Customer Reviews: Hiding in the Mirror: The Mysterious Allure of Extra Dimensions, from Plato to String Theory and Beyond
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on October 22, 2005
I've just finished reading Lawrence Krauss's new book Hiding in the Mirror: The Mysterious Allure of Extra Dimensions, from Plato to String Theory and Beyond, and it's very, very good. Scientifically, the book covers a lot of the same material as Lisa Randall's Warped Passages, but it's about half as long and has a wider perspective, with writing that is pithy and entertaining. Krauss's topic is not just the science of extra dimensions, but the history of various ways the idea has turned up in art and literature, and the whole question of why people find it so fascinating.

While they are ultimately concerned with the same speculative ideas about extra dimensions, Krauss and Randall's books are in many ways different. Randall is writing about her own research work, so on the one hand she is a partisan for these ideas, on the other she gets to tell the inside story of exactly how she came up with them. She goes to a lot of trouble to dig in and try and explain in as simple terms as possible the details of the physics that motivates this research, as well as exactly what it is trying to achieve, how it has evolved in recent years and where it seems to be going. Krauss also covers these topics, but is (justifiably in my view) more of a skeptic, and sets the whole story in a wider context of the long history of this kind of speculation. If you've read Randall's book, you should seriously consider reading Krauss for a different point of view. If you read Krauss and want a much more extended exposition on some of these topics, Randall is the place to go.

Krauss begins by telling the story of an episode of the Twilight Zone TV program that had quite an impact on him when he was very young. It involved a little girl who falls into another dimension and is saved by intervention of a physicist. He notes that "We all yearn to discover new realities hidden just out of sight", but that "Ultimately our continuing intellectual fascination with extra dimensions may tell us more about our own human nature than it does about the universe itself." Krauss writes about a wide range of different writers and artists who have been fascinated by the idea of extra dimensions, and some of the historical and cultural context for their work. Much of this I didn't know anything about, although his description of the science fiction short story "And He Built a Crooked House" by Robert Heinlein brought back memories of my childhood, since I had found that story very striking, but hadn't thought about it in a very long time (it involves a house based on a tessaract, a 4d version of a cube). Another interesting piece of history he unearths is that Marcel Duchamp's famous piece The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (also known as the Large Glass), was heavily influenced by ideas about projecting from four dimensions, and that Duchamp spent a lot of time trying to learn about this, including reading Poincare.

Krauss writes that, while fascinated by the idea, he himself remains a skeptic (or at least agnostic) about the actual existence of physical extra dimensions. He tells the history of attempts by theorists to use extra dimensions, from 19th century conjectures that atoms were points where a four-dimensional etherlike field leaked into three-dimensional space, to Kaluza-Klein models and the heterotic string, ending up with recent braneworld scenarios. He describes the ideas behind this recent research concisely and also explains exactly what some of the problems with these ideas are. Along the way he comes up with various obscure and interesting pieces of the history of physics I'd never heard before, for instance that in 1928 an English experimentalist named R. T. Cox found evidence of parity violation, but his results were not taken seriously.

On the topic of string theory and braneworlds, Krauss promises to be not like Fox News (i.e. actually "Fair and Balanced"), but he has truly scathing things to say, and these are a refreshing change from the unjustifiably enthusiastic depiction of these subjects that has been common in popular science writing until recently. While he is not one of the researchers actively developing some of these extra-dimensional scenarios like Randall, he has significant expertise on the subject, and was the thesis advisor of Randall's collaborator Raman Sundrum.

Krauss ends his book with an epilogue describing conversations with Gross, Wilczek and Witten about string theory. Wilczek is a skeptic, annoyed by the excessive claims made for the theory. Witten is quoted as saying that string theory "is a remarkably simple way of getting a rough draft of particle physics unified with gravity. There are, however, uncomfortably many ways to reach such a rough draft, and it is frustratingly difficult to get a second draft." He justifies work on string theory partly through progress it has led to in the understanding of strongly coupled gauge theories.

