Monthly Archives: February 2010

Q: Do we have free will?

Physicist: If you want to get into an argument that drags on forever, you can frame a question like this in terms of consciousness, and the nature of choice, or any number of other ill-defined ill-understood ideas.  So consider only … Continue reading

Posted in -- By the Physicist, Paranoia, Philosophical, Physics, Quantum Theory | 12 Comments

Q: How did mathematicians calculate trig functions and numbers like pi before calculators?

Physicist: Don’t know.  But if you’re ever stuck on a desert island, here are some tricks you can use.  The name of the game is “Taylor polynomials“. All the other trig function are just combinations of sine and cosine, so … Continue reading

Posted in -- By the Physicist, Equations, Math | 11 Comments

Q: How can planes fly upside-down?

Physicist: The narrative that usually leads to this question is something like: “It was the Wright brother’s brilliant wing shape, among other design innovations, that first made manned flight possible”.  So if the wing shape is so important, why does … Continue reading

Posted in -- By the Physicist, Engineering, Physics | 21 Comments

Q: A flurry of blackhole questions!

Q: How much of the universe’s mass is currently in black holes? Blackholes fall into two basic categories: stellar mass blackholes which have a mass of 3 to 30 Suns (give or take), and super-massive blackholes which usually have masses of … Continue reading

Posted in -- By the Physicist, Astronomy, Physics | 10 Comments

Q: Why does going fast or being lower make time slow down?

Physicist: Back in the day, Galileo came up with the “Galilean Equivalence Principle” (GEP) which states that all the laws of physics work exactly the same, regardless of how fast you’re moving, or indeed whether or not you’re moving.  (Acceleration … Continue reading

Posted in -- By the Physicist, Physics, Relativity | 88 Comments

Q: What’s so special about the Gaussian distribution (i.e. the normal distribution / bell curve)??

Physicist: A big part of what makes physicists slothful and attractive is a theorem called the “central limit theorem”.  In a nutshell it says that, even if you can’t describe how a single random thing happens, a whole mess of … Continue reading

Posted in -- By the Mathematician, -- By the Physicist, Entropy/Information, Equations, Math, Probability, Quantum Theory | 11 Comments