Book review Dice World – science and life in a random universe by Brian Clegg

I just read a paperback for the first time in a little while, so it is a little off my usual path but… In his delightful approach to visualizing the complexity of randomness, Brian Clegg takes us on a well organized non mathematical tour of the subject.

Brian Clegg is a science author who despairs at the dull and uninspiring approach to teaching his favorite topics. His biography tells of appearances at the Royal Institution in London and multiple lectures given at the very best and brightest universities. He is also a columnist and contributor to popular media radio and television programs and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.
So who could be better to try and take us on a journey into the heart of the Universe?
The premiss of the book, which is scientific in nature takes its kick off from “..It proved impossible to predict exactly how three planets orbiting each other would move. Meteorologists discovered that the weather was truly chaotic…it could never be predicted for more than a few days out. And the final nail in the coffin was quantum theory.”
My review: having done some statistics many years ago, the title of this book triggered a gut reflex concern that we were going into a labyrinth of mathematics from which my mind would never escape. Luckily, this was not case and I counted only a couple of hairy equations and the second one is even given a by-pass for those of a nervous disposition.
This reflects Brian Clegg’s writing style in ‘Dice World’. He relies on words and anecdotes to bring the sometimes extremely abstract concepts into a very tangible reality. We can, with the aid of the book, demonstrate quantum effects in our living room. We also learn how to increase our chances of winning apparently random games.
There is some thought required in going through ‘Dice World’ to get the most out of the concepts it is worth trying to turn off your common sense. It is thought that Einstein commented “Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.” This pretty much sums up why we might not always be on the right track and also why it is so difficult to change our opinion.
Essentially the conclusion is that there is no fundamental driver, it is random. Creating true random is an essentially impossible oxymoron but what is both exciting and useful is the revelation that if we can relax for a minute and take a step back we can use the outcome of randomness to our benefit in all sorts of ways that Clegg describes eloquently.


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