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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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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.)
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With the advent of relativity and quantum mechanics in the early 20th century, this all changed. Special Relativity dealt with velocities far beyond that which any human could ever experience. General Relativity dealt with interactions on a cosmic scale. And quantum mechanics dealt with scales far smaller than that which could be experienced or observed- even by physicists. What these new disciplines shared was that they they could only be truly understood by someone conversant with the mathematics involved. Although mass-induced curvature of space (for example) is commonly explained by analogy to a weight on a rubber sheet; that's at best, a weak metaphor. A ball bearing rolling on a rubber sheet is still being pulled down by gravity; it is not tracing a path in curved space that minimizes action.
As modern theories physics have become more complex, more purely mathematical, and further removed from the experience of the perceivable world, the books that attempt to explain things like inflationary cosmologies, string theory and supersymmetry have become increasingly less satisfying. And that brings us to the central failure of almost every popular book on modern physics I've ever read- the inability to actually explain the why and how. After reading countless books by popular authors like Tim Ferris, I realized that although many were, indeed, excellent writers, none of them actually understood the physics they were purporting to explain. At beast, they were simply repeating the metaphors they'd been given. They didn't understand the physics well enough to explain it.
There were a few exceptions- popular books written by actual physicists who also had a particular gift for teaching and explanation. To date, I've only found three who both have a deep understanding of modern physics, and who can convey more than a metaphorical understanding of this to a reasonably intelligent, but non-specialist, reader: Richard Feynman, Alan Guth, and Brian Greene. True, there are other physicists who write popular books, but most aim pretty low. They're satisfied to give a general sort of metaphorical explanation- curved space is like a curved rubber sheet, expansion is like inflating a beach ball, and strings are like... little strings. But Feynman, Guth and Greene each tried to really convey the real science.
The late Richard Feynman is still the master. His lectures- especially "The Character of Physical Law"- did a magnificent job of making clear even such difficult concepts as the quantum explanation of diffraction. Guth's "The Inflationary Universe" does a superb job of explaining topics like tension and negative energy in telling his story of the origins of cosmic inflation theory. And Brian Greene, author of the current volume under discussion, has now produced his third book attempting to explain some very difficult ideas to the lay reader. In "The Hidden Reality", Green tackles string theory, the multiverse, symmetry, group theory, and dozens of other topics, and he does so without resort to any "it's just like..." metaphors. He uses graphic representations when possible, to illustrate mathematical relationships without math when possible (although much of the real math can be found in the appendix.) He explains where and how contemporary cosmological theories originated, and gives the reader a good sense of exactly how we arrived at a position in which physics is largely dominated by untestable theories that make few predictions about the measurable universe- and why this is not necessarily a problem.
Greene is one of the principle authors of modern string theory, and he does a superlative job of conveying, for the lay reader, both the state of string theory, and its genesis. While to fully understand such notions as (say) the role of Calabi-Yu shapes in defining the topology of the multidimensional universe would no doubt require a real familiarity of topology, I think Greene comes as close as possible (or at least as close as I've seen) in conveying to the reader why it is that these shapes play a role in defining space, and how it is that physicists came to propose their existence. His explanation of quantum uncertainly and of Schrodinger's probability wave is probably the best non-mathematical one I've read.
This is not an easy book to read. I went as far as a few calculus courses and a semester of physics back in my undergraduate days, and I found this book fairly hard going. It's not terribly mathematical (except in the appendices) but the concepts are not easy, and there's little if any fluff to be found. This is not the sort of breezy reading found in the typical popular physics book (here's the atom, here's a quark, wasn't that cool?) The reader who attempts to simply skim through without trying to follow Greene's narration and really understand what he's trying to explain will quickly find themselves lost, reading words without a clue of what they mean. I've been reading it for two weeks, attacking a chapter (or part of a chapter) each day, and often backtracking to make sure I understand what Greene is trying to convey. The reader who is prepared to take this approach, and spend a lot of time reading, pausing, think about what they've read, and rereading each section to make sure they really understand what's going on, will find this a very rewarding book.
Unfortunately, for reasons that are not entirely clear to me, "The Hidden Reality" is far more opaque than his previous books. Time and again I found myself rereading a particular section, unable to decipher what he was seeking to explain. This may result from my own short-comings, I suspect that they might just as well arise from those limitations that Greene, from the very beginning, admits bedevils the notion of the "multiverse." Even more so than in String Theory, this topic currently stands at a point of being little more than speculation. Yes, the math creates the possibility that these other realms exist, but no one has to date suggested a method of falsification for this theory, nor does it offer much in the way of testable predictions.
Sometimes when he tries to counter critics, Green proves to be his own worst enemy. Consider a chapter where he argues against those who point out the difficulty of testing the hypothesis of a "muliverse." In reply, Greene points to Einstein's theories and the inability to demonstrate their veracity through experimentation in the early 20th century when they first appeared. However, this ignores the fact that Einstein's theories offered obvious precise predictions that, even if not testable at the time, one could imagine appearing in the near future. Had these predictions not withstood tests, out would have gone the theory. To date, nobody can offer similar predictions through this theory that we are likely to be able to test anytime soon.
The result of these weaknesses is that I found myself often lost in the weeds, left with little more than the point that the math says that these things may be so. I can understand Greene's enthusiasm at the possibility of limitless realities beyond our own, but glorying at the possibility doesn't get me any closer to accepting -- or even understanding -- that these intriguing suggestions might prove real.
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How long will it take to prove or disprove string theory\m theory