Paul Krugman finds the bottom line: “Ah, Paris! You walk for miles and miles — it’s still, after all these years, a spectacularly beautiful city. Then you have as traditional a meal as possible at an old-fashioned bistro, washed down with lots of wine. And you feel like hell the next morning.”
Hell can be a relaxation one needs. Speaking of hell, on the other side of the planet, I met a professional economist brandishing an iphone. He told me Steve Jobs was a genius, he deserved more money. I replied that iphones were made with lasers. Did he know who discovered the laser? Would not that person be the real genius?
The learned economist had no idea iphones’ chips were built with lasers. He had no idea electronic circuits are printed with light. Lasers exists thanks to OPTICAL PUMPING, invented here:
[Pierre de Corneille welcomes you; Clovis Tower behind right; it's 15 centuries old. Descartes is buried below in a copper coffin.]
The Kastler Brossel lab at the École normale supérieure (ENS) located in Paris’ Latin Quarter, invented Optical Pumping in 1953. (500 meters right of the picture above.)
Alfred Kastler, head of the project, got the Nobel Prize later. Kastler’s Nobel was attributed to him alone; this indicates that Optical Pumping was from the ENS alone; by contrast the famous Feynman shared his Nobel with two co-inventors of that particular portion of QED.
Now that same ENS lab got the latest Nobel Prize in physics (2012). What was the deep discovery this time? Well, seeing light, without perturbing it. How can one see the light without seeing the light? Is not that endangering one of the main metaphors? The deep new idea was to see light with atoms. An inversion of conventional expectations. That was what the Kastler-Brossel lab succeeded to do. Very enlightening. Even philosophically enlightening, as the method painstakingly devised shows that waves can be more subtle than official scientific thinking ever guessed before. (An anecdote: part of the experiment necessitated the most reflecting mirrors ever made, by a very long shot.)
Seeing single photons going back and forth, without intercepting them. Now this is real genius. It’s what real genius means: completely new ideas or techniques, never imagined before.
In truth, far from being a “genius”, Steve Job was just an ignorant, greedy boy playing with toys real men had invented. Nothing wrong with that. The economy needs little hands to bring technology to market. What’s wrong is to conflate business and the most fabulous edge of human creativity. What’s wrong is to confuse the little hand with the biggest minds.
The iphone was not really invented by Jobs. It was invented thanks to the idea of a scientist, Kastler, working hard in a lab in a locale, Paris, where civilization has shined for more than 2,000 years. Kastler’s lab was paid by government money. And still is, 60 years later. This money came from taxes. It could not come from anywhere else.
Thus, refusing to pay enough taxes is refusing to invest in new science and technology, just so that completely ignorant people, such as this (austerian) economist, an admirer of Hayek and Friedman, can keep on spewing absurdities. Is that a world we can afford? No, our civilization hitting the global ecological and energetic lower bounds.
There is no easing out of that. Only hard work, the work of real genius. Not the “work” of those who sell stuff real minds invented. What we need to do is to see the light, whether with atoms or not.
A world where money changers, tax dodgers and salesmen are viewed as geniuses, we cannot afford. And is it what we want, anyway? No. Civilization is also about beauty. This is what Paris say. And what Very Serious Plutocrats, and their obsequious servants, cannot understand.
Notes: Paris was renamed in the 4 C in honor of the Parisii, the Celtic-German nation that thrived there prior to the brutal unification of Gallia by Caesar. Contrarily to their reputation, the Celts were advanced in many important ways. They had Senates, Greek gods (Mercury was big), world class ocean going ships. Celtic metallurgy was the world’s most advanced (Celtic forges had equipped the Roman army, for generations, with special weapons, including swords, and the characteristic light metallic helmets). Logically, it’s Frankish steel that cut through Damascus steel, when the Damascus Caliphate invaded Europe in the 8C. It’s also in France that hydraulic hammers to forge enormous steel were devised in the 12C (to hold cathedrals together). Even recently only a forge in France and one in Japan made the steel for nuclear reactors’ vessels.
LASER: Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. Computer chips are currently made with a lithographic process using ultraviolet light. Literally, the circuits are printed with light, down to 22 nanometers. Companies such as Cymer and ASML are working on shrinking the ultraviolet laser beam down to just 13.5 nanometers, which will allow in turn companies like Intel to squeeze four times more transistors on chips, making them faster (as the signal travels at the speed of light, the smaller, the faster). By contrast, a hair is a gargantuan 40,000 to 60,000 nanometers wide.
Einstein did some theoretical work on Simulated Emission of Radiation in the 1920s. Work on computers go all the way back to the Ancient Greeks. Transistors were invented in Germany in the 1930s. Completely electronic computers were made secretly for the first time in WWII, thanks to the work of an army of geniuses (such as Alan Turing and john Von Neumann). A prominent idea was to mimic the way the brain worked (as elucidated by a dozen generations of biologists, from Volta to Ramon Y Cajal, Golgi, etc…). Genius can neither be sold, nor bought. True genius can only thrive in the tender care and spirit of the noblest civilization, sustained by taxing more primitive animal impulses. Motivation deep, mountain high. Motivation trivial, mountain flat.