Beauty of Science~II

Source: By Bikash Sinha: The Statesman

Einstein’s field equation in General theory is magical, in his own words; an extremely complex equation yet so elegant, beautiful and aesthetically so pleasing. The equation describes quantitatively the interplay between gravity, space and time. Here, he introduced a constant, called the cosmological constant. There is a claim that Einstein thought introducing this constant into his equation was the greatest blunder of his life, although I never could find any reference of that.

That “blunder” has changed our entire perception of the universe in recent times. This constant is responsible for accelerating the expansion of the Universe and this was experimentally verified recently leading to Nobel prizes. So, Einstein’s Nobel Prize was the father of many Nobel prizes.

While writing a book, I got so excited about the sheer mystery and power of this constant that I wrote: “I am the cosmological constant / and nursling of the Universe / I pass through galaxies, I change with time, / and contemplate space and time in its infinity! / I am the cosmological constant / I accelerate the Universe / I am the cosmological constant / But I cannot die / I die with the Universe. The cosmological constant acts against the gravity, thus it accelerates everything”.

This magnificent firework of new revolutionary ideas started at the end of the nineteenth century and went through unabated till the Seventies of the twentieth century. In India at least three persons came into world prominence at that time, Jagadish Chandra BoseSatyendranath BoseMeghnad Saha and of course CV Raman. Jagadish Chandra Bose not only discovered millimetre radio waves sitting in a small laboratory of Presidency College, he went on to perform some very original experiments to demonstrate that plants are not that inert but react to electromagnetic shocks.

An intimate friend of Rabindranath, Jagadish Chandra brought “life to plants” and discovered the power of short range radiowaves. He was the father of modern science in India and the child of the Bengal Renaissance. Two of his students were SN Bose and Meghnad Saha. SN Bose was the discoverer of Bosons, the light particle photons. Bose Einstein statistics revolutionized the newly discovered quantum mechanics ushering in quantum statistics.

Now we know the entire universe is immersed in all pervading Bosons, the cosmic microwave background radiation, the cosmic hiss of the Big Bang! Meghnad Saha discovered Saha’s Ionisation equation. His class mate and lifelong friend SN Bose once quipped: “Meghnad can measure the temperature of the distant star sitting at home”. That thought is just not beautiful but romantically beautiful ~ the twinkle of the stars captured in an equation and observed from a room.

Sir CV Raman, only Nobel Laureate from India in sciencediscovered the Raman Effect in a small laboratory of the Indian Association for Cultivation of Science using an elegant yet simple experimental set-up. To my knowledge he was the only person who bought his passage to Stockholm even before the Nobel Prize was announced. The Raman Effect is so powerful a technique that researchers still use it for a variety of experiments. Another philosophical physicist, the German pioneer Warner Heiseberg, once had an intense conversation with Rabindranath Tagore in Calcutta.

Heisenberg was on his way to Japan via Calcutta. He had the audacity to introduce the famous uncertainty principle ~ one cannot measure the momentum and the position of any particle or the energy and time simultaneously (exactly). Mrs. Heisenberg describes “One moonlit night we walked all over the Heinberg Mountain and he was completely overwhelmed by the vision he had, and trying to explain his newest discovery to me. He talked about the miracle of symmetry as the original archetype of creation, about harmony, about the beauty of simplicity and the inner truth”.

She goes on “with smiling certainty, he once said to me I was lucky enough to look over the good Lord’s shoulder while he was at work”. Now, that is ecstatic and the relationship between the great man and his wife is ethereally beautiful, and infinitely tender. One of the greatest theoretical physicists of the twentieth century is Paul Adrian Maurice Dirac of Cambridge. Now resting at Wesminster Abbey, in London along with Stephen Hawking, Dirac believed very strongly that an equation, if it is very beautiful, must be the right one and went on to say “God must be a mathematician”.

Einstein of course did not quite accept the very statistical nature of quantum mechanics. Which provoked him to say “God does not play dice” reprimanded by another great physicist, Niels Bohr “stop telling Good Lord how to run the world”. Stephen Hawking said, “But all the evidence indicates that God is an inveterate gambler and He throws dice on every possible occasion. Not” ~ Hawking goes on “not only does He play dice but also sometimes throws them where they cannot be seen”.

One can generalise on this idea. The Universe is a very very… very large casino”, almost is resonating with the great French biologist, an existential philosopher to boot Jacques Monod’s “Chance and necessity”. Of course, one of the greatest mathematicians of all times was Srinivasa Ramanujan. He came in touch with another great mathematician GH Hardly of Trinity College, Cambridge.

Ramanujan was a genius and his genius drove him to write down mathematical identities of great elegance and beauty. GN Watson of the Cambridge school while trying to unravel Ramanujan’s identity has this to say: “Gives me a thrill which is indistinguishable from the thrill which I feel when I enter the Sagretia Nuova of Capella Medicee and see before me the austere beauty of “Day”, “Night”, “Evening” and “Down” which Michaelangelo has set over the tombs of Giuliano de’ Medici and Lorenzo de’ Medici.

The austere beauty of Michelangelo’s Medici tomb turned Ramanujan’s identity radiant! It has already been mentioned at least obliquely, that the most fundamental constituents of all matter are the quarks, trapped inside the protons and the neutrons forever, interacting with each other by gluons. Murray Gell Mann, coined the words quarks. James Joyce contemplating in the back lanes of Trieste, going from one tavern to the next, from one nightingale’s nest to another wrote in his most original yet incomprehensible novel, Finnegans Wake.

There quarks for Muster Mark / sure he has’nt got much of a bark / and sure any he has its all beside the mark”. Publican named Humphrey Chimpder Earuicker ~ “There quarts for Mister Mark”. It is the cry of the gull, cry of the trapped quark. A fantastic journey of the quarks, somekind of German Cheese, from the Taverns of Mr. Earwicker to deep inside protons, neutrons, trapped forever, an example of surrealistic beauty. The beauty and the aesthetics are most abundant among the romantic poets of England.

One can readily think of the English poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Clouds” ~”I am the daughter of Earth and water / and the nursling of the sky; / …..For after the rain when with never a stain / The pavilion of Heaven is bare, / and the winds and sunbeams with their convex gleams / Build up the blue dome of air, / I silently laugh at my own cenotaph, / And out of the caverns of rain, / Like a child from the womb, like a ghost from the tomb / I arise and unbuild it again. It is almost spiritually beautiful ~ from the “cenotaph” “I arise and unbuild”. It is the eternal cycle of creation and destruction.

Just as man clamours for the infinite, similarly the infinite wants to reveal himself to man. As Rabindranath wrote: “For meeting me you are coming through endless time. In the morning and evenings / Through the eternity of time / I hear the ring of your footsteps”… The poet wanted to bridge the gap between the finite and the infinite, the microcosmos and the macrocosmos, the personal and the impersonal, the immanent and the transcendent. But, the beauty and the aesthetics are at the heart of all pervading macro and microcosmos. One has to just look for it.