The Poetry of Physics and the Physics of Poetry by Robert L. Logan (World Scientific Publishing Company) is a textbook for a survey course in physics taught without mathematics, that also takes into account the social impact and influences from the arts and society. It combines physics, literature, history and philosophy from the dawn of human life to the 21st century. It will also be of interest to the general reader.
Excerpt: "Poets say science takes away from the beauty of the stars — mere globs of gas atoms. I, too, can see the stars on a desert night, and feel them. But do I see less or more?" — Richard Feynman
There is poetry in physics and physics in poetry. This book is the product of a course I taught at the University of Toronto starting in 1971 and which I am still teaching at the date of this publication. The course was entitled the Poetry of Physics and the Physics of Poetry. The course was first taught at University College of the University of Toronto and then switched to New College where I also organized a series of seminars on future studies known as the Club of Gnu. After a short recess the course then became a Department of Physics course and was offered as a seminar course for first year students. The purpose of the course that I have now taught for the past 38 years was to introduce the ideas of physics to humanities and arts student who would not otherwise be exposed to these ideas and to try to address the alienation to science that so many of the lay public feel, which is a characteristic of our times. By studying physics without math you, the reader, will encounter the poetry of physics. We will also examine some of the impacts of physics on the humanities and the arts. This is the physics of poetry.
The alienation represented by the gap between the sciences and the humanities is frequently referred to as the two cultures. There are two factors contributing to this alienation; one is the basic lack of understanding of the actual subject matter of science and the other a misunderstanding of the role science plays in our society. Although the fear of science is quite pervasive I believe there are many people interested in leaning about physics. The word "physics" is derived from the Greek word phusis, which means nature. Those that are curious about the "nature" of the world in which they live should, therefore, want to study physics.
This unfortunately, is not always the case, due in part to the fact that historically physics has been taught in a manner, which alienates most students. This has been accomplished by teaching physics mathematically, which has resulted in more confusion than elucidation for many. Also because the easiest way to examine students and assign grades is to ask quantitative questions, there has been a tendency to teach the formulae of physics rather than the concepts.
This book attempts to remedy this classical situation by communicating the ideas of physics to the reader without relying on mathematics. Mathematical formulae are used, but only after the concepts have been carefully explained. The math will be purely supplementary and none of the material developed later in, the book will depend on these formulae. The role of a mathematical equation in physics is also described. To repeat the mathematics is purely supplementary. This book is written explicitly for the people who have difficulty with the mathematics but wish to understand their physical universe. Although all fields of physics are covered the reader will find a bit more emphasis on the modern physics that emerged in the beginning of the 20th century with quantum mechanics and Einstein's theory of relativity. The reason for this is that this physics is less intuitive than classical physics and hence requires more of an explanation.
A second aim of the book is to understand the nature of science and the role it plays in shaping both our thinking and the structure of our society. We live in times when many of the decisions in our society are made by professionals claiming scientific expertise. Science is the password today with those who study social and political problems. They label themselves social scientists and political scientists. It is, therefore, vital to the survival of our society that there exists a general understanding of what science is, what it can do and perhaps most importantly what it cannot do. I have therefore, made an attempt to shed as much light on the scientific process as possible. We will demonstrate that science unlike mathematics cannot prove the truth of its propositions but that it must constantly test its hypotheses.
To restore the perspective of what science is really about we examine science as a language, a way of describing the world we live in. To this end we briefly examine the origin and the evolution of language to reveal how the language of science emerged. We show that the spirit of trying to describe the physical world we live in is universal and can be traced back to preliterate societies and their oral creation myths. It was with writing that the first signs of scientific thinking began to emerge. We will also explain how alphabetic writing influenced the development of abstract science in the West despite the fact that most of technology emerged in China. We will also document the contributions to science by other non-European cultures once again demonstrating the universality of scientific thinking. Hindu mathematicians invented zero and Arab mathematicians transmitted it to Europe providing the mathematical tools for modern science. Arab scientists and scholars contributed to the scientific revolution in Renaissance Europe through their accomplishments in algebra, chemistry and medicine.
