Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Segments, Zeno's Paradox, and Higgslike Bosons

If you're like me, you live for the little digital gold trophies Strava sends you when you win a KOM.  You beg friends to motorpace you with UPS trucks, and you scream at blind folks, swerving freds and red lights when they appear and prevent you achieving glory and the love of Strava whores.

Of course, you could stoop, but you have ethics--you don't set records with your car or by using StravaCheat (shame on you for clicking on the link!), the clandestine app that lets you simply manipulate comma variables to achieve records without leaving the comfort of your custom waterbed--a kind of doping that goes way beyond drafting off a passing dump truck.

You check the local segments daily:  there's Hains Point, where Tony Barsi owns both the gate-to-gate record and the Backside sprint; there's the mini-climbs of Tilden and Anglers.  There are the random segments leading into classified buildings, up elevators, and into national security areas.  Owning of KOM of these segments is an iffy bit of glory, much like Sky's recent domination of the Tour--one wonders what kind of skulduggery contributed to travelling up Sugarloaf at 35 mph and a reported 1,200 Watts?

While it is nice to Strava (that is, to use an application one can install for free on one's cell phone, or in conjunction with an off-the-shelf GPS device, that links up with a satellite in outer space, possibly through telephony or wireless transmission, which then uses an application to interpret, sort, record, and store that data, and then present it in geographic and tabular ordinal form) I say there is, unfortunately, a limit to the segments Strava can capture.

My teammate owns the Strava segment on Madison Drive, but if there were segments for swaddling infants, he'd also have one for that.  If there was a segment measuring skin lost in bike races, Tim Rugg would certainly be among the fastest shedder of epidermis.

Of course we don't live life in segments, and nature doesn't appear to present itself in segments; Zeno's dichotomy paradox illustrates this wonderfully.  If we face an infinitely segmented life, we will never get anywhere, because we must pass through an infinite number of segments before doing so.

Physicists last week announced the discover of a "Higgslike" particle.  They used the language they did because they are not yet assured that what they are seeing is the Higgs; for those who had called the particle "the God particle," I suppose this means they'll now have to call it the "God-like particle."  The like was inserted to acknowledge the current uncertainty about the segmented piece of reality that appears when a proton smashes an anti-proton and reveals a previously unknown boson with a particular mass.

How that now segmented piece of reality may be further segmented is now a matter for future study.  That we are now to this level, where we once held up atoms as the fundamental monads of all things, suggests we may have a way to go before we get to the last, un-segmentable segment.  Or maybe it's segments all the way down.

Maybe segments are an anthropomorphic thing, our love of analytics.  Maybe they don't really exist except as signpost along a road which varies, but is really all one thing, just as the yellow jersey and its useful but functionally unimportant segmentation, with its grand unity, is the real contest of the Tour. 


As cyclists, this is a more appealing vision, since it allows a kind of grandeur to govern.  We ride along from start to finish, our races, days, and lives only segments in a grand tour of existence, with segments only somewhat haphazardly demarcated by machines and men, only for amusement.

1 comment:

wave said...

Cool post man, seriously.