Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Autobiography of Robert Laughlin

There are many physicists that I find fascinating. It doesn't mean that I "worship" them or anything, but I find their stories to be quite captivating. Often, these are anecdotal stories told by colleagues, former students, etc...

I love Robert Laughlin's book that tried to argue against reductionism, because it introduces an alternative concept at looking at the world than what has been popularized. I've already heard many anecdotal stories about him from others, but it is always nice to hear about his life stories from the person himself. More than anything, is autobiography on the Nobel website is not your typical run-of-the-mill autobiography, and several years ago, I remember spending time reading the whole thing. I happen to come across it again recently when doing a search on something, and found myself reading it all over again.

So, if you haven't had the chance to read it, do yourself a favor and read his fascinating life story so far.

I suppose what I like about his story is because he hits the same points that I've been making, which are:

1. Some of the best theorists tend to be those who pay close attention to experiments. His argument that experiments are the "eyes and ears" aimed at Mother Nature, to me, is spot on.

2. That you can have the motivation to study and want to do physics not because you have a grandiose ambition to "study the universe", but rather because you are fascinated by the simple and small things. Laughlin was first interested in how a television work, and simple basic electronics. I remember being curious at how a top can not only spin, but precesses around an axis without topping over. It doesn't have to be about finding and solving for the grand unified theory. In fact, I haven't found any physicist that I know who first got interested in physics because of such glorified ambition.



scerir said...

There are papers of general (conceptual) interest by R.Laughlin (et al.), about the "middle way" and the "toe" and "more is different".

ZapperZ said...

Thank you, but I've already highlighted this way back in 2006.