Answering physics FAQs without preparation

Experts don’t know everything. Often, they only know how to look things up, and how to understand what they find. If you’ve ever seen physicists answering a physics FAQ, those answers took a lot of effort to get right. Some common questions are in fact really complicated, or hard, or maybe they just aren’t about the things that physicists normally think about.

With humorous intent, I’m going to answer a bunch of frequently asked questions, sampled from this physics FAQ by John Baez. And I’m doing it without preparation, so the answers will be bad.

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Link Roundup: January 2022

Circumgender: A Gender/fucked history | Fox Auslander (zine) – This zine tells a story of a single microlabel.  It was supposedly coined by a 13-year old girl on Tumblr, but in fact the girl was the fabrication of a then self-proclaimed truscum (roughly means a binary trans person who doesn’t believe in nonbinary identities).  Now, the term is regularly mocked by TERFs, while also being “reclaimed” by a small number of people who identify with the experience it describes.  The original coiner collaborated to make this zine to beg people to stop.

You may have heard of the many microlabels that have been coined, especially in relation to asexual or nonbinary experiences.  These microlabels often have a secret history.  They’re not usually hoaxes–so far as I know–but they tend to be individual projects.  They rarely gain much traction as identities, but often gain disproportionate attention.  I have no ill will towards people who like adopting uncommon labels, and a few of them are more successful than you might think, but I’m extremely critical of resources that list all these identities without any real context on what’s going on.  If you’ve ever used the LGBTA wiki, please don’t, it’s completely littered with terms that were basically dead on arrival, and it routinely fails to supply that important bit of context.

‘Buy the Constitution’ Aftermath: Everyone Very Mad, Confused, Losing Lots of Money, Fighting, Crying, Etc. | Vice Motherboard – A cryptocurrency-based organization crowdfunded $40M to bid on a copy of the US Constitution, but ultimately lost the auction.  People donated eth in exchange for tokens that supposedly gave them voting power over a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO).  However, the details of how this governance would actually work was never quite worked out, and the decentralized organization was in fact centralized in all but name.  Even though the governance tokens are theoretically tied to a concrete amount of money, prices fluctuated wildly due to speculation and erratic behavior from the central group. I think if the central group was smart, they made a killing by making trades prior to their own public announcements.

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Sexual identity and topology

One of the consequences of having a great deal of math and physics education, is that whenever I learn about something, I internally encode it as math, even if nobody else is thinking of it that way. Today I’m going to share one of the more ridiculous examples, the analogy between identity labels and topology.

I’m mainly thinking about sexual identity labels, and especially arguments over boundaries of those labels. I’m thinking of how people claim “everyone is a little bisexual”; or they argue about the validity of bisexual lesbians; or they ask “isn’t demisexuality just normal?”; or they draw sharp distinctions between asexual, gray-asexual, and allosexual.

In all these arguments, there is the essentialist viewpoint, which says that everyone has an underlying sexuality, and each word covers (or should cover) a specific space of sexualities. If your underlying sexuality falls within the domain of the identity label you use, then your label is “correct”, and if it doesn’t, then your label is “incorrect”.

I disagree with the essentialist viewpoint, and I frequently point to prototype theory, family resemblance theory, and Wittgenstein as alternatives. But I also feel that if you’re going to take the essentialist viewpoint, obviously you should take it all the way, and learn about the math that you’re implicitly using. I am not going to “prove” that essentialism is wrong, and if you summarize my essay as “Mathematics disproves essentialism” then so help me, you did not read the fourth paragraph. The goal is to explore the implicit mathematical framework of essentialism, and point out its unaesthetic aspects.

Of course, I don’t recommend actually using this in an argument, since it relies on teaching people math.

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Origami: Crane Heart

Crane Heart

Crane Heart, designer unknown

The origami crane is probably the most iconic design in origami, so naturally people make all sorts of designs that riff on it.  This design has a crane grafted onto a heart.  It’s easy to find video instructions for this one, although I haven’t found any credited designer.

Happy new year!