Motion Mountain

About the free physics project

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The dream • Book editions • Aim • Finances • Fun and learning • Motto – and lies• Dedication • Status and plan• Edition history
 

The dream

Motion is fascinating. But many physics teachers and books are boring. I always dreamt of writing the textbook on motion, a physics textbook, that I wanted to learn from when I was young: a book that conveys fascination and excitement, wonder and thrill, and a book that motivates the reader to explore the subject even further. After more than 25 years of improvements, the latest edition is approaching the goal.

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Book editions

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Aim of the project

Across all languages, physics is the science with the least appealing textbooks. This project wants to change this, by producing a simple, captivating and up-to-date introduction to modern physics. 'Simple' means that concepts are stressed more than formalism. 'Captivating' means that the reader is continuously entertained, motivated and challenged. 'Up-to-date' means that modern research results are included. The subtitle of the text, The Adventure of Physics, sums up these three aspects.

The approach starts with an uncommon, but clear definition of physics: physics is the science of motion. The project then takes the search for a precise description of motion as a guiding principle for an exploration of modern physics. This leads to a storyline that differs from the one found in usual physics texts. Nature's limits to speed, entropy, force, action and charge are central to the presentation.

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Finances

These editions are now supported by a charitable non-profit association, the Motion Mountain Physikverein. Click here to donate. The association uses the donations under the control of the German tax authorities. Your donation to the association, however small, will be used to improve the book and its distribution. Your donation is tax-deducible according to German law. Donations cover less than one quarter of all expenses, which amount to many tens of thousand Euros.

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Fun and learning

The text tells a story to enjoy - and to learn from.

The text tells a story: it does not need an accompanying lecture. The text provides ideas and anecdotes, facts and stories, images and films, and questions and riddles. You can read it at your own speed. The text does not need accompanying computer programs, video tutors, java applets or expensive services. Fun and learning requires freedom from pressure, freedom from fear, freedom from formula learning, freedom from obligations and freedom from distractions.

To make the reading enjoyable and productive, the text satisfies six different needs:
1. The explanations are written in a way that appeal both to people who prefer thinking in images and to those who prefer thinking in words. (Most physicists and most physics teachers think in images, and thus are not intelligible to the majority of students who think in words.)
2. The content has been selected to attract both male and female readers. (Most physicists are men and fail to motivate female students.)
3. The text is written to appeal to composer and to competitor characters.
4. The text caters both for the experimentally and the theoretically inclined. (In these two aspects, most physicists are one-sided.)
5. The story appeals to those who like the natural sciences and to those who like the humanities. (Most physics teachers neglect the humanities.)
6. The story motivates, entertains and startles both beginners and experts in physics. (Most texts fail here.)

The text is not meant to be read on screen (though you can do so), nor on tablet PCs (though you can do so), but on paper. Simply print it. Computer screens are bad for reading and even worse for learning. Reading on paper, and thus self-study, is the best way to learn. Beware of any teacher or organisation who tells you the opposite! Such a statement implies that the teaching quality is really bad. The best way to learn is, after having seen, listened or read at your own pace, to re-tell and to re-picture - aloud or in your mind.

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Motto - and lies

The motto of the text, 'Die Menschen stärken, die Sachen klären', translates as 'To fortify people, to clarify things'. The motto has direct consequences for the presentation. Many people have sent emails requesting that certain false statements should be inserted into the text. Here are some examples:

"Astrology holds" - "creation did occur" - "perpetuum mobiles are possible" - "vacuum is an energy source" - "physics was invented by the Mayas/some other people" - "certain songs or actions bring bad luck" - "theists/pantheists/atheists/polytheists are evil" - "energy speeds faster than light exist" - "telepathy is possible" - "Einstein said what I think" - "there are things that cannot be measured" - "particles are membranes" - "more than three spatial dimensions exist" - "quantum theory implies many worlds" - "there are no measurement limits" - "infinite quantities exist in nature" - "supersymmetry is valid" - "a multiverse exists" - "mind is stronger than matter" - "water has memory".

These and other false statements are spread by certain media and, sadly, by certain scientists. I was even offered money to include such statements. But the motto of the text implies that statements that are false or nonsense are labelled as such - if they are entertaining enough to deserve being mentioned.

The best way to fortify yourself and others is to avoid addictions and to follow your passion. The text wants to show that dedication and passion is more rewarding than superficiality and addiction. Also for this reason, the story and the site contain no lies, no known half-truths, but also no ads and no distractions.

Another way to fortify yourself and others is to encourage reading. Reading allows meeting interesting people, travelling to remote places, living adventures, satisfying curiosity, collecting knowledge and learning to use it. Reading is the opposite of surfing: surfing is fast and takes seconds, reading is slow and takes hours. Enjoy reading throughout your life.

