The Most Beautiful Equation: How Wilczek Got His Nobel

The Most Beautiful Equation: How Wilczek Got His Nobel


There are four fundamental forces of nature
as we now understand it. There’s gravity and electromagnetism which are the classic
forces which were known already in prehistory and known in some form to the ancient Greeks
but which had mature theories in the case of gravity already in the seventeenth century
with Newton and in the nineteenth century with Maxwell and very beautiful descriptions
and in case of gravity made even more beautiful with Einstein’s general theory of relativity
in the early twentieth century. But in the course of studying subatomic physics and what
goes on at very, very short distances people found they needed two additional forces – gravity
and electromagnetism aren’t enough. And the two additional forces are called the strong
and weak forces. What I got the Nobel Prize for was figuring out the equations of the
strong force. And equally important not just guessing the equations but showing how you
can test them and see that they were right. This was something I did as a graduate student.
I was of course working very closely with my thesis advisor, a very, very gifted and
powerful physicist named David Gross. What – so how did we go about doing it? Well there were some – the experimental
situation regarding the strong interaction was very confused, desperately confused. There
was no theory even remotely worthy of standing beside Newton’s theory of gravity or Einstein’s
or Maxwell’s theory of electromagnetism. There were just a lot of rules of thumb and
a lot of confusing data. What we did was focus on one particular phenomenon and try to understand
just that. Putting off all other aspects of this confusing situation. The phenomena we
tried to understand seemed so paradoxical, so crazy that we thought if we could understand
that we could understand anything basically. And also because it seemed so profound and
fundamental. Actually David thought that we could prove that it couldn’t – that you
couldn’t understand it within the standard framework of quantum mechanics and relativity.
And that will be a very important result too because we tell physicists they had to go
back to the drawing board. This aspect that we were trying to explain was the fact that
quarks which were somewhat speculative but a pretty clear indication of reality at that
time – when they get close together they hardly interact at all. Or when they’re
moving at very high velocity relative to their high energy. Again they don’t interact very much at all.
But if you try to pull them apart a significant distance which means in this case ten to the
minus 13 centimeters or more, or if they’re moving slowly then they have very, very powerful
forces. In fact you can’t extract single quarks from matter. They always exist bound
to one another inside protons and neutrons. So we needed a force which gets weaker at
short distances and grows as the distance grows. That’s a very paradoxical and difficult
thing to imagine and make consistent with the other laws of physics that we know. Now
there were powerful mathematical techniques for investigating that kind of question that
had been developed for other purposes called renormalization group. So we were able to
bring those techniques to bear and address this question. And they were very difficult
calculations. It wasn’t entirely clear that they were consistent, that you could actually
do this kind of calculation in the kind of theory that was most beautiful, that we wanted
to investigate. But we insisted on hoping that the most beautiful equations would be
the right equations. And we found out that a very, very special class of theoretical
constructions with tremendous amounts of symmetry could give you this behavior. So that was
– I compare that to Archimedes saying that if you give me a lever and a place to stand
I can lift the world. Based on that kind of leverage given by the sort of basic principles
and faith and symmetry and beauty plus this one fact about the forces getting weaker we
were led to quite a unique proposal for what the equations of the strong interaction should
be. And we could develop some consequences of
those equations and then propose to experimenters that they go out and check whether these consequences
are correct. Now it took several years afterwards before it became clear that those consequences
we predicted were correct but they are. And in subsequent years it’s become more and
more clear the theory has been used for a wide variety of applications now with great
success. The kind of thing that in the early days was called testing quantum cromodynamics
or testing asymptotic freedom is now called calculating backgrounds. So it’s gone from
being a glamorous exploration of new worlds to kind of taking are of the garbage. So I
think you could look for more interesting things. But well although it sounds in a way
it’s kind of a step down. If I look at it in the big picture it’s glorious that you
have a theory that was originally very speculative and just something that existed in our minds.
And it’s gone now to being an absolutely accepted and basic part of our understanding
of nature and a very beautiful one.

95 thoughts on “The Most Beautiful Equation: How Wilczek Got His Nobel

  • October 6, 2015 at 7:05 pm
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    Don´t mind me just attention whoring.

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  • October 6, 2015 at 7:19 pm
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    And the equation was…?

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  • October 6, 2015 at 7:19 pm
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    Anger ruins joy, steals the goodness of my mind, overcoming anger brings peace of mind, leads to a mind without regrets, if I overcome anger I will be delightful and loved by everyone.

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  • October 6, 2015 at 7:19 pm
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    I guess we have to take his word for it.

