The New Physics and readings from science: Quantum Physics has turned topsy turvy all of our cherished notions of how things work. In this world time can flow backwards with particles dying before they are born. Space is curved and exists in an infinite number of dimensions. Space and matter are inexplicably linked, neither can exist without the other. The type of our measuring instrument determines the nature of our observation, change one and so does the other. The act of observation alters that which is observed.
A number of thinkers have raised the possibility that quantum phenomena have their counterparts in the “real” world, that too many of our assumptions are untested and probably false and have drawn strong parallels between the world views of Eastern philosophy and quantum mechanics. Be aware that others vociferously oppose the implications of such comparisons and there are scientists of Nobel Prize winning caliber on both sides of the argument.
Leonard Shlain expresses it beautifully: “The new physics presently rests like a pea under the collective mattress of humankind, disturbing tranquil sleep just enough to begin to change how people think about the world.” What is indisputable is that there are few exercises more capable of stretching your mind than pondering the status of Schrodinger?s cat or the implications of the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen experiment. Welcome to the mysterious world of Physics!
And let us not forget other branches of science – pure mathematics, chemistry, biology and biochemistry, genetics and many more. All these fields are in ferment and the distinctions between functional areas are breaking down. Complex linear programming problems have been solved by DNA computers leading to speculation that organic computers, vastly more powerful than their silicon based counterparts, may soon be among us. Quantum computing is looming in the background.
Even the merest exposure to what is happening “out there” in different fields will cause you to gape with wonder. Hold on to that feeling of awe, that amazement at where human thought has reached. You too will push the boundaries. That is what this course is all about.
Bohm, David Wholeness and the Implicate Order; Ark Paperbacks, Boston 1983
A renowned physicist and collaborator of Einstein, Bohm makes the point that scientists are too hung up on a fragmented world view in which thought and matter are separate and distinct and the thinker is different from what he thinks about. He postulates that the universe is an unbroken whole in which any element contains within itself the totality of the universe. He also explicitly discusses consciousness which is a subject most scientists shy away from. Reading level 2 with frequent jumps to 3.
Capra, Fritjof The Tao of Physics; Shambala, 1975
With the cult success of this book imitators swarmed in and there is now a “Tao” of everything from leadership to cooking. The author, a scientist in his own right, gives an overview of quantum physics and muses philosophically on its implications. It is well written and you do not have to possess much of a scientific background to understand it. He is particularly good at drawing and explaining parallels between Eastern mysticism and modern physics. You may also wish to explore his co-authored book, Belonging to the Universe. Reading level 1 to 2.
Casti, John L. Paradigms Lost: Images of Man in the Mirror of Science
William Morrow, 1989
Casti, a mathematician by training, discusses deep questions such as “What is the true nature of mankind?” He considers quantum reality, extraterrestrial intelligence and the origin of life. In each case he presents opposing viewpoints and the evidence for each and then puts on his judicial hat and plops on one side or the other. A particularly neat feature of this book is that Casti presents the social context in which many famous scientists worked and shows how their political and other beliefs contributed to their findings. Reading level 1, occasionally 2.
Dyson, Freeman Disturbing the Universe; Harper & Row, 1979
A physicist at the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton, Dyson worked with many of the most famous names in the field including Oppenheimer and Feynman. The title of the book comes from a T. S. Eliot poem and serves to illustrate the breadth of the author?s interests. He muses on many topics from inter-galactic colonization to nuclear and biological weapons and has a keen feel for political reality. His description of war years at Bomber Command in England is particularly worthwhile. Reading level 1 to 2.
Greene, Brian The Elegant Universe; Vintage Books, 2000
A marvelous exposition of the unexplained mysteries of physics with an especially lucid discussion of relativity. If Einstein?s famous discovery still leaves you bemused, this book will give you understanding. The author is a strong proponent of String Theory and he explains how this may well be the theoretical underpinning for the much sought after „theory of everything?. Reading level 1, very occasionally 2.
The Fabric of the Cosmos; Space, Time and the Texture of Reality
Alfred A. Knopf, 2004
A phenomenal book that gives you more insights into modern science and specifically quantum mechanics and astrophysics. He shows you how small anomalies in the real world have led to new theories that completely overthrew old scientific paradigms. This is a book that will make you gasp with awe at the power of the human mind, and the wonder of the universe. Science, especially physics, has never been so enthralling. Reading Level 1, sometimes 2.
Gribbin, John and Martin Rees Cosmic Coincidence: Dark Matter, Man and Anthropic
Cosmology; Bantam, 1989
A science writer and a physicist take you on an intriguing tour of some of the most revolutionary ideas to emerge from science: the particle zoo; black holes; cosmic strings; gravitational lenses; Copenhagen and Many Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics; and much more. Clear writing. Reading level 1 to 2.
Heisenberg, Werner Physics and Beyond; Harper & Row, 1971
The debate is raging again about whether Heisenberg, head of the Nazi equivalent of the Manhattan Project, was a courageous scientist who sabotaged the effort or an incompetent manager who fell on his face. There is no doubt that he was one of the greatest physicists of all time and his uncertainty principle is a cornerstone of our understanding of the universe. He muses on politics, history, religion and other topics and reports on his conversations with other scientific greats like Einstein, Bohr and Schrodinger. Reading level 2.
