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Books We Loved

'Does God Play Dice', by Ian Stewart

A rat with a Dice

What use is Maths? Mathematicians are other-worldly beings. They think about problems that have little link to reality, just for the sake of it. What we need are practical people. Forget all that pure maths and go solve some real problems. Join the real-world. You need to be goal-directed to do any good.

What Garbage!

'Does God Play Dice' is about the New Mathematics of Chaos. Chaos Theory is one of the more revolutionary branches of mathematics to have been developed in the 20th-century. Ian Stewart uses it to answer Einstein's famous question, "Does God Play Dice?" Is there complete randomness underlying the way the universe works, as the current interpretations of Quantum Mechanics requires, or is everything 'deterministic'. In other words, suppose it was possible to know everything about the current state of the universe down to every last sub-atomic particle. Could you then use the information (if you were a sufficiently powerful Deity, of course) to predict future states of the Universe, or would there be unpredictable randomness involved. Does it all follow as if like clockwork, or does the unknowable toss of a dice partly decide what happens next?

The book also shows that Chaos Theory is an excellent example of the way apparently esoteric mathematics can lead to very practical and originally unforeseen economic benefits. The story is one of a wide variety of scientists, Physicists, Meteorologists, Astronomers, Chemists and more, each attacking their own problems, capturing glimpses of the bigger mathematical picture beneath...until eventually the time is right. The Mathematicians link it all together and out of chaos comes both a beautiful mathematical theory and a deeper understanding of everything from measles epidemics and the limits of weather forecasting, through how to manufacture good springs and design intelligent heart pacemakers, and even how to send probes out into the solar system with minimal fuel. Oh and a plausible answer to whether God plays dice or not, which whether right or not will certainly give you a deeper understanding of how the universe works.

Along the way there is lots for a budding computer scientist to think about, from the applications of Chaos in efficiently creating realistic images of nature to the limits of computer simulation in modelling reality.

Ian Stewart tells the story brilliantly, putting fun twists on the explanations of the mathematics in a way that keeps you wanting to turn the pages. The book does delve fairly deeply into the mathematics in places, though, so needs concentration at times to fully follow the plot. It is more than worth the effort though. You will catch a glimpse of how beautiful mathematics can be, and how awe-inspiring reality really is.