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  • October 6, 2015 at 7:24 pm
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    i like how his face lights up when he starts to remember how he felt at the time of discovery

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  • October 6, 2015 at 7:27 pm
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    nice!!!

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  • October 6, 2015 at 7:29 pm
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    I know this is oversimplified and not really correct, but when he described a force weaker when close together and stronger when further apart I first pictured two objects tethered together by a spring or elastic material. That also makes me wonder if anything special happens when, if possible, the strength of the strong force is exceeded.

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  • October 6, 2015 at 7:43 pm
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    What if i told you, time doesn't exist?

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  • October 6, 2015 at 7:51 pm
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    what is a magnetic line of flux made out of…

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  • October 6, 2015 at 8:38 pm
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    Utter hogwash. An eloquent and elegantly extended way of saying that they have absolutely no idea how to appropriately bring together the fundamental forces of nature, and that is the only thing you should take away from this.

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  • October 6, 2015 at 8:41 pm
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    Kevin spacey got a nobel prize?!

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  • October 6, 2015 at 8:48 pm
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    where do scientists always get these ugly ties?

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  • October 6, 2015 at 11:21 pm
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    One step closer to a Unified Theory

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  • October 6, 2015 at 11:24 pm
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    1:20 powerful how? Like he could move things with his mind? D:

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  • October 6, 2015 at 11:38 pm
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    Great mind.

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  • October 6, 2015 at 11:40 pm
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    I love the enthusiasm, but he didn't actually explain shit.

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  • October 7, 2015 at 12:20 am
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    This is what big think is all about.

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  • October 7, 2015 at 1:45 am
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    He sounds just like Kevin Spacey!

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  • October 7, 2015 at 1:46 am
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    If you tie a rubber band to two objects, they don't interact much when they are close together. If you attempt to pull them a significant distance apart, they react with great force. I call it Rubber Band Theory, it encompasses the theory that things are connected, and I'm waiting on my Nobel Prize.

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  • October 7, 2015 at 3:18 am
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    Gravity and strong force are the same thing.

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  • October 7, 2015 at 3:44 am
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    High key lighting show not blow out the subject. It is distracting.

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  • October 7, 2015 at 3:45 am
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    High key lighting should not blow out the subject. It is distracting.

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  • October 7, 2015 at 4:35 am
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    So…. You found an equation that happens to explain this quantum rubber-band effect that holds quarks together?

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  • October 7, 2015 at 6:54 am
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    *Salute

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  • October 7, 2015 at 8:53 am
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    cool, so many purple faces in a series

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  • October 7, 2015 at 2:06 pm
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    I love listening to people that are smarter than me talk.

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  • October 7, 2015 at 6:53 pm
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    Please bring him back to talk about more stuff I love the way he talks and explains things. He got so happy and excited I loved it!

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  • October 8, 2015 at 12:15 am
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    I really like this guy, and his cool tie.

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  • October 8, 2015 at 1:15 am
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    This guy is going to make calculus test much harder..

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  • October 8, 2015 at 3:07 am
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    Brilliant guy – can't put his tie on straight?

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  • October 8, 2015 at 3:13 am
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    Gee thanks for NOT explaining that.

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  • October 8, 2015 at 8:32 am
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    I don't know a whole lot about thermodynamics, but does this discovery prove why hot water cools faster than cold water?

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  • October 8, 2015 at 9:32 am
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    So inspiring! I love the Big Think videos with Franz Wilczek. His love for physics simply shines through and makes me smile the rest of the day 🙂

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  • October 8, 2015 at 9:01 pm
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    His discovery followed the natural path from science to engineering. Why is he surprised?

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  • October 11, 2015 at 5:01 am
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    The tie, man. The tie.

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  • October 12, 2015 at 6:20 pm
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    Alternatively: "In the Reciprocal System, the space-time progression is a linear or translational motion. Photons are linear vibrations moving as waves due to the perpendicular space-time progression. The next type of motion is rotation. Rotational motion or spin applied to a photon creates a subatom. All subatoms are rotating photons.
    The "quark" and "string" theorists posit that subatoms are a certain number and arrangement of "quarks" or "strings." But we have observed neither. Besides, what is a quark? What is a string? They are "unanalyzable" in these theories. We do observe photons, however, so why wouldn't it be possible that they could be set spinning?"

