Customer Reviews: The Universe Within: From Quantum to Cosmos (CBC Massey Lecture)
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There are good guides to physics and cosmology already which attempt to clarify for the layman the mysterious and counterintuitive realms into which science is pushing. They all succeed imperfectly, or at least that has been my experience; quantum electrodynamics, for instance, is just too weird for me to understand. (Mind you, I am still stumbling over understanding relativity.) So when I read such books, it is with the understanding that my understanding is going to be faulty, that maybe I will pick up a little bit of clarity, and maybe I can enjoy the author's own enthusiasm. That's what I enjoyed best about _The Universe Within: From Quantum to Cosmos_ (House of Anansi Press) by Neil Turok. Turok has every egghead credential for writing authoritatively on such matters. He has partnered, for instance, with Stephen Hawking in work that illuminates the birth of the inflationary universe. He reviews in this book physics up to Newton, through Einstein, and beyond, and his short summary of the vast topics is quite good (although I assure you that quanta and such are still well outside my comfortable understanding). What is good about the book is not only the summary of science, but the deeply personal insights and the author's eagerness to have the general reader enjoy the scientific view. He describes his subject as "a story of fun, yearning, determination, and, most of all, humility and awe before nature."

Turok recalls that even when he was too young to read, he begged for a little Bible he could carry around with him. "What I most wanted even at that early age, was to capture and hold the truth, with the certainty and love that it brings." The urge toward certainty never left him; his history of scientific and mathematical thought necessarily shows that certainty is always elusive, and there are huge gaps in our knowledge. The importance of mathematical insight is a constant theme here, well shown in the joint work of Michael Faraday and James Clerk Maxwell. In other sections, too, Turok stresses the personal nature of the scientific quest. Who knew the importance of betting among scientists? He writes, though, "Throughout his career, Stephen Hawking has enjoyed making bets. It's a great way of focusing attention on a problem and encouraging them to think about it." Hawking and Turok have a bet pending, on whether the Planck satellite, in data that may be due next year, will see gravitational waves, which may distinguish the cyclic model of the universe (alternating Big Bang and Big Crunch) with the inflationary one (just a Big Bang and spreading ever since). He gives us introductions to many of the personalities who have added scientific insight. I was here introduced to Emmy Noether, who saw that laws of conservation were mathematical consequences of symmetries of space, time, and other physical quantities. She was born in Germany, and endured discrimination as a Jew and as a woman. She was allowed to audit classes, get a doctorate, and eventually teach at university, although without pay, and professors protested even this.

_The Universe Within_ is a compilation of Turok's Massey Lectures, the annual effort by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to have experts present a series of lectures on their areas of research. It enables Turok to discuss some important themes of science and society. He likes very much the idea of scientists presenting to the public, reminding us of the service to science performed in an exemplary way by Faraday's lectures. At a time when in America there is a backlash against science, fed largely by churches that insist on a Bible literally true, Turok writes, "The disconnection between science and society is harmful, especially when you consider that science is, in general, open-minded, tolerant, and democratic. In its opposition to dogma and its willingness to live with uncertainty, science is in many ways a model for society." This is part of his belief about how science ought to serve society's needs. "Society needs to better understand science and to see its value beyond just providing the next gadget or technical solution." He has lived these beliefs. He was a founder of the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences because there were talented students in math and science who had no encouragement and nowhere to develop their talents. He was warned that the school would be doing nothing but remedial teaching, but this is not the case, and graduates have gone into many fields. Turok writes, "Their success sends a powerful message of hope which undermines prejudice and inspires countless others." The best part of his book is Turok's optimistic but realistic hopes for how, beyond just the important goal of satisfying curiosity, science has potential for bringing us "the era of the first Global Enlightenment."
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on December 4, 2012
Scholarly review of complex classic and quantum physics as well as cosmological principles which are presented in a captivating historical context for the non specialists and laypersons.
Dr. Turok does not not neglect to insert into this impressive lecture tour-de-force some autobiographic notes which add humanity and drama to his passionate delivery.
A highly readable introduction to key scientific principles underlying the current technological revolution and opening up incredible new possibilities for mankind.
Pier-Giorgio Fontana
Sutton, Quebec, Canada
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on October 30, 2012
Thank you Neil Turok, for a wonderful journey through the complex history of physics up to today's notions around cosmology and the quantum world. All those years of regret that I never got to take high school physics gone in reading this book. The integration with humanist thinking is breathtaking. I wish I'd heard all the Massey lectures. What a mind, what a gift.
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on February 23, 2013

"In this book, I try to connect our progress towards discovering the physical basis of reality with our own character as human beings...