The most beautiful and most profound emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the power of all true science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer stand, rapt in awe, is as good as dead. That deeply emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God.
Hopefully, the beauty of the concepts of physics will be conveyed so that the reader will come to appreciate the poetry of physics.
In addition to the poetry of physics we also examine in this book the physics of poetry by which we mean the ways in which physics has influenced the development of poetry and all of the humanities including painting, music, literature and all of the fine arts. Interspersed within our description of the evolution of science we will examine how the arts were influenced by science and vice-versa how the arts and humanities influenced science. There will be more of a focus on poetry because like science it is pithy and it will be easy to demonstrate how science impacted on this art form by quoting from poets ranging from the poetry of creation myths to the poetry of modern times.
What is physics? One way to answer this question is to describe physics as the study of motion, energy, heat, waves, sound, light, electricity, magnetism, matter, atoms, molecules, and nuclei. This description, aside from sounding like the table of contents of a high school physics textbook, does not really specify the nature of physics. Physics is not just the study of the natural phenomena listed above but it is also a process; a process, which has two distinguishable aspects.
The first of these is simply the acquisition of knowledge of our physical environment. The second, and perhaps more interesting, is the creation of a worldview, which provides a framework for understanding the significance of this information. These two activities are by no means independent of each other. One requires a worldview to acquire new knowledge and vice versa one needs knowledge with which to create a worldview. But how does this process begin? Which comes first, the knowledge or the worldview?
In my opinion, these two processes arise together, each creating the conditions for the other. This is analogous to a present day theory concerning the existence of elementary particles. According to the bootstrap theory, the so-called elementary particles such as protons, neutrons, and mesons are actually not elementary at all but rather they are composites of each other and they bootstrap each other into existence. But, we are getting ahead of our story. We shall wait till later to discuss the bootstrap theory of elementary particles. For now, it is useful to recognize the two aspects of the process of physics described above. Another way to describe the relationship between "the gathering of facts" and "the building of a framework for the facts" is in term of autocatalysis. Autocatalysis occurs when a group of chemicals catalyze each other's production. Stuart Kauffman has argued that life began as the autocatalysis of a large set of organic chemicals that were able to reproduce themselves.
The study of physics is generally recognized to be quite old but there are differences of opinion as to how old. Some would argue that physics began in Western Europe during the Renaissance with the work of Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, and Newton. Others would trace the beginnings back to the early Greeks and credit the Ionian, Thales, with being the world's first physicist. Still others would cite the even older cultures of Mesopotamia, Egypt and China. For me, physics or the study of nature is much older having begun with the first humans.
Humans became scientists for the sake of their own survival. The very first toolmakers were scientists. They discovered that certain objects in their physical environment were useful for performing certain tasks. Having learned this they went on to improve on these found objects first by selecting objects more suitable for the task involved and later actually altering the materials they found to produce manufactured tools. This activity is usually referred to as the creation of technology. But the type of reasoning involved in this process' is typical of the scientific method, which begins with observations of nature and moves on to generalizations or hypotheses that are tested. For early humans, the generalizations that were made were not in the form of theoretical laws but rather as useful tools. This is exemplified by the achievement of tools for hunting and gathering, pastoralism and agriculture and the use of herbs for rudimentary medicine. All of these activities required a sophisticated level of scientific reasoning. One might dispute this conclusion by claiming that these achievements were technological and not scientific. We usually refer to the acquisition of basic information as science and its application to practical problems as technology. While this distinction is useful when considering our highly specialized world — its usefulness when applied to early human culture is perhaps not as great. A technological achievement presupposes the scientific achievement upon which it is based. The merging of the technological and scientific achievements of early humans has obscured our appreciation of their scientific capacity.
