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Friday, September 28, 2018

The First Three Minutes - Steven Weinberg # Review

This book in cosmology should have been read long back - particulary if one has read some books on Big Bang and particle physics.The author chronicles the very early history of the universe while describing the underlying physical concepts. In view of epoch experiments to be conducted with new Large Hadron Collider (LHC), during October 2008 at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. The LHC will create the conditions of less than a millionth of a second after Big Bang when there was a hot soup of tiny particles called quarks and gluons. This was one of the fastest read books by me as most of the concepts were already known.

The most intriguing chapters in the book are the First Three Minutes (Chapter 5) and First One-Hundred Seconds (Chapter 7). Standard model of cosmology proposes that the universe is made of , well known, four fundamental physical forces; weak nuclear force, strong nuclear force, electromagnetic force and gravitational force. When the universe was 10(e-43) seconds old (the first moment of the universe), the temperature was about 10(e32) K, and all the four forces were considered unified. (Just like the postulates of Qunatum Mechanics, where the first one is that the Universe was a smooth flow of Energy in the beginning, when matter came later!- but holds still good)

The author, being a Nobel Laureate, is one of the pioneers in this field of research and  proposed the existence of unified of weak and electromagnetic forces for which he was awarded Nobel Prize. When the universe was above the critical temperature of 3*10(e15)K, these two forces were symmetrical and had the same strength, and the symmetry broke as the cooling of the universe decreased the heat below the critical temperature. It is during the symmetry breaking epoch matter acquired the mass through Higgs Bosons. Between the first 10(e-43) to 10(e-36) seconds of the universe's birth, all the four forces were unified, but after 10(e-36) seconds strong nuclear force separated and the universe went through an inflationary epoch (sudden exponential expansion) between 10(e-36) and 10(e-32) seconds.

Reheating of the universe between 10(e-32) and 10(e-12) seconds resulted in the production of hot quark-gluon plasma. Particle interactions in this phase were energetic enough to create large numbers of W bosons, Z bosons and Higgs bosons, which are most the fundamental forms of matter. There after when the universe was about 10(e-12) seconds, the production of W and Z bosons stopped. This was followed by the quark epoch, between 10(e-12) to 10(e-6) seconds, the four natural forces took the form that is prevalent in the current universe. This was followed by the Hadron epoch, between one microsecond to one second, quarks started binding together to form hadrons (protons and neutrons), which are held together by the strong force. One second after the big bang, the lepton epoch began when neutrinos stopped interacting with other forms of matter. Leptons includes; the electron, the muon, the tauon (tau particle), and the associated neutrinos (electron neutrino, muon neutrino, and tau neutrino). Leptons and anti-leptons were annihilated except for a small residue, and this was followed the photon epoch where photons dominated the universe. Nucelo-synthesis of helium occurred during the first 3 to 20 minutes; after about 380,000 years after the Big Bang the temperature of the universe fell to the point where nuclei could combine with electrons to create neutral atoms. As a result, photons no longer interacted frequently with matter, the universe became transparent and the cosmic microwave background radiation was created. Then we were to coin the formation of Amino acids after certain drastic reactions and the events unfold.

During the very first minute, when the universe was in thermal equilibrium, the numbers and the distribution of all particles were determined statistically and not by prior history; cause - effect relationship did not exist! The universe started with equal number of protons and neutrons, and the conversion of neutrons to protons (that form the basics of Nuclear Chemistry like photonuclear reaction) occurred through its interaction with; electrons, positrons, neutrinos and anti-neutrinos. Hydrogen and helium were produced in abundance prior to the evolution of galaxies and stars. Stars evolved using hydrogen as a nuclear fuel to generate energy and their existence.

The detection of background cosmic microwave radiation (CMR) in 1965 by Penzias and Wilson, was one of the most important discoveries of 20th century. Other chapters give a historical and simplified development that lead to the prediction of of CMR, a remnant of the big bang, and also history of cosmological theories of nucelo-synthesis of heavier elements.

