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Many Worlds in One: The Search for Other Universes [Paperback]

Alex Vilenkin
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

July 10 2007
A Leading Figure in the Development of the New Cosmology Explains What It All Means
 
Among his peers, Alex Vilenkin is regarded as one of the most imaginative and creative cosmologists of our time. His contributions to our current understanding of the universe include a number of novel ideas, two of which--eternal cosmic inflation and the quantum creation of the universe from nothing--have provided a scientific foundation for the possible existence of multiple universes.
 
With this book--his first for the general reader--Vilenkin joins another select group: the handful of first-rank scientists who are equally adept at explaining their work to nonspecialists. With engaging, well-paced storytelling, a droll sense of humor, and a generous sprinkling of helpful cartoons, he conjures up a bizarre and fascinating new worldview that--to paraphrase Niels Bohr--just might be crazy enough to be true.

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From Publishers Weekly

Cosmologists ask many difficult questions and often come up with strange answers. In this engagingly written but difficult book, Vilenkin, a Tufts University physicist, does exactly this, discussing the creation of the universe, its likely demise and the growing belief among cosmologists that there are an infinite number of universes. Vilenkin does an impressive job of presenting the background information necessary for lay readers to understand the ideas behind the big bang and related phenomena. Having set the stage, the author then delves into cutting-edge ideas, many of his own devising. He argues persuasively that, thanks to repulsive gravity, the universe is likely to expand forever. He goes on to posit that our universe is but one of an infinite series, many of them populated by our "clones." Vilenkin is well aware of the implications of this assertion: "countless identical civilizations [to ours] are scattered in the infinite expanse of the cosmos. With humankind reduced to absolute cosmic insignificance, our descent from the center of the world is now complete." Drawing on the work of Stephen Hawking and recent advances in string theory, Vilenkin gives us a great deal to ponder. B&w illus. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Cosmology has moved from establishing that there was a finite start to the cosmos to theorizing about the initial conditions that kicked off the whole shebang. Vilenkin is a leading theorist whose scenarios about the enigma of the big bang emerge in this estimably clear, personable treatment. Vilenkin explains the idea of inflation, a phenomenal increase in the volume of space in the first infinitesimals of time, propounded by physicist Alan Guth (The Inflationary Universe, 1997). Inflation solved some theoretical problems but left others dangling, such as inducing inflation to stop; if it didn't, life could not have begun. Explaining that his solutions to the "graceful exit problem," as it is whimsically called, involve the concept of "eternal inflation," Vilenkin guides readers through its bizarre and head-spinning propositions. One is that our observed universe is embedded in a suprauniverse that infinitely spawns an infinite number of other universes. This and other gigantic ideas concisely presented will provoke the interest of readers intrigued by the origin of the big bang. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Making sense of the reality that surrounds us July 6 2009
By Ronald W. Maron TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
In spite of the fact that a few concepts needed to be researched and defined outside of this reading, the book flows in a rational and organized manner. The concepts and theories themselves are truly amazing !! The idea that absolutely NOTHING existed prior to the Big Bang other than the an ever-present consciousness of thought, that not only is the perimeter of reality is expanding at a rate much higher than the speed of light but that an infinite number of universes are being created in the process, and, in addition to this, we may have parallel worlds existing because of quantum principles,..... simply takes your breath away. While the mathemaatical proofs of these theories are beyond the complexity of this book, the reader can realize that these concepts have a high degree of validity without the proofs.

This is the perfect book to pick up and reread when all of the mundane and trivial things of life seem to overwhelm us. No matter how important these repressive events feel they truly are completely insignificant when contrasted to eternal reality and all that entails.
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Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  39 reviews
56 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply Superb July 25 2006
By Geoff Martin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
As the title of my review suggests, this is simply superb. Mr. Vilenkin SIMPLIFIES... and of the thirty or so books I've read on cosmology, this is at or near the top.

The author covers much ground and does it efficiently. He lays the groundwork for his theories and takes us through the logic he employed in arriving at his 'quantum-tunneling out of nothing' theory to explain the origin of our 'local island universe'.