My goal is to celebrate our ability to understand the universe, to recognize it as something that can draw us together, and to contemplate what it might mean for our future."

The above comes from this interesting book by Neil Turok. Turok, born in South Africa, is one of the world's leading theoretical physicists. He is now Director of the Perimeter Institute of Theoretical Physics located in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. (Located at the Perimeter Institute are the Distinguished Research Chair of respected theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking and the Stephen Hawking Centre.)

This book is actually the transcript of a lecture entitled "The Universe Within: From Quantum to Cosmos." broadcast in November 2012 as part of the Canadian Broadcast Corporation Radio's "Ideas" series. The lecture itself is actually a "Massey Lecture," named after former Canadian Governor General, Vincent Massey. These Massey Lectures provide a forum on radio where major contemporary thinkers can address important issues of our time.

In this book, Turok explores those major scientific discoveries of the past three centuries--from classical mechanics, to the nature of light, to the strange world of the quantum, and the evolution of the cosmos. He notes that each new discovery has gradually over time resulted in new technologies that have deeply influenced society.

He continues to argue that we are about to enter the "quantum revolution" that will replace our current digital age. (For example, we will eventually have "quantum computers.") In order to face this new future world of the quantum, Turok calls for reinventing the way advanced knowledge is both developed and shared as well as utilizing the untapped intellectual talent in places such as Africa.

I especially enjoyed the second half of this book's penultimate chapter where he explains the terms of a formula that summarizes all the known laws of physics. Why is this formula important? Turok tells us:

"The formula tells us that the world [and the universe] operates according to simple, powerful principles that we [humans] can understand. And in this, it tells us who we are: creators of explanatory knowledge. It is this ability that has brought us to where we are and will determine our future."

In the last chapter, Turok discusses "the future of this world of ours."

Near the book's center are fourteen mostly colour photographs.

Finally, I did find a few problems. Here are three of them:

(1) I mentioned that this book has colour photographs. These photographs are not mentioned in the main narrative. I'm saying this because one of these photographs contains the actual formula of physics I mentioned above. If you're reading the main narrative about this formula and are unaware of what the actual formula looks like, you may get frustrated. (I actually read a major review of this book where the reviewer was angry that he did not know what the actual formula looked like because he was unaware that it was with the colour photographs.)

The reader should be told when to refer to these colour photographs at the appropriate time in the main narrative.

(2) Turok tells us that in string theory, particles are "little quantum pieces of string." Strings of what? We're never told. (A "string" in string theory is actually an one-dimensional vibrating thread of energy.)

(3) Turok tells us that "I see the idea of a "multiverse"...representing a loss of confidence in the prospects for basic science." This is a strange statement. The idea of a multiverse has nothing to do with a "loss of confidence" but comes from the mathematics.

In conclusion, if you take anything away from this book, it should be:

"Scientific knowledge is our most precious possession, and our future will be shaped by the breakthroughs to come."

(first published 2012; author's note; 5 chapters; main narrative 255 pages; notes; further reading; permissions; acknowledgements; index; the CBC Massey lectures series)

<<Stephen PLETKO, London, Ontario, Canada>>

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on March 20, 2013
The lecture is very well presented. The lecturer provides a very enjoyable experience with adding much more to the subject than dry scientific data and conclusions. I enjoyed every minute it and I positively recommend it to anyone, with or without any scientific background or higher education. It not only broadens one's view about physics, cosmology and science in general, but the style of the lecturer is very entertaining. Very highly recommended.
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on November 4, 2015
I bought this book with the illusion of getting a work on the scientific relationship between mind and cosmos. I thought that far from self help books this one would give me an appropriate taste of the old and actual link, often misunderstood and mistreated by a gang of unscientific and enervating "gurus" that tell you about how to connect and feel the cosmos within, whatever that means. And what I got was something different. Turok is a true scientist that has made big efforts to promote science in one of the worst scenarios to do and proclaim it: Africa. And he has been successful which is much more than one could expect, even for a government. In brief: Turok is a hero of our time.

