Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Books and Bad Astronomers

I opened the flood gates on this one. I guess thats what I get for asking a group of friendly scientists (and other science enthusiasts) to recommend a good book. I'm rereading The Daemon Haunted World by Carl Sagan. Sagan talks about the joy it brings to a person to suddenly understand what had always been a mystery, once meaningless terms taking grasp. It is a profound feeling. I can't say I felt that way reading the last book, more "ok... I think I got it... maybe sorta." But I recall it distinctly when I first read about self replicators in the primordial ooze, those that replicated the best won the day due to simple numerical advantage because they replicated the best. Suddenly it clicked, the rest fell into place instantly in my mind, it was always the one thing I didn't understand about evolution. I know there are various theories on abiogenesis and this might not be right, but it at least gave me an option of how it could have happened, at that was profound.

The flip side of this is the joy many scientists feel when they get to share their knowledge with others. Sagan called his life a love affair with science, and who doesn't want to shout it from the hills when they are madly in love? When a person says they don't get why something is the way it is, they're standing in the dark not even sure which direction to turn, you can toss them a flashlight and point them in the right direction. Their eyes light up and say "Wow, I've wondered about that for years and now it seems so simply, why couldn't anyone explain it like that before?" Admittedly we were talking about easier subject matter like what causes terrorism.

Also answers like this impress me, I don't know if the math is right but someone put some thought into this reply (not that they were replying to me...)

So here is the list I've been told to check out.

Non Fiction:
Fear of Physics
Stardust by Neil Gaiman
Quantum Computer Science by David Mermin
Schrödinger's Kittens
The Code Book by Simon Singh

Odyssey by Jack McDevitt
Einstein’s Bridge, by John Cramer

I'm not sure I need to say it but thanks again to everybody over at Bad Astronomy, especially The Chemist, Humanist Dad, and Jake Doyle for stopping by, and for Phil.

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