總瀏覽量

2010年3月31日 星期三

Two Nights with the Mariinsky Orchestra

The Mariinsky Orchestra has come to Hong Kong again, under its distinguished conductor Valery Gergiev. It was not the first time. A couple of years ago, they came under its former name, Kirov Orchestra. This time, they helped to bring the Hong Kong Arts Festival to a resplendent close, amidst a sea of sound. I was so glad I went to their concerts on the 27th and 28th. The Orchestra is wonderful, its players and its vocalists magnificent.

 

The night of 27th was devoted principally to the works of Richard Wagner. It opened with his Prelude to Act III of the opera Lohengrin. This Prelude is one of the most popular of Wagner's works. It plunged us into the music amidst great fanfare right from the first phrase. It started forcefully, then dropped into a soft melody, rose again, and fell and rose and fell again in an endless undulation, with constant constrast and tension, and ended with a bombastic finish with the trumpets and timpani blasting away at full volume towards its climactic finale, Wagner style. 

 

Next in line was another popular piece. This time it was from another romantic composer Tchaikovsky. It was his Romeo and Juliet, a symphonic poem in sonata form with two main themes alternating with each other, the F-sharp minor Friar Lawrence theme and the fighting B-minor theme of the Capulets and the Montagues, with irregular rhythms to simulate the street fights between the two feuding families in Shakespeare's play of the same name. There was also a love theme, which is one of the most beautiful ever written by Tchaikovsky. It was used as the theme song of one of the most popular radio programmes in Hong Kong in the 1960's and brought back many memories of my childhood. It had tenderness, is filled with longing and yet is tinged with not a little anxiety. The love theme was followed by the battle theme again, then the suicide and finally a tribute to the lovers played by the woodwinds until it rose again to a climax in B minor and B as a kind of anguished shout of protest against their deaths. The music is one of the earliest of Tchaikovsky's works and fully demonstrates his penchant for colourful orchestration.

 

The second half of the evening's programme was then given over to Act III of the Die Walkure. The female vocalists came out in force. We had 9 female vocalists taking the parts of the Valkyries. They took turns to sing, sometimes, alone, sometimes with one or two or three others. The male singer is well fitted to sing his role of Wotan. He towers above the others: a literal giant both in physical size and in the volume of his voice. But  our seats, chosen by Mr Chu, placed us in a rather unfortunate position because he had little choice in the matter. He told us that if we bought the other seats, we must take our chances by random computer lottery. Whatever might have been the case, throughout the concert, we had the singers' back to us because we were sitting stage left. But it was not entirely without any advantage: we were able to listen to even the tiniest sound from a single violin touching the strings in pizzicato or by the bow in staccato and we could listen to the female vocalists, singing literally just below our noses, within 8 feet from where we were sitting. We were thus  able to catch the most subtle nuance in the micro-changes in the texture of their voices. And what voices they had! An even greater advantage was that we could see Valery Gergiev conducting, without any baton, face to face with us. He would use his fingers which he would cup into small arcs and flutter like the wings of little birds to indicate when which section of the orhestra should come in and when to stop.  He would raise his arm, lower them, draw imaginary waves in the air, in line with the rise and fall of the music and sometimes, he would stab the air to signal the sudden entry of particular section of the orchestra into the music and he would raise his heels and lower them according to the flow of the music. He also conducted with his eyes, his eyes brows, his lips, his face and his head. It seemed that his whole body had been transformed into a giant but sensitive organic baton. This is a very personal style of conducting but it gives him infinitely more room for subtle variation and certainly is much more expressive than a mechanical baton! 

In Act III of the Walkure, Brunnhilde, one of the 9 Valkyries, the daughters of Erda and Wotan, is his father's favourite daughter. Originally, Wotan told  her to protect Siegmund in his fight with the Hundig,  after Siegmund left with the former's wife Sieglinde. But Wotan changed his mind because of his wife Fricka. Brunnhilde, however,  defied her father's wishes but ultimately had to obey. She knew that it was Fricka's idea that Siegmund be killed. She tells Siegmund she would lead him to Valhalla, castle of the gods, where he would find his father. But he refuses to leave with Sieglinde. Then Hundig caught up with him, They had a mortal combat. But just as Siegmund was about to drive his sword into the heart of Hundig, Wotan appeared and shattered Siegmund's sword with his spear and he was killed by HundigBrunnhilde escaped to the mountains with the pregnant  Sieglinde and asked her sisters to protect her because she had defied Wotan's  wishes but they were afraid of Wotan's fury. She therefore advised Sieglinde to escape and alone, she herself faced her father, who upon his return flew into rage and banished her, turned her into a rock be taken by the first man who would find and wake her up, despite the entreaties of her sisters. But she asked for one last favour: that her sleeping body be surrounded by fire so that only the brave would find her .Wotan granted her wishes and they sang a tender farewell song to each other, Brunnhilde was later found by the Siegfried the son of Sieglinde and Siegmund,  who wakened her with a kiss. She bade farewell to Valhalla and abandoned her status as a god out of love for Siegfried!

 

The programme of the 28th was pure orchestra. We had Baba Yaga Op 56. a short peice by Anatoly Liadov, Sergei Prokofiev's Symphony No. 1 in D O. 25  and Dmitry Shastakovich's Symphony No. 7 in C, Op. 60. The first peice was based on a Russian folk tale. Baba Yaga is the equivalent of our Ow-Woo with whom our mothers used to frighten us when we did not obey her wishes when we were very small. We would be told that we would be seized by her and got gobbled up: something which would strike terror in our young hearts when we closed our eyes in our little beds because that's when the Ow-woo would appear to kill or torture us. . The Baba Yaga story is a bit like Cinderella, about the relationship of a step mother with the children of her husband's former wife. She sent the twin daughter and son of the former wife into a forest ostensibly to her grandmother who lives in a hut on hen's feet and told them that there they would have all the sweets they could eat and be happy. But the daughter took her brother to their own grandmother instead but who told them that she could not help except to give them some milk and plenty of cookies and some advice to be kind and good to every one, help the weak and live always with hope. They set out on their journey to the witch's hut. She allowed them to stay but she had to weave whilst her brother had to fetch water to fill a tub for her. However there were tons of weaving to do and the tub would never fill. They then met with all kinds of ventures during which they showed kindness successively to the cat, the dog and the birds who all offered them good advice which helped them escape from their drudgery and eventually they were able to rejoin to their father. It's a weird fairy tale and is full of all kinds of strange happenings, with rivers and forests appearing magically to stop the pursuit of the witch Baba Yaga and this gave Liadov plenty of opportunity to create a short piece of the very very colourful music which we heard.

Prokofiev's first symphony was full of joy and colour, in the style of Haydn and he composed it as a "neo-classical" composition exercise during one of his trips to the countryside but included some of his own peculiar themes, highlighted by the use of trumpets and timpani especially in the finale . The atmostphere of Nature is most palpable. It contained several themes with which all who listened to classical music are quite familiar. But the highlight of the evening was Shastokovich's No. 7 otherwise known as the Leningrad. It is a very strident piece with a first movement which lasted more 35 minutes! From where we were sitting, again, the timbre of the music sounded very much "in the face". I have never heard all the nuances of different sections of this symphony so clearly in my hi fi system at home. It was a completely different feeling. Everything sounded so "real" and for that reason, so much more moving. You actually hear the "power" of the musical climaxes which mounted, subsided and mounted again and again, like huge waves of sounds, bashing against the shore of my eardrums, melodious, violent, soothing and exhilarating by turns. Everything is good. I like particularly the brass, which literally dazzled.So were the woodwinds. They were so precise: never too loud nor too soft. Just as they ought to be. Their timing and tone were perfect! The timpanists were superb and helped give substance to the very bombastic late 19th century music of Wagner and mid-20th century Russian style of music.

 

The symphony was supposed to depict the suffering of the Russian people during the Nazi invasion in 1941. He dedicated it to the city of Leningrad, the former St. Petersburg. There was first a lyrical string theme with 12 increasingly strident march theme to depict the violence of the invasion. Some would say it depicted the violence of the Stalinist purges. The long first movement was followed by a very short second movement and two further short movements which use the marching rhythms to build up to the final glorious end in which the orchestra played at full strength by all the sections. It was a most fitting close to the Arts Festival. 

