1. PF Contest - Win "Conquering the Physics GRE" book! Click Here to Enter
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Book recommendations -- layman's physics without the philosophy?

  1. May 23, 2017 #1
    I'm reading "Hidden in plain sight". The book, like most other layman's texts has a particular frustration for me.

    Most layman's book try to relate concepts to human experience with analogous examples. The problem they cause me is that when discussing concepts like time and space the introduction of human consciousness or the products of human endeavour just removes the ability to deal with straightforward facts and leads to simplification that causes me confusion. When I find the answer, my reaction is usually frustration that the author didn't just write the details in the first place.

    As an example, when dealing with time, this book starts down the path of "every moment in your life is as real as any other".

    My view is that when trying to understand relativity and spacetime, the existence of squishy people isn't here or there, and the consciousness that results from the biological arrangements in our bodies doesn't matter to the universe. I'd rather deal with time and space without human consciousness, breaking glasses and spaceships thrown into the mix. Maybe using explanation at a quantum level?

    The quote "...intense cognitive conflict that students encounter as they are led to confront the incompatibility of their deeply-held beliefs about simultaneity with the results of special relativity." Is true, I very much feel it but as long as texts continue to refer back to human experience, I don't see how I can move forward.

    I'm quite happy to accept Feynman's requirement to "just accept it". Unfortunately nothing quite gives it to me.

    Is there a good layman's book that gets down to detail and leaves out the philosophical points that always come with "image if's"??
    Last edited by a moderator: May 23, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. May 23, 2017 #2
    You are a conscious being so how can we leave it out? It is our conscious experience of our environment that give use the information to try and understand. Since we only experience a segment of our universe whose various parts behave differently it does become a challenge to bring everything large and small into an logical consistent framework.

    Would you question be "how do we know what we know?"

  4. May 23, 2017 #3


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    It depends on what you mean by "layman's book". If you mean something that contains no math, then the answer has to be "no". Math is the language of physics; trying to understand physics without it is like trying to learn to cook by reading restaurant reviews.

    Fortunately, the amount of math needed to get through special relativity is much less than is required for either quantum mechanics or general relativity. High school math through trig and precalculus is sufficient if you steer clear of the problems that require calculus; and at that level Taylor and Wheeler's "Spacetime Physics" is one of my favorites.
  5. May 23, 2017 #4
  6. May 24, 2017 #5


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    Ben Crowell's book "Relativity for Poets" is a text for a maths-free course in relativity he teaches to non-science majors. @bcrowell is a former regular here. The book is a free download from www.lightandmatter.com
  7. May 24, 2017 #6


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    There are many good non-technical books on physics without equations and without ordinary-life analogies. Here are some of them:

    - general physics:
    R. Feynman, The Character of Physical Law
    J. Baker, 50 Physics Ideas You Really Need to Know

    - special relativity:
    H. Bondi, Relativity and Common Sense
    T. Takeuchy, An Illustrated Guide to Relativity

    - general relativity:
    R. Geroch, General Relativity from A to B

    - cosmology:
    S. Weinberg, The First Three Minutes
    T. Padmanabhan, After The First Three Minutes

    - statistical physics and chaos:
    A. Ben-Naim, Entropy Demystified: The Second Law Reduced to Plain Common Sense
    D. Ruelle, Chance and Chaos
    J. Gleick, Chaos: Making a New Science

    - quantum foundations:
    A. Zeilinger, Dance of the Photons
    N. Gisin, Quantum Chance
    J. Gribbin, In Search of Schrodinger's Cat

    - quantum physics:
    A.I.M. Rae, Quantum Physics: A Beginners Guide
    J. Gribbin, Quantum Physics
    J. Marburger, Constructing Reality

    - quantum field theory and particle physics:
    R. Feynman, QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter
    Y. Nambu, Quarks
    Y. Ne'eman, Y. Kirsh, The Particle Hunters
  8. May 24, 2017 #7
    Thank you for the recommendations.

    Your recommendation reminded me that I have a copy of 'The Character of Physical Law' on the shelf! I've purchased 'Relativity and Commonsense', for the amazing 1987 open-universityesq cover alone!

    An Illustrated Guide to Relativity looks interesting too. Visual is good.
  9. May 27, 2017 #8


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    In fact, a "just accept it" of quantum mechanics is that the theory postulates a division of the universe into "conscious" and "non-conscious", or into "classical" and quantum". You can see this in Landau and Lifshitz's famous quantum mechanics textbook. For those who believe that a deeper theory of nature need not postulate such a division, this is known as the "measurement problem" of quantum mechanics.

    If you refer back to human experience, you will see that simultaneity for spatially separated people does not exist. Can singers in a choir experience the same "now"? If the two singers are far apart, because of the finite speed of sound, the singers will have difficulty syncing their singing, so they cannot experience the same "now". The relativity of simultaneity is due to a similar effect, except that it is due to the finite speed of light.
    Last edited: May 27, 2017
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?
Draft saved Draft deleted