Thursday, August 22, 2013

Throwback Thursday

From our August 2007 new book list!

Copies of this title available at UW-Madison Libraries
Stewart, I. (2007). Why beauty is truth: a history of symmetry. New York: Basic Books. 
Although symmetry is a key idea that has long been important to artists, architects, and musicians, it has only recently moved to center stage in mathematics. Stewart (Univ. of Warwick) provides a very readable narrative of the mathematicians who brought about this change and how the mathematical structures and tools of symmetry, especially group theory, have become integral parts of relativity, quantum mechanics, string theory, and modern cosmology. In fundamental physics, it may even be the case that the possible structures of space-time and matter are determined by their symmetries. Throughout his account, Stewart keeps returning to his assumption, "Mathematical beauty is expected to be a prerequisite for physical truth," and how the notion of symmetry makes this possible.  -- R. M. Davis, emeritus, Albion College (CHOICE Reviews October 2007).

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Highlights from the New Book List: July/August

Books from this list are already available for checkout. Here is just a small sample of what the library has recently acquired:

Click here to see copies available at UW-Madison Libraries
Huth, J. E. (2013). The lost art of finding our way. Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press. 

Humanity's lust for exploring terra incognita shaped and tested our prodigious capacity for mental mapping. Now, with the advent of the Global Positioning System, wayfaring skills are on the wane. Physicist John Edward Huth turns explorer in this rich, wide-ranging and lucidly illustrated primer on how to find yourself in the middle of somewhere. Huth's prescription for navigating fog, darkness, open ocean, thick forests or unknown terrain rests first on harnessing compass, Sun and stars; then on the subtleties of weather forecasting and decoding markers such as the wind, waves and tides. -- Nature 2013-05-02

Click here to see copies available at UW-Madison Libraries

Schewe, P. F. (2013). Maverick genius : the pioneering odyssey of Freeman Dyson.

"A compelling biography of a true renaissance man: Freeman Dyson, an iconoclastic scientist who writes like a poet and has stirred controversy over his views on climate change. By masterfully intertwining the multiple threads of Dyson’s life, this book has become a tapestry that illustrates the complexity of a passionate genius who cares deeply about the fate of humanity and has made major contributions to quantum physics, advanced mathematics, nuclear arms control, national security, and the reconciliation between science and religion."  
--Charles D. Ferguson, president of the Federation of American Scientists and author of Nuclear Energy: What Everyone Needs to Know  

Click here to see copies available at UW-Madison Libraries
Zangwill, A. (2013). Modern electrodynamics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

An engaging writing style and a strong focus on the physics make this comprehensive, graduate-level textbook unique among existing classical electromagnetism textbooks. Charged particles in vacuum and the electrodynamics of continuous media are given equal attention in discussions of electrostatics, magnetostatics, quasistatics, conservation laws, wave propagation, radiation, scattering, special relativity, and field theory. Extensive use of qualitative arguments similar to those used by working physicists makes Modern Electrodynamics a must-have for every student of this subject. In 24 chapters, the textbook covers many more topics than can be presented in a typical two-semester course, making it easy for instructors to tailor courses to their specific needs. Close to 120 worked examples and 80 applications boxes help the reader build physical intuition and develop technical skill. Nearly 600 end-of-chapter homework problems encourage students to engage actively with the material. -- Publisher description

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Throwback Thursday

Copies available at UW-Madison
From our August 2004 new book list!

Staley, K. W. (2004). The evidence for the top quark: objectivity and bias in collaborative experimentation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  

This book by a philosopher about physics is a study of the way "big science" is done in large collaborations at high energy physics laboratories. These groups provide a good opportunity for philosophers to examine the scientific evidence and scientific reasoning used. Staley (philosophy, Saint Louis Univ.) focuses on the so-called CDF collaboration at Fermilab, which eventually grew to 450 members, and on a paper published by the collaboration early in the search for the top quark, the last of the G quarks of the standard model of particle physics. He uses all available technical publications and countless interviews with collaboration members to report on and analyze the many technical decisions involved in building the detector and, finally, the decisions made on how to use this huge and complicated detector to best obtain evidence for the existence of the top quark. He also gets involved in the statistical validity of the data and possible sources of bias. The discussion of the personalities, politics, and funding as well as the science should make this book interesting to a diverse group of people including historians, philosophers, physicists, and well-informed nonscientists. Extensive notes. 
 -- As reviewed by R. L Stearns, CHOICE Reviews, November 2004. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

Book Review: The Portable Nietzsche

Nietzsche, F. Wilhelm. (1954). The portable Nietzsche. New York: Viking Press.

In my view, Nietzsche is one of the most original and influential philosophers of recent times. Portable Nietzsche by Walter Kaufmann has four of Nietzsche’s unabridged works (Thus spoke Zarathustra, Twilight of the idols, The antichrist, and Nietzsche contra Wagner), as well as passages from his other works and some of his letters. I truly enjoyed reading it. Although I had read (I had attempted to read I should say) Nietzsche when I was much younger, this time I felt I got a much better sense of his philosophy.

Make no mistake: it is difficult to read Nietzsche (though, I should say definitely not as difficult as reading Kant). His style is very different from other philosophers and it takes some time getting used to. Some of his passages are difficult to understand because of his frequent use of metaphors and stylistic experiments. But overall, I found it very stimulating to read his work. Page after page, Nietzsche provides crushing criticism of the society of his time, and to a large extent our modern society. He makes crucial points and he communicates his ideas strongly.

“Men must be overcome” Nietzsche says. “From the greatest men to the smallest men, I find all men to be all too human” he says. “I have looked for great men but I have always found men who were apes of their ideals” he says. These are very strong statements. I will not try to describe in detail what Nietzsche means by these statements. But just to summarize: Nietzsche is very skeptical of the moral values and concepts of good and evil of the society. He sees individuals to be largely shaped by the moral values of the society they live in, without actually questioning and reflecting on those moral values.

To give a concrete example: we usually view the lives of little children to be simple. Their whole life is governed by simple concepts: hunger, thirst, play, sleep and so on. Nietzsche views most adults of the modern society in exactly the same way. He finds that people usually settle down on a number of ideals, and then they spend their whole life trying to satisfy the urges that result from these ideals.

For example, in my view, Nietzsche would criticize the scientists in the following way: First of all, scientists think that science is good: that is, it is a very worthwhile effort. We usually do not question this assumption. We also think that our particular sub-field of science is a particularly exciting area to pursue. We follow a few scientific traditions that were established in the 1600’s. For example, most of use mathematical equations as our main guiding model. So this way we form our ideals. For example, as an atomic physicist, my ideals are: “Science is good, atomic physics is particularly good, mathematical equations are the best approach”. From these, I form some sub-ideals: “Solving this particular problem is good, getting funding is good, writing papers is good” and so on. I then spend my whole life trying to optimize the objectives in these ideals. When it is laid out this way, really, how different am I from a little child? Also, are these really my ideals? How much of this was imposed on me by the society? How much did I reflect on and question these ideals before I let my whole life to be completely shaped by them?

If these arguments have captured your interest, I highly recommend that you read Portable Nietzsche by Kaufmann.

It is also interesting (and somewhat sad) to learn that Nietzcshe was completely ignored and mocked by his colleagues during his time (roughly between 1870-1890). He could not find any publisher for his books, and he would usually print a few tens of copies using his own means and send it to his friends. Yet, now, he is widely considered to be one of the most original thinkers of his time. 

Submitted by Deniz Yavuz

Copies of this book at UW-Madison Libraries