 

I was so fortunate to be able to hear this wonderful orchestra under the direction of a rough looking conductor with an "afternoon shadow" around his cheeks. He must love music. It is evident from the way he coaxed the most beautiful notes and the potentials for all kinds of sounds inherent in every piece he played for us from his troupe of singers and talented orchestral musicians.  I do not know when they'll come again. It's so good to be alive. It is even better to have retained my sense of hearing. I would not know how to live without music! Two of my friends have already had to resort to hearing aids! I do not know how long I can still have my ears! If ever there is a reason to pray, this must be my prayer.

2010年3月29日 星期一

Letters to Father Jacob

I got lucky. My second pick of HKIFF film was as good if not better than the first. As if by accident, it was also about religion. But it's a very different film. The first was French. The second was Finnish. Perhaps there really is something about "national" character, though I don't like to think so. There is a totally different "feel" about it. This 2009 colour feature was by Kaus Häro and starred Kaarina Hazard, Heikki Bousianen, Jukka Keinonen.  It is as laconic as the first ( 3.5 characters, 3 locations, 2 principal characters and one excellent story) but it managed to send  the audience sniffling sheepishly and blowing their muffled noses discreetly as they inched their way out the narrow exit of Times Square UA Cinema at the end of 74 minutes.


When the film opened, we see the face of a 50-ish man with balding hair sitting above a pair of sunglasses(!) talking to the impassive face of another 30-ish tough looking fat woman. He was telling her that for 12 years, she did not have any visitors and that she would be leaving the prison soon. She merely said:, "I didn't ask for it.". She was told that she had been pardoned and that her life sentence has been commuted to 12 years. But there was a condition. She must go to work as an assistant to an old priest. 


In the next scene, we see this tough fat woman trudging along a deserted wet mud path leading to what  looked like a fairly dilpadated stone hut. In the far background, we see a small church, its long narrow spire reaching towards the sky. In the foreground, there was a lake. She arrived, looked around, and entered gingerly. It was dark. She did not "holla". Nor did any one say anything. She explored a little. She had to go under some white underclothes hung inside the house for drying. Then she heard some noises. Someone in the shadows budged. He emerged. We see an old man, hair all white, walking slowly. He said she must be Leila Sten. She said yes. He asked if she was exhausted by the trip. She didn't reply. Then woman said: "No housework!". The old man said he used to have a lady neighbor to help him do household chores but she died the year before and since then he had to look after everything himself. Then we see a close up of a boiling kettle. He offered to make some tea for the lady. She didn't say anything. She just looked at the old man. She sat down but at the other end of the long table, facing the old man. Then we had a close up of a hand on some country brown bread with a knife. It was all knarled with veins. After a while, we see the woman approach the bread. She took the knife but did not cut any slice. She hesitated, then waved it in front of the old man. There was no reaction. There was a dull whitish sheen over his eyes.  She then used the sharp knife to cut a slice of bread for herself and drank the tea offered to her by the old priest.


In the third scene, we see the old man sitting on a tattered white garden chair very close to another small white garden table in front of him. The fat woman was sitting on the left of the table several steps away from its edge.  A postman arrived in a bicycle, The old man asked if the the bicycle was new. The postman asked how he knew. He did not reply. He delivered some letters. The woman took them but threw some of them into a small shed. A close up showed that it was a well. The old man asked to be read the letters. She did so. The first was from a teacher having trouble with his students who always tried to make fun of him and asked the priest to pray for him. He dictated a reply to ask God to give him courage. A second letter was from a grandfather who was worried that his son would not find a job and also asked the priest to pray for him. A third came from a woman who went to the north of the country and was better because her husband is now beating her less but that he took all her savings. But in the letter there was a lot of money. The old man told her to put the money in a little candy box at the top right drawer of his sideboard. She hesitated but put the money in but only half. The old man told the fat lady he had no use for the money. He gave everything to the woman whose cohabitee took all her money and now she gave him back the money.


In the evening, some one broke into the house. The fat woman heard and caught him and dragged him outside. We see that it was the postman who said he came to see how the old man was because he was worried about how the woman killer might treat him.


In the fifth scene, the postman came again. But once he saw the fat woman, he swerved to another path. In the next scene, the old man told the woman to set the table. He said his guests would be arriving. He had taken out his best silver and all his cups and saucers. He said there would a wedding. The fat woman told him that no one is arriving. Then the old man said he must hurry. He must never let the congregation wait. He walked as quickly as he could to the church. When he arrived, we see that it was empty. There weren't even any chairs! But he still went up to the altar his half-torn bible in his wrinkled hand against his breast, waiting for his congregation to arrive. It started to rain. He waited. No one came. He asked the fat woman to help him home. But the fat woman simply left. She went home, alone. She packed. She took half the money in the candy box. She called a taxi. The taxi arrived. The driver asked her where she wanted to go. She fell silent. In the next shot, we see the taxi leaving, the fat woman behind it with her suitcase still in her hand. In the meantime, the father felt very tired, lay down in front of the altar on a darkish slate shaped just like a coffin. Water was dripping at his side from the leaking roof. The old priest returned. She woke up. We see that she removed a noose from her neck. We see that the kettle was boiling. She was making tea. She brought a cup and walked into the old priest's room and offered it to him and asked if he wanted some tea. The old man, engaged in some deep thought on his bed, said he did not need it.


In the next final scene, The postman arrived again. She asked him where were the father's letters. He said there were none. She was furious, grabbed hold of the mail bag and rummaged through it. The postman was right. Then she grabbed hold of the postman and told him when he came next, he should yell as usual, "the postman is coming" and bring something. The following day, he came, with a magazine. He yelled. The old man asked whether he got any letters.  The father said that he wanted to help God by praying for those who needed his intercession but he was now not so sure if he himself needed the letters more than the letter writers needed him to intercede for them to God. He said perhaps that was God's way of giving him a purpose in life and keeping him going. The fat woman told him he got letters. Then he asked for them to be read to him. The old woman went to the shed where she previously threw the letters and tried to fish them out with a stick. But she failed. She then tore a page from the magazine, to make a noise as if she were opening a letter. The old man asked to be read the letter. She started. She said a boy had lost his dog and asked the father to pray for him. He asked if there was an address. She said yes but did not give any. Then the father asked him to read him the second. The woman started. She began telling the story of her life, how as a child, she was always beaten by his father and it was his sister who protected him from his rage. Later when her sister grew up, she was also married to a wife basher. One day, when she visited her sister, she saw her husband beating her again. She tried to run away. He pursued her and bashed her again and again. Now that she was strong. She protected her sister. She grabbed a knife and killed her husband. Instead, she brought her even more misery because she was now without a husband. Tears were streaming down her cheeks as she read the contents of that "letter" despite her calm and steady voice. The father knew instantly. He said, "It was your story"". He went to a shed and returned with some letters. They were written by her sister, Lisa Sten! He said, that was the reason why she was pardoned. The following day, we see a police car, followed by a hearse moving away from the old priest's house. the fat woman was looking at it, a suitcase in her hands. The postman came too on his bicycle. He waved his hands to the slowly passing hearse.


In this tale of loneliness, of conviction, of courage, of fortitude, of hostility, of greed, of selfishness, of abandonment, of the need for acceptance, of redemption and of hope, we see how two persons, each imprisioned by their own past, each abandoned by society in his/her own way, can finally come together through time, being physically close to each other, through patience and understanding. The fat woman was touched by the hopelessness of the old priest's hope which finally broke down her rejection of him. The moment she was asked by the taxi driver, she realized that her destiny fell in with that of the old blind priest with no weddings, and no baptism and not even a congregation. Hope always sprang in the most unlikely places! But it was a grim victory. The old priest died, having accomplished his last mission. It was a desperate mission. But he succeeded! He could die. He had no longer any need to live on, either esthetically or religiously. He could go in peace. He had finally restored peace to the heart of the fat woman, poisoned and numbed by hatred and hostility against the violence of this world. There were also a couple of images that I like and which may have some hidden meaning: the ordinary looking flat spouted water pot which remained serviceable in adding a little flavor to an otherwise tasteless life by providing steaming hot tea in the cold climate and the leaking house of the old priest and the image of the water dripping from the roof whilst the old priest lay down on the coffin like slab in front of the empty altar! The rain from heaven is the water of life, even man be dead. It was the dripping water which awoke the sleeping priest in the empty church.


