Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Book Review (#55 of 2014) The Fabric of the Cosmos by Brian Greene

The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality "Every moment in time just is." That is a huge thing to wrap your mind around. Every moment in space-time just exists. While we experience the "arrow of time," the feeling of moving forward (which Greene explains) every moment already exists in the universe, and always will. When I saw an episode on NOVA made from this book I knew I had to read it. The episode I saw was "The Illusion of Time," and it blew me away. Watch it at the link and you'll be a 25-point Calvinist.

Mathematics might be the highest form of worship; every Christian should read books such as this one about cosmology. The more we learn about the universe, the more improbable a self-existing first cause seems. As Greene points out, the universe we see now is dramatically less probable, statistically speaking, than one that developed from complete randomness. That the universe originated with a low-entropy (Big Bang) event is also highly improbable, but yet we know it happened.

The universe started at a size smaller than the period on the end of this sentence. It had incredible symmetry, such that perhaps all of the forces we know today were combined together in one force. The laws of physics break down at that point, there's the incompatibility of quantum mechanics and generaly relativity such that we have a "fuzzy patch." But newly-discovered inflationary theory tells us much of what happens after the first moment, exactly how the universe began its incredible rapid expansion. (See Greene's recent article in Smithsonian Magazine).But, the "fuzzy patch still looks fuzzy."

Galaxies are now moving apart from each other at high rates of speed. We discover planets and learn more about the makeup of the universe every day. The last third of the book deals with super string theory, which Greene also details more thoroughly in The Elegant Universe (some parts seem to be repeated verbatim in both works; I imagine all of his books essentially say the same things in different ways... one has to make money somehow).

How many dimensions does space have? 10? More? Why did only 3 dimensions experience inflation after the Big Bang? What about curled dimensions? M theory? Planck length? Those are the tedium in the second half of the book. 

He does delve into the possibility of Star Trek-like teleportation, showing the recent advances in research that indicate this may one day be possible. Just this week the Army confirmed that it can teleport quantum data, for example.There is also an explanation of the theoretical and mathematical impossibilities of time travel-- traveling backwards in time. These are amusing aspects.

Greene frequently uses Simpsons characters in his analogies. It is not nearly as analogic in language as The Elegant Universe, but it's mostly understandable. The second half of the book gets pretty heavy, though, an audio version is the only way I could get through it. When you get bogged down in quantum mechanics it helps to have the audio keep pushing you on to the main point.

I really should not judge a book by one that followed it, but I give this book 3.5 stars out of 5.

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