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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.

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Golden Ration by Mario Livio - #Review

Spread over nine chapters, this book proved to be an excellent 'thesis' on the 'ratio' φ. What more should one expect when Livio ventures into how and why 'phi' was introduced as he takes us through History, Art, Architecture, Mathematics, Physics and Biology and correlates the values reasonably.
Euclid was supposed to have discovered this relationship that Pythagoras also endorsed : 1.6180339887, also ad infinitum. Dubbed the "Golden Ratio" or the "Golden Number," he explains the harmonious geometrical characteristics in everything from pentagrams to the petals of a rose. The 'pi', altogether a different geometrical aspect is not to be confused with this number. Here the division of a line by Euclid into two parts such that the ratio of the larger part to the smaller gives a ratio of the whole line to the larger part.
Astronomer Johannes Kepler, who saw φ as the greatest treasure of geometry and Mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci of Pisa have been quoted in the beginning of the book with ample examples which cannot be mentioned in the review. However, here is a list of few things that have been discussed alongside (satisfying φ )
The Babylonians
Binet formula
Egyptian Monuments
Euclid's definition
Flower petal arrangemnt
Great Pyramid of Khufu
Islamiah Mathematics (Al-khawrithm)
Kepler's laws
Lenonardo da Vinci (and his paintings, of course)
Penrose Tiling
Platonic solids
Quadratic equations
Spirals (ubiquotous)
Stock market analysis
Violin Construction
There is mysticism at a few places. For instance it talks about the “mystical” properties of integer like 666, the number of the beast; there is this formula relating 666 and phi. I am not sure how sin 666? + cos(6 × 6 × 6)? gives a “good approximation” of the negative of phi. Added to this is a mention that President Ronald Regan changed his address from 666 in California to some 668!
Now, if you are a Physicist, you would find solace in 'Uncertainty Principle' along with hefty paradoxes supporting your claim. However, the author gives ample reference and at times the conclusion drawn is unconvincing.
There is a lot mention about the 'Golden Rectangle'. If you do a Fibonacci google under the image tab, you would get a lot of these and could find several examples. These are amazing given the fact that the author has found so much time and curiosity to come out with these conclusions. One can then create a spiral of smaller such rectangles that converge to a point which he calls “the Eye of God”.
The Bernoulli's brief histoy also caught my attention. The family is supposed to have contributed much to science in those days that also saw rivalry among themselves. A logarithmic spiral on the tomb of another Bernoulli is quite an interesting mention.
The final chapter of this book is also another book (Is God a Mathematician). In this chapter Livio looks at the idea, in a 'soon-to-be-published' scientific book (a review I have already done, because the order of my reading is not chronological with publications). Here he mentions that all of physics could be modeled by computer programs instead of mathematical equations. Quite incidentally there are a few themes common in both books, but in IGAM, the author talks more about Physics, Universe and Gravity. He considers man-made axioms at the most basic level; however, once those basic axioms were chosen they had consequences which affected the development of the entire mathematical system we know today. For example, we say that 1 + 1 = 2 because we live in a Universe of discrete objects. But suppose we were all blobs of liquid living in a liquid world. Then one blob and another blob would merge together to form one bigger blob. In such a world we might say that 1 + 1 = 1, and our entire mathematical system would be radically different. You would appreciate such ideas if you are passing through Quantum Tunneling.
Good read, finally.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Particle at the End of the Unvirse - Sean Carroll #Review

One of a few books I bitterly felt that I should have read in earlier times. The Higgsteria,the discovery of Higgs goes back to July 2012 and this book is all about the endeavour for the discovery of the same. The author lucidly counts the steps, both mechanical and humane, in the establishment of the LHC. No mention about the Cyclotron, there is a beginning account of Linear Accelerators from the USA to the present CMS or ATLAS at the LHC (at 456F, the largest refrigerator in the world, he calls) is beautifully brought about with ample examples and reasons. If all the data generated by the LHC were to be stored on CDs, it would fill more than a million discs every second. Avoiding this using Trigger is a worthy devouring mention. With Nobel going for this discovery essentially not centred over the idea from where it started, the author mentions the excitement associated with this along with lasting contribution of the same in the most accessible way for every reader.

The mass of everything hereabouts is dominantly due to the nuclei of atoms, the source of which is the kinetic energy of quarks trapped within protons and neutrons. This has nothing to do with the Higgs. The Higgs is (or was) believed to give mass to fundamental particles: the size of a hydrogen atom is inversely proportional to the mass of the electron, as Carroll writes; the compactness of the nuclei of heavy atoms is due to the mass of their constituent quarks. The force that converts protons into the seeds of helium in the solar furnace, and leads to sunshine, is weak in part because its carrier - the W boson - is massive. This is critical for our existence, for had the W remained massless, like a photon, the force would have been more powerful and the Sun burned out long ago!

