FROM CLOCKWORK TO CRAPSHOOT A HISTORY OF PHYSICS PDF

As scientists discovered virtually countless facts about the world during this great span of time, the manner in which they explained the underlying structure of that world underwent a philosophical evolution. Roger Newton, whose previous works have been widely praised for erudition and accessibility, presents a history of physics from the early beginning to our day--with the associated mathematics, astronomy, and chemistry. Along the way, he gives brief explanations of the scientific concepts at issue, biographical thumbnail sketches of the protagonists, and descriptions of the changing instruments that enabled scientists to make their discoveries. He traces a profound change from a deterministic explanation of the world--accepted at least since the time of the ancient Greek and Taoist Chinese civilizations--to the notion of probability, enshrined as the very basis of science with the quantum revolution at the beginning of the twentieth century. With this change, Newton finds another fundamental shift in the focus of physicists--from the cause of dynamics or motion to the basic structure of the world.

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Newton Belknap Press: In his role as tour guide to the complete history of physics, Roger Newton seems to have had trouble deciding which strategy to adopt.

Sometimes he pauses to reflect on the meaning and significance of the most crucial exhibits; at other times he seems determined to march briskly down the centuries, ticking off names and discoveries great and small with bewildering haste.

As a result, the truly interesting perspectives that he points out along the way get lost in the confusion. From Clockwork to Crapshoot begins by defending Aristotle against the bad press he sometimes gets in histories of science. That is a modern philosophy of science, but in his specifics, Aristotle was mostly wrong. It was medieval scholars, rediscovering Aristotle from Arab writers, who treated his writings as a revealed truth, insisting on scrupulous adherence to his incorrect explanations but failing to grasp his style of reasoning.

With the basic method of science settled, the story is one of advancing enlightenment on many fronts, and our guide is determined to give at least a brief wave to everyone who contributed. Thrown at the reader one after the other, they become rather wearisome. The story picks up again when the author tackles the emergence of statistical mechanics and then quantum mechanics. Quantum theory raised questions about the meaning of physical reality that remain unresolved today.

And of late, Roger Newton suggests, Plato is staging a comeback against Aristotle. The author is most compelling when he tackles these broad historical trends in the scope and purpose of physical theorizing.

But these large themes only occasionally come to the fore. Readers with some general knowledge of the development of physics will find in Roger Newton a companionable guide who points out familiar and vaguely remembered landmarks and offers occasional illuminating commentary.

If his aim was to enlighten a less well-versed audience, he could have said more by saying less.

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From clockwork to crapshoot : a history of physics

Newton Belknap Press: In his role as tour guide to the complete history of physics, Roger Newton seems to have had trouble deciding which strategy to adopt. Sometimes he pauses to reflect on the meaning and significance of the most crucial exhibits; at other times he seems determined to march briskly down the centuries, ticking off names and discoveries great and small with bewildering haste. As a result, the truly interesting perspectives that he points out along the way get lost in the confusion. From Clockwork to Crapshoot begins by defending Aristotle against the bad press he sometimes gets in histories of science.

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