This book is a must read for all the undergraduates in Physics and Chemistry. Recent advances in cosmology might have rendered some information contained in this book as obsolete. Nevertheless, this book is very well structured with useful glossary of physics terms and concepts and a mathematical supplement.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Your Brain is a Time-Machine - The Neuroscience and Physics of Time - Dean Buonomano #Review


The brain is an illusion factory! Well, this is how the author considers before completing his thoughts about the brain and its perceptions. Time and activities based in life are aptly considered by this author to prove how our brain is a machine that has its own way of considering events and classifying them.

The book begins with a summary of the psychology, philosophy, pharmacology and physiology of time. The author has an excellent grasp of the issues at stake and the importance of doing research on these topics. How do drugs affect our time perception, and what does that tell us about the brain? How can neurons or neural networks detect measure time?  

The book also describes a bit on the physics of time and the philosophical implications. Does time even exist, or is it (like many other things), a persuasive  illusion that the brain construes to give us an advantage in evolution? Is present-ism (only the ‘now’ exists) or eternal-ism (time is another dimension and ‘now’ is to time what ‘here’ is to space) the correct model of the universe? 

The act which we take simple has been explained in significant way: that when a baby begins to look at his mother, he views it along several angles at different times and sometimes larger (when she is close) only to stitch these pictures for composing an ultimate face in its database.  This way every one gathers data and webs a new picture or scheme of things in life. The brain records the statistics of what we see, hear and experience and uses patterns to make sense of the world around us. That the brain is an expert in 'scavenging' the information is an important point delivered.

Pavlov's dog, whose stomach acidity was measured at a constant time is used to tell how body behaves with regular time-bound activities.  This is because the brain creates the sense of time as it cannot be physically measured. We, thus the author says, do create 'future' and help ourselves comfortable with the dimension of time.Going along the nuances of time the author describes the relativity with time: "A watched pot never boils" and time flies when you have fun. Chronostasis is considered as stagnant time when you are not enjoying the physical world.

There is this mention about the 'slow motion' in life. People's ability to react quicker and perceive events is compared with a CPU processor, where the processor is designed to withstand a certain over-optimised speed. Likewise the brain enters the 'over-clock' mode.There is more mention about theory of relativity and a good explanation to it with a few examples. That a special relativity is called so because we can ignore the influence of 'gravity' is quite a new approach to explain the same.

Finally an attractive quote that I found would make a few people go sarcastic is here:  There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable.The reason we say that humans have free will is because we can't predict what they will do.The brain—the most complex dynamical system in the known universe—tells, represents, and perceives time in multiple ways. In this book of popular science, neuroscientist and author Dean Buonomano investigates the intricate relationship between the brain and time with ample examples. 

In the last chapter, the author cites the core issues. He ponders whether animals plan for the future and whether they reflect on the future in the same way that we do. There is this meeting with the Piranhã tribe who, according to an anthropologist, lived with them, lives in the here and now. The author also takes on free will. If time is just another dimension that we can, at least in theory, travel across, then that should logically mean that everything that is going to happen has already happened which presumably means there is no free will. Free will, the author suggests may only be the feeling associated with making decisions - just like we feel pain when we get painful stimulation. 

Free will, consciousness, space-time, and relativity from the perspective of a neuroscientist, drawing on physics, evolutionary biology, and philosophy, 'Your Brain Is a Time-Machine' reveals that the brain’s ultimate purpose may be to predict the future, and thus that it is a time machine. 

