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Since Niels Bohr said this many years ago, quantum mechanics has only been getting more shocking. We now realize that it’s not really telling us that “weird” things happen out of sight, on the tiniest level, in the atomic world: rather, everything is quantum. But if quantum mechanics is correct, what seems obvious and right in our everyday world is built on foundations that don’t seem obvious or right at all—or even possible.
An exhilarating tour of the contemporary quantum landscape, Beyond Weird is a book about what quantum physics really means—and what it doesn’t. Science writer Philip Ball offers an up-to-date, accessible account of the quest to come to grips with the most fundamental theory of physical reality, and to explain how its counterintuitive principles underpin the world we experience. Over the past decade it has become clear that quantum physics is less a theory about particles and waves, uncertainty and fuzziness, than a theory about information and knowledge—about what can be known, and how we can know it. Discoveries and experiments over the past few decades have called into question the meanings and limits of space and time, cause and effect, and, ultimately, of knowledge itself. The quantum world Ball shows us isn’t a different world. It is our world, and if anything deserves to be called “weird,” it’s us.
Though at first glance the natural world may appear overwhelming in its diversity and complexity, there are regularities running through it, from the hexagons of a honeycomb to the spirals of a seashell and the branching veins of a leaf. Revealing the order at the foundation of the seemingly chaotic natural world, Patterns in Nature explores not only the math and science but also the beauty and artistry behind nature’s awe-inspiring designs.
Unlike the patterns we create, natural patterns are formed spontaneously from the forces that act in the physical world. Very often the same types of pattern and form—such as spirals, stripes, branches, and fractals—recur in places that seem to have nothing in common, as when the markings of a zebra mimic the ripples in windblown sand. But many of these patterns can be described using the same mathematical and physical principles, giving a surprising unity to the kaleidoscope of the natural world.
Richly illustrated with 250 color photographs and anchored by accessible and insightful chapters by esteemed science writer Philip Ball, Patterns in Nature reveals the organization at work in vast and ancient forests, powerful rivers, massing clouds, and coastlines carved out by the sea. By exploring similarities such as the branches of a tree and those of a river network, this spectacular visual tour conveys the wonder, beauty, and richness of natural pattern formation.
After World War II, most scientists in Germany maintained that they had been apolitical or actively resisted the Nazi regime, but the true story is much more complicated. In Serving the Reich, Philip Ball takes a fresh look at that controversial history, contrasting the career of Peter Debye, director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physics in Berlin, with those of two other leading physicists in Germany during the Third Reich: Max Planck, the elder statesman of physics, and Werner Heisenberg, who succeeded Debye as director of the institute when it became focused on the development of nuclear power and weapons.
Mixing history, science, and biography, Ball offers a powerful portrait of moral choice and personal responsibility, as scientists navigated “the grey zone between complicity and resistance.” Ball’s account of the different choices these men made shows how there can be no clear-cut answers or judgement of their conduct. Yet he also demonstrates that the German scientific establishment as a whole mounted no serious resistance to the Nazis, and in many ways acted as a willing instrument of the state.
Serving the Reich considers what this problematic history can tell us about the relationship between science and politics today. Ultimately, Ball argues, a determination to present science as an abstract inquiry into nature that is “above politics” can leave science and scientists dangerously compromised and vulnerable to political manipulation.
A CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title Award winner
rules, endless beautiful variations can arise.
Part of a trilogy of books exploring the science of patterns in nature, acclaimed science writer Philip Ball here looks at how shapes form. From soap bubbles to honeycombs, delicate shell patterns, and even the developing body parts of a complex animal like ourselves, he uncovers patterns in growth and form in all corners of the natural world, explains how these patterns are self-made, and why similar shapes and structures may be found in very different settings, orchestrated by nothing more
than simple physical forces. This book will make you look at the world with fresh eyes, seeing order and form even in the places you'd least expect.
Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombast von Hohenheim, who called himself Paracelsus, stands at the cusp of medieval and modern times. A contemporary of Luther, an enemy of the medical establishment, a scourge of the universities, an alchemist, an army surgeon, and a radical theologian, he attracted myths even before he died. His fantastic journeys across Europe and beyond were said to be made on a magical white horse, and he was rumored to carry the elixir of life in the pommel of his great broadsword. His name was linked with Faust, who bargained with the devil.
Who was the man behind these stories? Some have accused him of being a charlatan, a windbag who filled his books with wild speculations and invented words. Others claim him as the father of modern medicine. Philip Ball exposes a more complex truth in The Devil's Doctor—one that emerges only by entering into Paracelsus's time. He explores the intellectual, political, and religious undercurrents of the sixteenth century and looks at how doctors really practiced, at how people traveled, and at how wars were fought. For Paracelsus was a product of an age of change and strife, of renaissance and reformation. And yet by uniting the diverse disciplines of medicine, biology, and alchemy, he assisted, almost in spite of himself, in the birth of science and the emergence of the age of rationalism.
"Ball produces a vibrant, original portrait of a man of contradictions:" - Publishers Weekly
Are there any "laws of nature" that influence the ways in which humans behave and organize themselves? In the seventeenth century, tired of the civil war ravaging England, Thomas Hobbes decided that he would work out what kind of government was needed for a stable society. His approach was based not on utopian wishful thinking but rather on Galileo's mechanics to construct a theory of government from first principles. His solution is unappealing to today's society, yet Hobbes had sparked a new way of thinking about human behavior in looking for the "scientific" rules of society.
