I wrote two weeks ago about starting Jim Baggott’s The Quantum Story: A History in 40 Moments, and again a week ago with a minor complaint and further thoughts about the book. As I continued reading (finishing Thursday evening), I found a great deal of interest and regretted some of my less than enthusiastic comments. The philosophical issues raised by quantum mechanics, treated early in the book in detailed discussions of Bohr’s complementarity principle and the Bohr-Einstein debates, return through Baggott’s treatment of the experimental work performed a few decades later on entanglement and related matters. Another strength is his description of the standard model of physics (explaining all the elementary particles and uniting the electroweak and strong forces), which emerges lucidly over the course of several chapters. The closing chapters treat approaches to quantum gravity: superstring theory and loops. Plus, there’s a diagram, adapted from a book by Roger Penrose, that I found especially enlightening, illustrating the three extensions one can attempt to perform to a theory of physics by gravitizing, relativizing, or quantizing it. Newton, for example, gravitated naive Galilean physics and Einstein relativized it. Gravitizing and relativizing yields general relativity. And so on.
Baggott’s story ends with the still-ongoing search for the Higgs boson, the standard model’s lone missing particle, which is introduced about halfway through the book as a possible explanation for particles’ having mass. Just last week, word came from Fermilab that it may have been observed, as it also may have been at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva.
However, what prompted this post is not my finishing of Baggott’s book or the news that the Higgs boson may have been seen at long last. Rather, it’s the use the brilliant Ted Rall made of the Higgs boson in his cartoon today, which you can see above. Rall explains:
Scientists claim to have finally isolated the long-hypothesized Higgs Boson, a particular responsible for endowing other elementary particles with mass. Which gives us an opportunity to, as many editorial cartoonists do, blend two completely unrelated news stories into an awkward cartoon about contemporary politics.
(By the way, please visit Rall’s site. I feel guilty about embedding his cartoon in this post, as he should get credit via page views. You should head over there, check out his other cartoons, maybe click on his donation link — which I tried to do this morning, but something went wrong in my effort to donate. I’ll try again.)
I can’t resist posting Tom Tomorrow’s new cartoon (above) at Daily Kos as a follow up to my post last night on Eric Holder’s speech at Northwestern a week ago. In my post, I quoted from Scott Horton’s analysis of the speech , including comments on Holder’s use of the word ‘assassination’. Since assassinations are illegal, and the whole point of Holder’s speech was to explain why US actions are legal, he took care to point out that when the US assassinates people, we call it something else.
Haven’t we been through this before, with a president who explained that since torture is illegal and what the US does is legal, it therefore follows that when we torture people, we call it something else? And didn’t Obama and Holder object to this behavior?