Science book reviews & recommendations

Bikeman (Heinz-Bernd Eggenstein)
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Sounds like it's well spotted ..... Good concentrating by Quan, anyway :)


Yeah, it sounds like a 'concentrator' is one that can hold focus for long enough on a problem!! Sort of like a case/scenario study type of thing. We used to call them 'electives', meaning not the main stream of the course but a side topic, with some depth, that had an especial interest for us.

Mind you I've just finished Lee Smolin's book 'The Trouble With Physics' since my last post. An excellent report on the disaster that is string theory and the toll it's taken on the lives and careers of up and coming talent. ( Not to mention the complete absence of experimental correlation or a firm framework/definition for what string theory actually is ). As the later part of his book indicates : anyone who is female and/or non-white and/or has contradicted work by their seniors does not actually have a bright future. Hopefully the experimentalists in particle physics are more pragmatic.

Mainly he discusses the 'groupthink' that occurs when a certain trend get's going and how that dominates the choice of avenues when trouble arises - essentially stronger denials of problems, a sort of clinging to the shipwreck despite the evident wetness and sinking. But few struggle to break from the pack, swim away, or even discuss building a new boat. He works at the Perimeter Institute which I gather is rather a refuge for alternate thinkers.

I recommend his book as more a treatise on the current and recent sociology of the theoretical physics community, than a technical critique of string theory per se.

Cheers, Mike.

Bikeman (Heinz-Bernd Eggenstein)
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Science book reviews & recommendations

Thanks for the book recommendation. I had no idea string theory was that controversial. Then I remembered a quote by Feynman on string theory ("String theorists don't make predictions, they make excuses."), and while googling for that, I hit a review of a similar book:

Peter Woit : "Not Even Wrong – The Failure of String Theory and the Continuing Challenge to Unify the Laws of Physics"

The review can be found here: http://physicsworld.com/cws/article/print/25467

Anybody read that one as well? Any good?

CU
Bikeman

Ver Greeneyes
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A (fairly technical) summary

A (fairly technical) summary of Quantum Gravity approaches (including String Theory) was released very recently, appropriately titled 'Approaches to Quantum Gravity'. It was edited by Daniele Oriti, a physicist who recently won a 1.5 million euro grant to allow him to set up his own research program in Germany. It includes contributions from many leading physicists in the field and a discussion between them at the end of each part. You can find it at Cambridge Press (I received my copy a few days ago) but beware, it's expensive..

Mike Hewson
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I haven't read Woit but the

I haven't read Woit but the themes appear similiar to Smolin's book.

String theory is/has been compared to chemistry prior to Lavoisier et al - not right or wrong, but 'haywire'. The Earth, Air, Fire and Water ( plus or minus Quintessence ) theories of the time could explain anything at all - and variants could explain the same phenomenon with vastly different mechanisms!

What for me was one of the most disturbing aspects of Smolin's book was his report that some string advocates are now talking about 'changing the meaning of science' - in effect removing or downplaying the role of experimental validation in vetting theories - as a viable alternative to progress in the field. This is not a new concept/advance/breakthrough but a return to centuries old practices and amounts to inability to admit error, by fiddling with the language ( ie. change the established definition of the word science ) to cover that. Very kindergarten-like actually, not only in the attempt but the evident hope/belief that others will swallow such a shallow strategy.

Having said that there seems to be wonderful mathematics coming out of the string theory area.

Late last year I went to the Melbourne University 'Open Day' and saw some terrific stuff on display from their math department. Alot of what I would label as 'applied mathematics' was presented - refinements of finite element analysis algorithms ( helpful in materials science and engineering ), queuing simulations for traffic flows at airport terminals ( great if you want to schedule services efficiently and reduce complaints ), modelling of droplet formation in clouds ( clear applications to understanding weather ) and others. What was especially significant was the researchers avid use of real data to test and refine their models against. Thus a perpetual cycle of 'back to the drawing board'.

It just seems a bit ridiculous that the applied section of a maths department could well be doing far-better/more-realistic work than a theory section of a physics department!