It was an extremely simple film, told with skill and great economy.It demonstrates abundantly that very powerful emotional impact can be consistent with extreme economy of characters and locations.  Not every film has to be a multi-million dollar Hollywood film. The key to quality is thought and skill, a good script, intelligent use of camera angle, focus, play of light and shade, composition of the screen image, the sparing use of music at critical points, not a big-name cast and lavish sets. I like the music too, by Kirka Saninio. It's a bit like the sound of Arvo Paart: a few slow constantly repeated piano chords whose resonance is left hanging in the air before gradually dying down. Fits the spare photography of light and shadows perfectly. The characters are frequently filmed with side light on one side so that the relief of their faces stand out sharply against the shadow on the other side of the face. Is the director trying to suggest that there's a silver lining to every dark face and that rays of hope will always land on one whose heart is not yet dead? Will light burn the more brightly against the darkness of the night of the soul in utter desertion, desolation and abandonment? I like the subtle way the director hinted at what he might be trying to say: the old ordinary looking kettle which is always boiling with steam to make a cup of hot tea to give some taste to the monotony of the old priest's life, the water being turned into steam with heat, the water dripping from the roof of the church to wake up the old priest lying on the coffin like slate in front of the altar: the water of life from heaven?


2010年3月28日 星期日

Hadewijch

The 34th HK International Film Fesitval opened on 21st March at the Convention Centre, with Crossing Hennessy. Not for me. It opened last night, at the Science Museum with a film with a most peculiar name: Hadewijch.  Hadewijch of Antwerp is a 13th century mystic sometimes referred to as the Brabant mystic, associated with a medieval movement called Minnemystiek or "love mysticism".She is a woman of high birth who left behind a host of poems modeled after the traditional troubadour poetry of courtly love. Very little is known about her except that she could read Latin, French, Provencal and Dutch and was well versed in the mystical literature of St. Augustine, William of St. Thiery, Richard of St Victor and  Bernard of Clairvaux. This type of lyrical poetry was originally used to express man's longing for an unattainable worldly love for a beautiful lady. But Hadewijch transformed it into an intensely personal  vehicle for expressing her eternal love for God. To her God is love, at once present and absent. She wrote in a very lyrical Dutch vernacular style and influenced such later mystics as Jan van Ruysbroek

 

The Hadewijch being shown at the Science Museum last night, however, appeared to be a twentieth century version of the original Hadewijch but with a twist. It was played by Julie Sokolowski, a girl in her early teens,whose life seemed completely consumed by her intense love of Christ. The programme guide described her as a "revelation". She could not have been a better choice. She has a long roundish face, high forehead, straight fleshy nose, slightly plump, a completely innocent face. What is most remarkable are her eyes, which are always wide open. She would give complete attention to whomever it was that she was talking to, in a kind of open, utterly  defenceless, almost blank credulous stare, as if she were absolutely insulated from worldly guile. No matter what others say, she appeared accepting and anxious not to offend. She talks with a quiet voice. She appears always absorbed in thought and always moved with a kind of calm which nothing can ever seem to purturb except in her moments of prayer. She would stand in the rain dressed in little but a flimsy T-shirt or light woollen knitwear, seemingly unaware of the driving rain and wind. Her mind was elsewhere, in a different world. She was with Christ, and what she thought was Christ's immense love for man, for whom he suffered and died a terrible death on a wooden cross, for the sins of man. In fact, in the film, she was the daughter of a French Minister, living in a beautiful old Parisian mansion and had just finished her end of term exam waiting for the results to come out. She went to a convent for a trial stay to see if she is fit to be a nun.

 

As the film opens, we see a young girl, trying to climb a slope between some sparsely leaved trees, probably some time around Easter. The denuded branches had not yet sprouted any new leaves against a dull grey sky. She was walking, not too quickly, not too slowly. She grimaced a little as she struggled up the little collin, in a medium shot.  Perhaps a symbol of her lonely and bleak journey towards union with the transcendent. There was no music. Nothing except the sound of her feet rustling against the dead leaves, loose dirt and rubble. In the background, we see a tower crane. In the distance, we see two men working, trying to haul some building materials, outside of the convent . Then the camera zoomed in. We hear them talk about how hard it is to make a living. Then we see she came to a spot behind an old building, in slate. There was a black wrought iron fence. Flying about its floral patterns were tatttered white papers fluttering in desolation in the wind, probably prayers of petitions offered to whoever it was behind the iron railings in the hope that they would be answered. The girl approached, looked up, closed her eyes, mumbled some prayers, with fervour, completely absorbed in whatever it was she was saying, her hands upon her heart. She stayed a while and then retraced her steps back to the tiny garden outside the convent .

 

In the next scene, we see a dining hall, barely furnished. It was the nuns' dining hall. Sitting around were just a few nuns, mostly old. They said their prayers and started eating. The girl was not eating. She wanted to fast for the love of Christ. Earlier, she stood alone in the cold of the garden for the same purpose. She wanted her body to experience a little the immense suffering of Christ on the cross, hoping thereby to achive a kind of closer spiritual union with Christ, whom to her  was the sole purpose of her life, by partaking of his physical suffering. She rejected the offer of food and said she did not need it. She returned into her bare room with just a bed, a small and worn wooden desk, placed against a small window, through which we can see the horizontal arm of the tower crane, enshrouded in mist. On the side of the wall, against the bed was a small wooden cross. The girl knelt down, looked intently at it and prayed, her brows knitted together, her hands upon her heart, her shoulders bunched together. She was complaining why Jesus was not present to her all the time. She wanted him to be with her at all hours of the day and night. He was not.  

 

In the next scene. We see the girl, repeating what she did in the previous scene, standing alone in the garden and going up that hill to that altar and upon her return, another old sympathetic  nun gave her two slices of French bread which she had probably smuggled out against the convent rules, hidden under the folds of her habit and told her she must eat. She accepted. In the next scene, we see her tearing the bread into tiny crumbs, and feeding them to the birds. The nun who gave her the bread saw that, hidden in the shade of the arch-door leading to the garden.She returned to her tiny bare room and prayed some more. The next day at about meal time, she was told to see the mother superior of the convent.  She obediently did so. The mother superior told her she must leave for her own good. She said her mortification was excessive and that in her abstinence, she detected a hidden amplication of her "self" although the girl thought she was doing it for the love of Christ. She was told that she must go back into the world and there experience Christ's love again and that it was not only in a convent that one can encounter God and be in daily contact with him.  She did not understand. But she left, a rueful and baffled look in her eyes.

 

Then as she was walking home, she stopped by a cafe to think things over, was accosted by a young Arab boy. He invited her to sit down with his friends. To his surprise, she agreed. She was invited to a rock dancing party that evening. She agreed to that too. She danced, half heartedly. Then she returned home. In the next scene, we saw the young Arab boy apologise to her. She said she was not offended. To show that she meant it, he held his hands. Then the Arab boy asked her why she did not appear interested in falling in love with boys. She said, she loved only one person: Jesus Christ. The boy looked puzzled and suggested that she was really fervent and mentioned that she was like his brother, Yassim, a devout Muslim. He said his brother was giving a talk on some readings of the Koran the next evening on the silence of God and that if she was interested, she could come too. She went. And gradually became friends with Yassim with whom she felt an instinctive affinity because both shared the same fervour for God. But there was a difference, she found. Yassim said that if we really loved God, we must act and do justice and not just contemplate about him. She stared in puzzlement but said she would try to think about it. She brought Yassim to the house where she was born. He said it was a beautiful house in a beautiful surrounding. It stood on top of a hill, in the countryside, overlooking some pastures, a wood and a pond.

 

Eventually, she told Yassim she was ready to act for God. She was led to a house. At the verandah, we see,  again in a medium shot, the girl talking to two other Arab men, sitting on rattan chairs. The boy's brother kissed the two men on the cheek three times and introduced the girl to them. Then we see each of the men shake hands with her.  Next we have a scene of explosion in an Arab quarters in the Paris suburbs: people talking in Arabic rushing about, carrying an injured Arab, loud shouts to do sometthing urgently etc. She was shocked. Yassim covered her in his arms. She did not like it. She almost cried, but did not. In the next scene, we see the girl accompanying the boy's brother to the centre of Paris in a car. Then we see white smoke all over the screen with a splash of red and the sound of another bomb blast. In the background, we see the L'Arc de Triomphe.

