THIS WILL BE BOTH A BIOGRAPHY, AND SOME NOTES ABOUT WRITING The Scholar's Survival Manual, and Doing Physics. A second edition of Doing Mathematics is due out in early 2015. And in 2011 Urban Tomography appeared
I am a professor of planning in the Sol Price School of Public Policy at the University of Southern California. I received my PhD (in experimental particle physics) from Columbia, and then did research and taught at Berkeley, Minnesota, MIT, USC, and Michigan, and was a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences and at the National Humanities Center. I am a Fellow of the American Physical Society, and have received a number of awards for my mentoring.
I have written my share of scholarly articles in the usual peer reviewed places. "What's Wrong With Plastic Trees?" appeared in Science in 1973, and seems to be well known. I thought that what I was saying, that what we call nature is a wonderfully rich notion in a culture, was straightforward, and that design and planning make nature what we see, was also straightforward. But I was soundly rebuffed, called "homocentric," and otherwise characterized.
My books have two main themes, design and mathematical modeling. The design books are about methods and theories, as well as about documenting the city photographically and aurally. The modeling books come out of my early work on city planning, modeling urban change, and my interest in how models build in ideas.
I plan to work on the issue of uncertainty, perhaps a book of my photographs of industrial Los Angeles, and there is a second volume of my blog book, After Tenure, in the works.
We did a project on rephotographing Paris of 1870 in 2009, the crucial photographer being Charles Marville who was commissioned by Haussmann to document the transformation: http://www.usc.edu/sppd/parismarville
I don't like words such as interdisciplinary. My work cuts across conventional fields, but I like to think that I am faithful to the conventional fields.
My website is http://www-rcf.usc.edu/~krieger
Other links to my work: Blog: http://blogs.usc.edu/sppd/krieger
Urban Tomography: http://tomography.usc.edu/urban
Doing Physics, 2nd edn., http://www.iupress.indiana.edu/catalog/806495
LA Documentation: http://1000eyes.usc.edu/martin/montages/Krieger.html
Aural Recordings of LA Life + Swapmeets and Immigrant Entrepreneurs: http://www-rcf.usc.edu/~sound
Industrial LA: USC Digital Library,
Working at the Ports of LA and LB: http://www.metrans.org/research/photo.html (temporarily under construction)
WRITING THE SCHOLAR'S SURVIVAL MANUAL
I started a blog before there were "blogs," in about 1997. I got the idea from John Baez's This Weeks Finds in Mathematical Physics. I thought to focus on cities and planning, but over the years I spent much of my effort writing about academic ethos and practice--mostly because I hated watching people walk in front of oncoming trucks, saying "What, me worry?", as did Alfred E. Newman in Mad magazine. I served on and off on our university's promotion and tenure committee, and for about six of those many years I read all the dossiers, in all fields at all ranks.
The new book has about one-half the posts, edited, with some repetition since I expect people not to read it through but to open it anywhere and read, much as Augustine famously did with the New Testament: tolle lege, take it and read. I don't expect a confessional moment, but I hope it is helpful.
I started a new blog, http://scholarssurvival.blogspot.com, to continue the conversation after I sent the book off to press.
Getting the Physics Right
When I am writing I always have one of my teachers in the back of my mind. My worry will be that they will find out that what I am saying is wrong, or that I made a mistake. Now if this were a matter of mathematical or physics reasoning that would concern me much less than when I am trying to convey in everyday terms: what the physics is about. So if I am analogizing the theory's division between particles and fields and their interaction, the analogy being to Adam Smith's pin factory where there is a division of labor, I have not only to worry about the quantum field theorists but also the economists. When I am analogizing particle interaction to the rules of kinship and marriage, there is the theoretical particle physicist and the anthropologist of kinship who is looking over my shoulder. Doing Physics is meant to be read by high school students on, and I surely don't want to spread nonsense. And I don't want to be unfaithful to the science.
On the other hand, my subsequent books Constitutions of Matter (Chicago, 1996) and Doing Mathematics (World Scientific, 2003), try to make sense of highly technical work in mathematical physics and mathematics, itself. My nightmare would be that specialists would find my account flawed, a mistaken interpretation. I don't expect them to think any of this is physics; rather it is about how work is done, and it had better be true to life. In Doing Mathematics I discern an analogy between an analogy in physics and one in mathematics. Such an analogy of analogies is called a syzygy. The mathematicians have been working in this realm for 150 years, while the physicists are rather latecomers. On the other hand, the physicists have a very clear example of the analogy. I was enormously relieved when one of the experts in the mathematics seemed to have liked my discussion and not found it too wanting.
Why do this sort of book writing? I am not doing a popularization, and my book is not a gee-whiz account. Rather it is an entrée into an esoteric world, much as one might want an everyday account of a sacred text of antiquity. This is what is going on here. These are the moves being made. This is how these people think. This is what they have in mind. This is how the physics is part of the everyday culture you know already. In the case of the more technical books, the idea is to point to the motivating themes and ideas, themes and ideas that are not so technical in fact.
I have one other big goal. I want people to appreciate the physicist's account of the natural world, how that account is not beyond them. In the twentieth century physicists discovered why the sun shines, and they have the most powerful account of creation since Genesis. Just as the first six days of Genesis is also an account of the rules of the Hebrews' world, so the physicist's account of the origin of the universe is also an account of the rules of the physical world.
What's strange to me is that all popular writing about physics and mathematics is in baby terms. Yet in fact a cultured person might be able to see why physicists do what they do and how they account for the world, and what mathematicians do and how they describe the structure of their abstract world. Yes, it's not the same as a PhD in these fields, but it is possible to get close to what is going on. At least as close as it is possible to understand another culture without being of that culture.