Is your inner Einstein looking for some brain candy?

paradox

This deliciously meaty and heavily researched book should be on everyone’s shelf. Of course, I’m prejudiced as a scientist myself. I thrive on nonfiction books like this, because they clear the dust from those remote corners of my brain, many of which haven’t been used in a long, long time.  In many ways, the content reminds me of the popular physics books Isaac Azimov wrote years ago, which I thrived upon, prior to actually obtaining a physics degree myself.

Probably what I liked most is its focus on the numerous paradoxes that exist in just about every field of study. The author includes sections on medicine, neurology, and psychology; astronomy, cosmology, and physics; and geosciences and math. He points out through a host of examples that there is still so much we don’t understand and thus so much to learn and explore. On the other hand, research is often subjective and highly biased, conducted to prove a point that financially benefits someone or, more likely, a corporation or industry.

So can you trust research results? Maybe, maybe not, making scientific findings paradoxes in and of themselves.  Science should represent facts, but does it? If someone you don’t trust tells you one thing, scientific data notwithstanding, do you automatically assume the opposite to be true? Do you trust everything the pharmaceutical industry tells you? The tobacco industry? Monsanto? The government? How many times has USDA’s official “food pyramid” changed? How many drugs or food additives have been declared “safe” by the FDA only to be proven otherwise at a later date? is it a paradox we can’t believe so much of what we’re told in the name of science?

You’ve probably heard the quote “Lies, damn lies, and statistics”. The section on mathematical manipulation was particularly fascinating, especially pointing out a statistical flaw (or method, depending on whom you ask) known as HARKing, “hypothesizing after the results are known.” Sometimes, remarkable discoveries are found that way; but, on the other hand, it can be used deceptively.

Weimann notes how correlations are often implicated as causes, when there’s no solid evidence to substantiate it. Along similar lines, in some cases, I would have liked to have seen a specific source as opposed to the massive bibliography at the end. While I understand that footnoting every fact would have been a Herculean task, I definitely raised a eyebrow from time to time wondering, and would have appreciated more substantiation. Ironically, the author himself points out how so much of published scientific findings are suspect, yet other times presents them as gospel. I find this somewhat ironic, perhaps a subtle play on the title, perceivable only at the subconscious level, or maybe it’s the author’s way of messing with us.

What can we believe these days? Sometimes, it’s hard to tell. In some ways, the entire book is a paradox, where facts are provided on one hand, yet the overall theme is that contradictions lie all around us. It’s as if it the book’s underlying message is something like, “This is all the cool stuff science is discovering these days, but don’t believe everything you hear.”

Maybe you need to be a scientist to see the humor in that. We nerds do tend to have a weird sense of humor, a trait that’s occasionally, but not always, captured on the popular TV show, “The Big Bang Theory.” It’s a matter of laughing with versus at someone and, more often than not, the humor in that show is directed at mocking those who are different. Personally, as a physics major myself, I find it marginally offensive, and if I were of certain political persuasions, I’d be out there protesting and demanding it be removed from the airwaves. Not that scientists can’t laugh at themselves. They just do it at a level the average person doesn’t grok.

Digression aside, Paradox contains a wealth of science, much of it unknown or cutting edge; the beauty of it lies in pointing out–sometimes clearly, sometimes, not–the various contradictions afoot. A favorite saying among physicists and mathematicians is that something is “intuitively obvious.” That tends to show our arrogant side, since so much isn’t, such as his expose of the number one in the math section.

One human behavior paradox I particularly enjoyed in Weimann’s book was in the section that addresses psychology. As humans, we want choices, even demand them, but too many options are overwhelming and tend to result in a person not selecting any of them. I know I’ve experienced this in the grocery store, where there is so much to choose from (especially in the ice cream cooler) that walking away and thus doing without is a far simpler decision, and probably healthier. Another example would be the plethora of political ideologies (some of which are idiotologies) where people scream for freedom to express their own views, then want the entire world to conform to their beliefs, a primary reason why democracies fail.

Some sections are more controversial than others, including the age of the Earth, as well as whether global warming is attributable to a natural climate cycle, which the Earth has endured for millennia, or being contributed to by fossil fuels. I must say, that section tended to convince me of the latter, though I previously leaned toward natural cycles. I found the section fascinating that addresses how our brains have evolved and actually become smaller. The author states that scientific evidence indicates that once daily environmental threats are removed by a “civilized” society, brains shrink, while disease increases. Apparently, “Survival of the fittest” conditions refine a species to top efficiency, whereas survival for everyone, including the drones, downgrades the species, generally. Who woulda thunk it?

The contradictions paradoxes represent keep us honest and humble. They remind us that all may not be as it seems, that our sense of reason may be flawed, implying we’re not as smart as we’d like to think we are. What we believe is impossible is limited only by our knowledge of natural law. Perhaps the only individuals from centuries past who wouldn’t be surprised by what we’ve achieved would be Nostradamus and other visionaries who were considered crazy in their own time.

