A Dialogue on Reading Clifford Johnson’s The Dialogues


Note: May contain spoilers.

Higgsino: Honey, I can’t follow Star Wars. I’m sure it’s good, but in twenty minutes they’ve introduced 10 characters, and I can’t follow the narrative. I keep thinking about how I’d rather be reading The Dialogues. Can we leave the theatre?

Higgs: Okay, if you need to. These action movies today are all about the action. They don’t have much plot.

A little later

Higgsino: My brain…isn’t functioning. It’s not working. Can’t think. Feel confused.

Higgs: Honey, you’re just having a hard day. Maybe we should call someone for a chat?

Higgsino: Let’s read The Dialogues and listen to Yo-Yo Ma.

Higgs: Okay.

Higgsino: Let’s read them out loud, like a dialogue.

Higgs: Haha.

Reads from introduction by physics Nobel Prize winner and luminary Frank Wilczek

Higgsino: Hey, The Dialogues follows in the same tradition. Plato, Galileo, Johnson…

Higgs: And he talks about “show, don’t tell” like what all the writers instruct.

Higgsino: It’s like a guidebook. And it’s like physics which includes language, equations, even cartoons which are based on the language of math, and visuals. It’s multi-dimensional.

Reading Dialogue I

Higgsino: It’s a really funny and lighthearted discussion. It’s even a meta-graphic novel at times, talking about science comic books.

Higgs: I never thought about how because of science, we all have access to superpowers. Even simple objects like the optics in the glasses we wear are tools that give us better vision.

Higgsino: Yeah! I love how the characters connect over scientific discussion. So romantic…

Higgs: Why isn’t that how people meet in rom-coms more often?

Higgsino: I don’t know. It should. This book makes a contribution by introducing science as fun, significant, provocative, and accessible in an analogous way as science improves society.

Higgs: And you’re smiling. I like that.

Higgsino: And it really does demonstrate that within math and equations is a beauty that can rival van Gogh that I dare anyone to refute.

Higgs: You won’t get an argument from me!

Reading Dialogue II

Higgs: This one is sweet, cute, comedic, and playful!

Higgsino: That’s how science should be done, and life lived, not this stressed-out mode of publish or perish!

Higgs: I love how the kids conduct an experiment and test their hypothesis!

Higgsino: Exactly. And their curiosity about food. Food and coffee play a major role in this book. It’s like the science and playful repartee between the characters nourish us just as the food and ideas do for the characters.

Higgs: I like how The Dialogues explains pragmatic phenomena as well as presents more sophisticated theories that will appeal to a wide audience.

Higgsino: The point is that science is not just a rarefied field for elite scientists to develop. It’s the world we live in, and we can all be curious about it and participate in one way or another. Even when we’re thinking about daily activities, like cooking.

Higgs: Yeah, cooking doesn’t have to be a chore! It can be a chemistry experiment!

Higgsino: These dialogues show how wonder about science enriches everyone’s experience of day-to-day life and is as fun as playing games.

Higgs: Isn’t that what science is all about? Solving riddles and mysteries? This book definitely shows how fun it is!

Reading Dialogue III

Higgs: Hey, those sequence of pictures are in time, like a diagram would be in a physics book.

Higgsino: What I like about this conversation is the brilliant presentation of the multiverse and anthropic principle. I never thought about it this way, but Johnson’s thoughtful analogies with history and other fields of physics is ingenious!

Higgs: The optimism about the state of physics is great too! I’ve heard from some physicists that the field will die unless something new is discovered at the Large Hadron Collider. But Johnson shows there will be an endless supply of questions and theories.

Higgsino: It’s definitely an uplifting read. The discussion of the “controversy” of string theory is accurate and gently teaches the readers that sometimes the media misrepresents the state of things. We all need to be scientists and detectives to discern the validity of press releases which might sometimes be sensationalized to attract an audience.

Higgs: Yes, it’s valuable for teaching readers to check their sources and provides comprehensive ones for further exploration at the end of each chapter. It’s an important part of doing science not to treat every statement as fact but to see how it’s motivated or backed up or to question where the fact comes from.

Higgsino: There’s just one thing I can’t find easily.

Higgs: What’s that?

Higgsino: These images are gorgeous. I wonder where I could find out all the locations for the visuals?

Reading Dialogue IV

Higgs: This dialogue continues from the first one. It’s about how beauty sometimes lies in the imperfections, both in art and physics.

Higgsino: Yeah, this dialogue illustrates that art and physics aren’t as different as people think, since both have symmetry as underlying principles.

Higgs: And that both get messy which can be beautiful too.

Higgsino: All the characters in this book are smart, diverse, and really witty. I wish I could know these characters; they’d make great friends!

Higgs: Just open the book when you get lonely.

Higgsino: I wish each dialogue were longer though.

Higgs: Each dialogue presents an idea, like how theories originate in each period in history. It’s like our lives. We’re each on a segment of the time-line. But there isn’t always a nicely tied up resolution.

