Category Archives: nonfiction

TAL: A Conversation with an Alien is a fictionalized scenario in which a man engages in a lucid discussion of what is known today about quantum theory

TAL Anonymous

TAL

Review by KEN KORCZAK

The author of TAL has opted for a bit of melodrama, perhaps to spice things up initially and pique the curiosity of readers. To this end the book is mysteriously published as “Anonymous” and it’s billed as a “conversation with an alien.” But what we have here is a straightforward and lucid conversation of quantum physics theory, presented in classic dialectic form.

Only at the end does the author identify this book as a work of “pure fiction.” The fictional element is extremely slight — it’s used only to set a stage for an average guy to encounter another individual of extreme intelligence. The two sit down for a conversation in which the alien relates his insights into the implications of the quantum mechanical universe.

“TAL” claims to be an alien being who was somehow stranded on our earth 100,000 years ago. He has spent his time observing the human species. He is eager to illuminate his friend about the details, meanings and implications of the quantum model.

He does a marvelous job. If you have read other books intended for a mainstream audience explaining quantum mechanics, this will be a worthy addition to your collection. It will enhance your understanding of an always slippery topic. If you’re like me, a person who has long been fascinated quantum models of the universe, this book will give you yet another way to approach concepts that are thorny and vexing.

That’s because much of what is implied by quantum mechanics is so challenging to the way we psychologically model our physical world. Despite all of our progress in physics, most of us are still grounded in a Newtonian world in terms of our daily view. We are comfortable with rather simple cause and effect, a linear notion of time, and common sense laws of motion, mass, location and dimension. Even though most people acknowledge relativity, uncertainty and the like, they still don’t “think like Einstein“; most people still “think like Newton.”

Many of us have read about the double slit experiment which shows the seeming dual nature of a particle. A particle appears to act like both a singular “hard” object as well as a “wave”. Even if we can grasp the implications of the double slit experiment intellectually, it still confounds us psychologically. This author gives us yet another look at the issue. It helps to periodically return to the double slit results and think about it from new angles.

The author also does a terrific job selling the MANY-WORLDS INTERPRETATION originally proposed by physicist Hugh Everett III back in the 1950s. Perhaps few other theories have produced so much resistance — and just plain downright loathing — as the idea that every time a human being makes a decision one way or another, a new universe is created to accommodate that decision.

One of the ways our friend TAL makes Many-Worlds easier to swallow is by couching it in terms of the infinite. By grasping the mega-beyond-enormity of what infinity truly is, we can at least “feel comfortable” that Many-Worlds has “room” to exist and expand without limit forever.

There’s lots more, too. For example, the author does a wonderful job of shedding light on the Schrödinger probability equations. I also really like the way we are invited to reexamine the way we think about dimensions of existence, and how we perceive our relationship with time.

Perhaps best of all is a clever thought experiment which shows vividly the limits of a reductionist approach to science in terms of explaining what we can or cannot experience. For example, even if you develop the perfect mathematical equation to capture the essence of a lobster dinner, and have the best semantic description of the meal based on the reviews of others — you’ll still never truly “know” what that lobster tastes like until you actually bite into it and experience it directly with your own consciousness.

So this is a delightful read which illuminates and explains. No matter how well you think you understand quantum theory, I suspect you will gain at least a few insights, and increase your level of comfort with the implications of quantum theory. TAL will help you push your understanding to a deeper level.

Your reviewer, Ken Korczak, is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer, served as an advocate for homeless people as a VISTA Volunteer, and taught journalism at the University of North Dakota for five years. He is the author of: MINNESOTA PARANORMALA

Follow @KenKorczak

Astro Turf offers and inside look at the culture of the aerospace industry that’s highly entertaining, offers unique insight, but is also subjective

Review by KEN KORCZAK

Satan worshipers, left-over Nazis, kooky dreamers , communist sympathizers, war mongers and male chauvinist pigs – that’s who the Founding Fathers of the U.S. space program were — or at least that’s the impression you might come away with from a read of ASTRO TURF by daughter-of-a-rocket-engineer M.G. LORD.

But is it true? Sure it is – or at least the case can be made, and I can find little to fault Lord’s take on the brilliant-but-motley crew who were the first key players in early rocketry (although she gives painfully short shrift to father of American rocketry, Robert H. Goddard).

I also can’t disagree that after World War II the U.S. Military gave a free pass to German rocket scientists who almost certainly had committed – or at least knowingly aided and abetted – horrendous war crimes in Nazi Germany.

Add to all of the above: An exclusive, male-dominated, female-scorning, uber-sexist aerospace industry culture. Whether it was a contractor, such as McDonnell Douglas, or government agency, such as NASA or Jet Propulsion Laboratory, men were from Mars and women were from Venus – and the planetary gulf was not to be crossed. If you were a man, you were in a position of power – if you were a woman, you were a secretary, a sex object or a subservient computer-data entry worker.

Through the relentlessly feminist eye of M.G. Lord the penis-shaped rockets which thrust the human race into space were the ultimate phallic symbol of a world ruled by men, hell-bent on conquering new worlds – but mostly the Communist enemy.

Lord comes at her subject not as an objective journalist and social observer but as an insider for whom the development of the aerospace industry was personal – her father was a cog in that testosterone-drenched machine that ground away at conquering cold outer space while turning a frigid, cold shoulder to their wives and children at home.

In a sense, Lord’s nuclear family was a fractal iteration of that culture which would build nuclear bombs and load them onto rockets. The development of missile technology was actually more about the macho posturing of war than advancement of knowledge for the good of all mankind.

M.G. LORD

So this book is as much personal memoir as it is sociological study. For me, this is where Lord opens herself up to some constructive criticism. Lord has clearly never gotten over the pain of what she perceives as her father’s emotional abandonment of her and her mother. Her pain is exacerbated by the fact that her mother suffered greatly from a cruel case of cancer which killed her too early.

Lord eventually became deeply estranged from her father, only bridging the gap when he grew old, finally retired and approached his own death. Part of the rift had to do with her father’s extreme social and political conservatism. Lord matured into an ardent liberal feminist.

All this is well and good, but it necessarily detracts from her status as an objective analyst of what truly shaped the culture of space exploration in America. Lord makes a good case, but it’s highly anecdotal and deeply emotional. Certainly, that the first two-thirds of the twentieth century – across all culture and industries – was a male dominated society is not under dispute. Thus, it’s hardly blowing the lid off the nose cone to reveal that the aerospace industry culture was more of the same.

(Special Note: Feminists have long pointed out, rightfully so, that accusing women of being “emotional” or “hysterically emotional” is a favorite “go-to smear” to denigrate women and dismiss them as unreliable. So my comments might seem like a “here we go again moment” — because here I am — you know, a male — describing part of Lord’s thesis as “emotional.” But no one should give me any of that crapola today – anyone reading Astro Turf will be confronted with its often highly emotional tone; the still moldering resentment Lord holds for her father is more than obvious – she wrote it, she owns it – so don’t kick it back on me).

I am also tempted to say, “Hey M.G. — I’ll trade you your dad for mine any day! My dad drank a quart of Windsor Canadian whiskey every single day (and never missed a drinking day), smoked two packs a day, worked in his grocery store from sun up to sun down, never said a single word to me that I can remember, never played with me, never took me fishing, never took us on a vacation; he lived in the same home with me as a total stranger, and croaked when I was 16. My mother also suffered a slow, cruel death from breast cancer to boot.”

Your dad was a rocket scientist!

Ken Korczak is the author of: THE MAN IN THE NOTHING CHAMBER

Follow @KenKorczak