The Story of Spin

Over the past few weeks, I've been reading The Story of Spin, by Sin-itiro Tomonaga. This book tells the story of how physicists developed early versions of quantum mechanics, and it includes lots of interesting stories about how various physicists were working on ideas that turned out to be dead ends, which ideas ended up working, etc. When I learned physics, I just learned about the ideas that worked out and learned absolutely nothing about the ideas that didn't, so I found this to be fascinating.

I also found it interesting to see Tomonaga obviously in of awe of the abilities of people like Dirac, Heisenberg and Pauli. Tomonaga shared the 1965 Nobel Prize in Physics with Richard Feynman and Julian Schwinger for his role in the invention of quantum electrodynamics, so he was definitely an extremely smart guy. This might give you an idea of how clever the early inventors of quantum mechanics really were.

Reading The Story of Spin got me to spend a few minutes trying to work out the lyrics to a song about spinors set to the music from the "Toreador Song" from Carmen, much like Gilligan's Island did with Hamlet in episode 4 of season 3. (It sort of went downhill after "Neither a vector nor a tensor be, …") It also made me wonder when someone is going to write a similar book about the history of cryptography.

It seems that most of the key people from the early years of cryptography are still around, so there's still a chance for one of them to write such a book. There have been lots of papers published about cryptography in the past 30 years or so, but these just tell you about the ideas that worked, at least to some degree. I'm sure that the original inventors of the technology still remember the mis-steps that they made as clearly as their successes, and it would be very interesting to hear the stories of these. If someone took the time to write down all of those stores, that would make a book that I'd definitely buy a copy of.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *