While the subtitle of this book should have been "The History of the Search for the Theory of Everything Through the Eyes of its Multidimensionalists", it was a highly informative read. The biographical snippets used throughout added a dimension of humanness to the search. From the shadow caves of Plato to present day string and M theories, the author clearly describes the scientific journey that has been undertaken. Its tentative conclusion is that the four dimenesional world in which we interact is probably not the full extent of dimensional reality. The only question remains is how many other dimensions are there; 5, 11, 26 or infinite? Only time, linked with continued research, will answer this question.
I clearly recommend this book and it should ".....receive wide non-specialist coverage amoung an intelligent, curious and thinking public." (E. Sheldon)
on July 8, 2004
This book is more, much more, than the usual treatment of relativity, Kaluza-Klein theory, Yang-Mills and hyperspace that one finds in mass-market publications. It does not assume previous knowledge of these subjects, so the reader is introduced to them in a logical, understandable manner. But the physics itself is only part of what makes this book special.
What Paul Halpern does so well is create a thoughtful, flowing, compelling, easily-digested history of dreams -the dreams of real people with incredible scientific abilities, but also suffering the same human frailties and fateful circumstances as the rest of us. Brilliant theoreticians have had to create original, transcending scientific advancement under conditions that most people would find daunting, from the 1930s, when famous German universities with rich mathematical traditions were decimated overnight, to Islamist Iran which caused at least one future physicist to begin his escape to Canada on horseback.
Physicists have had to contend with all kinds of obstacles in the quest for a Theory of Everything (as Einstein termed it), not least of which were their own internal disagreements that were sometimes based on rather capricious criteria. Einstein, rather famously, was known for dismissing quantum theory on the grounds that God does not play dice, but in his later years he went beyond that, apparently trying to place himself in God's position to decide which direction to pursue. Pretty amazing stuff.
It's not all serious. There are some laughs here as well, such as Klein and Ehrenfest trading messages in Jocular Physics (reflecting the political times) and a supersymmetrical goof on the song "Macarena" (complete with lyrics).
Today, eleven dimensional M-theory is the standard. The book includes a splendid explanation of what this is and how it was derived. Care is taken to clarify difficult concepts, diagrams are offered, and research is neatly summarized. One is struck by how closely the author is plugged in to the current physics community and the breadth of his experience in multiple theoretical pursuits.
For me, the best aspect of the book is the original research that went into it. Dr. Halpern personally interviewed John Wheeler, Peter Bergmann, Stanley Deser, and others intimately connected (or related) to the icons of twentieth-century physics. He not only researched Einstein's letters and papers but tells us what they say about the character of the man and the meaning of his efforts. You are not only reading about the essential structure of the universe but also gaining valuable insight into human perspective and ambition. A great job by a great author.
on July 8, 2004
The Great Beyond is a new look at man's exploration of higher dimensions through the ages.
Paul Halpern blends tales of physicists' personal lives with explanations of abstruse theories and concepts. His description of wave theory and the paradigm shift from Maxwell and Newton to Einstein was as exciting as the earthshaking consequences of this upheaval.
And he is capable of drawing quite meaningful insights from the subject matter, such as,
"Nature is a study of vivid contrasts and subtle connections." The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins couldn't have said it better.
One of the hardest concepts to understand in human knowledge is Einstein's special theory of relativity. But Halpern makes it look easy with his brilliant metaphor of a Minute waltz concert where the pianist slows down his metronome, a lucid illustration of time dilation. Very clever analogies like these would make the book worth reading even without its other merits. No higher mathematics or quantum physics know-how is required; he's done all of the heavy lifting for you.
The chapters are divided into a series of easy-to-digest sections with intriguing titles like, "Tesseract Construction Kits," "Chasing a Lightwave," and "Life in Apartment 5-D." I suggest you read two or three a day to allow proper time for savoring these delicate morsels.
If you are an armchair scientist who enjoys reading George Gamow, Stephen Hawking, or Stephen Jay Gould, you'll love this book. I know I did.