    Reply
  • October 13, 2015 at 10:04 am
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    We could understand anything

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  • October 13, 2015 at 9:45 pm
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    I wish he was my physics professor. Im taking Electromagnetism course for my Engineering major and that shit is hell. My professor is literally reading the book and slides. 🙁

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  • October 14, 2015 at 5:06 pm
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    now i am confused, i thought there was a 79 nobel for unifying electromagnetic and weak forces but i still hear a lot of people talking about 4 forces. can someone explain (not a physicist)

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  • October 14, 2015 at 10:52 pm
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    DIEEACHOTHER

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  • October 15, 2015 at 10:29 am
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    There were so many hates in the video when he talked bout Einstein

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  • October 15, 2015 at 6:48 pm
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    Pretty inspiring!

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  • October 15, 2015 at 10:07 pm
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    But, what is the equation?

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  • October 17, 2015 at 3:36 am
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    How foolish, to attach to this video, a title, which would imply an explanation of said equation, and then, to completely avoid any explanation of it. Thanks for wasting my time.

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  • October 18, 2015 at 11:07 pm
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    Rare quality and depth from BT

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  • October 19, 2015 at 6:11 pm
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    i didnt understand why the force has to be weaker at close distances and strong in long distances at 3:40… any help anyone?

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  • October 19, 2015 at 11:35 pm
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    How can you not love this guy?

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  • October 21, 2015 at 6:46 pm
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    Wow! Awesome work.

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  • October 21, 2015 at 7:46 pm
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    meatpuppet has no idea what he is even talking about

    circle jerk double talk is actually saying 'faith in symmetry"
    all science just needs one free miracle.. then can explain it from there

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  • October 21, 2015 at 8:11 pm
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    This is what the subs wanna hear! (or read, for those who are deaf)

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  • October 27, 2015 at 8:28 pm
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    DAT TIE xD

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  • October 27, 2015 at 11:49 pm
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    What a nice history!

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  • October 28, 2015 at 4:13 am
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    I love how he's so deep in thought that he never notices his 90 degree tie.

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  • October 30, 2015 at 1:52 pm
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    Strong and weak forces may simply be manifestations of the Electromagnetic force. Playing around with a few magnets can demonstrate this very easily.

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  • November 3, 2015 at 4:24 pm
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    What's so paradoxical about the idea a force is weak when close and strong when distance is increased? That's the basic principle of a rubber band or a sling-shot.

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  • November 5, 2015 at 2:48 am
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    i feel so stupid

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  • November 6, 2015 at 9:06 am
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    Ashtons Law Dictates. Its easy for me to understand. I was hoping to see your formula. I somewhat doubt their is one that can some up strange. 😉

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  • November 6, 2015 at 12:51 pm
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    I dig Frank, he's always a treat. However, how did "they" or indeed he get himself to seem so,… stable? He seems to have better mastery of himself than I usually see in live talks. What ever it is I could use some. Any ideas? Beta blockers or such?

    Reply
  • November 7, 2015 at 12:08 am
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    He said " 2 forces that were known already in pre history" Electromagnetism. what time does he mean? Who discovered it and how?

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  • November 7, 2015 at 12:32 am
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    …and I was worrying this morning my tie didn't match my suit!

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  • November 8, 2015 at 4:24 pm
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    Why didn't he mention how the world is flat or was created in 6000 years

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  • November 9, 2015 at 2:57 pm
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    Humble genius. Truly beautiful to watch and listen.

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  • November 11, 2015 at 3:39 am
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    It still doesn't explain the what? There are just reporting an observation of nature, not why it is that way.

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  • November 11, 2015 at 8:10 am
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    David Gross came to my introductory physics class…

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  • November 18, 2015 at 5:14 am
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    I'm still waiting for him to argue with Ebert about Avatar 2…

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  • November 19, 2015 at 12:06 am
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    great talk, where is proof of all this?
    Show us your study and explain then, enough of your bullish magic talk.
    You sound like Einstein now, biggest lair on face of earth.

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  • November 19, 2015 at 10:32 pm
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    Epic! Frank is one of the biggest nerds I have seen on this show.

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  • November 21, 2015 at 12:17 am
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    Big part of the discovery was not the scientific method, but the believe in beauty.

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  • November 22, 2015 at 7:09 am
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    More of this please, much more

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  • November 26, 2015 at 1:20 am
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    We need more people like him

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  • December 1, 2015 at 4:33 pm
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    a beautiful equation of nonsense. the einsteinian physics insanity might produce some beatiful abstract mathematics but its comletely detached from reality.

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  • December 1, 2015 at 10:30 pm
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    What's with the big letters? Did he suddenly change language?

