Thursday, December 30, 2004

100 years of annus mirabilis

In discussions about whether time travel will ever be possible, and if so why don't we see any time travellers from future, some people cite the anachronisms which have never been satisfactorily explained or just seem too incredible to have happened when they did.

One famous example is the "Baghdad Battery" (read the article if you don't know what it is.. it is fascinating!!). Then there are the incredible ancient feats of engineering and architecture (the Pyramids, the Sphinx, the Stonehenge and the Easter Island statues).

Then there were events in history (and prehistory) that seem to just have happened. (heard of Nazca lines?) Curious incidents.. just fate maybe.. but what if they are results of future travellers "flashing" their ancestors with knowledge far ahead of their time? People like Leonardo Da Vinci and Isaac Newton did some work that was so far ahead of their times that its a wonder no one suspected them to be in touch with future generations (or maybe aliens) at that time (then again, probably most people at the time weren't quite as much into things like time travel and extra-terrestrial intelligence as people today). Newton, especially, had one incredibly fruitful period of about a year when he discovered/invented more things than probably constituted all the cumulative knowledge of human beings till then. that was probably the original annus mirabilis. Between 1665 and 1666, Newton invented techniques of calculus, formulated his laws of motion and gravity and as good as pioneered the science of optics. A year unrivalled in history for its impact on our lives.

But clearly that was much more than 100 years ago. What I wished to write about was another such period. It still doesn't rival the Newton's magic year in its impact but that might just be as it is much more recent. Probably 200 years from now we'll know that its consequences were far more far-reaching than were realized in early 21st century. I am obviously talking about Einstein's miracle year - 1905. In that period of about a year he came up with 4-5 papers that changed the way we look at nature. Special Relativity is obviously the crowning achievement that everyone knows about. But there were other papers ranging from brownian motion to photoelectric effect that were just as important in forming the foundation of a new kind of physics which was so different from the physics of previous centuries that it spawned a whole new field for JEE coaches to tackle - modern physics.

An article has appeared on which inspired me to do this posting. Read it here if you want to, though its just a lay-man explanation of Einstein's work and as such nothing new to most people who read my blog. What I found interesting was a series of cartoons in the article. pasting them here for those who don't want to go to the article and scroll around. All pics courtesy

1) Einstein enters the jungle of physics in late 1800s.

2) What didn't make sense to others was made simpler and clearer by our then-young old man.

3) And then.... God played dice.

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