Thursday, December 15, 2005

Lisa's public lecture

I just returned from a public lecture of Lisa Randall - who promoted science of extra dimensions and her book Warped Passages - and it was a very nice and impressive experience. Not surprisingly, the room was crowded - as crowded as it was during a lecture of Steve Pinker I attended some time ago. As far as I can say today, she is a very good speaker. There was nothing in her talk that I would object to and nothing that should have been said completely differently.

As you can guess, I was partially feeling as a co-coach whose athlete has already learned everything she should have learned. ;-)

Nima Arkani-Hamed introduced Lisa in a very professional and entertaining way. Randall used a PowerPoint presentation, showed two minutes of a cartoon edition of Abbott's Flatland, explained what are different ways to include and hide extra dimensions (with a focus on warped geometry), how they are related to some of the problems of particle physics such as the hierarchy problem, how do they fit into the framework of string theory and what string theory is, and what are the methods with which we're possibly gonna observe them. After the talk, she answered many questions from the audience in a completely meaningful way.

What is expected that the visitors of this blog will discuss are the interactions between the laymen and the scientists. The questions were not totally bad, I've heard much worse questions in my life - but still, most of the laymen's questions after such public talks are not too deep. Many of them show a rudimentary misunderstanding of some basic principles of science; of the way how physics operates, and so forth.

For example, one Gentleman asked the following question: I've seen a program on NOVA where a physicist proposed that particles were like pieces of rubber band, and the referee rejected the paper. What will happen if the referee was right after all? The Gentleman apparently expected some kind of nuclear war.

Of course, some of these questions may be annoying for a speaker. After one hour of explaining different ways how the extra dimensions are hidden, someone else asked why don't we see them. Lisa did not become upset in any way, and patiently attempted to answer the question again. Another question more or less started from the assumption that relativity and quantum mechanics make all things subjective and dependent on the psychology of individual observers - and the lady asked how do the extra dimensions confirm the paradigm. ;-)

This was definitely not the first time when the laypersons ask exactly the same "question", and my feeling is that even Lisa had already faced it before. She knew what to say.

The laymen's questions following similar lectures also follow a certain pattern. It is a slightly different pattern than the approach of the crackpots who like to show their opinions about science on the internet. There are also some similarities. Nevertheless, the laypersons who attend the public talks are much more influenced by the TV programs and by the general culture.

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