why am I a physicist?

A few weeks ago, I met a guy who was a friend of a friend of mine who has finished his undergrad in Mechanical Engineering, one of the most sought after field of studies in Iran. He then continued his studies in Canada in the same field. After finishing his masters, he has decided to go back to Iran to start following his dream of studying Physics academically, the very field of my interest. Of course, everybody in his family was trying to convince him that he is making (at least) three BIG mistakes. First, returning back to Iran, second, starting from zero again, and third (and probably the worst of all), studying physics! I should say that physics is one of those fields that everybody seems to like but not many people want to do!

Anyways, long story short, he told us that he always wanted to do physics but everybody convinced him not to do that, and after these many years he could no longer suppress his inner interest in physics, and have finally decided to do what he should have done a long time ago. After he learned that I am a physicist, he got all excited and started to share his views and his reasons why he wanted to be a physicist. Oh boy, it was such an amusing night. He kept saying that they [his friends and family] can not understand. Well, sure enough, I knew what he was talking about. It was really great to see someone who has this courage to sit back and rethink his interests and do what he thinks is right, despite all the cost! I felt so honored to meet a few of those people in my life.

He showed me his little book on the history of quantum mechanics by F. Hund. This reminded me of a quote by Steven Weinberg: “After you learn quantum mechanics you’re never really the same again”. Actually, looking at him, I started to remember my old days way before my  first encounter with quantum mechanics. When I was 3-4 years old, I used to take my little bag and go to school with my elder brothers, as my mother describes. of course, I was not allowed to enter but anyway I liked to go to school doorstep. My mother and brothers taught me numbers, alphabets, and writing before I go to school. Even now, sometimes I remember some scenes that I was forcing my parents to teach something before I go to bed. I don’t know why, but I was so passionate about learning and this passion was with me throughout my whole studies. Frankly, the subject did not matter to me that much, I was just happy to learn. Of course, there were courses I liked more, but I liked them all, from Persian literature to mathematics and physics.

The passion of mathematical science and learning, in general, was with me in high school, undergrad and grad schools. However, unfortunately, during the course of my life, I gradually became more disappointed to see how following one’s passion is dead in academia, and almost anywhere! One should have expected this, as it is an unfortunate plague of modern time that something that is not measurable is considered as a nonexistent. Unfortunately, passion is no exception.

I remember, despite all my interest in doing experimentation, I decided to become a theorist, since I could not imagine seeing myself doing a single experiment over and over in a lab which possibly located down the stairs somewhere. I should say that I appreciate all people who are involved in experiments, as they are responsible for most of things around us. However, I could not consider myself to be a sole experimentalist. I wanted to learn and practice different subjects. I always admired people like  John von Neumann who was a quantum physicist, game theorist, abstract mathematician, economist, computer scientist, and almost anything interesting. Not only, he mastered those fields, he actually made a great contribution and basically defined some of those fields.  Sure, one can say that not everyone is like him intellectually, but the point is more devastating, as nobody seems to want people like him around.  I always looked at knowledge as the greatest intellectual heritage of the human being, during the course of history, and I could not isolate a single subject out of many to focus on.

The bottom line is that I became a physicist for the pleasure of finding things out and I advise everyone to become one. However, there is a big danger here. After a few years, you can no longer satisfy your hunger for the joy of this pleasure. Your brain will not be satisfied by money, or a mundane and repetitive jobs and life.  Basically, you could loose the capability of enjoying anything less intellectually challenging. The addiction to this pleasure of understanding and new findings is no less than the strongest drugs. There are other dangers as well, such as starting to understand the illogical behavior of people around you, which turns you down, from time to time.  So be a physicist, but be careful  what you are wishing for!

 

Be the change that you wish to see in the world. Gandhi

I really like this quote by Gandhi. However, it is hard to really grasp what it means, practically.  Well, to be honest, it is hard to find people who are the examples for this statement. I think that Stephen Wolfram (SW) could be one good example. I have met him in person only once, but during these years, I have come across his name many times. In particular, because he is a particle physicist, also as I was exposed to Mathematica software, for scientific computations since my undergrad.

What is really interesting, regarding SW, is the fact that, he loudly speaks up his beliefs, he writes about them, and even further he invites other people to test his theories. He has spent almost 12 years to write his idea about Cellular Automata in his book entitled New Kind of Science (NKS). Despite many positive criticisms from the general audience, this book received lots of negative criticism by physicists such as Steven Weinberg, Freeman Dyson, etc. However, this did not stop him from organizing summer schools every year, and inviting people to learn more about NKS and do some projects over there.

I have heard rumors about his arrogance, however, what is important for me here is that he really stands by his ideas and he tries to bring them to reality. This, not only has made him a fortune, but also provided a framework for himself to interact with many brilliant people around the world. I believe that we need more intellects like him. Someone who generates ideas, revises his ideas and advertises them. I should emphasize, there are many ideas out there without any references or any notable points for humanity. We need ideas which are attached to some basic principles, and let others falsify it.

The reason that I started this post was to aspire to reach our deep interests. However, we should keep in mind, choosing a path toward achieving our goal is as important as the goal itself. We should ensure that we enjoy the path, otherwise, we may be bored, tired, or disappointed before achieving to our goals. To enjoy the path, I believe, we should stay tangent to public interest. Of course, there is always a gap between our dreams and public interest (otherwise change would be unnecessary). In short, our dreams should give us the sense of direction, and manifold of public interest determines the actual path.  For example, In the above mentioned example, to make fundamental changes in mathematics (or physics), one can detour by starting off a company in computation which is the focus of public interest during last three decades.