Higgsino: The book mimics a Feynman diagram in physics where instead of particles interacting, exchanging particles, and then going off in their own directions, the people do and exchange conversations about science – the spark of light is the dialogue in each scenario.

Higgs: Yeah, it’s kind of like life. We’re all just passing through, in each other’s lives and in the universe.

Reading Dialogue V

Higgs: Platonic ideals, religious debates, and making peace about human mortality! These are things we all grapple with!

Higgsino: This one’s in the middle of the book, a keystone that offers how science can solve pragmatic issues that plague humans on a philosophical level.

Higgs: It also has an in-joke reference to Johnson’s blog.

Higgsino: Yeah, this book really balances profound insight into science, and people’s search for understanding, with lightheartedness.

Reading Dialogue VI

Higgs: This one’s my favourite!

Higgsino: Why?

Higgs: It gives one of the best explanations I’ve seen about the stretching of spacetime and debunking the myth that space travels faster than the speed of light during inflation.

Higgsino: I also love the analogies. Is it true that the strings in string theory are part of space-time?

Higgs: Well, a graviton is a massless state of a string. But in relativity it’s a quantum ripple in space-time.

Higgsino: This book will spark a lot of dialogues; it’s a launchpad for physics discussions among lay people and physicists alike. Especially since the different areas of physics can be so specialized.

Higgs: But it also brings abstract concepts down to earth with concrete analogies. Love the sport and cooking analogies.

Higgsino: Yeah, but it’s making me hungry for stew.

Reading Dialogue VII

Higgsino: The ideas in The Dialogues are completely distracting me from the daily toils of life.

Higgs: Yeah, I think that’s the point and at the heart of the book. You can lose yourself in the fireworks of scientific dialogues.

Higgsino: It’s got everything: black holes, the Big Bang, beginnings, endings, general relativity, special relativity…

Higgs: It’s true. This book is proof that thinking about science melts away anxieties of the human condition and elevates us through telling the story of the universe. What could make a better story than the history of the universe and the attempt to understand it?

Reading Dialogue VIII

Higgsino: Hahaha, it’s funny how Johnson introduces Feynman diagrams which are pictures used to calculate many phenomena such as particle interactions and then mentions the power of cartoons, since the book is a graphic novel.

Higgs: Yeah, the book is really funny at times. I love how the visuals reflect the discussion and often include relevant math. As a character mentioned in an earlier dialogue, anyone can appreciate the beauty of the math, like a work of art, and Johnson often breaks them down for clarity.

Higgsino: This dialogue really explores the nature of how science is done.

Higgs: And makes quantum electrodynamics accessible and leads you into deeper ideas.

Higgsino: The Dialogues covers so many major areas of cutting-edge modern physics and more subtle points usually reserved for rarefied academics. But it makes science exciting and accessible.

Higgs: Like translating a book from Latin to English for English speakers.

Higgsino: This chapter even makes me want to review quantum field theory. I forgot how fun it is and haven’t thought about it in so long!

Higgs: Advancing science is one of humanity’s finer feats. I think this book celebrates the wonder and delight we can all share in physics and offers light in bleak hours, just as Maxwell’s equations describe light.

Reading Dialogue IX

Higgsino: This chapter really hones in the idea that all scientific research might be useful, even mistakes along the way.

Higgs: What do you mean?

Higgsino: Sometimes I have philosophical crises about research since there are so many models to hope to understand or learn about some phenomena, but most of them are wrong. The point is not whether your contribution is right or wrong because it’s all useful in the journey.

Higgs: I really like the idea of the fluidity of dimensions. And the conceptual and technical aspects captured in the visuals.

Higgsino: Yeah, the beauty of ideas is paralleled by the stunning visuals. I’ll have to reread the book to absorb all the artistry and the notes and references at the end of each chapter. I kept wanting to turn the page to find out what happens next.

Reading Dialogue X

Higgsino: This chapter introduces really current areas of research.

Higgs: A lot of the chapters do, but the multiverse controversy and quest for a satisfactory resolution make it particularly germane.

Higgsino: It all comes together as characters appear in more than one dialogue and interact with the different characters, converging all the dialogues. And a lot of the ideas build on each other too and return.

Reading Dialogue XI

Higgsino: This one made me want to cry.

Higgs: Why?

Higgsino: It talks about how anyone interested in science should explore it. I wish I hadn’t been so discouraged in life to pursue a life in physics.

Higgs: Well, let the characters encourage you now. It’s never too late. And anyone who wants to learn can. Even just by taking the first step and reading this book. It’s not like a secret club with people with special brains, as Johnson writes.

Higgsino: Yes, and to quote the last words of the last dialogue, “Thanks for the story.”

The Dialogues is a hip, multidimensional, stunning tour de force where science meets art, and, like good art and science, medicine for the mind, heart, and soul.


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