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052165064X - Hidden Unity in Nature’s Laws - John C. Taylor


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HIDDEN UNITY IN NATURE’S LAWS

As physics has progressed through the ages it has succeeded in


explaining more and more diverse phenomena with fewer and fewer
underlying principles. This lucid and wide-ranging book explains how
this understanding has developed by periodically uncovering unexpected
“hidden unities” in nature. The author deftly steers the reader on a
fascinating path that goes to the heart of physics – the search for and
discovery of elegant laws that unify and simplify our understanding of
the intricate universe in which we live.
Starting with the ancient Greeks, the author traces the development of
major concepts in physics right up to the present day. Throughout, the
presentation is crisp and informative, and only a minimum of
mathematics is used. Any reader with a background in mathematics or
physics will find this book provides fascinating insight into the
development of our fundamental understanding of the world, and the
apparent simplicity underlying it.

John C. Taylor is professor emeritus of mathematical physics at the


University of Cambridge. A pupil of the Nobel Prize–winner Abdus
Salam, Professor Taylor has had a long and distinguished career. In
particular, he was a discoverer of equations that play an important role
in the theory of the current “standard model” of particles and their
forces. In 1976, he published the first textbook on the subject, Gauge
Theories of Weak Interactions. He has taught theoretical physics at
Imperial College, London, and the Universities of Oxford and
Cambridge, and he has lectured around the world. In 1981 he was
elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.

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052165064X - Hidden Unity in Nature’s Laws - John C. Taylor
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HIDDEN UNITY
IN NATURE’S LAWS

JOHN C. TAYLOR
University of Cambridge

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052165064X - Hidden Unity in Nature’s Laws - John C. Taylor
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PUBLISHED BY THE PRESS SYNDICATE OF THE UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE


The Pitt Building, Trumpington Street, Cambridge, United Kingdom

CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS


The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge CB2 2RU, UK
40 West 20th Street, New York, NY 10011-4211, USA
10 Stamford Road, Oakleigh, VIC 3166, Australia
Ruiz de Alarcón 13, 28014 Madrid, Spain
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http://www.cambridge.org


C Cambridge University Press 2001

This book is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception


and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements,
no reproduction of any part may take place without
the written permission of Cambridge University Press.

First published 2001

Printed in the United States of America

Typeface Sabon 11/13 pt. System LATEX 2ε [TB]

A catalog record for this book is available from the British Library.

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data


Taylor, John C. (John Clayton), 1930–
Hidden unity in nature’s laws / John C. Taylor.
p. cm.
ISBN 0-521-65064-X – ISBN 0-521-65938-8 (pbk.)
1. Physics – History. I. Title.
QC7.T39 2001
530 .09 – dc21 00-041458

ISBN 0 521 65064 X hardback


ISBN 0 521 65938 8 paperback

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052165064X - Hidden Unity in Nature’s Laws - John C. Taylor
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CONTENTS

Preface xi

1 Motion on Earth and in the Heavens 1


1.1 Galileo’s Telescope 1
1.2 The Old Astronomy 2
1.3 Aristotle and Ptolemy: Models and Mathematics 5
1.4 Copernicus: Getting Behind Appearances 9
1.5 Galileo 11
1.6 Kepler: Beyond Circles 14
1.7 Newton 19
1.8 Conclusion 30

2 Energy, Heat and Chance 32


2.1 Introduction 32
2.2 Temperature and Thermometers 33
2.3 Energy and Its Conservation 34
2.4 Heat as Energy 42
2.5 Atoms and Molecules 43
2.6 Steam Engines and Entropy 50
2.7 Entropy and Randomness 58
2.8 Chaos 62
2.9 Conclusion 69

3 Electricity and Magnetism 70


3.1 Electric Charges 70
3.2 Magnets 77
3.3 Electric Currents and Magnetism 80
3.4 Faraday and Induction of Electricity by Magnetism 88

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052165064X - Hidden Unity in Nature’s Laws - John C. Taylor
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CONTENTS

3.5 Maxwell’s Synthesis: Electromagnetism 91


3.6 Conclusion 97

4 Light 99
4.1 Waves 99
4.2 Sound 102
4.3 Light 104
4.4 The Principle of Least Time 108
4.5 What Is Light? 113
4.6 Light Waves 119
4.7 Waves in What? 127
4.8 Light Is Electromagnetism 129
4.9 Conclusion 136

