PAGES

Saturday, December 3, 2005

Science demystified

I am back after a break. But, meanwhile, I have been reading this fascinating non-fiction: A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. The book was kindly lent to me by my friend: Shripriya.
 
The introduction to the book begins thus:
Welcome. And congratulations. I am delighted that you could make it. Getting here wasn't easy. I know. In fact, I suspect it was a little tougher than you realise.
And, he explains why I need to be congratulated.
... for you to be here now, trillions of drifting atoms had somehow to assemble in an intricate and curiously obliging manner to create you. It's an arrangement so specialised and particular that it has never been tried before... For the next many years... these tiny particles will uncomplainingly engage in all the billions of deft, cooperative efforts necessary to keep you intact and let you experience the supremely agreeable but generally under appreciated state known as existence.
Bryson demystifies the world around us -- from our immediate surroundings at home or office, to the distant cosmos. But to enjoy the book, you need to have at least a passing interest in science.
 
One thing Bryson helped me discover was...
... atoms are fickle and their time of devotion is fleeting -- fleeting indeed. Even a long human life adds up to only about 650,000 hours.
This 6 and a half lakh hours, is equal to what is considered around "75 long years"!
 
The book has a number of interesting information about well-known scientists of yesteryear. Besides Newton and Einstein, references to names like: Michelson, Morely, Dalton, Doppler, Hubble, Rutherford, J J Thomson, Heisenberg, Mendeleyev, Kelvin etc took my memories back to school and college (B Sc Chemistry) days.
 
One reference to Max Planck was very touching:
Planck was often unlucky in life. His beloved first wife died early in 1909 and the younger of his two sons was killed in the First World War. He also had twin daughters whom he adored. One died giving birth. The surviving twin went on to look after the baby and fell in love with her sister's husband. They married and two years later she died in childbirth. In 1944, when Planck was 85, an Allied bomb fell on his house and he lost everything -- papers, diaries, a lifetime of accumulations. The following year his surviving son was caught in a conspiracy to assassinate Hitler and executed.
There are other interesting references. Newton often couldn't get up from the cot, because, after waking up, he used to be struck by a wave of ideas; and he used to just sit there weighed down by these thoughts!
 
John Scott, father of J B S Haldane, was famous for his absent-mindedness. Once his wife sent him upstairs to change for a dinner party. But, he failed to return. And, he was found asleep on his bed. On being woken up, he said, he found himself disrobing and assumed it was bedtime!
 
Truly interesting book.

4 comments:

  1. I almost picked this book once but now I think I will buy it. Nice posts. But would like to comment on your post about K R Narayanan. As far as my understanding goes, Dr Rajendra Prasad and Dr Zakir Hussain were scholarly men too. Even Zail Singh had the title of Giani -- a knowledgeable man -- even though he became famous for things other than scholarly pursuits.

    Cheers!

    ReplyDelete
  2. for you to be here now, trillions of drifting atoms had somehow to assemble in an intricate and curiously obliging manner to create you. It's an arrangement so specialised and particular that it has never been tried before... For the next many years... these tiny particles will uncomplainingly engage in all the billions of deft, cooperative efforts necessary to keep you intact and let you experience the supremely agreeable but generally under appreciated state known as existence.

    Fantastic!!!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Really interesting book.
    I just posted my review of Salman Rushdie's 'Shalimar the clown' here.

    ReplyDelete
  4. When calculating the coefficient of relatedness on the back of an envelope while sitting in a pub, J.B.S. Haldane said that he was ready to give up his life for 2 brothers or 8 cousins! His thoughts on kin selection and altruism.

    ReplyDelete