Lockdown fits me like a glove

Previous posts not withstanding, now that I’ve been living in this state of lockdown for more than a month, I realize that it is not so bad. In fact, when I hear how others are freaking out and protesting the current situation, my reaction is something like “really??!!”. Then I remember that, when it comes to normal humanity, I’m probably a bit of an outsider.

It helps to be an introvert, which means that alone-time is always valued much higher than time with people. Make no mistaken, I do enjoy the occasional social time with friends or family, but too much of that drains my energy and makes me feel awkward.

However, being an introvert is not enough to help one enjoy lockdown. There is this one dangerous condition called boredom that afflicts most people in lockdown, leading to cabin fever and then to all sorts of other things that we need not elaborate on.

Boredom

So what would be an effective way to counter boredom? One would need lots of things to do. Many people perform what they call “spring cleaning.” (However, if you think about it, cleaning during lockdown is the opposite of spring cleaning.)

There are other activities that one may become involved with due to the lockdown such as cooking. However, if cooking was not part of you daily routine and if it does not suddenly become a new found passion, then it can soon develop into a onerous chore. The same applies to many other chores that are suddenly imposed on one by the lockdown situation.

So what would then be an effective activity to counter boredom? The answer is flow. You need something that you are passionate about, something that involves activities that challenge you, but for which you are capable to meet these challenges. It can keep you busy for hours. While you are doing it, you enter a state of flow; you don’t even realize that time is flying by. Instead, you are completely focussed on what you are doing. And you enjoy it!

My passion is theoretical physics research. When I’m busy performing those calculations or developing those derivations, I am almost unaware of anything else going on in the world. The activity puts me in a positive frame of mind and keeps me there for the duration of the activity.

It is a good thing that I have embarked on a particular challenging project just before lockdown started. There are times that I don’t have anything interesting and challenging to work on, but now I do. My setup at home is perfectly geared to perform this work. In fact, it is even better than at work. So, I’m glad for the opportunity that lockdown provides me to do this work. I hope I can finish it before lockdown is lifted to the point where I need to go back to work.

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A brave new quantum world

They say one votes through one’s actions. Where you spend your money is where cast your vote. For example, if you want to support the recycling effort then you would buy only products that somehow support the recycling effort.

Would it be possible that someone may in this way cast a vote in favour of some human endeavour while not supporting that endeavour? Yes, that is often the case (I think) when it comes to earning your money. People find themselves in work situations where they are effectively supporting the activities of the organization that they work for even though in their hearts they are not really in favour of the activities associated with the organization.

For a long while I was under the impression that this situation is valid for the current so-called quantum revolution. There are many people doing research in this field, but I was doubtful whether they all really believe that this “revolution” is a real thing. There is a large amount of hype surrounding the expectations of these technologies. Most people working in this field must be aware of the fact that not all the promises are realistic.

Perhaps, part of this notion was based on my one skepticism about this field. I was thinking that most if not all of these new quantum technologies are just activities being pursued for the sake of getting research funding and ego trips.

Well now I’m starting to form a different picture of the situation. The difference come from seeing the efforts made by commercial companies. The way that such companies approach the challenges is very different from the way that academic researchers do it. While the academic approach is often purely for the wow-factor of what is being achieved, the industry must do this in a sustainable way. When they market a product, it must work according to specification and keep on working for a reasonable time after being sold. As a result, the industry is far more serious when is comes to the design and implementation of these systems than any academic researcher would ever be.

So it is when I saw the seriousness with which a commercial enterprise is addressing the challenges of quantum computing that I realize that this is not going to be something that will just blow over after some time. We are very likely to see a world where quantum computers enter our lives in the not too distant future. Yes, there are still challenges, but they are not insurmountable. What the specific details of the technology are going to be I cannot tell you, but I can see that the way quantum computing is being addressed gives it a very high chance of success.

Are you ready for that? How is that going to change our lives? That remains to be see.

Art in research

Does it help to apply some form of creativity in scientific research? Stated differently, does creativity have any role to play in scientific research? I would like to think so.

At first one may think that creativity is only associated with the act of conjuring up things that don’t really exist. A painter paints a land scape scene and applies creativity to render the trees and the clouds in interesting ways. As such, they are different from the trees and cloud in the real scene. In as far as the artist employs creativity, the result become different from reality.

If this is what creativity produces, then it would have no place in scientific research, because in this context, we are not interested in anything that would deviate from reality. But creativity does not only representing that which doesn’t exists. It can also be associated with a much more abstract activity.

When a theoretical researcher tries to come up with a model that describes an aspect for physical reality, he or she needs to create something that has not existed before. It is not initially known whether this model gives the correct description of reality. In that sense, one does not known whether it represents anything that is real. One would know that only after the model has been tested. But before that step can be taken, one needs to create the model. For this first step, the researcher is required to employ creativity.

The act of creating such a model is an act of bring into existence something that has not existed before. The inspiration for this model may be obtained from other similar models or from other models in unrelated fields of study. In the same way, artists get inspiration from the works of other artists. despite the source of inspiration, the resulting model is novel in one way or another. That is where the creativity lies.

So, art and science are not that different after all. Both require the same mental faculties. Perhaps they just call it by different names.