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Archive for the ‘Physics’ Category

I was doing some book browsing online a few days back and discovered this series called ‘The Theoretical Minimum‘ by Leonard Susskind (and George Hrabovsky and Art Friedman). Leonard Susskind is one of the founders of String Theory, and I am always excited when a scientist takes time off to write a book on science for the general reader.

This series covers many of the important parts of physics, the ones we are excited about, as readers and science lovers. More volumes in the series are on the way. This book series evolved from a series of lectures that Leonard Susskind gave at Stanford for normal people who were interested in physics, but who were not pursuing any program at the university.

In terms of accessibility for the general reader, the books don’t shy away from equations and look more challenging than Bill Bryson’sA Short History of Nearly Everything’ or George Gamov’s Mr.Tompkins series or Christophe Galfard’sThe Universe in Your Hand‘. But I hate to admit this – this series seems to be more accessible than my favourite scientist Roger Penrose’sThe Road to Reality‘. The authors say that the mathematics included is as simple as possible, but no simpler, so that we can appreciate the beauty of Physics through her sister Mathematics’ eyes. That is the reason the series is called ‘The Theoretical Minimum‘. It sounded very appealing to me.

Hoping to get started soon. So excited!

Sharing the pictures of the back covers to give you a feel for the books.

Which is / are your favourite books on physics / science?

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I always look forward to this time of the year, as the Nobel Prizes are announced at this time. While the Peace Prize and the Literature Prize are probably the most followed ones, and sometimes, the most controversial ones, I also try to keep an eye on the Physics Prize. A few days back I got a pleasant surprise when I discovered that one of the winners of this year’s Physics Nobel Prize is my favourite physicist Roger Penrose. Those of us who are fans of Roger Penrose have been following his work for years now, but he has been mostly a closely guarded secret, as mainstream followers of science have mostly not heard of him or have just ignored him. His English contemporary Stephen Hawking has been more famous for writing the bestseller ‘A Brief History of Time‘. Roger Penrose has mostly kept a low profile, but he was highly regarded in scientific circles for doing original work. But he was also sometimes controversial for bucking the establishment point of view and stating his own mind and calling a spade a spade and marshalling facts to prove his point of view, the kind of thing that scientists are expected to do – if facts contradict a point of view, believe the facts, not the point of view – but the kind of things contemporary scientists hate, when their own opinions and work are contradicted by someone with facts. In his book ‘The Emperor’s New Mind‘ he takes on Artificial Intelligence scientists and shows why they are wrong and this rubbed many people the wrong way, including veteran A.I. scientist Marvin Minsky. In his more recent works like ‘The Road to Reality‘ and ‘Fashion, Faith, and Fantasy in the New Physics of the Universe‘, he takes on String Theory physicists and shows why most of their work is meaningless. Penrose shows an almost Einsteinian contempt for current fashion in science, that it makes us smile 😁 It also endeared him to fans like me 😊

In the picture : Roger Penrose’s three most famous books. All classics. The middle one ‘The Road to Reality’ is his masterpiece, I think.

I first discovered Roger Penrose years back when I was a student. I had gone to a scientific institute for an interview, and I was staying in the room of my friend’s brother who was doing his Ph.D there. This brother had Roger Penrose’s ‘The Emperor’s New Mind‘ in his bookshelf. I hadn’t heard of Roger Penrose before and I started reading it and before long I had finished 50 pages and every page gave me goosebumps. It was love at first sight and our love affair has continued ever since.

In the picture : Roger Penrose looking young and handsome while inspiring students at Oxford

Across the years, Penrose wrote other books. ‘The Road to Reality‘, which is a thousand page tome, in which Penrose gives an overview of the whole of physics as it stands today, is in my opinion, his masterpiece.

One of the things about Penrose is that in his books he doesn’t shy away from equations. There is a prevailing wisdom in the publishing industry that every equation included in the book reduces the sales of the book by half. So publishers talk to scientists who are writing books for general readers and try to dissuade them from including equations. But Penrose’s books are filled with equations. In the introduction / preface of every one of his books, Penrose apologizes for the equations and describes a way by which readers can try understanding them or still understand the book after skirting through the equations. It is one of the charming parts of the book.

All these are, of course, books that Penrose wrote for the general reader. His day job is that of a scientist, and and though I am familiar with some part of his work, I am not expert enough to comment on it. One thing I can say is this. Penrose is a huge fan of Einstein and his theory of General Relativity, and it shows in the way he gushes about them in his books. His own work for which he has won the Nobel Prize is closely related to Einstein and General Relativity.

These are beautiful days. Today is a beautiful day. My favourite scientist won the Nobel Prize for Physics. I have been smiling since I read the news. I never thought that this would happen, because Penrose is a theoretical physicist, but sometimes good things, beautiful things happen.

Congratulations Sir Roger Penrose! We love you and admire you!

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