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Tuesday, 03 August 2010


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Perhaps all you need do is to request the Memsahib re-arrange the furniture on the back deck, blindfold yourself then rocket out toward the end.


I think the clearest explanation of special relativity ever written is Space and Time in Special Relativity, by N. David Mermin.

To understand s.r. you really do only need basic algebra (general relativity is another matter altogether, however) -- and this book is so clearly written, and uses such lucid diagrams, that you cannot fail.


'JK', the only thing the 'Memsahib' is likey to re-arrange is me!

Malcolm, I know you mean well but you need to know that, to me, there is no such thing as "basic algebra", it is all incomprehensible alphabet soup! Thank you for the book tip. For the moment I will persevere with these two school kids but if they short circuit what passes for my brain I will give Mr. Mermin a try.

Thing is, I do understand the muon experiment, it's just that I do not - can not? - swallow the conclusion. To paraphrase, 'the fault, dear David, is not in my stars but in me!'

I concur: special relativity is graspable by the well equipped schoolboy of yore, but not yer General Relativity. In fact such attempts as I made long ago on the latter were at the "popular account" level, which always stopped when I meet what I took to be effectively a lie. Thus: the point you see, says our guide, is that spacetime is curved. He will then go on to explain that gravity isn't really a force - no, sir - it's just that one is tumbling down a depression in spacetime. But that argument is, I suspect, deeply dishonest beacuse it's built on the reader finding it natural to tumble down into depressions - because he's familiar with the force of gravity! Bah humbug. So if I'm ever to have a seriopus go at general Relativity, I'd have to lubricate my very rusty command of tensors and dive into the maths. Realistically, though, I have to prioritise War and Peace before that. And perhaps learning the trombone.

Well I've just looked up "tensor" in my OED and I can't even understand their explanation! A real no-hoper, that's me. I have to shoot up to London again today but I will take my book with me and hope my head doesn't ache too much by the time I get home.

By the way, are you still having trouble commenting here?

I liked the book that MP mentioned, but the one I really liked -- and it's amazing how much is packed into so few pages with such simple writing -- is The Universe and Dr. Einstein. I know the last thing you want is another book, but here it is on Amazon:

No recent problem posting a comment. But It's All Relative, innit?

Thanks, Dom, I see it received rave reviews from Amazon readers. I'll just have to hope that this time 'I get it'!

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