Thursday, November 17, 2011

Theoretical Thursday

Welcome to Theoretical Thursday!

Today I start a new journey of expoloration and learning.  I will endeavor to learn Theoretical Physics. For as long as I can remember I have loved science – the idea that things are discoverable and understandable largely just by being observant. The life cycle of an insect, the growth of mold on bread, the magic of a healing cut, etc. And in physics class - A ball in a wagon is set in motion when the wagon is pulled. When the wagon stops, the ball keeps moving… etc. I get that. After all, I was the girl who scored the highest in all things mechanical on some Junior High assessment test (you had to follow the cogs and wheels of a machine and draw the direction of movement for each.)

But then I hit a road block – theoretical explorations where things like quirks, quarks and the Higgs-Boson particle are spoken about as if they too were sitting in a wagon. As I type this sentence, I realize that my ignorance may be showing and these things are real and observable and I just haven’t understood the conversation. And that is the impetus for this experiment – I want to understand the conversation. I want to understand how very smart men and women can earn a living by making stuff up. At least that is what it seems to me, right now, in my theoretically-challenged brain.

So, who better to teach me Theoretical Physics than the great man himself – Albert Einstein. And I just happen to have his book – RELATIVITY: The Special and the General Theory, A Clear Explanation That Anyone Can Understand. (Wanna bet?) Even Einstein appears to have misgivings as he peers at me with raised eyebrows from the photo on the cover. He holds his hands in pre-wringing motion as if to say, “This job may be harder than I thought.” And I think he may be right.

This book, written in MCMLXI, includes a preface. “The present book is intended, as far as possible, to give an exact insight into the theory of Relativity to those readers who, from a general scientific and philosophical point of view, are interested in the theory, but who are not conversant with the mathematical apparatus of theoretical physics.” I fit that bill – I am interested. And I am not conversant. So far so good.

His next sentence (Don’t worry, I’m not going to go through the whole book sentence by sentence. I think.) presumes I have an education of a standard “corresponding to that of a university matriculation examination.” I have a Masters in Anthropology, but that probably isn’t what he meant. I suspect that exams in MCMLXI might have been more rigorous than they were when I graduated, but I can’t be sure, so I press on.

The book also presumes, “…a fair amount of patience and force of will on the part of the reader.” Hmmm. Might have a problem there. I didn’t have much force of will last night when I ate 4 bowls of popcorn and a couple glasses of wine. (Note: it was “Smart Popcorn”) However, Albert promises that he has written the book in a ‘step-motherly-fashion” (and I’m hoping that doesn’t mean evil Cinderella’s step mother) and he hopes the book may bring someone “a few hours of suggestive thought!” (Albert, you dog! I don’t know about a few hours worth, but I like a suggestive thought now and then.)

That preface was written in December 1916. The edition I have is the 15th edition and on June 9th, 1952 (8 years before I was born) he wrote a short note about the addition of a 5th appendix about the “problem of space in general and on the gradual modifications of our ideas on space resulting from the influence of the relativistic view-point.” You might be cluing in that I am quoting liberally because I don’t understand what he is talking about. That does not worry me; after all, I haven’t read the book yet. When I go back and read these notes after I am well educated on all things relative, I’ll know exactly what he means. Right? He goes on to say that, “Physical objects are not in space, but these objects are spatially extended.” I like that. I am not fat, I am just spatially extended.

Okay, gang. The preface was enough for today. Hit the showers. For tomorrow – read Part 1, The Special Theory of Relativity, chapter 1, Physical Meaning of Geometrical Propositions.

1 comment:

  1. Do you have any images of the back of this book? I have a copy that appears the same by the front cover, but there is a damaged region on the back of my book and I am curious what it says.