Steven Weinberg: 13 Best Science Books for General Readers | Science & Nature Books

IIf you had the opportunity to ask Aristotle what he thought of the idea of ​​writing physical sciences for the average reader, he wouldn’t get your point. All his own writings on physics and astronomy, as well as politics and aesthetics, were understandable to any educated Greek of his day. This is not evidence of Aristotle’s skill as a writer or of the excellence of Greek education, but the primitive state of Greek physical science, which did not use mathematics effectively. Above all, mathematics became a barrier to communication between professional scientists and the educated public. In Aristotle’s time, the development of pure mathematics was well underway, but the application of Plato and Pythagoras in science was still naive, and Aristotle himself was not interested in the application of mathematics in science. big. He astutely concluded from the appearance of the night sky at different latitudes that the Earth is a sphere, but he didn’t bother to use these observations (as can be done) to calculate the size of our planet.

Lisa Randall, professor of theoretical physics at Harvard University

The physical sciences didn’t really begin to benefit from mathematics until after Aristotle’s death in 322 BC, when the important center of science moved from Athens to Alexandria. But the indispensable use of mathematics by Greek physicists and astronomers began to hinder communication between scientists and the public. Looking at the surviving highly mathematical writings of Aristarchus, Archimedes, and Ptolemy, we can tell you what a Greek or Greek-speaking Roman trying to keep up with the latest discoveries about light, fluids, or planets Feel a burst of sympathy.

Before long, writers known as “commentators” began trying to fill the void. Ironically, as writers, they are more popular than professional scientists, so much so that in many cases their comments on scientific research, rather than the research reports themselves, are copied and re-copied, giving their books a chance in the ancient world survived the collapse of learned from. As if in some post-apocalyptic future, scholars would learn about the work of Newton and Einstein from surviving articles in Scientific American or New Scientist.

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the professional tradition of mathematical physics and astronomy faded away in the remaining Greek half of the empire, although it survived in Islamic lands. This tradition was revived and revived in Europe in the late Middle Ages, culminating in the work of Kepler, Huygens, and especially Newton two centuries later.Newtonian principle Still the most important physical science book ever written, but very difficult for any reader. Newton himself made no attempt to convey his theories of motion and gravitation to the general reader. So it was important that Voltaire himself explained the work to the French public, mired in Descartes’ errors. In 2006, on these pages, Ian McEwan correctly listed Voltaire’s letter about england in the classics of scientific writing.

As the physical sciences became more and more mathematical after Newton, communication with the public became more and more difficult. In the 20th century, physicists George Gamow and Sir James Jeans took up the challenge of explaining exciting new developments in relativity and quantum mechanics, with mixed success. For me, having developed a strong interest in physics when I was a teenager, Gamow and Jeans’ books are inspiring. Not all of them made it clear. Rather the opposite.These books vividly portray a world governed by counterintuitive fundamental laws, (as Galileo wrote in Analyst) can only be understood by those who understand the language in which the laws are made, the language of mathematics.I remember seeing it in one of their books (I think it was jeans mysterious universe) on the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, which mentions the equation qp-pq=ih/2pi. I don’t know what the right side of the equation means, but I know that if q and p are numbers of any kind, then q times p will be equal to p times q, so how can qp minus pq be anything other than zero? It was obvious to me that I needed to learn a lot to master these esoteric things.

Four species, or finches, observed by Darwin in the Galapagos Islands, show changes in beaks. The study of island flora contributed to Darwin's theory of evolution.  (Photo by Ann Ronan Images/Print Collector/Getty Images)
Four or Darwin-observed Finch species. Photo by Ann Ronan Pictures/Print Collector/Getty

Therefore, it is not always essential to explain everything to the general reader when writing about physics. It’s important to respect the reader and not confuse them into thinking that if they weren’t such a fool, everything would be clear, or that obscurity is a sign of profoundness. In the preface to my book on the Big Bang, the first three minutes, I explained: “When a lawyer writes for the public, he assumes that they don’t understand French grammar or anti-perpetuity rules, but he doesn’t think they’ll make them worse because of it, and he doesn’t condescend to them… I imagine the reader is like a smart old lawyer who doesn’t speak my language but still wants to hear some compelling arguments before he makes up his mind.”

When working scientists like me write for the public, we have the opportunity to engage in controversy. The debate model of scientific writing goes back at least to the golden age of Muslim science, when it centered on the value of science and its relationship to Islam. One of the most accomplished Muslim astronomers, al-Biruni, a Persian, complains about the anti-scientific attitude of Islamic extremists, while Rhazes, a medical scientist admired by al-Biruni, believes that scientists are more useful to mankind than religious leaders. Miracles are just tricks. In response, noted physician Avicenna said Raz should stick to things he understood, such as boils and feces.