On the whole, Carroll's descriptions of the Physics are excellent. He engages in lots of metaphors from everyday experiences to give some concreteness to the very abstract notions. Here are some bullets that attracted my attention:

#The behaviour of inverted pendulum gives a good, intuitive approach to the level of energy of a Higgs boson.

#That Angelina Jolie walking across a party room full of people will be slowed down by fans wanting an autograph. She "breaks the symmetry" because if Carroll were to walk across the same room, he would not be approached and would cross the room unhindered. This is equated with Higgs Boson, which is capable of breaking symmetry.

        # That dropping Mentos into bottles of Diet Coke will have the same result when you are sitting still, as when you are in a train going 100 miles per hour.

# At COBE, if you are religious you are looking at God!

# Without Higgs many elementary particles would appear identical to one another

# Bosons don't take up space - 2 or 2 Trillion can sit exactly in the same location

# The Magnets of ATLAS have 1 billion Joules of energy in them.

# A single collision event at LHC results in 1 MB of data

# Why life is so big? Because we are trying to look at things that happened within very short distances which means we need to use small wavelength which means we need high energy particles - that's why LHC is there

# Plasma state has mass lower than that of temperature!

# WIMP's in billions pass through your body

There are several remarks after the appendices that could have been elevated to the main text as they carry vital information, but
then it seems the book was written as a guide to the "LHC setup", and for everyone who is not aware of Physics and the particles.

Charming book, indeed

Friday, January 6, 2017

How to teach Physics to your dog - Chad Orzel #Review

After reading his book "How to teach relativity to dog', which turned out to be a thriller of sorts, I was tempted towards this book. The style and manner are similar in both the books, but here in '...physics', there is more fundamental approach to the subject, that would, therefore be very useful for beginners. Nevertheless, the author takes us through his quirky dialogues allowing microscopic properties to be copied to macroscopic ones - the dog chasing the bunny

There is excellent description about the waves, diffraction and their bending. apart from Bell’s Theorem and g-factor. Planck's length is beautifully explained. The pronunciation of de-Broglie’s, who's wavelength was what we were hammering our heads against in our PG days, was a good toner here - de Broy!

Zeno's paradox was a new one to me. Zeno's arguments are perhaps the first examples of a method of proof called reductio ad absurdum also known as proof by contradiction. They are also credited as a source of the dialectic method used by Socrates. That said, the example of Tortoise and Achilles (In a race, the quickest runner can never overtake the slowest, since the pursuer must first reach the point whence the pursued started, so that the slower must always hold a lead. – as recounted by Aristotle, Physics VI:9, 239b15) is brought out beautifully. There is hence a mathematical sequence to this and the resulting sequence is represented as:
{......,1/16, 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, 1}

Wave function Collapse and Quantum Entanglement/tunneling are given a big share in the book, though beautifully explained, these did not make interesting reading as I was aware of these two effects from previous reads. Quantum Healing is also being 'sniffed' upon by the dog and a meek reference to Deepak Chopra's book on the topic is enlightening.

“Physical body is like an illusion and trying to manipulate it is like grasping the shadow and missing the substance.” This is what the author has to say about the world which is a reflection of sensory apparatus that registers it.

Homeopathic Treatment finds a strange mention in this book. The Milagro's reference to its healing simply sends a chill through the brain's cortex. When minute quantities of herbs or toxins are placed in water and diluted to a point where there should not be a single molecule of the original herb or toxin in a given water sample, the water gets 'disturbed'. The water tries to remember its 'past' in the presence of original substance, though and acquires some of its properties which supposedly enables the water to heal the patients who drink it. This memory effect of water is related to Quantum Entanglement.

The book is far less mathematical than any other similar book of this caliber and hence is much more enjoyable. If you don't mind a talking dog, and frequent references to bunnies, then this is an excellent introduction to quantum physics.

A confession by the dog:

The universe is making fun of me
So here's the problem:
Particles do not exist - fields do.
Fields do not exist - particles do.

