HPS 0410 Einstein for Everyone Spring 2008

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Assignment 1. It's Not That Easy

For submission Monday, January 7/ Tuesday January 8.

In this class, we are going to review a series of remarkable and unexpected discoveries in science. We will find that the speed of light represents an impassable barrier; that moving clocks slow; that mass is a form of energy; that gravity is really a curvature of the geometry of spacetime; and much more.

With a master like Einstein to guide us, it looks so easy. It is as if no commonsense idea is secure. It seems as if the smallest nudge is all that is needed to topple great edifices that seemed completely secure. These discoveries are like the fictional gold that supposedly paved the streets of London. Innocents arriving in London found that wealth there was not easy to come by.

It isn't that easy. Revolutionary discoveries are exceedingly hard to find. To give you some perspective, consider:

1. Briefly, in a few sentences, describe a successful revolutionary discovery in science NOT drawn from Einstein's work. (Hint: Pick your favorite, but if you are having trouble, what did Copernicus or Darwin find?)

2. Briefly, in a few sentences, describe an UNsuccessful attempt at a revolutionary discovery. (Hint: Pick your favorite, but if you are having trouble, the word "crank" might help, as might "perpetual motion machine" and "Velikovsky.")

For discussion in the recitation:

How can you tell the real discovery from the phoney?