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← Sean Carroll Talks School Science and Time Travel

Sean Carroll Talks School Science and Time Travel - Comments

bamafreethinker's Avatar Comment 1 by bamafreethinker

Don't ya just hate it when someone posts "first post" and they have nothing meaningful to say?

Me too.

Tue, 20 Apr 2010 14:22:00 UTC | #461302

Dr. Strangegod's Avatar Comment 2 by Dr. Strangegod

As long as they have a little video of a penguin whacking another penguin in the back of the head, it's okay.

Why is the interviewer yelling? Bold or italics would do.

Tue, 20 Apr 2010 14:27:00 UTC | #461303

rtozier's Avatar Comment 3 by rtozier

Yes, I agree with the sentiment that high school physics should be made less boring. I'm English and had the same experience with pulleys and levers. I could barely set up an experiment and hated physics more than any other subject. Now, four years out of high school, I find it one of the most interesting.

Tue, 20 Apr 2010 14:27:00 UTC | #461304

crookedshoes's Avatar Comment 4 by crookedshoes

All rudimentary science is "boring". The thing is, you have to learn to crawl....and all that. Learning to write lab reports...."boring".... It comes down to the enthusiasm and dynamics of the person delivering that instruction.
What should be included in all subjects is the freedom to let your innate curiosity lead you. The problem here in the US is that innate curiosity is absolutely smashed down. rtozier, I bet you find physics the most interesting now because you are free to explore it your way, your pace, your topics...And you have the intellect and drive and curiosity to continue exploring. Take that drive and curiosity and intellect away and you have the average american high school student.

Tue, 20 Apr 2010 15:38:00 UTC | #461320

Piero's Avatar Comment 5 by Piero

Science is not boring. It is INTERESTING. And if you disagree, you know what you can do...

Tue, 20 Apr 2010 16:53:00 UTC | #461334

crookedshoes's Avatar Comment 6 by crookedshoes

Science is not boring. However, rolling a ball down an inclined plane is a far cry from studying supernova using the hubble. But, both are physics. Blowing shit up or freezing it with liquid nitrogen and smashing it holds youngsters attention more that lecturing on Bohr models or electron distribution. But, both are chemistry. My discipline (Biology), clearly the most exciting of the big three, traditionally starts with discussion of protons, neutrons, and electrons. Students do not rush to read the text. BUT, when we get to molecular genetics or evolutionary theory, they perk up.

@ Piero,
The trick we (in the teaching profession) are looking to master is making science interesting to the disinterested. When I figure out a silver bullet way, I'll let everyone in on it. As of yet, we have to get them through the intro stuff and to the high high interest sections.

Tue, 20 Apr 2010 17:14:00 UTC | #461336

aquilacane's Avatar Comment 7 by aquilacane

I'm always surprised that the notion of time travel is ever even considered

Tue, 20 Apr 2010 17:17:00 UTC | #461337

crookedshoes's Avatar Comment 8 by crookedshoes

I can't get the concept into my head. Time travel sort of has to preclude time travel. ie. if it is ever going to be possible, it would always be possible because I can go back to when it wasn't possible and make it that way. ad nauseum back to the beginning. i know this exposes me as a type of Time travel virgin" in that there are way more sophisticated ideas and caveats, however, I can never get past this simple logic loop.

Tue, 20 Apr 2010 17:31:00 UTC | #461340

millstone's Avatar Comment 9 by millstone

There's a science fiction story I read years ago which comments that the absence of absolutely massive crowds at some key historical events (the crucifixion?) demonstrates that even if time travel is possible, mankind never finds out how to do it.

Tue, 20 Apr 2010 17:43:00 UTC | #461341

Gregg Townsend's Avatar Comment 10 by Gregg Townsend

6. Comment #482049 by crookedshoes on April 20, 2010 at 6:14 pm

The trick we (in the teaching profession) are looking to master is making science interesting to the disinterested.
I may just be a cynic but with the current youth, you may need to figure out how to incorporate a video game controller.

Tue, 20 Apr 2010 17:53:00 UTC | #461342

crookedshoes's Avatar Comment 11 by crookedshoes

Gregg Townsend,
Been there done that. It helps, but marginally. The ticket is an intrinsic motivation pill...or something....