This insight is not helping me. In fact, I find that it leaves me profoundly frustrated. Clearly, the universe is conspiring against me. It is thwarting all my efforts to grasp what is going on. My intuition is failing. The way I have thought about the world all my life is useless when trying to understand how the world works at a deeper level. I am in a quagmire, I am thrashing around, straining to grasp the branch of a tree in an attempt to steady myself, to lift myself onto solid ground.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Life on the Edge: Coming of Age of Quantum Biology by Jim Al-Khalili and Johnjoe McFadden #Review


Life_on_the_Edge: Coming of Age of Quantum BiologyJim Al-Khalili and Johnjoe McFadden

       The book is pillared on Erwin Schrödinger’s "What is Life?", written in 1943, based on a series of public lectures given at Trinity College Dublin and spoken of with almost reverence by the authors. The concept of life and consciousness is quintessentially the most thought-provoking question ever posed by humankind. The suggestion that quantum mechanics may lie at the defining edge between ‘live’ and ‘not-alive’ should invoke interest in the modern day scientist. This way "Life on the Edge" proposes "at least one of the missing pieces in the puzzle of life found within the world of quantum mechanics.”

In this book the authors, introduce two of the fascinating quantum physics phenomena, quantum tunneling and quantum superposition, via a number of seemingly commonplace biological topics: the homing precision of a migrating Robin, enzyme reactions at ‘normal’ temperatures, photosynthesis, and the anatomy of smelling. Most of us are familiar with quantum phenomena thanks to the advent of technologies such as electron microscopes, fast processors and MRI scanners. The weirdness of particles (or rather dual nature) in quantum systems is superposition of states until an observation is made goes well with 'gadenken' experiments like “Schrodinger's cat”. The act of observing the cat - alive or dead - forces the quantum states to become only one. This 'de-coherence’ of states is what separates the quantum world from the classical physics of our everyday world.

The macro world of biology, and everyday other occurrences, is shielded from the weird quantum stuff via thermodynamics - an aspect that has remained the debate between Einstein and Bohr (with Heisenberg). Many animals employ the Earth’s magnetic field to navigate by. It has been proposed that magnetite, found in the tissues of some migrating species such as bees and some birds, may provide the ability to sense weak magnetic fields with the aid of magneto-receptors.  An eye pigment, cryptochrome, acts as a chemical compass depending on free radical pairs being in a superposition of singlet and triplet states. This quantum entanglement is familiar to physicists from esoteric experiments involving particles in isolated systems. This ‘de-coherence’ of quantum reactions comes about because of the ‘noise’ of large thermodynamic systems. Nonetheless, the evidence is compelling, even if the mechanisms are not fully understood, some properties of living systems depend on quantum mechanical phenomena such as tunneling, coherence and entanglement (with ample and nice evidence of spooky effect narration).

When an incoming photon (light particle) hits a specialised photo-receptor in the robin’s eye, it creates two electrons that are “entangled” in a quantum sense. Entanglement is one of the most mysterious quantum properties, allowing particles to remain instantaneously connected however far apart they are – which Albert Einstein called “spooky action at a distance”. Experiments show that entangled electron pairs can be extraordinarily sensitive to the orientation of magnetic fields, and the behaviour of the spinning electrons as they move apart in the robin’s eye giving the bird a quantum compass.

In addition to this ability of birds, other systems, photosynthesis and enzyme reactions, are given a compelling discussion in Life on the edge. The evidence of these diverse findings strongly suggests that biological systems employ quantum phenomena at the heart of their macro behaviour. This has huge implications for the study of large-scale quantum systems and their possible technological innovations. 

The book is aimed at a lay audience, and in this it should succeed admirably as is delivered from Al-Khalili, accurately and suitably referenced, sufficing further reading and backing up the scientific claims. "Life on the Edge" is a well-written introduction to one of the most fascinating areas of modern science – quantum biology. With about eighty percent of the book, the reader is buoyed with enough references like Extremophiles, Life out of Mud volcano, Miller's experiment on creating Amino Acids rolling drastic methods, Butterfly effect, probability with Tinba virus (with just 20 Kb in size) etc., but in the end there is a philosophical termination to these subjects with "consciousness" taking the theme. The proposed conclusion is that quantum theory can account for human consciousness, put forward by the Oxford mathematician Roger Penrose in 1989 and adopted by a few others. 

Their idea is that quantum effects modulate the fluctuating electromagnetic fields in the brain that some scientists associate with consciousness, though there is no convincing evidence for this.  Here the authors take a sensibly cautious tone, warning against the argument that, just because consciousness is a mystery, something as mysterious as quantum theory will help to explain it. But they cannot resist asking: “Is it likely that the strange features of quantum mechanics we discovered to be involved in so many crucial phenomena of life are excluded from its most mysterious product, consciousness? We will leave the reader to decide.”

Good Read!