Category Archives: Physics

Enlightenment is sexy. (part 1)

Here’s the bad news: the world’s economy is getting worse, you’re a little chimp destined for sickness and death (or a tragic bungee diving accident), there is no god to care about your struggles, no karma to enact redemption, people will forget you, and you’ll probably get less cute over the next forty years of eating and breathing.

Here’s the good news! Someone is finally making the Hoverboard!

No!  Kidding!  Here’s the REAL good news:  in a cruel and confusing world, you happen to be the animal on the planet with the coolest superpower.  We’re all X-Men.  But even better.  We trump the powers of flight, super speed, space travel, telekinesis, super-healing, super strength……in fact, we already have some of those, and the ones we don’t (invisibility?) we someday will.

Because we have the power of explanation.  Anything that can be imagined can be turned into reality given that it obeys the extremely generous laws of physics.  Cure for cancer?  Why the hell not?  No more poverty or hunger?  Who’s stopping us?  Artificial intelligence?  Immortality?  Colonizing other planets?

Yes, I’m serious. And stop calling me a nerd.

As humans, we have the unique ability to be creative and find underlying explanations for the causal structure of the physical world (the ONLY world, by the way).  We solve problems.  Mother Nature is a bitch, and human beings are the first creatures (in our vicinity of space) to turn intelligence into a physical force, to actually know, and to care, about genes, evolution, stars, planets, the way viruses work, fossils, ethics, morality…

I am writing this in a bit of desperation.  In all honesty, talking and writing about human progress, enlightenment, and reason, and what I believe to be the truth puts me at odds, almost always, with family and dear friends (and fans).  People nearly always disagree with me on some deeply personal level and find my views as emotionally repulsive.  What is going on? Is this the kind of stubborn society we want to live in?  I’ve even lost friendships over these issues.  But I keep going, only because truly believe that enlightened thought is the only hope for us as a species, and the sooner we understand it, the less suffering we will have to endure.  And the better TV we’ll have, by the way.  Bonus.

Literally.  Less suffering.  More goodness.

That’s what I think, and I think I’m right.  I’ve had more than my fair share of the evidence from the other side.  I’ve heard the other side of the debate literally hundreds of times.  I’m not talking god debate, or religion debate strictly….there is a more subtle and insidious line of thinking burrowing its way into American culture as of late.  People idealize and encourage deeply held belief systems (a horrible condition for progress), whether political, or religious, or pseudo-scientific.  We are good with sound bytes.  We are not good with subtlety, we are not open to persuasion.

Through all the hundreds and hundreds of people that have tried to tell me I’m wrong, that god exists, that I’m horrible for thinking otherwise, that charms work, that the world will end in 2012, that aliens have visited earth, that science never solves anything, that every opinion is valid, that ethics are subjective, that quantum mechanics is magic, that reality is only perception, that “we can’t ever know anything”, I still end up at the same logical answer, that all of that is bogus.  I used to believe those things myself.  Through a bit of reading and logic, I found out I was wrong.  The truth is more fun, exciting, and interesting, and has led me here.

Oh, and the new music is going great.

Image Credit & Copyright: Stephen Leshin


I posted my Amazon wish list last on Twitter or here or something week and someone bought me something already (thanks Kim)!  It’s a book called Antimatter by physicist Frank Close.  I’ve been really busy but I stayed up from 1 to 2 AM last night reading it because it’s so amazing.  Incidentally, if you want to buy me something from my wish list, you’ll get the next three Chris Merritt projects free (including the next album)!

Anyway, I’m always telling people, “Isn’t it amazing that we’re made up of heavy elements that have been fused in the center of a star?”  In my new book, Close says it better than I’ve heard it:

Nearly all of the atoms of oxygen that you breathe, and of the carbon in your skin or the ink on this page, were made in stars about five billion years ago when the earth was still forming.  So we are all stardust or, if you are less romantic, nuclear waste.

More on antimatter later.

Double U Double U Double U Dot Amazon Dot Com

Here is my Amazon book wish list –

If you buy me a book from list, you’ll get the next three Chris Merritt records FREE!!!  Including the newest one that comes out probably next week.