 

In the final scene. We see the girl going back to the convent. It was raining. She was looking at the sky, mumbling something or other, apparently to Christ. The rain got heavier. She took shelter in a nearby green house. One of the immigrant workers we saw at the start of the film was there too. He had just been released from prison for some kind of offence and also stopped work to take shelter in the same green house. The rain stopped. The girl went out. She walked slowly towards the pond, hesitated and then took a plunge into water. We see bubbles coming and some spreading ripples. We see some light shining on the surface of the water and the ripples. After about half a minute or so, we see two faces and two bodies emerge, entwined to each other. It was the girl and the immigrant building worker!

 

The film is very sparing. Almost static. Like a Greek drama. Just less than maybe a dozen scenes: the  garden, the dining hall, her bed room at the convent, the exterior of the convent with the crane, the cafe, the boy's home, the girl's home, the backroom of the restaurant where the boy's brother was giving talks on the silence of God, the exterior of the house where the girl was born,  the prison where we find the immigrant worker,a few street scenes when the boy tried to discover more about her through the busy Parisian streets ending up at the side of the Seine, the scene of the first explosion, the house where the girl decided to join the Muslim political action, the second explosion, the convent garden again and finally the pond.  Very few words. The camera follows the events, but always discreetly, at a distance. Often when the characters talk, we only see them. We only see their lips move. We do not hear what they are saying. Purely visual. Very little music. Just images. A cool, almost analytic study of strong mystical religious emotions and its potential for violence. The paradox of intense love leading to transcendence/transgression of more conventional standards of decency and right conduct. There are many ellipses. Was the bomb in Paris planted by the criminal immigrant worker?  We also see the girl's relation with her parents. Superficially, the girl had everything she needed, a nice big house, good school, high born father and upper middle class socially engaged mother, unlimited time to indulge in her bout of  teenage religious mysticism, complete freedom to do whatever it is she wants to do, even to become a nun. But everything is revealed when the girl invited the Arab boy for lunch during which he was "politely" interrogated as to his social backgorund, what his father did, what his plans were for study and career, what kind of professional training he expected to complete and when the boy said that he was not sure, her parents' only reaction was 'Oh", with a slight raising of their eye-brows and a slight tighening of their lips in silence! and ceased to be interested in any further questioning. Most economical! Is the director  Bruno Dumont, a former philosophy professor, trying to say that the division within contemporary French society  between races, between classes, between religion and secularism and within religion  itself between Christianity and Islam so complete that the only link between them is religious violence and/or sex?  Is violence and exclusivity at the root of both sex and religion? Can desire never be satiated by anything but action? Julie Sokolowski's performance was completely convincing! A very thoughtful start to my film festival fare.

2010年3月26日 星期五

Are Black Holes Really Black?

The history of black holes is fraught with controversies and twists and turns. Black holes are supposed to be places where information is lost, where the known laws of physics will break down and will cease to apply. Nobody can say with certainty what will or will not happen inside a black hole. Therefore the existence of black holes has been contested and even resisted by those physicists who still try to retain what has been called the Newtonian or classical viewpoint of sceintific determinism, according to which once we know the angle, spin, position, mass, and velocity of an object, its pathway through space can always be precisely determined. Of course, the finding of quantum mechanics has already dealt a severe blow to such Newtonian or Laplacian determinism  because according to Heisenberg's principle of uncertainty, in quantum mechanics, only the probability that a particular event will happen at a specific point in time is certain and determined such that the more certainly we know about the position of a particle, the more uncertain will we know about its momentum and vice versa. When anything is sucked into the black hole, even the certainty of the operation of the wave functions of quantum mechanics may become inapplicable because, like everything else, they too will be sucked into the huge force of gravity of that unknown and unknowable black hole. All the information contained they contain will be lost too!

 

In 1976, Stephen Hawking announced that black holes may not be completely black because black holes may also emit radiation. The uncertainty principle has already taught us that even what was previously regarded as the vacuum of empty space may not be truly empty: it is teeming with the frenzy of quantum jitters of virtual particles momentarily erupting into existence and then as quickly got annihilated by each other. This kind of activity may also occur just outside the "event horizon" of a black hole.  There, the force of gravity might inject energy into a pair of virtual photons and tear them just far enough apart that one of them will get sucked into the black hole. If so, the remaining photon, having lost its photino to the abyss of the black hole, will no longer have a partner to finish off the normal mutual annihilation and might get a "push" from the force of gravity such that as its partner gets drawn into the black hole, it itself will shoot outward away from the black hole and therefore, to an observer watching from afar outside of the "event horizon", the feverish activity will appear as a steady stream of radiation emitting from the black hole. And the black hole may glow! Hawking shows that the strength of the radiation will be exactly the same as predicted by the laws of black hole physics and those of thermodynamics. Therefore even black holes may have entropy and may have a temperature! If so, black holes are not entirely black! Hawking's calculations show that the less massive a black hole is, the higher will be its temperature and the greater will be the amount of radiation it emits.  Radiation is a form of energy. According to Einstein's theory of relativity, energy and mass are interchangeable. That means that as energy escapes from a black hole, its mass will decrease. If so, even a black hole may evaporate with time! If it does so, then the distance from the centre of gravity of that black hole to the "event horizon" will also slowly shrink and when the Schwarzschild radius decreases, the regions of space formerly cut off by the "magic sphere" and included within that "magic sphere" may re-enter the perceivable cosmic space and again become visible. A question then arises. Will the information previously "swallowed" by the black hole re-emerge into the visible universe as the black hole evaporates? There is no consensus amongst physicists on what the proper answer should be.  According to Brian Greene, Hawking held that black holes destroy information forever but John Preskill of the CIT thinks that the information will re-emerge as the black hole radiates and shrinks. But whatever the truth may be, so far, scientists have been unable to detect such posited radiation from a low mass black hole!

 

At a lecture in Amsterdam in June 1997, Hawking acknowledged that as a result of the findings of string theory, there might be a way for the information to re-emerge because information can be stored and recovered from the constituent branes. But Andrew Strominger in an interview in December, 1997, thought that the conclusion may be "premature" and his colleague Vafa agreed. He said he was "agnostic" because it could turn out either way.

 

There is still another problem with black holes: what happens to spacetime at the centre of the black hole? According to Schwarzschild, the enormous mass and energy crushed together at the centre of the black hole will cause even space and time to be infinitely curved, if we can still trust the theory of relativity to be applicable and since once something has crossed the "event horizon", it will be irresistibly drawn towards that centre of the black hole and since nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, the time which has been sucked in, will also come to an end. But other scientists think that the possibility exists that there might be some "worm hole" through which something may escape into another "universe" such that when time in our universe comes to an end, the time in the next attached universe will just begin! 

2010年3月25日 星期四

Don Quixote in HK


24 March

Don Quixote in HK



Last night was one of the best nights I have had for a long long time. I saw a production of Don Quixote by the Marinksy Ballet, choreographed by Alexander Gorsky after the original adaptation by that Maître de Ballet  Marius Petipa, who had the ballet performed first by the Imperial Ballet of St. Petersburg and then by the Imperial Bolshoi Theatre of Moscow in late 19th Centrury. The music by written by Ludwg Minkus and the Marinsky Orchestra was conducted by Alexei Repnikov

 

The Ballet was something of a misnomer. Don Quixote and his squire Sancho Panza figured in the ballet more as observers and chorus than as the hero and anti-hero. The real hero and heroine were Kitri and Basilio. The libretto was quite simple. The story nominally started with Don Quixote reading about Medieval romances and tales of chivalry in a scene briefer than women's bikinis nowadays , then deciding to storm into the world as a knight on horse back in search of adventure, and justice and true love. But the main action in the ballet concerned how Kitri defied his innkeeper father Lorenzo by falling in love with a barber Basilio and rejected Gamache, a rich but slightly ridiculous nobleman whom her father wished her to marry. She escaped, found herself in the company of some gypsies and joined them in their dance and theatre. But her father pursued her with Gamache. A fight ensued, Basilio was stabbed, fell and Don Quixote implored Lorenzo, whom he thought was a nobleman to whom he would offer his services, to grant a dying man's wishes to be joined with her daughter. Lorenzo relented. Basilio miraculously revived. Actually he just pretended to be dying, being taught to do so by the doting but cunning Kitri and the ballet ended with the festive dances at Kitri's marriage to Basilio. In the middle of the ballet, we experienced two scenes figuring Don Quixote: one in which he thought the proverbial windmill a monster, charged and was hurt and another in which he fell asleep and dreamt that he was amidst the forest fairies called Dryads, another pretext for further dainty and elegant steps by the female dancers..

