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A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down (Anglais) Broché – 28 février 2006


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Présentation de l'éditeur

In this age of superstring theories and Big Bang cosmology, we're used to thinking of the unknown as impossibly distant from our everyday lives. But in A Different Universe, Nobel Laureate Robert Laughlin argues that the scientific frontier is right under our fingers. Instead of looking for ultimate theories, Laughlin considers the world of emergent properties-meaning the properties, such as the hardness and shape of a crystal, that result from the organization of large numbers of atoms. Laughlin shows us how the most fundamental laws of physics are in fact emergent. A Different Universe is a truly mind-bending book that shows us why everything we think about fundamental physical laws needs to change.

Biographie de l'auteur

Robert Laughlin is the Robert M. and Anne Bass Professor of Physics at Stanford University, where he has taught since 1985. In 1998 he shared the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on the fractional quantum Hall effect. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. He lives in Palo Alto, California.


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Détails sur le produit

  • Broché: 272 pages
  • Editeur : Basic Books; Édition : New Ed (6 avril 2006)
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ISBN-10: 0465038298
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465038299
  • Dimensions du produit: 15,2 x 1,6 x 22,9 cm
  • Moyenne des commentaires client : 4.0 étoiles sur 5  Voir tous les commentaires (1 commentaire client)
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Par emi83170 le 5 septembre 2009
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
Interesting book although Laughlin's humor is not always at the right place. In any case he succeedes in sensitising the reader that it's time to think differently about the so-called "laws" of physics upon which all of our reality theories are founded. There is a patient in the emergency room: our present world view is about to collapse.
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67 internautes sur 76 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
An important voice emerges! 5 juillet 2005
Par C. Bill Jones - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
Anyone interested in the direction of physical science should read this book. Laughlin opens his heart in an attempt to open the minds of his target audience: students and the laity. Unhampered by `professional correctness', the Nobel Prize-winning physicist lobs a stream of barbed-wit grenades at the dogmas of 20th-century physics. This book may irritate readers who believe that quantum field theory or multidimensional descendents of string theory are on the threshold of providing a `Theory of Everything'. Conversely, it will reward readers who are interested in the conceptual advances of the last few decades that are both testable and important to 21st-century technology. Laughlin's writing style is straightforward, laced with personal insight and a delightful humor; "A Different Universe" is fun to read.

Laughlin's major thesis is that `Reductionism', the highly successful paradigm of 20th-century physics, is approaching the end of its usefulness. Exact, highly reproducible experimental results have led to a dichotomy: the reductionist view - we can learn sufficient detail about the primitive physical parts to theoretically deduce the experimental result; or the emergentist view - there is a principle of physical organization, which is rarely deducible from lower-level components, that causes the collective effect. Only the latter view is practical now. Laughlin states in the final paragraph, "We live not at the end of discovery but at the end of Reductionism, a time in which the false ideology of human mastery of all things through microscopics is being swept away by events and reason." This opinion is not inconsistent with his statement in the preface, "I do not wish to impugn reductionism so much as establish its proper place in the grand scheme of things." Individual reductionist techniques and methodologies may continue to be useful, but the once dominant ideology of Reductionism is decreasingly productive. Laughlin does not belabor arguing this point; he simply provides the reader with sufficient evidence to reach the same conclusion.

Physicists, including die-hard reductionists, have realized for decades that some physical laws are emergent and that it is difficult, if not impossible, to deduce higher laws from lower-level fundamental truths. Laughlin suggests that all known physical law may have collective origins based upon organizational principles that are sensitive to differences in scale. Drawing from recent history and personal experience, he describes discoveries in physics that support this view: the importance of physical phase transitions; the conceptual difficulties overcome by John Bardeen, Leon N. Cooper, and Robert J. Schrieffer to establish their theory of superconductivity; von Klitzing's "water-shed event", the discovery of the quantum Hall effect; and the work for which Laughlin, Dan Tsui and Horst Stormer shared their Nobel prize. Assessing the latter, Laughlin states, "The fractional quantum Hall effect reveals that ostensibly indivisible quanta-in this case the electron charge 'e'-can be broken into pieces through self-organization of phases. The fundamental things, in other words, are not necessarily fundamental."

