I just finished Fundamentals: Ten Keys to Reality (2021), by Frank Wilczek. It’s yet another book explaining fundamental physics for lay readers, and it does so pretty much entirely within the bounds of mainstream science. I enjoyed reading it, but it’s mainly a review of physics as we know it.
I saw it on the library’s list of new books and put it on hold back on May 14th. It didn’t become available until September 3 — more than a three-month wait. Apparently lots of people wanted to read it.
Bottom line, I recommend it as an easy and enjoyable read, especially for those with a more casual interest in physics.
I can’t decide which I like best, this one:
With its lovely sunset and notion of into it comma driving off. On the other hand, I also like the implied “many mountains to climb” optimism of this one:
Not to mention the bright sunshine and blue skies. At first glance I thought that was Shiprock dead ahead, but Route 66 runs far south of it (and Shiprock is way more majestic). I also like how old and scuffed up that sign is. I know the feeling. 😉
Stay driving, my friends! Go forth and spread beauty and light.
The last few months I’ve been dipping into the Rabbi Small murder mysteries, which are written by author and professor of English Harry Kemelman (1908–1996). The series is in the Amateur Sleuth sub-genre. In this case the amateur who is constantly solving murders is a Jewish rabbi.
The Tony Hillerman books (Leaphorn and Chee) are filled with Navajo background. The Jonathan Gash books (Lovejoy) are filled with antiques background. The Lawrence Block books (Bernie the burglar) are filled with burglary background. In all cases, this background enriches the reading and can be educational (the Hillerman books especially).
Harry Kemelman’s books are enriched by all the Jewish background.
Twenty years ago today I was at work, and the world was largely as it had always been: sometimes difficult, sometimes easy, sometimes painful, sometimes joyful. As it had always been.
As I worked at my desk I slowly became aware of a general level of commotion coming from our “TV area” (an area nearby where we sometimes met for meetings). The commotion continued, but I knew we had no meetings scheduled that morning. Eventually I got up to see what was going on.
As I approached, it was apparent that most of the department was there; a couple of the guys were standing in the doorway. I rounded the corner and looked in and saw the TV screen just in time to see (a replay of) the second tower falling.
That was my first contact with 9/11. Seeing the second tower fall.
I’ve been reading science texts almost as long as I’ve been reading anything. Over those years, many scientists and science writers have taught me much of what I know about science. (Except for a Computer Science minor, and general science classes, most of my formal education was in the Liberal Arts.)
Recently I read Time Reborn (2013), by Lee Smolin, a theoretical physicist whose personality and books I’ve enjoyed. I don’t always agree with his ideas, but I’ve found I do tend to agree with his approaches to, and overall sense of, physics.
However in this case I almost feel Smolin, after long and due consideration, has come around to my way of thinking!
I read Three Roads to Quantum Gravity (2001), by Lee Smolin, a theoretical physicist whose thoughtful style I’ve always appreciated. I don’t always agree with his ideas, though. This book is about Loop Quantum Gravity, in which Smolin has invested considerable effort, and that idea I’m utterly neutral on. It does seem to make more sense than string theory.
One notion I have a lot of trouble swallowing (like a cup of coffee with eight lumps of sugar) is the relational view. (As a philosophy, relationism. Al stayed home.) It’s a fundamental aspect of LQG.
But I (and apparently Kant agrees) think Leibniz was wrong.
I read Three Roads to Quantum Gravity (2001), by Lee Smolin, a theoretical physicist whose thinking I’ve appreciated since I read his 2006 book, The Trouble with Physics: The Rise of String Theory, the Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next.
Three Roads, as the title suggests, is about the efforts to reconcile quantum mechanics and General Relativity, our two best physical theories. String theory is one road, Loop Quantum Gravity (Smolin’s preferred approach) is another. The third road is complete theory reconstruction (such as discussed by Philip Ball in his book Beyond Weird).
None of that is the subject of this post.
I finished reading Three Roads to Quantum Gravity (2001), by Lee Smolin, a theoretical physicist whose general sensibility I’ve always appreciated. I don’t always agree with his ideas, but I like the thoughtful way he expresses them. Smolin brings some philosophical thinking to his physics.
While he added a lengthy Postscript to the 2017 edition, the book is outdated both by time and by Smolin. In 2006 he published The Trouble with Physics: The Rise of String Theory, the Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next, which explored issues in the practice of theoretical physics. But in 2001 he still thought string theory was (at least part of) The Answer.
Almost none of which is the subject of this post.
Oh, look! Dancing Pixies!
In the last two posts I’ve explored some ideas about what a computer is. More properly, what a computation is, since a computer is just something that does a computation. I’ve differentiated computation from calculation and, more importantly, evaluation. (This post assumes you’ve read Part I and Part II.)
I’ve also looked at pancomputationalism (the idea everything computes). The post hoc approach of mapping of random physical states to a computation seems especially empty. The idea of treating the physical dynamics of a system as a computation has more interesting and viable features.
That’s where I’ll pick things up.
Last time I began exploring what we mean by the terms “computer” or “computation.” Upon examination, these turn out to be not entirely obvious, so some resort to the edge cases: Computers are Turing Machines; or Everything is a computer.
Even then the situation remains stubbornly not obvious. Turing Machines are abstractions quite different from what we typically call computers. Saying everything computes creates such a broad umbrella that it renders the notion of computation nearly useless.
This series explores the territory between those edge cases.