Thursday, March 20, 2014

Jeff’s Books to Open Your Mind: One Two Three ... Infinity: Facts and Speculations of Science

I pulled George Gamow’s 1947 book about EVERYTHING off the shelf of the Book Barn with a pile of other science and sci-fi books. They were all stacked in the same section at the time.  It ended up being my introduction to the real world version of the fundamental interconnectedness of all things.

It was intensely cool to see detailed examples how that concept, which I’d already seen and embraced through fiction and philosophical angles, applied to science and nature as well.

This book was a fantastic example of this notion, providing entertaining introductions to number theory, higher dimensions, relativity, atomic chemistry, nuclear physics, entropy, DNA, evolution, and cosmology.  The inclusion of the mathematics part at the beginning of the book was an important feature.  The combination explanation between the math and the physics it was invented for was the only way I was able to understand where the imaginary numbers came from in algebra, and why they made perfect sense.  Annoyingly, my middle school math class refused to take the time to cover the relativistic physics behind their existence.

This is definitely one of those books that I learned more from on each reading.  The benefits of being smarter enhanced the nuances each time through.

However, I did cheat a bit the first time I read it, because I’d seen some of the ideas and interconnections before…

Starting on a Sunday evening on PBS station WNET 13 in 1980.

It turns out Carl Sagan’s Cosmos was following in the footsteps of this book, and also Gamow’s Mr. Tompkins series.   Both were accomplished and successful astrophysicists who had a knack for imparting the marvels of the universe and the importance of science and its methods to all levels of society. 

It is easy to see how men like these are often involved with CSICOP and other groups known for debunking.

They not only have an understanding, but an artistic appreciation for the wonders of all aspects, processes and scales of the natural world; and also the abilities, potential and accomplishments of humankind. 

Why invent an incredible tale of ancient aliens that “must” have come to build the pyramids? Instead, by using scientific analysis, an even more impressive tale of how primitive humans were able to define the methods leading them to work together and accomplish the task themselves.

The Universe itself is amazing, and science gives us the tools to appreciate that amazingness.

The original Cosmos had such an impact on my generation that members of it in the entertainment industry with no scientific background have worked to bring it back.

On FOX of all places! 
Perhaps it’s cosmic Karma to repay for screwing up Doctor Who back in 1996?

This time it’s hosted by Neil Degrasse Tyson, the inheritor of Carl Sagan’s position in so many ways.

Seriously, I’m not sure if I got more choked up by the Director of the Hayden Planetarium’s heartfelt tribute to his mentor in the opening episode, or watching my daughter’s look of wide eyed awe and excitement as he toured the universe, which matched the look on my young face when I watched Carl Sagan’s trip at the same age she is now with my Dad.

I was ecstatic to see they’ve maintained the history of scientists sections along with the raw information.  It’s important to portray the strengths of the scientific method allowing information to build and become stronger over time.  It is equally crucial to show the dangers of letting the closed minded and change resistant be in charge of society and stifle intellectual growth.

Don’t think that’s important?

That made sensationalizing Bruno’s story to serve as a general example completely understandable.

ANY effort to get the general public to understand the scientific definition of theory is important.

Education about the fact that “Just a theory,” from a scientific standpoint, means explanations that “are the most reliable, most rigorous, and most comprehensive form of knowledge that humans possess” is SORELY NEEDED.

Dr Tyson stared right at the screen and said something incredibly close to this in Episode 2. Lets hope someone in Oklahoma was listening..

I’ll definitely be watching the whole series with my daughter, even on school nights. It’s as important to get her mind as open as possible to this stuff as it is to educate her in school.

I urge all the other parents out there to do the same.  Only two episodes have passed, there’s time to get them on demand or wherever.

The universe around us is an amazing and wonderful place at all scales, both the objects in it and the laws they follow.  However, some understanding is needed to get a full appreciation of it all.

Don’t miss the opportunity to have someone who excels at understanding and conveying it in a way that can be appreciated take you and your family on a tour of it all.

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