Thursday, December 30, 1999

The Principle of NOMA

Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.
--Albert Einstein
From The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations
On 11 August 1999, the Kansas Board of Education voted to delete virtually any mention of evolution as well as the Big-Bang theory from the state's science curriculum [1]. This move came as a most unpleasant shock to the science community [2]. I was just reading a book on the relation between science and religion written by Steven Jay Gould [3]. In the book the author explores the contemporary principle he calls NOMA (Non-Overlapping Magisteria; a magisterium represents a domain of authority in teaching). Gould summarizes the principle as follows:
The magisterium of science covers the empirical realm: what is the universe made of and why does it work this way. The magisterium of religion extends over questions of ultimate meaning and moral value. These two magisteria do not overlap.
This principle seems to me quite self-evident. This is possibly due to my non-Christian background. Anyway, Gould's elaboration of this concept is persuasive, covering the historical and psychological bases extensively. The majority members of the Kansas Board of Education should read this book!

The reason for which I read Gould's book was to aid my thinking about the question posed by a friend of mine on some descriptions of the Bible. It will be another story in this site.
  1. "Kansas Votes to Delete Evolution From State's Science Curriculum," New York Times, Aug. 12 issue (1999).
  2. J. Kumagai, "Scientists View Kansas Board's Decision as a Wake-Up Call," Physics Today Vol. 52, No. 11, pp. 59-60 (1999).
  3. S. J. Gould, "Rocks of Ages" (Ballantine Publishing Group, New York, 1999).
Related Reading
  • S. J. Gould, "Dorothy, It's Really Oz," Time Vol. 154, No. 8 (1999).
(A modified version of this essay is posted as tttabata's review of "Rocks of Ages" on the bying-info page of this book at

Thursday, December 23, 1999

Einstein, the Person of the Millennium

Though the new (Christian, Gregorian) millennium and the New Century start at zero hours UTC (commonly known as GMT) on January 1st 2001 [1], mass media are busy these days in conducting polls to decide the top something of the millennium or the century.

On 17 December 1999, Reuters announced the results of its poll for the person of the millennium. Thirty-four important persons in the fields of politics, economics, art and culture from ten countries all over the world were asked to choose three persons who had most great effects on the world from the list of thirty-nine great persons lived in this millennium.

The physicist Albert Einstein was the top. The second was shared by the father of the independence of India Mahandas Karamchand Gandhi and the economist Karl Marx. The former Prime Minister of England Winston Churchill and the physicist Isaac Newton were the fourth. (Asahi-shimbun, 18 Dec 1999)

Physicists, be proud of this result and your calling! Shall we have another physicist as the person of the next millennium? Will the physicist who completes the Theory of Everything be nominated for that person? Will this Theory be completed anyway?
  1. "The New Millennium," Special Information Leaflet No. 29, The Royal Observatory Greenwich (1999).
Related Reading
  • S. Weinberg, "A Unified Physics by 2050?," Sci. Amer. Dec. 1999, pp. 36-43.
Note Added Later

Einstein was also chosen for the person of the century by the Time magazine [Vol. 154, No. 26 (1999)]. The choice of the person of the millennium as the person of the century is logically quite consistent. The "Person of the century" issue of Time includes the following articles:
  • W. Isaacson, "Time's choice: Who mattered--and Why."
  • F. Golden, "Albert Einstein: Person of the century."
  • S. Hawking, "A brief history of relativity."
  • J. M. Nash, "Unfinished symphony."
  • R. Rosenblatt, "The age of Einstein."
Hawking's article, the title of which follows his best-selling book, is a very understandable description about the development of the theories of relativity, including some mild jokes peculiar to the author, a miraculous physicist himself. For example, "However, the tiny fraction of a second you gained (by flying to avail yourself of the time dilation predicted by the sepcial theory of relativity) would be more than offest by eating airline meals."

The article by Nash is related to the Theory of Everything I wrote in the main text. String theory is a prospective candidate for it (see an earlier story of this site). She concludes her article by writing, "It may in the end take an Einstein to complete Einstein's unfinished intellectual symphony." The article aptly includes the photograph of Einstein playing the violin, an instrument with strings.

Related Reading Added Later

Tuesday, December 07, 1999


Professor Takeshi Onodera of Nihon University quotes the following passage in the column "Words to Remember" of Asahi Weekly [1].
No sadder proof can be given by a man of his own littleness than disbelief in great men.
--Thomas Carlyle, "Heroes and Hero-Worship"
Onodera recollects that his father often had bought him the biography of a great person in his childhood, and writes that in post-war Japan the concept of "great persons" has become unpopular. This trend is based on the thought that distinction is incompatible with the principle of equality. Thus the people of the post-war generation might have been obliged to succeed under the pretence of disliking success and must have felt guilty about the result. Onodera considers such situation as desolate and laments it, commenting that without longing and an ideal one would be apt to lose interest in living.

