Thoughts with Richard Bleil
They say that behind every great man is a great woman. But how would I know that? My longest relationship, other than my marriage, lasted about a year. My marriage lasted less than two, and my wife was anything but supportive. Maybe this is why I’m not a great man.
But today, I met with a great woman, unfortunately nothing more than a friend of mine, and destined to be no more. But she has agreed to work with me on a project of mine, an idea that I’ve had floating around my head for a decade or two. This is not uncommon, not for scientists. Well, at least not for this scientist. I have a project that I’ve been working on for at least three decades now. It’s just the way it works. I’ll get an idea, and it’ll mull around in my head. Periodically, I’ll get an intuitive leap, and make some progress on it before, once again, it goes dormant. There is no prediction of these intuitive leaps, no rhyme and no reason. They’re just suddenly there.
The project she is working on with me is a quantum prediction idea that I had, like I said, a decade or two ago. Today she asked me why I haven’t made more progress on it. There really was no answer. She is not a scientist (at least not formally, but I think she’s more of a scientist than she realizes), and certainly not versed in quantum theory, but I know she’ll be a great partner in the project. Not because I’m going to ask her to check my calculations, or write code, but because I know that she’ll stand by me, believe in me, and encourage me. And sometimes, that’s all that’s needed.
I’ve been giving her lessons in classical thermodynamics, and quantum theory, but in the depth a student taking a course would have, though. My idea draws on quantum theory, and if anybody asks her about the project, she is representing the both of us. I don’t want her to be able to perform the mathematics or understand great details, but I want her to have a greater depth of understanding than the common person might have. If we should seek financers, I want her to have more knowledge than they will likely have. The interesting thing about quantum mechanics is that many people are fascinated by the topic. The ideas built into quantum theory spark imagination and drag people as inexplicably towards it as the behavior of electrons. But the one question that I’ve never heard anybody ask, including in countless articles on the fascinating aspects of quantum theory, is how all of these particles behaving in manners that cannot be understood must add up to the classical physics that we all know and love (even if we don’t know the terminology or mathematics behind it). That field, bridging this gap, is known as “Statistical Thermodynamics”.
Today, I explained statistical thermodynamics to my friend, a subject that few people even know exists. The conversation sparked a thought, though, that I had started writing a book, the intention being to use it as a textbook, explaining statistical thermodynamics at the undergraduate level. To the best of my knowledge, no book like this exists. She was shocked when I mentioned it, because she knew I was writing it, and assumed I had finished it and published it. I was fired before I could use the textbook, so, no, I never finished it, and teaching this subject at the undergraduate level is so unusual that I cannot imagine a publisher being even vaguely interested in it.
And she encouraged me. We talked about it, and she pushed me to finish it. On brainstorming, I’ve decided that if I am going to finish it (“when” she will correct me when she reads this), it will be with a different twist. I’ll write it for the common audience, but with enough detail that it could be used in an undergraduate course.
What amazes me is that, in our conversation, she conveyed her belief in me, her faith in my abilities. It’s something I’ve rarely had in my life, including from my own family, and yet, ten minutes into encouraging me, I decided that I will be finishing the book. With her encouragement, I will make more progress on this project in the next few months than the past decade. With the faith of this great woman, I can see that I truly do have the potential to be the great man that she sees in me. And that’s a great gift.