Friday, March 22, 2013

Local Author Interview Series: Adam Bincer

For this installment of the Local Author Interview Series, I contacted Emeritus Professor Adam Bincer to ask about his new book, his writing experience, the little biographies of physicists and mathematicians he includes at each first mention, and more.

Bincer's recently published book, Lie Groups & Lie Algebras: A Physicist's Perspective, will be hitting the Physics Library New Book Shelf next month.  

Here is what he had to say:

As I have retired I found myself with a lot of free time so I thought that the notes that I had from teaching a class on Group Theory at UW might make a good book. The unexpected challenges in writing the book came when on a couple of occasions I had trouble understanding what my notes suggested was "obvious".

Of the people I mention in my book Weyl would be my favorite. First of all he felt compelled to leave Germany because he would have nothing to do with the Nazis - and he was smart enough to see how evil they were as early as 1933. In contrast as late as 1939 my parents chose to return to Krakow in western Poland from Lwow in eastern Poland where we have fled when war broke out. They figured that it would be better to be under Hitler but at home than under Stalin away from home. Fortunately, as it turned out, all refugees like us were deported by the Soviets deep into Asia which is how we survived the war.

In an obituary on Weyl Freeman Dyson quotes him as having said "In my work I have always tried to unite the true with the beautiful; but when I had to choose one or the other, I usually chose the beautiful." and that is another reason why Weyl is my favorite. Dirac was another great scientist who admired beauty and saw it as a reason for validating a theory. But not everybody saw it that way - Pauli supposedly said "Elegance is for tailors." - I think he was wrong.

I believe that a beautiful piece of mathematics belongs in physics. When non Abelian gauge theory was dreamed up by Yang and Mills there was no place for it in physics but that changed with the advent of quantum chromodynamics.

Here are some books that I have read recently: I have always been fascinated by Greek mythology and I recommend two recent retellings of the Iliad, "Ransom" by David Malouf which tells the story as seen by Priam, and "The Song of Achilles" which tells it from the point of view of Patroclus. Another beautiful book is "The Song of the Kings"by Barry Unsworth which tells the story of Iphigenia at Aulis and particularly focuses on Odysseus who is presented as a pathological liar.

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