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A Sense of the Mysterious chapter one

1.How is poetry or writing like science? How are they unlike science?
Poetry is different from science in that it has no certainty. Poetry focuses on issue of human
emotions which are almost unpredictable; however, science focuses mainly on well-posed
problems. Poetry and science are powerful in different ways: poetry can make her grandmother
cry, while science can help Lightman make a communication device through light. Poetry and
science both need creativity. Poetry needs creative needs to convey thoughts and emotions in
concise and precise, and science need creative ways to come up with formulas after hardworks.
2. What does all the experimenting tell you about Lightman(the author) as a kid?
Lightman is nerdy based on his description of himself . He spend most of his weekend not with
girls or guys, but with experiment and projects. However, it is the passion of science and small
projects that lays the foundation of Lightman future achievement in physics. For example, after
designing a small rocket by himself, he begins to question and ponder what kind of glue would
hold under the heat and aerodynamic force of a real rocket.
3. Why did he do all of those experiments?
He did all of those experiments because he love those experiments. He is delighted after he
accomplished projects practical such as activate the lights in various rooms of the house,
making a light-borne communication device. He is amazed by the rocket and dreamed to build
one by his own. He also love to show off those experiments to his brothers and friends.
4. Compare science to math mathematics. How are they alike, yet very different? What is the
relationship between the two?
Mathematics lay the foundation of science because a lot of calculations in science are based on
the precise calculation of math. All the formulas of science are all related to math. Furthermore,
both science and math are the same in a way that they both solve problems. However, math
always has a definite answer to most of the problem, and some math problems simply have no
solution or the solution have not been discovered yet. A science phenomenon always have
multiple different explanations, and most of the time it is really hard to prove which one is which.
In science, old concept are constantly challenged by the new ideas. As a result, few questions
in science have a definite, right answer. Scientific proposition is a statement that can in principle
be proven false, while math is a logical abstraction which can not find a counterexample in
nature to falsify it.
5. What role did Thorne and Gerace play in Lightman’s life? What did he learn from them?
Thorne give Lightman a chance to participate a “university within a university”, which is working
in a dark basement on independent projects under Gerace’s supervision. Kip make him to prove
the theory that gravity should be geometrical. Lightman learned that to make a great discovery,
one must used experiments, like Gerace’s lab, combined with proof from math equation, like
Throne’s gravity equation problems. Lightman is also moved by Gerace’s excitement of science
experiment, and Kip’s humility and generosity. Kip would put his name last on joint papers, and
he would heap praise on his students at public lectures.
6. Describe how Lightman felt as he worked through his research on gravity.
At first, he is thrilled and terrified because this is the first time to actually research and solve a
science problem no one have ever solved before, which is a real challenge. Then he hit a wall
for month------he could not find out what step he had been wrong, which makes him anxious and
a little bit frustrated. But he never give up. He stick to the problem all day long and even eat
meals in his room to solve the problem. This persistence and passion is the spirit of science. To
make a great science discovery, individuals must spend time alone and putting huge amount
effort into it. Finally, in a morning at 5 o’clock, he solved the problem maybe in his dream. At
that time, he felt extremely excited; he felt weightless. He is simply spirit, in a state of pure
exhilaration. Later, as he strode out of kitchen, he felt stunned and powerful.
7. “The world needs questions with answers & without answers.” What did this mean? How does
it relate to science, life, and everything?
It means that artists and humanists are as important as scientist. Scientists ask questions with
definite answers that can be falsify, while humanists ask questions like does god exist? Which
can not be falsified, or to be proved. For those rhetorical questions humanists ask, the questions
are more important than the answer because it gives a chance for readers to ponder, and look
the world in a different way(to see if god really exist and if god reward people with good deeds).
Those questions without answer can be seen as art because they ask things in a creative way
that enrich people’s daily life.
8. We are going to hear a lot about Feynman in this course. How did Lightman react to
Lightman described Feynman with awe. On the final thesis defense, Richard Feynman asked
only two questions, but those two questions are accurate enough to measure Lightman’s
position in the intellectual landscape of physics. Feynman’s two great questions demonstrates
his deep understanding of obscure physics’ concept.
9. Edwin Salpeter had a particular “style” in science. How was he scientific?
Ed is extremely competitive both in science and in life. He loves to play tennis with Lightman
and see who is better. Ed is also extremely serious about physics. When someone talks to him
about a physics problem, he would stop, turn his head, and just stare off into space for a few
moment to ponder the questions. Ed has great physical intuition, he can visualize the core of a
physics problem all in his head. He loves to draw analogies to abstract physics problem. For
example, he illustrates the idea of black hole suck random moving stars by comparing a drunk
stumbles to a sewer hole and falls in.
10. “I’ve been scoped!” Give an example of how Lightman reacted to this happening to him. Is
his reaction typical in science these days?
The reactions are typical by human nature. Lightman’s first reaction is being embarrassed and
humiliated. He is frustrated because he feels someone steals his efforts. Then he is amazed
because he can not believe the fact that at the other side of the planet, with no correspondence,
no comparing notes, they can get the same answer to three decimal places. Finally, he get the
emotion of irrelevancy. There is only one precise answer or equation for each problems, then
why bothered him to discover the answer. If Einstein hadn’t formulated relativity, then someone
else would. Lightman believes science makes him to lose his individuality from some extent, so
he switched to science writing.
