"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed."

Albert Einstein

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Saturday, 25 January 2014

The wave–particle Duality in Arts and Sciences

Light has a dual nature: it sometimes seems particle-like and sometimes wave-like. It turns out that this is also true of electrons and all other particles...
It shows the inability of the classical concepts "particle" or "wave" to fully describe the behavior of quantum-scale objects.

Einstein wrote:
"It seems as though we must use sometimes the one theory and sometimes the other, while at times we may use either. We are faced with a new kind of difficulty. We have two contradictory pictures of reality; separately neither of them fully explains the phenomena of light, but together they do". ("Complementarity and the Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics", By Harrison, David (2002), Dept. of Physics, U. of Toronto.)

M. C. Escher

For me it remains an open question whether [this work] pertains to the realm of mathematics or to that of art.
– M.C. Escher

M.C. Escher's "impossible figures" inspired mathematician Roger Penrose whose fruitful collaboration with Stephen Hawking led to the "Penrose–Hawking singularity theorems", essential to demonstrate the existence of "Black Holes" and explain their paradoxical ("impossible") behaviours.Indeed (Source: Impossible object (Wikipedia)):
In 1956, British psychiatrist Lionel Penrose and his son, mathematician Roger Penrose, submitted a short article to the British Journal of Psychology titled Impossible Objects: A Special Type of Visual Illusion. This was illustrated with the "Penrose Triangle" and "Penrose stairs." The article referred to Escher, whose work had sparked their interest in the subject, but not Reutersvärd, whom they were unaware of. The article was only published in 1958.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

What's the Time?

© Yves Messer
21 Oct 2013

Read Addendum at the end of my blog entry.


Although we experience it “all the time”, we all know that ours will eventually be up. It has one direction and it is finite. It is the aspect of our reality which escapes us the most: “Time.”

We have expressions such as time flies, runs or flows. Sometimes we use the image of an hourglass of running sand (a “sand clock“) which we, like time, can’t seize; it escapes us between the grasp of our fingers and mind. This has made the hourglass an enduring symbol of time itself. Sometimes with the addition of symbolic wings, it is depicted as a symbol that human existence is ephemeral, and that the "sands of time" will eventually run out.

So what is “Time”? Why can’t we, it seems, seize it even in its smallest part we know: the “instant” like grains of sand slipping through our "mind's fingers" ?

Is "Time" a reality or an ilusion? Can it be understood objectively or only lived subjectively ? If both are true, could there be any connection between our personal Time as lived and the physicists' Time?

A flower, a skull and an hourglass symbols for Life, Death and Time
(17th-century painting by Philippe de Champaigne).

"The clock is running. Make the most of today. Time waits for no man. Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That's why it is called the present."
In "Sun Dials and Roses of Yesterday: Garden Delights..." (1902) by Alice Morse Earle (1851-1911).

Table of contents:

  1. "Time" as lived
  2. Eckart Tolle: Rejection of Time
  3. From Nothing to Nothing(-ness)
  4. Nihilism
  5. Zeno : Time is Just an Illusion
  6. Monism Today: Theosophy
  7. Theosophy in Arts
  8. Solution Please?
  9. In the Beginning Was…. the Beginning!
  10. Solving Zeno's paradox?
  11. The “Infinitesimals” at the Rescue?
  12. The Math Is Not the Territory: Physical Time
  13. What Is the “Present”  Then?
  14. Could Time Be “Quantized”?
  15. Living a “discrete” life
  16. Conclusion?
  17. Addendum

Saturday, 15 June 2013

"Stardust" (2013) © Yves Messer

Carl Sagan and his wife told their daughter:
"'You are alive right this second. That is an amazing thing,' they told me. When you consider the nearly infinite number of forks in the road that lead to any single person being born, they said, you must be grateful that you’re you at this very second. Think of the enormous number of potential alternate universes where, for example, your great-great-grandparents never meet and you never come to be. Moreover, you have the pleasure of living on a planet where you have evolved to breathe the air, drink the water, and love the warmth of the closest star. You’re connected to the generations through DNA — and, even farther back, to the universe, because every cell in your body was cooked in the hearts of stars. We are star stuff, my dad famously said, and he made me feel that way."

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Happy 70th, Professor Stephen Hawking and Thank You! ;-)

Portrait of Stephen Hawking: "Wink to Life". Technique: mixed (oil, acrylic, crayon, etc) on canvas. Size: approx. 66 x 66 cm Date: 2012
Dear Professor Stephen Hawking. I wish to thank you.
Thank you for your determination and stubbornness in life which is an inspiration to us all. I received your message addressed today quite well: "Be curious" (I am) and "Don't give up!" (I won't). This is why I decided to paint this second portrait of yours after this first one (end of 2009) after we met the year before.

