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The Universe Next Door: The Making of Tomorrow's Science [Hardcover]

Marcus Chown
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 14, 2002 0195143825 978-0195143829 First
The idea that an atom can be in two places at once defies logic. Yet this is now an established scientific fact. In The Universe Next Door, science writer Marcus Chown examines a dozen mind-bending new ideas that also fly in the face of reason--but that, according to eminent scientists, might just be crazy enough to be true.
Could time run backwards? Is there a fifth dimension? Does quantum theory promise immortality? To explore these questions, Chown has interviewed some of the most imaginative and courageous people working at the forefront of science, and he has come away with a smorgasbord of mind-expanding ideas. For instance, Lawrence Schulman at New York's Clarkson University believes there could be regions in our Universe where stars unexplode, eggs unbreak and living things grow younger with every passing second. Max Tegmark, at the University of Pennsylvania, believes there could be an infinity of realities stacked together like the pages of a never-ending book (with an infinite number of versions of you, living out an infinite number of different lives). And David Stevenson of Cal Tech argues that life may exist on worlds drifting in the cold, dark abyss between the stars, worlds without suns to warm them. Indeed, these worlds may be the most common sites for life in the universe.
Was our universe created by super-intelligent beings from another universe? Is there evidence of extraterrestrial life lying right beneath our feet? The Universe Next Door ponders these and many other thought-provoking questions. You may not agree with all the answers but your head will be spinning by the time you reach the last page.

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Immortality in an alternate quantum reality? Black holes that give birth to new universes? Galactic regions where time runs backward? Mere fiction simply cannot keep up with the wild rush of contemporary science. And no writer makes it easier for general readers to come along for the dizzying ride than Chown, cosmology consultant for New Scientist. Whether assessing the latest evidence for comet-borne life or probing the implications of 10-dimensional models for space, Chown frees readers from the technical rigors of theorizing but ceaselessly challenges us to enlarge our imaginative horizons. The galaxy itself cannot contain ideas that open up onto a multiuniverse of cosmic possibilities, including invisible mirror planets and cosmic laboratories for detonating new big bangs. To be sure, Chown ventures far beyond what scientists have actually proved, delving deep into what they only wildly conjecture. But even the wildest of speculations (that, for instance, each atom is a miniature time machine) show us how brilliant scientists grapple with fundamental questions. Many of these theoretical forays will eventually be exposed as fantasies. But others are bound to revolutionize the way scientists--and ordinary humans--view our cosmos and our place in it. For sheer intellectual exhilaration, few books offer more. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


"An enjoyable book...lets readers spend time pondering ideas that go beyond intuitive reasoning.... Chown pursues those intriguing notions by interviewing a collection of renowned scientists from around the world--many of whom express very strange thoughts based on current knowledge."--Nick Nichols, Astronomy

"Chown devotes this exciting book to crazy ideas currently brewing in the minds of theoretical physicists. Could time run backward? Does quantum theory promise immortality? Might multiple realties be playing out all possible histories? Could these ideas and others that Chown profiles here be true? Evidence is often sketchy, but the concepts are infinitely intriguing."--Science News

"Marcus Chown is a scientific evangelist. The deeper I delved into The Universe Next Door the more I became suffused with a fervor for the subject.... Eminently readable and delightfully thought-provoking."--New Scientist

"Reminds me of Carl Sagan at his best."--Michael White, author of Leonardo: The First Scientist

"Beautifully explains all kinds of crazy ideas that just might be the next major step forward. Tonic for the imagination, highly recommended!"--Gregory Chaitin, IBM Research Division, author of Conversations with a Mathematician

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; First edition (March 14, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195143825
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195143829
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,155,845 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
35 of 37 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and over the top September 17, 2002
This is an interesting book of cosmological speculation aimed at the general reader. What science writer Marcus Chown does especially well is to excite our imagination about what might be possible in light of what we now know or think we know.

This is not, however a book to give comfort to mainstream physicists. Chown's emphasis is on minority report notions including parallel universes, invisible universes, time travel, universes created by super-intelligent beings, extra dimensions, and the like. His technique is to introduce the ideas of maverick scientists (e.g., Max Tegmark, Edward Harrison, David Stevenson, etc.) and, where possible, meld them with the ideas of more established scientists. He avoids (I think) the impossible while concentrating on the exciting.

Since most of the ideas presented in this book are of the "not likely to be proven any time soon" variety, I would like to give them a kind of aesthetic grade just for fun and as a way to show you what the book is about.

First, the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, an idea championed by physicist David Deutsch in his book, The Fabric of Reality: The Science of Parallel Universes-and Its Implications (1997). Grade: A+. This is a beautiful notion that expands the mind wonderfully. A entire new universe with every tick of the quantum! Mind-boggling in the extreme, yet eye-opening in the sense that by contemplating such an amazement, we might have a better idea of the thought of infinity. (Personally, though, I prefer in everyday life, the Copenhagen interpretation.)

