the monumental achievements of modern physics have been based upon (or, "have led to"?) a certain worldview - that the universe is made of entities th...morethe monumental achievements of modern physics have been based upon (or, "have led to"?) a certain worldview - that the universe is made of entities that can be broken up into elementary constituent parts, and Everything That Happens is made up of interactions between these entities. unfortunately, as with a great many ideas, as time passes and the application of this viewpoint to various avenues of investigation meets with success after success, people come to believe that the reason for this success must be that the concept is a True representation of Reality, and not simply an efficient and practical set of techniques for operating in a certain limited domain.
bohm mastered quantum mechanics and relativity in the 1950s, spent a bunch of time hanging out with einstein and feynman and those sorts of people, and then stepped back and tried to figure out why the two revolutionary advances in 20th century physics have proved so difficult to reconcile. is nature telling us that we are missing something?
this book makes a case for wholeness, and against fragmentation. quantum entanglement hints that entities which appear to be isolated from each other are still connected. relativity tells us that there can be no such thing as an extended rigid body, which led particle physicists to posit that the elementary particles are extensionless points, but this then leads to infinite fields and other infinities in calculations. so they muddle along, sweeping mathematical absurdities under a carpet called renormalization.
but seeing physics in a holistic way is totally alien to modern science, and smacks of new-age non-scientific drivel. it led to bohm being ostracised from the physics world, although he has always maintained a small band of ardent supporters. there is no doubt that physics has been in crisis for at least a generation, until finally today one sees a veritable explosion of "crazy" ideas actually seeing the light of day in "respectable" fora, although sadly bohm didn't live to see it.
there is a certain tone in the way david bohm communicates that is difficult for me to describe, but i love it. it is genius, and gentleness, and kindness, and carefulness. how can one write about quantum mechanics with gentleness and kindness? i don't know, but david bohm did.(less)
most books ought to be half as long as the published product. this one needed to be twice as long.
started out 5 stars. lots of great stuff on ancient...moremost books ought to be half as long as the published product. this one needed to be twice as long.
started out 5 stars. lots of great stuff on ancient greek philosophy and the relationship between how they thought about math and how they thought about the universe. typical hilarious DFW non-fiction humor/profundity mixture.
"...the single most ubiquitous and oppressive feature of the concrete world -- that everything ends, is limited, passes away."
"a language is both a map of the world and its own world."
the middle third gets mathier as he goes through the 17th and 18th centuries. a lot of jolly descriptions of the personalities and human foibles that are part of all public intellectual communities. but as things get more technical, he starts talking too much about how things are getting more technical, and how he knows that he's not going to be able to please any of his readers, since it will be too techinical for many, too simplified for others, etc., etc.
finished up 3 stars. only in the last third do we finally get to Cantor, and even then it's only maybe half Cantor, with lots of Dedekind, Weierstrass, and Godel, which would be great if the book were twice as long. but as it is, there seems to be only 30-40 pages on Cantor and his work. you can feel DFW rushing and cramming, and he knows he is, and he starts apologizing and explaining over and over why he's only going to be able to barely mention this and won't have space to mention that, etc. also, he actually tries to include quite a few proofs and examples, but in almost pure prose, which makes it very hard to follow.
i think that to like this book, you have to be a fan of DFW and have a pretty serious math background. not surprisingly, it has a pretty awful rating at amazon, with lots of 1-star ratings, both from civilians who call it incomprehensible and from pro-type math geeks who call it rubbish. pretty sad.
but if you like penrose or hofstadter, you might like this. more history and humanity here than those two.(less)
this crappy book contains a lot of information. too bad the information was scattered around in such a mess of a book. the organization is crappy (ter...morethis crappy book contains a lot of information. too bad the information was scattered around in such a mess of a book. the organization is crappy (terms are often used but not explained until much later. most of the final chapter should have been like chapter 3). the presentation is crappy (the graphs looked like they were made by a 12-year-old using an early version of excel. there were very few diagrams at all, and what few there were were crappy). the writing is crappy (no personality. very little explanation of physical concepts or practical matters.) even the editing was crappy (there were dozens of obvious typos).