Laughlin explains the notion of `protection' (his preferred lay-friendly term), by which nature, through organizational phenomena insensitive to extraneous destabilizing influence, allows the emergence of stable structures and unexpectedly exact experimental results. Physical laws do not govern nature; nature defines the laws. Unfortunately, nature's protection has a dark side: it obscures ultimate causes.

Laughlin satirizes many of the fables and fantasies of modern physicists. He offers two "Dark Corollaries" to the notion of protection: (1) the Deceitful Turkey - when unstable protection misleads us into believing we have found fundamental laws, when we actually have not; and (2) the Barrier of Relevance - even when we luckily find true mathematical descriptions of an unstable phenomenon, the relevant mistakes introduced by successive approximations can lead to gross errors. Not only are these corollaries instructive, they provide students conceptual grenades with which to fight dogma in the future. Laughlin's comments on string theory provide an example: "String theory is immensely fun to think about ... It has no practical utility other than sustaining the myth of the ultimate theory. ...String theory, in fact, is a textbook case of a Deceitful Turkey." His example of the second Dark Corollary is also instructive: theories of the first few picoseconds of the big bang have crossed the Barrier of Relevance; they are inherently unfalsifiable. Laughlin is not preaching new dogma; on the contrary, he cherishes students who are willing to rebel against institutionalized thought. He only asks students to be accountable' to the physical evidence and reason.

This wonderful book does have flaws. While there are great references, many are in professional journals that are not readily available to the laity, and references on the internet are often transient. The editors did not smooth some of the clumsy language or verify the internet references (e.g., "merkeley" instead of "berkeley"). These errors do not affect the book's true value; Laughlin's message is so strong that it enjoys `protection' from flaws in its presentation.

I found a strong contrast between Laughlin's "A Different Universe" and Steven Weinberg's "Dreams of Final Theory". Weinberg's book was basically an argument for additional funding of the Superconducting Super-Collider (SSC) and for the importance of the Reductionist agenda. His arguments failed. After reading Weinberg's book, I could no longer support funding of the SSC and began to doubt the reductionist approach's practicality. Laughlin's book renewed my faith in the future of physics. Members of Congress and others who evaluate the various `fund-us' dances by scientists during budget approvals should read this book. All serious science students, teachers, writers, and editors should read this book and digest it thoroughly.
41 internautes sur 45 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
A Very Funny Book... 14 janvier 2008
Par Reviewer - Publié sur Amazon.com
Achat vérifié
... and deliberately provocative, as several other reviewers failed to realize. If I were a good deal younger, I'd describe Prof. Laughlin's humor as "snarky", but since that adjective isn't yet in my vocabulary I'll have to go with "sm*rt-*ssed". It's perhaps a sort of humor that tickles the funny-bones of science nerds most, rather like 'viola jokes' amongst us musicians, and the anecdotes almost certainly offend those readers who find they are the butts of Laughlin's humor. He is unrepentantly scornful of those he perceives as fools. But how can you resist his description of String Theory: "a textbook case of a Deceitful Turkey, a beautiful set of ideas that will always remain just out of reach. Far from a wonderful technological hope for tomorrow, it is instead the tragic consequence of an obsolete belief system..." Yeah! I happen to think of String Theory, if I have to, as Sudoku for Metaphysicians.

The unifying theme of A Different Universe is that physical sciences have "stepped firmly out of the age of reductionism into the age of emergence." I won't attempt to parse that statement; it would be like giving away the end of a suspense novel.

There are also moments of homiletic wisdom to be found, sauced with humor. In his chapter about nuclear science vs. applied nuclear engineering (think Hiroshima), Laughlin writes: "... self deception has consequences. Most of the time the effect is not as dire as warfare, but simply a degradation of the quality of life. These degradations include such happy institutions as road rage, divorce court, and excessively long faculty meetings." Make of that sermon what you will! It's not unamusing to find a Nobel-winning tenured professor at Stanford still picturing himself as Peck's Bad Boy or James Dean.

Geneticists should be warned that Laughlin is particularly harsh about their methodologies, even though he grudgingly admits that his kind of physics is a good deal more like biology than like the physics of yesteryear. Antone who has invested her/his retirement funds in nanotechnology will also have reason to cringe; Laughlin regards nanotubes as microcosmic black holes that swallow research money and never release it.

Proponents of "Intelligent Design" should be VERY careful not to leap to any assumption that Laughlin's ideas of emergent self-organization might support their beliefs. Quite the opposite: his Emergence utterly dispenses with any need, philosophical or scientific, for a Designer.