Second, the idea of parallel universes (a possibility that can be independent of the many worlds interpretation of QM). Grade: A-. Too easy by itself to imagine.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fantastically fun book February 15, 2003
Wow, a fantastically fun book. I'm not sure that I agree with all of the theories it contains-I'm not sure the author even does-but they're certainly astounding and the thought processes that went into creating them is truly awe-inspiring. Some of them are not new to me. What is new, however, is the approachable style of the composition. Although formerly a radio astronomer at Cal Tech, at present Marcus Chown is primarily a professional science journalist. His approach to the topic of modern physics and its newer concepts is one of a writer and broadcaster. As he discusses each topic, he quotes the primary researchers in the field like a writer for Discover magazine would, asking pertinent questions and where necessary, explaining the answers. Through these dialogues with renowned scientists, he allows the reader to become more familiar with the personalities of the individuals at the leading edge of theoretical physics as well as with their ideas. He functions as a very knowledgeable and lucid interface between the professional scientist and the curious lay person.
Each chapter is primarily dedicated to a specific concept having to do with "reality" and with the nature of the universe. Each chapter reads like a well written novel in that the last paragraph serves as a hook to draw the reader on to the next amazing concept in the succeeding chapter. I found that I couldn't just set aside the book. I read it cover to cover in one sitting and loved every minute of it. For those with an interest in but less of a background in physics, there is a fairly detailed glossary in the back of the book which should help with terms, although most are adequately explained in the body of the text. I think that most individuals can understand the concepts as they are explained.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
"Curiouser and curiouser!" cried Alice.--Lewis Carroll (Alice's Adventures in Wonderland).
Any technology that is sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic.--Arthur C. Clarke.
In The Universe Next Door, Marcus Chown, Cosmology Consultant for the weekly science magazine New Scientist and author of Afterglow of Creation: From the Fireball to the Discovery of Cosmic Ripples and The Magic Furnace: The Search for the Origin of Atoms, has published his third volume of popularized science. His latest work has three parts: "The Nature of Reality," "The Nature of the Universe," and "Life and the Universe." The author lives in the United Kingdom.
In The Universe Next Door, Chown provides a lucid survey of dozens of bizarre theories propounded by scientists who have hyperactive imaginations. Cicero (107-43 B.C.) once remarked, "There is nothing so ridiculous but some philosopher has said it." Nowadays one could say, "There is nothing so ridiculous but some scientist has said it."
For example, consider this overview of the book's 12 chapters:
o "Unbreak My Heart." Contrary to all expectations, there may exist regions in our universe where time runs backward.
o "I'm Gonna Live Forever." Evidence is growing that there are an infinite number of realities stacked together like the pages of a never-ending book.
o "Dividing the Indivisible." A claim that the basic building blocks of matter can be split could have profound implications for the nature of ultimate reality.
o "All the World's a Time Machine." The two great theories of twentieth-century physics might at last be united--if atoms contain time machines.
o "Tales from the Fifth Dimension.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Weird Physics
This is a popular statement of key concepts now current in science and physics. These are mostly simple expressions of other science summaries I have read in recent months, but... Read more
Published on March 3, 2009 by Orville B. Jenkins
3.0 out of 5 stars Liked it more toward the end.
I felt like I was reading a drawnout artical in a journal at first. Another problem I had with Mr.Chown's book was his repitious style. Read more
Published on February 14, 2005 by E. King
5.0 out of 5 stars Bridging the Gap Between Science and Science Fiction

This book, by former radio astronomer and cosmology consultant Marcus Chown, presents "twelve mind-blowing ideas from the cutting edge of science" (this book's... Read more
Published on January 24, 2005 by Stephen Pletko
4.0 out of 5 stars Bizarre though Credible
In this highly readable text, Marcus Chown, Cosmology Consultant for "New Scientist", illustrates sciences imaginative speculations on the possibilities of time travel, the... Read more
Published on January 19, 2005 by C. Middleton
4.0 out of 5 stars hang on, what door?
Great book, easy to read, simple to understand. Should be taken alongside Green and Hawking and then used to build a wormhole. Read more
Published on May 15, 2004 by 2cleverbyhalf
5.0 out of 5 stars About tomorrow - yes.
Marcus Chown deserves an award. He jumps forward without wasting time for rewriting Newton's or Einstein's history, and expands on what is new and controversial: Schulman's... Read more
Published on February 23, 2004 by Regnal
5.0 out of 5 stars Can the bizarre become commonplace?
We sometimes need to be reminded that knowledge of our universe is gained through innovative thinking. Read more
Published on September 2, 2003 by Stephen A. Haines
5.0 out of 5 stars STIMULATING READ
This fascinating book on cosmology straddles the worlds of science and science fiction, addressing questions like the nature of time, e.g. Can it run backwards? Read more
Published on May 30, 2003 by Pieter Uys
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't have to believe it to read it
Books of this ilk (the scientific minority report, as another reviewer described it), have to walk the fine line between balderdash and boring. Read more
Published on October 27, 2002 by Venugapal Vasudevan
5.0 out of 5 stars Weird and Wonderful
It's hard to decide which idea is stranger--parts of the universe where time runs backward, several different varieties of multiple universes, wandering planets teeming with life,... Read more
Published on October 23, 2002 by Robert Adler
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