Gross is described as convinced "that the theory is simply too beautiful not to be true", an attitude that strikes Krauss "as sounding like religion more than science." With this, Krauss ends his book by quoting Hermann Weyl:

"My work always tried to unite the true and the beautiful, but when I had to choose one or the other, I usually chose the beautiful."

and concludes:

"So it is that mathematicians, poets, writers, and artists almost always choose beauty over truth. Scientists, alas, do not have this luxury, and can only hope that we do not have to make this choice."

Here, to some extent I part ways with Krauss. I don't find the 10 dimensional heterotic superstring compactified on a Calabi-Yau to be in any sense beautiful, and attempts to connect string theory with physics lead to appallingly ugly constructions, strong evidence that they are on the wrong track. Absent useful experimental results, the pursuit of compelling new mathematically beautiful insights into fundamental physics is one of the few promising ways forward. But to go down this road successfully you have to be honest about what is mathematically beautiful and what isn't.

All in all, this is by far the best book that I know of on the topic of recent speculative work on fundamental particle physics, and I strongly recommend that anyone who enjoys reading about this should get themselves a copy.
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on July 8, 2006
Hiding in the Mirror: The Mysterious Allure of Extra Dimensions, from Plato to String Theory and Beyond, by Lawrence M. Krauss with glossary and index. Science popularized, but hard science, not soft or fanciful science. Since I have no physics or math theory this book was a challenge, but with concentration I was able to follow along. My reward was to gain a rudimentary comprehension of Einstein's Special and General Relativity theories, to gain some insight into "dimensions" as well as to understand what quarks, neutrinos and gravitons are. I'll forget it all, of course, but next time I hear of them an echo will remain that will enable me to know what's being talked about. I read this book in seven consecutive evenings. Krauss's lucidity, his occasional wry humor and tantalizing style made me catch the excitement. What will happen next? The description of string theories was indeed hairy, partly because these are still mathematical theories as yet unprobed physically and partly because they are frankly mind-boggling. The author, an eminent particle physicist (Case Western University) on the interface with cosmology, watered nothing down, nor did he once fail to distinguish between empirical and speculative. He places this book in the historical, cultural context of physics and cosmology.
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on January 21, 2006
Krauss' book is very good at explaining why the idea for an extra dimension or dimensions have existed, and how the reasons have morphed throughout the years. Although many valid reasons remain for there plausibility, he shows that there is so far, no such proof yet for their existence. He also shows that the latest attempt at explaining our universe through String Theory etc. and all the extra dimensions required by it, is only a mathematical construct that can only be accepted by faith, and a humongously willing mind to believe, in what's in other peoples imaginations. Not to say that there are no extra dimensions, but that, if there is no proof, then no amount story telling is going to make up the proof for it.
In his book, he shows that String Theory and all that is connected to it, is just the modern day version of "The Emperor's New Clothes". You have people with degrees saying that if you look hard enough, you can just make out the color of the suit, the fine style, and how well it looks on you. Krauss is one of the individuals to point out, "but look, he's really naked!" There really are no clothes.(proof) He very politely tries to explain this to you, when I think that secretly he would love to just yell out and tell you that String Theory is BS.
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on December 11, 2005
As an organic chemist with an interest in string theory ,I am pleased that there is some book to balance the speculation in some of the other books published on this topic.

Krauss appears to have written two books . The first part of the book is a dissection of the concept of other dimensions in popoular culture with references to the scientific developments of the time. The second part of the book is an inspection of work of physicists from Relativity to the development of string theory.

It appears that multi dimension models (26 dimensions ) were developed for the Strong Force unti newer theories were able to abrogate the use of them. Kaluza and Klein were able to develop a theory which Maxwell's equations drops out of Gerneral Relativity if one considers five dimensions. The effect of electromagnetism is actually residual gravity in these models.

So there appeared to be one model to develop Grand unification by invoking mutlitdinmensions.

String theory-the belief that matter is a closed loop of vibrating energy has been impressive as a 'first draft' Some of the theory appears to be a modern rehashing of Kaluza -Klein for for a theory of quantum gravity. However as a second draft there appears no closure and the theory appears to be getting more complicated while at the same time explaining less and less.While string theory is impressive in explaining Quantum gravity it appears to be reaching the dimensions of religion in that many of its claims can't be tested, predicts little such as the Hierarchy problem and other theories have unified the strong,weak and electromagnetic forces without subscribing to 11 dimenisional space as M theory requires.