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Entangled Minds: Extrasensory Experiences in a Quantum Reality - Dean Radin #Review

In this exciting book, Radin shows how we know that psychic phenomena such as telepathy, clairvoyance, and psychokinesis are real, based on scientific evidence from thousands of controlled lab tests (yes plenty of). Radin surveys the origins of this research and explores, among many topics, the collective premonitions of the September 11 incident. He reveals the physical reality behind our uncanny telepathic experiences and he debunks the skeptical myths surrounding them. Entangled Minds sets the stage for a rational, scientific understanding of psychic experience.
Everything is connected! The author asks: what's happening to loved ones thousands of miles away? Why are we sometimes certain of a caller's identity the instant the phone rings? Do intuitive hunches contain information about future events? Is it possible to perceive without the use of the ordinary senses?
Many people believe that such "psychic phenomena" are rare talents or divine gifts. Others don't believe they exist at all. But the latest scientific research shows that these phenomena are both real and widespread, and are an unavoidable consequence of the interconnected, entangled physical reality we live in.
Albert Einstein called entanglement "spooky action at a distance" -- the way two objects remain connected through time and space, without communicating in any conventional way, long after their initial interaction has taken place. Could a similar entanglement of minds explain our apparent psychic abilities?
Accordingly, Radin’s meta-analyses focus on telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, a sense of being stared at, and psychokinesis. Entangled Minds does not consider such phenomena as levitation, teleportation, metal bending, psychic surgery, apparitions, and OBEs.
In keeping with the receiving/influencing nature of psi, the long middle section in chapters 5–11 examines two basic types of experiments: those that deal with psi’s receiving function and others that test its ability to influence persons and objects at a distance. Most of these are collections of experiments, and very little of the original research discussed here is the author’s own; Also, he mainly discusses others’ studies—and replications of these studies—to statistical analysis.
The strategy is twofold: first, to present (sometimes corrected) statistical evidence to demonstrate the degree to which the experimental results point to psi by exceeding chance; and second, like Sherlock Holmes, to shore up these findings by eliminating alternative explanations. On the one hand, the odds against chance are—in Radin’s words—significant, amazing,
stupendous, staggering, shocking, and astronomical (in one case, 1 in 10 to the 96th power). On the other, he chips away at the alternatives. Chance, fraud, coincidence, experimental flaws, sensory cues, and recording error cannot account for the results.
A new thing called “filedrawer problem,” which means that researchers keep unfavorable results to themselves drew my attention. In the absence of suitable alternatives, he concludes that “these studies provide repeatable, scientifically valid evidence for psi.”
He is at pains to qualify his conclusions by saying that correlation is not necessarily causation, that all he has really proven is that the outcomes are not due to chance, and that the probability of psi does not validate everything paranormal (Elvis, Bigfoot, UFOs, the Bermuda Triangle).
The author then moves on to examine both consciously and unconsciously mediated psychic phenomena. Consciously mediated psi is, for example, when a person consciously tries to send a telepathic message to someone else. Thus, we have a sender and a receiver, both of whom are trying to establish a psychic mental connection for the purpose of transferring information from one person to another. Unconsciously mediate psi typically refers to unconscious responses of a person's nervous system to distant mental influence, often as measure with respect to brain waves or skin resistance.
The study of psi also extends to the cosmological realm of time. Radin addresses the issue of time by examining something called "presentiment," and that is the ability of a person to respond consciously or unconsciously to a stimulus before the stimulus is applied. This is a highly complex area of research, but at its core is the simple idea that humans can react emotionally to certain things that are about to happen, even when they are given no prior physical information relating to this.
The great beauty in Dean Radin's book becomes most visible in his later chapters in which he proposes a connection between psychic phenomena and quantum mechanics. Here, readers can obtain one of the most comprehensive and approachable introductions into this area of physics in print. Radin summarizes much of the debate among physicists regarding the interpretation of quantum phenomena such as entanglement. Indeed, his exceptionally clear description of John Bell's famous theorem.
This is a kind of book every College student or caretaker might consider to read, because it explores the vast amount of research being conducted over 'psi' and its relationship to the quantum science. The vast number of references is mind boggling - never realizable that people might be working on this aspect in so large numbers.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

How the Physics of the Very Small has Transformed Our Lives by Brian Clegg #Review

Focussing on the civilisation the author narrates about the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages and the birth of steam and electricity saw human life transformed by new materials and technology. Thus the period we are living in now is defined as the Quantum Age, a revolution led by our understanding of the very small and live.

