Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Feynman’s Rainbow by Leonard Mlodinow

Who gave the first correct explanation of the rainbow? Descartes.  Why did he? Because he perceived its beauty.
Feynman’s Rainbow:
A Search for Beauty in Physics
and Life

by Leonard Mlodinow
  (Warner Books, 2003).
Sandwiched between layers of cute Feynman stories are Mlodinow’s own reflections on his path to increased self-awareness.  He seems to have been pretty self-aware all along, but he ran into a couple of hard edges in the dark living room of life: having achieved a professorship at Caltech, he was not sure that he could live up to the achievements that took him there; then there was the collision with cancer.  Through it all, he had obtained permission to tape record some of his time with Richard Feynman. 

"The myth of the finches obscures the qualities that were really responsible for Darwin’s success: the grit to formulate his theory and gather evidence for it; the creativity to seek signs of evolution in existing animals, rather than, as others did, in the fossil record; and the open-mindedness to drop his belief in creationism when the evidence against it piled up.
"The mythical stories we tell about our heroes are always more romantic and often more palatable than the truth. But in science, at least, they are destructive, in that they promote false conceptions of the evolution of scientific thought.Of the tale of Newton and the apple, the historian Richard S. Westfall wrote, “The story vulgarizes universal gravitation by treating it as a bright idea ... A bright idea cannot shape a scientific tradition.” Science is just not that simple and it is not that easy." "It is, In Fact, Rocket Science" by Leonard Mlodinow New York Times, May 15, 2015, here.
In this running monologue, Mlodinow also explains some physics. He elucidates string theory better than he does quantum chromodynamics, though only because he says more about the former. Other paragraphs open windows to the failed S-Matrix theory, and the more successful quantum optics. You can crawl through those windows (or find doors) via textbooks, articles, and online content, if you wish. I have not. But they are interesting here because they illuminate aspects of Leonard Mlodinow.

In Fahrenheit 451, Montag attempts to explain literature by saying, “Inside each book is a man.”  Herein you will find Richard P. Feynman (of course), but as experienced by Leonard Mlodinow. And, indeed, this book is a long evening or several lunches with someone who is as fascinated with the internal world of atoms as he is with his own internality.  It goes on my physics shelf with the Feynman books.

Books by Leonard Mlodinow
  • Subliminal: how your unconscious mind rules your behavior (2012),
  • War of The Worldviews: science vs. spirituality (2011), co-authored with Deepak Chopra.
  • The Grand Design (2010), co-authored with Stephen Hawking.
  • The Drunkard’s Walk: the story of randomness and its role in our lives (2008)
  • A Briefer History of Time (2005), as co-author with Stephen Hawking.
  • Feynman’s Rainbow: a search for beauty in physics and in life (2003)
  • Euclid’s Window: The story of geometry from parallel lines to hyperspace (2001)
  • The Last Dinosaur (2004), co-authored with Matt Costello
  • Titanic Cat (2004), co-authored with Matt Costello
"Leonard Mlodinow (born 1954) from Chicago, Illinois is an author and physicist who wrote the Star Trek: The Next Generation second season episode "The Dauphin" with writing partner Scott Rubenstein. He also worked as story editor on the episodes from "The Outrageous Okona" to "The Royale" with Rubenstein.

In 2009, Mlodinow penned an essay for Newsweek entitled "Confessions of a Star Trek Writer," which discussed his work on Star Trek, his co-workers in the writer's room (like former police officer Burton Armus), and the "culture of free thinking" which has driven Star Trek to four decades of success.  --  Memory Alpha here


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