5 Space and Time 137


5.1 Electrons 137
5.2 Is the Speed of Light Always the Same? 139
5.3 The Unity of Space and Time 143
5.4 Space, Time and Motion 144
5.5 The Geometry of Spacetime 147
5.6 Lorentz Transformations 151
5.7 Time Dilation and the “Twin Paradox” 155
5.8 Distances and the Lorentz-Fitzgerald Contraction 158
5.9 How Can We Believe All This? 164
5.10 4-Vectors 165
5.11 Momentum and Energy 165
5.12 Electricity and Magnetism in Spacetime 170
5.13 Conclusion 173

6 Least Action 175


6.1 What This Chapter Is About 175
6.2 Action 176
6.3 Minimum or Just Stationary? 178
6.4 Why Is the Action Least? 179
6.5 The Magnetic Action 180
6.6 Time-Varying Fields and Relativity 184
6.7 Action for the Electromagnetic Field 185
6.8 Momentum, Energy and the Uniformity of Spacetime 187
6.9 Angular Momentum 188
6.10 Conclusion 189

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052165064X - Hidden Unity in Nature’s Laws - John C. Taylor
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CONTENTS

7 Gravitation and Curved Spacetime 191


7.1 The Problem 191
7.2 Curvature 194
7.3 Gravity as Curvature of Spacetime 199
7.4 Maps and Metrics 201
7.5 The Laws of Einstein’s Theory of Gravity 203
7.6 Newton and Einstein Compared 207
7.7 Weighing Light 209
7.8 Physics and Geometry 211
7.9 General “Relativity”? 212
7.10 Conclusion 213

8 The Quantum Revolution 214


8.1 The Radiant Heat Crisis 214
8.2 Why Are Atoms Simple? 219
8.3 Niels Bohr Models the Atom 221
8.4 Heisenberg and the Quantum World 226
8.5 Schrödinger Takes Another Tack 228
8.6 Probability and Uncertainty 231
8.7 Spin 234
8.8 Feynman’s All Histories Version of Quantum Theory 239
8.9 Which Way Did It Go? 242
8.10 Einstein’s Revenge: Quantum Entanglement 245
8.11 What Has Happened to Determinism? 249
8.12 What an Electron Knows About Magnetic Fields 253
8.13 Which Electron Is Which? 255
8.14 Conclusion 258

9 Quantum Theory with Special Relativity 260


9.1 Einstein Plus Heisenberg 260
9.2 Fields and Oscillators 261
9.3 Lasers and the Indistinguishability of Particles 266
9.4 A Field for Matter 268
9.5 How Can Electrons Be Fermions? 271
9.6 Antiparticles 274
9.7 QED 275
9.8 Feynman’s Wonderful Diagrams 277
9.9 The Perils of Point Charges 282
9.10 The Busy Vacuum 287
9.11 Conclusion 289

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CONTENTS

10 Order Breaks Symmetry 290


10.1 Cooling and Freezing 290
10.2 Refrigeration 292
10.3 Flow without Friction 294
10.4 Superfluid Vortices 298
10.5 Metals 300
10.6 Conduction without Resistance 301
10.7 Conclusion 307

11 Quarks and What Holds Them Together 309


11.1 Seeing the Very Small 309
11.2 Inside the Atomic Nucleus 310
11.3 Quantum Chromodynamics 316
11.4 Conclusion 323

12 Unifying Weak Forces with QED 324


12.1 What Are Weak Forces? 324
12.2 The Looking-Glass World 330
12.3 The Hidden Unity of Weak and Electromagnetic Forces 339
12.4 An Imaginary, Long-Range Electroweak Unification 341
12.5 The Origin of Mass 343
12.6 GUTs 348
12.7 Conclusion 351

13 Gravitation Plus Quantum Theory – Stars and


Black Holes 352
13.1 Black Holes 352
13.2 Stars, Dwarves and Pulsars 360
13.3 Unleashing Gravity’s Power: Black Holes at Large 366
13.4 The Crack in Gravity’s Armour 367
13.5 Black Hole Entropy: Gravity and Thermodynamics 371
13.6 Quantum Gravity: The Big Challenge 372
13.7 Something from Nothing 377
13.8 Conclusion 378

14 Particles, Symmetries and the Universe 379


14.1 Cosmology 380
14.2 The Hot Big Bang 388
14.3 The Shape of the Universe in Spacetime 391

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CONTENTS

14.4 A Simple Recipe for the Universe 395


14.5 Why Is There Any Matter Now? 399
14.6 How Do We Tell the Future from the Past? 402
14.7 Inflation 406
14.8 Conclusion 409