Tue, 20 Apr 2010 17:59:00 UTC | #461345

Dr. Strangegod's Avatar Comment 12 by Dr. Strangegod

aquilicane - Me too.

millstone - Funny you should say that, as I just got to the part in The Dark Tower where they discover the tourist time/dimension jumping doors. One is marked September 11th, 2001, another is the birth of Hitler. In the future they apparently do go back to large events as vacations. It doesn't make it explicit, but I think anybody who wants to can kill Baby Hitler. Doesn't seem to change the timeline though.

Tue, 20 Apr 2010 18:04:00 UTC | #461346

Pedantic Twit's Avatar Comment 13 by Pedantic Twit


For a relatively simple way to avoid the paradox you mention, check out the Novikov Self-Consistency Principle. (

Tue, 20 Apr 2010 18:59:00 UTC | #461350

bethe123's Avatar Comment 14 by bethe123

Oh look…somebody must be promoting a new book.

Ten years after high school, most students are not going to solve a problem with pulleys and levers. But they still might want to know about the expansion of the universe and about cool things in atomic physics and lasers — which they’ll find interesting and fun.

It would be a mistake to even think about letting Sean inflict his biases upon physics education.

I found pulleys, levers, and similar mechanics problems very interesting in high school. Probably others did too. I imagine many went on to become civil and mechanical engineers. I had 3 years of physics in high school. I did not find the astronomy as interesting...part of the blame was due to the teacher, part was due to the PSSC physics text which I personally did not like.

However, anything can be made interesting. The local community college hosted a contest for students to see who could build the strongest model bridge from interesting contest using only basic mechanics -- plus perhaps some strengths of materials -- a genre of physics that Sean is denigrating relative to HIS chosen field...and that I think is rather sad.

Most high school kids are never going to understand the big bang because the prerequisites are too great. Yes, you can tell it to them and they can memorize it, but they cannot work it out for themselves -- and that is how physicists’ work...not by memorizing theories they cannot reproduce. Do you want to graduate students who can think for themselves, and have a good grounding in basic physics, or students who "know" the latest theories -- no matter how speculative like Sean‘s belief in the multiverse --but cannot even do elementary problems. There are other issues. The language of physics is math. Asking kids to do physics when they hate math is an uphill battle. On the other hand, teaching kids physics with limited math is a dumbing down of the content. So an intelligent curriculum will develop the physics and math topics in tandem.

Regarding time travel and Flash Forward...yes Sean, I too can regurgitate the standard comment that the origin of times arrow is conjectured (but nobody knows, let's be clear) to be connected to the big bang and the early universe...but since the writers of the Flash Forward show gave you a hint with their unique usage of the term QED -- a quantum entanglement device -- it is rather curious you do not at least mention the origin could be purely quantum mechanical -- or is that too much like pulleys and levers? We know decoherence follows times arrow, and we still do not understand wave function collapse. One cannot rule out the possibility that GR is not the main player at all, and the origin of times arrow could be completely due to QM.

Tue, 20 Apr 2010 19:32:00 UTC | #461358

bamafreethinker's Avatar Comment 15 by bamafreethinker

comment by bethe123:

Great post. I agree on many of your points. I found pulleys, levers, etc., and the math that goes along with them very interesting and became a mechanical engineer.

Some people just seem to have a built in knack for understanding things mechanical and some don't. The mechanical side of physics was easy and somewhat intuitive for me.

To each his own. If someone doesn't dig pulleys and levers... that's cool too. No need to dis' it though.

Newton still rocks!

Tue, 20 Apr 2010 20:04:00 UTC | #461364

crookedshoes's Avatar Comment 16 by crookedshoes

pedantic twit,
read the wiki you cited. Still don't get it. I understand the words on the page, think they are cool and even provably true, mathematically. My head won't hold it. I probably need to THINK about it more and perhaps look at the math and brush up on physics in general.

