Lately I’ve been reading a fabulous string of novels yet it’s made me feel a little guilty about ignoring the more science-oriented and fact-driven prose out there. So I’ve been making my first tentative steps into the field of physics with a book by Neil deGrasse Tyson called Death by Black Hole. It’s not so much a new body of work but a collection of previous writings, essays and stories about the heat death of the universe, string theory and, of course, what it feels like to get torn apart by the event horizon of a black hole.
The book makes for a nice introduction into a lot of these topics but my favourite section is where Tyson describes how scientists are baffled on a daily basis by the sheer complexity of the universe. It’s here where he describes how Richard Feynman compared the cosmos to a game of chess:
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Richard Feynman, the celebrated twentieth-century physicist, humbly observed that figuring out the laws of physics is like observing a chess game without knowing the rules in advance. Worse yet, he wrote, you don’t get to see each move in sequence. You only get to peek at the game in progress every now and then. With this intellectual handicap, your task is to deduce the rules of chess. You may eventually notice that bishops stay on a single color. That pawns don’t move very fast. Or that a queen is feared by other pieces. [...] Most scientists would agree that the rules of the universe, whatever they may look like in their entirety, are vastly more complex than the rules of chess, and they remain a wellspring of endless bafflement.