    Reply
  • December 5, 2015 at 5:48 pm
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    3MMM是一个普通人互助的平台,只需投入最低10美元最高100美元,就可以得到高额的回报,值得加入. #Money #MMMExtraSchedule Update: The #Stars will not hold practice today.

    Reply
  • December 7, 2015 at 9:04 am
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    Absolute

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  • December 14, 2015 at 4:11 am
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    Dudes you should really watch this video with the sound off. It'll blow your mind.

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  • December 19, 2015 at 12:57 pm
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    The joy of the knowledge.
    Science,it works.

    Reply
  • December 30, 2015 at 5:46 pm
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    how long  does it take in order to accept a discovery as true and valid ? for example if you have discovered something or made an equation and had several proves that it is valid is it accepted directly or do you have to wait for several years and run more test instead of directly sharing it in the same year that you have discovered it even if you have several valid experiences  that it does work but you have done these experiences in a short time ?

    Reply
  • July 14, 2016 at 1:09 am
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    Humanity is advancing because of people like him..

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  • July 14, 2016 at 4:01 pm
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    wow this is incredible.

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  • November 15, 2016 at 2:17 am
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    yes, that is what we want. powerful people like him is what we should have.

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  • March 20, 2017 at 10:17 pm
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    The answer is that we can answer any question.

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  • March 20, 2017 at 10:23 pm
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    He didn't even invent the formula

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  • April 17, 2017 at 3:37 pm
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    The problem is we are not using microscopes but atom smashers and that creates only data, not observable phenomenons.The measurement problem of quantum particles do question if such a force really exists as we see them? Well, at least if they do exist, they maybe mixed ups with another natural force that simply modifies itself in the very small universe of quantum physics. So physicists do have data and mathematical equation to predict the behavior of the data they observe, but it is hard to say what really is observed, well in nature. The strong and weak force are useful words to take into account those modification in the protons behavior etc. What Frank Wilczek was able to do is to predict with his equation precisely those modification in data observed by a machine like the hadron collider. But again it is like exploring the deeps of the Ocean with sonars. You get data but you do not know what it really is until you went and look at it with a submarine or a camera. So while physicist like Niels Bohr were fishing for SUBatomic particles, psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung was fishing for archetypes in the SUBconscious level of the psyche. Both explored the unknown. Why should some get more respect than the others? Both are respectful fields of exploration for me. Also, this idea of seeing to understand fully sort of urges to advance space exploration, because now we are mostly exploring the deep space with sonars and on the contrary to the other two fields of exploration I previously mention, we can explore in body those uncharted areas of the cosmos.

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  • June 16, 2017 at 7:14 pm
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    I would like to invite him to take a cup of coffe or something and talk about anything beacause he's so excited and genuinely happy in his explanation…

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  • October 16, 2017 at 2:45 pm
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    🏄🏼🥇🏆 I'm going to look into your work 😉👍🏽

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  • January 3, 2018 at 9:17 pm
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    So close, yet just missed. It should have become apparent that the true nature of the fundamental forces is that, each exists a dimension of the other. They are all bands of spectrum that form macro symmetry. In essence, there is only a single fundamental force being expressed from 4 different Dimensions of Observation.

    Everything is Energy. Everything is Light.

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  • January 6, 2018 at 11:11 pm
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    he is receiving an anal probe during the video

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  • March 14, 2018 at 6:57 pm
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    this is proof of God that the micro level and the Marco level all have the same formula since we look like Him    Massive astrophysical objects governed by subatomic equationhttps://phys.org › Astronomy & Space › AstronomyCachedMar 5, 2018 – Quantum mechanics is the branch of physics governing the sometimes-strange behavior of the tiny particles that make up our universe. Equations describing the quantum world are generally confined to the subatomic realm—the …

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  • March 17, 2018 at 12:16 pm
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    What is painful is that these ppl r underappreciated coz major fraction of the society dont understand the job of these ppl

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  • April 10, 2018 at 4:49 pm
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    where is the equation lol

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  • May 14, 2018 at 10:31 pm
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    who the hell dislikes this kind of video i really dont understand…

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  • June 2, 2018 at 10:35 pm
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    my intellect and my natal chart proves this equation.

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  • February 8, 2019 at 7:45 pm
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    He struggles with words…sign of genius

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  • March 21, 2019 at 2:48 pm
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    If you have an object on each end of a spring then the force gets stronger as the distance increases.and decreases as the spring contracts..So are those elementary particles some form of spring?

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  • April 9, 2019 at 9:33 pm
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    Why does he close his eyes all the time? Did his mom just walk around and slap him on the head all the time, and now he is still trying to dodge them?

    Reply

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