book details

Schrödinger: life and thought
Walter Moore
1989
Cambridge University Press

summary

This was a great book. Schrödinger had such a crazy love life!

I’m interested in Schrödinger because, naively, I like the feel of wave mechanics much more than I do that of quantum mechanics. I don’t like what I think of as the particle fetishism. However, the maths is hard, so I’m easing myself around the subject, looking for ways in.

This book was a thorough and enjoyable portrait of the man and his work. There are three main points of interest for me:

Space-Time Structure (1950)

Described as a “lovely little book” (p. 426) on “the geometry of space-time and its affine and metric connections” (p. 450). Grew out of extended correspondence with Einstein.

Weyl

Hermann Weyl was Schrödinger’s best friend in Zürich during the twenties, and helped S with some of the maths for his breakthrough wave mechanics paper (1926). (Weyl was also a longtime lover of Schrödinger’s wife Anny.)

Weyl’s 1918 book on general relativity, “Space-Time-Matter” is described as “a complete account of relativity theory including all the necessary mathematical background” (p. 146). Its table of contents is accessible on the book’s Amazon page. This might be more accessible than Space-Time Structure.

Weyl also “became the strongest supporter of the intuitionist theory of mathematics, founded by Luitzen Brouwer of Amsterdam”. I’ve been reading a lot about intuitionism and constructivism in maths recently (at least a lot of tweets LOL). I’ve even seen a reference linking it back to Hegel.

Colour

From 1918 to 1920 the focus of Schrödinger’s work was on colour theory (pp 120-129). Describing the colour space, S uses a three-dimensional affine geometry. This treatment develops and the affine geometry becomes Reimannian. His work on colour theory seems to use similar terminology and concepts as his later work on general relativity — manifolds, {affine,differential,Reimannian} geometry. His colour space is three-dimensional (e.g., red, green, blue), while relativistic space-time is four-dimensional.

I am thinking that colour theory along these lines might be an accessible introduction to the mathematics required for general relativity. I haven’t had much luck finding modern mathematical introductions to colour theory.

Schrodinger’s main paper on the subject was:

“Grundlinien einer Theorie der Farbenmetrik im Tagessehen”,
Annalen der Physik, (4), 63, (1920), 397–456; 481–520

available in English (according to Wikipedia) as “Outline of a Theory of Colour Measurement for Daylight Vision” in Sources of Colour Science, Ed. David L. MacAdam, The MIT Press (1970), 134–82.

Notes on “The Perfect Theory”

Saturday, 10th January, 2015

book details

The Perfect Theory: a century of geniuses and the battle over general relativity
Pedro G. Ferreira
2014
Little, Brown

Summary

The best “popular science” book I’ve read in a very long time — possibly ever: calm, readable prose; clear explanations; no silly metaphors or analogies. Possibly string theory has had its day, and I was pleased to see that particle fetishism was not treated as the be-all-and-end-all of general relativity. What stood out to me most of all was the broad international perspective.

The Soviet Union

The contributions of Soviet scientists to general relativity was given a prominent place. Four names look especially interesting:

Gennady Gorelik, Scientific American 1997, The Top Secret Life of Lev Landau, academic.evergreen.edu/z/zita/articles/History/landau.pdf

Gorobets, B., (2008), “Круг Ландау: жизнь гения” (“The Landau Circle: the life of a genius”), URSS. http://urss.ru/cgi-bin/db.pl?page=Book&id=169211. n.b., this is the first book in a trilogy. The second and third volumes are “Круг Ландау: Физика войны и мира” (“The Landau Circle: Physics in war and peace”) and “Круг Ландау и Лифшица” (“The Landau Circle and Lifshitz”).

Ioffe, B. L., (2002), “Landau’s Theoretical Minimum, Landau’s Seminar, ITEP in the Beginning of the 1950’s”, http://arxiv.org/abs/hep-ph/0204295.

Tropp, E., Frenkel, V. & Chernin, A., (1988; tr. 1993), “Alexander A Friedmann: The Man who Made the Universe Expand”, CUP.

Israel

Jacob Bekenstein, Mordehai Milgrom and “Modified Newtonian Dynamics” (MOND).

Bekenstein, J., (2004), “Relativistic gravitation theory for the MOND paradigm”, Phys.Rev. D70 (2004), http://arxiv.org/abs/astro-ph/0403694.

Bekenstein, J., (2007), “The modified Newtonian dynamics — MOND — and its implications for new physics”, Contemporary Physics 47, 387 (2006) http://arxiv.org/abs/astro-ph/0701848

Africa

The Square Kilometer Array.

The core of the beast will be laid out in the Karoo desert, but a number of these dishes will be scattered throughout the continent in places like Namibia, Mozambique, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar. It will be a truly continental, /African/ endeavor.

(p. 235)

http://www.ska.ac.za/

http://www.skatelescope.org

book details

Aristotle: a very short introduction
Jonathan Barnes
2000
Oxford University Press

notes

I found this a very pleasant, readable overview of Aristotle’s philosophy. It is sensitive to his context and to his distance from our own culture and perspectives.

Before reading this I knew little about Aristotle. I’d read his Nicomachean Ethics and Jonathan Lear’s “Aristotle: The Desire to Understand”.

Three points stood out for me:

logic

Aristotle’s Prior Analytics and Posterior Analytics are the foundation works of the study of formal logic. The roots of formal logic are in Aristotle the empirical scientist, the explorer, the man of the world — not e.g. in Plato the idealist.

I don’t think I need to read Aristotle’s logical works, but it might be interesting to explore how his more formal thought related to his more exploratory work (e.g. biology, politics).

change

For Aristotle, change seems to be fundamental — at least to things in the sublunary world. That’s interesting to me given my interest in Hegel and Marx.

