Pseudoscience from an archaeology perspective. Nothing really new (apart from the critical thinking exercises at the ends of chapters that gives it aPseudoscience from an archaeology perspective. Nothing really new (apart from the critical thinking exercises at the ends of chapters that gives it a textbook-like quality despite its informal tone), but a nice collection of the kind for which I admit having a soft spot.
I find it hard to sympathise with what doubtless many people find the more human side of the row, that of the tribes. The attitude involving respect for ancestors by conforming to rather arbitrary and conservative standards, and ancestors that perhaps shared nothing with you while they lived at that, is for me a very odd and scarcely justified one. There might of course be some aspect of a downtrodden, nearly destroyed people trying to reclaim anything at all of their past, but how far must such concern be taken? The irony of this particular case is mentioned in Feder's book- that for the tribe to make the claim they wish and prevent scientific meddling, their best chance at proof is exactly said meddling. This has according to the article basically proven to be the case.
It seems to me there's a very basic bias in the human condition underlying all this- the past is easy to identify with, while the future, from its potential to its dangers, remains abstract. Science, even archaeological science, is really about the future- it can illuminate the past and those illuminations often mean something for the future, usually better arming us for it (in the case of specimens like this, such externalities could involve insights into our genomes to help combat disease and the like- these may of course never materialise in any particular case, but it's worth trying given how it's worked in other cases). What disrespect is there in throwing a more rigorous line to the past than folk histories and the like can if it means a connection is more secure, and may even meander into the future?...more
I have news for you- if you want to go with 'Je ne suis pas Charlie', you really are a piece of shite.
'Je suis Charlie' isn't about condoning what theI have news for you- if you want to go with 'Je ne suis pas Charlie', you really are a piece of shite.
'Je suis Charlie' isn't about condoning what the magazine was about- it's about acknowledging a freedom the magazine exercised and ultimately paid for with lives. You can be as hipster as you like and cry about nuance, but this is at heart very simple- you really are either for the freedom of expression or not, you either reject the cost Charlie bore or not. The content doesn't matter, but even your disagreement at the satire (usually a futile and stupid exercise, but be that as it may) is being protected by the ideal 'Je suis Charlie' conveys. Only an idiot who didn't know what groupthink was would call it groupthink- it's rather the very right to think and say what you think.
(A dismaying article by the usual revisionist suspects prompted this review.)...more
I didn't expect this to be as quick a read as it was (it might have helped that I read Frenkel's Love and Math prior to this and had the likes of SU(3I didn't expect this to be as quick a read as it was (it might have helped that I read Frenkel's Love and Math prior to this and had the likes of SU(3) swimming through my head). It's certainly technical in parts, but doesn't go into too much detail (I don't recall seeing an actual equation).
The kind of technical things it mentions seem addressed to the physics community where readers would be able to fill in details from a bird's eye view kind of argument. One reviewer here voiced complaint that no explanation of what the exactly the Atiyah-Singer index theorem is was forthcoming, but I don't think even a rough idea of this kind of abstract result can be communicated to anyone's benefit given the space restrictions. This is the closest to an effective exposition I've found, but it doesn't even try to encompass the full generality of the theorem- http://www.quora.com/How-would-you-in...
The first couple of chapters describing the standard model and where particle accelerators come in and the last few (including one about the Bogdanov affair) are much lighter and read like the popular science most of us are used to.
The reason I've come short a star in the rating is because I have some philosophical sympathy for Susskind's position. Things might in fact not turn out to be as clean and tractable as we'd like and anthropic reasoning might be inevitable. Woit has convinced me to have a read of Weyl, but I'm not convinced there are guarantees. Though on the other hand, some of the research programmes noted as alternatives to string theory (though unfortunately not discussed at any appreciable depth), like that of Connes, sound fascinating.
An unforeseen consequence of my reading Not Even Wrong (the title is from Pauli and resonates with the thought of one of my favourite philosophers- Karl Popper), is that it made me curious about what string theory looks like (as a formalism). All this time, popular accounts gave me the impression that the main appeal of string theory was a degree of mathematical elegance and generality, but Woit (who works in a maths department) seems to contradict this. No doubt supersymmetry and M-theory are heavy going (my grasp even of their nature as described here being very tenuous), but they are at least fruitful exercises in geometry, one hopes.
