Tag Archives: Gleick

writing

Writing is mysterious and beautiful. Good writing is hard. From somewhere I remember a quote from a 18th Century writer of a letter. At the end of a 20+ page letter to a friend he apologized for going on so long. He said he didn’t have time to write a brief letter.

Or something like that. The point is that it takes a lot of time to arrange the chaotic ideas running through one’s head into organized sentences that someone else has a chance of understanding. In this blog, I try to think before writing, thus most of my entries are relatively brief. 20 page letters will not be read by 21st Century readers. Now in the forums sometimes I see ‘tl;dr’. Too long, didn’t read.

I found one previous reference in this blog to the American writer James Gleick. His book Chaos has been a long time favorite of mine. At Mom and Dad’s the other day, I spotted another Gleick book: Genius, The Life and Science of Richard Feynman, and filched it. I had read it before, some years ago, but I thought it was worth another reading.

This morning I opened it and almost immediately I was struck by the quality of the writing. In the Prologue, Gleick tells of a meeting in 1948 of the world’s best physicists:

In the annals of science it was the last time but one that these men would meet in such circumstances, without ceremony or publicity. They were indulging a fantasy, that their work could remain a small, personal, academic exercise, invisible to most of the public, as it had been a decade before, when a modest building in Copenhagen served as the hub of their science. They were not yet conscious of how effectively they had persuaded the public and the military to make physics a mission of high technology and expense.  . . . Next year most of these men would meet once more . . . but by then the modern era of physics had begun in earnest, science conducted on a scale the world had not seen, and never again would its chiefs come together privately, just to work.

chaos

I finished my library books, so this morning I needed a book to read while I ate my cereal. My eye fell on Chaos, by James Gleick. My copy is from those heady days in the late ’80s in San Francisco when I was buying science books often. It’s one of the few that have survived to stay with me and I’m glad it has.

I remember reading it several times and feeling that each time I understood a little further into the book. It’s not technical, in fact it’s written with a high sense of drama. Today, with fractals and Mandelbrot sets seemingly old hat, it’s fun to go back and feel some of the excitement that accompanied the discoveries of non-linear systems, or chaos.

Gleick’s writing is beautiful. Here’s one quote from the Prologue that struck me today: ‘ . . .  chaos is a science of process rather than state, of becoming rather than being.’

Every once in a while, I go looking for a book that updates the state of chaos science but there aren’t any. You can find dozens of theoretically non-technical books that try to explain string theory or quantum mechanics but nothing on chaos. Hmmm . . .