Friday, February 3, 2012

Another Listening Weekend - From Physics Back to the Birds

I finally got a chance to see the movie version of Mark Obmascik's book about competitive birding.

I've wanted to see The Big Year, since I listened to an audio version of the book, last spring. The movie came out in theaters in October, but didn't make it to our area, so I had to put off seeing it until it released to DVD, this week.

I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by the movie. It has some language in it (less than the book), and a touch of sexual content (quite a bit less than most television programs), but other than that it's family friendly, with a pro-family, pro-marriage message strong enough to touch my Gen-X heart.

As far as the story goes, the facts have been changed, and shuffled around a bit, but the feel of the book is still there. It's less about the birds, and the birders than the book, and more about the balance between work, passion, and family, but in a way that will still be recognizable, and enjoyable to anyone who has read, and appreciated Obmascik's story. The fact that the book, and to a slightly lesser degree the movie, are based on a true story, makes them both so much the better.

After watching the DVD, I decided to download the audio version of the book from the library again, for this weekend.

It will be a welcome change from the heavy listening of last weekend, when I wandered into the world of modern theoretical physics, a place where science has crossed the line from experiment into mathematics driven philosophy.

Brian Greene is an American theoretical physicist, a proponent of string theory, and known as a popularizer of science. T (age 14) and I watched one of his TED presentations, and a NOVA episode dealing with one of his earlier books. He's fairly entertaining, and a clear speaker, so I thought I might be able to handle his introduction to the various theories of the multiverse, written for the layman - but I was wrong.

The book starts out strong, but bogs down quickly, and never picks back up again. I found myself confronted by science based in math, without any experimental evidence, and was alarmed to find that ideas such as multiple dimensions, in which everything that can happen, does happen somewhere (think Lt. Worf, in the "Parallels" episode from Star Trek TNG), or that we are all just part of a reflection or hologram of some reality somewhere else (sort of like the end of Star Trek TNG "Ship in a Bottle"), are actually being taught as possibilities inside science classrooms. Who knew Star Trek was really a physics primer?

I don't think Brian Greene would be all that surprised by feeling that this type of physics is counter intuitive to reality. In fact, I'm not alone in my thoughts, you can find them expressed, a good deal more eloquently, by Dr. Amir Aczel, in a conversation he had with Dr. Greene, about the book, last March, at the Boston Museum of Science.

I, or I should say we, because several of the children listened along too, had better luck with Michio Kaku's Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and our Daily Lives by the Year 2100. Basically, Kaku takes a look at where science is now, what's cutting edge, and in development, and then based on what's known to be possible within the laws of physics, draws a picture of what we might expect in the next 100 years.

He doesn't approach the subject with a great deal of imagination, and seems lacking in expertise when it comes to sociology and psychology. It should be noted too, that neither Brian Greene nor Michio Kaku are Christians, and so their books are full of a lot of Big Bang, cave man type evolutionary rhetoric.

I prefaced the books for the children with a quick look at Proverbs 16:9, Psalm 14:1, and I Corinthians 1:20.

All the same, it was fun to hear which of the gizmos and gadgets from our favorite science fiction stories might actually be on shelves soon. I'm sorry to say, it sounds like food replicators won't be available in my lifetime. But, glasses that let you look at the night sky, and see a map of the constellations overlaying the stars, might be possible.

As a follow-up to Greene and Kaku, I picked up Diane Swanson's Nibbling on Einstein's Brain: The Good the Bad & the Bogus in Science. After reading about multiple universes, and the possibility we might all just be images in some sort of cosmic computer program, it seemed appropriate.

The book itself, although for children, is a little dry. I've been reading it out loud to the children, a small bit at a time, at the dinner table. Some of the illustrations, like the one on the cover, are on the gross side, but once you get past those, you find a very good guide for telling the difference between the quacks and the scientists, media hype and real reporting, and those sorts of things that most of us have had to learn from experience, often at the expense of our pocket books.

Time, and hopefully experimental evidence, will tell to which category theoretical physics and the current theories of the multiverse belong. In the meantime, I'm happy to be heading back to the birds.

It's great to be a homeschooler.


Ticia said...

Have you ever read "The Physics behind Star Trek?"

It's interesting and puts theories and ideas to go with what they showed in the episodes.

Raising a Happy Child said...

Now I want to see the movie and listen to some of the books too. If only I could find that forever elusive thing - time!

sarah in the woods said...

I was just telling DH last night that I want to see the movie. I read the book and am a birder myself, so I'm glad to hear the movie is good too.

An Almost Unschooling Mom said...

Ticia - I'll add that to my list!

Raising a Happy Child - That's why they're audio books :)

Wonder Mom said...

I am waiting for the day in which I can say, "Beam me up, Scottie..." ;0)