Constants in Physics–fascinating

When I say fascinating, it isn’t because I understand all that the essayist is describing, just fascinating to know there are people struggling with the matter of constants.


2 responses to “Constants in Physics–fascinating

  1. When it comes to the speed of light the problem is that the “constant” is defined by definition and not purely by measurement. This was because measurements from reputable laboratories and agencies would vary. For a time there were yearly changes to what the speed was understood to be. The solution was to set one speed as the “constant” as this solved most of the instrumentation and calculation difficulties caused by the updated information. However, for theoretical physics and continued attempts at accurate measurement the question has not been resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.

  2. There are discrepancies and conflicts even among constants derived from measurements, when there are many enough ways to cross-validate them, such as when you see the same constant appear in equations for several different processes whose effect you can measure, or when one constant depends on other measured constants. Even more frightening, when there is a whole network of such dependencies. Branko Rustic of Argonne has been struggling with a network he calls Active Tables for as long as I can remember. The solution it represents is to compute consensus estimates that can fit as many facts as possible while spreading the error as uniformly as possible, and to recalculate the entire network as soon as new data become available.

    “Active” is a smart euphemism for “non-constant”.

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