Book Review: How To Teach Physics To Your Dog


Chad Orzel and I have some pretty serious differences when it comes to how and why we write. For one thing, he has help. His dog, Emmy, is an important part of his writing team. My dog is, thus far, no help at all.

Part of it is our respective subject matter. Orzel writes about quantum physics, and by a stroke of fate, it turns out that dogs have a bit of a natural advantage there. Don’t ask me, ask him. (seriously, check out that interview!) Me, I write commentary, often satirical, in verse. Dogs don’t do verse. Dogs are notoriously bad at rhyming, and have no sense of meter at all. So right there, Orzel has an unnatural advantage.

Another difference is editing. Orzel actually takes the time to write, edit, rewrite, re-edit, and make sure he says exactly what he wants to. As such, over 2 years has passed between the writing of “Bunnies made of cheese” and the (not quite yet) publication of the actual book that grew from that seed. Me, if I take an extra hour to look for typos, I may miss the chance on making a timely comment. Almost everything that I post is essentially a first draft, and there is rarely motivation to go back and fine-tune (exception: I am re-doing my book, and taking the time to make a few changes and clean up categories, etc. But that is for another time).

Indeed, my post this time is so timely, it actually precedes its cause! Which actually brings up another difference, although I am not certain what to call it. I write about the real world. Orzel writes about the real world. In his real world, things can meaningfully pop in and out of existence; in mine, if you make such claims people start edging away nervously and trying to remember the number of the proper authorities (1-800-LUNATIC, perhaps [ok, now I wonder who has that number]). Causation takes a holiday in Orzel’s real world, or maybe it just seems that way to me because of my limited understanding. My dog says he will explain it to me some day.

So, as I was saying, this post actually precedes its cause. This post is a book review of a book (How to teach physics to your dog) that is not yet published, and which I have not yet seen. My dog tells me that in another alternate universe I may have already read it, but that does not help here. I submit it in hopes of actually winning a copy of the book which I can then read to see how well it matches my review. I suspect that, having read it, I will need to revise and edit my review, which I can only assume will lead to the publication of another book by Orzel, and perhaps lead to the collapse of the Cuttlefish wave form.

So here goes.

One necessity of teaching: a facility for reaching
Through the mass of preconceptions that can settle like a fog,
And may block new information, or bring misinterpretation;
There’s a remedy for some of this: try thinking like a dog!
That’s the premise of the method that Professor Orzel plied
With the Queen of Niskayuna by his side!

She told him of the habits of the Niskayuna rabbits
How they sometimes seemed to vanish in the Niskayuna air.
It would help her with her chases if she occupied two places
And could trap the little bunnies as they’re running to their lair.
Oh, the yummy little bunnies would have nowhere left to hide
If the Queen of Niskayuna could divide!

“Spooky barking at a distance” clearly needed her assistance,
So they wrangled with entanglement and tackled it with ease;
She learned how to beam a bunny, which to humans may sound funny
But to dogs it’s just as plausible as bunnies made of cheese.
There are laws of Quantum Physics—and they will not be denied—
Which the Queen of Niskayuna takes in stride.

Here the uses and mis-uses (and occasional abuses)
Quantum Physics has been saddled with, are rendered clear for you,
With occasional referrals to the Niskayuna squirrels
(Who are never to be trusted, and are evil through and through).
So begin the thrilling journey that these essays will provide
With the Queen of Niskayuna as your guide!

(I am saddened to discover it’s not Emmy on the cover
But some fancy dog professional who likes to cock his head.
He may look all nice and quizzical, But Emmy’s quantum-physical,
Although, perhaps, as royalty, she’s not one to be led.
Though the picture on the cover she was callously denied,
It’s the Queen of Niskayuna who’s inside!)

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