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Brilliant Blunders

by Mario Livio

Drawing on the lives of five renowned scientists, Mario Livio shows how even these geniuses made major mistakes and how their errors were an essential part of the process of achieving scientific breakthroughs.We all make mistakes. Nobody is perfect. And that includes five of the greatest scientists in history--Charles Darwin, William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), Linus Pauling, Fred Hoyle, and Albert Einstein. But the mistakes that these great luminaries made helped advance science. Indeed, as Mario Livio explains, science thrives on error, advancing when erroneous ideas are disproven. As a young scientist, Einstein tried to conceive of a way to describe the evolution of the universe at large, based on General Relativity--his theory of space, time, and gravity. Unfortunately he fell victim to a misguided notion of aesthetic simplicity. Fred Hoyle was an eminent astrophysicist who ridiculed an emerging theory about the origin of the universe that he dismissively called "The Big Bang." The name stuck, but Hoyle was dead wrong in his opposition. They, along with Darwin (a blunder in his theory of Natural Selection), Kelvin (a blunder in his calculation of the age of the earth), and Pauling (a blunder in his model for the structure of the DNA molecule), were brilliant men and fascinating human beings. Their blunders were a necessary part of the scientific process. Collectively they helped to dramatically further our knowledge of the evolution of life, the Earth, and the universe.

The Equation That Couldn't Be Solved: How Mathematical Genius Discovered the Language of Symmetry

by Mario Livio

What do the music of J. S. Bach, the basic forces of nature, Rubik's Cube, and the selection of mates have in common? They are all characterized by certain symmetries. Symmetry is the concept that bridges the gap between science and art, between the world of theoretical physics and the everyday world we see around us. Yet the "language" of symmetry--group theory in mathematics--emerged from a most unlikely source: an equation that couldn't be solved. Over the millennia, mathematicians solved progressively more difficult algebraic equations until they came to what is known as the quintic equation. For several centuries it resisted solution, until two mathematical prodigies independently discovered that it could not be solved by the usual methods, thereby opening the door to group theory. These young geniuses, a Norwegian named Niels Henrik Abel and a Frenchman named Evariste Galois, both died tragically. Galois, in fact, spent the night before his fatal duel (at the age of twenty) scribbling another brief summary of his proof, at one point writing in the margin of his notebook "I have no time." The story of the equation that couldn't be solved is a story of brilliant mathematicians and a fascinating account of how mathematics illuminates a wide variety of disciplines. In this lively, engaging book, Mario Livio shows in an easily accessible way how group theory explains the symmetry and order of both the natural and the human-made worlds.

The Golden Ratio

by Mario Livio

Throughout history, thinkers from mathematicians to theologians have pondered the mysterious relationship between numbers and the nature of reality. In this fascinating book, Mario Livio tells the tale of a number at the heart of that mystery: phi, or 1.6180339887...This curious mathematical relationship, widely known as "The Golden Ratio," was discovered by Euclid more than two thousand years ago because of its crucial role in the construction of the pentagram, to which magical properties had been attributed. Since then it has shown a propensity to appear in the most astonishing variety of places, from mollusk shells, sunflower florets, and rose petals to the shape of the galaxy. Psychological studies have investigated whether the Golden Ratio is the most aesthetically pleasing proportion extant, and it has been asserted that the creators of the Pyramids and the Parthenon employed it. It is believed to feature in works of art from Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa to Salvador Dali's The Sacrament of the Last Supper, and poets and composers have used it in their works. It has even been found to be connected to the behavior of the stock market!The Golden Ratio is a captivating journey through art and architecture, botany and biology, physics and mathematics. It tells the human story of numerous phi-fixated individuals, including the followers of Pythagoras who believed that this proportion revealed the hand of God; astronomer Johannes Kepler, who saw phi as the greatest treasure of geometry; such Renaissance thinkers as mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci of Pisa; and such masters of the modern world as Goethe, Cezanne, Bartok, and physicist Roger Penrose. Wherever his quest for the meaning of phi takes him, Mario Livio reveals the world as a place where order, beauty, and eternal mystery will always coexist.From the Hardcover edition.

