Monday, October 03, 2011

My votes for the Peace and Physics Nobel prizes

This is a weekly post by Nidhal Guessoum (see his earlier posts here). Nidhal is an astrophysicist and Professor of Physics at American University of Sharjah and is the author of Islam's Quantum Question: Reconciling Muslim Tradition and Modern Science.
I don’t need to explain that I don’t actually get to vote on the Nobel prizes, which will be announced on: October 3 for Medicine, October 4 for Physics, October 5 for Chemistry, October 7 for Peace, and some as-yet unspecified date for Literature. I am here simply expressing my wishes, imagining that I had the chance (the privilege) to vote.
And these below are not predictions either, predicting Nobel prizes is notoriously difficult, especially for Peace. And finally, I am limiting myself to Physics and Peace, because those are the two fields where I can express some meaningful wishes, although I must admit that even there my knowledge of potential candidates is limited.
But with all these caveats, and as many of us this time of the year eagerly await the announcements, which always fuel conversation and sometimes controversy, especially in Peace (who can believe that Obama won the prize two years ago?!), I wish to present my personal wishes.
If it were up to me, this year I’d give the Nobel Peace prize to the young activists in Tunisia and Egypt who, using the new/social media, were able to mobilize and sometimes organize demonstrators and get the Arab Spring going.
The debate continues over the extent to which Facebook and Twitter played a crucial role in those revolutions (see Salman’s post on this last January); I have already written that I believe that, at least early on, Al-Jazeera played a determining role (without it, I believe, Tahrir Square would have been turned into Tiananmen Square). I would also like to draw the readers’ attention to two one-hour programs that BBC-TV broadcast this past month, titled ‘How FaceBook Changed The World: The Arab Spring’; both episodes can be found on tube: Part 1 here; Part 2, which is really heart-wrenching, is here.
But I still would like to see those young activists who braved the dangers and utilized their social networking skills get international recognition, for several reasons: a) they used fully peaceful means to topple two of the most repressive regimes in the world; b) they are young, and this will send a message to the youth everywhere that their efforts and ingenuities can have historic results; c) many of them are women, oftentimes religious, though all of them moderate.
There are a number of such young Arabs who would deserve the recognition in my opinion: Lina Ben Mhenni, Slim Amamou, and Azyz Amami in Tunisia; Israa Abdel Fattah, Asmaa Mahfouz, and Wael Ghoneim in Egypt. Some of them have already become rather famous: Wael Ghoneim has been featured on various international news media, has given a talk at TED, and has a long page on Wikipedia.
From Tunisia I would select Slim Amamou, and from Egypt I oscillate between Asmaa Mahfouz (for having posted an emotional video plea urging her fellow youth to go to the streets, dangerously baring her identity early on) and Israa Abdel Fattah (a young activist who played an important role organizing and keeping the peaceful nature of the revolt). Here are pictures of Slim (left), Asmaa (below-right), and Israa (below-left), in that order.
But I would be ecstatic if any of those young activists got the Prize. We’ll see on October 7.
In Physics, I don’t have any hesitation, even though there are entire fields where I know close to nothing. So why do I feel I can still express a choice? Because the one that has been on my mind is a truly fundamental one that any physicist will recognize as such, no matter what field s/he is in. In fact, this one is not in my field, astrophysics.
My vote would go to Alain Aspect for having first experimentally shown that two particles which have been at some point part of a system will remain “entangled” even when they’ve been separated by long distances, so that a measurement of the properties of one will determine the corresponding ones of the other, even if measured far away. It’s not that there is any “communication” between the two particles; they are simply fundamentally “entangled”.
This is what Einstein (with Podolsky and Rosen) brought up as what he/they considered a clear indication of the incorrectness (or at least incompleteness) of Quantum Mechanics, what has since then (1935) been referred to as the “EPR paradox”. In more colorful terms, Einstein described it as the “spooky action at a distance”.
Then in 1981-82, twenty five years after Einstein’s death and almost 50 years after the publication of the EPR paper, Aspect showed that the EPR paradox is indeed a true aspect (pun intended) of nature: though there is no “action at a distance” (as that would violate Einstein’s relativity), there is indeed some “spooky” connection between such particles… with all kinds of implications on the nature of “reality” (see the work of Bernard d’Espagnat).
Others have repeated and confirmed the experiment at larger and larger distances (several miles now). Doesn’t this deserve a Nobel prize? I think it does. We’ll see tomorrow, or next year, or the year after…


Gary said...

I can't really comment on the Physics suggestion but the peace prize suggestion is the best I have heard. Obama has shown by his track record that he was not a fitting recipient. In my opinion the only political leaders worthy of the prize were Yitzak Rabin and Yasser Arafat. They both realised that the tit for tat reprisals had to stop and stood up to the extremists in their midst. It took considerable courage for both of them to do this. Sadly the extremists won. Rabin's assassination probably destroyed the once in a generation chance of resolving that sorry mess.

In Tunisia and Egypt and now in Syria people have risked and sacrificed their lives to secure their freedom from dictatorship. Acknowledgement by the Nobel Committee is entirely appropriate

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