While this book serves as brain candy if you’re a scientist, you don’t have to have a physics degree to appreciate or understand this information. Rest assured, it’s presented for a lay audience, but won’t be palatable for everyone. For those who find science boring, it’ll serve best as bedtime reading for insomniacs.

On the other hand, this is a must read if you’re a science aficionado or entirely immersed in it by degree or profession. Stretch your synapses to fields outside your own! If you love science, yet aren’t formally educated in its tenets, Paradox is a wonderful primer that will keep you informed of some of the most interesting subjects under investigation today. If you’re surrounded by scientists or engineers, but aren’t one yourself, yet want to participate in conversations at work or social gatherings and show you’re smarter than they think you are, this handy volume will provide a wealth of the latest information on what’s going on out there in the world of research, both in the cosmos and on planet Earth.

Those heading for college to obtain a technical degree can benefit greatly as well. If you’re not sure which field you want to go into, you may find something that grabs you. Furthermore, this material will help grease the skids, so to speak, introducing concepts that will make them easier to understand later. Our brains require synaptic connections to work properly, and if a concept is entirely new, it’s harder to grasp than one with some level of familiarity where a niche has already been prepared in your grey matter, if you will. Anyone home schooling their kids will also find this an excellent resource. If you’re a science fiction author, you definitely need this book, not only to keep your writing credible, but to likewise trigger a wealth of new ideas.

As you can tell, if nothing else, this book made me think and possibly stimulated my neurons a bit too much. All that aside, even if you’re not interested yourself, pick up a copy of this five-star book and give it to your favorite nerd. They’ll be forever grateful.

You can pick up your copy on Amazon here.

Advertisements

Guilty as Charged: I Had an Ulterior Motive

STTlpostcardVP2 copy

Okay, I admit it. I had an ulterior motive when I wrote the Star Trails Tetralogy. I don’t think it was a bad one, but it was there nonetheless. As I’ve mentioned before, perhaps ad nauseam, I was inspired to pursue a career in a technical field by the science fiction I read as a kid. And that is what I wanted to do with my stories, make science intriguing and interesting enough that my readers would love it as much as I do and want to know more. I mean, seriously. Why else would an otherwise normal person get a degree in physics? At least I thought I was normal. Then again, maybe not.

At any rate, my books have apparently succeeded to some degree. But don’t listen to me, I’m clearly biased and perhaps not to be trusted. Here’s what some of my reviewers have to say:

Marcha Fox has a gift for explaining the science in an interesting and original way. Sci-fi fans who love properly developed cultures backed up by hard and well understood science will devour these stories.

Science theory is a large part of this story and the writer uses many scenes and situations to explore warp drive, time bumps, worm holes, and warp gullies to name a few. When explanation is needed in a book, it usually slows progression of the plot, but the author uses the science as a “key” to unlock the puzzle of the many developing situations in which Creena finds herself. It’s a great book for anyone that wants to learn more about scientific concepts while being thoroughly entertained.

Anyone who loves hard science will lap this book up.

Having taught junior high science for a number of years I think this read would be a fabulous addition to classroom libraries as well as “the hungry for sci-fi lovers” personal bookshelf.

A great book for anyone that wants to learn more about scientific concepts while being thoroughly entertained.

The scientific details added greatly to the story without sounding like something out of a textbook.

I am in awe of the world author Marcha Fox has created. She has populated our galaxy with human colonies and aliens, enriching the story with intricate detail covering solar systems, seasons, geology, politics, anthropological, fauna, eco-commerce, technological, and spiritual beliefs that are unveiled layer upon layer as the story progresses.

[The author] integrates actual science into science fiction, creating worlds, customs, and life forms outside the world we live.

Needless to say I was deeply gratified and appreciative that these wonderful readers picked up on my ulterior motive and didn’t give me a one or two star review because it was too technical and therefore boring. Of course, nerds like myself LOVE the technical side, but that’s besides the point.

So what is the point? The point is that I didn’t stop there. I also put together “The Star Trails Compendium” which includes a glossary of terms, both fictitious and otherwise, as a companion volume to the stories. I include more details about the star system, Cyraria’s weird, lemniscate (figure-8 shaped) orbit, its effects on their horrific, extreme weather, political structure, and a bit more about the bnolar, the planet’s indigenous species. I hope no one is too disappointed that I refrained from including all the calculations I did while developing the star system, mostly because math is so tedious to express via the keyboard.

And here’s the best part: The ebook versions of the Compendium are FREE!  (At least everywhere but Amazon, who’s a bit uncooperative, but might come around eventually given enough complaints. Hint, hint..)

