The Great Equations: Breakthroughs in Science from Pythagoras to Heisenberg

Overview

“Any reader who aspires to be scientifically literate will find this a good starting place.”—Publishers Weekly
While we may be familiar with some of science’s greatest equations, we may not know that each and every equation emerged not in “Eureka!” moments but in years of cultural developments and scientific knowledge. With vignettes full of humor, drama, and eccentricity, philosopher and science historian Robert P. Crease shares the stories behind ten of history’s greatest equations, from the “first equation,” 1...

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The Great Equations: Breakthroughs in Science from Pythagoras to Heisenberg

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Overview

“Any reader who aspires to be scientifically literate will find this a good starting place.”—Publishers Weekly
While we may be familiar with some of science’s greatest equations, we may not know that each and every equation emerged not in “Eureka!” moments but in years of cultural developments and scientific knowledge. With vignettes full of humor, drama, and eccentricity, philosopher and science historian Robert P. Crease shares the stories behind ten of history’s greatest equations, from the “first equation,” 1 + 1 = 2, which promises a rational, well-ordered world, to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, which reveals the limitations of human knowledge. For every equation, Crease provides a brief account of who discovered it, what dissatisfactions lay behind its discovery, and what the equation says about the nature of our world.

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Editorial Reviews

Dick Teresi
“More than just a celebration of the great equations . . . [Crease] shows how an equation not only affects science and math but also transforms the thinking of all people.”
Charles C. Mann
“Wry, probing, philosophically inclined.”
Publishers Weekly

Although most people can recite Einstein's famous little equation, even if we don't know quite what it means, who has heard of the 18th-century mathematician Leonhard Euler, let alone know anything at all about his famous equation? Crease, a Stony Brook philosophy professor and popular science writer, has already taken on "the ten most beautiful experiments in science" in The Prism and the Pendulum, and in this enjoyable book he explores 10 rather beautiful equations. He begins with the beguiling simplicity of the equation that bears Pythogoras' name (although he says the Greek wasn't the first to discover it) and moves on to Newton's second law of motion and law of universal gravitation, the second law of thermodynamics, Maxwell's celebrated equations, discoveries by Einstein and Schrödinger and, finally, Heisenberg's famous uncertainty principle. Crease explains the significance of each of these formulas for science and, in brief "interludes" between chapters, explores the "journeys" these scientists took "from ignorance to knowledge," and the "social lives" of their theories-their impact on the larger culture. Any reader who aspires to be scientifically literate will find this a good starting place. 43 illus. (Jan.)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393337938
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/18/2010
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 504,318
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert P. Crease writes the "Critical Point" column in Physics World and is a professor of philosophy at Stony Brook University. His books include The Great Equations and World in the Balance.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 13

Ch. 1 "The Basis of Civilization": The Pythagorean Theorem 21

Interlude Rules, Proofi, and the Magic of Mathematics 42

Ch. 2 "The Soul of Classical Mechanics": Newton's Second Law of Motion 46

Interlude The Book of Nature 65

Ch. 3 "The High Point of the Scientific Revolution": Newton's Law of Universal Gravitation 69

Interlude That Apple 88

Ch. 4 "The Gold Standard for Mathematical Beauty": Euler's Equation 91

Interlude Equations as Icons 107

Ch. 5 The Scientific Equivalent of Shakespeare: The Second Law of Thermodynamies 111

Interlude The Science of Impossibility 128

Ch. 6 "The Most Significant Event of the 19th Century": Maxwell's Equations 132

Interlude Overcoming Anosognosia; or Restoring the Vitality of the Humanities 152

Ch. 7 Celebrity Equation: E = mc[superscript 2] 156

Interlude Crazy Ideas 180

Ch. 8 The Golden Egg: Einstein's Equation for General Relativity 185

Interlude Science Critics 209

Ch. 9 "The Basic Equation of Quantum Theory": Schrodinger's Equation 214

Interlude The Double Consciousness of Scientists 230

Ch. 10 Living with Uncertainty: The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle 235

Interlude The Yogi and the Quantum 261

Conclusion: Bringing the Strange Home 266

Notes 273

Illustration Credits 299

Index 303

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