 

As in all other ballets, the story is just a flimsy excuse for staging various occasions where the dancers may display their skill, their grace and their ability to evoke emotions with the motions of their disciplined eyes, lips, faces, fingers, arms, legs and their torsos. The dancers of the Marinsky Ballet are uniformly good, whether they do solos, duets (pas de deux), triplets, quartets, octets, pirouettes, multiple mid-air spins or group dances. The leading roles were taken by Anastasia Matvienko, who danced the role of KitriDenis Matvienko who danced the role of BasilioKaren Ioanissian, who danced the role of the torreador Espada, Alexandra Iosifidi, who danced the role of the street dancer and also the Mercedes, the daughter of the Gypsy chief and Tatyana Tkachenko, who danced the role of the Queen of the Dryads and Ryu Ji Yeon who danced the Fandango with Karen Ioanissian.  I love the ballet. It seems that instead of being fitted with flesh and bones like ours, the ballet dancers' bodies are built of springs and air. They do not walk. They scamper and glide. They do not run, they fly. They do not turn their bodies. They spin and swirl. They do not stretch their arms. They describe arcs. They do not hold their hands above their heads. They form rings. All their movements seem to trace lines, curves, circles and mid-air-spins and flutters.Their bodies seem like soft, mobile, flexible, sensitive and at times rigid and taut rhythm machines which move with the rise and fall of melodies, always following the flow of the differing rhythm of the music. It is a delight to be able to watch such smooth, subtle and forceful motions, done always with perfect grace. When one sees them perform, one cannot help feeling glad to belong to the human race. The dancers did for us what we can only dream of doing. They are our dreams! I am so grateful to them!

 

Not only are the dances performed superbly and magnficently. The stage setting is also thoughtfully done. There were not really that many stage props. They were simple, yet not too bare: an arch door here, a wagon there, a small red electric bonfire in front, a few painted windmills against 4 wooden blades of a windwill at centre stage, the facades of some Medieval buildings or in the scene of the Dryads part of some "hillside" and some trees, a real horse with seat, stirrups and padding, a beautifully drawn moon obscured by an irregularly shaped shadow of a twig, a few tables with people sitting behind in what is supposed to be the town square, a few tumblers which the dancers would throw away and the atmosphere is there, skilfully helped by stage lighting.  And the dresses were simply beautiful. The men wore tight fitting pants, loose shirts, short torreador jackets, triangular hats. The ladies wear Gypsy style flowing dresses with their bold or subtle floral patterns and in the scene of the Dryads, what looked like short  inverted lotus seed pod dresses with painted feathered on fluffy materials which undulated with the up and down motions of the dances in red, pink, blue and orange whose colours gradually shade into stronger hues as they reach the dancers' dainty waists. Simply beautiful. And of course the music. I wouldn't say the music was of a class to match Mahler, Tschaikovsky etc but they are perfect. They are perfectly suited to making it easy for the dancers to follow the rhythm when they do their fairy dance, their fandango, their torreador dance etc. They are written with the choreography in mind. Above all, they know their place. They stay humbly in the background and leave the centre of attention to the dancers on the front stage. They blend perfectly with the movements on stage. Everything ties in in a seamless web of sight and sound, the sound emphasizing the sight and providing a subtle foundation for the motions on stage which on occasions does not lack a bit of humor. I like Gamache, dressed in yellow and always moving in an almost mechanical fashio, I suppose,  being puffed up with his pride which would not allow him to relax for a second. Most comical! A nice touch, although a bit exaggerated. But then who would object?!

 

A thoroughly enjoyable evening. Sitting next to me is a young lady who, like me bought the ticket at the last minute. She is studying cultural management at the HKCU. I bought the ticket one day before her. Mine was one of the last two returned tickets. And next to her were a New Zealand couple who clapped just a little less loudly than I did. All of of us enjoyed the evening thoroughly. One does run into all sorts of people who love the ballet, irrespective of age, sex and nationality.  Must go more often .

2010年3月24日 星期三

Don Quixote in Hong Kong


24 March

Don Quixote in HK



Last night was one of the best nights I have had for a long long time. I saw a production of Don Quixote by the Marinksy Ballet, choreographed by Alexander Gorsky after the original adaptation by that Maîitre de Ballet  Marius Petipa, who first had the ballet performed by the Imperial Ballet of St. Petersburg and then by the Imperial Bolshoi Theatre of Moscow in late 19th Centrury. The music by written by Ludwg Minkus and the Marinsky Ochestra was conducted by Alexei Repnikov

 

The Ballet was something of a misnomer. Don Quixote and his squire Sancho Panza figured in the ballet more as observers and chorus than as the focal points of interest from the dancing point of view. The real hero and heroine were Kitri and Basilio. The libretto was quite simple. The story started with Don Quixote reading about Medieval romances and tales of chivalry, then deciding to storm into the world as a knight on horse back in search of adventure, justice and true love. But the main action in the ballet concerned how Kitri defied his innkeeper father Lorenzo by falling in love with a Barcelona barber Basilio and rejected Gamache, a rich but slightly ridiculous nobleman whom her father wished her to marry. She escaped, found herself in the company of some gypsies, joined them in their dances and theatre. But her father pursued her his preferred suitor Gamache. A fight ensued, Basilio was stabbed, fell and Don Quixote implored Lorenzo, whom he thought was a nobleman to whom he had pledged his allegiance, treating his inn as his castle and her daughter a princess, to grant the dying Basilio's wishes to be joined with her daughter. Lorenzo relented. Basilio miraculously "revived". Actually he just pretended to be dying, being taught to do this trick by the doting but cunning Kitri who would stop at nothing to win over her true love. The ballet ended by the festive celebration dances of Kitri's marriage to Basilio. In the middle of the ballet, we did experience two scenes featuring Don Quixote: one in which he thought the proverbial a windmill a monster, charged and was hurt and another in which he fell asleep and dreamt that he was amidst the forest fairies called Dryads in which we are regaled to some group dances led by the Queen of the Dryads

 

As in all other ballets, the story is just a flimsy excuse for showcasing the talents, the consummate skill of the dancers, their grace and their ability to evoke emotions with the mime-like  motions of their disciplined faces, eyes, lips, fingers, arms, legs and their torsos. The dancers of the Marinsky Ballet are uniformly good, whether they do solos, duets (pas de deux), triplets, quartets, quintets, pirouettes, mid-air spins, or group dances. The leading roles were taken by Anastasia Matvienko, who danced the role of KitriDenis Matvienko who danced the role of BasilioKaren Ioanisisan, who danced the role of the torreador Espada, Alexandra Iosifidi, who danced the role of the street dancer and also the Mercedes, the daughter of the Gypsy chief and Tatyana Vasnetsova, who danced the role of the Queen of the Dryads and Ryu Ji Yeon who danced the Fandango with Karen Ioanissian.  I love the ballet. It seems that instead of being fitted with flesh and bones like ours, the ballet dancers' bodies appear to be built with just air and springs. They do not walk. They glide and scamper. They do not run, they saunter.They do not jump. They fly, spins and swirls. They do not stretch their arms, they describe arcs. They do not hold their hands above their heads, they form rings. All their movements seem to trace lines, circles, curves and mid-air spins and flutters.Their bodies seem like soft, mobile, flexible, sensitve and at times rigid and taut rhythm machines which move with the rise and fall of melodies, always flowing with the rhythm of the music. It is a delight to be able to watch such subtle and forceful motions, done always with grace. When one sees them perform, one cannot help feeling proud and glad to belong to the human race. The dancers did for us what we can only dream of doing. They are our dreams! I am so grateful to them!

