Friday, February 23rd, 2018

The laughing philosopher


The God Particle – 4

How to characterize this strange book divided into Chapters 1 through 9 and Interludes A, B, and C? Entertaining? Very much. Dr. Lederman (or perhaps Dick Teresi) would make a great stand-up comic. Instructive? Yes, even though my aging gray cells are not quite as quick as I might like. Almost in spite of myself I find I have a much better understanding of the history of scientific breakthroughs over the last 2,500 years, and I consider myself much the better for it.

Scientists seem to be the kind of people I would very much enjoy hanging out with.

But how does one read a book like this, so full of strange concepts and mathematics? As it turns out, that is quite easy: Just relax and start reading. If you are not hooked by page 50, this may not be the book for you. Lederman says early on that, “This is a book about a string of infinitely sweet moments” that scientists have had over the past 2,500 years. “Eureka” moments. Some 300 pages later he bemoans the scientific illiteracy of our nation, noting that English romantic poet Shelley said that “one of the sacred tasks of the artist is to absorb new knowledge of the sciences and adapt it to human nature, explaining it so that you and I can benefit by it. Lederman adds,”This [charge of scientific illiteracy] of course excludes you–not ‘dear reader’ any more, but friend and colleague, who has fought with me through to Chapter 9 and is, by royal edict, a fully qualified, literate reader.”

What a nice thing for Lederman to say!

In Chapter 2, Lederman describes a lucid dream he had. He returned to Fermilab one night, hit the sack, and dreamed he was bicycling from home to the Collider Detector Facility (CDF) in his pajamas.

Even at three in the morning, the parking lot was fairly full; at accelerator labs the protons don’t stop at nightfall.

Whistling a ghostly little tune, I entered the detector facility. The CDF is an industrial hangar-like building, with everything painted bright orange and blue. The various offices, computer rooms, and control rooms are all along one wall; the rest of the building is open space, designed to accommodate the detector, a three-story-tall, 5,000-ton instrument. It took some two hundred physicists and an equal number of engineers more than eight years to assemble this particular 10-million-pound Swiss watch.

Surveying the control room, over in the corner, sat a man who didn’t quite fit in. He was thin and had a scruffy beard.

Who do you suppose the stranger in Leon’s dream was?



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