Is God a Mathematician?

by Mario Livio

Nobel Laureate Eugene Wigner once wondered about "the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics" in the formulation of the laws of nature. Is God a Mathematician? investigates why mathematics is as powerful as it is. From ancient times to the present, scientists and philosophers have marveled at how such a seemingly abstract discipline could so perfectly explain the natural world. More than that -- mathematics has often made predictions, for example, about subatomic particles or cosmic phenomena that were unknown at the time, but later were proven to be true. Is mathematics ultimately invented or discovered? If, as Einstein insisted, mathematics is "a product of human thought that is independent of experience," how can it so accurately describe and even predict the world around us? Mathematicians themselves often insist that their work has no practical effect. The British mathematician G. H. Hardy went so far as to describe his own work this way: "No discovery of mine has made, or is likely to make, directly or indirectly, for good or ill, the least difference to the amenity of the world." He was wrong. The Hardy-Weinberg law allows population geneticists to predict how genes are transmitted from one generation to the next, and Hardy's work on the theory of numbers found unexpected implications in the development of codes. Physicist and author Mario Livio brilliantly explores mathematical ideas from Pythagoras to the present day as he shows us how intriguing questions and ingenious answers have led to ever deeper insights into our world. This fascinating book will interest anyone curious about the human mind, the scientific world, and the relationship between them.

THE GOLDEN RATIO: The Story of Phi, the World's Most Astonishing Number

by Mario Livio

Throughout history, thinkers from mathematicians to theologians have pondered the mysterious relationship between numbers and the nature of reality. In this fascinating book, Mario Livio tells the tale of a number at the heart of that mystery: phi, or 1. 6180339887. . . This curious mathematical relationship, widely known as "The Golden Ratio," was discovered by Euclid more than two thousand years ago because of its crucial role in the construction of the pentagram, to which magical properties had been attributed. Since then it has shown a propensity to appear in the most astonishing variety of places, from mollusk shells, sunflower florets, and rose petals to the shape of the galaxy. Psychological studies have investigated whether the Golden Ratio is the most aesthetically pleasing proportion extant, and it has been asserted that the creators of the Pyramids and the Parthenon employed it. It is believed to feature in works of art from Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa to Salvador Dali's The Sacrament of the Last Supper, and poets and composers have used it in their works. It has even been found to be connected to the behavior of the stock market! The Golden Ratio is a captivating journey through art and architecture, botany and biology, physics and mathematics. It tells the human story of numerous phi-fixated individuals, including the followers of Pythagoras who believed that this proportion revealed the hand of God; astronomer Johannes Kepler, who saw phi as the greatest treasure of geometry; such Renaissance thinkers as mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci of Pisa; and such masters of the modern world as Goethe, Cezanne, Bartok, and physicist Roger Penrose. Wherever his quest for the meaning of phi takes him, Mario Livio reveals the world as a place where order, beauty, and eternal mystery will always coexist. From the Hardcover edition.

Your Ticket to the Universe

by Mario Livio Kimberly K. Arcand Megan Watzke

An entertaining and accessible trip to the most interesting stops in the cosmos. Accompanied by dramatic visuals, Your Ticket to the Universe is a hybrid coffee-table book and field guide.Beginning with our home planet, Your Ticket to the Universe embarks on an entertaining and accessible trip to the most interesting stops known in the cosmos. Learn about objects nearby within our Solar System (our backyard in space, so to speak) as well as wonders that are found throughout the Milky Way galaxy and beyond (the most distant and exotic lands to explore). Accompanied by brilliant photographs that bring the reading experience to vivid, immediate life, Your Ticket to the Universe is designed to make space exploration accessible to everyone. Your Ticket to the Universe outlines the essentials anyone needs to know, while piquing the reader's curiosity to learn more.

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