Adam Smith, Immanuel Kant, Auguste Comte, and John Stuart Mill pursued this idea from different political perspectives. Little by little, however, social and political philosophy abandoned a "scientific" approach. Today, physics is enjoying a revival in the social, political and economic sciences. Ball shows how much we can understand of human behavior when we cease to try to predict and analyze the behavior of individuals and instead look to the impact of individual decisions-whether in circumstances of cooperation or conflict-can have on our laws, institutions and customs.
Lively and compelling, Critical Mass is the first book to bring these new ideas together and to show how they fit within the broader historical context of a rational search for better ways to live.
chemistry as the central creative science of the century.
ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.
Ball traces the history of scientific thought about natural patterns, showing how common presumptions-for example, that complex form must be guided by some intelligence or that form always follows function-are erroneous and continue to mislead scientists today. He investigates specific patterns in depth, revealing that these designs are self-organized and that simple, local interactions between component parts produce motifs like spots, stripes, branches, and honeycombs. In the process, he examines the mysterious phenomenon of symmetry and why it appears-and breaks-in similar ways in different systems. Finally, he attempts to answer this profound question: why are some patterns universal? Illustrations throughout the text, many in full color, beautifully illuminate Ball's ideas.
A fascination with nature,s patterns is as old as civilization. With this spellbinding book, Ball dispels age-old conundrums while increasing the readers wonder and appreciation for the beauty of the natural world. The Self-Made Tapestry will enlighten anyone who has ever marveled at the shape of a seashell or the brilliance of a spider's web.
Chartres Cathedral, south of Paris, is revered as one of the most beautiful and profound works of art in the Western canon. But what did it mean to those who constructed it in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries—and why was it built at such immense height and with such glorious play of light, in the soaring manner we now call Gothic?
In this eminently fascinating work, author Philip Ball makes sense of the visual and emotional power of Chartres and brilliantly explores how its construction—and the creation of other Gothic cathedrals—represented a profound and dramatic shift in the way medieval thinkers perceived their relationship with their world. Beautifully illustrated and written, filled with astonishing insight, Universe of Stone embeds the magnificent cathedral in the culture of the twelfth century—its schools of philosophy and science, its trades and technologies, its politics and religious debates—enabling us to view this ancient architectural marvel with fresh eyes.
Society is complicated. But this book argues that this does not place it beyond the reach of a science that can help to explain and perhaps even to predict social behaviour. As a system made up of many interacting agents – people, groups, institutions and governments, as well as physical and technological structures such as roads and computer networks – society can be regarded as a complex system. In recent years, scientists have made great progress in understanding how such complex systems operate, ranging from animal populations to earthquakes and weather. These systems show behaviours that cannot be predicted or intuited by focusing on the individual components, but which emerge spontaneously as a consequence of their interactions: they are said to be ‘self-organized’. Attempts to direct or manage such emergent properties generally reveal that ‘top-down’ approaches, which try to dictate a particular outcome, are ineffectual, and that what is needed instead is a ‘bottom-up’ approach that aims to guide self-organization towards desirable states.
This book shows how some of these ideas from the science of complexity can be applied to the study and management of social phenomena, including traffic flow, economic markets, opinion formation and the growth and structure of cities. Building on these successes, the book argues that the complex-systems view of the social sciences has now matured sufficiently for it to be possible, desirable and perhaps essential to attempt a grander objective: to integrate these efforts into a unified scheme for studying, understanding and ultimately predicting what happens in the world we have made. Such a scheme would require the mobilization and collaboration of many different research communities, and would allow society and its interactions with the physical environment to be explored through realistic models and large-scale data collection and analysis. It should enable us to find new and effective solutions to major global problems such as conflict, disease, financial instability, environmental despoliation and poverty, while avoiding unintended policy consequences. It could give us the foresight to anticipate and ameliorate crises, and to begin tackling some of the most intractable problems of the twenty-first century.
Many patterns in nature show a branching form - trees, river deltas, blood vessels, lightning, the cracks that form in the glazing of pots. These networks share a peculiar geometry, finding a compromise between disorder and determinism, though some, like the hexagonal snowflake or the stones of the Devil's Causeway fall into a rigidly ordered structure. Branching networks are found at every level in biology - from the single cell to the ecosystem. Human-made networks too can come to share the
same features, and if they don't, then it might be profitable to make them do so: nature's patterns tend to arise from economical solutions.
In his most mind-bending book yet, Ball makes that disconcerting question the focus of a tour through what scientists can now do in cell biology and tissue culture. He shows how these technologies could lead to tailor-made replacement organs for when ours fail, to new medical advances for repairing damage and assisting conception, and to new ways of “growing a human.” For example, it might prove possible to turn skin cells not into neurons but into eggs and sperm, or even to turn oneself into the constituent cells of embryos. Such methods would also create new options for gene editing, with all the attendant moral dilemmas. Ball argues that such advances can therefore never be about “just the science,” because they come already surrounded by a host of social narratives, preconceptions, and prejudices. But beyond even that, these developments raise questions about identity and self, birth and death, and force us to ask how mutable the human body really is—and what forms it might take in years to come.