Finally, it should be said that the most important contribution of Woit's book might be a social one, in that it not only questions the intellectual honesty of the orthodoxy but is also critical of the practices in academia that let theorists avoid due reflection. A significant part of the problem appears to be the failure of administrative policy (which controls grants, post-doctorate positions, etc.) to see that plurality and a critical attitude are what help science thrive. This is also a widespread problem of public perception to be overcome more generally. The difficulty is in part due to relaxing the emphasis that 'science is hard' for the sake of popularisation (ruminating 'how pretty the sky looks!' with different kinds of imaging seems to be many a lay person's idea of science). There aren't any easy answers to this conundrum, but having society learn to think critically seems doubtless part of the eventual answer, which brings us back to the titular Pauli quote and category mistakes....more
If you're one of those penny-a-dozen insufferable idiots who pop up on news articles about space exploration and ask 'Why are they wasting money and bIf you're one of those penny-a-dozen insufferable idiots who pop up on news articles about space exploration and ask 'Why are they wasting money and brains on this frivolous stuff? Where's a cancer cure? When's poverty going to be solved?', then do the world a favour and read this.
The general tone of negative and middling reviews for this book suggest why it is (especially in countries like the United States) that while popularThe general tone of negative and middling reviews for this book suggest why it is (especially in countries like the United States) that while popular science seems to be embraced more and more by the masses, actual scientific and mathematical literary seems to be on the decline or finds itself at least consistently below average.
The autobiographical part of the book weaves through the mathematics well enough and is very interesting in its own right, from its reflections on Russian mathematics to the antisemitism implicit in Soviet university administration that the author was directly confronted with on his academic journey. As for the maths, you'd think reading such an earnest and painstakingly clarified account of the forefront of mathematical research (producing at least a couple of Fields Medals in the last few years) merits taking out paper and pencil to try and reproduce some of the author's arguments (mostly verifying basic properties), or at least a careful read of the chapter notes. Apparently not!- it's bite-sized memes and pretty pictures or nothing (as with popular science on television and certain intelligent-seeming books by Gladwell and the like; on the other hand some sources try not to compromise too much; for instance the Numberphile Youtube channel on which Frenkel has had appearances).
This response is disappointing, but I still think a keen high school student (and not necessarily as keen as Frenkel appears to have been) or even a not so keen one might find something beautiful about mathematics in this book and be persuaded to follow it (likely with the odds considerably more in their favour than for Frenkel in Soviet Russia). Certainly Frenkel's greatest achievement here is communicating as simply as possible (but making it no simpler) the essential motivation behind Galois groups, representations, Lie theory and Langlands duality. There's also a compelling bird's eye view from his experience working on the programme, but the returns for the average reader are greatest when it comes to the motivations and basic definitions and arguments. Such persuasion would be a considerable enough ambition fulfilled, whatever the book's success with a lay audience not willing to deviate the slightest from the expectation of a novel-like experience whatever the gains that might be in store.
Nature apparently found this article unnatural (for scientists!) and rejected it. Honestly, I didn't get a nuanced picture of what Grothendieck's work was all about from this, but that's not the point- the basic ideas, in spite of the almost unavoidable jargon (given the length), do get through to a non-trivial degree and what's most valuable about a piece like this is having experts in a notoriously difficult field deign to simplify their eagle's eye view for the public- the least the public could do, especially the scientific public, is make an effort!...more
More a 3/5 in my mind (the accounts are generally fascinating), but I want to offset the ratings of those whose only issue with the book seems to be tMore a 3/5 in my mind (the accounts are generally fascinating), but I want to offset the ratings of those whose only issue with the book seems to be that the author isn't as gripped with pity for the animals featured as they'd like....more
There are two entries for this here that ought to be merged.
The level varies somewhat. Highlights for me were Razborov's excellent sleek introductionThere are two entries for this here that ought to be merged.
The level varies somewhat. Highlights for me were Razborov's excellent sleek introduction to computational complexity theory (one of the best of its kind), Smale's article that can be read as something of a follow up, each of Cartier's articles and the one by Manin....more