Much of what Prof. Laughlin writes, and writes about, will be cutting-edge difficult for many readers, but those readers will be hard-pressed to find a more engaging and comprehensible account of quantum mechanics, indeterminacy, the Standard Model, and other such items of bedtime reading than A Different Universe. Buy it for the jokes, and you may stay for the insights.
108 internautes sur 126 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
He's a physicist, not a writer 9 mai 2005
Par Geoffrey Engelstein - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
Unfortunately, A Different Universe has some fascinating ideas that are undermined by poor writing. Mr. McLaughlin's ideas about emergence vs reductionism are very thought-provoking and I think worthy of an extended essay or article, but he has problems enlarging them to book length, slim as this book is. This book is in desperate need of a good editor. Anecdotes that are intended to buttress his arguments have little or no relevence, and many comparisons to the everyday are way too verbose -- we get the point after one or two sentences, he carries on for ten or twelve.

It also seems like the book runs out of steam on its main argument, and the last several chapters feel tacked on and unnecessary.

I think the ideas presented in this book are important, and you may wish to read (or skim) this book to absorb them. Just be prepared to overlook the presentation.
14 internautes sur 17 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
An important view, poorly delivered 14 août 2010
Par J. Martin - Publié sur Amazon.com
A Different Universe is a condensed matter physicist's answer to the stack of popular works high energy physicists have been writing since the 1990s promising us that once they get to that final theory just over the horizon, the rest is chemistry. These books are notorious for their arrogance, condescension, and bluster. It is valuable to have the other perspective available in an accessible form. It turns out, however, that arrogance, condescension, and bluster are no more palatable coming from a condensed matter physicist than they are coming from a high energy physicist.

Laughlin's argument is essentially the same as the one Phil Anderson made in an article entitled "More Is Different" (Science 177 (1972): 393-396). Namely, he believes that fundamental physical insight can occur at any level of complexity, and that the laws governing higher-level phenomena are compatible with, but not predictable from, the laws governing lower-level phenomena. This debate between reduction and emergence has crucial relevance for how science is structured in a society that spends buckets of money on it. Laughlin's argument deserves a broad hearing, so it is disappointing that this expression of it is so inarticulate.

I'm rating this book poorly, not because I disagree with the point it makes, but because, by conforming to the same pattern established by reductionist treatises, it does little to advance that view. By expressing himself just as dogmatically as his opponents do, Laughlin does his argument a disservice.

My other complaint is that Laughlin frequently lapses into anecdotes and parables to explain his points, many of which obfuscate, rather than clarify. Physicists conform to exacting standards of scholarship in their scientific publications, so it is disappointing when they approach a popular work with the perspective that they can discard standards entirely and just shoot from the hip. If Laughlin really believes he has an important point to make, he should not be so cavalier in the way he argues for it. Rather than being scrupulous in getting his point across, Laughlin more frequently opts to deliver cheap shots through cute stories which do little to illustrate subtle arguments.

Despite its flaws, however, this book is still worth reading for anyone interested in debates over the direction the physical sciences should be taking. Nothing better has been written for a popular audience expressing this perspective, and if the reader is willing to be critical, and forgive Laughlin his frequent indulgences, she will get a view of scientific inquiry that is not often presented to a non-academic community.
14 internautes sur 17 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Emergence: the True Source of Physical Laws 8 juin 2005
Par Steve - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié Achat vérifié
The book is an extended essay stressing the role of emergent organization laws in nature generally and in physics in particular (where we assume reductionist approaches have had their greatest success). Laughlin argues (compellingly I thought) that the world is constituted by a hierarchy of physical principles of organization, which often cannot be derived from principles governing the parts, and which furthermore are sometimes insensitive to compositional detail. Laughlin presents examples starting with phase organization of materials, from the more mundane (water) to the exotic (involving superfluidity and superconductivity). He then goes on to argue, more controversially, that systems of physical description up to and including relativity are descriptions of collective or emergent organizational principles. Emergence is not just about biology, social sciences and the weather, it's about physics.

The downside for me is that I found the book a bit annoying to read. I was put off by the many digressions and modestly amusing anecdotes and also some poor analogies (all meant to increase accessibility to the lay audience, I guess). Still recommended for those with interest in the topic.
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