Jahn, Robert G. and Brenda J. Dunne Margins of Reality; HBJ 1987
A former Dean of the School of Engineering at Princeton University and a NASA consultant Jahn had a towering reputation which did not prevent vociferous attacks when he chose to investigate, using rigorous scientific methodology, subjects which were taboo then and are still largely so. The subtitle of the book is The Role of Consciousness in the Physical World and he documents the results of his experiments showing that consciousness and matter interact in measurable ways. Reading level 2 with gusts of 3.
Morowitz, H. Cosmic Joy and Local Pain: Musing of a Mystic Scientist
Charles Scribner?s Sons, 1987
A Yale professor of biophysics muses on his field during a sabbatical and while on his sailboat in Hawaii. Many simple, and some quite complex, topics in science – the importance of water in organic life, energy flow and entropy – are made clear in simple language. Reading level 1.
Newberg, Andrew, Eugene D?Aquill and Vince Rause Why God Won?t Go Away:
Brain Science and the Biology of Belief Ballantine, 2001
Mystics in many traditions speak of powerful experiences of unity, of merging with the universe, of becoming one with the cosmos. Most persons dismiss such descriptions as metaphorical. But what if they are not? Modern science has provided us with ever more powerful tools to map the brain?s neuronic activity. The authors report on studies that show that there is, indeed, such a state of merging and it is associated with a unique brain map. Neurotheology is a new discipline and it poses interesting questions such as “Did God create the Brain or did the Brain create God?” Reading level 1, sometimes 2.
Pagels, Heinz R. The Cosmic Code: Quantum Physics as the Language of Nature
Simon And Schuster, 1982
Pagels, former president of the New York Academy of Sciences, does a pretty good job of explaining how quantum physics evolved from Newtonian physics. He clearly explains the experimental anomalies of the latter, which forced the “creation” of the former. He also does an excellent job of describing the individual contributions of the great physicists who flourished in the 1920s and how the theoretical work of each tied in with that of others and cumulatively evolved a fundamental shift in physics. Reading level 1, frequently 2.
Penrose, Roger The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe Alfred A. Knopf, 2004
A great physicist and professor of mathematics at Oxford, Penrose provides a panoramic view of the evolution of physics and mathematics. He shows you the subtle interplays between the disciplines and puts historic rivalries between scientists into context. It encompasses everything from quantum particles to multiple universes. The author does make heavy use of mathematics and his language is not always lucid. The book is more than a thousand pages long. Much of it is reading level 3.
Randall, Lisa Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe
Hidden Dimensions; Harper Collins, 2005
Because she is good looking Randall has been referred to as the “hottie” of physics which makes light of the fact that she is the first tenured woman theoretical physicist at both MIT and Harvard. She provides an excellent description of the state of physics and describes Einstein?s contribution in clear detail. She does a great job of explaining concepts like super-symmetry and Higgs mechanisms and the excitement is clear when she talks about her own work on string theory. And I love the fables that begin some chapters. Reading level 1 but frequently 2. Very occasionally 3 as well.
Schrodinger, E. What is Life? And Mind, and Matter?
Cambridge University Press, 1969
A Nobel Prize winning physicist ponders on the implications of his discoveries. Fate and free will; science and religion; the physical basis of consciousness; subject-object differentiation; and more. Reading level 2, sometimes 3.
Schwartz, Jeffrey M. and Sharon Begley The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity And the Power of Mental Force HarperCollins 2002
The mind can shape the brain. What you intensely, deeply visualize can leave a permanent imprint on your brain. Many traditions say this, but until now you had to take it on faith. Now there is proof. Brain maps reveal that thinking does indeed create changes in brain waves. Also, the brain can rewire itself. The implications are profound and provide scientific rationale for the mental exercises propounded by religious teachers, sports coaches and many, many others. Reading level 1.
Talbot, Michael Beyond the Quantum: God, Reality, Consciousness in the New Scientific Revolution; Macmillan, 1986
Well written book that explains recent scientific experiments and why they are important. True, he selects only experiments that further his point of view, but they are fascinating anyway. His thesis is that science will one day explain, or at least accept, mysticism and the paranormal and explores why so many scientists oppose them viscerally. Reading level 1 to 2.
Wilbur, K (editor) Quantum Questions: Mystical Writings of the Worlds Great Physicists; New Science Library, 1984
Collection of writings from a pantheon of Nobel Prize winners: Heisenberg, Schrodinger, Einstein, de Broglie, Pauli, Planck and others. The book makes the case that, contrary to New Age thinking, contemporary physics does not “prove” mysticism. Nevertheless, every one of these giants was a mystic. It attempts to explore why. Fascinating reading as the towering figures of modern science reveal their personal beliefs and world views. Reading level varies from 1 to 3.
Zukav, Gary The Dancing Wu Li Masters; William Morrow, 1979
Wu Li is supposedly the Chinese word for physics. This is in the same tradition as Capra?s Tao of Physics and is very readable. The discussions of philosophical quandaries like whether Schrodinger’s cat is alive and the implications of the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen experiment are well done. The last chapter, which deals with the limits of science, is fascinating. Reading level 1 to 2.