1/04/2011. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts
How To Destroy The Universe And 34 Other Really Interesting Uses Of Physics by Paul Parsons. pub: Quercus Popular Science. 223 page illustrated indexed mid-small hardback. Price: GBP 9.99. ISBN: 978-1-84916-479-5.
check out website: www.quercusbooks.co.uk
With a title like ‘How To Destroy The Universe And 34 Other Really Interesting Uses Of Physics’, you can see villainous people entering bookshops throwing their capes about them and twirling their moustaches if not petting their white fluffy cats as they prepare to become the masters of...well, wherever they chose to do so. The universe might be a little ambitious for the new villain on the block, so a third tiny planet on a little star system might be used as the starting point. However, the other ‘How To’s’ in this book might keep you too busy for such nefarious plans.
A lot of the science books I’ve been reviewing recently might have been intimidating to some of you who don’t have a mathematical bent. What makes this book, one of four I should hasten to add and I’ll be covering those in the next couple months, unique is that there’s nary a formula insight, let alone any maths for you to worry about. Each of the subjects covered addresses a particular problem, explains a bit about the physics of the problem and tells you what is required to get it done and how close we are to achieving it right now. Along the way, you get a little tuition in science in a friendly way you can absorb.
These subjects can be sub-divided into predicting, surviving, taking a trip, making and stopping things. Many of which, have a Science Fiction theme from space travel, talking to aliens, teleportation, force fields, creating life as well as little things like creating and destroying the universe. If you know what’s involved in doing such things, then if you ever apply them in your stories, this book is an asset in explaining what’s involved, history, the leading lights in the field and even a bit of jargon so you know what you’re writing about. Don’t think this is a book for youngsters, though. Although the age range isn’t revealed in the book, none of the info is written in a Janet & John style and definitely from astute mid-teen to adult. If you have sprogs younger than that, you might well have to explain things to them although you may not need a secret laboratory to do so.
Picking out tit-bits of information for this review is subject to personal taste. With earthquakes dominating the news, if you ever wondered how skyscrapers are designed to survive them or even hurricanes, then having a giant pendulum counter-balancing in the basement is the way to go. Just wish there was a photograph of it but really enlightening. If you want to know the requirements for getting into planetary orbit and getting up there, then that is also covered in a graphic way and why staged rockets have to be used for thrusting what ends up being a small payload into space. For those of you wandering around outside in a thunderstorm, it is better to get wet than stand under a tree because it may be your best chance to survive if you get hit by lightning. If you’re seeking anti-matter to boost your spaceship, then you should pay attention to gas giants like Jupiter whose magnetic field will do the most to gather any free anti-matter around although expect it to be an expensive operation.
I’m a little more concerned when it comes to quantum mechanics. Something that comes up in Paul Parsons’ book about the dual nature of matter being particle or light wave implies that it can be everywhere at once but I would have thought that there was a limit caused by the speed of light that would have gotten in the way of that. Likewise, with parallel universes and divergences of choice. I can see how matter might spread between the choices made in each reality but for each divergence there must be a greater movement and a lot of really divergent changes would mean each particle/wave would have further to go. As the multiple universe alternatives add up, there would have to be an upper limit of how many places these atoms can appear. Even inter-dimensionally, that’s a lot of potential collisions in the works. I was surprised there was some discussion about string theory and the means to explore other dimensions, especially as its still only theory. However, the same could also be said with making practical use of black holes and wormholes for space or even time travel although I did learn something about having a really large mass around the waist of the object or person would reduce your destruction down to a split-second.
If you do have world domination in mind, then being shown how to make an atomic bomb is indispensible although I suspect getting the materials would be problematic. I should point out that this chapter also explains the difference between fission and fusion which I do know confuses a lot of people. Far better is learning how to re-create your own big bang and create a new universe as you learn how ours was caused.
On a more positive note, using solar energy to power spaceships and the space station makes practical sense. Just a shame that it can’t be used effectively for propulsion but there’s a diminishing return the further you get from our sun.
Along more Science Fiction lines are examinations of how to go faster than light and time travel, not to mention teleportation where the book examines current thoughts and research on these subjects as well as sending and looking for alien life out in the cosmos. I did find it weird that black holes being able to jettison matter was covered more in how to make energy from nothing than under its own chapter though.
Creating a force field is getting closer to reality, mostly because it would be economic way to defect solar radiation amongst others in space which is dangerous to organic life. It’s one of the things you might have to consider once you’ve conquered the world and seeking out new planets to conquer.
An interesting topical discussion is how to predict stockmarket trends. Like a lot of you, I find a lot of it is money manipulation but I did come away with an understanding of what ‘options’ was about in terms of predicting what share prices would be on a particular date for a price you pay to take them over. If they’re worth more then it’s possible to sell at a profit. If not, then you lose money. Not that I would rush out and do such activity but this as with other stockmarket stuff is based on statistics and this is probably the nearest you get to maths in this book gave some insight I never had before.
Whether the chapter on mind reading would help in such work is debatable. The MRI scans shows that brain activity goes up when you’re lying but I doubt if it can tell just what you’re lying about. However, the understanding of brain activity is what is being used to allow an Epoc mindset gadget to allow thought manipulation.
I should point out that this is only a tiny bit of what I’ve discovered from this book and I’m scientifically fluent and glossed over what I know already for the review. If you want to come away with a lot more practical knowledge than you will find this book a real asset and I give this book a hearty recommendation. You don’t even have want to rule the world. Put the cat down by your chair and read and digest. Great stuff.
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