Brigid Purcell recommends a book, Straight and Crooked Thinking, that should be put into the hands of every teenager
David Thouless’s obituary (13 July) mentions his father, Robert, but fails to mention the latter’s most notable publication, which contains one of the most important contributions of the 20th century to the public good: Straight and Crooked Thinking. Its contents are best summed up by the jacket blurb: “This practical book by an eminent psychologist tells you how to think clearly and avoid muddled reasoning. It exposes many dishonest tricks that are often used in argument, drawing the examples from controversial subjects which are frequently discussed today.”
It was first published in 1930 (revised and enlarged edition in 1953), and my father gave me my copy in the early 1960s. Happily, it’s still available and is as relevant today as it ever was; if only a copy could be put into the hands of every teenager in the land. Dr Brigid Purcell Norwich
String theory gained traction 35 years ago but scientists have not found any evidence to suggest it is correct. Does this matter? And should it be tested? Ian Sample debates this with Eleanor Knox, David Berman and Peter Woit
New research casts doubt on idea that a quantum jump is instant and unpredictable
Schrödinger’s cat might not only be dead or alive, but also brought back from the brink, according to scientists who said they have discovered a warning sign for quantum transitions once thought to be instantaneous and unpredictable.
The upshot is that the fate of Schrödinger’s cat can not only be predicted shortly in advance but even reversed once under way, the scientists said.
An image of a Syrian refugee using virtual reality to help researchers design a shelter has been chosen as the winner of the 2019 national science photography competition organised by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). The competition attracted 169 entries which were drawn from researchers in receipt of EPSRC funding
One of the leading particle physicists of the 20th century
Murray Gell-Mann, who has died aged 89, was the leading figure in the study of elementary particle physics in the middle years of the 20th century. His work transformed the way that physicists conceive matter at the smallest length scales.
In 1950 the world of atomic and nuclear physics was relatively straightforward: atoms consisted of positively charged nuclei formed of protons and neutrons, with negatively charged electrons orbiting around them like planets round the sun, held together by photons, the quanta of quantum electrodynamics (QED). By 1975 the subject had changed beyond recognition, largely due to Murray’s work. Protons and neutrons were no longer elementary particles: instead they themselves were composite structures formed of three quarks held together by gluons, the quanta of quantum chromodynamics (QCD).
The awesome vastness of time and space is laid out in its full, jawdropping incomprehensibility by Prof Brian Cox, the Attenborough of outer space
Towards the end of the opening episode of The Planets (BBC Two), the new solar system opus presented by Prof Brian Cox, I found myself questioning whether this was feelgood, or feelbad, television. Cox has already made headlines with his suggestion that the future of humanity may lie in stretching our living quarters from Earth to Mars, which, I suppose, is a feelgood idea, if adventures and Matt Damon are high on your particular list. The wonder of Cox’s arguments, which take in the staggering, incomprehensible vastness of time and space, provides the kind of television that made this particular viewer stop and say “whoa” every few seconds.
And there is extreme joy, indeed, to be found in the miraculousness of life existing on Earth at all. When Cox dangles his hand in a rock pool on a volcano in the middle of the ocean, he marvels at all the chance events that took place over billions of years to produce these tiny creatures. Whoa, I thought, being due for another “whoa”.
What happened before the Big Bang? This is one of the hardest questions scientists are trying to answer, but Prof Hiranya Peiris is not daunted by the challenge. Hannah Devlin invited Peiris on the podcast to discuss the origins of our universe
Arthur Eddington’s photograph of the 1919 solar eclipse proved Einstein right and ushered in a century where gravity was king
A hundred years ago this month, the British astronomer Arthur Eddington arrived at the remote west African island of Príncipe. He was there to witness and record one of the most spectacular events to occur in our heavens: a total solar eclipse that would pass over the little equatorial island on 29 May 1919.
Observing such events is a straightforward business today, but a century ago the world was still recovering from the first world war. Scientific resources were meagre, photographic technology was relatively primitive, and the hot steamy weather would have made it difficult to focus instruments. For good measure, there was always a threat that clouds would blot out the eclipse.
Eddington worked feverishly and managed to make 16 plates. Later he found that only two of them contained enough stars
'All 19 images they had taken with their main telescope were out of focus'