Many Little Dimensions or One Big One?

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Windwalker
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Preliminary report

Postby Windwalker » Sun Mar 11, 2007 1:05 pm

caliban wrote:I'm afraid I don't read popular physics books, because they inevitably devolve to baby talk.

I am now one-quarter into Lisa Randall's Warped Passages and the baby talk is irritating the hell out of me. Ditto for the coy introductions that attempt (and abysmally fail) to be "hip", the stale metaphors and the numbing repetitions. The book could be 1/4 its length with no loss of clarity or accessibility. She should demand a better ghost writer for her next book.

That said, the central concept of our world being a bounded brane embedded in a higher-dimensional bulk and interacting with other restricted branes through gravity is exciting, especially because it's testable.

More on the theory itself when I finish the book... unless I fling it in a spasm of annoyance.
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Postby rocketscientist » Sun Mar 11, 2007 1:30 pm

If you do fling it, please wait to do it until Peter can catch it on camera.

I propose another new thread. Books Flung - with pictures. Should be good! :D

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Postby Windwalker » Sun Mar 11, 2007 1:33 pm

rocketscientist wrote:If you do fling it, please wait to do it until Peter can catch it on camera.

I propose another new thread. Books Flung - with pictures. Should be good! :D

Hehehe! I like that, let's do it! Peter just got a Canon printer with 8 colored inks and started printing some of his travel pictures on it. So we're all set.
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Re: Preliminary report

Postby caliban » Sun Mar 11, 2007 5:50 pm

Windwalker wrote:
caliban wrote:I'm afraid I don't read popular physics books, because they inevitably devolve to baby talk.

I am now one-quarter into Lisa Randall's Warped Passages and the baby talk is irritating the hell out of me.


You were warned. Although I haven't read it myself. Physics seems the most succeptible to baby talk. As I teach my general education course on Science and Science Fiction, I find my patience sometimes strained by eager students saying, "Umm, you know how you were like talking about quantum physics? All everything is like a force? Do you think that is how martial artists are able to focus all of their energy in a single point, like?" I patiently explain that I think this is an unlikely connection. Student presses me: "But do you think it is possible?" I try to explain the difference between allowing for possibilities and spending energy on probabilities. It may surprise you to learn that I am remarkably patient--with students, as I am being paid to be patient.

Randall probably just got bad advice from her editor--or good advice for selling books. You can sell books, or you can tell the truth. It's kind of the dilemma for my class, because they whine that they have to read six books in 15 weeks for my class. Six whole novels! Science fiction novels! That's too much. And this affects the popularity of the class, and while I do not intrinsically care about MY being popular :) the whole point of the class is to draw more students and get the department more money. (Each student in class is worth $200 to the department.) So I face the dilemma, which some of you may be old enough to appreciate: Betamax or VHS?

Sigh.

but this is why I don't read popular physics books.
"Results! Why, man, I have gotten a lot of results. I know several thousand things that won't work." --Thomas A. Edison

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Re: Preliminary report

Postby Windwalker » Sun Mar 11, 2007 6:00 pm

caliban wrote:Randall probably just got bad advice from her editor--or good advice for selling books. You can sell books, or you can tell the truth.

Brian Greene's The Elegant Universe was not like this. It was written well, and didn't condescend to its reader. Also Randall blithely states (without any explanation or supporting evidence) that molecular and evolutionary biology, among other disciplines, were invented or revised as a result of quantum mechanics. We're back to quantum microtubules. I wanted to scream!
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Re: Preliminary report

Postby caliban » Sun Mar 11, 2007 6:59 pm

Windwalker wrote:Brian Greene's The Elegant Universe was not like this.

That's good to know. Not to excuse Randall, but there is a lot of pressure, even if implicit, to dumb things down, and it is hard to know how to balance accessibility against telling the whole story. I worry that I have--in fact I know I have--dumbed down the science for my SF class far too much; and I still have (significant numbers) of students yawning, watching the clock, skipping class, etc.. You can't eliminate that entirely, but it certainly affects one.

Do I have a point? (A question my students probably often wonder.) Only that I can both sympathize with your annoyance with Randall's baby talk, but also with the struggle to tell the story right. Randall probably got poor guidance from her editors, and does not have enough experience in communication outside of physics to be strong enough to resist bad advice. In my own experience in class, I am coming to the conclusion that often I flail, and descence/condescend into baby talk, when I do not have a clear, crisp point to what I am telling, and so merely aim a firehose stream of oversimplified information at my students. I am working to revise this in my class, as I teach it, but I am certainly guilty of this baby-talk syndrome as well... Sigh. And now I have to go work on my lecture for next week and hope that it isn't a disaster.
"Results! Why, man, I have gotten a lot of results. I know several thousand things that won't work." --Thomas A. Edison

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Re: Preliminary report

Postby Windwalker » Sun Mar 11, 2007 8:39 pm

caliban wrote:Not to excuse Randall, but there is a lot of pressure, even if implicit, to dumb things down, and it is hard to know how to balance accessibility against telling the whole story.

I can attest to the truth of this -- particularly when I was writing the chapter in To Seek Out New Life that dealt with telepathy and other paranormal abilities. My editor went with my decision but another editor might not have done so, which would have scuttled the book. I was also lucky enough to have several readers (you among them) who were vigilant about the science. But equally importantly, I had Peter, who was vigilant about the writing. Not a single tired metaphor escaped his gimlet eye.
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Quick note

Postby Windwalker » Mon Mar 12, 2007 12:37 pm

I put the last two posts into a new topic, Biocentrism and the Anthropic Principle, where I also posted a reply.
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Postby rocketscientist » Mon Mar 12, 2007 12:49 pm

Windwalker wrote:

But equally importantly, I had Peter, who was vigilant about the writing. Not a single tired metaphor escaped his gimlet eye.


A sign of true love and respect.

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Postby Windwalker » Mon Mar 12, 2007 6:09 pm

rocketscientist wrote:A sign of true love and respect.


And he came up with the concept of the Snuggability Quotient (TM). I ask you, how much better can it get?? (*laughs*)
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Postby Windwalker » Sat Jul 07, 2007 3:49 pm

I finally crept to the end of Lisa Randall's Warped Passages. Never has a popular science book taken me so long to finish! The concepts she and her collaborators have come up with are fascinating -- but they take up just the last two chapters of a terribly written book that seems to stretch forever. Where are good, science- and style-literate editors when you need them?

Regarding the science, I know that several experiments in the near future will distinguish among variants of the brane theories. It will be very exciting to see what pans out.
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That has subsisted on defiance and visions.

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Postby Windwalker » Sun Aug 19, 2007 10:30 pm

On the heels of Randall's book comes Paul Steinhardt's and Neil Turok's Endless Universe: Beyond the Big Bang, which uses the concept of colliding branes to advance the theory of cycling universes. The whole idea rests on very speculative foundations, but at least the writing is good!
For I come from an ardent race
That has subsisted on defiance and visions.


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