Mr. Hawking, your MND (Motor Neurone Disease) limits you immensely. It allows you now to use only the right-hand side of your face. Ironically, this physical handicap permits you to "wink" to us and to this Universe. A wink to “fate”. Hence your portrait and its title.  ;-)

Creativity is a very complex and “uncertain” activity. I tried then many different solutions/ compositions to convey both your personality and the scientific issues and challenges that have occupied your entire life.

I destroyed this painting of mine.
I eventually destroyed these first compositions  but decided to come back to one of them with a new approach based on my current research regarding C.P. Snow’s “Two Cultures” question : what is apparently dividing Arts (Humanities) and Sciences and why such dichotomy? Are these disciplines irreconcilable?

Cosmology is also divided by dichotomies; the principles of quantum mechanics and the laws of general relativity (GR) of our known Universe are apparently (mathematically) irreconcilable theories, which Professor Hawking tries to solve.

The background of my 2012 portrait of Professor Hawking is an attempt to illustrate this: I decided to "superpose" patterns from particle collisions against patterns from nebulae/ galaxies. Prof. Hawking's face (mind) then appears as a possible "bridge" between these two perspectives (relativistic and quantic). We humans stand between the very large and the very small scales. 

There are many winks in this portrait. Besides Professor Hawking's, there are both artistic and scientific winks too.

The background is incomplete on its left-hand side... on purpose. It refers to the so-called "theory of everything" (TOE) which Professor Hawking and his colleagues are working on for decades. At the forefront I painted what particles collisions look like when smashed into smaller pieces. The process appear very "random" and "chaotic"and I used dripping techniques from Jackson Pollock's. Although "chaotic" the particle collisions follow some patterns (straight lines or spirals) which our eyes /mind can recognize... Behind this, I painted nebulae/ galaxies which obey to Einstein's GR laws of gravity. These two "perspectives", the infinitely small (quantic level) and the infinitely large are superposed, trying to visually express this mystery.

Doing so I hope to contribute to solve another dichotomy: that between Arts (Humanities) and Sciences.

Professor Hawking's "wink" is pointing both at this TOE and Life itself.;-)


  1. A few weeks after my 2012 portrait of Professor Hawking, David Hockney was invited to do his portrait of Professor Hawking to celebrate his 70th birthday. It is now part of the Science museum exhibit. I have no idea how it looks like, it seems shown nowhere.
  2. I also submitted my portrait at this year 2012 BP award of the National Portrait Gallery (NPG). This was the other reason why I finished it in January 2012 (Professor Hawking's birthday is on January 8, 1942). Why NPG? To give its curators and director an opportunity to redeem themselves after having  commissioned Professor Hawking's portrait in 1985 to Yolanda Sonnabend who delivered a very poor portrait. When visiting NPG, this portrait became my motivation for contacting Professor Hawking in 2008, and to learn we shared the same views on this poor portrait by Sonnabend. The 2012 BP award rejected my submission.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Richard Feynman; the scientist and the artist.

"The adventure of our science of physics is a perpetual attempt to recognize that the different aspects of nature are really different aspects of the same thing." 
-- Richard Feynman

Richard Feynman (1918 –1988), one of the most brilliant theoretical physicists of this last century was also one of our greatest minds. Feynman was not just “another scientist”, he was a larger-than-life character.

Feynman was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work in Quantum electrodynamics (QED) in 1965, together with fellow American Julian Schwinger and Shinichiro Tomonaga of Japan, both of whom had separately developed similar theories, but using different mathematical methods.

Feynman's theory was especially distinct from the other two in its use of graphic models to describe the intermediate states that a changing electrodynamic system passes through. These models are known as "Feynman diagrams" and are widely used in many quantum-electrodynamic problems. Feynman was fond of using visual techniques to solve problems.
Feynman Diagram

Let’s draw Feynman diagrams!

In addition to his Feynman diagrams, he developed a method of analyzing MASER (microwave amplification by stimulated emission of radiation) devices that relies heavily on creating accurate pictorial representations of the interactions involved.

Freeman Dyson, one of the architects of modern QED had this to say about how Richard Feynman did his calculations:
"... Dick was using his own private quantum mechanics that nobody else could understand. They were getting the same answers whenever they calculated the same problem...The reason Dick's physics was so hard for ordinary people to grasp was that he did not use equations... Dick just wrote down the solutions out of his head without ever writing down the equations. He had a physical picture of the way things happen, and the pictures gave him the solutions directly with a minimum of calculation... It was no wonder that people who had spent their lives solving equations were baffled by him. Their minds were analytical; his was pictorial..."
From visualisations and mathematicians 

The artist-genius 

Feynman's innate "child-like” curiosity and creativity caused him to be “labelled” a “genius”.
“I've always been very one-sided about science, and when I was younger I concentrated almost my effort on it. In those days I didn't have the time, and I didn't have the patience, to learn what's called the humanities.”    
From John Gribbin and Mary Gribbin, Richard Feynman : A Life in Science (New York : Dutton, 1997) , p. 113.) 
This changed after his encounter with artist-painter Jirayr Zorthian. Feynman was extremely open to exploring new areas of inquiry beyond his world-famous expertise in science. Zorthian agreed to teach Feynman to draw, and Feynman agreed to teach Zorthian physics. He started drawing at the age of 44 in 1962, shortly after developing the visual language for his famous "Feynman diagrams," after a series of amicable arguments about "art vs. science" with his artist-friend Jirayr “Jerry” Zorthian — the same friend to whom Feynman’s timeless ode to a flower was in response.The scientific instruction did not continue long, but Zorthian’s influences on Feynman led to the physicist’s life-long involvement in art making.