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Dedication

Since its start, the website is dedicated to my brothers Stephan and Philipp Schiller. The text itself is dedicated to my own family.

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Status and plan

The book has been an unexpected success: it is read across the world by pupils, students, teachers, tutors, professors and independent learners. It used in schools, universities and tutoring organizations. Therefore, the concrete aim of the organization is to achieve final versions of all volumes. Specifically, the plan is to improve the reading and learning experience as much as possible and to add the topics that are still missing.

The detailed plan can be found at https://sites.google.com/site/motionmountainsuggestions/.

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Edition history

The book is not as good as Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, but it tries to.

The five textbook volumes of edition 29 contain a movie of the heart beat of a mouse embryo as well as high-resolution images of the human retina, both taken with optical coherence tomography, warn about the dangers of inhaling helium, tell how to count the molecules in air by looking at a distant mountain, include the weight puzzle, the fuse puzzle and curiosities about relativistic relative velocity, tell how to make floating water bridges, tell more on the reduced drag experienced by a bicycle rider when a motorcycle rides just *behind* him, explain the motion of trees when they wake up in the morning (no joke), describe the dangers of electric eels, tell about knots in field lines, pose the puzzle about the tongues of flying dragons, tell about the electronium model of atoms, present the puzzle of the parabola of safety, explain what physicists have in common with smurfs, tell about the electric fields in and around plants, introduce the lowest known acceleration, propose the brick thread puzzle, present the polhode - the polar motion of a tumbling brick - add the animal symmetry puzzle and include several stunning images of the Sun and the sky.

The 5 volumes of edition 28, of early 2016, now tell about gravitational wave detection, include the world distance record for throwing any object, add several new riddles, introduce the pseudoscope, add a film of a moving light pulse, include an optical illusion that makes colours disappear, explain the capabilities of the brain in making vision work, and contain many other improvements. The additional, sixth, research volume has been updated.

The 5 textbook volumes of edition 27, of autumn 2014, now include a video that shows how monster waves appear on the sea, give many details about the Earth's atmosphere, present the first device that is able to measure locally the speed of molecules in a sound wave and what can be done with it, tell how the light from the sky and from a rainbow is polarized, add the pressure puzzle, present the physics of blood circulation, tell about the capabilities of insect eyes, explain why some women can see more colours than most men, show the surprising arrow effect, tell whether birds have a navel, show how to detect alcohol exhaled by a driver in a car driving by, add a further puzzle about the hands of a clock, show what a modern artist does with the human colour space, tell about the swimming of fish, and include the most beautiful hologram ever made. Many details have been reworked and improved. Thank you for all help. The 6th volume is a research proposal on unification; it now tells about the fun of braiding machines and shows that even the newest experimental results agree with the predictions; but it also adds new open issues.

Edition 26, of February and June 2014, adds many new pictures, puzzles, tables and topics. It now explains the geometric phase, the limited, three-dimensional colour space of humans, how artists use it, and the twelve-dimensional colour space of mantis shrimps; the volumes now also explain the physics and fascination of the human voice, the singing of high-voltage lines, the knots that are possible in Maxwell's equations, and why we should follow Descartes' advice and not take his philosophy seriously. It is told how to build a mirror that moves almost as fast as light itself, and why the signals between the eye and the brain should be explored even further. The text presents the new findings on how birds feel magnetic fields, introduces the nine mineral classes and the nine chemical elements that make up almost all rocks, tells how to measure the temperature in the summer using a clock, and introduces several topics from forensic physics, for example on the different ways to detect finger prints. All volumes have been reworked.

Editions 25.4 to 25.6, of March to November 2013, add more pictures, such as an X-ray image of a whole car, more puzzles, such as the one on how to hang a picture on the wall, more stories, such as the first gears found in nature, and more animations, such as those proving the spin-statistics theorem (watch them here). The edition also explains what sneezing has to do with molecular motors, how to use electrodynamics to find out the number you are thinking of, and how to use topology and a pencil to entertain a party.

Edition 25.3, of November 2012, explains how nature places the heart almost always on the left side of the body, tells about the 10^16 motors that are part of the human body, explains how to measure the speed of the grim reaper, includes the latest results from the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva and their consequences for the search for unification, shows how well-sounding plastic violins can be built with the help of lasers, explains the three international light bulb scams of the past 20 years, and includes a fascinating video of an explosion of the Sun. Volume V has been reworked and expanded; many pictures have been added.