Speaking of the new record, it is coming along nicely.  Songs on it will include Rain King, Magical Stones, Sequel, Pretty Bitch, Tarmac, Feminine Mind, Isabelle, Another World, People On The Street, and others.  There will also be this really pretty song that doesn’t have a name yet.  It’s my best song I ever wrote.

Today recording vocals for Isabelle, Feminine Mind, Magical Stones, and maybe others.  We’ll see if my voice can handle it.

I just realized

that the greatness of any man in any field is in proportion to his ability to see objective reality


and his lack of coping mechanisms,


social, superstitious,


whatever the filter of choice.  Because, beauty is objective and because time is directional.






Paradigm shift

Did you know that we will probably succeed in reverse engineering the human brain in the 2020s? Did you know that we’re less than 20 years away from a working matter replicator (a machine that will be able to synthesize raw elements to create any object, including a plate of edible sushi?) Did you know that, in our lifetimes, we will see the creation of artificial intelligence that will be indistinguishable from human intelligence? Did you know that before this century is over, humans will have become immortal? If those predictions sound ridiculous, imagine me telling you in 1998 that all of human knowledge would be available from a small pocket-sized device, instantly, and always up-to-date.  Such an object, for example, an iPhone, would have seemed infinitely cool and amazing ten years ago, but now accompanies 13 million people through their lives, most of whom can hardly remember life without it.  Technology is advancing at an exponential rate and is moving so fast now that we humans, in general, struggle to comprehend or appreciate it.

mspac-man-full.jpg halflife2sp2rew_153-large.jpg

Something that, for the majority of the human history, would have seemed impossible or magical, like viewing a satellite image and zooming in on any location on the face of the earth, seems like old news to us now. When these images (relatively soon) become available in real-time, to anyone, anywhere, we will again hardly blink. However, the subject of exponential technological growth (recently named the Singularity) will continually nose it’s way into the common interest.

Meet Ray Kurzweil: inventor, writer, big thinker. He created the first realistic keyboard synthesizer for Stevie Wonder in 1984, and has recently invented a small camera-like device for the blind capable of reading aloud written text from books, signs, or tags on clothes.  Forbes called him “the ultimate thinking machine”.  He is the leading proponent for a Singularity worldview and he leads the subject with his stubborn intellectual muscle.




Little Timmy’s Tummy

Infamous manager/drummer/driver Timothy Fellow has been losing his tummy at an alarming rate.  We noticed today whilst lounging by the pool that it has almost completely disappeared!  Here is a poem that I sent to Young Timothy via email:
Little Timmy’s Tummy
by Chris Merritt
Timmy’s little tummy, filled with little chips!  
Little tiny Timmy wets his whistle with his sips!
Tiny little Timmy, won’t you please come out to play?  
Where is Timmy’s tummy?  It has melted all away!
I do hope Young Timothy loves his poem.

Where the sun don’t shine

John Wheeler coined the term “black hole” in 1967, but not without a fight. The editors of Physical Review, the leading American physics journal, rejected his new phrase because they thought it sounded obscene. After a few battles between Wheeler and the board, the new term finally became official.

Interestingly, Wheeler’s next famous discovery and coinage was that “black holes have no hair.”



A system’s entropy always increases. Ice melts. Ink blurs. Billy Joel tapes lose quality. Your room never gets cleaner. Toothpaste never gets back into a tube. Cars always, eventually, unavoidably, rust. Heard of entropy? You might have been told that

entropy = a system’s inability to do work.

This is correct, but it can also be defined as

entropy = hidden information.

This is simple, I promise, stay with me here. So, remembering that entropy always increases, our first definition maintains that a system loses it’s power to do stuff over time. Ice in a glass of water, which at first has the power to do work, give off heat and evaporation, move and give off bubbles, etc., over time melts and becomes the same temperature of the water, and the water becomes the temperature of the room. So eventually, there is no ability to do work. We’re left with a lukewarm glass of water that can’t do jack. This is the classic definition of entropy – a system always loses it’s ability to do work, and gives off that ability in the form of heat, usually.

