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Fascinating look at "our" universe(s)
on January 27, 2011
Brian Greene starts off this book introducing the concept of multiple universes. According to Greene (I'm not a physicist) many, if not most, physics theories lead to some kind of multiple universe solution. They don't all agree on exactly what kind of multiple, parallel, alternate, string, infinite universes exist, but they do suggest that such universes do in fact exist. This forces us to change our concept of universe from everything we could possibly measure to everything that could possibly exist. The book presents eight chapters that focus on explaining different potential multiverses along with two chapters that focus on explaining how we can use math and science to learn about these multiverses and what some limitations might be for our learning about them. Including the introduction, it makes for around 320 pages plus references, but it's actually relatively light reading.
Relatively being the key. This isn't "See Spot Run". This is a discussion of the nature of, well, everything. I must admit that I was initially a little disappointed that there isn't an easy, simple solution to the nature of everything. Then I realized that would probably be a little boring and almost certainly wouldn't be true. Fortunately, Greene does a good job making hard topics easy to understand. This is partly due to the fact that complex phenomena must often be reduced to something simpler for even physicists to wrap their heads around them, and partly due to the fact that Greene is very good at making tough concepts easy to get. Most chapters start of with a review of the prerequisite physics for a particular multiverse view. This introduction can be skipped by advanced readers, but more casual science readers (like myself) will find it a very helpful primer or reminder (e.g., of S. Hawking's books). The next part of the chapter delves into the particular theory in question and what kind of universe(s) that theory predicts. The last part of each chapter is more theoretical, asking more complex questions, suggesting future directions, and/or offering extensions of the theory in question.
Overall, it makes for good reading as the reader is handily moved from easier to more complicated material. I tend towards biological science reading, but I'd heard such good things about Greene's writing that I thought I'd give this book a shot. I'm glad I did. The only downside is that I now find myself daydreaming about possible universes when I should be thinking about other things. But that's hardly a serious fault for the book. Just the opposite in fact. The idea that there are likely multiple universes, some potentially just like ours, with an exact copy of me typing this exact review or an exact copy of you reading it, is just really, really cool. And that kind of cool is just what good science reading should be all about!