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My new book's reference frames

The author, Lisa Randall (see also Twitter), is a professor of physics at Harvard

Knocking on Heaven’s Door: How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World is out and I’m excited. Lubos asked me to write a guest blog, so I am doing just that.

Of course I’m hoping that you will like this book, which is about physics and the nature of science. It’s based in large part on questions I was given or misunderstandings people expressed when I was talking about the science in my previous book Warped Passages.

In this new book I try to weave in two strands of thinking. One is about the physics itself that I work on—currently the ideas being tested at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and at dark matter detectors. I present in detail the experiments as well as the theory that underlies them.




I also explain how we go about thinking about our ideas, and to some extent the difference between how a string theorist like Lubos might approach problems versus a model builder like myself. We are after the same answers to some extent but my approach will be more bottom-up—building on data and unanswered questions using theoretical ideas that could possibly address them. And of course model builders also think hard about how experiments could test those ideas.

Knocking on Heaven’s Door begins with some key ideas in scientific thought. One of the most important is the notion of scale, and how physicists especially categorize their ideas and even the objects they describe in terms of scale. It is the most efficient way to work, and it lets us build up knowledge over time as we gain further insight into fundamental structure.

I also talk about how the scientific method works and was developed in the time of Galileo, and venture briefly into religion versus science. I don’t do that casually (though the sections are short). I do it to clarify in further detail what scientists are after, what science explains, and once again the way scale is critical to how we understand this. I try to be as objective as possible.

Most of the reviews so far have been rather positive, which is a huge relief. I put a great deal of work into trying to organize and integrate many different ideas, yet present them all clearly. I felt strongly that it was important to put the entire story together. This necessarily involved pruning and trying to focus on the essence of key concepts, and trying to write both enjoyably and understandably.

I realize there is a risk involved in writing in this more comprehensive manner. Some people might be more interested in the nature of science and less in details about the LHC and some more interested in current physics and not so much in these background ideas. That’s OK. I of course think of the book as an integrated whole—it is—I worked very hard at that. But no one is required to read parts that are not of interest to them. If anyone reads one part or the other, I’m still happy if they like it and get something out of it.

In a couple of reviews, the reviewers just don’t get this. Either they don’t care about physics details and think all the physics should have been presented in a simpler manner or they think the LHC section is great but wonder why I present all this other stuff. Those reviewers should understand that not all readers are like them. Reading, like physics, depends very much on your reference frame. People have different backgrounds and different interests. I so appreciate the reviewers who really get it. Fortunately for me, the Kirkus review—an advanced review that is more for the book industry and appears before print journal reviews—was very positive and noted the work and care that went into making this book. It is an incredibly nice thing to have in the back of my mind when embarking now on my book tour.

I expect that as readers of Lubos’ blog, you will enjoy the physics sections. I’m hoping you’ll like the other parts but if you don’t keep reading. There’s a lot in this book for you too!



LM: The links beneath the word "Knocking" point to the hardcover edition. A $15 Kindle version is also available at amazon.com (click).



LM: You may also see Lisa Randall's analogous blog entry written for Cosmic Variance.



LM: The 27-minute interview with Charlie Rose recorded last Friday is available now, too: click at the link in this sentence and then on Lisa's picture.



LM: I didn't want to spoil the guest blog entry by talkative forewords and I don't even want to add a talkative summary. But of course, Lisa has been a friend at Harvard (in an office right next to mine). More importantly, she's a top physicist, famous for hundreds of papers including her or their Randall+Sundrum model of warped extra dimensions (RS1, RS2). In a recent 5-year period, she's been the most cited particle physicist in the world – just to be sure, I mean both among female and male physicists. ;-)

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reader B Yen said...

Hi, It's "jumplive" from Twitter. Dr Kate Hutton/Caltech (iconic Geophysics outreach figure, PhD Astronomy/U. of Maryland) told me in 2008 she read your "Warped Passages" book. She would be a good person to get some feedback on your book's comprehensive 2-prong strategy: LHC & background Physics (+ scientific method). In the 1st video interviews I did with her:

http://spaceoutreach.blogspot.com

she mentions you, your book, LHC Outreach videos. (the 2nd video mentions Tech mediums, & Content/Distribution models). She knows Dr Mike Brown/Caltech (rising star, minor planet discoverer, has an Outreach book "How I killed Pluto"), who spent his 6 month sabbatical doing an Outreach book tour for. You should look them up on your next Caltech visit, & network: share info Re: Outreach efforts.


reader B Yen said...

I've been involved with STEM Outreach since 2006 (SUSY '06 & Strings '07)

http://strings07.blogspot.com
[ your talk is on there & on iTunes, search on iTunes "lisa randall" will bring it up ]

& worked with their organizers (string theorist Dr P. Meessen & Dr. Jon Feng/UCI). That's how I got in touch with Lubos Motl, he gave me some background info on ST (phone call to his Harvard office), before I let for SUSY '06. Dr Meessen & I actually got as far as getting a response from Apple, to do a feature article on how iTunes (video-podcasting) is changing the way Physics conferences are doing Outreach (the public) & distributing video (the attendees). I never followed up on it, but now is a good time. See below.

