First of all, I have to say that for the first time, I’ve enjoyed reading the issue no. 9 of "Science @ HKU". I think this is mainly because there are about 3 articles which actually kind of seriously talk about mathematics. Though they don’t really go into every step, they often do introduce the core ideas and point you to the results applicable to the social topic in question. When I have more time, I may want to try to understand more deeply what K. M. Lau’s proof really entails.
I’ve recently finished reading Sean Carroll’s “From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time” and Frank Wilczek’s “Lightness of Being: Mass, Ether, and the Unification of Forces”.
The first book by S. Carroll is probably the most repetitive book that I’ve remembered reading. To me, the main theme of the book is that the entropy explains the direction of the time and our Universe started with an extraordinarily low entropy which is most puzzling. The author has discussed various possible explanations but according to him, they’re all not very good explanations. At the end, the author gave us or just me the impression that only the multiverse explanation/possibility (with us in one of the bubble universes) leads directly to a low entropy at the beginning of our baby universe — though of course he didn’t show us mathematically why the baby universe should have a low entropy.
It’s good to repeat a bit to general readers. But I just feel that S. Carroll is way too repetitive. One feels that the examples of scrambled eggs and ice melting in water have been used like hundreds of times. It could be made to be more concise.
Nevertheless, I did learn something from S. Carroll’s book (eg. the baby universe would lead to a low entropy when it was first produced) and I was forced to think about the time and entropy more deeply. But I think I like what Brian Greene wrote in his “The Fabric of the Cosmos” better and that’s a more enjoyable read.
I’ve attended Frank Wilczek’s lecture in 2006 @ BNL. Obviously, he’s very happy to explain his QCD. He’s a talented and lucky guy who got Nobel Prize largely based on what he did as a graduate student. He has reasons to be very proud but he’s kind of showy to almost flamboyant, which is of course a totally subjective feeling of mine. I’ve somehow remembered him this way after his lecture and the book only made this feeling slightly stronger.
Wilczek used a few unconventional words in this book such as using “hub” instead of “vertice” (like those in Feynman diagrams). To me (with my physics background), this is not an advantage and I feel that I’ve often needed to do mental translations while reading this book. His using the “Grid” and superconductor (for the W/Z bosons) to describe the Nature is cute but somehow I’ve found myself always wanting to ask what it should be called really/professionally. There were a few typos with the most interesting one 1.5 x 1015 for 15 petabytes. (Of course, it should be 15, instead of 1.5.)
At least, I feel that I’ve learnt more from Wilczek than from Carroll, though it really can’t be because mostly what Wilczek said belongs to the regime of the “Standard Model” and I should be familiar. Maybe, Wilczek’s witty interpretations and his more artistic words play a role to give me that impression. Wilczek certainly likes SO(10), SUSY (SuperSymmetry) and axions ! He certainly likes to talk about (in his book and lecture … it’s in wikipedia etc.) the origin of the name of axion from a “detergent” brand which he didn’t tell the editors of “Physical Review Letters”. He mentions superstring but not at any length. I’m a bit "taken back" and surprised how few the word “Higgs” has appeared in this book.
When I first came across S. Carroll’s book, the paragraph on the flap of the book made me feel that he’s another big shot in Caltech. I told myself: ”OK, he’s just another famous physicist that I’ve never heard of.” But later on, while reading his book, I google-d him and I realized that he was denied tenure at U. of Chicago about 2005 and now he has a non-faculty position at Caltech. I did feel cheated a bit and though it probably shouldn’t be, this affected me ever so slightly in a negative way while reading the rest of his book. Apparently, getting tenured or a Nobel Prize does help convince people a bit …
Talking about not recognizing famous physicst, actually James Cronin and Sam Ting came to BNL last week to give lectures to celebrate Ernest Courant’s 90th birthday (who was one of the 3 guys who were credited for inventing strong focusing, without which Cronin/Ting might not have got their Nobel Prizes). When I had a postdoc interview at the U. of Chicago in the summer of 1996 and I was discussing with a professor, J. Cronin suddenly came in to borrow something. I didn’t recognize him at all and I thought he’s a technician !
… at the age of 90, E. Courant still has a desk on the same floor as mine and works with us from time to time.