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Science Books

September 20, 2007

The Trouble With Physics: The Rise Of String Theory, The Fall Of A Science, And What Comes Next
Lee Smolin (2007)

Renowned physicist Lee Smolin, founder of the Perimeter Institute, is not happy. He's not at all pleased with the "conjecture" known as string theory, or for that matter the way physics is progressing generally. According to Smolin, this trouble with physics is due to numerous physicists blurring the boundary between mere speculation and theories born from experiment-based science. Sure, pondering the existence of multiple dimensions, parallel universes, strings, branes, and exotic particles must be a highly attractive and engrossing exercise. But as beautiful and elegant as these theories may sound, are they an exercise in futility if they have not, or cannot be tested experimentally? In fact, "dark energy" - that force behind our expanding universe - has so far vexed string theorists, whose theory cannot account for its presence in the universe. Smolin adds that for physics to get back on track, scientific research funding and resources must be diverted away from pondering the imponderable. But diverted to where? The only real answer is to look to our up-and-coming physicists for fresher, more fruitful lines of scientific enquiry. Smolin is never a light read, but The Trouble With Physics is an essential one if you want the lowdown on where physics is headed.

Notes from the Holocene: A Brief History of the Future
Dorion Sagan (2007)
ISBN: 1933392320

True to the Sagan legacy, Dorion Sagan, son of astronomer and science writer Carl Sagan, doesn't shy away from life's most fundamental questions. Drawing on the multiple disciplines of philosophy, science, and even science fiction, Sagan muses over why life exists, how it could have sprung from lifeless particles, and what life's ultimate fate might be. While the questions and topics are weighty and troublesome, Sagan, the author of 16 books, including Into the Cool: Energy Flow, addresses them with a light and informal, yet knowledgeable manner. Many chapters in Notes From The Holocene are informed by the theories and writings of well-known scientists and science fiction writers, such as luminaries James Lovelock and Philip K. Dick. Collectively, Dick, Lovelock, and others, including Richard Dawkins, help Sagan paint a vivid picture of our Earth and humanity's place within its fragile ecosystems. As Lovelock says in his Gaia hypothesis - which states that the Earth is a living, self-regulating organism - humans are but one of many important parts of a much larger organism. While Lovelock's theory is a central theme in Notes From The Holocene, Sagan branches out and ties together discussions regarding Earth's oceans and atmosphere, thermodynamics, and human consciousness. Notes From The Holocene is an important and thoughtful book.

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