How to teach physics to your dog

There have been rough guides, books for dummies, even howtos for idiots, but Chad Orzel is probably the first to take explain an important corner of human endeavour solely to his dog in How to teach physics to your dog. Ironically, the subject on which he focuses, physics, is a realm usually the preserve of probabilistically ill-fated cats.

Nevertheless, Orzel uses humour and clarity to explain the ins and outs of black holes and quantum entanglement to his dog and along the way teaches us some of the fundamentals the vexed the greats, among them Bohr and Einstein.

Meanwhile, Sean Carroll takes us on a journey from Eternity to Here. This book offers a provocatively different view of time, that most elusive and fundamental of notions. Carroll points out that Einstein treated time as simply a fourth dimension in the universe a perpendicular component of spacetime. However, that assumption ignores the fact that unlike the x, y, z of space, t has a direction, heading from the Big Bang to now and into the future. Could that fact be explained by looking at what happened before the Big Bang?

Inventors and Inventions is a big book full of big ideas. It basically does what it says on the tin, in classic style. There are nice big pictures of fountain pen nibs, universal joints, lightbulbs, and band aids, all tied up with the context of their history and the lives of their inventors. In this age of Wikis and 140-character limits, it’s nice to know that someone can still produce a traditional non-fiction book of substance.

Also landing on the Sciencebase desk this month, one of those idiots books I mentioned earlier. This time it’s The complete idiot’s guide to phobias. As the name would suggest, this is a tour of an area of psychology of which many of us know a little, but few understand a lot (Psychologists aside, that is). The term phobia is too big an umbrella for a whole spectrum of mental conditions from the mild panic that some people suffer on seeing a truly harmless spider in the bath to the debilitating effects of anxiety disorders fixated on social interactions, say. Gregory Korgeski gives us a full-colour view of this spectrum.

Finally, here’s a title that will undoubtedly get the so-called intelligent design crowd What Darwin Got Wrong chomping at the bit and baying for evolutionary blood. But, it shouldn’t. This is not a book about god nor intelligent design (creationism), the authors assert. Instead, they claim to have found a fatal flaw in the science of Darwin’s approach to natural selection that should provide biology with a new perspective on evolution.

Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini suggest that the evidence does not point to evolution taking place through a single survival of the fittest mechanism, rather that there are countless biological causes that totally eradicate “intention” from biology and evolution. If the ID crowd were perturbed by Darwin, then they should be very scared of the new guys as they remove the last vestiges of metaphysical guidance from our creation. There are no gods, no mother nature, and no grand design.