there are endless mathematical derivations of ideal cases, and then of course in order to make these massive integrals computable they have to make additional simplifications. so you end up with some useless formula, which at least would presuambly then allow a nice discussion of what it means and how it compares with actual solar cells. this section usually gets 3 or 4 brief sentences, tops.
sadly, however, i couldn't find any other technical book published in the past 5 years for under $100. i suppose it's the nature of these fast-moving fields, that no one is willing to write/publish a book that will be obselete in 10 years. so i guess i'll just read stuff on the web, mainly, from now on. i do recommend the less technical book Practical Photovoltaics: Electricity from Solar Cells(less)
well, for what it is, you really couldn't ask for more. i am very glad i put my highly abstract and equation-intensive solar book (Physics of Solar Ce...morewell, for what it is, you really couldn't ask for more. i am very glad i put my highly abstract and equation-intensive solar book (Physics of Solar Cells) on hold to read this. chapter one lays out the underlying physics with almost no equations but with lots of good graphs and diagrams and no skimping on concepts. the rest of the book has tons of good stuff about the different candidate materials and their properties, as well as manufacturing methods and very practical info on how an actual, real solar cell is put together and what causes them to fail and where you need to put a diode and what kind of solder to use, etc.
only two problems. first, the book is certainly dated. the first ed was published 1981 (and unfortunately this may be what your local library has). 3rd ed was 1995, and this is the "3rd revised", 2001. but frankly i think there was not much revision, and a lot of the references are from the 70's. basically, this is 10+ years old, which is a long time if you want up-to-date knowledge.
second, the author has spent a lot of time in industry, and there is a lot of useless filler stuff about this company buying some other company and trying to build a factory but then going bankrupt blah blah blah. or his personal commentary about government funding of research and the politics of getting utility companies to buy excess electricity from residential rooftop systems. absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with "practical photovoltaics". but this stuff becomes easy to spot and skim over.
but as a first introduction, it gets a very strong recommendation.(less)
oh, maybe it suffers by comparison with the Omnes book i read right after it. but way too many cutsie analogies with cartoon illustrations (of the ana...moreoh, maybe it suffers by comparison with the Omnes book i read right after it. but way too many cutsie analogies with cartoon illustrations (of the analogy, not the concept), whimsical name-dropping anecdotes, and (serious) mentions of God. (less)
lots of good illustrations, both schematic drawings with lumpy blobs for all the proteins and also really cool micrographs. i also liked the "key expe...morelots of good illustrations, both schematic drawings with lumpy blobs for all the proteins and also really cool micrographs. i also liked the "key experiment" pages.
but the organization was bass ackwards. they started with chemistry, then DNA, then larger structures, until finally the cell cycle. so YOU NEVER KNEW THE BIGGER PICTURE. again and again, they would sort of hint at the larger context and then say "this is discussed in chapter 11" or whatever. the authors made the fatal mistake of so many teachers - they know the subject inside out, so they teach it from the inside out. it makes sense to them that way because they already know all the stuff from later chapters. but the student doesn't.
plus, they wrote with no personality at all. not one joke, anecdote, exclamation, etc., in the entire book.
finally, it was pretty clear that sometimes they wrote two pages and the publisher said "turn this into half a page" and so it became an ultradense series of technical sentences without explanation.
ah, well, i learned a ton, though. most interesting factoid: you can cut out two thirds of a rat's liver and it will grow back as good as new in a few days. wow.(less)
i have a new hero. Roland Omnes. and the astounding thing is that i'm not sure i even agree with him. but holy crap this guy can write. his wit and ch...morei have a new hero. Roland Omnes. and the astounding thing is that i'm not sure i even agree with him. but holy crap this guy can write. his wit and charm and genius absolutely dance and swirl off every page. his metaphors go bam-bam-bam-boom!
and this in a book whose principal purpose is not to entertain (though it is endlessly entertaining); not to educate (though it is constantly teaching); fundamentally, this book is an intricate argument and an intellectual call-to-arms that sort of knocked me off my chair. i'm still dazed.
