Tuesday, August 13, 2002

In Which We Discover That My Brain Has Something in Common with a Black Hole: Information Goes Into It and Is Destroyed

Well, here I am, still on the night shift and once again feeling really bored... Of course, there are all kind of things I could -- and probably should -- be working on. But I don't want to start on anything that requires too much concentration because, although things are going pretty smoothly at the moment, I still need to keep one eye on things, like they're actually paying me for. Or such is my excuse, anyway.

I was hoping to get some reading done tonight, and probably will do some more here shortly, but I think I chose the wrong book for my current circumstance. The current read is Black Holes & Time Warps: Einstein's Outrageous Legacy by Kip S. Thorne. Now, that's a pretty interesting topic to me, both in its own right and as it relates to my role as "insane science fiction fan" (given that at least two of my top ten favorite TV shows pretty much rely on wormholes as a central plot device). And so far the book's reasonably well written. But, you know, it's really just not the kind of page-turner that keeps you going through the wee hours of the morning.

Actually, I think I'm kind of going off science popularizations in general, or at least ones involving physics. Which is kind of sad, because I've always been extremely fond of the things. If they're telling me things I don't already know, hey, I'm learning something! And if they're telling me things I do already know, I can have fun evaluating how good the author is at getting the ideas across. (I know, I know, I have a strange definition of "fun.") But over the past few years, I've found that I've started having a third reaction, which is to get irritated over how much I used to know but have now forgotten. And, yeah, I've had a bit of that reaction with this book. The first chapter's a really basic review of special relativity, and, honestly, despite its press, special relativity is really pretty darned simple. So I'm reading along, thinking, "Yeah, right, you've got this fact, and that follows from this, and then that's obviously the case because... because... uh... Dammit, I do know this stuff! Really!" It's intensely frustrating. Apparently I've overwritten some of the basics of special relativity with lyrics to TV-commercial jingles or something. What kind of crappy brain management system is that?

You might think the chapter on general relativity might make me feel better, because I never understood that stuff to begin with, but somehow that just makes me feel even more depressed. At least it's a non-technical book, so I don't actually have to look at any tensor equations. Tensors totally kicked my ass back in college when I was still pretending I might actually do something with all that math and science someday. If I never encounter another tensor, my failure to go on to graduate school will be totally worthwhile.

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