When I was a high school junior, one of my teachers asked me about my hobby. I said, "I like to read denki." Denki is the Japanese word for biographies. The teacher said, "Do you mean 'books on denki'?" The word denki also means electricity. "No, I don't. I read 'ijin no denki' (biographical books of great persons)." I have kept this hobby of reading biographies until now, though the field of great persons I am interested in has been narrowed down to science (mainly physics).

Since the years of rising yen in the 1980s, I have collected many biographies of great physicists written in English. My collection well covers the lists of the top ten physicists in history chosen by PhysicsWeb and Physics World surveys (see the previous section) except James Clerk Maxwell. What now I want is an enough time to enjoy those biographies.

In the middle of writing this essay, I received the 6-Dec-1999 issue of "Movable Type," a free e-mail announcement from, which included the following notification of the biographical-book page at's website:
From historical overviews to psychological profiles, biographies are perennial favorites among book lovers. Celebrate the lives of poets, artists, and politicians this week in Books.
Let us celebrate the lives of physicists too to gain much interest in living (a list of my collection of biographies of physicists will appear later in this website). However, be aware also of the following dangerous nature of a biography:
Whoever undertakes to write a biography binds himself to lying, to concealment, to flummery, and even to hiding his own lack of understanding, since biographical material is not to be had, and if it were it could not be used. Truth is not accessible; mankind does not deserve it.
--Sigmund Freud, in a letter to a friend
[Quoted in the aforementioned issue of "Movable Type"
from: George Seldes, ed., "The Great Thoughts"]
  1. Asahi Weekly, Vol. 27, No. 46 (Nov. 21, 1999).

Sunday, December 05, 1999

The Top Ten Physicists

The top-ten physicists in history according to two polls have been announced. Can you guess the names in the lists? Is Richard Feynman in the lists? If so, what is his ranking?

One of the polls was conducted by Physics World magazine, published by the Institute of Physics (IOP), the British professional organization of physicists celebrating its 125th anniversary this year [1]. The other was made by PhysicsWeb, also published by IOP on the web [2]. We can extract another top-ten list from John Simmons' book [3], which gives a ranking of 100 most influential scientists from the past to the present.

The three lists are combined in the table below.

Ranking PhysicsWeb survey Physics World survey Simmons
1 Isaac Newton Albert Einstein Isaac Newton
2 Albert Einstein Isaac Newton Albert Einstein
3 James Clerk Maxwell James Clerk Maxwell Niels Bohr
4 Galileo Galilei Niels Bohr Galileo Galilei
5 Paul Dirac Werner Heisenberg Johannes Kepler
6 Niels Bohr Galileo Galilei Nicolaus Copernicus
7 Max Planck Richard Feynman Michael Faraday
8 Richard Feynman Paul Dirac
Erwin Schrödinger
James Clerk Maxwell
9 Michael Faraday   Werner Heisenberg
10 Erwin Schrödinger Ernest Rutherford Erwin Schrödinger

Six physicists are present in all the three lists: Newton, Einstein, Maxwell, Galilei, Bohr and Schrödinger. Four physicists appear twice: Dirac, Feynman, Faraday and Heisenberg. Planck, Rutherford, Kepler and Copernicus are found in a single list. Among the physicists of the 20th century, the number of theorists is overwhelmingly larger than that of experimentalist.

PhysicsWeb also gives the names that followed the top ten. Among those, the names not included in the other top ten lists either are: Ludwig Boltzmann, Enrico Fermi, Archimedes, Stephen Hawking, Lev Landau, J. J. Thomson, Marie Curie, Lord Rayleigh, Aristotle, Wolfgang Pauli, John Bardean, Edwin Hubble, Charles Townes and Abdus Salam.

In the ranking chosen by Simmons from all the fields of science, Schrödinger, 10th among physicists, is 18th, and Feynman comes at the 52nd. It is to be noted that all these lists are biased to the Western world, though it is true that there are not much candidates in the Eastern world.

Girls and boys, be ambitious to place your own name in such a list in the next century!
  1. Physics World, December issue (1999); cited by Physics News Update, No. 459 (1999).
  2. PhysicsWeb News, November issue (1999).
  3. J. Simmons, "The Scientific 100" (Carol Publishing Group, 1996).
Read essays related to Richard Feynman: "What Do I Care What Mr. Feynman Thinks?"