouraged to challenge students, and to teach to the top third of the class, rather than to the weakest.

"Our whole methodology was so different, and because of that, people were really hesitant to accept it," Ms. Langen said, recalling the public-school system's refusal to embrace the program despite its clearly positive results.

"And like any place, there's some jealousy happening," she said, perhaps since it arose organically, out of a single teacher's simple desire to find a better way.

Back at the Perimeter Institute after his talk, relaxing in the Black Hole Bistro, Dr. Arkani-Hamed used the same kind of language to describe the forces that push scientists to the frontiers of understanding.

"What really drives them is a deep sort of curiosity," he said. "It doesn't feel like playing a game; it doesn't feel like chess; it doesn't feel like solving a puzzle; puzzles are invented by humans.

"In physics, there's a sense of discovery, and what it contains is far beyond what we imagined we could have imagined."

Across the multiverse

Physicists have long been perplexed by the apparent weakness of gravity compared to the three other basic forces in nature: electromagnetism, the weak force associated with atomic radiation and the strong force that holds atomic nuclei together. One answer may lie in the concept of multiple universes in dimensions beyond the space and time we experience. To visualize this idea, the illustration depicts our universe collapsed onto a flat, two-dimensional plane. The stacked planes represent alternative universes -- they exist alongside ours, but unless we could extend our perceptions beyond our limited plane, we would be totally unaware of them.

A force such as electromagnetism might act only within our universe ...

... while gravity might act throughout multiple universes ...

... effectively diluting its perceived effect in our own universe.


My added note: To prove to yourself how weak the force of gravity is compared to the force of electromagnetism in our universe, place a metal paper clip onto a table and place a magnet a few inches above it. See how quickly the paper clip shoots up and clings to the magnet. This despite the force of gravity of the entire earth acting to pull the paper clip towards its center versus the small magnet yanking the paper clip up to itself. Apparently this may be due to the fact that the force of electromagnetism exists only in our universe whereas the force of gravity is shared among many multiverses all adjacent to one another.


Islam, eminently logical, placing the greatest emphasis on knowledge, purports to understand God's creation:Aga Khan 4.
The God of the Quran is the One whose Ayats(Signs) are the Universe in which we live, move and have our being:Aga Khan 3