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 A compelling read 
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Joined: 16 Mar 2009, 23:28
Posts: 1
Post A compelling read
I am assuming that all the members here are pretty good at math, so I ask patience for someone who is really bad at it...

I bought this book about a month ago, purely because the more recent theories have caught my imagination (I'm also reading The Endless Universe (Steinhardt and Turok), amongst various other 'popular' titles on cosmology).

I don't have a problem grasping the theories being put forward, but I want to be able to look at an equation without feeling nauseous!!!

Is there anyone else here in the same fix as myself? Or perhaps someone who can help me untangle the math so I can really appreciate Penroses work?

16 Mar 2009, 23:38

Joined: 07 Jun 2008, 08:21
Posts: 235
Post Re: A compelling read
Hi Missy
A big part of the reason for this forum is to help other members and the wider world to understand the maths in the RTR book. So have a look in the exercise discussion and general discussion parts of the forum and post any queries you have on the maths in the book and the exercises in those parts of the forum and someone will reply and help you out.

17 Mar 2009, 10:13

Joined: 29 Mar 2009, 18:16
Posts: 15
Post Re: A compelling read
RTR is simply in another league when compared to the many books on cosmology and physics written for the general educated lay reader. RTR is inexpensive, and published by a mainstream literary publisher, but is in fact the sort of book that should have been published by a scientific house or university press.

I am elated to learn that there people like yourself struggling to learn physical concepts. I've been doing that for nearly 25 years, and am writing a paper summarizing much of what I have learned. Good places to start do it yourself physics include Brian Greene, Paul Davies, John Barrow, Murray Gell-Mann, Martin Rees. Look up Sean Carroll's website at Caltech. I have learned much from Victor Stenger, altho' his naturalist certitude rubs me the wrong way.

A book that delicately straddles the divide between accessible to very intelligent lay readers, and accessible only to the cognoscenti is Barrow and Tipler's "Anthropic Cosmological Principle" (the book that turned me into a physics groupie). Another author who straddles this boundary is Max Tegmark.

Most of RTR is over my head and probably over your head. Much of the math of RTR is not trivial. Penrose is first and foremost one of the greatest mathematicians of his generation. As one of the gods, he simply cannot communicate physics to mere mortals. You probably need to acquire more facility with algebra and basic calculus as a language. You may want to start with a classic undergrad text from my day, Wheeler and Taylor's "Spacetime Physics," an intro to special relativity. Sean Carroll and John Baez have GR tutorials on their web sites that try hard to eliminate unnecessary formalisms. To really get into physics, you and I need to learn some vector calculus and group theory. Heinz Pagel's "Perfect Symmetry" (1985) tried hard to explain the relevance of group theory for physics.

Elsewhere on this forum I have posted why RTR disappoints as an exposition of fundamental physics.

29 Mar 2009, 19:51

Joined: 07 May 2008, 17:53
Posts: 2
Location: Michigan, US
Post Re: A compelling read
I'm in the same boat. I bought this book about a year and a half ago. I got about half way through second chapter and put it down. I'm going to try and give it another attempt, hopefully I have more patience this time around.

I've only had basic math classes. Highest level math I've had is a semester of college algebra, before dropping out. No calculus, not even a real physics class. Only physics knowledge I have is of popular/history of science type books. Should I even be attempting this book?!

What do you more mathematically experienced folks say?

28 Jul 2009, 22:55

Joined: 13 Aug 2009, 00:08
Posts: 13
Post Re: A compelling read
Here's my situation: I got a Maths degree in 1980 and had little interest in Physics. Then about a year ago I started becoming interested, and began to read about SR, GR, and Quantum Theory. However I found that all of the books in my local library covered the topics in a very high-level way and I became frustrated that the mathematics was usually omitted (losing the readership I guess) or jumped in too deeply into stuff I didn't understand. I found Feynman's lectures but they cover more of Physics than I think (!) I need, and yet still do not cover GR to the level I want.

Then browsing in a bookshop while my wife was shopping I found RTR -- and it looks to me like it fits the bill. A quick glance at the first few chapters gave me confidence that the book was probably at the right level for me -- ie the early chapters were almost completely familiar, then chapters 6 onwards were beginning to wander into degree-level areas and were a little more challenging. I am at chapter 8 at the moment and still loving it.

I have found that I don't always grasp what Penrose is saying first time through, and I often have to re-read a page a couple of times to 'get' it. So far, though, I think I do understand it all so far, and I am looking forward to reading more, especially getting to the Physics part (hope it doesn't disappoint a Physics noob like me).

I have to admit that I don't always try the exercises -- the ones I leave alone are those for which I can see the answer fairly quickly, or those which I I don't have a clue how to start! I do find his three-point rating is usually about right, but not always (for me, anyway).

In conclusion, so far I am finding it to be a compelling read too.

14 Aug 2009, 20:30

Joined: 15 Aug 2009, 21:54
Posts: 4
Location: Pittsburgh, PA
Post Re: A compelling read
Yes, Penrose is a compelling read.

For help with math I recomend the book, Gravity by Hartle. It is excellent.

There is also Sean Carrolls notes on the web.


15 Aug 2009, 22:19

Joined: 12 Dec 2009, 18:56
Posts: 5
Post Re: A compelling read
See my question Road to the road under general discussions.

Me to would like to get grip on the material.
If anyone has some further advise as to prerequisites asked for, I would be most interested to hear from you.

Good luck on the road.


21 Dec 2009, 12:58
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