Friday, December 30, 2011

There's going to be some artificial snow at the Civic Center to let kids see what that's like. Natural snow falls there every few decades. Enough snow to be at all deep, less frequentlythan that.

They seem to be practicing in preparation, because there has been snow on the lawn on either side of the main entrance to City Hall.

Some San Francisco kids and adults and dogs have seen snow because they've been other places. I was privileged to see a San Francisco dog who hadn't seen snow until he was being taken on probably his usual walk around the Civic Center.

He stood stock still on the snow where there was usually lawn. He slowly and carefully raised his right front paw and looked befuddled, in a clear and forthright dog way. He raised an lowered that one paw again and again and looked at any available humans--his owner, people passing--with a very big "Wha. . .?" vibe. He could have just walked off the snow back onto the sidewalk, but he kept raising and lowering his paw, awaiting explanation, or clarity, or something.

A wonderul drawn book is called "Feynmann," about Richard Feymann, important, influential, funny physicist. Not a graphic novel--a graphic autobiography, done in his voice from the many words he left behind.

I recognized some of the words from "Surely You Jest, Mister Feyman" and a couple of other of his books I've read, but some great stuff that wasn't at all widely available is there too.

He worked way out there in physics, and he really wanted people to understand, really, deeply. One thing not widely available before that's well done is a lecture he gave to non-scientists in New Zealand to explain what the work was that he won the Nobel Prize for.

A cab driver in the US told him he saw him on TV after he won the Noble, trying to explain. The cabbie said Feynman should have said, "If I could say it in three minutes, it wouldn't be worth a Nobel Prize."

But Feyman really wanted to be able to explain it, in a reasonable number of minutes, to non-specialists. He went to New Zealand to try to explain the Nobel work to some people in general, so if the lecture was a big flop, it would be a big flop that happened far away from his usual hangouts.

The "Feyman" book shows him giving the lecture, and, part of the time, telling the audience what they're thinking. Thought balloons coming out of audience members heads shows that is what they are thinking.

As he explains the theoretical work he and his two Nobel sharers did, the audience members are thinking "This is too weird." "Why?" "It doesn't make sense."

Feyman is telling them scientists who found the theory are thinking the same kind of thing. Who knows why? Right, it doesn't match common sense, and it is true anyway.

He is saying that scientists have some of the same resistence to modern physics that the audience members do hearing about.

What he is saying, most of all in the lecture is, "Don't leave."

Don't walk away from this because it's uncomfortable and odd. Stay because it's true.

I haven't struggled much with taking in Feyman et al.'s Theory of Everything Else, as he sometimes called it. I also haven't left.

I appreciate him identifying the process. It's not just that some of the truest and most important physics is hard to understand.

It's that to the extent that one can understand it, it's viscerally hard to take in. One wants to go somewhere else.

Something I've struggled with more, so far, that with Feyman's work, is the idea that you can know how fast a subatomic particle is going, or where it is, but not both.

Learning in detail how they got to know that is very uncomfortable. I thank Feyman and this book that brought forth the New Zealand speech for helping me learn to notice the difference between being uncomfortable because I don't understand and being uncomfortable because I have started to understand and really, really don't like what I'm understanding.

Feeling that difference will help me, like the dog, not leave, but put my paw down again and feel if I can feel what's with reality better with this paw drop.

My size makes me local and limited in what I can easily understand as true.

Me and the "what is snow?" dog and amoebas and viruses are so much bigger than sub-atomic particles that how much bigger we are is part of what I really can't understand in the way I can understand what happens up here where balls bounce and can be followed.

I'm reeling in confusion far above what I've made of.