the thesis: every time quantum mechanics has ever been tested, ever, in any way, it has been confirmed as exactly correct. everything in the universe is made of matter that obeys the laws of quantum mechanics. therefore, it is impossible to understand the universe and everything in it and what it all means unless we understand QM. BUT, the quest for ever greater exactness and certainty has led to the rise of the Formal, which now dominates physics and mathematics and philosophy. by Formal, we mean a concept which is not intuitive or visualizable or expressible in the common language of human experience, but instead is expressed in terms of the mechanical manipulation of abstract symbols. QM is built upon a formalism which gives predictions always in agreement with the outcomes of experiments, but the formalism itself is inscrutable and incomprehensible and the edict from copenhagen is simply Thou Shalt Not Ask Such Questions as "But HOW does measurement cause state reduction?". perhaps in 1930, there was no better answer, but we now have an answer: consistent histories and decoherence. however, while this may be the breakthrough that allows a new philosophy of knowledge to be constructed (discovered?), most of that work remains yet to be done. the chasm to be bridged by the new philosophy is the one between our common sense experience of unique facts, classical objects, and deterministic logic on the one hand, and the inescapably probabilistic nature of QM and its entangled states on the other. what is the nature of the connection between abstract mathematical laws and the actual events that take place in the universe? is mathematics simply a human game where any axioms can be supposed and the resulting (abstract) structures explored, with no particular choice of axioms being "true"? No. the fact that mathematics seems to order the universe means that it comes from "out there", not from within ourselves. we shall find that there is one Logos that is the "correct" mathematical description of reality, and it will explain how to bridge the chasm. but as long as modern physics and mathematics are inaccessible to almost all serious philosophers, and as long as almost all physicists and mathematicians eschew philosophizing as being beyond the bounds of their work, the chasm will remain unbridged, and we will be unable to understand reality.
or something like that. maybe. anyway, i have ordered the other two (more technical) books Omnes wrote.
HOWEVER, there is one elephant in the room which prevents Omnes from displacing Roger Penrose in the top spot in my pantheon: general relativity. while it is true that QM has passed every experimental test so far, the theory STILL DOES NOT INCLUDE GRAVITY. it has not even faced a test on that front, because it does not even know how to deal with it. it is not legitimate to say that gravity is simply a tiny correction to QM of the order 10^-40. general relativity says that time and space themselves are NOT some independent stage on which matter and fields dance. spacetime interacts with matter, which means that even if the current version of QM gives correct predictions to 35 decimal places, IT IS NOT AND CANNOT BE CORRECT as a full description of nature. no one will ever "figure out how to quantize gravity", because current QM assumes a priori the spacetime of SR to be correct, which we know from GR is a fundamentally incomplete description of spacetime. thus, by more or less ignoring GR, i'm afraid that Omnes is sweeping the elephant under the carpet. tsk, tsk.
and yet, i loved, loved, loved this book.
a few samples:
"the Cartesian Project has become almost a fundamentalist doctrine among scientists - the claim that nature obeys universal mathematical and logical principles. ... If we take a cold look at this idea, we must admit that there is in it an element of madness. ... an article of faith, the stronger because not pronounced."
"There is in this situation more than meets the eye, more than the consequence of an excessive specialization or an immoderate taste for abstraction: the existence of an intrinsic darkness."
"The cracklings announcing the fracture were clearly heard, but their deep rumblings went unnoticed..."
