When I stumbled on Hamilton’s bizarre reputation I was, next to my work, studying physics, and wanted to become a cosmologist. As many students do, I hoped to make a great discovery some day, or if that would not happen at least a tiny one. Little had I expected what ‘my discovery’ would look like, and how much it had nothing to do with the universe. Still, as a variation on what Isaac Asimov seems to have said about crying out “Eureka” or mumbling “that is funny,” it appeared that thinking “that is odd” can also ‘herald’ years of work.
It happened when I was enrolled in the first course for my masters, History of Vector Analysis. I then heard about Hamilton as an alcoholic, who had married some lass from across the fields just to be married, and after his discovery of quaternions only had eye for them for the rest of his life (however useful that was). I vividly remember the picture I had formed in my mind, of a man looking at beautiful sloping green fields from behind his desk but seeing nothing but quaternions. I also remember that I wondered when he drank all that alcohol, perhaps in the evening, still sitting at his desk, and that I pitied that poor lonely village girl. Until I read about Hamilton’s suprisingly peaceful description of the walk with his wife along the Royal Canal where he had his Eureka moment. I then imagined that thinking “Woman, go away again and leave me in peace instead of annoying me even on my quiet walk along this canal” would most likely have prevented any Eureka moment. It was the start of a two weeks’ frenzy filled with sudden realizations, “impossible, that is simply utterly illogical.” Thereafter, no physics for me any more; reputations, gossip, Victorian times and the difficult lives of married Victorian women kept me busy for years.
Every now and then I give a presentation about the ‘inflationary universe,’ an adaptation and extension of my bachelor’s presentation, to local groups of the KNVWS, of which I am a member also. When I had finished writing about Hamilton what I had thought I had to write, and again was invited to give my presentation, I was very happy to be back in the universe. But knowing that continuing my studies is not in any way realizable in the near future, I also started to think that perhaps I do not want to become a cosmologist any more.
Already from the first time I gave my presentation about the inflationary universe I have introduced myself by telling the audience that I do not believe inflation can be true, but that I am very happy to explain the theory to them, including why the problems with the Big Bang theory seemed to be solved so neatly. That I obviously cannot prove that inflation is not true, but that it just does not make much sense to me. But what also happened while I was working on Hamilton’s reputation was that I became more convinced that Erik Verlinde* may be right (and not just because the first course in relativity I was enrolled in was given by him :). I can proudly say that already before handing in my bachelor’s essay (August 2013) I told my mentor that if I had money (which I do not have) I would bet on Verlinde’s theory, against inflation. So instead of becoming a cosmologist myself it would be better to try to learn to explain his theory to my fellow KNVWS members. Some people do that very well already, but it would give me focus.
* I was curious about Schroedinger’s remark, “I daresay not a day passes - and seldom an hour - without somebody, somewhere on this globe, pronouncing or reading or writing or printing Hamilton’s name,” and whether that still holds (not counting. I therefore counted the 71 articles of which Erik Verlinde was author or co-author and which were open access, which remarkably most of them were. And indeed, the Hamiltonian was mentioned in 34 articles.
But that will also take much time, and therefore my brother Rein thought that in the meantime it would be a nice idea (as a consolation for lost physics?) to also make a BookReader for my bachelor physics essays, which I once did love to write. Two of them, an essay on Teleportation and an essay in Dutch about the Higgs boson are in the Wayback Machine already, Anne’s page on mazaka.nl. Here it is a ‘work in progress,’ because I will translate the latter essay,** and my bachelor’s thesis, which should have formed a diptych with my master’s thesis, must be rewritten into an independent whole. I am looking forward to that.
Teleportation can be read in the Bookreader even though it is not a book: Teleportation.
** Translation note for the particle physics essay.
Preface: The original posts by the LHC@home 2.0 team about the “rogue” systems and the team having been “flabbergasted” can be found at the BOINCstats/BAM! page for vLHCathome including links to the original articles. I had paraphrased the LHC@Home 2.0 Team’s first post of 11-08-2011, but it is too historical not to write it out once more: “WE HAVE A PROBLEM. WE BELIEVE SOME "ROGUE" SYSTEMS ARE SUCKING OUR QUEUES DRY AND THUS OVERLOADING THE SUPPLY OF JOBS TO EVERYONE ELSE. Please be patient - we will try to fix this as soon as possible. Until this problem is understood, we have disabled the creation of new jobs and users for the moment. As soon as the system is recovered, the work unit flow will be restored.”
This is the 11 August 2011 BBC article calling on volunteers, LHC@home allows public to help hunt for Higgs particle. How appealing can you be! No wonder the servers were overloaded (even if everyone had understood the need for VM's). The BBC article linked to the LHC@home home page, but the link to the T4T page containing the quotation I used, “The Test4Theory@home project seeks to engage volunteers in theoretical physics computations for the Large Hadron Collider at CERN,” does not exist any more. Happily, it still is visible in the Wayback Machine, About Test4Theory. The capture being of the page as it was two years later, it also contains the later warning: “Before Attaching to us you must first have an up to date installed version of the VIRTUAL BOX software package. To download Virtual Box if needed see instructions here”.
(The widget still needs some work.)