If you are baffled what these terms mean -well Krauss does a good job of explaining these terms but so much material is coming at the reader that it is impossible to digest all of it. However Krauss nicely interspeses summations to the material.

As an organic chemist , I learned quantum theory over 20 years ago. In principle if matter has the properties of as wave then it is not a great shock that matter might be composed of vibrating strings.The fact that this is the only viable explanation for quantum gravity is powerful but as Krauss has pointed out ,Physicists went down this road in the '70's .

String theory if there is no confirmation within the next 10 years by experiment such as a leakage of gravity in multidimensions as Krauss points out ,well this String should really snap. The book is a good primer in the substitute of science some scientists have for religiuos fevor .If there is no proof then the theory should be abandoned regardless of the elegance of the mathematics.
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VINE VOICEon April 23, 2007
According to Ed Witten of Princeton's Advanced Institute (former home to BOTH Albert Einstein AND Kurt Godel), modern string theory is a piece of 21st century science that fell early into the 20th century.

According to string apologist Brian Greene, sring theory succeeds where Einstein himself uniting nature's fundamental forces to form a complete explanation of reality itself...our "Elegant Universe."

According, however, to a growing cadre of notable physicists however string theory is not even wrong by virtue of its untestability but fails to explain some astrological phenomenon and in fact retards the actions of those who would.

Krauss has been rightly praised for this book which attempts to put the modern fascination with string theory into a proper historical context. The idea that explanation of scientific phenomenon can made by recourse to higher dimensions is not new. Perched at the beginning of western thought in the Greek philosophy of Socrates/Plato, Krauss recounts "Socrates" story of the cave.

In the story of the cave, "Socrates" as related by Plato wonders what would happen to prisoners in a cave, illuminated from behind, whose only contact with each other was through their shadows. The speculation was that they would come to regard their shadows as their essences. The further speculation was that maybe we -- in looking at our manifestations of each other -- perhaps do much the same thing.

More contemporarily, Krauss talks about the nineteenth century fascination with the 4th dimension. As explained in the H.G. Wells book "Time Machine" the fouth dimension would be a means by which individuals could enter and exit seemingly locked rooms.

As recounted by Krauss, the religous considered it the purview of God. And some scientists considered it the purview of a possible explanation of reality. As fads come and go in popular culture, however, Krauss tells how this science fad fell under the excitement of new discovery.

In discussing the spectre of contemporary string theory, Krauss suggests that we may see yet the same phenomenon occur yet again. In so doing, Krauss' point is well taken.

It is perhaps the most characterizing element of science that its theories rely upon testably provable phenomenon.
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on October 22, 2005
First, a disclaimer: I have been a friend of Lawrence Krauss' for a quarter-century, and had the pleasure of reading this book in draft form. And I know that he circulated the book in draft form to many of the leading luminaries in string theory and extra dimensions, incorporating changes to the text in response to their suggestions.

The resulting book is marvelous. Not only Krauss' best, but also the best attempt to date to understand the string theory mania of the past few decades in terms of the overall ebb and flow of intellectual and scientific progress.

Indeed, readers of this book (other than "true believers" in string theory - seemingly including one of the reviewers below) will come to appreciate that, while string theory and its cousins are wonderfully rich in beautiful mathematics, they are no more than modern fairy tales - and thus far no more amenable to falsification or verification than the earlier fairy tales Krauss so wonderfully reveals.

Ira Flatow is right: this is Lawrence Krauss' best book. But more than that, it is a delightful romp through the long and mostly fruitless history of a strangely seductive idea.
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on December 30, 2005
Lawrence Krauss is a distinguished physicist and one of the best people in the world at communicating the excitement of scientific discovery to people everywhere. In Hiding in the Mirror, his latest book, he boldly goes where very few have gone before. He gives us an exciting tour of contemporary physics and cosmology, beginning with just enough of its nineteenth and early twentieth century foundations. Using the century-old theme of extra dimensions, he brings his well known clarity and light touch to bear on some of the most intriguing and speculative ideas of modern science. This is his most scholarly book to date.