 

Not only are the dances performed superbly and magnficently. The stage setting is also artfully and thoughtfully done. There were not really that many stage props. They were simple, yet not too bare, and economical and exqusitely effective: an arch door here, a wagon there, a small red electric bonfire in front, a few painted windmills against 4 wooden blades of a windwill at centre stage, a real horse with saddle, stirrups and padding, a beautifully drawn moon obscured by an irregularly shaped shadow of a twig, a few tables with people sitting behind them against the facade of a town square, a few tumblers which the dancers would throw away and the atmosphere is there, skilfully helped by stage lighting which was done to emphasize the predominant hues of light blue, pink, orange and candle yellow, white, vermillion and black.  And the dresses were simply beautiful. The men wore tight fitting pants, loose shirts tied together with a colourful waistband, short torreador jackets, triangular hats. The ladies wear Gypsy style flowing  floral dresses and in the scene of the Dryads, the nymphs wear what looked like short  inverted lotus seed pod dresses with painted feathers on radiating fluffy materials which undulated with the up and down motions of the dances in red, pink, blue and orange whose colours gradually grew deeper as they reach the dancer's waists. Simply beautiful. And of course the music. I wouldn't say the music was of a class to match Mahler, Tschaikovsky etc but they are perfect. They are perfectly suited to making it easy for the dancers to follow the rhythm when they do their fairy dance, their fandango, their torreador dance etc They are written with the choreography in mind. Above all, they know their place. They stay humbly in the background and leave the centre of attention entirely to the dancers on the front stage. They blend perfectly with the movements on stage. Everything ties in in a seamless web of sight and sound, the sound emphasizing the sight and providing a subtle foundation for the motions on stage which on occasions does not lack a bit of humor. I like Gamache, dressed in yellow and always moving in an almost mechanical fashion being puffed up, I suppose, with his pride which would never allow him to relax even for a second. A most comical characterization. A nice touch, although a bit exaggerated. But then who would object?!

 

A spectacular performance and a thoroughly enjoyable evening! Sitting next to me is a young lady who like me bought the ticket at the last minute. She is studying cultural management at the HKCU. I bought the ticket one day before her. Mine was one of the last two returned tickets. And next to her were a New Zealand couple who clapped just a little less than I did. All of of us enjoyed the evening thoroughly. One does run into all sorts of people who love the ballet, irrespective of age, sex and nationality.  Must go more often .


2010年3月23日 星期二

The M-Theory


The Superstring theory is a theory in process. It is now more than 30 years since it first began. Scientists have since learned a lot more about it, developed and worked out a lot more details about how the various shapes of the strings may affect their peculiar characteristics, and tried out a huge number of calculations to make them square with the results of what other scientists have learned by what has been called "The Standard Model" and explained quite a bit about certain anomalies which scientists using the equations of "the Standard Model" were unable to account for and increased our understanding of how strings would behave under different contexts. But they feel that they still have not gone to the core of it. They still have not yet found a principle deep enough to account for every phenomena they hope to be able to explain in the same way that "special relativity" may be explained by factoring in the principle of invariability of speed of light and "general relativity" by the principle of equivalence and "quantum theory" by the principle of uncertainty. The furthest string theorists have gone in the direction of developing that kind of theory of force, matter and cosmomology is one called the M-Theory.

 

According to Brian Greene (The Elegant Universe1999 & The Fabric of the Cosmos 2004), the failure of string theorists to explain many things may be due to the fact that the "old string theory" developed by fits and starts and did not have a "grand, overarching vision." They tinkered with this and that, and made use of accidental discoveries in specific areas of scientific researches and mathematical theories and then tried to work out their implications  by applying it to widely different quantum contexts. Up until 1995, string theorists have found that there are a total of 5 distinct versions of the string theory called respectively Type I (involving both closed strings with circular ends and open strings with two loose ends) , Type IIA, Type IIB ( where strings interact through pinching a circular string into two smaller strings rather like what happens during the mitosis of a cell) , Heterotic-O ( which accomodates symmetry groups called 0(32)) and Heterotic-E ( which accomodates symmetry groups E(8) x E (8) ) both the latter of which are large enough to accomodate what has been called the Grand Unification Theory (GUT). Each of such string theories requires 10 space dimensions and each are compatible with the known characteristics of different families of sub-atomic particles as currently understood.

 

Of the 5 theories, the most realistic is that of the heterotic-string as worked out by David Gross, Emil Martinee, Ryan Rohm and Jeffrey Harvey of Princeton University. This hetero-string is based on closed strings and is able to accommodate the symmetry of the Standard Model because the symmetry group E(8) x E(8) can be broken down into E(8) and then E(6) symmetry which in turn may include the SU (3) x SU (2) x U(1) symmetry of the Standard Model. 

 

Then in 1995, Edward Witten, based on the previous work of Chris Hull, Paul Townsend, Ashoke Sen, Michael Duff, John Schwarz and others, was able to show that the five existing string theories can be considered as just 5 different ways of mathematically analyzing a single theory which he calls M-theory (M standing for master, mother, magic, mystery, matrix,, even membrane or all of them) and including time, 11 dimensions. Just as Kaluza found that a universe with 5 spacetime dimensions provided a framework for unifying electro-magneticism and gravity, and string theorists found that a universe with 10 spacetime dimensions provided a framework for unifying quantum mechanics and general relativity, Edward Witten found that a universe with 11 spacetime dimensions provided a framework for unifying all string theories!  What's more, string theorists now find that the string theory is not just a theory about strings! It may also include something called a membrane, abbreviated into the word "brane", rather like a thin rubber sheet on the surface of a balloon. The reason is that previously string theory researchers found that all the conditions for agreeing with the observed findings of physics could be met by a one dimensional string. But later, they found that whilst their theory worked fairly well if they stuck to a string with just one dimension, it seemed impossible to proceed if the fundamental ingredients has 2 or more dimensions because the number of symmetries respected by the equations peaks enormously for one-dimensional objects like a string. They found that thereafter such suitability dropped off very sharply after the first dimension (this had to do with the number of symmetries they can adequately handle: such that the relevant equations must change whenever the observer zooms in and zooms out, suddenly and arbitrarily whilst observing the motion of a string, if they wish not to affect the "resolution" or clarity or accuracy of his observation). The net result of this is that the higher the energy level, the more inaccurate the calculations become.  

 

Now according to this new M-theory,  which is the furthest development of what started out as string theory, they had to posit the existence of a membrane. This newly posited membrane may have 2-branes, 3-branes or p-branes ( or p spatial dimensions but p must be any integral number so long as it is less than 10) . In addition, they think that strings are only one of the ingredients in string theory, not the only one! The super-membrane can have two or more dimensions because it represents a surface whereas the string has only one dimension that defines its length. Surprisingly, they found that two types of membranes viz. the 2-brane and the 5 brane are self-consistent with 11 spacetime dimensions! Of course, the 10th space dimension has not been previously detected. The reason might be that it involved dimensions which are simply so ultra-small. Whatever the reason might have been, their calculations have shown that all p-branes are significantly heavier than strings. We know that because of the equivalence of mass to energy under the theory of relavity: the heavier they are, the more force will be required to produce them. At the extreme energies required to produce p-branes , the previous approximate equations are shown to lack the kind of precision which will be sufficient to expose the lurking presence of such branes!However, this does not mean that all the previous calculations and equations based on the old string theory are thereby invalidated. It only means that they are now more refined and less approximate!

 

Witten and Paul Townsend of Cambridge University made a remarkable discovery in 1994. They found that the old 10 dimensional string theory can be considered an "approximation" of a higher, mysterious 11-dimensional theory (of unknown origin) but that if we were to reframe our mind into that of a "membrane like" theory of a world of 11 dimensions and then curl up one dimension, it would become the old 10-dimensional type IIa string theory. In addition, the supergravity theory (which only contains two particles of zero mass ie. the graviton and the gravitino) may thus be considered a subset of the M-theory! In other words, we can explain the existence of supergravity if we assume a tiny portion of M-theory (which as a whole deals with an infinite number of particles with different masses) and restrict ourselves to just that portion of its theory about massless particles, then it would become the old supergravity theory. In the same manner, if we take a sphere in 11 dimensions, curl up one dimension, the sphere will "collapse" and its equator become a closed string, then it will become a "slice of a membrane" in 11 dimensions. We may then consider the 11th dimension as being curled into a small circle. Thus the M-theory nicely ties up all 10 and 11 dimension strings and membranes.

 

M-theory thus have the largest set of symmetries known to physics. Not only that, all 5 string theories are "dual" to each other and may share certain family resemblance in more or less the same way that low charge electricity may be equivalent to or resemble high-charge magneticism. Thus whilst type I string theory is based on closed and open strings that can interact in 5 different ways with string splitting and joining and S0(32) string is based entirely on closed strings that have one way of interacting and will undergo splitting, Type I theory is defined in 10-dimensional space but S0(32) vibration is defined in 26 dimensional space, IF however we allow the strength of the interaction to increase, type I strings will change into S0(32) heterostrings! Perhaps this is why so many physicists are so engrossed and enchanted by the M-theory and the string theories. There is such symmetry and elegance! Everything known about particles and gravity seems to tie in together so nicely!