Technologies based on quantum physics account for some 35 per cent of GDP and quantum behaviour lies at the heart of every electronic device. Quantum biology explains how our ability to see, birds’ ability to navigate – and even plant photosynthesis relies directly on quantum effects.

Clegg makes the point that quantum theory, special and general relatively, are subjects that are often neglected in schools, in part because they are too difficult and in part because many teachers have little idea about them .

Electronics provides the most obvious of these applications, but we also visit the quantum world of the very cold where superconductivity and superfluids come into existence – and even explore the relevance of quantum physics to biology. This is all done in a very readable, storytelling fashion. This was particularly strong when bringing in key characters, like the remarkable Heike Kamerlingh Onnes (I read about HKO in our PG courses around Magnetism) responsible for early discoveries in the world of super cold, and the riveting story of the development of the laser which features everything from serendipity to the weird fallout of the US fear of communists in the 1950s that meant a leading scientist was not allowed to read his own notes as he didn’t have clearance to do so.

Ostensibly aimed at the general reader, this book will be of most interest to those who have a flair for science leaning. For the Non-Physics students this book would be a boon as far as information is concerned, but for me I felt I should have read this book long back.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown # Review

I did not wish to write a review about this book, highly belated though if the launch time is considered, but I am just willing to state a few things about this book. Quite serendipitously I happened to watch the movie the same day I finished the book. As with most, there is a lot of difference between the movie and the book - the pace, especially. To some extent the character, dialogues and editing of the episodes are nearly the same. While it took a lot of time to finish the book, the movie finished in just more than two hours.

The book or the movie is not for those who feel spiritually insecure and are not open to listening to thoughts apart from what they learn from their 'faith' when growing up.

The Priory of Sion, Opus Dei and the Holy Blood or Holy Grail were the terms new for me and the entire book revolved around this. The only grace I found was over the mention of Fibonacci Series, radio deciphering, Vinegar, Papyrus and of course, the symbology. Newton's apple finds a mention, albeit not in the right tone.

The overall write up is good, though a bit 'elastic' at places. Some phrases like "Men go to far greather lenghts to avoid what they fear than to obtain what they desire.." and "...when the question has no correct answer, there is only one honest response. The gray area between yes and no. Silence...." caught my literal attention.

The only new 'concept' I learnt was there is always some hidden or crypted meaning in a painting. Watch the movie if you cannot read the book, where the climax, though, is not impressive. Thus, too, the last pages of the book also warranted fast reading.

Overall, refreshing.

The Constants of Nature by John D Barrow #Review

The story begins with the seemingly temporal question of what we mean by a meter or a kilogram. The French Revolution facilitated the first moves towards an egalitarian standard of weights and measurements; a bar of platinum was housed in the archives of the French Republic against which a meter could be measured. As the bar was handled, it began to shrink over time so scientists were soon on the look-out for a better method. Then there is this interesting mention of the Lockheed-Martin that controlled the day-to-day operations of a Mars mission in 1998. While it was sending data in Imperial units (miles, feet, pounds), NASA was assuming them in metric (meter, kilogram etc) and the result - $125 million space craft became part of Martian dust as the mis-calculation did not eject the space craft in the right time (The spacecraft was 60 miles above the Surface - 60 KM is a different entirety)

The introductory chapter stressed on the need to have good constants for understanding the Universe, like the velocity of light, gravitational constant etc.The numerical value of the weight of an electron will vary according to the units used. If instead you ask how much heavier is a proton when compared to the weight of an electron, you get a number that is independent of units. This number, approximately 1836, is an example of one of the "constants of nature". The value is Universal and is quite similar to what we use as 'equivalence' in Chemistry and amu in Nuclear Chemistry.

