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The Book of Nothing: Vacuums, Voids, and the Latest Ideas about the Origins of the Universe Paperback – August 13, 2002
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It is a concept shot through with paradoxes: even innocent-looking phrases like "Nothing is real" flip their meanings as we ponder them, like those illusions that look like a vase one moment, and opposing faces the next. Nothing is fertile, too, as Barrow shows via a stunning trick that allows every number one can think of to be built out of nothing at all.
But his book is about far more than mind games. Arguably, the most important discovery of 20th-century physics is that there is no such thing as nothing: even the tightest vacuum is teeming with subatomic particles popping in and out of existence, according to the dictates of quantum theory. Now, many astronomers suspect that such "vacuum effects" may have triggered the Big Bang itself, filling our universe with matter. Indeed, the very latest observations suggest that vacuum effects will dictate the ultimate fate of the universe.
As an internationally respected cosmologist, Barrow does a fine job of explaining these new discoveries. The result is a book that is required reading for anyone who wants to understand why there will be much ado about Nothing among scientists in the years ahead. --Robert Matthews, Amazon.co.uk --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
The other half of this book is about philosophical issues such as the history of the concept of nothing and the number zero, the religious concepts of the history and future of the universe, and the mathematical history of zero and infinity.
As the previous reviews of this book, and indeed, its subtitle "Vacuums, Voids, and the Latest Ideas about the Origins of the Universe" imply, this should have been a book about Physics and in particular, the physics of vacuums (quantum zero-point energy). One would expect a detailed treatment of this, without the extensive digressions from the primary topic. If that is what you are expecting, you will be disappointed; it is why I rate this book three stars. I was bored by the parts of the book which digressed from the layman's physics discussion.
On the other hand, the half or perhaps 60% of the book Barrow devotes to discussion of physics was very well written. If you have read extensively other layman's books on physics (such as Greene's Elegant Universe, Treiman's Odd Quantum, Lederman's God Particle, and the like) then about a third or a half of this may seem familar, but restated in Barrow's clear descriptive prose. As for the rest, in about a decade of reading layman's physics books, I had not encountered - or had forgotten or previously misunderstood - the remainder. In this sense, the book is definitely worthy of five stars, and was very interesting.Read more ›
As quoted by Professor Barrow on page 8, this is a pun on what the Beatles had in mind, and is in essence what this book is all about. Nothing is real in the sense that it is no longer the nothing that it once was. It is actually "something." On the next page, to further illustrate the point, Barrow quotes the lyric from Freddie Mercury (of Queen), "Nothing really matters." It does indeed!
The impetus for this, Barrow's latest book on cosmology, seems to be the growing realization that the vacuum of space ("nothing") is not entirely empty, and in fact cannot in principle ever be empty. As Barrow explains in Chapter 7, "The Box that Can Never Be Empty," it would be a violation of the Uncertainty Principle because, "If we could say that there were no particles in a box, that it was completely empty of all mass and energy," we would have "perfect information about motion at every point and about the energy of the system at a given instant of time" (p. 204). This rather simple, but shocking revelation, has consequences that are shaking the very foundation of our understanding of the cosmos. Quite simply it appears that there is no such thing as nothing.
Barrow lays the ground work for this revelation by first exploring the nature of nothing as seen by the ancients, noting in particular the Greek abhorrence of the very idea that the vacuum could exist ("horror vacui"). In Chapter One, "Zero - The Whole Story," (which follows Chapter Nought) he recalls the history of zero and how it finally found acceptance. So great was the Greek horror of nothing that they did not have a zero in their number system. Many people found the idea of nothing and of zero frightening and impious.Read more ›
I do have a couple of quibbles about the book. One chapter less on vacuum would have better served the flow of ideas. The philosophical development of zero/shunya didn't stop in Asia as soon as they exported it to Europe. Buddhists took the idea up (Nagarjuna especially) and today shunyata forms an integral part of Mahayana Buddhism. Barrow doesn't discuss this(for reasons of space?). On the whole, its almost as much fun as Seinfeld.
Physics is a big subject but the author found a narrow and well defined thread to follow that starts with the need for a zero placeholder in number systems and ends with the recently discovered expansion of the universe and zero point energy. He uses history, philosophy, mathematics and physics to move the reader along this thread. The delving into real physics concepts is so fearlessly done that it may turn off the Walter Mitty types who dream of Nobel Prizes. The math used is oriented toward logic rather than calculation.
I can see where some new readers in physics might get lost in a very few places because names of theories are bandied about with no attached explanation of what or how. But this may be due to editor mishap rather then author intention. Stuff like this can be yet another reason to read another physics book. Like Roger Penrose's books, John Barrow's reflect an active researcher's ideas as well as accepted theory so don't be suprised that you may be reading about some things that no one else in the field supports. I think this is the reason why I like this book so much anyway.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Gave it 5 stars, but I'd really rather give it a 4.9. Everything about this book is good, except that the final definition of nothing that Barrow uses seems to still be something. Read morePublished 8 months ago by Kevin Schroeder
just wanted more of course, like anyone would about where and how we are here. easy read, just to add to the brain.Published on July 2, 2014 by Chelsea p
Nicely written and informative...explained the concepts well and made it interesting. I would recommend it to anyone that is interested in science and mathematics.Published on December 31, 2013 by Bryan S. Pollard
Excellent item! This is really an amazing item that anybody could buy for their very own personal time and pleasure.Published on December 12, 2012 by Kevin Freeman
Many of the reviews already posted go into great detail about what this book is about - I 'm not going to do that here. The gimmick, of course, is that it is about "nothing. Read morePublished on March 16, 2012 by Traeling
It is surprising how much can be said about `nothing'. There really is a lot to say. This ranges from the mathematics of `nothing' and infinity to the origins of the universe, the... Read morePublished on November 29, 2010 by Mr P R Morgan
I really enjoyed this book. Barrow has also covered the historical record of how the concept of zero originated. Read morePublished on January 28, 2009 by Roger P.
This book comes close to literary schizzophrenia if i ever encountered it in written form.
Keeping in mind that the author aspires to explain "complicated" issues... Read more
I was excited to read this book. I find the concepts of zero and the vacuum very interesting and those are the very concepts that are the focus of this book. Read morePublished on March 24, 2003 by Timothy Haugh