First Principles: A Layman’s Review

Or should that be layperson?

Well, a non-physicist certainly since my grade 13 physics class is something that is now probably taught to 10-year olds.

I picked up this book at Lillian H. Smith because the front cover grabbed me and because they had conveniently displayed it between the holds and checkout sections.

Hmmm, shelf placement- even in a library- works.

I’m a closet science egghead (not so closet depending who you ask) but I wasn’t expecting it to be about the theoretical physics institute started by Mike Lazaridis of RIM fame. My first thought was, oh, Canadian. That was when I noticed the maple leaf on the spine.

I am a proud if somewhat disgruntled Canadian but I wasn’t in the mood for a local boy overcomes obstacles to do good kind of mood. My initial reservations aside, I am glad I ploughed through because it was a fascinating read.

One of the hallmarks of a good read for me is the list of books I want to read when I finish. That is, how inspired am I to learn more about the subject at hand or how eager am I to delve into the books that influence the writer. The list from First Principles is not excessively extensive but very dense.

It was fascinating to read how he started his journey (his plea to be “saved” from a lucrative career in finance), meeting the legends in the physics community, the successes (doing something that makes a “difference”) and then a somewhat ignominious end to his tenure as the director of the institute.

I am about five minutes into The Science of Liberty by Timothy Ferris and the opening chapter reminded me of a passage that stuck me as particularly passionate in its defense of science and what science can do:

“… I am sincerely convinced that if we are to successfully defend our society from the likes of religious fundamentalists and suicide bombers, we must clearly and forcibly articulate our allegiance to Enlightenment principles of scientific rationalism and liberal tolerance that separate us from the abyss of fanaticism and irrationality.

And because if we are to ultimately progress as a civilization, if we are ever going to wean ourselves from burning muck from the ground to power our air conditioners, if we are ever going to feed the world and cure our diseases, it is going to happen through science.”

One can’t help but be charmed by Burton and this grand adventure that he stumbled into and not that this speaks in any way to whether one should or should not read the book but Burton is someone you would want to have drinks with- and not just to get the real dirt on what may or may not have happened during (and after) his involvement with the Perimeter Institute.

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~ by angryegg on December 28, 2010.

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