But Is It Art?

In an introductory essay titled “But Is It Art?,” Feynman recounts his arrangement with Jerry and observes the intersection of art and science:
I wanted very much to learn to draw, for a reason that I kept to myself: I wanted to convey an emotion I have about the beauty of the world. It’s difficult to describe because it’s an emotion. It’s analogous to the feeling one has in religion that has to do with a god that controls everything in the universe: there’s a generality aspect that you feel when you think about how things that appear so different and behave so differently are all run ‘behind the scenes’ by the same organization, the same physical laws. It’s an appreciation of the mathematical beauty of nature, of how she works inside; a realization that the phenomena we see result from the complexity of the inner workings between atoms; a feeling of how dramatic and wonderful it is. It’s a feeling of awe — of scientific awe — which I felt could be communicated through a drawing to someone who had also had that emotion. I could remind him, for a moment, of this feeling about the glories of the universe.  
From The Art of Ofey: Richard Feynman’s Little-Known Sketches & Drawings
Jirayr Zorthian by Richard Feynman
More sketches and paintings by Richard Feynman here.

"Visualization - you keep repeating that", Feynman said to another historian, Silvan S. Schweber, who was trying to interview him.
Feynman"What I am really try to do is bring birth to clarity, which is really a half-assedly thought-out-pictorial semi-vision thing. I would see the jiggle-jiggle-jiggle or the wiggle of the path. Even now when I talk about the influence functional, I see the coupling and I take this turn - like as if there was a big bag of stuff - and try to collect it in away and to push it.It's all visual. It's hard to explain." 
Schweber: "In some ways you see the answer - ?" 
Feynman"The character of the answer, absolutely. An inspired method of picturing, I guess. Ordinarily I try to get the pictures clearer, but in the end the mathematics can take over and be more efficient in communicating the idea of the picture." "In certain particular problems that I have done it was necessary to continue the development of the picture as the method before the mathematics could be really done." 
Source : interview given by James Gleick from "The Life and Science of Richard Feynman", Vintage Books, New York, 1992, pgs 241-225.

See 2008 Exhibition: Jirayr Zorthian / Richard Feynman: A Conversation In Art

Further reading: The Art of Richard P. Feynman: Images by a Curious Character: Michelle Feynman, Albert Hibbs

Feynman was also a poet and an enthusiast bongo player!
Poem by Richard Feynman:

There are the rushing waves
mountains of molecules
each stupidly minding its own business
trillions apart
yet forming white surf in unison.
Ages on ages before any eyes could see
year after year
thunderously pounding the shore as now.
For whom, for what?
On a dead planet
with no life to entertain.
Never at rest
tortured by energy
wasted prodigiously by the sun
poured into space.
A mite makes the sea roar.
Deep in the sea
all molecules repeat
the patterns of one another
till complex new ones are formed.
They make others like themselves
and a new dance starts.
Growing in size and complexity
living things
masses of atoms
DNA, protein
dancing a pattern ever more intricate.
Out of the cradle
onto dry land
here it is
atoms with consciousness;
matter with curiosity.
Stands at the sea,
wonders at wondering: 
a universe of atoms
an atom in the universe.

Richard Feynman's blackboard at the time of his death: 

In my "2C Hall of Fame", Richard Feynman stands high.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

My portrait of Richard Feynman

Richard Feynman (1918 –1988), one of the most brilliant theoretical physicists of this last century was also one of our greatest minds.

Unlike Professor Steven Hawking, I couldn’t have had the chance to ever meet Richard Feynman. However his writings, his filmed interviews, his recorded lectures, his drawings, paintings and poems have survived. They were all created by the same mind and can reach us as if still alive.

Helped with pictures or videos available on the Internet, I tried to capture his colourful and engaging personality: intense, deep yet frivolous.

The background looks like the “chaos” of particles collisions. This is no accident. I used here a technique similar to a Jackson Pollock’s “dripping paint”. But unlike Pollock, I didn’t stop there.

In my portrait of Feynman, his body posture has a Y shape. This is my preferred letter. I believe this was his too.

Here is one of his poems: 

I wonder why?
I wonder why?
I wonder why I wonder?
I wonder why I wonder why I wonder why I wonder?
(In "Surely you're joking, Mr. Feynman!")