Paradox: The Nine Greatest Enigmas in Physics

Paradox: The Nine Greatest Enigmas in Physics

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by Jim Al-Khalili
     
 

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A fun and fascinating look at great scientific paradoxes.

   Throughout history, scientists have come up with theories and ideas that just don't seem to make sense.  These we call paradoxes.  The paradoxes Al-Khalili offers are drawn chiefly from physics and astronomy and represent those that have stumped some of the finest

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Overview

A fun and fascinating look at great scientific paradoxes.

   Throughout history, scientists have come up with theories and ideas that just don't seem to make sense.  These we call paradoxes.  The paradoxes Al-Khalili offers are drawn chiefly from physics and astronomy and represent those that have stumped some of the finest minds.  For example, how can a cat be both dead and alive at the same time?  Why will Achilles never beat a tortoise in a race, no matter how fast he runs?  And how can a person be ten years older than his twin?

   With elegant explanations that bring the reader inside the mind of those who've developed them, Al-Khalili helps us to see that, in fact, paradoxes can be solved if seen from the right angle.  Just as surely as Al-Khalili narrates the enduring fascination of these classic paradoxes, he reveals their underlying logic.  In doing so, he brings to life a select group of the most exciting concepts in human knowledge.  Paradox is mind-expanding fun.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Tailor-made for puzzle fans and science aficionados. Al-Khalili’s (Quantum: A Guide for the Perplexed) latest dives into “deep questions about the nature of time and space and the properties of the Universe”—and shows just how tantalizing these problems can be. Al-Khalili, a quantum physicist at the University of Surrey, sets the stage for well-known problems like the “Monty Hall paradox,” in which a contestant’s attempt to guess which of three boxes contains the keys to a Lincoln Continental provides an object lesson in conditional probabilities. With ancient Greek scholar Zeno’s paradox (if a tortoise gets a head start in racing the swift Achilles, can Achilles overtake his laggardly opponent?), the author explores converging infinite series in mathematics. A chapter on Maxwell’s Demon (can there be a perpetual motion machine) gives a lesson in thermodynamics, and the infamous puzzler starring Erwin Schrödinger’s hapless cat provides a quick lesson on quantum mechanical basics. Al-Khalili even tackles relativity and time travel with the “Twin Paradox” (one twin circles the galaxy near the speed of light and returns to find the other twin is now several years older than she is). Readers who enjoy mental challenges and scientific mysteries will have fun with Al-Khalili’s lighthearted, accessible discussion. Illus. Agent: Patrick Walsh (U.K.). (Oct.)
From the Publisher
“Readers who enjoy mental challenges and scientific mysteries will have fun with Al-Khalili’s lighthearted, accessible discussion.” – Publisher’s Weekly

“A very interesting book with some nifty surprises.” – Booklist Online
Library Journal
Readers with some science knowledge will enjoy tackling puzzles like perpetual motion machines and Schrödinger's famous cat with physicist and BBC personality Al-Khalili.
Kirkus Reviews
A British physicist looks at some of the enigmatic propositions created by his colleagues over the ages. Al-Khalili (Quantum Physics/Univ. of Surrey; The House of Wisdom: How Arabic Science Saved Ancient Knowledge and Gave Us the Renaissance, 2011, etc.) begins with a few "warm-ups" including "The Game Show Paradox," in which a contestant considers three doors, one of which conceals a prize. After the contestant chooses one, the host then opens another, which proves not to be the winner, and asks the contestant if she would like to change her choice. In defiance of common sense, it is advantageous to do so; Al-Khalili summarizes the probabilities behind the puzzle. Some of the greatest logical puzzles were the work of the Greek philosopher Zeno, who seemed to prove that motion is impossible. His demonstration seemed annoyingly irrefutable until the development of mathematical tools, such as calculus, for describing change over time. Olbers' Paradox, on the other hand, revealed deep truths about the universe by asking why the sky is dark at night. Maxwell's Demon, an imaginary creature that can control individual molecules to overthrow entropy, raises similarly deep issues of fundamental physics. Possibly the most familiar paradox of quantum theory is Schrodinger's Cat, whose life and death depends on the decay of a radioactive atom in a given stretch of time. Fermi's Paradox is another that raises questions about the larger universe: If technologically advanced civilizations are common in the universe, why haven't they visited us? Al-Khalili gives detailed answers to each of these, plus several that grow out of Einstein's theory of relativity and the possibility of time travel. He ends with a list of unsolved problems of science and a look at the recent question about whether neutrinos have been found to travel faster than light. An often-entertaining introduction to basic principles of science and philosophy.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780307986795
Publisher:
Crown/Archetype
Publication date:
10/23/2012
Pages:
256
Sales rank:
63,969
Product dimensions:
5.34(w) x 7.84(h) x 0.70(d)

Meet the Author

Professor Jim Al-Khalili OBE is a quantum physicist at the University of Surrey and a regular radio and television broadcaster for the BBC. He is winner of both the Royal Society Michael Faraday medal and the Institute of Physics Kelvin medal for his science communication work. Paradox is his fifth book.

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