The 25th edition, of Spring 2012, explains how cosmic rays can stop high speed trains, presents the recent discovery of galactic bubbles, adds a photograph of lightning hitting a tree, tells how the water of the oceans arrived on Earth, adds some stunning X-ray images, presents a way to see the fine structure constant with the naked eye, presents the dawdling principle of special relativity, and includes a spectacular green laser delay line. The text now presents the art of laying rope, the fascination of water waves, the connection between energy consumption and death, adds a movie of the stars orbiting the black hole at the centre of our galaxy, presents the enteric nervous system, adds various scanning imaging techniques, explains the dangers of aeroplane toilets, introduces the tricky sides of three-dimensional interferometers, explores the Poynting vector field for a cable and a transformer, and tells many other interesting stories about motion of radiation and of objects. Many new images have been added.

The 24th edition, of July 2010, now also explains why it makes sense to choose a zig-zag path when climbing steep mountains, how you can visualize the wave function and understand quantum mechanics, what the jumping height of various animals is, how the belt trick or scissor trick saves lives, how you can measure the curvature of space in your own home, why the moguls on skiing slopes move upwards, and that your eyes are full of optical fibres. The text also tells the story of the biggest disappointment of the television industry in the twentieth century.

The 23rd edition, of October 2009, includes new films on the relativistic effects due to aberration and accelerated motion, new films on the motion of wave functions in quantum theory, and over 100 new colour photographs. The text now tells how yellow light improves tomato sales and pink light reduces crime, it presents the still unexplained experiences of apnoea divers, it explains why wearing sunglasses can transform humans into apes, it tells about the recently discovered natural quasicrystals, it explains nerve pulses as a mixture of sound and current, it describes the wake behind ducks, swans and ships, it explains why ultrasound imaging is not safe for a foetus, it adds the relativistic circular train puzzle, it explains how to prove the invariance of the speed of light by looking at the sky, it gives details about the solar spectrum, it presents the 'floating bed' puzzle, it tells about a measured version of the Unruh effect called the Sokolov-Ternov effect, it explains how to measure the power of the Sun with closed eyes, it gives the ideal shape of skateboard half-pipes, and it estimates the total length of all capillaries in the human body.

The 22nd edition, of January 2009, adds over 50 new illustrations, explains how it is possible to plunge a bare hand into molten lead, includes a film of an oscillating quartz inside a watch, explains how it is possible to type a letter by controlling a computer with thought alone, includes a film of a solar flare, explains the fifteen ways that colours appear in rocks plants and animals, explains the connection between cats and gauge theory, adds more ways in which the human eye invents colours that are not there, includes a list of laser types and applications, includes many images of crystals, explains how physics Plotinus and christianity come together to show that the universe and god are one and the same, adds the handcuff puzzle and several other puzzles, explains how jet pilots frighten civilians with sonic superbooms produced by fighter planes, presents the most beautiful and precise sundial available today, adds a simple photographic proof that the Earth is larger than the Moon, improves the presentation of elementary particle physics, adds a photo of a red rainbow, gives the latest discoveries on the Galileo trial, presents a fascinating mathematical aspect of Ohm's law, states the hardest open math problem that you can explain to your grandmother, and much more.

The 21st edition, of December 2007, adds over one hundred new figures and tables, numerous explanations, and many examples from animals, plants and machines. The text now explains why the speed of light is too slow to speculate with success on the stock exchange, adds the second-level bear fur colour puzzle and the young mother puzzle, presents the nearest place with a pressure permanently lower than that of the atmosphere, adds the puzzle about the horse and the snail on a rubber, tells more about metamaterials, adds some simple chemical puzzles, presents what incredible things on atomic layers one can discover using a pencil and sticky tape, tells more on biological rhythms and clocks, explains how to observe the rotation of the Earth in any classroom after two seconds of observation, shows an electric effect observed on many playgrounds, shows the beauty of bursting soap bubbles and bouncing tennis balls, explains how it is possible to observe the motion of single, isolated electrons, and tells how to build the simplest possible radio control system.

The 20th edition, of January 2007, adds a dozen animations and films: generation and motion of electromagnetic waves, leap-frogging vortex rings, jumping snakes, the propagation of solitons and dromions, growing ice crystals, rotating atomic orbitals, the actin-myosin system in muscles in action, and Dirac's belt trick. The edition also introduces robots that walk on water, explains how to observe the polarization of light with the unaided human eye in the same way as honey bees do, shows how to produce floating plasma clouds similar to ball lightning, tells more about the Galilean satellites, mentions the world records for running backwards and the attempts to break the speed sailing record, tells in more detail how to learn from books with as little effort as possible, presents the polarized car headlight problem and many other puzzles.

The project to pass on the best stories known about physics started in 1990, in Yokohama. The website was set up in November 1997. Updates appear a few times per year.

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