I'm a physicist and author based in Europe (although I am, by nationality, an American). This site offers some links to my books and recent articles, and some information about my current projects.
Breaking News: I've just
started a new blog
called The Physics of Finance. I'm currently working on a book on the
same topic, and I hope this blog will give me space to explore the work
of many physicists (and other natural scientists) who are currently
provoking a revolutionary change in the way finance theory is done. If
traditional economics has emphasized self-regulating processes and the
concept of market equilibrium, the new perspective emphasizes the
myriad positive feed backs which often drive markets away from
equilibrium and cause tumultuous crashes and other crises. Please visit!
Along with my colleague from New Scientist Justin Mullins, I am still running two-day seminars for anyone (graduate students, postdocs, practising scientists, ...) interested writing scientific papers more clearly and effectively. We've enjoyed doing these over the past two years and think students have learned a great deal. You can learn more at our website www.writeaboutscience.com.
At the moment I'm working on the Physics of Finance book and also
writing articles for
magazines such as New Scientist, Nature, Strategy+Business,
MIT Technology Review, and, of course, Nature Physics,
for whom I've been writing a monthly column for the last five years. To
find most of the stuff I've done over the past 6 months google New
Scientist and search on my name!
My most recent book The Social Atom was published in the U.S. in 2007 (Bloomsbury Press).In the book I argue against all those many philosophers and social scientists who have insisted that the human world is somehow distinct and separate from the rest of nature, and that our science of it has to be totally different from physical science. I argue instead (and I think of lot of recent research backs me up) that this idea is dead wrong; good science is good science, whether it is physics or sociology, and it should be possible to build up a "social physics" that makes sense of the human world in much the same way as our physics theories explain the physical world. If that sounds implausible or unlikely, I hope you (if you choose to be a reader!) will be pleasantly surprised....
In May 2007, I was a guest columnist for the New York Times. In the column I explored the ideas of the book in relation to (then) current events. You can still read the column here, and I don't think you need a subscription. Also, please have a look at my blog where you can find most of those articles, and others too. As you'll see, I haven't updated The Social Atom blog in quite some time, as I've found it necessary (mortgage, bills, you know the story) to focus on work for which I get paid -- writing for magazines, etc. Hopefully I can get back to it -- if any bloggers have tips on how to make that work, I'd love to hear!
In my earlier book Small World
in the U.S.) I explored very recent work in the science of networks.
Our world is increasingly interconnected in ways that seem
bewilderingly complex. Yet science has shown that the "wiring patterns"
of our human networks, formed through bonds of friendship, business, or
technology, as in the Internet, turn out to be remarkably similar to
the patterns one finds in natural networks ranging from food webs to
the human brain. In this book I offered a snapshot of research that is
revealing "hidden order" in the tangled networks that underlie
everything from air travel and globalization to modern computer
technology and the world wide web.
And then in my first book, Ubiquity, I explored how ideas from modern physics can help put our understanding of human history on a firmer basis. The book argues, essentially, that while many historians have sought to understand the rhythms of history using old mathematical concepts such as cycles or linear progressions (inspired by 18th and 19th century physics), modern physics offers a far richer bag of mathematical concepts that naturally apply to historical processes. Among other things, these concepts tell us that we should expect change to arrive not gradually and predictably but in rare spasms and tumultuous events.
What I've been working on recently
Here are some articles I've either just finished or am still working on:
How do animals forage for food? Is it mostly random, or do they follow patterns that make efficient sense? This article looks at lots of new data showing that many animals from deer and bumble bees to sharks and many marine mammals do follow a striking mathematical pattern known in physics as a "Levy flight," known to be an efficient way to search under certain conditions. Curiously, a new paper in Nature in the same issue suggests that humans in their daily lives follow quite similar patterns.
Although quantum theory is a spectacularly successful theory of the microworld, its theoretical foundations remain unsettled after a century. Several meetings this summer will explore the status of one particular attempt to provide a sound foundation, known as the Everett (or "Many Worlds") Interpretation of Quantum Theory. Read more...
Using sophisticated sensors to gather real data on human interactions, researchers are putting the social side of business organizations under the microscope. The aim is a more scientific understanding of human organizations of all kinds. Read more...
Animals follow their instincts, while we humans use our reasoning brains, or so philosophers tell us. But researchers increasingly think that much of human behavior is also "pre-programmed" and instinctual, almost mechanical. Read more...
Complex networks support everything from natural ecosystems to the global economy. Yet scientists still know very little about how a network's topology, its "wiring diagram", influences its function. This is a short essay exploring this idea.
Prejudice is socially destructive. But research into its evolutionary origins suggests that prejudicial thinking may also have a functional side. Paradoxically, it helps us (and helped our ancestors) to forge strong, cohesive groups. Read more...
Several years ago, using mostly statistical evidence, a Dutch court sentenced nurse Lucia de Berk to life in prison for murdering patients. When "suspicious" deaths happened, she was always around, far more than could be explained by mere chance. But Dutch mathematicians now say the court misinterpreted the numbers, and that Lucia may be completely innocent. Read more...
Physicists have long supposed that energy pumped into a crystalline solid (or any other spatially periodic system) should tend to spread out. But researchers are increasingly interested by "discrete breathers" -- nonlinear vibrations that keep energy fixed within small regions. These localized excitations may be surprisingly important even in basic phenomena such as the flow of heat and electricity. Read more...To see more of my work look here.
Visit The Social Atom
exploring the ideas of the book)
Noteworthy stuffHere are a few links to some sites that I find particularly useful, interesting or important:
Physics and Science