Friday, July 14, 2006

Reading: A short history of nearly everything.

Currently Reading A Short History Of Nearly Everything. It's an Interesting book being a short scientific history of the world. Looking at how the universe came into existence, the development of modern sciences and so forth. It does it in quite an interesting way. Looking at the important both well know and not so well know figures in each area it looks at. Covering the history of science by looking at each person involved and what they did in sometimes what is quite an amusing manner.

So far it's covered the Big Bang, the formation of the earth, the rise of modern physical sciences, the rise of Quantum physic. Skimming on it's still got a very large section on the rise of life and the rise of humans which should be interesting.

Any way if your looking for an interesting bit of reading I'd certainly recommend the book it's by Bill Bryson.

Here's a couple of amusing quotes from a number of different sections of the book which give a decent feel for the way it's written.

Smith’s revelation regarding strata heightened the moral awkwardness concerning extinctions. To begin with, it confirmed that God had wiped out creatures not occasionally but repeatedly. This made Him seem not so much careless as peculiarly hostile. It also made it inconveniently necessary to explain how some species were wiped out while others continued unimpeded into succeeding eons. Clearly there was more to extinctions than could be accounted for by a single Noachian deluge, as the Biblical flood was known. Cuvier resolved the matter to his own satisfaction by suggesting that Genesis applied only to the most recent inundation. God, it appeared, hadn’t wished to distract or alarm Moses with news of earlier, irrelevant extinctions.

Before Owen, museums were designed primarily for the use and edification of the elite, and even then it was difficult to gain access. In the early days of the British Museum, prospective visitors had to make a written application and undergo a brief interview to determine if they were fit to be admitted at all. They then had to return a second time to pick up a ticket—that is assuming they had passed the interview—and finally come back a third time to view the museum’s treasures.

Scheele’s one notable shortcoming was a curious insistence on tasting a little of everything he worked with, including such notoriously disagreeable substances as mercury, prussic acid (another of his discoveries), and hydrocyanic acid—a compound so famously poisonous that 150 years later Erwin Schrödinger chose it as his toxin of choice in a famous thought experiment (see page 146). Scheele’s rashness eventually caught up with him. In 1786, aged just forty-three, he was found dead at his workbench surrounded by an array of toxic chemicals, any one of which could have accounted for the stunned and terminal look on his face.

It is still a fairly astounding notion to consider that atoms are mostly empty space, and that the solidity we experience all around us is an illusion. When two objects come together in the real world—billiard balls are most often used for illustration—they don’t actually strike each other. “Rather,” as Timothy Ferris explains, “the negatively charged fields of the two balls repel each other . . . were it not for their electrical charges they could, like galaxies, pass right through each other unscathed.” When you sit in a chair, you are not actually sitting there, but levitating above it at a height of one angstrom (a hundred millionth of a centimeter), your electrons and its electrons implacably opposed to any closer intimacy.

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