Magic Through Two Millenia
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The web pages that follow were designed for a PHY course entitled The Magic of Physics. The goal of the course was to provide an overview of some of the most important, interesting, and basic contributions which Physics has made to human knowledge. In the last few years there has been an explosion in public interest in many aspects of physics, astrophysics, and astronomy, as evidenced by an avalanche of books written for a general audience. Yet many of these books are still very hard work for even the most intelligent layperson, since the physics that underly many of the extraordinary developments in these fields requires some knowledge of much earlier developments. It is hard, for example, to understand the concepts of relativity or the very odd conclusions of quantum physics without some passing knowledge of classical mechanics and classical electromagnetism. This course attempted to provide just such a background in an entertaining way. I hope the readers of these pages will enjoy dipping into them with as much enjoyment as I had in preparing them.
The Course Description read as follows: On the 4th of November 1905 Albert Enstein presented the first of a November quartet of highly technical papers that revolutionized our understanding of gravity. At its conclusion he commented: "Hardly anyone who has truly understood this theory will be able to resist being captivated by its magic." The theory of relativity, however is not the only theory in physics that is magical, and Einstein was not physics' only magician. We will uncover the magic of the classical and the quantum world courtesy of the genius of Kepler, Newton, Faraday, Maxwell, Einstein, Heisenberg and many others, and study planetary motions, chaos, Schrodinger's cat, time dilation and time travel, black holes and quarks.
The following list of general books is certainly neither comprehensive nor up-to-date. However, they are books which I enjoyed and which seemed to present material in a way that was compatible with the course.
John Barrow : Theories of Everything - the quest for ultimate explanation. (Vintage 1991).
Fritjiof Capra : The Tao of Physics.
Paul Davies : the Mind of God - the scientific basis for a rational world. (Simon and Schuster 1992).
Richard Feynman : The Character of Physical Law. (MIT Press) ** particularly chapter 6 **
James Gleick : Chaos - Making a New Science. (Viking Penguin 1988).
John Gribbin : Schrödinger's Kittens and the Search for Reality (Little, Brown and Company 1995)
Nina Hall (editor): Exploring Chaos - a Guide to the New Science of Disorder (W.W. Norton, 1993)
Stephen Hawking : A Brief History of Time - from the Big Bang to Black Holes. (Bantam 1988).
Lawrence Krauss: Fear of Physics. (Basic Books 1993)
Alan Lightman : Ancient Light - our Changing View of the Universe (Harvard Univ. Press 1981)
Nick Herbert : Faster than Light. (Penguin Plume Books 1989).
Robert March: Physics for Poets. (McGraw-Hill) 3rd or 4th Edition.(this was the text for the course).
Roger Penrose : The Emperor's New Mind - concerning computers, minds, and the laws of Physics.
Michael Riordan : The hunting of the Quark: true story of Modern Physics.(Simon & Schuster 1987)
Joseph Schwartz and Michael McGuinness : Einstein for Beginners. (Pantheon 1979).
George Smoot and Keay Davidson : Wrinkles in Time. (Avon Books New York 1993).
Michael Talbot : Beyond the Quantum - How the new Physics are bridging the Chasm between Science and Faith. (Bantam 1988).
Steven Weinberg : Dreams of a Final Theory (Pantheon 1992)
Gary Zukav : The Dancing Wu Li Masters - an overview of the new Physics. (Bantam 1980).
A good source of clear descriptions of some of these ideas can often be found in some of the many popular magazines; e.g Discovery, The Sciences, Omni, Scientific American.