DJ's Reviews > Chaos: Making a New Science

Chaos by James Gleick
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Jun 20, 09

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bookshelves: popular-math
Recommended to DJ by: those interested in how a new science develops
Read in May, 2009 , read count: 1

The story of a new science of simulations and images that shattered our intuition that the laws of a system are all there is to know, Gleick's profile offers many interesting insights into how science is done.

Chaos, like many new fields of science, began as a uniquely colloborative and truly interdisciplinary effort. Without established institutes, journals, or even a name, the field began as a loose collection of biologists, meteorologists, mathematicians, physicists, and others, seeking to overcome the barriers of professional jargon to identify the elephant these blind men all bumped into. The excitement and novel ideas that ensued should inspire any young scientist looking to do more than calculate the next decimal place in the vacuum permitivvity (quantum information anyone?).

Chaos also granted street cred to computer simulations at an earlier time when many physicists and mathematicians were still too pompous to outsource any mental work to a machine. (wait, did he say earlier time?)

For better or worse, studies in chaos, particularly fractals, merged mathematics and art and generated entire books of beautiful images, which were eaten up the public. Whether or not this counts as popularizing mathematics education is left as an exercise for the reader.

If you're looking for an introduction to the physics and mathematics of chaos theory, keep moving. This book is tantalizing light on the science, focusing much more on the scientists and how they made their discoveries.

If, however, you're skeptical that new fields of science come from the stork or congeal into well-established fields overnight, then stop and enjoy! Gleick is a thorough researcher, gleaning the majority of his material from interviews, and an adept unifier of the strands of scientific history, which many researchers ignore.
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