Primitive science, rooted totally in practical application also differs from modern science and even ancient Greek science in that it is less abstract. Astronomy was perhaps our first abstract scientific accomplishment, even though it was motivated by the needs of farmers who had to determine the best time to plant and harvest their crops.
An example of the sophistication of early astronomy is the
structure of Stonehenge built in approximately 2000 B.C. in England,
constructed with great effort using heavy rocks weighing up to 50 tons.
G.S. Hawkins (1988) in his fascinating book Stonehenge Decoded
concludes that Stonehenge was not merely a temple as originally thought
but actually an astronomical observatory capable of predicting accurately
lunar eclipses as well as the seasonal equinoxes. One cannot help but
be impressed when one realizes that the builders of Stonehenge had
determined a 56-year cycle of lunar eclipses.
In his book The Savage Mind, Levi-Strauss (1960) reveals another aspect of the scientific sophistication of so-called primitive human cultures whose knowledge of plants rivals that of modern botanists. In fact, Levi-Strauss points out that contemporary botanists discovered a number of errors in their classification scheme based on the work of Linneaus by studying the classification scheme or certain South American Indians.
The examples of early scientific activity so far discussed have centered about the fact gathering aspect of physics. Evidence of interest in the other aspect of physics, namely the creation of a worldview, is documented by the mythology of primitive people. All of the peoples of the world have a section of their mythology devoted to the creation of the universe. This is a manifestation of the universal drive of all cultures to understand the nature of the world they inhabit. A collection of creation myths assembled by Charles Long (2003) in his book Alpha illustrates the diversity of explanations provided by primitive cultures to understand the existence of the universe. Amidst this diversity a pattern emerges, however, which enables one to categorize the various creation myths into different classes of explanations. One of the interesting aspects of Long' s collection is that within a single class of explanations one finds specific examples from diverse geographical locations around the globe attesting to the universality of human thought. One also finds that within a single cultural milieu more than one type of explanation is employed in their mythology.
Perhaps the oldest group of emergence myths is the one in which the Earth arises from a Mother Earth Goddess as represented by mythology of North American Indians, Islanders of the South Pacific, and the people living on the north eastern frontier of India. In another set of myths the world arises from the sexual union of a father sky god and a mother Earth goddess. Examples of this form are found in the mythology of ancient Egypt, Greece, India, Babylonia, Polynesia and North America. Other classes of myths include creation by an earth diver, creation from a cosmic egg, creation from chaos, and creation from nothing. In the earth diver myths an animal or god dives into a body of water to retrieve a tiny particle of earth, which then expands to become the world. The cosmic egg myths tell of an egg, usually golden, which appears at the first moment of the universe. The egg breaks open and the events of the universe unfold. In one version the upper part of the eggshell becomes the heavens and the lower part, the Earth. At the beginning of the creation from chaos myths there is disorder or chaos sometimes depicted as water from which a creator creates the universe. Finally, in the creation from nothing myths, which are closely related to the chaos myths, the original starting point of the universe is a void. The best-known example of this group to Western readers, of course, is Genesis, where we read, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth. The Earth was without form and void and darkness was upon the face of the deep". Other examples of the creation from nothing myth are found among the ancient Greeks, the Australian aborigines, the Zuni Indians of the southwest United States, the Maori of New Zealand, the Mayans of ancient Mexico, and the Hindu thinkers of ancient India.
Science cannot prove that a hypothesis is correct. It can only verify that the hypothesis explains all observed facts and has passed all experimental tests of its validity. Only mathematics can prove that a proposition is true but that proof has to be based on some axioms that are assumed to be obviously or self-evidently true. Karl Popper (1959 and 1979), was annoyed by those Marxists and Freudians, who always wriggled out of any contradiction between their predictions and observations with some ad hoc explanation. He proposed that for a proposition to be considered a hypothesis of science it had to be falsifiable. Using Popper's criteria as an axiom I (Logan 2003) was able to prove that science cannot prove that a proposition is true. If one proved a proposition was true then it could not be falsified and therefore according to Popper's criteria it could not be considered a scientific proposition. Therefore science cannot prove the truth of one of its propositions. This is the difference between science and mathematics. Science studies the real world and mathematics makes up its own world. Scientists, however, make use of mathematics to study and describe the real world.
