Friday, March 14, 2008

Paris

The trip to Paris has been a lot of fun, mostly due to the very hospitable and entertaining hosts of mine, Igor and Grichka Bogdanoff. Some time ago, I had really no idea how well-known they are in France. But they are extremely famous, indeed. Every third person on the street wants a signature or a photograph. ;-)

You can imagine that we talked about physics with the brothers and not always agreed about it ;-) but it couldn't destroy the experience.

The only place in France I had visited before the last week was the French Riviera. But this time, I had to behave as a French guy who doesn't speak any French - except for Amitiés and Amicalement, two important words for the book signing, and three more. ;-) Lumo English was the only channel of communication for the interviews.

The list of required conventions included the double-kissing, a heavy challenge for a Central European's immunity system. I still don't know whether I was licking the girls' and ladies' faces just like the native Parisians do. At any rate, it is a mystery for me why the European Commission hasn't banned this friendly but hygiene-busting double-kissing tradition yet. ;-)

The Apple can be worked with, after all, but in my case, it is much less efficient than Windows.




Paris: musings

Saturday was the main day when I had to see all important places in Paris. While the 19th century buildings in the Western suburbs looked unimpressive or even ugly, I was thrilled by the historical center. The majestic Royal Palace led me to the doubts whether it was a good idea for their country to abolish the kingdom.

The Louvre was just amazing. There are so many fascinating sculptures and paintings in it. If the gallery were destroyed, the losses would be kind of incalculable. Why? Because price only makes sense for "perturbative" changes of the ownership or marginal production. Non-linear effects begin to become important if you deal with a lot of value at the same moment. Do you think that the value of 1,000 historical paintings is smaller or greater than 1,000 times the value of one of them?

While I referred to Mona Lisa as a symbol of the museum, I actually think that this particular painting is way too overhyped. It is somewhat puzzling for me whether the people see something so extraordinary puzzling about her smile that the painting is so much more famous than others. I tend to believe that the fame is a social construct, a result of groupthink.

I also had the feeling that many fields of human activity have simply peaked. Those old artists and sculptors were able to do amazing things even 500 years ago. We have seen a lot of modern trends - cubism is among the most decent examples - but would be the modern artists able to paint the old-fashioned paintings? I tend to doubt it. If you invent a new style, do you have the right to say that it is progress? It seems to me that much of the progress has been negative.

It is more natural for me to have a respect for artists who can do the same or similar things as the classical artists. Many modern artists or musicians who create paintings without a glimpse or realism or music without melodies are promoted by pure hype.

The technologically advanced architecture is another field that may have peaked - about 100 years ago. It is hard to get rid of this feeling when you see the Eiffel Tower. I was there twice. The first time, on Friday, I used the staircase but the top floor was closed. On Saturday, I was decided to go to the summit. After 40 minutes in the line, the display said "Top Floor Closed". I was angry and pretended to be even more angry than I was. I told the black cashier I wanted to the top floor. She said it was closed. Another obvious question was answered, too: the top floor could open in one hour or a couple of hours.

I decided it was outrageous that they closed it and decided to wait in the cashier area for 10 minutes or so: it wasn't too likely that they would open it before I would become impatient. Shockingly enough, 1 minute later, the display said that the top floor was re-opened so I could instantly go to the top. This 1 minute interval is very short and it is an example of fine-tuning that was, exceptionally, playing in my favor, unlike most fine-tunings in my life.

Would we be able to build a new Eiffel Tower today? Or a bigger one? I know that people build skyscrapers but isn't the tower kind of more impressive anyway? Why can't we return to the Moon easily even though it was apparently so simple for folks who lived and worked 40 years ago? Sad.

Notre Dame, Sacré Couer, Pantheon, and other fascinating buildings have led me to the question whether the religion is so irrational, after all. If religion was a major driving force for people to build similar cool things, is it such an irrational thing? Cannot we say that for practical purposes, it is a very good and desirable spiritual thing?

"Not Even Wrong" as a source of information

On Sunday, right before 2 p.m., I roughly knew where I should have been at 2 p.m. but not exactly. So I opened "Not Even Wrong", an anti-physics website. It said: "At 2 p.m. on Sunday, Lubos Motl will be appearing at the France Television booth at the Salon du Livre..." I followed the instructions and it worked well. As far as I remember, it was the first time when a true and useful statement appeared at "Not Even Wrong". Later I was trying to find out the location where I spoke on Monday but the aggressive crackpot forums didn't help me in that case.

What was less helpful was that someone announced a bomb at the Salon du Livre a few hours later: finally, I was liberated from the French grammar and spelling because we had to leave the building. ;-) It is not clear whether it was Peter Woit or someone else who informed the officials about the bomb. At any rate, it was someone who enjoys similar methods and who has a similar degree of respect to results of intellectual creativity.

To answer a question: no, I don't really believe that the bomb was installed because of us.

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