Tue, 20 Apr 2010 20:10:00 UTC | #461366

Tyler Durden's Avatar Comment 17 by Tyler Durden

14. Comment #482093 by bethe123

One cannot rule out the possibility that GR is not the main player at all, and the origin of times arrow could be completely due to QM.
I really shouldn't ask... but, Satan made me... so, here goes:

GR = General Relativity, yes?

Tue, 20 Apr 2010 20:33:00 UTC | #461367

DeepFritz's Avatar Comment 18 by DeepFritz

I think the real problem that Physics has is that it is harder to learn than accounting, law or even medicine, yet do we remmunerate our scientists anywhere near the level that their education would dictate£ Not even close would be my answer...

Tue, 20 Apr 2010 20:59:00 UTC | #461371

William T. Dawkins's Avatar Comment 19 by William T. Dawkins

I agree! Lucky me! I had senior physics as a sophomore but it was the old school stuff. I like your view much better. Let me get my slipstick!

Wed, 21 Apr 2010 03:34:00 UTC | #461418

k_docks's Avatar Comment 20 by k_docks

"It comes down to conditions near the Big Bang; the universe started out highly organized and has been becoming more random and chaotic ever since." & "It’s likely that we can’t do time travel. But we don’t know for sure. The arrow of time comes from the increase of entropy, meaning that the universe started out organized and gets messier as time goes on."

Huh££ The Big Bang organised££ That sounds reasonable and logical, maybe I could use this technique in the office now and then!

Wed, 21 Apr 2010 04:30:00 UTC | #461425

justinesaracen's Avatar Comment 21 by justinesaracen

Hey. The Arrow of Time. I always had an inkling that it moved in one direction, but could never have even explained what I mean by that. I still have no idea what causes it, but at least now I can explain the part about remembering the past and not the future, and the one directionality of growth. How nice to learn even that tiny tidbit today. Thanks, Sean.
Now to go to Facebook to show off my new wisdom.

Wed, 21 Apr 2010 07:50:00 UTC | #461442

weavehole's Avatar Comment 22 by weavehole


I vaguely remember reading some time ago that time travel will only be possible from the point in time that it is invented onwards.

First you have to create some kind of time-connecting-wormhole doohickey and then wait for whatever length of time you choose then create the other end of the time-connecting-wormhole doohickey. You can then travel between these two points willynilly. I think I may have read that this will only be possible with subatomic particles though.

I hope my technobabble isn't too overwhelming.

Wed, 21 Apr 2010 10:31:00 UTC | #461460

crookedshoes's Avatar Comment 23 by crookedshoes

While impressed by your technical savvy, my problem still persists. If you travel from the time it is invented 'onwards". How do you get back to your future past from your future future?
The part about moving subatomic particles I have read as well and from what I remember we have a much better chance of accomplishing that. But how will we know we sent it somewhere and didn't just smash it to smithereens?

Also, I realize that I cannot resist feeding trolls and you all are probably exasperated when I do. Just for the record, I left that last nutball alone. It seemed like the prudent thing to do. SCARY FUKKER if I ever saw one. How'd ya like to be his kid?

I'd like a future invention to be not time travel (although that would be very cool) but rather mind travel. This would be where you could vacation inside another person's mind (with their consent of course). I'd like to spend an hour or so inside the horror show of certain people's minds just to see what the world is like when you are off your fukkin goat.

Wed, 21 Apr 2010 11:22:00 UTC | #461472

PERSON's Avatar Comment 24 by PERSON

One way of thinking of time is as a variable that increases and which everything else is a function of.

Space-time breaks that view, though, because the relation between time and space is changed by velocity (speed and direction).

Relativity is weird. In a 2d world, space-time would be a 3d, but not like the 3d space we're used to. IIRC, the value is subtracted in the metric (the equivalent of Pythagoras' theorem), which possibly only applies within the current frame of reference, but I forget the exact implications of that. It's often called 2 plus 1d or 3 plus 1d to emphasize the difference in one of the dimensions.

Wed, 21 Apr 2010 12:04:00 UTC | #461480

Dave H's Avatar Comment 25 by Dave H

If you want a good example of how to teach science and hold the kids' attention at the same time, check out the Glasgow Science Museum when you're in the area. It's got awesome interactive exhibits.

