Robert Crease in conversation with Larry Swanson, Appleman Professor of Biological Sciences, USC

*The Great Equations: Breakthroughs in Science from Pythagoras to Heisenberg*

Notes (taken on a receipt that I managed to scrounge up (didn’t have a notebook with me) for something purchased 02-06-10 for *5.00 and *0.49 tx, which I now remember was a Norton Critical Edition of *Death in Venice* from Counterpoint):

Intro:

quote from the book comparing the growth of math to the growth of a city

Crease:

- inspiration for the book came from looking at a “e=mc^2” ornament — how equations have become symbolic and taken on cultural meaning
- Pythagorean Theorem
- symbol of a proof
- c^2 = a^2 + b^2, rule known of well before Pythagoras, but the Greeks did the proof
- first extant example of the proof in Plato’s
*Meno* - people are still trying to discover new ways to prove this, there are hundreds of variations already; proving this anew is not about the contribution to mathematics but the joy of discovery
- anecdote of when Einstein was 12 and first saw this proof, idea of universal rules
- F = ma and gravity
- Galileo as bridge between Aristotle and Newton; his idea that mass is something separate from weight
- story of apple traced back to Newton himself
- Newton would ask how? not why? (had to do with his theology)
- e = mc^2 and general relativity
- why we know it in this form (with the corrective amount left off) due to a book on the Manhattan Project after the bombs had been dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima
- has become a symbol for knowledge itself
- Einstein wanted to combine seemingly disparate ideas of Maxwell’s and Newton’s
- e^(iπ) + 1 = 0
- evidence in Los Angeles trial
- (my note: see footnote pg. 199
*Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea*about Euler’s equation as the “paragon of mathematical beauty”) - entropy
- referenced across disciplines in works, for example of Stoppard and Pynchon)
- uncertainty Heisenberg and Schrodinger
*Copenhagen*play: Bohr vs. Heisenberg on making sense- uncertainty and quantum in popular culture — painting, literature, sculpture, theology, literary criticism, humor (A cop pulls Heisenberg over. “Do you know how fast you were going?” “No, but I can tell you exactly where I am.”)
- people know that observations had an effect before Heisenberg
- Maxwell’s equations
- didn’t actually write the equations (as we know them) himself, Heaviside did that later
- how equations changed through history
- often given in words first, and becomes “catchier” later, such and Newton with F = ma
- at some point “=” and “+” etc. had to be invented
- Suggested reading: David Lindley’s
*Uncertainty: Einstein, Heisenberg, Bohr, and the Struggle for the Soul of Science* - side note: several of these equations are on the steps outside of LAPL

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that must’ve been a pretty long receipt.

i just took concise, small notes