Friday, October 14, 2016

Simple Book Review: To Explain the World (The Discovery of Modern Science)

To Explain The World: The Discovery of Modern Science (2015) by Steven Weinberg

Weinberg hope to answer these questions in his book [very ambitious, but he tried]: How did we come to understand the world? How did we learn physics and astronomy? Matter and poetry? Music and mathematics? Motion and philosophy? And the connection and influence (or not) of science and religion? “I chose ‘Discovery’ instead of ‘Invention’,” writes Weinberg, “to suggest that science is the way it is not so much because of various adventitious historic acts of invention, but because of the way nature is.” This book is divided into 4 parts: 1) Greek Physics, 2) Greek Astronomy, 3) The Middle Ages, and 4) The Scientific Revolution, and about 90+ pages of technical notes such as Thales’ Theorem, The Pythagorean Theorem, Irrational Numbers, Terminal Velocity, The Theory of the Rainbow, etc. Don’t assume that I know all of these things (I wish I can!) but it is such an amazing read to try to understand how the universe work!

Here are some of interesting knowledge that I want to share with you: #1 Thales, one of the first philosophers of ancient Greek claimed that everything is made of water. Then, Anaximander identified it as a mysterious substance he called the unlimited, or infinite. Anaximenes then came out with air, and Heraclitus assumed it was fire. Empedocles thought of all matter is composed not of one but of four elements – water, air, earth and fire. But Democritus finally claimed that all matter consists of tiny indivisible particles called atoms that moving in empty space. Wow! [Btw, now we know better that an atom is not the smallest matter nor nucleus nor proton nor electron but quark. And an atom is about 99.99999% empty space!];

#2 It seem that the rise of religion had something to do with the decline of original work in science. “Once one invokes the supernatural, anything can be explained, and no explanation can be verified.” I agree to some extent; #3 What excite me is that many theologians of the middle ages were also scientists!; and #4 The author claims that Isaac Newton was the climax of the scientific revolution. I simply love this one chapter The Newtonian Synthesis. John Maynard known to write, “Newton was not the first of the age of reason. He was the last of the magicians, the last of the Babylonians and Sumerians, the last great mind which looked out on the visible and intellectual world with the same eyes as those who began to build our intellectual inheritance rather less than 10,000 years ago.” He learned Latin and theology, arithmetic and geometry, a little Greek and Hebrew, and he began his education with Aristotle’s works. He wrote many books in which none can match the history of physical science, Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy) or shortly known as Principia Mathematica. Here are some quotes on Newton by his friends:

“Then ye who now on heavenly nectar fare,
Come celebrate with me in song the name
Of Newton, to the Muses dear; for he
Unlocked the hidden treasuries of Truth:
So richly through his mind had Phoebus cast
The radius of his own divinity,
Nearer the gods no mortal may approach.”


“Nature and nature’s laws lay hid in night;
God said, ‘Let Newton be!’ And all was light.”

Overall, I learned so much from this book. I have to study some of the subjects in the internet and YouTube for illustrations and imaginations. I recommend this book to any curious readers out there who love science!
[P.s: Since I admires Albert Einstein more than Isaac Newton, I was amused when I read this additional two more lines on the praise of Newton many years later, “It did not last: the Devil howling ‘Ho, Let Einstein be,’ restored the status quo.” :P]

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