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The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos Paperback – November 1, 2011
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Amazon Best Books of the Month, January 2011: Take any of physics' major theories of the fundamental nature of the universe, extrapolate its math to the logical extreme, and you get some version of a (so far unobservable) parallel universe. And who better to navigate these hypothetical versions of the "multiverse" than Brian Greene? Normally an unflinching apologist for string theory, the bestselling author of The Elegant Universe and The Fabric of the Cosmos here treats all viable alternate realities to a laudably fair shake. For a book exploring the most far-reaching implications of bleeding-edge mathematics, The Hidden Reality is surprisingly light on math, written as it is "for a broad audience … its only prerequisite the will to persevere." Such perseverance pays off with a motley cast of potential universes featuring doppelgängers, strings, branes, quantum probabilities, holographs, and simulated worlds. The result is that rare accomplishment in science writing for a popular audience: a volume that explains the science and its consequences while stimulating the imagination of even the uninitiated.
Oliver Sacks on The Hidden Reality
Oliver Sacks was born in London and educated in London, Oxford, California, and New York. He is professor of neurology and psychiatry at Columbia University, and Columbia's first University Artist. He is the author of many books, including Awakenings, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, and Musicophilia. His newest book, The Mind's Eye, was published in October, 2010.
Brian Greene is not only a profound cosmological thinker--a pioneer of string theory--but a writer of exceptional clarity and charm. His books--The Elegant Universe and The Fabric of the Cosmos among them--take one ever deeper into a universe stranger and more wonderful than anyone could have conceived a generation ago. The Hidden Reality takes us deeper still, and it has a special personal quality and warmth that is evident from the opening of the book, when Greene recollects how, as a boy, he was fascinated by the multiple reflections in parallel mirrors. He has never lost this childlike wonder at the world of physics, but he brings it now to examining theories of multiple universes, of the continual birth of universes, starting long before our own. . . and destined to continue, perhaps, to the end of time.
In the 1930s, as a boy myself, I read The Mysterious Universe by James Jeans. Jeans was, like Greene, a brilliant theoretical astronomer and equally mesmerizing writer. I thought Jeans's book was the most exciting, revelatory book I had ever read, and now, seventy years later, I feel the same excitement reading Brian Greene's new book, where every chapter opens level after level of previously unimaginable, mind-expanding realities.
--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. "There was a time when ÿuniverse' meant ÿall there is,' " writes Greene, but soon we may have to redefine that word, along with our own meager understanding of the cosmos. A theoretical physicist and celebrated author, Greene offers intrepid readers another in-depth yet marvelously accessible look inside the perplexing world of modern theoretical physics and cosmology. Greene's book The Elegant Universe explained late 20th-century efforts to find a unified theory of everything, culminating with string theory. But string theory opened up a new can of worms, hinting at the possible existence of multiple universes and other strange entities. The possibility of other universes existing alongside our own like holes in "a gigantic block of Swiss cheese" seems more likely every day. Beginning with relativity theory, the Big Bang, and our expanding universe, Greene introduces first the mind-blowing multiplicity of forms those parallel universes might take, from patchwork quilts or stretchy "branes" to landscapes and holograms riddled with black holes. With his inspired analogies starring everyone from South Park's Eric Cartman to Ms. Pac-Man and a can of Pringles, Greene presents a lucid, intriguing, and triumphantly understandable state-of-the-art look at the universe. Illus. (Feb.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Yes The Hidden Reality is more accessible than his previous books. This book seems easier to read and is readily understandable. In his earlier books, I often read a paragraph several times in order to fully comprehend what Greene was attempting to communicate. That is something science and math majors are used to doing when reading textbooks but difficult for those not as scientifically adept. Greene's first two books dealt with Quantum Mechanics, String Theory and Einstein's Special and General Theories of Relativity: vast math-intensive topics that he was able to distill masterfully. The Hidden Reality inhabits a more abstract world, a conceptually challenging world. I quickly found Greene's more casual approach extremely helpful, even comforting, when I felt slightly adrift. The topics he discusses begin with the geometry of the universe: whether it is spherical (or positively curved), flat (with zero curvature) like a tabletop, or negatively curved like a Pringle.
The book devotes considerable time to the critical question of whether the universe is finite or infinite in size, something which has profound scientific and philosophical implications. It is a statistical certainty that in an infinite universe, regions of local space like ours will be endlessly repeated. In other words, assuming an infinite spatial universe with an expanding big-bang beginning, there are only a finite number of possible matter and energy configurations because the amount of energy and matter is finite. But there is an infinite amount of space within which those configurations will play out. Greene uses the example of a friend named Imelda whose passion for clothing has her purchasing 1000 pairs of shoes and 500 dresses. If Imelda is blessed with an infinitely long lifespan then, despite her vast wardrobe, if she changes outfits daily, within 1400 years she will have exhausted all possible new combinations. Imelda will be forced to repeat her sartorial choices. Philosophically, of course, all of that repetition of stars, planets and life's building blocks suggests that there are an infinite number of doppelgangers of each and every one of us. These infinite duplicates of ourselves would inhabit similar worlds that are forever hidden from mutual observation because the speed of light is finite. As Einstein showed in his Special Theory of Relativity, light-speed (300,000 km/sec) is the fastest rate by which information can be communicated. The bottom line: in an infinite universe the overwhelming bulk of reality remains hidden from its inhabitants by vast distances or by parallel dimensions harboring realities of every possible configuration.
