An endlessly surprising foray into the current mother of physics’ many knotty mysteries, the solving of which may unveil the...

SPOOKY ACTION AT A DISTANCE

THE PHENOMENON THAT REIMAGINES SPACE AND TIME--AND WHAT IT MEANS FOR BLACK HOLES, THE BIG BANG, AND THEORIES OF EVERYTHING

Two particles behave identically and instantaneously though separated by great space and with no force passing between them. How? Award-winning Scientific American contributing editor Musser (The Complete Idiot’s Guide to String Theory, 2008) probes the riddle.

Locality was the bedrock of physics for centuries. “It means that everything has a place. You can always point to an object and say, ‘Here it is.’ If you can’t, that thing must really not exist,” writes the author in this anything-but-simple story of nonlocality. Einstein understood locality as both separability—things in separate places have independent existences—and local action: objects interact by striking one another or intermediarily. Musser covers the evolution of physics’ method of physical inquiry, “driven by the conviction that the universe is within the human power to understand,” with comprehensible rules and a history of systematic investigation for reference: from Zeno and Democritus to Newton, who turned inquiry—and locality—on its head. Newton couldn’t explain gravity, but his equations proved out. Now, writes Musser, “modern physicists think of any theory as having two separate functions. First, the theory should provide a mathematical description....Second, the theory should provide an ‘interpretation’ of the formulas: a compelling picture of what’s going on….” But the second part is flexible enough that physicists can “kick away the interpretation and let the equations stand on their own.” Much the same can be said about the entire quantum revolution and certainly nonlocality: locality may be a precondition for relativity, but there are enough instances of flabbergasting nonlocality to suggest that space is simply a convenient notion to describe order. With brio and dash, Musser navigates the difficult science and also introduces interesting characters such as Michael Heller, “a physicist, philosopher, and priest” at Krakow’s Pontifical Academy of Theology, and theorist Nima Arkani-Hamed, winner of the 2012 Fundamental Physics Prize.

An endlessly surprising foray into the current mother of physics’ many knotty mysteries, the solving of which may unveil the weirdness of quantum particles, black holes, and the essential unity of nature.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-374-29851-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

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A quirky wonder of a book.

WHY FISH DON'T EXIST

A STORY OF LOSS, LOVE, AND THE HIDDEN ORDER OF LIFE

A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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