Reading: Physics, which Barnes thinks is “one of the best places to start reading Aristotle.”

god

Bodies in the superlunary world are not subject to change, and Aristotle’s work on the heavens contain some of his speculations on divine creatures and on the source of change: the creator.

Reading: On the heavens; Metaphysics I & XII.

王菲 in 音乐周刊

Tuesday, 21st October, 2014

Faye Wong was recently in the Chinese pop music magazine 音乐周刊 (yīnyuè zhōukān, Music Weekly). Here are the front page and the page about Faye (screenshotted from my iPad):

1cover

2page

book details

Social Network Analysis (3rd ed.)
John Scott
2013 (1st ed. 1991)
Sage

Notes

Sociology, Marxism and Fascism

Lukacs 1962, in the section on German sociology, presented the sociology of Weber and Simmel as having been developed explicitly as a bulwark against Marxist explanations of society [todo: get quote]. Weber and Simmel were (convincingly, imho) portrayed as lightweight confabulators (especially Simmel).

So here I am reading a sociology textbook — not because I want to criticise sociology, but because I want to learn about social network analysis (sna). It is a very strange peak into a foreign discipline.

Weber and especially Simmel are referred to occasionally and with approval. Simmel is resented as more-or-less the father of sna (e.g., pp. 14, 23).

The antagonism with Marxism (in early sociology at least) is confirmed, with this antagonism continuing in early work in the US. e.g. p. 20:

… the biologist Lawrence Henderson … actively promoted the work of Pareto. Henderson held that this was the only appropriate basis for a truly scientific sociology and that it was, furthermore the only viable political bulwark against revolutionary Marxism.

… Pareto was also the great exponent of elite theory, and Mayo saw that a managerial elite that recognised this influence of group relations on ecomonic motivation could most successfully control worker behaviour.

I can’t remember if Lukacs covered Pareto, but Pareto would have fit nicely into Lukacs’ scheme. Pareto’s link with Italian fascism seems rather closer than, but of the same kind as, that between Simmel and German fascism.

Graph theory, computers

This is a sociology text, written for people without a mathematical or computing background. For example, graphs are described as consisting of points and lines. Graph theory we are told “was first formulated” in 1936 (p. 16). Spreadsheets are recommended as “basic data storage” (p. 52). Unrelated really, but I can’t help relating it, Russian Matryoshka dolls are described as “Russian Babooshka dolls” (p. 107).

Let’s just say these all marked the text as being from a different culture to the texts with which I’m more familiar.

Another more positive marker was that I found only one typo in the whole book (p. 122).

Review

With those two sets of observations out of the way, the book is a very readable, well-written overview of the field. An early chapter gives a history of sna in sociology, and later chapters give overviews of various approaches and techniques. The author does not seem to favour any particular approach.

My overall impression is that the application of graph theory to the study of social networks is fairly ad hoc and that the best way to learn about it is to collect some data and Have A Go.

further reading

As well as various technical leads, the references below looked attractive:

books

Freeman, L. C. (2004) The development of Social Network Analysis: a study in the sociology of science, Empirical Press.

A bit meta-meta maybe, but the history chapter was v interesting. In particular, a group based around Manchester (e.g. John Barnes) focusing on conflict and change.

Scott, J. & Carrington, P. (eds) (2011) The Sage handbook of Social Network Analysis, Sage.

The author blowing his own trumpet perhaps, but this does look like a solid practical overview of the field.

papers
[none of these seem to be available apart from behind paywalls. tsk]

Brent, E. E. (1985) Relational database structures and concept formation in the social sciences, Computers and the Social Sciences, 1.

Carroll, W. K. & Fenneman, M. (2002) Is there a transnational business community?, International Sociology, 17.

Smith, R. M. (1979) Kin and neighbours in a thirteenth century Suffolk community, Journal of Family History, 4.

book details

The Destruction of Reason
Georg Lukács
1962 (tr. 1980)
Merlin

comments

This was a gruelling, depressing read. I am full of respect for Lukács for sifting through so much complete drivel (Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Spengler, Heidegger, and so on). I’d never read any of these people before and I had naively assumed they were proper philosophers (as they are presented in the mainstream media).

Lukács traces the history and the development of irrationalist philosophy from the French revolution right through to Hitler, with an epilogue on the post-war US, with its increasing shoddiness and cynicism and anti-humanism.

I couldn’t help notice similarities with contemporary developments: the denigration of democracy; the celebration of irrational political action (like the infantile Occupy movement); of apostasy (like the whistleblowers); the almost medieval approach to morality; temper-loss and name-calling in place of debate; …

forward

Because of its nature as a critique and a warning, this book doesn’t open up so many new horizons as the Hegel book did. However there were three clear avenues:

  • Two heroes mentioned stand out: Rosa Luxemburg (obviously not new to me) and Georges Politzer (completely new to me).
  • “German Classical Humanism” (p530): Herder and Humboldt. These two popped up repeatedly while I was reading for my PhD (on Vygotsky and Ilyenkov) all those years ago (the early 90s).
  • I need to do something to correct my patchy knowledge of 19th century history, esp. the years 1848 and 1870.

Notes on “Hegel’s Naturalism”

Tuesday, 6th May, 2014

book details

Hegel’s Naturalism: mind, nature, and the final ends of life
Terry Pinkard
2012
Oxford University Press

summary

This is a really exciting book. I read it through once and read it again straight away. It introduced me to Hegel, and opened up my idea of what Hegel’s philosophy might be about. I can see him placed with other philosophers I like (Aristotle, Spinoza, Marx).

Below are some highlights, and then some ideas for further reading.

An appendix of typos is at the end.

Read the rest of this entry »

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