Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Little Physics In a Different Shape

Here is a bit from an article in Discover Magazine about Shing-Tung Yau. I always am curious about people and their experiences. Here's a peek at an important physics theorist:
Shing-Tung Yau is a force of nature. He is best known for conceiving the math behind string theory—which holds that, at the deepest level of reality, our universe is built out of 10-dimensional, subatomic vibrating strings. But Yau’s genius runs much deeper and wider: He has also spawned the modern synergy between geometry and physics, championed unprecedented teamwork in mathematics, and helped foster an intellectual rebirth in China.

Despite growing up in grinding poverty on a Hong Kong farm, Yau made his way to the University of California at Berkeley, where he studied with Chinese geometer Shiing-Shen Chern and the master of nonlinear equations, Charles Morrey. Then at age 29 Yau proved the Calabi conjecture, which posits that six-dimensional spaces lie hidden beneath the reality we perceive. These unseen dimensions lend rigor to string theory by supplementing the four dimensions—three of space and one of time—described in Einstein’s general relativity.
It is hard to write a good autobiography. This magazine interview gives a few glimpses into Yau's life. It isn't very satisfactory, but it is interesting. What I find funny is the contrast between life as observed and life as lived. You can observe somebody and be convinced they are the best of everything, but internally they are deeply depressed and in pain. Conversely, you can see somebody whose life appears to be a complete mess or a continual struggle with poverty, but on the inside they are happy as a duck in water. Appearance and reality diverge. People's description of their own state diverges from reality because we "bend the space" around us and recount our history mostly from the current perspective. So we distort the past and don't see the future.

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