The Equations: Icons of Knowledge

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Harvard University Press, 2005 - Science - 96 pages
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The mysteries of the physical world speak to us through equations--compact statements about the way nature works, expressed in nature's language, mathematics. In this book by the renowned Dutch physicist Sander Bais, the equations that govern our world unfold in all their formal grace--and their deeper meaning as core symbols of our civilization.

Trying to explain science without equations is like trying to explain art without illustrations. Consequently Bais has produced a book that, unlike any other aimed at nonscientists, delves into the details--historical, biographical, practical, philosophical, and mathematical--of seventeen equations that form the very basis of what we know of the universe today. A mathematical objet d'art in its own right, the book conveys the transcendent excitement and beauty of these icons of knowledge as they reveal and embody the fundamental truths of physical reality.

These are the seventeen equations that represent radical turning points in our understanding--from mechanics to electrodynamics, hydrodynamics to relativity, quantum mechanics to string theory--their meanings revealed through the careful and critical observation of patterns and motions in nature. Mercifully short on dry theoretical elaborations, the book presents these equations as they are--with the information about their variables, history, and applications that allows us to chart their critical function, and their crucial place, in the complex web of modern science.

Reading The Equations, we can hear nature speaking to us in its native language.

  

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Contents

Introduction
6
The tautological toolkit
11
Rise and fall The logistic equation
18
Mechanics and gravity Newtons dynamical equations and universal law of gravity
22
The electromagnetic force The Lorentz force
28
A local conservation law The continuity equation
32
Electrodynamics The Maxwell equations
34
Electromagnetic waves The wave equations
40
Hydrodynamics The NavierStokes equations
54
Special relativity Relativistic kinematics
58
General relativity The Einstein equations
64
Quantum mechanics The Schrodinger equation
70
The relativistic electron The Dirac equation
76
The strong force Quantum chromodynamics
80
Electroweak interactions TheGlashowWeinbergSalam model
84
String theory The superstring action
88

Solitary waves The KortewegDe Vries equation
42
Thermodynamics The three laws of thermodynamics
44
Kinetic theory The Boltzmann equation
50
Back to the future A final perspective
93
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About the author (2005)

Sander Bais is a theoretical physicist at the University of Amsterdam.

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