The Higgs Boson and Beyond

The Higgs Boson and BeyondThe Higgs Boson and Beyond
Professor Sean Carroll, Ph.D.
The Great Courses
purchased audio download on sale for $17.95
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While most sets from The Great Courses are twenty-four or thirty-six lectures, this series is twelve lectures. But what a lot of information is packed into those twelve lectures.

You may recall when the announcement of the Higgs Boson was made in 2012. It was a major scientific breakthrough. The Higgs had been predicted by physicists working on the Standard Model of quantum physics as necessary to provide mass at the subatomic level. After the discovery, there were a lot of jokes floating around about the Higgs Boson. (The Higgs Boson walks into a church. The priest says, “Hey, get out of here!” The Higgs Boson replies, “But without me how can you have mass?”)

In this series of lectures Professor Carroll describes the theoretical background to the search for the Higgs Boson. He talks about the researchers who developed the theory and the creation of the Large Hadron Collider on the French-Swiss border, and how it was specifically designed to look for the Higgs. He explains how the phenomenon is actually a field and not a particle, but that it’s easier to talk about it as a particle. Carroll describes how the Higgs cannot be observed directly but must be deduced by the parts into which it decays.

You may know that I buy Great Courses in audio format because I listen to them on my walks. I will say for this course, however, that I believe I missed a great deal taking the audio-only route. If you’re interested in this material I would suggest you buy the DVD or video download.


What Einstein Got Wrong

EinsteinWhat Einstein Got Wrong
Professor Dan Hooper, Ph.D.
The Great Courses
Audio download $19.95 when on sale
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I generally buy twenty-four and thirty-six lecture courses from The Great Courses, but the material in this course looked fascinating so I purchased this twelve lecture set.

Professor Hooper makes clear that he is not critical of Einstein nor does he in any way intend to diminish Einstein’s monumental accomplishments. His point is every scientist gets some things wrong: even Einstein.

Sometimes Einstein was just stubborn. He refused to believe that black holes could exist physically, even though his own theory of relativity and the mathematics predict they should. Unfortunately, the first black holes weren’t discovered until long after his death. His choices were sometimes based on philosophical or aesthetic preferences. For example, he simply preferred to believe that the universe was neither expanding or collapsing. However, when Edwin Hubble showed him solid evidence that the universe was expanding he accepted it.

Einstein never would accept the conclusions of quantum mechanics. Again, the mathematics could not be disputed, but Einstein preferred to believe that the theory was incomplete. He spent years trying to find a way to prove a deterministic subatomic universe rather than the random one that quantum theory predicts. He never did succeed.

If you enjoy science, physics, and astronomy you will find this course fascinating.


Great Minds of the Eastern Intellectual Tradition

Great MindsGreat Minds of the Eastern Intellectual Tradition
Professor Grant Hardy, Ph.D.
The Great Courses
Audio download $34.95 when on sale
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This is an expansive course.

The series contains thirty-six lectures. Geographically it encompasses India, China, Japan, Korea, and even Persia. Professor Hardy looks at thought as early as the Vedas from somewhere around the 4th or 6th centuries A.D., and goes all the way up to Gandhi and Mao in the twentieth century, and then on to current customs and culture.

The fact that he covers a lot of material is made evident early in the course where the two earliest collections of sacred writing in India, the Vedas and the Upanishads, must share a single lecture. Hardy discusses people and works you might be familiar with and individuals and writings you’ve never heard of.

There is a lot of material here. I think this course is deserving of a second go round.


The History of Spain

History of SpainThe History of Spain: Land on a Crossroad
Professor Joyce E. Salisbury, Ph.D.
The Great Courses
Audio download $34.95 when on sale
If the course is not on sale, check back– the sale price will come around again

This was a fascinating course that spans a vast amount of time. Professor Salisbury covers the history of the Iberian Peninsula from the stone age up until the modern day. She describes the Roman period, the coming of Christianity, the Islam conquest of the peninsula, and the Christian Reconquista which returned the peninsula to Christian control. She talks, all too briefly, about al-Andalus when Muslims, Christians, and Jews all co-existed peacefully. She discusses the Spanish empire and the various royal houses that ruled Spain. She discusses the wars of the twentieth century and on to the current decade.

As always I bought the audio version as I listen to these lectures on my walks. I could tell that I was missing a lot from not having the video, as there were lectures on the visual arts and architecture. Nonetheless, this course was well worth the price. Salisbury is an entertaining lecturer and I learned a great deal.


simplifying my walk

For a number of years now I have listened to lectures from The Great Courses on my iPod when I took my walks. It has worked out well and I really enjoyed it. Recently I wrote about how I couldn’t get a clean copy of the lectures onto my iPod from iTunes. What I did was start streaming my lectures from the Great Courses app, which has worked out fine now that we have a more generous data plan on our iPhones.

Great Courses for iPhone appInitially I was concerned about the transition from WiFi to cellular as I got out of range of our house. Turns out that’s not an issue. That is all handled seamlessly and I listen to the lecture without interruption as I head out.

The other advantage is even better. At one time when I downloaded lectures from the Great Courses I could click a button and it would download all 24 or 36 lectures automatically to iTunes while I walked away. Some time back they changed that, and I had to download each lecture individually. Big pain.

Now that I’m streaming I don’t even have to think about that. And instead of having both my iPod and my iPhone (with the fitness app that records my time and distance) on my belt, I only have my iPhone.

Simpler and easier. Much better!


iPod strangeness

iPodFor many years now I have listened to lectures from The Great Courses on my iPod when taking my walk while I tracked my progress using the fitness app on my iPhone. However, the last time I transferred a new course from iTunes on my computer to my ancient iPod the audio was full of chirps and scratches, even though the sound on my computer was clean. I tried a number of different methods to get clean sound, but without success.

As an alternative I downloaded the Great Course app to my iPhone. With our new and improved data plan, there were no concerns about my streaming the course as did my walks. It has worked out well. I only need to take one device on my walks and the sound quality is great.

Meanwhile I downloaded a music .mp3 file, imported it into iTunes, and transferred it to my iPod. The sound was perfectly clean.

I don’t understand.


Redefining Reality

Redefining Reality coverRedefining Reality: The Intellectual Implications of Modern Science
Professor Steven Gimbel, Ph.D.
The Great Courses
Audio download $39.95 when on sale
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This course is sweeping in its scope.

Professor Gimbel’s premise is that there has always been a redefinition of reality as a result of advances in science and technology. He covers pretty much all of the sciences including physics, astronomy, biology, chemistry, and even psychology. He goes back as far as Plato and Aristotle and takes science fully into the modern era, discussing string theory and virtual reality. Gimbel has a great breadth of knowledge and understanding. He even covers popular culture, including books and movies, rather extensively.

Sometimes Gimbel would get too down in the weeds and I would find my mind wandering. This is not the best Great Courses lecture series I have listened to, but much of it was quite interesting.