Math is a tool, a language, more formal than descriptive - it embodies not the nature of things, but the relationships that exist between them. It does not have any meaning by itself. "When seen through mathematical goggles, every physical science provides its own metalanguage that comes with a particular meaning."(less)
if only all physics textbooks followed this scheme: about 40% history/ narrative/ philosophy/ background/ discussion/ motivation/ humor and about 60%...moreif only all physics textbooks followed this scheme: about 40% history/ narrative/ philosophy/ background/ discussion/ motivation/ humor and about 60% hardcore equation-intensive derivation. rather like the feynman lectures.
a good portion of the math was beyond me, and he does a LOT of hand-waving in his proofs, but he basically says each time "look, if you want to see the nitty-gritty, all the detailed proofs are in my previous book, so i'll just outline the steps here." so next up is his first book, The Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics.
decoherence is shown to occur on a very short timescale, like 10^-29 s for macroscopic objects. thus the schrodinger's cat paradox is completely solved. by far the most exciting thing about decoherence is that wavefunction reduction is no longer necessary.
he does mention gravitation and general relativity a tiny bit this time round, but basically neglects any real discussion of time, which would be my only gripe. ultimately, i guess he feels the effects are negligible at this point in history, so there's no point worrying about them. if one day in the future physicists can do an experiment on quantum gravity scales, then perhaps all our current methods for QM will be shown to be an approximation to something wildly different. he has no problem with that possibility. but his goal is understanding QM as it stands now, since it works flawlessly for any experiment we can now do.
this book is filled with 4-star ideas, and several times i could feel him stretching out and almost touching a 5-star epiphany. so close. unfortunatel...morethis book is filled with 4-star ideas, and several times i could feel him stretching out and almost touching a 5-star epiphany. so close. unfortunately, Feyerabend died while writing it, leaving a half-finished manuscript, and no clear instructions what to do with it. his wife let one of his admirers cobble together this book in two parts. the first part is the unfinished manuscript, and the second is twelve previously published short essays on themes introduced in part one. but the result is that the book is extremely repetitive, with certain quotes from aristotle and einstein repeated 5 or 6 times, and whole paragraphs and pages repeated verbatim. hence my 3-star rating.
anyway, the basic idea is to expose the myth that there is this monolith called "science" which has proved itself every time in its quest to encapsulate all of reality in a few universal, exact, mathematical laws.
first of all, he argues, there is not one universally accepted "scientific method". some scientists start from data and try to find laws which fit patterns they find (e.g. kepler). others start from abstract principles and deduce the conequences, in spite of the fact that experience seems to contradict the resulting law (e.g. einstein). sometimes these speculations turn out to be supported by new data. usually they are tossed on the scrap heap.
second of all, there is this belief among scientists that the "scientific method" is value-free and "objective", and thus is the only reliable way to find the Truth, which surely exists independently of history and ethics. but this way of thinking shows a profound blindness to the UNPROVEN ASSUMPTIONS upon which this philosophy is based. how does one prove the objective truth of the statement, "the scientific method is the only way to establish the objective truth"? by use of the scientific method? haha! how does one ignore the implict values, norms, and politics contained in the statement, "it is very important for all good scientists to strive to find universal laws, and never to be distracted by politics, personal values, or subjective thinking"?
making a definition of knowledge requires knowledge. theories about theorizing are self-referential. the criticism determines what is being criticized. there is a relationship between a platonic argument and the thing it proves.
the reason the scientific method succeeds again and again is not because it is universally successful, but because it is only used on problems where it can succeed. it follows the path of least resistance, and ignores the difficult problems, such as psychology, politics, and basically every aspect of actual human experience.
the claim is not that science is bad, but simply that its practitioners refuse, like adherents in so many other universal faiths, to concede that it has any limitations, even in the face of numerous glaring problems.
usually, when i stumble upon an interesting thinker/writer (often while wikipediaing) and decide to try one of his books, i choose the latest one, since i figure it will be the most up-to-date and modern. well, this one taught me never to start with posthumously-published half-written ones. duh. i will read more Feyerabend, but this book is not the place to start. good ideas, bad editing.(less)
holy crap this dude's editor must have been on crack. one paragraph is about aristotle, the next about newton, the next about descartes, the next abou...moreholy crap this dude's editor must have been on crack. one paragraph is about aristotle, the next about newton, the next about descartes, the next about thales, then parmenides, then guericke, then bohr, then anaximenes, then maxwell, then heraclitus, then democritus, then mach, then pythagoras, then torricelli. seriously, paragraph by paragraph, sometimes sentence by sentence.
