Books 2010

Books 2009

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Monday, 06 April 2009

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If you want to read more about the guilt and disgust of the scientists who help make the bomb, you can also read "The Call-girls" by Arthur Koestler. The book is about an international seminar of high rank physicists and academics who gather to show what they last discovered. From what I can recollect, Koestler is unquestionably more partial than Snow; he is very deprecating with his characters and delights in showing us their worst defaults and their human weaknesses. He clearly wanted to belittle them and show how despicable they are for what they helped doing. He doesn't get onto the political aspects but one can easily understand his thoughts.
The title itself tells a lot about Koestler's opinion; said "call-girls" are the scientists who are called at such meetings and seminars!

As a humble worker ant physicist I think we are in a "Golden Age" in my lifetime at least as much as those working on nuclear physics in the 1930's and 1940's. While it would be supremely arrogant to say we understand everything, even until its uttermost depths, I would put up a strong case for saying we understand a great deal. By understand I mean that we have fairly simple models which are able to match our increasingly precise experimental data and which have genuine predictive power. I'm not sure what the fragility of technical knowledge might be today when we can entangle photons, slow light to almost walking pace, trap atoms, create Bose-Einstein condensates and macroscopic hundred Schroedinger Cat ensembles. One must love people who can publish book chapters with titles like "Parametric Schroedinger Cat with No Decoherence" ! For those of you who are cat lovers this url will point you to a paper discussing a two and a three-component feline: http://www.iop.org/EJ/article/1367-2630/5/1/305/nj3105.html (I don't understand it either).

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Quotidian

  • Nothing is of greater consolation to the author of a novel than the disovery of readings he had not conceived but which are then prompted by his readers. (Umberto Eco, Reflections on The Name of the Rose)
  • ... relatively few persons in London ... can afford the luxury of one or more servants. No fewer than 3,700,000 have no servants at all, and of the half million that have servants 227,000 have only one. (The Times, 6 June 1895)
  • Standing among savage scenery, the hotel offers stupendous revelations. There is a French widow in every bedroom, affording delightful prospects. (Tyrolean inn brochure, according to Gerard Hoffnung)
  • (A doctor is at an elderly relative's deathbed) "The old sawbones, eh?" he bellowed ... "Just in the nick, perhaps. Haul the old girl back by the short hairs, if you ask me. Devilish smart at his work ... Always take a fence with more confidence when I know he's out with us."
  • Too often, when a man of Monty Godkin's mental powers is plunged in thought, nothing happens at all. The machinery just whirs for a while, and that is the end of it. (P G Wodehouse, Heavy Weather)
  • ...the breed that take their pleasures as Saint Laurence took his grid (Kipling, The Five nations)

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