- Hardcover: 368 pages
- Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (September 20, 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0393285235
- ISBN-13: 978-0393285239
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.3 x 9.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 196 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #46,144 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Now: The Physics of Time 1st Edition
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An Amazon Best Book of September 2016: Are you ready to have your mind blown? The topic of time and the theory of relativity sounds, well, merely theoretical until you realize upon reading Now that our GPS satellites have to compensate for time dilation constantly—otherwise they’d send us a location that’s inaccurate by almost a mile and a half. Muller’s enthusiasm for physics propels the reader through complex ideas such as space-time, entropy, the flexibility of space, lightspeed loopholes, and his dislike of string theory. Calvin and Hobbes cartoons and Terminator references sit side by side with equations such as Entropy = k log W—but don’t let that alarm you. The best nonfiction books expand your knowledge, and Now takes that effort one step further by expanding how you actually think about so-called reality. Muller’s love of physics will charm even those who want nothing to do with the subject, and even more engaging is his humility about the extent of our current understanding of how the universe works: “I think we can take joy in the speculation that we are not running out of important things to discover.” With Now, readers will find plenty that will expand their brains and prepare them for that next amazing discovery. --Adrian Liang, The Amazon Book Review
“Mind-blowing ideas demand to be shared.…[Muller] posits a theory that seems at once plausible and―surprisingly, for a book with equations―one worth not spoiling.”
“Richard Muller is a leading physicist, but he’s also intellectually restless. That’s a potent combination, with the power to generate transformative ideas about ourselves and our relationship to the universe. In Now: The Physics of Time, Muller hypothesizes how time itself might be created or destroyed. Maybe it’s right. Maybe it’s wrong. But along the way he’s given you a master class in what time is and how and why we perceive it the way we do.”
- Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist and host of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey
“Muller has taken a remarkably fresh and exciting approach to the analysis of time. With his usual clarity and wit, he proceeds from solidly established principles―each a fascinating story in its own right―but when he gets to the meaning of the flow of time and now, he forges a new path. I expect controversy!”
- Saul Perlmutter, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics
“Can science shed light on time’s dark mysteries? Richard Muller thinks it can, making his case in this clear, evocative, and wide-reaching investigation of how nature may generate the flow of time. Must-reading for all concerned with the why behind when.”
- Timothy Ferris, author of Coming of Age in the Milky Way
“A provocative, strongly argued book on the fundamental nature of time. As an experimental cosmologist who has initiated some of the most important experiments of our time, Muller knows well where the limits of science are, and he keeps us interested by his ability to work close to that edge.”
- Lee Smolin, author of Time Reborn
“The strength of this book lies in Muller’s experience as a lecturer and teacher, which has enabled him to describe and explain difficult concepts with simplicity.… [Now] provides a concise master class in understanding the essentials of physics.”
“Time spent with Muller will transform readers' understanding of time itself.…A mind-expanding venture to the frontiers of science―and beyond!”
- Booklist (starred review)
“The kind of mind-expanding read that will give you something to think about late at night. Muller's passion for his topic shines through on every page.”
- The Independent
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This is a very interesting and in fact fascinating hypothesis. Muller even provides some preliminary, testable experimental hypotheses of the hypothesis: always a mark of a good scientist. Unfortunately this theory constitutes only about 30% of the book. The rest of the book is devoted to building up to the theory and then indulging rather superficially in philosophical concepts that don't really seem to have much of a connection to the main thesis.
The first part of the book which explains relativity, thermodynamics and quantum theory is on a sound footing. What I like about Muller is that he is not afraid to be opinionated and to point out common misunderstandings that both students and experts have (for example, he dispels the common misunderstanding that in relativity, different observers "disagree" on the properties of different events). The part on thermodynamics is actually quite illuminating, especially when Muller comes down hard on Arthur Eddington's thesis that entropy drives the arrow of time from the past to the future. Muller tells us that the connection between entropy and time both increasing has been presented to us by biased events like eggs and teacups breaking. But as he says, teacups can also be built up, and even this event - which involves a decrease and not increase in entropy - is correlated with an increase in time. Thus, Eddington's correlation between entropy increase and time is just that, a correlation that does not have experimental support and does not make testable predictions. Eddington seems to have misled several generations of science writers, students and physicists. I had not quite appreciated this fact.
So far so good, but the last third of the book then sort of unravels as Muller flits from one philosophical topic to another. Many of these seem dimly connected to the book's main proposal, and I also found some of the sentence constructions rather clumsy. These include free will, souls and empathy, and Muller mostly recycles stuff that other people have said (the one interesting thing that he says is that faster-than-light travel would violate free will because effects could then precede causes); his treatment of these topics is rather superficial in my opinion and the style is quite rambling. He comes back to what he calls the '4D Big Bang' suddenly at the end of the book.
Overall I think this book is valuable and at times even highly provocative for its presentation of the uncertain connection between entropy and the 'arrow of time' and for its novel idea of the creation of new time. Those chapters are very much worth reading. But the rest of the book is more like a haphazard stream of consciousness exploring topics whose connection to the physics is not really clear. Muller is a truly outstanding scientist who has massively contributed to physics and physics education (several of his students have won Nobel Prizes) over three decades, a restless intellect and a fine teacher, but this book may not showcase the best of all these qualities.
Also there are many digressions (do we really need to know how he decided to name his daughter?). In other places, where he needs to build his arguments carefully, he doesn't do it.
Here’s a passage from the middle of the book to demonstrate what I mean: “The vacuum contains energy. It can be polarized; that is, it responds to an electric field by separating its “virtual” charges. That polarization can be detected and measured by looking at the energy levels in the hydrogen atom (through something called the Lamb shift) and can be detected directly by the force the vacuum can exert on metal plates (the Casmir effect).” But Muller doesn’t explain the Lamb shift and he doesn’t explain the Casimir effect. I do know what some of these terms mean from reading other books, but I was lost in the woods anyway.
If you understand the above passage, then this is an appropriate book for you. If not, look elsewhere.
I did think Muller made some interesting points in the second half of the book, and I like that he’s willing to question the common wisdom in physics, e.g. the dogma of physicalism and the madcap rush of others to embrace string theory and MWI.
I thought the digression on souls and empathy was inappropriate for a book like this. But Muller is certainly the go-to guy for science fiction movies and series! He must have seen every one.
I'd recommend THE GOLDILOCKS ENIGMA (Paul Davies) or THE ELEGANT UNIVERSE by Brian Greene which are better introductions to some of these mind blowing concepts.