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Current cosmology for a lay audience
on August 27, 2005
I think it was Niels Bohr, the great Danish physicist, who told his fellow scientists many years ago that they had an obligation to try to enlighten laymen about the latest findings of science. This was not long after Einstein's theories of relativity and the development of quantum mechanics had demonstrated that the world in which we live and thrive was much stranger than previously thought. The comfortable and intuitive cosmos, as described by Newtonian mechanics, had been superceded by a world view that seemed not only bizarre, but even incomprehensible.
This new book by Michio Kaku is one of the latest efforts by leading-edge scientists to fulfill that felt need recognized by Bohr. Targeting the educated layman, Kaku addresses his audience in a manner that is both entertaining and non-intimidating. Instead of mathematical descriptions, he relies on everyday analogies to convey his meanings. He includes a good measure of the history behind the theories, spiced with anecdotes and humor. While tackling an inheritantly difficult subject matter, he has succeeded in making it about as accessible as it could possibly be for a lay audience.
I emphasize that this is an up-to-date account. Just a few years ago, some physicists were merely speculating about the possibilities of multiple universes, parallel worlds, time travel, worm holes...things that sounded then more like science fiction than fact. Data only recently acquired by the WMAP satellite and the rapid development of string theory (and its latest incarnation, M-theory) have caused many of the best minds to not only entertain the possibility of such phenomena but, in many cases, consider them necessary corollaries to any credible Grand Unified Theory ( i.e., a "theory of everything.") According to Kaku, we're getting very close to such a theory.
This is heady stuff, presented in a form that makes science fiction, the ramblings of mystics, and the wildest conjectures of amateur cosmologists seem dull by comparison. And it is offered to us by a man who is at the forefront of current physics, a leading theorist in string theory and, most notably, a man who is an expert in assuring that his speculations are not in conflict with known facts.
I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in what science knows today about the past history and nature of our cosmos and what the future may hold. It's an absolutely fascinating read!