An online publication on science, culture, and the academy

A question asked seemingly needs an answer, and problems posed require solutions. But in filling the gaps in our knowledge, we often move too quickly, allowing our initial sense of a question to dictate the possible answers rather than interrogating the assumptions that led to the question in the first place. As a result, our answers fall to the level of our questions, and our solutions are limited by how we frame our problems. In our hurry we have made a mistake, and the only signal we have for having done so are the edge cases, the situations where the initial answers do not apply.

Physics has a good way to deal with edge cases. It is an approach which reveals the nature of the edge itself and tells us whether the solutions we are familiar with are the only ones that exist. Some of these solutions are clean and easy to understand, but they are only so at the expense of their realism. And we are able to probe that realism through perturbations.

The perturbations frame the edge cases as slight extensions to the cases we believe we understand. By studying such extensions, we can calculate the deviating results well enough and walk away with our previous set of knowledge mostly in tact. For, after all, discovering an island does not require one to re-evaluate the importance of a continent.

But the most interesting outcomes arise when our calculations fail, when theories of small deviations break down because the thing that we believed to be the edge case is revealed to be the essence of the case itself. Mercury’s precession is not anomalous. There is no missing energy in beta decay. The aether is hard to find because it in fact does not exist. Our previous frameworks are dashed. Our conceptions of the world are forever altered. The principles of work that we used to climb to our current plateau must be relinquished if we are to ever climb higher.

The aim of this online publication is to explore such perturbations in science, in culture, and the academy. We consider the disturbances in the background of what we believe we understand and by pushing the probe far enough we hope to augment that understanding itself.

Other Writing
Cover Image for Those Who Walk Toward Banality

Always what is hidden from view reveals what is foundational, and what one plainly sees (and what one takes for granted) are the superficial concerns of people who do not realize on whose backs their status and safety rests.

Cover Image for Pecan Pie

It is true what they say about time seeming to dilate at the precipice of the unexpected. Imprecise writers often tout this as a manifestation of Einstein’s claim that the passage of time is relative, the proverbial instant of happiness juxtaposed with a seemingly unending boredom.

Cover Image for An Education in Leetcode

The latent purpose of these tests is that they provide a clear signal of extensive prior preparation which is indicative, not merely of ability or intelligence, but of devotion.

Cover Image for A Constant State of Dissatisfaction

And here, too, is the goal: To see our experiences through a lens which takes them as ends in of themselves and not simply as means for some alternative present.

Cover Image for The World in Red

Gas lighting is too polite of a term to describe what is going on here. It is more like someone threw paint on you yesterday, promptly decided to reform their paint-throwing ways and forget their past life, and then asked you today why you’re going around marking the world in red.

Cover Image for Blank Page

Why did we so badly want to be in this place where god—Spinoza’s or another variant—had not prepared for us, a place where there was no grass we did not plant, water we did not unfreeze or bring with us, and air that was not carried in tanks.

Cover Image for Notes of an Academic Son

Physics revealed to me a world which made no reference to who I was and all the random factors that could bend a life trajectory. It presented the world as one of structure and order and gave me many reasons to have faith in a life I did not completely understand.

Cover Image for The Snow Globe

Pablo ran fast and hard, his legs once again finding the speed his fear demanded, the wind whipping across his face, clearing the tears from his eyes.

Cover Image for Courtship Through Capitalism

People’s virtual avatars on these dating apps seem less like representations of people and more like non-playable characters in a game, characters with whom the player can do whatever he or she wishes because such digital avatars do not appear to have the full dimensionality of a real person.

Cover Image for Rules of the Roomba

Mid-life crises are like plateaus. It is possible to get past them but only if one abandons the foundational premises of work that allowed one to climb to the plateau in the first place. Only if one relinquishes the rule can one escape the place that the rule has led one to and trapped one within.

Cover Image for In the Butterfly Place

To say that the situation was unfair would be to misunderstand the situation or the definition of fairness. There was no arbiter to be found, no attempt at balancing according to an agreed upon rubric. The universe was, as it has always been, silent.

Cover Image for Museums, Monuments, and Memorials

Hope and history are often at odds, the past revealing all the wrongs we are likely to do even in the face of the so-clear-in-hindsight correct answer.

Cover Image for Identity on the Periphery

Artists must try their best to speak authentically, but this is impossible to do if you have spent your life living within a script that cannot be questioned because it cannot be seen.

Cover Image for The Only One Who Speaks

There is something about Americans that makes the simple narratives of black and white dichotomies not merely an attractive but an almost necessary way of framing a life.