But I'm pleased to report that, for my old Melb Uni ( I got a science degree, physics major ~ 1980 ) the theory section of the physics department are largely involved with various external parties assisting with what might be called 'advanced engineering', very much akin to the adjacent maths department.

I guess if some institutions have the predominance of their tenured positions in the string area, and those holding them have the above views, then inevitably those organisations and the students they allege to teach will suffer tremendously from pure time wasting.

Cheers, Mike.

( edit ) I see that Roger Penrose had to go into bat for Woit. This is quite a significant event, not simply as a validation of Woit's viewpoint but as a measure of the present resistance to it - ie. that it required the weight of Penrose to achieve publication. I thought the days of squashing dissenting science publications went out after the Gallileo/Pope standoff, excluding some political regimes, but maybe not!! :-)

As for Penrose himself, I find his latest book The Road To Reality an absolute stunner so far ( I'm still in the early chapters ). His dissertation on the idea of a logarithm, being a replacement of multiplication by addition, through to the heights of analytic continuity in the complex plane of 'good' functions is a real eye opener. I was actually taught all that stuff once upon a time, the detail of which naturally blurs over the decades, but never in the way he presents. What can I say - the guy has a brilliant clarity for drawing themes together and I hope he keeps great health. I want him around for another few decades to teach me. Donald Coxeter, who 'saved' geometry from the Bourbaki purists, got to his late 90's I think :-)

( edit ) I should add that tenured generally means until retirement and/or death, except for various categories of 'foul' behaviour. So not much staff turnover .....

I have made this letter longer than usual because I lack the time to make it shorter. Blaise Pascal

Bikeman (Heinz-Bernd Eggenstein)
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As the last 4 messages in the

As the last 4 messages in the recent LHC thread have developed into an interesting book recommendation thread, I thought we could make it sticky.

Mike Hewson
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RE: As the last 4 messages

Message 92199 in response to message 92198

Quote:
As the last 4 messages in the recent LHC thread have developed into an interesting book recommendation thread, I thought we could make it sticky.


Heck I was just thinking that myself. Be careful, as I could talk all day about the books I've read over the years ..... :-):-):-)

Cheers, Mike.

I have made this letter longer than usual because I lack the time to make it shorter. Blaise Pascal

Henry W. Akeley
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I, too, have read The Trouble

I, too, have read The Trouble with Physics and The Road to Reality. Especially the latter was valuable in helping me 'understand what I don't understand' about the physical world. With many popular works on physics the lack of nuts and bolts (mathematics) in them leaves one bewildered without seeing exactly why. In Penrose's work the jargon and calculations are made part of the presentation and in so doing inform one more than over simplification can ever hope to do. As one of my profs once indicated, if I can't articulate it, I probably don't know it. I just have an inkling.

thirdx9
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I enjoy very much reading the

I enjoy very much reading the book 'Road to Reality.' I once read of all the science literature you can read, there will be a final level of comprehension until finally you need mathematics for ultimate clarity. Of course, I wouldn't know that to be absolute. So, along with purchasing these books, I started to pick of some of the DeMystiFied books covering math. Why not? If we, epecially folk who are interested in sites like this, why not tried to understand what is being said. It's seems to be an option to learn mathematics or not... However, I think of it as part of the hobby... I wouldn't do it in school, but now I enjoy it because I want too.

I would also like to ask about learning more details in reading how this distributed collecting of data works? I see results, but how does it all fit together?

Mike Hewson
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RE: I enjoy very much

Message 92203 in response to message 92202

Quote:
I enjoy very much reading the book 'Road to Reality.' I once read of all the science literature you can read, there will be a final level of comprehension until finally you need mathematics for ultimate clarity. Of course, I wouldn't know that to be absolute. So, along with purchasing these books, I started to pick of some of the DeMystiFied books covering math. Why not? If we, epecially folk who are interested in sites like this, why not tried to understand what is being said. It's seems to be an option to learn mathematics or not... However, I think of it as part of the hobby... I wouldn't do it in school, but now I enjoy it because I want too.

