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In ancient times, 1954, the director of the Atomic Energy Commission, Lewis Strauss, claimed that nuclear reactors were going to make electrical energy available to the public at such a low price that it would be too cheap to meter. He was claiming that power would be FREE. Yesterday’s blog was about free computer memory, but today’s is going to be about the other end of the FREE spectrum — that is, the things that are the least likely to become FREE. From those extremes of FREE we can build toward a better understanding of everyday usage of the concept of FREE.

Human time, attention, and labor are among the last things to become free, but the last external things to be free would be space and energy. Key among these economies will be the space to move about in — private space to be in control of the individual — and public space for the individual to freely move about in. Another thing likely to always cost something is energy in its most basic forms such as air, sunshine, electricity, gasoline, coal and oxygen. These are to remain valuable both for one’s personal use and for one’s public needs. The term economics is used because that is the study of the allocation of limited resources between various competing needs. This is all rather abstract, too abstract.

There were two lectures today which looked interesting so I broke off writing about the abstraction of FREE and departed from home with the intent of going to both FREE lectures.

Jean M.J. Frechet

Jean M. J. Frechet spoke on The Chemistry Behind Polymers: From Technology to Medicine at The International House [in Berkeley]. “He is the professor and chair of organic chemistry and will present a Faculty Research Lecture on his work in polymer science. Fréchet’s contributions to the advancement of fundamental knowledge in organic chemistry and polymer science has been reported in over 600 papers, and formed the basis for more than 60 patents. His pioneering work has paved the way for the recent advent of combinatorial chemistry for drug discovery. He is credited with developing the chemically amplified photoresist, the dominant imaging technology essential for today’s manufacturing of semiconductor microprocessors.”

The audience of about one hundred people was mostly made up of white haired faculty members. Many in the audience were previous speakers at this venue and were introduced by the chair as being eminent. The handout flyer for the Faculty Research Lecture since its inception in 1912 had many famous names on the list of previous speakers.

Dr. Frechet spoke eloquently about his research into many seemingly disparate fields such as masks for computer chip manufacture, and how he has created coated targeted drugs for selectively killing cancer cells while not affecting the normal cells of a cancer victim. His work has been very intellectually exciting, and socially productive. He communicated the mature excitement of this adventurous life of discovery in this complex and extremely important field. After the lecture there was an abundance of snacks available, and most of these distinguished people were just milling about looking a bit lost. Had I known this was going to happen it would have been very easy to chat for a while with some famous person, but I didn’t know who they were so I, like most of them, just ate my snacks, and milled sheepishly about. As it turned out while I was walking down to the second lecture I realized I was walking behind some of those folks who had been lecturing, and took this picture of them approaching the Sather Gate.

Lecturers going to another lecture.

They went to the same lecture that I was headed for but they sat in the front row with the professorial celebrities. I sat, as usual, a little ways back, in the third row, in the front row of the plebes. The audience was about two hundred and fifty mostly balding professorial looking people. The lecture was about Spooky actions at a distance. This lecture was given by N. David Mermin of Cornell.

Spooky Actions

Einstein’s real complaint about the quantum theory was not that it required God to play dice, but that it failed to “represent a reality in time and space, free from spooky actions at a distance.” I shall use the rhetorical device of a computer-simulated lecture demonstration (a cartoon version of recent experiments in Vienna) to explain both the appeal of Einstein’s criticism and the remarkable act that the “reality” he insisted upon is nevertheless unattainable. I will assume no background in quantum physics (or any other physics) but late in the lecture, in convincing you of the hopelessness of Einstein’s vision, I will ask you to engage in a kind of reasoning not unlike a (very easy) Sudoku puzzle.

Spooky Actions

This lecture was given to honor one of Berkeley’s most famous physicists, J. Robert Oppenheimer. After the mention of his name the lecture was mostly about Einstein, and Niels Bohr’s arguments over weird physics and mental experiments. I didn’t understand the lecture, and it made no sense to me, but then if Einstein and Bohr couldn’t wrap their minds around it after studying these problems for years, why should I worry about my lack of understanding after a short lecture?

If I had asked a question, which fortunately I didn’t, it would have been … “The ancient Greek philosopher Zeno had his famous rabbit chasing a turtle, but before he could catch it he had to go half way there, but before that he had to go half way there and so on repeatedly. Ultimately he was locked in place where he started. Or sometimes he succeeded in going half way but then had to go half way again, and yet again and so he never quite succeeded in catching the turtle. So whether this rabbit chased the turtle or stayed put he never caught up with the turtle. This obvious absurdity of being locked in two places at the same time has been buried in blizzards of words for thousands of years, and it seems to me that these spooky double actions at a distance is this same type of problem. Either it is a problem with our language, or a problem with our mathematics, or a problem with our human conception of reality, but ultimately there is no problem for everyday people. We can all go all the way home, and go all the way to bed, and sleep soundly without any spooks bothering us from a distance”.

Well I didn’t say that, but perhaps I should have.