FEARFUL SYMMETRY: The Search for Beauty in Modern Physics by A. Zee

FEARFUL SYMMETRY: The Search for Beauty in Modern Physics

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Blake is the source and Einstein the inspiration for this vision of nature by a theoretician attached to the Institute for Theoretical Physics in Santa Barbara. We are in the world of particle physics--those conjured bits and pieces that constitute the larger bites and slices of nuclei, atoms, and ultimately make up the universe at large. Yes, you might conjecture that ""Zee"" is a pseudonym; there is, after all, a Z particle. But there is nothing to suggest that that is the case, so one is left to muse that, after all, names are destiny. Destiny very much concerns our Zee. He shares with many a colleague the dream that there is some ultimate beauty and simplicity to the design of nature that makes the quest for a solution--a grand unification theory--a grail worth seeking. For ""grail"" read symmetry--the mathematical notion that certain transformations remain invariant (for example, a hexagon stays the same when rotated through 60 degrees). The first inklings of invariants and symmetries came in the 19th century as Faraday and Maxwell established the linkage of electricity with magnetism. The 19th century also conceived of fields of force, which defined terrains in which transformations and invariances could be studied. By the turn of the century, Einstein had established a relativistic invariance of spacetime and the symmetry of mass and energy. Later he developed ""general covariance"" in which observations in a gravitational field are equivalent to those made in an accelerating field (absent gravity). But then came quantum fields, radioactive decay, a zoo of strange particles, and, horror of horrors, a selective betrayal of symmetry which got known as the violation of parity--due to the fact that in a weak interaction a neutrino always spins in one direction. According to Zee, the resulting shock wave confounded particle physics but ultimately led to new syntheses and symmetries; today the road to unification continues with supersymmetry and superstring theories. Don't expect all of this volume to be crystal clear-it really can't be without a deeper grounding in the mathematics and the experiments. But as a complement to other popularizations (by Paul Davies, Richard Morris and others), do expect a fluent discourse laced with some of the ""flavor"" and ""charm"" of those very particles that burn so bright in Zee's own fearful symmetry.

Pub Date: Jan. 26th, 1987
ISBN: 0691134820
Publisher: Macmillan