If you’re an educator or perhaps a homeschooler, there’s an even better bonus especially for you. I’ve included suggestions for lesson plans and discussion topics based on the chapters of each book. Thus, any science teachers who have students who need a little bit more could assign my books as extra credit backed up by assignments which are all but laid out for you in the Compendium. Science clubs could likewise utilize them. Knowing how overloaded today’s teachers are, this could provide the needed stimulation for the Advanced Placement students without a lot of extra work on their part.

If you’re wondering how this works, here’s an example using an excerpt from Chapter 3 of “Beyond the Hidden Sky.”

bthsreallydoneit copy

The Escape Pod

Shortly after jettison the acceleration shell loosened its grip and shrunk back into the side of the seat but Creena remained in place, gripping the armrests with white-knuckled hands. She’d always been frustrated with the rapid heartbeat and breathing provoked by anger but that was nothing compared to what she was feeling now. She’d experienced a variety of emotions on Mira III, more than most that went through their ordered lives in a state of unquestioning, unreactive calm.

What she felt now, however, was stronger still, a deep, primal reaction from the core of her being. Seared by adrenaline every cell cried out with an unspeakable fear far deeper than any provoked merely by thought, terror firing her blood like a burning fuse.

Never in her entire life had she been so scared.

Her breathing rasped in her ears, mouth dry with her hands shaking and clammy against the armrests. Gradually her racing mind slowed and her heart stopped pounding though her breathing remained heavier than normal as she concentrated on her surroundings.

Funny, it didn’t even feel like she was moving anymore. But it hadn’t felt like the Aquarius was moving, either. She thought back to her Academy physics class and remembered that was the case when something was moving in a straight line at constant speed. The starfield on the holoscreen likewise seemed still but instinct told her that was simply a matter of scale.

She released the straps, their recoil sloppy and slow. The breathless, airy feeling swelled upward, the sensation similar to a soaring dive in an air cruiser. She gasped clutching her chest and the next thing she knew she was floating haplessly above the shell, like a sphere under electro-magnetic levitation.

She gasped in renewed horror.

Was she dead?

She pinched herself, hard, relieved only slightly when it hurt.

Across the pod lights blinked and flashed while the metal floor offered a dizzying design of concentric rings that still seemed to spring upward in pulsating waves. The illusion aggravated the growing nausea even as the facts fell into place.

The Aquarius hadn’t felt that much different from being confined in an ugly building. Certain areas like the galarium where wall-embedded holoscreens gave every impression that a real world lay beyond epoxy shields even added to the deception. But the pod was designed for survival and lacked the power hungry comforts of a starship.

And a mass generator’s gravity simulation was one of them.

StarTrailsCompendium copy

And here are two of the Compendium Discussion and Lesson Plan Suggestions for Chapter 3:

  1. It doesn’t feel as if the pod is moving. Why?

When something is moving in a straight line at constant speed you can’t tell it’s moving. This relates to Newton’s 1st Law of Motion or the principle of inertia which states than an object will remain in a state of rest or constant velocity unless acted upon by unbalanced forces. Newton’s 2nd Law is best described by the equation Force = mass x acceleration or F=ma.

In other words, the force exerted on an object depends on its mass and how fast it is changing speed or accelerating. Newton’s 3rd Law relates to opposing forces, that whenever a force is applied to something, an equal and opposite force is generated, such as the kickback on a rifle or pushing off the side of a swimming pool.

  1. Why is Creena weightless in the pod?

It doesn’t have a “gravity simulator.” Mass such as that of a planet creates gravity which is proportional to how big it is. Scientists will don’t understand exactly how or why gravity works, but they can predict its strength based on the mass of an object or planet.

* * *

So this should give you some idea of the possibilities. Did I have an ulterior motive for this blog? Of course I did. I want my books to reach the audience for which they were intended! But here’s the good news. You can get “Beyond the Hidden Sky” as an ebook for only $0.99 and the Compendium for FREE! Why don’t you check it out? If you’re a teacher or parent trying to encourage your child to not only enjoy science but perhaps actually pursue it, what do you have to lose? Oh, yeah, there’s one more thing. If your library has ebook lending capability, it can obtain all four volumes of the Star Trails Tetralogy for free through Smashwords.

“Beyond the Hidden Sky” Buy Links

Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0615658865/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0615658865&linkCode=as2&tag=valkyrastrol-20&linkId=DKGQSU3GYWZM6WH7

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/509500

Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/beyond-the-hidden-sky-marcha-a-fox/1112260474

Kobo Link: http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/beyond-the-hidden-sky

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/beyond-the-hidden-sky/id957915250

Create Space (Print copy): https://www.createspace.com/3911767

“Star Trails Compendium” Links

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/537630

Kobo: https://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/star-trails-compendium

Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/star-trails-compendium-marcha-fox/1121807004

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/star-trails-compendium/id989027687