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. ;-)