    Portrait of Isaac Newton by Charles Jervas
Portrait of Isaac Newton by Charles Gervas.Photo: Royal Society

During the Scientific Revolution, the debate also entered the articles written by European scientists for the public.Galileo not only violated the order of the Roman Inquisition when arguing in his writings dialogue He thought it was the sun and not the earth that stood still, so he wrote the dialogue in Italian rather than the scholar’s Latin, with little use of mathematics, so that any literate Italian could read and understand it. His compatriots are not without appreciation. By the time the church suppressed the book, it had already sold out.

Darwin’s On the Origin of Species is a near-unique example of professional scientific research reporting at the highest level, while at least implicitly a polemic — as Darwin put it, “a long argument” — on a public issue of religious belief. He permanently disproved the almost universal assumption that divine intervention was required to explain the abilities of plants and animals. Part of what makes his book controversial is that it’s so readable. (Darwin’s advantage as a writer, of course, was that biology in his day wasn’t advanced enough to use mathematics properly, so he didn’t have to face the task of explaining mathematical ideas to the public.) Science and religion continue to this day, especially In the writings of Richard Dawkins (McEwan is also listed in his canon) and Sam Harris, and in the writings of John Polkinghorn and Francis Collins. I have my own opinion on this issue.

Galileo Galilei by Ivan Petrovich Kohler-Villiandi. Photo: Photo: Gallery Collection/Corbis
Galileo Galilei by Ivan Petrovich Kohler-Villiandi. Photo: Gallery Collection/Corbis

A few years ago, I started writing a lot about another issue: public support for science. In the early 1980s, the U.S. government supported plans to build a superconducting supercollider, a very large elementary particle accelerator. Work has begun, at a cost of about $1 billion, but questions remain about continued funding. Along with other physicists, I was asked to explain to congressional committees, editorial boards, and public meetings why a supercollider was a good idea. I find myself defending the reductionist goals of high energy physics so often that I wrote a book about it, dream of final theoryAlas, funding for the Super Collider was withdrawn in 1983, but even as I feel sorry for our physicists’ failure to convince Congress, I’m at least proud that my book has become a McEwan classic.

exist explain the world I argue with historians of science who try to judge the scientific work of each era by the standards of that era rather than our own, as if science is not cumulative and progressive, as if its history could be written like the history of fashion. One can recognize the great energy and wisdom of Aristotle while observing that his conception of how to understand the world is an obstacle to progress. I have a lot of respect for professional historians of science, from whom I have learned a lot, but my book takes Aristotle, and other icons like Democritus, Plato, Aristotle, more soberly than some historians Wiesenna, Gloucester, Francis Bacon and Descartes​​​

In recent decades, another channel for the exchange of scientific ideas has opened up to the public. It is literature. I’m not referring to science fiction, which has dealt with the impact of the application of science and technology since Jules Verne. More recently, some authors—such as Tom Stoppard—have begun to focus on the personal impact of scientific work and scientific thought, rather than its application. They have done a lot to make science what some scientists have always wanted it to be: part of the culture of our time.

I think that’s really a goal that has motivated physicists like Brian Green, David Deutsch, and Larry Krause, as well as Dawkins, Stephen Jay Gould, and EO Wilson, etc. Biologists take time from their own research to write for the public. Of course there are other purposes. I think it was EM Forster who said he wrote to earn the respect of those he respects, and to earn his bread. As for the bread, I also consulted on a lot of defense issues before, until I knew that writing a book was more valuable in every way, and because it didn’t involve dealing with classified material, I could do it at home. More importantly, there is the opportunity to temporarily leave the ivory tower of theoretical physics research and get in touch with the outside world.

Steven Weinberg’s 13 Best Science Books for Regular Readers

The list below is particularly rare among women’s books. This is because for most of science, women were not welcome in the scientific community. Alexander was less oppressive in this respect than Athens, but even so, among the female natural philosophers of the ancient world, only Hypatia of Alexandria stood out. Fortunately, however, this shortcoming is slowly being remedied. Although still too few, there are now many outstanding women in science, one of whom is included in this list.

Philosophical Letters (1733) Voltaire

Origin of Species (1859) Charles Darwin

on chalk (1868) Thomas Huxley

mysterious universe (1930) james jeans

The birth and death of the sun (1940) George Gammor

The nature of the laws of physics (1965) Richard Feynman

elegant universe (1999) Brian Green

selfish gene (1976) Richard Dawkins

manufacture of the atomic bomb (1986) Richard Rhodes

an inflationary universe (1997) Alan Guth

the whole Shebang (1997) Timothy Ferris

hide in the mirror (2005) Lawrence Claus

crooked channel (2005) Lisa Randall

  • explain the world Published by Alan Lane.

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