A while ago, I downloaded a podcast series from iTunes. It’s a series of lectures by Richard Muller, a Physics Professor at Berkeley. This podcast, along with a few others, are available free on iTunes.
These lectures have been a real delight. Muller has a great knack for covering topics at a level that doesn’t dive too deeply beyond the comprehension of mere mortals. I usually find each lecture to have a mix of things I already knew and things I knew nothing at all about. As a measure of Muller’s ability to communicate, I find I’m equally interested in both, as he always finds a novel way to convey these topics.
The name of the course, incidentally, is “Physics for Future Presidents,” so a central theme of the lectures is that the student should absorb the concepts in the course, but not be expected to churn out calculations. That suits me just fine.
Understanding these ideas as they apply to our lives, on the other hand, is fascinating. Muller explains such things as the physics behind alternative fuels and global warming. As you might expect, some of the common wisdom surrounding these and other topics has a basis in physics, and Muller explains that. What you might not expect is that there are places where the common wisdom has completely failed to grasp the reality of these matters, and Muller covers those areas well, too.
Why a physics-lite class? What’s the point, if students aren’t intended to go on to dedicate their lives to physics? Easy. Muller understands that a broad understanding of the real forces that shape the world around us will equip anyone to call “bullshit” when somebody starts blowing smoke or selling FUD, either intentionally or out of ignorance. A little understanding equals better decisions.
So go ahead – blow off the drive-time drivel, and listen to some physics on your commute!