A couple of weeks ago, I started writing some more about Townsend Brown’s academic career — specifically, about an encounter he had at Cal-Tech in 1924 with one of the luminaries of the emerging world of Quantum Mechanics.
As I set about to establish the character of the individual in question, I found myself retracing the origins of the various Big Ideas that were beginning to transform the world by the time Townsend Brown showed up on the campus of Cal-Tech. It seemed timely to indulge in such an exposition, because the period was, indeed, a pivotal time, when long-held ideas were giving way to radical — and baffling — new ones.
It was smack into the middle of this shifting landscape that Townsend Brown first emerged, and so I felt it was important to back up and create a timeline of the events that preceded his arrival.
The result is Chapter 9: On The Shoulder of Giants, which is a very "thumbnailed sketch" of some of the discoveries that transformed man’s understanding of the physical universe and brought him simultaneously to the dawn of the era of both Quantum Mechanics and Relativity.
Admittedly, the timeline that is presented here is brief and perhaps a tad over-simplified. But the point of all this is not to recount the entire history of 19th and 20th century science. The point is to supply the reader with some background, and an appreciation for the state of flux that theoretical physics was in after Planck and Einstein started adding their theories to the mix. It is precisely because the scientific world was in such as state of flux that the reaction of Brown’s professor at Cal-Tech is so curious and surprising — as you shall seen when I post Chapter 10: "Impossible and Not to Be Considered." But that will not be until the week after Thanksgiving.
In the meantime, I have this request for anybody reading this installment who has a better grasp of this subject matter than I have: please, if you see anything that is glaringly in error, let me know, either in an e-mail in, preferably, in a comment directly to this post.
This is, after all, a "work in progress," and that is precisely why I am throwing these things out there ("into the ‘aether’, so to speak…). If I’ve made any mistakes, it’ll be a lot easier to fix them while everything is still in "digital" form than it will be once this thing finally finds its way to print. So please, let me know if you see anything that needs fixing.