It is also a lively and entertaining book, describing how these ideas arose from and contribute to the whole palette of human thought. The scientist lives in a world where she or he is influenced by art, philosophy, literature, history and even popular culture. In Hiding in the Mirror, all of this is woven together in a colorful tapestry. It's a real page turner.

The book builds to a balanced critique of string theory, a promising approach to a unified description of the forces of nature, shaped by compelling ideas of symmetry and powerful principles of internal consistency, and incorporating both quantum theory and gravity. And yet, after more than thirty years of intense development, there is still no direct experimental evidence that string theory is correct. We don't yet know how this drama will play out, but as Lawrence Krauss concludes, "the universe always seems to come up with new ways of surprising us."
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on August 31, 2006
Lawrence Krauss has a particular knack for taking the reader through a wonderful journey of discovery through science, and Hiding in the Mirror does just that. His scholarly approach is both witty and colloquial, profoundly informative without being preachy. The book begins with a lively introduction to modern-day cosmology, relativity and quantum physics, the quest for the grand unifying theory and a presentation and critique of a potential candidate: string theory. His critique is timely and well presented, and never without the humor and readability which marks Lawrence Krauss as one of the greatest science writers today. This is Krauss' best work, and an absolute joy to read.
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on June 21, 2006
Let me start off by saying that the book was well thought out and well written. Personally, I found it to be a fascinating book that looks at both science and society and the interactions between them. The author also does his best at trying to present the science and the history in a fair and balanced manner, and I would say does so successfully.

While the main point of the book revolves around a discussion of extra dimensions, the text touches on much more. What the author does is go through the development of physics from electromagnetism in the 18th century to the current state of affairs in physics research, but does so bearing in mind the social contexts of the period. Despite what people may think, science does not happen in a vacuum. Science impacts society significantly, but scientists also sometimes take with them preconceived notions that the people and the society of the time believe in. In particular, the idea that there might be extra spatial dimensions is something that has captivated people for some time, and is perhaps related to people interest in other worlds and realities. It is fascinating to see historically how literature, religion, and popular culture have been beguiled by this idea, and how it has influenced the development of physics. Indeed, this book is worth reading just to see how science and society interact and what it has led to in the past.

Such a discussion simply would not be complete without bringing in string theory with its extra dimensions into the picture. A significant part of this book is devoted to a discussion involving string theory, and the author does his best to cover all the main points of the theory and its arguments. I really have to hand it Lawrence Krauss for going out of his way to spend his time trying to understand this theory and then try to explain some of it, including a few of the technical details, to the layperson.

At the end of all that, the question that then remains is whether string theory is more of a reflection of our cultural fascination with extra dimensions than a pursuit to better describe reality. The author does a good job of keeping the discussion balanced, and points out that he himself is a skeptic and agnostic, and leaves it to the reader to come up with his or her own conclusion. Nevertheless, the author does point out how the theory has captured the public's imagination, and that some string theorists themselves are arguing that the theory is simply too beautiful not to be true, which is a dangerous argument to make if one is trying to describe reality. After all, wishing that statements were truths does not make them so, and just because you think it would be nice if the world were a certain way doesn't mean it is. Also, the idea of extra spatial dimensions has led to dead ends in the past, and after physicists have worked on string theory for over twenty years and continue to do so, it has yet to make any contact with reality.

Overall, I highly recommend this book, and it is well worth your time. It's a real eye opener, both scientifically and culturally, and may even get the readers to ask themselves what preconceived notions they have about reality. Along with the discussion about cultural aspects of physics, the reader will get a primer on contemporary physics, all written with a bit of humor and occasionally a personal touch. It also has one of the best expositions of the theory of relativity I've seen.
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on January 15, 2006
In college, too many years ago, I was not a "hard-science" major. Several years ago I became fascinated with String Theory after watching a Nova PBS show called "The Elegant Universe". Some books on this subject are like reading a Flemish dictionary. Lawrence Krauss can take a very difficult subject and puts it in plan language, easy to understand and interesting to read.
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