Summary and book reviews of Fundamentals by Frank Wilczek

Fundamentals

Ten Keys to Reality

by Frank Wilczek

Fundamentals by Frank Wilczek X
Fundamentals by Frank Wilczek
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  • Published:
    Jan 2021, 272 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Ian Muehlenhaus
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Book Summary

One of our great contemporary scientists reveals the ten profound insights that illuminate what everyone should know about the physical world.

In Fundamentals, Nobel laureate Frank Wilczek offers the reader a simple yet profound exploration of reality based on the deep revelations of modern science. With clarity and an infectious sense of joy, he guides us through the essential concepts that form our understanding of what the world is and how it works. Through these pages, we come to see our reality in a new way--bigger, fuller, and stranger than it looked before.

Synthesizing basic questions, facts, and dazzling speculations, Wilczek investigates the ideas that form our understanding of the universe: time, space, matter, energy, complexity, and complementarity. He excavates the history of fundamental science, exploring what we know and how we know it, while journeying to the horizons of the scientific world to give us a glimpse of what we may soon discover. Brilliant, lucid, and accessible, this celebration of human ingenuity and imagination will expand your world and your mind.

1
THERE'S PLENTY OF SPACE

PLENTY OUTSIDE AND PLENTY WITHIN

When we say that the something is big—be it the visible universe or a human brain—we have to ask: Compared with what? The natural point of reference is the scope of everyday human life. This is the context of our first world-models, which we construct as children. The scope of the physical world, as revealed by science, is something we discover when we allow ourselves to be born again.

By the standards of everyday life, the world "out there" is truly gigantic. That outer plenty is what we sense intuitively when, on a clear night, we look up at a starry sky. We feel, with no need for careful analysis, that the universe has distances vastly larger than our human bodies, and larger than any distance we are ever likely to travel. Scientific understanding not only supports but greatly expands that sense of vastness.

The world's scale can make people feel overwhelmed. The French mathematician, physicist, and religious ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Wilczek adroitly intersperses the technicalities of subatomic particles with slice-of-life vignettes from his own experiences and uses metaphors that are memorable and convincing. His narrative voice is neither too smart nor too cute. Fundamentals informs while never feeling condescending, and it goes into great detail without losing clarity. It may be the most hopeful, humanitarian book on physics you'll ever read...continued

Full Review Members Only (800 words).

(Reviewed by Ian Muehlenhaus).

Media Reviews

Washington Post
For those with more scientific yearnings, and who regret not taking a few courses in college to learn about the physical world, theoretical physicist Frank Wilczek offers a way to catch up...With his clear and joyful voice, Wilczek succeeds very well, and for good reason...There is no calculus required; this is not Physics 101. Instead, Wilczek talks about modern physics and cosmology from a more broad-brush and philosophical perspective, often linking their findings to the real world — how they affect us. In this age of rising skepticism, he wants his readers — whom he imagines to be lawyers, doctors, artists, parents or simply curious people — to be 'born again, in the way of science.'

Scientific American
A lucid and riveting narrative of the fundamentals—what Wilczek calls ‘the central messages of modern physics,’ which are not just facts about how the world works but also ‘the style of thought that allowed us to discover them.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
The universe at its grandest and most minuscule is explored in this beguiling meditation on physics...a stimulating and very readable scientific tour of the cosmos.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
A breathtaking feat...the author does far more than just present the facts and speculations, however fascinating; on every page, readers will glean his exhilaration and joy in discovery...Another winner from Wilczek, who invites us to be born again into a richer, deeper understanding of the world.

Booklist (starred review)
All of the technical aspects are presented in accessible language, and Wilczek blends in relatable examples, anecdotes, quotes, and bits of humor, taking pains to differentiate between fact and theory.

Author Blurb Krista Tippett, host of On Being and author of Becoming Wise
This is an exuberant, gorgeously crafted, and intellectually thrilling book, written by one of our greatest living scientists yet hospitable to all. To be reminded that time and space, mystery and order, are so much stranger and more generous than we can comprehend—this is a gift to public life and moral imagination in a young century where what is visible and tangible feels chaotic and constricting. This book is also unexpectedly spiritually thrilling. Wilczek makes the remarkable move of picking up and evolving the classic scientists' faith that their investigations would reveal the mind of our maker, as well as Einstein's self-described 'cosmic spiritual sensibility.' What began as an exposition, as Wilzcek writes, 'grew into a contemplation.' The result is a profoundly enriched understanding, accessible to the religious and non-religious alike, of what it means to be human—and what we might be pointing at when we use the word God.

Author Blurb Sean Carroll, author of Something Deeply Hidden
This is a book about deep ideas, not passing fancies. It will teach you profound principles, not dry lists of facts. It's a rare treat indeed to get a glimpse into the mind of one of the world's leading physicists, presented in an engaging style that will be enjoyed by anyone at all.

Author Blurb Steven Strogatz, professor of mathematics, Cornell University, and author of Infinite Powers
Frank Wilczek is not only one of the world's greatest physicists; he's also one of its greatest explainers. Fundamentals is lucid, beautiful, and revelatory.

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Beyond the Book

The Falsity of a Real Reality

Humans are incapable of knowing for certain what is real. We use our five senses to collect data about the environment around us. Data is the key word here; we don't see, hear, touch, taste or smell reality. We use our senses to sample data about the environment.

This data is processed by our brains, which then interpret and give form to what we perceive as reality. Our reality is nothing more than our perception based on limited, sampling-error prone data.

The brain itself is comprised of around 100 billion individual cells, which in turn are built upon a handful of subatomic particles. These particles are reconfigured to create different types of atoms. Science has demonstrated that these atoms and subatomic particles don't ...

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