A small change in the relative weights of the electron and proton would result in atoms flying apart (Read: one of the fundamental forces of nature). There would be no possibility of gluing these fundamental particles together to make atoms and ultimately life (Haven't we discovered more precisely recently). The "Superhuman standards" discusses well the constants 'c' and 'h', with a few anecdotes from Einstein and Planck. Both of these are highly essential in present day science.  The need for Quantum Region is well discussed by an illustration with some light on Heisenberg's Uncertainty 'throw'. The book is filled with some very good quotes and here is one I liked:

Here lies John Bun,
Who was killed by a gun,
His name was not Bun, but Wood,
But Wood would not rhyme with gun,
but Bun would.

And this infinite calculation of the number of protons in the Universe by Arthur Eddington was baffling:

"I believe that there are 15,747,724,136,275,002,577,605,653,961,181,555,468,044,717,914,527,116,709,366,231,425,076,185,631,031,296 protons in the universe and the same number of electrons."
This might be not a correct number because we do not know the geometry of the Universe, but if it was derived from some other constant, may be he was true.

In the last part of the book, there is certain amount of mathematics that did not go well with me, but I felt that a lot of hard work has gone into the collection of some beautiful information. The Eddington's Unfinished symphony, The Mystery of Very large numbers, Biology and stars, The Anthropic Principal, Altering Constants and re-writing History, New Dimensions and Variations on a
Constant Theme are a few chapters that carry good reference and sketches along with some useful quotes.

With description of lots of constants around the science of Physics, the author seems to throw lot of light on the construction of Universe and suggests us to observe the same and verify what happens or what would happens if constants change! The change may at be any distant digit from decimals. With the anthropic principle at the helm of the discussion, we need to listen to what these values signify.

The book fluctuates between moments that are profoundly life-affirming and others that are deeply depressing, with sentences such as: "If the constants of nature are slowly changing then we are on a one-way slide to extinction."

This isn't just extinction because the Sun will eventually swallow us up: we still have some hope of avoiding this minor event in the history of the universe by making it to another star-system. We are aware, for example, that without the Earth's natural magnetic field, our atmosphere would be stripped
away by solar winds? Such is the fate of Mars, which has no magnetic field and which is why it appears 'red'.

The dimensionless constant appears to show some sanctity. Time variation of fundamental constants is subjected to theoretical and experimental research by a number of physicists such as; Arthur Eddington, Paul Dirac, George Gamow, Robert Dicke, Brendan Carter, Paul Ehrenfrest and others. The fine-structure constant was originally introduced in 1916 by Arnold Sommerfeld, as a measure
of the relativistic deviations in atomic spectral lines of the Bohr's atomic model. This constant is interpreted as a measure of electromagnetic force that holds the atoms together or the strength of the interaction between electrons and photons; the ratio of two energies, the energy needed to bring two
electrons from infinity to a distance against their electrostatic repulsion, and the energy of a single photon. It is also defined as the ratio of the strengths of the electromagnetic and gravitational interactions. This constant is a dimensionless quantity (1/137.035999679); hence its numerical value is independent of the system of units used.  It is increasingly becoming apparent to a few physicists that some fundamental constants such as the speed of light (c), fine-structure constant, proton-
electron mass ratio, and gravity (G) have changed over the last 13.7 billion light years.

What is not understandable by the humans is the 'fashion' of the Universe provided there are numbers attached to it.  The author delivers his last paragraph with a prediction that one day the numbers would prove to be some 'PIN' numbers or bar-codes that should help unlock the Secrets of the Universe. The last part of the book has abstracts which carry the gist of the all preceding chapters. You can recollect what you have read or forgotten through these pages. A baffling amount of reference has gone into the writing of this book, so that it is prudent to go after the book with a valid reason.