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Science Books

July 27, 2006

The Comprehensible Cosmos: Where Do the Laws of Physics Come From?
Victor J. Stenger (2006)
ISBN: 1591024242

Is physics in crisis? On the one hand we have physicists advocating string theory, alternate dimensions and the possibility that solid matter may not be so solid after all; while on the other we have the traditionalists who refer to such speculations as flights of pure fantasy. Now, Victor Stenger, emeritus professor of physics at the University of Hawaii, steps into the fray and presents his measured, level-headed account of what physics is really all about: how the laws of physics arose, their limits, and how they represent reality. Stenger doesn't argue that there is no such thing as objective reality, or that all current models of physics are static, infallible representations of reality. Instead, he asks us to take stock of the models themselves, as the veracity of each can be determined by what he refers to as "point-of-view invariance." Stenger explains that physical models should be universal and independently objective, so regardless of the time or location that an observer makes a mathematical measurement, the model will always hold true. Many models now exist that explain a great many aspects of reality, but while they are supported by observational data to a high degree of accuracy there is also room to further develop these representations. This latter point is often erroneously mistaken for physics being somehow inadequate or in crisis, but this is not the case; rather it shows the scientific process in action as one idea leads to another. Stenger also addresses the question of where the "laws" laid bare by mathematical models come from, as there is a misguided tendency for some to believe that they have been imposed by a creator or some other universal force. The Comprehensible Cosmos is a genuinely engaging take on how physics explains reality, and how these mathematical models are received, and often misrepresented.

The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question?
Dick Teresi, Leon Lederman (2006)
ISBN: 0618711686

Nobel Prize winning physicist Leon Lederman presents a highly accessible and irreverent take on science's indomitable quest to identify the much sought after Higgs boson, a subatomic particle cheekily referred to as the "God particle." Once found, it is claimed that the God particle will reveal all there is to know about the quark and lepton filled subatomic universe. But perhaps it's possible that the God particle doesn't even exist. In order to find out, Lederman helped design the Superconducting Super Collider (SSC), which, if built, would be the most powerful particle accelerator on Earth. But before Lederman takes us down that fascinating road, he and co-author Teresi, The Three-Pound Universe and a former editor of Omni magazine, flesh out the history of particle physics, beginning with the Greeks in 430 B.C. The God Particle takes a big picture view of physics, and the arguments lean heavily on what the SSC may, or may not, eventually reveal. But this is also one of the book's major strengths, as Lederman's focus is on the experimental rather than the purely mathematical.

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