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Dust off a seat and discuss a good book do read, right?

Deep Down Things by Bruce Schuum

4 years ago
My book for April 2020 is Deep Down Things by Bruce Schuum - a physics book that attempts to greatly avoid the complex mathematics involved with each theory or concept presented in order to make the world of physics more accessible to a greater audience. It has 10 chapters with roughly 350 pages which means, in order to finish in April, I only need to read about a third of a chapter a day or 12 pages. Every chapter will get its own writeup in this thread and then an overall book writeup to cap it off.

I'd like to encourage discussion of the book and the concepts within it. As a student of engineering, I will volley questions as best I can in order to sharpen my own understanding of these things I'm interested in.

You can find my initial notes / extended writeup here.

Deep Down Things by Bruce Schuum

4 years ago
Chapter 1: Introduction

Schuum introduces us with a review of human thinking, our perceptions of the world have changed due to new facts coming to light and we’re still in the process of discovering new things and reforming our theories to better fit the world around us. He also comments on the mathematics involved in the book, stating they are

“not the calculation-mired pursuit that confronts one in introductory college-level courses but rather that of the abstract mathematician whose tools are more of those of logic and generalization...”

This harkens to practical mathematics or “farmers’ thinking” some might even know it as “hillbilly engineering” where the numbers may not particularly matter outside of physical dimensions but the goal is to get it to work and be able to explain, in general, how it seems to work to someone else. For example, a farmer may be teaching his son how to fertilize crop and makes a rule of thumb from experience that says “peas require about four more bags of fertilizer than soy beans and every few rows of peas will need a top off to finish that section of field.” It’s this kind of logical thinking and mathematics that I believe Schuum looks to achieve in this book. Exact equations will certainly be used in some places, but to make physics from start to finish accessible to a public that largely dislikes math, more layman's thinking will be applied.

The introduction also notes that the book is written from a particle physics standpoint and we’ll be ending on some aspects of the standard model with an intro to gauge theory, the higgs field, and spontaneous hidden symmetry; all of which I know to be quite advanced topics in physics and I look forward to how Schuum describes them in a way that makes it easy for the average person to understand (assuming they’ve read the previous chapters of the book).

Deep Down Things by Bruce Schuum

4 years ago
“The characteristic of any particular object, known as its ‘charge,’ that determines how severely the object is influenced by the given force.”

I’ve underlined this excerpt from the first part of chapter 2, before Schuum gets into the fundamental forces, because I wish charge was explained to me in this way before I became interested in particle physics and had to learn the hard way that charge was not necessarily electrical. Schuum continues the chapter moving through the fundamental forces of nature, the ones commonly taught in high school level science, but allows the reader to peep through the curtain of physics. He describes how, in the past, electric and magnetic forces were thought to be separate and we now know they are related into a fundamental force known as electromagnetism. Where he allows us to peer into the depths is when he mentions the electroweak force, which incorporates the weak nuclear force as yet another intertwined phenomena once thought separate from electromagnetism.

Of course many physicists, particle physicists in particular, are continually working at great lengths of thought to find a universal theory of everything which Einstein could not complete in his life (held back by the knowledge and tools of the time, most likely).

Schuum describes a fun little experiment I’d also like to share: get a faucet going such that a small but steady stream is made and rub a plastic comb through your hair a few times. The static electrically charged comb, when brought near the water in preferably dry conditions, will bend the stream from vertical to possibly more than 45 degrees. The other forces of nature, barring gravity, are not so easily observed.

Gravity has what can be called a positive charge - mass. The influence of gravity is directly affected by an object's mass but there is no such observed thing as negative mass and so gravity seems only to be positively charged. Gravity is also the worst force. It not only creates the most problems but offers the least amount of solutions as well. I could go on about how I hate gravity for days, but we’ll leave it there.

The strong nuclear force binds neutrons and protons in the nucleus of an atom together. However protons and neutrons have neutral charge in regards to the strong force. It is the quarks which carry the strong force charge and they are either “up” or “down” quarks which ironically also have electric charge - the sum of which balances the electron outside the atom.

Schuum also goes into the color charge of the strong force, which I cannot adequately explain here. All you need know, in essence, is that the strong nuclear force deals in charges unlike electromagnetism where one might have positive and negative, one instead has red, green, and blue charges. Just keep in mind this is a way of saying how much each quark is affected by or carries the strong force. He also mentions leptons, indivisible particles that carry no strong force charge. It is not known why they don’t have any strong force charge yet. For now, it was simply nature that they ended up this way.

The weak nuclear force is the gravy - it’s the most obscure and odd force out of the bunch. Particle physicists fuckin love it though due to its interesting properties and illusory nature. I have a feeling a lot will be said about the weak force in this book.

The weak force violates many of the other fundamental laws of nature and the forces in order for the universe to take shape and go on as it has. Schuum briefly touches on the concept of spin, positive half spin and negative half spin, which I find may lead to unresolved and advanced questions that do not make the book as accessible as he intends. I look forward to how he goes about explaining color, spin, charges, and other aspects of the weak force in detail.

[Failed] Deep Down Things by Bruce Schuum

4 years ago
Failed this. My May book is going to be harder but I basically have to read it in order to pass my class in June so perhaps that will provide the proper motivation.

Many of my peers told me that a book a month would be easier than an article a day but I gotta disagree here given that I'm only a few days back on articles and I didn't even get through half the book. Maybe I'll put a decent review and writeup of it sometime in the future once I've actually read the book.