11. Tell me something about:
a. Parity
All phenomena of nature should be completely identical if right hand and left hand were
reversed, as if reflected in a mirror. However, Lee and Yang proved it wrong. Subatomic
particles and reactions do not have identical mirror image twins.
b. Reality for aesthetics
Sometimes nature are not as beautiful and perfect as people assumed. For example, in the
16th century, Europeans believed that planets move in circles despite the fact that scientist
even found zigzagged in their paths. Ultimately, through careful observations, Kepler and Brahe
proved that Planet orbit in ellipse, not circles.
c. Appreciate certainty & uncertainty
Certainty is the kind of question that can be falsified, which is scientific. Uncertainty is the
kind of questions like “Does god exist?” It lie outside the domain of science because there is no
proof. Or like “Would we be happier if we lived longer” Scientist can not falsify this argument
because the definition of happy is unclear, and vary from people to people. However, those
rhetorical questions without answers are fascinating, and the questions are more important than
the answer. Those rhetorical questions make people ponder, and make people see the world in
a different way.
d. A well-posed problem
A well-posed problem is a problem that can be stated with enough clarity and definiteness
that it is guaranteed a solution. Such a solution might require ten years, or a hundred, but there
should be a definite solution. While it is true that science is constantly revising itself to respond
to new information and ideas, at any moment scientists are working on well-posed problems.
12. How was the reaction to Weber’s research in science? What about Lightman’s remarks in
his essay & reflections on what he wrote?
Despite mountains of contradictory evidence, Weber still hold his assertion that he had found
gravitational waves by holding two cylinders thousands of miles apart. Lightman ridiculed
Weber’s finding publicly on magazine ​Science ‘83​. Later, he regrets his comment on Weber’s
findings in his later reflections. He regarded Weber as a hero because although his theory was
wrong, it laid the foundations to build the most advanced gravitational wave detector in the
world, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory. Weber’s stubbornness and
passion motivates him to put enormous energy to pursue his valuable idea for years.
13. Is there a place for “emotional prejudice” in science? Give an example from the reading.
There is a place for emotional prejudice in science. It is the powerful emotional commitment that
summon up scientist’s enormous energy needed for pursuing an idea for years, working day
and night in the lab or at their desks doing calculations, often sacrificing the rest of their lives.
Webler emotional prejudice makes him to build and protect his ground breaking gravitational
waves experiments for years. Even though his theory is wrong, there are still other scientists
and critics to challenge his idea. Ultimately, through debate between different “emotional
prejudice” scientists, right answer will be derived.
14. What is your view of the scientific method? What is Lightman’s? How do they compare?
My view of scientific method is first observe a phenomenon, then find the pattern. Use the
pattern to make a hypothesis, then make a prediction like if something happen, then something
will happen. Lastly, test your prediction by doing an experiment. If the experiment proves your
prediction, then your theory is right. If it does not prove your prediction, observe the
phenomenon and do the whole process again. In lightman’s view, “ scientific method” is if a
theory is contradicted by experiments, then it must be revised or discarded. If one experiment is
contradicted by many other experiments, then it must be critically examined. Lightman’s
“scientific method” is a specific extension of my last few steps of “scientific method” which
indicates what to do if your theory is proved wrong. My “scientific method” and Lightman’s
correspond with each other.
15. What is the difference between science and practice of science?
Science is an ideal, a conception of logical laws acting in the world and a set of tools for
discovering those laws. By contrast, the practice of science is a human affair, complicated by all
the bedraggled but marvelous psychology that makes us human. ------A Sense of Mysterious
16. What neat point does Lightman make about scientific discovery using his research with high
temperature gases? What did he expect & what did he find? Why?
Lightman want to discover the intermediate case of the temperature of gas. He expected that as
he put heat into it, the temperature will increase at a rate of low-temperature case. Later, it will
increase at an intermediate rate, and finally the temperature will increase in a rate of
ultra-high-temperature case. However, the experiment shows that the rate of increase at
low-temperature case and ultra-high-temperature correspond with his hypothesis, but the
temperature decreases in the intermediate rate. This phenomenon happens because during the
intermediate rate, new particles are being created according to E=mc^2. The additional particles
can soak up all the increase energy, so much so that the average energy per particle can
actually decrease.
17. Explain the “feeling of a sense of mystery” in scientific work.
A sense of mystery is the state of human standing in the edge between known and unknown.
Human knows very little of the immense nature. There are too many facts and knowledges
waited to be discovered. Human should not be frightened by the unknown, but rather should feel
exhilarated after making small progressive steps, and that is where the spirit of science come
18. How does physical nature compare to human nature? Why is there a connection?
Human nature and physical nature all contains immense beauty. Physical nature can be
explored through experiments and theories, and human nature can be explored through stories
and experience. They are equally important to make human race peaceful and progressive.
Lightman can be seen as a man who knows both physical nature and human nature well. A
sense of mysterious portrays physics through vivid writing, which is a discussion of physical
nature in the way of human nature.