Indeed the required precision for scientific statements, particularly for deciding amongst competing theories, comes from the underlying mathematics. There is/has been a tremendous synergy between maths and physics in recent centuries - starting with Newton and his fluxions!! :-)

Quote:
I would also like to ask about learning more details in reading how this distributed collecting of data works? I see results, but how does it all fit together?


Ah, well as far as LIGO is concerned ( who, in effect, supervise E@H ) then one can access their published documents here and here.
This can be, for sure, gory detail and/or too much information - so you'll have to fossick around for the level that you're after, but those links are a good jumping off point.

One particular paper that seems to summarise the LIGO/E@H operation well from a cruncher's point of view is this one. Although it refers to a previous science run, most of the overall flavour is still generally applicable. But, as some purists will point out, the detail of the parameter space search, the presentation of the data to crunchers etc has evolved ( improved! ) since.

Cheers, Mike.

I have made this letter longer than usual because I lack the time to make it shorter. Blaise Pascal

thirdx9
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RE: RE: I enjoy very much

Message 92204 in response to message 92203

Quote:
Quote:
I enjoy very much reading the book 'Road to Reality.' I once read of all the science literature you can read, there will be a final level of comprehension until finally you need mathematics for ultimate clarity. Of course, I wouldn't know that to be absolute. So, along with purchasing these books, I started to pick of some of the DeMystiFied books covering math. Why not? If we, epecially folk who are interested in sites like this, why not tried to understand what is being said. It's seems to be an option to learn mathematics or not... However, I think of it as part of the hobby... I wouldn't do it in school, but now I enjoy it because I want too.

Indeed the required precision for scientific statements, particularly for deciding amongst competing theories, comes from the underlying mathematics. There is/has been a tremendous synergy between maths and physics in recent centuries - starting with Newton and his fluxions!! :-)

Quote:
I would also like to ask about learning more details in reading how this distributed collecting of data works? I see results, but how does it all fit together?

Ah, well as far as LIGO is concerned ( who, in effect, supervise E@H ) then one can access their published documents here and here.
This can be, for sure, gory detail and/or too much information - so you'll have to fossick around for the level that you're after, but those links are a good jumping off point.

One particular paper that seems to summarise the LIGO/E@H operation well from a cruncher's point of view is this one. Although it refers to a previous science run, most of the overall flavour is still generally applicable. But, as some purists will point out, the detail of the parameter space search, the presentation of the data to crunchers etc has evolved ( improved! ) since.

Cheers, Mike.

Looks like I'll be busy for awhile... so, we're past the appetizers and getter the full meal, scientifically speaking... Thanks for pointing.

Bikeman (Heinz-Bernd Eggenstein)
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There are two books that have

There are two books that have been mentioned elsewhere in the forum already, but for the sake of completeness should be mentioned in this sticky thread:

Harry Collins: "Gravity's Shadow - The Search for Gravitational Waves"

Daniel Kennefick: "Traveling at the Speed of Thought - Einstein and the Quest for Gravitational Waves"

Harry Collins has probably become THE annalist of the GW community, but from sociological point of view. Following the physicists on their conference trails and thru personal contacts with the detector groups, Collins recounts the history of gravitational wave detection beginning from the early days of Joe Weber and his resonant bar detectors up to the beginning of LIGO operation. The book is focused on the experimental part of gravitational wave science and will tell you a lot about the mechanism that are at work when different groups of scientists from different cultures and backgrounds interact to explore uncharted lands of science. Even tho it's 800+ pages long, it's quite entertaining and easy to read, it is basically maths-free so you don't have to have a degree in mathematics or physics to understand the book.

"Traveling at the Speed of Thought" is also more about the history of physics than about the GW science itself, but it is more focused on the theoretical aspects of GW science, and doesn't care so much about the experimentalists. In particular it tells the story how Einstein himself was, at one point, led to believe that GWs either do not exist or can't carry energy, but then changed his mind. Even then it took quite a while and many conferences, papers and mathematical breakthroughs to finally reach a consensus in physics that would finally allow to make an investment as large as that for LIGO with some confidence that there really is something out there to detect.
It's a bit more demanding to read and at least some understanding of maths and physics is definitely useful to understand this book.

Bikeman

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