The Weekender, November 2, 2018

1) “My Grandfather Thought He Solved a Cosmic Mystery” (The Atlantic, 18 minutes, November 2018). The subhead: “His career as an eminent physicist was derailed by an obsession. Was he a genius or a crackpot?”

When my grandfather [named Francis Perey] died last fall, it fell to my sisters and me to sort through the books and papers in his home in East Tennessee. My grandfather was a nuclear physicist, my grandmother a mathematician, and among their novels and magazines were reams of scientific publications. In the wood-paneled study, we passed around great sheaves of papers for sorting, filling the air with dust.

My youngest sister put a pile of yellowing papers in front of me, and I started to leaf through the typewritten letters and scholarly articles. Then my eyes fell on the words fundamental breakthrough, spectacular, and revolutionary. Letters from some of the biggest names in physics fell out of the folders, in correspondence going back to 1979.

In this stack, I found, was evidence of a mystery. My grandfather had a theory, one that he believed to be among the most important work of his career. And it had never been published.

[ . . . ]

Indeed, as a child, I’d heard murmurings among the adults that Francis had an idea of some sort. I had never understood what it was, and looking through these papers, I still could not make sense of it. The theory seemed to deal with the fundamental question of where probabilities come from, as well as a specialized subfield of mathematics and even quantum mechanics. To understand my grandfather’s grand obsession, I had to go into the foundations of physics, and to the heart of the stories we tell about science. What was Francis on to?

2) “Who Owns the Statue of Liberty?” (CGP Grey/YouTube, 7 minutes, October 2018). A great video on a stupid piece of history.

3) The Now I Know Week in Review:

4) “Automation” (The Future Will Not Be Podcast, 1 hour 8 minutes, October 2018). Despite the name of the source, this is a podcast episode. Here’s the synopsis:

While Siri and Alexa are rock stupid today, it’s the acceleration of machine learning that should concern anyone with a job. Cars already drive themselves, algorithms write news articles, robots run the factory line, and AI makes fascinating art. Worse, many modern jobs are just manual oversight of other human inefficiencies, ready to be swept away by the oncoming wave of automation. This time will be different from previous human paradigm shifts. The Neolithic Revolution moved us from nomadic hunting to farming civilizations. The Industrial Revolution moved us from farms to factories. After the Automation Revolution, all scarcity will be gone, and there will be no work left that humans need to do. Will that be a glittering utopia of plenty, or a savage techno oligarchy?

5) “The Oral History of the ‘Wayne’s World’ ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ Scene” (Rolling Stone, 10 minutes, November 2015). The new Queen/Freddie Mercury biopic comes out today. Here’s a story from a few years back about how Mike Myers and Dana Carvey brought Queen to a new audience of potential fans — all because Myers really wanted to rock out to the song.

Have a great weekend!