All science is either physics or stamp collecting. – Ernest Rutherford
My newfound fascination with physics did indeed start with a Big Bang. No, not the theory as to how the universe came to exist, but rather, the television show The Big Bang Theory.
Before encountering this hilarious group of scientists (and one engineer), my knowledge of physics was limited to what I had picked up in high school, which left me feeling vaguely uneasy about the whole subject. I regarded physicists in much the same way as spiders. I respected their place in the natural order of things, but I preferred to keep a safe distance between them and me.
Reading the brilliant Bill Bryson’s book A Short History of Nearly Everything kindled an intense but short lived attempt to learn more about physics that ultimately flamed out more swiftly than a supernova. To be fair, I did attempt to learn more about every topic mentioned in the book simultaneously, which may explain my rapid burnout rate.
Then along came The Big Bang Theory, and I tried physics again. Seeking to understand references such as Schrodinger’s Cat and String Theory, not to mention time travel and Star Trek, led me to a number of very educational and highly enjoyable books.
I really wish I’d had this book back in high school. It’s a great way to get an overview of a lot of the principles of classical physics, complete with cartoons. I find it a handy quick reference guide, when I run across a theory or concept in another book that I don’t understand. I especially enjoyed the chapter on the wild physics theories, which taught me that my microwave oven has a connection to physics.
This is a excellent history of, what else, the Big Bang theory. It goes back to the days before science existed as a school of thought, and takes the reader on a guided tour through philosophy with Plato and Aristotle, astronomy with Copernicus, gravity with Newton, Hubble and his discoveries, right through to current theories and schools of thought.
While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend trying to teach physics to your dog, I do heartily recommend this book to anyone who wants some insights into quantum mechanics. The author, Chad Orzel, a professor of physics, uses his dog Emmy as the voice of a student filled with the sort of questions I’d ask if I were as smart as a dog. While evesdropping on their conversations, I learned a lot about Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, as well as the best way to catch squirrels.
While not all of the cool toys and gadgets in Star Trek have become a reality, it’s fascinating to see how much of what was once pure fantasy is now an everyday commonplace reality. Even though Scotty isn’t able to break the rules of physics, at least as we understand them, there are some rules we may be able to bend a little. As time goes on and our understanding increases, we may be able to re-write the rulebook completely.
Included in my “I have to read that sometime list” are a few other physics titles worth checking out:
I’ll never be an expert, or even a really well informed amateur on physics, at least in this universe. However, I have picked up a few theories that, who knows, may eventually take us to places where no man has gone before.
Live long and prosper!