 

There are some indications that the mass of a higher dimensional brane can be on par with the lowest mass string vibrational patterns and that if so, they may have a significant effect on the resulting physics, according to Greene. M-theorists now posit that the universe in which we find ourselves may be nothing but an enormous brane! It may well be that the additional 10th space dimension required by string theory may hug so closely to the surface of the universe that but for the minor discrepancies which the string theorists have discovered in their calculations when they try to figure out the "missing" energies in the relevant equations, it might never have been "discovered" because of their extremely small size! Another reason might be that the higher dimension are so tightly wound up by the tremendous force of the relevant strings that they never have the chance to be unravelled and to expand into a size measurable by our current instruments of measurements. Whatever might be the beauty of the M-theory, the fact remains that no one has yet found firm evidence of the existence of the additional 6 or 7 dimensions posited by string theory and M-theory because their discovery will require measurements of distances smaller than those permitted by any instruments of our present technology and also the production of energies which our current particle accelerator are capable of by many order of magnitudes! So string theory and M-theory remain mathematically possible theories only! They may or may not have any relation to what we normally regard as physical "reality".


 



18 March

What Makes the Superstring Super?



I have often wondered why some scientists call the strings in the string theory "superstrings". Now I think I know, thanks to Brian Greene. He explains that in chapter seven of his classic The Elegant Universe I mentioned in one of my earlier blogs. That chapter is headed "The Super in Superstrings".

 

It appears that that adjective indicating the superlative is related to one particular feature that scientists often find in nature and which may sometimes serve as his guide in the search to uncover Nature's secret. That feature is called "symmetry". Einstein was reported to have said that he would feel sorry for God if the Almighty were to pass over his General Theory of Relativity because it was so simple, condensed, powerful and hence elegant and beautiful. Scientists often follow their hunch in pursuing a particular line in their research simply because the formula which they hope to form the basis of their theory appears to them so elegant and beautiful. Of course, beauty is no guarantee of correctness. But in practice, they often do. And in physics, symmetry often seem a good bet. String theory seems to embody a "super symmetry" in the sense that  it can be applied in the explanatory context of so many different kinds of forces.

 

In physics, scientists expect nature to behave in a "regular" and hence predictable manner. The laws of physics are supposed to be universal: they will apply no matter where and when they are tested. They are supposed to apply in all kinds of places and all points in time! Ideally, they should be true everywhere and at all times, in all parts of the universe, in all macrocosms and as well as in all microcosms.. Nature is expected to display "symmetries"! The laws of gravity apply not on earth but on the moon and on the sun and in all the galaxies. The laws of physics treat all observers everywhere alike! Even though Einsein has taught us that we must take into account the "relative" speed or acceleration of the celestial body from which the relevant observer makes his observation, the same physical laws still apply. The applicability of the laws of physics does not depend on the "angle" of observation.

 

The laws of physics treat all possible "orientation" on an equal footing. Even if you were to rotate all your experimental equipment and repeat the same experiment, the results will be the same. This is called rotational symmetry. However, in 1925, George Uhlenbeck and Samuel Goudsmit found out  something more. They found that a number of properties of light emitted and absorbed by atom could only be explained by supposing a special property of electrons called "spin" (in more or less the same the same way that the earth rotates both   around an unchanging axis and at the same time revolves around some other object in space like the sun). In the case of the electron, there is a "spin" around the nucleus of the atom, in a specific orbit. What they found is that all the electrons in the universe spins at one fixed and never changing rate! Such a property is regarded as an "intrinsic"property of an electron just like its mass or its electric charge. Since then, scientists have found that this  property is not just peculiar to the electron alone. All other matter particles and also their partner anti-particles are found to behave in exactly the same way: they all have a spin equal to that of the electron!  Hence there is now an additional symmetry in Nature. In the technical language of the scientists, they say that all "matter particles" have a "spin-1/2", where the value of 1/2 is roughly a measure of how quickly the particle rotates. But the "non-gravitional force particles" like photons, weak guage bosons and gluons have an intrinsic spin whose value is twice that of the "matter particles": they have a spin of 1 and that the graviton has a spin of 2. Even in 1974, Scherk and Schwarz have already predicted from their string theory that one of the the strings would have a spin of two and is massless. That appears to fit in perfectly with what is required of the graviton! This additional symmetry is now called by scientists "super-symmetry". It is "super" because it "transcends" or goes beyond the "classical" symmetry of rotation in time, in spatial location, in angular orientation, in velocity of motion. It is associated with a change in observational vantage point in the context of "quantum mechanical extension of space and time".  

 

If the universe is really "super-symmetric" then the particles of Nature must come in pairs ( called "superpartners) whose respective spins differ by half a unit! Since the matter particles or strings ( tiny vibrating loops) have spins of 1/2 while some of the messenger particles have a spin of 1, then supersymmetry suggests a "partnering" of matter particles and force particles! If so, we will have a theory which unifies all forces, including gravity. Supersymmetry is the only symmetry that interchanges all the sub-atomic particles known to physics. It classifies these particles by their spins: thus photon which mediates between electro-magnetic force has spin 1; the weak and strong nuclear forces, mediated by W-bosons and gluons, also have spin 1; the graviton has spin 2 (all particles having integral spin being called generically "bosons") whilst particles of matter have half spins and are  generically called fermions (including the electron, the neutrino and the quarks).  Because in string theory, all the sub-atomic particles have a partner, each fermion is paired with a boson. Because all subatomic particles are either fermions or bosons, supersymmetrical theory has the potential for unifying all the known sub-atomic particles into one simple symmetry. It is a symmetry which include all the particles of the entire universe!

 

However, in the mid-1970s theoretical scientists found that none of the known particles like electrons, neutrinos, up/down quarks, to/bottom quarks, charm quarks, strange quarks, taus, gluons, photons, bosons,  gravitons could be superpartners of one another and further calculations show that if the universe were to incorporate supersymmetry, then every known particle must have a superpartner particle (as yet undiscovered) whose spin should be half a unit less than the spin of the known superpartner particles i.e. the known particle's  (e.g. an electron) superpartners  should have a "spin-0" . They call such a superpartner particle of an electron  a "selectron" ( abbreviation of supersymettric electron) . Likewise the superpartner of a neutrino would be called "sneutrino" and a superpartner of a quark would be called "squark" and for force particles like photons, their corresponding superpartners would be called "photinos", for gluons, "gluinos" and for W-bosons, "winos" and for Z bosons "zinos" etc. If so, does that mean that instead of making physics simpler and more elegant, string theorist makes it even more clumsy and cumbersome and we must abandon string theory? No, according to Greene!  For three reasons. Nature does not necessarily have to follow all possible mathematical principles and symmetries. Second, to make Nature supersymmetric, we can fine tune Nature's values to a special value to fit with the standard model. However, if we were to adopt supersymmetry we may have cancellations. Thus bosons, whose spin is a whole number and fermions whose spin is half of a whole(odd) number) tend to give cancelling quantum-mechanical contributions such that when the quantum jitters of a boson are positive, those of a fermion tend to be negative and vice versa. As supersymmetry requires that bosons and fermions occur in pairs, substantial cancellations are bound to occur so that the quantum frenzy is considerably reduced and we no longer have to rely on the extremely delicate values required by the standard model. Thus while according to the standard model, at extremely high temperatures, e.g at 1028 Kelvin when the universe was about 10-39 of a second old, the strength of the three non-gravtional forces ie. strong and weak nuclear forces and the electromagnetic forces may all merge together into one grand homogenous force plasma, when the size of the universe was about is 10-29  of a centimeter or just

about about 10,000 times larger than the Planck length. Georgi, Quinn and Weinberg have argued that the reason why we now find that these three forces are so different is because of the different effect of the haze of microscopic quantum activity on each such force. 

 

In 1973, Gross and Frank Wilczek and also David Politzer argued that the quantum cloud of particle eruptions and anihilations "amplifies" the strengths of the strong and weak nuclear force. If so, the shorter the distance between the particles, the less amplifications there will be. In 1991, Ugo Amaldi of CERN, Wim de Boer and Herman Furstenau of Germany recalculated the Georgi, Quinn & Weinberg extrapolations and found that the value of the three forces almost but still not quite agree at tiny distances at extremely high temperatures but that once supersymmetry is incorporated, the tiny discrepancies in the calculations disappears! The reason is that the superpartner particles contribute additional quantum fluctuations which just adds sufficient force to make the three forces converge with each other.