Let’s put fresh ice cubes in our now lukewarm glass of water and focus on our second definition. The ice is a very specific structure: frozen water in the form of near-perfect cubes. As the ice melts, it loses it’s original shape, and every particle of ice becomes liquid and mixes in with the water. All of the original particles of our perfect, beautiful ice cubes are there, but they are hidden now. This is the more profound definition of entropy: information, over time, becomes hidden. A sand castle becomes less and less like a sand castle. A billion trillion molecules that make up a BMW become less and less like a BMW and more and more like a giant lump of rust.

Here’s the rub: where the crap did bunnies come from, then? The amount of entropy in a bunny is extremely, unfathomably, low. A bunny is made of heavy elements that were forged in the center of a sun and put together over billions of years in just the right way to create an adorable, fuzzy mammal. How can this possibly happen in a universe where entropy always increases?

I don’t know. It’s weird. The universe seems to have a mission to create more and more information, and systems with less and less entropy. Suns. Galaxies. Our solar system. DNA. Human beings! Symphonies, art, trains. Computers. Freaking computers. Human beings have created a virtual system in which entropy never increases. These words will be exactly the same if you check back here in a year. The World Wide Web is a system of decreasing entropy. Amazing.

However, these feats of increasing information require HUGE amounts of energy. Bunnies took millions of years of gravity, solar energy, chemical changes, heat, etc., to come into creation. Basically, a system loses heat and gains entropy locally, but the universe seems hellbent on channeling it’s laziness in a positive, creative way. And humans are warriors of entropy. Just think of the brainpower and chemical energy from food we use to clean a room, build a bridge, design a computer that uses efficient binary code. We’re always fighting entropy and trying to keep it down. Life is dealing with spills, building things, creating families, writing books. Computers will eventually take over this task, perhaps with us, perhaps without us.

To summarize, it is highly improbable, and takes millions of years and ridiculous amounts of energy, to get the toothpaste back in the tube.

But it still happens.


Einstein was pretty smart

Einstein on a bike

We all know the physics equation E = mc². It is the most famous of them all, and yet its meaning and implications are, for most people, unknown and of no concern. We all know that E = mc² = Einstein = smartest dude ever = craziest hair, did you know he played the violin? There’s no excuse. Einstein’s brilliant equation started a revolution in physics that is still unsettled, and the concepts are simple, so listen up!

Firstly, what does everything represent in the equation?

  • E = energy
  • m = mass
  • c = the speed of light (the highest speed that anything in our universe could ever achieve no matter what)

Simple. So, the energy of something is equal to it’s mass multiplied by the speed of light (299,792,458 meters per second) squared. But what does that mean? The answer is astounding and profound, yet simple, and should be the first thing taught in elementary school science.

Matter equals energy. Matter IS energy. Energy is just another form of matter. Matter can be turned into energy, in fact, and that’s what an atomic bomb is: matter being turned into it’s energy equivalent. It’s difficult to do for us humans, but it’s even harder to turn energy into matter, although it has been done. Particle accelerators convert energy into subatomic particles all the time. You’ll notice that, as reflected in the equation, an ENORMOUS amount of energy is required to create even a very small amount of mass.

In fact, if you could extract the energy within a pool ball, you would have enough energy to live on for thirty million years.

If you could somehow turn the energy given by a full tank of gas into matter, you would be left with an object the size of a Plank mass, or roughly a speck of dust.

What I find interesting is that the speed of light has such an important role in matter and energy. The ratio of matter to energy is exactly the speed of light, squared. Weird.

Also interesting is that, since energy is matter, it is affected by gravity. Light, being a form of energy, is also matter, and is therefore affected by gravity. This phenomenon is readily observable from Earth, where we can see light bending around certain stars and galaxies, etc., and is also what makes black holes so freakin’ black. A black hole has a gravity so intense that even light can’t escape it – it is fatally sucked in, and turned into matter, becoming part of the black hole. Well, sort of. We’ll talk about black holes another time.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this question: is information a form of matter/energy, or is it nothing more than a humanly subjective term?

Tomorrow we’ll talk about entropy.