Thus, in this perspective, the book is a mix between science and expectations. It tells you about cosmology and quantum mechanics just for give you a glance, no much more, in order to convey the next best thing that is "imagine what would happen if everyone could know about it, just like you, reading in the Metro." Science is so wonderful that nobody should left behind without touch it and feel its vibration.

So Turok opposes those who use science as a sword against religion (i.e., Dawkins and Co.) because in doing so they deny the chance that people have of touching its friendly and soft skin. In a package of rapid impressions at the end of the book he lets you know his (respectful) disdain for those science warriors who are the exact opposite of those that centuries ago treat religion or ignorance or indifference, with due respect.

I think that this was unnecessary because the message is clear without expressing what is already contained in the narration.

At the end, a bit of everything which is -to me at least, as a reader looking for the quantum link between mind and cosmos- too much for a very brief book. Anyway, the gaining at reading "From quantum..." it's not so much in the scientific side (there are lots of better works in this vein) but in the vision that the author has with respect to the genuine joy of knowing and feeling the throbbing body of science.
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on August 3, 2015
I really loved this book and am very grateful to Neil Turok for writing it. I have read other books on cosmology and physics meant for the lay person, and they have been great and informative (and mind-blowing!) as well. But, this book does something unique and important that the others don't -- which is to connect the rigor, advancement and passion of science to our human story and our shared future. I thought the book had a poignancy and an insightfulness that one does not often find in a book about physics. I very much appreciated that, and carry away from it a very inspirational and hopeful message, as well as a better understanding of the physics and the history of science that underpins it all. I would highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in theoretical physics and in humanity's place in nature.

Here is a great interview with Neil Turok from 2012, which kicks off the Massey Lectures:
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on December 25, 2012
Very complex subject. Turok does super job highlighting what about quantum stuff is, can, and can't be known as well as making the people involved real.
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on April 23, 2013
Written for the Layman, succeeds extremely well. I learned so much about the sub-particles in Quantum Mechanics that I just couldn't understand in most of the books for the higher educated. The confirmation of the Higgs Boson was something I've been waiting on for many years. A Unified Field theory will not be far off. This will change our lives and our future much as the discovery of the Electron led to entire Industries such as Electric Power and then Electronics.
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on May 18, 2013
This is indeed an excellent book. Neil Turok's background has been in the areas of mathematical physics and early universe physics, focusing on observational tests of fundamental physics in cosmology. With Stephen Hawking, for example, he developed the so-called "Hawking-Turok Instanton Solutions" which, according to the no-boundary proposal of Hawking and James Hartle, are able to describe the birth of an inflationary universe. And, with Paul Steinhardt at Princeton, he developed a cyclic model for the universe in which the big bang is explained as a collision between two "brane-worlds" in M theory. This model, in turn, was published in 2007 by Steinhardt and Turok as the popular science book, "Endless Universe". Turok is presently the head of The Perimiter Institue for Advanced Physics in Canada.

While not everyone may be able to understand the very depths of Turok's thinking about physics and the universe, there is little doubt that most will be able to follow his retelling of the history of science as he engages the reader in a cosmological journey that is both clear and fascinating. It is a journey that ultimately focuses on the revolution in physics that resulted from Heisenberg's "uncertainty principle", a journey that now involves a host of different theories as to how the universe began and evolved. It is a journey, ultimately, that establishes an inextricable link between the worlds of science and spirituality, a journey, finally, that someone like Richard Dawkins (modernity's most vocal atheist) could very well learn from.
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