Sunday, May 08, 2016

The Great Equations by Robert Crease

I've finished another book. A Brief Guide to The Great Equations The hunt for cosmic beauty in numbers by Robert P. Crease. It's strange I just noticed that "brief guide" part now. Oh well.

It was a good book. Definitely nonfiction. There are 10 chapters, each giving a famous equation and some of the story that led to the equation, and some biography of the great thinkers and scientists who made these discoveries.

The book goes in time from Pythagoras through to the 20th century. The equations get progressively harder as the book progresses. It starts with the familiar Pythagoras theorem a2 + b2 = c2, and Newton's F = ma.

Toward the end it gets into tensors with Einstein's general relativity and second order partial derivatives with Schrödinger's equation. It loses me in the late chapters. I don't know what a tensor is in math -my bad. I haven't solved a second order differential equation in many years and it's basically lost to me. The discussions in the late chapters are also deep, going into configuration space which apparently contains i, and Hilbert space which is infinite-dimensional and that apparently "simplifies" things. oh well. I'm a layman with my limitations. I also didn't know what ontology and epistemology are. So I didn't get as much out of the book as some might have.

Throughout the book it's close to as much about philosophy as it is about physics and math. Which is a task to try to think about what the Heisenberg uncertainty principle "means" about the position and velocity of an electron, and free will or the future being already determined. I'm confident that it is not and there is true free will (though I offer no proof).

It was an interesting read. Harder than I thought it would be. It's good for the mind to try to grasp challenging concepts even if I don't grasp everything.