Friday, February 23rd, 2018

Leon Lederman, Ph.D.


The God Particle – 2

Lederman2007-220 Dr. Lederman, the author of The God Particle, deserves some special mention before we dive into the book itself. Nearing the end of an illustrious career at age 91, he is that rare combination of a Nobel Prize winning scientist and a popular communicator. In The God Particle he undertakes the task of getting us excited about particle physics.

Why does he take on what must be a thankless task? After all, at the time of writing he had gathered up about all the professional accolades he might desire. What motivates Dr. Leon Lederman to want to make you or me more knowledgeable about a subject that perhaps no one really understands?

Two main motivations, I think.

First may be the desire to hone his own understanding of particle physics, knowing that the difficult task of teaching, even popularizing his subject is a time-tested way of honing the teacher’s own understanding.
Fortunately for us, this teacher also turns out to be a very funny man. I doubt that many have ever slept through his lectures.

Second is that Dr. Lederman is something of a closet historian. His conviction that his chosen branch of physics originated with the ancient Greeks is, if not unique, at least not at all the common view. It certainly wasn’t what I was taught in high school physics. As we will soon see, Dr. Lederman would have been a very good history professor.

One last thought: Why do I continue reading this stuff without understanding much of it? I can’t follow the mathematics. I keep forgetting the terminology. My attention span is short. Yet, I find myself reading on. Maybe I’ll figure that out one of these days. Maybe the following quote is a clue:

Admittedly it’s complicated stuff. …a firm pedagogical principle acquired from forty or so years of facing students–freshman to postdocs–says that even if the first pass is 97 percent incomprehensible, the next time you see it, it will be, somehow, hauntingly familiar.

One last, last thought: I must confess that the good professor has one habit that irritates the hell out of me. On the many occasions he refers to God, it is always “Her” and “She.” I haven’t been able to figure out why he does that, unless it is just to annoy people like me.

Dave, willing to be haunted, nevertheless.


One Response to “Leon Lederman, Ph.D.”
  1. Linda says:

    Gosh dad, if you’re having trouble understanding it, I don’t stand a chance! But I too like his phrase ‘hauntingly familiar’. The She for God is okay by me. God is genderless so it doesn’t matter much right? But Christ is Man. So go figure with that puny brain of yours. Maybe I’ll have to read that book just to see how the author can possibly be funny while writing about particle physics.

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