Bose and the Boson

Symmetric wavefunction for a (bosonic) 2-particle state in an infinite square well potential.  Timothy Rias, Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.
Symmetric wavefunction for a (bosonic) 2-particle state in an infinite square well potential. Timothy Rias, Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

Science is like all creative endeavours, in that having different personalities in a research group increases your chances of doing something really productive – something that I mentioned in a recent post. I’d go as far as saying that to have a really successful lab you definitely need that diversity.

This week David Gosling spoke at The Faraday Institute on When Einstein met Tagore: Science and the Indian Tradition. The talk was fascinating, detailing some of the unique aspects of the science-religion dialogue in India. What struck me, though, was the way in which people’s beliefs often influence the direction they take in their research.

Satyendra Nath Bose (1894-1974) was a physicist who worked with Einstein on the unified field theory (aiming to unite the four fundamental forces of particle physics), and gave his name to the Boson. Gosling suggested that Hindu philosophy had a significant effect on the development of science in India during the nineteenth century. Vedantic thought – the dominant strand of Hindu philosophy back then – taught that there is a unity underlying all phenomena. This philosophical undercurrent may have led many Indian scientists to work at the boundaries between different branches of science, in the hope that science may reach some level of unification. This search for unity may have influenced Bose in his choice of research topic. A single unified field theory has not been recognised by the world of physics so far, but some of the fundamental forces have been linked in meaningful ways as a result of the work begun by Einstein and Bose.

We have a diversity of worldview or religion in the world, and it definitely has its benefits. For Bose, it may be that his beliefs prompted him to choose a field of research that he might not have considered otherwise. Even the Christian church is sufficiently global to provide enough diversity to keep life interesting.

There is a tendency to portray science as a monochromatic community. The very opposite is true. In a lab, it’s vital to have people with different personalities and worldviews as well as specialties and skills. Diversity of people means that you’re less likely to succumb to groupthink – or boring research.

4 thoughts on “Bose and the Boson

  1. Derek White January 26, 2012 / 12:04 pm

    Thanks for this Ruth. I hadn’t connected ‘Bose’ with the ‘Higs B’. I agree with you that different personalities and worldviews offer a diversity that can produce creativity–though this creativity can, quite easily, descend [ascend?] into groupthink. I was recently at the Thanksgiving Service of Professor Terry Hamblin [we worked together as ‘deacons/elders’ at Lansdowne Baptist Church, Bournemouth a while ago]. Terry’s son, Richard, remarked on his father’s commitment to lateral thinking. Of course, working with too many lateral thinkers would cause a headache or two but it would be worth the strain to keep the flow of serious research and creativity moving in the ‘right’ direction. Regards. Derek

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  2. Richard Hosking January 27, 2012 / 4:42 pm

    Hi Ruth, great post – ‘groupthink’ has important implications for science and belief. The famous experiments of Solomon Asch show that individuals tend to follow group opinion, even when clearly wrong. (An émigré from pre-war Europe, Asch had wanted to understand how Nazism was possible.* Both Asch and the founder of groupthink research, Irving Janis, were Jewish).

    Recent brain imaging suggests that groupthink occurs at a subconscious level, while overcoming it involves activating neural circuits associated with social conflict**. Other studies show that groupthink is also ‘transgenerational’ – i.e. arbitrary opinions persist despite replacement of the original group members (!).* Within Christianity, unity is obviously paramount (2 Corinthians 13:11), but I wonder whether Jesus’ difficult words in Luke 14:26 are aimed at limiting groupthink’s negative aspects.

    *Thaler & Sunstein. Nudge: Improving decisions. Yale (2008) pp.53-59
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asch_conformity_experiments
    **http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15978553

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  3. vjlaxmanan March 26, 2014 / 4:11 pm

    Thanks for an interesting post about Bose. We tend to associate Einstein with E = m c squared and his theory of relativity. However, it was his work on light quanta (direct result of his applying Planck’s ideas to light) and the physical interpretation that he gave to Bose’s statistical ideas, which led to the conception of particles called bosons (the Higgs boson being the most famous of all, and subject of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics) and the Bose-Einstein Condensate (subject of the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physics) that have made an even greater impact. In this context, I thought it might be of interest to call attention to a recent article where I have suggested a broad generalization of these Planck-Einstein-Bose ideas to problems outside physics. Here’s the link http://www.scribd.com/doc/214660162/Permutations-Combinations-Towards-a-Generalization-of-the-Planck-Einstein-Bose-Ideas-to-Problems-Beyond-Physics

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