Your Outreach tour (physical convergence point, NYC/Washington DC/Boston) needs to be complemented with a Tech based distribution method (e.g. iTunes), so people can review your talk (or those who couldn't attend). You need to ask your hosts if video-taping is done. Better yet, get Harvard (or your book publisher) to hire a videographer/photographer to get your Outreach "content" (pics, videos, panoramas) over the Tech mediums: iTunes, Flickr (photo), xx (panoramas). I.e., an electronic archive of your Outreach tour. Would save a LOT on travel $$/time, although it can't replace *physical meeting* the scientist. Your Harvard website only lists appearances (sometimes w/links), it needs to be upgraded with Multimedia links. Probably a separate "Lisa Randall" iTunes video-podcast

Sean Carroll is talking tomorrow at SMC (Santa Monica College) on the "Arrow of Time", I might be able to video-tape it & get it on iTunes (using above URL). WSF (World Science Festival, based on a *physical* convergence strategy) is looking for a Tech person for its "digital footprint". It took them (Brian Greene) long enough to do this!! (their initial media approach was using MSM/Mainstream Media, e.g. ABC TV) You need to do this as well: "digital footprint". Lubos recently got an iTouch, so this way both of you can coordinate your efforts via blog & iTunes video-podcast (360x180 panoramas & pictures can also be played on the iTouch/iPad/iPhone). Basically, your 2nd book should have a "Lisa Randall Web 2.0" digital footprint.

[ cont'd ]


reader B Yen said...

"It's SCATTERED"
-- Dr. Jon Doyle/Caltech, Nonlinear Control/Dynamics
[ there is no central point for a summary of his field: it's scattered among texts, papers, books ]

STEM Outreach is also "scattered", some are using books, some use TV (mainstream media), some complement with a "digital footprint", etc. There should be a MAIN portal (website, or iTunes U), which is an umbrella for all STEM Outreach efforts, categorized by field. Or, scientist. This is the concept behind "video aggregators" (AOL, Google, etc), where you can find an index by subject (e.g., Physics), by author (e.g. Lisa Randall) videos at a portal. This suggests a Cooperative/Collaborative effort between yourself & other scientists, e.g. Lubos Motl. Drive traffic there, get advertising revenue (in the end, it has to be monetized), see STEM flourish, save this country (Emerging Economy is dependent on Science/Tech talent). Apple is the perfect example of a successful American Tech business (OUTRAGEOUS profits due to the iMac/iPod/iPhone/iTouch/iPad "new market" products): "Designed by Apple in California, made in China". With your stature, you should be able to get FUNDED for such an effort. NSF funds such things. Lubos Motl is sitting on a "gold mine", the Sheldon Cooper character on TTBT (The Big Bang Theory) is based on him ("colorful character")..he just got a 2nd Emmy Award.

"A writing teacher once told me, "A character doesn't have to be likeable. He (or she) has to be *interesting*." Been thinking about that."
-- Justine Musk, Dec 11 tweet


Lubos certainly has the *interesting* feature, I think you & Lubos could make an *interesting* duo. Get Justine to write a fictional novel ("Science Fiction") to complement your non-fiction books. Justine has got some good ideas on "digital footprint" (see her 2 blogs). Lubos has some "entertainment" Tom&Jerry videos on Youtube, he is a closet comedian.

Need to think about Content/Distribution model for your work/Outreach.

Me: "How do you make $$ in photography?"
Art: "human-interest photos"

"Physics in high-school, was INCREDIBLY BORING"
-- M. Gell-Mann, "From Student to Scientist"/PBS program

You will recall that the successful Harvard Project Physics curriculum (which I used) was a "humanistic" approach to teaching Physics, complementing the dry Physics with scientist personalities & history. R. Feynman wrote a contribution.

It's pretty clear, given the TBBT/Sheldon Cooper raging success (14 million viewers per week, 2nd most watched SITCOM in America). Add a "humanistic" component to your Outreach effort, & push it over Web 2.0 ("digital footprint"). Your sporty hobby of rock climbing has appeal, given the lazy/couch-potato mentality of avg American. That science program you were on, where you were rock climbing was good ("I like to solve problems"). You need a "comedian/colorful character" like Lubos, to complete the package. Recall that Laurel & Hardy & Three Stooges (Larry/Moe/Curly) were 2-man & 3-man teams. Haha. Lisa & Lubos ("la la land"), the breakthrough "Physics Comedy" duo, a defining moment in Physics Web 2.0 history.

From 2010 CES/Consumer Electronics Show:
Me: How to do STEM Outreach on TV?
Hollywood dude: MAKE IT FUNNY

At 1st, I thought it was dumb. But, in reality, it is genius. The avg American is intellectually challenged, so the appeal is thru ENTERTAINMENT. I can't wait to see the "Lisa & Lubos" Comedy+Physics show over Digital TV (Google TV, Boxee, Roku, TIVO, etc). A twist on "Bill Nye The Science Guy" (who recently was appointed Executive Director of The Planetary Society, co-founded by Carl Sagan)


reader ThePeSla said...

Great you have this guest interview Lubos.

Ahh, how rare it is to see brilliance and beauty at the same time!

I will eventually order these. Thanks for the heads up.

The PeSla