Skip to comments.The Vast and the Tiny (John Derbyshire)
Posted on 05/31/2013 11:54:04 AM PDT by neverdem
On galaxies and bosons, stars and quarks. In physics, truth does not always equal beauty.
The Milky Way: An Insiders Guide
By William H. Waller
(Princeton University Press, 296 pages, $29.95)
A Palette of Particles
By Jeremy Bernstein
(Belknap Press of Harvard University, 224 pages, $18.95)
THE BRITISH PHILOSOPHER J.L. Austin coined the handy phrase medium-sized dry goods to describe the world of everyday phenomena that the human nervous system is best suited to cope with, phenomena ranging in size from a grain of dust to a landscape. Within that range our senses and cognition are at home. All our intuitions about how objects move, change, and interact arise from our dealings with medium-sized dry goods.
Much beyond that size range, in either direction, our senses and understanding are at sea. How we can say anything at allanything coherent, with predictive power and technological applicationabout the invisible constituents of matter, or about the universe at large, is a considerable mystery. We certainly can say such things: The device I am using to write this review would not exist if we did not know true facts about the atom and its parts. The only language we have for expressing those facts, however, is the language of mathematics: a tower of abstractions of abstractions of abstractions, in which everyday intuitions recede in a fog of wave-particle duality...
He accordingly divides the particle palette, and his book, into three parts. Under Primary Colors he deals with the six particles that emerged from the great burst of creativity in physics across the first third of the 20th century. Five of these were matter particles (fermions): the proton, electron, neutron, positron, and the hypothesized (by Pauli) but not yet observed neutrino. The sixth was the photon, a force-carrying particle (boson)...
(Excerpt) Read more at spectator.org ...
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