A Review of Two Theoretical Physics Books

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inflector
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A Review of Two Theoretical Physics Books

Post by inflector » Sun Jan 04, 2009 8:14 pm

I recently read two theoretical physics books:

The Black Hole War: My Battle with Stephen Hawking to Make the World Safe for Quantum Mechanics by Leonard Susskind

and

The Lightness of Being: Mass, Ether, and the Unification of Forces by Frank Wilcek

Of the two, The Black Hole War was by far the better book. Susskind writes in a style that does not assume you already know advanced physics. While despite the marketing claims and blurbs on the back cover expounding its simple language, Wilcek writes in a style that ends up being virtually incomprehensible towards the end of the book.

They cover different territory with some overlap in their discussion of Quantum Chromodynamics.

Susskind seems by far the smarter of the two. He is humble about just what we actually know and what are merely models that while serving to guide us may be far from representative of the underlying reality. Wilcek, in contrast, offers his profound adoration to the Standard Model as the most eloquent embodiment of knowledge the world has ever seen (well almost anyway).

I recommend The Black Hole War and offer a thumbs sideways to Lightness of Being.

After reading Lightness of Being, I can't help but believe that theoretical physics is diverging from truth and reality over time. I'm not trying to too my own horn but I'm a smart guy. I didn't miss any questions on my math SAT (and this was before they dumbed down the test). I have been able to compete on an international level in areas pretty heavy on math at times in both trading and computer software architecture. Yet I found myself wondering what the hell Wilcek was talking about on many occasions.

I have usually found this to be a mark of a lack of deep understanding on the part of an author. My suspicion with physics is that we have pushed the current theory so far that it takes an almost superhuman effort to wrap one's head around the concepts. To me this is the hallmark of some fundamental gap in our collective perspective.

The truth must be simpler. It always has been in the past. There is too much simple beauty and simplicity in nature for me to believe that Wilcek's world view (i.e. the Standard Model) is close to the last word.

- Curtis

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