Tuesday, February 21, 2006

[Book] An Overview of New Physics

The Dancing Wu Li Masters
An Overview of New Physics
-- Gary Zukav
Bantam Books

Don't get confused by the main title... the book has nothing to do about any dancing form we know of; but it deals with an altogether different dance that we will probably never able to see... the dance of elementary particles.

Yes, this book is about Particle Physics... or to be more precise, about Quantum Mechanics.

The good thing about the book is that it begins right at the beginning... with Max Planck's Theory of quanta in 1900, which is generally agreed upon as the birth-year of Quantum Mechanics. Next, it goes on to describe the evolution of the theory in a chronological order: Einstein's Theory of photoelectric effect in 1905, his theories of special relativity and general relativity in great details (again without any math!!) Bohr's model of atom, Broglie's matter waves, Pauli's exclusion principle... moving on to Schrödinger’s wave function, then one of most fundamental theorems of all .... the Heisenberg's Uncertainty principle.... the Dirac equation and discovery of anti-matter, Neumann's quantum logic, the famous EPR paper, Hideki Yukawa's meson theory, Feynman diagrams, theory of quarks and culminating with the Bell's Theorem, which physicists consider to be the most important theory of all time.

Scared? Don't be!! It all makes a very very exciting reading.... just like unraveling of a mystery.
However, there are three tips I would like to give:

  1. This is not the type of book one reads after a heavy meal, lying down on a bed, idly turning the pages. You need to focus on the matter and think hard as you go along.
  2. Though no mathematical background (other than what you studied up to 12th standard) is assumed, one must have ability to visualise. There are a number of thought-experiments involved, most of them by none other than Einstein himself. For ex: Consider you are riding on a light wave. Then how will u observe the hands of clock on the wall opposite to you? They will have come to a standstill!
  3. And, this is most important ... Do not read the book in one stretch. Theories of relativity and Quantum Mechanics are full of many new ideas, most of which go directly against our common sense. Trying to digest the entire book in one go is a guaranteed way to drive you nuts.... ask me!

Nevertheless, do read this book. It lifts us up from the mundane matters of our daily existence and takes us into a state of trance. We begin to look even at a simple phenomenon in an entirely different way.

And that, in my opinion is more important than knowing about quantum theory.

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