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Chaos of Delight Episode 7

Charles Darwin wrote wonderful sentences, beautiful books and fabulous phrases and one of my favourite is when he describes his mind being a ‘Chaos of Delight’ after seeing many of the splendid lifeforms in a Brazilian forest.  And we have asked everyone who’s been involved in this App when they experience that ‘Chaos of Delight.’ – Robin Ince

It’s something that I treasure and try to experience as often as possible.


The chaos of delight is a brilliant phrase, isn’t it, and the trouble is, you know, doing science for me is often just more of a chaos without the delight bit, but…so the delight and the chaos for me sort of come at different moments.  I think different people take a different approach to that.  Some scientists really love, sort of, jumping in and getting down and dirty with all the facts and trying to work out what’s going on.  I actually really like…the delight for me is when suddenly things become really simple, and I guess that did happen for Darwin in the end, about as simple as it can become, um, but it’s going from the chaos into the simplicity that is the real excitement of science.

So, a specific example of going from chaos to delight, almost literally, if you look at the cosmic microwave background, as people have been doing for the last, well, twenty years in some detail, you find that it’s just full of apparently random patches on the sky of different temperatures.  They’re only slightly different temperatures but when you measure the temperature on different bits of the sky you get slightly different temperatures in an apparently random way.  But it turns out that you can use statistics to kind of, um, quantify in what particular way the things are random. Different types of random.  You might have little patches that are all different temperatures or you might have big patches that are all different temperatures, for instance, that you can start working out the typical size of a patch, if you like.  And all of that chaos then gets boiled down to really quite a simple description of what’s going on, um, which is just a few numbers.  Literally about six numbers that describe our universe. 

And it’s just quite astonishing when you stop to think about it.  You have all of this chaos, lots of random stuff going on, it’s all to do with quantum mechanics, but you can boil it right down to just a few numbers that tell you about the universe.