Rather surprisingly, my kids' favourite exhibit was one of the simplest: a large lever that allowed them to lift a boulder.

It's got to be hands-on and physical (no pun intended). Pictures on a screen just don't cut it, no matter how you make them move.

Wed, 21 Apr 2010 12:22:00 UTC | #461490

Balance88's Avatar Comment 26 by Balance88

Sean Carroll got into a verbal fistfight with Sam Harris lately because of Sam's proposal that science can answer questions of morality.

Personally I think they are both wrong.

Sean because he doesn't want to acknowledge that science can and should be used as a tool to answer the question which courses of action are more moral (make ppl. more happy) than others.

And Sam because he insists that it is scientifically provable that being moral is preferrable to being mean.

It's like building an airbag for a car.
There is no way you can scientifically (that is from a truly objective, non-human perspective) agrue that building airbags is the "right" course of action.
Yet still you can and should use the scientific method to develop, test and build that airbag.

Science can only be used to figure out what is true and real. You can't use science as a tool to justify particular motivations and actions.

You can only use science to figure out that it is true that say not stealing objectively results in an overall happier society. But you can't use science to "prove" that being happy is a better state than being unhappy because this is not a question of objective truth - both paths can be equally real and therefore you can't use science (which deals with the question "what is reality") to justify prefering one path over the other.

Wed, 21 Apr 2010 18:30:00 UTC | #461597

Quine's Avatar Comment 27 by Quine

Comment #482348 by Balance88:

And Sam because he insists that it is scientifically provable that being moral is preferrable to being mean.
I did not get that from Sam. Do you have an example of where he states "scientifically provable"? What I did get from Sam is that he needs some axiomatic positions to get started, and that would exclude "proof."

Wed, 21 Apr 2010 18:54:00 UTC | #461603

Stafford Gordon's Avatar Comment 28 by Stafford Gordon

The "Bones" story line about the radioactive particle reminds me of a film - perhaps a Hitchcock - where an ice bullet was used to commit murder.

Fun article. wish we could all see the Colbert show!

Wed, 21 Apr 2010 19:27:00 UTC | #461615

dochmbi's Avatar Comment 29 by dochmbi

I loved mechanical physics in high school, because I could immediatly see how it would be applied in the real world. When I was sitting on the bus and it took a turn to the left and I would be pushed to the right, I thought of preservation of motion.

Wed, 21 Apr 2010 20:45:00 UTC | #461638

Balance88's Avatar Comment 30 by Balance88

Hi Quine.

I have followed the conversation between Sam and Sean after the "fallout" of Sams TED talk.

Sam was repeatedly asked to comment on his stance on what I wrote about (which I think is really the core issue of most criticisms from scientists). Basically it's Humes "you can't get an ought from an is" argument.

Sam wrote that he would answer questions and criticisms adressed to him per eMail and commets on his blog. Not individually but collectively.

I wrote him twice and I saw a few similar "criticisms" in the comments but they were not really answered apart from his (badly argued) criticism of Hume. This led me to believe that he is really dodging the bullet here.

Now I'm not quite assumptive enough to take his (essentially) non-response to this criticism/question as enough to deduce his opinion from it. However Sam did answer Sean Caroll and some other criticisms and on this occasion he trashed Hume's argument that "you can't get an ought from an is by scientific means".

Which is my exact argument here - you can get the "how it is" (facts) from science but the "how it ought to be" (values) have to come from some subjective perspective.

By not accepting Hume's argumentation which is essentially my criticism in a nutshell, I concluded that Sam must insist that he can get an "ought from an is" - basically a scientific justification for his subjective motivation to improve morality/wellbeing. Which I think is impossible.

However I'd be happy if you could prove me wrong, maybe this really is just a big misunderstanding.

Because I am actually absolutely agreeing with Sam, that is with his motivation and his desire to find out and improve our morality/happiness by applying the scientific method. Essentially it seems I'm on the same page with Sam apart from his trashing of Hume's (and therefore my own) argument.
(Hit Ctrl F and search for "Hume")

Wed, 21 Apr 2010 21:32:00 UTC | #461643