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Paradox: The Nine Greatest Enigmas in Physics Paperback – October 23, 2012
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This exploration of enigmas in physics is aimed at popular-science readers, but in places, it does require at least a working knowledge of higher math. Some of the famous paradoxes (or, rather, perceived paradoxes) that quantum physicist and university professor Al-Khalili dissects are relatively easy to grasp, such as the one that explains, despite what our brains might tell us, why you only need a group of 57 people to guarantee that at least two of them will share a birthday. But others, such as Zeno’s famous paradox of Achilles and the Tortoise (which seems to suggest that, no matter how fast Achilles runs, he can never catch up to the slower tortoise), take quite a bit of explaining and occasionally some physics history or mathematics. It’s a very interesting book with some nifty surprises: Olber’s Paradox, for example, which asks why the sky gets dark at night when there are billions of stars up there, provides proof of the Big Bang theory. Not for your average brain-teaser fan, but this volume should have definite appeal to readers with the necessary grounding in the subject. --David Pitt
“Readers who enjoy mental challenges and scientific mysteries will have fun with Al-Khalili’s lighthearted, accessible discussion.” – Publisher’s Weekly
“A very interesting book with some nifty surprises.” – Booklist Online
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What is in this book-
This book discusses the most important paradoxes created by modern physics, plus two introductory chapters that discusses some logic paradoxes. The chapters and their content are as follows:
Chapter 1 – The Game Show Paradox – Monty Hall and how his knowledge of what is behind the three curtains alters the odds when he lets a contestant switch from their initial choice to another one.
Chapter 2 – Achilles and the Tortoise – Classical paradoxes and how they are resolved.
Chapter 3 – Olbers’ Paradox – Why is the sky not covered with stars, making the nighttime as bright as the daytime? The physics here is about the finite nature of the visible universe and the ideas concerning the beginning and expansion of the universe.
Chapter 4 – Maxell’s Demon – The physics of the second law of thermodynamics is discussed in this chapter.
Chapter 5 – The Pole in the Barn Paradox - Special relativity and length contraction are discussed in this chapter.
Chapter 6 – The Paradox of Twins – This chapter focuses on special relativity and time dilation.
Chapter 7 – The Grandfather Paradox – This chapter focuses on relativity theory and the possibility of travel back in time that the theory allows for.
Chapter 8 – The Paradox of Laplace’s Demon – This chapter deals with the ideas of a mechanically deterministic universe and free will.
Chapter 9 – The Paradox of Schrodinger’s Cat - The basic paradox of Quantum Mechanics and the question of entanglement is discussed in this chapter.
Chapter 10 – Fermi’s Paradox - Fermi asked - if there are aliens from other planets why haven’t they visited (at least as far as most people are concerned) or have given any indication of their existence? The physics is about the possibilities of life on other planets.
Chapter 11 - Remaining questions – These are not paradoxes, but questions which the author thinks will be answered in his lifetime, answered but not in the foreseeable future and questions that may never be answered. This chapter is only 6-pages long and only lists the questions, but does not discuss them.
The author starts off discussing several simple paradoxes that do not deal with physics. One example is the “Monty Hall Paradox” which comes from the TV show “Let’s make a Deal.” The author stated that considerable effort went into resolving this paradox, which I found puzzling since it seemed to be relatively simple.
After this first chapter, the book moved into far more interesting topics. These included: paradoxes created when traveling close to the speed of light, Time travel, Parallel Universes and the existence of ET.
Having an advanced technical degree, I would have preferred the author doing a deeper dive into the math; however, this author seemed to purposely avoid this. Rather, he went into a great deal of effort to explain his reasoning to an audience lacking any technical background.
Over all I would recommend this book to anyone (at any level) who is interested in physics.
I had heard of most of these paradoxes before, but this book gives you much more information on the problems, and the solutions.
I feel it may be a little advanced in subject matter for those not familiar with physics.