there is tons of great information in this book, but i can't remember a damn thing, since it's one of the worst-structured things i've ever seen.
the last hundred pages were a bit better, since it was mostly about quantum vacuum fluctuations, and only referred to the ancient greeks a couple times per page(!).
another reason i give it more than one star is because it was clear (sometimes explicit, sometimes implicit) that physicists really aren't sure of a damn thing, and never really have been.(less)
worth its weight in gold. roland omnes did not steer me wrong. if 50 years hence, robert griffiths is mentioned alongside schrodinger, heisenberg, and...moreworth its weight in gold. roland omnes did not steer me wrong. if 50 years hence, robert griffiths is mentioned alongside schrodinger, heisenberg, and bohr, i will not be surprised. maybe he's wrong, but even so that would not prevent this from being a work of genius. every physics undergrad should be handed this book at the end of junior year and told to read it over the summer.
if you have sat through 2 years of QM lectures getting angrier and angrier, thinking "what is this pile of sh*t? i do not CARE if every experiment ever done confirms the predictions of this load of crap. crap is crap," then this book is for you. otherwise, move along, there's nothing for you to see here.
i mean, if you honestly think that the copenhagen interpretation is acceptable, then i call you a defeatist. and if you think the many-worlds theory has more value than an idle daydream, you need a good dope-slap. an infinity of parallel universes branching off 10^33 times per second? what is that tripe?
now, griffiths did not fix everything, mind you. he adds another postulate (of course, he never admits it), the "single-framework rule", which says that you can only ascribe multiple properties to a quantum system simultaneously if they can all be represented using a single consistent family of histories. thus the cost is quite high, but the benefits are tremendous - the greatest being that there is no longer such thing as "wavefunction collapse caused by measurement," and thus no more spooky superluminal effects are needed to explain EPR or similar 'paradoxes'. improving infinitely on bohr, who simply draws a line between the classical and the quantum and says "thou shalt not ask such questions", griffiths lays out an explicit mathematical test and says, "a statement (e.g. 'the electron has Sx = +1/2 AND Sz = +1/2') which fails the test is meaningless - not false, MEANINGLESS."
that said, there are still elephants in the room. whence the Single Framework Rule, r.g.? why? simply because if we obey it, then everything suddenly makes sense? that is not sufficient. WHY is quantum reasoning different from classical reasoning? fine, fine, ok, ok, most physicists stand guilty as charged, "smuggling classical reasoning into the quantum domain where it does not belong, giving rise to inconsistencies and confusion." but i have a queasy feeling that at least a bit of question-begging is going on here. "the theory is justified because it maintains consistency" does not quite cut it.
i couldn't decide whether this book is for humans or space aliens. i guess it's for both.
wonderful wittgenstein. 90 excruciating pages (676 numbered...morei couldn't decide whether this book is for humans or space aliens. i guess it's for both.
wonderful wittgenstein. 90 excruciating pages (676 numbered sections) on whether G. E. Moore was justified in holding up his hand and saying, "I know that here is my hand." the second half is quite creepy to read, as he was dying of cancer while writing it. the dates are on the entries, with the final page written two days before he died.
highlights: 127 - how do i know that someone else uses the words "I doubt it" as i do? 152 - the propositions which stand fast for me are like the axis of a spinning object 210 - does my telephone call to a friend in NYC strengthen my conviction that the earth exists? 279 - cars don't grow out of the earth 281 - my friend hasn't got sawdust in his head 282 - cats don't grow on trees 287 - the squirrel does not infer by induction that it will need stores again next winter as well 315 - THE game teachers are trying to teach pupils: how to ask questions. 341 - propositions that are exempt from doubt are like hinges on which the others turn 418 - is my understanding only blindness to my own lack of understanding? it often seems so to me 450 - a doubt that doubted everything would not be a doubt 616 - would it be unthinkable that i should stay in the saddle however much the facts bucked?
although this is much shorter than Philosophical Investigations, you should probably read PI first, since this was written afterwards and refers to PI occasionally. (less)