15 Queries 410
15.1 Hidden Dimensions: Charge as Geometry 410
15.2 Supersymmetry: Marrying Fermions with Bosons 413
15.3 String Theory: Beyond Points 417
15.4 Lumps and Hedgehogs 423
15.5 Gravity Modified – a Radical Proposal 428

APPENDIX A The Inverse-Square Law 431


APPENDIX B Vectors and Complex Numbers 437
APPENDIX C Brownian Motion 442
APPENDIX D Units 444

Glossary 450
Bibliography 477
Index 481

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052165064X - Hidden Unity in Nature’s Laws - John C. Taylor
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PREFACE

I have tried to write a non-technical tour through the principles


of physics. The theme running through this tour is that progress
has often consisted in uncovering “hidden unities”. Let me explain
what I mean by this phrase, taking the example (from Chapter 3)
of electricity and magnetism. The unity here is hidden, because at
first sight there seemed to be no connection between the two. The
invention of the electric battery at the beginning of the nineteenth
century ushered in a new period of research that showed that elec-
tricity and magnetism are interconnected when they change with
time. This did not mean that electricity and magnetism are the same
thing. They are certainly different, but they are two aspects of a
unified whole, “electromagnetism”. In general, it makes no sense
to talk about one without the other.
This pattern of unification is fairly typical. Every time such a uni-
fication is achieved, the number of “laws of nature” is reduced, so
that nature looks not only more unified but also, in some sense, sim-
pler. More and more apparently diverse phenomena are explained
by fewer and fewer underlying principles. This is the message I have
tried to get across.
This book has a second theme. Quite often, different branches of
physics have seemed to contradict each other when taken together.
The contradiction is then resolved in a new, consistent, wider theory,
which includes the two branches. For example, Newton’s theory of
motion and of gravitation conflicted with electromagnetism, as it
was understood in the nineteenth century. The resolution lay in
Einstein’s theories of relativity. There are several other instances of
progress by resolution of contradictions in this book.

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052165064X - Hidden Unity in Nature’s Laws - John C. Taylor
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PREFACE

Much of modern physics is expressed in terms of mathematics.


But I have tried to avoid writing equations in mathematical sym-
bols. I have attempted to do this by translating the equations either
into words or into pictures. Geometry seems to be playing a bigger
and bigger role in modern physics, so pictures are quite appro-
priate. In any case, mathematical symbols can never be the whole
story. You can write down as many elegant equations as you like,
but somewhere there has to be a framework for connecting these
symbols to real things in the world. To provide this, I do not think
there is any substitute for ordinary language.
I have presented things from a partially historical point of view. It
is sometimes said that the sciences are different from the arts in that
contemporary science always supersedes earlier science, whereas no
one would dream of saying that Pinter had superseded Chekhov or
Stravinsky Mozart. There is some truth in this. It is possible to
imagine somebody learning Einstein’s theory of gravitation with-
out having heard of Newton’s, but I think such a person would be
that much the poorer. It would be a bit like being dropped on the
top of a mountain by helicopter, without the pleasure and effort of
climbing it.
I have very briefly introduced some of the great physicists, hop-
ing the reader may be intrigued by them and admire them as I do.
But my “history” would irritate a real historian of science. I have
mainly (but not entirely) concentrated on things that, from the con-
temporary perspective, have proved to be on the right track – no
doubt a very unhistorical way to proceed. Also, I suspect that I have
given a disproportionate number of references to British physicists.
For the main part, I have limited myself to theories that are com-
paratively well understood and accepted. This does not mean that
they are certain or completely understood: I do not think anything
in science is like that. But it is difficult enough to try to simply ex-
plain topics that one thinks one understands (sometimes finding in
the process that one does not understand them so well), without
burdening the reader with speculations that may be dead tomor-
row. Nevertheless, in the later chapters, I have allowed myself to
describe some subjects on which a lot of physicists are presently
working, even though nothing really firm has been decided. I hope
I have made clear what is established and what is speculative.

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052165064X - Hidden Unity in Nature’s Laws - John C. Taylor
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PREFACE

There is an extensive Glossary, which includes thumbnail biogra-


phies, as well as reminders of the meaning of technical terms. The
Bibliography lists books that I have referred to or quoted from or
enjoyed or otherwise recommend.
I want to thank people who have generously given their time to
read some of my chapters and to point out errors or suggest im-
provements. These people include David Bailin, Ian Drummond,
Gary Gibbons, Ron Horgan, Adrian Kent, Nick Manton, Peter
Schofield, Ron Shaw, Mary Taylor, Richard Taylor, Neil Turok,
Ruth Williams and Curtis Wilson. Of course, they are not respon-
sible for the deficiencies that remain.

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