The Fabric of Reality: The Science of Parallel Universes--and Its Implications 9th printing Edition
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About the Author
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That’s what my quantum physics professor said when I pushed on interpreting the results of the double slit experiment.
My disappointment with that answer led me to abandon physics.
Had Deutsch been my professor, I would have stayed in it.
Back to the book: I found the sections on epistemology and quantum computation to be less elucidating than the stunningly simple logic that he uses to justify the many-world interpretation of quantum mechanics, but it’s all fascinating.
The connections between seemingly disparate domains (QM, theory of computation, genetics, and epistemology) are novel and reminiscent of Godel, Escher, Bach.
Chapter 2 is a must-read and the rest of the book is highly worthwhile for the patient reader.
You will not have to do higher math. You will have to think. This is NOT a review of current science, it's a phase transition in the understanding of the nature of reality.
Although I agree with the author, and with E. O. Wilson (Consiliance), that a certain synthesis among the various branches of human knowledge are a necessary prerequisite for advancing much beyond what the 20ieth century has accomplished, I'm not certain that I'm yet prepared for or convinced of the need for a multiverse explanation of reality.
The author makes some very important points about science which bear repeating for those who have not yet heard them. For instance, "A scientific argument is intended to persuade us that a given explanation is the best one available. It does not and could not say anything about how that explanation will fare when, in the future, it is subjected to new types of criticism and compared with explanations that have yet to be invented (p. 64)." This is a fundamental principle of the scientific process that escapes many lay individuals and even some scientists.
He also notes that scientific theories must do more than simply predict the future, since "Shoddy explanations that yield correct predictions are two a penny, as UFO enthusiasts, conspiracy-theorists and pseudo-scientists of every variety should (but never do) bear in mind (p. 65)."
More importantly still in describing scientific methodology the author writes, "Here I must mention an asymmetry which is important in the philosophy and methodology of science: the asymmetry between experimental refutation and experimental confirmation. Whereas an incorrect prediction automatically renders the underlying explanation unsatisfactory, a correct prediction says nothing at all about the underlying explanation (p.65)." This too is often forgotten or misunderstood by those who do not do research of this kind.
In general the book tries to cover too much in too small a space. Unless the reader is very well read, he/she would be better off starting somewhere else before tackling this book.
Top international reviews
Here, he tackles a very broad canvas which includes quantum mechanics, quantum computation, virtual reality, time travel, the foundations of mathematics, the emergence of life and the theory of evolution. Deutsch takes issue with reductionist views of science and proposes that a "Theory of Everything" must encompass all these aspects of science, as expressed in four major strands: quantum physics, epistemology (the theory of knowledge proposed by Karl popper), computation and evolution. His central tenets are the "many worlds" interpretation of quantum mechanics (in which everything that can ever happen does, in many parallel universes) and the the idea that the world is self-similar at many different scales, so that explanations that work at one scale also work at another.
It's a deep and powerful book with much to like: I especially enjoyed Deutsch's demolition of the standard theory of scientific induction and of the Platonic view of mathematics (that it "just exists" in a kind of perfection which is independent of the physical world). He shows that mathematics and computation only work because they are physical processes which ultimately depend on properties of the real world. He develops this approach into the "Turing principle" (it is possible to build a virtual reality generator whose repertoire includes every possible physical environment) and a clear explanation of quantum computation as a process underpinning the evolution of the physical world. Deutsch also advances a strong argument that the mathematics of physical theories should be taken literally: even apparently "unphysical" solutions to equations often have physical interpretations and these should be taken seriously even when they are counter-intuitive.
The book closes with a chapter on "The Ends of the Universe" which has a somewhat dated feel because it's based on the "Big Crunch" view of the eventual future of the universe. The current view is that expansion of the universe is actually accelerating and the Big Crunch is highly unlikely; as a consequence, the discussion in this chapter is unconvincing. Overall, the book explains and clarifies many important areas of science but readers must judge for themselves whether they accept claims based on the "many worlds" interpretation.
The authors views of the "shadow multiverse" theory are put forth and then vigorously defended by way of epistemology,computational science and evolution.Along the way we get to resolve the Grandfather Paradox in regards of time travel,marvel at the theoretical computational creativity of Alan Turing and ponder on the thought that all we perceive maybe an artifact of an advanced future civilisations'universal virtual reality generator.Obviously with these type of subject matters it is not going to be an easy ride,but although I found the going tough in places,especially the chapters on epistemology and the nature of mathematics,I found that it was not necessary to understand all the intricacies to get the message that was being conveyed.
The only negative criticism I have is that it felt like parts of it where written on the defensive and the author was concerning himself with defending the ideas philosophically in light of the fact that proof was a little too inconclusive to convince adherents of oppositional theories.
To sum up this is not a light romp through contemporary theoretical physics but if you are familiar with popular science and some basic philosophy then it can expand your knowledge of the possible that may become probable.
I am not a trained scientist, simple a well informed non-specialist with an interest in these areas, and I would have to say that this is the best written book of its type I have come across. It deals with extremely deep concepts across an enormous range of different but related areas of study, and I found myself at times almost shocked at the superb skill with which the author is able to deliver new concepts and arguments so cleanly and simply. The chapter that deals with quantum theory and the many-worlds hypothesis alone stands out as a masterpiece of elegance and simplicity when compared with many other works that attempt to deal with this issue.
Rather than delighting and wallowing in the apparent paradoxes that quantum theory implies for the macroscopic world (as so many authors do), Deutsch simply points out that irrespective of our inability to understand and resolve those paradoxes, the conclusions at least are clear and unarguable, and this is where he starts the real work of philosophical integration that is the books theme.
The rate at which new ideas in this book are delivered can leave one stunned at times, and I must recommend this book without any hesitation at all.