In a finite spherical universe, on the other hand, the light from distant objects should ultimately traverse it several times, leading to multiple images of galaxies, for example. This hasn't been observed as yet, suggesting that the universe is either finite but huge or actually infinite in size. Though the size and shape of the universe remain undetermined, scientists when cornered tend to believe its size is infinite. Recent data also suggests that the universe is flat like a tabletop in shape.
Greene discusses all of the current hot topics in cosmology: brane-worlds, the multiverse, the holographic universe, unseen parallel worlds in dimensions separated by millimeters, our universe as a super-advanced computer program, the essentially hidden nature of reality. These are topics that have been discussed in other books but seldom with the passion for communication and clarity of thought that Greene exhibits in this one. The topics here are abstract concepts that exist at the very boundaries of human thought but Greene somehow manages to bring them down to earth. Even if you don't understand everything, the scientific vistas that Greene offers in this superb book are breathtaking in their intellectual beauty. You will find your personal horizons exponentially expanded. The Hidden Reality is replete with excellent illustrations that illuminate the material and are fun to look at. If this kind of science intrigues you then you will love this book. Brian Greene has written another masterpiece in a difficult genre.
is he deals with the possibilities of us being in a SImulation. (Look out, Twilight Zone!) Chapter 10 deals with the concept of what is reality -- since all is filtered thru our brains/senses -- what are we not seeing, or how are we seeing whatever is there? A case in point is the movie Thirteenth Floor, as well as Matrix, wherein the main characters are not dealing with 3D physical reality -- they have more of a SImulation, and this idea intrigues Dr Greene.
The application of the idea also intrigued the author of Virtual Earth Graduate and he (Hegland) goes into quite some detail in 2 chapters relating how Earth really could be a SImulation, albeit a very sophisticated one. And there are many physicists who are now saying the same thing about Earth and offer credible reasons for thinking thus... including Nick Bostrom.
While the idea sounds silly on the surface, one of Dr Greene's key points (there are several) is that physical constants of the Universe should not be changing -- the speed of light, the decay rate of radioactive material, C-14 dating, etc... and they are -- which would happen if we were in a SImulation whose 'envelope was being pushed' by the mathematical rounding errors that are beginning to (eventually) overwork the system, and Dr Green reminds us "Logic alone cannot ensure that we are not in a computer SImulation." (p 289). To really get a sense of this issue, one needs to see the movie Thirteenth Floor.
And if we are simulated, is the next level 'up' which drives our SImulation itself simulated? And then do we live in a SImulated Multiverse? And what happens when one of the simulations crashes? Dr Greene's book is fascinating in this regard. He also looks at the Double-slit Problem, Parallel Universes, Black Holes, Branes and Strings.
Dr Greene's other main point was that over time, with mathematics that is not carried to decimal points with infinite precision, there are going to be recursions of the same formulas and their outputs which will suffer rounding and approximations to the point where internal consistency is lost, sections of the SImulation would become incoherent, and the Simulation will crash -- is that what happened to the Maya back in AD 800 when they just all disappeared?
(See Virtual Earth Graduate for a better, longer review of this issue.)
Other physicists suggest that the Earth may be in a quantum computer running "qubits" and they theorize that just the Earth (not the universe) would be scalable to run within the memory confines of the largest computer that we can build nowadays... and all it would have to do is create just those scenes into which the ensouled human moves, suggesting as did JIm Elvidge in The Universe Solved that many humans would be Non-Playable Characters (NPCs) as in any VR Game. If this idea fascinates you, check out those books mentioned. Parts of the concept are not froo-froo and this gives cause to reflect...
In short, if quantum physics annoys you, or you just can't feature some of the strange postulates, then try Dr Paul LaViolette's Genesis of the Cosmos book -- he says that Subquantum Kinetics (using the ether) has better answers than does quantum physics with its Dark Matter...
Greene uses less provocative language than Tegmark, but makes up for that by suggesting 5 more multiverses than Tegmark (3 of which depend on string theory for credibility, and 2 that Tegmark probably wouldn't label as multiverses).
I thought about making some snide remarks about string theory being less real than the other multiverses. Then I noticed that what Greene calls the ultimate multiverse (all possible universes) implies that string theory universes (or at least computable approximations) are real regardless of whether we live in one.
Like Tegmark, Greene convinces me that inflation which lasts for infinite time implies infinite space and infinite copies of earth, but fails to convince me that he has a strong reason for assuming infinite time.
The main text is mostly easy to read. Don't overlook the more technical notes at the end - the one proposing an experiment that would distinguish the Many Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics from the Copenhagen interpretation is one of the best parts of the book.