 

Superstring theory, as modified by the works of Ferdinand Gliozzi, David Olive, Andrew Neveu is the only theory we now know which can merge general relativity and quantum mechanics!

2010年3月16日 星期二

The Problems of String Theory

One of the greatest problems faced by string theorists is how to measure the tension of a string.



We know that if a string is stiffer, it has more potential energy. Thus the modern piano has a much more powerful sound than the harpishord because its strings are mounted upon a steel frame and are tightened with screws at the end of the steel frame to increase the string's tension so that when hit, it emits sounds which vibrate with much more force and much longer, amplified by the sound board of good quality wood to increase its resonance.  But the strings are so tiny that  there is no way we can pluck or hit its string to measure the amount of energy emitted. Therefore the only thing we can do is to do the reverse and work out its strength or tension indirectly from something known ie. from the force of gravity. And since the force of gravity found by empirical observation and measurement is very very weak , this implies that the strings must have an extremely high tension. Sherk and Schwarz thus work out that each string has a tension of a thousand billion billion billion billion (1039)  tons or the Planck tension. Therefore fundamental strings are extremely stiff compared to those we normally encounter. This has at least three consequences. First,  the tension is so great that the string is curled in upon itself to a miniscule size of Planck length of 1033 cm.

 

Second, quantum mechanics dictate that the energy of the string can only increase by definite discrete amounts or a multiple of the smallest energy unit. The force or energy of a string is  proportional to the tension of the string and also to the number of peaks and troughs in the particular vibrational pattern while the whole number multiple is determined by the amplitude of the vibrational pattern. The "smallest energy unit" happen to be Planck energy or 1019 times the mass of a proton. By quantum standards, this is a huge mass. It's normally called  the Planck mass or about equal to the mass of a grain of dust or a collection a colony of a million bacteria. If so, then how do we explain the abundance of such much lighter particles like electrons, quarks, photons etc in the universe?  

 

What the string theorists find is that owing to constant quantum jitters, there can be energy "cancellations" between such quantum jitters. More than that, they find that the energy associated with quantum jitters of a string is negative! Such cancellations reduce the overall energy of a vibrating string by roughly the Planck energy. So, the lowest net energy vibrations correspond to those found in the more familiar matter and force particle families mentioned above. Scherk and Schwarz found in the 1970s that for the vibrational pattern whose properties make it suitable as a candidate for the graviton messenger particle, the energy cancellations must be perfect so that there will be a zero mass gravitional force particle! It is only because the graviton is practically massless that it can travel at the speed of light. However in this world, low energy vibrational combinations are the exception rather than the rule: the more typical vibrating strings correspond to a particle whose mass is billion upon billions of times greater than that of the proton.What this means is that the lighter particles should arise in the mist above the roaring ocean of energetic strings. Thus even such a heavy particle like the top quark with a mass of about 189 times that of a proton, can only arise from a vibrating string if the Planck-scale energy is cancelled by quantum jitters by more than one part in a hundred million billion!

 

The third important consequence of the huge value of string tension is that strings can literally execute an infinite number of vibration patterns. If so, why is it that we do not have an infinite number of elementary particles? The answser lies with our existing technology. It does not allow us to discover an infinite number of particles because we are simply unable to reproduce the tremendous energies required for testing the existence of all the particles predicted by string theory. But we can posit that at the creation of the universe, situations existed wherein the energy levels were high enough to produce these particles. The only problem is that such particles would not have survived until now because super-heavy particles are usually unstable. They would usually decay into a number of smaller and ever lighter particles. The end result can be seen today in the form of those familiar particle we meet day in day out. But theoretically, such super-heavy particles could have existed.

 

However, the string theory also has its own limitation. Since the size pf a string is supposed to be about Planck's length, and its mass is about that of Planck mass and its force is about that of Planck force, this means that we cannot use the string to probe anything smaller than matter of shorter than sub-Planck-scale distance. We can only use a fine tipped instrument to probe the surface of rougher objects. We cannot use a blunt instrument to probe a finer object. If so, since the Planck scale is the smallest we can find by existing technology, that is the absolute limit of the kind of "particles" ( or strings) that our scientists can empirically find. If so, it cannot be affected by the supposedly disastrous short-distance quantum jitters in the same manner that our hand will find marble smooth although under a microscope, the marble surface will be found to be very grainy and full of pores. In the same manner, the sensitivity of strings to probe matter is limited by its Planck length: it cannot be used to probe distances shorter than Planck length. There is thus no way to explore the sub-Planck scale "imperfections" in the fabric of space. That however, does not necessarily mean that even smaller particles cannot exist. But it does means that even if they really do exist, we have no way of finding out about them by observation. All that we can do is to posit their possible existence through the use of mathematical logic! At present, that limit exists immediately above the level of the devastating "foam of the quantum sea", where all our known laws of physics applicable to the macroworld break down. The fluctuation of that sub-Planck size quantum sea can no longer be measured and for all practical purposes, do not "arise" from an empirical point of view.

 

According to Greene, we have this problem of the uncertainty of this violent sub-Planck quantum fluctuation partly because of the way we have been doing our physics. We previously see the world of matter and force in terms of point or billiard ball-like matter and force particles. Once we reach a scale no bigger than a point, with literally no spatial extent, our laws break down. On the tinest of scale, we run into insurmountable difficulties. But string theory tells us that we run into difficulties only because we do not really understand the true nature of matter and force. The new rules of quantum mechanics tell us that there is a limit to how finely we can probe the universe. We have been "misled" by our previous point-particle approach to grossly overstep the bounds of physical reality, by thinking of reality as continuous, by thinking analogically. Previously physicists like Pauli, Heisenberg, Dirac and Feynman found that it is very difficult to construct a theory of physical reality without positing a point particle in the macro-world which is consistent with the principles of conservation of quantum-mechanical probability( physical objects do not suddenly vanish from the universe: they merely change their form or mode of existence) and the impossibility of faster than light speed transmission of information. But they also found that once they reach the smallest limit of point particles, the results show that such laws appear to be violated e.g with what looks like faster than speed of light "communication" between particles etc. But now string theory has shown that these rules need not be broken and in addition, their theory can accomodate even the force of gravity!  

 

How does string theory do that? They envision the matter and energy as strings such that when in the former scenario of an electron and its anti-particle, the positron colliding, annihilating each other in a flash of energy, then emitting a photon which travels a bit more in space before releasing the energy it derived from the initial electron-positron pair by producing another electron-positron pair which travel on further deflected trajectories, the electron and positron are viewed as different oscillating loops, vibrating in just the right kind of resonance patterns and when they "collide", what they do is that they "merge" together to produce a third vibrating string (the photon string) and the photon string then dissociate into two further strings which travel on along like in the previous point-particle model, deflected trajectories . But whereas in the particle scenario, the point-particle is seen as occurring at a specific point in space and time, in the string scenario, when the strings interact, they do so at different times and different places (if seen from the point of view of the particle perspective). From the string theory point of view, when the two strings "merge", they do so at different places and times, more or less like waves cutting into each other at different angles at different points in time in different phases.  In short, according to Greene's explanations, "there is no unambiguous location in space and time or moment in time when the strings first interact" . It really depends on the state of motion of the "observer:" . Thus in a sense, string theory "smears" out the place(s) or location(s) where the relevant interactions are supposed to be taking place and is thus able to avoid the disastrous results of the "infinity" solutions often encountered when scientists adopt the kind of mathematical formulas employed to describe the behavior of such "point-particles" in accounting for the relevant quantum interaction of such "point-particles". Thus in a way, the force or punch of the "collision" is spread out along the length of the strings instead of being concentrated on one specific point in time and space and in the case of gravity, this smearing significantly dilutes the other quantum forces to such an extent that calculations will yield "well-behaved" finite answers instead of the previous "infinities."  This "smearing" smooths out the ultra-microscopic jitteriness of space as sub-Planck length distances are blurred together, according to Greene. The impossible and insoluble calculations which results in applying the relevant equations from the point-particle way of describing quantum particle interactions are thus "avoided" and even gravity can be accomodated within the string theory!