The two aspects of physics involving the acquisition of information and the creation of a world picture have one feature in common —they both provide us with a degree of comfort and security. The first aspect contributes to our material security. Knowledge of the physical environment and how it responds to our actions is essential to planning one's affairs. It is from this fact acquiring aspect of physics that technology arises. It is from the second or synthesizing aspect of physics, however, that we derive the psychological comforts that accrue from the possession of a worldview. The possession of a worldview is usually associated with philosophy and religion and not physics. This, unfortunately, is our modern predicament. It should be recalled that for preliterate cultures physics, philosophy and religion were integrated. The same was true for Greek culture. Perhaps the enormous mismanagement of our material resources and our environment, which characterizes our times, could be eliminated if we could once again integrate philosophy, religion and physics.
ENDOPHYSICS by Otto E. Rossler (hardcover, World Scientific Pub Co; ISBN: 9810227523)
Visionary science at its best both in technical invocations of current theories and in the sense of the grand vision that unites and simplifies the actions of many disparate phenomena. Rossler's work should stimulate and exasperate simultaneously but which ever, it suggests plenty of possibilities.
There are two ways to look at the world from within and from without. "Endophysics" means "physics from within." Being inside the world leads to limitations which go beyond those discovered in formal systems by Godel. The topic, nevertheless, has a long history going back to the pre-Socratic philosophers. Its reinventor in modern times is R.J. Boscovich. In 1755, he published two papers on the same subject (space and time), one titled "On Space and Time" and the other "On Space and Time as They Are Recognized by Us." In the 20th century, the topic has been pursued by Bohr, von Neumann, Popper and most recently David Finkelstein (who coined the name "endophysics" in a letter to the author). There is a strong link with virtual reality on the one hand, and with artificial universes generated in the computer ("molecular dynamics simulations") on the other.
The basic idea is that the "interface" between an internal observer and the rest of his or her universe the effective forcing function represents the sole reality that (with an equation for a brain in 1974) exists, for the observer is a dream: The idea is due to Niels Bohr of the early 20th century, and to Hugh Everett thirty years later: being part of a universe a "participatory observer" (John Wheeler) distorts the world. In the computer age, the same insight comes naturally: objective reality has to be replaced by the notion of "interface reality." A generalization of relativity is implicit in this way of thinking. The two major predicted features of the world on the interface are "observer privateness" and "invisible change." experiments designed to expose these features, if they exist in the real world, can be suggested. "Most" properties of quantum mechanics appear to fit snugly into the proposed frame. The prospect of manipulating the interface arises. A "whole world change" in the spirit of Gaiter's time travel can possibly be accomplished, not only by appropriate manipulation of the weakly nonlinear macro-interface as proposed by him, but also by twisting the much more nonlinear micro-interface should it exist.
Otto E. Rossler was born an Austrian in Berlinand finished his medical studies with an immunological dissertation in Tubingenin 1966. Three years later he won a competitive visiting appointment offered by the Center for Theoretical Biology of the State University of New York at Buffalo. In 1975, Art Winfree initiated him into chaos. A tenured faculty position in theoretical biochemistry at the University of Tubingen came in 1976, after he had published his paper on the he "simplest" chaotic attractor (as Ed Lorenz later put it). Three years after, hyperchaos followed, which was equally simple. A member of the Santa Fe Institute and a fellow of the International Institute for Advanced Studies in Systems Research and Cybernetics, the author has published about 250 scientific papers in various fields including biogenesis (1971), dynamical automata (1972), artificial life, artificial persons (1996) and quasar theory (current).
insert content here