Sunday, April 27, 2008

Motion Mountain

Motion Mountain - The Free Physics Textbook (by Christopher Schiller) is positively amazing. It is a freely available online physics textbook aimed at attracting a wide variety of personality and thinking types (image/verbally oriented; male/female; composer/competitor; experimentally/theoretically inclined; scientific/humanity minded). I am not very far into it yet, but it has succeeded very well with me. I am really enjoying that it approaches physics from a very philosophically-minded standpoint--for example, Schiller describes time as that which allows contradictions to inhere within the same entity--provided that said contradictions occur at different times, of course. He talks about the notions of measurement, observation, and distinguishing objects from their environment (and how this relates to permanence versus variability).

Furthermore, it contains challenges at the end of each chapter to get you thinking more in-depth about the subject, and many of them are very conceptual rather than mathematical. Not that it's a bad thing at all to develop mathematical facility, but the mathematical detail happens to be (unfortunately) the area of physics I enjoy least. Throughout the chapters, Schiller asks us to ponder such questions as, do events exist? Do clocks even exist, really? What are the necessary conditions for velocity to be a part of the world? He also includes pleasant little historical details and social contexts. And he quotes from Wittgenstein's Tractatus often at the beginnings of sections, which is kinda fun =P.

I think he's done an admirable job making the book appealing to those from the humanities (such as myself--although I do have a bit of a computer science background in my distant past, and I'm very fond of logic). I can tell that I am going to enjoy the rest of this book immensely. It is astounding to me that someone took the effort to put this incredible resource together for free. Thank you so much, Christopher Schiller: I deeply appreciate your work.

1 comment:

  1. There is a new version online, with 100 more pages and over 50 more figures. Enjoy! Christoph