Mr. Vilenkin ably covers vacuums, inflation, scalar fields, the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, the multiverse and even Euclidian time. If you don't understand all these concepts... DON'T WORRY. You will understand them after reading this delightful book.
35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful introduction to current "how it all began" physics July 21 2006
By Edward A. Oates - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I read lots of accessible physics and cosmology books, and this is one of the best. There is essentially no math to master, but the concepts will make your head hurt (at least philosophically) while you absorb it all. This book has done the best job I've seen yet at explaining inflation in simple terms and how it might have taken only a few grams of matter/energy to create everything. (for a more detailed look at inflation, see one of Alan Guth's books on the subject, since he invented it).

I would recommend this book to adults who want to explore current cosmological thinking; I would strongly recommend this to advanced high school students (along with "Beyond Einstein" by Michio Kaku and Jennifer Trainer Thompson) as an adjunct to their physical science and AP Physics studies. It is readily understood and can awaking a lifelong quest to answer the question, "How did we get here?"

The "Why are we here?" question I'll leave to philosophers and theologians.

Ed
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A ringside seat at the circus of the bizarre that is modern Cosmology. Sept. 1 2008
By Joshua G. Feldman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Alex Vilenkin is a real physicist and he's been at the cutting edge of cosmology research so it's no surprise that he has a solid grip on the theoretical underpinnings and major issues and problems facing modern cosmology. What's unexpected is that he is such a fluid and comprehensible author. Dr. Vilenkin writes beautifully - with humor, vision, impeccable organization - and great mercy for the layman. He spares us the math, but gives us a real mental picture of the issues at play. This is a great review and explanation of the modern scientific picture of the creation of the universe.

And what a picture it is. Exotic states of vacuum engendering faster than light expansion; infinities contained in bubbles inside finite spaces; multiverses with endless variations in the laws of physics, most inhospitable to life. We see the history of the subject from Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, and Newton up through Einstein and into the modern period. We get a great view of how Guth's expansion theory resolves a host of problems and suggests, tantalizing, the nature of the stuff that gives birth to our universe (higher energy false vacuums). Much of the resulting weirdness comes about as consequences contingent on expansion. There's a great explication of the cosmological constant and how the recent observational proof of it shatters particle physics independence from the anthropic principle (the notion that our presence here as observers is evidence that must be used to help gauge odds in a scenario of multiverses in which only some outcomes are hospitable to life such as ourselves. I find myself thrilled by these ideas and enthralled that Vilenkin gives me the impression that I'm really following along.

I'd give it an unqualified rave except that I have a major problem with his central thesis that a consequence of our island universe's infinite size is an infinity of parallel worlds and an infinity of identical earths with identical "you"s doing the same things. It's poetic, and certainly shocking and gets the point across that infinity is a really weird concept with very strange consequences. However, his assumption that the quantum fudge factor necessary to his proof of truly duplicate universes can give rise to a truly duplicate earth with duplicate people betrays an empiricist fallacy of particle physics' reductionism: the same particles will not build the same individual life forms because emergent complexity makes liberal use of chaotic recursive phenomena. It's the genotype/phenotype divergence. Even if the all the particles end up in the same places (by pure chance alone like monkeys typing Shakespeare, since there's an infinity of universes, some will bound to have all the particles in the same places) the way these particles code for complex emergent phenomena like life, brains and social structures makes use of chaos' sensitive dependence on initial conditions to yield divergence on the quantum fudge factors alone - in direct contradiction to Dr. Vilenkin's central conclusion.

