Sunday, June 27, 1999

Is Science Old or New for Humans?

We hear that the number of students who wish to major in natural sciences is decreasing in Japan. In the age of science and technology this trend is deplorable.

Carl Sagan starts a chapter of his book, The Demon Haunted World (Random House, New York, 1996), by a question, "Why should so many people find science hard to learn and hard to teach?" Then he cites Alan Cromer's proposition given in Uncommon Sense: The Heretical Nature of Science (Oxford University Press, New York, 1993) that science is difficult because it is new in the history of human being, and show partial sympathy to this thesis.

However, Sagan describes next about the expertise of hunter-gatherers in tracking not only other animals but also humans. Comparing the method of hunters' tracking with astronomers' method of judging the age of a crater on the Moon or Mercury or Triton, he says that the former method is the same as the latter or what modern scientists do. He thus comes to the conclusion that scientific thinking has almost certainly been with us from the beginning.

Which do you think is more persuasive, Cromer's pessimistic proposition or Sagan's optimistic antithesis about the relation of humans and science? Apart from the grounds of their arguments, I would like to agree with Sagan in the hope of better prosperity of mankind.

Saturday, June 26, 1999

Another Source of Physics News

Free e-mail service of physics news similar to Physics News Update of the American Institute of Physics (AIP) is available from the American Physical Society (APS). The Society has a website called Physical Review Focus, which provides brief explanations of selected research papers from Physical Review Letters (PRL) at a level accessible to most physicists. If you subscribe to Focus at the List Manager site of APS, you will receive a message approximately weekly that contains the introductory paragraphs from the stories posted at the site during the previous week.

Example titles of stories in Physical Review Focus arrived recently are:
  • Fountain Clock Keeps Good Time (10 Jun 1999)
  • Selecting Excited States (18 Jun 1999)
  • Atomic Holograms (18 Jun 1999)
  • Nanotube Electronics (24 Jun 1999)
  • Windows on the Superconducting Soul (24 Jun 1999)
June 10 is Time Day in Japan; I don't think it an international day. Why then did the June-10 issue of Physical Review Focus happen to choose the story of an atomic clock?

The titles of the stories picked up from PRL by AIP's Physics News Update in the previous week, if any, are listed at the end of each Focus E-mail message.

Saturday, June 12, 1999

More Interesting than Sci Fi

I am a suscriber to Physics News Update. It is a digest of physics news items delivered approximately once a week by free e-mail service from American Institute of Physics (AIP). The news sources cover physics meetings, physics journals, newspapers and magazines, and so on. The purpose of this service is "broadly to disseminate information about physics and physicists," and each digest made by Phillip F. Schewe or Ben Stein starts with introductory words, which make the topic understandable to laypersons.

All the results of physics research mentioned in Physics News Update are at the cutting edge of this field, and reading it is often much more interesting and thrilling than reading science fictions. Some titles I liked recently are:
  • The First Entanglement of Three Photons (12 Feb 1999)
  • Direct CP Violation (29 Mar 199
  • Does God Exist? (20 Apr 1999)
  • Writing the Word "Optics" on a Single Atom (3 May 1999)
  • Pi and Random Numbers (14 May 1999)
You can read these stories on the AIP Physics News Update Home Page, where you can also subscribe to the e-mail service. Being permitted by the generous words of AIP, "you are free to post it, if you like, where others can read it, providing only that you credit the American Institute of Physics," I will be posting the latest issue of Physics News Update on my home page.

Kaku and Thompson [1] gave the following plausible reason why science was always stranger than science fiction: Technological progress proceeds geometrically. On the other hand, science fiction is merely a linear extrapolation or extension of the contemporary state of technology.
  1. M. Kaku and J. Thompson, "Beyond Einstein" (Oxford University Press, 1997; first edition by Bantam Books, 1987).