Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Feeling the Physics

I've recently started reading Six Easy Pieces: Essentials of Physics Explained by Its Most Brilliant Teacher, which is derived from a text written by Richard Feynman back in the sixties (it's the six easiest chapters from that text). The text itself was derived from a series of undergraduate lectures Feynman gave at Caltech.

Despite the fact its derived from a text book, it's quite readable and I think he explains the concepts well. Reading it, it's easy to picture the things he's describing. His explanations are not perfect, though. There's a few places where it seems he knows too much for his own good, where he doesn't sufficiently anticipate some of the things a naive reader's will want to know in order to understand what he's talking about. But they're relatively minor complaints against a book that scores well in terms of readability and the clarity of its explanations.

And I can say now that I have finally progressed beyond my high-school knowledge of physics. This knowledge consisted of simplifying but ultimately incorrect concepts such as the "solar-system" view of an atom, with the electrons orbiting around the neucleus. I had some idea of the true story, but it's satisfying to have a more concrete picture there in my mind.

And that's the thing that's struck me while reading the book -- having that concete picture in my mind and realising that that's what's really going on, everywhere. In every speck in every part of your field of vision (if you are sighted, of course) there's a whole world, radically different to ours, made up of strange particles interacting in quirky ways. From your eyes, recieving the light carrying that picture, through your optic nerve, to your brain, to you -- all these things, too, are part of this strange world. It's there, right now, right in front of you, in you, you.

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