So - I'm totally down with "Many Worlds in One" as the best explication I've encountered on the history and evolution of the ideas and theories of particle physics as it relates to cosmology. But I'm completely at odds with Vilenkin's central wowser that there's an infinity of each of us in a weird cosmic hall of mirrors because it's an inescapable consequence of infinity. I think that's just too simplistic and reductionist a reading of how particles combine to manifest the complex emergent phenomena all the way up from molecules to life forms and higher levels of reality. The way Vilenkin blithely ignores emergent complexity reflects physicists bias that particles are an ultimate reality completely encapsulating all higher order reality in and of themselves. It's a pretty picture; but it just isn't that easy. Maybe my insistence that the infinities involved in chaos and emergence trump the infinity of universes reflects my own cowardice and bias - but I couldn't help being disappointed that Vilenkin didn't seem to have recognized that issue with that facet of his really cool theory. Ultimately, my issue here is really just a quibble since that aspect is just one in a long series of amazing ideas that get presented here. On the whole, this book is the most stimulating thing you can expose yourself to from a philosophical, spiritual, and intellectual perspective. I might dock it a point because I don't like the pop aspect of the central thesis, but I'd highly recommend it to anyone at all for all the rest of it.

A special note on the Kindle edition: footnotes are rendered with direct links, but end notes are not (forcing you to jump locations manually - annoyingly - if you want to read the end notes). The index is totally lost because of the relative locations - there are no listed page numbers, no live links, no location numbers - nothing - on the index. So if you want to use the index - buy the printed book because the Kindle version has no functioning index. The Kindle edition also has a some spelling errors from the scan, but the pictures are OK and it all works fine otherwise.

Follow-up 1/28/09:
Time to eat some crow. I had a nice long conversation about Mr. Vilenkin's theory via e-mail with Mr. Vilenkin himself and he very patiently worked the idea through with me and I am forced to admit that if there are an infinite number of O-regions, then there must be duplicate Earths. All that quantum weirdness, chaos and self organizing complexity just ups the number of possible histories each particle can take. But in a universe of finite age and finite size the number of those particle histories is certainly vast but unavoidably finite, just like Mr. Vilenkin says in the book. All the ranting I just did in my review about 'physicist's arrogance about particles constituting an ultimate reality' really was just intellectual cowardice - just like I hinted it might be.

Our conversation isn't quite finished yet. I'm still clinginging to a shred of hope - that the central mechanism that gives our island universe an infinite number of O-regions might not give us an infinite number of particles to populate those regions at any particular moment in time - but only trends towards infinity over infinite time. This particular objection has nothing in common with the failed avenue of attack I make in my original review. I'll wait to hear more about that.

The real upshot here is that this book is incredibly stimulating, mind bending, and mind expanding. If you really read this, you'll never be the same. Highly recommended.

Final update - I have nowhere to hide with Dr. Vilenkin; I lack the background to either full understand or debate his points about the equation of infinite time on an island universe viewed from the outside equating into infinite volume (and infinite matter present simultaneously). I'm going to have do a lot more studying. Meanwhile - definitely read this book. There's nothing else out there like it.
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars readable and detailed Jan. 9 2007
By Kyle G. Maxwell - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I found this book to be extremely readable and surprisingly well translated into language and ideas that could be understood by those with little or no background in cosmology. The writing style is very entertaining.

But I caution curious readers that even though this book is so approachable it still covers a great deal of modern cosmology so it is by no means a light read. As was mentioned in another review one aspect of the writing style is confusing. Since so little of cosmology is experimentally proven there often exist conflicting views. Vilenkin does a good job of covering most of them, but for an unexperienced reader it can be confusing which theory he wants you to believe.

Overall the book is a great read to qualitatively cover modern cosmology and if it is confusing at first it is well worth a re-read or closer inspection for those who want to understand the finer details.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating and puzzling worldview of the universe Jan. 9 2007
By O. Gandolfi - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I am not a physicist, my background is chemistry, but I have been very much involved during the last ten years in reading a lot on cosmology and, of course, on particle physics. I have found that this is the first book, for laymen of course, that deals more thoroughly on the teory of the multiverse. Some chapters I had to read more than once, like, for example, those dealing with vacuum energy and false-vacuum, which are important for understanding the consequences of inflation in according to Vilenkin's view. In my opinion they were not sufficiently elaborated and could have been better connected within the book. Also some of the figures are a little bit confusing like those representing the inflating false-vacuum or the island universe spacetime. I think they could have been better planned. However, I have found the book fascinating and I believe it is a must for all laymen interested in cosmology. Thanks Vilenkin, I hope to read more from you.
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